Archive for the ‘Reasonable faith’ Category

by Dima Zhyvov

Is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God? Do Christians have any good arguments to show that their faith is justified? It has been my and Matt’s contention in this series that they do and we have offered several lines of reasoning in support of this claim. In particular, we have argued that God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe, that God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, that God is the best explanation of the existence of objective moral facts, and finally that God is the best explanation of the historical facts pertaining the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In our view, these arguments together form a strong cumulative case for God’s existence; a case, which cannot be rationally dismissed without seriously engaging with the actual arguments presented.

Review of the arguments

We started with the cosmological argument for God’s existence, which may be summarized as follows:

(1) Everything that had a beginning had a cause

(2) The universe had a beginning

(3) Therefore, the universe had a cause

Matt argued that there are excellent reasons, both philosophical and scientific[i], to accept both premises of the argument, which would then inevitably lead one to the conclusion that the universe had a cause of its existence. Furthermore, a conceptual analysis of this cause revealed some properties which fit conspicuously well with the classical picture of God. Thus, the argument, if sound, shows that there is a transcendent, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, supremely powerful, personal cause of the universe.

We then moved on in our discussion to the teleological argument, which has the following form:

(4) The fine-tuning of the universe is either due to physical necessity, chance, or design.

(5) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

(6) Therefore, it is due to design

Matt argued extensively for both (4) and (5), logically concluding that the fine-tuning of the universe is due to design after all, which brought us to a personal and supremely intelligent designer of the cosmos, further strengthening our case.

Our third piece of evidence was the existence of objective moral facts. I went with the following formulation of the moral argument:

(7) Certain moral facts exist, and among them are objective moral values and duties

(8) Such notions classically construed make little sense on naturalistic grounds, but they reside quite comfortably in a world sustained by a loving Creator.

If one had only the cosmological and teleological arguments at her disposal, at best what could be demonstrated is that there exists some kind of deistic God with the properties listed above. We would know close to nothing of whether this being is in fact good, evil, or indifferent towards us. This is why the moral argument provides an important contribution to our cumulative case, for it informs us further about the nature of God, revealing him to be essentially good.

Finally, Matt presented the historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus, which is a uniquely Christian argument in our case. Matt argued for the following claims:

(9) Shortly after Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his tomb was found empty and his disciples believed that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them

(10) Belief in these phenomena led to the rapid spread of the Christian faith

and concluded that the best explanation of these is that

(11) God raised Jesus from the dead

Objections to (9) and (10) were examined, and alternative explanations were assessed and found wanting. If successful, the argument goes beyond the existence of a merely generic God, which would be consistent with any major theistic faith, and shows that it is the existence of a distinctly Christian God that the evidence favours.

But why think that the arguments we presented build on each other in the way we suggested? In particular, why think that the various properties we discovered through them belong to one and the same entity? Could there not be one being who caused the universe, another who fine-tuned it, yet another who grounds the existence of objective moral values and duties, and so on? Of course, such reasoning would break down in the case of the historical argument. It seems to me that given the unique historical and religious context of the resurrection, if it in fact happened, it is quite plausible to regard it as an act of divine approval of Jesus and his ministry, as God’s act of vindication of Jesus and his claims against the accusations that led to his crucifixion. But if so, then his vision and teaching about God is likewise vindicated. And of course, what Jesus believed and taught about God was utterly incompatible with polytheism of the kind suggested in this objection. But suppose, contrary to fact, this line of reasoning is made to fit with the historical argument as well. Why limit ourselves to only one God in that case? The answer is, in short, Occam’s Razor, according to which, principles employed to explain any phenomenon should not be multiplied without necessity, or alternatively, one should not multiply causes beyond what is strictly necessary to explain the data. If postulating one murderer will do to account for all the facts of the crime, then it is simply gratuitous to complicate matters unnecessarily by invoking two, three, or more murderers for no reason whatsoever. Likewise, in the case of the evidence presented in this series, if postulating one cause or entity, namely, God, is sufficient to account for the data, postulating more entities seems wholly unwarranted.

Final remarks and some general objections to the case

Careful readers may have noticed that at no point in our presentation did we base our arguments on our belief that the Bible is inspired and authoritative revelation from God or anything of the sort. If the Bible was used directly to support some premise in the historical argument, it was treated by us as any other document of antiquity without any assumption about its divine source. In the context of arguing for the truth of Christianity such a strategy would be hopelessly circular and so no such appeals were made on our part. Rather we appealed to public evidence, logic, and reason to make our case.

That being said, we wish to reiterate once again that our claim is not and has never been that these arguments, taken individually or cumulatively, prove God’s existence with mathematical certainty. I agree that we cannot provide an argument which will convince everyone, without a possibility of doubt, that God exists. But is that a problem for our case? I think not. Should it disturb me that I cannot prove beyond the possibility of doubt – in a way that will convince all philosophers -that that the entire universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago with an appearance of age and that all of our apparent memories are not illusions? Should I worry that I cannot likewise ‘prove’ that the other people you see around you have minds? I don’t think so. The truth is there simply is no interesting philosophical conclusion that can so be ‘proven’ beyond the possibility of doubt. So the fact that our arguments for the existence of God do not produce mathematical certainty does not by itself weaken the case for God’s existence. It simply places the question of God’s existence in the same category as other questions such as that of the existence of the external, mind-independent world and the question of how we know other people have minds.

But then what were we hoping to achieve through this series if not to ‘prove’ God’s existence in the sense outlined above? Well, simply this – that theism in general and Christianity in particular are reasonable and intellectually respectable positions to hold for thinking men and women today. Even if we have not managed to persuade you to believe, we hope that by providing our reasons to believe in God we have at least succeeded in convincing you that Christianity is worth thinking about and that its central claims deserve to be taken seriously after all.

[i] For the explication of the arguments mentioned in the review, see the linked articles in the text.


By Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the argument from Jesus’ resurrection. Please see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 if you have not read them yet.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Resurrection-Part5

3. The best explanation of these phenomena is that God raised Jesus from the dead


What I hope to be clear from all that I have written above is that these facts surrounding the claim of Jesus’ resurrection rest on solid historical grounds.  This is not extremely controversial, since it is attested to by the majority of scholars of the subject.  Two quotes from Reginald Fuller illustrate the point well.

“That within a few weeks after the crucifixion Jesus’ disciples came to believe [Jesus’ resurrection] is one of the indisputable facts of history.”

“That the experiences did occur, even if they are explained in purely natural terms, is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree.” (The Foundations of New Testament Christology, p.142).

However, I also hope that the implausibility of the naturalistic hypotheses discussed has become evident as well.  While some may be content with agreement on the historicity of the minimal facts, I endeavor to take the issue further.  I believe that, in this case, the failure of alternative explanations to explain what the early church claimed about Jesus must lead us to ask if there could still legitimately be doubt about the resurrection they were preaching so vehemently.  So then the question remains regarding what the most plausible explanation actually is.  Of course, I have made no secret of the fact, even in discussing the purely historical factors, that I consider God to have raised Jesus from the dead, and that this is the best explanation of the historical evidence we have available to us.  It might seem strange to some to interject a statement of theology into a historical discussion, but I believe it is required in this particular case.  I base this both on the inadequacy of naturalistic explanations and on the unique nature of the historical and religious context surrounding Jesus.

Although I have only looked at four alternate hypotheses above, I did not pick the ones that I thought were the weakest, while sweeping the best objections to the facts of the resurrection under the rug.  Rather, I chose both popular and scholarly objections that either have had major proponents in the past or have major proponents currently.  Again, I could mention that I have addressed various naturalistic hypotheses in my other articles on the resurrection based on the minimal facts approach, but a crucial point to recognize is that the failure of these alternate hypotheses has been acknowledged, even by some who did not previously believe in Jesus’ resurrection.  Many examples of this could be given, but one stands out.  Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar, actually accepted that Jesus rose from the dead, although he did not become a Christian (about which I will have more to say below concerning the context of the resurrection).  In his own words, “In regard to the future resurrection of the dead, I am and remain a Pharisee.  Concerning the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, I was for decades a Sadducee.  I am no longer a Sadducee.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, p.125).  To decode what he meant here, a major difference between Pharisees and Sadducees was that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees did not (Acts 23:8), so even though he denied for a long time that Jesus was resurrected on Easter Sunday, he subsequently changed his view in that respect.  What led to this radical affirmation?  Well, he looked at what happened with Jesus’ disciples, considered the different explanations, and came to the conclusion that the best explanation was actually that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  Not only that, but after considering some of the proposals of liberal scholars (Rudolf Bultmann being one of them) to explain away the literal resurrection, he was at a loss for how they could put forward such proposals.

Pinchas Lapide

“I cannot rid myself of the impression that some modern Christian theologians are ashamed of the material fact of the resurrection.  Their varying attempts at dehistoricizing the Easter experience which give the lie to all four evangelists are simply not understandable to me in any other way.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, p.130).

It was not that Lapide had some sort of faith experience and thus was compelled to accept the resurrection, but on the contrary, he looked at the evidence and overcame his previous skepticism.  Ironically, this man who does not have faith in Jesus criticizes some who claim to have faith in Jesus for not looking at the facts as he has and denying the resurrection that he affirms. This is not only a significant point for the strength of the resurrection hypothesis, but also against alternate hypotheses.  Indeed, it has been noted by many that the failure of two thousand years’ worth of attempts to explain away the resurrection of Jesus is itself witness to the strength of the claim.  As NT Wright puts it, “It is worthy of note that, despite the somewhat desperate attempts of many scholars over the last two hundred years (not to mention critics since at least Celsus [2nd century]), no such explanation has been found.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.706-707).  In light of the failure of all such naturalistic hypotheses, Gary Habermas observes, “Comparatively few scholars today pursue the naturalistic theories that were so prevalent a century ago.  This point is emphasized, not to deny that one might be revived from time to time, but only to show that it is generally conceded that the known facts are sufficient to refute these alternative views.” (In Defense of Miracles, p.272).  To this assessment I would simply add that my refutations of the various theories of this sort above were not included because I consider them serious challenges to the resurrection hypothesis, but because I see them as common objections that carry very little actual weight in regard to explaining the Christian faith.  As I have already pointed out, these theories are inadequate to explain just one fact among the minimal facts, and are thus not serious contenders for explaining all the facts.  To give an example, in returning to the “even if” clauses, even if I ignored the fact that hallucinations are not sufficient to explain the belief of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to them, it would still not explain the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb.  After all, if Jesus only appeared to the disciples in some subjective sense, this would not require that the tomb that contained Jesus’ body be empty, though historical investigation of the relevant facts does.  This can be, and has been, shown for all the naturalistic hypotheses that have been put forward, but I do not intend to do so here, for the point has already been made.  However, if you remain unconvinced or know of other explanations not explicitly dealt with, I do invite you to attempt to apply the method to various hypotheses to see for yourself how well they fare in explaining the minimal facts.  Whatever your perspective, perhaps the words of Pinchas Lapide will prove insightful.

“If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, p.126).


All that has been said above indicates that the resurrection of Jesus cannot be explained away, but then it must be asked, how can the best explanation be understood?  After all, I just mentioned that Pinchas Lapide believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but was not converted to Christianity.  Others acknowledge that something definitely happened, but that we will never know what it was (Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.128).  So while there may be widespread agreement on the historical facts surrounding the resurrection, and even the failure of naturalistic hypotheses, this does not guarantee belief in the Christian God.  If this were merely an argument for Jesus’ resurrection on its own, I would think the point to be already made sufficiently.  However, since this is part of a cumulative case for God’s existence, I must go a bit further.

It should first be noted why there is significant resistance to the resurrection of Jesus as a unique event in history.  Lee Strobel quotes RT France as having pointed out in his discussion of the Gospels that “the decision as to how far a scholar is willing to accept the record they offer is likely to be influenced more by his openness to a ‘supernaturalist’ worldview than by strictly historical considerations.” (In Who Made God?, p.89).  On the one hand, it is in some sense amazing that there is such fundamental agreement on the basic facts surrounding the origin of Christianity, and yet, such fundamental disagreement on their interpretation.  On the other hand, this is to be expected, considering the fact that certain philosophical and theological perspectives do not allow for miracles in general, and resurrections in particular.  Though I have made a defense of belief in miracles elsewhere in Miracles-What Do You Expect Me To Believe?, I do not intend to do so here, but suffice it to say that the rejection of miracles often rests on manifestly faulty assumptions.  Miracles are commonly called violations of the laws of nature, thus undermining science.  In the case of resurrection, we could no longer meaningfully talk about what happens with dead people through observation and experimentation.  However, this misunderstands what is really being claimed in the case of a miracle such as the resurrection.  According to Mike Licona,

“We may conclude that an event is a miracle when the event (1) is extremely unlikely to have occurred given the circumstances and/or natural law and (2) it occurs in an environment or context that is charged with religious significance; that is, we find the event occurring in a context in which we may expect a god to act.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.614).

If we consider the first point, the claim is not that the miracle somehow happened according to some yet unknown law of nature, but quite the contrary, that it goes beyond natural or circumstantial explanation.  In addition, it is not as if the miracle undermines natural law, for natural law is required to recognize something as a miracle in the first place.  The caricature of the early Christians as people who would believe anything miraculous and wonderful because of their ignorance of the scientific viewpoint is not only against the picture painted by the New Testament itself (Luke 24:11; John 20:24-25), but it also does not consider the basic philosophy behind early Christian belief.  As NT Wright aptly states, “The fact that dead people do not ordinarily rise is itself part of early Christian belief, not an objection to it.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.712).  It was precisely the way that things normally went that made Jesus’ resurrection stand out as something so significant and substantial.  It was clear that this was nothing of the natural sort, but had to be the result of some intervention from beyond the natural world, or in other words, supernatural.  Claiming that a miracle has happened (God raising Jesus from the dead) through divine intervention does not undermine science, because before and after the event, natural law continues (dead people stay dead).  The law is only temporarily set aside, by the One who created it in the first place on the Christian view I might add, so it is not as if science and miracles are mutually exclusive.

The second point offered by Licona offers more, though, considering people like Lapide who do not have a problem with the idea of miracles in general, and of Jesus’ resurrection in particular, but stop short of committing their lives to Him.  What really sets an event out as a miracle, instead of just a so-far unexplained scientific anomaly, is when the religio-historical context fits with the event being an act of God.  A dead man rising from the dead is an odd happening, indeed, but to earn the designation of “miracle”, there must also be some reason to think that God was involved in bringing about the result.  This is an important issue, because if the resurrection of Jesus was an event brought about by God for a specific purpose, it will not do to simply dismiss whatever that purpose was as insignificant.  As NT Wright puts it,

“The point is that one cannot say ‘Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead’ with…minimal involvement…If it happened, it matters.  The world is a different place from what it would be if it did not happen.  The person who makes the statement is committed to living in this different world, this newly envisioned universe of discourse, imagination and action.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.714).

