Christians: What is your best evidence for the literal, historical resurrection of Jesus

Invited by ITR Champion in this thread. To summarize quickly, ITR, when asked him if anything could convince him Christianity was not true said:

To which I said:

Other posters also asked ITR to be more specific about exactly what intellectual arguments for the truth of Christianity that he found so strong they could overcome the kinds of null hypotheses like the one I posed above. ITR was not specific, other than saying that he aligned his views with GK Chesterton, but said that he would be specific in a new thread. Well, here it is.

I’m not asking for intellectual arguments for every part of Christianity, or for the existence of God. I’m just asking to see the evidence/argument for one thing - the physical resurrection of Jesus, This is a prima facie impossible event. That means the evidence is going to have to be pretty exceptional to overcome the null. Let’s see it.

I’m asking any and all other Christians who might be interested to show actual evidence that Jesus came back to life three days after he was dead.

A fellow came around a while ago purporting to demonstrate, from the assumption of eyewitness testimony, that the miracles at Sinai occurred with very little doubt (and thus Judaism is true). In fact, I can take his kernel of an idea and — with a bit of mathematical rigor — prove incontrovertibly the resurrection of Jesus. All we must assume is that some testimony exists. By Bayes’ theorem:

P(resurrection | testimony) = P(resurrection & testimony) / P(testimony) = P(testimony | resurrection) P(resurrection) / P(testimony)

And by the law of total probability:

P(testimony) = P(testimony | resurrection) * P(resurrection) + P(testimony | ~resurrection) * P(~resurrection)

Note that P(testimony) refers to the unconditional probability of testimony for Jesus’s resurrection; this takes into account no background knowledge and so is presumably very small. Thus P(testimony | ~resurrection) is exceedingly small as well and we can assume it to be zero. Then:

P(resurrection | testimony) = P(testimony | resurrection) * P(resurrection) / (P(testimony | resurrection) * P(resurrection)) = 1

We may thus conclude with utmost certainty that Jesus’s resurrection was an historical occurrence.

More seriously … this kind of argument, from the assumption that eyewitness testimony is more likely for true events than for false events, is developed rather extensively by some; see McGrew and McGrew in Ch 11 of the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (who are quite loose and free with quasi-probabilistic notation). But without the assumption that genuine eyewitness testimony was in fact recorded, they crumble apart in one’s hands.

That’s one of the biggest problems right there. There isn’t any eyewitness testimony. The first known claim of a physical resurrection doesn’t appear in Christian literature until 50 years after the alleged crucifixion.

The only argument I’ve ever heard for the historical resurrection is from William Lane Craig, and that argument was pretty pathetic.

First, he (thinks he) proves that a God exists using the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Next he says that we have similar evidence of the resurrection as we have with many events that are universally accepted historically, and specifically compares the written records (decades after the event) to the fact that we have no contemporaneous records of Alexander the Great either, but nobody doubts that he existed!

He then tries to hand-wave away the little problem that the resurrection of a dead body would be a quite extraordinary event requiring extraordinary evidence, by noting that since we’ve already demonstrated that an all-powerful God exists, then miracles are not a priori extraordinary. A God could poof up a miracle anytime he wants!

Besides the lack of eyewitness testimony, there isn’t any contemporary hearsay evidence either, is there? I can understand the witnesses not having time to write it down, but I suspect there would be rumors floating around which should have been.

There is also the problem that the an actual resurrection should have been enough to convince some reasonable number of Jews in Jerusalem to follow this new sect - but it didn’t. There is evidence of absence here.

Craig does rely a lot on the cosmological argument. He also presumes eyewitness testimony, then refutes a litany of straw objections to that testimony.

You’ve got to admire a “logical” argument that pulls itself up by its own bootstraps.

Correct. The empty tomb and physical resurrection claims are not found in earlier layers like Paul or Q (or Thomas, for that matter) where you would expect to see them, and even Mark only leaves off at the empty tomb without any physical appearances.

