God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Making Sense of the Resurrection

Last year Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 published an Essay Series: Is Christianity True? Many apologetics bloggers contributed to the series. My piece was on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians around the world celebrate Christ's resurrection the event reconciles us to the Father, let's not forget that if, in fact, this did not happen in history, our faith is useless (1 Cor 15), and anyone who does not believe it has no hope (John 14:6).Here is the greatly abbreviated case for the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, as submitted for the essay series:

                Every person has a worldview. A person’s worldview consists of a web of beliefs, each with its own sub-web of evidences that support it. A worldview’s truth can be judged by how closely it reflects reality as we know it. The evidences for each belief should be tested. I believe that the Christian worldview is the one that most accurately reflects reality. I will focus on providing evidences for one of the foundational beliefs of Christianity- that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead and that the Christian worldview is the only one that can make sense of such an historical event.
                First, the fact that Jesus was resurrected needs to be established to be an event that actually happened. Before a resurrection of anyone from the dead can be concluded, two things must be demonstrated: 1. That they, in fact, died; and 2. That they were seen alive after death.
                Several lines of evidence support the fact that Jesus Christ died. First, a large number of both Christian and non-Christian sources record the event.1 Second, medical studies on the process of crucifixion show that death occurs by asphyxiation. Third, ancient sources record the “final blow” to Jesus that guaranteed his death. Fourth, Jesus’ disciples were astonished to see him alive, because they knew he had died. The vast number of historians who have written on the issue of Jesus’ resurrection agree that these pieces of evidence point to the fact that Jesus had died before his disciples claimed to see Jesus in a “risen” state.2
                Second, the fact that the disciples saw Jesus after they knew he died needs to be established. Several lines of evidence support this fact. First, the disciples believed that they had an experience of the risen Jesus. Second, the disciples turned from being cowards (abandoning Jesus just prior to his crucifixion) to being willing to die for their belief. Third, the apostles proclaimed the resurrection extremely early in the history of the Church (the creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3 has a history that may be traced to only a couple years after the death of Jesus). Fourth, Jesus’ brother James was skeptical of Jesus’ claims, until he had a post-death experience of Jesus. Fifth, Saul of Taursus (Paul) was a learned Jewish persecutor of Christians, until he had what he believed to be an experience of Jesus. The evidence provided here for Jesus’ appearances is accepted by the majority of critical scholars who have written on the issue.3
                Seeing that the evidence for death and appearances afterwards is quite strong, we are left concluding that something happened. But can we say that it was a “resurrection,” and if so, can we say that God is responsible? Many theories have been proposed to explain the evidence in a way that did not allow for a resurrection. One such example is that the disciples’ experiences were psychological in nature, and had no basis to reflect an actual occurrence. This has been disputed by modern psychological research, showing (among other things) that visions cannot be shared among people.4
                Another such theory is called the “swoon” theory. This theory basically posits that Jesus didn’t actually die, and the conditions in the tomb were such that he could regain consciousness.5 This theory is inadequate for many reasons.6 One of them has to do with Jesus’ expected physical condition if such a thing actually happened. If Jesus showed up to his disciples in a post-crucifixion state (bloody, disfigured, and weak), then had made the claim that he was their “Risen Lord,” the disciples would have, at least, been more concerned about tending to his needs, and at most just told him to “go away”, thoroughly convinced that their friend truly was just another fraudulent messiah.
                Naturalistic explanations for the evidence, such as the one provided here, are not adequate to explain all the evidence provided, and still remain consistent.4 Also, since naturalistically, things that die do not come back to life, we must accept the fact that Jesus was brought back to life (a resurrection).7 But we cannot jump from here to say that God did it. Before this can even be a possibility, it must be established that God exists or has the possibility of existing.
                Many arguments have been posed to support the existence of God. Examples are the Kalam cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, and several others. An explanation and defense of each of these arguments is beyond the scope of this essay, but many sources exist for investigation online. None of these establish a proof for God’s existence on its own; however, if taken as a cumulative case, God’s existence is the only possibility that can account for all the evidence (philosophical, scientific, and experiential) that the arguments provide. Since it is, at least, possible that God exists, then the possibility exists that God is the cause of Jesus’ resurrection,8 which is the cause for the appearances to the disciples, which is (half of) the cause for their transformation.9 The idea that God exists, makes sense of all the evidence provided, while the atheism cannot do so.
Christ claimed that his resurrection would provide proof of the truth of his claims.10 Since a supernaturalistic account would force the conclusion of approval of Christ’s teachings, any religion that denies Christ’s claims (he is deity and he is the exclusive way for salvation) will have to account for the evidence for the resurrection with a naturalistic account. Since this is not possible, we must accept the worldview that accounts consistently for all the evidence. That is the Christian worldview.
                This short investigation of the resurrection is, by no stretch of the imagination, complete. It is part of a cumulative case for the truth of Christianity and falsity of other worldviews. It provides powerful tools to begin sifting through the available choices.
                For more information on this topic, check out Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Michael Licona, and Ben Witherington.

1.       Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for The Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company), pp. 143-242
2.       Habermas, Gary R. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. 2003), p. 16
3.       Ibid., p. 27
4.       Ibid., pp. 10-15
5.       Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for The Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company), pp. 69-72
6.       Ibid, pp. 72-75
7.       Habermas, Gary R. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. 2003), pp. 67-69
8.       Ibid., pp. 78-80
9.       Ibid., pp. 17-26
10.   Ibid., p 108

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