The Resurrection: Miracle or Myth?

What was the central truth of the early apostles’ preaching? What was the stimulus to the miraculous growth of the early church?

All find their answer in the singular event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “He is risen!” was the victory cry of the early Christians, as they spread the message of Christ’s bodily resurrection to the ends of the earth.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very capstone in the arch of Christianity. When it is removed, all else crumbles. It is, in fact, the singular doctrine that elevated Christianity above all the pagan religions of the Mediterranean world. And it is precisely because of its strategic importance to the Christian faith that each person who takes the sacred name Christian upon his lips must be prepared to defend its historicity.

Thus, the question must be asked, how can we know beyond any doubt that Jesus really rose from the dead?

As Christians, we must be prepared to demonstrate that Christ’s resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space-that it was reality, historical and not mythological (cf. 2 Peter 1:16).

The importance of this event cannot be minimized, for Jesus Himself proclaimed that His resurrection would prove His power over death, and thus His deity (John 2:18-22).
Not only that, but Christ’s resurrection is the very heart of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

The belief in the resurrection does not constitute a blind leap into dark chasm but rather a step into the light. Indeed, the evidence for resurrection is so overwhelming that no one can examine it with an open mind, desiring to know the truth without becoming convinced.

Of the many evidences available, none is more compelling than the fact that the resurrected Christ appeared to over 500 individuals at a single time (1 Corinthians 15:6). Christ appeared to numerous other individuals as well, providing “many convincing proofs” of His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Christ in His resurrection body was even touched on occasions (Matthew 28:9; John 20:17), and He challenged the disciples (Luke 24:39) and Thomas (John 20:27) to feel His wounds.

For those who continue to harbour doubts about the veracity of the biblical evidence, one need only point to Dr. Simon Greenleaf, the greatest authority on legal evidence in the 19th century. It is noteworthy that after examining the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Greenleaf suggested that any cross-examination of the eyewitness testimonies recorded in Scripture would result in “an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth.”

Despite the biblical evidence, some have suggested that Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb-by either the Romans, the Jews, or the disciples. However, even as we consider such alternative explanations, reason drives us back to the conclusion that Christ rose from the dead. Consider the following: We know that the Romans would have no reason to steal Christ’s body. After all, they wanted to keep the peace in Palestine.
The Jewish religious leaders would also have no motive in stealing the body since that would only stir up the very movement, they had tried crush. Besides, if the Jewish leaders had stolen the body, they could have later openly displayed the body to prove to the disciples and indeed the world that Jesus had not really risen from the dead.

And certainly, the disciples wouldn’t have stolen the body, for why would they choose to suffer and die for a cause they knew to be a lie? While it is conceivable that someone might choose to die for what they know to be the truth, it is inconceivable that hundreds of followers would be willing to die for what they knew to be a lie.

Minimal facts analysis

Dr. Gary Habermas and Professor Mike Licona have taken the time to identify the “minimal facts” (or evidences) related to the resurrection. While there are many claims in the New Testament related to this important event, not all are accepted by skeptics and wary investigators. Habermas and Licona surveyed the most respected and well-established historical scholars and identified a number of facts that are accepted by the vast majority of researchers in the field.

They limited their list to those facts that were strongly supported (using the criteria of textual critics) and to those facts that were granted by virtually all scholars (from skeptics to conservative Christians). Habermas and Licona eventually wrote about their findings in their book “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”.

Four of Habermas and Licona’s minimal facts-the most substantiated by both friends and foes of Christianity:

  1. Jesus died on the cross and was buried.
    2. Jesus’s tomb was empty and no one ever produced His body.
    3. Jesus’s disciples believed that they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead.
    4. Jesus’s disciples were transformed following their alleged resurrection observations.

Were the disciples wrong about Jesus’s death?
Problems with the proposal that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross:

  1. Many first-century and early second-century unfriendly Roman sources (i.e., Thallus, Tacitus, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Phlegon) and Jewish sources (i.e., Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud) affirmed and acknowledged that Jesus was crucified and died.
    2. The Roman guards faced death if they allowed a prisoner to survive crucifixion. Would they really be careless enough to remove a living person from a cross?
    3. Jesus would have to control His blood loss from the beatings, crucifixion, and stabbing in order to survive, yet was pinned to the cross and unable to do anything that might achieve this.
    4. Jesus displayed wounds following the resurrection but was never observed to behave as though He was wounded, in spite of the fact that He appeared only days after His beating, crucifixion, and stabbing.
    5. Jesus disappeared from the historical record following His reported resurrection and ascension and was never sighted again (as one might expect if He recovered from His wounds and lived beyond 33 years.

Did the disciples lie about resurrection?

  1. The Jewish authorities took many precautions to make sure the tomb was guarded and sealed, knowing that the removal of the body would allow the disciples to claim that Jesus had risen (Matt. 27:62-66).
  2. The people local to the event would have known it was a lie (remember that Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 that there were still 500 people who could testify to having seen Jesus alive after His resurrection).
    3. The disciples lacked the motive to create such a lie (remember – major motives are money, power, women. However, the disciples renounced worldly pleasures, considering it as rubbish- Phil 3:8).
    4. The disciple’s transformation following the alleged resurrection is inconsistent with the claim that the appearances were only a lie. How could their own lies transform them into courageous evangelists?

Were the disciples delusional/ hallucinating?

  1. While individuals have hallucinations, there are no examples of large groups of people having the exact same hallucination.
    2. While a short, momentary group hallucination may seem reasonable, long, sustained, and detailed hallucinations are unsupported historically and intuitively unreasonable.
    3. The risen Christ was reportedly seen on more than one occasion and by a number of different groups (and subsets of groups). All of these diverse sightings would have to be additional group hallucinations of one nature or another.
    4. Not all the disciples were inclined favourably toward such a hallucination. The disciples included people like Thomas, who was sceptical and did not expect Jesus to come back to life.
    5. If the resurrection was simply a hallucination, what became of Jesus’s corpse?


Were the disciples fooled by an imposter?

  1. The impersonator would have to be familiar enough with Jesus’s mannerisms and statements to convince the disciples. The disciples knew the topic of the con better than anyone who might con them.
    2. Many of the disciples were sceptical and displayed none of the necessary naïveté that would be required for the con artist to succeed. Thomas, for example, was openly sceptical from the beginning.
    3. The impersonator would need to possess miraculous powers; the disciples reported that the resurrected Jesus performed many miracles and “convincing proofs (Acts 1:2-3).
    4. Who would seek to start a world religious movement if not one of the hopeful disciples? This theory requires someone to be motivated to impersonate Jesus other than the disciples themselves.
    5. This explanation also fails to account for the empty tomb or missing body of Jesus.

Did few of the disciples have visions of resurrection and convinced others that they were real?

  1. The theory fails to account for the numerous, divergent, and separate group sightings of Jesus that are recorded in the Gospels. These sightings are described specifically with great detail. It’s not reasonable to believe that all these disciples could provide such specified detail if they were simply repeating something they didn’t see for themselves.
  2. As many as five hundred people were said to be available to testify to their observations of the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Could all of these people have been influenced to imagine their own observations of Jesus? It’s not reasonable to believe that a persuader equally persuaded all these disciples even though they didn’t actually see anything that was recorded. 3. This explanation also fails to account for the empty tomb or the missing corpse.