What Do Extraordinary Claims Require?

Some skeptics like to claim that the resurrection and other miracles by Jesus are possible but it would require extraordinary amount of evidence to believe it. If the New Testament makes extraordinary claims of miracles, as the skeptic would tell us, we must have extraordinary evidence in order to believe those claims. The objection, on face value, seems reasonable until you ask, “What does ‘extraordinary’ mean?”

If by “extraordinary” the skeptic means “beyond the natural,” then the skeptic is asking the Resurrection to be confirmed by another miracle (a “beyond the natural” event). How is that supposed to work? In order to believe in the first miracle (the Resurrection), the skeptic would then need a second miracle to support it. He would then demand a third to support the second, and this would go on to infinity. So by this criteria, the skeptic would never believe in the Resurrection even if it really happened. There’s something wrong with a standard of proof that makes it impossible for you to believe what actually has occurred.

If “extraordinary” means repeatable as in a laboratory, then no event from history can be believed because historical events cannot be repeated. The believability of historical events can only be confirmed by looking at the quality of the eyewitness evidence and the nature of the forensic evidence in the light of the principles of uniformity and causality.

If “extraordinary” means more than usual, then that’s exactly what we have to support the Resurrection. We have more eyewitness documents and earlier documents for the Resurrection than for anything else from the ancient world. Moreover, these documents include more historical details and figures that have been corroborated by more independent and external sources than anything else from the ancient world.

Finally, the skeptic’s presupposition can be challenged. We don’t need “extraordinary” evidence to believe something. Atheists affirm that from their own worldview. They believe in the Big Bang not because they have “extraordinary” evidence for it but because there is good evidence that the universe exploded into being out of nothing. Good evidence is all you need to believe something.

Furthermore, skeptics don’t demand “extraordinary” evidence for other “extraordinary” events from history. For example, few events from ancient history are more “extraordinary” than the accomplishments of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). Despite living only 33 years, Alexander achieved unparalleled success. He conquered much of the civilized world at the time, from Greece, east to India and south to Egypt. Yet how do we know this about Alexander? We have no sources from his lifetime or soon after his death. The truth is, we base virtually everything we know about the “extraordinary” life of Alexander the Great from historians who wrote 300 to 500 years after his death! In light of the robust evidence for the life of Christ, anyone who doubts Christ’s historicity should also doubt the historicity of Alexander the Great. In fact, to be consistent, such a skeptic would have to doubt all of ancient history.

Why do skeptics demand “extraordinary” evidence for the life of Christ but not the life of Alexander the Great? Because they’re hung up on miracles again. Despite the fact that miracles are possible if God exists—and despite the fact that miracles were predicted [in the Old Testament] and then witnessed [in the Gospels and Acts]—skeptics can’t bear to admit that miracles have actually occurred. So they set the bar for believability too high. It’s as if some skeptics are saying, “I won’t believe in miracles because I haven’t seen one. If the resurrected Jesus were to appear to me, then I would believe in him.” Now that would be extraordinary evidence.

It certainly would be extraordinary, but is it really necessary? Does Jesus have to appear to every person in the world to make his claim credible? Why would he? We don’t have to witness every event firsthand in order to believe the event actually occurred. In fact, it would be physically impossible to do so. We believe the testimony of others if they are trustworthy individuals, and especially if their testimony is corroborated by other data. This is exactly the case with the testimony of the New Testament writers.

Furthermore, if God were too overt because of frequent miraculous displays, then he might, in some cases, infringe on our free will. If the purpose of this life is to allow us to freely make choices that will prepare us for eternity, then God will give us convincing evidence but not compelling evidence of his existence and purposes. Therefore, those who want to follow God can do so with confidence, and those who do not can suppress or ignore the evidence and live as if he didn’t exist.


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