A few weeks ago, on April 17th, churches from across the world celebrated the most important event in history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith, and if it were false, then the whole of Christianity would crumble. It may seem extreme to pin the faith on one event. However, Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians when he says:
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.1 Cor. 15:16-18
With the resurrection being crucial to the faith, it is not surprising that we see objections to the resurrection. It is the goal of this post to explore and answer three of the most common objections.
The Historical Facts
First and foremost, it is important to layout a few historical facts that are not disputed by the majority of scholars. Firstly, Jesus Christ existed. This may seem like a simple statement, but it is important. Jesus Christ is a man who lived in Isreal. Secondly, Jesus was publically crucified and killed. This is attested to by the non-Christian Jewish historian Joseph of Arimathea. Thirdly he was buried in a tomb. After three days, his tomb was found to be empty. If the tomb was not actually empty, then the idea of the resurrection would never take off since the body could be produced as a counterclaim. Fourthly, his disciples and others claimed to have seen the risen Jesus Christ.
These are the facts, and I tried to present them without interpretation. The issue at hand is what is the best explanation for the third and fourth points. The Christian position is that a true bodily resurrection is the best explanation. Bo other explanations have been given as objections to the resurrection. We will examine some of the most common critically.
Objection 1: The Body was Stolen
The most common objection and alternative hypothesis to the resurrection are that the body of Jesus was stolen by the disciples. The theory goes that after Jesus’s death, the disciples conspired together to steal and hide the body of Jesus. They may have done this out of piety or deceit, but the end result was theft.
This theory may seem plausible at first. However, there are key details that ruin that illusion. First, we see in the Gospels that the disciples were cowardly. No one came to save Jesus when he was arrested. The fear of the disciples is seen in Peter and how he denies his association with Christ in Matthew 26:69-74. John 20:19 also shows the disciples cowering in a locked room after the crucifixion for fear of the Jews. It is unlikely then this fearful bunch would gain the guts to go and steal the body of Jesus.
In addition to the fear of the disciples, there is a guard placed at the tomb as requested by the Jews. The Jewish leadership had the same fear as this objection that the disciples would steal the body of Jesus to claim that he rose again. This increases the unlikeliness that the disciples would be able to attempt the theft.
Finally, the greatest flaw in this theory is the genuineness of the disciples in their beliefs. Most of the disciples ended up facing harsh persecution, violence, and death for their faith. The historian Eusebius and Church tradition record many of the deaths of the Apostles. Peter was crucified, and Paul was beheaded for their faith. The disciples did not gain fame and fortune for their faith, only death. This genuineness of faith until death completely undermines the stolen body theory.
Objection 2: The Ressurection was a Hallucination
This objection is a funny one to consider. The idea is that the disciples and perhaps others, in their zeal or despair, ended up hallucinating that Jesus had returned or had a vivid dream of him returning. From here, they went about proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Just like the stolen body theory, this theory has many holes. The first major flaw is that if the resurrection was just a hallucination, then the body could have been produced to prove that these people were crazy, or at least mistaken. But a body was ever given to disprove the hallucinations. This theory cannot explain the empty tomb.
Another major flaw is that more than one person would have to have had a shared hallucination. This group would not be small either. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at one time, most of whom were alive at the time of his writing. The significance of Paul mentioning that most of them were alive was that the readers could go and ask them if his claims were true. Paul’s claim then could be verified. The fact that over 500 people saw Jesus at one time makes the hallucination theory impossible.
The last major flaw is that when Jesus was resurrected, he was not seen on only one occasion. He was around for forty days after his resurrection, as recorded in Acts 1:3. If the hallucination theory is believed, hundreds of people would have had to have a hallucination for over a month. This is a funny and ridiculous theory.
Objection 3: Jesus did not Actually Die
This theory is interesting because it proposes that Jesus did not die but only fainted and appeared dead. This theory seems highly improbable. The Romans were very good at killing, and death by crucifixion was very brutal.
The victim of crucifixion would have their hands and feet nailed to a cross and then hoisted up so that their whole weight would rest on the nails. The stretched-out arms and weight would cause spasms and cramping in the chest that would make it hard to breathe. To get a breath, the victim would need to press up using their feet on the nail to take a breath, and then they would sink back until they needed another breath. All the while their naked back would scrape across the wood of the cross as they moved up and down.
Jesus went through all of this after being horribly beaten. He was so weak before he was crucified that someone else had to carry his cross for him as he marched to death. If the brutality of the cross was not enough to show that Jesus was dead, John, in his gospel, records that:
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.John 19:33-34
Christ was tortured and crucified, and to make sure he was dead, his side was stabbed with a spear. Jesus was well and truly dead.
A True Ressurection
Though this list of objections is not exhaustive, it is my prayer that you notice a pattern. No objection to the resurrection can account for all the facts without veering off absurdities. This leaves us with the original Christian position. Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead.