Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Swinburne’s strategy is different from that which most scholars adopt when assessing whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Only the last third of Swinburne’s book focuses on historical evidence from the New Testament and other historical documents regarding the historicity of the Resurrection. Swinburne claims that as long as we have sufficient evidence in favor of the claim that God exists, the need for historical evidence is diminished. Rather than relying solely on historical evidence, Swinburne holds that by examining the life of Jesus and the kind of life God would resurrect, it is evident that Jesus was the kind of individual whom God would raise from the dead. He argues that there is a significant probability that God would resurrect Jesus. The difficulty in the minds of those who would argue against Swinburne lies in how to assess the a priori probability that God would resurrect Jesus and what kind of life God would see fit to resurrect.

In response, it seems likely that Swinburne’s justification for this lies in his view of the unique status of Jesus in history. While many religious prophets were reported to have performed miracles, according to Swinburne two things stand out about Jesus: the large number of miracles attributed to him and their centrality in his ministry, and Jesus’ representation of those miracles as the Kingdom of God advancing in a needy world.

Moreover, while someone may charge Swinburne with reading his own theology and religious belief back into his case for Jesus being God Incarnate and a likely candidate for someone whom God would raise from the dead, Swinburne attempts to defend the early followers of Jesus from such a charge. For example, the notion that God would become incarnate was not expected by those followers, and this is a reason against the claim that they were reading their theology back into history. The Resurrection was also unexpected, which in Swinburne’s mind goes to show that the disciples did not have to marshal belief in the Resurrection because they expected Jesus to rise bodily from the dead. Rather, they were surprised by this, because it did not fit into their religious expectations of what a Messiah would be and do. Their belief that this event occurred helped spark a worldwide movement that continues to this day.