There have been arguments against the resurrection since it occurred. However, 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 critical decision you will ever make.
Because Jesus’ resurrection shows that he is everything he said he was. To become a Christian, you must believe in his resurrection. However, if the resurrection did not happen, then Christianity is untrue.
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 do not be surprised when you talk with others who doubt that the resurrection happened.
Do you know how to answer if someone says the resurrection of Jesus did not happen? Here are your responses to nine arguments against the resurrection.
I. First, Destroying the Argument Against the Resurrection that “The Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Cannot Be Harmonized.”
A common argument against the resurrection claims, “The Gospels contradict each other about Jesus’s resurrection: they do not 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. However, I am afraid that’s not right:
- These critics do not know how to gather historical evidence.
- Moreover, they forget to presume the innocence of the Gospel accounts (accounts should be “innocent until proven guilty”!).
- Furthermore, 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 would expect from actual, independent eyewitnesses. Each person is reporting from a different perspective. Nevertheless, if all four versions were identical, you would suspect collusion.
For example, Dr. Michael Licona gave a helpful presentation at Biola University, answering the question, “Are there contradictions in the Gospels?” The answer is no.
In sum, it is possible to harmonize the four gospel accounts of the resurrection. Moreover, these writings are what we would expect from genuine eyewitness accounts.
II. Second, Refuting the Argument Against the Resurrection that “The Disciples Went to the Wrong Tomb”
One of the ridiculous arguments against the resurrection is that the disciples went to the wrong tomb.
- First of all, there is 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 that Jesus was 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 a guard to watch over that tomb (Matt. 62-66).
III. Third, Showing Lack of Evidence that “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 does not prove the truth (like Jihadi terrorism and World War II Kamikaze pilots). However, 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! The disciples included!
The disciples would not die telling others that Jesus had resurrected if they knew they had stolen the body. They were sure they saw the risen Lord.
IV. Fourth, Refuting the Argument Against the Resurrection that “The Jews or Romans Stole the Body of Christ“
Another argument is that the Jewish leadership or Romans stole 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.
- However, 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.
V. Fifth, Dispelling the “Swoon Theory” as a Valid Argument Against the Resurrection
As a physician who cared for critically ill patients in the ER and ICU, I know the “Swoon Theory” is absurd. This theory suggests that Jesus did not 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 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.
VI. Sixth, Showing the Absurdity of the “Hallucination Theory” as an Argument Against the Resurrection:
Did those who say they saw Jesus raised from the dead 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 more than 500 eyewitnesses 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).
VII. Seventh, Dispelling the Idea that Jesus’ Resurrection was a “Spiritual Resurrection”
Critics claim Jesus resurrected spiritually but not bodily.
However, 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 was raised from the dead.
VIII. Eighth, Refuting the Argument that the “Resurrection was 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 that 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. Furthermore, knowledgeable scholars have shown no borrowing from Greek or Roman mythology.
IX. Ninth, the Argument Against the Resurrection Claiming “All of the Post-death Appearances Were Not Christ” is Ridiculous
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 did not 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, saw his scars, and saw him eat food.
Also, if these appearances were not the resurrected Jesus, the Jewish leaders or Romans could have produced Jesus’ natural dead body.
This theory also does not explain Christ’s appearance to more than five hundred people all at once (1 Cor. 15:6). Or his eleven appearances over forty days.
Finally, this theory does not explain the transformation of the disciples. They suddenly became the world’s most successful missionary force. Moreover, they succeeded without coercion. Why? Because they saw Jesus risen from the dead.
X. Summary of Christian Responses to Arguments Against the Resurrection
None of these naturalistic theories refute the resurrection. In fact, 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, unless contemporary Christians know the Bible, they cannot respond to these arguments.
As a Christian, do not worry. No argument has ever disproven Jesus’ resurrection in over 2000 years. That fact alone should encourage your belief and encourage you to share the gospel with others.
If you are not a Christian, but have had your obstacles removed and want to place your faith in Jesus. All you need to do is admit and repent of being a rebel against God. Then you need to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.
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.