To begin, I will set up four fairly uncontroversial facts regarding Jesus’ resurrection. Three are virtually unchallenged by scholars in the field, and one is conceded by a tightly‐gripping majority.
Fact 1: Jesus’ Crucifixion
Evidence favoring Jesus’ crucifixion is that it’s reported in all four Gospels. For Christians to report such a painful, humiliating death satisfies the criterion of embarrassment used by historians: If people report something that’s embarrassing for them or their cause, it’s probably because it’s true!
Ancient non‐Christian sources—Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18:3:3), Tacitus (Annals 15:44), Lucian (The Death of Peregrine, 11–13), and Mara bar Serapion—also record Jesus’ crucifixion. Reported by Christian and non‐Christian alike, no wonder scholars of virtually all strains accept the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar states, “Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be …”
Fact 2: The Empty Tomb
Although they’re not virtually unanimous, as they are with the three other facts I’m presenting, a study found that approximately 75% of scholars who address whether Jesus’ tomb was found empty after His crucifixion concede such as being historical. The scholar Géza Vermès, a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, wrote, “[W]hen every argument has been considered and weighed, the only conclusion acceptable to the historian must be that … the women … found to their consternation, not a body, but an empty tomb.” Let’s consider just three arguments favoring the empty tomb’s historicity.
First, preaching of the resurrection began in Jerusalem (referenced by Acts and corroborated by Tacitus’ The Annals, which calls Judea “the first source of the evil” known as Christianity). This is significant, considering it’s the city where Jesus’ tomb was located. If the tomb weren’t empty, surely Christianity wouldn’t have been able to start off in the very city that would have proven the resurrection wrong!
Second, there’s enemy attestation. If a child tells his suspicious parents that someone else just broke in and stole the cookies from the cookie jar, we at least know they’re not in the jar. Otherwise, the child would just point out that the cookies are still in the jar, rather than make an excuse for their absence. In the same way, since the early enemies of Christianity claimed that Jesus’ body was stolen (sourced here, here, and here)—rather than that it was still in the tomb—we at least know that no corpse was in Jesus’ tomb.
Third, if the empty tomb story were made up, so would be its details. But then we would find men, not women, as the primary witnesses to the empty tomb. During this time, the testimony of women was considered weak and could only be used in select circumstances. Josephus, for example, says that “on account of the levity and boldness of” women, their testimony should not be admitted. It’s argued in the Talmud “that any testimony which a woman is qualified to give[,] [gamblers, usurers, slaves, etc.] are also qualified to give.” Thus, the criterion of embarrassment supports the empty tomb.
Fact 3: Jesus’ Post‐Crucifixion Appearances
In the words of Germany’s leading resurrection skeptic, Gerd Lüdemann, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ” (What Really Happened to Jesus, pg. 80, quoted online here). The apostle Paul delivers in 1 Corinthians 15 what is “first of all” concerning the gospel:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
We have here appearances to individual disciples, to groups of disciples, and even to unbelievers. The Gospels and the Book of Acts both corroborate and add to this list.
Also, the appearances were convincing such that the disciples sincerely believed Jesus was risen from the dead. This is supported by the fact that they were willing to suffer and die for their belief. Many ancient sources testify to the apostle’s willingness to die for their claims (see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, pgs. 56–69).
Therefore, those proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection went from abandoning Him, denying Him, and for some simply not believing in His authority in the first place, to sincerely believing they saw Jesus risen from the dead.
Fact 4: Predisposition Against Jesus’ Resurrection
“In the first century, people didn't understand what we know today; dead men don't rise.” Actually, those in the first century knew about death just as well as we do. One might posit their “superstitious religion” as a difference. But in fact, their religious background only served as a further hindrance, not an aid, to their new belief!
In first‐century Judaism, the Messiah was viewed as the one who would overthrow the Roman government. Death, then, seemed only to disprove that one was the Christ. And the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion would prove that He was cursed!
Furthermore, the Jews' understanding of the resurrection was for it to occur universally at the end of time. Christians shared this belief, but it suddenly became centered on, of all people, the Messiah, who now was considered to be the One bringing in the resurrection for everyone else—quite a leap from believing the Messiah wouldn’t die in the first place!
Some witnesses even were hostile to Jesus, such as Paul. Jesus’ brother James didn’t believe Him to be the Christ. Later, however, he saw Jesus alive, and became a leading member of the church at Jerusalem.
Thus, the fourth and final fact is that the disciples’ prior inclination was against such a thing as Jesus rising from the dead before the future resurrection.
Interpreting the Evidence
C. Behan McCullagh lists seven criteria to decide whether an explanation of facts (the hypothesis) is justified based on the facts themselves (the observation statements). The first qualification appears redundant to me, so we’ll consider the remaining six:
Jesus’ resurrection explains why Jesus’ tomb was empty and why both follower and skeptic alike saw Him alive afterward. It also explains how their understanding of the resurrection was transformed.
If a certain explanation makes the facts we know highly likely, then it has strong explanatory power. Jesus rising from the dead not only explains the facts but also makes the facts probable; we’d expect His tomb to be empty and for people to become convinced of seeing Him to such an extent that they would die for their belief, even if such were against their bias.
