The Resurrection of Jesus A Miracle in one of Three ways
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a miracle. No matter if youbelieve in God or not, no matter if you’re a philosophicalnaturalist 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: 1. A biological miracle 2. A psychological miracle 3. A theological miracle
Before we continue, two quickpoints are necessary.First, the first two options arepurely natural-only explanationsof the resurrection and thereforethe definition of “miracle” in theircase (a highly uncommon / out ofthe ordinary, but still naturaloccurrence) is different than thethird option, where the Biblicaldefinition of miracle applies.
Second, it is important to remember that the majorityof historical scholars – Christian or non-Christian – donot 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, andthese facts are not in dispute with any educatedhistorian, secular or religious. That being the case,let’s conduct a brief tour of each possible explanationof the resurrection and see where a philosophicalappeal to the best explanation leads us.
The biological miracle option asserts that Jesus didn’t actuallydie, but rather those conducting His execution only believed Hewas dead. Sometime after He was placed in the tomb – andagainst all biological and medical odds – He revived, emerged,and then presented Himself to His disciples as being raised fromthe dead.
The Biological MiracleThe 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 Jesusdid not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modernmedical 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 ismarkedly different than His portrayed life and teachings. It means that Jesus was not only aliar, but much worse. Not only would Jesus have deliberately deceived His disciples, but Hewould have remained in hiding while His disciples were arrested, tortured, and murderedfor proclaiming His false resurrection.For these reasons and others, the biological miracle option is highly unlikely, which is why itis literally never raised against the resurrection of Jesus.
“I believe the best explanation, consistent with both scientific findings andthe surviving evidence . . . is that the first Christians experiencedhallucinations of the risen Christ, of one form or another. . . . In the ancientworld, to experience supernatural manifestations of ghosts, gods, andwonders was not only accepted, but encouraged.”- Atheist Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ” in The Empty Tomb, pg. 184.
Five reasons why the psychological miracle hypothesis fails…
#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 hallucinationsas the underlying cause – fails to account for the facts behind the appearances ofJesus. 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 wayexpected Jesus to rise from the dead. In fact, they are clearly portrayed as beingdull to the teaching of Jesus on His predicted resurrection. This fact is highlysignificant in that it shows how, mentally, they were not building themselves up tobelieve 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 noone believing that anyone would be resurrected and remain alive before thatappointed time (cf. Dan. 12:2). This fact further solidifies the argument that thedisciples 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 thepsychological miracle option could be powered isthrough cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonanceproposes that people have a motivational drive toreduce mental dissonance between reality and whatthey want reality to be, and so they change theirattitudes, beliefs, or actions to conform to what theydesire. Cynics say that the disciples so greatly wantedJesus to be their Messiah that, after He wasexecuted, they mentally adjusted themselves tocompensate for their internal grief.However, an argument of cognitive dissonance fails toexplain the two core facts of the resurrection, whichare the missing body and the appearances to skepticsand enemies of Jesus. Moreover, an argument can bemade that the skeptics who doubt the resurrection ofJesus are simply suffering from cognitive dissonancethemselves in arguing against the Biblical account.
Although popular, as can be seen, the psychological miracleoption suffers from too many drawbacks to seriously beconsidered 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, thetheological miracle option does not omit a supernatural possibility. It allowsa transcendent Creator to be part of the equation, which automaticallypermits true miracles.
“But if we admit God, mustwe admit Miracle? Indeed,indeed, you have no securityagainst it. That is thebargain.“ - C. S. Lewis
?The primary reason this option is rejected by critics is because, followingtheir anti-supernatural bias, they rule God out in an a priori manner. It is nota review of the evidence, but rather a commitment to naturalism that causesskeptics 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, asevere earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended fromheaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And hisappearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guardsshook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to thewomen, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who hasbeen crucified. “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, seethe place where He was lying. “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He hasrisen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, thereyou will see Him; behold, I have told you.” And they left the tomb quickly withfear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus metthem and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet andworshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take wordto 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 isin favor of [the empty tomb], and thosescholars who reject it ought to recognize thatthey do so on some other ground that that ofscientific history." - William Wand Oxford University Church Historian
Evidence for Jesus’ Appearances Appeared to Where When References 1 Mary Magdalene Jerusalem Sunday Mark 6:9-11; John 20:11-18 2 Other Women Jerusalem Sunday Matt 28:9-10 3 Peter Jerusalem Sunday Luke 24:32; 1 Cor. 15:5 4 Emmaus disciples Emmaus Sunday Luke 24:13-35; Mark 16:12 5 10 disciples Jerusalem Sunday Mark 16:14; Luke 24:26-42; John 20:19-25 6 11 disciples Jerusalem A week later John 20:26-31; 1 Cor. 15:5 7 7 disciples Galilee ? John 21:1-25 8 500 brethren Galilee ? 1 Cor. 15:6 9 James ? ? 1 Cor. 15:7 10 11 disciples Galilee ? Matt 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18 11 11 disciples Jerusalem 40 days later Acts 1:3-12
"It is historically certain that Peter and theother disciples had experiences after Jesusdeath in which Jesus appeared to them asthe risen Christ." - Gerd Ludemann, Atheist Guttingen University, Germany
“Therefore, having received orders and completecertainly caused by the resurrection of our Lord JesusChrist and believing in the Word of God, they [thedisciples] went with the Holy Spirit’s certainly, preachingthe good news that the kingdom of God is about tocome.” - 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 Jesusalive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some ofthe disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of theirwritten testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five yearslater, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’tthink he is making it up. And he knew at least a couple ofthem, 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 withPeter, he said to them: “Take, handle meand see that I am not a bodiles demon.’And immediately they handled him andbelieved, having known his flesh andblood. Because of this they alsodespised death; but beyond death theywere found.” -Ignatius Bishop in Antioch Martyred in Rome, A.D. 110
Foundation for the Undisputed Facts1. Multiple independent sources support the facts2. Attestation by enemies of Christianity support the facts3. Embarrassing admissions support the facts4. Eyewitness testimony support the facts5. Early testimony support the facts
When the thinking person steps back and reviews the universally acceptedhistoriographical criteria used when examining a historical account such asexplanatory power, explanatory scope, not being ad-hoc, plausibility, notcontradicting accepted beliefs, and far exceeding its rival theories inmeeting those conditions, the theological miracle emerges as the bestpossible option.
This being the case, the rational person can hardly be blamed ifhe/she concludes on the basis of the evidence and a commitmentto unbiased historiographical investigation that a divine miracleoccurred on that first Easter morning.
“I have been used for many years to study the histories ofother times, and to examine and weigh the evidence ofthose who have written about them, and I know of no onefact in the history of mankind which is proved by better andfuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fairinquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us thatChrist 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