The Evidentiary Basis for Affirming the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Christianity is rather unique among the world's religions in that it is based on God's activity in history. Christianity is not a philosophy, a way of knowledge, or faith for the sake of faith, but a particular understanding and acceptance of the significance of particular historical events. The setting of the Gospels is not in a land far-far away, in a time long-long ago, but in first century Palestine.
The histocentric nature of Christianity can be an advantage or a liability. It can be a liability because if the historical accounts in Scripture are proven historically unreliable, the spiritual claims tied to those historical accounts are undermined as well. As such, Christianity is vulnerable to falsification. If, however, we can establish the historical reliability of the Biblical accounts, we can establish the credibility of the theological claims beyond reasonable doubt as well. Our challenge is to demonstrate that the Biblical accounts are tied to history, not wild imagination. If we can do so, we will have taken an enormous stride toward verifying the theological claims of Christianity.
The Resurrection of Jesus
The capstone of God's activity in history is the person of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus stands at the heart of Christian theology. It was central to the preaching of the early church, and remains the centerpiece of our message today.
But why should we believe the Gospel claim that Jesus was raised from among the dead? What reasons do we have to think such a thing occurred? After all, we know from experience that dead men stay dead. Why think something different happened to Jesus, other than a prior commitment to the veracity of Scripture?
The question before us is not so much a theological question as it is an historical question. The Gospels, as well as many other New Testament (NT) books proclaim Jesus' resurrection as an event occurring in space-time history. As such, it is open to historical investigation in the same way other purported events of history are. Using principles of historiography, is there evidence that a man named Jesus lived in first century Palestine, died by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans, and rose again from the dead? Yes, there is.
Reason, Faith, and the Resurrection
Some Christians are uncomfortable at the mention of "reason" or "evidence." To them, faith and evidence/reason are diametric opposites. To have reasons to believe X is to eliminate faith, they say. This understanding of faith (called fideism) is not rooted in Scripture. Faith is not a decision we make divorced from knowledge, reason, and evidence. It is not psychological confidence without corresponding evidence, or a commitment of the will in the absence of reason. The Biblical notion of faith involves placing our trust in what we have reason to believe is true to reality; a persuasion based on reasonable evidence.1 And reasonable evidence there is!
Some might object, "But didn't Jesus tell Thomas, 'Blessed are those who believe without seeing?' Jesus expected us to believe without evidence." This is a misreading of the text in John 20:29. Jesus did not say those who believe without evidence are blessed, but rather those who believe without seeing the resurrected Christ as Thomas had will be blessed. While we have many reasons to believe in Jesus' resurrection, we are doing so without having seen Him alive from the dead, and thus we are in the company of the blessed. Jesus is speaking to those who claim they cannot be expected to have the faith of Thomas apart from the experience of Thomas, not to those who seek evidence for Christ's resurrection prior to believing on Him as the Messiah. Jesus is clear that faith is not contingent on such an experience.
The Existence of Christ: Examining the Historical Record
While it would be tempting to jump right into the evidence for Christ's resurrection, this would presuppose His existence as a real historical figure. Some skeptics challenge the notion that there ever was a man, Jesus of Nazareth, yet alone that He said and did the things ascribed to Him in the New Testament. If we are going to believe Jesus rose from the dead, we must first establish His genuine existence in history.2 After all, if Jesus never existed, He could not have risen from the dead!
There are 10 extra-biblical sources3 within 150 years of Jesus' death, that confirm His existence in history, as well as certain details about His life and teachings that are congruent with the Gospels. From a modern perspective that may not sound impressive, but from a historical perspective it is utterly amazing. While literature abounds in our own day, such was not the case in antiquity. Only a small percentage of the populace was literate, and writing materials were expensive, so there was not a lot of literature being written. Furthermore, time has a way of destroying ancient works. So to find 10 sources that speak of Jesus-a man who was relatively unimportant in His day outside of Palestine-is astonishing. To see how astonishing this is, compare the fact that only nine sources mention Tiberius, the Roman emperor contemporaneous to Jesus.
The abundance of sources is important, because historicity is cemented by multiple, independent attestations. The more independent witnesses you have to an event, the more likely it is to be true. Let us, then, examine some of the more important source witnesses.
Josephus was a prominent first century Jew. He was a court historian for Emperor Vespasian, who wrote about the history of the Jewish people. Two very important references to Jesus are found in his work, The Antiquities (~A.D. 90-95). Josephus writes: "He [Ananias] convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned."
