The Great Debate: Is the Resurrection of Jesus Fact or Fiction?

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be hosting a debate on the historicity of the resurrection here at the blog. The debate will take place between Malcolm Trevena and regular TM contributor Stuart McEwing. Stuart will be arguing in the affirmative and defending the resurrection, while Malcolm will take the negative position and argue against its historicity.

Here is the format for the debate:

1) Stuart’s opening statement.
2) Malcolm’s opening statement.
3) Stuart’s first response.
4) Malcolm’s first response.
5) Stuart’s second response.
6) Malcolm’s second response.
7) Stuart’s third response.
8) Malcolm’s third response.
9) Stuart’s closing statement.
10) Malcolm’s closing statement.

To assure the debate’s momentum, we’re hoping that responses will be posted no later than five days. I’ll be updating this post with links to all the statements/responses. Please note that comments to the initial posts will be closed. We realize this may be frustrating for some who wish to chime in immediately, but we feel it will keep the participants from being overwhelmed by outside comments during the course of the debate. We’ll open up the closing statements to comments and discussion.

If true, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead separates Christianity from all mere religion. It is, therefore, a question worth discussing and debating over. On it, hangs not just the truth of Christianity, but hope for every human being. We look forward to a lively and fruitful exchange.

The Evidence for Easter

Tyndale House, a Christian community dedicated to researching all the primary evidence relevant to the study of the Bible, has produced three short introductory films on the evidence for the central events of the Easter narrative.

Evidence for Jesus’ Trial

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Dr Dirk Jongkind, a Research Fellow at Tyndale House, pieces together the earliest manuscript evidence for the New Testament and shows how it tells the story of Jesus’ trial before Pilate.

Evidence for Jesus’ Crucifixion

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Dr Peter Williams and Dr David Instone Brewer look at the Munich Talmud, which contains traditional Jewish teaching, and discover how even the deleted text provides evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion. Read more about the evidence of the Munich Talmud here.

Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection

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Dr Peter Williams gives a summary of the biblical evidence for the foundation of the Christian faith – Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

[HT: Justin Taylor]

The God Who Dies—and Lives Again

In this video, New Testament Research Professor Don Carson discusses the heart of Christianity – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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The Resurrection Effect

“The message of the Resurrection is that this present world matters; that the problems and pains of this present world matter; that the living God has made a decisive bridgehead into this present world with his healing and all-conquering love; and that, in the name of this strong love, all the evils, all the injustices, and all the pains of the present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won the day. That’s why we pray: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Make no bones about it: Easter Day was the first great answer to that prayer.

If Easter faith is simply about believing that God has a nice comfortable afterlife for some or all of us, then Christianity becomes a mere pie-in-the-sky religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is simply about believing that Jesus is risen in some “spiritual” sense, leaving his body in the tomb, then Christianity turns into a let-the-world-stew-in-its-own-juice religion, instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is only about me, and perhaps you, finding a new dimension to our own personal spiritual lives in the here and now, then Christianity becomes simply a warmth-in-the-heart religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. It becomes focused on me and my survival, my sense of God, my spirituality, rather than outwards on God and on God’s world that still needs the kingdom message so badly.

But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes what the New Testament insists that it is: good news for the whole world, news that warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. The living God has in principle dealt with evil once and for all, and is now at work, by his own Spirit, to do for us and the whole world what he did for Jesus on that first Easter Day.”

NT Wright, Grave Matters, Christianity Today 4/06/1998.

The God who speaks

“The importance of God’s speech as a fundamental means of his self-disclosure cannot be overestimated. Creation itself is the product of God’s speech: God speaks, and worlds leap into being (Gen. 1). Many of God’s most dramatic deeds of revelation would not have been understandable apart from God’s accompanying speech. Moses views the burning bush as a curiosity until the voice tells him to remove his sandals and assigns him his new responsibilities. Abraham would have had no reason to leave Ur were it not for God’s revelation in words. Again and again the prophets carry the burden of ‘the word of the LORD’ to the people. Verbal revelation is essential even in the case of the Lord Jesus: during the days of his flesh, he was, first of all, the teacher. Moreover, apart from the explanation of the significance of his death and resurrection, preserved both in the gospels and in the letters, even these momentous events would have been unbearably and tragically obscure. So central is God’s speech to his own self-disclosure that when John the evangelist casts around for an encompassing way to refer to God’s ultimate self-disclosure in his Son, he chooses to refer to him as ‘the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … The Word became flesh’ John 1: 1, 14).”