I would suggest reading this essay by Dr. N. T. Wright, which is in effect a summary of a full-length book that he wrote. His process is first to summarize both pagan and Jewish beliefs about the afterlife. Then he outlines the distinctive beliefs of Christians about the afterlife.

In the remainder of the essay, Dr. Wright considers and then rejects alternate theories, such as that Paul or other early Christians viewed the resurrection as purely spiritual or that it was only intended as a metaphor. He also deals with questions of historical method and approach, concluding:

Funny, I don’t see any evidence for a physical resurrection in any of that, just a lot of ludicrous special pleading. The belief of post-Pauline Christians in the resurrection is meaningless. Paul never claimed a physical resurrection, and there’s no evidence that any of the apostles did eitehr.

I would appreciate it if you would in your own words, clearly state your own arguments and not keep trying to deflect to other apologists. What do you think is Wright’s strongest point? Claiming that the claims of Christianity were unique is a.) not really true and b.) no more true for Christianity than for any other religious mythology.

The cohesion of a bunch of muddled squabbling disciples into the early Christian Church.

After that, the survival of said Church of the Destruction of Jerusalem, her conquest of the Roman Pagan Beast, struggle between Babylonian Harlotry & Bridal Fidelity, and role as the Mother of Western-style Civilization all indicate to me that her Lord Jesus is all that is claimed for Him- God made Flesh, Sacrificed Savior, Risen Lord and Reigning Sovereign.

Indeed. Rather surreal to encounter page upon page of what is (more or less) a very special kind of pleading. We are told that — because Paul had nothing to gain from lying, and because hallucinations of sufficient vividness to explain his experience at Damascus are rare — then the probability of Paul’s testimony if the resurrection didn’t happen “is at best on the order of 10[sup]-4[/sup]”. I’ll admit reading that was a head-scratchingly WTF moment.

But even before discussing Paul they apply similar reasoning to the experience of the women at the tomb. The only alternatives they consider are: the women hallucinated; the body was moved; they went to the wrong tomb; or their experience was genuine. Thus they “judge P(women’s testimony | resurrection) to be at least several orders of magnitude greater than P(women’s testimony | ~resurrection)” [my notation]. The text is long and dense and it’s been a while since I read the whole thing, but I see no discussion of the possibility that there was no scenario corresponding to the women’s experience in the first place, which I think merits some attention given the length of time between the purported events and the written recording.

In fairness, they do note that they assume Acts and the gospels to be “generally reliable”. Which means they’ve spent a great deal of verbiage only to admit that they don’t really address what’s at issue.

Perhaps it is meaningless to you, but it is not meaningless to me.

Paul did claim that Jesus had been physically resurrected. We know this because (1) Paul was a former Pharisee. The Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection for the Jews at the end of time. They did not believe in a spiritual resurrection, nor did any other known branch of Judaism. If you read Dr. Wright’s book, you’ll see he quotes a ton of ancient Jewish writings to establish this point. So if Paul refers to a resurrection, we can assume that he was referring to a bodily resurrection. (2) Paul refers to the resurrected body by the Greek word “soma” on multiple occasions. We can easily go through a list of Paul’s usages of the that word and verify that when he uses it he always means the physical body as clearly distinct from the spirit, and indeed a quick trip to the Lexicon will assure us that that’s what the word “soma” meant. So by using that word, Paul is going out of his way to double-super clear that he refers to a physical resurrection. (3) Further, in 1 Cor 15:50-4, Paul refers to the resurrection as “putting on” a new body, as distinct from the soul being disembodied and then placed into a new body. Some have disputed this point, but as Dr. Wright notes:

(4) Further, in Romans 8:18-23, Paul notes that all of creation is waiting for it creator and will soon be redeemed, and he specifically includes present-day human beings in that creation, thus clearly believing that those with their present-day bodies will be redeemed. (5) Paul refers to the appearances of Jesus after his death as proof that Jesus was resurrected. This, however, would not be his interpretation unless he believed in a bodily resurrection. As Dr. Gary Habermas noted:

So Paul believed in a physical resurrection. Since he squared his teachings with those of the Apostles in Jerusalem, we know that they believed in a physical resurrection as well.

