Did the Resurrection occur?
The first question skeptics often ask is, "Did Jesus exist in the first place?" For an answer to this, see the article on extra-biblical evidence for the existence of Jesus.
Articles on historical evidence for the Resurrection (offsite):
Did Jesus faint on the cross and revive later?
There is no reason to believe Jesus survived his crucifixion. An Examination of the Medical Evidence for the Physical Death of Christ by Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson (offsite) explains the suffering Jesus endured prior to his crucifixion and what crucifixion would have done to him. Even if he had managed to survive until someone came to take him down, the centurions would have verified that he was truly dead before allowing his body to be removed (Mk 15:44-45, Jn 19:31-34).
Further arguments against this theory are the facts that Jesus' body was anointed with 75 pounds' worth of spices (Jn 19:39-40) and laid in a tomb with a heavy stone blocking the door (Mk 16:2-4). Had Jesus still been alive at this point, his incredibly weakened state would have prevented him from throwing off the weighted fabric surrounding him and moving the huge stone.
Did the disciples steal the body?
One alternate theory often proposed is that the disciples stole Jesus' body and claimed he was resurrected. While the tomb was guarded and sealed with a heavy stone (the movement of which would presumably have alerted/awoken the guards had they been sleeping), the guard didn't arrive until Saturday morning (Mt 27:62-66), giving the disciples time to steal the body. It has been argued that the disciples were too shocked and depressed at this point to come up with a grand scheme and pull it off, yet it could have been originated by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who at least had the presence of mind to anoint and bury Jesus and who could have returned later in the night to get the body.
This theory requires the disciples to have lied about the Resurrection and to have preached Christianity when they knew its very foundation was false. Yet what profit did they gain from this? While members of the early church donated what they had to the church, the wealth was shared among all the members, not given to the apostles alone (Ac 2:44-45). Instead, they were persecuted1 and all except John were martyred2. Not only this, but they traveled far from their native country in order to spread the Gospel and were separated as a consequence; they could easily have confessed the lie or stopped preaching and slipped into obscurity, thus saving themselves from persecution and avoiding a confrontation with their partners in crime.
The conspiracy theory also doesn't explain how the early church could get away with claiming that over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ (1 Cor 15:3-8) or how Paul, a well-known persecutor of the church, could have been accepted as a convert. If the apostles knew Jesus hadn't really risen from the dead, they would know Paul couldn't have really seen Jesus on his way to Damascus. There would be no reason for them to accept their enemy into their inner circle; on the contrary, the most likely explanation to them would be that he was attempting to become an undercover spy.
1. The book of Acts records numerous instances of persecution, including the stoning of Stephen in 7:54-60. Other persecutions are mentioned in Paul's letters, e.g. 1 Thes 2:2-15.
2. Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Chapter 1
Other responses (offsite)
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