The Evidence: A Brief Survey
Approaching the Bible
In order to examine the evidence for the resurrection we must place ourselves in the historical situation. The events surrounding the life and death of Christ didn't occur at a place where we can gain no knowledge of them. Rather, they occurred in history, on earth, and were recorded by men who witnessed the events.
When we approach an ancient document such as the Bible or another ancient document such as Tacitus' History of Rome (115 A.D.) we must come to the text with an understanding attitude. This does not mean that we assume the text to be 100 per cent true. But we need to be able to ask the right questions. In the first century much less writing took place than does in our time. Many were illiterate, few could read, much less write, and paper or parchment (leather) to write on was expensive. The incentive to fabricate was not as it is today. In other words, The National Enquirer, could never have been published at this time. A high regard was given to writing and the luxury to create fictional material was virtually non-existent, for instance there was no such thing as a novel or a newspaper, although there were artistic writings such as poetry. The Bible however, is a much different kind of literature. It was not written as a poem or story, although it also contains poetry. It was for the most part written as history and is intended to communicate truth throughout.
The gospel of Luke begins:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word [Paul, Peter, etc] have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Lk 1:1-4)
Luke was not an apostle, he was however the companion of Paul and probably dictated some of his letters. Luke tells us that he is writing in consecutive order because the other gospels, Matthew, Mark and John, are written more by topic than chronologically.
How do we know anything historically? There is no "scientific" proof that Lincoln was the president. We cannot recreate him in a laboratory or bring him back to life. We cannot reproduce the experiment. We cannot calculate an equation that tells us that he was. But we can assert with a high degree of probability that Lincoln was indeed our president and was assassinated in 1865. We do this by appealing to historical evidence. Many people saw Lincoln. We have some of his writings and even his picture, not to mention his likeness on our pennies. But none of this "proves", in a scientific sense, that Lincoln ever lived or was the president.
The kind of evidence used in historical research is the same kind as that used in a court of law. In a courtroom case certain kinds of evidences are appealed to in order to determine what exactly happened, eyewitnesses are questioned, motives are examined, and physical evidence is scrutinized such as fingerprints or journal writings.
It is the same kind of evidence that we appeal to in order to establish Christ's life, death, and resurrection. Granted, the evidence is not as great as that for Lincoln, nor as recent. But it is better evidence than we have that Plato ever lived, or Homer, or many historical figures that we take for granted.
Historical Evidence Outside of the Bible
Often people are uncertain about the existence of Christ, but few scholars would disagree that a man named Jesus lived roughly between 2 BC and about 33 AD. History documents that this man was not a myth but a real person and the historical evidence for this is excellent. For instance, the Roman historian Tacitus, writing in about 115 A.D., records the events surrounding Emperor Nero in July of A.D. 64. After the fire that destroyed much of Rome, Nero was blamed for being responsible:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus [Christ], from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition [Christ's resurrection] thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. (Bettenson, p. 2)
In about 112 A.D. the Roman governor of what is now northern Turkey wrote to Emperor Trajan regarding the Christians in his district:
"I was never present at any trial of Christians; therefore I do not know what are the customary penalties or investigations, and what limits are observed. . . whether those who recant should be pardoned. . . whether the name itself, even if innocent of crime, should be punished, or only the crimes attaching to that name. . . . Meanwhile, this is the course that I have adopted in the case of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if they are Christians. If they admit it I repeat the question a second and a third time, threatening capital punishment; if they persist I sentence them to death. For I do not doubt that, whatever kind of crime it may be to which they have confessed, their pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy should certainly be punished. . . the very fact of my dealing with the question led to a wider spread of the charge, and a great variety of cases were brought before me. An anonymous pamphlet was issued, containing many names. All who denied that they were or had been Christians I considered should be discharged, because they called upon the gods at my dictation and did reverence. . .and especially because they cursed Christ, a thing which it is said, genuine Christians cannot be induced to do." (Bettenson, p. 3)
These passages indicate that Christianity was wide spread in the Roman empire within 80 years of Christ's death. Again, these are eyewitness accounts, not historians looking back years later.
The popular historian Will Durant, himself not a Christian, wrote concerning Christ's historical validity, "The denial of that existence seems never to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity" (Durant, The Story of Civilization, vol. 3, p. 555). And again, "That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels" (Ibid., p. 557).
It is a substantial thing that an historian who spends his life considering historical facts should affirm the reality of Christ's existence as well as the rapid growth of the early movement.
The Jewish historian Josephus, writing for the Roman government in the 70's A.D. records some incidental things regarding Christ and the church. He confirms that John the Baptist died at the hand of Herod (this same incident is recorded in the gospels) as well as the death of, "The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James. . . he delivered them to be stoned" (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, ch. V, p. 20; Book XX, ch. IX, p. 140 ). Again we have sources external to the Bible that demonstrate the historical reliability of the text. Josephus, who was probably alive during the time of Christ, is attesting to the reality of his existence. What this also tells us is that within 40 years of Christ's death, the knowledge of who he was was widespread enough that Josephus could reference him and expect his readers to know exactly who he was talking about.
