The resurrection of Jesus is the most important miracle in the entire Bible. If it can be established that Jesus really rose from the dead, then Christianity is true and you are rational in deciding to pray that Sinner’s prayer, find yourself a church to join, and worship Him. One may wonder why the entirety of Christianity’s truth hinges on this one event occurring. I already said why in the introduction, but I don’t mind repeating it here.
Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed to be God multiple times, but in Mark 14:60-62, we find one of his most explicit claims to deity. “Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (Emphasis mine in bold)
Jesus’ response evoked a charge of blasphemy from the Jewish high priest. Jesus claimed to be the Son Of Man, who as we see in Daniel 7:13-14, comes riding on the clouds of Heaven, is seated with the Ancient Of Days, and is given glory, sovereignty and power, and an everlasting dominion. People all over the world worship this Son Of Man. In part 4 of this blog post series, I explain in more detail that the language of “cloud riding” was something repeatedly ascribed to Yahweh alone in The Old Testament, and that the Old Testament prophets took this term from the Ugaritic Baal literature in order to mount a polemic against Baal. In other words, the Old Testament prophets were saying “Baal is not the one who makes the clouds his chariots, Yahweh is.” This was an epithet of deity. No mere human or Angel “rode the clouds” in ancient Judaism. Moreover, by saying that Jesus would be seated at the right hand of God (alluding to Psalm 110:1), Jesus was basically saying that he would be seated on God’s throne. To sit on God’s throne is to claim equality with God. So, Jesus was basically saying “I’m the cloud rider, I sit on God’s throne, and like Daniel said, I’m going to be given glory, sovereign power and an everlasting kingdom.” Jesus could only make his claim to deity more blatant by using the three words “I am God.” It is no wonder why the high priest tore his robes and accused Jesus of blasphemy!
Jesus’ claim to be God would indeed be blasphemous if it were not true. This is where the resurrection comes in. For if God The Father raised Jesus from the dead, then that means that God put his stamp of approval on Jesus’ ministry, including his teachings. God would surely not resurrect a heretic and a blasphemer. For if Jesus rose, that would persuade his disciples and other Jews that Jesus really is who he claims to be. God, in raising Jesus is vindicating his claims for which his enemies killed him as a blasphemer. If Jesus rose from the dead, then this is just another way of God The Father saying “This is indeed my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Jesus really is the second person of the Godhead if he resurrected.
Now, what follows from this? It follows that what Jesus teaches, we can put a lot of stock in. I am not well versed in the case for the historical reliability of the Old Testament like I am for the New Testament, but I still believe it. I believe it because Jesus taught that the Old Testament was the divinely inspired word of God. He quoted from it as authoritative on numerous occasions. Who would be in a better position to know whether or not The Old Testament came from God than God Himself? This is why we apologists sometimes say “I don’t believe in Jesus because I believe The Bible. I believe The Bible because I believe in Jesus.” If God The Son says the Old Testament is divinely inspired and authoritative, that’s good enough for me. We are also, therefore, justified in affirming the existence of angels and demons, Heaven and Hell, and the historicity of Genesis 1-11 provided our exegesis leads us to conclude the author intended for Adam and Eve, the flood, etc. to be historical. I am a Theistic Evolutionist. I do think Genesis 1-11 is meant to be taken as basically historical. Although I would agree with Old Testament scholars John Walton, and Tremper Longmann that it … Continue reading
If Jesus rose from the dead, then you get the entire Christian worldview thrown in with it. However, the opposite is also true. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is false. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” So, let’s dive into this topic.
We Have Eyewitness Testimony That Is Early
In parts 2 and 3 of this blog post series, we saw that we have very good grounds for affirming that the tax collector wrote the gospel of Matthew, John son of Zebedee wrote the gospel of John, Mark wrote the gospel of Mark which was based on the eyewitness testimony of Peter, and Luke the physician and Paul’s traveling companion wrote the gospel of Luke. Luke was not an eyewitness but tells us he interviewed those who were. For me, Mark having Simon Peter as his primary source is just about as good as Simon Peter writing the gospel himself! Ergo, we have three eyewitnesses to the comings and going’s of Jesus and one secondary source who spoke to eyewitnesses.
For readers who would like to look at the evidence for traditional authorship, I highly recommend reading part 2 of this series if you haven’t already. In this article, I will not rehash the evidence for traditional authorship.
We also saw that the gospels were written very early, a measly 20-30 years after the death of Jesus.
What Do The Eyewitnesses Tell Us Happened?
I will first examine the details that the eyewitnesses have provided us. After we look at the details of their testimony, we will then examine how we should account for why the eyewitnesses told these resurrection stories.
Detail 1: Jesus died by crucifixion
All four gospels tell us that Jesus died by crucifixion. The death of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 27:32-56, Mark 15:21-41, Luke 23:26-49, and John 19. And as we saw in part 4, Jesus’ death by crucifixion is attested to by secular authors as well such as Josephus (Anitquities of The Jews book 15), Tacitus (Annals 15.3.3), Mara-Bar Sarapion, Lucian Of Samosata (The Passing Of Peregrinus). The Babylonian Talmud also made mention of Jesus being crucified (Sanhedrin 43:a). Therefore, Jesus’ death on a cross is multiply, multiply, multiply attested. Paul in his epistles also attests to the death of Jesus by crucifixion (e.g 1 Corinthians 15:3). We have at minimum 7 independent sources. This is why no one and I mean NO ONE in New Testament scholarship doubts that Jesus’ crucifixion actually happened. To believe that 5 independent non-Christian sources in addition to the synoptic gospels, John, and Paul could all independently make up the same fictional event and treat it like historical fact is so fantastically improbable that if it actually happened, it would probably be more miraculous than Jesus’ resurrection.
Of course, I am not running a minimal facts argument for Jesus’ resurrection, so neither scholarly nose count nor the criteria of authenticity will be of much use here. I merely bring this up in an attempt to show those who would deny Jesus’ very existence and fancy themselves “rational critical thinkers” to realize that in reality they are affirming something quite unreasonable. Jesus’ existence and death on a cross is indisputable. Whatever facts you may want to dispute in this overall case, this should not be one of them.
The agnostic historian Bart Ehrman states that “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate. “. A Brief Introduction to the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman 2008 ISBN 0-19-536934-3 page 136 The highly critical scholar of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan, writes, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” See John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 145; see also 154, 196, 201. Like Ehrman, Crossan is not a Christian. Yet both Ehrman and Crossan agree that Jesus’ death by crucifixion is a historical fact. Gerd Ludemann, an atheist historian said: “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is an indisputable fact.” Dr. Gerd Ludemann, “The Resurrection Of Christ: A Historical Inquiry”, 2004, page 50.
Detail 2: The Tomb Was Empty The Following Sunday Morning
All four gospels attest that the tomb was empty the following Sunday morning. The tomb was discovered empty by women who met angels who said that Jesus was not in the tomb but had risen. (See Matthew 28:1-15, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-13). We read in all four accounts that the tomb was empty, that there was some level of surprise on the part of the women, and that the women were told to go tell the male disciples that Jesus had risen. In Luke 24:6-7, one of the angels at the tomb reminds the women that Jesus had predicted that this would happen; “that the Son Of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:6-7). The women remembered these words (Luke 24:8).
Detail 3: Jesus’ Postmortem Appearance To Mary
In John 20:11-18, we read “Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.”
Detail 4: Jesus’ Postmortem Appearances To The Other Women
Matthew 28:9-10 says “But Jesus met them, saying, ‘Greetings!’ They came to him, held on to his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.’ (NET Bible translation)
Detail 5: Jesus’ Appearance To The Disciples On The Road To Emmaus
In Luke 24:13-35, we read “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.’
