The term resurrection deals with the phenomenon of transforming a human body from an earthly form into a heavenly form, whether or not the person is alive or dead at the time of the event. It is differentiated in Scripture from "resuscitating from death". The resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a case of resurrection from the dead rather than resuscitation (the difference being that a resurrected body will never die again). The resurrection of Christ is specifically called out in Scripture as a "first fruits". In context, the resurrection of Christ is a promise to all believers that they will also be resurrected and what form it will take (see discussion below).
The term in its modern usage refers to the historical-theological doctrine of Christianity that declares Jesus Christ a real historical figure that died by crucifixion and was physically resurrected from the dead. Christianity maintains a supernatural origin for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A real event in history not verifiable in the present and is thus approachable by not scientific methods but historical methods (See: Epistemology). Many notable Christian apologists during the 20th and 21st centuries have developed robust arguments for the physical resurrection as a literal event in history like Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig and Michael R. Licona. Different questions are asked by the historical method put forth by Habermas and Licona that attempt to be as objective as possible. Trying not to tread on theological methodology as a ecclesiastical historian might do. The minimal facts method, developed by Habermas is an attempt to show that historical Jesus scholarship may conclude that Jesus Christ was resurrected by God specifically. In the attempt of weighing hypotheses for and against resurrection the minimal facts method adopts a line of inquiry (with answers provided by atheist and liberal scholars) that focuses on, for example, if Christ was seen after His death, and if the apostles actually saw the risen Christ, and what ancient documents are pertinent to the historical event.
- 1 Christianity
- 2 Resurrection Defined
- 3 Versus Resuscitation
- 4 Miracle
- 5 Is Preaching The Resurrection "Enough"?
- 6 Judicial Due Process
- 7 Eyewitness Reliability
- 8 Minimal Facts approach
- 9 Natural theories
- 10 Bodily or spiritual
- 11 References
- 12 External Links
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of Christianity and is considered a real historical event. During the process of applying a historical method historicity is achieved by engaging diverse bodies of literature, such as the New Testament and other early Christian literature.
If the New Testament is compared to other works of ancient history and the same documentary/historicity standards applied to all in a consistent manner, no document of antiquity even approaches the historical reliability and verifiability of the New Testament in general and the Gospels in particular. For example, for the works of Homer, Socrates, Julius Caesar, Plato and Aristotle combined, the total count of extant copies, the copies with dates nearest-to-time of authorship, among other documentary tests, cannot begin to compete with the New Testament, even if all of them were combined.
Josh McDowell in Evidence That Demands A Verdict lists numerous of these secular works and reveals that over 20,000 first-century copies of the New Testament can be placed within 25 years of the author's pen. No other document of antiquity is so well supported.
The concept of Resurrection is a subject of much religious debate. Even in the time of Christ, the two primary religious sects argued over the reality of resurrection. The Pharisees taught resurrection but the Sadducees taught that resurrection was neither possible nor necessary (Matthew 22:23). Of course, the secularist believes that the present life is all-there-is, such that there is no life after death for believer or unbeliever (when a person dies, they simply stop living in biological terms).
The resurrection of a human body is not a common clinical resuscitation. Many secular books and screenplays have depicted resurrection in various ways. In horror-fiction, the "living dead", as in a zombie, is a form of rising from the dead. Stories such as "Frankenstein", the entire "vampire" genre, movies such as "Resident Evil", "World War Z", "I am Legend", "Dawn of the Dead", etc. attempt to depict "reanimation" of a human into a form that is sub-human, animalistic, vacuous and empty compared to their original form.
As described in Scripture, resurrection is a transformation. Humans both living and dead are transformed/reconstituted into new physical bodies, stripped of the sin nature. This is depicted as a new, everlasting existence from an infusion of power and new life rather than a husk or shell of a prior one.
The Scripture teaches that the condemnation of Adam's sin is passed onto each person from their parents at birth and follows us into death. If human sins are not redeemed prior to death, the soul and body are destroyed. If sin were part of the body alone, death would free humans from it automatically.
- The prophet Ezekiel was taken to a valley of dry bones and commanded to prophesy upon them. (Ezekiel 37:1-14). The bones rose up and were reconstituted into an army. This is clearly more than a simple resuscitation, and is a foreshadowing of the resurrection of believers in the last days. This is also foreshadowing of the army of believers (the Church) that follow Christ from heaven (Revelation 19:11-14).