The Accuracy of the Biblical Records
The question often arises when discussing the biblical records, "How can a document that has been copied over and over possibly be reliable? Everyone knows there are tons of errors in it." While it is true that the documents have been copied many times, we often have misconceptions about how they were transmitted. All ancient documents were copied by hand before the advent of the printing press in the 16th century. Great care was exercised in reproducing these manuscripts. When we think of copying manuscripts we often assume that one copy was made and then another from that and another from that and so on, each replacing the copy it was reproduced from. This is not how manuscripts copying worked. Copyists were usually working from one or two documents that were very old. They would make many copies of their source copy, all the while preserving their source and comparing the copies they have made.
Josephus tells how the Jews copied the Old Testament. "We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them" (Against Apion, Book I, sec., 8, p. 158). Josephus statement is no exaggeration. The Jewish copyists knew exactly how many letters where in every line of every book and how many times each word occurred in each book. This enabled them to check for errors (Shelly, Prepare to Answer, p. 133). The Jews believed that adding any mistake to the Scriptures would be punishable by Hell. This is not like the modern secretary who has many letters to type and must work hard to keep their job, and consequently feels that mistakes are inevitable. Great care is exercised with scriptures when someone holds a conviction such as this.
But even with the great amount of care exercised in copying, errors have crept into the manuscripts. No one questions that spelling errors, misplaced letters, and word omissions have occurred. What is not true is that these errors have gradually built up over time so that our copies look nothing like the originals. This view was commonly held until recently.
In 1947 the accuracy of these documents was confirmed by the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were found in caves in the desert near the Dead Sea by a shepherd boy. Before the discovery of these scrolls, the earliest Old Testament manuscripts we had were from about 980 A.D. The manuscripts discovered in the caves dated from 250 B.C. to shortly after the time of Christ. In careful comparison of the manuscripts it was confirmed that the copies we had were almost precisely the same as those which date over 1000 years earlier. Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer said that even though there is such a difference in dates of the manuscripts, "they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more that 95 per cent of the text. The 5 per cent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling." No other historical literature has been so carefully preserved and historically confirmed.
When we come to the New Testament we see a similar phenomenon. There are over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts in existence. This is by far more than any other historical documents, which usually have maybe a dozen copies from very late dates. The New Testament manuscripts are many and old and they are spread over a wide geographical area. What this enables the New Testament historian to do is collect manuscripts from Jerusalem and Egypt and Syria and other places and compare them for variations. And variations do exist, but as with the Old Testament they are relatively few and rarely important to the meaning of the text. What these manuscripts demonstrate is that different families of texts existed very early that were copied from the original or good copies of the original. This allows us to trace the manuscripts back to the source as one would follow the branches of a tree to get to the trunk. Aside from the manuscripts themselves, "virtually the entire New Testament could be reproduced from citations contained in the works of the early church fathers. There are some thirty-two thousand citations in the writings of the Fathers prior to the Council of Nicea (325)" (Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, p. 136).
There is one more important feature of the Bible to examine before we move to the evidence of Christ's resurrection, that is their historical reliability. Unfortunately I cannot go into the history of this topic. Many critics have challenged the historical accuracy of the Bible and have been proved wrong. Let me provide one example. Historians questioned the accuracy of the accounts surrounded Pontius Pilate's crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate found nothing wrong with him and was reluctant to crucify an innocent man. The Jews put pressure on Pilate saying that if you refuse this "you are no friend of Caesar" (John 19:12). At which point Pilate gave in to the Jews. This did not fit any historical records we had of Pilate who was a cruel and dominating man, not likely to give in to a group of Jews whom he hated. Many believed that this account was historically inaccurate because of the way in which it portrayed Pilate.
Later it was discovered that Pilate had been appointed by a man named Sejanus who was plotting to overthrow Caesar. Sejanus was executed along with many of his appointees (Delashmutt, Sejanus, p. 55, 56). What this demonstrated was that Pilate was in no position to get in trouble with Rome. The Jews had him in a tight place. If word returned to Rome that Jerusalem was in rebellion, Pilate would be the first to go. The gospel account was confirmed as accurate.
Many facts recorded in the Bible have been challenged with the same result, later archeology confirms the reliability of the biblical records down to the smallest detail. A respected Jewish archaeologist has claimed that, "It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference" (Shelly, p. 103). This is a strong statement for any archaeologist to make because if it were not true, he would quickly be condemned in his own field.
The conclusion that one draws from this material is that the Bible is a reliable historical document. Its accuracy has been proved numerous times. Its historical inaccuracy has never been demonstrated. So that when we approach the Bible, we do so with a good amount of confidence that what it records actually happened. If this is true, then we need to come to terms about what the Bible claims. We cannot dismiss it out of hand because we were not there, regardless of the difficulty of what is said.
Miracles and Modern Man
This brings us to the issue of miracles. The Bible records many miracles occurring over a period of more than 4000 years. It is easy to get the misconception that miracles were common occurrences in the biblical times. This is not the case. It is the nature of history to record events out of the ordinary. The Bible is no exception. The very reason that these things were recorded is because they were unusual occurrences of supernatural activity.
