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Resurrection is the act of rising from the dead. There are other claims of resurrections in the Christian New Testament as well as in other religions, which makes the claim of the resurrection of Jesus far from unique.

The Bible claims that Jesus was resurrected three days after his crucifixion. This is probably the defining belief of Christianity. Many Christian apologists claim that the resurrection of Jesus is an established historical fact, and that this proves the truth of Christianity.

Argument from biblical miracles[edit]

Main Article: Argument from biblical miracles

One problem with this line of apologetic argument is that it is difficult to establish historically that a miracle has occurred. The reasons for this include practical difficulties such as the many cases of definitely bogus miracle claims as well as the epistemic problem raised by Hume. However, the most basic reason may be that most Christians would demand a very high level of proof before accepting a miracle of another religion. Therefore, we should apply a similar standard to Christian miracles such as the resurrection.

Evidence for the resurrection of Jesus[edit]

Depiction of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in a 6th century illuminated manuscript

There is very little historical documentation for the resurrection of Jesus (or indeed any other biographical information) outside the Bible itself. The Bible is not a reliable historical source. This lack of evidence is the primary reason to conclude the resurrection of Jesus is mythical. These problems apply to even the least controversial claims about the resurrection, sometimes referred to as the "minimal facts approach".

Without any other evidence, apologists must therefore claim that the books of the Bible can be established as reliable historical documents.

Apologists such as William Lane Craig like making an argument that most scholars accepts the basic facts of the resurrection: "the majority of New Testament critics investigating the gospels in this way accept the central facts undergirding the resurrection of Jesus. I want to emphasize that I am not talking about evangelical or conservative scholars only, but about the broad spectrum of New Testament critics who teach at secular universities and non-evangelical seminaries."[1] These scholars are exaggerating the strength of the evidence.

William Lane Craig also presupposes "that our background knowledge includes a good deal of information about the historical Jesus, including his radical personal claims, his teaching and his crucifixion."[2] In other words he has assumed that the gospels are reliable accounts. However, this issue is at the core of the controversy.

The Gospels[edit]

Main article: The Gospels

Today, even many fairly conservative scholars admit that the gospels are not eyewitness accounts but rather anonymous compositions written decades after the alleged events they record. As hearsay, they are almost entirely worthless as proof of an actual miracle. Various details are taken by apologists as evidence Jesus was resurrected:[3]


In the original manuscripts, Mark has no post resurrection appearances of Jesus. [4] The Gospel originally ended with women discovering the empty tomb Mark 16:1-8 Bible-icon.png. The resurrection story found in Mark 16:9-20 Bible-icon.png, the so-called Longer ending, is found in the King James bible. However, most historians and theologians believe that it is a later addition intended to bring Mark into line with the other Gospels.

1 Corinthians[edit]

In 1 Corinthians 15 Bible-icon.png, Paul briefly lists some post mortem appearances of Jesus, including appearances to himself and the disciples. As evidence for the resurrection, it has an advantage over the gospel reports in that most scholars agree that Paul really wrote the relevant passage from 1 Corinthians. (A few scholars, most notably Robert M. Price, disagree with this conclusion, however.[10])

Nevertheless, there are problems with Paul's report. It lacks all the details of the gospel reports which apologists use to show an actual miracle is the only viable explanation for the evidence. Conspicuously absent is any reference to the discovery of Jesus' tomb, a fact that has led some scholars to question the historicity of the tomb story.

Paul says nothing about how he received his information, leaving a real possibility that some of it has been mis-reported.

In his debate with Michael Horner, Farrell Till pointed out that most evangelicals do not believe that an angel authenticated the Book of Mormon, in spite of the purported eyewitness statement that comes with every copy of the book.[11] Paul's testimony in 1 Corinthians is certainly no stronger than that testimony.

