Even most skeptics agree that early Christians came to believe that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead very soon after his crucifixion. The million dollar question is: Why did early Christians come to believe this? For almost two thousand years, Christians have asserted that the most reasonable explanation, based on the evidence, is that it actually happened: a dead man walked out of his grave. A large percentage of Christians today still believe that the resurrection of Jesus is historical reality.
But what is the evidence that makes Christians so sure that this event really did happen? As I see it, this is the evidence:
—The four Gospels are perceived (by Christians) to be eyewitness testimony.
—Christians believe that there are no major discrepancies in the six resurrection stories found in the New Testament.
—The Apostle Paul claims to have seen the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus Road. A Christian-hating/persecuting Jewish Pharisee would not have converted unless he really had seen a resurrected dead man.
—The disciples would not have died for a belief that they knew was a lie.
—We have written record of the statements of a few of the disciples of the original Eleven, such as Polycarp and Papias, who emphasized their belief in a resurrected Jesus.
—The rapid growth of Christianity, under intense persecution and the threat of death, is testimony to the truthfulness of the Christian story.
—A significant percentage of New Testament scholars believe that the empty tomb is historical fact. Since the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers, there is no other plausible explanation for the empty tomb other than a miraculous resurrection really had occurred.
—Paul says in I Corinthians chapter 15, that someone had given him information that over 500 people saw Jesus at once.
Do you believe that the above is good evidence, even if all the assumptions in the above statements are true (and there are a lot of assumptions in the above statements)? I don’t. And here is why I do not believe that the above evidence is anywhere near sufficient to believe that this supernatural event really did occur:
For any other bizarre event in our world, we do not immediately jump to the conclusion that it had a supernatural cause. In fact, for most of us who live in educated, western societies, a supernatural cause of any daily event (outside of religious experience) is the last explanation we would consider. For instance, imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and find your car keys missing. What is the likelihood that your first assumption as to the cause of your missing keys is that an invisible being has stolen them? Not likely, right? Even the most unlikely natural cause is considered as a possible cause before you would finally consider that your keys had been stolen by a ghost of goblin, wouldn’t you? Just to illustrate my point: In our experience as human beings, it is more likely that Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, broke into your house last night and stole your keys than that an invisible ghost did it.
So why is it, dear Christians, that when presented with the above (weak) evidence for the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus, do you so readily accept a supernatural cause—the reanimation of dead human tissue by an ancient Hebrew god—before considering every other natural possibility??
Below is a list of all the possible reasons for why early Christians came to believe in a Resurrection. All of them, every last one of them, is much, much more likely to be the cause of this early Christian belief than the last choice in the list: that it really did happen.
An experience of seeing someone or something in a dream or trance, or as a supernatural apparition.
A traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.
The world or the state of things as they actually exist.