We must be careful, however, when we approach the Bible to be willing to entertain the idea that something outside of what we see, hear, and feel could exists. All of these sensory experiences are in the realm of science. But science, which deals with the laws of nature, can say nothing of the supernatural. Science has its limits -- especially in the area of the miraculous -- because miracles are by definition non-repeatable, non-natural, and non-ordinary events. If miracles exist and if they function as I've described, then we would not expect everyone to have experienced a miracle in their lifetime.
We cannot rule out miracles because we have never personally witnessed one. In other words it is wrong to reason that a miracle cannot occur on logical grounds (by reason alone) because one has never seen one (something that can only be validated by experience). It is certainly possible that supernatural events have indeed taken place throughout the history of mankind. And it is better to come with an attitude that maintains that it might be possible and with reliable witnesses we may be convinced that something supernatural has taken place. Let's leave this question open.
Those who lived a long time ago were not necessarily more gullible than we are. We commonly assume that ancient peoples believed miracles occurred regularly. This is not true in the sense that we use the term miracle. They certainly wouldn't have been able to explain as much about the natural world as we can. But this does not make them ignorant individuals willing to believe any abnormal event is a supernatural occurrence. They were awed by things that we can explain using the "laws of nature." But they were also aware of a difference between things that occurred naturally, such as lightning, and those which didn't, such as people rising from the dead. They were men who lived day to day without these amazing experiences just as we do.
The Biblical Record
At this point I would like to move on to the direct evidences for the resurrection of Christ. There are a certain number of historical facts that we can glean from the biblical records. They are: Jesus died by crucifixion, he was buried in a tomb known to the authorities, his disciples were distraught because of his death, his tomb was found empty, the disciples believed that they saw Jesus risen from the grave, this experience changed their lives, the message was central to early church teachings, and it was preached in the very city in which Jesus died (Miethe, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?, p. 19, 20). These historical facts will be the basis of our argument for Jesus' resurrection.
Jesus died by crucifixion. Crucifixion was a most painful and certain means of death. Christ was whipped by Roman soldiers before his crucifixion (Mt 27:26-31). The Roman method for this was to give thirty-nine lashes before crucifixion. (Forty lashes was considered legally dead after which point an individual could no longer be punished.) The effect of this was to induce considerable blood loss. The Romans used what was called a "cat-of-nine-tails." This whip had many ends to it and usually had pieces of bone, glass, and metal shards attached to it which would rip open the flesh. After being whipped Jesus was forced to carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion. The gospel records indicate that in his weakened state, he was unable to carry the cross (which would have been carried on his wounded back Mt 27:32). Incidentally, Jesus was probably not a weak man. Before his preaching ministry he had been a carpenter and during his ministry he walked hundreds of miles throughout Israel.
Jesus was then nailed to a Roman cross at which point his death came within hours. The Jews were concerned that no bodies would be left on crosses at sundown that evening because it was the beginning of the Sabbath. "The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away" (Jn 19:31). Crucifixion victims, depending on their health and the method of crucifixion, could last days on a cross. Victims died primarily through blood loss, dehydration, and suffocation. In order to breath when on a cross, it is necessary for the victim to push up with their legs to release the pressure on the lungs. This is a painful process because of the nails in both the hands and feet or ankles. The purpose of breaking the victims legs was so that they would be unable to push themselves up to breath and thus dies more quickly.
However, when they came to Jesus the Roman guards realized he was dead already. "The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water" (Jn 19:32-34). John records this detail of piercing Jesus side to indicate that he was in fact dead. In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association the doctors examining the historical evidence concluded that the spear probably pierced the sack of fluid that surrounds the heart (JAMA, Vol., 255, No. 11, 1986, p. 1455ff ). If he had not been dead before this time, he was surely dead now.
The gospel records indicate that upon his death two prominent Jewish admirers came to gather Christ's body. "And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight" (Jn 19:38). These men were both of the ruling class of the Jews (seventy-one men in all) and well known in the community as well as to Pilate. The mention of prominent men indicates that this account is not fictitious. If the disciples had created this story it would have been counterproductive to make up a person that was supposed to be in a prominent position. This could easily have been refuted were it not true. (Moreland, p. 167).
"And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave" (Mt 27:59-61). Archaeological evidence confirms the description of this tomb being that of a rich man, which was rare in this day. The probable location described in the gospels correlates with the specific location of the Garden Gate at the north Wall of Jerusalem where tombs have been excavated like those described in which Jesus was laid (Ibid.)
There are some important features to this account. First, this was not a poor man's grave. Only the rich had tombs carved in rock and situated in a garden area. Second, the tomb was identified by Joseph, Nicodemus, and the women who watched where he was buried. The grave is also carefully marked by the Jewish and Roman authorities as this same passage records,
Now on the next day, which is the one after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, "Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' Therefore give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last deception will be worse than the first" Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how." And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. (Mt 27:62-66)
It is also important to note here, that a Roman guard is a group of soldiers not an individual. The seal which was placed over the grave was a wax seal with rope, to break this Roman seal was punishable by death in the Roman empire.
