This is a continuation of series Easter that started with addressing the question, Is Easter Pagan? The final point against Easter being pagan is the historical documentation of the resurrection accounts, as there are several key facts surrounding the Resurrection of Jesus that even atheist New Testament scholars accept. As a followup to that, let’s look at the responses skeptics have to that evidence. J. Warner Wallace of Cold Case Christianity, one of my top recommend resources, did this great series a couple of years ago called Investigating Easter that addressed the majority of these, with each post addressing a major question. Previously, we looked at the question Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross? Following Jim’s series, let’s look at some more questions that skeptics have. In each of these, Jim has written more than the bullet points that I’m quoting, so if you want to read more on them, then click on the appropriate link to his post on the subject.
Did the Disciples Lie About the Resurrection?
There are several things that a conspiracy needs to meet for it to be successfully pulled off, which are a small number of conspirators, a short conspiracy timespan, excellent communication between the conspirators, strong “familial” relationships, and little or no pressure to confess. None of which the disciples meet. You can read more about these here.
There are four points to consider:
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 five hundred people who could testify to having seen Jesus alive after His resurrection).
4. The disciples’ 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?
That final point is important because liars make poor martyrs. Furthermore, when you consider the minimal facts, the conspiracy theory fails to account for the conversion of Paul (who radically went from persecuting Christians to becoming a leading Christian) and James, the brother of Jesus (who thought Jesus was crazy before the crucifixion but became a believer afterwards). Both ended up giving their lives for the faith.
Did the Disciples Imagine the Resurrection?
In answer to this question, there are five points:
- While individuals have hallucinations, there are no examples of large groups of people having the exact same hallucination.
- While a short, momentary group hallucination may seem reasonable, long, sustained, and detailed hallucinations are unsupported historically and intuitively unreasonable.
- The risen Christ was reported 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.
- Not all the disciples were inclined favorably toward such a hallucination. The disciples included people like Thomas, who was skeptical and did not expect Jesus to come back to life.
- If the resurrection was simply a hallucination, what became of Jesus’s corpse? The absence of the body is unexplainable under this scenario.
On point 4, you can also add James the brother of Jesus and Paul, as addressed above.
To expand on point 1, when I teach a class on the resurrection and bring up the hallucination theory, I add that before I was a Christian, and I would be seeing hallucinations while tripping on acid, there was no way that I could get my friend to see the elves in the fern that I was seeing, because he was seeing his own hallucinations.
As Gary Habermas points out, because there are no examples of shared hallucinations, it would be a miracle for it to have occurred. Except in the case of the resurrection appearances, it would be miracle after miracle after miracle, because there were numerous appearances.
Were the Disciples Fooled by an Imposter?
Jim’s gives a great answer to this question:
While imposter theories may account for the observations of the disciples, they require an additional set of conspirators (other than the apostles who were later fooled) to accomplish the task of stealing the body. Many of my partners spent several years investigating fraud and forgery crimes prior to joining us on the homicide team. They’ve learned something about successful con artists. The less the victim understands about the specific topic and area in which they are being “conned,” the more likely the con artist will be successful. Victims are often fooled and swindled out of their money because they have little or no expertise in the area in which the con artist is operating. The perpetrator is able to use sophisticated language and make claims that are outside of the victim’s expertise. The crook sounds legitimate, primarily because the victim doesn’t really know what truly is legitimate. When the targeted victim knows more about the subject than the person attempting the con, the odds are good that the perpetrator will fail at his attempt to fool the victim. For this reason, the proposal that a sophisticated first-century con artist fooled the disciples seems unreasonable. There are many concerns with such a theory:
- 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.
- Many of the disciples were skeptical and displayed none of the necessary naïveté that would be required for the con artist to succeed. Thomas, for example, was openly skeptical from the beginning.
- 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.
- This explanation also fails to account for the empty tomb or missing body of Jesus.
- The impersonator would need to possess miraculous powers; the disciples reported that the resurrected Jesus appeared miraculously (Luke 24:36), performed many miracles and “convincing proofs” (John 21:6, Acts 1:3), and ascended into heaven miraculously (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).
Were the Disciples Simply Influenced by Limited “Spiritual” Sightings?
Jim responds with 3 quick points:
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.
I think you can also refer to the responses given above in answer to the question ‘Did the Disciples Imagine the Resurrection?’
Is the Resurrection a Late Legend?
4 quick points:
1. In the earliest accounts of the disciples’ activity after the crucifixion, they are seen citing the resurrection of Jesus as their primary piece of evidence that Jesus was God. From the earliest days of the Christian movement, eyewitnesses were making this claim.
2. The students of the disciples also recorded that the resurrection was a key component of the disciples’ eyewitness testimony (more on this in Cold-Case Christianity Chapter 13).
3. The earliest known Christian creed or oral record (as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15) includes the resurrection as a key component. This creed is reported by paul as early as 53-57AD. It’s far too early to be a legend, as those who would have known the truth of Jesus would still have been alive to “fact-check” the story.
4. This explanation also fails to account for the fact that the tomb and body of Jesus have not been exposed to demonstrate that this late legend was false.
On point 3, I’ve written more about that creed that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 here and here. Many scholars, including skeptical ones, trace that Creed to within 2-3 years of the Resurrection (with others tracing it to within months!). And while that’s the earliest creed, there are others quoted in the Bible that also predate the writings of the New Testament.
Some will make a variant of the legend claim in saying that Jesus was based on a myth like Horus or Mithras, which I have addressed here.
You can read about these answers to skeptics questions and more in Jim’s amazing book Cold Case Christianity. I simply can not recommend this book enough. Alternatively, you can read his brief Easter “tract” outlining this entire investigative series (perfect for giving to those seeking the truth about Easter) entitled, ALIVE.