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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why the Resurrection Cannot be a Lie

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 Fraud

Some 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.



  1. An argument from ignorance asserts that a proposition is true if it hasn't been proved false*. This article does nothing more than that.

    The proposition is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. the conclusion is that it's true because there are problems with potential counter-explanations (e.g., that the disciples invented it for nefarious purposes) or, more generally, that a counter-explanation is lacking ("Where's the Alternative?").

    This is the very definition of an argument from ignorance. How this could be any clearer I do not know. You say "the skeptic must offer some plausible explanation". NO! It is not the skeptic's responsibility. YOU have proffered the idea. YOU must show why it's true. The lack of a negative argument to your proposition says NOTHING about it's veracity.

    If you accept Jesus' resurrection because there is nothing explicit to tear down the assertion that "the disciples so deeply believed they had experienced the risen Jesus it transformed them", then you must also accept without counter argument the truth of other religions because there are people living today who will testify that THEIR lives have been transformed by their beliefs.

    Paul's mystical transformation experience is but one of many recorded experiences from many traditions. It is absurd to think that his experience outweighs another person's experience of Muhammad or the Buddha simply because you find alternatives lacking. The alternatives are irrelevant. You must provide positive proof just as you would require of a Muslim or a Buddhist or a person who believes they were probed by aliens.


    1. Chip,

      You wrote "An argument from ignorance asserts that a proposition is true if it hasn't been proved false*. This article does nothing more than that." You're completely wrong here. The assertion is "The Gospel accounts are intentional falsehoods." That is the claim that needs proof. Historians don't begin by dismissing ancient documents as lies. It is the skeptic that is asserting motive. The documents themselves stand as multiple pieces of historical data that need to be accounted for, including their claim that Jesus rose from the dead. For more on this, don't look to Wikipedia. Look at the first chapter of Michael Licona's book _The Resurrection of Jesus: A New historiographical Approach_. Licona is very fair. If you want another scholastic source on the general approach to understanding and interpreting historical data, read Richard J. Evans' book _In Defense of History_.

    2. I will take your word for it that the intent of your post was to refute the proposition that the resurrection story was an intentional lie. (Personally, on purely behavioral grounds, I find the "intentional fraud" position unconvincing. Furthermore, it's not clear to me that many, if any, critics seriously argue this.)

      However, your thoughts gradually but clearly creep into a larger realm, that of the resurrection being true simply because there's no credible, alternative explanation. Your summary paragraph reveals the thread winding its way throughout.

      "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."

      "...ANY alternative theory..."

      You are not focused solely on the refutation of the fraud proposition but you seek to prop up the truth of the resurrection through fallacious argument referencing all proposed natural explanations of which you have only attacked one very weak explanation.

      It matters not whether one explanation or all "alternative" explanations are defeated. The result is the same: one cannot accept the resurrection simply for lack of a falsifying proof. Thus, an argument from ignorance.

    3. As the beginning of the article notes, the two most common charges are intentional fraud or legendary tales that came to be believed. I addressed the first charge here. I address the second in many placed, but primarily here:

    4. I refer you back to the last paragraph of my previous post.

  2. I find this all terribly unconvincing. EVEN IF we grant that the resurrection is the best explanation of the evidence, so what? The "best" explanation can still be pretty bad. Like being the "best" luge team in Somalia. If the competitors are weak, the "best" may not be entitled to much respect. This is an often forgotten point in pop discussions of the resurrection.

    It seems to me we simply cannot assume that nothing significant was lost from the historical record. Do we really know that if we had complete facts we would still consider the resurrection the best explanation?

    How could we know that?

    I marvel that some Christians keep trying to extract enough certainty from the data to support their religious beliefs.


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