My patients cannot verbally express to me their symptoms. To determine the who, what, when, where, and how that a particular disease manifests itself , a veterinary medical examination requires direct observation and inference from the clinical evidence. We label these pieces of evidence “clinical signs.” After isolating these clinical signs, the process of diagnosis and treatment follows a logical series of steps, much like an algorithm used by computer software. So, how possibly can a claim like “Jesus was resurrected from the dead” be diagnosed? What clinical signs are present to explain what reasonably happened? The key in the process is to identify the explanation that most reasonably explains all of the clinical signs.
1. The Clinical Signs in History Suggest the Resurrection is Possible
The greatest disservice I could commit as a veterinarian is to listen to a list of possibilities and leap abruptly to a conclusion. For instance, my technician interviews a client and gives me a report that my patient, an un-neutered outside male cat, has multiples wounds on its body, is missing hair, has weeping skin wounds, very itchy skin, and has no history of flea control. I could boldly say, “FLEAS are the culprit!” However, upon examination I find no evidence of fleas, flea allergy, or any parasitic cause. Instead, the cat is the recipient of a scourging from another neighborhood tomcat. Cat fight wounds and infection explain all the observations. The gaping holes in the cat’s backside are too large for any flea to create. Fleas could be present, but they would not account for all the clinical observations. Likewise, to accept the evidence concerning the resurrection, any skeptic must be willing to address all the possible explanations for the claims concerning Jesus. Most explanations to refute resurrection claims use naturalistic (materialistic) causes to do so. However, these objections exclude anything supernatural a priori. This rejection is a disservice to honest investigation of the possibilities. Paul was clear in his account of the appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8:
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Here, Paul clearly lists the numerous eyewitnesses to the event. The history is written in plain view— if you want further information, go ask them!
2. The Early Clinical Signs Suggest the Resurrection is Plausible
In gathering a history concerning an illness in a pet, the information that is critical concerns the onset, severity, and duration of the illness. The earlier we can identify the onset of an illness, the better we may understand its progression and diagnose it. The historical context of Paul’s writing is significant, as the scriptures attest:
Paul was brought before Gallio in Acts 18:13 for “preaching that which was not unto the law” to the Gentiles during his second missionary journey in Corinth. Gallio was Roman proconsul under Claudius between 52-53 AD. Since Roman governors only served 1 year terms, this places the timing of Paul before Gallio in a specific period of time. In Galatians 1:18, Paul declares that he did not immediately return to Jerusalem after his conversion, but “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.” Next, in Galatians 2:1-2:
“Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. 2And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.”
Roughly recounting the math here, when Paul was before Gallio around 52 A.D., subtracting 17 years provides a date of approximately 35 A.D. If the crucifixion occurred at or near 33 A.D., then this places Paul’s receipt of the gospel through his experience with the risen Jesus very close to actual event. Remember, Paul was not converted at the crucifixion, but after many months or longer of persecuting Christians and imprisoning them. He was on his way toward Damascus to persecute even more, when he had his experience with the risen Christ. A diagnostic progression as recorded alongside history suggest the bodily resurrection of Jesus is plausible.
3. The Clinical Sign of Paul’s Conversion is Consistent with the Gospel Message
Whenever discerning the clinical signs, each one must be consistent with the final diagnosis. In Paul’s case, he was a well-educated, literate, scholar of Jewish tradition and law. He sat at the feet of Gamaliel’s teaching, and represented himself as a “Pharisee of Pharisees”. In Galatians 1:13-14 he says of himself:
“13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”
Nonetheless, after his encounter with Jesus, Paul goes from persecuting Christians to making the remainder of his life concerned with preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles:
19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.- Galatians 2:19-20
As a result, his changed life is consistent with Gospel, and is evidenced by his delivery of that “which he first received” in 1 Corinthians 15.
4. The Clinical Sign of Doubt by James, Thomas, and others is Credible
Sometimes, and thankfully on rare occasions, animal patients are diagnosed properly and treated appropriately, but they just do not get better. A dog or a cat may acquire a despicable, resistant infection. Bacterial resistance is formidable threat, endangering the lives of many pets with no antibiotic on the earth available to provide relief and healing. Concerning the resurrection narrative, the skepticism by James, the brother of Jesus, and Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, initially insert an obstacle— doubt. Doubt is an embarrassing detail. If early Christians were concocting a story about the Messiah and wished to magnify His importance in history, why not omit such unflattering details? Consider James, and the other brothers of Jesus, who were skeptical. In John 7:5, it says “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” Yet later, after Jesus’ ascension, Luke records in Acts 1:12-14
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
In contrast, Thomas was absent at the last appearance of Christ to the disciples on the day of His resurrection in John 20:24- “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.” Not until later did Thomas remove his doubt:
And after eight days his disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and My God!’ (John 20:26-28).
The presence of doubt — resistance to the truth — compels deeper investigation into the facts. Like a resistant bacteria, doubt can lead to deeper confidence in the diagnosis. Why? Because the mere existence of doubt and resistance adds credibility that the diagnosis is the correct one.
5. The Clinical Signs Within the Church Confirm the Diagnosis of a Risen Savior
Nothing in veterinary medicine trumps the feeling of witnessing a critically ill animal recover and thrive as a pet within a loving family. Newborn puppies and kittens come close, but having a second chance at life is an amazing event. The behavior and doctrine of the early Christian church, and the gospel we proclaim today are the same. Paul was so concerned during his preaching that he returned on two different occasions to meet with the apostles to make sure the gospel he preached to the Gentiles was the same as Peter’s sermons to the Jews:
2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. – Galatians 2:2
6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.- Galatians 2:6
Even Paul had doubts, and his concern was that the Gospel would not be altered from its original message. He spent his life preaching this message of hope through a life transformed by the finished work of Jesus on the cross. This message still rings truthfully in the Christian church today. And, on Good Friday, where the sacrifice of God’s only Son was made, we can be confident in the diagnosis: Jesus Christ is Risen from the Dead. Indeed.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”- Mark 10:45