Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Resurrection: Did It Really Happen?

Here is a quick overview of the traditional evidence used to defend the resurrection. I wrote this brief note to share with my friends on Facebook on Easter. It's meant to be a very brief and surface summary of the evidence, quickly clarifying the main issues in the debate and showing the resurrection as the best explanation.

This weekend Christians are going to celebrate the fact that Jesus raised from the dead. But why do we believe that in the first place? Did it really happen? Or do we have false hope? Below I will show some reasons why Jesus did in fact raise.

Before, we say that Jesus raised we have to show he was really dead first. Ancient non-Christian sources , the four existing biographies of Jesus life, and Jesus disciples all testify to the death of Jesus through crucifixion. Almost all scholars agree that Jesus did not survive the crucifixion process. Here are some reasons why he did not survive:

1)It is easy to tell if someone is still alive during a crucifixion, because they have to push up to breath. If the guard sees that the victim is limp for a long time, one can be sure they are dead.

2) If Jesus really did survive, he would be in such bad shape that he would not be able to convince anyone that he had raised. If Jesus did survive, the disciples would not say “Praise the Lord, you have been raised!” No they would say “Praise God you survived!”

All of this shows that Jesus really did die through crucifixion.


It is historically accepted that the disciples of Jesus spread the message that Jesus had raised from the dead and that they had also seen him. Below, it will be seen that the disciples were both sincere and sane when they proclaimed that they had seen him alive.

The Disciples Were Not Liars, But Sincere

The disciples of Jesus certainly didn’t intentionally lie about seeing Jesus alive from the dead. The vast majority of liberal scholars agree to this. This is because people do not suffer for claims they do not believe in. People may die violent martyr deaths for religions they do believe in (i.e. terrorists), but no one willingly experiences intense suffering for claims that they know for certain are false. In short, humans do not willingly die for stories they have just made up.

If Jesus died and stayed dead, then the disciples certainly knew this. In that case, all of the disciple’s stories about seeing him alive again were purely lies they created. However, church tradition tells us that 7-10 of the disciples were martyred for their faith. They also experienced repeated persecution, difficult travels, and were sometimes fugitives. This is certainly not a life most people are willing to live for a story they know is wrong! The idea that the disciples intentionally lied is so ridiculous that even unbelieving scholars reject it.

Psychological Explanations Fail

Even if we admit (as almost all scholars do) that the disciples didn’t lie about what they thought they saw, a psychological explanation is not going to help much either. One idea is that all of the disciples had hallucinations where they thought they saw Jesus alive again. The problem is that the disciples saw Jesus not just as individuals, but in group settings. Hallucinations can’t account for this because if groups of people can repeatedly see the same thing that isn’t there, then everything you know about your everyday life falls into question (aka Did your friend really have a birthday party the other day or was that just a repeated group hallucination?). Individuals can have hallucinations, but not groups. This too is quite the stretch.


It is ridiculous to say a the disciples of Jesus would die for a story about his resurrection which they knew was false. It is also a stretch to say that the disciples had group visionary experiences where they all saw Jesus many times when he wasn't actually there. But it is not a stretch to say that God exists and that he raised Jesus from the dead. I have merely summarized here some of the main issues surrounding the resurrection. Nevertheless, they are strong reasons to believe that Jesus really did rise again from the dead, vindicating his claims about himself.

(The majority of the information from this note is taken from the book "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus" by Dr. Gary Habermas)

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