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared." (The Antiquities 18.63-64)4
The text in red reflects what many scholars believe to be later Christian interpolations, while the text in black reflects what most agree is original to Josephus. Not only does Josephus confirm Jesus' historical existence, but adds other details that comport with the New Testament witness:
1. Jesus had a brother named James
2. Jesus was considered both wise and a teacher
3. Jesus worked miracles (amazing feats)
4. Jesus' teachings converted many Jews and Gentiles
5. Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion by Pilate
6. Jesus' followers remained faithful to Him even after His death
Phlegon (born A.D. 80)
While the works of Phlegon are lost to antiquity, they are referred to by Julius Africanus and quoted by Origen. According to Origen, "And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles." Origen quotes Phlegon as saying, "Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails."
Not only does Phlegon affirm Christ's historical existence, but he also adds other historical details that accord with the New Testament witness:
1. Jesus was crucified during the reign of Emperor Tiberius Caesar
2. There was an earthquake in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' death
3. Jesus rose from the dead.
4. Jesus presented Himself to others after His resurrection
5. Jesus' resurrected body still contained the marks of His crucifixion
Pliny the Younger (AD 111, governor of Bithynia)
In A.D. 111 Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan regarding some Christians he had arrested, saying:
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition." (Pliny the Younger Letters 10.96)
While not explicit, Pliny assumes Christ to be a historical man. He also reveals a couple other facts about early Christian faith:
1. Early Christians worshipped Jesus as God.
2. Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead ("excessive superstition"; the resurrection was thought to be a superstitious belief)
Tacitus (A.D. 115)
In his Annals, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote:
But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.
Tacitus refers to Jesus Christ as a genuine figure of history. He adds the following details that confirm the New Testament account:
1. Early Christians were persecuted
2. Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Emperor Tiberius
3. Jesus' followers believed Jesus rose from the dead ("pernicious superstition)
4. Belief in Jesus' resurrection began in Judea, and spread to Rome
Lucian was a second century playwright and satirist. In his play "The Passing of Peregrinus" the hero of the tale, Peregrinus, was a Cynic philosopher who became a Christian, rose in prominence in the Christian community, and then returned to Cynicism. The first lines tells of Peregrinus, who learned "the wondrous lore of the Christians," became one of their leaders and was revered as a god, lawgiver, and protector, "next after that other, to be sure, whom they (the Christians) still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult to the world." [Harm.Luc, 13] He also said, "Then, too, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers...after they have thrown over and denied the gods of Greece and have done reverence to that crucified sophist himself and live according to his laws."
Lucian confirms the historical existence of Jesus, and adds the following details:
1. Jesus was crucified in Palestine
2. Jesus started a new religious movement
3. Jesus was worshipped as God.
The Talmud (completed in the 6th century AD)
The Jewish Talmud says the following about Christ:
"On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover." (Sanhedrin 43a)
While no friend of Christianity, this Jewish source confirms the following details found in the New Testament:
1. The time of Jesus' death: the eve of the Passover feast.
2. The means of Jesus' death: crucifixion
3. Jesus was a miracle worker (a false miracle worker in the Jews' eyes)
4. Jesus had a trial
5. No one testified on His behalf.
Letter of Mara Barsarapion (A.D. 73)
This first century letter was written by a father to his son, Serapion. He mentions Jesus and His execution by description, although not by name: "What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?...After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men.... The wise king...lived on in the teachings he enacted."
1. Jesus was killed by the Jews
2. Jesus was a wise man
3. Jesus was a teacher, whose teachings survived His death
Suetonius (A.D. 69-140)
Suetonius was a Roman historian and annalist of the Imperial House under Emperor Hadrian. He refers to Christ, Christians, and the "disturbances" they caused, namely not worshipping idols and loving all, including their tormentors. In his Life of Claudius 25:4 he wrote, "Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ], he [Claudius] expelled them from the city [Rome]." (The expelling of Jews from Rome took place in A.D. 49). Suetonius believes Jesus to be an historical figure.
In Life of the Caesars 26:2 Suetonius wrote about the fire that devastated Rome in A.D. 64 under Emperor Nero. Nero blamed the Christians and had many of them executed in inhumane ways: "Nero inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sect given to a new and mischievous religious belief."
There is, then, an abundance of historical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Gospel Records
While there are a lot of extra-biblical sources confirming the existence and characteristics of Jesus, our primary source for information about Jesus is the New Testament Gospels. Are they reliable accounts of the life of Christ?
It is generally agreed on that the four Gospels in the New Testament were written in the mid- to late-first century, either by eyewitnesses, or those familiar with the eyewitnesses. The Gospels are anonymous (the present-day titles are not original), but early Christian tradition affirms Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors.5 No church father records competing authorial traditions.
