Could there be an event such that if it could be known to have happened, the existence of God would be concluded necessarily from knowledge of that event? The New Testament argues for just such an event.
If there is one scientific fact that can be vouched for by the entire collection of human experience, it is the finality and inevitability of death. Everyone dies. The dead stay dead.
There seems to be no medical exception. This is not a modern fact discovered by updated medical techniques. This is an undisputed fact derived from the sum of all human history. Thus, if this apparent fact were to be upended, if suppose a single human being were to die and then be alive again thereafter, it would be an event easily explained by the God of classical theism, but also an event impossible to explain by godless naturalism. It is no accident that Christianity has asserted the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the definitive proof and catalyst for its faith.
But can it be proven?
N.T. Wright has written the most comprehensive examination of the Resurrection of Jesus in recent years, perhaps ever.1 His argument can be summarized as follows:
- The Jewish worldview at the time of Jesus contained a notion of resurrection, but not with the emphasis and intensity found in Christianity. Hellenistic culture lacked it altogether. Thus, the worldviews of the age do nothing to explain the sudden development of historical Christianity’s intense commitment to the concept of resurrection.
- Neither the empty tomb by itself nor the after-death appearances of Jesus could have explained the rise of Christian faith in the resurrection. Either event by itself could have been explained away without a dramatic shift in ideology. The empty tomb could be explained by theft, and the appearances of Jesus might have been attributed to a ghost and/or grief induced hysteria.
- The combination of both the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus after his crucifixion would provide a powerful reason for new belief in resurrection.
- The Jewish notion of resurrection, however weak, was definitely one of “bodily” resurrection. It is a term that would have only been applied to a risen body, once dead but now alive. It would not allow for a spiritual sense of resurrection.
- No other explanation offered satisfies the historical fact of Christianity’s shift toward dramatic faith in the resurrection.
- This lends probability to both the fact that the tomb was empty and that the disciples saw Jesus after his death.
- No other explanation satisfies these two facts other than an actual, historic, bodily Resurrection.
As always, this type of argument can be assaulted by various types of skepticism, but what is accomplished here is in establishing that the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth passes at least the same standards for evidence required for any other historic event, such as Caesar crossing the Rubicon. The only reason to reject the historicity of the Resurrection is an initial presumption of incredulity, a presupposition that such an event simply could not happen. Hardly an open-minded posture.