How we defend the Resurrection: No, it’s not by telling you to have faith

Jesus Resurrection 1778
Jesus Resurrection 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post is a response to Rautakyy’s comment here.

Firstly, I feel the need to apologize. I think this post comes out as harsher than I would have liked. I finalized it after a very long day.

Rautakyy and I agree about a lot of things, but sometimes, he does not seem to know this. He seems to have certain ideas about why I believe things. Observe:

“My claim, to be exact, is that we do not know wether Jesus was actually resurrected, or not. You may have all the faith you want in it, but truth of any claim is usually decided by what is the most likeliest event.”

There’s no need to be condescending, Rautakyy. I haven’t been lying in bed eating peanuts. I have done some research and I do think Jesus’ resurrection is the most likely event. Hang on while I explain that.

First, let’s get on the same page. I did not mention your point about the gospels being unreliable accounts because I did not think it necessary to do so. The defense of the resurrection hypothesis I am most familiar with does not depend on that. Shocking, I know, but it’s true. I considered pointing out your strange (to me) actions in arguing against the reliability of the gospels, but decided against it.

Establishing Historical Facts:

This method which I speak of first asserts that there are certain things we can know about Jesus without assuming that the gospel accounts are completely reliable. We can do this by using certain criteria which historians use to establish facts about history.

  1. Multiple attestation: If the same thing is said by at least two different sources which don’t depend on each other, it is probably true. For instance, not just the gospels, but Josephus and Tacitus say that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion. That’s more than two independent sources so it’s probably true that Jesus died (or at least, appeared to die) by Roman crucifixion.
  2. Enemy Attestation: If your enemy supports your claim, then it is probably true because your enemy has no reason to lie for you. For instance, both Jewish and Christian sources agree that Jesus’ tomb was empty on Sunday. In fact, the Jewish sources try to explain this by saying that the disciples had stolen the body. They wouldn’t have said that if the body was still in the tomb. They wanted Jesus dead after all so they wouldn’t have supported the rumors of his resurrection by lying about the tomb. I’m talking about sources like the Talmund, not Matthews’s account of the incident. So, since the Jews, who had no reason to lie about this, we can conclude that Jesus’ tomb was actually empty on Sunday
  3. Criterion of Embarrassment: If I say something about myself that is potentially embarrassing to me, it is probably true since most people aren’t all that willing embarrasses themselves. So, for instance, the gospels say that Peter denied Jesus. Peter was one of the leaders of the early church. The early church wouldn’t have inserted something so embarrassing to them, so Peter probably did deny Jesus.

There are a few other criteria like this that are used generally by scholars in examining historical documents. You can challenge them, of course (I once saw someone challenge an entire system of logic because they didn’t like the conclusion of the ontological argument) but I do not think it is wise.

So, what do we know about the resurrection?

Using those criteria, there are certain things we can glean from the gospels without assuming that they are entirely reliable.

  1. Jesus died on the cross
  2. He was buried in a tomb
  3. His disciples were consequently discouraged and despondent, having lost hope
  4. His tomb was empty soon after his death
  5. His disciples believed that they had seen him alive
  6. The disciples’ lives were transformed as a result. They were even willing to die for their beliefs
  7. The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, from the beginning of church history
  8. The disciples’ preaching of the resurrection took place in Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified
  9. Some of his enemies (James and Paul) believed that they had seen Jesus alive and became Christians as a result.

Gary Habermas, in his book The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, reports that virtually all scholars, from ultra-liberals to Bible thumping conservatives agree with those facts (except for the empty tomb which enjoys only about 75% support).

Inference to the best explanation

What some defenders of the Resurrection Hypothesis (RH) do is to point out these facts and then ask, “Which theory can we come up with that best explains all these facts? Which theory

  1. Explains more of the evidence than the others
  2. Has greater explanatory power (makes the evidence more probable) than the others?
  3. Is more plausible than the others?
  4. Is less contrived than the others?
  5. Doesn’t conflict with as many beliefs as the others?

Then we list the competing theories and see which best fits

  1. Conspiracy 1: The disciples stole Jesus’ body and lied about his resurrection
  2. Conspiracy 2: Someone else (Romans or Jewish leaders) conspired to steal Jesus’ body
  3. The disciples hallucinated the appearances
  4. Swoon theory or Apparent Death theory: Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but only appeared to have died
  5. Joseph of Arimathea moved Jesus’ body and the disciples were unaware of this
  6. Rautakyy’s hypothesis: Romans conspired to let Jesus live
  7. Resurrection Hypothesis: Jesus rose from the dead

I love this method because it doesn’t require me to first convince Rautakyy of the reliability of the gospel accounts before we can discuss the resurrection. It also requires the person challenging the resurrection to come up with a theory that better explains the evidence than the RH. This means that Rautakyy can’t simply point at flaws in my hypothesis all day long. If he can’t come up with a theory that explains the evidence as well, the RH wins the day.

