The Resurrection

CHARLES E. RICE

That Christ rose from the dead is an article of our faith. But we tend to overlook the fact that the resurrection was an historical event, just as much as the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Through our faith we know with absolute certainty that Christ rose from the dead. But we can give support to that faith by analyzing the resurrection as history.

If you were to try to convince a jury that Christ really rose, you would have to answer several questions:

  1. Did Christ die?
  2. Was he buried?
  3. Was the tomb empty on Easter?
  4. Where did the body go? There are only two alternatives: Somebody took it. Or Christ rose from the dead. If we exclude all the possibilities of the body having been taken we have to conclude that he rose.
  5. Who could have taken the body? The realistic possibilities are:

    A. The Jews
    B. The Romans
    C. The Disciples of Christ

    When we exclude these three possibilities and realize that there are no other realistically possible explanations, we have to conclude that Christ rose from the dead.

  6. But was not the Resurrection a figment of the disciples' imagination and were not the appearances of Christ after his Resurrection mere hallucinations?

The answers to the above questions can be summarized as follows:

1. Did Christ die?

There is no doubt that Jesus Christ was crucified. This is confirmed by non-Christian sources such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and Josephus. If Christ had not been crucified, the references in the Gospels and Epistles to his crucifixion would have been contradicted by his enemies. The crucifixion of Christ, in light of his miracles and his claim to be God, was a major public event of the time.

Proof that Christ died from his crucifixion is found in the nature of crucifixion itself. This was a common mode of Roman execution and the procedures governing it were well settled in Roman law and military practice. Dr. Pierre Barbet, in his book, A Doctor at Calvary examines the medical aspects of the agony in the garden, the scourging, the crowning of Christ with thorns, his carrying of his cross, the method of crucifixion and the methods used by the Roman soldiers to verify the deaths of those crucified. [Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary (Doubleday, Image Books Edition, 1963)] The soldiers were duty bound, under penalty of their own deaths, to make absolutely certain that each crucified person died. In light of Dr. Barbet's analysis and in light of everything we know about the ritual of crucifixion, it is utterly unreasonable to believe that a crucified person could survive. This certainty is confirmed in Christ's case by the fact that his was a most noteworthy execution and large crowds were watching to see if he would perform a miracle at the last moment to escape. And he was placed in the arms of his mother and buried by his mother and his friends in a cold, airless tomb. Would his mother and those others who loved him have entombed him if there had been the slightest sign that he was still alive? Finally, there were no claims made at the time by Christ's enemies that he did not die. It contradicts all the evidence to believe that Christ did not die.
2. Was he buried?
This question can be answered briefly. The tomb was a very short distance from the place of execution. Joseph of Arimathea received permission to take the body after Christ's death had been verified, the body was entombed and the Romans set a guard over the tomb. Nobody at the time or since has seriously questioned the fact that Christ was buried in that tomb.
3. Was the tomb empty on Easter?
Of course it was. If the body was still there, the Jewish leaders would have produced the body to refute the preaching and claims of the Christians.
4. Where did the body go?
If Christ did not rise from the dead, somebody must have taken his lifeless body from the tomb. If we exclude all realistic possibilities of someone having taken the body, we must conclude that Christ rose under his own power.
5A. Did the Jews take the body?
Certainly not. It was completely against their interest to do so.
5B. Did the Romans take the body?
They had no more reason than the Jews to take the body. The claims of Christ were not only contrary to the beliefs and material interests of the Jews, they were regarded by the Romans as a threat to the Empire. Neither the Jews nor the Romans would have done anything that would support the claim that Christ had risen.
5C. Did the Apostles or other disciples of Christ take the body?
To answer this we have to answer two further questions: How could they have taken it? And if they took the body, how can we explain the transformation of the Apostles and their willingness to die for their belief in the Resurrection?

How could the Apostles have taken the body? The tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers who could pay with their own lives for dereliction of duty. The only ways the Apostles could have got ten the body were by bribery or by force. With respect to bribery, where would these poor men get the money? And how much money could induce a Roman soldier to hand over the body and thereby subject himself to the risk of capital punishment? We are not certain how many there were, but all of the guards would have had to have been bribed. Nor is it possible that the Apostles could have overpowered the guards and taken the body by force. The tomb was less than a quarter of a mile from Herod's palace. Any attempt to overpower the guards would have been heard. And would you really believe that the untrained Apostles would have been able to overcome the heavily armed and trained soldiers on guard?

