"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
"On the constitutional grounds which we have before described, we are opposed to any attempt to elevate these five doctrinal statements, or any of them (including the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ), to the position of test for ordination or for good standing in our church." (The Auburn Affirmation of the PCUSA, Section IV)
Christianity is more than just a religion or a philosophy. It is more than just a few rules and platitudes to live by. Christianity is a worldview that is based upon the most important event in the history of the world, that being the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The denial of this particular doctrine (as well as others) in the 1924 Auburn Affirmation was the beginning of the downfall of American Presbyterianism. Yet Paul correctly points this doctrine out as the most important of all. Without the bodily resurrection of Christ, we must conclude that we are still in our sins, that we have hope only in this vapor of a life, and that we are to be pitied. The resurrection of Christ is necessary for the new birth, which is the sole means by which one can see the kingdom of God.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," (1 Peter 1:3)
Time and again, unbelievers will ask for "evidence" of this event. How can we prove that Christ actually rose from the dead? The question, however, is usually slanted toward naturalism and rooted in a worldview of radical empiricism, for it can be readily established that no amount of evidence will be enough to convince the unbeliever. This is because the radical empiricism of the resurrection skeptic is a one-way street, as can easily be demonstrated by asking the skeptic for evidence that Christ is still dead. The desire of the unbelieving skeptic is always to establish his own worldview by default, and then debate Christian Doctrine based on that worldview. However, by denying the existence of God and the revelatory nature of human knowledge in the first place, the honest skeptic foregoes any basis for induction (Hebrew 1:3), and thus the lack of visible "resurrections" in history cannot be used to supplant the one-time event of Christ's resurrection.
As for empirical evidence that supports Christ's resurrection, there is no shortage of such (See the Resurrection Fact Sheet)1. We have the empty tomb (Matthew 28:5-8; Mark 16:2-7; Luke 24:1-7), the post-resurrection appearances of Christ (Mark 16:12-14, Luke 24:15-41, John 20:14-31), seen by over 500 witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), the radical transformation of the Apostles from timid, fearful fishermen (Mark 14:50) into bold disciples who turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6), and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-10). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is even recorded in secular history.
"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." (Flavius Josephus - Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, 3, 3)
It must be understood, however, that such evidence is rejected a priori by the unbeliever, not for any logical reason, but because he has already precommitted himself to a naturalistic worldview. Therefore, the problem isn't with the lack of evidence, as we have just established. The problem with the unbeliever is metaphysical. The unbeliever has already assumed that God does not exist; therefore Christ could not have risen from the dead. The problem that the unbeliever has can be summarized in 1 Corinthians 2:14:
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)
So we must conclude that attempts to convince the unbeliever of Christ's resurrection using naturalistic philosophy is folly, as Scripture itself indicates. The unbelieving heart needs much more than additional information. It needs to be born again so that it can see the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, it is quite unfortunate to see this line of reasoning among the modern Agrippa's of liberal denominations such as the PCUSA2, who adopted the above Auburn Affirmation. In response, I would ask, "Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?" (Acts 26:8). One cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), neither should Christians accept any naturalist reasoning regarding the resurrection. Instead, we must "in [our] hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy" so that we may be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;" (1 Peter 3:15).
The blending of naturalistic philosophy into a concoction of pseudo-Christianity has brought forth several ideas that attempt to explain the aforementioned evidence. I won't, as many do, spend much time attempting to refute the following theories. Just an explanation of each should suffice in expressing their vanity.
The Stolen Body Theory
This theory is the original story concocted by unbelieving Judaists in the first century (Matthew 28:12-15). It holds that the very disciples who feared for their lives at Christ’s arrest hatched a plan to sneak past the Roman guards to steal his body and fake his resurrection. Then they arranged a host of false witnesses, began to boldly preach the gospel of the kingdom, and ultimately suffered martyrdom for what they knew was a lie. Variations suggest that the body was simply missing, or that Jesus followers went to the wrong tomb.
