Came across a doc that really made me question whether the resurrection really happened. Happy to hear any opinions.
This is a very important question; after all, as Paul tells us, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17). If the resurrection did not happen, then none of us should be Christians; rather, we should follow some other religion, or perhaps no religion at all. Fortunately, as Anthony Flew (a prominent philosopher and lifelong opponent of Christianity) put it:
The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.
I think that Flew was right; in this answer, I will try to explain why.
There are three primary reasons to believe in the resurrection of Jesus: firstly, it makes sense theologically; secondly, the tomb of Jesus was found empty; and thirdly, the disciples of Jesus saw him alive after his crucifixion. Let's evaluate each of these reasons in turn, and see what we can conclude. I warn the reader that this post is quite long; however, I think it is more important to be thorough than to be concise.
The first thing to consider is whether God (assuming that there is a God) would be likely to become incarnate. There seem to be at least some good reasons for thinking that he would: for one thing, it provides a way for him to show solidarity with his creatures, by sharing in the sufferings that they endure (for more on this topic, see Adams 2003). For another thing, the incarnation allows God to go beyond merely telling us how to live, by actually showing us how to live. Human beings often learn best when given an example, and by becoming incarnate, God can provide us with a perfect example of how we ought to conduct ourselves ethically.
A final reason why God might become incarnate is that it would give him a way to help us atone for our sins. All of us have wronged God in various ways, and there seems to be no way in which we, acting on our own, could make suitable restitution for such wrongdoing. Restitution is an important part of forgiveness; if I steal your money, it isn't enough for me to simply say I'm sorry. Rather, I should also try to compensate you in some way. But how could we possibly compensate God for the wrongs we do to him? The incarnation provides a possible solution: by becoming incarnate, God can live a perfect life in our stead, a life with which we can associate ourselves. As Paul teaches, when we are baptized, we are baptized into the death of Jesus (Romans 6:3); we, in a sense, offer his life and death as perfect substitutes for our own. For more on this particular topic, I recommend Swinburne (2003, 2010).
We can see, then, that there are a few reasons for supposing that God would want to become incarnate: 1) to show solidarity with our suffering, 2) to give us an example of an ethically perfect life, and 3) to help us to atone for our sins. Let us now proceed to an examination of the historical evidence for the resurrection.
The Empty Tomb
While there is controversy among NT scholars on this matter, the most commonly-held view is that the empty tomb story "probably goes back to the beginning and is likely historical" (Allison 2021, p. 202). Why is this the case? There are a number of reasons.
For one thing, the empty tomb has great explanatory power. As NT scholar James D.G. Dunn put it, "at the historical level it is very hard to explain how the belief in Jesus’ resurrection arose unless his tomb was empty" (1985, p. 76). Skeptics often claim that the resurrection belief arose as a result of hallucinations on the part of the disciples. However, this is very unlikely; as Dale Allison notes, "If there was no reason to believe that [Jesus’] solid body had returned to life, no one would have thought him, against expectation, resurrected from the dead. Certainly visions of or perceived encounters with a postmortem Jesus would not, by themselves, have supplied such reason" (2005, pp. 324-325). Similarly, N.T. Wright argues that "Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus, by themselves, would have been classified as visions or hallucinations, which were well enough known in the ancient world" (2003, p. 686).
