Is the Resurrection of Jesus Historically Plausible?
In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:
1. It has great explanatory scope: it explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
2. It has great explanatory power: it explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
3. It is plausible: given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.
4. It is not ad hoc or contrived: it requires only one additional hypothesis: that God exists. And even that needn’t be an additional hypothesis if one already believes that God exists.
5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” doesn’t in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.
6. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions (1)-(5). Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as the resurrection hypothesis.