By Luke Lancaster
The authors of the New Testament claim to have seen Jesus risen from the dead. This teaching is the bedrock of Christianity, for "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14). According to philosophers Kreeft and Tacelli, in their book, "Handbook of Catholic Apologetics" (p. 192), there are five theories to explain the Scriptural evidence as to whether Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. They are: (1) Jesus actually rose from the dead (the Christian explanation); (2) The apostles were deceived into thinking Jesus rose from the dead, when in fact he did not (the hallucination explanation); (3) The resurrection story was intended to be understood as a myth by the apostles, but Christians misunderstood the story to be literal (the mythological explanation); (4) The apostles deliberately made up the resurrection story to deceive the masses (the conspiracy explanation); (5) Jesus did not die in the first place (the swoon explanation). With the help of Kreeft and Tacelli, it will be demonstrated that the last four theories are false based on the evidence. This leaves the first explanation, that Jesus truly came back to life, as making the most sense of the evidence.
The hallucination hypothesis is impossible because of the nature of hallucinations. The Scriptures indicate that Jesus appeared to all of the disciples (John 20:19-22; Luke 24:36-42) on multiple occasions (John 20:26-29). Hallucinations happen subjectively within one person's mind, not to groups of minds all at one time. One person could hallucinate seeing a fish, another person could hallucinate seeing a panda, and another person could hallucinate seeing a leopard. To suggest that ten disciples all hallucinated the same image is quite unlikely. Not only that, but St. Paul says that Jesus appeared to five hundred people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). How could a group of five hundred people hallucinate the same image? To suggest that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, but that the witnesses were all hallucinating, is an untenable theory.
The mythological hypothesis is not satisfactory for four reasons. First, because the Gospels are not written in the style of myth. The Gospels are written in the style of ancient Graeco-Roman biographies according to a recent study by Richard Burridge. Myths, on the other hand, have "childishly exaggerated events" (Kreeft and Tacelli, p. 200) which the Gospels do not possess. A myth would have had an exaggerated event, such as an alligator walking into Israel and moving the stone sealing off Jesus’s tomb. Second, the Gospels differentiate themselves from myths in that they report that the empty tomb of Jesus was discovered by women (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:11-18). 1st century Judaism said that women could not legally serve as witnesses of events and considered women to have low social status. If the apostles made up the story, they would have had somebody like the Roman Caesar witness the resurrection. Third, if the Gospels were myths, then why describe the hero of the story as a horrifically tortured public enemy of the Roman Empire? When St. Paul would preach Christ crucified, people would reject him (1 Corinthians 1:23). If the apostles were attempting to create a myth that would be accepted, they should have left out the whole crucifixion part. Fourth, why would the supposed myth creators portray themselves with so many faults? The apostles disbelieved that Jesus was resurrected when they were told, and Jesus rebuked them for it (Mark 16:14). Peter was called “Satan” by Jesus (Matthew 16:20)! If creating a myth, one would portray oneself as perfectly as possible. The mythological hypothesis is not a likely theory in the slightest.
The conspiracy theory, meaning that the apostles deliberately misled the people, is improbable because of the consequences. Pascal noted in his work, "Pensees": "[I]magine these twelve men meeting after Jesus' death and conspiring to say that he had risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. Follow that out." To create a false story like this would have been a ridiculous idea. To claim that Jesus resurrected from the dead and is the true Lord would have been a slap in the face to the Roman Emperor, for he claimed to be the true Lord. Caesar would crush them for this. Creating this story literally resulted in their being, as Kreeft and Tacelli noted, "hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, crucified, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions-hardly a catalog of perks!" (p. 196). The apostles set themselves up for a life of hell! Then all of that suffering would have been pointless if only one of them cracked under the suffering and admitted to making the story up. The whole thing would have fallen apart. The outcome of creating a conspiracy is so terrible that no human being would do so.
The swoon theory, meaning that Jesus never died to begin with, is equally suspect. First, if Jesus was nailed to a cross with spikes, then somebody would have had to remove the spikes. Armed Roman soldiers stood next to the crucifixion victims, so how was he removed? If the Roman soldiers were the ones who removed the spikes out of Jesus’s hands and feet, then they would have been killed according to Roman law. Second, an eyewitness of Jesus’s crucifixion said that a soldier shoved his spear into Jesus’s side while on the cross. From that wound, blood and water poured out (John 19:34-35), which would have happened according to modern doctors if his lungs had filled with up with water. That indicates that Jesus died from asphyxiation, the common death from crucified victims. Third, according to the Jewish authorities, the apostles stole Jesus from his tomb while the guards were asleep (Matthew 28:11-15). Logically, how could the apostles move a sealed stone covering the tomb without waking the guards? The guards would have been killed if they let it happen. According to the eyewitnesses, Jesus died and rose from the dead.
Based on the evidence, the only hypothesis which makes sense of the eyewitness accounts is that Jesus rose from the dead. The mythological theory, although the most popular theory today, is impossible. Myths have a particular style of writing, whereas the Gospels follow the style of ancient biography. The conspiracy theory is crazy, for the apostles would basically be asking to be tortured by the Roman authorities - which they were. Skeptics want to discredit the resurrection, yet they are forced to hold theories that are terribly improbable. The best hypothesis is that Jesus did in fact come back to life.