The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection (Part 3 of 3)

The crucifixion of St. Peter under Nero (64 – 68 AD)

To return to part 2 of this series, click here.

III. Considering The Explanations

Having established the historicity of the four events: Jesus’ death by crucifixion, the disciple’s sincere belief in Jesus’ post-mortem appearances, the empty tomb and the origin of the Christian faith, we can now proceed to examine the possible explanations for this set of facts — conspiracy, hallucination or resurrection.  

A.   Conspiracy

According to the conspiracy hypothesis, Jesus’ disciples stole his body from the tomb and lied about their resurrection experiences.  This view finds zero support in contemporary scholarship.[104] It also suffers from many problems.

1. It is highly unlikely that a resurrection conspiracy could have been conceived

The conspiracy hypothesis requires that the disciples fabricated a lie (i.e. the resurrection of Jesus) that was foreign within their Jewish worldview.  How likely is it that the disciples would have invented the idea of a resurrection of a single individual within history and prior to the end of the world? It is much more likely that the disciples would have fabricated a lie that was familiar within their Jewish worldview (e.g. visions, spiritual assumption or bodily assumption) because it was a conceivable occurrence to them and their fellow Jews. If they wanted to vindicate Jesus from his death and defeat, they would have resorted to any of the above-mentioned possibilities. The fact that the disciples proclaimed resurrection however strongly indicates that they did witness something that sincerely convinced them that Jesus rose from the dead (e.g. an empty tomb and post-mortem appearances). 

Anyway, in the points to follow below, I will assume that such a radical lie was able to be conceived on the end of the disciples.

2. A conspiracy being started and sustained by the disciples is highly implausible

The idea of a conspiracy being started and sustained by the disciples after the execution of Jesus is highly implausible. To see why this is so, let us consider three background facts.

One, Jesus’ execution by the Romans should have signaled the beginning of the end of his movement and confirmed that he was not the Messiah — since the idea of a Messiah killed by pagans (i.e. the Romans) ran counter to Jewish Messianic expectations.  As noted by scholar Wright:

“a first-century Jew, faced with the crucifixion of a would-be messiah, or even of a prophet who had led a significant following, would not normally conclude that this person was the Messiah and that the kingdom had come.  He or she would normally conclude that he was not and that it had not”.[105]

In his book, “Jesus and the Victory of God”, Wright discusses other Messianic movements around the time of Jesus (which were armed movements against Rome) and notes that all of them faded away after the death of their leaders. The fact that the Christian movement did not follow this otherwise unanimous trend is historically remarkable.  As scholar Wright notes regarding the followers of Judas the Galilean, Simon, Athronges, Eleazar ben Deinaus and Alexander, Menahem, Simon bar Giora and bar-Kochba, after the death of their leader, they were either “rounded up” by Rome or “melted away into the undergrowth”.[106] 

 Two, a conspiracy response by the disciples is highly unlikely because planning one would mean challenging those in power, that is, the Jewish leadership, who had just engineered the death of their leader for a lie.  By conspiring to proclaim a risen Christ, the disciples would be putting themselves in the center of danger and controversy, an action that would strongly go against every human’s instinct for survival and self-preservation (especially after witnessing the arrest, suffering, and execution of their leader). 

 Three, the disciples were earnest Jews who would not tell a lie of such immense gravity — that God had raised Jesus from the dead when He did not do so. 

 From these three background facts, it is extremely difficult to see how a conspiracy could have “gotten off the ground” in the first place. If a conspiracy occurred, then it must have started with one person, who had the idea of proclaiming a resurrection — stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb and lying about the risen Jesus appearing to them.  How could this person bring himself to suggest something so outrageous to others? How could this person gather enough disciples to buy into his conspiracy plan given the three background facts discussed earlier? Moreover, if this person opened up about his conspiracy plan to other disciples, who he planned to include in his conspiracy group, then it would only take one rejection to strike a great blow against his planned conspiracy — since there would be one disciple who would know about it and be willing to blow the whistle to others and the Sanhedrin should it actually happen.  Several rejections, on the other hand, would certainly kill any ideas of conspiracy.  