Another point is that the accounts of Jesus' empty tomb simply don't look like we would expect them to if the Christian community had simply made the story up. As the NT scholar Geza Vermes (himself a secular Jew) wrote:
The identity and number of the witnesses differ in the various Gospels, as does also their testimony. [...] If the empty tomb story had been manufactured by the primitive Church to demonstrate the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus, one would have expected a uniform and foolproof account attributed to patently reliable witnesses. (2008, p. 140)
In addition, the gospels attribute the discover of Jesus' empty tomb to a group of women. This is highly unusual; first-century Palestinian culture was rigidly misogynistic, to the point where Flavius Josephus could write (referring to Jewish courts) "From women let no evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex" (Ant. 4.219). Dale Allison notes that "Josephus attributes this ruling (without justification) to Moses, and he implies that it is the law of the land" (2021, p. 157). Early Christian texts also reflect a generally patronizing view of women; as Allison writes:
We meet the same prejudice in Gos. Mary 9:4, where, after Mary Magdalene divulges what the risen Jesus has taught her, Peter responds: “Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us?” Then there is Ep. Apost. 10, where the male apostles disbelieve Martha (Mary) when she, at Jesus’ command, declares that he has risen. They ask, “What do you want with us, O woman? Can one who is dead and buried be alive?” After she reports back, Jesus sends another female. She is greeted by the same dismissive response. (Ibid, p. 155)
Similar sentiments abounded in pagan society, to the point where the presence of women in the gospels was often used as an argument against Christianity. According to New Testament scholar N.T. Wright:
The debate between Origen and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; were the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction? If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it. (2003, p. 608)
Indeed, the later gospels (i.e. Luke and John) display an obvious desire to have male witnesses visiting the tomb, in order to confirm what the women have claimed. As the German scholar Ulrich Wilkens noted:
Later tradition shows a clear tendency to have the disciples at least confirm the women’s discovery afterwards (Luke 24:12, 24; John 20:2f.), and later tradition also has the disciples present on Easter Day in Jerusalem (Luke and John as compared with Matthew and John 21). Accordingly, it must be accepted that the core of the narrative is indeed that the women found Jesus’s tomb empty in the early morning of the first day of the week. (1978, pp. 116-117)
It is also worth noting that the later gospels all make various changes to Mark's original account. Matthew places guards at the tomb (27:62-66), and has Jesus rise before the stone has been moved (28:2-6), thus precluding the idea that thieves stole the body. Luke expands the number of women at the tomb (24:10), has the men double-check their testimony (24:24), and has the burial clothes still in the tomb (24:12), again precluding the idea that Jesus' body was taken by graverobbers (who would not have bothered to unwrap his corpse before spiriting it away). John has a solider piece Jesus' side (19:34-35), thus ensuring that he was really dead. He also, like Luke, has men check the tomb (20:3-10), finding neatly rolled burial clothes inside (20:6-7).
Dale Allison notes that these apologetic expansions "reflect the sense that a single sentence from an angel (Mk 16:6-7) was not enough, that the relatively plain story in Mk 16:1-8 was inadequate, that it left too many disagreeable possibilities unaddressed" (2021, p. 153). Similarly, NT scholar Daniel Smith notes that the "narrative adjustments to the empty tomb story all show that the story itself was something of a problem, something that needed further explanation and elaboration and defense" (2010, p. 181). All of this adds further evidence that the empty tomb was not simply made up out of whole cloth: why would a Christian author invent a story so liable to be criticized by outsiders, one which required so much defensive alteration by later writers? These fact provide evidence that "some history lies in the background, that the narrative was not a purely imaginative construction but was rather rooted in memory of an initially confusing circumstance" (Allison 2021, p. 152).
It is interesting to note that while the document you presented uses the differences in the gospels as reason to doubt the resurrection, actual historians treat them as reason to endorse the claim that Jesus' tomb was empty!
All-in-all, I think we can agree with the late classicist Michael Grant (himself an agnostic), who wrote that historians "cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb," stating "the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was empty" (1999, p. 176). With that said, let's move on to an examination of the appearances of Jesus.
The Appearances of Jesus
Virtually all NT scholars agree that the disciples did have various experiences, which they interpreted as sightings of the risen Jesus. Historian E.P. Sanders summarizes the consensus quite well, when we writes:
That Jesus' followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. [...] I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. (1993, pp. 279-280)
Similarly, Gerd Ludemann (an agnostic) writes that “It may be considered historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after the death of Jesus, in which Jesus appeared to them as the resurrected Christ" (1995, p. 80).Of course, the common skeptical reply is to claim that the disciples were hallucinating, caught up in a frenzy of grief and religious fervor. But this explanation can only get us so far; to quote Dale Allison, “One person can hallucinate, but twelve at the same time? And dozens over an extended period of time? These are legitimate questions, and waving the magical wand of ‘mass hysteria’ will not make them vanish" (2005, p. 269).
It is also worth noting that not all those who saw the risen Jesus had been his disciples before the crucifixion; most notably, the apostle Paul was a self-admitted persecutor of Christians before he was converted by his vision on the Damascus road. This point was even acknowledged by Anthony Flew, a well-known philosopher and lifelong opponent of Christianity. To quote:
The evidence of Paul is certainly important, and strong, precisely because he was a convert. He was not a prior believer, he was not an apostle… [rather,] he had been an active opponent. I think this has to be accepted as one of the most powerful bits of evidence that there is, precisely because he was converted by his vision. (2009)
With all this in mind, it is extremely difficult to dismiss the appearances of Jesus as mere hallucinations. Jesus was seen by both individuals and groups, by his earthly friends and a hostile outsider; it would be hard to find anything even remotely like this in the psychological casebooks.
