Is Extraordinary Evidence Needed to Prove the Resurrection?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I sometimes hear skeptics say that they need extraordinary evidence to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  The reason they need extraordinary evidence, they claim, is that the resurrection is an extraordinary claim.

It is true that the resurrection is an extraordinary claim, but there are many extraordinary claims made about the past that we accept based on historical testimony.  For example, how do you get more extraordinary than the conquests of Alexander the Great?  His accomplishments are virtually unparalleled in history, yet we believe they really happened.

Or take a look at the Guinness Book of World Records some time.  Most of us have no trouble accepting the things recorded in there, but none of us were there to see all of them.  We have to rely on the testimony of those who were there.

The point is that multitudes of bizarre and outlandish marvels have transpired in the past, but for some reason skeptics are quite willing to accept these marvels as real, but not the resurrection of Jesus.

The standard for proving the resurrection should be trustworthy testimony from those who saw what happened, just like any other historical event.  In fact, all we need is eyewitness testimony that Jesus was alive, that he died, and that he was alive again.  If we know from history that these three things occurred, then we know Jesus rose from the dead.

There is nothing difficult about understanding this line of thinking.  If you are a skeptic, go study the historical testimony that shows Jesus lived, that he was then killed by crucifixion, and that he was then seen again by over 500 people.  There are libraries of both scholarly and popular level books that delve into these historical evidences.  Why not go read some of them, with an open mind to the evidence?

If the historical evidence is there, as I claim it is, you have some serious thinking to do.

  • Kyle


    I have to disagree with your conclusion and the reasoning used to arrive at it. Extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence. Or worded another way, the greater the extent that a claim contradicts or conflicts with experience and natural principles, the higher the quality of evidence must be.

    If I claimed to have eaten 57 hot dogs in 3 minutes or stood on top of a pole for 17 days, I think that you would accept the quality of evidence that the Guinness Book requires for such things. I believe that involves some disinterested 3rd party witnesses and such. On the other hand, iIf I claimed to have, one time only, dropped a rock which proceeded to fall sideways or hovered in midair, would you accept that same quality of evidence? Of course not.

    The hot dog eating and pole standing are highly unusual and difficult to comprehend, but they don’t prima facie contradict the fundamental laws of nature that have NEVER been shown to fail. Frankly, if I saw the rock hovering or falling sideways with my own eyes, it would not even be close to sufficient evidence to cause me to think that the force of gravity was actually defeated or manipulated. I would require extensive instrumentation to check for magnetic fields, air blasts, sleight of hand, projected images, and on and on.

    A claim of reanimation of someone whose cells have ceased to function and been decaying for many hours at minimum is 1,000,000,000,000 times more extraordinary than a claim of manipulating the force of gravity. And all you have given as evidence is a lot of “eyewitness” accounts, all from the same source, written many centuries ago, from oral traditions, long after the alleged event, of uncertain authorship, that was picked over and assembled by committee centuries after the event. We don’t even have a single collaborating source that any of the “eyewitnesses” ever existed.

  • Bill Pratt

    You believe in world records based on eyewitness testimony. In fact, you believe many things based on eyewitness testimony. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are all well attested historical facts from multiple, reliable, and contemporary witnesses. Your characterizations of the New Testament documents are just inaccurate, but until you look into them with an open mind, I wouldn’t expect anything different.

    For you to claim that fundamental laws of nature are never superseded is a position of blind faith. You have no idea if that is true. Miracles, by their nature, are rare occurrences, so for you to say “I rule out miracles because I’ve never seen one and neither has anyone else” is completely illegitimate. If there were a Creator God who created the laws of nature, then it is perfectly reasonable to believe he might intervene once in a while. I’m guessing that you reject the existence of a Creator, and therefore rule out the possibility of miracles occurring a priori. Until you believe that God might exist, you will not consider the historical evidence for the resurrection.

    I guess my plea, in the post, for you to consider the historical evidence has fallen on deaf ears.

  • Kyle, any scholar of the ancient texts, including the atheists, would disagree with your summary of the New Testament. You wrote ” And all you have given as evidence is a lot of “eyewitness” accounts, all from the same source, written many centuries ago, from oral traditions, long after the alleged event, of uncertain authorship, that was picked over and assembled by committee centuries after the event. ”

    You seem like an intelligent fellow, but this is complete ignorance. You can deny the claims of Scripture, but nothing you wrote above can be used intelligently for your argument. I believe there are some posts on this blog concerning textual criticism – which really is an academic exercise in its purest form, with no religious overtones.

    It is because of textual criticism scholars, we read basically anything from before the printing press. If you are academically consistent, then you should disbelieve all your ancient history – for the textual evidence for the feats of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and countless others is far inferior to the New Testament evidence.

