The Problem with a Symbolic Resurrection

Matthew Mittelberg responds to the New York Times interview, “Reverend, You Say the Virgin Birth Is ‘A Bizarre Claim’?”

Image: Georges Rouault, Plate 3. The Crucifixion, 1936. Aquatint, roulette, and drypoint over heliogravure. Collection of Robert and Sandra Bowden.

This past Easter Sunday I read the New York Times article Reverend, You Say the Virgin Birth Is ‘a Bizarre Claim’? I felt compelled to respond because, as well-meaning as Reverend Serene Jones (president of the liberal Union Theological Seminary) may have been, she seems to have written off most of the key teachings of Christianity.

In the course of the interview, Jones indicates that the Gospels can’t be trusted and the virgin birth is a mere mythical embellishment. She expresses the belief that God is not all-powerful or all-knowing, is impotent in the face of evil and suffering, and He doesn’t heal people. Her faith fails to include an afterlife, since there’s apparently no heaven and no hell. And she trivializes the doctrine of substitutionary atonement with this misguided dagger: “The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.”

After reading all of this, I was left wondering if there was anything of “Christianity” left!

Finally, she caps all of this off with her most outlandish idea, especially on Easter — you don’t have to believe Jesus rose from the dead in order to be a Christian. She states, “Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves. But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.”

Even Jones’ non-Christian interviewer, Nicholas Kristof, hints at the absurdity of claiming to be a Christian without believing Jesus actually rose from the dead. After all, the New Testament clearly defines the essential beliefs of a true Christian in Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (emphasis mine).

Undeterred, Jones claims “For Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession, that seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith. What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.”

Really? Then why, some 2,000 years earlier, did the Apostle Paul write, “…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

For the Apostle Paul, for the early church, and for Christians today, the resurrection is the central, make-or-break event of the Christian faith. Jesus performed many miracles throughout his public ministry, but the final proof of his identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world would be his resurrection from the dead. He made this declaration many times — for example, in Matthew 17:22-23 Jesus said, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.”

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then he was not a prophet of God. In fact, he wasn’t even a good teacher — because good teachers teach true things. And as someone who worships Jesus, I would be guilty of idolatry because I would be worshipping a mere man.

And if Jesus couldn’t fulfill his promise to come back from the grave, why should I trust him in the face of my own eventual demise? If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the Christian faith is emptied of the hope that made it so compelling in the first place. All of Christianity falls apart.

If Jesus did rise from the dead, however, it proves he was more than just a man. It provides powerful evidence that Jesus really is who he claimed to be: the Son of God who has power over life and death. It means his promises can be trusted, and we can really believe him when he says he is able to forgive our sins and give us eternal life. As Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.”

Jesus and Paul both made it clear: True Christians believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead.

This is a miracle, yes, but nothing that’s too difficult for God. If He is the Creator who made the entire universe out of nothing, then it makes perfect sense that He could cause a virgin birth, a miraculous healing, or even a resurrection. In fact, if He can’t do such things, in what sense is He really “God”?

But what about Reverend Jones’ claim that Christianity would be a wobbly faith if it could be disproved? My first response is: “Yes! It could be disproved if its claims are false!” That’s a good thing, because it shows it’s an actual belief in real events of history. Take away those events, and there’s nothing of substance left.

Here we come to a critical difference between Reverend Jones’ beliefs and the beliefs of Christians throughout history. In making the central teachings of the Christian faith metaphorical, she makes God into a mere symbol — a placeholder for certain values and sensibilities she considers to be desirable.

No matter how much faith one places in a symbolic God, it doesn’t make that God — or his influence — real in any meaningful sense. A metaphorical Jesus can only metaphorically save someone. As author and pastor Tim Keller has said, “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.”[1]

No matter how much faith one places in a symbolic God, it doesn’t make that God — or his influence — real in any meaningful sense. A metaphorical Jesus can only metaphorically save someone.