What can we conclude from all of this? At the minimum, we can agree with Maurice Casey (an acclaimed NT scholar and prominent agnostic), who wrote that "the historical evidence is in no way inconsistent with the belief of the first disciples, and of many modern Christians, that God raised Jesus from the dead, and granted visions of the risen Jesus to some of the first disciples, and to St Paul on the Damascus Road" (2010, p. 498). In fact, it seems we can go further; as Dale Allison puts it:
Early Christianity offers us a missing body plus visions to several individuals plus collective apparitions plus the sense of a dead man’s presence plus the conversion vision of at least one hostile outsider [i.e. the apostle Paul]. Taken as a whole, this is, on any account, a remarkable, even extraordinary confluence of events and claims. If there is a good, substantial parallel to the entire series, I have yet to run across it. (2021, p. 346)
In short, if Christianity is not true, then it is the product of the most outlandish series of coincidences that the world has ever seen. The historical data renders all of the essential Christian claims, if not provable, then at the very least as live explanatory options within the evidential framework.
Can we go even further? After assessing the historical data, Richard Swinburne (a professor of philosophy at Oxford University) used Bayes’ theorem to calculate the probability of Jesus’ resurrection (given a 50% chance that theism is true), with the result being that “the total evidence gives a probability of [97%] that Jesus was God Incarnate who rose from the dead" (2013, p. 251). Elsewhere, philosopher Stephen T. Davis (of Claremont McKenna College) estimates a probability of “well over [50%]” (2020, p. 21) that the resurrection occurred.
Of course, these numbers are highly controversial, and depend upon a number of prior arguments and assumptions (for example, how likely it is that God exists at all); that being said, they do show that serious, well-informed scholars have estimated a better-than-even chance that Jesus Christ was in fact God Incarnate, and that He did, in fact, rise from the dead. If the reader believes that there is even a slight chance that God might exist, then they ought to be a Christian.
The article you have referred to uses a Jewish argument from Deuteronomy 13. We are therefore going over the same ground as answered to this question on Christianity Stack Exchange: Resurrection and Deuteronomy 13
The point is that the Old Testament prophesies that
"the Holy One" of God would be resurrected: "Nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption (bodily decay)" (Psalm 16:10);
This Holy One, the Anointed One, would be the Son of God (Psalm 2);
This Holy One would be a descendant of King David (2 Samuel 7:16); and he would sit on the throne of David forever, meaning he would have the power of an endless life;
This Chosen One would be a King setting up a Kingdom which would never be destroyed; he would come in the days of the Roman Empire (Daniel 2:44)
This Holy One or Anointed One, Messiah, would be "cut off, but not for himself", i.e. he would die for the sins of his people (Daniel 9:26);
After his death Jerusalem and its Temple would be destroyed (Daniel 9:26), and the Temple will never be rebuilt (Daniel 9:27);
The LORD promised to this Servant "It is too small a thing that you should be my Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6);
He would rise from the dead the third day (Hosea 6:2) which is figured in several passages, Genesis 22:4, Jonah 1:17, Esther 4:16, 1 Samuel 30:12.
Even if we do not believe the book of Daniel gives the day of the Messiah's resurrection to the exact day, we can at least see that Daniel's "70 sevens" (Daniel 9:24), or 490 years, after a decree to restore ownership of Jerusalem to the Jews, gives the approximate time of the Messiah's coming to the first century.
His resurrection is prophesied in Isaiah chapter 53. Here is the 1917 JPS version of the chapter:-
JPS Tanakh 1917 , Isaiah chapter 53:- 1 ‘Who would have believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he shot up right forth as a sapling, And as a root out of a dry ground; He had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, Nor beauty that we should delight in him. 3 He was despised, and forsaken of men, A man of pains, and acquainted with disease, And as one from whom men hide their face: He was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; Whereas we did esteem him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded because of our transgressions, He was crushed because of our iniquities: The chastisement of our welfare was upon him, And with his stripes we were healed. 6 All we like sheep did go astray, We turned every one to his own way; And the LORD hath made to light on him The iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, though he humbled himself And opened not his mouth; As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, And as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; Yea, he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away, And with his generation who did reason? For he was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due. 9 And they made his grave with the wicked, And with the rich his tomb; Although he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth.’ 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution, That he might see his seed, prolong his days, And that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand: 11 Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, Who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many, And their iniquities he did bear. 12 Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, And he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; Because he bared his soul unto death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet he bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
The translation of verses 10 and 11 in most Christian versions reads something like:-
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labour of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. (New King James Version)
Verses 10 and 11 are speaking of his resurrection.
The Jews in denying the resurrection of our Lord Jesus end up disbelieving the prophesies of their own Tanakh, the Old Testament.