Furthermore, even assuming that a conspiracy was able to launch (against all likelihood), it is still highly unlikely that it would have been sustained once persecution hit from the Jews.  All it would have taken was one confession to deal a serious blow to the conspiracy, giving the Jewish leadership (1) evidence to bring before those deceived by the resurrection hoax and (2) increased morale to further crackdown on the movement and cause it to unravel.  As the esteemed Blaise Pascal (who was himself a devout Catholic) commented:

“The apostles were either deceived or deceivers.  Either supposition is difficult, for it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead.  While Jesus was with them, he could sustain them; but afterwards, if he did not appear to them, who did make them act? The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd.  Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus’ death and conspiring to say that he has 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” (Pensees, 322).

To illustrate how hard it is for a conspiracy to be maintained, the Watergate scandal, in which former U.S.  President Nixon and his aides employed dirty tactics on the opposing political party in order to secure re-election and tried covering up the evidence, only lasted a few weeks under external pressure.  As Chuck Colson, special counsel to President Nixon during Watergate scandal testifies:

“I know how impossible it is for a group of people, even some of the most powerful in the world, to maintain a lie.  The Watergate cover-up lasted only a few weeks before the first conspirator broke and turned state’s evidence”.[107]

Looking at history, the earliest Christians proclaimed a risen Jesus boldly, in the light of the three background facts discussed earlier, and later on, in the face of enemy persecution. There is zero evidence that any Christian confessed that the resurrection was a lie. On the contrary, the evidence points towards enduring and unwavering faith, which is why it is recognized in scholarship that the disciples sincerely believed that Jesus appeared to them.  The fact that Paul was unable to crush the early Christian movement despite his best efforts (and later on, converted himself) is a testament to the disciples’ deep convictions and credibility. All of this strongly argues against the Christian movement being a conspiracy and points towards other hypotheses that stem from genuine belief on the end of Jesus’ disciples (e.g. hallucination or resurrection).

3. The disciples would not have disrespected Jesus’ body

A conspiracy is unlikely because it would have required the disciples to disrespect Jesus’ body. Transferring Jesus’ body from a tomb to a ditch, the location of which would have to remain undiscovered and be forgotten would be extremely disrespectful. Yet, this is what the disciples would have to do if they were planning to maintain their resurrection hoax.  The love and respect that the disciples had for Jesus would strongly argue against them doing this.

4. The disciples were earnest Jews

 Four, if the disciples proclaimed that God raised Jesus from the dead when He did not do so, then we would have to say that they were insincere, non-God fearing Jews.  However, the fact that they followed Jesus because they thought he was the Messiah indicates that they were earnest Jews. Furthermore, as shown by the New Testament texts, they preached the importance of loving God and one’s neighbor, upholding the 10 commandments, cultivating virtue and avoiding sin.

Historical evidence also indicates that they strove to live as they preached. The apostolic and early Church fathers referred to the moral character of the disciples favorably, with Clement calling Peter and Paul “righteous pillars” and Polycarp saying that the apostles “ran…with faith and righteousness” and that “they did not love the present world, but Him who died for us”.[108] James, the brother of Jesus, was so renowned for his moral character that he was given the title “the Just”.[109]  The New Testament epistles also show that the first generation Christians used a “race” as a metaphor for the Christian life  – signifying the difficulty and perseverance it entailed (Heb 12:1, 1 Cor 9:25-27, Gal 5:7, Phil 2:16 and 2 Tim 4:7). In doing so, they compared themselves to athletes, again, referring to the discipline and perseverance they would have to imbibe as a practicing Christian. These athletic metaphors would also be taken up by other apostolic and early Church fathers in their writings.

In the end, the historical evidence points firmly to the conclusion that the disciples were earnest and conscientious Jews. They would not have been capable of carrying out and maintaining a “resurrection conspiracy” that would be such an affront to God.  

5. The sincere belief of the disciples strongly argues against a conspiracy

As mentioned earlier in part 1 of this series, the evidence for the disciple’s sincere belief in Jesus’ post-mortem appearances is powerful — which is why there is a virtual consensus in scholarship that the disciples had experiences which caused them to believe that the risen Jesus had appeared to them.