Jesus also made it clear that it really matters what we believe about him. In John 8:24 he said, “Unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” We can’t simply have a sense of admiration for Jesus if we are to call ourselves Christ-followers. We must believe and follow in the way he prescribed.

Secondly, although Jesus’ resurrection could be disproven, it never has been. Skeptics have been trying for the past two millennia and have yet to succeed. The objections Reverend Jones offers in her interview are paper-thin. For example, she argues that the Gospel accounts are “all over the place,” so we can’t trust their claims about Jesus rising. In actuality, the Gospels agree on all of the central facts regarding the resurrection, while they differ in their descriptions of minor details. This is precisely what historians would expect in independent eyewitness accounts! This indicates that the Gospels are not four coordinated attempts at promoting a fictional story, but genuine records of individual perspectives on a life-changing historical event.

In contrast to these objections, when we examine the work of careful historians in this area, we find a wealth of evidence pointing to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. For instance, most historians, including many skeptics will acknowledge that Jesus:

  • Performed acts that were interpreted by those around him as miracles
  • Died on the cross
  • Was buried in a well-marked tomb
  • Went missing from that tomb three days later
  • Was seen by individuals and groups of people in a variety of settings
  • Was reported to be alive in historical records written within the lifespan of the eyewitnesses[2]

To briefly examine one of these facts, historians believe the disciples were convinced of the resurrection of Jesus because they were willing to die for their claim to have seen the risen Savior. You might say, “Well, lots of religious zealots are willing to die for their beliefs.” That’s true, but this is different, because the disciples were in a unique position of knowing whether or not their claims were true. They had walked, talked, and eaten with the risen Jesus. They touched the wounds in his side. And they were so sure of what they had experienced they were willing to endure torture and death at the hands of those who persecuted them.

The disciples certainly didn’t have a symbolic faith in a metaphorical resurrection — and neither should we.

Again, the facts I listed, among many others, are agreed upon by the majority of historians, whether Christian, Jewish, atheist, or other. What possible hypotheses could explain all of them? Hallucination by the disciples? This doesn’t explain the empty tomb, and hallucinations can’t be shared in that way. Jesus surviving the crucifixion? This is medically untenable, and doesn’t explain the disciples’ experience of seeing a triumphant Savior. The disciples stealing Jesus’ body? They had neither the means nor the motivation — and they would not have been willing to die for such trumped-up beliefs. No, there’s simply no explanation that covers all of the facts — except the resurrection itself.

Thus, we have abundant reasons to hold firmly to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and, with it, the central teachings of the Christian faith. Christ is risen indeed!

[1] Tim Keller, The Reason For God, p. 245

[2] If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at these facts, I’d recommend the groundbreaking book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel or The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.

Easter and the Resurrection

Apr 08, 2020

Jesus’ resurrection can sound crazy to skeptics and many don’t take it seriously. Does it really matter if Jesus was raised from the dead or not? What evidence is there and why is the resurrection so important? In preparation for the Easter holiday on Sunday, Vince and Jo Vitale look at the compelling evidence for the resurrection and explain why it was an event that changed everything.

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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis.

Even though Easter has been relegated by our culture to a second class holiday, on the same level of importance as Mother's Day or Valentine's Day, the glorious truth of the Gospel is that Easter is a day that changed everything.

Christianity hinges on the truth that Jesus died to save sinners, and proved that he had the ability to do so by being raised from the dead. How do we express to our unbelieving friends and family members the truth and importance of Easter, and of the resurrection of Jesus?

But before we get started, Vince, could you tell the parents of high school and college students why they should send their kids to our upcoming Refresh conference, coming up this July at the Zacharias Institute?

Vince Vitale: Thanks, Michael. Yeah, that will be July 24th to 27th. And last year, Refresh was absolutely one of the highlights of our year. And I really think, I meet so many college students around the country, and I really think that for so many the difference between whether they stay strong in their faith in college, or whether they waver in their faith in college is whether or not their questions have been taken seriously before they arrive, and whether they arrive on campus feeling confident in the answers that Christianity has to the toughest questions of today's culture.