Additionally, if it could be shown that the circumstances surrounding the resurrection were in fact religiously charged, as it were, it would add to the likelihood of resurrection being the best explanation of what happened.  Well, as has been shown in the discussion of the historical facts surrounding the resurrection, Jesus was being proclaimed as the risen Lord from very early on in the Christian movement.  Not only that, but in spite of the fact that there was no pre-Christian belief in a dying and rising Messiah (Christ), the early believers proclaimed Jesus as both Lord and Christ, after being crucified and raised (Acts 2:23-24, 31-32, 36).  Is it more likely to believe that the disciples made this up to preach something that nobody expected (nor would want to) or that the significance of Jesus’ life and death were shown them through His resurrection?  I think the evidence above, and even just plain common sense, suggests that the disciples only proclaimed Jesus as the risen Messiah because they had reason to do so; namely, that His resurrection happened, confirming the claims He had made before His death.  I have heard it claimed by some that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah/Christ and that this was invented by the early church (Ex. the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels, p.80-81).  However, the presuppositions that lay behind this are not adequately defended, nor are their methods consistently applied.  As much as I would like to quibble about the authenticity of passages that contain Christological significance, I will refrain from doing so here, for a main point that I have been making above needs to be answered.  Where did the Christian faith come from if not from someone who claimed to be the Christ?  Supposedly, Christians wrote the sayings of Christ back into the Gospel narratives to make Him seem more exalted, but in spite of the fact that 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 mentions the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (not simply Jesus) and is within a few years of the event remember, it is still a wonder how this kind of movement could even get started in the first place if there was no messianic proclamation from the Founder Himself.  NT Wright again proves insightful.

“The idea that Christianity began as a non-messianic movement and then, when it went out into the wider world, suddenly developed all kinds of traditions about Jesus as Messiah, ought to be counter-intuitive to anyone thinking historically…

it is important to notice that if Jesus did not, in any way, give the impression that he thought he was Israel’s Messiah, that merely increases the puzzle still further…

The problem is, of course, that the varied pictures of a coming Anointed One in the varied Judaisms of the time do not conform to what Jesus did and said, still less to what happened to him.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.557).

It is extremely difficult to explain how the picture of Jesus is as it is in the Gospels and elsewhere, considering how it would have been if the critics are right.  Jesus did not conquer anything, He did not defeat any armies, He did not bring in everlasting peace, and He did not rid Israel of the wicked and vindicate the righteous.  I have certainly not given the self-understanding of Jesus the space it deserves in this discussion, but for our purposes, it is sufficient to point to the historical context and the impetus it necessitates to get such a faith as Christianity going.  If Jesus had not claimed to be what He ends up being designated very soon after His departure, the origin of the Christian faith becomes even harder to explain than what was examined in that respect above.  However, if it is understood that Jesus did make messianic claims, and then was raised from the dead, as the early church reports and corroborating evidence confirms, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

There is certainly more that could be said about evidence for the resurrection, failure of naturalistic hypotheses, and the uniqueness of Jesus’ life and teaching.  However, I believe I have provided enough to strengthen the faith of believers in Jesus, and for the unbelievers, to “put the ball in their court” so to speak.  If skepticism remains concerning any of the widely attested facts, I welcome any questions, and the same goes for the viability of my conclusions for Jesus’ resurrection and against naturalistic theories.  I would only hope that any hesitation would be out of a desire to know the truth and not out of antagonism toward belief in God in general, and Christianity in particular.  The argument from Jesus’ resurrection for God’s existence, in my mind, is definitely a step in the right direction, for if it can be accepted that there are these facts in history and that they are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus, I think personal belief in the God who raised Him is not far behind.  As Norman Geisler and Frank Turek state, “Even skeptics, by demanding a sign from God, are implicitly admitting that miracles would prove his existence.” (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.201).  In the resurrection of Jesus, I strongly believe we have a divine miracle, supported by historical argumentation.  While evidence for God is not a substitute for faith in God and while believing that God exists is not a substitute for having a relationship with Him, perhaps I have at least removed some of the intellectual obstacles to coming to faith in the God of Christianity.  I leave you with the words of NT Wright, who has hit the nail on the head time and time again with regard to belief in the resurrection.

“Historical argument alone cannot force anyone to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead; but historical argument is remarkably good at clearing away the undergrowth behind which scepticisms of various sorts have been hiding.  The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivalled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.718).

“In terms of the kind of proof which historians normally accept, the case we have presented, that the tomb-plus-appearances combination is what generated early Christian belief, is as watertight as one is likely to find.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.707).

The Cosmological Argument

The Teleological Argument

The Moral Argument

By Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the argument from Jesus’ resurrection. Please see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 if you have not read them yet.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Resurrection-Part4

2. Belief in these phenomena led to the rapid spread of the Christian faith

In discussing the above facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus, including select objections, I found myself using the words “even if” a lot.  What I mean by that is in considering these facts, it becomes clear that they are not only widely held for good reason, but also that there is significant difficulty involved in explaining them away.  In finding any particular naturalistic hypothesis wanting in regard to explaining just one of these facts, it is quite incredible to suggest that all the facts may be explained by such a hypothesis.  Though I believe that Jesus’ death by crucifixion, the subsequent emptiness of the tomb in which He was buried, and the belief of His disciples that He had appeared to them resurrected are sufficient to make a strong case for the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation, I also believe that there is one more historical consideration worth discussing.  In spite of the strength of the historical evidence for what I have described above, there are still those who would seek to sweep all of it under the rug by suggesting that Christianity just copied other existing beliefs of the Greco-Roman world.  Such critics would grant that the Christian faith spread rapidly in the Roman Empire and that this requires historical explanation, but they would deny that it was the result of Jesus being raised from the dead.  In its place, they would point to parallels with other ancient beliefs among Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans concerning dying and rising gods.  Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy question the validity of ignoring such parallels.

“Why should we consider the stories of Osiris, Dionysius, Adonis, Attis, Mithras, and the other Pagan Mystery saviors as fables, yet come across essentially the same story told in a Jewish context and believe it to be the biography of a carpenter from Bethlehem?” (The Jesus Mysteries, p.9).

“The traditional history of Christianity cannot convincingly explain why the Jesus story is so similar to ancient Pagan myths.” (The Laughing Jesus, p.61).

According to this understanding, Christianity was nothing new, but simply a rehashing of common beliefs already in existence, something also found in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (p.232).  Now, while I consider this opinion to ignore much more historical evidence than the alternate hypotheses mentioned above, in the interest of pursuing the “even if” of naturalistic explanations, I will examine the origin of the Christian faith to see how this popular (yet ill-founded in my opinion) belief fares.

While many scholars from various theological and philosophical perspectives can agree on basic historical bedrock concerning the beginning of Christianity, it is in explaining the phenomena where those from different sides of the philosophical spectrum begin to part ways.  I find it interesting that there could be so much unanimity concerning the basic facts and equally as much diversity concerning the interpretation.  Indeed, the scholars I refer to have read each other’s work and some of them have even debated over the interpretation of the facts, so in the case of many, it is not lack of exposure to opposing views that leads to their confidence in their own position.  As pointed out above, presuppositions have a lot to do with how the evidence is read.  To look at the New Testament witness to Jesus being raised from the dead can seem utterly unacceptable to those who presuppose that dead men cannot rise from the dead, and conversely, completely consistent with a Christian view of the world; namely, that God can raise the dead.  It is at this point that some might despair, some might agree to disagree, and some might demand that the other adopt their presuppositions.  I suggest a slightly different route, agreeing that presuppositions need to change if they do not correspond to reality, while also recognizing that this is not an easy thing to do.  I would certainly hope that the evidence I am presenting will convince many who were previously skeptical that Jesus really did rise from the dead.  However, I am not so naïve as to think that everyone will agree with my conclusions, even if they join the majority of critical scholars in at least granting the minimal facts.  This is not something that I feel is detrimental to the case for the historicity of the resurrection, and in fact, I consider it to be something that attests to what I am about to discuss.  That deeply held beliefs are difficult to change is significant when considering the origin of the Christian faith.  In thinking about what might have caused the radical transformation in the disciples of Jesus, we will see how good an explanation it is to postulate that Christians simply presented old beliefs in a new light.  There are at least four good reasons to believe that the Christian faith spread rapidly based on the above mentioned historical facts.

1. The situation of the disciples did not lend itself toward the making of a new religion.  In discussing the origin of the Christian faith, it is significant to think about the obstacles that had to be overcome for anything to get going, and specific to our investigation, how this could possibly be explained by appeal to parallels in other religious traditions.  As I pointed out in the discussion of the first fact presented in this article, Jesus died by crucifixion, as attested by both Christian and non-Christian sources from the ancient Roman Empire.  That being the case, any treatment of what happened with the disciples subsequently must include the effects of this.  First, according to William Lane Craig, “It is difficult to exaggerate what a devastating effect the crucifixion must have had on the disciples.  They had no conception of a dying, much less a rising, Messiah, for the Messiah would reign forever (cf. John 12:34).” (In Jesus Under Fire, p.159).  Whatever you might think about whether Jesus actually was the Messiah or not, His disciples certainly believed that He was, but to think that His sudden death by crucifixion would leave that belief unaltered is to misunderstand almost everything that was expected of the Messiah.  Though there was not total consensus about what kind of leader the Messiah would be (military, priestly, political), there was a widespread anticipation of a redeemer and restorer of the people of Israel in the Messiah.  However, the effect of the crucifixion on any of these pictures is illustrated well in Luke 24:18-21.

“Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”  And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.”

There are a few points worth bringing attention to here: Jesus was considered at least a mighty prophet (possibly not called the Messiah because of His recent crucifixion), these disciples “had hoped” (past tense) that He would redeem Israel, and it was the third day since Jesus was crucified.  Whatever majesty His disciples ascribed to Him before, they did so no more with Him being dead.  Whatever hopes they placed on Him, they forsook these following the crucifixion.  Whatever thoughts they had about the future, they did not expect Jesus’ resurrection on the third day.  Considering this outlook, it is inexplicable that Jesus’ disciples would somehow declare Jesus the risen Christ (Greek for Messiah) in the absence of some vindicating action on the part of Jesus.

Second, those who think it was commonplace to declare a would-be messiah to in fact be God’s Anointed One (Messiah), even after the death of such a messianic hopeful, should do a little more research.  That dead messianic hopefuls were abandoned after death can even be found within the New Testament itself, concerning another Galilean, named Judas, for he was killed and his followers scattered (Acts 5:37).  It is significant that there were many other false-messiahs who had significant followings, but no following after their death (Craig Keener, Bible Background Commentary NT, p.170-171, FF Bruce, New Testament History, p.338-339).  NT Wright captures this point well when he states, “Anybody who knew anything about messiahs knew that a messiah who had been crucified by the pagans was a failed messiah, a sham.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.244).  That the disciples would at such a point be inclined to start a new religion under a dead messiah is without historical precedent in Judaism, so what about the critic’s case that there might be parallels with pagan myths?

Third, though there are parallels put forward between ancient Greco-Roman mystery religions and Christianity, the parallels are exaggerated and often misrepresented or distorted by the skeptics of Christianity.  I will have more to say about this below, but at this point, I would like to state what some of these exaggerations and distortions are, in order to deal with them individually in due time.  In Reinventing Jesus, J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace expose five faulty assumptions behind alleged parallels between Christianity and pagan religions: the composite fallacy, the terminology fallacy, the dependency fallacy, the chronological fallacy, and the intentional fallacy. I will explain what each of these mean as I refer to the alleged parallels, starting with the chronological fallacy.  The proponent of the Christian borrowing theory, wherein Christianity borrows from pagan religions, must assume significant pagan influence on Christians in the beginning of this new religion.  However, “What is often overlooked when one considers parallels and dependence is whether Palestinian Jews of the first century A.D. would have borrowed essential beliefs from pagan cults.  Remember that the church was at first composed almost entirely of Jews.” (J. Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus, p.231).  They go on to point out that there is so far no archaeological evidence of mystery religions in Palestine in the early part of the first century and that the first century Jews refused to blend their religion.  Judaism, as with Christianity, was strictly monotheistic, whereas the pagan cults were polytheistic.  Therefore, pagan influence in the Jewish context appears non-existent, and would thus not likely have any influence on the Jewish beginnings of Christianity either.  At this time, also, the mystery religions were local cults and would not extend influence beyond their own borders.  A couple hundred years later, pagan mystery religions started to compete with Christianity and had definite features that paralleled Christian concepts, but this is not the question.  The question is what was happening in the very beginning of the Christian movement, and to this it must be stated clearly that the alleged parallels that surfaced much later were not existent.  Thus, they cannot be used by the skeptic to explain the origin of the Christian faith.  As I have shown above, even according to skeptical scholars, the Christians were proclaiming the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ within 3 years of the event.  If any borrowing happened, it went the other way: mystery religions borrowing from Christianity (J. Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus, p.222-235, William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.127, in Jesus Under Fire, p.159).

2. Another unique feature of the beginnings of Christianity is the concept of resurrection.  I have mentioned this above, but here it deserves special attention.  To the afore mentioned point about Jesus’ disciples not seeing what was expected of the Messiah as present in a crucified Jesus, I could add that even if they did still regard Jesus as the Messiah, it is still highly unlikely that they would expect His resurrection from the dead.  First, according to the Jewish understanding of resurrection (and remember, these are Jews in the early church) there would be a physical resurrection at the end of the world.  This was an event that would take place at the end of the world and was not an event expected within history.  Now, there were examples in the Old Testament and even Jesus’ ministry of people being raised from the dead, but these people would die again.  In contrast, considering the Christian belief in the resurrection, of which Jesus is the firstfruits, the hope is not simply return to this life, but a new life altogether (1 Corinthians 15:19-23).  Prior to the beginning of Christianity, there was simply no belief in what might be called a “pre-resurrection” or the Messiah being resurrected before everyone else.  NT Wright pounds this point home as he surveys Jewish texts from biblical and extrabibilical sources.

“No second-Temple Jewish texts speak of the Messiah being raised from the dead.  Nobody would have thought of saying, ‘I believe that so-and-so really was the Messiah; therefore he must have been raised from the dead.’”

“The world of Judaism had generated, from its rich scriptural origins, a rich variety of beliefs about what happened, and would happen, to the dead.  But it was quite unprepared for the new mutation that sprang up, like a totally unexpected plant, within the already well-stocked garden.”

“As we saw in reviewing the extensive second-Temple literature on resurrection, at no point did anyone envisage a Messiah who would die a shameful death, let alone be raised from the dead.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.25, 206, 243).

Wright goes on to remark that “it is striking that the story bears no sign of anyone saying, ‘Ah yes, we should have expected this.’  Just the opposite.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.628).  The disciples’ portrayal as quite surprised and even in disbelief supports the historicity of the accounts.  The resurrection of Jesus was an event that was totally unique, even within the Jewish picture of resurrection in general, so it must have required significant impetus.