To say a hypothesis is plausible is to say that it is probable based on accepted truths. A theistic worldview would make probable Jesus’ resurrection, but a worldview denying the existence of God would do just the opposite. Since neither position is assumed in this debate, we'll take the neutral path here and say the resurrection is neither plausible nor implausible.
Also, an explanation must not be ad hoc, requiring, in the words of McCullagh, many “new suppositions about the past which are not already implied to some extent by existing beliefs.” The resurrection hypothesis requires only two statements: 1) that Jesus died when He was crucified and 2) that He was alive after He was crucified; and these are implied by existing beliefs. Statement 1 is supported by the fact that, well, Jesus was crucified; let’s just say He wasn’t given a slap on the wrist. Statement 2 is supported by the fact that people of diverse backgrounds and persuasions saw Jesus alive after crucifixion both individually and in groups. Thus, the resurrection is not ad hoc.
Obviously, a theory cannot be true and contradict something else that’s true. Though people don’t rise from the dead naturally, this doesn’t disconfirm Jesus’ rising from the dead supernaturally.
Finally, to be considered true, a theory must fit the qualifications above much better than do its competing explanations. There isn’t any good competing hypothesis challenging Jesus’ resurrection:
Thus, it is only rational to conclude that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical event. I look forward to my opponent’s case.
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I'd like to thank my opponent for the opportunity to do this debate. In this debate I'm going to do something I rarely do: offer a counter-model.
- The earliest writings after Jesus death, like the gospel of Mark or the letters of Paul, make no mention that anyone who knew Jesus personally ever saw him after his death. In these narratives, it is entirely possible the people may have seen somebody, but that this person was not Jesus. There are numerous other contradictions in later accounts of Jesus-visitations, which people still experience to this day.
- Later writings do suggest that the disciples saw Jesus privately. If this is true - which is unlikely since the earlier writings didn't record this important detail - then there are two possible explanations. Either they were lying - which is what the Jewish authorities at the time in fact said, and which the disciples had a very strong incentive to do. Other writings, like the non-Biblical Gospel of Peter, have another interpretation - that the disciples themselves did not believe in a physical resurrection as the Pharisees did, but a metaphorical one, which was subsequently misinterpreted by others. Jesus' own messages don't give many hints, although there were other sects in Judea at the time - like the Sadducees - that took this view. The disciples are fundamentally unreliable witnesses, because they had every incentive to lie.
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Let’s continue this important discussion.
In Round 1, my opponent conceded Jesus’ crucifixion and empty tomb but not His post‐crucifixion appearances (other than “that some people may have claimed to see Jesus after his death”) or the predisposition against Jesus’ resurrection. We’ll first revisit the facts Con disputes, and then we’ll compare each of our theories explaining the facts.
Again, the fact of Jesus’ post‐crucifixion appearances involves more than just “that some people may have claimed to see Jesus after his death”; it entails that they sincerely believed they saw Jesus alive. Con’s refusal to acknowledge this puts him on the fringe, pitting himself against virtually all scholars on the topic. As already discussed, Gerd Lüdemann rates this fact as “historically certain.” North America’s leading resurrection critic, Bart Ehrman, writes that “it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution,” citing as example “the apostle Paul, [who] claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death.”
My opponent claims that the Greek word horaó (Greek, ὁράω) can also mean “was taken,” not just “was seen.” This is false. The word means, “I see, look upon, experience, perceive, discern, beware.” When it’s in the passive aorist form ὤφθην—which is how it appears in 1 Corinthians 15—the word specifically means, “I was seen, showed myself, appeared.” This explains why the various translations of 1 Corinthians 15 never render the word “was taken,” but rather translate it “was seen” or “appeared.” If Con should still claim the word can mean “was taken,” he must offer sources.
(As a side note: Con argued that if horaó could mean “was taken” [which we’ve seen is false], then this rendering should be preferred because Paul allegedly “didn’t know about the empty tomb or a bodily resurrection.” This also is problematic. Paul writes in Philippians 3:20–21 that when Christ returns [i.e., to raise Christians from the dead, 1 Cor. 15:22–23], He “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (emphasis added). Paul, then, taught resurrection as being where the mortal body is transformed to an immortal, “glorious body”—thus being bodily in nature. Also, Paul must have believed in the empty tomb, because to believe “that [Christ] was buried, and that He rose” bodily, He would no longer be buried in the tomb.)
I extend what I’ve said concerning the disciples’ willingness to suffer for their belief. Thus, some of the original disciples and even some unbelievers became convinced they saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion, occurring both individually and in groups.
Predisposition Against Jesus’ Resurrection
Con denies the disciples having a predisposition against Jesus’ resurrection, claiming “they had every incentive to lie.” However, as far as I could tell, he didn’t provide any evidence to back up his claim. I extend my case favoring the disciples’ predisposition against Jesus’ resurrection.
Let me again bring up that these facts are accepted even within skeptical scholarship. Bart Ehrman, for example, goes as far as to write, “There was not a Jew on the planet [when Jesus died] who thought the messiah was going to be crushed by his enemies — humiliated, tortured, and executed. That was the *opposite* of what the messiah would do.”
The Interpretation of the Facts
My opponent posits a theory I didn't deal with in my opening statement, which I will call the reburial theory. Con argues that Joseph moved Jesus’ body, either a) to fake that Jesus rose from the dead or b) because he was going to put the body in a common grave after the Sabbath. Let’s compare our theories using McCullagh’s criteria.