We know also that the disciples were very disillusioned by Jesus' death. The man they had followed around Israel for three years, whom they believed would be the next ruler of the nation, had just been crucified. They had expected a Messiah who would be king, not a criminal to be convicted and killed in the most humiliating way. They probably felt that their lives had been wasted for the past few years and they had publicly been made fools. Of course, they realized that what they had experienced with Christ for the last three years was significant. But how and what was significant, they did not yet understand. The disciples scattered when Christ was arrested in the garden of Gethsemene (Mrk 14:50ff). Peter denied ever knowing Jesus during his "trial" on the night before his crucifixion (Mrk 14:66ff). The disciples were ready to return to their lives as fishermen because they thought it was over (Jn 21:3).
Three days after his burial the tomb was found empty. Each of the gospels reports that Jesus' tomb was found empty (Mt 28: 1-10, Mrk 16:1-8, Lk 24: 1-3; Jn 20:1-10). "But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus" (Lk 24:1-3). When it had been reported to the disciples by Mary that the tomb was empty, they came running:
Simon Peter therefore came, following him, and entered the tomb and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed [that the body was gone]. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes. (Jn 20:6-10)
This recording is significant, but what is more significant is that the events which followed Jesus' resurrection bear witness to the fact that his body was indeed missing.
An historical question confronts us at this point. What happened to the body. Scholars have generally agreed that the body was indeed gone and many explanations have been put forth to account for this fact. The most common response is that it was indeed stolen. But this view is hampered with many problems. Who would have stolen it? The Jews would not want to steal it. It was they that posted the Roman guard and they had the most to gain by ensuring that Jesus stayed in his tomb and his teachings died with him. The Romans really had no motivation. It was in Pilate's best interest as a governor whose job was in jeopardy to keep his realm quiet, not to mention that the Romans hated the Jewish religious fanaticism.
The only reasonable explanation for the missing body is that the disciples stole it. But is this plausible? These are the same men who scattered when Jesus was arrested. They were cowardly. They were disillusioned and depressed. And they would need to overpower the Roman guards. It is not likely that they would have had the courage or motivation to carry out such a plan. Why would they steal it? Possibly they wanted to start a new religion, to gain fame and fortune. This is possible but not likely as we will see. The disciples would have put themselves in great risk to steal the body. The Jews and Romans both wanted this disruption stopped, had they believed that the disciples stole the body they would have dragged them into prison and beaten them until they confessed and produced the body. No such thing happened.
A number of incidental details in this account bear the markings of history as opposed to fraud or fiction. The gospels do not portray the disciples in a very glamorous light. If the disciples had propagated this myth we would expect their own accounts of the events to paint them in a better light than we actually see them in. The disciples were not the first to see the risen Christ rather, a group of women were. The disciples were very reluctant to believe that Jesus was alive again when the women reported what they had seen. "Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them" (Lk 24:10,11). Thomas response was, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (Jn 20:25). These men knew that when someone died, they were dead. Thomas was no fool.
It is of crucial importance to notice in all the accounts that the women were the first to see the risen Jesus (Jn 20:11-17; Lk 24:1-9; Mrk 16:1-8; Mt 28:1-7). In the first century women had no legal power as witnesses in a court of law. A woman's testimony was unacceptable. But it is to the women that Jesus first appears. If the story is fabricated, why choose women, whose testimony no one would accept, to be the first witnesses? Instead of being a story concocted by the disciples for their own gain, it appears to be an historical record of what actually took place.
When Peter stuck his head in the tomb he saw something unique that made him realize that something out of the ordinary had happened there. He saw the linen wrappings that Joseph and Nicodemus had used to coat the body. This was done by wrapping the body, head to foot, in cloth and caking on the spices and burial ointments which would be reapplied in succeeding days to help the smell of decomposition. Peter probably saw the wrappings in the shape of a body without a body inside. But he also saw the head cloth, "rolled up in a place by itself." No one stealing the body would have had time to roll up the face cloth and carefully set it aside. This is a curious detail that caught Peter's attention.
But this was only a foreshadowing of what was to come as Peter and the others personally experienced Jesus Christ in the succeeding days.
And while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst. But they were startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." (Lk 24:36-39)
This is no less remarkable for us today than it was for them. And we can understand their reluctance to accept him. But they came to believe that they had witnessed something unique as Jesus appeared to them many times over a period of four days. These experiences had a profound impact on their lives.
How their lives changed after they had seen the risen Jesus is another mark of the story's truthfulness. The disciples became the forerunners of a new movement that swept the world. They spoke out for the message. They were persecuted for the message and they ultimately gave their lives for this message: Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Reliable historical sources tell us that all twelve of the disciples except John died as martyrs. Peter was crucified in Rome. Paul was beheaded. And James was stoned to death, to name a few. This is of crucial importance. If they had pulled off a hoax, why would they go to their graves proclaiming that it actually happened. Certainly, many have died for a lie. Nazis gave their lives for what was false. Plenty of other religious followers have died for their faith, but the crucial point here is that the disciples would have known it was a lie, if they had stolen the body or made up the story. They all would have died for what they knew was a lie. Is it plausible to believe that not one of them, under the threat of death would have admitted, "we made the whole thing up?" What they saw changed their lives. They believed they had seen Jesus Christ rise from the dead.
