When I first believed in God I studied and examined various religions trying to work out which one was the real truth. Christianity wasn’t on the top of my list but one I tried to avoid believing. I think I had a hunch or a built in awareness in my heart that it was truth, but I had to cross off or debunk a few others before I looked into it intellectually because to be honest I was hoping for a religious belief that did not require any commit or life change from me.
One of the main reasons I finally believed with my mind what I knew in my heart was that I became convinced by the evidence that Christ physically rose from the dead. I did not believe as I now do that the Bible was divinely inspired, but rater I just believed it was a religious text and historical document. What I found though was that even if you treat the New Testament as a historical document or even a work of fiction you must still come to a conclusion that resurrection is the most probable explanation of the facts. I became convinced that God miraculously raised Christ from the dead and I saw it as a vindication and sign from God that the Christian message and after that I also believed the Bible was truth. I have received a few questions on my formspring about why I am a Christian, and I have wanted to write about evidence for resurrection for a while. As it is the Easter season and resurection is a topic that comes up a lot during Easter I thought I would take the chance to write a few thoughts about it now.
It is not necessary to believe that God inspired the gospel accounts to conclude that Christ rose from the dead, but if you honestly appraise the historical evidence you might just conclude as I did that Christ and the Bible are indeed from God. There are certain facts about Christ’s resurrection that are commonly accepted by most scholars (both believers and skeptics) of the New Testament. The four facts that are accepted are that Christ died and was buried, that a group of women found an empty tomb, that a large number of people claimed to experience appearances of Jesus & that the early disciples experienced a revolutionary change and passionately believed and preached their message.
Christians believe these facts support their faith, skeptics believe they can be explained without accepting Christianity as truth. These facts must be examined honestly if someone wishes to reject or criticize Christianity as false. If someone is unwilling to examine the evidence then they forfeit any right their right to call their rejection of Christianity an intellectual decision. It is irrational to deny Christ existed (as some now do), because the historical evidence so overwhelmingly proves that he did exist. The best an honest skeptic can do is try to explain away the facts about Christ’s resurrection with alternative theories or explanations. The most common theories to explain the above four facts are as follows- the disciples stole the body, Christ’s enemies stole the body, the disciples hallucinated or Jesus has indeed risen. After examining the theories I concluded at 17 years old that Christ had resurrected from the dead and this conclusion has been reinforced time and time again since as I have heard others articulate the arguments for and against it, and as I have experienced the reality of Christ. I originally heard a debunking of alternative theories in a book by Answers in Genesis (I forget which one) and have recently appreciated the way Dr. William Lane Craig has presented similar ideas. I would like to offer a brief examination of the main arguments against the resurrection conclusion, borrowing heavily from having listened to Dr. Craig a lot and from that original reading of the AiG book.
Theory 1: The disciples stole the body and hid it
This theory is common amongst skeptics despite the lack of evidence to support it. This theory would point to a deliberate lie and conspiracy on the part of the disciples, involving them contradicting their beliefs against lying and stealing, sneaking past armed guards and concocting elaborate stories to try and convince people that Jesus had physically resurrected. It is a pretty big stretch to try and imagine that timid cowardly young disciples who were already disheartened by the death of their leader could sneak past a twenty-four hour watch of Roman guards trained to kill. In the unlikely event that it was possible for them to do this, why would they do it? They believed that knowingly deceiving was a sin in Gods eyes and that he punished sin. They also all underwent extreme difficulties, hardships, ridicule, torture and death for their message.
If the disciples hid the body and knew Christianity was not true, how can the change in demeanor and passionate focus on preaching their message be explained in light of the torture it would bring them? It is irrational to think that the disciples and Church founders would be willing to experience pain and death for something they knew was untrue. Sure people die for false beliefs all the time but those people think they are dying for the truth. Nobody dies for something they know is not true. If the disciples hid the body then Christianity was a fraud and they knew it. They would not be willing to undergo the difficult trials that they did for the gospel if they did not believe it was true.
Theory 2: Christianity’s enemies stole the body and hid it
This theory is often common amongst skeptics when they realize that it is unlikely that Christ’s disciples stole his body. It suggests that Roman soldiers or Pharisees stole Christ’s body to fool or trick the disciples or to further discourage them when their leader died. The problem that this theory has is that the missing body empowered the early Church.
Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven has always been the lynchpin Christianity. The early Church boomed and thrived because of the belief Christ had risen. Christian preachers even taught that Christianity was foolish if Christ did not rise (1 Cor 15:12-19). If Christianity’s enemies had the body of Christ, all they needed to do was produce it and Christianity would have died at its inception. It is clear they did not have the body and were openly frustrated by it being missing. None of the enemies of the early Church believed this theory, it was never suggested. The missing body supported the testimony of the Church, and helped its spread. If Christianity’s enemies had the body they would have produced it.
Theory 3: Christ’s disciples hallucinated
This theory is suggested because the evidence is clear to even a casual passive skeptic that the disciples honestly believed they had witnessed and interacted with Christ after his death. It is unlikely that anyone is serious when they suggest that the appearances of Christ were hallucinated and it is a theory that is easily debunked. Even a basic understanding of psychology tells us that hallucinations are experienced differently by individuals and are not experienced the same collectively. Hallucinations are in an individuals mind and occur to people who hope for or expect them or to people who are open minded. The disciples had scattered and all but folded, they had gone back to their previous professions. They were not prone to belief, but to disbelief, as demonstrated by Thomas wanting to put his finger in Christ’s wounds and Paul encountering Christ despite not being a Christian. Also the hallucination theory does not explain why the body was missing. If the disciples hallucinated it would have been easily demonstrated by the enemies of the Church by producing the body.
Theory 4: Jesus rose from the dead
It seems that the most probable conclusion of evidence is that God raised Jesus Christ from the grave. The resurrection is the best and most plausible explanation. If a miracle occurred it suggests the existence of God. God vindicated Christ and resurrected him showing His approval of Christ and His teachings. This is the conclusion I came to when I was 17 and it is the belief I have held since.
My belief in Christ’s resurrection is not just an intellectual belief, but a heart conviction that God has given me. It is not enough to just believe with your mind, but you need to have a faith in your heart that can only come from God. I hope that as you consider the evidences for Christ’s resurrection you experience this gift from God and He gives you a repentant heart to ask for His forgiveness. While the evidence is overwhelming and gives intellectual permission for belief, it isn’t enough to merely believe with your head. The Easter celebration recognizes the importance of Christ dying on the cross for the forgiveness of sin and rising again. The evidence supports this message. You don’t need to leave your brain behind to believe in Christ’s resurrection, but you do need to leave your sin behind to experience it.