Christian apologists confidently maintain belief in Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is a rational belief (more>>). In support of that proposition, one of the lines of evidence Christian apologists point to is the historically documentation evidence that after Jesus died on the cross and was buried, he was seen alive by multiple witnesses in a physically resurrected body.
Some skeptics attempt to explain away such evidence by proposing the witnesses could have seen transmitted images of Jesus instead of seeing Jesus in a physically resurrected body. As set forth below, Christian apologists maintain the theory that the eyewitnesses saw transmitted images of Jesus is an inadequate explanation and far from rationally compelling.
According to the historical record, after Jesus’ death and burial, he appeared alive on twelve (12) separate occasions to more than 500 people, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul). On all twelve occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Jesus offered himself to be touched on at least three occasions and he was definitely touched twice. Jesus showed the scars from his crucifixion on two occasions and ate food with the disciples on 3 – 4 occasions. On four occasions the witnesses responded to their encounter with the risen Jesus by worshiping him. (Go to index of eyewitness accounts) [See, Norman Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, pg. 141 (1984); Norman Giesler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 655 (1999); John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 81 (1997); Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 253 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pg. 72 (1998)]
Reasons Christian Apologists Maintain the Theory that the Witnesses Saw Transmitted Images of Jesus, Instead of Jesus in a Resurrected Body, is Inadequate
Christian apologists respond to the proposition that the witnesses may have only seen transmitted images or telegraphed images of Jesus by raising the following rebuttal points:
Rebuttal Point No. 1: The Theory that Jesus Appeared as a Transmitted Image Merely Substitutes One Supernatural Phenomenon for Another
If transmitted images of Jesus were sent to the minds of Jesus’ followers, such an event would have necessarily involved some kind of supernatural phenomena. Accordingly, if the reason the resurrection is rejected is because it requires supernatural phenomena, then those who assert the witnesses only observed transmitted images of Jesus should recognize they are merely substituting one supernatural phenomenon (God raising Jesus from the dead) for another supernatural phenomenon (Jesus appearing as a transmitted image). [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 646 (1999)]
Rebuttal Point No. 2: The Theory that Jesus Appeared as a Transmitted Image Does Not Explain the Empty Tomb
If the witnesses only saw transmitted images of Jesus, his dead physical body would have still been in the tomb and could have easily been produced by the Romans or Jewish leaders to squelch the rise of Christianity, which they viewed as a tremendous threat to their authority. [See, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 113 (1997)] However, the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty and those who propose Jesus only appeared as a transmitted image must offer a reasonable explanation for the empty tomb which has not been done. [Go here to examine the problems skeptics face in attempting to explain away the empty tomb.]
Rebuttal Point No. 3: The Greek Words Used to Describe Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances Denote a Physical Resurrection, Not a Transmitted Image
The Greek words used in the original text of the earliest church creeds to describe Jesus’ resurrection as well as the future resurrection of his followers, are “anastasis sarkos and anastasis nekron, which mean “the standing up [or getting up] of the flesh” and “the standing up of the corpses.” Both expressions clearly refer to a physical body rather than an image. Anastasis is a word for bodily posture. Sarkos and nekron refer to real physical bodies. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 178 (1994)] Therefore, it seems clear the authors intended to say Jesus’ resurrection was a physical resurrection.
Rebuttal Point No. 4: Transmitted Images Cannot Be Touched, Yet, the Historical Record Documents the Resurrected Jesus was Touched Several Times
Any transmitted image would be immaterial and, therefore, could not be touched. Yet, the historical record documents multiple occasions when the resurrected Jesus was physically touched:
- Matt. 28:9 says when the women went to the tomb and found it empty, they were greeted by the resurrected Jesus and “they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.”
- Luke 24:38-43 reports when Jesus appeared to 10 of the disciples in the upper room, he said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The disciples gave him a piece of broiled fish and “he took it and ate it in their sight.”
- John 20:11-18 states after Mary Magdelene went back to the tomb with Simon Peter and the disciple John, Jesus spoke to her and when she realized it was him, she began “clinging” to him.
- John 20:24-31 says after Thomas told the other disciples he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he put his finger into the holes in Jesus’ hands left by the nails used in the crucifixion and put his hand in the hole left in Jesus’ side by the spear that had been thrust into his body on the cross. Then Jesus appeared and said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger…reach here your hand and put it into my side…” Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!”
Rebuttal Point No. 5: Transmitted Images Wouldn’t be Heard by Multiple People at the Same Time
Skeptics provide no explanation as to how a transmitted image could have been heard. However, in the case of the resurrected Jesus, not only was Jesus heard by multiple people on ten separate occasions, he held extended conversations with many of the witnesses who were often in groups when Jesus appeared to them:
- Two disciples on the road to Emmaus: Cleopas and another disciple reported meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. According to their report, Jesus traveled along the road with them and beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus explained the things about himself to them. Jesus also went into their house and ate with them. See, Luke 24:13-35 and Mark 16:12-13.
- Disciples in the upper room: Jesus appeared to all remaining 11 original disciples in the upper room. He talked to them about a variety of things, e.g., he explained that the things written of him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled. See, Luke 24:36-49 and Mark 16:14-18.
- Seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee: Jesus ate breakfast with the disciples and entered into a long conversation with Simon Peter in which Jesus emphasized if Peter really loved him, Peter would tend Jesus’ sheep (referring to his followers). See, John 21:1-14.
See also, the reports of the disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20 and Mark 16:14-18), the disciples on the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:3-9 and Mark 16:19) and Paul’s reference to Jesus being seen by five hundred believers (1 Cor. 15:6).
In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the rebuttal points set forth above weigh decidedly against the explanation that the witnesses only saw transmitted images of Jesus. The other alternative explanations skeptics have offered to explain the eyewitness reports that Jesus was seen alive after his death on the cross are similarly inadequate (more>>). Consequently, Christian apologists maintain it is reasonable to look beyond such explanations for an explanation that adequately explains all of the historical evidence, including the explanation that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead.
In sum, Christian apologists candidly concede if God does not exist, then Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. Nevertheless, Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and the following seven independent lines of evidence reasonably establish God did, in fact, supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead:
- The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul) (here>>)
- The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
- The resurrection best explains why Jesus’ disciples were transformed from fearful fleers to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
- The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection
- The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders
- The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like Jesus’ resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings
- The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though he had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders
Following a two day debate over the evidence of the resurrection between Dr. Gary Habermas and well-known skeptic, Dr. Anthony Flew, a panel of five philosophers from American universities (including the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the University of Pittsburgh) voted 4 to 1 in favor of the case for the resurrection, with 1 judge voting the debate was a draw. After listening to both sides of the debate, one of the judges concluded the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was “strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead.” [Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]. Another of the judges stated:
Since the case against the resurrection was no stronger than that presented by Dr. Flew, I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.
[Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)] Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that he supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection but it is intellectually dishonest to write off the resurrection as mere foolishness.
For information on how to know God personally, go here.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: June 1, 2012 / Last Updated: Feb. 21, 2013
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes so Much Sense(River Oak Publishing, 2002)
Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999)
Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004)
Gary R. Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pgs. 1621-1622 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)
Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994)
Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan, 2004) (HS/C)
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