Believing in the Resurrection

Diglotting has another excellent post up called, “Why I Believe in the Resurrection“. I’ve been thinking along these lines myself lately (as so often happens with Kevin’s posts). Do read it!

But while I’m largely in hearty agreement with the post, I figured I’d push back a little regarding the following remarks:

I have seen some Christians make the (strange) argument that the success of the early Christian movement is evidence in itself regarding the veracity of Christ’s resurrection! I find that to be complete nonsense.

Data useable in support of an explanation is evidence. Obviously, how good the evidence is varies vastly and depends largely on how exclusively it favors one explanation over its competitors. And clearly the success of a movement based on a miracle is not great evidence of that miracle’s historicity, still less “evidence that demands a verdict”, and a far cry from anything like proof. But it does seem to be at very least something that deserves an adequate, coherent explanation instead of ad hoc, anything-but-miracles hand-waving. Even if the movement had failed it wouldn’t disprove that the miracle happened, so it’s a thing of interest that it did not only not fail, but passed with flying, history-shading colors. So even if the success of the Christian movement as a result of the fervor of the earliest believers is not a piece of evidence exclusively in favor of the Resurrection, it’s at least more in line with “something remarkably unusual happened to start this whole thing off” than with “nothing very significant happened to inspire and fuel a movement that would shape the future of the world anyway”. This is surely necessary as a first rung on an evidential ladder — though probably not much higher than that. I do agree that putting too much weight on it as many apologists would like to do indeed tips the scale toward the “nonsense” side of the spectrum.

That minor quibble aside, I highly recommend the post!

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  • Good point, Steve.

    People sometimes confuse the argument you are making with the “2 Billion People Can’t Be Wrong” argument, sometimes called the “One Out of Every Three People on the Planet Can’t Be Wrong” argument.  These arguments are, of course, weak and useless.  

    Your argument, however, is a very strong one.  It asks, “How could Jews, not just in Jerusalem but all over the Mediterranean basin, in the period 30-50 CE come to believe that a crucified Galilean was the long-promised and keenly expected Messiah of Israel?”

    The seven undisputed letters of Paul are generally believed to have been written in the decade of the 50’s and are the earliest extant documents of the Christian movement.  If you read those letters, you realize how widespread and intense was the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead, not just among Jews but also among an increasing number of Gentiles.  Recall also that this is a period of time when many Jewish males returned to Jerusalem to celebrate feasts like Passover.  When you include the people that lived in Roman Judea you realize that many of these people would have heard Jesus preach or seen him crucified – and, if not, many of them knew people who did.  Imagine how six degrees of separation would have worked in as clannish a group as the Jewish Diaspora in that age when Jerusalem’s temple was still the center of their devotional attention.  And remember that none of these Jews was expecting their Messiah to be crucified.  That was a curse and how could the Davidic Messiah be cursed?  Something had to turn these people around to believe in a convicted blasphemer from Nazareth – and it couldn’t have been something minor or subtle.

    If there is some credible theory to explain all this belief in Jesus’ resurrection other than the resurrection, I have yet to hear someone offer it.