That's what Refresh is all about. We're going to journey with the students all week. Mentor them, take their questions seriously, answer those questions so that they can arrive on campus confident in their faith.

Michael Davis: Absolutely, it's going to be a great time. I remember last year, this is not a lighthearted event, this is an intense week of really just digging into apologetics questions. The kids really kind of combine and really kind of cohese into this awesome group with a singular focus of sharing the Gospel. It was really an experience to behold.

I hope you guys either come to it, if you're of high school age or college students. Or if you've got children who are of that age, to send them. It is an amazing experience.

So let's get into our first question from John. Per your recent podcast, "Who Needs A Talking Donkey," could you discuss the resurrection of Jesus, giving reasons why unbelievers should take it into serious consideration?

Vince Vitale: Oh, thanks, John. I'm really excited to talk about this topic. And I really appreciate the fact that we had an episode called, "Who Needs A Talking Donkey?" Well done, whoever decided on that title.

Michael Davis: You're welcome.

Vince Vitale: But we get really excited talking about the resurrection. This was significant in our personal stories. For me, this was absolutely critical in my own journey of faith, to see that the miracle of the resurrection could actually be explored and looked into, and that there was evidence for it.

The Bible says God has provided confirmation for all by raising Jesus from the dead. And I can remember, in college, when that just seemed like a crazy idea to me. And then I looked into it and I was absolutely blown away by what I found.

Maybe first, let me just preempt one type of objection you often get when you start to talk about the resurrection of Jesus. Some people want to say, "Look, I've never seen someone rise from the dead. No one that I know has ever seen anyone rise from the dead. So why should I believe that Jesus did?"

Well, the fact that resurrections don't normally happen, it's not an everyday occurrence, is actually not good reason to be skeptical of the resurrection of Jesus. Why? Because if God was going to use a miraculous event to put his stamp of approval on the life of Jesus as utterly unique, then it would have to be through something which was utterly unique.

If you go to a store to buy a shirt and every shirt in the store is gray or black, but there's one blue shirt, the probability of you buying that blue shirt is probably higher than for the other shirts precisely because of its uniqueness.

And so the uniqueness of the resurrection is exactly what we should expect to find if God was using it in a very distinctive, important way. And therefore, that's not evidence against it, that's actually evidence for it.

Jo Vitale: Another criticism that I'll often sometimes hear is people say, "well ancient mythology is packed with stories of dying and rising gods." It was James Frazer, he wrote, The Golden Bough, a long time ago now, first made this claim and it was popular for quite a while, this idea that Christianity is just a copycat religion. That actually, this idea of Jesus dying and rising wasn't unique at all, but just a kind of myth going around at the time.

Now, actually, although this idea has resurfaced in recent years, it's not a position that any scholars take with any real seriousness. And that's partly because often this argument is based on a chronological mistake. Because a lot of these religions you see that preach this idea of dying and rising gods actually come after Christianity, not before. So if anyone's copycatting, it tends to be the other way around.

But even when you look at ancient myths that predate Christianity, so for example, one that people often point to is the myth of Osiris, who was an Egyptian deity who was killed by his brother, and he is chopped up into 14 pieces and then the pieces are scattered around throughout Egypt.

And then the goddess, Isis, she gathers up the pieces and puts them back to life. Though she can't find one of the pieces, there's only 13. And even so, when he comes back to life, some of the myths actually don't have him coming at all, some versions of it. And others don't talk about him as being resurrected, but he becomes the lord of the underworld.

So, when scholars actually really dig into these things, far more than finding commonalities, you find extreme differences. So certain scholars will point to the fact that these deities aren't so much dying and rising deities, but more disappearing deities, or dying deities. Because either, when they return they haven't died, or in the second case, the gods die but they don't actually return.

