Did God Resurrect Jesus Singlehandedly?
In books and articles, I’ve argued authentic miracles never involve God’s action alone. Miracles require God and creation.
But is this true of Jesus’ resurrection?
Many Christians think Jesus’ resurrection the most important miracle of all. The biblical writers say “God raised Jesus from the dead” (Acts 4:10; 5:30; 1 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 1:21; Rm. 8:11).
Jesus didn’t self-raise. He didn’t singlehandedly decide to come back to life. God resurrected him.
But did God alone raise Jesus back to life?
Does the Bible Say God Alone Raised Jesus?
Many Christians think God had to control Jesus to bring him back to life. It must have been resurrection by fiat.
Does the Bible say this? Do biblical texts explicitly say God singlehandedly resurrected Jesus?
No, they do not.
Most Christians assume God can control anyone or anything. They employ this assumption when they consider Jesus’ resurrection.
By contrast, I believe God can’t control anyone or anything. So God’s resurrection of Jesus wasn’t unilateral.
Other Factors, Actors, and Forces
If God didn’t raise Jesus singlehandedly, other factors, actors, and forces must have played a causal role. But what were these cooperative elements? We find hints in the biblical record.
There is no “play-by-play” of Jesus’ resurrection. We don’t have direct access to what occurred as God resurrected Jesus.
While there were witnesses after Jesus’ resurrection, no one was present during the decisive resurrecting activity. So we must speculate.
An adequate explanation of Jesus’ resurrection will involve a primary role for God’s action: “God raises Jesus.” Jesus didn’t self-raise; but God didn’t resurrect Jesus singlehandedly.
What other causes, forces, factors, and actors were involved?
Jesus Cooperated With God
The God Can’t explanation of God raising Jesus says Jesus’ mind/spirit/soul (depending on which word you prefer) and bodily members played a role in his resurrection. Jesus cooperated… mind and body.
It’s not hard to imagine Jesus’ mind/spirit/soul cooperating with God’s desire to resurrect. Those who affirm continued subjective experiences beyond bodily death — what most call “life after death” — will think Jesus continued having subjective experiences after his body died.
Someone so in tune with God — “I and my father are one” (Jn. 10:30) — would naturally cooperate with God’s resurrecting activity. Jesus’ continually existing self would have strong reasons to cooperate with God’s resurrecting activity.
We can also imagine elements of Jesus’ body cooperating with God. Or those unable to cooperate may be rightly aligned despite their damaged state. Jesus’ body doesn’t disappear into nothingness.
We know from other resurrection accounts that dead bodies can revive without sufficient causes. The near-death experience literature offers many examples. Besides, a body dead for thirty-six hours in a cold tomb would not be entirely decomposed.
Ambiguous Post-Resurrection Witness
We find other intriguing factors and actors in stories about Jesus’ resurrection. For instance, Matthew says an angel rolled away the stone from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb (28:2).
If God can singlehandedly raise Jesus, why send an angel to open the door? Interestingly, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he asked someone else to roll away the stone before calling to Lazarus to come forth. Did God do the same in Jesus’ resurrection?
Consider also the high degree of ambiguity related to Jesus’ post-resurrection sightings. The women who came to the tomb on the morning of his resurrection mistook Jesus for the gardener (Jn 20:14-15). His friends walking for miles alongside Jesus going to Emmaus don’t recognize him until he breaks bread (Lk 24:13-35). And so on.
If God could singlehandedly raise Jesus and if God thinks witnesses to this resurrected man are important, God ought to make recognizing Jesus easy, obvious, and unambiguous. But that’s not what we find in the text.
This alone should make us rethink the idea God has the ability to raise Jesus singlehandedly and then exhibit the risen Lord unambiguously. Apparently, God can’t control others.
The Logic of Resurrection Love
The most important argument for thinking raising Jesus was a cooperative venture comes from the logic of love itself. To many, love is by definition relational, persuasive, and uncontrolling. Love does not override, nor does it act in a vacuum. It isn’t a solitary activity. “Love does not force its own way” (1 Cor. 13:5).
To those who think God always loves, it’s natural to think God’s raising Jesus was not a controlling act. To put it another way, had God’s raising of Jesus been a controlling act, it would not have been loving!
Although many have not applied the logic of God’s uncontrolling love to Jesus’ resurrection, once presented, it makes good sense.
While some argue that love is by definition uncontrolling, others build a case from evidence and arguments that says God raised Jesus through uncontrolling love. This case looks at the clues I’ve mentioned above. But it also considers other questions of life, the broad biblical witness, the problem of evil, and more.
There’s a strong abductive case for believing Jesus cooperated with God’s resurrecting.
In my recent book Questions and Answers for God Can’t, I point out that no scripture explicitly says God singlehandedly controls others. The vast majority of biblical passages either explicitly or implicitly speak of both divine and creaturely activity when describing how any event occurred. No biblical passage unambiguously says God was the only actor in some event and there were no creaturely factors, actors, or causes.
The lack of explicit biblical support for the idea God ever controls fits well with saying God did not singlehandedly resurrect Jesus.
I explain more how Jesus reveals God’s love as uncontrolling in chapter five of Questions and Answers for God Can’t.