It is improbable that Jesus rose from the dead?

by Matt Slick

When someone says that it is improbable that Jesus rose from the dead, he is speaking logically. The fact is that probability strongly works against Jesus rising from the dead. After all, how many people have risen from the dead in this century? If it had happened, would not the news have reported it? Would not the doctors have known about it? Anyone rising from the dead would be a noteworthy event. So, on one hand, it is true that it is improbable that Jesus rose from the dead. However, on the other hand, when the purpose of God in this unique event is considered, it is not unlikely at all.

If there were no God in the universe and if all things followed the natural laws that we know then indeed it would be highly improbable that anyone would rise from the dead. But if there were a God who controls the natural laws and is, in fact, the author of those laws, then it would be easy for him to raise someone from the dead. The issue of improbability cannot be examined without examining the concept of whether or not God exists. After all, if he does exist the resurrection of Christ is certainly possible. So we see that someone's presuppositions about the existence of God will affect whether or not he or she can accept the idea that Jesus can rise from the dead. Even though statistically it is not normal that just anyone would rise from the dead, the statistical improbability does not diminish the likelihood that God might raise a particular person from the dead for a specific purpose.

But we see in the New Testament eyewitness accounts of people seeing Jesus after He was crucified, died, and buried. Take, for example, the following accounts of Jesus appearing after His death and burial.

  • John 20:25-28, "The other disciples therefore were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” 28Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
  • Luke 24:39, "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

Of course, simply quoting the Bible is not sufficient for skeptics who cannot or will not believe in the resurrection of Christ.  But it is difficult to blame them because someone rising from the dead is indeed improbable.  In fact, they would say that such an extraordinary claim would require extraordinary evidence.  This is not unreasonable if applied fairly and consistently to the context of history.  I have written on this in the paper "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Does the New Testament provide extraordinary evidence for the resurrection of Christ?  Quite frankly, yes it does.  It does in that the eyewitness accounts which were written down by the apostles of Christ, were preserved on an extraordinary good level.  There is absolutely no comparable ancient document or documents that even approaches the accuracy and reliability of the New Testament documents.  This is indeed extraordinary.  To see more on this, please read "Does the Bible provide extraordinary evidence for Jesus' resurrection?"

Just because something is improbable, does not mean that it is impossible.  Given that God exists in that he is involved in human history, and that Jesus performed many miracles, walked on water, and raised others from the dead, it is not improbable to conclude that he has risen from the dead.  In fact, in light of the eyewitness accounts that have been accurately transmitted to us, it is perfectly reasonable to trust in his resurrection.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.