The Evidence for the Resurrection

In an earlier post, I argued that the resurrection of Jesus is initially implausible compared to the possibility the account is an example of legendary development. If Christianity is to be considered even remotely reasonable, then there have to be aspects of the resurrection accounts that are very implausible presuming the legendary development hypothesis.

If I am going to debunk Christianity, it is important to me that I am not merely defeating a straw man version of Christianity. I want to be open to all the relevant evidences for and against Christianity. I also want to use the best analytical tools to evaluate the evidences (hence my prior use of Bayes' Theorem). In this post, I would like to compile the aspects of the resurrection accounts that supposedly make the legendary development hypothesis implausible.

In other posts, I am going to list some of the aspects of the New Testament that seem less likely if the resurrection is true. A fair assessment should not arbitrarily discard any evidence. Subsequently, I will begin the assessment of each of the evidences listed. The goal of this is to see where the evidence points. If Christians are correct the likelihood of the resurrection is very nearly one, if we non-Christians are correct, the likelihood of the resurrection is nearly zero. I want to make the evidence I am considering and my reasoning as open as possible. If there are good reasons to think I am wrong, I want to know them. My goal here is to follow the evidence.

The historical evidence for the resurrection is mostly from Dr. William Lane Craig in the books, "Reasonable Faith" and "Jesus Under Fire". Some of the evidence Craig presents can be found in his debate with Dr. Bart Ehrman here. In that debate, Dr. Craig presents experts' conclusions as evidence. There are some pitfalls to using experts conclusions as evidence. It is quite likely that experts are influenced by things that should not affect ones reasoning, such as their background and/or funding. It is not that experts can't overcome biases, but I want to examine the evidence that should influence the experts. The evidences that really need explanation are aspects of existing documents. The existing documents are copies (of copies) of earlier reports. I am going to am not going to do justice to any piece of evidence here. But if I am ignoring any piece of significant evidence, please let me know.

Aspects of resurrection accounts considered unlikely on the legendary development hypothesis:
  1. The lack of time between the reported event and the reports
  2. The report of James' conversion recorded in Galatians
  3. The report of preaching in Jerusalem which would be unlikely if there was an occupied tomb
  4. Paul's account in 1 Cor 15:3 is unlikely on the legendary hypothesis
  5. The "first day of the week" motif in Mark instead of "on the third day"
  6. The reported discovery of the tomb by women
  7. The report of an early Jewish polemic in Matthew
  8. The lack of a record of tomb veneration
  9. Paul's testimony of the appearance to 500
  10. The narrative of the empty tomb is relatively free of theological and apologetic claims.
  11. The account of the burial seems less likely for a legend
Of course this blog's purpose is to give evidence that is unlikely on the resurrection hypothesis. In addition to the evidences for Christianity, I will also consider evidences that indicate the stories are legendary including: The parallels between of the gospel of Mark and other legends. How Jesus knowledge, strength and control seemed to grow in later accounts. I will also look at the apparent evolution of the story of the resurrection.

If I am missing major aspects of the historical accounts that support the fact of resurrection over legendary development, please let me know.


Anonymous said...

To see what I thought of Craig's first rebuttal in his debate with Ehrman see here.

Rich said...

I just wondered if the shroud of turin, claimed to be the cloth wrapped around Christ after he was crucified, was ever proven to be a hoax. A little websearch revealed that the investigation still goes on without conclsive proof either way. This woud seem to be a crucial piece of tangible evidence of Christ's crucification and would point towards the resurrection. Although I have been wrong a few times before. Also if some other historical document coicided of the accounts of the bible or told of Christ appearing to people after his resurrection they would be able point us towards the belief on the resurrection.

Chris said...

I would think you would also research the validity of external historian's claims of Jesus' resurrection, as Christian apologists often use these to validate it as historical fact.

Bill said...


I hadn't though about the shroud as evidence that much. I suppose if it has extraordinary properties than it could be evidence I should consider. I remember listening to a lecture in the late 90's by Gary Habermas on the shroud, and at that point he was unsure if it were genuine or not.

Linking the shroud to the resurrection would need to go through several steps though, so it may be a more complex assessment. I'll look into it.


There are only three historical references to Jesus outside the New Testament within about 100 years of the resurrection. Pliny the Younger (112 AD), Tacitus (113 AD). They only mention what Christians claimed/believed, so I think that evidence would be subsumed in the other evidence I listed. Simlarly with Josephus in the Antiquities (around 95 AD).

At best those reports may give evidence for the existance of Jesus, but I don't see how those reports favor the resurrection over legendary developement. The reports seem to late to preclude legend.

Albert said...

Shroud article:

Albert said...

From the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (aka CARM) "First of all, saying that there are no non biblical accounts of the resurrection does not invalidate the resurrection."
You see even they admit there are no extrabiblical accounts of the resurrection.

Mark Plus said...

The "supernatural" part of Jesus' "resurrection" doesn't sound right to me because Jesus' reported physical trauma doesn't sound all that horrifically bad, even by the primitive medical standards of the time. The spear wound in his side wouldn't necessarily kill him, considering that Alexander the Great reportedly survived an arrow wound in India that pierced his lung.

Soldiers coming back from Iraq have survived far worse injuries, including getting parts of their faces and skulls blown off by firearms and explosives, with the resulting permanent brain damage. Compared with those kinds of injuries, Jesus it easy. I doubt we would have seen a physical "resurrection" if the Romans had, say, beheaded Jesus and burned his remains on a stack of wood.

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: Evidence

What Is Evidence?

Mike said...

Albert, the CARM website goes on to say "Second, it is not accurate to say that there are no extra biblical accounts of the resurrection of Christ"
The reason the website make the statement in which you chose to misrepresent is to provide an answer to the objection “There are no non-biblical accounts to the resurrection”. I can tell this is not going to be an honest debate.

Albert said...

Okay, enlighten me and tell me what writings are in existence outside of the Bible, that are contemporary to the crucifixion and resurrection. There are none.

nsfl said...

Two good resources for the writings on Jesus, delineating those derived from Christian tradition/Scripture from external accounts:
1) Jeff Lowder's 2000 article in response to J. McDowell:
Josh McDowell's "Evidence" for Jesus -- Is It Reliable?
2) Series on wikipedia: Jesus and History -- contains lots of good citations

Bill said...


Thanks for the links.