- Before Christ resuscitated/revived Lazarus, he had a conversation with Martha. She claimed to believe that Lazarus would be raised at the last day. Clearly the concept of bodily resurrection was taught and accepted at this time: (John 11:23-26) "Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"
- Today when Christians are buried, the bodies are buried whole as a testimony to the bodily resurrection. Some Christians have themselves cremated into dust to further the testimony that they will be raised from dust. The common Christian headstone faces East in anticipation of the arrival of Christ in the Eastern sky (Matthew 24:27)
- Jesus Christ was raised from the dead in the hours between sunset Saturday and sunrise Sunday. According to the timeline of the Passover this is the "day of first-fruits" or the "Feast of First Fruits" and is a Jewish feast day. Christ was raised from the dead on the day of first fruits because his resurrection is an example or promise of the coming resurrection of all believers: (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming."
- In this regard, Jesus Christ is not the "first resurrection" but the "first fruits" of the first resurrection. Scripture calls the "first resurrection" that of all those who believed in Christ: (Revelation 20:6) "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years."
- The resurrection of the believer is much more than a common clinical resuscitation. The resurrection is the physical re-constitution of the believer's body (long since dead and turned to dust) into an everlasting form that can never die and is not encumbered with sin: (1 Corinthians 15:42-49) "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."
- Many believers will not see death. When Christ returns, those who are alive will be instantly transformed into their new resurrection body. The dead in Christ will rise from their graves and those who are still living will be transformed without seeing death. Christian scholars call this event "the Rapture": (1 Corinthians 15:50-54) "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. "
- Continuing with the mechanics of the event that scholars call "the Rapture", when Christ appears in the sky, the dead will be called from their graves and the people who are living will be transformed. At this point all of them will meet Christ in the clouds: (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
- Jesus asserted that those who are in their graves will rise when they hear Christ's voice. Everyone is resurrected, but not all are resurrected to eternal life. Jesus said that all would be raised, some to life and some to damnation: (John 5:24-29) "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
In each case of resuscitation in Scripture, the body of the dead person was still "recently dead". They had not yet experienced the ravages of extraordinary decay that quickly follows after death. They also later died. Their resuscitation was not everlasting.
- Jesus used the revival of Lazarus as a specific example of his own power of life over death, and his position as the sole owner of the capacity to resurrect to eternal life. (John 11:23-26) "Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"
- When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he explained to his disciples that Lazarus was only "sleeping". The disciples took this to mean "regular sleep" rather than Christ's meaning, that he had died. Christ was attempting to teach them that for a believer, death is no more frightful that simply falling asleep. (John 11:11-14) "These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead."
- Jesus was asked to look after a little girl but by the time he arrived, she was already dead. Christ made the same comment, that she was only "sleeping" butt the people laughed at him. (Matthew 9:23-25) "And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose."
- Elisha performed many miracles. After his death and burial, apparently the power to resuscitate a dead body was still latent in his bones even though it did not serve to revive Elisha: (2 Kings 13:20-21) "And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet."
In the books of Ecclesiastes we are exposed to one facet of the mechanics surrounding death. (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7) "Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
In this verse, the "silver cord" is apparently the spiritual/physical connection between the human's living soul (Hebrew:neshamah) and the physical flesh. If the silver cord is loosed, death is irreversible. This is perhaps why Christ claimed that Lazarus and the little girl were merely "sleeping", or why the man could be revived when thrown on Elisha's bones. The silver cord had not yet been loosed and they were not past resuscitation. This is one reason why Jesus declared that he would be in the earth "Three days and three nights" and would be raised "after three days", to dispel any notion that he intended to be resuscitated through clinical means. That he was actually in the grave for this period after the Passover, is an indication that it was not a resuscitation like Lazarus (who ultimately died later in life), but a true resurrection (over which death has no power).
- Main Article: Miracle
A miracle is an act of supernatural intervention by God. Miracles are brought about by the immediate agency or the simple volition of God, without the use of mechanisms capable of being discerned by empirical senses, and in many cases designed to authenticate the divine commission of a religious teacher and the truth of his message. Monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believe that the universe is the result of a miraculous act of creation by God. In addition to providing basic moral guidelines, the Bible is a history book that records God's creation and interaction with the physical realm. Miracles performed by God, Jesus, and their servants or disciples have taken place throughout history, including modern times. Such a supernatural history may indeed preclude a naturalistic interpretation of Earth history.