In addition to church tradition, every extant manuscript of the Gospels includes a title, and the title always bears the traditional authorial attribution. There is not a single manuscript of the Gospels in which a title is missing, or bears the name of someone other than the author traditionally associated with the book. We would not expect this if the Gospels were late, or if the early church was not sure who wrote the Gospels. This argues for an early composition, and common knowledge of the authors. How else can we explain how the four Gospels were accepted as authoritative so quickly? It is too far fetched to suggest the Gospels circulated anonymously for 60 years before someone attached the current names to them (without competition from other authorial attributions), and were able to get everyone across the Empire to accept those names as genuine.6
Many works of antiquity were written anonymously. Tacitus' Annals was written anonymously. The work was not ascribed to him for 100 years after he wrote it, and yet no scholar doubts that Tacitus is the author. They trust the record of early tradition. The Gospels should not be treated any differently. By the same standards we can be confident that the Gospels bear the names of the actual authors, two of whom were eyewitnesses to the events they wrote about.
For the Gospels to be reliable historical accounts, however, they need not be written by those whom tradition has ascribed them to. They only need to have been written early by credible witnesses. While it was once popular in liberal theological circles to claim the Gospels (as well as most of the NT) were written in the second century, and included a mix of historical and legendary information about Jesus, an abundance of evidence has forced even liberal scholars to date the Gospels in the mid- to late-first century. The new dating casts serious doubt on the plausibility of the Gospels-as-legend hypothesis.
Here are some of the reasons to believe all four Gospels were written within 25-60 years of Jesus' death:
1. Most NT books were quoted by A.D. 150, which means they had to have been written and widely distributed prior to that time.
a. Norman Geisler wrote: "Earlier, Clement of Rome cited Matthew, John, and 1 Corinthians, and 95 to 97. Ignatius referred to six Pauline epistles in about 110, and between 110 and 150 Polycarp quoted from all four gospels, Acts, and most of Paul's epistles. Shepherd of Hermas (115-140) cited Matthew, Mark, Acts, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Didache (120-150) referred to Matthew, Luke, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Papias, companion of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John, quoted John. This argues powerfully that the gospels were in existence before the end of the first century, while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive."7
b. Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp quoted passages from 25 of 27 NT books between 95-1108
c. Clement of Rome (A.D. 95) and the Didache (early 2nd century) speak of "the Gospel," quote portions of all three Synoptic Gospels, and refer to them as the words of Jesus.
d. Ignatius (A.D. 110-115) quoted Luke 24:39 as words of Jesus in Smyrnaeans
e. The Epistle of Barnabas (A.D. 135) refers to Mt 22:14 as Scripture.
2. A comparison of the prologue of Luke and Acts reveals that the two works were written by the same author, with Acts following Luke. Internal evidence suggests that Acts was written prior to A.D. 62. According to Josephus, James (half-brother of Jesus, and leader of the church at Jerusalem) was martyred in A.D. 62. If Acts was written after A.D. 62 we would expect for the author to record this important event, just as he recorded the martyrdom of other important leaders (Acts 7:59; 12:2).
Additionally, the book ends with Paul on house arrest in Rome awaiting his trial before Caesar. Given the prominence of Paul's legal journey in Acts, had Paul went to trial before Acts was completed, surely it would have been included. Indeed, the book seems incomplete without it. Why does Acts end the way it does, then? The most reasonable conclusion is that it ends where it does because it was written while Paul was in Rome, prior to his trial in A.D. 62.
If Acts was written prior to A.D. 62, and Luke was written prior to Acts, then Luke must have been written in the late 50s or early 60s.9 Most scholars believe Mark was the first Gospel. If Mark's Gospel preceded Luke's, it must have been written no later than the mid- to late 50s. That places it no later than 23-26 years removed from Jesus' death.
3. A fragment of John's Gospel (p52) containing verses 18:31-33, 37-38, was discovered in Egypt. It has been carbon-dated to ~A.D. 125. For a copy of John's Gospel to reach Egypt in A.D. 125 would require that the original from which it was derived be penned much earlier.
4. Luke details 84 historical details that could only have been known by eyewitnesses. John has 59 such references. This places the Gospels of Luke and John squarely in the first century.
5. The church's widespread acceptance of these-and only these-Gospels is not feasible unless the Gospels were written early, and distributed quickly. It is unreasonable to think the church would have accepted Gospel accounts of the life of Christ purporting to be written by apostles or their associates if those Gospels were not written and widely circulated early in the church's history. Someone wanting to create a pseudopigraphal Gospel in the second century, portending it to be a first century eyewitness account, would have to explain where they got the Gospel from, and why no one had ever heard of it previously.
How would previously unknown Gospels that show up after the apostles are dead circulate the empire so quickly, and be accepted by the church at large in such a short period of time? Eyewitnesses, or first generation descendents of those eyewitnesses would not have permitted it. As Craig Blomberg wrote, "[T]he assumption that someone, about a generation removed from the events in question, radically transformed the authentic information about Jesus that was circulating at that time, superimposed a body of material four times as large, fabricated almost entirely out of whole cloth, while the church suffered sufficient collective amnesia to accept the transformation as legitimate."10
6. The Gospels do not address contentious issues that surfaced in the early church such as circumcision, Jew-Gentile relations, and women in the ministry. If the Gospels were written late, and the authors fabricated sayings and deeds of Jesus, we would expect for them to put words into Jesus' mouth that would put these controversial issues to bed. We find no such thing, which argues for an early date, as well as honest reporting of Jesus' words and deeds.