And because of what they believed they saw, these men who were meek suddenly became powerful spokesmen for Jesus Christ. Peter who denied Christ a few weeks earlier preached to over three thousand people in Acts 2
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know--[he is appealing to their common knowledge of Jesus and what he did] this man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again, putting and end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:22-24)
Not only were they now bold spokesmen, but of a fundamentally different religion than Judaism. For a Jew of the first century to change his religion or preach some heretical doctrine would be to risk eternal damnation. (Moreland, p. 172). For us in the twentieth century, we are not surprised by new religions, but this kind of hoax is almost unthinkable in first century Judaism whose culture and beliefs changed slowly (Ibid., p. 180). They were convinced that what they saw and experienced was true.
What did the disciples see? Could they have seen a vision that they assumed was the risen Christ? Could it have been an hallucination. Because of the strength of the evidence that something did happen that changed the disciples' lives, some critics have suggested the idea that what they saw was an hallucination. There are two problems with this theory: it doesn't match what we know of the account and it doesn't match what we know of the psychology of hallucinations.
J.P. Moreland summarizes the nature of hallucinations well.
First, hallucinations happen to persons who are high-strung, highly imaginative, and nervous. Second, they are linked in an individual's subconscious to his past beliefs and experiences. Third, it is extremely unlikely that two or more people would have the same hallucination at the same time. Fourth, they usually occur at particular places (places of nostalgia which create a reminiscing mood) and they recur over a long period of time. (p. 177)
I would add further that the idea of mass hallucinations has been disproven in modern psychology. If you hold that what the disciples saw was an hallucination, then you must acknowledge that they experienced this hallucination in groups of three, four, twelve, and even five hundred people.
The hallucination theory does not fit what we know of the disciples' expectations. As I have said earlier, the disciples were not expecting Christ to rise from the dead. They had no concept in Judaism of the Messiah rising physically from the dead with the same body, a body they could touch and interact with. Nor do the descriptions given in the gospels reflect the kind of vagueness that makes up an hallucination. What they experienced was concrete. They could recall and explain it clearly. And because many of them experienced the same thing, separately and together, they could confirm their experiences with each other.
The hallucination theory also fails to explain one other fact: the empty tomb. Had the disciples, and many others, hallucinated Jesus' appearances, the commotion they were causing in Jerusalem could have been easily stopped by producing the body. This is an argument from silence. In other words, there is nothing said in history about whether the Romans and Jews tried to produce Jesus' body. But it is crucial in this case that there is nothing said in recorded history about what happened to Jesus' body other than what we find in the gospels. Had Jesus' body been exhumed by the Jews or Romans and presented to the mass of people who were deluded about his resurrection, it is hard to believe that the early church could have gotten started. But the movement did start and the resurrection of Jesus was the grounds on which it began.
Jesus resurrection from the dead was central to their faith. Peter preached the message in Jerusalem as Acts chapter 2 goes on to say, "Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day." Peter is saying that we know where David's body is. We can go and dig it up. But Jesus' body is missing. Had this not been true, anyone in the audience could have refuted his claim. The Jews or the Romans could have opened the tomb and paraded the body through the city to show everyone that the disciples' message was false. But they didn't because there was no body to find and all of Jerusalem had heard the news (Lk 24:18). Even the Jewish historian Josephus writing forty years later comments on Jesus' death.
It is important to note that the message was preached, not in a remote location where no one could verify the account, but it was preached in Jerusalem where all of these events took place and where the story could have easily been falsified or verified.
It is from this location that the church grew. The movement grew very quickly. Acts records three thousand people being baptized in one day (Acts 2:41). On another occasion five thousand people came to believe (Acts 4:4). This corresponds to what we know of the growth of the early church and it is one of the reasons historians do not suspect that Jesus was a legend. Legends take many years to accumulate and gain acceptance. Christianity spread immediately. The Jewish authorities were unable to contain its growth because it was so rapid.
The resurrection of Christ is central to the Christian faith. Without it, there is no Christianity. Paul says, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" (I Cor:15:14). Paul who was a vigorous persecutor of the church before seeing the risen Christ maintains that Jesus did rise from the dead. In writing to the Corinthian church he says,
[F]or I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep [died]; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all . . . He appeared to me also. (I Cor 15:3-8)
What he is telling his readers is that many people saw Jesus after the resurrection. He is saying, "if you are skeptical you can go and speak with them yourselves because most of them are still alive!" Paul is so confident of what he and the others saw that he is willing to stake everything on this claim. This was not an event that occurred to a few men in a remote location. It happened in a huge metropolitan city and there were many witnesses to verify it.
Christians stake their entire faith on the resurrection of Christ because it is only through this event that forgiveness can come. The gospels and the historical evidence bear out this claim that Jesus rose from the dead. The question is what will you do with the evidence? It has been God's practice to give evidence to those who are willing to respond. Christ appeared to his disciples because they were willing to believe when given enough evidence. He will not give evidence to those who refuse to believe.