The disciples traveled great distances preaching a risen Jesus, endured hardship and persecution, and in some cases, suffered martyrdom. This is firm evidence for genuine belief, not a conspiracy.  As liberal scholar E.P. Sanders comments on the possibility of fraud:

“I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation.  Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause”.[110]

6. A conspiracy would have resulted in more appealing narratives

If the disciples conspired in proclaiming the resurrection, why did they not do a better job in fabricating the empty tomb and resurrection narratives? Why are the accounts of the empty tomb so restrained? Why do they contain embarrassing elements? Why, for example, was the resurrection not witnessed in the account of the empty tomb? Why is Jesus’ resurrected body not described? Why were the events at the tomb witnessed solely by women? Why is the honor of Jesus’ first post-mortem appearance given to Mary Magdalene and the women? If the disciples lied about the resurrection, it is likely that they would have fabricated a more impressive and appealing account. 

7. A conspiracy would not explain the conversions of James and Paul

A conspiracy would not explain the conversion of James, from skeptic to believer in Jesus.

It would also not explain the conversion of Paul, a respected Pharisee and a fierce enemy of the early Church to Christianity.

B.   Hallucination

According to the hallucination hypothesis, the resurrection appearances were merely hallucinations on the end of the disciples.  This theory enjoys the most support among skeptical scholars today. Like the conspiracy theory, it also suffers from many problems.

1. The hallucination theory does not explain the empty tomb

One, the hallucination theory does not account for the empty tomb.  To account for the empty tomb under this hypothesis, we would have to assume that an individual stole the body of Jesus for some reason.

If it were a follower of Jesus or someone who held him in high regard, it is difficult to see why he or she would have carried out such an action that was disrespectful to Jesus – taking his body out of its resting place where it could be visited by those who knew him, and transferring it somewhere else. Such an action would also be inexplicable because if this person held Jesus in high regard, he or she could simply visit his tomb like everyone else. Grave robbery also faces difficulty as a possibility because it was considered a serious crime in the time of Jesus (in antiquity, tombs were held in high regard), and thus warranted significant penalties.[111] 

On the other hand, if the person who stole the body was not a follower of Jesus or did not hold him in high regard, then it is puzzling as to why he was so interested in robbing his corpse which had no value, and risk serious punishment in attempting to do so.  A grave robber would have been interested in valuable goods interred with a corpse but not the corpse itself.

2. It requires us to posit a fantastic series of hallucinations

The hallucination theory requires us to posit a fantastic series of events wherein multiple hallucinations occurred to Jesus’ followers, as individuals and in groups, sincerely convincing them that he rose from the dead and appeared to them.  The group appearances in particular are especially difficult to account for because hallucinations are private and subjective experiences, no two people can see the exact same hallucination.  As clinical psychologist Garry Collins explains:

”Hallucinations are individual occurrences.  By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time.  They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people … Since a hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it”.[112] 

Another clinical psychologist, Garry Sibcy, who has studied the possibility of group hallucinations extensively, states:

“I have surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent”.[113]

In response to this, skeptical scholars put forward the explanation that although the disciples did not share the exact hallucination of Jesus as a collective, they did experience individual hallucinations of him in group settings (see Ludemann, Goulder and Vermes as examples).[114] The likeliness of such a fantastic series of events happening however is extremely low.

3. The appearance traditions in the gospels pose more difficulties for proponents of the hallucination theory

The appearance traditions in the gospels pose more difficulties for proponents of the hallucination theory. 

One, according to the gospels, the appearances witnessed by the disciples were both auditory and physical. This would make great sense since the appearances of Jesus sincerely convinced the disciples that he had risen and appeared to them.  It is difficult to imagine how visual but non-auditory or auditory but non-visual appearances of Jesus would have convinced the disciples that He had risen, and that what they saw before them was an actual living encounter (“in the flesh”). If one of these elements were missing, these appearances would seem more like hallucinations or visions.  However, if the appearances of Jesus were visual and auditory, then we would have to raise the already high improbability of the posited series of hallucinations even higher. Hallucinations usually occur in a single mode (e.g. visual, auditory, olfactory, etc). As medical experts Laroi and Aleman note in their book “Hallucinations: The Science of Idiosyncratic Perception” (published by the American Psychological Association), multimodal hallucinations are more rare.[115]

Two, in the gospel appearance traditions, Jesus would have lengthy conversations with his disciples, something that would be improbable for a hallucination to do (considering that the hallucinations of the disciples, James and Paul were not rooted in mental illnesses).