An important aspect of miracles is that they do not suspend, violate or set aside the laws of God. The architecture of the creation is designed to accommodate the actions of God in the form of miracles. While the human eye may see such events as outside of "nature", the miracle is taking place firmly within the boundaries of the created order. For example, the human eye is unable to see ultraviolet light yet we can detect its effects. A person without knowledge of ultraviolet light may attribute a sunburn to something "supernatural" when it is not.
In this regard, the definition of "natural" and "supernatural" are contrivances of secular thinking. The Bible does not use the concept of "supernatural" but of "spiritual". Jesus used earthly things to explain heavenly things because earthly things are an extension or similitude of the heavenly. Secularists will describe "natural" as the "world where God is not" and then describe "supernatural" as a world that contains all-things-make-believe, such as pixies, gnomes, faeries, elves, angels, God and all other deities.
It is ironic therefore, that God describes the entire creation as being upheld by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). There is no place in the creation where "God is not". This means that the secularist's "natural" world where "God is not" is actually the make-believe world. God describes our reality as a "creation" without distinctions as to what is "natural" or "supernatural".
God often uses natural forces to affect miracles (e.g. a mighty wind to push back the Red Sea). In all of Christ's healing miracles, he is not setting aside, bending or reversing the creation's laws. He is leveraging laws and capabilities that, while built-in to the creation, are unavailable to humans. For example, the law of gravitational attraction is inescapable. We can fly by leveraging the law of aerodynamics which does not set aside the laws of gravity, but temporarily overcomes their effects, just as Christ was able to temporarily overcome the effects of disease or apparent death (we would expect all the people he healed to eventually get sick again, and Lazarus died later in life as well).
Is Preaching The Resurrection "Enough"?
The Scripture is clear that the Old Testament is the foundation for the New Testament. Or rather, the New Testament explains the Old Testament. By this measure, all of the events and subsequent doctrines of the New Testament are deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ quoted from or referenced the Book of Genesis more times than all other books of the Old Testament combined.
- Jesus gives an account (Luke 16:19-31) about a beggar named Lazarus and a rich man. They both die, and while the rich man is in hell, he begs Abraham to allow Lazarus to come back from the dead to warn his brothers about this terrible place. Abraham says that they have all they need with Moses and the Prophets, to which the rich man claims that they would believe if someone rose from the dead. Abraham's answer is simple: (Luke 16:31) "And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
- In this lesson, Jesus is teaching that the Resurrection "alone" has no meaning. The context of the Resurrection is Moses and the Prophets (a Hebrew Foundation)
- Similarly, after the Resurrection, Jesus met up with some disciples on the road to Emmaus. He hid his identity from them as they spoke. They were confused about what had just transpired, and they had spent plenty of time with him. Jesus answered them about the Crucifixion and Resurrection both: (Luke 24:26-27) "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."
- In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, we are told that the Cross has a special connotation depending upon whether one has a Hebrew foundation (a Jew) or not (a Greek): (1 Corinthians 1:23) "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;"
- In the above context, a Jew could be shown Messiah, Atonement, Blood Sacrifice, the Lamb, Passover, etc and the Jew might experience a "stumblingblock" but not an information-disconnect. For the Greeks however, none of these concepts have any meaning whatsoever. They are foolishness
- The world is at a crossroads and we can use America as an example. Is the world mostly "Jew", or mostly "Greek"? We can say that the Hebrew foundation for understanding Christianity has been summarily eroded worldwide. Therefore the only effective means to deliver the Gospel is to regard the lost as "Greek" (without a Hebrew foundation). Why then, do practically all evangelistic outreaches worldwide still behave as though the world is "Jewish"?
- On Mars Hill in Acts 17, Paul is preaching to the Greeks and provides for us the remedy to the problem. The Greeks had no Hebrew foundation to understand the mechanics of the Gospel. Acts 17:24-25,32 "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; ...And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter."
- In the above context on Mars Hill, Paul used a different starting point. He did not start with "Christ crucified". He started with "God that made the world", the creation.
