These men had given up all they had to follow Jesus and to learn from him. They founded early Christian communities that were heavily populated by slaves, outcasts, and the poor 1 Cor. They brought together people of all races and classes and viewed one another as brothers and sisters Gal. Based on these observations, it would be extremely incongruous if these same men were consciously lying about having seen Jesus and were encouraging thousands of other Jews and Gentiles to risk persecution and death for a man whom they knew to be dead.
In response, the obvious suggestion is that the disciples must have had some selfish ulterior motives for the promulgation of Christianity. But we then must explain our second observation: the extreme suffering and persecution endured by the apostles. We have good evidence that Peter was crucified in Rome under the reign of Nero and that the apostle John was exiled to Patmos and died hundreds of miles from his home. Josephus tells us that James, the brother of Jesus and another witness of the Resurrection, was stoned to death. The apostle Paul, who also claimed to have seen the risen Jesus, was imprisoned numerous times, flogged, beaten, and stoned before being executed in Rome around 69 A.
We have less information about the other apostles, but according to early church historians, eleven out of the twelve apostles were put to death for their Christian beliefs. Even if we are not certain whether all the apostles were martyred, there is almost no doubt that they suffered terribly for their faith. Yet there is no record of any of them ever renouncing their belief that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.
All of this raises the question: what did the apostles have to gain? Surely, a man might die for what he believes to be true, but would anyone die for what he knows with certainty to be a lie?
I can think of many examples of men and women dying for their beliefs, but cannot think of any examples of people dying for what they know to be false. Of course, the martyrdom of the apostles does not prove that Jesus did rise from the dead, but it seems to indicate that the apostles truly believed that they had seen him risen from the dead. Two pieces of evidence support the conclusion that the tomb in which Jesus was placed was actually empty.
In fact, the second point is related to the first. We have no evidence that the Jewish leaders ever produced a body to counter the claims of the apostles. But why would he refute such a counterargument if the Jewish leaders were instead arguing that there was still a body in the tomb?
Jesus in Christianity
This passage seems to indicate that the early Christians did have to respond to the accusation that they stole the body, but never had to respond to the charge that the tomb was not empty. Again, many skeptics take the account of the empty tomb seriously enough to construct scenarios which could account for its existence see below. If one wants to refute the idea of the empty tomb, I think that the most plausible way is to claim that the early Christian movement in Jerusalem was too small to attract attention before it was too late for the authorities to produce a body.
To make this explanation plausible, one would have to dismiss the accounts of the rapid growth of the early church presented in Acts. In addition, why would Matthew have included a rebuttal to the claim that the disciples stole the body if no one had ever claimed that the body had been stolen? And why would someone claim that the body had been stolen unless the tomb was indeed empty?
Although I think it is possible to deny the empty tomb, the evidence that we have seems to support its factuality. Therefore, one might envision constructing an alternative scenario based on some kind of hallucination or even a conspiracy by the disciples. The weight of this piece of evidence is profound. In his second letter to the Corinthians, which is undisputedly regarded as authentic by non-evangelical scholars, Paul records the hardships that his faith has brought him:.
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. But in this case, the physical consequences of his conversion are perhaps even less of a factor than the religious consequences. Paul was a very well-educated, devout Jew of the party of the Pharisees, one of the most strict and pious of the Jewish sects see Phil. In contrast, Peter, John, and the other disciples were mostly uneducated fishermen who had been intimately associated with Jesus throughout his ministry.
However, Paul underwent a complete transformation of his worldview in a matter of days. He went from regarding Jesus as a false prophet who would lead his followers into perdition, to believing that he was the unique Son of God who alone offered salvation to all mankind. I have not read of anyone who denies that for this radical shift to occur, some event of tremendous psychological magnitude must have taken place. Again, such an explanation affirms that Paul truly believed he had seen the risen Jesus and therefore accounts for his subsequent sincerity.
Not being a trained psychologist, I cannot say whether this explanation is technically plausible, but as a layman it does strike me as unlikely. To refute their claims, Paul points out that bodily resurrection must be possible since Jesus rose from the dead. He then makes the following statement:.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
In addition to affirming the Resurrection appearances of Jesus that are recorded in the gospels, Paul states that Christians saw the resurrected Jesus at the same time.
Who is Jesus Christ and What is His Mission to the World?