Former liberal, William F. Albright wrote concerning the dating of the New Testament, "We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today."11 Again he writes, "In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptised Jew between the forties and eighties of the first century (very probably sometime between about A.D. 50 and 75)."12
Some may think a 23 year gap between the historical events and the recording of those events is still too large a time gap. Why not record those events in writing earlier? Some believe this gap is sufficient to allow for legendary elements to creep into the story. Such fears are unfounded. Compared to other biographies of major historical personalities, a 23 year gap is quite small. The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great, written by Arrian and Plutarch, were written more than 400 years after his death, and yet scholars do not believe they are legendary accounts. A biography of Muhammad was not written until 212 years after his death, and yet scholars consider it historically reliable. So why doubt the historicity of the Gospels? Why think they contain legendary accounts of Christ's life? The fact of the matter is that the geographic and temporal gap between the actual events and the first written accounts is insufficient to allow for legendary development. At least two generations are required for legendary development to begin to creep in.
An early composition by eyewitnesses (or their close companions) is only good if what those witnesses wrote is historically reliable. What reasons do we have to believe the Gospels are accurate historical records of the events they purport to have happened?
Judging historical reliability is a science called historiography. The same principles historians employ to judge the historicity of other ancient events recorded in history can be applied to Scripture as well. Marks of historicity include the following elements: (1) multiple, independent attestation; (2) the presence of elements that would bring embarrassment to persons the author holds in esteem; (3) dissimilarity to preceding and subsequent cultural or religious influences; (4) internal coherence; (5) preconditions sufficient to explain what led to Jesus' crucifixion. The Gospels satisfy all of these requirements. Let's examine each in turn.
Multiple, Independent Attestation
While it's tempting to think of the four Gospels as a single witness to the life of Christ, the canonical Gospels were written by four different authors, and originally distributed as individual works. Only later were they distributed as a group, and then later incorporated into a canon of 27 books. The Gospels, then, are multiple, independent witnesses to the life of Christ. While the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) have significant amounts of content overlap, they are also different (arrangement of material, words used to convey the same event, etc.). Each Gospel author adds his own unique contribution.
Differences in wording and details between the Gospels demonstrate the independent nature of each account. When people collaborate to make up a story they try to eliminate divergent details. The fact that one author adds details another does not does not make the testimony unreliable, but believable.13 Consider how modern news agencies report on the same story. If you were to read an Associated Press, Reuters, Fox News, and CNN version of the story, you will find differences of details and perspectives. One might include some detail they considered important to the story that the others do not. Each of the reports are complimentary, not contradictory. The same is true of the four Gospels. The presence of divergent details confirms the apostles did not try to smooth out their testimonies before committing them to writing.
The Gospels also contain a significant number of embarrassing details, particularly about the apostles. Jesus' own family failed to believe on Him, questioning His sanity. Even those in Jesus' hometown rejected Him. The apostles are depicted as stupid, uncaring, doubters, and cowards. When Jesus tells His parables, they do not understand what He is talking about. They fall asleep on Him at His greatest hour of need (in the Garden of Gethsemane). Jesus rebukes Peter, and calls him Satan. One of the most prominent of the apostles, Peter, denies Jesus in the end. The other apostles run away during Jesus' trial. The apostles doubted the women's report about seeing Jesus alive from the dead, even though Jesus told them in advance that He would rise again from the dead.
Is this the way you would depict the leaders of your religious movement if you were making up stories? No. The only reason to include such embarrassing details is because that is what happened, and the author was committed to accurate reporting of historical details, even if it hurt.
Matthew tells us the apostles doubted even after seeing Jesus alive from the dead (28:17). If later disciples were inventing, or embellishing history it is highly unlikely that they would include an embarrassing detail like this. What purpose would it serve to report that the very pillars of the church-the apostles-doubted the resurrection of Jesus even after He appeared to them personally? At best it could only detract from the witness of Christ's resurrection. After all, if some of Jesus' own chosen apostles were not convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead after having seen Him alive, how can those who have not seen Him alive be expected to believe on Jesus through the mere testimony of the apostles? If the author was writing historical fiction, we would expect the apostles to emerge as the exemplars of unswerving faith. Instead, we find just the opposite. Matthew was so committed to an accurate portrayal of history that he even recorded events that were incriminating and embarrassing. Such honest and transparent historical reporting argues powerfully for the historical veracity of everything else the author had to say about Jesus, including His resurrection from the dead.