- In Revelation, the angels preach the "everlasting gospel" Revelation 14:6-7 - "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters."
The Complete Gospel
From the above verses, we may surmise that the Gospel, as also exemplified by John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." is comprised of the following events and their underpinning meanings:
- Creation - God has loved the world that he has made. Jesus is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8)
- Fall - The Fall of Man introduced sin and death. The Fall has no meaning if the Creation is not true.
- Crucifixion - This event has the Fall as its foundation, necessitating Christ's mission to die as payment for sin. If the Fall is not true, the Crucifixion has no meaning.
- Resurrection - This event has the Crucifixion as its foundation. If Jesus did not die, or his death did not pay for sin, or God did not accept Christ's payment of his blood, then the Resurrection is meaningless.
John 3:16 breakdown has all four elements:
- For God so loved the world (that he has Created)
- That he gave his only begotten son (the Crucifixion)
- that whosoever believes in him (this message is for human-kind, Created on the 6th day)
- should not perish (the punishment for sin (the Fall) is to perish and be lost forever)
- but have everlasting life (the Resurrection)
Judicial Due Process
If we were to be a victim of violent crime, saw to the perpetrator's conviction and incarceration, and many years later saw the perpetrator on the streets as a free man, might question the authorities. They would simply say, "He was convicted, given a penalty, served the sentence and is now free." This is commonly understood concept of justice.
However, if the person is convicted of a capital crime, the penalty is death, where the sentence is simply how the state chooses to carry it out. Once the penalty is paid and the sentence completed, the crime has been paid-in-full. The problem is that the perpetrator cannot be released from the sentence. Death is permanent.
Contrast and compare this to the Resurrection. Christ takes on the penalty (death) and the sentence (Crucifixion) and suffers the penalty, dying on the day of Passover. God in turn declares the penalty paid-in-full and raised Christ from the dead (Romans 1:4). This is God's testimony that the penalty was paid and was accepted. If God had not raised Christ from the dead, how would humanity know that the penalty had been paid and that God had accepted it? Anyone can claim to die for the sins of many. Anyone can claim to have power over death and the afterlife. Proving the claim requires a true demonstration.
Numerous studies have been published on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. In this regard however, two primary forms of eyewitness testimony are in question.
- Bystanders - the eyewitness testimony of bystanders, second- or third-parties has had spotty reliability. This has led critics of the eyewitness accounts of Scripture to discount the veracity of the Scripture itself.
- Participants - the eyewitness accounts of participants have been remarkably consistent and consilient. For example, if a person is robbed on the street, their memory for the event is quite vivid. Veterans from wars are able to re-tell the same accounts repeatedly for many years with no deviation whatsoever. The effect of an event on a direct participant is far more significant than the effect on a bystander.
The conclusion is that the eyewitness reliability of the Scripture is very high, owing to the fact that the accounts are given by participants not mere bystanders.
Minimal Facts approach
- Main Article: Minimal facts method
The minimal facts method is a historical apologetic that makes the case for the supernatural resurrection of Jesus Christ. The minimal facts method is also called the minimal facts approach and was pioneered in the 1970's by the philosopher, historian and prominent Christian apologist Gary R. Habermas. It is considered within specifically historical apologetics as a scholarly approach to establish specific reliability in the Bible showing the central doctrine of Christianity as historical fact.
There are natural theories that critics attempt to correspond to the historical data forming a hypothesis. Knowing how natural or supernatural hypotheses account for the data is essential when forming coherent Christian apologetics. Critics claim that there is no way to posit a miracle event in history. Alternative explanations however are shown lacking not accounting for a historical method like the traditional resurrection hypothesis does. Because natural theories do not satisfy components of a historical method to varying degrees depending on the theory Christians conclude the supernatural resurrection hypothesis as the most coherent conclusion that fully accounts for the historical bedrock.
A naturalistic attempt to account for the historical fact of the disciples claiming what they saw was the risen Jesus is the hallucination hypothesis. Proponents claim because of deep psychological trauma and grief suffered by the disciples after the demeaning and horrific death of Jesus their savior and Lord, visions or detailed hallucination episodes manifested. Presenting Jesus Christ in a glorified manner and attempting to deal with the trauma and grief.
