In my last post I mentioned how the Bible places all of Christianity’s “eggs in one basket,” in that every hope offered in Christianity is founded on the truth of the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. I then listed 12 known historical facts, including 5 facts that have significant verification from extra-biblical sources. I did include Biblical sources as well, though it is reasonable to ask that the Bible be held to the same standards as other ancient texts. We know quite a lot about the ancient world that we accept without question, based on ancient texts. I propose holding the Bible to the same standards to which we hold other ancient sources. To be clear, I do believe the Bible is infallible, but I didn’t assume that in order to make my case. If you don’t think we have enough data to make a judgment on this, then you’ll have to also throw out most of what we know about classical antiquity.
Just knowing the historical facts is not enough, however; these facts need an explanation. The traditional Christian account is that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead on Easter morning. There are other possible explanations, and we will consider them below. Each one fails to explain a few of the known historical facts, and so fails to be the best explanation for what know to be the case historically. The facts each explanation can’t explain are listed after the explanation.
Occupied Tomb Explanations
The Unknown Tomb Explanation: The disciples didn’t know what happened to Jesus’ body, so they assumed Jesus had risen from the dead. This explanation would be highly implausible even if it didn’t fail to explain multiple historical facts. Certainly the correct tomb would have been discovered eventually, and the leap from “We can’t find the tomb” to “Jesus is actually alive” is just too far-fetched to be believable. Facts missed: 4 – 12
The Wrong Tomb: The disciples accidentally went to the wrong tomb on Easter. When they couldn’t find Jesus’ body, they assumed Jesus had risen from the dead. Again, highly implausible aside from being at odds with the facts. Facts missed: 5 – 12
Legend: The story of Jesus is historical myth. Virtually no historian for that time period accepts this explanation. Facts missed: 1 – 12
Twin: Jesus had a twin brother who showed up after Jesus died. Oops. This story is ridiculously implausible, because at least Mary (and probably James) would have known the difference, and the twin wouldn’t have been able to elaborate on Jesus’ teachings. On top of that: Facts missed: 4, 11
Hallucination: The disciples had hallucinations that convinced them that Jesus had risen from the dead. But Hallucinations don’t normally occur in circumstances like the ones the disciples were experiencing after the crucifixion. Hallucinations are not shared, group events, and they usually require an atmosphere of anticipation, but the Jews had no concept of a dying, much less rising, Messiah. Jewish belief about the afterlife was that everyone would rise from the dead at the general resurrection at the end of the world, not specific, individual resurrections. Facts missed: 5, 11, 12
Existential/Spiritual Resurrection: Jesus’ body remained in the grave, but his spirit was resurrected. Facts missed: 4, 5, 11, 12
Empty Tomb Explanations
The disciples stole the body: Oldest story in the book… literally. This explanation provides no motivation whatsoever for the disciple to have done this, and ignores the disincentives of being socially ostracized, persecuted, tortured and killed. Facts missed: 5, 6, 11, 12
The authorities hid Jesus’ body: Self-explantory, but why on earth would they do that? Facts missed: 5 – 12
Swoon Theory: Jesus didn’t die, but rather swooned on the cross. The embalming spices and the cool of the tomb revived him. This explanation utterly fails to take into account the facts of crucifixion. Romans were not new to killing, and even the beating/scourging that Jesus received before the crucifixion could have killed him. Even so, suppose that he miraculously survived and was left for dead. Would the disciples believe that the mangled figure appearing to them a few days later was the glorious risen Lord? Facts missed: 1, 6
The Resurrection: Jesus was who he claimed to be, namely, the Son of God. He, including his physical body, rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples. Facts missed: None (all data fits!)
In light of the clear success of the Resurrection hypothesis to explain the facts, and the failure of the naturalistic explanations, the main reasons for rejecting the historical resurrection of Jesus would seem to be an anti-supernatural bias. Given several independent reasons for belief in God, however, the resurrection of Jesus becomes quite reasonable. The explanation that best fits the known historical facts in the case of the death of Jesus of Nazareth is that he rose from the dead!