God’s Goodness and the Resurrection of Jesus

Most defenses of the resurrection of Jesus have focused on historical questions, for example:

Q1. Was Jesus crucified in Jerusalem by Roman soldiers around 30 C.E.?

Q2. Did Jesus die on the cross on the same day he was crucified?

Q3. Was Jesus buried in a stone tomb on the evening of the day he was crucified?

Q4. Was the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed found empty on Sunday morning, about 36 hours after his body was removed from the cross?

But the belief that Christians hold is not merely that some Jewish man died, remained dead for about 36 hours, and then came back to life.  Christians believe that not only did this happen, but that it was a miracle.  That is to say, Christians believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

To establish this stronger claim, a defender of the resurrection belief must show that (a) it is likely that God exists, and also that (b) God would be likely to choose to bring Jesus back from the dead.  These background beliefs are essential to showing the Christian belief in the resurrection to be true.  

In The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003, hereafter: ROGI),  Richard Swinburne points out the importance of these philosophical/theological background issues:

Clearly, if there is an omnipotent God, there is a God able to bring about a miracle such as the Resurrection of Jesus.  I shall argue that, in so far as the evidence is against the claim that there is such a God, then the occurrence of such an event as the Resurrection is improbable.  If the evidence suggests that there is such a God, then it will give some probability to the occurrence of such a miracle in so far as God has reason to bring about such an event.  I shall argue that he does have such a reason.
 (ROGI, p.2, emphasis added)

As with Swinburne’s other arguments for the existence of God, a critical role is played here by God’s perfect goodness and by the purposes and motivations of God that Swinburne infers from God’s perfect goodness.  Swinburne argues that a perfectly good God would have good reasons to become incarnated as a human being:

…a perfectly good God who saw the sin and the suffering of the human race would want to do something about it.  He would want to help us to know which actions are good and which are bad…so that we might do good actions and by living good lives could begin to form characters suited to enjoy him forever.  He would want to help us to make atonement for our past sins in a serious way,  And above all, if he has subjected us to suffering…for the sake of good purposes, he would nevertheless want to identity with our suffering by sharing in it….Any serious reflection on how a good creator God would react to a race of suffering and sinful creatures whom he has created must give considerable force to the claim that he must become incarnate.
(ROGI, p.201)

So, God’s perfect goodness makes it somewhat probable, according to Swinburne, that God would become incarnate for the above purposes.  Assuming that God were to become incarnate for these reasons, Swinburne argues for some criteria to identify a person who is God incarnate:

If God is to become incarnate in order to fulfil all the purposes for becoming incarnate listed in Chapter 2 [summarized in the above quote], we would expect his life to show these five marks.  His life must be, as far as we can judge, a perfect human life in which he provides healing; he must teach deep moral and theological truths (ones, in so far as we can judge, plausibly true); he must show himself to believe that he is God incarnate; he must teach that his life provides an atonement for our sins; and he must found a church which continues his teaching and work.  
(ROGI, p.59)

Swinburne makes one more claim in order to tie these purposes and criteria to the Resurrection:

If God became incarnate as a prophet and lived such a life, he would need to put a divine signature on that life, to show his acceptance of any sacrifice, to confirm the prophet’s teaching and the teaching of the resulting Church, and thereby to confirm the divinity of the prophet.  To raise from the dead the prophet killed for his work would be exactly the kind of super-miracle which would provide such a signature.
(ROGI, p.202)

It is breathtaking how Swinburne infers so many very specific purposes and criteria that involve obviously Christian theological concepts from the meager abstract notion of God as a perfectly good person.  Nevertheless, I think Swinburne’s approach to miracles and the resurrection is very insightful.  I also believe that it opens up the Resurrection belief to a line of skeptical objections that can be added to the usual ones.  

Some of the usual skeptical objections:

O1.  If we assume that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, and that he died about 36 hours prior to the first Easter sunrise, then the evidence for the claim that Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter is too weak and dubious to establish that Jesus died and then came back to life on that Easter morning.

