There are several approaches to defending the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Skeptics have offered a wide range of natural explanations throughout history to explain away the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In this post, I will go ahead and several of them and try to give a response. In some cases I will leave some additional reading.
#1: Legends Hypothesis: This hypothesis states that the New Testament accounts of the disciples who gave testimonies of the postmortem appearances are all legends that were invented much later.
Response: This can’t be supported by the evidence.From about AD 48 until his death, Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books. Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters.
Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Of his 13 books, critical scholars even accept six of them as being authentic in that we can be certain of the author and date of these writings. Of course, there are other scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson and Raymond Brown that think more than six of them are authored by Paul. But of the 13 books, the six are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. And it is fairly well known that Bart Ehrman has written a book called Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.
In this book, he discusses the other Pauline books that are in question to authorship. I will provide a response to this here by Mike Licona. I think Mike shows there can be a plausable case for the traditional authorship of the disputed New Testament letters that are attributed to Paul.
30 A.D.—–33A.D.—-40 A.D.—-50 A.D.—-55 A.D.—60 A.D.—65 A.D—70 A.D.
(CREED OF 1 Cor. 15:3-8 received before 55 A.D.)
Also, the creed that Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8 has been dated very shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus. Even the skeptical scholar Gerd Lüdemann says about the creed, “I do insist that the discovery of pre-Pauline confessional foundations is one of the great achievements in New Testament scholarship.” (1)
Even if the four Gospels were written some 30-70 years later, we still can posit that there was an entire oral history before the Gospels reached their written form. We can say confidently that there was simply not enough time for exaggeration or a legend to develop.
#2: The Naturalistic Objection
The one area that always creeps up into apologetics is the issue of naturalism which says that nature is the “whole show.” In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose). Naturalists generally only punt to one kind of explanation- non-intentional accounts. In other words, please don’t ever say there is any agency or interference into the natural world by an outside cause that is non-natural.
I have had the opportunity to lay out the arguments for the resurrection for various people. Most people seem to take two different approaches. One approach is what it called the a priori approach while the other is called the a posteriori approach. Deductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). It is evident that this objection to the miracles of Jesus is mostly philosophical in nature. Many skeptics attempt to claim that it was during the Enlightenment period that any so called miracle claim was cast into the domain of superstition and pre-modernism. After all, modern people can’t believe such silliness. Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification.
If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it). Some people may say they are open to taking an a posteriori approach to the resurrection. But when it comes time to actually examine the evidence they set the bar so high that no amount of evidence will ever convince them. So in many cases, if one is just utterly convinced that the natural world is all there is than I suggest looking to see if which worldview does a better job of explaining reality. For further reading, see:
Is Naturalism a Simpler Explanation Than Theism? by Paul Copan
God—The Best Explanation: Paul Copan
Miracles: Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?
#3: We Can’t Use the Historical Method to Determine Whether A Resurrection Took Place!
This objection is problematic. Bart Ehrman says:
Since historians can only establish what probably happened in the past, and the chances of a miracle happening, by definition, are infinitesimally remote, historians can never demonstrate that a miracle probably happened.(Ehrman 2008:243–244)
I doubt that historians would want to propose that the history can’t be used as a tool to detect a miracle such as the resurrection of Jesus. After all, it is certain aspects of the historical method that makes it possible to attempt to demonstrate that the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happened. So in other words, you can’t use the historcial method to show the resurrection of Jesus did happen. But we are free to use it to show for certain the resurrection didn’t happen. Hence, it is falsifiable. This seems a bit inconsistent.
#4: False Testimonies Hypothesis
There is no reason to distrust the conviction of those that testified to having seen the risen Jesus.
The Gospel of John uses words that are usually translated as witness, testimony, to bear witness, or to testify. The total usage of these words in John’s Gospel is larger than any of the Synoptic Gospels. The book of Acts is the next book with the most references to the terms related to eyewitness testimony. We see in the following New Testament passages where testimony and witness is used as a means to verify events:
• Luke 1:4: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received”
•Acts 2:32: “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it”
• Acts 3:14-15:But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”
• Acts 5:30-32: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
•1 John 1:1: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life”
•Acts 10:39 : “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”
•Acts 4:19-20: “Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”
•1 Peter 5:1: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.
•2 Peter 1:19: ” We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
•John 21:24: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”
•1 Corinthians 15: 3-8: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
As James Warner Wallace points out in his latest book people lie or have an ulterior motive for three reasons:
1.Financial Gain: In this case, we don’t see any evidence for this. The NT shows the disciples/apostles being chased from location to location, leaving their home and families and abandoning their property and what they owned.
2. Sexual or Relational Desire: The NT does not say much about their “love lives.” There are Scriptures that speak to sexual purity and chastity.
