This blog post was originally posted on May 4th 2015. It was revised and expanded on August 30th 2019. Consider this as like the second edition of a book.
In the previous blog post, we saw that powerful historical evidence exists for the following 5 facts:
1: Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2: His tomb was found empty by a group of His women followers the following Sunday Morning.
3: The 12 Disciples believed they saw Jesus alive shortly after His death.
4: A church persecutor named Paul converted to Christianity on the basis of what he perceived to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.
5: A skeptic named James converted to Christianity on the basis of what he perceived to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.
The case for Jesus’ resurrection involves two steps. The first step is figuring out what the facts are, and the second step is discerning what the best explanation of those facts are. We accomplished the first step in the previous blog post. If you have not read part 1 of this blog post, you’ll want to do so before proceeding. “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” .Now we come to the second step; what is the best explanation for the 5 aforementioned facts? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Maybe. But let’s see if there’s any other explanation that can account for them first.
Over the two millennia, skeptics have proposed dozens of naturalistic theories to try to account for 5 minimal facts. Let’s look at them and see if any of them work. Keep in mind that any acceptable theory must be able to explain all of the evidence, all of the 5 minimal facts. If it fails to explain all 5 facts, then it will be rejected on the basis of lacking explanatory scope.
Theory 1: The Stolen Body Theory (Disciples Edition)
If you recall from the previous blog post, the enemies of Christianity claimed that the disciples came in the middle of the night and stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28). Then the disciples went out and proclaimed that Jesus rose from the dead. On this theory, the resurrection is nothing but a hoax. Does this naturalistic theory adequately account for the evidence? I don’t think so.
In fact, this is the WEAKEST naturalistic theory there is. Recall from the previous blog post that church history is unanimous in that all 12 disciples died horrible, gruesome deaths for proclaiming that Jesus rose from the dead. James, the brother of John, was beheaded by decree of King Herod Agrippa, Peter was crucified upside down, Thomas was speared to death in India, Matthew died by being dragged by a horse, and Phillip was crucified on an X shaped cross.1 They could have saved themselves simply by recanting, yet they proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus despite agonizing, brutal torture, despite forfeiting their lives. Why would they do that? Why would they die for a lie?
Now, again, when you bring this point up to skeptics, they’ll say “But that doesn’t prove the resurrection is true any more than Muslims giving up their lives in acts of Jihad proves that Islam is true”. And they’re right. I totally agree with them. But, they’re missing the point. I’m not saying the disciples’ martyrdoms prove that Jesus rose from the dead. I’m saying it proves that they believed he rose from the dead. Martyrdom doesn’t prove the disciples were right, it just proves they weren’t bald faced liars. People can die for a lie they think is true, but no one will die for a lie they know is false.
The fatal flaw in the Stolen Body Theory is that it posits that the disciples died for a lie that they knew was false. Hoaxers do not believe their own hoaxes. Yet their willingness to suffer and die show that they really believed Jesus rose from the dead.
As if the unreasonableness of positing that the disciples willingly suffered and died for a lie wasn’t bad enough, this theory has other issues. For one, we’ve seen that Paul and James converted to Christianity because they believed they saw the risen Jesus. This theory cannot account for their conversion experiences.
This theory fails because:
1: The disciples died for preaching the resurrection. Liars make poor martyrs.
2: It doesn’t explain why Paul believed he saw Jesus post-crucifixion.
3: It doesn’t explain why James believed he saw Jesus post-crucifixion.
Theory 2: Stolen Body Theory (Other Person Edition)
There’s a variation of the theory above which says while the disciples didn’t steal the body, perhaps someone else came along and stole the body. Then, when the disciples came and found that the tomb was empty, they concluded that Jesus rose from the dead. The disciples aren’t hoaxers, they were just as fooled as the people they preached to.