O2. If we assume that Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter, then the evidence that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified about 36 hours before the first Easter sunrise is too weak and dubious to be used to establish that Jesus died and then came back to life on that Easter morning.

O3. The evidence on the existence of God makes it very unlikely that there was a God who existed and who could have raised Jesus from the dead.

To these usual suspicions we can add another objection that is based on Swinburne’s point that we need to take into account the purposes of God, given that God is a perfectly good person:

O4. If we assume that God exists, given the life and teachings of Jesus (as described in the canonical Gospels), God would be unlikely to have raised Jesus from the dead.

In the recent series of posts, I have argued that Jehovah was a sexist, and therefore Jehovah was a false god.  Since Jesus taught his followers to worship Jehovah and pray to Jehovah, Jesus was a false prophet, and thus the life of Jesus is clearly NOT the sort of life that a perfectly good God would want to “put a divine signature on”  and thus “confirm the prophet’s teaching” and “the divinity of the prophet”.  It would be a great deception for God to perform the super-miracle of a resurrection on a false prophet who taught his followers to worship and pray to a false god.

So, based on the purposes and criteria that Swinburne outlines, we have very good reason to believe that God would NOT raise Jesus from the dead, because to do so would be to confirm the mistaken teachings of a false prophet and to validate the worship of a false god.  So, we have at least one good objection of the fourth type to belief in the Resurrection.

Furthermore,  if new and powerful historical evidence is one day discovered that makes it very likely that Jesus died on the cross the same day he was crucified, and that Jesus was buried in a stone tomb that same evening, and that Jesus remained dead for about 36 hours, and that Jesus was alive and walking around on the Sunday morning (about 36 hours after being placed in a stone tomb), then this would not only NOT give us a good reason to believe that God exists, and it would NOT give us a good reason to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, but it would, instead, give us a good reason to believe that there is no God. 

A perfectly good God would not permit such a grossly deceptive miracle to occur, even if the miracle was caused by some being other than God (say, a stupid angel with good intentions, or by the devil with less honorable intentions).  If God cares as much about humans having correct moral and theological beliefs as Swinburne claims, then God would not permit the resurrection of a false prophet, especially a false prophet who taught his followers to worship a false god. 

Since we have good reason to conclude that Jesus was a false prophet who taught his followers to worship and pray to a false god, the resurrection of Jesus would be strong evidence AGAINST the existence of a perfectly good God, at least on Swinburne’s view of what a perfectly good God would be likely to do, and to allow.

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1449524692 Hector J. Flores

    I’m really tired of people assuming that “belief” in a god is the
    standard belief; therefore, the ones who should bang their heads against the
    table to try and persuade believers are the ones that claim inexistence. I
    agree that both claims are pretty extraordinary, but one of many motivations
    that one might need in order to claim that such god might not exist is the
    obnoxious nature of irrational though. I mean, do people really expect other
    people to believe such non-sense as “the virgin birth”, “the Adam & Eve
    account for the origin of humanity”, “heaven & hell”, “angels & demons”,
    anything at all that it is not availed by our senses, really? A lot of people
    go nuts over stuff like this, how can you be sane if you don’t give yourself a
    lot of credit as a human? First of all, what we can know SHOULD be enough to dispel
    all this non-sense, specially because such god DOES NOT go beyond what we know,
    or do you see him roaming around time/space? God exists, yes, as concept of god,
    nothing else. You can even track an evolution of that concept from culture to
    culture. From pantheism, to polytheism, to monotheism, there is a lot of
    material to work with, discrediting our capacity is not a good idea and in my
    opinion is just a desperate move to uphold irrational beliefs. It would be a
    much better world if people recognize their limits but would not go out of
    their way to discredit themselves just to uphold an idea.

  • Joseph O Polanco

    “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the LORD.” -Proverbs 19:3 (NLT)

    More often than not, the reason for man’s suffering … is man.

    • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

      Oh really? Then how do you explain this?

      I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.

      • Joseph O Polanco

        For any evildoer, being justly immured, amerced or even executed for their evil is an evil.

