Christians celebrate Easter because of one event—the Resurrection.
It’s the thing that makes or breaks Christianity. According to Paul, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor. 15:17).
And because it’s a historical event, it’s testable. For years, scholars have studied the details surrounding the Resurrection. The facts most widely accepted by Christian and non-Christian scholars alike include:
- Jesus’ death and burial
- The empty tomb
- Post-Resurrection appearances
- The rise of Christianity
Think of the acronym “B.E.A.R.” When it comes to testing the Resurrection, you have to think like a good investigator. Any explanatory theory must have sufficient scope and power—it must cover all of the facts in a compelling way.
For centuries, naturalistic theories have been raised that attempt to explain away a supernatural raising from the dead.
The Conspiracy Theory
This was the first counter-theory proposed by the authorities when they asked the guards of the tomb to lie and say the disciples had stolen the body. It was revived by the deists of the eighteenth century.
It accounts for B and E. (Note: The fact that the guards were asked to lie about how the tomb became empty implies that it actually was empty.)
It accounts for A only if the disciples lied about having seen Jesus. If they continued their ruse, R is covered as well.
While the Conspiracy Theory barely passes muster in its scope, it fails in its power.
Not only would the disciples have had to lie to account for A, but James, Paul, and the 500 witnesses Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15 would have had to lie as well.
Finally, the unlikelihood of all of the remaining the disciples dying for an elaborate lie raises questions. Furthermore, the lie itself must be considered.
N.T. Wright writes, “They were not refusing to come to terms with the fact that they had been wrong all along. On the contrary, they were indeed coming to terms with, and reordering their lives around, dramatic and irrefutable evidence that they had been wrong.
That’s why they ran in fear.
Whatever the disciples may have hoped would happen in terms of the Messiah they envisioned—one who would conquer the current order by military might—is not what they described after that first Easter.
The Swoon Theory
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Friedrich Schleiermacher and other critics claimed that Jesus was only nearly dead when he was taken down from the cross and entombed.
The theory succeeds in its scope, accounting to some degree for B, E, A, and R, but it fails to do so with power.
The very idea that days after the crucifixion, a near-dead Jesus could remove the massive stone covering the tomb entrance is just not believable. If the tomb was in fact guarded, that casts further doubt.
In such a weakened and battered condition, it is unlikely that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances would have recorded such a picture of glorified health. It’s even less likely that Peter and the others would have found Jesus’ pitiful figure on their doorstep and later proclaimed before their own brutal deaths, “He is the risen Lord!”
The Hallucination Hypothesis
As an attempt to explain Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, this theory claims the disciples simply hallucinated having seen the risen Christ. Because it only accounts for A, it must be paired with another theory in order to get off the ground in the scope category.
Furthermore, it fails to be compelling. Hallucinations are, by definition, the product of a single mind. It would be impossible for even two of the disciples to share the same hallucination, much less all of them, plus James, Paul, and the 500.
And even if widespread hallucinations were possible, the production of the body—any body—would have dispelled the myth or, at the very least, caused enough damage so that Christianity’s spread may have halted. But there is no record of such an attempt, and the new faith spread like wildfire.
Working with the “BEAR” minimum—a handful of details considered accurate even by critics of Christianity—the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the most sufficient and compelling explanation of what happened in history.
This article was originally published by the Resurgence and it has been republished here without the alteration of any content.