This is not however, how hallucinations work. A hallucination is quite personal. For example, a mother in her grief hallucinates that her dead son comes through the door each evening to greet her. Nobody else sees him. Because hallucinations are the product of a mind, no two minds will hallucinate the same thing in the same way. The consilience of the testimonies of those who witnessed the Resurrected Christ are the simple evidence that hallucination does not explain what they saw.
A more coherent hypothesis is that the disciples were not only sincere about their beliefs, but were simply testifying to what they had actually witnessed, both with their own eyes and in the presence of others. It is significant that most scholars agree that the tomb was empty because of many powerful evidences. The hallucinations of Jesus do not necessarily need the empty tomb, the hypothesis does not mandate conclusion either way lacking explanatory power. The hallucination hypothesis suggests ambiguity rather than coherence with a critical historical methodology. The historiography of the resurrection hypothesis follows an exegesis of eyewitness accounts that claim they saw the risen Jesus, and because of this truth, it changed their lives. So much did this impact the disciples particularly that they were willing to be martyred for it. People do not die for what they think is a lie, people willingly die for what they believe is the truth.
The honest belief of the apostles and those who witnessed the resurrected Jesus coupled with context of the appearances sheds light on the improbability of the hallucination hypothesis. There are groups and individuals each at different times, places and ways in which they interacted with the risen Jesus. Group hallucinations of the same sensations by themselves are extremely rare but multiple group and individual hallucinations in varied contexts and situations producing the same experience is exponentially even rarer.
The apostles are generally presumed to have manufactured a religion based on the death of Christ. They needed to have a risen Savior, so either stole the body or conspired with others to do so.
If this is the case, then the apostles were promulgating a lie, all the while knowing it was a lie. This is of course incongruous with the teaching of Christ, to be honest in all things.
The counter-argument to this is that the apostles all died as martyrs for their faith. If any of them knew it was a lie, one or more of them would have "squealed" and revealed the truth. That they sealed their testimony with their own blood, is a powerful statement to the truth of their testimony. Josh McDowell has noted that most people will not cross-the-street for something they know is true, much less give their lives for it.
Critics however take exception to this argument, asserting that many people have "died for a lie". Examples include suicide bombers, kamikaze pilots, and Islamic extremists who give their lives for promises they believe are forthcoming from Allah. The Heaven's Gate cult committed mass-suicide, all believing that there was a spaceship associated with the Hale-Bopp comet that would pick them up in the afterlife. The point is, many people do outrageous things, even risking their own lives, for things that they believe are true but in fact are false.
The significant contrast here is that people do not regularly take risks or offer their lives for a lie while fully knowing that it's a lie. In none of the aforementioned cases did the people believe that their cause was based on lies. Contrast this to the apostles, who believed that Christ had risen because they had seen him. If this was a lie, one or more the disciples who saw the resurrected Christ, numbering in the many hundreds (1 Corinthians 15:6), would have decried the leaders.
Did Jesus Actually Die?
The "swoon" theory for example, basically asserts that Christ did not actually die, but fainted on the Cross. Later when in the cool of the tomb, he revived. This is perhaps the weakest of the arguments primarily because of the post-revival logistics. Christ would have had to move a stone off the grave, walk on broken, bloody feet past a guard unit and make his way into town. He would then introduce himself to the disciples in this condition, clearly closer to death than to life. They would not have looked upon him as the "risen Lord" nor would they have called him the "Lord of Life". They would have called him a doctor - to treat his many wounds. Such a situation would not have given the disciples the confidence to boldly proclaim his Resurrection on the following day and every day after. The more realistic conclusion is that they would have dressed his wounds, remained in hiding and figured out a way to get all of them out of town without receiving the same fate, then go completely quiet forever.
In Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig points out that the death of Christ has significant implications to the Resurrection: If a person claims to have resurrected, the first question we will ask is "did the person actually die?". Before we believe a person has resurrected we would first presume that we were mistaken about their death.