Con’s reburial hypothesis does not account for Jesus’ post‐crucifixion appearances; they are in no way considered. The resurrection hypothesis, on the other hand, explains the post‐crucifixion appearances and how the disciples could believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their predisposition against the resurrection—all while still accounting for the empty tomb.
Con claims his hypothesis “better explains the actions of the Jewish authorities.” I don’t see which actions in particular are better accounted for.
Since Con’s theory doesn’t even take all the facts into account, it definitely can’t go further and make us expect the facts to occur. With Jesus’ resurrection, however, we would expect that His tomb would be empty as well as that people would see Him and be convinced of such despite having predispositions to the contrary.
In order for my opponent’s theory to be plausible, he will need to show that this has happened with other cases in Judaism. While my opponent claims it “is further reinforced by evidence from other texts from the period and archaeological findings, with no internal contradictions,” he did not provide any sources to back up his claims.
Con’s theory allows for two versions. In the first version, in which Joseph of Arimathea is a devout follower of Jesus, he removes the body simply to fake a resurrection. Can my opponent cite any evidence that Joseph even understood the concept of Jesus’ resurrection—given that the Jews’ understanding of the resurrection was for it to occur universally at the end of time, not ever before—let alone that he would have any reason to fake that Jesus rose? If not, this version of the theory is ad hoc.
The alternative theory, that Joseph wasn’t really a devout follower of Jesus, also has problems. Con says that with this scenario, Joseph “put Jesus in a tomb as a temporary measure in a hurry, while he made arrangements for the body to be properly buried in a common grave underground.” What’s the evidence that Joseph would want to move Jesus’ body so soon? At this time, reburials like this would occur. However, it would occur to the bones after the body decayed! “A year [not a few days] after the death, members of the immediate family returned to the tomb for a private ceremony in which the bones were reburied after the body had decayed” (Dictionary of New Testament Background, emphasis mine).
Thus, both versions of the theory are ad hoc.
My opponent argues that Joseph’s “action could have broken some elements of Jewish custom, and other non-biblical writings from the period do attest that Joseph was subsequently imprisoned for this act.” If this is true, there would be nothing for Joseph to gain by moving the body except punishment, a circumstance which serves as disconfirmation to the reburial theory.
My opponent’s theory lacks relative superiority and thus falls with the other naturalistic hypotheses as being inadequate. Thus, the resurrection hypothesis still is superior relative to the naturalistic alternatives.
The resurrection hypothesis stands.
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Running out of time. Very briefly:
- People still sincerely believe they have seen Jesus today.
- The disciples also believed Jesus would rise after the Passover because that was Jesus' own interpretation of the prophecy.
- The disciples needed that precisely because it seemed like their messiah had been crushed.
- These facts alone can explain appearances.
- Pro's case doesn't answer for certain key facts such as:
- Why Jewish authorities were adamant the body was stolen even though they kept a close watch
- Why Roman authorities were very unconcerned about the prospect of a rebellion or clash of faiths
- Why Jewish authorities were the same.
- Joseph would have moved the body at the next time it would have been legal for him to do so under Jewish law (which was precisely when Jesus "resurrected" - right after the passover)
- Joseph had to gain by moving the body: either to confirm Jesus' resurrection (bear in mind the Jewish authorities didn't trust Joseph and Joseph was in a huge rush to be first to claim Jesus' body) or to give Jesus a proper Jewish burial (which would have been crucial in those times even for prisoners)
- Bear in mind also the Pharisees believed in resurrection at the end times. Other Jewish sects didn't, like the Sadducees. The very concept of resurrection was highly contested.
- Several other points remain unaddressed. The resolution is negated.
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As we enter the next round, it appears for the most part that we agree on the facts. Therefore, most of my emphasis in this round will be on the interpretation of the facts, only defending the facts themselves where we disagree.
Con said that people sincerely believe to have seen Jesus today and alleged that the disciples believed Jesus would rise after He would die—and really needed this for coping, too—arguing that this explains the post‐crucifixion appearances. Because of this, it appears that Con is combining the hallucination theory (meaning the disciples saw something that wasn’t there; Jesus wasn’t really in their presence) with his other theories to provide explanatory scope.
The more I think about it, Con is actually positing two related theories, not one hypothesis. I will call one the reburial (and hallucination) theory while calling the other version the Joseph‐fraud (and hallucination) theory. Let’s evaluate his two hypotheses and mine against McCullagh’s criteria.
The Reburial and Hallucination Theory
The reburial and hallucination theory argues that Joseph of Arimathea reburied Jesus’ body and that the disciples hallucinated.
Since the hallucination hypothesis has now been added to the reburial theory, they together have explanatory scope.
While the theory takes into account all the facts, we would not expect them with said theory. Common sense dictates that hallucinations don’t occur in groups, because there’s nothing objective, actual for everyone in the group to see. And knowing that Jesus was crucified would confirm to skeptics Paul and James that He was not the Christ. (Although Con may object to me saying that this James is the skeptical brother of Jesus, who else would the readers of 1 Corinthians 15 have in mind, considering no clarifications were needed?)