There are several problems with this theory. First of all, in the blog post, we saw that the disciples believed that they had seen Jesus with their own eyes. They weren’t convinced on the basis of the empty tomb alone, but by seeing Jesus alive and well. Secondly, this theory doesn’t account for the conversion of Paul. Theft of the body is probably the first thing that would have come to Paul’s mind. We saw in the previous chapter that Paul went from Christian Persecutor to Christian Missionary because he, like the disciples, believed he saw Jesus appear to him. James likewise went from skepticism to belief on the basis of a postmortem appearance.
This variation of the stolen body theory cannot account for any of the postmortem appearances. The only minimal fact that it can adequately explain is the empty tomb, nothing else.
Finally, this theory is implausible on its face. Who exactly would have had a motivation to steal Jesus’ body anyway? The Pharisees wouldn’t have stolen Jesus’ body. They were well aware that removal of the body might create an appearance of resurrection, which is what they feared, which is why they had guards placed at the tomb (Matthew 27-28). The Romans don’t appear to have any motivation to take Jesus’ body out of the tomb. And we already know the disciples wouldn’t have stolen the body. If they did, they would have known the resurrection was a lie, and people don’t die for what they know is a lie. Who exactly is supposed to be the culprit here?
This theory fails because
1: The disciples were convinced on the basis of a postmortem appearance.
2: Paul was convinced on the basis of a postmortem appearance.
3: James was convinced on the basis of a postmortem appearance.
4: There’s no plausible candidate for corpse thievery.
Theory 3: Hallucination Theory
In the previous blog post, we saw that the disciples, Paul, and James, believed that they saw the risen Jesus. They truly believed the risen Jesus appeared to them. Skeptical scholars have tried to explain this belief in the appearances as a result of hallucination. Perhaps they all hallucinated the risen Jesus.
Ask any psychologist you come across and they’ll tell you that hallucinations are occurrences that happen in the minds of individuals. They’re like dreams in this way. Imagine a group of your friends came up to you one day and said: “Boy, we all had one nice dream last night, didn’t we?” You would probably think that they were pulling a practical joke on you. You would never take seriously their claim that they all simultaneously had the exact same dream. This is because dreams are individual occurrences. By the very nature of the case, they cannot be shared experiences. Hallucinations are the same way.
Now, the extremely early creed that I told you about last chapter tells us that Jesus appeared to several groups of people. He appeared to all of the original disciples, then to James, then 500 individuals at the same time, and finally to Paul. Do you honestly expect me to believe that they all hallucinated? They all had the exact same hallucination!? Impossible!
Lee Strobel, during his investigation of the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, asked a medical expert on the possibility of 500 people hallucinating the risen Jesus. This expert said that for a group of 500 people to witness the exact same hallucination of a raised Jesus would “be a bigger miracle than the resurrection itself!”2
Moreover, not only are group hallucinations statistically impossible, but hallucinations of any kind are uncommon. Hallucinations are usually induced by sleep deprivation, drugs, a high fever, or mental instability. If none of these 4 factors are present, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to have a hallucination. As far as we know, none of the disciples, Paul, or James were insomniacs, sick, crazy, or druggies.
Moreover, even if the impossible did occur, and the minds of all these different groups of people produced hallucinations of Jesus, that would still leave the empty tomb unaccounted for. What happened to Jesus’ body? Why is it gone?
This theory fails because:
1: Jesus appeared to The Twelve Disciples, Paul, James, and 500 individuals. There were multiple group appearances. It is statistically impossible that all of these people would have the exact same hallucination, even if they were in the frame of mind to hallucinate, which isn’t likely either.
2: It doesn’t account for the empty tomb.
Theory 4: Group Think
Some skeptics have considered that perhaps the disciples were so in anticipation of Jesus’ return from the dead that they talked themselves into 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!” 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.3
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. Jews believed that all people would rise from the dead at the end of the world, but they never 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 some of the people who experienced a sighting of Jesus were skeptics…such as James the half-brother of Jesus. We know based on the historical evidence cited in the previous chapter that James did not believe in Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime. Saul Of Tarsus was killing Christians because he considered them to be the worst of heretics! He experienced a sighting of Jesus risen from the dead. These former skeptics were not in any way living in anticipation of Jesus’ return.