Second, not only was there no expectation of a pre-resurrection event prior to the general resurrection at the end of the age, there was no belief that resurrection was something that would happen to just one person in history, even if that one person happened to be the Messiah.  After describing the picture of resurrection given in the Gospels of Jesus in His resurrected state, Craig Blomberg adds, “Yet no pre-Christian Jew anticipated the resurrection of one person, even the Messiah, in advance of the general resurrection.” (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, p.139).This may make it seem as though the Jewish concept of resurrection was abandoned by the Christians, but this is simply not the case.  The Christians maintained their Jewish beliefs, being Jews, but added to this the revelation that the Christ actually was supposed to be crucified and resurrected in history, as NT Wright aptly describes.

“It is, then, remarkable that Christianity…never seems to have developed even the beginnings of a spectrum of belief, either of the pagan variety or of the Jewish variety, but always stuck to one point on the Jewish scale.  It is more remarkable that from within this position it then developed, virtually across the board, new ways of speaking about what resurrection involved and how it would come about which could not have been predicted from the Jewish sources but which nevertheless give every appearance of remaining in strong continuity with them.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.552).

Christians still believed that there would be a general resurrection at the end of time, but contrary to prior belief, they were convinced both that a resurrection did happen before this and that it did happen to the Messiah.  These two points strongly suggest that there was some extraordinary factor that led to this new understanding of resurrection and that this was what got the Christian movement going.  This covers the Jewish side of things, but Wright also mentioned the pagan understanding, so what further comment could be made on that account?

Third, although a critic can make parallels with ancient pagan religions and Christianity look convincing, what they are not telling you is that they are using exclusively Christian terms to refer to elements in a mystery religion that do not deserve the designations.  Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace call this the terminology fallacy and it is a sneaky one.  As Freke and Gandy put it, “Each mystery religion taught its own version of the myth of the dying and resurrecting Godman, who was known by different names in different places.” (Laughing Jesus, p.55).  Faced with such a description, I always find Ronald Nash’s comment appropriate, for he observes that “one frequently encounters scholars who first use Christian terminology to describe pagan beliefs and practices and then marvel at the awesome parallels they think they have discovered.” (The Gospel and the Greeks, p.116).  In other words, a comparison may sound very compelling until the actual pagan myth is examined in its own terms.  In the interest of not simply trading assertions, I intend to look at what some supposed parallels actually look like.

Cybele and Attis

a. One commonly cited parallel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the myth of Cybele and Attis, and though there are different forms of the myth, the core remains the same.  The mother goddess Cybele loved Attis, a shepherd of Asia Minor, but he was unfaithful to her, so she drove him insane, resulting in Attis castrating himself and bleeding to death.  Cybele’s grief brought death to the world, but when she returned Attis to life, life also returned to the earth.  This corresponded to the plant cycle, with Attis death being connected to harvesting of crops.  Sound vaguely like the story of Jesus?  Well, vaguely, but there are still a few problems that cannot be ignored.  Significantly, despite what the proponent might like to call the alleged “resurrection”, there is no account of it in the myth itself.  Cybele can only preserve the body of Attis, keep his hair growing, and allow his little finger to move.  If that is comparable to a resurrected Lord of glory, I would suggest looking up the definition of “resurrected” and “glory” in a dictionary.  Furthermore, instead of this being a one-time event in history, as with Jesus’ resurrection, the Attis cycle happens every year and worshippers are focusing on a good crop, not attaining resurrection life through faith in the god’s resurrection.  NT Wright makes this point well when he states, “when the Christians spoke of the resurrection of Jesus they did not suppose it was something that happened every year, with the sowing of seed and the harvesting of crops.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.81).  In the case of the disciples, if they really were just referring to something like a cycle that had not happened as an event in history, it is hard to see why they would call it a resurrection, why it would be after 3 days, and why it would be on Sunday and not Saturday when the Jews had the Sabbath already in place.  In addition, this theory is also guilty of the chronological fallacy, for even a relatively vague picture of a resurrection does not appear in this cult until the middle of the second century, at the earliest.  Whatever elements similar to Christianity that the myth contains are best explained by dependence on the spread of the Christian faith in the Roman Empire, if any dependence exists at all.  Whatever the case, it would certainly not be correct to suggest that this myth was the source for the beginnings of Christianity.


b. Another cited parallel is with the Greek mythological figure, Adonis.  Adonis was syncretistically identified with the Mesopotamian Tammuz later in the Tammuz myth’s development.  According to Habermas and Licona, the Adonis myth is the first clear parallel of a dying and rising god, but I will begin with Tammuz.  It has been claimed that Tammuz was raised by the goddess Ishtar, but this is pure conjecture, for the end of the myth is lost in the relevant texts.  In fact, another text, “The Death of Dumuzi” (Sumerian for Tammuz) reveals Ishtar not rescuing Tammuz from the underworld.  When Adonis was blended together with Tammuz, the early texts still indicate nothing of a resurrection.  This theory also encounters the obstacle of chronology, for the first versions involving a resurrection of Adonis come from the middle of the second century, and is thus comparable to the Attis myth in that respect.  Any comparison with Christianity, however, reveals no useful information regarding the origin of the Christian faith, but only possible influence of Christianity on the Adonis cult.


c. Even though the previous two alleged parallels commit the chronological fallacy, there is one supposed parallel that actually does pre-date Christianity that has been put forward as a candidate for Christian borrowing.  Osiris was an Egyptian deity that also came to be identified as the Greek god Dionysius.  According to one version of the story, Osiris was killed by his brother, chopped up into fourteen pieces, and scattered throughout Egypt.  The goddess Isis gathered the pieces and brought him back to life.  Sound like Jesus’ resurrection?  Again, vaguely, but also again, there are further hurdles the critic must jump in proving his case.  Though Isis brought back to life what she collected, she was only able to find thirteen pieces.  So, in some sense, not all of Osiris was resurrected, if resurrected is even the right word.  I can say this because it is questionable whether he was actually brought back to life on earth or was seen by others, as Jesus certainly was.  Furthermore, he was given the status of god of the underworld, suggesting that he was not resurrected to earthly life, but simply made to rule over the realm of the dead.  Added to the uncertain nature of his coming back to life is the fact that there are other versions of the story that do not include any sort of coming back to life.  In fact, many worshippers desired to be buried in the same ground that, according to tradition, Osiris’ body lay.  Other accounts refer to Osiris simply as the sun.  Considering the resurrection of Jesus, the early reports agree that He died, was buried, and was raised from the dead.  Though the Osiris myth certainly comes before Christianity, it can hardly be even suggested that dependency on the myth is what got the Christian movement going.  Doing so is to commit another pitfall described by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace; namely the dependency fallacy.  This occurs when interpreters believe that Christianity borrowed not only the form, but also the substance of the mystery religions.  Even though I think the parallels to be largely exaggerated, the presence of parallels does not necessitate borrowing.  It is perfectly legitimate to see the Christian movement as using language and forms of the day that would be understood, without requiring that they therefore made up the religion by following pagan myths.  Also, it is important to point out that, even though there may be parallels that can be seen with Greek sources and the New Testament, the majority of these can better be explained by reference to the Old Testament and other Jewish literature.  Gary Habermas emphasizes this idea and summarizes what can be seen, while having already pointed out other differences between Greek miracle accounts and the New Testament accounts (though he mentions Jesus’ miracles in general, he also discusses the resurrection in particular).

“We must conclude, therefore, that the Evangelists’ records of the miracles of Jesus cannot be explained by influence from the Hellenistic stories.  The lack of clarity in the concept of the divine man, the areas of divergence from the Gospels, the Old Testament and Jewish parallels to the Gospels, the very absence of clear, pre-Christian Hellenistic accounts, and the inability to explain the most crucial components of the Christian gospel all seriously militate against the thesis.” (In Jesus Under Fire, p.122).

d. Even if there were widely acknowledged and evidentially supported parallels between Christianity and earlier pagan myths, there would still be other reasons to consider the Christian account to be of an entirely different kind.  More will be shown in the final two points, but suffice it to say here that what people thought of the myths and what people thought of the stories of Jesus was entirely different.  There is a common picture of the ancient world that suggests that it would believe anything, whereas our modern society is considered to be more grounded in what can be proven by scientific means.  This may be true in general, but it is worth pointing out what some thought of the myths in the ancient world.  Craig Keener illustrates this well in quoting David Bentley Hart.  “One philosopher warns about our tendency to deplore earlier cultures’ uncritical embrace of the assumptions of their age while congratulating ‘our own largely uncritical obedience to the common basic assumptions of our own.’” (Miracles, p.102).


That being said, there were those in the ancient world who had views almost analogous to modern critical scholars.  It was the historian Plutarch that mentioned the devotion of those who wanted to be buried in the same plot of ground as Osiris, but interestingly, he also cautions his readers in regard to the myths.

“Whenever you hear the traditional tales which the Egyptians tell about the gods, their wanderings, their dismemberments, and many experiences of the sort,…you must not think that any of these tales actually happened in the manner in which they are related.” (Quoted in Reinventing Jesus, p.252).

Arrian, in his biography of Alexander the Great, complained that some writers tell of wonders at the ends of the earth only because they can get away with inventing stories that their readers cannot check.  Diodorus Siculus even attempted to “demythologize” some accounts, depicting how he saw accounts reworked into mythological ones.  Thucydides claimed to deal with probable events, rather than the pleasant-sounding myths.  Livy warns that the more incredible reports are believed, the more others will spring up (Craig Keener, Miracles, p.90-92).  Christianity, on the other hand, is of a different kind.  Craig Blomberg compares the difference in the concepts of Jesus’ resurrection and the pagan myths as follows, “None of the ancient myths and stories of dying and rising gods refers to real human individuals known to have lived among the very people narrating the stories within their living memory.  Instead, they are closely tied to the annual death and birth of seasonal vegetation.” (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, p.138-139).  Jesus was a living human being, verified by Christian and non-Christian sources.  The kind of story given in the Gospels, though labeled mythical by some, is just not that kind of story.  A greater writer and reader of myths, CS Lewis, made this point well when he commented,

“All I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job.  And I’m prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legends or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic.  I’ve read a great many novels and I know a fair amount about the legends that grew up among early people, and I know perfectly well the Gospels are not that kind of stuff.” (Christian Reflections, p.209).

Furthermore, whatever people in the ancient world thought about the myths, it was certainly not a historical depiction based on eyewitness account in the way that Jesus is described in the New Testament.  It was not as much a literal description of reality as it was a metaphorical description of nature.  NT Wright is worth quoting at length to bring a fitting end to the suggestion that the beliefs of Christianity were not a new thing as far as the religions of the ancient Roman Empire were concerned.

“Did any worshipper in these cults, from Egypt to Norway, at any time in antiquity, think that actual human beings, having died, actually came back to life?  Of course not.  These multifarious and sophisticated cults enacted the god’s death and resurrection as a metaphor, whose concrete referent was the cycle of seed-time and harvest, of human reproduction and fertility.  Sometimes, as in Egypt, the myths and rituals included funeral practices: the aspiration of the dead was to become united with Osiris.  But the new life they might thereby experience was not a return to the life of the present world.  Nobody actually expected the mummies to get up, walk about and resume normal living; nobody in that world would have wanted such a thing, either.  That which Homer and others meant by resurrection was not affirmed by the devotees of Osiris or their cousins elsewhere.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.80-81).

(J. Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus, p.224-231, 250-255, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.90-92, William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.129-134, in Jesus Under Fire, p.161).

3. The two points above about the disciples likely not continuing to consider a crucified Jesus as the Messiah, and at any rate, not expecting His resurrection, are strong points to consider.  However, they equally apply, and are in fact multiplied, when we consider the case of the Apostle Paul.  While the disciples were at least followers of Jesus during His earthly life and ministry, and would be sympathetic to at least the idea of Jesus being the Messiah, Paul had no such background or inclination.  In any discussion of the origin of the Christian faith, the conversion of Paul must be considered.  First, Paul was not in a position to be sympathetic to Jesus’ cause, and in fact, persecuted the Christians, as discussed above.  He would not be saddened by the apparent failure of Jesus as Messiah, because as far as Paul was concerned, Jesus was a blasphemer, and the very fact that Jesus was on the cross meant that He was cursed by God (Galatians 3:14) and obviously not the Messiah.  Or so it seemed for a time.  Of course, the fact that I am quoting from the letter of Galatians in the Christian canon shows that Paul changed his mind about the significance of Jesus being hanged on a cross, but the question remains: what made him change his mind?  Well, as I explained above, the explanation given by Paul himself in his letters and by Luke in Acts was that he had seen the risen Jesus.  This is the only explanation of earliest Christianity, so it stands to reason that this would actually be an accurate way to describe the origin of the Christian faith, in conjunction with the other apostles appeared to previously of course.  It also makes sense in light of Paul’s previous life, for it would take quite a significant catalyst to change Paul from being a persecutor of the church to one of its most zealous proponents, if not the most.  This is part of the reason why the conversion of Paul and his experience of Jesus is so widely accepted on historical grounds.  At the same time it is both extremely difficult to deny and extremely difficult to explain, in the absence of a life-changing event.  Josh McDowell describes the attempt of Oxford professors Gilbert West and Lord Lyttleton to destroy the basis of the Christian faith.  In their investigation of the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus (including Paul’s conversion in particular), however, they came to the conclusion that the evidence was sound and they became Christians.  McDowell quotes Lyttleton as having written, “The conversion and apostleship of Saint Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a Divine Revelation.” (More Than A Carpenter, p.87).

Second, it is also significant to consider what Paul was converted from; namely, Pharisaic Judaism.  According to this strict party, to use Paul’s own words (Acts 26:5), there was strong belief in the resurrection of the dead.  However, as Acts 24:14-15 tells us, again in Paul’s own words, though Paul continued to believe in the resurrection of the just and the unjust, the Jews still considered Christianity a sect.  It is hard to understand why Paul would separate himself from his kinsmen, whom he clearly longed for (Romans 10:1), if there was nothing significant that led him to proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected prior to the general resurrection at the end of the age.  Again, why would he believe in the resurrection of just one person, even the Messiah, when there was no such belief before Jesus came along?  This all seems quite inexplicable in the absence of a monumental event, but perhaps there is some naturalistic hypothesis that could offer such a catalyst in Paul’s case.

Third, the skeptic’s theory most likely seeks to treat Paul’s conversion as nothing out of the ordinary.  After all, people convert from one religion to another all the time and this does not prove the truth or transforming power of any particular religion, right?  Well, even though that may be true, it is not just any old conversion story when we consider what happened with Paul.  Mike Licona sums this up well.

“People usually convert to a particular religion because they have heard the message of that religion from a secondary source and believed the message.  Paul’s conversion was based on what he perceived to be a personal appearance of the risen Jesus.” (The Resurrection of Jesus, p.440).