So, when you really get into it, it's actually hard to find any real strong commonalities. Now, ironically, it's Bart Ehrman, who is not himself a particular fan of the Christian faith, but is a renown atheistic critical scholar. And he'll say, well, actually there aren't any parallels to this idea of belief in a man being crucified for the atonement of sin. And actually it's just not a very compelling case from a scholarly perspective.

It's also worth noting that for the Jews themselves, this certainly wasn't an idea in that, in their belief system already, for them it's an absolute shock that Jesus dies. And even more a shock when he comes back to life. It's not something that they are expecting. Once he dies, they are thinking, "Game over. We believed this guy and we thought he could be the hope of Israel, but this has come to an end."

And then the final thing I want to say here, is just when you compare the types of writings that we're reading, there's just a profound difference between the way the New Testament is written as an actual historical event situated in a certain place, in a certain time of history with dates, with people that you can go and look up. It's almost as if the writers of the Gospel are saying, "Consider this for yourself, come and look at the evidence. Come and investigate this, because we're making a historical claim that God left a historical footprint in time." And if that's the case, then there should be evidence for it that we're invited to look at.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's great. And one of the things that I really appreciate is that you can make a compelling argument for the resurrection of Jesus based around just one passage of scripture. And I turn to this passage all the time with people and find it really, really impactful in their lives.

So this is from 1 Corinthians 15, starting in verse three. It's a creed that predates the letter itself, and let me read that to you. It starts in verse three, it's just a short paragraph.

"For what I received I passed on to you of as of first importance." And that language, "For what I received I passed on to you," that's official rabbinic language for the passing on of a formal tradition. You see exactly the same language in 1 Corinthians 11 when it's talking about the Lord's Supper.

And then this is the creed, "That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas," Peter, "and then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep." I love that, as if to say, "If you don't believe me, go out and ask them yourself." "Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."

This is an incredible, incredible passage, and here's why. Scholars agree, not just Christian scholars, but even some of the most critical scholars of Christianity, they agree that this creed dates back to within a couple of years, at most, after Jesus' death. Even the most critical scholars agree about that, and that is absolutely remarkable.

And here's why, this is what is the situation because of that. We have three parts to the history of Christianity. Part one, as Jo began to speak to, Jesus had a following. That following believed that he was the Messiah. The Jewish conception of a Messiah would have thought that he was going to rise to earthly power, he was going to become an earthly king and reign on that throne forever. He was going to rescue the Jewish people from the heavy hand of Rome.

And then, Jesus, this man who they followed, died on a cross. That should have been the end of the movement. No one would have seen that coming. That would have undermined what his followers thought and who they thought that he was.

Then, skip over the history of Christianity part two, and then you wind up at the history of Christianity part three, very shortly after the death of Jesus on a cross, you get the absolute eruption of Christianity. Jewish people known for their utter commitment to the oneness of God are worshiping a crucified human being? As divine? As God himself? And they're giving their lives rather than deny that?

We have these amazing letters, even from that first generation. One from Pliny the Younger, a governor at the time in northwest Turkey. And he says, "I ask them if they are Christian, and if they say are I repeat the question a second and a third time, and I warn them of the punishment if they continue to say that they are. And when they continue to say that they're Christians, I have no choice but to lead them away to execution."

All these Christians who walked with Jesus had to do was say, "Fine, I'm not a Christian." Then they could have went home to their homes and continued to worship him. But they were so convinced that they had seen this man, Jesus, after he had clearly been killed and they had spent time with him, that they were willing to give their lives for it.

The question is, what bridges the gap between the history of Christianity part one, what should have been the movement ending death of Jesus, and the history of Christianity part three, the absolute eruption of Christianity, hundreds of people claiming that they had seen him after he had clearly died and this movement spreading so quickly that it becomes the religion of the Roman Empire within three centuries, what accounts for that? People willing to give their lives rather than deny that they had seen Jesus after his resurrection.

That's the question, and what I would say, what I often say to people that I'm conversing with, is that criticism without alternative is empty. You've heard me use that phrase before. How do we get from the history of Christianity part one to the history of Christianity part three. For a Christian, what fills that gap, what bridges that gap is the resurrection. If that's not your bridge, that's okay, but then let's look at the alternative explanations and see how they stack up, and I don't think they stack up very well.

Jo Vitale: Yeah, as Vince has mentioned, the biggest alternative people put in place is this idea of legendary development, which is completely destroyed when you realize how early that creed was. But some of the other alternatives that people sometimes throw around is they'll say, "Well, clearly it was the disciples, right? The disciples stole the body, they were just lying about what they saw."

It's an interesting idea, but Vince has already jousted to this fact that actually a hoax might be fun for a while, but no one really dies for one, right? Let alone eleven out of the twelve of Jesus' disciples, who it seems highly probably were martyred for their faith. Let alone so many of the other first followers who were eye witnesses to Jesus, who also went and did the same.

So, the question is, what would be in it for them? What would their motivation be if they were lying? Because it's not like being a leader of the early church was a particularly glamorous or powerful or attractive position to be in. And you're also ignoring the fact there that these were Jews who actually believed that God did exist, that it was blasphemous to claim that somebody was God if they're not, and that they would come under judgment for making such a claim if they were lying about it.

So, it's not even like they could just live out their lives making the most of this lie they're telling and then there wouldn't be any consequences for them. So, it's hard to establish that motive or believe that one.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, I really like how Blaise Pascal put it, he said, "I believe in witnesses that get their throats cut." And it just gets at this idea that there wasn't any motivation.

And just one other quotation I'll read to you, which I think is so great. This is by Chuck Colson, he was special counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. He went to prison for being involved in Watergate, but he had a conversion to Christianity and he wound up founding Prison Fellowship.

And here's what he said, he said, "Why Jesus and not some other religious leader? The truth turns on the fact of Jesus Christ's bodily resurrection from the dead. I know the resurrection is a fact and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one of them was beaten, tortured, stoned, and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible."

Jo Vitale: Yeah.

Michael Davis: That's awesome.

Jo Vitale: A couple of other, if we're talking about alternative theories that people put out, another one people say is, "Oh, mass hallucination!" The disciples clearly, they were smoking something and they just, oh, you know, they were in such a state of hysteria or emotionalism and they were just overruled by their feelings. Something just happened to them and they thought they saw Jesus, but it wasn't really Jesus.

Once again, that one is a really hard one to sustain. Not only because in any psychological literature there just isn't evidence to suggest that such a mass hallucination is actually really possible with people coming away really experiencing and believing that they've seen the same thing.

Let alone when you look at the kind of resurrection accounts that we have. Because it's not just like there are a few disciples in one place and they just happened to see Jesus once and then they run away and tell everyone about it. But no, these are multiple appearances in different locations, different groups of people. Some of them small gathering, others it says Jesus appeared to 500 at one point.

So, different groups, people in different places, but also, this isn't just a sort of hallucination where you think you're seeing something, but this is Jesus they saw eating a fish. This is the Jesus they saw interacting with people. Thomas even reaches out and touches his side. And I love that you see the radical skepticism of someone who actually refuses to believe in the hallucination Jesus until he's seen it for himself, and then Jesus appears to him and says, "Hey, touch the wounds in my hands and the one in my side. Stop doubting and believe." So, it's a little bit more than just a hallucination going on here.

Vince Vitale: I do love that. I love that one of the appearances of Jesus basically cooking breakfast for the disciples on the beach. I love that he came back in such a personal and real way, not just a passing glance, but he spent time with them.

And the other thing about hallucination theory is it doesn't account for the empty tomb, which is also a really well attested historical fact. And it doesn't account for the fact that no one could produce Jesus' body, even though a Roman guard was stationed at the tomb. Christianity is the most falsifiable of all the religions. All you had to do was go into the tomb, which everyone would have known where it was, and produce Jesus' bones. It's not that it's not falsifiable, it's just that no one has been able to falsify it because they were never able to produce Jesus' bones.