If the Apostles stole the body and therefore knew that the claimed Resurrection was a fraud, would they have given up their lives for that claim? We know that most of the Apostles died as martyrs and all of them were willing to suffer martyrs' deaths. We can be sure that they must have been offered large bribes to renounce and "expose" Christianity and they must have known that they faced virtually certain death if they refused to recant and if they continued to preach. Yet none of them recanted and all of them continued to preach the risen Christ even at the price of their lives. It is a psychological impossibility that they would have so acted if they had known the Resurrection was a fraud. The transformation of the Apostles into heroic champions and martyrs for the faith makes it wholly unreasonable to believe that they had taken the body of Christ. The later conduct of the Apostles and other Disciples of Christ is explainable only on the grounds that they believed that they had seen the risen Christ; that belief could not have existed if they had taken the body. They were convinced that they had seen the risen Christ. It remains to be asked whether they actually did see what they thought they saw.

6. Did the Apostles and Disciples merely imagine that they had seen Christ?
Were the appearances of Christ mere hallucinations? The fact that a witness dies for his professed belief makes it entirely credible tht he believes what he says. So we are certain that the Apostles believed that they had seen the risen Christ. Next we should ask whether the experiences they believed they had were the sort on which they could have been mistaken. The answer is no. It is incredible that they could have been mistaken in thinking that Christ walked and talked with them, took food from them, ate part of it and gave the rest back to them, cooked fish for breakfast on the shore, a breakfast which the Apostles themselves consumed. And so on. It is wholly unreasonable to think that the Apostles were deceived as to what they were certain they saw.

Could Christ's appearances have been hallucinations? There are certain characteristics of hallucinatory experiences which are not found in this case. Hallucinations commonly occur to high-strung people; but there is no reason to believe that all the people who saw Christ were of this type. Hallucinations are individualistic phenomena and it is highly unlikely that two people will have identical hallucinations. But Christ is recorded as appearing to 500 people on one occasion and on other occasions to smaller groups of various sizes. Normally, hallucinations concern some expected event, but the evidence is convincing that the disciples were not expecting Christ to rise from the dead. Another factor is that the alleged hallucinations of Christ occurred at widely different times and circumstances. And Christ's conduct at the time of his appearances was tangible. For example, he asked for food, ate some and gave the rest back to the Apostles; you cannot hallucinate a bite out of a hamburger. And if the appearances were hallucinations, why did they suddenly stop after 40 days, at the time of the Ascension? And finally, if the appearances of Christ were hallucinations, how do you explain the empty tomb? If the appearances of Christ were not real, where was his body?

If Christ did not really rise from the dead, the transformation of the Apostles and the spread and endurance of the Church in spite of persecution would be a greater miracle than the Resurrection itself. A fair-minded jury examining the facts could only conclude that the Resurrection of Christ is as much a fact of history as is George Washington's crossing of the Delaware. This is confirmed, incidentally, by the evidence of the Shroud of Turin. Scientists have demonstrated, as conclusively as science can, that the Shroud can be nothing other than the burial sheet in which. the body of Christ was wrapped in the tomb. [See, for example, Humber; The Sacred Shroud (1977); Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary (Doubleday, Image Edition, 1963.)]

If we were discussing any other historical event there would be no serious challenge to the reality of its occurrence. But because it concerns religion, the clear historical proof of the Resurrection is rejected by some in favor of an absolute refusal to believe that such a miracle could occur. The evidence, how ever, demonstrates that not only is such a miracle possible, it actually happened.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Charles E. Rice. "The Resurrection" Chapter 12 in Truth in Christ: Notes on Teaching Some Elements of the Catholic Faith (Notre Dame, Indiana: Cashel Institute, 1983), 55-61.

This article reprinted with permission from the author Charles E. Rice.

THE AUTHOR

Charles E. Rice is Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Notre Dame Law School and Visiting Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law, Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has served as a consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and to various Congressional committees on constitutional issues and is an editor of the American Journal of Jurisprudence. Professor Rice is also chairman of the Center for Law and Justice International in New Hope, Kentucky, and a director of the Thomas More Center for Law and Justice in Ann Arbor. He is faculty advisor and an assistant coach of the Notre Dame Boxing Club. He and his wife, Mary, have ten children and they reside in Mishawaka, Indiana. Professor Rice is the author of many books, including 50 Questions on the Natural Law: What It Is and Why We Need It and most recently The Winning Side: Questions on Living the Culture of Life.

Copyright 1983 Cashel Institute


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