Another Method

Another method of defending the resurrection is to make two claims

  1. Jesus died on the cross
  2. Jesus was later alive

If you can show both claims to be true, then Jesus really did resurrect. The first one is very easily defended. The second can be defended by arguing that Jesus’s disciples believed they saw him. Hallucinations are easily ruled out because group hallucinations do not happen. The only other option is that they really did see him in which case he was really alive.


This was not intended to be a defense of the RH, but an account of how the defense is sometimes carried out. I believe that in order to have a good discussion, it is essential that both parties make attempts to understand each other.

Response to Rautakyy:

I cannot end this post without saying something in response to Rautakyy’s points. According to him, his point is simply that “we do not know wether Jesus was actually resurrected, or not”. So, in his rebuttal, he does try to defend any alternative theory to the resurrection. Rather, he makes a lot of suggestions, but he does not seem to me to be committing to any one theory. All he tries to do is poke holes in the idea that we do know that Jesus resurrected by pointing out a lot of possibilities. He spends a lot of time attacking the credibility of the gospels accounts. He suggests that the Romans or Jews might have conspired to save Jesus (offering no evidence), suggests that the soldiers might have simply been incompetent (offering no evidence) and then (wonder of wonders!), he says that the evidence that the soldiers were incompetent and Jesus never really died is that the disciples claimed to have seen Jesus after the crucifixion. It does not seem to occur to him that this is evidence for the resurrection. Here’s a hypothetical conversation between us. The insert in square brackets is mine.

Me: Rautakyy, how do you know that Jesus never rose from the dead?

Rautakyy: because he never actually died on the cross

Me: And you know that how?

Rautakyy: His disciples claimed they saw him after he was supposed to have died. [Since he definitely couldn’t have resurrected,] this means that he never died in the first place.

The question begging is only subtle enough that he can miss it. Then, he suggests that Christianity is a mixture of pagan myths and Jewish monotheism because some pagan gods had sons who resurrected. Yep. The resurrection of gods like Osiris (who never actually resurrected ) proves without a doubt that Christianity is a mere mixture of Jewish and Pagan culture.

He never tells of which of these it is – a Jewish conspiracy, a Roman conspiracy, Roman incompetency or myth. I think that he does not know which of them it is. His aim was simply to cast doubt on the resurrection by saying that there are alternative explanations

Rautakyy, that won’t work unless you can give those explanations legitimacy. I won’t write numerous posts on every single unevidenced suggestion you produce for one important reason. While the RH has the empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances, the change in the disciples etc. in its support, the assertions you attempt to explain it away with have little or nothing. That makes the RH far superior and such a venture a waste of time and effort.

Pick a claim – just one – and get some support for it rather than tossing half a million of them around. Alternatively, just ask me to defend the resurrection while you ask questions and make no claims.

As for the aliens, if I don’t respond you might just keep bringing them up. I do not know what alien abduction stories you speak of so I cannot say anything about them. If it pleases you, provide me with the testimony. I’ll see if they have as much supporting evidence as the resurrection. If they don’t then they are irrelevant to this discussion. If they do, then I guess aliens do exist after all. Truth is established not by what we prefer, but (in this case) by what the evidence points to.


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I’m Tracy

9 thoughts on “How we defend the Resurrection: No, it’s not by telling you to have faith”

  1. I am very sorry that you did not understand my point, even after all the effort I put into answering you. I obviously lack the skill to make my points understandable to a religious persons such as you. Hmm… Maybe, if you read it again? 🙂

    I really do not see why I would just pick only one point more likelier than the RH, since there are so many and all of them have their own evidence, wich I allready presented to you. The famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said that, if you eliminate all other possibilities, then the most unlikely explanation may be the truth. Since the resurrection is the explanation option that requires the laws of nature to be broken, it is the most unlikely option of all the possible explanations to the events in the Gospels. But since we simply do not know enough of the events to eliminate “conspiracies” by the Romans, or Jews (such as Joseph of Arimathea), or even some of the diciples and because we know these people had motives to make conspiracies, those are more valid explanations than the RH.

