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The Probability of the Resurrection of Jesus

by Richard Swinburne

God has major reasons for intervening in human history by becoming incarnate himself—to identify with our suffering, to provide atonement for our sins, and to reveal truths.

Given there is at least a significant probability that there is a God, there is at least a modest probability that he would become incarnate and live a life and provide teaching appropriate to one who sought thereby to realize these goals. Jesus lived and taught in the appropriate way. If it was God Incarnate who did so live and teach, he would need to show us that it was God who had done so, and so could be expected to put his signature on that life and teaching by a super-miracle, such as the Resurrection.

So there is a modest prior probability in advance of considering the direct historical evidence of the Resurrection, to expect that it would happen to someone who lived and taught as Jesus did. Jesus is the only person in human history about whom there is significant evidence both that he led the appropriate kind of life, and that his life was culminated by a super-miracle. So we do not need too many witnesses to the empty tomb or too many witnesses who claimed to have talked to the risen Jesus, to make it probable that Jesus did indeed rise. We do have some such witness evidence, which it is very improbable would occur (in connection with someone who led the appropriate sort of life) unless the Resurrection occurred.

In consequence it is overall very probable that the Resurrection occurred.

This preprint article is made available for the "Ramified Natural Theology" theme issue in Philosophia Christi.

Sketches of Christian Virtues for Everyday Life Christian Philosophers and the Secular Academy Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project