Easter week is here and Christians are getting ready to mark the rising of Jesus from the grave. The Resurrection is the foundational event of Christianity and it drastically changed human history. But skeptics don't believe the accounts of the resurrection as the Gospels and Paul present them. They doubt the historicity of the resurrection, and think the Gospel writers either intentionally fabricated the tale or recorded legends that grew into the familiar story we know. However, both theories have significant problems associated with them.
Problems with Charging the Resurrection as FraudSome charge the Gospel writers with fraud, inventing the resurrection accounts as part of a purposeful plan to "sell" Christianity to the masses or to gain power. This charge goes all the way back to the Jewish Sanhedrin themselves, who claimed the disciples stole the body in order to claim Jesus had been raised from the dead (Matt 28:13).
First, it is very unclear how concocting a story of a crucified leader who rises physically would be more appealing to a first century Jew than perhaps a spiritual or ephemeral resurrection. I noted yesterday how the idea of a resurrection here and now created a paradigm shift from traditional Jewish thought. Further, Romans initially reacted to the story with persecution and death. Tacitus even reports that after the first couple of decades for the resurrection, Christians were "hated for their abominations" so much Nero thought they would be the perfect fall guys to blame the burning of Rome on.1
Moreover, the change in the disciples themselves and their unflinching belief in seeing the resurrected Jesus become more implausible if these early followers really knew the whole thing was a conspiracy. Not one disciple ever recanted seeing the risen Christ, even upon pain of torture or death. In fact, their behavior changed drastically. They became bold proclaimers of the risen Lord, even directly defying the very Sanhedrin from whom they ran and hid when Jesus was arrested (Acts 4:18, Mark 14:27).
What About Those Who Held Christianity in Contempt?Also, the false resurrection theory cannot account for the conversion of those who were antagonistic to Jesus and his message. Throughout Jesus's ministry, his brothers were outsiders, not believing him to be the Messiah (ref. Mark3:21, 6:3-4). However Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection which changed him so much he became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12-21). What would cause James to change his beliefs? If he didn't believe the miracles of Jesus before his crucifixion, why would he believe Jesus rose unless he actually saw him as 1 Corinthians 15:7 states?
Even more amazing than James is the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Paul was trained in the ways of the Pharisees (Phil. 3:5), a highly observant and passionate follower of the Jewish faith who found the claims of Jesus and the Christians so offensive, he petitioned the Sanhedrin to capture or kill any Christians he could find (Acts 9:1). Without Jesus appearing to Paul, why would Paul abandon such deeply held and what he would only consider as righteous beliefs? As I explain here, it's like a high ranking ISIS commander, one who ordered the beheadings of Christians in Syria all at once renouncing not only ISIS but Islam and converting to Christianity and holding Billy-Graham style crusades around the world. Again, it wasn't an empty tomb that Paul offered as the reason for his conversion. It was the fact that Paul saw the risen Jesus himself (1 Cor. 15:8-9).
If the resurrection account is a lie, then Paul's conversion screams for an explanation. Paul believed it was a lie. He believed it was more than a lie, but also an affront to God himself. So, what made Paul do a 180 degree change in his beliefs and his attitude?
Where's the Alternative?To claim the resurrection is a fraud, the skeptic is denying the testimony of Paul and the Gospel writers themselves. Therefore, the skeptic must offer some plausible explanation for the facts we do know: that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion, that the disciples so deeply believed they had experienced the risen Jesus it transformed them and they held their belief even unto death, that Jesus's skeptical brother James became a leader in the Christian church and that one of the deadliest enemies of Christianity reversed himself in the blink of an eye and became its biggest advocate.
How does the skeptic account for these things and is their account more plausible than the resurrection itself? I don't think any alternative theory has measured up to the challenge.