Unlike most who convert from one religion to another, Paul was in a position to really evaluate what the truth was and act upon it.  As strong as I think this point is, how would the borrowing theory fare if I consider yet another “even if” scenario, for the sake of argument?  Well, the idea that Christianity, in its very beginnings, simply borrowed ideas from pagan religions assumes that there would be a story, analogous to the Christian story that formed, available for borrowing.  However, in making this assumption, yet another fallacy is committed, which Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace call the composite fallacy.  The critic of Christianity assumes that pagan religions can just be lumped all together as though they were one religion; one that is virtually identical to Christianity in many of its essential features.  I submit that this must be assumed, since there is very little spectrum of belief in early Christianity, as mentioned above.  The picture offered to the disciples and Paul would have to be a unified picture from the mystery religion of the pagans.  However, there are again problems with this idea, the most significant of which is that no such unified mystery religion existed!  Albert Schweitzer brought attention to this at the beginning of the 20th century.

“Almost all popular writings fall into this kind of inaccuracy.  They manufacture out of the various fragments of information a kind of universal Mystery-religion which never actually existed, least of all in Paul’s day.” (Paul and His Interpreters, p.192).

It could further be pointed out that there was variation within the same mystery religion in different places and at different times, so any suggestion of a unification of all mystery religions to feed the relevant elements into Christianity is a myth in itself.  Putting all that aside, though, would such alleged borrowing of religion be enough to convince an extremely zealous Pharisee to abandon his cherished Jewish beliefs and become a follower and proclaimer of Jesus, the god-man who dies and rises again?  I do not see how it could.  The idea that Paul was suddenly changed from following his Jewish roots, obedient to the law of Moses, in order to convert to a form of religion that every other religion at the time was offering makes little to no sense, leaning more toward the nonsense side of things.  According to this understanding, Paul could have just as easily become a worshipper of Osiris, forsaking belief in the one true God for polytheistic superstition.  No, the radical transformation of Paul’s life requires a radically transforming event, one that would cause him to rethink his views about the Messiah.  It is this kind of transformation among the followers of Jesus that is the subject of the last point of this section (J. Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus, p.223-224, Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, p.373-440, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.64-65).

4. Frank Morison was another person who set out to disprove the resurrection, but also found himself overwhelmed by evidence and accepted that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened.  In his book on the resurrection, he points out various extraordinary happenings in respect to the disciples after they were originally afraid prior to the reported meetings with the risen Jesus.

“The terrors and the persecutions which these men ultimately had to face and did face unflinchingly, do not admit of a half-hearted adhesion secretly honeycombed with doubt.  The belief has to be unconditional and of adamantine strength to satisfy the conditions.  Sooner or later, too, if the belief was to spread it had to bite its way into the corporate consciousness by convincing argument and attempted proof.

Now the peculiar thing about this phenomenon is that, not only did it spread to every single member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judea, against the ablest dialecticians of the day, and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organized camarilla could devise.  And they won.  Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impresses itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas.  In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire.

When we have said everything which can be said about the willingness of certain types of people to believe what they want to believe, to be carried away by their emotions, and to assert as fact what has originally reached them as hearsay, we stand confronted with the greatest mystery of all.  Why did it win?” (Who Moved the Stone?, p.127).

It really is overwhelming to think of the transformation that occurred in the disciples, especially when their state before the appearances is considered, as explained above.  The disciples would have been lost in confusion and despair, but then all of a sudden, they are proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem, the very city where He was crucified and buried.  Something had definitely changed in them, so much so that they made a significant impact on people in Jerusalem, Judea, and even Rome itself (Acts).  First, to start with Jerusalem, not only did they have a different outlook on the Messiah and His resurrection, but they were also almost asking to be persecuted by proclaiming the message right where Jesus had been arrested and executed for basically the same message.  It needs to be understood that it is not simply the fact that the disciples are different because of their belief, because many others have been changed by various beliefs, yet this does not prove anything.  The important part to see in the case of the disciples is the specific situation that they were in.  Jesus’ disciples were in a potentially dangerous situation, even before they started proclaiming the resurrection, for they were associated with a rebel who had just been arrested and executed.  However, after they started proclaiming the resurrection, the antagonism of the Jewish leaders toward them was aggravated.  They were threatened and beaten, but continued to proclaim Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 4-5).  It could be said that they brought this trouble on themselves, when considering the fact that, since they were Jews, they could have avoided persecution by just forgetting all this Jesus business and enjoy the rest of their lives in peace.  There is no hint that this was a thought they were entertaining, but quite the contrary, Peter and John responded to the threats by answering, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20).  In some sense, the disciples were compelled to proclaim this message, so it was truly revolutionary and unparalleled in the eyes of Jesus’ followers.

Second, considering the wider effects on the Roman Empire, the Christians were those who had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  Although they did not receive persecution exclusively for the same reasons among the pagans as they did among the Jews, they were persecuted nonetheless (Acts 14:22, 16:21-24; Philippians 1:27-30; 2 Timothy 3:12).  In spite of this, the Christian faith was still spreading rapidly.  It is interesting that one of the earliest non-Christian sources about Christianity, Pliny the Younger, reports that in his persecution of Christians, he found that true believers could not be forced to worship the gods or the emperor (Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p.200).  So it is clear that the disciples of Jesus were committed to the gospel message and that no persecution could silence them, and thus, the Christian faith spread rapidly through the Roman Empire.  The question is, then, could this be accounted for in terms of parallels with other religions?

Third, while the proposition that Christianity spread rapidly because it was made up of beliefs already widely held might initially sound plausible, it must maintain that status in looking through the specifics of the spread of Christianity.  An important feature of a religious movement that is often overlooked or misinterpreted by skeptics is its main purpose or intention.  Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace refer to this as the intentional fallacy.  According to almost all mystery religions, history is cyclical, linked to the harvest cycle mentioned above.  Christianity sees history as linear, going somewhere.  So, on the one hand, you have the mystery religion, in which history is going nowhere, and on the other hand, you have Christianity, in which there is a purpose to history that God is accomplishing.  Moving on to the question of persecution discussed in the previous points, this changes the perspective of how much the borrowing theory can really explain about the beginnings of Christianity.  The pagans, who came to dominate the numbers of people being added to the church after the initial Jewish phase, were allowed to add gods to those that they already worshipped.  However, in the case of Christianity, to become a Christian was to forsake all the other gods (Acts 14:15; 1 Thessalonians 1:9).  In fact, this was at least part of the reason for persecution of Christians, because they forsook all the other gods.  They were even called the “haters of the human race” and were disliked by all for their anti-social attitude, for Roman life was full of what Christians regarded as immorality and idolatry (FF Bruce, New Testament History, p.399-402, 410).  If Christianity was really just a new mystery cult, it is hard to see why they would be persecuted as they were.  Additionally, it is hard to see why anyone would be converted to Christianity, if all that Christians were offering was what was already offered by the local gods.  Not only would Christianity apparently not add anything, but it could lead to new converts being persecuted.  So the fact that Christianity continued to spread in spite of persecution shows that it did have something different to offer.  It offered a hope that none of the mystery religions did, for it looked to the future vindication of God, instead of the present cycles.  If you have a cyclical view of life, it makes sense to avoid persecution and to entreat as many gods as you see fit for crops, children, etc.  However, if history is linear, with the resurrection of all people in view, promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus, Christians could hope for resurrection life.  They could look into the face of their persecutors with boldness, even proclaiming the gospel to them.  This was no rehashed religion with a fresh face, but something the world had never seen before.  NT Wright sums this point up well when he states,

“Never before had there been a movement which began as a quasi-messianic group within Judaism and was transformed into the sort of movement which Christianity quickly became.  Nor has any similar phenomenon ever occurred again. (The common post-Enlightenment perception of Christianity as simply ‘a religion’ masks the huge differences, at the point of origin, between this movement and, say, the rise of Islam or of Buddhism.) Both pagan and Jewish observers of this new movement found it highly anomalous: it was not like a club, not even like a religion (no sacrifices, no images, no oracles, no garlanded priests), certainly not like a racially based cult.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.17-18).

(J. Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus, p.234-235, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.56-62).

It is clear that whatever got Christianity started had to be something very special and the same could be said concerning what kept it going through persecution.  It is significant to consider the circumstances that Christianity arose in, since prior Jewish beliefs could not describe what the early Christians believed in, so there must have been something extraordinary to convince them of the resurrection of the Messiah.  It is also significant that a popular naturalistic explanation utterly fails to explain the origin of the Christian faith, both in its inability to establish clear parallels, and in its inability to explain the commitment and transformation of the early disciples.  The origin of the Christian faith is very unique indeed.  It originates in a religion (Judaism) in which part of its belief in the resurrection was unanticipated and it grew rapidly in a culture (Paganism) that denied the possibility of resurrection altogether.  Quotes from NT Wright and CFD Moule should sum this up well.

“Even if we suppose the very unlikely hypothesis that the early disciples, all of them of course Jewish monotheists, had come to be convinced of Jesus’ divinity without any bodily resurrection having taken place, there is no reason to suppose that they would then have begun to think or talk about resurrection itself.  If, somehow, they had come to believe that a person like Jesus had been exalted to heaven, that would be quite enough; why add extraneous ideas?  What, from the point of view we are hypothesizing, could resurrection have added to exaltation or even divinization?  Why would anyone work back by that route, to end up predicating something which nobody was expecting and which everybody knew had not happened.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.574).

“If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?…the birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church…remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself.” (Quoted in The Son Rises, p. 131).

Click here to see part 5 of the article

By Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the argument from Jesus’ resurrection. Please see Part 1, Part 2 if you have not read them yet.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Resurrection-Part3

Jesus’ disciples believed that He had risen from the dead and appeared to them

Although the death of Jesus by crucifixion and the subsequent emptiness of His tomb three days later are quite significant historically, they are not enough to require a resurrection of a dead man.  In fact, this is actually attested to within the New Testament itself, for the majority of those who either saw or heard of the empty tomb remained unconvinced that the explanation was that Jesus had been raised from the dead (the possible exception would seem to be John 20:8-9).  So at this point in our investigation of the evidence for the resurrection, we must delve further into the history surrounding the event in question.  Well, to take things in sequence, after Jesus died and His tomb was found empty, something extraordinary happened: His disciples claimed that they had seen the risen Jesus.  It may surprise some people to hear that, of all the facts I am presenting, the fact that Jesus’ disciples had experiences that they perceived to be the risen Jesus is the one which attains the most scholarly consensus (though there is considerable debate about what those experiences consisted of).  This again comes from the research of Gary Habermas, who, if you recall from above, has consulted thousands of works on this subject.  He concludes, “As firmly as ever, most contemporary scholars agree that, after Jesus’ death, his early followers had experiences that they at least believed were appearances of their risen Lord.” (Quoted in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.373).  This might seem like a devastating admission on the part of the many skeptical scholars who acknowledge this as fact, but of course, they would likely not admit it and remain skeptical if they did not have an alternate theory up their sleeve.  As we will also see below, the question is certainly not whether the disciples had these experiences or not, but what the nature of these experiences is best explained by.

To those who deny the possibility of a dead man rising from the dead, that the disciples actually experienced Jesus alive after His death is out of the question, so a common retreat is to postulate that the disciples hallucinated these experiences.  That is, Jesus was not objectively there with them in some resurrected state, though they perceived that He was through hallucinations.  However simple an explanation this may seem at first, it is now on the skeptic to explain what they mean by hallucination, both because the term has been used rather ambiguously in previous theories and because many such theories have been discredited and abandoned.  Lüdemann recognizes this in defining what he means by saying, “‘Hallucination’ nowadays has negative connotations, in the sense of illusion.  I follow Simon in also regarding hallucination as vision.” (Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, p.221).  Whatever the skeptic may call it, the basic idea is that the disciples think they see something that is not actually present, as Mike Licona brings attention to:

“According to the American Psychological Association, a hallucination is ‘a false sensory perception that has the compelling sense of reality despite the absence of an external stimulus.’” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.483).

Is it possible that the disciples really experienced something that seemed so real to life to them, and yet, was not present at the time they were experiencing it?  In examining the evidence for the resurrection appearances, I believe we will not only see why the fact of the belief in the post-mortem appearances of Jesus is so widely held, but also whether the hallucination hypothesis is adequate to explain it.  There are at least five good reasons to accept that Jesus’ disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus after His death.

1. As with the death of Jesus, and even implicitly with the empty tomb, there is early testimony to the appearances of Jesus to His disciples.  First, we again see that 1 Corinthians 15 provides early testimony, this time to Jesus appearing to a number of different people and groups of people (1 Corinthians 15:3-10).  I have mentioned that this tradition comes from a letter written around 55AD, was proclaimed around 51AD, and likely originates from around 3 to 8 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, so this is remarkably early testimony to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  To emphasize the point once more, I could also add Gerd Lüdemann’s thoughts, for he writes “We can assume that all the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus.” (Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, p.38).  Now, he interprets the experiences as visions in his understanding of the term (and he cuts the initial proclamation of Paul at verse 6), but there is certainly no doubt in his mind that the earliest Christians were proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus and His appearances to them.

Alexander the Great

Second, though the Gospels are certainly later than Paul’s testimony, they are still significantly early.  The latest dating of the latest Gospel (John) is before 100AD, though it could certainly be written earlier (Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p.235-236).  Accordingly, the Gospel in its finished form came no more than 70 years after the events reported.  Though this may seem like quite a lot of time, it is actually relatively good compared with other trusted ancient documents.  As Craig Blomberg aptly points out, “we are still far closer to the original events than with many ancient biographies.  The two earliest biographers of Alexander the Great, for example, Arrian and Plutarch, wrote more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., yet historians generally consider them to be trustworthy.” (In Jesus Under Fire, p.29-30).  Accordingly, even if we did not have Paul’s early testimony, the Gospel testimony to the resurrection would still be considered early in terms of history.  William Lane Craig discusses how long it took for legend to arise in the ancient world, reflecting the views of well-known historian of Roman times, AN Sherwin-White.

“The writings of the Greek historian Herodotus enable us to test the rate at which legend accumulates; the tests show that even the span of two generations is too short to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical fact.” (The Son Rises, p.101).

It might be easy to make the claim that the Gospels are late and therefore unreliable in reporting that Jesus actually appeared alive to His disciples after His crucifixion.  However, it is certainly not as easy to demonstrate that this is in fact the case, especially since there is general agreement between the later Gospel narratives and the earlier Pauline proclamation (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.91-92, in Jesus Under Fire, p.153-156).