D. A. Carson in the New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham,  IVP (1994).

Bayesian Probability Theorem

Often heard in response to the arguments of historical apologetics, such as the claim that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, is the axiom ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’ People who use this line must be unaware this has been soundly refuted in current philosophical thought, or else persuaded to use irrational principles to satisfy the requirements of their ideological allegiances. After all, there are hundreds of extraordinary claims you come across each day, and yet have no trouble believing.

Consider the lottery reported last night on television as one such event. The chances of winning, or indeed any random sequence of numbers, is extraordinarily improbable, yet if it is true that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, you should never believe it happened. Weighing the probability of the extraordinary event will swamp the reliability of the witnesses every time so that you should never believe it. Even if the programs reporting is 99.9% accurate.

This kind of thinking is really a popular hang-over of Hume’s problem with miracles, which has been thoroughly refuted. John Earman, the agnostic philosopher wrote the book called Hume’s Abject Failure, in which he argues as commonsensical as this principle sounds, it is demonstrably false. The problem that probability theorists have worked on is how one can establish highly improbable events. They realised that you also have to consider the probability that if the reported event would not have occurred that the event would have been reported as it is. 

For instance, what is the probability that the sequence of numbers reported as the lottery result, would have been reported had those numbers not been the correct result. In the case of the resurrection, what is the probability that if Jesus of Nazareth did not rise from the dead we would have the evidences of the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances and the origin of the disciples belief, et cetera?

Thus an elegant way to assess highly improbable events was developed. The probability for hypothesis (H) on the given evidence (E) with respect to the general background knowledge (B), called Bayes’s theorem. 


How this works is you plug in values of >.5 for positive probability or <.5 for some negative probability. As the result moves towards 1 it is more likely and towards 0 it is less. In the numerator we have the intrinsic probability of H multiplied by H’s explanatory power, Pr(E/H). The intrinsic probability of H is the conditional probability of H relative to the background knowledge (B). The Pr(E/H) is the rational expectation of E given H is the case, again relative to the background knowledge (B). The background knowledge in both cases is tactically assumed. In the denominator the above product is added to the product of the intrinsic probability and explanatory power of the denial of H. If this latter product is 0 then the numerator and denominator are the same and yield a ratio equal to 1, meaning 100% probability.

Hume failed to appreciate the probability calculus which entails not only the general background knowledge of the way the world is, but also the probability that we should expect the given evidence had the proposed event not occurred. So it turns out that it could very well be the case that an extraordinary event would not require extraordinary evidence, if the evidence is highly unlikely to occur had the event not taken place. He confuses miraculousness with probability and infrequency with implausibility. That’s one reason why Hume’s argument against miracles is entirely fallacious. 

Richard Swinburne, the philosopher of science from Oxford University, after plugging in the values, gives the probability of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as 97%. Now I’m not sure how he arrived at the values he plugged in, so I wouldn’t necessarily use Bayes’s Theorem for an analysis of philosophical hypotheses such as God raised Jesus from the dead. But I think enough has been said to show that extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence.

Gary Habermas vs. Infidel Guy

Gary Habermas is considered by many to be the foremost expert on the historicity of Jesus and the events surrounding His resurrection. On September 11th he has a friendly discussion with radio host Reggie Finley, recorded and broadcast on the net for The Infidel Guy, the worlds largest atheist online community. 

You can download just the audio here at:

PART I (5MB) :|: PART II (6MB) :|: PART III (6MB) :|: PART IV (5MB) :|: PART V (5MB)


On The Resurrection with Gary Habermas – The Infidel Guy Show