That Christ rose from the dead is an article of our faith. But we tend to
overlook the fact that the resurrection was an historical event, just as much as
the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Japanese attack on Pearl
Through our faith we know with absolute certainty that Christ rose from the
dead. But we can give support to that faith by analyzing the resurrection as
you were to try to convince a jury that Christ really rose, you would have to
answer several questions:
Did Christ die?
Was he buried?
Was the tomb
empty on Easter?
Where did the
body go? There are only two alternatives: Somebody took it. Or Christ rose
from the dead. If we exclude all the possibilities of the body having been
taken we have to conclude that he rose.
Who could have
taken the body? The realistic possibilities are:
A. The Jews
B. The Romans
C. The Disciples of Christ
When we exclude these three possibilities and realize that there are no
other realistically possible explanations, we have to conclude that Christ
rose from the dead.
But was not the
Resurrection a figment of the disciples' imagination and were not the
appearances of Christ after his Resurrection mere hallucinations?
The answers to the above questions can be summarized as follows:
1. Did Christ die?
There is no doubt that Jesus Christ was crucified.
This is confirmed by non-Christian sources such as Tacitus, Pliny the
Younger and Josephus. If Christ had not been crucified, the references in
the Gospels and Epistles to his crucifixion would have been contradicted by
his enemies. The crucifixion of Christ, in light of his miracles and his
claim to be God, was a major public event of the time.
Proof that Christ died from his crucifixion is found in the nature of
crucifixion itself. This was a common mode of Roman execution and the
procedures governing it were well settled in Roman law and military
practice. Dr. Pierre Barbet, in his book, A Doctor at Calvary
examines the medical aspects of the agony in the garden, the scourging, the
crowning of Christ with thorns, his carrying of his cross, the method of
crucifixion and the methods used by the Roman soldiers to verify the deaths
of those crucified. [Barbet,
A Doctor at Calvary
(Doubleday, Image Books Edition, 1963)] The soldiers were duty bound, under
penalty of their own deaths, to make absolutely certain that each crucified
person died. In light of Dr. Barbet's analysis and in light of everything we
know about the ritual of crucifixion, it is utterly unreasonable to believe
that a crucified person could survive. This certainty is confirmed in
Christ's case by the fact that his was a most noteworthy execution and large
crowds were watching to see if he would perform a miracle at the last moment
to escape. And he was placed in the arms of his mother and buried by his
mother and his friends in a cold, airless tomb. Would his mother and those
others who loved him have entombed him if there had been the slightest sign
that he was still alive? Finally, there were no claims made at the time by
Christ's enemies that he did not die. It contradicts all the evidence to
believe that Christ did not die.
2. Was he buried?
This question can
be answered briefly. The tomb was a very short distance from the place of
execution. Joseph of Arimathea received permission to take the body after
Christ's death had been verified, the body was entombed and the Romans set a
guard over the tomb. Nobody at the time or since has seriously questioned
the fact that Christ was buried in that tomb.
3. Was the tomb empty on Easter?
Of course it was.
If the body was still there, the Jewish leaders would have produced the body
to refute the preaching and claims of the Christians.
4. Where did the body
If Christ did not
rise from the dead, somebody must have taken his lifeless body from the
tomb. If we exclude all realistic possibilities of someone having taken the
body, we must conclude that Christ rose under his own power.
5A. Did the Jews take
not. It was completely against their interest to do so.
5B. Did the Romans
take the body?
They had no more
reason than the Jews to take the body. The claims of Christ were not only
contrary to the beliefs and material interests of the Jews, they were
regarded by the Romans as a threat to the Empire. Neither the Jews nor the
Romans would have done anything that would support the claim that Christ had
5C. Did the Apostles
or other disciples of Christ take the body?
this we have to answer two further questions: How could they have taken
it? And if they took the body, how can we explain the transformation of
the Apostles and their willingness to die for their belief in the
How could the
Apostles have taken the body? The tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers who
could pay with their own lives for dereliction of duty. The only ways
the Apostles could have got ten the body were by bribery or by force.
With respect to bribery, where would these poor men get the money? And
how much money could induce a Roman soldier to hand over the body and
thereby subject himself to the risk of capital punishment? We are not
certain how many there were, but all of the guards would have had to
have been bribed. Nor is it possible that the Apostles could have
overpowered the guards and taken the body by force. The tomb was less
than a quarter of a mile from Herod's palace. Any attempt to overpower
the guards would have been heard. And would you really believe that the
untrained Apostles would have been able to overcome the heavily armed
and trained soldiers on guard?