2. Though hallucinations might be able to account for the “when” of the testimony to Jesus’ post-mortem appearances, it starts to get into trouble in discussion of the “who”.  Coupled with the fact that the attestation to Jesus having appeared to His disciples is early comes the fact that these reports also attest that Jesus appeared to different people and groups of people on different occasions.  Just in 1 Corinthians 15, our earliest source, there are appearances to Cephas (Peter), the Twelve (disciples), more than 500 brothers at one time (most alive, some dead), James (the Lord’s brother), all of the apostles (wider than just the Twelve), and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4-10).  First, it should be noted that Paul is not just listing people randomly in this description.  In giving the names of some and the status of others (alive or dead), Paul is open to critical scrutiny.  If this disagreed with what the other apostles themselves were teaching (which what I have already written about the origin of this tradition speaks against), Paul could be exposed.  Indications elsewhere in the letter suggest that the Corinthians knew the preaching of others (1 Corinthians 1:12).  In the case of the 500 in particular, Paul seems to be inviting earnest inquiry.  Why would Paul mention that most of them were still alive unless he was, in effect, saying that they could be asked if there were any doubts?

Second, the event in question should more correctly be referred to as events, for it was not a single appearance of Jesus to one person that gave rise to the preaching of the resurrection, but several different appearances in several different places at several different times.  According to Acts 1:3, Jesus appeared to His disciples during 40 days, and even the description of Paul shown above suggests different times and different places for the appearances.  Naturally, the appearance to the Twelve and the appearance to the 500 would likely refer to different appearances, since the numbers are noticeably different.  It is also conceivable that Paul, in referring to himself last, is claiming that the appearance of the risen Jesus to him was after the other appearances, which would fit with the description of the appearance to Paul in Acts (9:3-7, cf. 1:3).  The Gospels also describe different appearances at different times in different places (Matthew 28:6-10, 16; Mark 16:6-7; Luke 24:13-15, 36; John 20:19, 21:1).  The problem with trying to describe the many and various appearances as hallucinations is that hallucinations are not anything like what would be required in the case of the resurrection appearances.  According to clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Sibcy,

“I have surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent.” (Quoted in Evidence for God, p.178).

It is all well and good to claim that one person might have hallucinated an appearance of the risen Jesus (at least at this point), but claims that 500 people had the same hallucination are beyond the reach of current scientific findings.  As stated in the definition of a hallucination above, there is an absence of external stimulus, so the experience is going on in the mind of the person, and can thus not be shared, somewhat similar to a dream.  So the fact that disciples of Jesus saw Him at the same time on several occasions makes the hallucination hypothesis unlikely, if not impossible.

Third, even if a group could share the same hallucination, there would still be no guarantee that the disciples would.  As Mike Licona states,

“Far more punishing to such a proposal, however, is the requirement of mind-boggling coincidences.  Despite the fact that hallucinations are experienced by roughly 15 percent of the general population and a much larger 50 percent of recently bereaved senior adults (only 14 percent of which are visual in nature), an incredible 100 percent of the Twelve would have experienced a hallucination, of the risen Jesus (rather than something else such as guards), simultaneously, in the same mode (visual) and perhaps in multiple modes.  It would be an understatement to claim that such a proposal has only a meager possibility of reflecting what actually occurred.  Embracing it would require an extraordinary amount of faith.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.485-486).

And remember, this does not just happen one time, but several times in several places, over 40 days, and then, all of a sudden, they stop.  This does not fit the description of hallucinations by a long shot.

Fourth, it is significant that these witnesses are named, but especially that James and Paul are mentioned as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ.  Because we know who some of these people are and have portions of their life narrated elsewhere in the New Testament, we can see if they were adequate candidates for a hallucination.  Craig brings attention to the fact that “Visions require either a special state of mind or artificial stimulus through medicines in order to occur.”  In the case of the disciples, they were crushed by the crucifixion of Jesus and following their Jewish beliefs, which we will come to in due time, they did not have any disposition to think that Jesus would be raised from the dead.  Since a hallucination is a projection of the mind, a person can see nothing new that is not already in the mind.  It is not true to the historical evidence to suggest that Jesus’ disciples, dejected and afraid for their own lives, would be expecting and hoping that Jesus would be raised from the dead.  There would just not be anything like that idea in their minds.   The problem is compounded in the case of James and even more so for Paul.  For James, he was an unbeliever during the earthly ministry of his half-brother Jesus (Mark 3:21, 31-35; John 7:5, cf. Mark 6:2-3), so to think that he was disposed to believe that Jesus was in fact the Messiah and was to be raised from the dead, vindicated by God, is even harder to believe than for the disciples.  If those who believed in Him did not expect His resurrection, why would those who did not believe?  To consider Paul, he was fundamentally against Jesus and would have certainly approved of the crucifixion as just punishment on Jesus’ blasphemy for His false messianic claims.  It is certainly true that any one of the disciples could even have thought this about Jesus, since it certainly looked as if Jesus was a failed Messiah, like others who had suffered a similar fate without bringing in the promised kingdom.  However, Paul was especially against the idea of Jesus being raised from the dead, if it would have even come into his mind at all.  I suspect, however, that based on his Pharisaic beliefs in the general resurrection of everyone at the end of time, it would not.

Fifth, even if they could have some sort of hallucination in which Jesus appeared to them, it would not convince them that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  This is also assuming that the hallucination would be of Jesus, when it could just as well have been of soldiers which they were certainly thinking of behind locked doors in Jerusalem (John 20:19).  The above mentioned hurdles that the hallucination theory has to jump over are quite substantial, but supposing the disciples did have some sort of visionary experience, it would lead them to believe that Jesus was exalted by God, awaiting the resurrection at the end of time, not resurrected in history.  Again, this would be what a hallucination theory would have to work with, since there cannot be external stimulus and the minds of the disciples would not generate new information not already there.  This is where a skeptic could claim that the resurrection was in fact just another way of indicating Jesus’ exaltation to heaven, but we have both refuted the idea of a non-physical resurrection above and will address the uniqueness of the Christian resurrection claim below.  The skeptic is already on thin ice, but we are not even halfway through this section (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.92-99, 120-121).

3. Speaking of bodily resurrection, it is important to notice that the nature of the resurrection appearances is bodily and physical.  Looking again at our earliest source, Paul, some try to point out that he does not mention the bodily nature of the appearances, and even that the appearance of Jesus to him was visionary and not physical.  This may seem plausible at first glance, and then the implication is made that Paul is actually referring to all the appearances that he cites in 1 Corinthians 15 as the same as his own, and thus, all the appearances of Jesus were visionary in nature.  However, what we do not want to do with something so important is stop at the first glance, especially when it is in conflict with so much other evidence.  First, in discussing the empty tomb, I explained how the idea of a spiritual, as in immaterial, resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 is a misinterpretation of both the words Paul uses and of the concept of resurrection in general.  When Paul indicates that Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to the various people and groups, he meant physically, in a physical body.

Second, though Paul’s conversion experience, involving what he described as an appearance of Jesus, might initially seem more visionary than physical, an examination of other clear visions reveals a distinction between vision and appearance.  In Acts 9:4-5, Saul (Paul) hears a voice asking him why he is persecuting Jesus.  Interestingly, the men with Saul hear the voice, though they do not see anyone (Acts 9:7).  Though not seeing anyone might seem to confirm that it was indeed a vision, this could be explained by the brightness of the light, that probably ends up blinding Paul (Acts 9:3, 8).  Additionally, what would not be explained by a visionary experience is why the other men would hear the voice.  Jumping back a couple chapters, Stephen is before the Council and they are enraged at him, but he looks and sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God and tells the Council (Acts 7:54-56).  The next thing they do is rush at him and stone him in great anger.  The implication is clearly that they did not see Jesus at the right hand of the glory of God, or else they would probably have changed their attitude.  So in this instance, there was a vision that only Stephen was seeing, to be distinguished from a resurrection appearance.  Other examples of visions include 2 Corinthians 12:1-6, in which it is not known whether this person is in the body or out of the body.  Revelation 4:1-2 also describes a heavenly vision, but it is again “in the Spirit” and not explicitly connected with an earthly manifestation that anyone present could be aware of.  So Paul’s case, though not presented the same way as the other appearances, is fundamentally the same kind of resurrection appearance.

Third, the fact that resurrection appearances do not continue in the early church after Paul is another point against there being no distinction between vision and resurrection appearance.  We might ask why we do not see “and then He appeared to Stephen” if there was no clear boundary on what constituted a resurrection appearance.  A Christian could have a vision of God that was real, but still not be able to claim, as Paul does, that he had “seen Jesus our Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:1).

Fourth, even if Paul’s appearance was different, it would not follow that all the appearances he lists are of the same nature as his.  The narrative provided in the Gospels makes no mistake about Jesus appearing to the disciples physically.  The claim of proponents of the hallucination theories might suggest that the idea originally was the result of hallucination, and the appearances were thus visionary, with stories of physical appearances of Jesus developing only later.  Well, it is hard to imagine, if visionary experiences had been original, how physical appearances would have developed.  Some have suggested that the physicality of the resurrection narratives in the Gospels reflect a reaction to Docetism (belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, but was really just some sort of spirit).  However, this hardly seems accurate, since Jesus appears and disappears from sight in His resurrected body in the same narratives where He eats and invites His disciples to verify that He can be touched (Luke 24:31, 36, 39-43; John 20:19, 26-27).  It also defies explanation to think of why Christians would want to develop physical resurrection appearances, since this would be offensive to Jews, because they believed in a physical resurrection only at the end of history, and pagans, because they did not believe in resurrection at all.  This seems utterly counterproductive, if it is true that visionary experiences came first and physical appearances followed.  So it appears that the hallucination hypothesis would have a lot of trouble getting Christianity anywhere close to where we see it in the earliest days of its history (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.108-117, in Jesus Under Fire, p.156-158).

4. Though Paul’s evidence is certainly earlier than the Gospel narratives and Acts, there are still a number of historical indications within these latter accounts that lend credibility to their witness, in addition to the earlier evidence from Paul.  First, as already mentioned in reference to the burial of Jesus and His empty tomb, it was the women who were the first witnesses to these things, even though this would be potentially embarrassing.  It is significant then, that the women are also the first to see Jesus and be commissioned by Him to tell the other disciples (Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:16-18), considering that women had low, if any, legal status as witnesses in the ancient world.  This is probably why Paul does not mention them, but why would the Gospel writers mention them unless of course that was actually what happened?  To think of the Evangelists making up these stories about them finding the empty tomb and seeing Jesus first, does not make sense.  The writers of the Gospels could not paint a picture of the male disciples expecting Jesus’ resurrection, boldly waiting for their Master in faith, and being first to see Him in His kingdom glory, because that did not happen.  What they reported, therefore, was the truth.  Furthermore, if the women had hallucinated, it would fit in nicely with the stereotype of hysterical women who could not be trusted to responsibly report facts, and their testimony would be thus disregarded.  In fact, this seems to be the initial reaction of the male disciples in reference to the empty tomb and promise of Jesus appearing to them (Luke 24:6-11).

Second, the appearance to Peter before the Twelve is mentioned by Paul, and remember how early this is, so it might be expected that this would be in every Gospel as the first appearance.  Also, considering Peter’s prominence in the early church, it might be expected that if an Evangelist were to make up a story about some appearance of Jesus, Peter might be a good choice for a disciple.  However, though Jesus certainly is shown clearly to have appeared to His twelve apostles (including Peter), his individual appearance is not directly narrated in any of the Gospels.  What we do have, though, is a passing reference that alludes to an appearance to Peter in Luke 24:34.  What can further be said about this little verse is that it might be part of an oral tradition, like in 1 Corinthians 15, though certainly not as clear.  The reasoning behind this identification, which is also reason to trust its historicity, is that it is rather awkward to Luke’s narrative and comes a little bit out of nowhere.  There is no previous appearance to Peter described and Luke obviously does not attempt to make one up.  Furthermore, Peter’s given name (Simon) is used, and not his nickname (Peter).  This might indicate Palestinian roots, and in any case, it seems that it is tradition that has been delivered to Luke, without any additional context or background (Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.222).  In any case, the historicity of the appearance to Peter is granted by nearly all New Testament scholars, so in some sense, Jesus was revealed to Peter.

Third, the appearance to James, including the description of him in the Gospels as shown above, seems historically credible.  James is said to be an unbeliever during the ministry of Jesus, but after the resurrection, is said to be a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17, 15:13-21), and even a “pillar” along with Peter and John (Galatians 2:9).  It would be very difficult to try and explain why James would be labeled an unbeliever, or at least skeptical, by the Gospel writers if he was actually a devout follower of Jesus before His death.  Not only would it be out of character for the Evangelist to write that way, but it would be an embarrassment to Jesus Himself that His own family members did not believe in Him.  So, it seems that James was certainly not a follower of Jesus during His earthly ministry.  With that in mind, it is equally difficult to explain his rapid advancement in the early church in the absence of a resurrection appearance, since he was formerly an unbeliever.  As Reginald Fuller put it, if we did not have an appearance to James mentioned in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15:7), “we should have to invent one” to explain his conversion and elevation to leader of the Jerusalem church (The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, p.37).  As pointed out above, in the case of James (and Paul, to which I now turn) hallucination would not be an adequate explanation, considering what thoughts they would already have in their minds and how that would in fact be disinclined toward Jesus being the Messiah.

Fourth, the appearance to Paul is historically well-supported.  In the same way that it would be hard to understand why James would be spoken of as an unbeliever and a skeptic if he really was not, the fact that Paul is described as a persecutor of the church would be a strange fiction.  So also, the accounts of Paul’s conversion from what he was before are certainly historical, since it would be almost inexplicable to make one of the major apostles of the church such an antagonist toward Christianity before conversion, unless he was in fact one.  Paul’s conversion through the appearance of Jesus to him is attested in both the letters of Paul himself (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8-10; Galatians 1:13-16) and in Acts (9:1-9, 22:6-11, 26:12-18).  So even though Acts comes later, it preserves what was already circulating in the early church about Paul: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (Galatians 1:23)  (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.118-119, in Jesus Under Fire, p.155-156).

5. In discussing the empty tomb above, I mentioned that it would be difficult to believe the early Jewish explanation of the empty tomb, claiming that the disciples stole the body.  The main reason for doubting this is what we know about the lives of the disciples following the appearances of Jesus.  At least seven ancient sources attest to the fact that the disciples of Jesus willingly suffered in defense of their beliefs (Acts, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen) (Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.60).  Think of it this way:

If the tomb was occupied on Easter Sunday, the disciples would have to think up a plan to make themselves more powerful or simply to continue their Master’s teaching.

They would come by night and steal the body while the guards slept (Matthew 28:13).

Perhaps they would count on the women finding the tomb, so that there would be no suspicion when they would start to proclaim the message of Jesus’ resurrection, or perhaps they would not consider this point.

Either they had experiences of Jesus (hallucinations) that led to them conspiring to steal the body, so that the Jesus resurrected in their hearts could also be worshipped by the world, or they had experiences after they stole the body.  Either way, the body is not risen.

Mostly importantly, however, they would need to hold to this deception for the rest of their lives, no matter what persecution awaited them.

