Oprah Winfrey's Half-Sister and The Odds of The Resurrection of Jesus

There are a lot of things that happen to people that go against the overwhelming odds. Let's take the example of Oprah Winfrey's revelation in November 2010 that she has a half-sister named Patricia who was adopted out by her mother shortly after being born. What are the odds of someone discovering late in life that she has a half-sister? I don't know, but surely it's extremely rare. It wasn't a miracle, that's for sure. Things like that do occur from time to time. By contrast, if Jesus arose from the grave then such a thing was a miracle, and as such has even less of a chance of happening than a sister discovering she had a half-sister, by far!

Incredibly rare events within the realm of the natural world take place all of the time, like people getting stuck by lightning, winning the lottery, finding a bottle with a note in it that washes up on a beach, or living through a disaster that should have killed them. Yes, these things are all extremely rare, but they happen, all of the time.

In a like manner, a natural explanation for the resurrection should almost always be preferred over any claim that Jesus arose from the dead, so long as it has a minimal degree of plausibility (i.e., aliens did not do it). It's the rational thing to conclude. Even if we cannot produce a natural explanation of what actually happened from the so-called evidence, it's still far more reasonable to say we don't think Jesus arose from the dead. Why? Because incredible things happen all of the time.

In what follows I'll offer a very brief natural explanation of the claim that Jesus resurrected. Compare it with the claim he physically arose from the dead. You cannot say my natural explanation lacks plausibility because I already admit that it does. As I said, incredible things happen all of the time. What you need to say is that my natural explanation is MORE implausible than the claim that Jesus physically arose from the dead, and you simply cannot do that.

My natural explanation is that the early disciples were visionaries, that is, they believed God was speaking to them in dreams, trances, and thoughts that burst into their heads throughout the day. Having their hopes utterly dashed upon the crucifixion of Jesus they began having visions that Jesus arose from the dead. They began preaching this to people who subsequently had these same kinds of visions. In these visions they thought Jesus was speaking to them, so they began preaching what they learned from him (Acts 2:17-21; I Cor. 14; 2 Cor. 12:1-10). The most obvious of these revelations was Paul's claim that he learned the Gospel and the Lord's Supper directly from Jesus himself, not from men (Galatians 1:11-12; I Cor. 11:23). The author of Revelation wrote down seven dictated letters from Jesus as the result of his vision (Rev. 2-3).

They "saw" Jesus. They preached what he "revealed" to them. There was no objective evidence for any of this, so there is no reason why we should take their word on it. After all, these visions were subjective experiences.

With this as a basis for their faith anything can be believed and taught with the authority of Jesus speaking from heaven. All one needs to do is compare this phenomena with the rise of Mormonism.

It can also be believed that there was an empty tomb on the basis of a vision from someone who is thought to receive this revelation from Jesus himself. We call these people "liars for Jesus," and we know plenty of them who have claimed they found Noah's Ark.

My natural explanation doesn't require a conspiracy, or that Jesus didn't die on the cross. All it requires is one liar for Jesus, and I think this liar is the author of Mark, the first gospel. He invented the empty tomb sequence. That's it. The rest is history among superstitious people who were wanting to have hard evidence for their claim and would believe Mark's Gospel based upon the visions of a visionary. Just think of Joseph Smith who started the Mormon church. It's the same claim.

Taken together with the Grief Hypothesis of Gerd L├╝demann I think it's a slam dunk natural explanation.

Stranger things have happened.

But a miracle is simply more incredible than my natural explanation, by far. Therefore no reasonable person should believe Jesus arose from the dead. Just as it was utterly incredible but non-miraculous that Oprah would discover she had a half-sister, so also there is no reason to punt to a miracle when it comes to the early church claim that Jesus physically arose from the grave.

And if my natural explanation doesn't work there are a number of them, any one of which has more probability to it than that Jesus physically arose from the dead.


Alex Greaves said...

IIRC, 1 Corinthians 15 predates Mark's gospel, so your theory, in its current form and assuming the historical sources have been correctly interpreted, is an impossibility.