        “‘“As I am alive,” is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living. Turn back, turn back from YOUR bad ways, for why is it that YOU should die?” -Ezekiel 33:18

        “If YOU keep walking in opposition to me [Jehovah God] and not wishing to listen to me, I shall then have to inflict seven times more blows upon YOU according to YOUR sins.” -Leviticus 26:21 (Bracket mine.)

        “For the wages sin pays is death.” -Romans 6:23

        “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” -Ezekiel 18:4

        • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

          Nice try. But your Lord Jehovah is still the author of darkness and evil. They all spring from his fountain according to your holy book.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Jehovah “bring[s] to ruin those ruining the earth.” -Revelation 11:18 (Bracket mine.)

            For the righteous, however, “it will go well for them;
            They will be rewarded for what they do.” – Isaiah 3:10

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            None of those quotes contradict that your lord is still the author of evil. Try again.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            For the evil, never the good, never the righteous, never the obedient.

            When “the earth had become ruined in the sight of the true God, and the earth was filled with violence” in the days of Noah, Jehovah God justly caused the death of these BUT rewarded faithful Noah and his family for their goodness. (Genesis 6:11; Revelation 11:18; Isaiah 3:10)

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Wonderful. You’re using the bible to disprove the bible and inadvertently proving it has contradictions! Great job.

            God brought evil into the world, He invented it as the bible says he did. He hardens hearts and deceives. He formed the light and the darkness, created peace and evil. Hence, in your worldview, more often than not, the reason for man’s suffering … is god.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Strawman. Here’s a thought. How about attempting a cohesive refutation of what I’ve actually stated instead of bickering with the crooked mockeries fabricated by the voices raging in your head?

            But thanks for admitting that you’re trolling and not actually interested in learning anything.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            How does anything you wrote disprove the fact that the bible says god creates evil and brings it into the world? Apparently you can’t handle the truth.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            It qualifies it. I don’t doubt for a single second that God wreaked death upon the evil in the past .. and will do so again in the very near future.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I don’t doubt that you believe that, but the fact that you wouldn’t put your money where your mouth is tells me you do have doubts.

            Qualifies what? The fact that I’m right? God is the author of evil. That he punishes bad people is besides the point. Jehovah brought evil and darkness into this world, not man.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            That he punishes evildoers is precisely the point! This is the “evil” Isaiah intimates.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            No, Jehovah creates evil, brings it into the world, then he punishes certain people for being infected with that evil. Just like in the story where god hardens the Pharaoh’s heart so that god could send the plagues and kill every first born. God is bloodthirsty, he makes it so his wrath can be unleashed. Punishing evildoers does not change the fact that Jehovah created the evil and brought it into the world. Isaiah didn’t create evil, Jehovah did, as he says in the bible.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Again, you are confused. Jehovah “let [Pharaoh’s] heart wax bold” -Exodus 7:3 (Rotherham)

            The appendix to Rotherham’s translation shows that in Hebrew the occasion or permission of an event is often presented as if it were the cause of the event, and that “even positive commands are occasionally to be accepted as meaning no more than permission.” Thus at Exodus 1:17 the original Hebrew text literally says that the midwives “caused the male children to live,” whereas in reality they permitted them to live by refraining from putting them to death. After quoting Hebrew scholars M. M. Kalisch, H. F. W. Gesenius, and B. Davies in support, Rotherham states that the Hebrew sense of the texts involving Pharaoh is that “God permitted Pharaoh to harden his own heart—spared him—gave him the opportunity, the occasion, of working out the wickedness that was in him. That is all.”—The Emphasised Bible, appendix, p. 919 (cf. Isa 10:5-7)

            Corroborating this understanding is the fact that the record definitely shows that Pharaoh himself “hardened his heart.” (Exodus 8:15, 32, KJ; “made his heart unresponsive,” NWT) He thus exercised his own will and followed his own stubborn inclination, the results of which inclination Jehovah accurately foresaw and predicted. (Exodus 8:30-32; 9:34,35) The repeated opportunities given him by Jehovah obliged Pharaoh to make decisions, and in doing so he became hardened in his attitude. (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:11, 12.) As the apostle Paul shows by quoting Exodus 9:16, Jehovah allowed the matter to develop in this way to the full length of ten plagues in order to make manifest his own power and cause his name to be made known earth wide.—Romans 9:17, 18.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            So basically, the bible is the literal word of god, except when it says something embarrassing, then it’s the atheist’s fault for having the wrong translation. Gimme a break.

