I have continued to be in dialogue with Bradley Bowen on The Secular Outpost throughout his Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus series. He wrote in part 10 of the series:
A key claim made by Christian apologists who defend the resurrection goes like this:
(JAW) Jesus of Nazareth was alive and walking around unassisted on the first Easter Sunday.
We are considering the implications of the following supposition:
4. (JAW) is false.
On this supposition, there are three logical possibilities:
A. Jesus was not alive on the first Easter Sunday.B. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but did not walk at all that day.C. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but was walking only with assistance from others.
Here is my response:
If A is true then the Apparent Death Theory (ADT) is not true. Since the Gospel accounts and historical records agree that Jesus was crucified we know that Jesus was subjected to a life threatening situation. This means that Jesus would have to survive scourging, crucifixion and very likely a spear thrust to the side that pierced his heart. We know that Suetonius, Josephus, Cicero and Livy all documented cases where people died during or shortly after scourging, and that scourging of non-Roman citizens was common before crucifixions. We also know that the Romans executed thousands of people via crucifixion, and so were very good at it. This means that Jesus would have to survive two life threatening events.
Jesus also very likely received a spear thrust to the side. John 19:32-34 says, “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” This accords with what the South African Medical Journal wrote in "The history and pathology of crucifixion." They wrote, "The attending Roman guards could only leave the site after the victim had died, and were known to precipitate death by means of deliberate fracturing of the tibia and/or fibula, spear stab wounds into the heart, sharp blows to the front of the chest, or a smoking fire built at the foot of the cross to asphyxiate the victim." So, it seems likely that Jesus would have to survive a spear thrust to the side as well.
Even if Jesus was somehow alive after sustaining a massive amount of trauma, he would have to survive three days in critical or serious condition in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb without the medical care he would desperately needed. Even if someone made it past the Roman guards and rescued Jesus he would have to go sometime without medical care and the care who would have eventually received would be very primitive by today’s standards.
Most NT scholars agree that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Even the agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman said, “The earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by his fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it’s relatively reliable that’s what happened.” This means that since the highly experienced and disciplined soldiers that crucified really believed that he was dead. 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and the Gospel accounts all indicate that Jesus followers also believed that Jesus died on the cross. So, everyone around Jesus believed that he really died on the cross. It also means that if Jesus’ body never made it out of the tomb then it would be obvious to everyone involved that Jesus was dead and not resurrected.
Roman historians also validate the Biblical accounts. Tacitus wrote:
Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.
Tacitus confirms that Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate.
The Gospel accounts also accord with what Josephus’ history He wrote, “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die.” Again, it is confirmed that Jesus was crucified by Pilate.
So, taken all together there is a lot of evidence that suggests that Jesus died after being scourged, crucified and speared. This is why physician C. Truman Davis writes, “Apparently, to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. John 19:34 states, ‘And immediately there came out blood and water.’ Thus there was an escape of watery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and the blood of the interior of the heart. This is rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Jesus died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.”
This is why I think that the ADT is probably not true. Jesus would have to have to survive an extraordinary amount of trauma and three events that could likely kill him. However, Jesus’ empty tomb and post mortem appearances greatly lower the chances that A is true. All four Gospel accounts, Acts 1, Acts 13:28-32, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and 1 Peter 1:3-4 all claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
As William Lane Craig likes to point out, it is significant that the Gospel accounts mention that Jesus’ tomb was found empty by two women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, because the testimony of women was not highly regarded in Jewish culture. Women’s testimony was not even accepted in legal proceedings. If the Gospel accounts were made up then it doesn’t make sense to have women be the first people to see the empty tomb. It would have made much more sense to have men be the first to see the empty tomb if the Gospels were faked. Agnostic NT scholar Bart Ehrman believes that there is solid evidence that women found Jesus’ tomb empty. He says, “We also have solid traditions that indicate that women found this [Jesus’ tomb] empty three days later.
After Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty hundreds of people claimed to have witnessed him walking around at different times. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:5 says that Peter witnessed the resurrection of Jesus and then in 1 Peter 1:3-4 Peter claims that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Even the skeptical NT critic Gert Lüdemann says, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ."