Three, the accounts in the gospels clearly portray Jesus’ appearances as physical and bodily.  In these accounts, Jesus offers his disciples to touch his risen body and eats a broiled fish in their presence (Lk 24:36-43), some of the disciples grab hold of his feet in worship (Matt 28:9-10) and the disciple Thomas touches the wounds of Jesus (Jn 20:24-29). In the end, in addition to being visual and auditory, the appearances of Jesus in the gospels are also tangible, and Jesus lets his disciples know it: Look at my hands and my feet.  It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).  These accounts accord well with Acts 1:1-3, which states that after Jesus’ death, he appeared to his disciples and provided “many convincing proofs that he was alive”. 

The problem with these previous two points, capable of lengthy conversations and displaying clear physicality, is that they are very difficult or impossible to account for through hallucinations.

Four, in the gospels, the appearances of Jesus were diverse. They happened to men and women of different ages, to individuals of different personalities and state of minds, at different times of the day and occurred indoors and outdoors.  However, even if we were to put aside the gospel accounts, a variety of individuals and circumstances are already attested to in the 1 Corinthians 15 tradition. As a result, it has to be factored in. In the end, the variety in individuals and circumstances increases the unlikelihood of our posited series of hallucinations even higher.

4. It is highly unlikely that hallucinations of Jesus would have produced resurrection belief

It is highly unlikely that hallucinations of Jesus, even with an empty tomb, would have produced resurrection belief.  The idea of Jesus’ resurrection was a completely foreign concept within Jewish thought. As mentioned earlier, if the disciples discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty and experienced hallucinations of him, they would have concluded that he was bodily assumed into heaven, from where he appeared to them.  The concept of a resurrection to an isolated individual within history and prior to the end of the world simply did not exist within Judaism. As a result, it is highly unlikely that the disciples would have conceived of and settled on resurrection as an interpretation.

With that said, in the points to follow below, I will assume that Jesus’ resurrection, despite being a foreign concept within Judaism, could have come to mind on the part of the disciples and therefore, could have potentially become established as an interpretation of what they had seen and experienced.

5. Skepticism and discernment would greatly diminish the possibility of hallucinations being interpreted as resurrection

If the disciples approached the extraordinary appearances of Jesus before their eyes with skepticism and discernment (e.g. assessing what they were seeing critically, attempting to converse with the appearance at length to determine its nature or meaning, or if the idea of resurrection came to mind, deciding to touch the appearance) then the chances of them attributing hallucinations as resurrection decreases greatly.  There are three reasons why the disciples approached their resurrection experiences with skepticism and discernment.

One, doubt, skepticism and curiosity are all part of the human condition. We have always had it as a species. On the issue of doubt and skepticism in particular, there are multiple passages in the Old and New Testament that show this.  Focusing on the New Testament alone, doubt and disbelief are found during Jesus’ ministry (Mk 5:35-42; 9:24-25, Matt 13:54-57; 14:22-31, Jn 6:32-68; 7:5) during the empty tomb and resurrection accounts (Lk 24:9-11, Lk 24:40-43, Jn 20:24-28, Matt 28:16-17) and during the post-Easter missionary efforts regarding the resurrection and others (Gal 1:18-20, 1 Cor 1:22-23, Acts 17:31-32).  The above verses show that doubt and skepticism have always been with us, and that even ancient people knew the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary (and were skeptical and discerning of the latter). If the disciples witnessed an appearance of a seemingly alive Jesus before their eyes, it is certain that they would have tried to understand the nature and meaning of the appearance through their rational faculties (discernment), and at least some of them would have been doing so in disbelief of what was happening (skepticism). Furthermore, if the radical idea of Jesus’ resurrection came to their minds, it is also possible, especially for those skeptical about what they were seeing, that they would have used their physical tools to probe the appearance of Jesus before them — reaching out to touch it.

Two, as just stated, the gospels themselves attest that there was skepticism on the part of Jesus’ disciples regarding the empty tomb and post-mortem appearances.

Three, the fact that the disciples unanimously proclaimed resurrection strongly implies discernment. The fact that the early Church proclaimed that Jesus rose from the dead, despite such an interpretation being a foreign concept within Judaism, and over other known possible interpretations that coheres with an empty tomb (hallucinations and visions of a bodily assumed Jesus) indicates that they had very good reasons for specifically proclaiming resurrection.

For all of the above reasons, it is almost certain that the disciples viewed their resurrection experiences with skepticism and discernment.  The fact that resurrection was the explanation they unanimously settled on, passing their skepticism and discernment, points towards the conclusion that they truly did encounter the risen Jesus.  