Tough. Since you always ignore my requests, I’m not bending over backwards to satisfy yours.

Really? Dr. Wright makes specific claims about what the early Christians believed concerning the Resurrection and the Messiah that was different from what the Jews believed. Please provide specific reasons why you reject those claims and back those reasons up with sources better than Wikipedia.

How is the formation of an obscure sect evdience for the resurrection? We don’t even know what those disciples actually believed. There is no evdience that they ever claimed to have witnessed a physical resurrection.

It was destroyed in Jerusalem. Paul’s gentile movement is what survived.

How is the political success of the church (which happened mainly because of Constantine) evidence for a historical resurrection of Jesus?

Excuse me for needing to catch up, but why does it matter whether Paul thought that resurrections were physical or only spiritual? I don’t see how that has any bearing on the question in the OP.

I’d think that if you read Dr. Wright’s article, his outline of argument is clear. In the early-to-mid first century pagans has set of beliefs A about resurrection and life after death. Jews had set of beliefs B. The first Christians had set of beliefs C, where C is quite distinct from A and B and has a number of specific, unique, certain features. We then ask: “Why is it that the earliest Christians believed these things about resurrection?” After investigating and rejecting other explanations, the best explanation left standing is that the early Christian community picked this up from an actual resurrection.

Let me put it another way, it has no evidentiary value.

Not true. Paul only says that Jesus “appeared” to people after his death, and draws no distinction between Jesus appearance to the apostles and to himself. He makes no mention of an empty tomb, and says that physical resurrections are impossible. He also says that he didn’t even get this information from other people, but only from the voices in his head.

Then how do explain Paul saying that physical resurrections are impossible and calling people “idiots” if they believe that it is? You can’t just try to piggyback Paul onto the Pharisees and say he must have agreed with them, because obviously he did not. He had a completely different conception of the Messiah, for one thing, and was an admitted psychotic for another.

Factually incorrect since Paul explicitly denies the possibility of physical resurrection.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
(1 Cor. 15:35-44)

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
(1 Cor. 15:50-54)
Paul makes a clear distinction here between the σῶμα ψυχικόν (“body physical”) and the σῶμα πνευματικόν (“body spiritual”). He makes it clear that the physical body rots and is replaced by a spirtual body. He likens it to sowing seeds.

No, he’s bending over backwards to say it is NOT physical.

I’ve read this half-assed quote from Wright several times and still can’t see how it amounts to anything but hand waving. “Hebraic parallelism?” My ass. What a a masterpiece of obfuscation.

Wright has no credentials as a historian, by the way. His doctorate is in Divinity. He’s an Anglican Bishop and a conservative evangelical well out of the mainstream of scholarship (and noted for his anti-gay stances within the Anglican Church).

Paul says everybody will be “transformed” into physical bodies.

Paul does not say those appearances were physical.

He asserts exactly the opposite.

Paul said exactly the opposite.

Cute, but specious. First of all Paul said he got his info from the voices in his head, not from the apostles, and secondly, he did not say for a second that the appearances were physical, and he did not draw any distinction between Jesus’ appearances to the disciples and to himself.

Moreover, and moreover, even if Paul had claimed a physical resurrection, it would be no evidence anyway. Claims are not evidence, especially claims for impossible events, and Paul was an admitted psychotic (and skilled prevaricator).

I don’t know what requests you’re referring to, but this thread was started at your own invitation.

It’s pretty simple. We have no data about those beliefs. We have no testimony or writings from from any of them. If you or Reverend Wright beg to differ, then please show the data. You seem to have the wrong idea about who has the burden of proof here. If you want to assert knowledge of those early beliefs, let’s see the evidence.

Given that Jesus tells us it is better to believe without seeing (aka, the Doubting Thomas story), why would you want or expect Christians to need evidence for the resurrection?

Because they have brains capable of rational thought?

I don’t necessarily, but ITR said he could do it, so I called him on it.