I hope you can see the irony in this portrayal of the band of disciples.  First, there was no golden prize waiting for the disciples, but rather, the opposite: persecution, torture, and death.  If the church was an attempt to gain power, it is strange that official church leadership did not arrive until at least 20 years later, and that the church attempted to gain this power by submitting to oppressors and “turning the other cheek”.  As far as physical benefits, the church was low on these at times, as generous as believers were (Philippians 4:10-20).  Paul describes his life in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, mentioning imprisonments, beatings, a stoning, danger, shipwrecks, hunger, hardship, exposure, and weakness.  This is hardly the kind of thing people would bring on themselves, but the perseverance of the disciples showed that they had something to live for.

Second, the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection, as I pointed out above, implicitly affirms the empty tomb, but what about the rest of it?  Well, thinking about the guard at the tomb, if they were sleeping, they would not know who took the body.  Alternately, if they were awake, they would not let the body be taken, not to mention the fact that they would probably be woken up by the movement of the disciples, even if they had fallen asleep.  The disciples would likely not have the option of stealing the body, even if for some reason they thought that the Messiah might actually rise from the dead.

Third, since the historicity of the women finding the empty tomb has already been shown, any scheme will inevitably involve them.  Since the women both observed the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, it might be more likely that the disciples would count on them coming to anoint the body after the Sabbath than that they would not consider them altogether.  The disciples would probably allow the women to think what they wanted about the empty tomb, in anticipation of their own proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection that was forthcoming.  For the women to spread an adequate rumor, however, it would not be enough to just have an empty tomb.  Perhaps the women could have hallucinations as well, but this would be beyond the attention of the disciples.  We, however, must pay attention to it.  The idea that there being an empty tomb meant that Jesus had risen from the dead both does not follow logically and disagrees with the narratives concerning the empty tomb.  This was not the basis of belief, for in the absence of resurrection appearances, the empty tomb could have otherwise been explained, as the text of John makes clear (John 20:11-15).  So the question comes down to the disciples themselves and whether they could really pass off a convincing lie or not.

Fourth, that the disciples truly believed what they proclaimed is evidenced by their willingness to suffer for their belief, as noted above.  Also noted above, is the fact that what this belief involved, from very early on, was the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It was not that the disciples were suffering for other beliefs and the resurrection was added later, for right off the bat, the disciples proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to them (Ex. Acts 2:32; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  The point about the disciples suffering and dying (or at least being willing to suffer and die) for what they believe is very significant, but often misunderstood.  In the hope of clearing this up while emphasizing the point, I will quote Mike Licona at length on what I think to be a clear summary of the idea.

“All of these sources affirm the disciples’ willingness to suffer and die for their faith.  Of course the conviction of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them does not necessarily mean they were right.  After all, followers of other religions and causes have willingly suffered and died for their beliefs.  However, this does not mean that their beliefs are true or worthy.  This misses the point: The disciples’ willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs indicates that they certainly regarded those beliefs as true.  The case is strong that they did not willfully lie about the appearances of the risen Jesus.  Liars make poor martyrs.

No one questions the sincerity of the Muslim terrorist who blows himself up in a public place or the Buddhist monk who burns himself alive as a political protest.  Extreme acts do not validate the truth of their beliefs.  Moreover, there is an important difference between the martyred apostles and those who die for their beliefs today.  Modern martyrs act solely out of their trust in beliefs passed along to them by others.  The apostles died for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus.  Contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true.  The disciples of Jesus suffered and were willing to die for what they knew to be either true or false.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.370).

The disciples were in a position to know whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead and appeared to them.  To suggest that they were lying about the resurrection experiences is to imagine them living a lie to get practically nothing good and plenty bad in return.  The prospect of the disciples being liars is certainly not a thought to be entertained for long.  However, as much as they clearly believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them, perhaps they were just mistaken, misinterpreting hallucinations as Jesus returned from the dead.  Well, this goes against a lot of what we know about the nature of hallucinations and leaves quite a gap to jump in terms of believing in various coincidences.  The evidence above indicates that whatever one may think of what the cause of the experiences is, the disciples certainly believed that it was Jesus, raised from the dead, who was appearing to them.  This conclusion is again affirmed by skeptical scholarship, as quotes from Paula Fredriksen and Gerd Lüdemann readily show (Quoted by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.60).

“I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus.  That’s what they say and then all the historical evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw.  I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus.  I wasn’t there.  I don’t know what they saw.  But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.” (Fredriksen)

“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” (Lüdemann)

Click here to see part 4 of the article

By Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the argument from Jesus’ resurrection. Please see Part 1 if you have not read it yet.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Resurrection-Part2

Jesus’ tomb was found empty

In talking about the historicity of the empty tomb, a qualification is certainly required.  In reference to the other facts, when Habermas states that they are accepted by the majority of scholars who study the subject, he means a percentage in the high nineties.  However, in reference to the empty tomb, the number is a bit lower, coming in around 75% (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.70).  Now, while this is certainly still impressive, it inevitably leads to the question of what reasons the other 25% of scholars have for doubting the historicity of the empty tomb.  After mentioning that he had compiled arguments both for and against the empty tomb, Habermas adds, “Generally, the listings are what might be expected, dividing along theological ‘party lines.’” (Resurrection Research, p.140).  Although there are a number of scholars who grant the empty tomb, while at the same time seeking a naturalistic explanation for it, there are still more scholars who reject the idea of an empty tomb altogether.  What might cause such hesitation on the part of skeptical scholars, you might ask?  Well, as mentioned above, here is an instance in which philosophical presuppositions are not good friends with historical evidence.  As I will discuss below, there are very good reasons for accepting the empty tomb on historical grounds, but what makes some scholars uneasy is the fact that granting the empty tomb makes naturalistic explanation even harder than it already is with the other facts I am presenting.  The philosophical presupposition that dead men do not rise and the failure of naturalistic explanations of the empty tomb lead to the conclusion that the empty tomb, not to mention the resurrection, was the product of later legend (Gerd Lüdemann, Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology).  John Dominic Crossan told Time Magazine what can also be found in his book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography,

“The tales of entombment and resurrection were latter-day wishful thinking. Instead, Jesus’ corpse went the way of all abandoned criminals bodies: it was probably barely covered with dirt, vulnerable to the wild dogs that roamed the wasteland of the execution grounds.” (In “Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple”, p.32-33).

What specific evidence does he give for this assertion?  Well, none, for all he offers in support is a customary Jewish practice, but this is certainly not the only practice.  Not to mention that there is no ancient testimony to this in the case of Jesus.  It seems to me that Crossan would rather ignore historical explanation in favour of unfounded conjecture, because he finds the implications of the empty tomb unacceptable.  Good history is not arrived at by excluding evidence based on possible implications.  Since the idea that the empty tomb is a later legend is based on presuppositions, let us see how it fairs against some of the historical evidence, and thus, whether it is to be upheld or rejected.  There are at least four good reasons to accept the historicity of the empty tomb.

 1. The burial narrative, which naturally precedes the empty tomb narrative, has several marks of historical credibility.  First, it is attested in multiple sources, including all four Gospels and Paul (Acts 13:29; 1 Corinthians 15:4).  Also, as pointed out above, Paul is passing on what he received from the apostles in Jerusalem, so this is very early, within 8 years of the event.  Thinking about a legend developing in so short a time already appears to strain credulity, but there is more to come below (The claim is that Paul does not know of the empty tomb in these early reports).

Second, the mention of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Council, as the one who buried Jesus is historically credible as well.  As Craig points out, “Even the most skeptical scholars agree that it is unlikely that the figure of Joseph, as a member of the Sanhedrin, could have been a Christian invention.” From a Jewish point of view, those antagonistic to the Christian faith could either point to the fact that Joseph of Arimathea did not exist, or if he did exist, they would know about what he did and did not do with Jesus’ body.  From a Christian point of view, this man was a member of the Council that condemned Jesus to death.  Why have him take care of Jesus’ body, while having Jesus’ disciples cower in fear behind locked doors?  This would be both an embarrassment and an insult at the same time.

Third, that the women followers of Jesus were the only ones mentioned indicates that this would be an unlikely fiction.  The low credibility given to women in Jewish society makes the fact that they were witnesses historically very probable.  Again, there is no sign of Jesus’ male disciples, indicating that they were not there to be spoken about, while those of questionable witness in the prevailing attitude at the time, the women, did observe the burial.

Fourth, during Jesus time, the graves of Jewish holy men were remembered and honoured.  JP Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff speak of 50 such tombs in Jesus’ day that were sites of yearly veneration (The God Conversation, p.103).  This casts doubt on the proposition of those like Crossan that Jesus was buried in a common grave, but instead suggests that Jesus’ burial would have been noted.

Fifth, no other burial tradition exists.  If, by some chance, Jesus was buried in some other way, it is hard to explain why there is no conflicting Christian tradition, and even more so, no Jewish anti-Christian polemic.  There are more reasons to trust the account of the burial of Jesus, but these are sufficient for our purposes.  The connection then is to the empty tomb itself, to which I now turn (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.46-67, in In Defense of Miracles, p.248-251, in Jesus Under Fire, p.146-149).

2. Why do I bother mentioning the burial of Jesus first?  Well, if the burial account is accurate, the location of Jesus’ tomb was known (not to mention that Jesus was not buried in a way such as Crossan suggests).  If that is the case, it makes the arguments for the empty tomb stronger than they already are on their own.  First, if the location of the tomb was known, it was available to all for verification.  The disciples of Jesus first preached the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem.  In Acts 2:22-32 Peter makes a comparison between King David, who was dead and buried, his tomb still being with them to that day, and Jesus, who was raised up by God, to which Peter and the other disciples were witnesses.  Now, if Jesus was actually still in the tomb He was buried in as Peter was proclaiming this, it would not take much to simply go and find out if his comparison is accurate.  People travel around the world to see various wonders like the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal, but this wonder was only about ten minutes’ walk.  This would be a convincing presentation for some, but also implicitly through the actions/inactions of those who were thoroughly skeptical.

Second, the Jewish leaders would also know the location of the tomb.  Put together with the notion that they wanted to stop the preaching of the disciples, it is not too much to assume that they would have interest in bringing out the body of Jesus to the people, if indeed it remained in the tomb.  However, the earliest reports do not indicate that Jesus’ body was there for the taking.  On the contrary, the claim of the Jews, as attested in Matthew (28:11-15), Justin Martyr (Trypho 108), and Tertullian (De Spectaculis 30), is that the disciples stole the body of Jesus (Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p.71).  This is quite difficult to believe, as we will see below when discussing the experiences of the disciples.  However, for now it need only be mentioned that the earliest argument against the resurrection was not that the tomb was occupied, so the Jewish opponents implicitly affirm that the tomb was in fact empty.

Third, it was not only the Jewish leaders that had an interest in quelling the Christian movement, for Jesus was essentially convicted of sedition, claiming to be a king, when Caesar was supposed to be the only king.  Considering that several uprisings happened among the Jews, usually centered around some sort of so-called messiah (2 are even mentioned in Acts 5:36-37), the Romans would also be interested in stopping the spread of this new proclamation.  However, like the Jewish leaders, they did not bring forth the body of Jesus in order to put an end to the preaching of the disciples.  My contention is that they did not, because they could not, since no body was left in Jesus’ tomb (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.46-67, in In Defense of Miracles, p.258, in Jesus Under Fire, p.151-152).

3. As mentioned above, the women were witnesses to the burial of Jesus, but they were also the first witnesses to the empty tomb.  Again, if a story was being made up and was to be passed off as reliable, it would not make sense to incorporate unreliable witnesses.  The fact that women could not serve as legal witnesses and that they were generally considered to be of low status in Jewish society makes the claim that the Gospel writers made up this account with the women as the primary witnesses quite incredible.  Conversely, why would the male disciples be depicted as cowards and deserters, for they were the ones who would lead the church and be the bearers of this testimony to Jesus’ resurrection?  I do not find it implausible to suppose that we see the narratives composed, with these peculiarities, because that is actually the way it happened (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.77-78, in In Defense of Miracles, p.257, in Jesus Under Fire, p.151).

4. So what does the legend theory have left to hide behind?  Well, in spite of the fact that the Gospel reports are still relatively early compared with other ancient historical documents that are unquestioned, a tactic of the skeptic has been to suggest that Paul, who is an even earlier source, did not know of the empty tomb, as I alluded to above.  Such skeptical scholars will grant that there is early testimony to the resurrection and that the disciples truly believed this, but they would then discount the idea of the empty tomb, based on Paul’s testimony, being the earliest.  Well, first of all, it is one thing to point out that Paul does not mention the empty tomb, but it is quite another to suggest that he knew nothing of it.  I can imagine that there were lots of things that Paul knew that he did not choose to put in his letters to specific churches, but this does not in any way discount that he knew them.

Second, Paul certainly implies the empty tomb in his discussions of the resurrection.  In his sermon recorded in Acts 13 he both mentions the laying of Jesus in a tomb after crucifixion (verse 29) and that God raised Him from the dead (verse 30).  This sequence of death, burial, and resurrection is also found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, the early proclamation of the apostles.  Paul indicates here that he gave to the Corinthians what he received, that Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day.  If Jesus’ body was dead and He was laid in a tomb, Paul is not skipping over the concept of the empty tomb when he says that Jesus was raised.

Third, Paul teaches that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead.  The contention of some critics is that the tomb of Jesus was either made up (against which the above reasons speak) or that His tomb was still occupied (against which I will now speak).  However, could Paul speak of Jesus being raised if His body was still in the tomb?  In a word…no!  A common misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 15 is to suppose that Paul posits a “spiritual” resurrection, as in immaterial.  In other words, when Paul speaks of resurrection throughout the chapter, and presumably other places, he is really thinking of some kind of disembodied existence; as a spirit.  However, this is fundamentally contrary to what Paul is trying to communicate, as evidenced by the following three considerations.

a. The words that Paul uses do not entail that Jesus’ resurrection was immaterial, nor do they convey a contrast between material and immaterial.  The words in question are often translated “natural” and “spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:44).  Though this is in reference to the future resurrection bodies in contrast to the present ones, the idea is that Jesus’ resurrection body is the same as the future resurrection bodies, since He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (died) (1 Corinthians 15:20).  These words can give the impression that “spiritual” in contrast to “natural” means that our present bodies are physical, but our resurrection bodies, like Christ’s, will be nonphysical, resembling some kind of spirit.  The impression is understandable, but we should not interpret ancient texts based solely on how they sound to us.  As it turns out, the contrast is not between physical and nonphysical, and as I will bring attention to below, the passage would not make sense if it did mean that.  The contrast is between mortality and immortality, and between the weakness of flesh and the power of the Spirit of God.  Mike Licona surveyed the use of these Greek words in all the extant literature from the eighth century BC to the third century AD and came up with some interesting results.

“While πνευματικὸν [spiritual] can refer to something as being ethereal, ψυχικόν [natural] never referred to something as physical or material.  Consequently, while this exercise validates a number of interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:44 without endorsing any, it eliminated one that has long been held: Christians are buried with physical bodies but raised with nonphysical bodies.  This interpretation is no longer sustainable.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.620-621).