It is important to note that Paul adds that most of these witnesses are still living, the implication being that the Corinthians could potentially go and question them. If we want to rebut this point, there are two possibilities. If these other people really believed that they had seen Jesus, then what evidence do we have that this final item was fabricated? Also, travel was relatively easy between Corinth and Jerusalem during the Pax Romana.
Would Paul risk making a blatantly false public statement that could be easily verified? Alternatively, we could claim —as many skeptics do- that there was indeed an appearance to five hundred eyewitnesses, but that this appearance was some kind of mass hallucination so that the witnesses were sincere, but deceived. Lastly, I think it is very important to consider what alternative, naturalistic explanations have been put forward to explain the Resurrection. As I mentioned before, many skeptics assume that there must be some plausible, naturalistic explanation for the Resurrection without ever considering the evidence.
Therefore, as Jeff Lowder mentioned in his essay, the implausibility of alternative claims can come as quite a surprise. The following is a list of the major competing naturalistic explanations for the Resurrection:. He was buried alive but later reawoke in the tomb and appeared to his disciples who believed he had been Resurrected. The disciples came to the tomb, discovered it empty, and imagined that they saw Jesus. Jesus died on the cross, but later the disciples saw his twin from a distance and rumor spread that Jesus had been resurrected.
Although there are others, the theories listed above are the most frequently used alternative explanations for the Resurrection. They are not wildly unpopular, marginal ideas that I am setting up as straw men.
These are the real, alternative explanations that have been used by serious, knowledgeable skeptics during public debates with Christians. Without pointing out the specific weakness of these explanations, two general observations can be made:. First, what is significant is that the skeptics who advanced and make use of these theories apparently believe that some kind of explanation for the New Testament account and the testimony of the apostles is historically necessary.
They do not advance the extremely popular — but historically implausible- claim that the New Testament accounts are all mythological and can simply be dismissed or ignored. Based on the evidence presented in this section, one is led to the conclusion that naturalistic alternative accounts for the Resurrection are, on an absolute scale, highly improbable. No one doubts the Resurrection because there is a highly probable alternative explanation. In fact, every alternative explanation relies on a series of unlikely, independent, chance events a body stolen by grave robbers, grief-induced hallucination on the part of the disciples, repeated mass hallucinations of the other Resurrection witnesses, an epileptic fit on the part of Paul that cumulatively produced the evidence we now have.
It is very important for skeptics to reflect on this fact. Any explanation for any other historical event —say the Kennedy assassination- which depended on grave robbery, repeated mass hallucinations, and the life-transforming seizure of a hostile witness would be regarded as wildly implausible. Yet this is the best explanation provided by alternative theories. To understand why the average person is skeptical of the historicity of the Resurrection, we need to dig deeper than the evidence itself.
The reason the average person is skeptical of the Resurrection is that they are evaluating the probability of alternative naturalistic explanations relative to the supernatural explanation. They reject the Resurrection not because the naturalistic explanations are plausible, but because they believe that any naturalistic explanation, no matter how implausible, is more plausible than a supernatural explanation.
Consequently, it is impossible to discuss belief or disbelief in the Resurrection without turning to the subject of worldview, which will be the topic of the next section. After summarizing the significance of the Resurrection, the presuppositions of atheistic and theistic worldviews, and the contemporary state of the debate over the Resurrection, he concludes his essay with the following remarks:. Both sides [atheists and Christians] are correct within their worldview… Unless atheists can demonstrate that theism is irrational or that the historical evidence for a material resurrection is lacking, they are unlikely to convince many theists to reject the resurrection.
Similarly, Christian apologists need to recognize that, until atheists are shown that theism is plausible, atheists will continue to regard the resurrection as a highly implausible event… I think it is rational to both accept and reject the resurrection. I realize this may sound like a cop-out to some, but I think it is quite reasonable, especially when the issue of prior probability is taken into consideration. If we consider this statement carefully, it is quite surprising.
Is this really the case? To assess his statement, we need to examine in more detail the issue of belief formation.
Many modern atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would claim that the atheistic position is one based solely on reason and rationality, unlike religious belief which is founded on faith which they usually define as belief that is independent of -and often contrary to- evidence. Science and reason, they would argue, are the opposite of religious claims because they exclude any element of the subjective and are based purely on objective fact and empirical evidence.
However, such claims can only be maintained if one does not look carefully into how reason, rationality, and the scientific method actually work. In light of the other things we know about Jesus, it's hard to imagine that He was mentally disturbed. Here is a man who spoke some of the most profound sayings ever recorded.