In addition to embarrassing facts are hard sayings. Jesus said certain things that were difficult to understand, and appear to contradict certain teachings of the church. For example, Jesus said He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. This seems to run contrary to the church's teaching that Jesus replaced the Mosaic Covenant with the New Covenant. Or consider Jesus' statement in Matthew 11:27 that no one knows Son except the Father, and no one knows Father except Son. This seems to say the identity of the Son is unknowable, and yet Christians claimed to know who He was.
Jesus said, "The Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). That is unlikely to be an invention of the church because it seems to contradict their belief that Jesus was fully God. Or consider Jesus' statement in Matthew 24:34 in which He seemed to predict His return within one generation. That is a hard saying because Jesus did not return. Then there is Matthew 24:36 where Jesus confesses ignorance about the timing of His return. It is unlikely that a group of people proclaiming Jesus to be God would invent a saying in which Jesus is ignorant of some fact, seeing that God is omniscient. Finally, Jesus asked the young rich ruler, "Why do you call me good? No on is good except God alone" (Luke 18:19). On the face of it this statement appears to be a self-avowed denial of Jesus' deity. Such problematic sayings of Jesus were surely not invented. They were recorded because that is what Jesus taught, and the apostles were concerned with passing on what the historical Jesus actually did and taught.
The principle of dissimilarity states that if a saying expresses an idea that is different from both prior Judaism and later Christianity, then it probably does not derive from either but belongs to the historical Jesus.14 For example, Jesus' favorite designation for Himself was "son of man." Outside of a few references in the Old Testament, this was not a particularly Jewish term. Interestingly enough, the early church did not use it either. It only appears once in the book of Acts. These are good grounds for accepting the phrase as historical, then.
Of course, the principle of dissimilarity is limited in its usefulness. While it can establish historicity, it cannot disqualify historicity. Such is the case with many principles of historiography. If an event is only recorded in one source, it does not render it ahistorical. Neither does something have to be embarrassing to be historical. Likewise, something need not be dissimilar to prior Judaism and later Christianity to be historical. If the principle of dissimilarity is used to disqualify sayings and deeds of Jesus, then we would be forced to make the absurd conclusion that Jesus was not influenced by the cultural milieu in which He lived, and neither did He impact the movement He began. Darrel Bock said it well: "While it is helpful for determining where Jesus differed from his cultural heritage, it cannot be used to disqualify sayings/deeds of Jesus. If Jesus must differ from both Judaism and the early church, then Jesus becomes a decidedly odd figure, totally detached from his cultural heritage and ideologically estranged from the movement he is responsible for founding."15
The principle of coherence states that the internal details of a true story will exhibit a maximal amount of coherence with one another, with few or no remaining details that avoid assimilation. This applies to both each Gospel, as well as a comparison of the four Gospels. This principle does not guarantee that an account be true (fictional stories such as The Lord of the Rings would qualify as true if that were so), but it can weed out those stories that cannot be true.
While there are some apparent contradictions between the Gospels, the vast majority are easily explained and assimilated with the rest of the coherent narrative. Those that are not so easy to explain do not pose a serious problem to the historicity of the Gospels. Arguably, they may pose a problem to the notion of inerrancy, but inerrancy is not the concern of historians. No historian rejects wholesale an ancient document because it contains some inconsistencies or inaccuracies. If they did, there would be little left to know about history because most major historical works contain such. What is important from the perspective of historical reliability is that a document be generally accurate, particularly in its salient details. Applying normal historiographical principles to the Gospels, they pass with flying colors. The accounts cohere in an astounding way.
A true story will not only cohere internally, but it should also cohere externally with information gleaned from other sources when such sources are available. How well do the details of the story comport with what we know about the political, geographical, and cultural context from other sources? These are the areas in which later forgers are likely to get wrong.
The Gospels abound in such details. Luke named 11 political/historical figures in the first three chapters of his Gospel whose existence on contemporaneity has been confirmed from other sources. We know from his prologue that he took special care to make sure his portrayal of Christ's life was accurate to history (Luke 1:1-4). Many of the political, geographical, and cultural details provided by Luke have been confirmed by other sources. None have been contradicted.
The historicity of John's Gospel has been confirmed in 59 points as well. Between Luke and John there are more than 140 historical details, and 30 historical characters16 that have been confirmed by other sources. The confirmation of an abundance of historical details shows that the Gospel writers were accurate reporters of historical events, even to fine points of detail.
In further confirmation of Luke's skill and expertise in historical reporting, consider the book of Acts. Luke details 84 historical facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological finds.17 Roman historian, A.N. Sherwin-White says, "For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming . Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted."18 Archaeologist, William M. Ramsay wrote, "I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Acts] . It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth."19 And again, "Luke's history is unsurpassed in respect to its trustworthiness," and "Luke is a historian of the first rank . [He] should be placed along with the greatest of historians."20
If Luke was so accurate in his historical reporting, on what logical basis can we assume he was not concerned with accuracy, or purposely lied about far more important matters such as Jesus' teachings, His miracles, and His resurrection? A historian who has been found trustworthy on matters that can be tested should be given the benefit of the doubt on those matters that cannot.