As you can see, the disciples were not in the expectation 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!
Theory 5: The Swoon Theory
Some skeptics have tried to adequately account for the minimal facts 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. This theory is known in the literature as “The Swoon Theory” and 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 cut 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!4 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.”5
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.6
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.
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. 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. 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). This single fact proves that was Jesus dead. In this instance, the heart has ceased beating. This brought about an accumulation of fluid in Jesus’ heart, which is called “pericardial effusion” and 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 (hypovolemic shock) 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.
Theory 6: The Wrong Tomb Theory
There’s another theory that states that on that first Easter morning, the women went down to the wrong tomb and concluded on that basis that Jesus had risen from the dead. The whole thing was really a simple misunderstanding! Jesus’ tomb wasn’t empty! They just went to the wrong tomb. This tomb never had a body in it at all.
There are a quite a few problems with this view. The biggest is simply that it lacks explanatory scope. The theory doesn’t explain the beliefs of the disciples, James, or Paul that they had seen the risen Jesus. We’ve already seen in the previous chapter that there’s good evidence that the disciples, James, and Paul believed that they saw the risen Jesus appear to them!
Theory 7: The Legend Theory
Could the resurrection have been a legend? No. Why? Because, as we saw in the blog post, we can trace the claims of the resurrection to the lips of the original disciples! In Paul’s letters, he says he had access to the original disciples and had fellowshipped with them. I’m sure Peter told Paul whether or not he had seen Jesus when he visited them in Galatians 1 and 2. And of course, the creedal tradition dates to within five years after the death of Jesus (as argued in the previous blog post, it’s likely he got the creed from Peter and James when he visited them three years after his conversion), this is well within the lifetimes of the twelve disciples who could have corrected this oral tradition if He really hadn’t appeared to them. Moreover, the early church fathers Tertullian and Irenaeus attest that the church fathers Polycarp and Clement were students of the apostle John and that they knew several other apostles as well. This is significant because Polycarp and Clement say that the original disciples were claiming that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them. Since they knew and fellowshipped with Jesus’ twelve disciples, they would certainly be in the position to know what the disciples believed.
The above comprise nine ancient sources that attest to the original disciples’ claims to have seen Jesus. And with the seven independent sources that attest to their martyrdom, we can conclude that they didn’t just merely claim that Jesus appeared to them, they really believed it.
We saw earlier that the 1 Corinthians 15 creed dates to within five years after the crucifixion! A.N Sherwin White of Oxford University did a study of the rates at which legend develops in the ancient world, and he discovered that two generations weren’t even enough time for legend to build up and eliminate a core of historical truth.7 But we don’t have two generations of time here; we don’t even have an entire decade! We only have five years!
Theory 8: The CopyCat Theory
This theory says that the story of Jesus as we find it in The New Testament was essentially plagiarized from various stories of dying and rising gods in pagan religions that predate Christianity. Sometimes the skeptic will say “I’m going to describe someone and I want you to tell me who it is. This man was born on December 25th to a virgin. A star in the east signaled his birth. He had 12 disciples. He walked on water. He was killed, but then rose from the dead 3 days later.” And the other person goes “You’re obviously talking about Jesus.” and the atheist goes “No! I’m not! I’m talking about the tale of Horus who predated Jesus! You see, Christians just took the story of Horus and put a new spin on it! In fact, Horus is not the only example. There are many examples of pagan gods who match the description of Jesus. You, Mr. Christian, don’t believe any of these. Why would you put stock in the story of Jesus? Can’t you see that the story of Jesus is just the myth that took hold?” Often times in these discussions, the Christians are raddled. They had never heard any of this before and it does a major dent in their faith. Many atheists don’t just argue that the story of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection were plagiarized from these pagan deities, but they infer that these similarities disprove that Jesus of Nazareth even existed as a historical figure!
Was Jesus just a plagiarized Horus?
First: You Still Have To Explain The Minimal Facts.
