How to Make a Good Case for the Resurrection
My friend texted me the other day: What’s your argument if someone says Jesus is just a crazy person? I would respond in the following way.
What Evidence Do You Have?
What evidence is there to support that Jesus’ supposed insanity? The Gospels certainly do not portray him as such. They narrate the events of a man who taught with authority, performed miracles, and was crucified. His clever and thoughtful interactions with the Jewish leaders demonstrate control of his faculties.
Perhaps the objector has in mind people with mental disorders who suffer from intense delusions. They think they are God, for example, or that they are destined to become the Messiah in 20. Or that surgeons inserted a third robotic arm in their abdomen at a young age. Psychiatrists and psychologists surely know such cases of grandiose delusion. The objector thinks Jesus could have been one such person.
I would reiterate that we need to hear some evidence for this possibility. Why think Jesus was like that? The evidence we have shows him in control, debating, teaching, and refuting the Pharisees. Crowds followed him to hear His teaching and see His miracles. If were merely a deluded maniac, His followers would have caught on to this. Yet, the Jewish leaders accuse Him of blasphemy, not insanity.
Of course, the objector might reject all of that evidence and state that the Gospels are mythical, fictional embellishments. The real Jesus, he insists, may have just been a crazy person. At this point, one could argue for the historical reliability of the Gospels, but I suggest another path.
How Do You Explain the Resurrection?
The “Jesus was just a crazy person” hypothesis fails if one can make a good case for the Resurrection. Here’s why. Jesus came on the scene with unquestionable authority, claiming to be the Son of God in a unique way, and promising to usher in the Kingdom of God. By rising from the dead, he vindicated these extraordinary claims.
So, can we make a strong case that Jesus rose from the dead? Yes. The case unfolds as follows:
(1) Even if the Gospels are not treated as reliable historical accounts, there are several important facts from the first century agreed upon by a great majority of scholars. These scholars include unbelievers, agnostics, and also believers.
(2) Historians use several criteria to decide what happened in the past. They use these criteria to analyze competing hypotheses.
(3) When we analyze competing hypotheses that explain the minimal facts of the first century, agreed upon by scholars, we arrive at the conclusion that God raised Jesus from the dead. All other hypotheses suffer from glaring deficiencies. One can therefore rationally believe in Jesus’ resurrection and acknowledge that this vindicates His divine claims.
Let’s See the Case!
That’s just a quick overview. For a great example of the strong case, watch this lecture by Dr. William Lane Craig. Also, grab his very affordable eBook Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
Contemporary Popular Responses
A common move in classical apologetics refers to the martyrdoms of the Apostles as evidence of the truth of their claims. After all, why would anyone consent to being crucified, burned alive, beheaded, tortured, and the like if one merely made up a story? Now that is crazy.
However, two contemporary popular responses come to mind. In response to that, skeptics might tell you:
People die for a lie all of the time. Think about the Muslims who flew planes into buildings!
But you can swiftly note the difference. Those flying planes into buildings did not do so for what they knew was a lie. The 9/11 hijackers thought they were right in their actions (or at least that’s the most plausible interpretation). On the other hand, the Apostles, if they made up the whole story, would have known they were dying for a lie, and knowingly dying for a lie strains credulity.
Most people spending time in apologetics know all of these replies. But, there are two replies that have gained more popularity in our time.
(1) The martyrdoms of the Apostles are largely mythical. There is no good evidence that they occurred.
(2) The Mormon religion or Islam provides an example of how a religion can rise up from a lie. At least, the Christian affirms the falsehood of major tenets of those religions. This undercuts the use of the origins of Christianity as evidence of its truth.
One could offer some direct counterpoints to these claims, but that’s not what I suggest. Rather, I would point out to the critic that neither of those objections eliminates the evidence for the Resurrection as the best explanation of the first century facts. At this point, I recommend watching Craig’s presentation again to see how that is so. While skeptics may come up with hypotheses to explain a particular datum or two, their hypotheses do not best explain all of the relevant facts. Only the Resurrection can do that.
For a great, affordable eBook making this case for the Resurrection see this one. If you’re intrigued by the objection (1) above and want to defend the historicity of the martyrdoms of the Apostles, there is not a ton out there right now. I will write on the subject in the future. The best work is Sean McDowell’s book but it’s very expensive .
- Jesus was not crazy. The burden of proof is on the skeptic here to make the case that he was.
- The evidence for the Resurrection is good!
- Popular, contemporary objections fail to explain away the evidence for the Resurrection.
 This is an extremely important footnote. I just listened to Sean McDowell on a podcast discussing the updated version of a classic Christian apologetics book called: Evidence Demands a Verdict. The updated version of the book from 2017 contains an entire chapter explaining the evidence for the martyrdoms of the Apostles. I don’t yet own this book, but I hope to buy it soon, check it out on Amazon. The table of contents looks awesome.