Jo Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Davis: It is, I've actually had conversations regarding the martyrdom of the apostles and of the early Christians, and people will say, "Well, people die for their faith all the time." You look at people who are suicide bombers or people who do this stuff, and the truth is people die for an unseen faith all the time. No one dies for what they know is an absolute lie.

Jo Vitale: Right.

Michael Davis: I will tell you, the Roman Empire would have loved to have published all over the place a recantation of one of the apostles or the early Christians. They would have published it everywhere. The fact that they did not get a single person to recant what they said, if that's not evidence enough, it' screams that this is absolutely the truth.

Jo Vitale: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vince Vitale: That's really well said. One other alternative, this idea some people have said, I think Schleiermacher held to this view, that Jesus faked his death on the cross. Sometimes it's called the Swoon Theory. On the one hand, medically that's an incredible claim to make, that he even could have survived what he went through, both in the way he was tortured prior to the cross and then on the cross as well.

But the other point about that is, remember he shows up on the third day to his followers, and they worship him as divine. Even if Jesus somehow managed to escape from the cross, what he went through, he would have been hanging on to life-

Michael Davis: Barely, yeah.

Vince Vitale: Barely, if he were simply a human being and nothing more. There's no way you could have appeared to your followers three days later in any way that would have elicited worship. All it would have elicited is, "We need to get this person to a medic."

So the fact that he appeared in a way which caused Jewish people, who would have been so firm about the oneness of God, to worship Jesus, a human person as both fully human and fully divine, as God, speaks to the fact that that idea of Jesus faking his death is not plausible either.

And Jo's already spoken about the idea of legendary development. A hundred years ago that would have been a more dominant view. But we know that it takes two to three generations for any significant legendary development to work its way into an ancient text. And here we have this creed from 1 Corinthians 15, which is talking about all of these appearances of Jesus after his death. And it's dated to within just two years or less of his actual crucifixion.

And so, by the standards of trying to claim legendary development, it's not even close. It's just far, far too quick.

Michael Davis: Not to mention that the epistles come just a very, you know, 10 or 15 years after, and then the Gospels coming 50 or 60 years after. If you have a presupposition that this is false, you're going to try to find ways to disprove it, but this is not...Christianity is not based about a single person going out into the mountains and writing a book on living a life that is pleasing to God. It is a religion that is based on a man, who was killed and claimed to have risen from the dead.

If this is not true, this is literally the silliest way to start a religion of all time. It makes absolutely no sense.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's really well said. And I like what you said there, of course, if your starting point is a miracle never could have happened, well, yeah, you're going to come to that conclusion no matter what. But if you think it's at even possible that God could exist, that a miracle could have happened, you couldn't get more substantial evidence than what we have for the resurrection.

That just blew my mind when I first looked into it. And many people have found the same. One of my previous colleagues at Oxford University, Professor Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor now, I think he's probably the most influential British philosopher of religion of the last 60 years. He held the head post in philosophy of religion at Oxford. He published a book in 2003, it's called, The Resurrection of God Incarnate. And in that book, he argues that his conclusion is that on the available evidence today, it is 97% probable that Jesus literally, historically, miraculously rose from the dead.

Now, he says you can't take the number too seriously. He's not trying to say we can be that precise with these things. He likes to work with probability theory, and so he plugs in numbers that are just supposed to be guesstimates at each point in the argument. But still, the fact that someone of his intellectual credibility can make that sort of claim, make it in print, have it be published by Oxford University Press, and then defend that claim, and defend it strongly at top academic conferences around the world, shows that the idea that there simply couldn't be evidence for the resurrection of Jesus simply is not true.

