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Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection

One of our first thoughts when we hear someone claim to have witnessed a miracle is that there must be some sort of natural explanation. After all, even if they do occur, miracles are not the norm in nature.

In the Gospels we are told there was a similar response relating to Christ’s resurrection. When the Jewish priests were told the report of the empty tomb, they spread the tale that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body (Mt 28:12-15).

Even believers reacted this way. When Mary Magdalene initially saw Jesus, she made a natural assumption, supposing He was the gardener (Jn 20:10-15). When the disciples heard the report of the women who had gone to Jesus’ tomb, they thought the women were spreading rumors or false tales (Lk 24:11). Later, when they saw the risen Jesus, these same followers thought they were seeing a ghost or hallucination (Lk 24:36-43).

Throughout history many have had similar responses regarding Jesus’ resurrection, attempting to come up with naturalistic theories to explain away the resurrection. These attempts were far more common in the nineteenth century than they are today. Even if we were to ignore the majority of the information in the Gospels, appealing only to those historical facts that are acknowledged by virtually every scholar who studies this subject, both conservative and liberal, we still have many major responses to each of the naturalistic theories. Not surprisingly, compara- tively few scholars today think any of these alternative hypotheses really works.

For example, few critics have proposed that Jesus never died on the cross but instead “swooned”—fainted and only appeared dead. Dozens of medical studies have shown how death by crucifixion really kills and how this would be recognized by those present. Most of these reports argue that the chief cause of death in crucifixion was asphyxiation (death from being unable to breathe). It is even easy to ascertain when the victim was dead—he remained hanging in the down position without pushing up to breathe. Additionally, a death blow frequently ensured the victim’s demise. The prevailing medical explanation of Jesus’ chest wound is that the presence of blood and water indicated He was stabbed through the heart, thereby ensuring His death.

Want more? Check out the Apologetics Study Bible on page 1621 or visit ApologeticsBible.com.

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