In public debates, Antony Flew has pointed out that organizations such as the Society for Psychical Research (of which Flew is a former member) would not accept Paul's report as evidence of ghosts or telepathic projection. The problem is that experience with such reports shows that human memory is much less reliable than most people realize, and even a year after an event is long enough to introduce significant distortions in recollection. Paul's letter to the Corinthians was written not a year after the fact, but two to three decades after.

Sources cited by New Testament authors[edit]

William Lane Craig discusses the pre-Gospel primary sources cited by New Testament authors, which are supposed eyewitness source dating from within a few years of the crucifixion.[2] He claims the burial of Jesus is attested in multiple independent sources. The sources include:

  • Mark's source material for the death and crucifixion of Jesus
  • 1 Corinthians cites an early source. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Bible-icon.png
  • Special sources of Matthew, Luke, John.

The problem with this line of argumentation is that the New Testament, as a secondary historical source, not is written as objective historical reporting. For instance, they do not discuss the merits or reliability of their own sources, which is required for later historians to give these sources any weight. Also, the authors of this hypothetical documents are anonymous, which is a sign of a weak source.

Other historical accounts[edit]

Main Article: Argument from historical sources
"Secular history confirms it. It would be one thing if the Bible was the only book that recorded the miracle of the resurrection. But other secular history books record the same thing. First of all, it's recorded by a name of Jospehus who was a Jewish, non-Christian historian.[5]"

The mention by Flavius Josephus in his Testimonium Flavian was probably an insertion by later Christian writers. It hardly reads like the words of an impartial Jewish historian. Other historical sources speak of Christians existing and their beliefs, but not that the resurrection actually happened. The silence of other historians indicates that the events of the Gospels did not take place (although this negative argument is usually considered as weak).

Presupposing the existence of God[edit]

When arguing for the historicity of the resurrection, William Lane Craig presupposes the existence of God.[2] He admits this changes his interpretation of the evidence, since it makes supernatural causes much more plausible.

The body was never found[edit]

The body might not have been found because people crucified for political crimes were not allowed a burial. They were left to rot for days and then thrown into a mass grave. The Romans or Jews could not have produced a body even if they wanted to!

Alternative explanations[edit]

The evidence for the resurrection is open to a number of naturalistic explanations.

Unreliable story or myth[edit]

The accounts of the resurrection could have simply been fraudulently created. In other words, the Bible is not a reliable historical source.

The standard objection to the fraud theory is that the disciples would not have died for a lie. However, documentation of their martyrdoms is weak and could itself have been falsified. The earliest comes at the end of the 2nd century and is only for Peter and Paul. Also, it has been suggested that the disciples may have lied for what they believed was a higher cause. This argument is also weakened by examples of people actually dying for a lie.

Hallucinations or a spiritual resurrection[edit]

A spiritual resurrection could have been "revealed" by divine revelation, rather than physical evidence. This may or may not have been a hallucination. Having visions was apparently common in the early church 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 Bible-icon.png Galatians 1:11-16 Bible-icon.png Acts 2:4, 7:56, 16:9-10 Bible-icon.png but that does not add much to their credibility.

Keith Parsons has recently argued that recent experience with people who believe themselves to have been abducted by aliens makes the hallucination hypothesis more plausible, and that many standard apologetic objections to the hypothesis would also require us to believe in alien abduction.

Biblical scholar Dale Allison has made a similar argument based on reports of apparitions of the dead. In particular, he notes "examples of collective hallucinations in which people claimed to see the same thing but, when closely interviewed, disagreed on the details, proving they were not, after all, seeing the same thing."

The Gospel of Mark briefly foretells Jesus's resurrection Mark 10:32-34 Bible-icon.png, Mark 16:7 Bible-icon.png but it does not explicitly describe its nature. Many scholars have argued that Mark (and letters of Paul) considered the resurrection of Jesus to be spiritual or ghost-like, not bodily. [6][7] [8] Acts does not mention an empty tomb or missing body. The apocryphal Gospel of Peter tells that Jesus ascended to heaven directly from the tomb. [9]

If the resurrection of Jesus was the single most important fact in Christianity, it seems odd that it is hardly mentioned in Mark, being the first and most historical Gospel, and that it was the subject of a clear forgery. Only the later Gospels have Jesus eating, drinking and displaying his wounds. The idea of a bodily resurrection was therefore a later invention.