What Could Have Led to Jesus' Crucifixion?
Jesus' crucifixion is so indisputably established as an anchor-point of history that the historicity of His words and deeds can be assessed in terms of their likelihood of leading to His crucifixion. Using this test, again the Gospels prove themselves historically reliable. Jesus challenged the theology and practices of the religious authorities, cleansed the temple, claimed to be the Son of God, and caused political uneasiness between Israel and Rome. Surely, these are sufficient to explain why Jesus was crucified.
This principle is devastating to liberal Christians who doubt the historicity of most of Jesus' words and deeds, such as the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar version of Christ is so bland that there was no reason why anyone should have wanted to kill Him. He would not have threatened anyone if all He did was travel the countryside telling nice religious parables. As John Meier wrote, "A tweedy poetaster who spent his time spinning out parables and Japanese koans, a literary aesthete who toyed with 1st-century deconstructionism, or a bland Jesus who simply told people to look at the lilies of the field-such a Jesus would threaten no one, just as the university professors who create him threaten no one."21
Other Reasons to Think the Gospel Writers Accurately Recorded History, not Concocted Legends
It seems unlikely that the NT authors embellished Jesus' words, or invented some sayings and deeds of Jesus? If the apostles were into fabricating saying of Jesus, surely they would have fabricated sayings that would have solved some theological debates circling the early church. They did not. Furthermore, we find apostles like Paul clearly distinguishing his words/teachings from those of Christ (I Corinthians 7:10-12). This demonstrates a high respect for the teachings of Christ, and a refusal to put words into His mouth that He did not speak. In short, the early church was concerned to accurately record what Jesus actually said and did, not what they would have liked for Him to have said or done.
The Gospels also lack theological reflection and apologetic intentions-telltale marks of religious fiction and embellishment. The miracle accounts, including the resurrection, is stated in basic terms, unadorned with flowery details or nuanced reflection. If the resurrection was an historical invention of the early church, we might expect the Gospel writers to connect Jesus' resurrection with the fulfillment of some Old Testament prophecy as they did with other aspects of Jesus' life. If Jesus' resurrection was invented for theological purposes we would expect for the Gospel writers to mention its theological importance to us: e.g. Jesus' resurrection is proleptic of our own resurrection. No such phenomena exist.22 In fact, the Gospels do not even record any details about how Jesus was raised from the dead. There were no witnesses of His actual resurrection-only of His death, and postmortem appearances. His resurrection was merely inferred (and rightly so) from these. Surely if one were inventing a resurrection story, it would be best to claim there were actual witnesses to the event as it transpired, and to provide details. Interestingly, we find no such thing.
To demonstrate the last point, let me quote two second century Apocryphal gospels. As expected, both attempt to describe the resurrection event, and do so in flowery, and rather unbelievable detail:
Now in the night in which the Lord's day dawned, when the soldiers, two by two in every watch, were keeping guard, there rang out a loud voice in heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men come down from there in a great brightness and draw nigh to the sepulcher. The stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulcher started of itself to roll and gave way to the side, and the sepulcher was opened, and both the young men entered in. When now those soldiers saw this, they awakened the centurion and the elders - for they also were there to assist at the watch. And whilst they were relating what they had seen, they saw again three men come out from the sepulcher, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following them, and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led of them by the hand overpassing the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying "Thou hast preached to them that sleep?", and from the cross there was heard the answer, "Yea". (Gospel of Peter 8:35-42)
Gabriel, the Angel of the Holy Spirit, and Michael, the chief of the holy Angels, on the third day will open the sepulcher: and the Beloved sitting on their shoulders will come forth. (Ascension of Isaiah 3:16)
That is what legends look like.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Historical Evidence
Christianity began in the first century, starting in Jerusalem. Within a couple of decades the message of Christ's resurrection had spread all the way to Rome. Christianity did not just grow; it multiplied at an alarming rate. As with any major historical movement, the task of the historian is to propose some X that got it going. This is particularly so with Christianity, given the fact that most Christians were Gentiles, and the Gentile world found the idea of resurrection philosophically repulsive. How did Christianity begin, and why did it grow in that context? Some historians have concluded-and I am going to argue-that the X is exactly what the earliest disciples said it was: a bodily resurrection of Israel's Messiah. Apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christianity would not have begun, and would not have flourished.
