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Was Jesus raised from the dead?

  • Christianity stands or falls on this

    Jesus raised in front of empty tomb

    Did God miraculously raise Jesus from the dead? If the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, then it would seem to divinely authenticate the central message of Jesus brought to the apostles. It was the message that the apostles devoted their lives to proclaiming: the gospel. For early Christians, this divine vindication was the purpose and significance of Jesus's resurrection. On the other hand,...

    Paul (the apostle): “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God… If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 19; cf. 1 Pet 1:3)

    The truth of Christianity does not depend on whether the Bible has errors or not. Instead, it is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that stands as the litmus test for the Christian faith. The resurrection is the appropriate target for seekers interested in assessing whether at least some kind of bare Christianity is true.

  • The case may be stronger than you think

    A judge stands with his arms acting as a balance. One side has a cross and it is down further raising the other side up higher.

    There are strong initial reasons to doubt a good case can be made:

    • The testimonies are 2,000+ years old.
    • They are biased Christian writings.
    • The event in question is a miracle.

    But prominent atheists with exactly these surface worries, after investigating, come out confessing:

    Jeff Lowder (Philosopher, debater, co-founder of “I remember thinking to myself that if I took the time to investigate the resurrection, I could make anyone who believed it look like a fool. Or so I thought. …I was about to discard [it as] ‘another illogical religious belief,’ …[yet] I found extremely difficult to deal with as a critic.”1

    Antony Flew (Professor at Oxford): “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It's outstandingly different in quality and quantity.”2

    As a quick sketch of one evidence: historians all feel compelled by evidence to grant that the apostles at least believed they experienced Jesus appearing to them alive from the dead. But accounting for this naturalistically seems to require an appeal to group hallucinations or worse. In a survey of over 1,400 academic sources, one specialist concluded:

    “Similar to the situation at the end of the Nineteenth Century, hallucination and related subjective approaches are again the most popular among critics.”3

    But the hallucination hypothesis is itself not an easy one to maintain. In fact, one atheism-promoting debater did his doctoral dissertation on explaining the data and felt that the unknown twin-brother hypothesis was more defensible than the hallucination hypothesis.4 Of course, his hypothesis is also untenable. So the data continues to be very awkward for those who reject Jesus's resurrection.

    These may seem desperate, but can you look at the evidence and do better?

    1. The Historicity of Jesus' Resurrection online at Lowder is a responsible public debater promoting atheism, co-founder of, and arguably one of the greatest living critics of Christianity.
    2. Antony Flew & Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism" Philosophia Christi vol. 6, no. 2 (2004): 209. Flew died in 2010, but in his time was widely considered one of the greatest critics of Christianity.
      • Side note: In a famous televised debate between these two specialists, one of the judges labeled the debate a draw while the four others (all philosophy professors) declared the pro case victorious. The judge declaring it a draw confessed, “I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.” Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate (Harper & Row, 1987), xiv. Habermas was initially a skeptic himself who converted upon investigating. In a nutshell,

      Stephen Davis (Religion & philosophy professor at Claremont): “…no one who denies that Jesus was raised from the dead or who offers reductive theories of the resurrection has yet been able to account adequately for these widely accepted facts. Though many have tried, no one who rejects belief in the resurrection of Jesus has been able to tell a convincing story of what occurred in the days following his resurrection.” [Risen Indeed (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 180.]
      N.T. Wright (NT & Early Christianity professor at St. Andrews): “The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivaled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity.” [The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003), 718.]

      Pinchas Lapide was a prominent Israeli historian, publishing over 35 books. He became so convinced by the historical evidence that God raised Jesus that, before dying a staunch Jew, he published a book on the evidence titled The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (1977). Critics like Lapide, Lowder, and Flew often admit the evidence is strong, even if underlying philosophical objections related to God and nature prevent them from believing it or its implications. Many other critics, however, have found the evidence compelling enough even to overturn their philosophy.