William Lane Craig argued that Paul believed the Earthly body was "transformed" to the resurrection body, therefore there would an empty tomb:[2]

  • 1 Cor 15:52 Bible-icon.png Paul's usage of the word "change" meaning transformation
  • Use of the phrase "it is sown/it is raised" referring to the same object 1 Cor 15:42-44 Bible-icon.png
  • and other verses.

Mythicism of Jesus[edit]

To some extent, the debate over the resurrection would be moot if it were demonstrated that Jesus never existed. However, some mythicists, notably Richard Carrier [10], accept that early Christians reported visions of Jesus, and these are explained as hallucinations.

Even assuming that a person named Jesus existed, there is no reason to believe that the Bible provides an accurate account of events in his life. The resurrection and the accompanying details may have been invented at a later date.

Wishful thinking[edit]

Paul the Apostle had persecuted Christians and then converted to Christianiy. Wars and fights don't generally end suddenly for political reasons, as it would amount to an admission that it wasn't right in the first place. Paul wanted something to say along with his ceasing to persecute Christians, giving him motivation to invent or modify a story as to what happened. Paul's visions (even if they existed) are obvious embellishments, as he would have no way of knowing it was Jesus, as he didn't even know what Jesus's face looked like. We can see him saying many things that he clearly did not do any fact-checking on, and this must include the purported appearance of Jesus to a group of 500 people claimed by Paul.[11] This was combined with the above effects to result in exaggerated claims made later by others.

Hearsay and unreliable witnesses[edit]

The Biblical story could be mostly true except that the disciples were mistaken about Jesus being resurrected. The disciples could have heard scattered reports of sightings and taken them to be true. The Gospels, written many decades after the events they describe, could have falsely described the disciples as eyewitnesses to the resurrection.

Psychological research by Loftus and Palmer in 1974 demonstrates that testimony assimilates external information and cues without the person even realizing it. [12] Psychological research carried out by Festinger and Carlsmith in 1959 shows that people can change their understanding when there is otherwise insufficient evidence to justify a conclusion that the subjects wish to come to. Both of these can lead to exaggerated or inaccurate narratives being given.

The effect studied by Festinger and Carlsmith also poses a fatal problem for David Strauss's argument that the swoon theory fails to account for the amazement of the disciples.

Moved body, wrong tomb, mistaken identity[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

People thought that Jesus had been crucified but actually there was some misunderstanding or deception. This view is common in Islam:

"And [for] their saying, "Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah ." And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise."

Surah 4:157-158 Bible-icon.png

There are several possibilities that might have resulted in confusion:

  • The followers of Jesus were looking in the wrong tomb.
  • The body was moved by someone, possibly with official permission.
  • Someone was crucified in place of Jesus in a case of mistaken identity.
    • Jesus had an identical twin who was crucified.
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

1908 psychological research by Yerkes and Dodson shows that high anxiety can impair judgement in non-trivial situations. Claims apologists make that a centurion pronouncing death or later recollection by early church members would be accurate under death threats can be turned on their head: anxiety impairs, not enhances judgment, in such cases.

All of these possibilities are more plausible than resurrection.

Stolen body[edit]

According to Matthew 28:13 Bible-icon.png, the Jews accused the disciples of stealing the body of Jesus from the tomb. Apologists are quick to point out the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers Matthew 27:62-66 Bible-icon.png. If the tomb was not guarded, it would be easy for the disciples to steal the body and invent the story that it was guarded.

