The Resurrection of Jesus A Miracle in one of Three ways
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a miracle. No matter if you believe in God or not, no matter if you’re a philosophical naturalist or a Christian, the account and effects of Jesus’ resurrection are truly miraculous.
The resurrection is a miracle in one of three ways – it is either: • A biological miracle • A psychological miracle • A theological miracle
Before we continue, two quick points are necessary. First, the first two options are purely natural-only explanations of the resurrection and therefore the definition of “miracle” in their case (a highly uncommon / out of the ordinary, but still natural occurrence) is different than the third option, where the Biblical definition of miracle applies.
Second, it is important to remember that the majority of historical scholars – Christian or non-Christian – do not doubt the core facts surrounding the resurrection, which are: • Jesus was crucified and buried. • Three days after His death, His body went missing. • There were reported appearances of Jesus over the course of 40 days to both believers and unbelievers. • These individual’s lives were transformed from the appearances and they began to proclaim Christ’s resurrection even up to the point of being martyred for their proclamation. • These are the core facts of Jesus’ resurrection, and these facts are not in dispute with any educated historian, secular or religious. That being the case, let’s conduct a brief tour of each possible explanation of the resurrection and see where a philosophical appeal to the best explanation leads us.
The biological miracle option asserts that Jesus didn’t actually die, but rather those conducting His execution only believed He was dead. Sometime after He was placed in the tomb – and against all biological and medical odds – He revived, emerged, and then presented Himself to His disciples as being raised from the dead.
The Biological Miracle The lack of popularity for this option is due to the following strong points that argue to the contrary: • The New Testament specifically records that Jesus was beaten and scourged before His crucifixion; a procedure that history says caused the death of many condemned persons before they ever reached their appointed cross. The historical gospels also record that Jesus was so physically weakened from His scourging that He could not carry His cross to Golgotha (cf. Matt. 27:32); a clear sign of His failing condition. • The Romans were experts at carrying out crucifixions. They knew death well; in fact, the soldiers themselves were held liable if any victim sentenced to death happened to survive. • John 19:34-34 describes a spear being thrust into Jesus’ side, with the description by John clearly showing a rupture of the pericardium, which would be instant death if a casualty had not already occurred via the crucifixion procedure. • Jesus’ death was viewed by close eyewitnesses, friend and foe alike. • After He was taken from the cross, He was wrapped in cloths and bathed in heavy spices by loving friends who certainly would have noticed if He was still alive. • For Jesus’ ruse to have occurred, He would need to revive in the tomb, push back the huge stone covering the mouth of His grave, overpower the Roman guards sent to protect the tomb (cf. Matt. 27:62-66), and then appear to His followers and skeptics. • The disciples’ reaction to a clearly disfigured and crucified Jesus would have been much different than the accounts recorded in the four gospels of Jesus’ resurrection.
“Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.“ - “On the physical death of Jesus Christ”, Journal of American Medical Association, March 21, 1986.
Lastly, the biological miracle option paints a picture of Jesus’ moral character that is markedly different than His portrayed life and teachings. It means that Jesus was not only a liar, but much worse. Not only would Jesus have deliberately deceived His disciples, but He would have remained in hiding while His disciples were arrested, tortured, and murdered for proclaiming His false resurrection. For these reasons and others, the biological miracle option is highly unlikely, which is why it is literally never raised against the resurrection of Jesus.
“I believe the best explanation, consistent with both scientific findings and the surviving evidence . . . is that the first Christians experienced hallucinations of the risen Christ, of one form or another. . . . In the ancient world, to experience supernatural manifestations of ghosts, gods, and wonders was not only accepted, but encouraged.” - Atheist Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ” in The Empty Tomb, pg. 184.
#1 – It confirms an empty tomb To even get off the ground, the psychological miracle option needs and confirms an empty tomb. If the disciples and followers of Jesus were the ones experiencing hallucinations and being tricked into believing Christ was alive when He was not, then who stole the body? Certainly Jesus’ enemies would not have, and if the disciples didn’t, then who would have taken such risk to steal the corpse?
#2 – Hallucinations? I don’t think so… • A psychological miracle option – and specifically one that proposes hallucinations as the underlying cause – fails to account for the facts behind the appearances of Jesus. The appearances of Jesus are remarkable in that they occurred… • Not just once, but multiple times; • Not just to one person, but to different persons; • Not just to individuals, but to groups of individuals; • Not just at one location, but at multiple locations; • Not just in one circumstance, but in multiple circumstances; • Not just to believers, but also to unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies.
#3 – They weren’t expecting it… Every account in the gospels showcases the fact that the disciples in no way expected Jesus to rise from the dead. In fact, they are clearly portrayed as being dull to the teaching of Jesus on His predicted resurrection. This fact is highly significant in that it shows how, mentally, they were not building themselves up to believe that their murdered leader would appear to them alive.
