I get tired of how the burden of proof is always on the Christian to prove resurrection rather than on the skeptic to posit a more plausible explanation for the resurrection profession. The standard, skeptical explanation for the resurrection message goes like this:
The disciples, being ancient 1st century people, were superstitious people who didn’t understand biology etc like we do today.
And the disciples either had visions and hallucinations of Jesus after he died and they called that Resurrection, or wanting people to think Jesus had been resurrected, they stole his body and claimed he’d been raised.
That’s the standard skeptical explanation, and I’ve heard it from a lot of you.
The problem with the standard, skeptical explanation- other than it’s complete ignorance of first century culture. And history. Not to mention Judaism. And Greek philosophy- is that it does not account for the fact that Resurrection was a brand new idea.
Resurrection was not conceivable to a 1st century Jew and it was not desirable to a 1st century Greek. Resurrection belonged to neither worldview; it just appeared overnight. A brand new species in the religious world.
If the disciples had had visions or hallucinations or if they’d stolen the body, they would never claim it had been Resurrection.
They had no motive to make it up because Resurrection was not a belief anyone would hear. If they made it up, they chose the wrong message. Because for Jews, the bodily resurrection of a single man was unthinkable. And for Greeks, the bodily resurrection of anyone was unattractive.
The standard, skeptical explanation fails to remember that the entire religious worldview of Greeks centered around escaping this material world, which is finite and corrupt, and moving on to the spiritual realm, which is eternal and pure.
The whole trajectory of salvation was for your eternal soul to be freed from your mortal body. Resurrection was not only an impossible belief to a Gentile, it was objectionable. Repulsive. No soul, having escaped its body, would ever want to go back. If you had told a Gentile that a guy from Nazareth had died and 3 days later was resurrected, they would’ve said:
‘That’s terrible! I’ll pray for him!’
If the disciples made it up, they chose the wrong message. Because for Jews, Resurrection wasn’t a generalized term. It didn’t refer to feelings in your heart or visions in your head. For Jews, Resurrection very specifically referred to what happened NOT to one man in history but what will happen to all of God’s People at the end of history.
Resurrection referred exclusively to a future event, when God restores his creation, when wolf and lamb lie down together, when nations beat their swords and spears into plough shares and pruning hooks, when mourning and crying and pain are no more.
If you had told a 1st century Jew that one man, a failed Messiah no less, had been resurrected, they would have responded:
“What are you? An idiot? Resurrection hasn’t happened. Caesar and Herod are still in their thrones. Israel is still not free. War and pain and suffering and injustice still abound.”
If the disciples made it up, they chose the wrong message.
There was too much built-in resistance to the idea of Resurrection, from Jew and Gentile. That’s why the empty tomb and the appearances of the Risen Christ are so important for the Resurrection. You couldn’t have had one without the other. You’d would’ve needed one to substantiate the other.
If the tomb had just been empty, but no one had seen the Risen Christ, then everyone would’ve concluded that the body had been stolen or scavenged. No one would’ve concluded Resurrection from just an empty tomb.
And if followers had seen the Risen Christ but the tomb was not empty, then everyone would’ve chalked it up to the ordinary visions people have after a loved one dies. But no one would’ve concluded Resurrection from just visions of Jesus.
You would’ve needed both.
Because no one had Resurrection in their worldview.
So where did it come from? You see, you can dismiss the Resurrection. You can refuse to believe it- fine- but that doesn’t get you around the fact that they did. James and Paul believed it. Something happened to them. Something that caused them to believe something for which their Jewish and Greek world views had no previous category.
You can dismiss the Resurrection.
You can hold up your hands and say ‘Look, I don’t believe that dead bodies come back to life.’
You can say that, but realize: you’re missing the whole point if you don’t understand that that’s exactly how people like James and Paul felt.
Until something happened to them.
What? And that’s where the burden of proof shifts to you.
Because you can say you don’t believe in the Resurrection as an historical event, but that doesn’t get you around the fact that the resurrection claim is a part of history. And so if you dismiss the Resurrection, then you’re left with some explaining to do.
Just how is it that an entirely new, distinct and divergent worldview emerged virtually overnight?
How is it that virtually overnight Jews were worshipping Jesus as Lord, which they’d never done for any previous Messiah and which violated the 1st commandment?
How is that virtually overnight they started worshipping on Sundays, which violated the 4th commandment?
How is it that virtually overnight Jews were proclaiming the Resurrection of Jesus which violated everything their scripture told them?
How is it that virtually overnight they began living in such a way that violated everything the real world told them?
If you dismiss the resurrection, you still must explain how this resurrection worldview sprang up out of nowhere immediately after Jesus’ death.
As any scientist will tell you, new species of animals do not appear overnight.
That would take an act of God.