There have been arguments against the resurrection since it occurred. But none of them have any merit. Every one of them has been demolished. And that is important. Because believing in the resurrection is the most important decision you will ever make.
Because Jesus’ resurrection shows that he is everything that he said he was. You’ve got to believe in his resurrection to have a Christian faith and become right with God. But if the resurrection didn’t happen, Christianity is wrong.
In fact, the apostle Paul wrote, “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).
People have argued against the resurrection since the first century (Matt. 18:23). So don’t be surprised when you talk with others who doubt that the resurrection happened.
Don’t know what to do if someone says the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen? Here are your responses to nine arguments against the resurrection.
1. Destroying the Argument that it is Impossible to Harmonize the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels
A common argument against the resurrection claims, “The Gospels contradict each other about Jesus’s resurrection: they don’t harmonize?”
- “Harmonization” means taking historical facts and putting them together in a logical whole. It’s a lot like detective work and sorting out various witness statements. Detectives try to put the different eyewitness accounts together into some logical whole.
Some critics say that you cannot harmonize the resurrection accounts. But this is wrong:
- These critics do not know how to gather historical evidence.
- And they forget to presume the innocence of the Gospel accounts (accounts should be “innocent until proven guilty”!).
- And since they do not believe in miracles, they immediately suppose all accounts are wrong.
- It is possible to harmonize Christ’s resurrection accounts.
- There are no contradictions.
- There is some variety in the eyewitness accounts, and that is good! Because it supports what we’d expect from real, independent eyewitnesses. Each person is reporting from a different perspective. But if all four versions were identical, you would suspect collusion.
In sum, it is possible to harmonize the four gospel accounts of the resurrection. And these writings are what we would expect from genuine eyewitness accounts.
2. Refuting that the Disciples Went to the Wrong Tomb
One of the most ridiculous arguments against the resurrection is that the disciples went to the wrong tomb.
- First of all, there’s no way Jesus’ disciples didn’t know the location of Jesus’ tomb.
- Second, assume the disciples went to the wrong grave. Jewish leadership and governing Romans had an easy way to show them Jesus still dead. They only needed to go to the right tomb and produce Christ’s dead body. That would suppress any resurrection claims. After all, they knew the site of Christ’s tomb. They had placed the guard to watch over that tomb (Matt. 62-66).
3. Third there is No Evidence the Disciples Stole the Body
This claim stretches credulity to the max. This argument against the resurrection tries to convince us that some or all of the eleven frightened and hiding disciples overpowered a Roman guard. It is important to remember that Rome trained these soldiers in the art of warfare!
The disciples would have to move the heavy stone in front of the tomb. And then they would have had to steal Christ’s body as the first century Jews suggested (Matt. 28:13). But if they stole Christ’s body, they would know that the resurrection claims were false. Then why would the disciples submit to persecution and eleven of twelve disciples die as martyrs?
Martyrdom doesn’t prove the truth (like Jihadi terrorism and World War II Kamikaze pilots). It does prove sincere belief. A person might die for something they believe is true. But no one will die for what they know is false! This includes the disciples.
The disciples wouldn’t die telling others that Jesus resurrected if they knew that they had stolen the body. They were sure they saw the risen Lord.
4. Fourth, Refuting the Notion that the Jews or Romans Stole the Body of Christ
Another argument is that the Jewish leadership or Romans steal Jesus’s body?
Here again, we need to ask, “Why?” What did they have to gain?
Suppose the Romans or the Sanhedrin stole Christ’s body. Why did they make the senseless charge that the disciples stole the body (in Matt. 28:11–15)?
This false charge by Jesus’s enemies is essential evidence. It proves that there was an empty tomb. Why?
- If your mom says you are brave, that is considered biased evidence.
- But, if your enemy says you are brave, you are very likely to be brave. This “evidence from an enemy” of Christ who had to make an excuse for an empty tomb proves its truthfulness.
Further, when the resurrection story began to spread, why didn’t they produce Jesus’s body? Instead, they could only threaten and punish the apostles. The Jewish and Roman leaders never refuted the resurrection.
5. Fifth Argument Against the Resurrection: The Swoon Theory
As a physician who took care of critically ill patients in the ER and ICU, I know the “Swoon Theory” is absurd. This theory suggests that Jesus didn’t die on the cross. He passed out (swooned) and then revived in the tomb.
This view is inconsistent with current medical knowledge of the facts.
