When it comes to identifying the most plausible explanation for an event…we start by gathering the eyewitness evidence and testimony about this event. And once the evidence has been marshalled, we then begin the job of finding a theory that best fits all the evidence and gives an explanation FOR the event.
This process will throw up many different theories. But the better theories will be the ones with the widest explanatory scope. In other words, the theories which best fit with the most of the available data. We have a problem to deal with when we have theories that require us to throw some established data away. Any explanatory theory that requires us to throw data away is not a good theory.
In the 1st Century, over 500 people in and around Jerusalem claimed that Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead. It sparked a movement that in 2016 has 2.5 billion followers – CHRISTIANITY. Why did it spark this movement? Because the resurrection of Jesus confirmed the claims of Jesus – that he was the Messiah, God himself, and he had come to begin setting up God’s Kingdom.
I’ve attached below the uncontested historical facts that Christian and non-Christian historians agree on surrounding the death of Jesus and the birth of the Christian Church.
I’ve also gathered the bulk of the natural and supernatural theories that have been proposed over the last 2000 years since the claims of Jesus’ Resurrection were first made. There are 13 theories which try to explain the Resurrection event. What you can see – is that all the naturalistic theories bar one have a big problem. The numbers under each theory indicate which elements of historical data we must throw away if we are to stick with this theory. These theories have poor explanatory scope. They require us to throw established facts away. They are not good theories.
There are only two theories that fit with all the established facts. One naturalistic theory – and one supernatural theory.
Jesus was an alien. I don’t find this explanation convincing. Because “Jesus is an alien” in a Star Trek way basically just paints a bullseye around the facts…and fires the Starship Enterprise at it. This explanation ironically explains nothing at all. But personally I like this theory because I love space movies. And I think in a very real sense…that Jesus was alien…but he wasn’t from another Galaxy. He simply wasn’t originally from our Universe.
Jesus was who he said He was and God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead at that point in history to confirm the ongoing narrative that had been running for millennia…and continues to run…about the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It fits with a Judeo-Christian understanding of the past and the Christian expectation for the future. It clarifies it, and it explains it in a powerful way.
It seems to me as I look at the data and the possible theories, that the one that best fits the data, is the explanation that the first Christians themselves proposed. That on the first Easter Sunday, God raised Jesus from the dead.
1 – HISTORICAL FACTS
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- He was buried.
- Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
- The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
- The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
- The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection.
- This message was the centre of preaching in the early church.
- The message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
- As a result of this preaching the church was born and grew.
- Sunday became the primary day of worship.
- James, brother of Jesus, who had been a sceptic was converted to the faith when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus.
- A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.
2 – NATURAL AND SUPERNATURAL THEORIES
 Craig Hazen, Evidence for the Resurrection, Biola University.