William Lane Craig argues for the resurrection of Jesus using four facts about the historical Jesus and the earliest disciples accepted by mainstream historians as historical23:
1. Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea
2. Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of women followers on the Sunday morning following the crucifixion
3. On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead
4. The disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead despite every predisposition not to.
Jesus was Buried in the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea
Victims of Roman crucifixion were normally buried in a shallow grave. It was not uncommon for dogs to dig up the bodies, and eat the flesh of the victims. According to the Gospels, however, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus asked for, and were given permission by Pilate to bury Jesus' body in Joseph's tomb.
Historians believe the burial account is unlikely to have been invented for the following reasons:
1. There are no other competing post-mortem burial traditions.
2. The burial accounts are simple, lacking the theological reflection and apologetic development typical of legendary accounts.
3. Jesus was not said to be buried in a tomb, but in a very specific tomb: Joseph of Arimathea's personal family tomb. Such a detail is not necessary to the Gospel story.
4. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin. This makes him an unlikely candidate to be named as the owner of the tomb, and portrayed as a Jesus sympathizer. The Sanhedrin was the ruling body who tried Jesus for blasphemy, found Him guilty, and turned Him over to the Romans for execution. Why would the disciples invent a story in which a member of the group responsible for Jesus' execution was also responsible for giving Him an honorable burial? Why not have His mother, brothers, or apostles giving Him an honorable burial? Having a non-relative, who was a member of the group responsible for condemning Jesus to death, makes Jesus' relatives and followers look bad.
Furthermore, inventors of historical fiction tend to avoid details that can be exposed as fraudulent. Using an individual with Joseph's political and social celebrity in the story would open the disciples' story to falsification. Joseph (or his descendents if he was deceased when the Gospels were circulating), the Sanhedrin, and other relevant eyewitnesses could have easily disputed the claim were it false. We have no record of such a response, however.
5. The city of Arimathea was not an important city. There would be no reason to say its owner was from that city, other than the fact that he was from that city.
John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University sums up the scholarly consensus when he says the burial story is "one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus."24
The historicity of Jesus' burial in Joseph's tomb is important because it demonstrates that the location of Jesus' body was a matter of public knowledge. If the apostles lied or were mistaken about seeing Christ alive from the dead, skeptics could have investigated the tomb, found the body, and exposed the apostles' message as false. The presence of an occupied tomb would have silenced the message of the resurrection before it ever spread outside the city of Jerusalem. The burial story, then, makes the apostles' claim falsifiable.
Jesus' Tomb was Found Empty by a Group of Women Followers on the Sunday Morning Following the Crucifixion
The empty tomb is a very early tradition in Christian kerygma. Mark records it within 23-26 years of Jesus' death. Matthew, Luke, and John record it as well. Paul presupposes an empty tomb in I Corinthians 15:3-4 when he writes, "For I passed on 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." (NET Bible) It would be pointless to say He was raised on the third day if Jesus' resurrection was not bodily, and He remained in His grave. Paul penned I Corinthians in A.D. 56, 22 years after Jesus' death, but I Corinthians 15:3-5 is a creedal statement Paul received earlier. Some scholars believe this creed dates to within a few years of Jesus' death.25 Thus, there is no possibility of the account being legendary in nature. Too little time elapsed between the events in question, and the tradition.
The initial discoverers of the empty tomb were a group of female disciples. This argues strongly in favor of the story's historicity. Unlike today, women were viewed as second class citizens. Their testimony was not considered reliable, nor admissible in a Jewish court of law. Josephus wrote, "From women let no evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex. (Antiquities 4.219) That women are said to be the principal witnesses of the empty tomb would be an embarrassment to the male disciples. Reporting women witnesses of the event was an apologetic liability, as evidenced by Celsus' (second century) response to the story. Celsus discredited the whole story, writing: "Who saw Jesus rise from the dead? A hysterical female." If one was creating historical fiction, surely it would have been male witnesses, not female witnesses who discovered Jesus' tomb empty. The Gospels, however, faithfully record what was for them, an embarrassing fact.
Even the earliest Jewish polemic against Christianity presupposed an empty tomb. Matthew reports that the Jews claimed Jesus' disciples stole His body from the grave while the guards slept (Matthew 28:11-15).26 This polemic is a conclusion that assumes a logical history of assertion and counter-assertion following this pattern:
Christian: "The Lord is risen!"
Jew: "No, his disciples stole away his body."
Christian: "The guard at the tomb would have prevented any such theft."
Jew: "No, his disciples stole away his body while the guard slept."27
Christian: "The chief priests bribed the guard to say this."28
For the early Jews the question was not Is the tomb empty?, but rather What happened to the body?29 Even the enemies of Christianity conceded the empty tomb, and felt compelled to offer an explanation of this fact in response to the Christians' claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
Some will object to using this as evidence in favor of the empty tomb on the grounds that only Matthew records this polemic. It is not found in any Jewish source. This objection is ill-founded. When it comes to ancient documents, we are fortunate when we can find a single reference. Multiple attestations are a luxury. When determining historicity, what matters first and foremost is the quality of the source. What reason is there to believe Matthew's report, then?