6. It is extremely difficult to see how belief in group resurrection appearances could have arisen

It is extremely difficult to see how sincere belief in group resurrection appearances arose among Jesus’ disciples. 

First, let us consider the possibility of a group hallucination occurring. If one of the disciples started having a hallucination of Jesus and told others near him about what he was seeing, do you think that the other disciples would have begun to see a hallucination of Jesus as well? Of course not.  In all likelihood, the other disciples would have seen nothing, and the first disciple would have been alone in his hallucination.[116]

Second, let us grant that a group of disciples, somehow, managed to experience multiple hallucinations of Jesus as a collective.  If this happened, how could the individuals in the group not realize the discrepancies in what they were seeing and what others were seeing? If you considered or believed that you were experiencing an extraordinary phenomenon as a group, you would be aware of how the other people in the group reacted and responded to what you were seeing because you would view yourselves as possible or actual collective witnesses.  This would especially be the case when it comes to a possibly supernatural appearance from Jesus. With that said, there are many ways through which the disciples could have realized that there was a discrepancy between what they were seeing and what others were seeing during a “collective hallucination”.  

One, if the hallucinations of Jesus these individuals were seeing were not located in the same spot in the room or vicinity, or if the hallucination of Jesus moved and those who saw a moving hallucination reacted accordingly, then this would have provided a good opportunity for individuals in the group to realize that they were not seeing the same thing (as they saw the actions of others and compared it to what they were seeing). 

Two, if Jesus spoke to some people but not to others in these individual hallucinations, and those who Jesus spoke to responded back, then this would have been another good opportunity for those in the group to notice the obvious discrepancies in what was happening. Those whom Jesus did not speak to could see that the group was not seeing the same thing, since Jesus said nothing to them but something to others. On the other hand, those whom Jesus did speak to could see the obvious disconnect in their responses, since individual hallucinations of Jesus would not have said the same thing to each person.

 Three, if a group of disciples experienced individual hallucinations of Jesus, it is highly likely that these hallucinations would not have ended at the same time.  If one person in the group’s hallucination ended early and he saw others around him still seeing Jesus, he would realize that they never saw the same thing as a group in the first place.  Others in the group whose hallucinations would end earlier before the rest would also follow in this realization.

Four, if the group of disciples asked each other afterward if they really saw the same thing and assess their experiences together then this would be another good opportunity for them to realize the discrepancies in what they witnessed — and it is highly likely that they did do this. Discussing, comparing and assessing experiences with each other after collectively witnessing something extraordinary is natural and expected (again, especially after witnessing a possibly supernatural appearance of Jesus). If the disciples did this, however, then it is highly unlikely that they would have proclaimed resurrection since they would realize through discussion that they did not witness the same thing (e.g. differences in the appearance of Jesus, what he did, what he said, etc). This would prove to them that the appearance they witnessed was not a resurrection but something else.

In the end, if individuals in the group realized that there were discrepancies in what they saw and what others were seeing, then they would not have proclaimed resurrection, since a resurrection appearance would have to be physical and bodily, objective, and “real in the world”. They would have instead, proclaimed something else (e.g. visions of a bodily assumed Jesus).

For all of the above reasons, it is extremely difficult to see how belief in group resurrection appearances could have emerged from hallucinations among the disciples.  This strongly argues against hallucinations being the catalyst behind the early Christian resurrection proclamation.

7. It would not easily explain the conversion of James

A hallucination would not easily explain the conversion of James, from skeptic to believer in Jesus. 

First, we would have to add James to the posited multiple series of hallucinations among the disciples, increasing the already high improbability of this hypothetical.  The unlikelihood of a hallucination of Jesus occurring to James is enhanced by the fact that he did not believe in Jesus, and was not involved in his ministry. In fact, after the crucifixion, James must have felt even more assured in his belief that Jesus was not the Messiah and that his death was, unfortunately, “his own making”.

Second, since James was skeptical of Jesus during his ministry, he would have viewed the appearance of Jesus before him with an especially critical eye. Furthermore, if he heard stories from family members or Jesus’ disciples that Jesus rose from the dead and that he was appearing among them, it is very likely (given his skepticism) that he would have made sure that what he was seeing before him was truly his risen cousin — likely by touching him.  