            The Jewish bible translates Exodus 8:15 as “But Pharaoh was made hardhearted, so that he didn’t listen to them, just as Adonai had said would happen.”

            Meaning god made his heart hard, not the pharoah himself. Why should I trust Rotherham?

            Furthermore, as it says in Romans 9:18 “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

            Exodus 4:21 “The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

            Exodus 9:12
            But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.

            Exodus 10:1
            Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them

            Exodus 10:20
            But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

            Exodus 10:27
            But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.

            Exodus 11:10
            Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

            And even if you were right on this one point, it still doesn’t negate the fact that your lord Jehovah is the creator of darkness and evil according to the bible.

            Need I say more?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Actually, the passage correctly reads, “וַיַּ֣רְא פַּרְעֹ֗ה כִּ֤י הָֽיְתָה֙ הָֽרְוָחָ֔ה וְהַכְבֵּד֙ אֶת־לִבֹּ֔ו וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֲלֵהֶ֑ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָֽה”

            You’ve been duped … again …

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            And that proves what exactly? What passage are you translating?

            And even if you were right on this one point, it still doesn’t negate the fact that your lord Jehovah is the creator of darkness and evil according to the bible.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            It proves you don’t know what you’re talking about.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Prove it. And prove that Jehovah does not create evil and darkness.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I just did! You can’t even read Hebrew (much less Aramaic or Koine)!

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Neither apparently did the translators of the bible.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            “For it was of Jehovah to harden their hearts, to come against Israel in battle, that he might utterly destroy them, that they might have no favor, but that he might destroy them, as Jehovah commanded Moses.”

            Are you telling me this is also a misinterpretation?

          • Joseph O Polanco


            If someone says you’re a bag of bones does that literally mean you’re a bag of bones?

            Or if someone says you’re so angry you’re spitting nails does that mean you’re actually spitting nails?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Oh it just so happens that whenever the bible says something embarrassing it’s never meant to be taken literally. How convenient. Tell me exactly what Hebrew word is used here for “harden” and the link me some references that show that this word doesn’t mean what it says it means.

          • Joseph O Polanco
          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            “But I will ·make the king stubborn [L harden the heart of Pharaoh]. I will ·do many miracles [L multiply my signs and wonders] in Egypt,”

            - expanded bible.

            According to you every translation is incorrect and the one you are translating from is correct.

            So isolate the Hebrew word at issue here and show it to me so I can do my own research.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            WOW you’re dense. Were the idiomatic expressions I shared earlier as analogies simply translation issues?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Why should I trust your bible and not the 99 others?

          • Joseph O Polanco

            I don’t follow. How does this answer my query?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            I got 99 bibles saying one thing, I got yours saying something else. So tell me what hebrew word is used for “harden” and maybe a link online to a site that mentions that it is used differently from what it means, since after all, you’re a hebrew scholar.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Orrrr you could just do as I did and learn Paleo-Hebrew.

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            Why are you so hesitant to link me to some sites that explain the meaning of the Hebrew word in question that corroborates your point? It seems as though you are scared.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Because you won’t perlustrate it the same way you completely ignored the scholarly reference from Rotherham. (That and you can’t understand idioms.)

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            No I will. That’s why I’ve been asking for it. I don’t trust Rotterham, I need to see what others have said about his works. I just don’t fully trust your sources so I will need more than your word that the bible says what you say it says. I’m sure a Bible scholar like yourself has plenty of references as to what the bible really says that you can link me. So send me a link that shows the original Hebrew and how it is translated.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Why do you feel so uptight about Rotherham?

          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            His bible contradicts every other bible I’ve ever read.

          • Joseph O Polanco


          • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

            If you are unable to cite references to corroborate your argument, just admit so, and we’ll call it a night.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Looks like you got lost again …

            How does this answer my query?