Apostles stole the body and therefore knew that the claimed Resurrection
was a fraud, would they have given up their lives for that claim? We
know that most of the Apostles died as martyrs and all of them were
willing to suffer martyrs' deaths. We can be sure that they must have
been offered large bribes to renounce and "expose" Christianity and they
must have known that they faced virtually certain death if they refused
to recant and if they continued to preach. Yet none of them recanted and
all of them continued to preach the risen Christ even at the price of
their lives. It is a psychological impossibility that they would have so
acted if they had known the Resurrection was a fraud. The transformation
of the Apostles into heroic champions and martyrs for the faith makes it
wholly unreasonable to believe that they had taken the body of Christ.
The later conduct of the Apostles and other Disciples of Christ is
explainable only on the grounds that they believed that they had seen
the risen Christ; that belief could not have existed if they had taken
the body. They were convinced that they had seen the risen Christ. It
remains to be asked whether they actually did see what they thought they
6. Did the Apostles
and Disciples merely imagine that they had seen Christ?
appearances of Christ mere hallucinations? The fact that a witness dies for
his professed belief makes it entirely credible tht he believes what he
says. So we are certain that the Apostles believed that they had seen the
risen Christ. Next we should ask whether the experiences they believed they
had were the sort on which they could have been mistaken. The answer is no.
It is incredible that they could have been mistaken in thinking that Christ
walked and talked with them, took food from them, ate part of it and gave
the rest back to them, cooked fish for breakfast on the shore, a breakfast
which the Apostles themselves consumed. And so on. It is wholly unreasonable
to think that the Apostles were deceived as to what they were certain they
appearances have been hallucinations? There are certain characteristics of
hallucinatory experiences which are not found in this case. Hallucinations
commonly occur to high-strung people; but there is no reason to believe that
all the people who saw Christ were of this type. Hallucinations are
individualistic phenomena and it is highly unlikely that two people will
have identical hallucinations. But Christ is recorded as appearing to 500
people on one occasion and on other occasions to smaller groups of various
sizes. Normally, hallucinations concern some expected event, but the
evidence is convincing that the disciples were not expecting Christ to rise
from the dead. Another factor is that the alleged hallucinations of Christ
occurred at widely different times and circumstances. And Christ's conduct
at the time of his appearances was tangible. For example, he asked for food,
ate some and gave the rest back to the Apostles; you cannot hallucinate a
bite out of a hamburger. And if the appearances were hallucinations, why did
they suddenly stop after 40 days, at the time of the Ascension? And finally,
if the appearances of Christ were hallucinations, how do you explain the
empty tomb? If the appearances of Christ were not real, where was his body?
Christ did not really rise from the dead, the transformation of the Apostles and
the spread and endurance of the Church in spite of persecution would be a
greater miracle than the Resurrection itself. A fair-minded jury examining the
facts could only conclude that the Resurrection of Christ is as much a fact of
history as is George Washington's crossing of the Delaware. This is confirmed,
incidentally, by the evidence of the Shroud of Turin. Scientists have
demonstrated, as conclusively as science can, that the Shroud can be nothing
other than the burial sheet in which. the body of Christ was wrapped in the
tomb. [See, for example, Humber; The Sacred Shroud (1977); Barbet, A
Doctor at Calvary (Doubleday, Image Edition, 1963.)]
we were discussing any other historical event there would be no serious
challenge to the reality of its occurrence. But because it concerns religion,
the clear historical proof of the Resurrection is rejected by some in favor of
an absolute refusal to believe that such a miracle could occur. The evidence,
how ever, demonstrates that not only is such a miracle possible, it actually
Charles E. Rice. "The Resurrection" Chapter 12 in Truth in Christ: Notes on
Teaching Some Elements of the Catholic Faith (Notre Dame, Indiana: Cashel
Institute, 1983), 55-61.
This article reprinted with permission from the author Charles E. Rice.
Charles E. Rice is Professor Emeritus of Law at the
University of Notre Dame Law School and Visiting Professor of Law at Ave Maria
School of Law, Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has served as a consultant to the U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights and to various Congressional committees on
constitutional issues and is an editor of the American Journal of
Jurisprudence. Professor Rice is also chairman of the Center for Law and
Justice International in New Hope, Kentucky, and a director of the Thomas More
Center for Law and Justice in Ann Arbor. He is faculty advisor and an assistant
coach of the Notre Dame Boxing Club. He and his wife, Mary, have ten children
and they reside in Mishawaka, Indiana. Professor Rice is the author of many
50 Questions on the Natural Law: What It Is and Why We
Need It and most recently
The Winning Side: Questions on Living the Culture of Life.