And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be with you." Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:26-28)
Thomas was willing to accept the evidence he saw. The question is, how much evidence will it take for us. As Christ states in the very next verse, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
There is much more evidence for the truth of Christ's message than is presented here. This is only a brief sketch of some of the historical evidence. There is also the evidence of fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament, as well as other kinds. The point is that the evidence exists. If the evidence is weak and unconvincing, then we can throw Christianity out and look elsewhere. But if it is true, the message of Jesus Christ applies to us. And we must be willing to submit to it, regardless of what it says about us.
God demands humility from us. If he is indeed our Maker, we cannot approach Him with an attitude that is arrogant and demanding. We must approach Him on His terms. Christ spelled out those terms: mankind is in rebellion toward God and in need of forgiveness. This is exactly what Christ came to offer. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (Jn 5:24). And also, "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).
Bettenson, Henry, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford Press, London, 1943.
Delashmutt, Gary, The Xenos Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, Columbus, OH, 1988.
Durant, Will, The Story of Civilization, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1944.
Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1974.
McCallum, Dennis, Christianity: The Faith that Makes Sense, Tyndale, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990.
Miethe, Terry L., ed., Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?, Harper and Row, San Francisco, CA, 1987.
Moreland, J.P., Scaling the Secular City, Baker House Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1987.
Shelly, Rubel, Prepare to Answer: A Defense of the Christian Faith, Baker Pub Group, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990.
Did you prove the resurrection without using the Bible? Because you cannot use the Bible to prove the Bible otherwise the Quoran is correct also according to the Quoran.
I have been on a search for answers as of late. I recently made the determination that the universe was most likely the result of a creator based solely on the argument that the probability of our existence by natural means is simply so minute. There may be a better answer we are still unaware of, but why not at least consider the possibility that the answer is right in front of our faces.
This conclusion has led me to the obvious next step of trying to determine if the Christian God is in fact that God. I started with Christianity based on the fact that the actions of followers of other "gods" are generally more irrational, at least in modern times. And others that live quite righteously, such as buddhist, simply don't believe in a God at all.
Before I would be willing to truly BELIEVE any one faith I would need definitive proof that it is fact, that can be backed by reason. Since as Christians claim, reason is a gift given to us by God. It only makes logical sense.
Now of all things, the greatest evidence for Christianity is without a doubt the Resurrection. I will agree that there is historical evidence that proves the existence of Jesus, based on sources outside the Bible such as Tacitus and the accounts of Josephus in the Antiquities of the Jews. However, just because there are sources that prove the existence of Jesus and even a certain number of events written in the bible, that does not definitively prove that the entirety of the bible is historical fact. Which is the biggest problem with the support for the resurrection. Every single argument that you used above in support of the resurrection specifically, and that I've seen anywhere else, is derived 100% from scripture. Trying to prove the existence of an event recorded in a source using that source alone presents a logical fallacy. It is no different than an individual who is the sole witness of an event, say that he is sure that the event existed because he saw it with his own eyes. It still doesn't make it true unless a separate witness observed it. And the fact that other historical sources back other parts of the bible, only changes the scenario by saying that generally this individual is truthful and normally doesn't tell lies. Again, we still need another witness to confirm the event.
Furthermore, there is even debate among theologians about the exact meaning of the passages in the bible recounting the resurrection. Depending on how you translate the greek, the passages could mean that Jesus only rose from the dead in a spiritual sense, that is his followers were touched by his presence rather than actually viewing him visually in the flesh. This almost seems to be a more plausible explanation. If Jesus had been witnessed visually by hundreds and hundreds over the course of multiple days it would've been much less likely that the early Christians would've been treated as they were by the Romans and Jews in the immediate geographical region where the death and supposed resurrection took place, because even those who wished death upon Jesus and his followers would've been convinced by such a unnatural occurrence.
If you can sufficiently debate these points I will rejoice. For I have seen something special in Christianity and Christians, specifically through my experiences with them, that have given me a spark of hope that maybe the truth is here
I’m encouraged to see your openness. Here are a few remarks about your concerns coming from your paragraphs IV. and V. (of 6 total):
A. On paragraph IV., (1) you are also right that if we were trying to prove the authority of Scripture by citing the authority of Scripture, that would be cyclical and (2) you are right that the resurrection does not by itself prove the Bible. That is not the argument however. Here are a few points on each issue respectively:
1. Although this article doesn’t say this explicitly, the method used is to simply take the gospel records as a piece of literature handed down from antiquity to be assessed as HISTORICAL or not. Whether a text has the additional quality of being inspired by God is a complex question related to the historical one but not the same. The author of this article’s noted that Luke’s prologue indicates that Luke took his book to be a historical record. Once historical reliability is established as best we can (by also checking corroboration with other ancient sources, looking for marks of authenticity, and checking up on the manuscript evidence), we see that Luke claims that Jesus was resurrected bodily. If that is established then that has huge implications for Jesus and his teachings.
2. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as a historical event supplies a strong reason to believe many of the essential doctrines of Christianity: Christ’s death signals our inability to deal with our sins—we needed God to intervene, but Christ defeated death and we will follow this same pattern. The question of the inspiration of the Bible is helped by the resurrection but doesn’t definitely establish it.