What’s really significant is what scholar and apologist William Lane Craig points out:
So if, as an eruption of a guilty conscience, Paul or Peter were to have projected visions of Jesus alive, they would have envisioned him in Paradise, where the righteous dead awaited the eschatological resurrection. But such exalted visions of Christ leave unexplained their belief in his resurrection. The inference “He is risen from the dead,” so natural to our ears, would have been wholly unnatural to a first century Jew. In Jewish thinking there was already a category perfectly suited to describe Peter's postulated experience: Jesus had been assumed into heaven.
In other words, if the disciples hallucinated, their religious culture would make them conclude Jesus died, not resurrected!
I extend what I’ve said in the previous round. My opponent needs sources to show that moving the body to another tomb like Joseph of Arimathea did was a normal practice at the time.
I extend what I’ve said concerning ad hocness. Also, adding another theory to the reburial hypothesis (i.e., the hallucination theory), while helping explanatory scope, makes it even more ad hoc than before.
I extend what I’ve said about Con’s statement that Joseph’s “action could have broken some elements of Jewish custom, and other non-biblical writings from the period do attest that Joseph was subsequently imprisoned for this act.” If true, this disconfirms my opponent’s theory.
Also, consider this: Like I pointed out in the last round, reburial would occur to a body’s bones after the body decayed. I extend my reasoning. What’s interesting is that once a body was buried, it would stay buried until this 12‐month, yearlong period would conclude; “as soon as the grave is closed the corpse must not be moved” (Semahoth IV.L). This also disconfirms Con’s hypothesis.
Resorting to hallucinations is disconfirmed by the fact that Jesus was seen in groups and by skeptics.
In conclusion, everything we know goes against the reburial and hallucination theory; it’s not one we should advocate.
The Joseph‐Fraud and Hallucination Theory
The Joseph‐fraud and hallucination theory advocates that Joseph attempted to fake a resurrection of Jesus and that the disciples hallucinated.
Like with the reburial theory, since the hallucination hypothesis has now been added to the Joseph‐fraud theory, they together have explanatory scope.
This is the same as with the reburial theory. While it takes into account all the facts, we would not expect them. Also, we wouldn’t expect these hallucinations to be seen in groups. And we certainly wouldn’t expect skeptics like Paul and James to suddenly convert, claiming to have seen Jesus alive. To them, knowing that Jesus was crucified would confirm that He was not the Christ.
As far as I can see, there aren’t any accepted truths that would cause us to expect Joseph to want to lie about Jesus’ resurrection. If Con disagrees, he must source why. Also, let’s just say it’s a stretch at best to claim that this theory or the reburial theory “is supported by Christian authors themselves writing in the Holy Bible.”
As I said in the previous round, can my opponent cite any evidence that Joseph even understood the concept of Jesus’ resurrection—given that the Jews’ understanding of the resurrection was for it to occur universally at the end of time, not ever before—let alone that he would have any reason to fake that Jesus rose? Simply speculating “that even if the disciples didn’t know the meaning of something, any one follower (Joseph for instance) could still have taken a guess,” without giving sources, is a perfect example of a theory being ad hoc.
Also, adding another theory to the Joseph‐fraud hypothesis (i.e., the hallucination theory), while helping explanatory scope, makes it even more ad hoc than before.
The Joseph‐fraud theory does not seem as disconfirmed as the reburial theory; nevertheless, this hypothesis is disconfirmed since, according to Con, Joseph would only get punishment for the fraud he knowingly would be advocating. Also, adding the hallucination theory to the mix further disconfirms the theory in the same way it further disconfirms the reburial hypothesis.
In conclusion, we see that the Joseph‐fraud and hallucination theory fails the test of McCullagh’s criteria.
The Resurrection Theory
The resurrection theory holds that Jesus rose from the dead.
My opponent argues that my theory lacks explanatory scope for not accounting for the following things:
1. “Why Jewish authorities were adamant the body was stolen even though they kept a close watch
2. “Why Roman authorities were very unconcerned about the prospect of a rebellion or clash of faiths
3. “Why Jewish authorities were the same.”
I don’t see why Con’s theories explain the first of these any better than does the resurrection hypothesis. The reburial theory certainly doesn’t account for it any better. And although the Joseph‐fraud theory would take such into account, the hypothesis does not explain how the disciples came to believe Jesus rose. Therefore, these theories don’t explain any more than does the resurrection theory.
The other “key facts” that Con claims is unexplained haven’t been shown to be facts. My opponent must demonstrate that the Roman and Jewish authorities “were very unconcerned about the prospect of a rebellion or clash of faiths.”
Thus, the resurrection theory has no less explanatory scope than the theories my opponent provides.
The resurrection has explanatory power. We would expect Jesus’ tomb to be found empty and for His disciples, whether previously believers or not, to become convinced they saw Him alive despite having predispositions to the contrary.
In my opening statement, I treated plausibility as if being implied by accepted truths was positive plausibility, being disconfirmed was negative plausibility, and neither would be neutral plausibility. However, since disconfirmation is a separate criterion with McCullagh, perhaps plausibility really only refers to what I’ve been calling positive plausibility.
If so, then since I haven’t argued for the existence of God or anything else that would cause us to expect the resurrection, the resurrection theory is not plausible. (However, it isn’t disconfirmed either; see below.)
The resurrection theory assumes two things:
1. Jesus died when He was crucified
2. Jesus was alive after He was crucified
There is nothing that disconfirms the resurrection theory being true. There is nothing we agree to be true that contradicts the hypothesis, in other words.