He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’
Detail 6: Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances Were Of A Physical Nature
The eyewitnesses describe Jesus doing and saying things that caused them to believe that what they were seeing wasn’t a mere ghost, but an embodied person. In Luke 24:36-37 we read that they indeed thought that they saw a ghost at first, but in verses 38-39, Jesus invited his disciples to touch his hands and feet, saying that a ghost (or demon depending on your translation) does not have flesh and bones. To double down on the proof that he really was physically alive he asked them if they had anything to eat. The disciples gave Jesus a piece of fish and Jesus proceeded to chow down. (Luke 24:41-43).
In John 20, we read that Thomas was not with the others when the aforementioned occurred (verse 4). In verse 25, we read that the disciples come to Thomas and tell him that they have seen the risen Jesus. However, Thomas is highly skeptical and says that he would not believe unless he was able to put his fingers in Jesus’ crucifixion wounds. In verses 26-27, we read that Jesus shows up and invites Thomas to do just that to which Thomas cries out “My Lord and my God!” And notice how Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas for calling him God. That is Jesus implicitly putting his stamp of approval on Thomas’ exclamation. Anyway, notice how physical these postmortem appearances are. Notice how detailed the eyewitness accounts are. This will be important later on in this article.
In John’s gospel, we read that Jesus appeared to his disciples and ate fish with them again. This is in John 21:1-14. Jesus had long extended conversations with his disciples, they touched him, they ate with him. They ate with the risen Jesus not just once, but twice!
Detail 7: The Risen Jesus Stuck Around For 40 Days.
Luke tells us in his second work that “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)
Unlike how a lot of Bible movies depict things, Jesus didn’t ascend into Heaven on the same day that he rose from the dead. Granted, you might get that impression from Luke’s first work, but as Erik Manning has pointed out, Luke is telescoping the narrative. Manning says “Luke doesn’t say Jesus’ ascension took place on the same day as the resurrection. What Luke is doing is telescoping the events, which is a standard rhetorical method of the time. Telescoping is simply taking a longer storyline and putting it into a brief form without changing the facts.” See See Erik Manning, “Are The Accounts Of Jesus’ Ascension Contradictory?”
October 8, 2020 — https://isjesusalive.com/are-the-accounts-of-jesuss-ascension-contradictory/.
What Is The Best Explanation?
So, we know that two of the gospels are written by eyewitnesses (Matthew, John) one was basically a scribe of an eyewitness (Mark), and one interviewed many eyewitnesses (Luke). We know what they testified to. All you have to do is read the gospels to know, what, precisely they were claiming. Now we have to ask; WHY did they say that they saw and heard all of these things? What is the best explanation as to why these men testified to an extraordinary miracle? I think that the best explanation is that Jesus really rose from the dead and that is why they wrote these stories down.
In order to argue to that conclusion, I will use a syllogism that the Philosopher Lydia McGrew has formulated. See, for example, “Minimal Facts VS Maximal Data. Approaches To The Resurrection: A Conversation With Lydia McGrew”, Apologetics Academy” – https://youtu.be/RUt3r3dXBr4
1: The gospel authors were either lying, mistaken, or were telling the truth.
2: The gospel authors were not lying or mistaken.
3: Therefore, they were telling the truth.
This is a logically valid syllogism. The conclusion follows from the premises by the rule of disjunctive syllogism.
Now, the first premise seems indisputable. It’s simply a list of possible explanations. How can one object to a list of possible explanations? Now, if the skeptic can think of a fourth alternative, he is more than welcome to add it to the list and then we can examine it when we come to premise 2. However, it doesn’t seem to me like there are any more possibilities than these three. One possibility is that they were either pulling these stories out of their tunics, they were just bald face liars. They, for some reason or other, wanted to tell a fantastic tale. A second possibility is that they really believed what they were saying, it’s just that they were mistaken. Maybe they had hallucinations of the risen Jesus brought on by grief. Maybe they had such high expectations that Jesus would rise that they talked themselves into seeing things that weren’t really there. Or maybe Jesus somehow survived and never died to begin with, so when he showed up a few days later, the disciples mistakenly concluded that their master had returned from the dead. The third possibility in this list is that they were telling the truth. Jesus Christ is alive. He is risen and risen indeed. What other alternatives could there be than these three?
The only disputable premise in this argument is the second one; that they were neither lying or mistaken. This is where the debate will lie Unless the skeptic wants to dispute that these even are early, eyewitness statements to begin with. In which case, we will debate the authorship of the gospels. This is what David Pallmann did in his … Continue reading
So let’s look at reasons to think this premise is true.
Were they lying?
The first option in what I call the “McGrewian Trilemma” is that the disciples Matthew, John, and Peter, and Luke’s sources were just flat out fabricating things. This is implausible for a couple of reasons. First, I am assuming that the reader has followed this series all the way through from the introduction until now. If not, I invite the reader to go back in this series and read those blog articles. When you are done, return here. I’ll wait. ….. Welcome back! As you saw in the earlier articles, the gospel authors were verified in a variety of different places and different ways. External sources (secular authors and archeology) confirmed the broad outline of the gospel story. Authors like Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny The Younger, Lucian Of Samosata, and archeological findings such as The Pilate Stone Inscription, The Caiaphas Ossuary, the coins with Herod Antipas’ name inscribed on them, the Pool Of Bethesda, and more corroborated the historical trustworthiness of the gospels at numerous points. Internally, we saw that the gospels were not afraid to tell us the truth even when it made themselves look bad, or raised awkward theological questions. Over and over again, they depicted themselves as uncaring, dim-witted, and unbelieving. There are even some eye-raising things in the gospels about Jesus such as the fact that they report that his own family didn’t believe in him (Mark 3:21, 31, John 7:5). Or when an adulterous woman washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-39, which as Frank Turek and Norman Geisler pointed out in their book, could have been perceived as a sexual advance. Frank Turek, Norman Geisler, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, Crossway, page 278 Other criteria of authenticity repeatedly verify their claims. Some of their claims are multiply attested sometimes by each other in instances in which they’re not riffing on Mark, (either M, L, Q) and/or by extra-biblical sources. Some of Jesus’ sayings meet the criterion of dissimilarity. Moreover, a multitude of “undesigned coincidences” confirm that these are eyewitnesses just telling things the way they happened, not clever story crafters. These don’t look like the kind of people who would lie about the resurrection. When people are known to be truthful over and over and over, when their claims are verified at every point in which they can be fact-checked, we typically take them to be reliable, honest people. We take what they say at face value going forward because they have shown themselves to be honest and trustworthy.
The repeated verifications of their testimonies make the antecedent probability of them lying at this juncture incredibly low.
However, if this is not enough, consider the fact that all of the disciples with the exception of John got themselves beaten, tortured, and killed for preaching the resurrection. Before I get into the evidential value of the disciples martyrdom, it’s important to first answer the question; how do we know the disciples died as martyrs?
Let us look at Peter’s Martyrdom. Although it is likely that Peter’s speech about wanting to be crucified upside down may have been a legend that developed later See Sean McDowell’s article “Was Peter Crucified Upside Down?”, October 22nd 2015 https://seanmcdowell.org/blog/was-peter-crucified-upside-down the evidence that he did die in this way is strong.
Clement Of Rome (AD 95) writing to the Corinthians, Clement reminds the church of the recent Apostles’ martyrdoms. He notes:
“But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.” Clement of Rome, First Clement, Chapter V.