B. On remarks from paragraph V., you are right that there is a debate in the sense that some people believe that Jesus’ resurrection is spiritual and others who believe that his resurrection is physical. I believe that the evidence points clearly towards the physical option:
1. In both Luke 24:37-43 and John 20: 27—Jesus himself explicitly argues that he is not a ghost but fully physical. This implies that the spiritual explanation is diminished when one takes in the full corpus of the NT.
2. Even if Jesus hadn’t made this case for his resurrection, there is a sense in which the empty tomb implies that his earthly body was in some sense REPLACED by a new one. I Corinthians 15:35ff describes this replacement phenomenon.
3. In I Corinthians 15:6, Paul claims that Jesus appeared to 500 people. Many of them did convert and Paul calls upon his listeners to double check with them. The remaining critics may not have seen the risen Christ. Either way, John 12:9,10 also shows that opponents of the Christian message are not even convinced by miracles (cf. also Luke 16:27-31). The point is that the persecution of the early church is explanatorily orthogonal to the facts concerning the number to whom Jesus appeared.
If you’d like to read more, check out The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona.
My boyfriend is an unbeliever but willing to learn. We are reading More Than A Carpenter and my boyfriend's thought is that after Jesus' death, the disciples lied and said they were witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, that they were willing to die for this lie because they thought Jesus' teachings and way of life was a good thing for humanity. If he thinks the gospels are a lie, is there anything else I can direct him to? Is there any writings by secular persons who recognized/witnessed the resurrection?
Why not just make a medical case and point for His resurrection! The Roman soldiers pierced the pericardio sac, blood and water poured out and the soldier himself replied when the earthquake happened and skys turned black saying,surely this was the son of GOD! Read the medical aspect and try explaining that away! Surely this is the Risen Christ!
Regarding your boyfriend's particular concern, that's not very psychologically plausible. People die for things that they *believe* are true even if actually false but no one dies for something that they know is false which is the scenario your boyfriend is imagining. Also, he's presupposing that the apostles could see the the benefits of Christianity as we can from the 21st Century. By all accounts, the early church was viciously persecuted (see for example the Roman historian Tacitus's account in his Annals 15.44) which means that from the perspective of the apostles, their Christian lie only yielded pain and anguish for all involved--martyrdom, poverty and misery. The only way they could know what would happen later is if there were a prophecy of some kind, but that's just as supernatural as the resurrection. Of course, it's possible that they could guess but again that's extremely psychologically implausible when death is on the line. None of this is historically impossible but it's very unlikely.
Even when considering the possible benefit of heaven, if Jesus wasn't raised that would be proof positive that he was a liar from an Old Testament Jewish standpoint (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). This would imply that Judaism is still true and the apostles are all in hell for deceiving the world. Put slightly differently, when the disciples saw Jesus die they would have given up and returned to their childhood religion because the whole effort of following Jesus came to nothing. Paul deals with the resurrection question in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Verse 19 is quite striking, "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied." They believed that they saw Jesus raised from the dead, enough so that they died with no knowledge of the long term outcome of Christianity on earth.
More than a Carpenter is good but it's very short. I think the book "Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel is pretty good in dealing with a number of objections that go far deeper than McDowell's book. The chapters are casual interviews with contemporary scholars. This makes the book very readable even while interacting with somewhat technical matters of history. On top of what I say above, I'd recommend looking into Strobel's book.
I imagine I'm no help at this point, and that Rebecca has continued to read the Case for Christ for her boyfriend, but for anyone else who stumbles upon these comments, I highly recommend avoiding The Case for Christ, or at least going into it knowing full well how fallacious it is.
The author decides that he's going to find out the truth about the historicity of Jesus Christ, and so how does he go about it? He treats himself as the utmost authority on all matters atheist, he interviews only incredibly biased Christian sources of information, and he ignores the claims of religions outside of Christianity. This is a story foremost about how flawed investigation techniques lead to flawed conclusions. Even if the conclusions that Strobel reached were correct, he didn't reach them in an intellectually honest way.
I imagine if I went head to head with all the smartest anti-vaccinators in the world I would eventually be convinced vaccines caused autism, and I imagine a similar thing would happen if I were to investigate 9/11, or the moon landing.
If you do read this comment section, please be aware that, like many pieces of Christian apologist literature, The Case For Christ focuses on forging an emotional connection with the reader and building a cult of personality far more than expressing logical, structured arguments from both sides of the argument. I could not recommend this book to anyone unless it was accompanied with several other choice texts that present the counter-arguments to the arguments it presents.
The Quran(Muslim holy text) says Jesus was never crucified and raised by God Almighty. According to Quran Jesus was the son of Mary born without a father, Mary was a very pious young lady and angel gave her the news of a son to which she said how can I have a son when no man has touched me. Quran talks about the miracles of Jesus with God’s will. It is maintained that Jesus was a human and a prophet of God chosen as a messiah to deliver the message of God and teach people how to seek salvation through faith and good deeds. God is most forgiving and ever merciful.
I think it's always worth raising a concern about the credibility of a given source. Case for Christ is a decently written popular piece covering lots of evidence. There are plenty of others.
