Friday, July 20, 2012

People Raised From The Dead In Modern Times

Craig Keener writes:

"Some modern writers argue that raising the dead, unlike most miracle claims, would involve a true miracle, but that no one today even claims that such events occur….[Robert] Price, Son of Man, 20-21, rejects ancient resuscitation accounts because people are not raised from the dead today." (Miracles [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011], 536-537, n. 246 on 537)


"Mike Finley, whose book is forthcoming, has spent years collecting reports [of people being raised from the dead] and knows of well over a thousand (phone interview, Oct. 2, 2010); in over forty cases, 'medically trained personnel (doctors, nurses, EMTs) were present when the individual was determined dead, and then came back to life' (personal correspondence, Sept. 23, 2010)." (n. 330 on 550)

Keener cites some examples of resurrection accounts reported in recent mainstream media sources (n. 443 on 572, nn. 467-468 on 577).

As he does when addressing other kinds of miracles, Keener notes that resurrection accounts range across a spectrum of credibility. Arguing against the least credible reports doesn't justify a dismissal of the others. He writes:

"One might counter that some of the following cases could have involved pulses and respiration merely too faint to detect…In view of the abundance of the testimonies, however, I think that trying to explain most or all of them in such terms severely underestimates the ability of people in traditional societies, who live close to death, to detect respiration, especially when deciding that the person is dead means parting with a loved one. Moreover, even if they were merely in comas, one wonders why so many people recovered from such severe comas during prayer." (543)

Another factor to take into account is whether an alleged resurrection is associated with one or more other paranormal phenomena. For example, let's say that a person is resuscitated at the time of a prayer, as Keener mentions above. What if the person who prayed was praying for a resurrection, which he wouldn't normally do, because he sensed a strong urge to do so, an urge he wouldn't have expected to experience? Or what if the person who prayed for the resurrection had a history of being involved with miracles? Or what if the person who's resuscitated reports something like a paranormal near-death experience that occurred during the time he was dead? I'm just mentioning a few possibilities. There are others. A purported resurrection can gain credibility by being associated with other paranormal phenomena. A resurrection by itself is significant, but it's even more significant if other paranormal phenomena point to it. I'll have more to say about this subject later.

Keener discusses a couple of cases in which the alleged resurrection was caught on video (549-550). He often cites eyewitness testimony, including the testimony of doctors and other medical workers, and he interviews some eyewitnesses himself.

Some of the cases are well known, like the raising of Jeff Markin, but he also cites some that have rarely or never been discussed before. He gives an account of the raising of his sister-in-law, for example, and interviews two eyewitnesses of the event (557-558).

He discusses some cases that involve multiple lines of evidence. For example, three people witnessed the resurrection, one or more of them had relevant medical training, the resurrection occurred at the time of a prayer, the person who prayed sensed a compulsion to do so, even though he wouldn't normally do such a thing, etc. How does a critic of an account involving such evidence dismiss all of that?

Sometimes critics will try to undermine the credibility of a witness, point to alleged inconsistencies between the testimony of two witnesses, cast doubt on the reliability of human memory, etc. But, in my experience, the most significant move the critic will usually make is to claim that any evidence for a resurrection must overcome some sort of enormous prior improbability. Stack the deck against all resurrection claims at the outset, so that what would normally be considered a large amount of evidence for an event will be considered insufficient to overcome that initial improbability that's so huge. The problem is, how does the critic justify his claim that there is such a prior improbability? I've never seen a good argument for it. Keener spends a large portion of his book addressing such philosophical issues, and we've addressed them in many other threads on this blog and elsewhere. I won't be going over that ground again here.

Besides, an extraordinarily high prior improbability can be overcome more easily than skeptics commonly suggest. All of us, skeptics included, accept many conclusions that initially seemed highly improbable. See the discussion in Timothy and Lydia McGrew's article here and in J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2003), 569-570.


  1. I was sharing yesterday with a friend, who needs to come to Christ, that Jesus died, and was laid in a grave for 3 days, and then He rose from the dead.
    You need to believe this, and believe it without any exceptions. And then this truth will not be a religious portion of your life to do what you want, but Christ the risen Lord will be your heart's desire, and He will be your Master, and you His willing servant.

    You will love Him, and His Word:-The Holy Scriptures.

    Have a great Lord's Day! Come back soon Lord! We long to see you in your glory!

  2. Would these accounts be more accurately characterized as resuscitations rather than ressurections?

  3. Alex,

    I addressed that issue in an earlier post in the series. Resuscitations are often referred to as resurrections, and I was using the term in that sense. Both terms, resuscitation and resurrection, can be used to refer to more than one type of experience. You have to look at the context to determine which definition is in view. When a concept is being referred to many times, it's helpful to have a variety of words or phrases to use to describe it, so that the language doesn't become too repetitive. A term like resurrection might be misunderstood if it's isolated from its context, but I have been distinguishing between different types of resurrection.