#4 – Jewish Belief on the Resurrection… Jewish belief only looked forward to a resurrection at the end of the world, with no one believing that anyone would be resurrected and remain alive before that appointed time (cf. Dan. 12:2). This fact further solidifies the argument that the disciples weren’t anticipating any return of Jesus.
#5 – Skeptics Saw Him… It is worth calling out distinctly, although it has already been mentioned, that skeptics and enemies of Jesus – including disbelieving members of His own family – claimed to see Him alive after His crucifixion. From a psychological perspective, these individuals had no reason to mentally concoct a false appearance of a person they didn’t believe in from the start.
One More … Cognitive Dissonance? Lastly, skeptics try to argue that one way the psychological miracle option could be powered is through cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce mental dissonance between reality and what they want reality to be, and so they change their attitudes, beliefs, or actions to conform to what they desire. Cynics say that the disciples so greatly wanted Jesus to be their Messiah that, after He was executed, they mentally adjusted themselves to compensate for their internal grief. However, an argument of cognitive dissonance fails to explain the two core facts of the resurrection, which are the missing body and the appearances to skeptics and enemies of Jesus. Moreover, an argument can be made that the skeptics who doubt the resurrection of Jesus are simply suffering from cognitive dissonance themselves in arguing against the Biblical account.
Although popular, as can be seen, the psychological miracle option suffers from too many drawbacks to seriously be considered as the best explanation for Jesus’ resurrection.
The theological miracle option asserts that God raised Jesus from the dead. Unlike the first two options that are pure, naturalistic-only explanations, the theological miracle option does not omit a supernatural possibility. It allows a transcendent Creator to be part of the equation, which automatically permits true miracles.
“But if we admit God, must we admit Miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain.“ - C. S. Lewis
? The primary reason this option is rejected by critics is because, following their anti-supernatural bias, they rule God out in an a priori manner. It is not a review of the evidence, but rather a commitment to naturalism that causes skeptics of the resurrection to exclude the theological miracle possibility.
The Bible on Jesus’ Resurrection “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:1–10)
Evidence for Jesus’ Death and Burial • Burial recorded in all gospels • Joseph of Arimathea petitioned Pilate for body • Joseph put Jesus in his own tomb – Sanhedrin member: unlikely that this would be a lie • Burial witnessed by close friends • Tomb guarded by soldiers • Jews never denied that Jesus was dead and buried
“All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground that that of scientific history." • William Wand • Oxford University Church Historian
"It is historically certain that Peter and the other disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ." • GerdLudemann, Atheist • Guttingen University, Germany
“Therefore, having received orders and complete certainly caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and believing in the Word of God, they [the disciples] went with the Holy Spirit’s certainly, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God is about to come.” • - Clement, Bishop of Rome • A. D. 30-100 • (perhaps Clement referred to in Phil. 4:3)
“Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some of the disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew at least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event.” - Bart Ehrman
Evidence for The Disciples Transformed Lives • Peter – crucified upside down • Andrew – crucified on an X-shaped cross • James (disciple) – beheaded by Herod • John (disciple) – banished to Patmos; died natural death in Ephesus • Thomas – martyred in India • James (half-brother of Jesus) – thrown from the top of the temple, then stoned • Bartholomew – filleted alive • Matthew – killed with sword in Ethiopia • Luke – hanged in Greece • Matthias – stoned and beheaded • Jude – murdered by archers • Barnabas – stoned at Salonica • Paul – beheaded in Rome * Writings of Origen tell of Peter being crucified upside down and Paul’s martyrdom in Rome by Nero.
“And when [Jesus] came to those with Peter, he said to them: “Take, handle me and see that I am not a bodiles demon.’ And immediately they handled him and believed, having known his flesh and blood. Because of this they also despised death; but beyond death they were found.” • Ignatius • Bishop in Antioch • Martyred in Rome, A.D. 110
Foundation for the Undisputed Facts Multiple independent sources support the facts Attestation by enemies of Christianity support the facts Embarrassing admissions support the facts Eyewitness testimony support the facts Early testimony support the facts
When the thinking person steps back and reviews the universally accepted historiographical criteria used when examining a historical account such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, not being ad-hoc, plausibility, not contradicting accepted beliefs, and far exceeding its rival theories in meeting those conditions, the theological miracle emerges as the best possible option.
This being the case, the rational person can hardly be blamed if he/she concludes on the basis of the evidence and a commitment to unbiased historiographical investigation that a divine miracle occurred on that first Easter morning.
“I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”- Dr. Thomas Arnold, Former chair of modern history at Oxford Author three volume “History of Rome”
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The Resurrection of Jesus A Miracle in one of Three ways