Christian fanboys like to argue that there is a lot of historical evidence that proves the resurrection of Jesus by God did happen. They say that the resurrection is the best explanation of the facts. But is it really? Can historians prove the resurrection of Jesus by God? Let’s find out.
What is it that Historians do?
It’s very important to clarify what it is that historians do before we go into the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Historians try to construct an image of the past, not reconstruct it. We can’t reconstruct the past, because once something is in the past, it’s gone. We can’t get back to it and we can only construct a view of what probably happend using the sources available.
“Historians try to establish what probably happend in the past.”
So this means that we can’t know what happend in the past, we can only have levels of probability about what happend in the past or not. So how do historians establish what probably happend in the past? Well, they use something called the “historical method” and it goes a little like this:
1. Any given source of historical information may be forged or corrupted.
2. First-hand information is more credible than second-hand information, which is more credible than third hand information, etc.
3. The more time transpires before recording an event , the less reliable the narrative becomes.
4. Multiple, independent accounts should all converge onto the same message in order for that information to be credible.
5. The more implausible the events are with respect to the known laws of physics, the less reliable the narrative becomes.
6. The more languages the record has been translated through, the less reliable it becomes.
7. The more biased a source is, either politically or socially, the less reliable that record becomes.
8. The more relics that can support a narrative, the more reliable it becomes.
So what immediately becomes evident when you look at the historical method, is that somebody being resurrected after being dead for three days is a violation of the known laws of physics and therefore it’s extremely improbable that it did happen. Even if it did happen, it can’t be proven historically since a miracle is the least probable explanation of an event. And the least probable can not be the most probable. This makes resurrection of Jesus by God is in any case a theological explanation and not a historical one.
Gary Habermas’ Minimal Facts
New Testament scholar Gary Habermas is famous for his “minimal facts” argument and that’s why apologists love him so much. Gary Habermas came up with a foundation upon which he build a case to prove historically that Jesus has been raised by God. The foundation contains several facts taken from the Gospels accounts upon which almost every scholar agrees. For now, I will consider the four most used by apologists:
1. Jesus was crucified.
2. Jesus got buried.
3. There was an empty tomb.
4. There were post-mortem appearances of Jesus.
Refuting the Minimal Facts Argument
Let’s have a look at the four facts and see if they are valid as evidence for the argument that Jesus has been raised from the dead by God.
1. Jesus was crucified.
Indeed considered to be historically probable since multiple independent sources tell us about it and therefore it can be trusted, but ask yourselves, how Jesus’ crucifixion related to the resurrection? It isn’t. Jesus could have been stoned to death or drowned to death. The crucifixion is not anything that is related inherently to the question of the resurrection. If the fact is that Jesus died, well that’s not much of a noteworthy fact. We all die.
2. Jesus got buried.
Again, how is Jesus being buried related to a resurrection? Being buried isn’t much of a fact since dead people tend to get buried. Jesus’ body could have been thrown off a cliff into the ocean or cremated.
On a side note, I would like to argue that Jesus probably didn’t even get a proper burial for it was common practise for the Romans in those days to leave somebody hanging on the cross for a couple of days and throw the body in some kind of pit afterwards. There were no exceptions for enemies of the state, as Jesus clearly was.
3. There was an empty tomb.
That the tomb became empty (if there ever was a tomb) can have a lot more probable and plausible reasons than God raising Jesus from the dead. His body could have been robbed by his followers for instance. Our earliest source for Jesus, Paul, never mentions an empty tomb. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Paul says:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.”
Where exactly does Paul say there was an empty tomb? Why would he leave out such an important fact? Apologists often argue that Paul implies there was an empty tomb, but as you can read for yourself, Paul implies it nowhere. Yes, if somebody is physically resurrected than they would leave behind an empty grave, but Paul nowhere indicates that an empty tomb was discovered.
Also, Jesus appearance to the twelve? Did Jesus show himself to Judas Iscariot? If not then who were the twelve? Do apologists really believe Jesus appeared to the twelve? Remember that in the book of acts, this was all before they elected a twelfth member. If apologists really think Jesus appeared to the twelve, then please explain that to me.
4. Jesus’ post mortem appearances.
Now this would be considered a fact that is related to Jesus’ resurrection. But here’s an important question that I would like any apologist to give an historical explanation for. When Jesus appeared to Paul, how did Paul knew it was Jesus? Paul wasn’t one of Jesus’ his earliest disciples so he didn’t know what Jesus’ looked like. I don’t want a supernatural explanation, I don’t want to hear that God told him it was Jesus as this would be a theological explanation. I want a historical explanation.
Does an appearance to somebody mean someone has been raised from the dead physically? If so, what do you do with the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration? Moses and Elijah seem to appear. Where did they come from? Were they both raised from the dead or would you say this was some kind of visionary experience? If it was a visionary experience, how do you know the apostles didn’t have one? Visions happen without physical people being present. Why not visions of Jesus?
Also, in the Syriac tradition Jesus had a twin brother who looked just like him. Maybe Jesus’ followers mistook Jesus his twin brother for Jesus? It’s highly improbable, but still more probable than a miracle and this explanation has the virtue of being plausible.
Apologists argue that Jesus being resurrected by God is the most probable explanation of the so called facts. But even if it were probable, is it plausible? Plausibility is the big issue because unless you posit the existence of God, you can not claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. Historians can not prove what God has done because God is beyond historical proof. Historians have no access to the divine realm. If you think you do, it’s because you are a theologian, not a historian. If you talk about what God has done, you are talking about theology, not history.