In one sense, this argument is merely a red herring. The Red Herring fallacy occurs when someone brings up an argument that is irrelevant in the debate at hand. The fallacy occurs when someone, either knowingly or unknowingly, tries to throw you off the trail. When you think about it, whether there are stories predating Jesus doesn’t really tell us anything as to whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus’ death by crucifixion is multiply, multiply, multiply attested in NINE INDEPENDENT ACCOUNTS, 4 of those accounts are secular in nature (i.e Josephus, Tacitus, Mara Bar Serapion, Lucian Of Samosata), 1 of them is Jewish, and 4 of them are from the New Testament (i.e The Gospel Of Mark, The Gospels Of Matthew and Luke, The Gospel Of John, and The Apostle Paul’s Epistles). On the basis of the principle of multiple attestation alone, we can have the utmost certainty that a man named Jesus existed, and died on a Roman Cross at the command of Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at the request of the Jewish Sanhedrin. It is statistically impossible for 9 independent sources to all make up the same lie and then treat it as though it were a historical event. Moreover, we have enemy attestation to the crucifixion of Jesus, as Tacitus and Lucian Of Samosata were mocking Christianity in the very same contexts in which they affirm the historicity of Jesus and his death on the cross. If the story of Jesus’ death were a myth, Tacitus and Lucian would have gladly pointed that out. Instead, Lucian said in a nutshell “Those silly Christians. The god they worshipped is a crucified criminal” and Tacitus said “Christus, the founder of the name [Christian] suffered the extreme penalty at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius”. They are hostile sources who affirm the historicity of Jesus’ existence and Jesus’ death by Roman crucifixion. Moreover, there are many details in the gospel accounts about Jesus’ death that the disciples or the early church just would not make up, such as Jesus crying out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” even though in the same book, Jesus repeatedly predicted his death and gave the reason for why he had to die. Not to mention that it looks awkward for God to cry out to himself and seemingly have no faith in him. The first minimal fact passes so many of the historian’s principles of authenticity that it is futile to try to dispute its historicity.
What about the empty tomb? Again, pointing to parallels between “dying and rising pagan gods” doesn’t explain the empty tomb. Like the crucifixion, the empty tomb is established on multiple lines of historical evidence. The principle of embarrassment applies to the empty tomb accounts because women were second class citizens back then whose testimony was so worthless that they weren’t even permitted to serve as witnesses in a court of law. Women did sometimes testify, but only when there was not a single male witness at the crime. It’s not that women weren’t allowed to testify at all, but they were only allowed to testify as a last resort. Given that womens’ testimony was so lowly regarded, it’s highly unlikely that the disciples or the early church would depict them as being the chief witnesses to the empty tomb, for to do that would be to put words in the mouths of witnesses who would not be believed. If the gospel authors were making up the empty tomb story, they would have made male disciples like Peter or John discover the empty tomb. The fact that it is women rather than men who are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that, like it or not, they were indeed the first witnesses to the empty tomb, and the gospel writers faithfully recorded, what was for them, an awkward and embarrassing fact. The principle of embarrassment gives us good reason to believe the historicity of the empty tomb narratives. Pointing to supposed parallels to Jesus and “dying and rising gods” does nothing to either refute the historicity of the empty tomb, nor explain it. Further, if the apostles were merely plagiarizing pagan deity stories, the Jewish leadership would have gladly gotten Jesus’ body out of the tomb, showed it to everyone, and the hoax would have been squashed before it gained any traction. The fact that Christianity is still alive today is a strong indicator that the enemies did not exhume his corpse, and the reason for that is that there was no corpse to be exhumed. The tomb was empty.
