Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus

I will continue to be focused on Richard Swinburne’s case for God for another year, at least, but my favorite topic is the resurrection of Jesus, so I cannot resist writing a post on the resurrection, at least every now and again.

My position on the resurrection claim is that it should be analyzed into two main claims:
1. Jesus died on the cross on Friday of Passover week (and remained dead for at least six hours).
2. Jesus was alive and walking around on the Sunday following Friday of Passover week (or within a few days after that Sunday).

Most of the debate on this issue is focused on claim (2), which is as it should be, since the evidence for claim (2) is rather weak. I doubt that I could ever be persuaded by NT evidence that (2) is very probably true.

However, even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that (2) is true, the evidence for the resurrection still falls short of what is required, because the combination of (1) and (2) is a physical impossibility (more or less). So, in supposing (2) to be true, the requirement of evidence to establish (1) becomes rather difficult to achieve.

Although there is obviously some evidence that Jesus died on Friday of Passover week and remained dead for at least several hours, the evidence is hardly compelling. For one thing, if Jesus was buried in a stone tomb before sunset on Friday evening, as the Gospels report, then he might well have been observed for only an hour after his alleged death. Once his body was inside the tomb, no one could observe whether or not he was breathing or had a heartbeat.

One of the main problems with the claim that Jesus died on the cross is that we don’t know the extent of Jesus’ injuries prior to and during the crucifixion, and we don’t know how crucifixion causes death. Another problem is that modern medical science would not make an appearance for well over a thousand years, so there was no scientific medical expert available to verify that Jesus was truly and completely dead.

I see no real possibility of establishing the truth of (1) to anywhere near the degree that is required for a claim that implies a physical impossibility, which (1) would do, if we suppose (2) to be true.

So, the evidence for the resurrection fails on two accounts. First, the evidence for (2) is rather weak, and second, if we suppose (2) to be true, then the evidence for (1) is too weak to be sufficient to establish a claim of a physically impossible event.

That is why I see William Craig’s defense of the resurrection of Jesus as a complete failure. He largely ignores the question of whether or not Jesus truly died on the cross (and remained dead for several hours). Gary Habermas and Norman Geisler make much better cases for the resurrection because they take more seriously the burden of proof that Christian apologists must bear on this issue. Not only is the evidence for the resurrection insufficient, but there are good reasons for believing that it is false that God raised Jesus from the dead. Here is an argument that Jesus was not raised (JNR):

JNR1. Jesus advocated the following religious beliefs: (a) Moses was a prophet of God, (b) the Old Testament was inspired by God, and (c) Jehovah is God.JNR2. If Jesus advocated any religious belief that is false, then Jesus is not God incarnate.
JNR3. At least one of the following beliefs is false: (a) Moses was a prophet of God, (b) the Old Testament was inspired by God, or (c) Jehovah is God.
JNR4. Jesus is not God incarnate.
JNR5. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then Jesus is God incarnate.
JNR6. It is not the case that God raised Jesus from the dead.

I am confident that (JNR3) is true.

Because of skeptical doubts about the historical reliability of the Gospels, I am less confident about the truth of (JNR1). However, if Jesus was an historical person, as I believe he was, and if he was a Jew, as virtually no one who thinks Jesus an historical person doubts, and if the Gospels are somewhat historical (third-hand, second-generation Christian reports about an historical person), then the available evidence makes (JNR1) probable, perhaps very probable. These religious beliefs are basic Jewish beliefs, so it would be unsurprising if Jesus, a devout Jew, held such beliefs, and the Gospels clearly indicate he did hold such beliefs.

Premise (JNR2) appears to be true to me, and it would certainly be difficult for a Christian believer to deny (JNR2), for that would undermine the authority of the teachings of Jesus. The belief that Jesus is God incarnate is a primary reason given by Christians in support of the authority of Jesus’ teachings. So, if one admitted that Jesus could give false religious teachings and yet still be God incarnate, then his allegedly being God incarnate would not be a good reason for following his teachings.

I don’t necessarily accept premise (JNR5), because I have doubts about whether the doctrine of incarnation is logically coherent. But if we set aside that concern, (JNR5) seems plausible. Furthermore, (JNR5) is a basic assumption of Christian apologetics. The resurrection of Jesus is one of the main arguments for the divinity of Jesus. So, again, it would be difficult for a Christian believer to deny (JNR5).

The combination of the denial of the incarnation in premise (JNR4) with the basic assumption of the relationship between the resurrection and the incarnation in premise (JNR5) yields the conclusion that God did not raise Jesus from the dead.