To examine the final criterion, relative superiority, let’s compare the three theories under consideration. It is clear that the the resurrection theory far outstrips the two theories my opponent has posited and thus should be awarded the status of being historically true:
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I'd like to thank my opponent for continuing his case. Since we're now into the latter half of the debate, I think it fair to start narrowing down some of the key points of contention.
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I am eager to continue this important discussion. Since
both versions of Con’s theory have different problems, I will continue to address them separately.
Both of Con’s theories depend on hallucinations.
Defining a hallucination
My opponent claims “that hallucination simply means ANY experience of something not actually there.” I already said that by hallucination I’m “meaning the disciples saw something that wasn’t there.” Hallucinations, as I’m using the term, are false sensory perceptions, not just any false perception. If I perceive that someone wants me to help them when in reality they don’t, I’m wrong, but I’m not hallucinating. Here is a medical definition:
A profound distortion in a person's perception of reality, typically accompanied by a powerful sense of reality. An hallucination may be a sensory experience in which a person can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something that is not there.
Elvis? This can be explained by his many impersonators running around.
Appearances to disciples in general
My opponent dropped, and I extend, that if all the disciples only experienced hallucinations, they would have concluded Jesus was dead, not risen!
Appearances to groups
Hallucinations can’t happen in groups. Although my opponent cited mirages, these are not hallucinations. “In contrast to a hallucination, a mirage is a real optical phenomenon that can be captured on camera, since light rays are actually refracted to form the false image at the observer’s location” (source). Surely Con isn’t going to argue that refracted light rays caused visions of Jesus! Since hallucinations are formed—not just reinterpreted—in the mind, they can’t be accessed by the minds of others.
Appearance to Paul
Paul was very hostile to Christianity before he saw Jesus risen. Con only replies, “Paul disagrees significantly with those close to Jesus on several key aspects and shows his ignorance repeatedly of key events in Jesus life” (not sourced or otherwise verified by my opponent), “yet claimed to know for certain exactly what Jesus sounded like.” The Book of Acts (my opponent’s key source against Paul believing Jesus rose bodily) explains Paul didn’t know who was speaking to him; Paul found out after Jesus identified Himself. Also, those who went with Paul seem to be contrasted with him, “hearing a voice but seeing no one”—implying Paul did see someone, as Paul himself wrote.
(Also, using Acts to deny Paul’s belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection is very problematic. In Acts 13:35–37, Paul argues that Psalm 16:10 can’t refer to David because he “fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption,” unlike with Jesus, who “saw no corruption.” Paul is saying Jesus underwent no bodily decay but arose. This affirms a bodily resurrection. Also, I extend what I’ve written in Round 2 on Philippians 3:20–21.)
Nothing my opponent has argued refutes that Paul, a severe persecutor of Christianity, converted due to a sincere belief that he saw Jesus risen, going from persecutor to persecuted. This cannot be explained by hallucination.
Appearance to James
Con questions whether Jesus’ brother really converted and was the James mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7. However, as I already mentioned, it wouldn’t make sense to refer to “James” if it was unclear who he was; the default one that would come to mind is the brother of Jesus. Previously, Paul does refer to “the brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5 as if they now became Christians, and he mentions “James, the Lord’s brother” in Galatians 1:19.
Furthermore, James the brother of Jesus became willing to die for Christianity. His martyrdom is recorded by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria. Although we have Josephus’ reference physically preserved today, the other two sources haven’t been so preserved. However, we have the writings of Eusebius, who quoted all three sources—Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria—over James’s martyrdom, and thus they are preserved indirectly.
Josephus reports James being executed by stoning due to breaking Jewish law. Jews often considered Christians to be lawbreakers due to their beliefs. Hegesippus corroborates Josephus, writing that they stoned James for saying Jesus sat “in heaven at the right hand of the great Power.” He is recorded as saying this “upon the pinnacle of the temple,” to which they “[threw] him down.” Clement agrees that they performed this deed to “James the Just bishop of Jerusalem.” All three references are to Jesus’ brother.
Clearly, then, James the brother of Jesus became a Christian. How are we to believe this skeptic of Jesus hallucinated?
Again, both of my opponent’s theories depend on hallucinations. However, we have seen that the only way everyone involved could have seen Jesus is if Jesus was there to be seen! The foregoing alone verifies the resolution.
Evaluating the theories
My opponent argues that his theory is that one of the following lied: “Joseph, the disciples, or any source informing a gospel author other than Mark.” However, the main argument of his is that Joseph is the guilty culprit, either lying as a pious fraud for Christianity or reburying the body.
My opponent has listed seven statements. I would add the empty tomb to the list. And since we disagree whether two of the seven statements are true, we get six points of agreement between Con and myself, which I’ll list in a slightly more chronological order:
1. The Sanhedrin feared the Christians.
2. Jesus’ body was buried in Joseph’s tomb.
3. The tomb was subsequently found empty.
4. Disciples, whether followers or not prior to this, had experiences in which Jesus appeared to them risen, both individually and in groups.
