Exploring Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus: Part 2

In our last post, we began exploring evidences for the crucifixion, specifically the Minimal Facts approach advanced by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. For more information on the Minimal Facts approach, please read here.

The first minimal fact we examined was the death of Jesus by crucifixion. If Jesus was resurrected, the first step must be that he died. As we saw, the evidence indicates that Jesus was put to death by crucifixion.

The next minimal fact we will explore is the Disciples belief of Jesus’ Resurrection. Most scholars agree that for some reason, shortly after Jesus’ death, the Disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them.[1]


The Disciples Belief in a Risen Jesus

The Gospels record the main accounts of appearances, but even the earliest Christian tradition records that Jesus appeared to the Disciples,[2] but this record doesn’t mean that he actually appeared. It’s possible that the Disciples lied or experienced some type of hallucination. Do these alternatives provide a better explanation than the Resurrection?


The Disciples Lied

It is possible that the Disciples didn’t see the risen Jesus. At first, this seems to be the most reasonable explanation. However, this idea falls apart when examined.

  1. We know from the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 15 that the Christian Tradition held that the tomb was empty.[3] If the Disciples were responsible for taking the body, they would have had to overpower or outsmart several Roman soldiers and move a large rock placed in front of the tomb, all without being later discovered and reported.
  2. According to Fate of the Apostles by Sean McDowell, most of the Disciples were killed, often brutally, for their beliefs. If they knew they were lying, why would they face embarrassment, torture and death for something the specifically knew was not true?
  3. Conspiracies require a small number of people. Eleven disciples were present at the time of the appearances, not to mention stories of over 500 witnesses.[4] As J. Warner Wallace points out here, even eleven people would be a large number to hold a conspiracy. If even one of the Disciples were to crack, their lie would be exposed.

While these points don’t rule out the possibility that the Disciples lied, it does make it seem as though they actually believed they saw Jesus. Fear, humiliation and death were all the reward the Disciples received if the Resurrection was just a hoax. However, if they had a sincere belief that they saw Jesus, it would alleviate the pressure of lying but still explain why they held to it with conviction.

However, if they had a sincere belief but did not actually see Jesus, is it possible they  experienced some massive hallucination?

The Hallucination Theory

Another common objection is that the Disciples experienced a hallucination during appearance accounts. It is impossible to prove that the disciples didn’t experience some sort of mass hallucination, but the reasons below give good reason to find this explanation of the appearances implausible.

  1. In the Gospel narratives, the appearances of Jesus were bodily. From the Disciples’ perspective, Jesus was appearing to them in a physical, tactile form. According to John 20:24-29, the disciple Thomas touches the risen Jesus. Why would the disciples, who lived in a culture familiar with the idea of visions of the deceased, think that Jesus was actually inhabiting a physical form?[5]
  2. We have little reason to believe that the Disciples could have had a massive, group hallucination. Hallucinations are personal visions. That all the Disciples would have the same vision at the same time is nearly impossible.
  3. For people in the ancient world, visions of the deceased were not evidence that they were alive, but that they were, dead. If the Disciples were to have personal or group hallucinations, this would-be evidence to them that Jesus was dead, not alive.[6]
  4. Hallucinations fail to explain the Empty Tomb. If the disciples were only hallucinating, it would have been fairly easy to invalidate their claims by examining the body of Jesus.


It seems as though the most reasonable explanation is that the Disciples believed that Jesus was alive in a very real, human sense! However, it is still possible that the Disciples, who were close followers of Jesus, would have some reason to believe that Jesus was alive, despite evidence to the contrary. On the next post, we’ll explore evidence that comes from adversaries of the Gospels.


Further Resources

Exploring Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus: Part 1

Exploring Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus: Part 3

Fate of the Apostles by Sean McDowell

Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona

Also, check out the Please Convince Me blog post on the Minimal Facts Approach

Author and Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace has some interesting videos on these two theories that can be viewed here.

[1] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 303

[2] 1 Corinthians 15

[3] John 20:1-18, Luke 24

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:6

[5] Wright, N. T. The resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003, 74-75

[6] Craig, William Lane. Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008, 384-387