    We do not even have enough information to rule out the possibility, that even if there was no “conspiracy”, Jesus could have survived. Only acclaimed eyewitness stories in the Gospels about this incident are those who say that Jesus was alive after the crucifixion, wich naturally leads to the assumption, that he did not die. And as allready shown, that was within possibilities. There were no doctors present to declare him dead, not to mention to write an eyewittness report about it, and even if there was we would still not know for sure, because the medical skills of the doctors of those days were very limited and because even modern doctors have from time to time made the mistake of declaring a coma patient dead.

    It is not actual evidence, that a few ungategorized Roman soldiers and uneducated womenfolk may have thought him dead in a hearsay story later written by people who were not even present at the execution. It is in direct contradiction to the writers who claim to have seen him alive afterwards.

    All that Josephus and Tacitus have to add to this is hearsay, so their account to the Jesus incident is only, that such a man was worshipped by a bunch of fanatic cultists. Many fanatics throughout history have died for their different convictions, but that does not make any of those convictions true.

    1. Well, that is twice the number of words you’re allowed but at least you’re trying. We’ll see if you can cut it to 200 words on your next comment. 🙂 I’ll reply when I get the time and I’ll ask Geisler and Turek their source for the size of that stone while you hold on to your believe that if some gives a fact about events in the Bible that is not in the Bible itself, the person must be a bold faced liar. 🙂

    2. This post is so much clearer than the others. (My quota idea must be working!)

      I’ll try to summarize your point and you can tell me if I get it.

      There are lots of possible explanations for the events in the gospels
      It is possible that there was a roman conspiracy
      It is possible that this is just a myth
      It is possible that Jesus sis not actually die (but was declared dead by woefully incompetent roman soldiers who had botched their training to become killing machines)
      It is possible that Jesus did resurrect.

      1. The resurrection requires the laws of nature to be broken
      2. All the evidence is hearsay
      3. There were no doctors to declare Jesus dead
      4. even if there were doctors, doctors in ancient times were not trained enough to accurately tell a living man from a dead one
      5. Even if the doctors were as competent as modern ones in proclaiming people dead, modern ones sometimes make mistakes.

      All of this makes it abundantly clear that the resurrection is the least likely of all possible explanations and therefore should be eliminated.

      That was 188 words. You have 200 words.

  2. Now, you’ve pretty much got it. 🙂 With minor exeptions.

    1. Of course, it is possible to bring in information from outside the Bible. However, how to determine the weight of a stone only briefly mentioned in the story? It smells of propaganda. We have not been able to determine the grave in wich Jesus was buried, with any certainty.

    2. It is more than possible, that the entire story is a myth. It certainly has a lot of mythical elements in it. Though, in my experience most myths have an actual event behind them. It is typical for a good fictional story, to have enough truth in it, to make it sound like true, even if it is not. So, in my opinion it is quite possible, that there was a man called Jesus from Nasarea, who preached compassion and that he was killed for heresy (as religious folk tend to do when someone challenges their faith, unless they are restricted from it by a secular society). It is also plausible to me, that the executors, who were the representatives of a more, or less secular empire in an occupied country did not manage to kill him. Perhaps on purpose, as they were affraid of riots. It is even possible, that this was their compromise between two rival parties.

    3. If the Roman soldiers were indeed auxilia, or palatia guard (wich is more than likely) they never were trained to be the efficient killing machines legionaries were. At that time the Roman empire employed a multitude of nationalities from all around the empire. These men had not the training, or reputation of the legions. They were the ones who did most of the police work in provinces. Usually they were men from somewhere else in the empire, so they would not feel too much symphaty for the local populations. Even the legionaries could have made a mistake or spared the life of the carpenter, that was allready humiliated and was not even really found guilty by their commander. Further more, even if they were legionaries, they could have been affraid of a divine retribution. It was alledged by a number of locals that this man was a son of a god. In the pantheistic/polytheistic minds of the soldiery, that was a real enough threat. The alledged comment by the officer in charge, kind of points into that direction.

    4. Conspiracy is a strong word, if the soldiers, or Pilatus were simply bribed by some of the followers of Jesus.

    I hope I did not exeed my quota. 🙂

    1. You hope you did not exceed your quota. You’re so funny. My intention was to get you to keep it short and it seems that you’re trying. That was 427 words. Let’s try to get it to under 400 words. If you want to write any more than that, make it a blog post. it’s good that you’re beginning to number your writing. That’s good. It keeps everything clear and helps us keep from getting distracted by peripheral issues.

      I think the major problem we have is an inability to understand each other. We’re going to try to fix this using the comment quota (to help you keep your comments concise) and my special technique – questions.

      You agree that your claim is that there is more evidence for other theories than for the RH. I find it difficult to see because you talk about so many theories that they all get jumbled up and I can’t figure out what is evidence for what and what is not even an issue in this conversation. I would like you to help me with that. Fist, pick one theory which you think has more evidence than the RH – just one. That way, we can focus and your comments will be shorter. Then, outline the evidence for that theory.