8. It would not explain the conversion of Paul

A hallucination would not easily explain the conversion of Paul, a Pharisee and fierce enemy of the early Church to Christianity. 

First, we would have to add Paul to the posited series of hallucinations among the disciples and James, increasing the already high improbability of this hypothetical further.  The unlikelihood of a hallucination of Jesus occurring to Paul is enhanced by the fact that (1) he was not a follower or relative of Jesus (so he was lacking in a fraternal or familial connection that would have made a hallucination more plausible) and (2) as noted by scholar Stendahl, Paul was “a very happy and successful Jew…He experiences no troubles, no problems, no qualms of conscience, no feelings of shortcomings…”, and so it is difficult to see what could have caused him to hallucinate.[117] Paul was a respected figure in Jewish circles.  He fervently persecuted Christianity because he saw the group as a heresy and an affront to God whom he loved.  Given Paul’s situation, it is very difficult to imagine what could have triggered a hallucination for him in the first place.

Second, as an educated man, devout Jew and fierce enemy of Christianity, Paul would have viewed the appearance of Jesus before him with even greater skepticism than James. His sharp intellect would also have helped him discern if his experience was a product of the mind or an authentic encounter with Jesus. In the end, the fact that the appearance Paul witnessed sincerely convinced him that he encountered the risen Jesus is historically impressive.

C. Resurrection

According to the resurrection hypothesis, Jesus rose from the dead, as the earliest Christians proclaimed.

This theory enjoys a preponderance of evidence in its favor — the sincere belief of the disciples in Jesus’ post-mortem appearances, the empty tomb and the origin of the Christian faith all point to the conclusion that Jesus rose.

The resurrection hypothesis also fits in with the evidence seamlessly, that is,  it faces no problems or difficulties unlike the conspiracy and hallucination hypotheses.  In the end, the resurrection hypothesis…

  • Explains the post mortem appearances and empty tomb with zero difficulties.
  • Best explains the sincere belief of the disciples — why they traveled great distances preaching a resurrected Christ, why they endured hardship and persecution, and in some cases, suffered martyrdom (hallucinations typically do not bring about such confidence, zeal and inspiration).
  • Explains why the disciples proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection despite it being a foreign concept within Judaism, and over other known explanations that would have cohered with an empty tomb (e.g. visions of a bodily assumed Jesus)
  • Coheres with the earnest Jewish faith of the disciples.
  • Coheres perfectly with the appearance accounts in the gospels and Acts.
  • Best explains the conversion of James from skeptic to believer in Jesus.
  • Best explains the conversion of Paul, a respected Pharisee and fierce enemy of the early Church to Christianity.

The resurrection hypothesis, enjoying a preponderance of evidence in its favor and possessing zero problems or difficulties is without question, the “best explanation for the evidence”.  The hypothesis only requires two presuppositions, (1) that God exists and that (2) He revealed Himself to the Jewish people.  The former presupposition is supported by impressive evidence from natural theology, while the latter is supported by the Jewish conception of God (which is consistent with the findings of natural theology) and the striking history of its people.[118]

In the end, by raising Jesus from the dead, God confirms Jesus, his ministry and his claims about his identity like a “divine stamp of approval” — that He is indeed, His Son in the flesh.


104. Today, however, this explanation [the conspiracy hypothesis] has been completely given up by modern scholarship”.  (Craig, Reasonable Faith, pg. 371)

105. Wright, Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem. Retrieved from:

106. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pg.  110

107. Colson, How Now Shall We Live?, pgs.  275-276.

108. First Clement 5:2-7 and Polycarp, To the Philippians 9:2

109. Eusebius quoting Clement, Ecclesiastical History, 2.9.1-3

110. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus

111. The Nazareth Inscription (dated around 20 BC) attests to how tombs were held in high regard in the ancient world, and how grave robbery accorded one significant punishment:

Edict from an unnamed Caesar: “It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs—whoever has made them for the religious observances of parents, or children, or household members—that these remain undisturbed forever.  But if anyone legally charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has moved sepulcher-sealing stones, against such a person I order that a judicial tribunal be created, just as [is done] concerning the gods in human religious observances, even more so will it be obligatory to treat with honor those who have been entombed.  You are absolutely not to allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under the title of tomb-breaker”.