Tertullian, in his De Præscriptione 36, says: “If thou art near Italy, thou hast Rome where authority is ever within reach. How fortunate is this Church for which the Apostles have poured out their whole teaching with their blood, where Peter has emulated the Passion of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John”. (Emphasis mine) In Scorpiace 15, he also speaks of Peter’s crucifixion. “The budding faith Nero first made bloody in Rome. There Peter was girded by another, since he was bound to the cross“. (Emphasis mine)
Bishop Dionysius of Corinth, in his letter to the Roman Church (165-74), says: “You have therefore by your urgent exhortation bound close together the sowing of Peter and Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both planted the seed of the Gospel also in Corinth, and together instructed us, just as they likewise taught in the same place in Italy and at the same time suffered martyrdom” in Eusebius, Church History II.25.
Although Clement and Dionysus simply say that Peter suffered Martyrdom, Tertullian specifically says that Peter’s martyrdom was by crucifixion.
Listen to Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21:18-19
“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Then in verse 19, John tells us that Jesus said these things to indicate the way in which Peter would die. Now, whether or not you believe Jesus predicted Peter’s death ahead of time or had the power to tell the future is beside the point. The argument I am making here is that John’s gospel seems to describe Peter dying in a way that sounds a lot like crucifixion. Crucified victims obviously had to stretch out their limbs in order for the soldiers to nail their hands and feet to their crosses. If Peter did not die in this way, then it’s unlikely that John would include it in his gospel. Even if you think John retroactively put this in Jesus’ mouth, nevertheless John attests to Peter’s martyrdom.
Peter’s martyrdom is multiply attested by four independent sources. Two of which date back as early as the 90s, approximately 30 years after the point in which most scholars date Peter’s death.
Matthew died by martyrdom as well. According to the fifth-century Hieronymian Martyrology, Matthew was martyred in the town of Tarrium, Persia. Other medieval apostolic lists name Matthew as a martyr as well. For instance, the entry for Matthew in the Breviarium Apostolorum (c. AD 600) says: “He first preached the gospel in Judea, and after that in Macedonia, and he suffered martyrdom in Persia.” The sources on Matthew’s death in particular aren’t as strong as that for Peter, and there are some sources that conflict on exactly how he died. Yet despite some sources disagreeing on exactly how Matthew died, it’s almost unanimous that he was martyred in some way or another. I think we can be confident, therefore, that Matthew did suffer martyrdom even if we don’t know the exact method his persecutors used to kill him.
John is thought by most scholars to have died a natural death on the island of Patmos just after authoring Revelation. Despite not dying a martyr death himself, it is still nonetheless true that John was at least WILLING to die if it came to that. In Acts 12:1-2, we read that Herod Agrippa put John’s brother James to death to appease the anti-Christian Jews. Surely John would have known “Hey, if it happened to my brother! It could happen to me!” And shortly thereafter we read of Saul’s persecution of the church before his conversion. John surely knew that if he continued on the path he was on, he at least faced the possibility of martyrdom.
Now, why would these people willingly die for what they knew was a lie? If they knew that what they were saying wasn’t true, why would they go through brutal, torturous deaths? It just doesn’t make any sense? Do you honestly expect me to believe that Peter would come up with wild tales, give them to Mark, and then die a slow, torturous death by crucifixion? This just doesn’t make any sense. The same for Matthew, why would he make up tall tales and then go get himself offed when he could have saved himself by recanting?
And while John most probably died of old age, he still was nevertheless exiled. I don’t think it is necessary to establish that all of the disciples died as martyrs, just establishing that they were WILLING to die will suffice, and the historical evidence certainly shows that all of the eleven were at least willing to die if it came to that. Indeed, Polycarp, who personally knew the apostle John, wrote “They are in the place due them with the Lord, in association with him also they suffered together. For they did not love the present age. . . .” Polycarp, “To The Philippians”, 9.2
At this point, people will point out “Well, other religions have martyrs too!” And they will use examples like Islamic extremists who are willing to blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings because they believe their god told them to. “Does that prove Islam is true?” But this is a misunderstanding of the argument. The appeal to the apostle’s martyrdoms (or at least willingness to be martyred) isn’t that this proves that Jesus rose from the dead and that Christianity is true. Rather, this proves that the disciples weren’t lying about it. If they died for it, that means they sincerely believed it. No one thinks that the 9/11 terrorists who got into the cockpit thought to themselves that they were wrong and were dying for nothing. No, while wrong, they sincerely believed they were doing the right thing. Moreover, it’s also of note that apostles like Peter and Matthew differ even from Christian martyrs of today. I might die for what I believe to be true based on the testimony of the New Testament. The apostles were martyred based on what they were in a position to know was true or false. If the resurrection is simply made up, then they were the ones who made it up. The claims originated with them. And yet they all got themselves, beaten, and killed. Liars make poor martyrs.
Some have argued that the martyrdom of the apostles isn’t as good of an argument as we Christian Apologists often make it out to be. They will say that deterrence does not guarantee that people will not break the law, so it very well could have been the case that the apostles lied about the resurrection. They knew the risks, they just hoped that they could evade the authorities. The problem with this response is that people who steal, kill, or whatever, risk getting punished because they think that the reward is worth the risk. If there were no reward for unlawful behavior, why would anyone break the law?
People can die for lies IF….they sincerely believe the lie is actually the truth, or if they have motives so strong it can override their risk of dying.
Yet what motive did the disciples have? J. Warner Wallace wrote in “Cold Case Christianity” in the context of this very subject that all the criminals he’s put away had one or more of three motives; money, sex, and power. J. Warner Wallace, “Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels”, David C Cook, Page 240 Yet the disciples weren’t getting maidens, getting rich, or becoming powerful. And Paul especially, since in Galatians 1, he talks about how he was advancing in Judaism well beyond his years. He seemed to be fine where he was.
So there’s no motive. They didn’t get ladies, wealth, or power. Now on the other side, what they did have to look forward to (and actually got) was being beaten, tortured, and killed. If a prosecutor could not give ANY good motive for why the defendant supposedly did X, and the defense gave a plethora of reasons why doing X would be detrimental, good luck convincing me that the defendant is guilty! You’d need overpowering, irrefutable evidence to convince me that the defendant did crime X when he had nothing to gain and everything to lose. So the prosecutor better have the evidence like the defendant’s fingerprints on the gun, video footage, lots of eyewitness testimony saying the guy did it, etc.
Likewise, it would take extraordinarily powerful evidence to convince me that the disciples died for a lie they KNEW consciously was a lie, despite having nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Were They Mistaken?
So, they weren’t lying. But, maybe skepticism still has hope. Maybe the disciples/gospel authors were simply mistaken. There are a few theories that skeptics like to give for how the gospel authors might possibly have been mistaken. The Mistaken category encompasses a wide range of theories that will need to be looked at one by one. First; we have The Hallucination Theory, The GroupThink Theory, The Swoon Theory, The Wrong Tomb Theory, The Removed Body Theory, The Cognitive Dissonance Theory, The Twin Theory, The Alien Theory, and the Ghost Jesus theory. Most of these are naturalistic explanations with the exception of the last one. That last one is a supernatural alternative.
The Hallucination Theory
This is probably by far the most popular naturalistic theory to account for the disciples’ sincere belief that they had seen the risen Jesus. This theory posits that the disciples of Jesus had hallucinations of the risen Jesus. Sometimes the reason cited is that these were bereavement hallucinations. The disciples were so in agony over the loss of their beloved leader that their minds conjured up a vision of Jesus to tell them that he was all right. Bereavement hallucinations do happen. However, the hallucination theory just cannot bear the weight of the evidence.
The gospels tell us that Jesus appeared to multiple groups of people on multiple different occasions. Jesus appeared indoors and outdoors, to hard hearted people like Thomas and softhearted people like Mary.
