Before I continue to examine Theodore Drange’s excellent article “Why Resurrect Jesus?” (The Empty Tomb, p. 55-67), I want to reinforce a key point: an important but neglected aspect of the case for the resurrection of Jesus is what Swinburne calls General Background Evidence, specifically reasons and evidence related to God’s alleged purposes.
I would ammend the title of Drange’s article slightly to: “Why would God Resurrect Someone?” Unless and until a plausible and defensible argument can be made for some specific purpose(s) or motivation(s) that would make it likely for God to raise someone from the dead, the case for the resurrection of Jesus remains incomplete and unsuccessful.
For the resurrection apologetic to work, it must show that God raised Jesus (GRJ), for if Jesus was raised by the devil, or by a Voodoo priest, or by a magical potion from a witch, or by a space alien, or by a Greek god (e.g. Zeus or Poseidon or Ares), then Jesus’ return from the dead would not have theological significance, would not show that Jesus was the divine Son of God, the savior of humankind.
Contrary to the assumption of many believers, we do not know that God is the only being capable of raising Jesus from the dead. For all we know, there are millions of angels, demons, and demi-gods who have the power to raise the dead. So, even if it could be shown that Jesus rose from the dead, it does NOT follow that God raised Jesus.
How can it be shown that God did this as opposed to some other person or being? We can think about this question more clearly and rationally by thinking about a similar question that is often given very serious rational thought:
How can it be shown that some particular person murdered some other person?
Let’s say that a person was killed with a gun. Shot in the chest, neck, and stomach with several bullets from a handgun. If we can locate the weapon, we can trace the ownership and possession of the weapon to see who the most recent owner is, and the most recent known location/storage of the weapon prior to it’s use to kill the victim.
We can also check the gun for fingerprints, to identify who has held the gun in their hands. We can also check for fingerprints. hairs, DNA, and footprints or shoe prints and tire tracks at the scene of the crime, to help identify the people who have been at that location recently, perhaps at the time of the murder.
We can search for witnesses to the murder and interview them. If someone claims to have seen the murder, or to have been in the general area at the time of the murder, that person might have seen or heard the murderer arrive or leave the location of the crime or seen or heard the vehicle of the murderer arrive or leave the location.
We can interview friends and family and co-workers of the victim to try to identify suspects, particularly someone who either had a motivation to kill the victim or someone who knew the victim and who had a known proclivity or tendency towards violence.
These are the sorts of considerations that a homicide detective must investigate and use to identify suspects, to eliminate suspects, and to determine whether there is enough evidence to focus in on one or two primary suspects as the likely perpetrator(s).
But when we ask the question “Did God do such-and-such?” most of the above considerations are of no use. God does not need to use tools. If God wants someone to die, then God only has to will them to die, and that person would instantly die. God does not need a gun or a knife to kill someone. Furthermore, if God did for some odd reason decide to use a gun to kill someone, God has no fingers, so God would not leave any fingerprints, nor any footprints, nor any hairs or blood or DNA. God has no body, so God leaves no physical traces of himself behind, the way that humans do. Also, if God chose to use a gun to kill someone, God, being omnipotent, could make the gun vanish into nothingness as soon as the victim was killed.
Furthermore, if God were a supsect in a murder, it would make no sense to ask whether God was in the area at the time the murder took place. God is omnipresent, so God is always present at all locations and all times past, present, and future. God is always present everywhere. So God’s “location” is of no help in either identifying God as the culprit or in eliminating God as a suspect.
Witnesses are not of much help either, because God is an invisible bodiless person. People would never see God perform the killing, because God does not have a body and thus God cannot be seen or heard or touched or smelled.
In short, there is very little for a detective to go on in order to make a case for God being the murderer of a particular person on a particular occasion (or to eliminate God as a suspect). The only consideration that a detective uses to determine a primary suspect in a murder investigation that appears to have application to God is: MOTIVE.
If we know some of God’s main purposes and motivations, especially concerning human beings, then that could be relevant EVIDENCE to help determine whether God is a likely suspect or candidate for having done something to someone, including determing whether God is a likely suspect or candidate for having raised Jesus from the dead.
If we do not know what God’s main purposes or motivations are relative to human beings, then I do not see how it would be possible to IDENTIFY God as a likely suspect for being the person who caused Jesus to come back from the dead. Thus, God’s purposes and motivations concering human beings are an essential element of any plausible rational case for the resurrection of Jesus, for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Although we do know that God is a perfectly morally good person, because that is part of the meaning of the statement “God exists”, this is not all that helpful. This is too general and vague to be of much use in determining God’s primary purposes and motivations regarding human beings. Thus, I am very skeptical about the possiblity of constructing a plausible and defensible explanation for why God would be likely to raise someone from the dead.