The Swoon Theory
Originated by Venturinni at the beginning of the 18th Century. Hugh Schonfield holds to a variation of this theory in his book “The Passover Plot”. This theory holds that Christ did not really die on the cross, but merely passed out or “swooned”. After the Roman soldiers beat him, crowned him with thorns, and crucified him, they somehow failed to make sure that he was really dead (a practice that they were very good at). After Christ was buried, he managed to roll the stone away from the tomb, sneak past the guards, and convince his followers that he was the victorious, resurrected Messiah. Variations include the idea that Jesus was drugged.
The Twin Theory
Appears to be a modern theory originated by Robert Greg Cavin. This theory holds that Christ had an unknown identical twin who, upon the death of Christ, appeared to the disciples as the resurrected Messiah. Amazingly enough, Jesus’ own mother was apparently fooled by this twin. Variations include the idea that someone who looked like Jesus was actually crucified on the cross. (Muslims hold that is was actually Judas who was crucified.)
The Hallucination Theory
This theory can be traced back to the Gnostic Heresies of the 2nd Century. It holds that the followers of Christ were so disillusioned at his death that they began to hallucinate and see Christ alive after His burial. Amazingly, these hallucinations affected over 500 people, including a Christ-hating Pharisee by the name of Saul of Tarsus (1 Corinthians 15:8). Variations include post-hypnotic suggestion and different “Spiritual Resurrection” theories.
Unbelievers, such as the Jesus Seminar3 folk, would be better served to totally reject the Bible altogether and call their assembly something other than a "church" instead of propagating such nonsense. Most of these theories would readily acknowledge that the tomb was indeed empty, and that the apostles indeed saw someone that they recognized as the resurrected Messiah. Yet the best explanation for these facts, that Christ actually rose from the dead, is rejected out of hand due to unbelief. Such is the real issue in attempting to argue for the resurrection by way of searching for evidence that will satisfy a flawed metaphysic. For "...If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." (Luke 16:31)
The doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is taught plainly in the Scriptures, and has been at the heart of every Christian Creed and Confession for nearly 2,000 years.
The Apostle's Creed - "The third day He arose again from the dead"
The Nicene Creed - "the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures"
The Athanasian Creed - "rose again the third day from the dead"
The Waldensian Confessions of Faith (1120) - "That Christ ... rose again for their justification"
The Augsburg Confession - "truly rose again the third day"
The Heidelberg Catechism - "The third day he rose again from the dead"
The Belgic Confession - "he, by his resurrection, gave it (Christ's body) immortality"
The Westminster Confession of Faith - "On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered"
As a Christian, one must hold that Scripture itself is the evidence needed to prove the resurrection, since it is God’s Revelation of Himself to mankind. The unbeliever must be brought to an understanding of Christ on that basis alone. As far as debating this doctrine within the church, let the debate end here. One may feel free to disagree with Christian Doctrine, but one is not free to redefine it. Anyone who rejects the doctrine of the resurrection is, by definition, not a Christian, regardless of denominational affiliation. Such a person does not qualify for church membership, let alone as a candidate for the ministry.
1 I purposely avoided the ongoing debates over the alleged Ossuary of James and the alleged Tomb of Jesus. In actuality, both may very well be frauds (though it looks like the Ossuary may be authentic), and neither has any bearing on the resurrection debate short of finding Christ’s actual body. In the end, all evidence is subject to metaphysics, i.e. a person’s worldview will determine what will be acceptable as evidence.
2 I am aware of several godly members of PCUSA Churches, but it is disturbing that any Christian would continue fellowship with those who adopt the Auburn Affirmation.
3 The Jesus Seminar is a group of self-professed “scholars” who determine what “scholars” should think of Christianity, particularly of Jesus. Then they ignore the idea that dissenters can be scholars. Mark Roberts does a masterful job of exposing this on his blog.