      Take note of some things while you do this:
      1. that something is possible or probable does not mean that it actually happened. In order for it to be preferable to the RH, it would have to be more probable than the RH. You’ve probably said this a few times yourself.
      2. If you make a claim that is not obvious, keep your sources on hand. I’ll request them. Or you can be kind and just provide them before I ask.
      3. Statements like “Further more, even if they were legionaries, they could have been affraid of a divine retribution.” I advise against. The ‘could’ in that statement weakens it. If I were to say “Jesus’ tomb could have been empty on that Sunday”, it is not evidence that Jesus was alive because Jesus’ tomb could also not have been empty on Sunday morning. Such statements do not help the conversation. In order for that to be evidence for my claim, I would have to argue that Jesus’ tomb was empty or was probably empty.

      When you have done this, (if you do it) I will write on the evidence for the resurrection in this manner. I will make two claims.
      1. Jesus dies on the cross
      2. Jesus was later alive

      I will argue that if both claims are true, then Jesus really did rise from the dead.

      How does that sound?

  3. Well, though I am a fast writer, I only have a limited time to put into this. I shall not have enough time to go through all the claims in detail you would require me to. Perhaps I should just drop it and let you figure it out yourself. 😉

    I refuse to make absolute claims as you ask me to, because we are not talking in absolutes here. If we look at the story from a historical point of view, we do not have enough evidence to make any absolute claims. Maybe that is the major difference in our thinking of this issue. A religious person such as yourself will look for absolutes, while a secular person like myself will look at this story as just a historical study. Science works in most propable truths not the absolute truths. Scientifically speaking resurrection is very unlikely indeed, though we have a great number of claims for such events from history. Therefore we treat them equally unplausible unless we happen to have faith in one of them. Wich one is usually determined by our cultural heritage, not by our logic. Science is the best way we have to know wether something is true or not. Correct? Outside science lies faith.

    We can not know wether, or not the Roman soldiers were affraid of divine retribution. It is just quite likely, but that is a possibility you can not dissmiss because I have no other evidence to back it up, other than the most propable cultural heritage of these men.

    1. The soldiers were most likely poly- or pantheists like almost all of the people in the empire they came from.
    2. Such men would have known stories of sons of gods, and held them true.
    3. Many of these gods were thought to be vengefull.
    4. A vengefull god might avenge the death of his son, if such a god existed.
    5. The soldiers might have been more affraid of the wrath of a god than the wrath of a commanding officer.
    6. The commanding officer had “washed his hands” of the incident and shown contempt towards the Jewish religious fervour to kill Jesus the heretic.
    7. In polytheistic religions gods have more power in the areas where they are worshipped and Jesus had said he was the son of a local god.
    8. There was a storm, wich might have been interpreted by primitive minds as a god being angry at the murder of his son.
    9. The execution was aborted prematerily, but the soldiers did not crush the feet bones of Jesus.
    10. Jesus was handed over to Joseph of Arimatea, not to any of his diciples. He alledgedly took him to a tomb.
    11.There is no record about what happened to Jesus during the next three days, nor of the actions of Joseph.
    12.The tomb was empty, when the women came to embalm him.
    13. Jesus appeared alive though wounded by the nails and spear after the incident.

    I could go on, but do not have the time.

    1. I feel like deleting the first part of your comment. I was not saying that you could not say “This probably happened”. I was saying that you should not say “This could have happened” because the fact that it could have does not mean that it did. I did not ask that you speak in absolutes.

  4. Guys, I suggest you enter your arguments in bullet form. You may expound a little but only little. I look at them good for the thought.

  5. Another rather late entry.

    What does not seem to have been seriously considered is the possibility that Jesus did not exist at all. There is virtually no historical evidence for his existence.

    The earliest complete gospel we have is from the 4th century – a copy of a copy of a copy …etc of a Greek translation of Hebrew or Aramaic words written at least thirty years after the supposed crucifixion. Most scholars agree that the last 12 verses of Mark, referring to the resurrection, were added later, and that Josephus’s reference to Jesus was a later addition.

    Personally, despite the lack of real evidence, I am more inclined to think that a Jewish preacher called Jesus did exist than that the chap we call Mark simply made him up. However, we have to remember that the first stories of his resurrection were probably recorded fifty years after his death, at a time when stories of virgin births, resurrections and other miracles were widely believed. Widely, but not universally – Acts 17:32 tells us that some Greeks sneered at Paul’s teachings when he got on to the resurrection.

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