The resurrection of Christ is one of the most debated topics in the history and even till today in theology. Literally, it is a tug of war between the atheists and Christian apologists to back their arguments regarding the ‘death victory’ of Jesus of Nazareth (4 BC – 30 AD). To be frank, a dead body cannot regain to ‘life’ after three days and we don’t have any recorded evidences for these mysterious feats. Historically, the resurrection of Christ became the foundation stone for the Christian community which has grown up from 12 people to 2 billion people today. But, how far the resurrection claim was true? Was it a cooked up story by Jesus’ disciples to make their leader a divinity? Or, was the incident really happened in history?
Lee Strobel, a law trained American journalist and atheist by birth, had spent much of his days in sharing his views against the Christian faith until he went into some serious debates with his wife. Strobel thought that if he could disprove resurrection of Jesus, he would probably liberate his wife from her Christian faith. He researched on the topic, historically, philosophically with a journalistic approach and finally ended up writing the book, The Case for Easter in 2004. Contrary to his initial atheistic beliefs, his book actually constructs the probable arguments to prove resurrection as a historical fact !
But, how could a dead man with a heavy blood loss regain life? Can we prove it biologically? The obvious answer is ‘no’. The resurrection in real sense is regarded as a miracle i.e an extraordinary event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws (Oxford dictionary). They can only be perceived as “rare events happening outside the boundaries of observational science”. So, finding scientific evidences to miracles is itself no meaning. However, scholars use some plausible methods to check the reliability of miraculous claims. In the case of resurrection, we have enough of those evidences.
(1) Sudden Change In Disciples
Lives of Jesus’ followers changed drastically after resurrection. Many of them were from low status occupations: fishing, daily labour etc. They were absolute cowards during their days with Jesus. In fact, they ran for their lives during crucifixion. But, after resurrection events, they became fearless and started preaching about their risen leader among the same Jewish community. They never earned a single penny in their movement, they never desired for higher status and they became stubborn enough in their faith. What could be the reason for this abnormal change and ascetic lifestyle of Jesus’ disciples?
They must have seen something !
(2) The Empty Tomb
The stories of the empty tomb were circulated very earlier right after a few months from the resurrection. Jewish people at that time knew the site of the Jesus’ tomb and could cross-check whether the tomb was empty or not. Probably they did ! If they could find Jesus’ body over there, they might have widely documented it. In fact, Jesus’ dead body could serve as a remarkable evidence for Jewish officials to crush the new spiritual movement to the ground. Till now, we never found at least a single piece of written document regarding Jesus’ bones. (Of course, for Jewish people, this wasn’t a trivial issue to neglect since Jesus was a celebrity then. He literally caused a stir in Jewish society.)
(3) Conversion Of Paul (The Apostle) And James (Brother of Jesus)
Paul (5 AD – 64 AD), a Jewish scholar and the author of 13 books in the Bible was once an opponent of this new religious cult. But, later he himself testified before Herod Agrippa I (11 BC – 44 AD) and Porcius Festus ( ?- 62 AD) that he saw Jesus through vision and the incident made him to reconsider his beliefs. Remember, he testified this before kings and Jewish people by putting all his religious ego aside. Seriously, why would he do that risking his own life?
[ Consider James, the brother of Jesus. He was skeptical about Jesus’ ministry at first. But, post resurrection, he became an important figure in the early church. How could these transformations happen unless there was a strong incident? ]
(4) Early Christian Martyrdom
We have a good number of historical evidences regarding the persecution of apostles and early Christians because of their faith. (Read https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians) They were ready to give up their lives for their belief in Christ and resurrection. All those disciples and hundreds of people really died for a lie by hiding Jesus’ body somewhere? What in the world could they gain from these dramas? For me, it seems very improbable. If the resurrection was really a cooked up story, they might easily admit it during persecution that the resurrection claims were utter fake and Jesus was a fraud man. By saying this, probably, they could have saved their lives from being martyred.
But, they did not do that. Couldn’t this suggest that they really stood up for some kind of truth?
(5) Criterion Of Embarrassment
Of course, no one would invent a story at least in the first century proclaiming ‘women’ were the first people to witness the risen Jesus. Women’s testimony was never ever accepted as a reliable account in old times Jewish society. Best explanation for the women witnessing accounts in the Gospels could be– the authors documented the resurrection incident in the way it happened. I think they would never write a fake story, that too on weak points if they really wanted to make their new spiritual movement – a grand success !
These are a few evidences apologists argue for Jesus’ resurrection. In the end, one may stick to their core beliefs regarding religious topics, but the question of resurrection still remains in academics. However, the vast majority of secular scholars* from their years of research on historical documents and evidences finally concluded that “the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection is one the indisputable facts in history – Every evidence firmly pointing to these conclusions that the disciples witnessed the empty tomb, they indeed saw Jesus after his death, in what sense we are not certain.”
[*For a detailed documentation of secular scholars’ research on resurrection, see: A Journal of Theology, Vol. 45; No. 3 (Fall, 2006), pp. 288-297]