This was Licona’s summary, but it was dealt with extensively earlier in the book, where another crucial point is worth quoting at length.

“Of greatest importance is that Paul did not employ ψυχικόν [natural] and πνευματικόν [spiritual] to describe a contrast of ‘physical/material’ and ‘ethereal/immaterial’ in 1 Corinthians.  Moreover it is worth observing that had Paul desired to communicate this sort of a contrast, he had better words at his disposal, one of which he had employed just a few chapters earlier while using a seed analogy similar to that of 1 Corinthians 15.  In 1 Corinthians 9:11 he writes, ‘If we sowed spiritual [πνευματικὰ] things in you, is it too much if we reap material [σαρκικός] things from you?’” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.414).

NT Wright agrees that, even though the words used in English imply a physical-nonphysical contrast, the Greek does no such thing (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.348-350).  Wright goes even further when he submits,

“Had Paul wanted in any way to produce the kind of contrast suggested to a modern reader by ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’, not only would pneumatikos have been an unhelpful word to have used for the latter idea [spiritual], but psychikos would have been exactly the wrong word to use for the former [physical].  In fact, if Paul had wanted to find a word for ‘non-physical’, psychikos (which could literally be translated as ‘soulish’) would itself have been a possible option.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.351).

So, all that to make the point that if anyone takes Paul to mean that the resurrection body is immaterial, this is a meaning completely foreign to Paul, and for that matter, any other first century Jew.  In the final point, I will explain what I mean by that, but first I would like to take a look at what Paul was writing from another angle.

b. Even if a skeptic attempts to go through some semantic gymnastics to avoid the point above, which I clearly think to be a waste of his time, he is still met with having to explain why Paul is discussing this in the first place.  As it happens, the last chapters of 1 Corinthians contain a series of responses that Paul is giving in reference to a letter that the Corinthians sent him (7:1, 8:1, 12:1, 16:1), so he is actually writing into a specific situation involving real people with real questions.  In particular, the claim of some of the Corinthians was that there was no resurrection of the dead (15:12).  In fact, we can see the controversy already arising when Paul is first in Greece, for when Paul mentioned the resurrection in Athens, some mocked (Acts 17:16-32).  I can imagine that if Paul had come to the Corinthians and preached a “spiritual/immaterial” resurrection that did not involve Jesus’ body being physically raised, there would be no problem.  If it meant some kind of disembodied existence, that would coincide with what they already believed, and I might add, wanted to believe.  In common Greek philosophy, the body was a prison from which a soul would want to be released.  The fact that the Corinthians are doubting the resurrection already suggests that they had some problem with the bodily nature of it.  In addition, if Paul had preached a “spiritual/immaterial” resurrection, we might expect him to spend 1 Corinthians 15 explaining how this could actually be considered a resurrection at all, which ties into the final point.  Instead, we see Paul explaining that resurrection happens and what kind of body it involves, which, as we have seen above, is certainly not immaterial.

c. One tendency of modern scholarship has been to read modern concepts back into ancient documents.  The idea of a non-bodily resurrection is a textbook example of this, suggesting that Paul could refer to a resurrection of Jesus without any reference to His physical body, which could still be in a tomb.  However, as EE Ellis comments, “It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, ‘grave-emptying’ resurrection.  To them an anastasis (resurrection) without an empty grave would have been about as meaningful as a square circle.” (Quoted in The Son Rises, p.68).  A great strength of the work of NT Wright is his extensive survey of beliefs about resurrection within Judaism, but also from the Greco-Roman world.  As far as those outside of Judaism at the time, there was a fundamental skepticism.  So they knew what resurrection was, returning to earthly life from death, but they just would not accept it.  Wright sums it up as follows.

“When the ancient classical world spoke of (and denied) resurrection, there should be no controversy about what the word and its cognates referred to: it was a coming back again into something like the same sort of life that humans presently experience.  ‘Resurrection’ was not one way of describing what death consisted of.  It was a way of describing something everyone knew did not happen: the idea that death could be reversed, undone, could (as it were) work backwards.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.33).

Wright adds 2 pages later, “Christianity was brought into a world where its central claim was known to be false.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.35).  This anti-resurrection atmosphere shows how revolutionary the spread of the Christian faith really was, but that question can wait.  For now, it is sufficient to point out that the concept of resurrection was not where the disagreement lay between Christians and the rest of the ancient world; it was in whether such a thing could happen or not.  Turning to the concept of Judaism, there is fundamental agreement on the concept of resurrection between the majority of Jews (Sadducees denied the resurrection) and the Christians.  In addition, they both believed that this is something God would do, but the disagreement comes concerning whether God raised Jesus in confirmation of Him as the Jewish Messiah.  Wright discusses Jewish texts, both from the Bible and from second-temple Judaism, and comes to the conclusion that the picture of resurrection is uniform.  Though I could pick various references, I want to point out his comments in relation to the Corinthian correspondence with Paul, because this accentuates Paul’s views.

“There was, in any case, no indication in Judaism either before or after Paul that ‘resurrection’ could mean anything other than ‘bodily’; if Paul was going to argue for something so oxymoronic as a ‘non-bodily resurrection’ he would have done better not to structure his argument in such a way as to give the appearance of articulating a Pharisaic, indeed biblical, worldview in which the goodness of the present creation is reaffirmed in the age to come.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.314).

Because of Paul’s association with Christianity, it can be forgotten that he was also a Pharisee, so even before Paul became a follower of Christ he believed in the resurrection of the dead, as he testifies to many times (Ex. Acts 23:6-8).  If Paul were to all of sudden claim that there could be a resurrection without an empty tomb, it would be a strange thing indeed.  It is for the above reasons that Wright can affirm, in reference to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “…the mention here of ‘buried, then raised’ no more needs to be amplified in that way than one would need to amplify the statement ‘I walked down the street’ with the qualification ‘on my feet’.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p.321).  Resurrection meant bodily resurrection and it is a modern reconstruction foreign to the ancient context to think that the early believers in Christ thought that He was raised from the dead in history, while His tomb remained occupied with His decaying body (William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, p.67-72, in In Defense of Miracles, p.252-254, in Jesus Under Fire, p.149).

In spite of the fact that there are some scholars who are hesitant in regard to the historicity of the empty tomb, I hope I have illustrated that these hesitations are unfounded as far as history goes.  Attempts to assign the empty tomb accounts to legend ignore several lines of historical evidence, and attempts to reinterpret the concept of resurrection both do violence to the text of the New Testament it draws from and ignore overwhelming external evidence.  Again, the comments of the same two skeptical scholars, Gerd Lüdemann and John Dominic Crossan, seem appropriate, as quoted by Mike Licona and Gary Habermas in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (p.164).  Even though they have their philosophical hesitations toward the empty tomb, they do not deny what the claim of resurrection is:

“Let me hasten to add that I do not question the physical nature of Jesus’ appearance from heaven…In the rest of chapter 15 Paul develops his idea of a bodily resurrection, which according to the apostle can be deduced directly from the proclamation in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.” (Lüdemann)

“For Paul…bodily resurrection is the only way that Jesus’ continued presence can be expressed.” (Crossan)

Click here to see part 3 of the article

By Matt Lefebvre

Please read the introduction to this series before reading this article.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Resurrection-Part 1


It is a unique feature of a cumulative case for God’s existence that each individual argument, on its own, does not establish all the traditional attributes of God; in the case of this series, the God of Christianity.  While some would consider this a reason to ignore the argument, it is precisely the nature of the cumulative case that allows any given argument to remain limited in its scope, for the individual arguments employed are not intended to give the whole picture alone, but form, as it were, a piece of the puzzle.  Hopefully then, the arguments together create a strong case for the existence of God that cannot be ignored.  Richard Dawkins illustrates this point well for our purposes, albeit unintentionally.  In reference to the cosmological argument for God’s existence, Dawkins counters, “Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts.” (The God Delusion, p.101).  If you have already read the cosmological argument in this series, or have heard of it before, perhaps you can appreciate the humour in this admission.  In fact, William Lane Craig includes this as #10 on his Ten Worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and after reading this quote from Dawkins, Craig responds, “So what?”  The funny part is that Dawkins does not refute either of the premises, but simply complains of the argument not proving more.  Well, that is just the thing…the cosmological argument does not attempt to prove these other things.  However, what we do have can be found near the end of my article in this series on the cosmological argument: “So to sum up, we have a transcendent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, supremely powerful, supremely intelligent, personal cause.”  If we are looking for other attributes, other arguments are useful (Ex. the moral argument is helpful in establishing that God is good), and we need not fault an argument for not establishing more than it intends to.

That being said, sometimes it can seem like arguments for the existence of God are a little general.  After all, many could concede that there is some overarching power who created the world, and maybe even that such a being is fundamentally good, but still not be Christians.  I certainly agree that this is true, and that the theism so far contended for in the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments is not exclusively Christian.  However, this is precisely where the argument from Jesus’ resurrection comes in.  This just happens to be my favourite argument for God’s existence, not because I think that the other arguments are not strong, but because I find this particular argument to be specific to Christianity.  It is all well and good to talk about the existence of a higher power in one form or another in most major religions, or maybe even to talk of a powerful first cause that created the world without intending to be directly involved subsequently.  However, as soon as the prospect of evidence for a physical resurrection happening in history within a particular religious tradition enters the equation, the viability of a host of religious views could legitimately be severed, depending on the truth of such evidence, of course.  If Jesus is just another religious founder who just lived, taught some things, and died, He would be about on the same level as all the rest, but if it is really true that God raised Him from the dead, this would be an unparalleled event within history.  Since no other founder of a major religion has claimed that they would be raised from the dead (Wilbur Smith, in New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, p.209), much less have been able to prove it, if Jesus’ resurrection took place within history, this would place the case for the existence of the Christian (not just generic) God head and shoulders above other religious claims.  For those who think I am being overly generous toward my own faith, I will soberly mention that this knife cuts both ways, for if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, my faith is in vain and futile (1 Corinthians 15:14-20).

So, all that to point out that the question of Jesus’ resurrection is of enormous significance.  How then do we proceed in attempting to answer this question, you might ask?  After all, is the resurrection not something to be rejected or accepted based on personal skepticism or Christian faith respectively?  Well, as a matter of fact, there are a few points of agreement regarding events surrounding the event in question among scholars who range from conservative Christians to theological liberals, and even to antagonists toward the Christian faith.  The reason for the wide agreement on these historical points, which have also been called minimal facts or historical bedrock, is clearly not based on common religious beliefs, but rather on the strength of the historical evidence for these facts.  For those engaged in historical Jesus studies, any scheme attempting to explain what happened with Jesus on Easter Sunday must include these widely accepted facts.  This is quite significant, because I believe a very strong case for God having raised Jesus from the dead can be made by incorporating these historical facts that are so well-accepted.  At the same time, these facts are also sufficient to show the inadequacy of alternate explanations, which serves as an added bonus.  I believe that the resurrection hypothesis is strong enough by itself, but the failure of other attempts to explain the facts apart from the resurrection serves to add weight to the scales in favour of Jesus actually being raised from the dead.  The form of the argument will be to first explain what these facts are, as well as some of the reasons for their historicity, followed by a look at the implications of these facts for various hypotheses, including the resurrection of Jesus, of course.  My contentions are as follows:

  1. Shortly after Jesus’ death by crucifixion, His tomb was found empty and His disciples believed that He had risen from the dead and appeared to them
  2. Belief in these phenomena led to the rapid spread of the Christian faith
  3. The best explanation of these phenomena is that God raised Jesus from the dead

My hope is that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus will lead to acceptance, not just of the existence of some distant God off somewhere, but of the existence of a God integrally involved in His creation; a God who raises the dead.

1. Shortly after Jesus’ death by crucifixion, His tomb was found empty and His disciples believed that He had risen from the dead and appeared to them

Have you ever heard someone claim something like, “Most people believe…” or “The majority of experts agree…” or “Nine out of ten dentists confirm…”?  Have you ever felt like asking them where they got those generalizations from?  A fair question when presented with an apparent consensus could be to ask whether such a statement is based on a critical survey or if it is in fact just an educated guess (or even just an ordinary guess).  In the present case, however, when I mention that there are a few widely accepted facts, this is based on the pain-staking and extensive research of historical Jesus scholar Gary Habermas.  In 2005, he published a summary of historical Jesus studies based on 3,400 sources going back to 1975 in French, German, and English in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus entitled “Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?” (p.135-153).   How do we know that there is widespread agreement among scholars concerning these historical facts surrounding what happened to Jesus?  We can know this, because, thankfully, Habermas has largely consulted them.  So when we speak of these minimal facts, we can be confident that the experts have confirmed these.  However, we do not just believe them because scholars affirm their historicity, because sometimes scholars can be quite off on a particular topic, but also because these facts are strongly evidenced.  It is not just that scholars like these particular facts, and it can even be mentioned that many do not like having to explain them, but scholars accept these facts because there are good historical reasons for doing so.  For some people, it might be enough to just take the word of those who know, or at least claim to know, what they are talking about, but it is important to realize that it is not always “the facts” that determine what scholars think about the past.  To one degree or another, a scholar’s presuppositions play a role in what they accept or reject.  In fact, many would attest to the fact that “Philosophical presuppositions and historical evidence are not always good friends.” (J. Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus, p.100).  Thus, in affirming these facts, I will also include various reasons for accepting them, so hopefully it can also be clear to you why these can be used to support the resurrection as the best explanation.  To state the facts more formerly in order: Jesus died by crucifixion-Jesus’ tomb was found empty-Jesus’ disciples believed that He had risen from the dead and appeared to them.  Connected with this is the origin of the Christian faith, and along with that, the conversion of Paul, which will be discussed in the second section.  In discussing these facts, I will limit myself to one objection per fact, for the sake of space, but various alternate explanations of the resurrection as a whole have been addressed in my article Following the Evidence Wherever It Leads based on the Minimal Facts Approach.

Jesus died by crucifixion

There is a very important prerequisite for a resurrection of a dead body; namely, it has to be dead first.  This may seem simple and uncontroversial, but there have been some attempts to explain the resurrection by suggesting that Jesus was not actually dead in the first place.  Although Jesus’ death by crucifixion is one of the historical facts widely accepted, the idea that Jesus was not really dead has been put forward in the past and still rears its head from time to time outside the scholarly community.  As the story goes, Jesus was thought to be dead and was taken down from the cross, before succumbing to death.  There is also the suggestion that Jesus was not actually crucified, as in Islam (Sura 4:157-158).  However, since this is not based on any early testimony that might contain accurate historical information and goes against what is known from early testimony, I will not pay this objection any more attention.  However, the contention that Jesus did not die, though not necessarily taking everything written in the Gospels as fact, seems to have initial support from within the report of Mark.  In 15:44 Mark writes, “Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead.”  With the possibility of Jesus being taken down early from the cross, the scenario goes something along these lines:

Jesus did not die on the cross, but just fainted, and was thus mistaken for being dead.  Having been taken down, he was laid in a tomb, and in the coolness of the tomb, he woke up.  Upon returning to His disciples, they believed that He had been raised from the dead (Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?, p.104-105).

