The Best Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus

Several arguments attempt to discredit the bodily resurrection of Jesus, most of which are easily dismissed. Out of the theories that attempt to discredit this claim, this one is by far the most tempting to believe:

Ancient people didn’t have science, so they naturally believed in superstition and magic. They would have easily accepted the reports about Jesus being raised from the dead. Jesus’s followers were devastated when He was killed, so they began to talk about how they interacted with Him in their hearts, and in spirit. Some might have even claimed that they saw Him visibly. Over several decades these stories evolved into stories about Jesus being raised physically, and the resurrection in the gospel accounts were put there to corroborate these claims.

Ostensibly this sounds good. Here are a few thoughts that make this claim problematic:

One, the first accounts of the resurrection are found in the writings of Paul, who wrote only fifteen years after Jesus’ death. The accounts weren’t put in the gospels later as corroboration. Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once.

His letters were read aloud, publicly, inviting anyone who might have been skeptical to go and talk with the eyewitnesses themselves. Furthermore, Paul met Jesus first-hand. It’s not like the telephone game where a phrase or story evolves.

Additionally, the accounts of the resurrection state that women were the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb. This is a significant problem because women had such a low social status that they couldn’t even testify in court. So, if these stories were fabrications, they would only undermine the credibility of the testimonies.

N.T. Wright notes that there must have been enormous pressure to change the accounts and remove the women from them. Still, the disciples would not do so to keep the integrity of the account, and probably could not do so anyway because the records were already too well known.

Timothy Keller summarizes a great way of thinking about the resurrection: “Nothing in history can be proven the way we can prove something in a laboratory. However, the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact much more fully attested to than most other events of ancient history we take for granted. Every effort to account for the birth of the church apart from Jesus’s resurrection flies in the face of what we know about the first-century history and culture.”

In other words, the resurrection of Jesus gives definitive evidence for the birth and rapid growth of the church. Without the resurrection, the Jesus movement would never have taken off. It would have stopped as any movement does when its leader dies.

Moreover, the disciples that we see being cowards before the resurrection all died gruesome and courageous deaths afterward, and no one would die for something that they thought might be untrue. We can see a total transformation in his followers because of their newly qualified trust in Jesus, and we have documentation that dates only within a few years of the actual event.

If Jesus didn’t rise from death, then nothing He said matters. But if Jesus did rise from death, then everything we think about the world, ourselves, and God, we now have to rethink and let the reality of the resurrection rebuild it. Now, everything He said matters.

If Jesus rose from death, it means that we have a living hope that is sustainable and faithful to give us life beyond the definite fate of the grave. It means that death no longer has the last word. We can now have confidence that God has a new life and future in store for us. We can live in light of this reality with great joy and confidence, and live a new life in Christ, with a new direction to press forward, and a new identity live out. It means we have a true future to inherit and a genuine hope to anchor our lives.

We receive this hope from Jesus as the facts of history (and many more things) give us the confidence to believe in his resurrection.