In our last entry, Dr. Cabal gave us a sampling of the massive amount of historical evidence for the Resurrection. As he mentioned at the end of that entry, however, skeptics have their own ways of interpreting this evidence. In this entry, we will consider some of the rival theories to the Resurrection. In the end, we will see that the theory that Jesus rose from the dead offers the best explanation of the available evidence.
Three Rival Theories
While a massive number of theories have arisen to explain the Resurrection over the years, we will limit ourselves to a consideration of three of the most popular theories:
- Conspiracy Theory: After Jesus’ death, the disciples stole his body and invented the story that he rose from the dead.
- Apparent Death Theory: Jesus only appeared to die on the cross. After three days, he recovered enough to leave the tomb and return to the disciples.
- Hallucination Theory: The disciples had a shared hallucination in which Jesus appeared to them.
Explaining the Evidence
In Dr. Cabal’s entry, we learned of four historical facts any theory of the Resurrection should explain: (i) Jesus died on the cross, (ii) Jesus’ tomb was found empty, (iii) the disciples experience postmortem appearances of Jesus, and (iv) the disciples sincerely believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Now let’s consider how each of the three theories mentioned above fares as an explanation of these facts.
- Conspiracy Theory: Advocates of the Conspiracy Theory accept that Jesus died on the Cross. Additionally, they explain the empty tomb—the disciples stole the body—and the postmortem experiences—the disciples made these up. As such, this theory gives some explanation for three of our four historical facts. But what about the disciple’s belief? Here, the theory begins to fall apart. What did the disciples have to gain from propagating the lie that Jesus rose from the dead? According to the historical record, the disciple’s proclamation of Jesus as the risen savior resulted in social ostracization, imprisonment, torture, and even death. Only a madman would continue to propagate a lie under these conditions.
- Apparent Death Theory: If Jesus only appeared to die on the cross and returned to the disciples, that certainly explains why the tomb was empty and why the disciples saw him. What this theory fails to account for, however, is the consensus of scholars that Jesus could not have survived the affair on the cross. Additionally, the theory fails to explain why the disciples would have believed a bloody, beaten, and nearly dead Jesus had risen from the dead as a glorified messiah.
- Hallucination Theory: By far, this theory explains the least of any under consideration. First, as many scholars have noted, if the disciples had a mass hallucination of Jesus, they would have naturally concluded that Jesus was appearing to them as a spirit, not as a resurrected messiah. Second, if the disciples merely had a hallucination and Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, why didn’t the Jewish or Roman government simply produce the body when they began to propagate the message of his resurrection?
The Resurrection Theory
So far, we have seen that none of the theories considered above offers a full account of the historical evidence regarding Jesus’ resurrection. But what about the theory that Jesus rose from the dead? If Jesus rose bodily from the dead, we have an explanation for Jesus’ death, the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances to the disciples, and the fervency of the disciples’ belief in Jesus as the resurrected messiah. As such, we can say with a high degree of confidence that the Resurrection Theory offers the best explanation of the historical facts regarding Jesus’ death.