The list of postmortem appearances are as follows;
1. Mary Magdalene: John 20:11–18
2. Women leaving the tomb: Matthew 28:8–10
3. Emmaus disciples: Luke 24:13–35
4. Simon Peter: Luke 24:34 (see also 1 Corinthians 15:5)
5. Disciples without Thomas: Luke 24:36–43
6. Disciples with Thomas: John 20:24–29
7. Disciples at the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias): John 21:1, 2
8. Disciples on a mountain in Galilee: Matthew 28:16, 17
9. Disciples: Luke 24:50–52
Are ALL of these people going to experience the same hallucination of the risen Jesus? Hallucinations are products of an individual’s mind. They’re like dreams in this way. Imagine you rolled over in the middle of the night and woke up your spouse saying “Honey, you’ve got to come join me in this great dream I’m having. There’s a fine resort, a beach, and there’s even an amusement park nearby. Let’s both go back to sleep. We’ll have the same dream, and we’ll save so much money by not having to go on an actual vacation together.” It would be nice if we could do that, but we can’t. Why? Because dreams are products of an individual’s mind. They can’t be shared experiences. For even one group of people at one time to have the exact same hallucination would be fantastically improbable!
In their book “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus” Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus”, pages 105-106, Kregel, Gary Habermas and Mike Licona tell of Navy Seals who were enduring through Hell week. At one point, the seals reported starting having hallucinations one night while they were paddling in a raft at night. They all hallucinated at the same time, BUT they did not have the same hallucination. They had different hallucinations. One of them said he saw an octopus come out of the water and wave at him. Another said he saw a train coming towards them on the water. Another said he saw a wall that they would crash into if they persisted in paddling. When the octopus, the train, and the wall were pointed out to the rest of the group, no one saw any of the things except the one who pointed the thing out. They were all hallucinating, but they were having different hallucinations. So, even if on the off chance, all of the disciples were in the frame of mind to hallucinate, it’s still unlikely that they’d have the SAME hallucination at the SAME time. Like the Navy Seals, they’d likely all have different hallucinations, perhaps only one of them being Jesus.
But it isn’t just one time that the disciples saw the risen Jesus. It was multiple times. Once they saw him when Thomas was absent (Luke 24:36-43), then they saw him later again when Thomas was with them (John 20:24-29), and then again while they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee (John 21:2, 2). He also appeared to them on a mountain (Matthew 28:16, 17). Now, one group hallucination is improbable at it is, but are you seriously going to expect me to believe that this group of men had the same hallucination (bereavement induced or otherwise) again and again and again and again? There is just no record of this kind of thing in the psychological literature! A grieving widow may see the “ghost” of her dead husband for a brief moment. Maybe she’ll even hear him speak “I’m ok. I will always love you. You’re strong. You can make it without me.” On my worldview, I can’t rule out all of these examples of being vertical experiences of disembodied loved ones coming to tell their family members that they’re going to be ok. Since the … Continue reading But there’s no record of every member of the family seeing him at the same time, on multiple different occasions. Oh, and by the way, the body is missing from the tomb.
But it gets even worse than that, for the gospels tell us that the disciples saw Jesus ate fish with them on not just one, but two occasions. This is recorded in Luke 24:36-37 and John 21:10-14. Jesus talked with his disciples at length. The conversation between the risen Jesus and the disciples in John 21 is an example. So, what the skeptic of Christianity is asking us to believe is that the disciples not only had MULTIPLE GROUP hallucinations, but multiple group MULTI-SENSORY hallucinations. They not only SAW Jesus, they FELT his body, and they HEARD him speak. So, they were allegedly hallucinating the risen Jesus all at the same, and three of their five senses were fooling them. Are you kidding me? This is not the least bit plausible.
Give me one example of a bereavement hallucination where Grandpa shows up not just to Grandma, but to the whole family on multiple occasions, speaks at length, you reach out and feel his arm and it feels solid, and Grandpa eats a meal from Long John Silver. Oh, and Grandpa’s body is gone from the tomb. Is there anything like this in the psychological literature, Mr. Skeptic? Am I missing something?
The Hallucination Theory is simply untenable. I didn’t touch on the evidence of the postmortem appearances to the skeptics Saul Of Tarsus (Paul) and James, who both converted on the basis of what they perceived to be an appearance of the risen Jesus. I could have, but I think if I did, the skeptic would post the “Stop! Stop! He’s already dead!” Simpsons meme. Though if you’re interested, I wrote a whole article on a while back. It’s called “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 6: Facts (4) and (5) The Postmortem Appearances To … Continue reading
In conclusion, the Hallucination theory is pathetic. It can’t explain hardly any of the details of the testimony that the eyewitnesses sincerely believed and wrote down. Maybe a grief hallucination could account for individual postmortem appearances like that to Mary Magdalene, but it certainly cannot account for the multitude of group appearances with such specific details as Jesus talking and eating with his disciples and inviting them to feel his hands and feet, specifically to check that he is not a ghost (Luke 24:39).
Excursus: The Legendary Embellishment Theory
Now, liberal scholars like Dale Allison will try to say that these highly detailed accounts of the risen Jesus which I have used to discredit the Hallucination Theory above are later legendary inventions, Dale Allison, “The Resurrection Of Jesus: Apologetics, Polemic, History and that the best material we really have is the appearances in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed which dates 2-5 years after the death of Jesus by most scholars. For evidence that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is an early creed, see my blog post “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 5: Fact (3) – The Postmortem Appearances To The Disciples” The problem with this view is that we saw in Parts 2 and 3 of this series that the gospels were written by mostly eyewitnesses and that they date extremely early (by ancient historical standards) to the events they recount. We already ruled out that the apostles are not lying, and we saw in part 3 that something of this magnitude would have been an impact event on their minds. So it is extremely doubtful that 20-30 years after the event, they would have forgotten the details and just fabricated details like Jesus eating fish. Not to mention that most of the evidence in this series has shown that the gospel authors are trying to tell the truth. Everywhere they can be verified, they are proven right. Unless skeptics can undermine the case for traditional authorship and make a case for late dating, then I don’t think the idea of Jesus eating fish and having conversations with his apostles can be dismissed at later legendary development. If the gospels came from thirdhand, fourth-hand, or fifth-hand sources written 60-100 years after the event, then sure. I could buy that. But such is not the case. We are getting these highly specific details straight from the horses’ mouths only a couple of decades after the event. And, we already know that they’re not lying. They must either be mistaken or telling the truth.
The GroupThink Theory
Some skeptics have considered that perhaps the disciples were so in anticipation of Jesus’ return from the dead that they talked themselves into believing it. One day they went to the tomb and John was like “Peter, I think I see Jesus, over there! Do you see him?” and Peter was like “Oh, yeah! I think I see him too!” and they kind of talked themselves into it. Well, this couldn’t be the case either. Why? Because you have to be in anticipation that you’re going to experience something like that. You have to be primed for it. They weren’t! There are four reasons why the groupthink theory is untenable.
1: Jesus died. Jews weren’t expecting a dying messiah, but a messiah who would be a conquering warrior king, one who would throw off the yoke of Rome. The Jews of the first century got their prophecies mixed up. Jesus will indeed get rid of all the evil in the world, He will overthrow Israel’s oppressors, but He’ll do this in His second coming. … Continue reading
2: According to the Old Testament (which Jews call the “Tanakh”), anyone hung on a tree was under God’s curse. This is mentioned in Deuteronomy 21:23. Since Roman crosses were made out of wood, they were technically trees, so people would often times speak of the crucified as “being hung on a tree”. And since this was in the minds of Jews, the way in which Jesus died would have only served to convince the disciples that Caiaphas and the others were right in condemning Jesus as a blasphemer and a heretic.
3: Given what the Jews believed about the bodily resurrection, no one would have been anticipating Jesus’ return. Second Temple Jews generally fell into two camps; those who believed the dead would be raised from the dead bodily, and those who believed no one would get an afterlife. These were the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees respectively. The latter didn’t expect anyone at any time to rise from the dead, and the former believed that all people would rise from the dead at the end of the world (some to eternal life, others to shame and everlasting punishment as Daniel 12:2 says), but neither party expected any isolated person to get out of their grave right smack dab in the middle of human history.