In this regard, if Christ had died by misadventure, hit by a chariot, choked on food or mauled by an animal, one could potentially present reasonable doubt that he had actually died. This is because the only eyewitnesses would be bystanders, which is problematic for confirming the event's details. That Christ died in a high-ceremony, formal execution is a dramatic differentiator from a common death. After all, how many humans have ever been formally executed by the Romans in this manner, compared to causes-of-death in the general population? The death of Christ was overseen by soldiers and an official executioner charged with verifying his death. Such officials are only predisposed to execute their job, perform the logistics and administration to the satisfaction of their superiors, regardless of the reasons or context for which the deceased is before them. Couple this with the timeline of the sword in Christ's side, and the arrival of the soldiers to break his legs to accelerate death (but did not have to, as he was already dead), and the overall consilience of these confirm Christ's death. It is quite reasonable to accept that Christ actually died, to the effect that to consider otherwise would require a departure from reason.
The Grave is Empty - Was the Body Stolen?
The Scripture tells us that the Jewish leaders conspired with the Romans to say that the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:13-15). Is this even a viable assertion, considering the context of the culture and the events-at-hand?
Who are the only groups who care about the body of Christ and its disposition? Three groups have a vested interest in the body, for very different reasons.
- The Religious Leaders - the leaders came to the Romans with the fear that because Jesus had claimed to rise from the dead, that the disciples may steal the body and claimed that he had risen. (Matthew 27:62-66). If the Pharisees had stolen the body, then when the disciples claimed Christ had risen, all they would have had to do is parade the body in the streets, shutting down the movement entirely. The simple fact is that the Pharisees wanted the body to stay put for the duration that Jesus had claimed.
- The Romans - Based on the same passage as above (Matthew 27:62-66), the Romans had a vested interest in maintaining control. The events surrounding Jesus Christ had created a political stir that they wanted to die, and hoped it would die with Jesus. If the Pharisees were correct, and the disciples stole the body, which seemed very reasonable, a guard at the tomb would keep this from happening. The point is, if they were interested in stealing the body, why place a guard unit at the tomb to prevent the body from going missing?
- The Disciples - After the crucifixion, the disciples were hiding out in secret place, afraid that they would be hunted down. Their master, Jesus Christ had just spent the past three years teaching them on righteousness and honesty. If they had truly stolen the body, then they knew their testimony was a lie. Why then go out into the streets and boldly proclaim the risen Lord, unless it was true? In other words, if they were afraid after the crucifixion and then manufactured a story about Christ's resurrection, why would this make them less fearful? To steal the body, the disciples would have had to overpower a Roman guard unit or sneak past them on rocky soil. Then roll away the heavy stone and take the body. If they already feared for their lives, why would they take this additional risk?
In stories of heroes of old, many embellishments may arrive in the story which serve to discount its veracity.
In the Resurrection account, the first people to witness the risen Lord were the women. In this culture, women were not allowed to testify in court and had no social standing without their husbands. If Peter and the other apostles had simply wanted to jump-start a new religious order into the culture (presuming that there was no Resurrection) then including women in the account would have been a significant barrier to socializing and promulgating the account, so they would not have included it unless this portion of the account were simply the truth.
Likewise in various places in Scripture the writers appeal to the eyewitness capacity of those who were still alive to both witness it and to refute it if it wasn't true. (Acts 2:22)
Bodily or spiritual
There are two significant views of the resurrection of Christ, either bodily/physical or spiritual. Each of these however, is dependent upon the definition of "Christ".
In some religions, "Christ" is a form of "consciousness" without corporeal form. In such cases, resurrection is only available in spiritual form because "Christ" only exists in spiritual form.
In Scriptural context, Jesus Christ of Nazareth is born to Mary, wife of Joseph and is a real, flesh-and-blood human. He grows up among the people of his family and launches his ministry being heralded by his cousin John.
At no time does the Scripture allude to or allow the notion that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a spirit. Those who would say that he raised from the dead in "spirit only" would have to explain how he was able to invite Thomas to touch his wounds, or how he could eat fish. Ghosts and spirits have no need of food because they have no bodies.
- Resurrection. By Merriam-Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resurrection). Accessed September 16, 2011.
- A historical fact is what historians consider knowable history; they do not necessarily mean it to be a logical proof.
- The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus By William Lane Craig
- Explaining Away Jesus' Resurrection - A Critique of the Hallucination Hypothesis By Gary Habermas. Christian Research Journal / vol. 23, no. 4, 2001
- Top Ten Myths About the Resurrection
- Pagan Resurrection Myths and The Resurrection of Jesus By Leon McKenzie
- What are the arguments for the historical fact of the empty tomb?
- Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity pg 51