5. The guards were paid to say Jesus’ body was stolen.
6. Christians were willing to say Jesus arose even despite persecution.
The disciples are portrayed as not understanding what Jesus meant prior to experiencing the post‐crucifixion appearances, I’m not convinced that they were thinking about Him rising; everyone appears to think the movement ended when He died; in fact, when Mary Magdalene saw the tomb empty, she didn’t even consider that Jesus might be raised. Also, my opponent’s evidence is insufficient to show that the Romans supported the Christians, as I explained in the CX round. Therefore, I’m leaving these two statements out.
Furthermore, not all these facts are relevant to the discussion. Facts 1, 2, and 5 are unexplained whether Jesus’ body was moved by Joseph or He arose and left Himself. We both explain 1 the same way, and it in turn accounts for 5. To explain 2, John does refer to the tomb’s nearness as a factor. But that isn’t necessarily the only factor. Per Glenn Miller:
[The] farthest plausible distance [that could be chosen to bury Jesus was] to the vicinity of the Haceldama--"Field of Blood" area--around a mile [at 3 mph, that's a 20 minute walk for a worst-case scenario] . So the distance to an alleged community/criminal gravesite would not be a factor.
As already said, Mark adds that Joseph was becoming bolder to help Jesus. So, our theories explain only statements 3, 4, and 6 and thus have equal explanatory scope.
Now, let’s evaluate the theories.
We’d expect the facts explained to be true simply if the theory itself is true, so it exhibits explanatory power.
The theory, at least for the sake of argument, isn’t probable by accepted truths.
Con never challenged that the resurrection theory passes regarding ad hocness.
Con exhibited a great misunderstanding of disconfirmation; not being disconfirmed is a good thing. McCullagh explains that a theory “must be disconfirmed by fewer [not greater] accepted beliefs than any other incompatible hypothesis.”
All theories have equal explanatory scope.
The hypotheses lack explanatory power, since we wouldn’t expect groups and skeptics to see Jesus if they just hallucinated. In fact, we wouldn’t even expect them to believe in the resurrection! See “Hallucinations” above.
Con never denied the theories lacking plausibility.
As already shown, a theory is ad hoc when things are assumed that aren’t already established. Having multiple “ways a theory could be true” doesn’t do anything if each way still makes many assumptions.
More than any other qualification, a theory can’t be disconfirmed, because “if evidence incompatible with it cannot be explained away satisfactorily, then it is abandoned” (McCullagh, pg. 28). Both of Con’s theories are strongly disconfirmed. See “Hallucinations” above. Also, the reburial and hallucination theory is further disconfirmed since once a body was buried, it would stay buried till it became a bone pile. Con questions the quality of my source, but it’s stronger than no source, which is what Con provided for the claim that Joseph moving the body wouldn’t “be considered unusual.”
My opponent brings up Gnostic writings but fails to cite any and doesn’t show any written by eyewitnesses. Therefore, this is irrelevant.
The resolution is validated.
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I thank my opponent for continuing his case.
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I think it’s clear that the impersonation theory isn’t a good explanation. My opponent concedes that it wouldn’t fit with “a close associate of the person being impersonated.” All the appearances in 1 Corinthians 15 are to people who knew Jesus well, all except for Paul and possibly the 500+. The main target, then, is Paul. But does impersonation adequately explain even his post‐crucifixion appearance? I think we’ve seen just how difficult it is to defend such a scenario, so much that even my opponent concedes he doesn’t “necessarily agree with this interpretation.” However, let’s look at it quickly.
There would have to be technology in the 1st‐century allowing the alleged impersonator(s) to shine light around Paul, make a voice, and create an image of Jesus so Paul could see Him, a sight which those with Paul did not see. Having stones roll isn’t enough for all this—especially when out in the open. I deny such technology existed, and my opponent failed to actually cite what technology could do all this. What sources can be given to back up the claim? Unless Con can source some method available in the 1st‐century capable of producing images of people, etc., this theory fails.
Furthermore, even if enough technology did exist to produce such effects, we need to understand that as a skeptic—in fact, an enemy and persecutor—of Christianity, Paul wouldn’t be convinced by something he thought only could be Jesus; my opponent “[agrees] Paul would have likely recognized a stage show,” for example. If something doesn’t convince my opponent, we can’t expect it to convince the church persecutor Paul either. Therefore, the alleged impersonator(s) would need something truly convincing, something we could expect to convince even Con that Jesus arose!
Thus, this theory fails, because 1) there would need to be technology in existence at the time able to produce the phenomena at hand—which Con did not evidence—and 2) we can’t expect Paul to fall for an impersonation unless it was completely convincing.
Incorrect visual perception
Since Con uses hallucination broadly to refer to any incorrect visual perception, I will also have to deal with hallucination (as I’m using the word) and the alternative type of incorrect visual perception—illusion. The difference is that with illusions, what is seen does exist but is misinterpreted by the mind.
As already discussed, hallucinations can’t occur in group settings. Since your mind produces an image of that which isn’t there, no one else could see it. Furthermore, if the belief in Jesus’ resurrection isn’t even in your mind to begin with, then it certainly couldn’t produce the image. This rules out both Paul and James as experiencing hallucinations, in addition to the groups. Hallucinations simply don’t fit.
The illusion scenario has with it basically the same problems as with the impersonation theory. People who knew Jesus well could tell the difference, which brings us back to Paul. But no technology at the time could produce the effect, and Paul wouldn’t have fallen for it anyway.