4: And if that weren’t enough, consider that Luke 24:11 tells us that when the women came and testified to Jesus’ resurrection, we are explicitly told that they did not believe them. Luke says “Their words were like idle nonsense to them.” And Thomas was so skeptical that he not only disbelieved the women, but he also disbelieved his fellow male disciples when they, after seeing the risen Jesus with their own eyes, told Thomas that Jesus had indeed risen. Thomas only believed when he saw Jesus appear to him. This is where Thomas got his infamous nickname “Doubting Thomas”.
As you can see, the disciples were not expecting that Jesus would rise from the dead. In fact, they had every predisposition to the contrary. And yet, they all believed they saw Jesus alive after His death!
The Swoon Theory
Some skeptics have tried to adequately account for all of the details in the gospels by saying that maybe Jesus didn’t really die in the first place. Maybe he merely fainted on the cross and then the cool, damp air of the tomb sort of roused him around into consciousness. Jesus then left the tomb, came to his disciples, and presented Himself to them. Since they presumed he was dead, it’s only natural that they should infer that Jesus came back to life, right? So, we don’t have a miraculous resurrection, simply a fortuitous resuscitation. This would explain the empty tomb and the postmortem appearances. It would explain the physicality of the resurrection appearances since Jesus never really died. He was standing right there. Of course they’d be able to feel him. And Jesus would certainly be able to eat fish. People who escape death by a hair’s breadth can still eat. Ask anyone who’s ever woken up in a hospital. This theory goes by two names; sometimes it’s called “The Apparent Death Theory”, but I prefer to refer to it by its other name; “The Swoon Theory”. Can this theory explain how the gospel authors might have been mistaken?
I don’t think it can. There are several problems with it. The following descriptions are very graphic; reader’s discretion is advised.
First of all, given the nature of pre-crucifixion scourging, and of the crucifixion itself, it is extremely unlikely that a crucifixion victim could walk away alive.
When a to-be-crucified person was scourged, they would be given 40 lashes. History tells us that the Roman 40 lashes were from a whip of braided leather thongs, with metal balls, broken pieces of sheep bone, broken glass, and basically anything sharp that would cut a person. These sharp pieces of sheep bone, metal, and broken glass were woven into the braided leather thongs. When the whip would strike the flesh, these would cause deep bruises and the flesh would be cut severely. You can easily imagine how shredded a person’s back would be after being slashed in 40 different places with multiple blades!
According to Dr. Alexander Methrell, the cuts and force of the beating could shred the back so much that the spine of the victim was sometimes exposed! See Dr. Alexander Methrell’s interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case For Christ”, chapter 11, page 195, published by Zondervan The whipping would have gone all the way down the shoulders to the back, and the back of the legs. One physician who has studied Roman beatings said: “As the flogging continued the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.” Lumpkin R: The physical suffering of Christ. J Med. Assoc Ala 1978,47:8-10,47.
Eusebius, a third-century historian, described scourging with the following words: “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.”
The pre-crucifixion scourging was so horrific that the white of the spine was sometimes exposed (according to both Dr. Alexander Methrell and The Journal Of American Medical Association, March edition from 1986), and that the condemned victim’s veins, muscles, sinews, and bowels would become visible from the outside! This is the type of horrific beating that Jesus endured!
The result of such a hellish beating would mean that Jesus would very likely go into Hypovolemic shock. No, I’m not a trained medical professional. I’m getting all of this information primarily from three sources; Doctor Alexander Methrell, from his interview with Lee Strobel in The Case For … Continue reading Hypovolemic shock is caused by severe blood loss. It causes four symptoms to occur. First, the heart races in a desperate attempt to replace all the blood that was lost, second, the blood pressure plummets bringing about fainting or collapsing, third, urine production in the kidneys comes to an end to preserve what little liquid is left in the body, and fourth, the person has an overwhelming thirst come over them.
When you read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ execution, these symptoms are evident in Jesus. At one point, Jesus falls while carrying his cross, and Simon of Cyrene is forced to help Jesus carry his cross the rest of the way (Matthew 27:32). Later, when Jesus was on the cross, He said “I thirst”, and then a Roman soldier dipped a sponge in vinegar and stuck it up to Jesus’ mouth for him to drink (see John 19:28-29). Jesus was in critical condition even before He was crucified!
Jesus then carried His cross to the site of the crucifixion, and the Romans nailed Him to it.
Now, how does crucifixion kill its victims? Scientific experiments have been done on volunteers to test what the effects of hanging on a cross would have. These were controlled circumstances, so there was no real danger of these people being harmed. While these volunteers were hanging on the cross, they would mention having difficulty breathing. They would have to push up and down in order to breathe. Eventually, they’d get too exhausted to push up and down anymore, so the scientist would take the person down off the cross at the volunteer’s request. Some of these experiments were shown on camera on the History Channel documentary called “Crucifixion”. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1210802/
What these experiments showed was that crucifixion victims die from suffocation. Once Jesus was hanging vertically, the weight of his body and the position of his arms put great stress on the diaphragm, and would put his chest in an inhaled position. So in order to exhale, Jesus would have had to push up on his feet and take a breath, but each time he did this he’d be pushing on the nail in his feet tearing the muscle until it locked against the tarsal bones in his feet (not to mention he’d be scraping his back against the coarse wood of the cross). Finally, with the pressure on his chest eased he’d be able to exhale. He would push up to exhale and then come back down to inhale. Then go up to exhale, and then come back down to inhale. Over, and over, and over. But eventually, exhaustion would take over and he could no longer push himself up to breathe. He would just sag there and die of asphyxiation. The Roman soldiers would have noticed when a person was dead once he stopped pushing up. And look, you can’t fake the inability to breathe for very long.
In fact, when the Romans wanted to speed up death, they’d break the legs of the people on the crosses with a massive club. Then they wouldn’t be able to push up to breathe, and death would come quickly. However, they didn’t do this to Jesus because they saw that He was already dead, but just to make sure, they drove a spear through him. It punctured both his heart and his lung. The gospel of John tells us that when he did that, blood and water gushed out (John 19:34). John himself claims to be an eyewitness of this water and blood gushing (“The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” – John 19:35). This single fact proves that not only was Jesus dead, but it also tells us what He died of; heart failure, due to shock and constriction of the heart detected by the presence of fluid in the pericardium. In this instance, the heart has ceased beating. This brought about an accumulation of fluid in Jesus’ heart, which is called “pericardial effusion”. In addition to this, it also brought about a collection of fluid in the lungs, which is called “pleural effusion”. These two fluids cannot be present if the person’s heart is still beating.
This theory fails because:
It was impossible for Jesus to survive this whole ordeal.
1: Jesus was in hypovolemic shock from the pre-crucifixion scourging alone! Jesus was in critical condition even on his way to the cross, so he would have bled out quickly.
2: But if bleeding out didn’t kill him, He would have eventually died of suffocation.
3: If neither of those two things got him, we can be sure Jesus’ was dead because (A) you can’t survive a spear jab to the heart and (B) that spear jab revealed Jesus’ heart and lungs collected pericardial effusion and pleural effusion, which isn’t possible if the heart is still beating.
But let’s suppose the impossible did occur. Let’s suppose that against all odds, Jesus somehow survived the aforementioned Hell on Earth. Non-Christian David Strauss explains that “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill and wanting medical treatment… could have given the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life: an impression that lay at the bottom of their future ministry.” Strauss, David. The Life of Jesus for the People. Volume One, Second Edition. London: Williams and Norgate. 1879. 412. Gary Habermas comments, “Every once in a while, the swoon theory appears again. But it has not really been very popular since Strauss’s devastating critique in 1835. By the turn of the century, it was declared to be only a curiosity of the past.” Habermas, Gary. “The Late Twentieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus’ Resurrection.” Trinity Journal 22NS (2001) 190.