Could that have been what really happened?  Well, there are at least four good reasons for accepting that Jesus did actually die on the cross.  Before going on to these, though, it is worth mentioning that this idea suffered a scathing critique by a scholar who did not believe Jesus was resurrected, but nonetheless, considered the proposition that he did not die thoroughly implausible.  Liberal theologian David Strauss pointed out a series of obstacles that the crucified Jesus would need to overcome.  Even if He could survive crucifixion, how would he remove the stone of the tomb, considering His condition, the weight and incline of the stone, and the lack of an edge on which to push from the inside?  Even if He could get out, how would He walk the distance to where the disciples were hiding on His wounded feet?  Even if He could make it to His disciples, how would they think He was the resurrected and glorified Prince of life in His sad physical shape (A New Life of Jesus, p.408-412)?  To this could be added that there was a guard both at the crucifixion and at the tomb which would be responsible for guarding the body of the victim and corpse respectively.  They could even be executed for failing this duty (Craig Keener, Bible Background Commentary NT, p.130).  So not only does Jesus have to be taken down from the cross alive with the guard responsible there, but He also has to get past them to get to His disciples.  If I were to add evidence against this particular objection, I would rightly be accused of beating a dead horse, but in the interest of also ruling out other doubts about Jesus having really died, I turn now to the positive support for the death of Jesus by crucifixion.

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion is attested by various ancient sources, Christian and non-Christian alike.  The Christian literature includes the canonical literature (the four Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, and Revelation) and extrabibilical Christian literature (Ignatius’ letters, the Epistle of Barnabas, and many Gnostic sources).  However, it is not just from the Christians, but also Jewish and secular Roman testimony exists (Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara bar Serapion, and the Talmud).  In addition, there is no ancient evidence to the contrary (Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p.187-189, 192-196, 202-204, 206-208; Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.304-305).

2. Not only are there many reports, but there are also some reports that are very early.  Paul mentions Jesus’ death by crucifixion no later than 55AD (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Galatians 3:1), but even this was already preached to the Corinthians around 51AD when he founded the church in Corinth and to the Galatians even earlier.  But wait, it gets better!  Scholars have identified oral tradition behind what Paul delivers in 1 Corinthians 15, and in fact, the words Paul uses for “delivered” and “received” (ESV) are words often used for passing on formal tradition.  There is widespread agreement that Paul received this from the Jerusalem apostles and that it was within 3 to 8 years of Jesus crucifixion!  This is indeed very early, but since this is only when Paul receives the tradition, it must have been formulated even earlier (Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p.152-157; Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.223-235, 305-306).

3. There is also internal evidence for belief in Gospel narratives of Jesus’ crucifixion themselves.  First of all, being crucified was a shameful thing, but especially for someone like Jesus.

Second, there was no belief that the Messiah would be crucified and this goes against the common Jewish picture of the Messiah.

Third, Jesus is depicted as a martyr who is struggling through His martyrdom, when a number of other accounts of Jewish martyrs show bravery in the face of torture and death.  The account of Jesus’ crucifixion would be hard to explain as pure fiction.

Fourth, the Gospels include incidental details that coincide with what we know of crucifixion from other sources.  These include crowds following Jesus to Golgotha, the breaking of the criminals’ legs, the piercing of Jesus’ side with a spear, and the Jews desiring to take the bodies down before sunset, prior to the Sabbath.  These details attest to the historicity of the passion narratives (Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p.73-75; Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.306-311).

4. As unlikely as the objection above seems, as pointed out by Strauss, it is even more unlikely considering how improbable it is that someone would survive crucifixion.  First, the torture that often preceded crucifixion was very brutal, which would already weaken the victim.

Second, there is only one ancient report of someone surviving crucifixion, given to us by Josephus, but even though three of Josephus’ friends were taken down from their crosses and given the best care Rome had to offer, two out of the three still died.

Third, death by crucifixion is believed to be due to asphyxiation (not being able to exhale), so crucified criminals would have to push up using their nailed feet to breathe out.  This would not only make it easy to see if someone was dead, because most people would not survive more than ten or twelve minutes in the hanging position without lifting up, but it would also explain why breaking the legs of the criminals would speed up the process, as in the case of the approaching Sabbath when Jesus was crucified.

Fourth, an article that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association concerning the methods of scourging and crucifixion concluded that “interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”  One of the issues involved the spear thrust into the heart of a crucifixion victim.  Romans ensured death by stabbing the heart and the testimony of John 19:34-35 coincides with this modern medical knowledge.  The blood and water that John saw would be from the right side of the heart and the pericardium (the sac that surrounds the heart) respectively.  Even if Jesus were to be alive for a significant amount of time in the hanging position without moving, the spear thrust to the heart would certainly have killed Him (Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p.73-75; Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, p.304, 311-313).

The evidence for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is very strong and it is no wonder that so many scholars accept it as fact.  Mike Licona (The Resurrection of Jesus, p.313-314) records the statements of two very skeptical scholars, Gerd Lüdemann and John Dominic Crossan, that adequately sum up the view of the scholarly community concerning the death of Jesus:

“Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” (Lüdemann)

“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” (Crossan)

Click here to see part 2 of the article

By Matt Lefebvre

This post is a continuation of the teleological argument. Please see Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6 if you have not read them yet.

To read along with audio for this article, click here Teleo-Part7

3. Therefore, it is due to design

“The impression of design is overwhelming.” (Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint, p.203)

“The Strong Anthropic [to do with humans] Principle…has strong teleological overtones.  It suggests that ‘observers’ must play a key role in (if not be the goal of) the evolution of the Universe.  This type of notion was extensively discussed in past centuries and was bound up with the question of evidence for a Deity.” (Barrow and Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, p.28).

“Cosmology is one of the most fascinating areas of the natural sciences, not least on account of the philosophical and theological questions that arise from its speculations.” (McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe, p.111).

Many scientists and philosophers have attested to the existence of design in the cosmos, whether they claim to know the identity of the designer or not.  Some even come to change their views from being hostile to the idea of design to embracing it as the best explanation of what can be seen from the universe.  However, others seem entrenched against even including design as a possibility of explaining why the universe is the way it is.  In this last section, I intend to offer an explanation as to why that might be and integrally connected with that, why I think that should not be the case.

John Lennox illustrates a common attitude within the scientific community.  After mentioning that we should be thankful for the advances of science, he offers an explanation of a negative development in science.  “But in some quarters the very success of science has also led to the idea that, because we can understand the mechanisms of the universe without bringing in God, we can safely conclude that there was no God who designed and created the universe in the first place.” (God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, p.44).  He then proceeds to offer an illustration in which the existence of Mr. (Henry) Ford, who made cars, was not undermined when a person discovered how the car worked.  Alister McGrath also brings attention to this aspect of the scientific method in exposing certain metaphysical preconceptions that are allowed to assume a controlling role in some scientists.

“An empirical scientific method will always seek to inquire about natural causes; only a nonempirical metaphysical naturalism will insist that they can always be found.  As might be expected, the discussion of the origins of the universe has been intensely controversial precisely because of the challenges or reinforcements that it is seen to offer various metaphysical positions, whether theistic or atheistic.” (A Fine-Tuned Universe, p.112).

As I stated above, there are basically three causal explanations we can offer: chance, necessity, design (or some combination of them).  However, in terms of the teleological argument for God’s existence, as soon as design is claimed as a scientific explanation, red-flags start going up among some scientists.  However, this is merely a bad connotation of the word “design”, thinking that it undermines science in some way.  However, when theistic implications are removed from a situation, all of a sudden design is a viable option again.  Thinking about tossing a coin 100 times again, suppose we decided to do a little gambling and I said that if it is tails, you win, and if it is heads, I win.  Each bet would be the same; say 10 dollars a toss.  Well, what would you think if I won every single one of the 100 coin tosses, and as a result, won $1000 from you?  Would you think that there was some law that demanded that the coin land in my favour?  Would you think that by chance the coin landed heads up 100 times in a row?  Would you think that in the multiverse, such an event was bound to happen somewhere, so why not here?  I hope not, because that kind of thinking could cost you a lot of money.  I suggest that it would not even have to be 100, but after about 10 rounds, you would start to get suspicious.  Under the circumstances, I think you would be rational to ask to examine the coin to see if I was cheating, or at least use a coin of your own, or ask to instead call heads.  In such a situation, even if you did not know how, you would assume that I had designed the game so that I would win.  It could be a weighted coin, or a two sided coin, but you do not even need to know that to understand that something is not right.  Through this, we can clearly see that design is a perfectly good explanation for events in the universe.  I have a mind and I can do things such as write articles, play football, or flip coins, even influencing such events.  We see design all the time and it is no less scientific than necessity or chance, so it is not to be excluded by definition in the area of fine-tuning.

Examples of detecting design abound, and Gonzalez and Richards offer some helpful ones.  When people in Britain saw Stonehenge, they knew that someone had built it, even if they had no idea who or why.  In looking at even this very simple pattern, it was clear that these stones had not simply rolled down a hill and by chance just ended up on top of each other in similar formation.  If there was some law that put them together, we have not found it yet.  No, the simplest explanation of this is that it was designed.  More significantly, SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is looking for radio signals from other forms of life in our universe, so presumably, they have criteria by which to identify intentionally ordered signals as opposed to random signals or repetitive signals.  Though their search is based on the assumption that we are not special in the universe (and perhaps not designed by implication), their methods of design detection testify indirectly to the fact that if there were to be design in the universe, we would have a way of distinguishing it from other causes.  To return once more to the firing squad analogy, I think it is implausible to think that when the 100 marksmen miss, it is the result of either necessity or chance.  Though it cannot be totally eliminated as an explanation, I would rather pursue what best explains the facts.  So, 100 marksmen, who have been trained for the purpose of hitting their target, aim at your heart, and await the command to fire.  The commander gives this command and all 100 guns go off, but surprisingly, you find that you are still alive.  I propose that the best explanation of such a situation would be that this was done on purpose.  Even if you do not know what that purpose is, I still think you would still be justified in inferring design.  If one marksman missed and 99 hit you, that would not need as much explanation, but the fact that all missed suggests that they intended to do so.  When I consider the fine-tuning of the universe, I feel that the situation is the same.  Though so many things could have gone wrong for the existence of life, they obviously did not.  In the way the universe is, I see a pattern.  At every step where I see an opportunity for chance to have rubbed out any possibility for life, instead, just the right path was chosen.  In fact, some have likened this to the story of Goldilocks, who went into the bears’ house.  She tried the papa bear’s porridge, but it was too hot.  She tried the mama bear’s porridge, but it was too cold.  Then coming to the baby bear’s porridge, it was just right.  The same thing happened with the chairs and the beds.  Well, in the case of the universe, it is not just a matter of taste, but a matter of life, and in so many aspects of the universe, it seems as though the universe was somehow prepared with us in mind.  That does not mean it has to be designed, but I am suggesting that this is the best explanation.  The universe does not simply exhibit highly improbable occurrences, but occurrences that are compatible with life, and thus, the universe itself is an example of specified complexity, demanding explanation.

So I hold that the universe shows us that there is a purpose and meaning to our existence; it did not happen by accident and it did not have to happen.  In order to see this design, I do not think we need to adapt to some new way of thinking, but to simply recognize the design for what it is.  For the power of design is very evident in the reactions of those most fundamentally opposed to the idea.  Del Ratzsch offers some helpful considerations in this respect.

“If design beliefs were founded on mere problematic inferences, or if their force arose merely from religious convictions, then we might not expect beliefs concerning design in nature to exert a very substantial tug on, for example, biologists – especially those not sympathetic to religion.  That is not quite what we find.  Even professional biologists seem to have an almost innate tendency to see biological systems in design terms.  Thus, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA (and no great fan of religion): Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” (In God and Design, p.135).

To balance things out, I will also quote Alister McGrath, who himself believes in evolution, like Crick, but differs on the implications, for McGrath believes that evolution was the means by which God brought about life on Earth.  To give the context, he has discussed how people were critical of design after Darwin, but here is what he has to say to the Darwinists who extrapolate to the fact that there can be no design in the universe.

“Yet it has to be asked whether some Darwinists are indulging in precisely the same kind of metaphysical speculation, or allowing themselves to be trapped by the same (often unacknowledged) a priori metaphysical commitments that they identify in those affirming teleological approaches to biology.” (A Fine-Tuned Universe, p.185).

Furthermore, McGrath goes on to commend the progress of science in an open-minded context.  “A growing willingness on the part of empirical, nondogmatic scientists to consider the metaphysical and religious implications of the scientific enterprise has created new and exciting conceptual possibilities.” (A Fine-Tuned Universe, p.221).  If the universe is all there is, then there can be no other explanations, so the scientist is committed to natural explanation.  However, how does natural explanation explain itself?  If a person who is devoted to science really has an open mind to consider that God may be responsible for the fact that we live in a universe that is not hostile to our existence, then they have more freedom to consider the possibilities of what might be true than a scientist committed to naturalism.  While neither I, nor any of the authors I have been quoting, think that this argument alone proves that there is a God in a theistic sense, the suggestion is that design is the best explanation of why the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of life, which cries out for some form of extremely powerful and supremely intelligent being.  William Whewell gave a great visual that sums up what the design argument intends to do when he wrote, “The facts are known but they are insulated and unconnected…The pearls are there but they will not hang together until some one provides the string.” (Quoted in A Fine-Tuned Universe, p.220).


I wish to sum up the teleological argument for God’s existence by giving perspective on what I have tried to do in writing this argument.  I do not think I have just proved that God must have designed the universe through this argument, but that this argument provides added support to the cumulative case for God’s existence.  In light of the cosmological argument, it would make sense that if God brought the universe into existence out of nothing, He could make it in a purposeful way, thinking about the existence of us in the process.  I have argued that we see that in the way the universe is, design is the best explanation, and that alternate explanations are inadequate, but some may still put their hope in possibility instead of plausibility.  “In fact, no amount of evidence for apparent design could ever count as evidence of actual design.  But if science is a search for the best explanation, based on the actual evidence from the physical world, rather than merely a search for the best naturalistic or impersonal explanations of the physical world, how responsible is it to adopt a principle that makes one incapable of seeing an entire class of evidence?” (The Privileged Planet, p.270).  I realize that many still hold to different conclusions based on the scientific evidence, as Paul Davies acknowledges.  “Now some of my colleagues embrace the same scientific facts as I, but deny any deeper significance.” (In God and Design, p.152).  However, I would hope that what I have offered here in this article is at least reason enough to give the design hypothesis a place above the competing hypotheses, if not reason to convince you of the existence of God.

The Cosmological Argument

The Moral Argument

The Argument from Jesus’ Resurrection