The Resurrection of Jesus: Naturalistic Hypotheses

Posted by Greg Monette on January 18 2014

I have a question for you!

Dale C. Allison Jr., arguably the leading historical Jesus scholar on the planet, has called the resurrection of Jesus the “prize puzzle of New Testament research.” (1)  After all, if the event really did happen approximately two-thousand years ago it would have massive implications on many different topics (i.e. evidence of life after death, and the validation of Jesus of Nazareth’s ministry from a divine source). Recent studies have shown that the vast majority of historians who have studied the historical reliability of the supposed resurrection of Jesus agree on a handful of details pertaining to the event in question. Gary R. Habermas has compiled an extensive bibliography of every scholarly monograph and article written about the resurrection of Jesus in English, French, and German that he could find. The latest count stands around 3,400 texts. What Habermas discovered was that most scholars accept the following four facts while a lesser majority accept the fifth. (2) 

These facts are: 1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion; 2) his disciples genuinely believed that he appeared to them alive a few days after his execution; 3) the apostle Paul went from being a persecutor of the Jesus movement to becoming a passionate evangelist proclaiming Christ to both Jews and Gentiles because he claimed Jesus appeared to him alive; 4) Jesus’ brother James went from being a skeptic to the head of the Jerusalem church within a short period of time after Jesus’ death because he believed Jesus appeared to him alive; and 5) Jesus' tomb was discovered empty by women on Easter Sunday morning. 

My purpose for this blogpost is not to argue that God did in fact raise Jesus from the dead (which I actually do believe), but rather to see what naturalistic arguments exist which could explain what happened to Jesus using the five facts listed above. Assuming these five facts are historically sound, are there any naturalistic hypotheses (without an act of God) which could account for these historical details pertaining to what happened to Jesus within a few short days after his execution at the hands of the Romans? 

Since hallucinations seems to be the most popular naturalistic (non-god) hypothesis I will go ahead and ask for other suggestions other than this.

So, what other hypotheses could account for what happened a few short days after Jesus’ death? Please give your answers in the comment section below. I look forward to reading your answers.

Thanks!

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 Dale C. Allison Jr., Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (New York: T&T Clark, 2005), 200.

 As referenced by Michael R. Licona, “Were the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Hallucinations?” Evidence for God: Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science, eds. William A. Dembski and Michael R. Licona (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), 177.

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