    3. Gary Habermas, “Hallucination Theories to Explain Jesus’ Resurrection?” Christian Research Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4, 2001
    4. This was Greg Cavin's dissertation, though in writing it he assumed for argument's sake that the Bible was largely reliable.
“Yes, after all…
  • Jesus's body went missing

    detective with magnifying glass examining body outline

    After Jesus was crucified and taken down from the cross, his corpse was laid to rest somewhere (tomb or not), and wherever that location happened to be, Jesus's body was shortly after regarded as missing from that location.

    This page explores these 5 arguments:

    Jesus's body going missing is evidence that Jesus rose from the dead because there is no good alternative explanation for the fact. Specifically, no easy naturalistic explanation presents itself; all naturalistic explanations are arguably more improbable than God's miraculously choosing to raise Jesus from the dead (as long as God exists and plausiby might choose to raise Jesus).

    But so what if it went missing? Plausibly…

    • Jesus's body was stolen and so all that would remain is the empty tomb; no resurrection needed.
    • Jesus survived and left the grave on his own (having survived crucifixion), in which case the tomb would be empty but not because of the resurrection.
    • Humans transferred Jesus's body to a different grave. In this case, the body would be considered missing to most people, but no resurrection is required to explain that fact.
  • People/groups insisted “He visited us!”

    a surprised crowd with a speech bubble containing jesus with arms open

    Shortly after Jesus’s crucifixion, a variety of different persons/groups began to testify that Jesus appeared to them alive from the dead.

    This page covers these 7 examples:

    This is relevant if there are no plausible alternative explanations for their experience. To the degree that their interpretation of their experience has the most power to explain their experience (over rival explanations), to a corresponding degree it is evidence for Jesus’s actually appearing to them alive from the dead, and therefore his resurrection.1

    But so what? Plausibly…

    • They were lying, saying Jesus visited them when they knew he had not.
    • They were fooled: by Jesus who faked his death, so that they were not lying, but were sincerely mistaken in their belief that a risen Jesus appeared to them alive from the dead.
    • They were fooled: by a look-a-like impostor of Jesus, who deliberately deceived people into thinking Jesus had been raised from the dead and was appearing to witnesses.
    • They were fooled: by hallucination(s) of Jesus, be they grief hallucinations or some other kind.
    • They were fooled: by aliens (e.g. a hologram), who for whatever reason want to deceive people and successfully did so.

    And keep in mind…

      • Stephen Davis: “The disciples were prepared neither psychologically nor theologically for the idea of the resurrection of the crucified Messiah, and the fact that they arrived at this idea so early and so confidently needs explanation.” [Risen Indeed(Eerdmans, 1993), 184.]
      • Edward Schillebeeck: “[the disciples underwent] a process of repentance and conversion which it is no longer possible to reconstruct on a historical basis.” [Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (Crossroad Publishing Co., 1979), 387.]
“No, after all…
  • Dead people always stay dead

    two zombies with a ghost-buster cross-out over them

    Humans who die always naturally stay dead.

    See this page to analyze 2 arguments:

    The irreversibility of death is relevant because Jesus is a human who died. So, “A consistent modern view must say farewell to the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event.”3

    But so what? Plausibly,…

    1. Jesus stands out (in history, character, etc.) as a chosen representative of God's might. While God may have little reason to raise most individuals spontaneously in the middle of human history, He might nevertheless have reason to raise Jesus―to vindicate Jesus and his message. See Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford, 2003). He covers this question in depth and concludes that becoming incarnate and resurrecting is a kind of thing God might plausibly do if God existed.
    2. By way of response, however, the hypothesis is not that Jesus rose naturally from the dead. That, all parties agree, is absurd.
    3. Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus (John Knox, 1995), 130.
  • Jesus never existed

    jesus waving but behind a denied circle-sign

    Jesus never actually walked the earth as a real historical figure, not even the bare minimum idea of a Jewish rabbi that lead to Christianity. The entire person was an invented fiction.

    This page analyzes 3 arguments, namely:

    If Jesus did not even exist, then we can be reasonably certain that God did not raise him (as a non-existent person) from the dead!

    But no, consider 5 reasons to think Jesus did exist: