In my last blog post, I gave several pieces of historical evidence pointing to several facts surrounding the death of Jesus. I laid out several pieces of evidence for (1) Jesus’ death by cruxifixion, (2) His Empty Tomb, (3) His Postmortem Appearances To His Disciples, (4) His Postmortem Appearance To The Church Persecutor Paul, and (5) His Postmortem Appearance To The Skeptic James. I then argued that based on these 5 facts, we are safe in concluding on an evidential basis that God raised Jesus of Nazarath from the dead, thus indirectly putting His stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did.
But is the resurrection really the best explanation? Might we not be able to explain these pieces of evidence in a naturalistic way? In this blog post, I will examine several naturalistic explanations for the above 5 facts that have been given by skeptics over the years and we will see whether or not they hold up. I should tell you though that if you have not read PART 1 of this blog post, please do so. Click on this link right here, and it will take you to part 1 of this blog post.
Seriously, go to part 1 before reading Part 2.
Seriously. Do it. Click here.
Okay, well, if you’ve already read part 1, then proceed. :-)
Now, what are the theories used by skeptics to try and explain this evidence in naturalistic terms? They are: Fraud 1 (a.k.a The Stolen Body Theory), The Wrong Tomb Theory, Fraud 2, The Swoon Theory, The Hallucination Theory, The Groupthink Theory, The Conversion Disorder Theory, The Twin Theory, The Alien Theory (yes, that sounds interesting, doesn’t it?) and The Legend Theory.
These 10 naturalistic theories are what we will now look at.
Fraud 1 (a.k.a The Stolen Body Theory)
I think a good place to start would be to look at the very first naturalistic theory offered to explain away the evidence for the resurrection. This theory is so early that even a gospel author mentioned it (see part 1 of this blog post). This theory states that in the middle of the night, the disciples came and stole Jesus’ body. After they stole His body, they hid it somewhere, and then ran around claiming “He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!” The tomb of Jesus was empty not because He rose from the dead, but because the disciples stole His body and hid it somewhere.
This is by far the WEAKEST of all the naturalistic theories. Why is that? Because it is multiply attested that all of the disciples with the exception of John went to horrible deaths for teaching that Christ rose from the dead. Tertullian, who wrote just before A.D 200, reports the martyred deaths of Peter and Paul. Clement of Rome also reports the martyred deaths of Peter and Paul. Origen writes that Peter was crucified upside down!
According to Hippolytus: "Andrew preached to the Scythians [modern day Georgia] and Thracians [modern day Bulgaria], and was crucified, suspended on an olive tree, at Patrae, a town of Achaia [Greece]; and there too he was buried" – So, Andrew was crucified!
Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword wound. Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was a missionary to Asia. He was flayed to death by a whip. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece. Thomas was speared to death.
Let me ask you, if you were just making up a story, and people were going to crucify you, flay you, or impale you with a spear, don’t you think you’d recant in order to save your own life? I know I would! And yet, none of the disciples did! They went to their deaths, HORRIBLE, SLOW, TORTUROUS deaths in many instances, and yet none of them admitted to stealing the body of Jesus and lying about the whole thing. Why on Earth would they do that? Why would they die for a known lie? It is completely irrational to assert that the disciples stole the body and lied about the resurrection in the face of the evidence of their martyrdoms. No one dies for a lie.
I can just imagine Peter, hanging on the cross with all of his blood nearly drained out from the pre-crucifixion scourging, with nails tearing through his median nerves and with a nail through his feet, slowing suffocating to death, “Jesus is dead. And soon, I will be too. It was worth it.”. In fact, Adam4d made a comic depicting the absurdity of this theory.
Now, of course, the skeptic will respond “So you’re saying martyrdom proves that Jesus rose from the dead? Well, what about martyrs of other religions. They died for their beliefs too. Think of the Jihadists on 9-11 for example. They died for their religious faith. So either Islam is true and Christianity is true, or else martyrdom proves nothing!” Here, I would agree with the skeptic. The fact that the original disciples died for their beliefs does not prove that their religious belief is true. However, this misses the point. I am not claiming that their martyrdom proves the resurrection. I’m saying that their martyrdom rules out any naturalistic theory that portrays the disciples as deliberate hoaxers.
The deaths of the disciples proves that they sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Because they sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead, they therefore couldn’t have stolen the body, hid it somewhere, and subsequently lied about the resurrection.
Moreover, there is an important point to remember here; there is something all martyrs have in common, and there is a crucial difference between the disciples of Jesus and modern day martyrs. What all martyrs have in common is that they sincerely believe their faith is true. The thing about the disciples of Jesus is that they were among the very original Christians. The proclamations of the resurrection originated with them! If Christianity were made up, then they were the ones who made it up! They were at the right place in the right time to know whether or not Jesus had risen from the dead or not.
Moreover, this doesn’t account for the conversion of the skeptics Paul and James. They didn’t convert because they went down to Jesus’ tomb and saw it empty. They converted based on what they believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus to themselves. That’s what they claimed caused them to change their minds about Christianity, and quite frankly, it’s the only explanation that makes sense of their conversions.
So, in summary;
1: The Disciples Died For Claiming Jesus rose from the dead. Liars make poor martyrs.
2: It doesn’t explain the conversion of Paul.
3: It doesn’t explain the conversion of James.
STOLEN BODY THEORY, REFUTED.
The Wrong Tomb Theory
There’s another theory that states that on that first Easter morning, the women went down to the wrong tomb and concluded based on that that Jesus had risen from the dead. The whole thing was really a simple misunderstanding! Jesus’ tomb wasn’t empty! They just went to the wrong tomb, and this tomb never had a body in it at all.
There are a quite a few problems with this view. First off, I’ve argued in another blog post that the burial story of Jesus by Joseph Of Aramathea is very likely to be a historical occurance. Number 1: It’s multiply attested in all 4 gospel sources. And number 2: It’s unlikely to be a Christian invention. The gospel authors were unlikely to make up a member of the very group who had Jesus killed and then portray him as the one to give Jesus an honorable burial while all of the disciples (except John) abandon Jesus in his final hours to cower in their homes for fear of the Jews. So by the principle of embarrassment, I conclude that the burial story is reliable. But in this case, that means that the tomb of Jesus was known to both Christian and non-Christian alike. The tomb’s location was well known. As a result, it’s very unlikely that anybody would have accidentally gone to an unused tomb, thinking it was Jesus.
Seriously. The Wrong Tomb Theory expects us to believe that everyone who would have been interested in the tomb had some kind of collective amnesia. Not only did the women go to the wrong tomb, but later John and Peter went to the wrong tomb, and then the Pharisees also went to the wrong tomb, followed by the Romans who also went to the wrong tomb and of course Joseph of Arimethia who owned the tomb and actually helped put Jesus in the tomb, went to the wrong tomb, because he was confused and did not know his own and probably only tomb in his own backyard? Of course too the Roman guard must have been guarding the wrong tomb. Unless they were guarding the right tomb and were wondering why all these people were running in and out of the wrong tomb next door. And of-course nobody noticed the Roman guard guarding the right tomb?
This is beyond implausible. But more devastating to the theory is that it doesn’t explain the beliefs of the disciples, James, or Paul that they had seen the risen Jesus. The gospels portray the disciples as not believing that Jesus rose from the dead until they actually saw the risen Jesus for themselves. This is likely based on the principle of embarrassment. In light of all the times Jesus predicted his resurrection, the disciples are depicted as doubters even in the face of an empty tomb. If I were making up a resurrection story about a leader me and my friends were followers of, I’d depict us believing He rose before even coming across the tomb, much less seeing him myself.
And of course, we’ve established in the previous blog post that the church persecutor Paul and the skeptic James converted based on what they believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus to them. In the absence of an appearance, Paul and James likely would have concluded that the disciples merely went to the wrong tomb or something. They weren’t convinced in the face of an empty tomb. They were convinced because they believed Jesus appeared to them.
WRONG TOMB THEORY, REFUTED.
This theory says that the reason Jesus’ tomb was empty was because somebody other than the disciples stole the body. The disciples saw the tomb empty, and believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
The problem with this theory is, again, that the disciples, James, and Paul did not come to believe that Jesus rose from the dead merely by observing His tomb empty. Rather, they came to believe the resurrection based on the postmortem appearances of Jesus. This theory cannot account for their belief that they had seen Jesus. Therefore, this theory doesn’t have the adequate explanatory scope. It only explains the empty tomb. Nothing else.
Moreover, who would have a motivation to steal Jesus’ body anyway? We’ve already seen that the disciples wouldn’t have stolen the body and lied about the resurrection. Liars make poor martyrs. The Jewish Leadership wouldn’t have stolen the body. They wanted Jesus dead, and they were most likely aware that removing the body would create the appearance of resurrection, which is what they feared (hence the guards being placed in front of the tomb). The Romans didn’t appear to take Jesus’ body out of the tomb either. So, who is supposed to be the culprit here?
Moreover, usually when people break into graves, they steal valuable objects, not people. Grave robbers break in to steal things that may have been buried with the deceased, but they have no interest in taking the corpse.
FRAUD 2, REFUTED
The Swoon Theory
This theory states that Jesus didn’t really die, but that He merely fainted on the cross, and then later the cool damp air of the tomb sort of roused Him around into conciousness, so then he appeared to His disciples. The tomb was empty, and there were postmortem appearances, not because He rose from the dead, but because He never died in the first place!
Unfortunately for the naturalist, this theory is plagued with problems too.
First off, given the nature of pre-crucifixion scourging, and of cruficixion itself, it is extremely unlikely that a crucifixion victim could walk away from it alive.
It all starts on the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemene. If you recall Jesus went there to pray the night before he was crucified. He was in great anguish anticipating the events and the pain that was to come.
The gospels say:
"And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." - Luke 22:44
Now right away some of us might be predisposed to assume that's just creative language. But not if you are a doctor and know about Hematidrosis. It's an affliction associated with high psychological stress. You see what happens is that severe anxiety causes the release of internal chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands, and as a result they bleed into the glands, and when you sweat, the sweat comes out tinged with blood. It's not like you would dripping with blood all over, but you would indeed literally sweat blood. It also has the unfortunate side effect of making the skin extremely fragile so that the skin becomes very sensitive and tender, at times even painful to the touch. Jesus was in great mental anguish and at that moment he suffered from Hematidrosis.
This is even more heartbreaking in that the next day Jesus was to experience 39 lashes with his skin already in this tender ready to bleed state. History tells us that the Roman 39 lashes were from a whip of braided leather thongs, with metal balls, broken pieces of sheep bone, broken glass, and basically anything sharp that would cut a person. These sharp pieces of sheep bone, metal, and broken glass were woven into the braded leather thongs. When the whip would strike the flesh, these would cause deep bruises and the bone would cut the flesh severely. You can easily imagine how a person’s back would look after being cut in 40 different places with multiple blades.
According to Dr. Alexander Methrell, if the soldier doing the whipping was in an extra foul mood, the cuts and force of the beating could shred the back so much that the spine of the victim was sometimes exposed. The whipping would have gone all the way down the shoulders to the back, and the back of the legs. It was just terrible. One physician who has studied Roman beatings said: “As the flogging continued the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.”
Eusebius, a 3rd century historian says: "The sufferer's veins were laid bare and the very muscles sinews and bowels of the victim were open to exposure."
The pre-crucifixion scourging was so horrific that the white of the spine was sometimes exposed (according to the Journal Of American Medical Journal), and that the condemned victim’s veins, muscles, sinews, and bowels would become visible from the outside! This is the type of horrific beating that Jesus endured.
The result of such a hellish beating would mean that Jesus means would very likely go into Hypovolemic shock. Hypovolemic shock is what happens when you lose large amounts of blood. This does 4 things. First the heart races to try to pump blood that isn't there, second, the blood pressure drops causing fainting or collapsing, third the kidney stops producing urine to try and maintain what liquid is left in the body and fourth the person becomes extremely thirsty as the body craves fluids to replace the lost blood volume.
We see evidence of this in the gospels. At one point, Jesus stumbles and Simon of Cyrene is forced to help Him carry His cross. Later, when Jesus was on the cross, He said “I thirst”, and then a Roman soldier dips a sponge in vinegar and sticks it up to Jesus’ mouth for him to drink. Jesus was in critical condition even before He was crucified!
Jesus then carried His cross to the site of crucifixion, and the Roman nailed Him to it. They nailed Him likely through the wrist. Nailing through the palms would do no good, since the weight of His body would cause Him to fall off the cross! Nailing through through the wrist did one other thing. This would cause excruciating firey bolts of pain to surge throughout the body. The pain was so unbearable that they created a brand new word for this pain. The word is excruciating. It means "out of the cross."
Then they'd raise the cross and it would have been dropped into its stand. Now, how does crucifixion kill its victims? Scientific experiments have shown that crucifixion victims die from suffication. Once Jesus was hanging vertically the weight of his body and the position of the arms put great stress on the diaphragm and would put his chest in an inhaled position. So in order to exhale, Jesus would have had to push up on his feet and take a breath. But each time he did this he'd be pushing on the nail in his feet tearing the muscle until it locked against the tarsal bones in his feet. Finally with the pressure on his chest eased he'd be able to exhale. He would push up to exhale, then come back down to inhale. Then go up to exhale, then come back down to inhale. Over, and over, and over. But eventually, exhaustion would take over and the victim could no longer push himself up to breathe. He would just sag there and die of asphyxiation.
In fact, when the Romans wanted to speed up death, they’d break their legs with a massive club. Then they wouldn’t be able to push up to breathe, and death would come quickly. However, they didn’t do this to Jesus because they saw that He was already dead. But just to make sure, they drove a spear through him. It punctured both his heart and his lung. The gospel of John tells us that when he did that, blood and water gushed out. Not knowing anything else but this fact, a doctor can tell you immediately that not only was the victim dead, but he can tell you what the victim died of. "Heart failure, due to shock and constriction of the heart detected by the presence of fluid in the pericardium."
The heart has stopped which results in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart, called pericardial effusion; as well as the collection of fluid around the lungs, which is called pleural effusion. This can't happen if the heart is still beating. So if you see the pericardial effusion you know the person is dead. And remember John the Apostle couldn't have easily known this fact. He was a fisherman not a doctor, all he knew is that when the Roman soldier pierced Jesus' heart, blood and something clear like water flowed out.
In conclusion, Jesus was dead. It was impossible for Jesus to survive this whole ordeal. Jesus was in hypovolemic shock from the pre-crucifixion surging alone! So Jesus, if nothing else, would have bled to death eventually. But if that didn’t get him, He would have eventually suffocated. But if neither of those two things got him, the spear jabbed into Him definitely finished him off.
By the way, if you want to watch a great documentary on this subject, I suggest “Crucifixion”. It was produced by The History Channel. The information about the program is here --> http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1210802/ I don’t know how anyone can walk away after seeing this documentary by The History Channel and still be convinced that The Swoon Theory is a viable theory.
SWOON THEORY, REFUTED.
The Hallucination Theory
Maybe the reason the disciples believed they saw Jesus was because they all hallucinated. That could be, right? Well, no. I don’t think so. Ask any psychologist you come across and they’ll tell you that hallucinations are occurrences that happen in the minds of individuals. They’re like dreams in this way. They don’t spread like the common cold. Imagine it’s the middle of the night, your wife wakes you up and says “Honey, you’ve got to come join me in this great dream I’m having. Let’s both go back to sleep. We’ll have the same dream. We’ll save money on hotel rooms, gas, airfare. It’ll be great!” Don’t you wish we could do that? But we can’t do that. Why? Because dreams are individual occurrences. Hallucinations are the same way.
Now, the extremely early creed that I told you about in part 1 of this blog post tells us that Jesus appeared to several groups of people. He appeared to all of the original disciples, then to James, then 500 individuals at the same time, and finally to Paul. Do you honestly expect me to believe that they ALL hallucinated? They ALL had the exact same hallucination!? Impossible! It’s impossible for 500 individuals to have the same hallucination at exactly the same time. This would be just as likely as the entire city of New York having the same dream on the same night! But not only did Jesus appear to 500 people at the same time, he appeared to multiple groups. You expect me to believe that multiple groups all had the same hallucination?
In their book “The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus”, Gary Habermas and Mike Licona tell of Navy Seals who were enduring through Hell week. At one point, the seals reported to start having hallucinations one night while they were paddling in a raft at night. They all hallucinated at the same time, BUT they did not have the same hallucination. They had different hallucinations. One of them said he saw an octopus come out of the water and wave at him. Another said he saw a train coming towards them on the water. Another said he saw a wall that they would crash into if they persisted in paddling. When the octopus, the train, and the wall were pointed out to the rest of the group, no one saw any of the things except the one who pointed the thing out. They were all hallucinating, but they were having different hallucinations.
Moreover, even if the impossible did occur, and the minds of all these different groups of people produced hallucinations of Jesus, that would still leave the empty tomb unaccounted for. What happened to Jesus’ body? Why is it gone?
HALLUCINATION THEORY, REFUTED.
Group Think Theory
1: Jesus died. Jews weren’t expecting a dying messiah, but a messiah who would be a conquering warrior king, one who would throw off the yoke of Rome.
2: According to the Old Testament (which Jews call the “Tanakh”), anyone hung on a tree was under God’s curse. This is mentioned in Deuteronomy 21:23. Since Roman crosses were made out of wood, they were technically trees, so people would often times speak of the crucified as “being hung on a tree”. And since this was in the minds of Jews, the way in which Jesus died would have only served to convince the disciples that Caiaphas and the others were right in condemning Jesus as a blasphemer and a heretic.
3: Given what the Jews believed about the bodily resurrection, no one would have been anticipating Jesus’ return. Jews believed that all people would rise from the dead at the end of the world, but they never expected any isolated person to get out of their grave right smack dab in the middle of human history.
4: Also, they were hiding from the Jewish leaders because they were afraid they were going to come after them next. They were like “Oh no! Jesus died! He wasn’t who He said He was! Now we’re toast!” Just based on these things alone, we can rule out the possibility that this was the result of group think….but if that wasn’t enough, consider the fact that when Mary Magdalene came to them and told them that Jesus had risen from the dead and that He spoke to her, they didn’t believe her at first! They thought that she was lying, or she was just simply hysterical or something! If they had really been in anticipation of His return from the dead, they would have been like “Yes! We knew it! We knew He would rise from the dead!” Again, I’m applying the principle of embarrassment here.
5: And if that weren’t enough, consider that some of the people who experienced a sighting of Jesus were skeptics…such as James the half brother of Jesus. We know based on the historical evidence cited earlier in this chapter that James did not believe in Jesus during his pre-crucifixion ministry. Saul Of Tarsus was killing Christians because he considered them to be the worst of heretics! He experienced a sighting of Jesus risen from the dead, and he became The Apostle Paul. These former skeptics were not in any way living in anticipation of Jesus’ return.
As you can see, the disciples were not in expectation that Jesus would rise from the dead. In fact, they had every predisposition to the contrary. And yet, they all believed they saw Jesus alive after His death! Luke Johnson, who is a very prominent New Testament scholar at Emory University, has said, “Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was.”
GROUP THINK THEORY, REFUTED
Conversion Disorder Theory
This theory is one I discovered rather recently. This one argues that Paul’s conversion from skepticism was a result of conversion disorder. Conversion Disorder is a neurological malfunction that occurs whenever a major change comes into someone’s life. For example, suppose it’s the 1960s, and a guy named Rick has signed up for the military and is about to go fight the war in Vietnam. On the day of his deployment, he experiences leg cramps so severe, that he cannot walk. In this case, Rick is not faking, but is experiencing a psychological disorder known as conversion disorder. Other symptoms include blindness, deafness, loss of balance, and paralysis. All of these are temporary of course, as conversion disorder does not last forever. Could Paul have experienced something like this? He experienced temporary blindness at the moment he saw a bright light and thought he saw Jesus. Could Paul have experienced a neurological malfunction?
This theory is plagued with problems. Not the least of which is that it only addresses Paul’s conversion and nothing else. It doesn’t explain the empty tomb, the appearance to the disciples, the appearance to James, or the appearance to the 500. The resurrection hypothesis explains ALL of these.
But moreover, Paul is unlikely to have experienced conversion disorder anyway. A medical article I read a while back said that women are more likely to have conversion disorder than men by as much as a 5-1 ratio. Adolescents, military combatants, and those with a low IQ are also more likely to experience the disorder. Paul doesn’t fall into any of these categories. This doesn’t mean he couldn’t have experienced the disorder. I mean, men experience depression even though the experience is more common in women. But when combined with the things I’m about to talk about, it makes it all the more unlikely.
For not only must we employ conversion disorder to explain Paul’s experience, but we must also say that Paul experienced an auditory hallucination, as well as a Messiah Complex. Why? Because Paul not only saw a bright light and went blind, but he also heard a voice that told Him to spread the gospel message. Now, it is possible to find people who have experienced conversion disorder, people who have had auditory hallucinations, as well as people who have a messiah complex, but it’s extremely rare to find people who have simultaneously experienced all 3.
CONVERSION DISORDER THEORY, REFUTED.
The Twin Theory
For example, did no one have the brains to figure out that this person was not Jesus? The twin would not have known the disciples very well. As a result of that, he would not have been able to copy Jesus’ mannerisms and personality. The disciples would very likely have gotten suspicious. “Jesus, you okay? You’re not acting like yourself”. Moreover, the twin would not have been able to walk through walls, nor could the twin have been able to ascend into Heaven.
TWIN THEORY, REFUTED
The Alien Theory
And now for the alien theory. When I first heard of this theory, I couldn’t help but laugh at its absurdity. I mean, the lengths people will go to in order to avoid declaring Jesus Christ is Lord! Listen to this, The Alien Theory suggests that Jesus was really an alien from outer space and that Jesus was able to do things that were natural for him but that seemed SUPER natural for everyone else around him.
There are a number of things wrong with this theory.
1: We have absolutely no evidence that aliens even exist. Astronomers have not yet located a planet that can sustain life other than our own. And even if we did discover life forms on other planets, it’s still unlikely that they would have the exact same abilities that Jesus has in The Bible.
2: What alien would spend 3 years just to pull a prank on some unsuspecting Earthlings? 3 years? This is like the longest episode of Punk’d ever! Do you honestly expect me to believe that this Jesus Alien would waste 3 years of his life fooling these Earthlings into thinking that He was their promised Messiah that their holy book promised would come? Why not just put some whoopee cushions under peoples’ seats, or put some fake snakes in peoples’ cabinets? Why such a long lasting prank? I know of no prankster that is THAT dedicated to his hoaxes.
3: Forget the fact that there’s absolutely no evidence to support this theory at all, what I’m wondering is why this alien would go through all the trouble in convincing a bunch of Earthlings that he was the messiah of their Jewish religion and then end up being tortured horrible for such a scam! Either Jesus is the Intelligent Designer or He’s one stupid alien! Lol I mean seriously! He had many chances to escape like Caiaphas asked “Are you messiah? Son of the living God?” By then he should have known he was in trouble. Again, liars make bad martyrs…even if that liar is an alien.
ALIEN THEORY, REFUTED
I won’t address this one since this blog post has already become incredibly lengthy. Besides, the information I included in part 1 refutes this theory. The 1 Corinthians 15 creed dates back so early after the death of Jesus that it’s idle to talk of legends.
Since no naturalistic theory can account for the 5 minimal facts, I think we should declare “He is risen!” After all, the resurrection hypothesis, as pointed out in part 1, has the explanatory power, explanatory scope, and plausibility to account for these 5 facts. But as we’ve just seen, the naturalistic theories can’t. So unless the skeptic can produce an explanation that succeeds in accounting for all 5 facts (in addition to it not being an ad-hoc explanation), then maybe I’ll consider not being a Christian. Until then, I declare “He is risen!”