I have argued in the past that the possibility of an argument does not necessitate probability. The idea is that just because someone offers an alternative explanation for something, this does not make it likely. For example, if I were to point my remote at the TV and push the power button and the TV turned on, the most probable explanation is that the radio waves from the remote triggered the TV’s main power switch. Are there other possible explanations for this? Sure. There could have been a glitch in the TV. My neighbor’s remote could have somehow activated my TV at the exact same time as when I pushed the power button. There could have been a timer set on the TV to turn on and it happened to be when I pushed the remote. There are infinite possibilities. The question is, what is the most probable?
When it comes to the resurrection of Christ, there are an infinite number of possible alternative explanations for the rise of a belief in a risen Christ other than opting for the most obvious (i.e. Christ actually rose from the grave). For centuries skeptics and non-believers have offered their possibilities, but, in my opinion, they are never a probability.
Recently I read these possibilities:
1) Jesus’ body was taken straight from the cross to the criminal graveyard by a devout Jew. We know that the Jews did not want to leave a person hanging on a tree or a piece of wood overnight. Deuteronomy 21:23 says: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged [is] accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance.
Is this a possibility? Absolutely. Probability? I don’t think so. How could it be? There is simply no evidence to believe such. It would take a blind leap of faith to turn this possibility into a personal creed.
2) Jesus’ body was taken straight from the cross and thrown into Gehenna. Perhaps a Roman soldier did this. Louis Feldman has argued that it was the Romans who put Jesus to death and that the Jews had nothing to do with it. See Who Really Killed Jesus? A Critical Response to “The Passion” , 2004. Feldman maintains that the gospel accounts, which place the blame on the Jewish leaders, are so full of mistakes that it obviously did not happen the way they describe it.
Here we are again with a possibility without any historical warrant to make it responsible to believe. (Notice the overstatement here: it “obviously did not happen the way they describe it.” Obvious to whom?
3) Jesus’ body was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and placed into a different tomb. We know that the first tomb where Jesus is said to have been placed was a new family tomb and maybe Joseph had another tomb somewhere else to which he moved the body. The Bible says he was a rich man, so it is reasonable to assume, he may have had another tomb.
Yes, it is reasonable to believe that he may have had another tomb, but…so? It is reasonable to believe that Joseph’s son had another tomb that Jesus was taken to. It is reasonable to believe that Josephus donated tombs out of his good fortune to many who were in need so he had dozens of tombs. But because a possible condition of a historical theory (i.e. Joseph could have had another tomb) has been met, this does not mean that people are justified in placing their faith in such a theory over another that is much more probable, being supported by real evidence.
4) The empty tomb story was a later embellishment of the gospel narrative. In other words, the story as we have it in the gospels did not happen at all. This is certainly possible. We know that the earliest account of the resurrection in I Cor. 15 contains no mention of the empty tomb nor of the women visiting it. The earliest gospel record, Mark, ends abruptly with the women leaving the tomb scared and silent. As Robert Price remarks: Isn’t it obvious that the claim that the women “said nothing to anyone for they were afraid” functions to explain to the reader why nothing of this had been heard before. By This Time He Stinketh, 1997.
Yes, this is certainly possible, but it has no evidence to back it up. It purports, but does not create any reasonable doubt in the event of the resurrection. Especially since there is so much other collaborative evidence that Christ did rise from the grave besides the tomb (i.e. the phenomenon of the rise of Christianity in a hostile environment, the willingness of the Apostles to die for their confession, the early testimony of the New Testament, the embarrassment factor in the Gospel accounts, and the inability of skeptics to produce a body in the first century. Not to mention how foreign it was for such a belief (i.e. a crucified and risen Messiah) to arise in this first century Jewish setting.
In the end, there can be all kinds of possible alternative explanations (I could come up with a thousand more), but we should never be fooled into thinking that just because an explanation is possible that this makes it worthy of actual consideration.
In the end, the simplest explanation is that Christ did rise from the grave. If you do not start with anti-supernaturalistic presuppositions (i.e. dead bodies can’t rise, therefore, Christ did not rise from the grave), then you can truly follow the evidence and not search for far-fetched, yet possible, explanations. It is because of acrobats like these that I think it takes more (blind) faith not to believe in the resurrection of Christ than to believe.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]