Con asserts “that the majority of writings cite a non-bodily resurrection took place.” Again, he doesn’t verify this with any sources. I can cancel out his assertion by asserting the opposite: “The majority of writings cite a bodily resurrection taking place.”
My opponent also points out that Paul’s appearance of Jesus seems to be from heaven and that the Gospels report Jesus ascending to heaven. It appears that this ascension is the reason Paul’s appearance isn’t normal—not because the appearance wasn’t bodily. Surely Con won’t deny that the same Gospels he’s using advocate a bodily resurrection of Jesus. Otherwise, what was the significance of the empty tomb? (Also, see Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:36–39; John 20:27.) Regardless of how Jesus looked, sounded, etc. to Paul, understand that what was seen would have convinced even you, Con.
My opponent attempts to downplay group appearances. He gives many examples of groups perceiving something that wasn’t true. However, this does nothing to explain whether this could be the case with Jesus’ appearances. Mirages, for example, do give an example of how something (e.g., water) can be seen by groups when it’s not really there; however, it requires a certain mechanism, one that doesn’t work in the context of seeing someone risen—refracted light rays. Mirages are only relevant to the discussion if you actually were to posit refracted light rays as explaining how groups could see Jesus alive! The same applies for the other things Con referenced; what does any of them have to do with the appearances of Jesus? Therefore, simply bringing up examples of how something can apply in one context with its set of factors doesn’t begin to show it can work in another.
Con also tries to downplay the fact that skeptics were among those who experienced appearances of Jesus risen. I’m not saying that skeptics converting to a religion proves it to be true; some may convert for a spouse, emotional comfort, political gain, etc. What I’m saying is that passionate skeptics can’t experience hallucinations or illusions of something they don’t believe in. Now if there are ex‐passionate skeptics who say they saw a religious figure risen and so they converted, they could be lying. Can we verify that they are willing to suffer persecution for their new beliefs, as did Paul (see 2 Corinthians 11:23–28) and James (see Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria)? If so, then we know they’re honest, and we’ll have to explain what they’re saying.
My opponent drops arguing for whether the James who saw Jesus risen was His skeptical brother, instead saying it’s irrelevant considering the that many skeptics have converted to other religions. See the previous paragraph.
Con brings up that Paul “[lacked] of clarity that there even was a bodily resurrection” and that the appearance of Jesus to Paul “was certainly vague and limited.” Considering the transformation it gave him, it’s hard to see the appearance being too much limited. So far, my opponent hasn’t brought up a single passage to verify Paul having a “lack of clarity that there even was a bodily resurrection.” I extend what I’ve said about Philippians 3:20–21 and Acts 13:35–37, dropped by my opponent for the entirety of this debate.
Time for burial
in the afternoon. Citing Glenn Miller
The time frame available for all this is from approximately 3:00 pm until 'deep' sundown-plus in April (somewhere between 6.15pm and 7:15pm). That gives a spread of 3-4 hours …
Even working alone, Joseph and Nicodemus (perhaps with their servants) could have done this in two hours
Now for the facts, most of which are unexplained whether Jesus’ body was moved from the tomb or He arose and left Himself. We’ll use the facts as described by Con.
Why was Jesus buried in Joseph’s tomb in the first place?
Did Christians want Jesus to resurrect?
Certainly they would like this—if they expected such to happen. Con doesn’t dispute any of the passages I gave in the previous round, which show the disciples didn’t expect Jesus’ resurrection despite Con’s two points that Jesus predicted it and that such was prophesied.
Why did the Sanhedrin fear the Christians?
It seems Con’s point is that since they expected the tomb could become empty, there must have been reason—namely, because Joseph was the culprit. However, they didn’t suspect the secret follower Joseph to steal the body; only that the others might, because Jesus predicted such. Jesus’ prediction therefore explains this, not what Con’s saying.
Who did the Romans support?
The reason they seemed unconcerned is that they didn’t believe He rose in the first place.
Why were temple guards paid to say the body was stolen?
To shut them up. Con says he’s shown this to be unlikely, but I’m not sure where he did.
Why would Christians advocate something that would only get them hurt?
Because they believed it to be true. And as I’ve already shown, this could only be the case with, for example, Paul and James if Jesus was really there to be seen.
How can we explain post-resurrection appearances?
Only by Jesus’ resurrection, as we’ve seen above. Therefore, Con’s theories are disconfirmed. If you assume naturalism—and we’re not—then Jesus’ resurrection would be disconfirmed. However, all worldviews agree that Con’s “naturalistic” theories aren’t the way nature works, for reasons I’ve expressed above.
The resurrection of Jesus, therefore, is a true doctrine.
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Unlike Jesus, this debate has been resurrected from the dead so we can finish our discussion.
- As cited previously, the gospels themselves state that Jesus was buried in Joseph's tomb because of a lack of time. The authors of these gospels give no hint as to why the time was not sufficient, but that it was not sufficient is never in doubt.
- It further assumes that three o'clock can be taken absolutely literally in a time before clocks were invented. Jewish law mandated the use of relative hours, and this is what Mark is referring to here. These were fixed by the position of the sun, but this would not have been possible with any accuracy if the land was in darkness as Mark describes.
- For these reasons and more, it was normal in those times to approximate the time of day to the nearest 3 hours. This would explain why virtually all time references in the new testament occur at 3-hour intervals.