(1) I doubt he meant to do this, but Andrew essentially indicates that evidence does not determine the course of the discussion but only power of mind. I strongly disagree that either an anti-vaxxer (vaccines cause autism) or a truther (9-11 was an inside job) could convince me by simply being smart. They must convince with *evidence*. On Andrew’s view, one must (a) simply laying down before the power of a greater debater RATHER THAN (b) weigh the evidence in its own right and judge a conclusion as to whether it follows from the evidence. I strongly recommend adopting (b).
(2) Andrew essentially committing an ad hominem. The question of Strobel's “cult of personality” (not much worse than most popular literature) is frankly irrelevant to the truth of the arguments he makes. And in a lot of ways, he doesn’t really make arguments: he interviews people making arguments. Are their personalities getting in the way too? Anyhow, these arguments consider both sides citing figures whose views any reader can track down and cross-check. Furthermore, in several places Strobel indicates when he doesn’t find something convincing even in cases where admitting as much doesn’t help the case for Christianity.
(3) As someone who’s read people like Bultmann, Crossan and Ehrman, I’ve actually found that they are more likely to omit the alternative view point than someone like Strobel who designs his arguments with skeptics in mind. I invite anyone to read these side by side and make up your own mind who is worse in failing to clearly represent the opposition. Don’t take my word for it! Evaluate the evidence for yourself!
(4) Least importantly, there are some factual errors in Andrew’s comment that are relevant to the discussion. Andrew says, “[a] He treats himself as the utmost authority on all matters atheist, [b] he interviews only incredibly biased Christian sources of information, and [c] he ignores the claims of religions outside of Christianity.” All of [a], [b] and [c] are false.
On [a], Strobel never claims or even behaves as if he’s an authority on all forms of atheism. Along with skeptical questions (compatible with agnosticism) that he had before his own conversion in the early 1980s, he also cites new(ish) skeptics, like those from the Jesus Seminar, who were very en vogue when the book was written in 1999.
On [b], I have two points. (i) the book is called the Case for Christ. The book isn’t designed as a debate. There are plenty such books (Jesus Under Fire or Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up). This isn’t one of them, so he’s going to interview people who believe in Christ. (ii) This is comparable to my point (2) above, but they are making arguments to be evaluated in their own right. Even if they are biased, the arguments can be evaluated in their own right. It’s also not obvious that they’re biased. Is it just because they believe the conclusions for which they argue? Isn’t that what we all do?
On [c], what about when he talks about Mithras? What about when he interviews the author who converted from Judaism?
Ultimately, there are other texts that cover these types of things that are written for a popular audience but are written with less flair than Strobel’s books. Strobel is a journalist and if you don’t like someone using a human element in their writing, then maybe you won’t like him. There are plenty of other authors out there. J. Warner Wallace deals with the evidence of the gospels in his Cold Case Christianity. Does Andrew have better reading to offer even that which might counter the claims of the essay? Pass it on if you do so we may all evaluate it.
How could the disciples who felt lost, disillusioned, and depressed go out to create a lie for good of humanity. They themselves had no hope, and no idea what future hold for them. Though they heard from the lord themselves about His crucifixion and ressurection, they never believed and took it to heart. Jesus had to remind then of what he spoke when in flesh, angels had to remind them of those words.
It is impossible to live out a lie and even create a lie, for the good of humanity.
There is enough evidence for his own ressurection. ...as first fruits, then we will follow, when He comes!
I wonder--if you're a Christian--could you take the backdoor approach to win muslim and other people that not believe the bible to Christ? I ask, because some need a bridge to the kjv bible. Is it alright to line "courtroom" evidence up with the bible or present historical documents to geometrically get from A to B to C(conclusion) so that even those people can't logically refute the kjv bible. For example, for muslims, they don't believe in the Christian bible. So, coming at them with the Christian bible very likely won't work. Is it possible that by proving that Jesus was crucified and/or raised from the dead would be a great means for drawing muslims(since they believe that Jesus was simply a prophet that their was no crucifixion or 3-day resurrection)?
I'm not too sure what you mean by "backdoor." Nevertheless, Muslim's do revere the Bible. They don't see it on the same level as the Koran but it's still valued. If you want some literature/thoughts on reaching Muslims, see some of Nabeel Qureshi's writings/videos
I love your perspective and the research that you have done on this subject. I was literally in tears whenever I started reading about the crucifixion of Christ. I felt like I went back to ancient times.
So I've been looking up the persecution/deaths of the disciples and I need some references. In this article you say "Reliable historical sources tell us that all twelve of the disciples except John died as martyrs. Peter was crucified in Rome. Paul was beheaded. And James was stoned to death, to name a few." However in the research I've done the disciples fates are mostly up in the air, and only 5 I've found actually have consistent forms of death that can be confirmed by outside sources. The remaining either didn't die through that method (take John) or have multiple conflicting reports of their martyrdom, from sources who arguably could be in a position which could have the possibility of lying about their martyrdom (christians vs. a roman soldier or Jewish leader for example).
Secondly, a big thing that I have problems with is that the Romans and Jews have little talk or writings on the empty tomb or seal. It's all from the perspective of a disciple, and something like that would be especially needed since the Jews and roman soldiers are in a vital place.