- Roman flogging, crucifixion, and stabbing by a spear ensured his death (John 19:32–34)
- Jesus was also proclaimed dead by a centurion
- He was a professional executioner reporting to Pilate (Mark 15:39)
Proponents of this theory ask us to suspend reasonable judgment. If you buy into the “Swoon Theory,” you think that Jesus:
- Revived in the tomb despite torture, crucifixion, and stabbing
- Recovered without any medical care for 36-48 hours later
- Pushed away a heavy stone blocking his grave with nail-pierced hands and feet
- Overcome a Roman guard
- Found his disciples and somehow appeared as the resurrected Messiah
It is ridiculous to think the disciples could confuse this man needing medical care with God.
6. Sixth Argument Against the Resurrection: The Hallucination Theory
Did those who say they saw Jesus raised from the dead just have a mass hallucination?
I did my first year of residency in psychiatry. And even with that small exposure, I can testify that this theory beyond belief.
In “shared psychosis” or “shared delusional disorder,” individuals are few and isolated. But there were more than 500 eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 15:6).
Eyewitnesses experienced the resurrected Jesus at least eleven times over forty days (Acts 1:3). He appeared in various locations. There is no reason to suspect these ordinary people were prone to hallucinations (John 20:19–21:14; Acts 1:3).
7. Seventh Argument Against the Resurrection: A Spiritual Resurrection.
Critics claim Jesus resurrected spiritually but not bodily.
But these critics are unfamiliar with the Bible. Scriptural evidence contradicts this theory.
- Christ was seen and heard on at least ten separate occasions over forty days to more than 500 witnesses (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
- He was physically touched (Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:39; John 20:27)
- And he ate at least twice with others (Luke 24:42–43; John 21:1–14)
Jesus had a physical body when he raised from the dead.
8. Eighth Argument Against the Resurrection: Resurrection as a Myth
The idea that Jesus’s resurrection was a myth is impossible.
How does a myth (or legend) get made? Two things need to be present for legend creation:
- Time: at least two generations (60-90 years) from the event and writings
- Isolation (few or no people around to witness what really happened)
Neither of these two is present in the Gospel accounts.
Three of the Gospels were written thirty years after Jesus’s resurrection. Meaning most eyewitnesses were still alive. Plus, Paul documents one of the earliest Christian creeds in 1 Cor. 15. This creed was in place and recited by early Christians just 3-8 years after the resurrection. This evidence indicates the original accounts were from eyewitnesses.
Second, the resurrection accounts in the Bible do not read like myths or fables. They include accurate persons, places, and events, unlike typical myths. And knowledgeable scholars have shown no borrowing from Greek or Roman mythology.
9. Ninth Argument Against the Resurrection: Post-death Appearances Were Not Christ.
Hugh J. Schonfield’s book The Passover Plot (London: Bantam, 1965) is bizarre. Schonfield claims that the post-death appearances of Jesus were all mistaken identity cases.
- Mary thought she saw a gardener (John 20)
- The two disciples thought it was a stranger (Luke 24)
- The disciples themselves didn’t believe it was Jesus at first
- Mark admitted Jesus appeared in “a different form” (Mark 16:12).
These objections show a lack of familiarity with the biblical text! In every case, their initial doubts are understandable. None of them expected to encounter a resurrected Jesus! Yet on every occasion, the disciples eventually recognized Jesus. And they never doubted again after they touched him and saw his scars and saw him eat food.
Also, if these appearances weren’t actually Jesus, the Jewish leaders or Romans could have produced Jesus’ real dead body.
This theory also doesn’t explain Christ’s appearance to more than five hundred people all at once (1 Cor. 15:6). Or his eleven appearances on various occasions over forty days.
Finally, this theory does not explain the transformation of the disciples. They suddenly became the world’s most successful missionary force. And they succeeded without coercion. Why? Because they saw the real Jesus risen from the dead.
Summary of Christian Responses to Arguments Against the Resurrection
None of these naturalistic theories refute the resurrection. In some cases, it takes more faith to believe these theories than the resurrection.
So why do these theories still hang on? After all, they were disproven hundreds or thousands of years ago!
Unfortunately, most contemporary Christians don’t know the Bible. As a result, we can’t respond to these arguments.
As a Christian, don’t worry. No argument has ever disproven Jesus’s resurrection in over 2000 years. That fact alone should encourage your belief and encourage you as you share the gospel with others.
Geisler, N. L. (2012). The Big Book of Christian Apologetics An A to Z Guide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Habermas, G. R. (1996). The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (p. 161-162). Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company.