Moreover, the historical evidence that Jesus’ disciples both claimed to see the risen Jesus and that they really believed it is not refuted or addressed by pointing to similarities between Jesus and pagan gods. In the previous blog post, we saw that we can trace the claims of the resurrection to the lips of the original disciples! In Paul’s letters, he says that he had access to the original disciples and had fellowshipped with them. In Galatians 1 and 2, Paul says that his purpose in meeting the apostles was to make sure that they were preaching the same message. Paul says they were (2:6). In 1 Corinthians 15:11, Paul essentially says it doesn’t matter whether you talk to the 12 disciples or him, they preach the same message. Moreover, the creedal tradition (1 Cor 15:3ff) dates to within five years after the death of Jesus. This is well within the lifetimes of the twelve disciples who could have corrected this oral tradition if He really hadn’t appeared to them. Moreover, the early church fathers Tertullian and Irenaeus attest that the church fathers Polycarp and Clement were students of the apostle John and that they knew several other apostles as well. This is significant because Polycarp and Clement say that the original disciples were claiming that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them. Since they knew and fellowshipped with Jesus’ twelve disciples, they would certainly be in the position to know what the disciples believed.
With the seven independent sources that attest to their martyrdom, we can conclude that they didn’t just merely claim that Jesus appeared to them, they really believed it. They really believed that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them.
Then we have the conversion of the two skeptics, Paul and James. If the story of Jesus’ resurrection were merely a plagiarized tale, how on earth did these two skeptics get involved? What caused Paul to go from persecuting Christians, whom he believed were leading Jews away from worship of the one true God, to being a Christian himself? Why is it that James didn’t believe His brother was the messiah until sometime after His death? As I argued in the previous chapter, the best explanation is that they had experiences of seeing the risen Jesus.
The major point I am trying to emphasize in rehashing the minimal facts and the historical evidence for them is this: You need to explain the experiences of the disciples, Paul, and James if you’re going to adequately explain Christianity. If you don’t explain the disciples’ experiences, if you don’t explain Paul’s conversion, and if you don’t explain James’ conversion, you haven’t explained Christianity’s origin. The historical evidence establishes that the 5 minimal facts are indeed facts. And these facts are neither refuted nor explained by saying “Look! The story of Jesus looks a lot like the story of Adonis!” or “Look! The story of Jesus looks a lot like the story of Horus!” or “Look! Jesus and Mithras are really similar!” I don’t care. Explain the empty tomb, explain why the disciples believed they saw Jesus after his death, explain what caused Paul and James to believe they saw Jesus alive after his death, or shut up.
Secondly, The Similarities Between Jesus And The Pagan Deities Are Very Vague
The similarities that were touted were very vague and stretched. The differences among the accounts were jarring and far outnumbered the vague similarities.
Let’s look at just a few examples: One example is that Dionysius is said to have died and risen again like Jesus. But when you examine the stories, you find that Dyonisis wasn’t miraculously raised from the dead by his deity Father, but that his mother pieced him back together. Other stories say that Dionysus was killed by Zeus swallowing his heart and his heart was made into a potion given to Semele. Does this sound like Jesus at all? Dionysis was born on December 25th just like Jesus. This proves plagiarism, right? Well, first of all, it isn’t strange for multiple people to share the same birthday. I share a birthday with actor Zachary Quinto, but that doesn’t mean that if biographies were written about our lives that you could claim one copied the other. Secondly, The Bible never says that Jesus was born on December 25th. That date for Christmas was chosen by The Pope hundreds of years after Jesus was born.10 Most modern scholars believe Jesus was born in the summer, sometime between June and September.8
It is said that Mithras was born of a virgin, just like Jesus. Newsflash: Mithras was born out of a rock. Now, I guess technically one could say that since rocks can’t have sex, the rock was a virgin, and therefore you do have a virgin birth. But by that logic, Frosty The Snowman was also born of a virgin since I’m pretty sure that old soot hat of his hadn’t engaged in coitus! This is ridiculous. The birth of Mithras was nothing like the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born of a human woman, not a rock.
What about Horus? During his battle with Set, he lost an eye, but he never died. Since he never died, he couldn’t be resurrected. Death is a prerequisite to resurrection.