    I would also add this – if you desire extraordinary evidence as needed for extraordinary claims, then you have it with the resurrection of Christ. The same disciples who for fear of their lives hid when Jesus was killed, boldy preached and died for their belief in His resurrection. Even more, Paul, who killed Christians as his life goal, became one himself – all because he claimed to see the risen Lord.

    As an aside, I taught this issue yesterday at our Sunday service. Our website (above) has the message (2/28/2010)

  • Questioning is necessary but it should be to satisfy your quest to have a good knowledge but it should not be to prove something, as this would gradually lead to questioning the existence of God altogether. The Divine intervention cannot be explained and understood always but in some cases it should be felt. The only base of debate that we can have in this regard is through the means of historical testaments.

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  • Noah

    Alexander the Great’s conquest did not include anything ‘supernatural’ or ‘magical’. He simply conquered an overwhelming number of areas during his time. There is plenty of video and photographs of the same thing occurring today. Invasions and wars all recorded to show that conquering is a proven action that happens all of the time.

    As for the Guinness Book of World Records, again, there is nothing in it that claims someone walked on water, came back from the dead, or flew without the aid of an aircraft. There are no miracles claimed, just records like longest distance traveled on a pogo stick, fastest land speed record, or smallest eyeballs.

    Relating Jesus’ resurrection to a historical event that we know happens even today or a Guinness world record doesn’t make a sound argument.

    I understand that we all believe different things and that if you are a Christian, the ressurection is one of many keys to authenticating your faith in the supernatural abilities of Jesus and God, but it requires more faith than actual senses to believe it.

    This goes for the argument of evolution, as well. If you use your senses, it is obvious that we are closely related to most animals, and even reptiles, on the planet. A frog has a heart, intestines, a liver, a tongue, lungs, two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, 5 fingers and 5 toes.

    Now, I know this will make some people upset and they’re going to want to argue back and fight what I am saying. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and has different ways of feeling comfortable with life and this world we live in.

    I feel better avoiding using my imagination more than my senses. I trust my vision and hearing more than what I imagine in my head. The thought of God or Jesus helping me through life is a great one, but I’ve never seen or heard either of them, so I will not simply imagine their existence because the reality of life is sometimes harsh and relentless. I rely on my own intelligence and actions to get out of tough situations, and I credit myself when I accomplish something.

    Again, I don’t mean to offend, but its important I’m honest and have a voice in these types of discussions. Whether you agree or disagree, a considerable number of people will feel better after reading this, just as a considerable number of people will benefit from reading the opposing argument.

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  • Sara

    One problem with the resurrection. PEOPLE put Jesus in the tomb. They just as easily could have taken him out of it during the 3, count ’em THREE, days it is said before he supposedly resurrected. Grief does some strange things to people and the human mind can do just them same. Add them together and you got a situation where any eyewitness testimony should be taken skeptically. It’s far from unreasonable to ask for evidence outside of Jesus’s disciples b/c they could just have WANTED to see Jesus. So, they did. That far from means they actually did. It just as easily could have been a hallucination from grief and desire to see that loved one again. So, considering that, the resurrection of a DEAD person needs more empirical evidence to prove it or the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” You’re viewing the phrase in the wrong context. It’s just saying that for more difficult claims, you need harder hitting, empirical evidence. That’s all. I understand why you would want to prove the resurrection so fervently as a Christian. It’s one of the 2 things any Christian has to belief or the whole gig’s up; the resurrection and the Jesus was the son if god and he was the savior. I get it. But, these straw man arguments aren’t helping that cause. I don’t know if a deity truly exists but with the current evidence available I have to be honest I say I don’t believe they exist. Currently, there’s no authentic and compelling evidence to do so. Until, there’s solid, empirical evidence to say otherwise, I’ll go with the evidence and say no. You’re entitled to make the same choice for which ever way you personally decide and more power to you but if you want to convince others you gotta bring it.

  • If the disciples removed his body from the tomb, then why did they proclaim he was raised from the dead, radically alter several key Jewish traditions based on that proclamation, suffer persecution for that proclamation, and some ultimately die for that proclamation?

    The New Testament reports numerous sightings of Jesus, by different people, at different times, and in different places. Hallucinations cannot explain all of the sightings. Paul did not want to see Jesus alive, yet he reported seeing the risen Jesus. James, the brother of Jesus, thought Jesus was crazy while he was alive, but then became the leader of the Jerusalem church after Jesus’ death. Why? Because he saw him resurrected.

  • Paul Pousson

    She also forgets the Roman guards that would have suffered a death penalty for letting his body to be taken out of the tomb.

  • Andrew Ryan

    What evidence do we have outside of the bible that the tomb was actually guarded by Roman guards?