Christian Theology and Apologetics

A Historical Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: Part 6

In the last part I went through the biblical data pertinent to the investigation of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and took that data and plugged it into a Bayes Factor to decipher the probability of R (Resurrection) over ~R (Resurrection Alternatives). Part six will take the salient facts concerning the Disciples and this will be run through a Bayes Factor as well.

The Crucifixion caused no triumphant jubilation amongst the disciples; they believed the ministry they partook of for three years was a bust; their leader was dead, the ministry was over. The antecedent condition of the Disciples suddenly and inexplicably changed from demoralized to embolden.

One hypothesis—the so-called conspiracy hypothesis—posits that the disciples didn’t believe what they were proclaiming to others, that they were first century con artists engaged in an elaborate scheme. Conspiracy hypothesis theorizers also clam at least some of the disciples stole the body. This theory is perhaps the oldest as it was mentioned in Scripture itself (Matt 28:13-15). It must be said that this theory has had very few adherents since the 1700’s since it is based on silence and no corroborating evidence whatsoever. Additionally, there is no motive to be found for the disciples; they weren’t going to gain political power; receive sexual gratification, or anything of any intrinsic value. Even if they did think it would profit them, it seems to me they would have given up their story after years of persecution. The disciples saw the fates of others for preaching Christ was resurrected from the dead (Ac 7:59;12:2); they knew how it would likely end, yet they proceeded, it couldn’t have been for material gain.

“. . . The vast majority of scholars—skeptical as well as Christian—acknowledge the Easter faith of the disciples is plainly a result of the extremely low explanatory power of the conspiracy hypothesis vis a vis the evidence.”[1] Simply put there is no explanatory power for the conspiracy hypothesis and for this reason it has been mostly been abandoned for centuries. Other problems with the theory are in the statements asserted as factual. The Jews claimed the disciples came while the guards slept at night. What Roman guard would admit to sleeping on the job to his superiors—it was a capital offence, especially considering this dead man claimed to be the Jewish king. Additionally, how would sleeping guards know who stole the body?

Richard Carrier has unconvincingly attempted to revive the theft hypothesis by positing that one or two of Christ’s disciples stole the body in order to deceive everyone into believing God vindicated Christ by assuming his body to heaven. This modified conspiracy hypothesis suffers the same issues as the normal theory; it has no explanatory power. Additionally if only one or two disciples stole the body, they would still have to get by trained Roman guards that wouldn’t be sleeping on the job. Thus, evidence for the conspiracy hypothesis is unreasonably low and this accounts for its lack of following for nearly three centuries.

Another theory is the wrong tomb theory, which we looked at in part five of this series. It suffers a very high improbability being that it requires that no one in the entire group of Jesus’ followers questioned whether they had the proper tomb identified. Moreover, if the disciples went to the wrong tomb and made the claim Jesus rose from the dead, the Romans would have went to the proper tomb and paraded the body through the city to quench the preaching.[2] In order for this theory to work the Jews and Romans alike would have had to suffer a “collective amnesia.”[3] Moreover, the appearances of Christ must be explained in addition to the empty tomb. The empty tomb was not the convincing factor for most of the disciples; it was the appearance of Christ to them, and even that wasn’t enough for Thomas. Even if the empty tomb could be explained in some naturalistic manner, the post-resurrection appearances of Christ would still remain.

If Di is the testimony of one disciple and X is the disjunction of external naturalistic theories, P (Di|~R & X) is many orders of magnitude lower than P (Di|R, and P (X|~R) is extremely low.[4] This means that external naturalistic theories do not contribute anything worthy of mention to the general probability of P (D|~R).

What about the postulation that the faith of the disciples led to their belief that Jesus rose from the dead? This idea reared its head when John Dominic Crossan debated William Lane Craig over the Resurrection of Jesus—Crossan’s assertion couldn’t hold water. Craig made the point in this debate that it was not the faith that led to the belief in the resurrection; it was the resurrection and subsequent appearances of Christ to his followers that led to their faith. Crossan, like Carrier above is forced to rely upon naturalistic explanations and neither skeptic can account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to as many as 500 followers. The disciples grounded their faith in an attestable historical fact; they did not die for an ideology, they died for an empirical fact, something that cannot be said for a radical Islamic terrorist willing to blow himself to pieces for his ideology. The disciples died for a fact they witnessed themselves, they weren’t a thousand years removed from their claim.

What is the probability of one disciple testifying that Jesus was risen from the dead? The hallucination theory is the best of the available naturalistic explanations, but this has a number of fatal flaws. Hallucinations are not experienced by groups, but by individuals. Even when hallucinations are induced by chemicals in group settings, the hallucinations vary wildly. No two people see the same thing. Jesus appeared to more than one person over a dozen times throughout a forty day period; it was not a one-time appearance. Additionally, this theory faces the same flaw of the mistaken tomb theory. If the disciples simply hallucinated that Jesus rose from the dead, why didn’t the Romans or Sanhedrin make them a mockery by taking the corpse of Christ and parading it through the city to silence them? These authorities would have jumped at the chance to do so, but apparently they couldn’t because the tomb was actually empty as purported.

If the resurrection did not occur, we would not expect to have the testimony of a single witness. McGrew states “in the individual case, it would seem that P (Di|R) is atleast three powers of magnitude greater than P (Di|~R).[5] Taking this single Bayes factor into account, consider how powerful the factor is when we factor all thirteen named disciples.

P(Di & . . . & D13|R)


P(Di & . . . & D13|~R)

The Bayes factor for each of the thirteen disciples must be multiplied which equals a astonishing number P(D|R/P(D|~R)= 1039. Thus, it is extremely probable that the testimony of the disciples is due to the resurrection of Jesus than any naturalistic explanation. Christian faith is rooted in facts, not blind adherence to something not rooted in history.

[1] Timothy McGrew and Lydia McGrew “The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, 622.

[2] Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, (Crossway, 2004), 302.

 [3] Ibid, 303.

[4] McGrew, 623.

[5] McGrew, 628.


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