Paul also claims that hundreds witnessed Jesus walking around. Paul would have had a chance to talk to many if not all of these brothers during his wide ranging travels. It would be incredibly unlikely that hundreds of followers of Jesus could simultaneously hallucinate and mistakenly think that they are seeing his resurrected body.
In 1 Corinthians 15:7 Paul says that James the bother of Jesus witnessed Jesus walking around after his death. As the brother of Jesus James would have a great reason to be skeptical about the extraordinary claims surrounding his brother. While the two were growing up James would have likely seen Jesus as an ordinary older brother. Yet James says in the opening of his epistle, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1).” James was so sure that Jesus was the resurrected Christ that he was will die by stoning for continuing to proclaim the Gospel. In Antiquities of the Jews Josephus writes, “The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James" met his death after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus, yet before Lucceius Albinus took office (Antiquities 20,9) — which has thus been dated to 62. The High Priest Ananus ben Ananus took advantage of this lack of imperial oversight to assemble a Sanhedrin who condemned James "on the charge of breaking the law."
The Biblical accounts also correspond to historical records of Tacitus. He wrote, “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea.” It makes sense that Jesus’ followers would momentarily give up the movement after Jesus was crucified, and then pick it up again after the post mortem appearances. This is what we see in the Gospels; the followers of Jesus are disappointed after the crucifixion and then are jubilant after the tomb is discovered empty and they see him walking around.
The Biblical accounts also accords with the history of Josephus. He wrote, “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” According to Josephus Jesus disciples really believed that Jesus appeared to them after he was crucified by Pilate.
Since multiple witnesses testify to seeing Jesus’ resurrection we can say that A is unlikely. When one is not bound by the presuppositions of naturalism then the simple explanation for the death and post mortem appearances of Jesus is the God raised Jesus from the dead. This hypothesis becomes all the more likely when the Kalam cosmological argument; the Leibnizian cosmological argument; the fine tuning argument; the moral argument; and ontological arguments for God’s existence are taken together. All these arguments raise the likelihood that God exists. If God exists then it is likely that God performed a physically impossible, yet logically possible act when he temporally suspended natural order to resurrect Jesus from the dead.
I think that B and C are also not true because there are problems with both possibilities and there is no evidence that shows that Jesus did not walk on Easter Sunday following his crucifixion or that he needed help to get around. A major problem with B and C is explaining how Jesus had survived the all the trauma of a scourging, crucifixion and likely spearing. He would have to survive a significant amount of time in serious or critical condition (assuming that he was somehow still alive after being taken down from the cross) without medical care while he was in the tomb. Even if he did receive medical care after his crucifixion, medical care at that time would have been so primitive that it probably wouldn’t have be able to save someone.
Another problem with B and C is that one must explain how Jesus could have escaped from his sealed and guarded tomb if he was not capable of walking. If Jesus was not capable of walking then I think we can say with 100% certainty that he was not capable of escaping the tomb on his own. It would be a feat that is nearly impossible for a strong, healthy man as there are no hand holds on the stone and there is no way to push the stone from the left or right from inside the tomb. For a man in serious or critical condition, that was not capable of walking, this would be impossible.
A hypothesis could be given that Jesus’ followers bribed the Roman guards; rolled the stone; and carried Jesus out, but this hypothesis is ad hoc and implausible. First of all, it must be assumed that Jesus survived scourging, crucifixion and having his heart lanced which is quite unlikely. Secondly, it must be assumed that Jesus’ followers would be willing to rescue Jesus’ body. This seems implausible because the Jewish conception of a Messiah was of a military conqueror not someone who would get crucified, so it seems more likely that Jesus’ followers would have just given up on him. Thirdly, it must be assumed that the guards would be willing to risk possible capital punishment in order to take a bribe. This explanation is much more ad hoc and implausible then God resurrecting Jesus.
There is also no Biblical or historical evidence that shows that Jesus couldn’t walk on Easter Sunday or that he needed help getting around. Matthew 28 says that Jesus was not only walking around but capable of going up a small mountain. Mark 16 says that Jesus walked away from his tomb and then was seen at various places. Luke 24 reports that Jesus was walking alongside the disciples. John 20 reports that Jesus appeared to the disciples and was able to stand.