Osiris was killed by his brother, chopped up into 14 pieces and the pieces were scattered all over Egypt. The goddess Isis retrieved all of these pieces (except for one) and put him back together again. Moreover, Osiris wasn’t resurrected but merely given the status as god of the gloomy underworld. Now, does this sound like Jesus’ death and resurrection? Sure, you have a guy who is killed, and he’s brought back to life in a sense, but Jesus wasn’t chopped up into 14 pieces by one of his brothers and had his body parts scattered all over Israel, He was crucified by the Roman government. Moreover, when Jesus rose from the dead, He had all of his parts (unlike Osiris). The only thing Jesus and Osiris have in common is that they both died and came back to life, but the skeptics aren’t taking the various differences between these two into account.
These are just a few of the not-so-similarities between Jesus and pagan gods.
The Best Explanation: He Is Risen!
In his book “Justifying Historical Descriptions”, CB McCullagh9 puts forth several criteria which historians use for assessing historical theories. These criteria are (1) explanatory scope, (2) explanatory power, (3) plausibility, (4) not being ad hoc/contrived, (5) being in agreement with established beliefs, and (6) outstripping its’ rival theories. The “He Is Risen” hypothesis passes every single one of these tests with flying colors. The same cannot be said about the various naturalistic theories we looked at.
Explanatory Scope: It explains why the body of Jesus was not in His tomb, why hundreds of people on different occasions believed they saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion, and it also explains the conversion of the church persecutor Saul Of Tarsus (i.e Paul). It also explains the conversion of the skeptic James. It explains every single piece of data that requires an explanation. The best of the naturalistic theories explain only one minimal fact at most. But the majority don’t even explain that many.
Explanatory Power: It explains why the tomb of Jesus was vacant, why folks kept seeing Jesus alive on numerous occasions, in spite of the fact that He was killed days before on a Roman cross.
Plausibility: Given the background of Jesus’ life and claims, the resurrection is an authentication of those claims.
Ad Hoc: You know a theory is ad hoc if it requires the making of quite a few other theories to save itself from being proven to be erroneous. The resurrection hypothesis is not that kind of explanation. It only requires the subsequent declaration to be true: it is possible that God exists.
In accord with accepted beliefs: I can hear the voice of the skeptic now screaming “People who die stay dead, stupid! Science has proven that dead people don’t come back to life!” This is not a valid objection. The hypothesis isn’t that Jesus rose from the dead by natural causes, but that God raised Jesus from the dead via a miracle. This does not conflict with the conventional belief that people cannot and do not rise from the dead, naturally.
Outstripping Rival Theories: We’ve seen that none of the naturalistic theories can adequately explain all of the data. Only the resurrection hypothesis succeeds in criteria 1-4 above, and should, therefore, be preferred.
The best explanation of the five minimal facts is that “He Is Risen”!
There are no naturalistic theories that can explain the 5 minimal facts. The only theory that can explain all of them is a supernaturalistic theory.
1: To see some of the sources reporting these, check out part 5 of this blog post series.
2: Strobel, Lee. 1997. God’s Outrageous Claims: Discover What They Mean for You. p. 215, Zondervan
3: 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).
4: See Dr. Alexander Methrell’s interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case For Christ”, chapter 11, page 195, published by Zondervan
5: Lumpkin R: The physical suffering of Christ. J Med. Assoc Ala 1978,47:8-10,47.
6: 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 Assosiation, 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.
7: A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), pp. 188-91.
8: To see my sources to back up what I’m saying, check out the following sources. My sources for this information: https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=10&article=186 , and https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/jesus-and-pagan-mythology/ , and http://i.stack.imgur.com/29UE7.jpg , and “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, pages 90-91, Kregle. “Zeitgeist Debunked: Jesus Is Not A Copy Of Pagan Gods”, by Stephen Bancarz, May 26th 2017, http://reasonsforjesus.com/zeitgeist-debunked-jesus-is-not-a-copy-of-pagan-gods/
9: C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 19.blog post
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Excellent succinct coverage and refutation of these various theories. By the way, I appreciate your sense of humor – I about fell out of my chair laughing at the part in the "wrong tomb theory", where you say – Or maybe the Roman guards were guarding the right tomb, and wondering why all these people were running in and out of the wrong tomb next door. 🙂