And if you haven't looked into yourself, whether you're a non-Christian who needs to look into it so you can see, "Should I trust this person of Jesus?" Or whether you're a Christian who wants to be able to share your faith in a compelling way with your friends, look into the evidence for this. The Resurrection of God Incarnate is that book, that's quite a technical book. But there's also a simpler version of it, just called, Was Jesus God? That might be something worth picking up.

Michael Davis: And he also wrote a fantastic treatment on the resurrection in proving it as well.

Vince Vitale: That's right, sorry just to jump in there as well, because you were right, we should say, Gary Habermas, William Wayne Craig, Mike Licona, those would also be three of the key evangelical scholars that I would go to get more information on this.

Jo Vitale: I do want to say, just to encourage you, you don't even just need to go to the secondary sources, but just spend time reading the Gospels, spend time going over these texts. I find the level of detail, the eye witness material that's recorded there, just absolutely astonishing.

Just the little things, like for example, people often want to talk about Swoon Theory, right? But we know the Roman soldiers, actually, their responsibility was so serious when it came to crucifixion that if ever someone survived the experience of crucifixion, then the soldiers themselves would be put to death, because they were the ones responsible for ensuring that that took place.

And we see the detail recorded of that in the Gospels that actually Jesus, because of the seriousness of his wounds before the crucifixion, he actually dies earlier than the others. And so they don't break his legs like they would for everyone else to speed up asphyxiation. But what they do is they stab him in the side. They put a spear to his side to ensure that he really is dead.

Another detail that I find remarkable that just isn't something you would ever put into to the resurrection story if you were making this thing up, and I love this so much, is that it's the women who were the first witnesses to the resurrection. That's just so remarkable, at a time when women's testimony was considered so unreliable it wouldn't even be included in a Jewish court of law. And yet, the credibility of the resurrection, the most significant historical event of all time, rests upon the testimony of these women who were the first at the tomb.

So it's details like that you think, if someone was just sitting down to make up a story about this thing, that is not the way they would have had it go.

Michael Davis: So this actually leads into the next question, and I think really hits the pulse of why we're talking about this, it goes, "I believe in God, but does it really matter whether Jesus rose from the dead?"

Jo Vitale: Really great question here. Two things I would want to say to that, firstly that the resurrection matters because firstly it validates Jesus' identity. So, if Jesus wasn't raised from the dead, then he's essentially a failed prophet. Maybe his death is a good example for us of how to live well and die well and be sacrificial in the way that you do those things. But it wouldn't have any power.

And that's my second point, that actually we need the cross, we need Jesus to have died on the cross because that's the place where sin is defeated and where the consequence of sin, which is death, is also defeated. And the sign for us that sin has been defeated is the fact that Jesus overcomes death. And that's something that as Christians gives us hope, that for us too when we trust in Jesus, that not only will sin be defeated in our lives, but we too will be raised with Christ.

Vince Vitale: Yes, and Paul speaks to this directly as well. Actually, I love that in 1 Corinthians 15, we can answer both of these questions, the question about the evidence for the resurrection at the beginning of the chapter, and then later on verse 14, Paul says, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." And then he says in verse 19, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."

So this question, I believe in God but does it really matter whether Jesus rose from the dead? I think it could be a question about whether it's okay to prioritize feelings over facts. Maybe faith makes us feel good, does it actually matter if it's true if it's making you happy? And I think that's a really important question, I think it's a really important question for us as a society, and I think it's a question that we're going to be answering a lot, questions just like that, in the decades to come.

It's no longer a science fiction question, we're going to be answering questions about whether it's okay to get our primary feelings of happiness and pleasure from virtual reality, even though it's not actual reality. We're going to be answering the questions to the society about whether we're content to make love with sex robots when it's not actually making love. These are really difficult, in some ways morally they shouldn't be difficult, but they're going to be challenging questions for our society, and they're all questions about whether it's okay to prioritize feelings, even when they don't correlate with the facts.