The Wrong Tomb Theory
This naturalistic theory posits that on that first Easter morning, when the women came to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty, in reality they only came to what they THOUGHT was Jesus’ tomb. Jesus’ tomb was actually still occupied, but they mistook the empty tomb for the tomb Jesus was in and mistakenly inferred from this that Jesus had risen from the dead. They then went and told the disciples, the disciples checked it out, and they too made this mistaken inference.
This is honestly an even weaker theory than The Hallucination Theory. For one thing, all this does in terms of explanatory scope is account for an empty tomb at best. However, the gospels tell us that the disciples didn’t merely come to believe in Jesus’ resurrection on the basis of an empty tomb, but on the basis of the fact that He appeared to them. It was the appearances that moved them to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, not the tomb.
Indeed, when you examine the accounts, everyone except the apostle John seemed to immediately jump to some kind of natural explanation for what happened to his body. In John 20:15, Mary thinks someone has stolen the body, and she asks whom she thinks is the gardener if he has done something with it and to tell her if he has. In John 20:24-29, Thomas is so skeptical that he doesn’t believe until he actually sees Jesus with his own eyes and is able to touch him. He not only disbelieves the women’s reports (Luke 24:11), but he doesn’t believe his fellow male disciples either! Only an appearance of the risen Jesus convinced Thomas.
Additionally, this theory requires that everyone who would have been interested in the tomb gained a collective amnesia about where the tomb was. There were multiple trips to Jesus’ vacant sepulcher. One argument for the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb that I frequently bring up in arguing for Jesus’ resurrection via another method is called The Jerusalem Factor. The argument goes that if Jesus’ tomb were not really empty and the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection right in that very city, the enemies of Christianity (which were the Jewish religious leaders at first, and pagans later) could have exhumed the body and displayed it for all to see. Christianity would have been crushed before it even began. Yet it survived to this day. Why? Because there was no body in the tomb to be produced. If there had been, the resurrection would have easily been falsifiable. The Wrong Tomb theory requires not only that the women followers of Jesus and the male disciples forgot where Jesus’ tomb was, but that the religious leaders forgot as well! This is unlikely since the tomb belonged to a Sanhedrin member named Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38-42). Did Joseph forget where his own tomb was?
The Removed Body Theory
This theory is somewhat similar to The Wrong Tomb theory, but it is different. This theory states that the women did go to the correct tomb all right, but that the reason it was empty was that the Jewish Sanhedrin removed it and put it in a different burial spot. It is claimed that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was simply a temporary burial place in order to get Jesus buried on time before sunset. In Jewish law, it was considered sinful to leave a body unburied, to not bury it on the same day the person died. They wouldn’t have gotten Jesus to where they wanted to bury him in time, so they chose the closest location possible; which was a tomb owned by Joseph. Joseph wanted to use the tomb for his own family, so he did not want to keep Jesus there permanently. So they removed the body, the women came to the tomb right after the removal, and they just made a mistake.
I hope you can see a pattern; I started out with what I considered the most formidable naturalistic theories (e.g Hallucinations and Swoon) and I’m moving down to weaker and weaker ones as we go. This one fails for a lot of the same reasons The Wrong Tomb Theory Fails. Again, it was not a mere empty tomb that convinced all the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was the appearances of Jesus! Moreover, if this is really what happened, don’t you think that the Jewish leaders would have wanted to set the record straight? Of course, they would have! So, they would have produced the body and squashed the movement. It would have been a heck of a lot easier than sicking Saul of Tarsus on them. This theory, again, cannot account for most of the details in the eyewitness accounts.
The Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Cognitive dissonance theory is a psychological theory that explains the discomfort that people feel when they hold two conflicting beliefs or values at the same time when one is confronted with outside information that conflicts with their existing beliefs they can either modify their beliefs or find a
way to justify their current beliefs. Cognitive Dissonance Theory (or CDT) was developed by psychologist Leon Fester in the 1950s.
The theory in a nutshell says that the disciples of Jesus so strongly believed that Jesus was the promised messiah that they had to find some way to reconcile his defeat on a cross with this belief. “Jesus is the messiah, but he was crucified. How can this be? He-he must not really be dead! Yeah, that’s it! He is risen!” And the argument is usually bolstered by saying that the apostles searched the Old Testament scriptures to make sense of it. When they did, they found passages like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 which speak of a suffering servant who ends up getting killed, but is ultimately vindicated by God. It’s sort of like how the Millerites came up with the theory of Investigative Judgment to reduce the dissonance felt by the fact that Christ did not return at the time the Baptist preacher William Miller predicted he would (i.e in 1844).
There are numerous problems with this theory. However, to keep this article from being longer than it already is, I’ll just give reasons why I think it fails and I’ll link to a video you can go to in order to learn about additional problems.
As I thought about this theory, I tried to figure out how multiple groups of people can dissonance their way into having multiple multi-sensory postmortem appearances of Jesus on various different occasions, including two skeptics, one of which tried to kill the Christians before changing his mind on the basis of what he perceived to be the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Don’t forget about the empty tomb! Can cognitive dissonance somehow get rid of dead bodies? Any theory that is going to explain Christianity’s origins must explain the historical facts that after Jesus died, his tomb was empty, his followers believed they saw him alive (and not just seeing him, but doing things, saying things, being touched – if you’re running a Maximal Data argument), and must account for Paul and James’ conversions. Any theory that can’t account for all of these must be rejected. Cognitive Dissonance just doesn’t explain these things – on EITHER a Minimal Facts or Maximal Data approach to the resurrection’s historicity. And the latter is even worse as you have a “touch and see me” Jesus.
It just doesn’t account for the historical facts. And Saul Of Tarsus, who we haven’t looked at in this particular article, but whose testimony can be brought in if need be, absolutely blows this theory to smithereens. If anyone would have been motivated to come up with ad-hoc explanations as to why Jesus died, it would certainly not have been this man. This man would have likely been inclined to have cognitive dissonance in the opposite direction. “Christianity is false! And yet….Jesus himself appeared to me on the road to Damascus. You know what? It was probably something I ate. Yeah, that’s it.” Again, see my article “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 6: Facts (4) and (5) The Postmortem Appearances To Paul and James”
There’s more that could be said about this theory, but again, to keep the numbers next to that coffee cup from becoming larger than they’ll already be, I’ll just leave it at this. Erik Manning of Testify has made a great video responding to this theory. Click here to watch it.
The Twin Theory
And now, we start getting into some of the more bizarre theories. I don’t know of any serious skeptic in New Testament scholarship who offers the two theories we’re about to examine, but these are so goofy that I just can’t help myself. Besides, even if scholars don’t offer these, I’m sure there are some crackpots in the dark recesses of the internet who seriously consider these. I mean, if the Flat Earth can be a thing….then so can these. I’m also a fan of covering all the bases. Now, what in the world is the Twin Theory? This theory states that Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who was somehow separated from Jesus at birth. One day, he came back to Jerusalem and saw his twin hanging on the cross. He got this great idea; he’ll prank the disciples by stealing Jesus’ body and then appearing to them HIMSELF pretending to be his dead twin brother returned from the grave.
If true, it would account for the empty tomb, all the postmortem appearances, the physical nature of those appearances (Jesus’ twin is the one who ate the fish) and it would even explain the conversions of Paul and James. Perhaps it was the twin who appeared to Paul. Maybe the twin felt bad that his prank got out of hand and ended up getting people hurt, so he appeared to Paul in order to convert him.