Swoon theory[edit]

"Swoon theory" refers to the hypothesis that Jesus didn't really die on the cross, but rather was taken down alive and recovered in the tomb. It was made famous in the 19th century by Heinrich Paulus, as well as by fictional works that postulated an Essene conspiracy that assisted in the ruse. Today it has few advocates, though Richard Carrier recently published a partial defense of it. [13] Carrier argued that it was actually the least likely naturalistic explanation, but it still had a chance of occurring of 1 in 6,800. This is sufficient to rule out a miracle, because if every 1 in 6,800 event were declared miraculous, we would have to believe that royal flushes are miraculous.

A related but arguably distinct theory is the "Autoresuscitation Theory", invoking an unusual phenomenon of spontaneous, natural return from a state of clinical death accepted as a naturalistic occurrence in the medical literature, including a set of 32 cases reported in one paper. [14]

Naturalism given the unreliability of the Gospels[edit]

Apologists rely on minor details to discount naturalistic explanations even though the Gospels may have been corrupted, possibly by scribal alterations. Even those who subscribe to the "minimal facts" approach must admit that some of the minor details are unreliable and inconsistent among the Gospels. This poses problems for those apologists trying to debunk some of the naturalistic explanations, as they often need to assume the truth of a minor detail. Example: claiming that the inability of Jesus to push away the stone according to "swoon theory" depends on an unreliable detail - namely, the weight of the stone.

Generalized Littlewood's law[edit]

If we generalize Littlewood's law of miracles to an approximately 1,000-month-long human lifespan, and to a total population of humans who have ever existed of 100,000,000,000 then to reject the null (no supernatural intervention in the natural world) hypothesis with 95% confidence we need, to avoid the so-called multiple testing fallacy, the probablity of all naturalistic explanations is:

P = 5 × 10-22 or 1 in 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The apologist has no case unless every single potential naturalistic explanation is truly astronomically improbable, not just seemingly unlikely.

Variants or unknown explanations[edit]

"No naturalistic theory can explain all four facts before us.[15]"

The swoon, hallucination, and other naturalistic theories only explain one or a few aspects of the Gospels. However, the "twin plus moved body" and "political correctness plus hearsay assimilation" together may better explain what happened.

Some apologists insist that some explanation must be presented to explain the alleged facts. However, it may be that some event happened that was not documented at the time. There are thousands of possible scenarios, while each individually unlikely, are collectively hard to dismiss. We may simply never know what happened.

Resurrection was never intended to convince[edit]

As a tool of persuasion, the resurrection of Jesus not supported by reliable evidence. However, it seems it was ever intended to persuade as Jesus pointed out:

"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Luke 16:31 Bible-icon.png

Other resurrections[edit]


There are many other resurrection claims which Christians dismiss as mythical. They also undermine the alleged uniqueness of Jesus.

New Testament:

Non-Christian accounts: [16]


  • Allison, Dale. Resurrecting Jesus T. & T. Clark Publishers, 2005
  • Habermas, Gary R. and Antony Flew. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate Harpercollins, 1987
  • Habermas, Gary and Michael Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus Kregel Publications 2004
  • Price, Robert M. and Jeffery Jay Lowder (editors). The Empty Tomb Prometheus Books, 2005
  • Telford, W.R. The Theology Of The Gospel Of Mark Cambridge University Press, 1999
  1. [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Richard Carrier debates William Lane Craig, Northwestern Missouri State University - March 18, 2009.
  3. [2]
  4. James Tabor, The “Strange” Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference, 02/02/2015
  5. [3]
  6. James Tabor a “Spiritual” Resurrection is the Only Sensible Option, May 4, 2014
  7. Richard Carrier, Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story, (6th ed., 2006)
  8. R. C. Symes, "The resurrection myths about Jesus;" a Progressive Christian interpretation, 2008-MAR-05
  9. [4]
  10. [5]
  11. New Testament historian Bart Ehrman
  12. [6]
  13. [7]
  14. [8]
  15. William Lane Craig, [9]
  17. Gary R. Habermas, Resurrection claims in non-Christian religions, Religious Studies v25.n2 (June 1989): pp167(9), Cambridge University Press

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