Questions for non-Christians #13

Easter fell on a Sunday again this year. Funny how that always happens. But it’s a good thing that it does because otherwise Christians would want this most sacred day on our calendar to be a national holiday, and secularists would complain about banks and federal offices being closed and the supposedly unconstitutional yoking of church with state. We sure don’t need another cause for animus and division in this country.

Nevertheless, just as with Christmas…also an historically religious holiday…many secularists and non-Christians also celebrate Easter but in their own secular kind of way with family get-togethers and baskets of candy and colored eggs and such. But I wonder if they ever really ponder the reason for the season. Because the reason is rooted in history and if they reject the Christian conclusion from the evidence they need to provide a good, alternate, secular one.

So here’s question #13 for the non-Christian, and it’s the final one in my series:

How do you account for the evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus?

I imagine that most who dismiss the resurrection as mythical or legendary just stop there thinking nothing more needs to be said about it. But that would be careless and premature. Because that leaves reliable historical evidence widely-accepted by scholars, both religious and secular, unaccounted for. Unexplained. One may be content not having an explanation…there’s no law nor moral obligation that says you must. But if you openly reject the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and you value intellectual integrity, you need to account for a number of historical facts.

New Testament scholars differ on which facts are the most well-attested, listing anywhere from three to twelve as generally accepted among their peers. But I think we can boil them down to just two that cry out for explanation.

Here are the ones that seem to be the least disputed as what can reasonably be determined as factual:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government.
  2. He was buried in a tomb.
  3. The tomb was found empty shortly after his burial by a group of his women followers.
  4. Multiple people in various circumstances and places, both singly and in groups, had experiences which they believed were appearances by the risen Jesus.
  5. The Jewish Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, known also as Paul, who persecuted the early Christians, and Jesus’s younger brother James who was not a disciple, also believed they saw the resurrected Jesus and subsequently became followers.
  6. His disciples were so convinced Jesus had been raised from the dead, as he himself had predicted, that they spent their lives and were willing to go to their deaths proclaiming it to others.

If you reject the conclusion of the New Testament authors that God raised Jesus from the dead, you need to have an alternate explanation of the historical evidence. It would not be wise to try and avoid it by dismissing the New Testament as unreliable among ancient historical documents because that is an assessment few if any of those who know what they’re talking about hold. (See here and here for more information.)

So it would be unreasonable to dispute at the very least two historical facts: 1) Jesus of Nazareth was put to death around the year AD 30, and 2) within days was believed by many to be alive again. How do you explain them?

Check out these two videos from William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ministry to see what others have concluded.