As scholar Metzger notes: “In any case, the inscription contributes yet another testimony to what we knew already concerning the sanctity with which tombs were generally regarded in antiquity and the variety of penalties against violatia sepulchri.” (The Nazareth Inscription Once Again” in New Testament Studies: Philological, Versional, and Patristic, pg. 91)

112. Habermas, Hallucination Theories to Explain Jesus’ Resurrection, par. 48. Retrieved from:

113. Habermas attained this testimony through personal correspondence with Sibcy at the request of Licona, who was doing research on hallucinations (The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historiographical Approach, pg.  484).  

114. Ludemann, in his work “The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry”, explains the group appearances by saying that they were “shared hallucinatory fantasies” (pgs. 166, 175 and 176) and in the case of the appearance to the 500, that it was a “mass ecstasy” (pg. 108).

Licona summarizes Goulder’s view in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach before responding to it. According to Licona, Goulder explains the group appearances as “communal delusions” (pg. 482).

Licona also summarizes Vermes’ view stating that he explains the individual and group appearances as “visions” and “apparitions” (pg. 477).

115. Licona, using Aleman and Laroi’s “Hallucinations: The Science of Idiosyncratic Perception” as his source says that hallucinations can be experienced in a number of modes such as auditory, visual, olfactory, kinesthetic, etc — but that they are generally experienced in a single mode.  Multimodal or compound hallucinations are more rare.

116. Scholar Michael Licona, in a web article entitled “Are the New Testament Gospels historically reliable accounts of Jesus?”, relates the experiences his friends at the U.S.  Navy who experienced hallucinations during one of their toughest training weeks before being initiated as a SEAL. They called this week, “Hell Week”. The experiences of Licona’s friends at the US Navy show that hallucinations are not “contagious”.  If an individual experienced a hallucination and told others about it, he would in all likelihood be alone in it — his friends would not see anything. Quoting Licona narrating the experiences of his friends:

“Years ago, I lived in Virginia Beach.  Since half of the Navy SEALS are stationed in that area, I had the privilege of meeting many of them and even befriended several.  SEALS are some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. Their physical abilities and mental toughness are truly enviable and go beyond what I would have thought to be humanly possible.

There are several steps candidates must successfully complete prior to becoming a SEAL.  One of the first steps is to complete “Hell Week.” This week begins on a Sunday evening and end Saturday morning.  During that week, candidates are subjected to conditions that test their physical and mental toughness to their outermost edges.  Most do not make it through the week and drop out. Candidates get only about 3–5 hours of sleep during the entire week — not every night but the entire week.  Due to the sleep deprivation, a significant number of the candidates experience hallucinations during the week. Many told me they had experienced a hallucination during an exercise called “Around the World” in which small teams in rafts row to a buoy in the ocean, then return.  The team finishing first gets to sit out the next race and rest.

One SEAL told me he thought he saw an octopus come to the surface and wave at him.  Another told me he thought he saw a train coming toward them. When he warned the others of the approaching train, they told him there are no trains running on the Pacific Ocean! But they were unable to convince him.  So, he rolled out of the raft to avoid being hit by the train. Another SEAL told me about a guy who was in his raft who began swatting his paddle at something in the air. When asked what he was doing, he answered he was trying to hit the dolphins that were jumping over their raft! What’s of interest is that no one else saw the octopus or the train or the dolphins.  They were all in the same frame of mind. And many of them were experiencing hallucinations. Yet, pointing out what one was seeing did not lead others to see the same things. That’s because hallucinations are private experiences in the mind of an individual. They are neither contagious nor collective. And some people are not prone to hallucinate”.

Retrieved from:

117. Stendahl, Paul Among the Jews and Gentiles, pgs.  12-13

118. Clarifying three points below (natural theology, the Jewish conception of God as consistent with the findings of natural theology and the striking history of the Jewish people):

Natural theology is the study of God apart from divine revelation (i.e. what can we know about God through reason alone). It encompasses philosophy and science. See the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology and Feser’s 5 Proofs of the Existence of God as examples of work in this field.

Philosophical arguments point to the existence of an uncaused first cause (that is, God) with the following attributes: immutability, immateriality, omnipotence, omniscience, oneness or invisibility, perfect goodness and necessary existence (Flew, There is A God, pg. 92).

When it comes to the striking history of the Jews, I am referring to their long-held belief that God revealed Himself to them and made them His chosen people, the Old Testament texts, their long line of prophets from Abraham to Malachi, and of course, the person of Jesus himself.

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