3. Pursuit of Power:
While Christianity became a state sponsored religion in the 4th century and the Popes became powerful both politically and religiously, there is no evidence (pre 70 AD), for the early disciples pursuing power as they proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. Just look at Paul’s testimony here:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 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.” – 2 Cor. 11: 23-27
#5: The Resurrection Story Was Invented From Other Dying and Rising God Stories!
Response: Sadly, the internet is full of allegations that the historical records of the life of Jesus are examples of religious plagiarism. The same old dying and rising god theme myth just gets rehashed over and over. What is even more problematic is the people who hold to this view automatically assume the New Testament witness to the resurrection of Jesus is false. Then they punt to the myths/mystery religions to explain the problems in the New Testament. Here are some resources:
A Look at Richard Carrier’s Critique of Bart Ehrman: Part One
The Zeitgeist Movie & Other Myth Claims about Jesus: Gregory Koukl
Was Jesus Christ just a CopyCat Savior Myth? Glen Miller
A Challenge for the Jesus Mythers and the Religious Plagarism Charge
#6: The Intramental/Hallucination Hypothesis Objection
This hypothesis is still remains one of the most popular options among skeptics. This hypothesis states that the experiences of the disciples were intramental phenomena such as hallucinations; the disciples and followers of Jesus were so emotionally involved with Jesus’ messianic expectation that their minds projected hallucinations of the risen Lord.
Response: First, the hallucination theory fails to meet the criteria for a group hallucination. Glen Miller lists the criteria here and why it fails.
Or, see N.T. Wright’s 3 part series on this topic:
#7: The Analogical Objection
An analogy is a relation of similarity between two or more things, so that an inference (reasoning from premise to conclusion) is drawn on the basis of that similarity. For example, if the resurrection of Jesus is known to have certain characteristics, and if another supernatural claim in another religion is known to have at least some of those same characteristics, the inference is drawn that the other supernatural claim also has those other characteristics. If the cases are not similar enough to warrant the inference, then it is a false analogy.
After all, if we are to accept that Jesus appeared to the disciples, what about the testimonies of people who say that Mary appeared to them at Fatima or Medjugorie? Also, what about UFO sightings? More examples could be given. It seems that we have eyewitness testimony in these events. Also, most of the people in these situations are sincere. They think they “saw” something and can trust their physical senses.
Response: When it comes to evaluating any religious claim, we must ask three questions: (1) What is the claim?; (2) What is the evidence for it?; (3) What is the religious and historical context for the claim? Former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). So if we look at these three questions, the Messianic claim is that Jesus was bodily resurrected. On a variety of occasions, he appeared to several people confirming He was raised from the dead. A follower of Jesus makes the claim based on the evidence that is seen in the historical records in the New Testament.
The historical setting of the claim is seen in the Second Temple Judaism Period. The entire ministry of Jesus allows for the proper context. The death had been considered an embarrassment and a curse. The resurrection coheres with Jesus’ entire early ministry. For example, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God. Also, for the Jewish people, the Torah was supposed to transform Jewish life and separate the Jewish people from the rest of the world. The mission of Jesus was not to overthrow Torah but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-19). Jesus never granted Torah as a mediator between humanity and God. Rather, Jesus understood his own person, not Torah, to be the means of eternal life (Mark 10:17-31). So in summary:
1. A miracle is an act of God that confirms a messenger from God.
2. Jesus offered a cumulative case that confirms He is the incarnation of the God of Israel—His fulfillment of prophecy, His sinless life, His messianic actions/messianic miracles, His speaking authority, and His miraculous resurrection.
3. Therefore, Jesus offered several lines of evidence that confirm that He is the incarnation of the God of Israel
These are just a few things that demonstrate that provide the context of Jesus’ ministry. The point is that not all miracle claims are equal in evidential support. This is just one example as to why it is incumbent upon us to think critically and try to answer the three questions that I just mentioned.
#8: The Genre of the Gospels Are Historical Fiction!
If someone makes the claim that the Gospels or other parts of the New Testament are myth (meaning half-truth, folklore, fantasy, or a fictionized account of history, etc), one thing that can aid in clearing up the confusion about this issue is genre studies. Most of the modern world’s standard of accuracy is defined by an age where tape recorders, video cameras are prevalent. To see our post on this topic, click here.
#9: The Faulty Sources Objection
This objection says that the New Testament documents are not trustworthy. So if that is the case, all the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus fall flat. We have enough resources on this topic.
What can we know about Jesus? Sources for the Historical Jesus
From Jesus to Us: A Look at P.O.W.E.R.
The Gospels as Historical Biography (Richard Bauckham)
Craig Blomberg: Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him And Why It Matters
To see more about this issue, see our resource page called Evidence For The Resurrection of Jesus