I think that's really dangerous, and interestingly, we would not do that in any other realm of inquiry. We don't think it's okay to let a plane fly just because we want to get home more quickly and somebody wants to leave work early if the mechanics of the plane aren't functioning properly. We don't think it's okay to convict someone as guilty and short circuit the jury process because we want to get home for dinner. We don't generally think it's okay to let our feelings, rather than the facts of the matter, determine how we're going to act, what we're committed to, and what we trust.

I think it's very dangerous if we do that in the context of faith and religion as well.

Jo Vitale: And just one final point to this question, which is, you know, if you're saying I believe in God, does it matter whether Jesus raised from the dead? It really matters if you want to actually have a relationship with God as opposed to just intellectual assent. Because the truth of the matter is, if you take Jesus and the cross and the resurrection out of the picture, then what we're left with is a relationship with God that is going to depend on the way that we've lived. It's going to come down to our works and how good we've been or how bad we've been as to how God is going to judge us.

That's a little bit of a scary place for all of us to be in, because I think if we're really honest about the state of the human condition, the state of our own hearts, none of us are in a great situation when it comes to standing before God. In fact, the Bible talks about us being dead in our sins. It says we've all fallen short of the glory of God.

I was thinking about this the other day when my four year old God daughter, Charis, there's a nursery rhyme that she loves called Humpty Dumpty, I don't know if you have that in this country, but-

Michael Davis: We do.

Jo Vitale: It's a classic, but it goes, "Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again." And when you think about it, that's a totally tragic story that we tell our four year old children. It's pretty sad, and it's pretty brutal.

But actually, I think there's something kind of profound about it. I mean, isn't that the story of every single one of us? That basically we've fallen off the wall, we're lying in pieces. And try as we hard, nobody can put us back together again, not even ourselves. We've broken relationships with God, with each other, and ourselves in the process.

But the writer, Alex Potter, just adds that actually for the Christian, there's one line missing from that poem. And he says that it's this, "Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. But, the king could."

And I just think that's amazing, because isn't that exactly what happens at the cross? That the King of the Jews, the King of the universe is nailed to that cross in order to put us back together again. And then he cries out, "It is finished." And that's what's happening, that God comes down and he restores all of our broken pieces, and he puts us back together again so that we can be in relationship with him, so that we don't just have to intellectually believe in God, but we can actually know him for ourselves. And the resurrection is our hope of that, that is the sign we look to know that death will not be the end, but in Christ, we have the promise of eternal life.

Vince Vitale: Amen, count me in. That's fantastic. And I think you're absolutely right, Jo, it's about relationship. How much it matters that the resurrection is based in truth.

One of the worst things that can happen in life is if you go through life in a relationship where you think someone loves you, and then you find out much later on that in fact they never loved you.

And Christianity, without the truth of the resurrection, would be to live a life of faith where you think that God is the person who loves you most, and that's the person that you love most. And then at the end, you find out not only that that love didn't exist, but that the person himself didn't even exist. That would be a devastating realization and shows how the truth of the resurrection is what our faith needs to be founded on.

Michael Davis: Well, guys, we are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well, I think we've covered a lot of ground here. But I hope what you're taking away is one, that there is such compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and if you have thought that faith and reason are in any way opposed, that is not the case. And starting with the evidence for the resurrection is a great way to see that.

And then the second question of, does it really matter? I believe in God, maybe I have a faith of some sort, does it really matter if it's true if it's based in facts? And we want to say that yes, it does. Christianity cannot do the things it claims it can do if it is not based on facts.

It claims that Jesus can grant forgiveness, it claims that life transformation is possible, God's Spirit can come to live within you and empower you to live the life that you were created to live. It claims that it can provide eternal life, that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. And Jesus claims that ultimately there's going to be a justice in the end.

None of those things can happen if Christianity is not based on facts. And so, I'm so glad that it is.

Michael Davis: Vince and Jo, thank you all for joining me. And everyone, happy Easter!

Jo Vitale: Happy Easter!

Vince Vitale: Have a great Easter!

Michael Davis: Catch you guys next week.

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