However, there are several problems with this theory. The first is that it is extremely ad-hoc! An ad hoc explanation is an explanation that is conjured up out of thin air when one’s belief or hypothesis (in a science context) is in danger of being falsified. Ad hoc is basically fancy philosopher talk for “You just pulled this out of your butt because you don’t want to admit you’re wrong.” Another problem is that the gospel authors depict Jesus behaving in certain ways that portray the risen Jesus as having some prior knowledge of the apostles and what happened before the crucifixion. If the twin had a different personality, carried himself in different ways, had different manners of speaking, the disciples would have likely picked up on it. “Jesus, are you ok? You’re not acting like yourself.” He would have had to have learned all the apostles’ names and the women. This would have been hard without giving the game away as he’d have to ask for their names to people who knew them (There was no Facebook or Google he could utilize to gain this information). If he appeared to Peter’s wife and asked “What’s your husband’s name”, I’m sure Peter’s wife would have gone “Jesus!? What the sheol!?” Moreover, the twin would not have been able to walk through walls, nor could the twin have been able to ascend to Heaven.
The Alien Theory
I’ve saved the silliest theory for last. I’m addressing this theory, not because I take it seriously, but as a sci-fi fan, I love aliens and besides, I want to cover all the bases. I want to refute every naturalistic theory there is, even the silly ones hardly anyone posits. This theory says that Jesus was an alien from outer space, and that as a member of his species, he had special powers that, while natural to him, seemed like miracles to everyone around him. He fooled a lot of people into thinking that He was the messiah that their holy book promised would come, but his prank got him into hot water with the religious leaders, leading to his execution. While in the tomb, Jesus used his special alien powers to heal himself and walk out of the tomb, appear before the disciples and wow them for a while before Jesus “ascended” (i.e was beamed up into an invisible spaceship that took him back to His home planet).
As a Whovian, I like to put my own spin on this theory and say that Jesus was a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. I call this the “Time Lord Jesus” view. Gallifreyans look exactly like humans on the outside, so Jesus could spend 3 years here without anyone knowing his true origins. He pranked the people into thinking He was their promised Messiah, but then was unfortunately crucified because he didn’t know when to back off.
If you watch Doctor Who, you know Time Lords have the ability to “regenerate” when they’re on the brink of death. Maybe, while in the tomb, Time Lord Jesus regenerated. Then he got up and walked out of his tomb. This would explain not only his empty tomb and postmortem appearances, but it would also explain why Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize Him at first nor did the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Tom Baker looks a lot different than John Pertwee, after all.
Was Jesus a Time Lord from Gallifrey? Did He not resurrect but regenerate? This theory is plagued with issues. There’s a reason why hardly anyone holds it.
1: The amount of time spent by the Jesus alien convincing people that he was their Messiah is absurd.
What alien would spend three years just to pull a prank on some unsuspecting Earthlings? Three years? This is like the longest episode of Punk’d ever! Are we seriously expected to believe that this Jesus Alien would waste three years of his life fooling these Earthlings into thinking that He was their promised Messiah? Why not just put some whoopee cushions under peoples’ seats, or put some fake snakes in peoples’ cabinets? Why such a long-lasting prank? I know of no prankster who is that dedicated to his hoaxes. Even if you have a long lifespan of thousands of years, I would think you’d still get bored. There’s simply too much time and effort put into Jesus’ 3 year ministry for me to believe that He was some extraterrestrial playing a practical joke. At what point does trolling the Pharisees, wowing crowds with miracles, and giving long sermons get boring and you want to “phone home”?
2: Liars Make Poor Martyrs, No Matter What Planet You’re From
Again, we have to ask “Why would anyone die for a known lie?” People will die for a lie only if they think it is true. No one will die for a lie that they know is false. Jesus’ crucifixion is the best-attested fact of history. Why would Jesus willingly die a horrible, slow, torturous death unless He really believed that He was God incarnate and Israel’s Messiah? Jesus could have easily have cleared up the whole misunderstanding at his trial when Caiaphas asked “Are you the Messiah? The son of the living God?” It would be obvious to anyone in Jesus’ shoes that he was in big trouble. If Jesus were a prankster, he would have denied the whole thing and tried to escape. According to the gospel records, he had many chances to avert his death. He could have fled under the blanket of night instead of praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Given that Jesus willingly went to crucifixion for his divine and messianic claims, it is untenable to say that he was an extraterrestrial prankster. Jesus really believed His claims about Himself.
3: All This Theory Gets You Is A Dead Alien
Recall from earlier in this blog post, the medical evidence we examined for crucifixion. It was impossible for anyone to survive the rigors of scourging and crucifixion, and the Romans had good indicators to tell when someone had actually died on the cross (e.g they weren’t pushing up anymore to breathe). All this theory gets you is a dead alien. Jesus would have actually had to have been alive after he was taken off the cross to heal himself. A Time Lord can only regenerate if there’s still some life left in him.
What About A Combination Of Naturalistic Theories?
We have looked at every single naturalistic theory there is to account for the beliefs of the gospel authors and have found them all wanting. In Gary Habermas’ Credo Course on the resurrection of Jesus, he mentions how most scholars today agree that naturalistic explanations to account for all the data fail. Gary Habermas, “The Resurrection Of Jesus”, Credo Course, Credo House. — https://www.credocourses.com/product/the-resurrection-of-jesus/. However, what some skeptics will do is what I like to call “Mega Zording” naturalistic theories. If the Power Rangers can’t defeat the enemy in their individual zords, they combine them to make a Mega Zord; a huge mech all of the Power Rangers pilot together. Likewise, if one naturalistic theory can’t get the job done, then maybe what we ought to do is combine them. Maybe someone stole the body out of Jesus’ tomb, the disciples hallucinated once or twice, and maybe Jesus’ twin brother shows up later on the beach to eat fish with them. Let’s just use this one as an example.
There are problems that plague all combination theories;
First of all, they’re ad hoc. They have no evidence for them, and no one would claim to these except out of motivated reasoning. Motivation to avoid concluding that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
Secondly, problems that plague a theory when considered in isolation usually don’t go away when attached to others. If the Jewish leaders had moved the body to some other place, then pointing to the location of Jesus’ new burial place is what they would have done as soon as preaching on the resurrection began. Also, it’s still statistically impossible for multiple groups of people to have hallucinations, not to mention hallucinations that are multi-sensory. As for Jesus’ twin eating fish with Jesus’ disciples on the beach, you still have the implausibility of Jesus’ twin being able to perfectly mimic his twin brother (who he never knew…because they were separated at birth). Did the disciples hallucinate the risen Jesus in some instances and see the twin in other instances? Did they just conveniently meet the twin in all the places where Jesus is said to have done something physical like invite the disciples to feel him or eat fish?
Thirdly, you have what philosophers call dwindling probability. Let’s generously give these three naturalistic theories each a 25% chance of occurring. Combining 25% plus 25% plus 25% doesn’t get you to a Mega Zord naturalistic theory with a 75% chance of being true! Gary Habermas and Michael Licona explain it very well. They write “Suppose we flip a nickel into the air. The chance that it will land with the head side up is 50 percent. Then we add a second nickel and flip both into the air. The chance that both will come up on heads is 25 percent (.5 x .5). If we add three more nickels and flip all five into the air, the chances that all will come up on heads is 3 percent. Likewise, five theories, each having a 50 percent probability, lead to a combined probability of 3 percent. That is a 97 percent chance that things did not happen according to that combination theory.” Habermas, Gary R.; Licona, Michael R.. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (pp. 120-121). Kregel Publications. Kindle Edition.
