Consider the following claim:
(JAW) Jesus of Nazareth was alive and walking around unassisted on the first Easter Sunday.
There are two logical possibilities concerning (JAW):
3. Either (JAW) is true or it is not true.
Of the two possibilities mentioned in (3), let’s first consider the one that appears to favor skepticism about the resurrection:
2. (JAW) is not true.
If we suppose (2) to be correct, does that in fact favor or support a skeptical view of the resurrection of Jesus?
One possibility is that Jesus of Nazareth is just a legend, and was not an actual historical person. In that case (2) would be correct. But this seems unlikely. I would assign a probability of about .9 to the claim that Jesus was an actual historical person. It is more likely that (2) would be correct because Jesus was an historical person but (JAW) was simply false:
4. (JAW) is false.
What are the different ways that (JAW) could be false? There are three logical possibilities:
A. Jesus was not alive on the first Easter Sunday.
B. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but did not walk at all that day.
C. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but was walking only with assistance from others.
Let’s start with the possibility that (C) is the case. Would this support a skeptical view of the resurrection?It certainly appears to be the case that (C) supports skepticism about the resurrection.
The first thing that comes to mind here is the Apparent Death Theory (ADT). On this theory, Jesus was an historical person who was crucified, perhaps on Friday of Passover week as the Gospels assert, but Jesus somehow survived crucifixion, either because a Roman soldier was persuaded or bribed to take Jesus off the cross before he was dead, or because a Roman soldier mistakenly diagnosed Jesus to be dead when Jesus was actually still alive, or (if we use the word ‘dead’ to mean the cessation of heartbeat for at least 5 minutes) a Roman soldier correctly diagnosed that Jesus had died, but the ‘death’ of Jesus was temporary, and his heart started beating a short while after he was diagnosed to be dead.
(ADT) implies that any actual appearances by Jesus after the crucifixion were by a Jesus who had a normal physical human body. While in contrast, the traditional Christian belief is that when Jesus rose from the dead he had an eternal ‘glorified body’. A Jesus with an eternal ‘glorified body’ would obviously not need any assistance in walking around Jerusalem. But a post-crucifixion Jesus with a normal physical human body might well require such assistance to get around, because of weakness or pain or injuries that resulted from scourging and/or crucifixion.
Of course, it is possible that God raised Jesus from the dead in an normal physical human body, and then some days or weeks later transformed that normal body into an eternal ‘glorified body’. God could have let Jesus suffer more pain and disability from wounds and injuries inflicted upon Jesus during the crucifixion.
Although this is a logical possibility, it seems rather implausible that God would re-introduce Jesus, his only son, the king of kings, and the savior of all humankind, to his disciples as a weak and injured man who was unable to walk around unassisted. An all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good deity would want to send a clearer message to the disciples of Jesus and to humankind, and would be able to instantly transform Jesus’ lifeless corpse into an eternal ‘glorified body’. It is very unlikely that God would perform such a half-ass miracle (where Jesus would be weak and in pain and disabled in his first post-crucifixion appearances) as the ultimate sign of God’s approval of the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus.
Another way to try to rescue the resurrection in view of the supposition (C), would be to advocate an alternative chronology of the crucifixion and alleged resurrection of Jesus. Suppose that Jesus had been roughed up but not crucified on Friday of Passover week, and was still limping and in pain on that ‘first Easter Sunday’, requiring assistance in order to walk around. And suppose that Jesus was then arrested and crucified on Monday, and that the first post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus took place on, say, Wednesday.
With this alternative chronology of the crucifixion and alleged resurrection of Jesus, one can reconcile belief in the resurrection with the supposition (C). But this attempt to preserve belief in the resurrection casts significant doubt on the historical reliability of the details of the Gospel accounts of the death, burial, and initial post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus. Surely no disciple of Jesus who was present in Jerusalem during these events could make such chronological mistakes (e.g. thinking Jesus was crucified on Friday of Passover Week when he was actually crucified on Monday after Passover week), especially in view of the fact that they were in Jerusalem for Passover week. That means, that either the Gospel accounts of these events are not based on testimony from Jesus’ disciples, or that such testimony has been significantly distorted through whatever transmission processes occurred between the original testimony and the resulting composition of the Gospel accounts.
If one alters the chronology of the crucifixion, burial, and initial post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus, then one must sacrifice the historical reliability of the details of the Gospel accounts of these events, and doing so would clearly undermine any case for the resurrection of Jesus, making a skeptical view of these events the more reasonable of the alternatives.
In summary, if we suppose (C) to be the case, then that favors a skeptical view of the alleged resurrection of Jesus. If (C) is the case, then the denial of the resurrection is more reasonable and more probable than the affirmation of the resurrection.
I think the rock is starting to budge. Perhaps I will get it rolling down the hill soon…
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