- Taking a literal interpretation also poses a problem in that it introduces a fairly obvious contradiction, with John arguing the trial lasted into the 6th hour, but Mark insisting the crucifixion had already begun by the 3rd hour.
- The source cited pretty much directly just quotes from a book, adding in its own commentary on little authority. This book explicitly makes it clear that the time was for the preparation of the most spartan of Jewish burials at the time, and assumes virtually zero travel time. Given my other analysis, neither of these assumptions appears tenable.
- What all this potentially proves, at the end of the day, is why Jesus was buried in Joseph's tomb. If anything, should a criminal graveyard be otherwise available as an option, it would be highly surprising that Jesus would not be buried in it. Jewish law mandated Jesus was buried in a criminal grave site, likely outside the city walls, according to the correct rites and customs. Further, there could be no suspicion of anything fishy going on with the body, like hiding it literally in a private residence. These criteria are hardly met by Joseph's burial.
- This is all mostly based on pure speculation based on incomplete scholarship. The single best source we have on these matters is the gospel accounts themselves, which pro does not even appear to trust on this issue.
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I thank my opponent one last time for this epic debate. These last rounds are brief summaries, post-argumentation, of why we believe you should totally judge on our side. However, I can confidently say I don't really care. This has been a great debate no matter which way the result goes, and as all debaters know, that's not possible without a great opponent. In the case of this particular debate, my opponent has been especially generous and patient. This debate has been many months in the making and he has shown great determination to see it through, even when I repeatedly ran out of time.
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I would like to thank my opponent for the compliments he gave this round and for the effort he has made to present the other side. Since the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead has with it immense application, debates like this are necessary for a thorough investigation. Despite the countless implications at hand, the debate overall has been conducted in a cordial manner, and I would like to thank Con for this.
To summarize the debate, I will now discuss 1) the empty tomb’s significance, 2) the historicity of Jesus’ appearances, and 3) the sufficiency of the appearances to verify the resurrection theory.
The Empty Tomb
I do not want to understate the empty tomb’s significance. While by itself insufficient to show Jesus rose from the dead, we’ve seen that the empty tomb gives further evidence for the resurrection by causing the alternative explanations to either lose explanatory scope and power or become ad hoc. Hallucinations, for example, can’t account for the empty tomb, so the theory either lacks explanatory scope, or it gets merged with something like the moved‐body theory and becomes ad hoc. The resurrection theory, on the other hand, is unaffected by the empty tomb, as the resurrection explains it without needing to add further details.
Was Jesus Seen Risen?
My opponent considers that the disciples could have lied about seeing Jesus—pitting himself against the widespread, virtually unanimous consensus of scholarship. When terrorists instigated the 9/11 attacks, dying for the cause, no one questioned their sincerity; they were wrong, but they weren’t dishonest. Con seems to misunderstand the force of the argument: The argument isn’t about lying to avoid punishment (likely why Con brought up convicted criminals pleading “not guilty”); rather, it’s that no one would make a statement they believed to be false if it would result in death. My opponent hasn’t said anything against the true argument, only against the straw man of avoiding punishment, so it should be conceded that the disciples were honest about seeing Jesus risen, even if we interpret such differently.
Going further, my opponent again asserts “that many early sources cite a non-bodily resurrection.” However, he still hasn’t given any sources to verify this. Also, Con claims Paul strongly suggests “that for early Christians, ‘seeing’ Jesus was more of a game of one-upsmanship to prove piety than it was to be taken literally”; however, 1) this also was not sourced by Con, and 2) even if Paul did “strongly imply” this, I don’t see how this goes against that “it was to be taken literally.” Therefore, following common‐sense hermeneutics, we should read the texts literally unless they’re indicated to be figurative.
(Also, my opponent claims that Paul “only heard ‘Jesus’ … not saw him.” Paul himself would say otherwise.)
Do Jesus’ Appearances Confirm His Resurrection?
Con has presented a range of alternatives to the resurrection theory. He tied them together in his final round, arguing that “the weight of plausible naturalistic explanations weighs out the one supernatural one.” However, I’ve already pointed out that it’s common in historiography (the writing of history) for an event to have numerous theories but only one plausible explanation; to bring up 9/11 again, there are many conspiracy theories, but only one true theory.
Are Con’s alternatives “plausible naturalistic explanations”? No, they’re impossible via our knowledge of nature! Hallucinations, for example, can’t explain the group appearances due to hallucinations occurring in the mind, as the Navy SEALs study illustrates. Impersonation wouldn’t have convinced those close to Jesus either, as Con concedes, and no technology existed to cause Paul to see Jesus but not those with him. And if the disciples mistook someone else for Jesus out of emotion, their upcoming persecution would have turned such passion in the opposite direction, and Paul’s conversion would still be left unexplained. The bottom line is this: Because what scholars agree to be true can’t occur solely by our current knowledge of nature, the correct explanation must be outside this sphere of knowledge; and we have a theory that fits this description, all while exhibiting explanatory scope and power in addition to lacking ad hocness or disconfirmation.
Unless we let biases get in the way, the resurrection theory’s strength abounds! You must believe in Jesus' resurrection to be saved. Also, to obtain what the blood of Christ offers, you must join Him in death through baptism. Please don’t ignore this; please contact me if you have any questions. I thank Con for this thorough debate!
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