The Ghost Jesus Theory
This is the idea that Jesus really did rise, but that his resurrection wasn’t bodily or physical. It was a “spiritual resurrection”. This interpretation will not work. As you’ve read earlier in this blog article, Jesus’ resurrection is described by the eyewitness accounts in indisputably physical terms. In Luke 24:36-37 we read that they indeed thought that they saw a ghost at first, but in verses 38-39, Jesus invited his disciples to touch his hands and feet, saying that a ghost (or demon depending on your translation) does not have flesh and bones. To double down on the proof that he really was physically alive he asked them if they had anything to eat. The disciples gave Jesus a piece of fish and Jesus proceeded to chow down. (Luke 24:41-43). In John’s gospel, we read that Jesus ate fish with his disciples a second time (John 21:1-14). Moreover, let us not forget that Jesus’ tomb is empty. The ghost theory simply cannot account for these facts.
He Is Risen!
We have seen that the gospel eyewitnesses could not have been lying (they were proven accurate on numerous points throughout this series, and they all died or were willing to die brutal martyrs death for what they preached). Liars make poor martyrs. People will die for a lie that they think is the truth, but no one will die for a lie that they know is a lie. But then, was the resurrection a lie that the gospel eyewitnesses thought was the truth? Well, we examined a plethora of possible options for how the gospel eyewitnesses could have been mistaken. We found that all such scenarios of the gospel eyewitnesses being mistaken are plagued with insurmountable difficulties.
1: The gospel authors were either lying, mistaken, or telling the truth.
2: They were not lying or mistaken.
3: Therefore, they were telling the truth.
Given the truth of the two premises, the conclusion follows logically and necessarily. The gospel eyewitnesses were telling the truth! Jesus is alive! He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Now you have to ask yourself this question; what will you do with this information? What will you do with the risen Jesus? Will you bow at his feet and call Him Lord and God as the apostle Thomas did? Or will you try to cling to some desperate hope that somehow, the case for Christ is flawed. It is up to you. I cannot force you to accept an argument’s conclusion. I can only, as William Lane Craig likes to put it, raise the intellectual price tag of rejecting the premises. William Lane Craig, “On Guard: Defensing Your Faith With Reason and Precision”, David C Cook, page 25. If you have followed the evidence where it leads and have accepted the conclusion, then stay tuned for the next and final article in this series. The concluding article will tell you where to go from here. I have something to say to skeptics, former skeptics who have been convinced by this series of essays, and Christians.
|↑1||I am a Theistic Evolutionist. I do think Genesis 1-11 is meant to be taken as basically historical. Although I would agree with Old Testament scholars John Walton, and Tremper Longmann that it isn’t literal, straightforward history like we have in books like, say 1 Samuel or the four gospels. I think saying we have “Mythology-like history” in the first 11 chapters of Genesis perfectly encapsulates my view of this prologue to The Bible. Philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig calls Genesis 1-11 “Mytho-History”, a title which is widely misunderstood by Christians as just being straight up myth. One reason I think we should interpret these chapters as The Primeval History rather than The Primeval Myth is that Luke’s genealogy trace’s Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam. Fictional characters cannot give rise to historical persons. If Genesis 1-11 were not at least minimally historical, Luke would be in error. As an inerrantist, I reject that conclusion. For another reason, Romans 5 would be unintelligible. Adam could not bring death to the human race unless he really existed. If you would like to investigate how I interpret Genesis 1-11 and why I don’t think it conflicts with what we know from evolutionary biology, I would recommend checking out a series of essays I did here – https://cerebralfaith.net/category/primeval-history-paper-series/|
|↑2||A Brief Introduction to the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman 2008 ISBN 0-19-536934-3 page 136|
|↑3||See John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 145; see also 154, 196, 201.|
|↑4||Dr. Gerd Ludemann, “The Resurrection Of Christ: A Historical Inquiry”, 2004, page 50.|
|↑5||See See Erik Manning, “Are The Accounts Of Jesus’ Ascension Contradictory?”|
October 8, 2020 — https://isjesusalive.com/are-the-accounts-of-jesuss-ascension-contradictory/
|↑6||See, for example, “Minimal Facts VS Maximal Data. Approaches To The Resurrection: A Conversation With Lydia McGrew”, Apologetics Academy” – https://youtu.be/RUt3r3dXBr4|
|↑7||Unless the skeptic wants to dispute that these even are early, eyewitness statements to begin with. In which case, we will debate the authorship of the gospels. This is what David Pallmann did in his recent debate with Godless Engineer on Trinity Radio. And I am quite willing to go to bay for the traditional authorship of the gospels because the evidence is powerful and the reasons skeptics typically give for doubting it are poor.|
|↑8||Frank Turek, Norman Geisler, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, Crossway, page 278|
|↑9||See Sean McDowell’s article “Was Peter Crucified Upside Down?”, October 22nd 2015 https://seanmcdowell.org/blog/was-peter-crucified-upside-down|
|↑10||Clement of Rome, First Clement, Chapter V.|
|↑11||in Eusebius, Church History II.25|
|↑12||Polycarp, “To The Philippians”, 9.2|
|↑13||J. Warner Wallace, “Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates The Claims Of The Gospels”, David C Cook, Page 240|
|↑14||Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus”, pages 105-106, Kregel|
|↑15||On my worldview, I can’t rule out all of these examples of being vertical experiences of disembodied loved ones coming to tell their family members that they’re going to be ok. Since the soul leaves the body at biological death (see 2 Corinthians 5:8), it is certainly possible that God might permit Grandpa to give a comforting farewell message to Grandma. But they could also just be hallucinations at the same time. My only point here is that a true hallucination doesn’t occur in groups, over and over.|
|↑16||Though if you’re interested, I wrote a whole article on a while back. It’s called “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 6: Facts (4) and (5) The Postmortem Appearances To Paul and James”|
|↑17||Dale Allison, “The Resurrection Of Jesus: Apologetics, Polemic, History|
|↑18||For evidence that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is an early creed, see my blog post “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 5: Fact (3) – The Postmortem Appearances To The Disciples”|
|↑19||The Jews of the first century got their prophecies mixed up. Jesus will indeed get rid of all the evil in the world, He will overthrow Israel’s oppressors, but He’ll do this in His second coming. In His first coming, He was to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2 cf. Isaiah 53).|
|↑20||See Dr. Alexander Methrell’s interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case For Christ”, chapter 11, page 195, published by Zondervan|
|↑21||Lumpkin R: The physical suffering of Christ. J Med. Assoc Ala 1978,47:8-10,47.|
|↑22||No, I’m not a trained medical professional. I’m getting all of this information primarily from three sources; Doctor Alexander Methrell, from his interview with Lee Strobel in The Case For Christ, the 1986 edition of The Journal Of American Medical Association, and the documentary “Crucifixion” which I saw on The History Channel a few Good Fridays ago. While I’m not an expert in this field, I’m drawing on the expertise of those who are, so don’t try to argue with me ad hominem.|
|↑23||Some of these experiments were shown on camera on the History Channel documentary called “Crucifixion”. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1210802/|
|↑24||Strauss, David. The Life of Jesus for the People. Volume One, Second Edition. London: Williams and Norgate. 1879. 412.|
|↑25||Habermas, Gary. “The Late Twentieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus’ Resurrection.” Trinity Journal 22NS (2001) 190.|
|↑26||Again, see my article “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 6: Facts (4) and (5) The Postmortem Appearances To Paul and James”|
|↑27||Gary Habermas, “The Resurrection Of Jesus”, Credo Course, Credo House. — https://www.credocourses.com/product/the-resurrection-of-jesus/|
|↑28||Habermas, Gary R.; Licona, Michael R.. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (pp. 120-121). Kregel Publications. Kindle Edition.|
|↑29||William Lane Craig, “On Guard: Defensing Your Faith With Reason and Precision”, David C Cook, page 25|