We would expect for Matthew to address a popular polemic used by unbelievers against the Christian claim of Christ's resurrection. What we would not expect is for Matthew to invent a polemic his contemporaries were not advancing, and then respond to it. His detractors would have called him on it, countering, "Who is claiming you stole the body while the guards slept?" History records no such response. It is much more reasonable to conclude that Jesus' tomb was truly empty, and the Jews countered this fact with the tomb theft polemic, than it is to conclude that Christians invented the story of the empty tomb, and then invented a polemic against that invented story!
Others will argue that Matthew invented the presence of the guards as an apologetic against the charge of tomb theft. This seems unlikely. If there was no guard, the Jewish response would have been, "There was no guard", rather than, "The guards fell asleep." Again, we have no reason to think Matthew was inventing the story, or the polemic.
If the apostles had stolen the body as the Jews claimed, why didn't they admit to this upon pain of death? Liars don't make good martyrs. Tradition records without contradiction that all of the apostles except John were martyred for their profession of faith in the risen Christ. We would expect for at least one of them to confess their lie rather than be killed. Most people will not maintain a lie for which they will suffer great personal loss, with little to gain. The apostles had little to gain and much to lose, and yet nearly every one of them went to their graves for their proclamation that Jesus' tomb was found empty. While people may die for beliefs they hold sincerely, rarely will they die for that which they know is a lie.
The empty tomb story lacks legendary and apologetic development as well. The story is stated in very basic terms without flowery elaboration. If the story was a late development (invention) we would expect to see exaggerated elements in the story, or the discoverers of the empty tomb to be portrayed in a heroic fashion. Instead, the Gospels portray the empty tomb and resurrection as completely unexpected. The women discoverers did not know what to make of it. The male disciples did not believe it. Furthermore, no one interpreted the empty tomb as evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead.30 Only Christ's post-mortem appearances to them were sufficient to generate this belief. If the empty tomb had been invented by the apostles, it is highly unlikely that they would have portrayed themselves as being taken unaware by the event, and not understanding its significance. We would expect them to portend as if they knew it was going to happen all along.31 We find just the opposite, and this argues strongly in behalf of its historicity.
The Austrian specialist in the resurrection of Jesus, Jacob Kremer, summed up the conclusion of the evidence well when he wrote, "By far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the Biblical statements about the empty tomb."32
On Multiple Occasions and Under Various Circumstances, Different Individuals and Groups of People
Experienced Appearances of Jesus Alive From the Dead
All four Gospels, as well as Paul, record at least 14 different appearances of the risen Christ:
1. Mary Magdalene (John 20:10-18)
2. Other women (Matthew 28:8-10)
3. Cleopas and another disciple (Luke 24:13-32)
4. Eleven disciples and others (Luke 24:33-49)
5. Ten apostles w/o Thomas and others (John 20:19-23)
6. Thomas and other apostles (John 20:26-30)
7. Seven apostles (John 21:1-14)
8. Disciples (Matthew 28:16-20)
9. Apostles at Mt of Olives before ascension (Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:4-9)
10. Peter (Luke 24:33-34; I Corinthians 15:5)
11. Five hundred people (I Corinthians 15:6)
12. James (I Corinthians 15:7)
13. Paul (Acts 9; I Corinthians 9:1; 15:8)
14. Various others (Acts 1:21-22)
Not only do we have multiple, independent attestations to Christ's post-mortem appearances, but these traditions appear quite early in Christianity. The first gospel was written within approximately 23-26 years of Jesus' death. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians was written 22 years after Jesus' death, but his list of appearances dates to within five years of Jesus' crucifixion. This is not enough time for legend to develop.
It is important to note that Jesus did not appear just once, but many times; not to just one person, but many persons; not just to individuals, but to groups; not at just one locale and one set of circumstances, but at various locales and under various circumstances; not just to believers, but to unbelievers, skeptics, and even His enemies.33
When you have a group of credible people who have nothing to gain and a lot to lose, claiming they saw Jesus alive after His death, and were willing to die for that claim, you must find a valid way to explain that. Paula Fredriksen said, "I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That's what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that that's what they saw. I'm not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn't there. I don't know what they saw. But I do know as a historian that they must have seen something."34 Even radical skeptic Gerd Ludemann wrote, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the other disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ."35
The Disciples Believed Jesus Rose from the Dead Despite Every Predisposition Not To
The early disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead despite every predisposition not to:
1. Psychologically speaking, they had given up hope when Jesus died. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus said they had hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but His unfortunate turn of events caused them to abandon that hope (Luke 24:21-26). Their messianic hopes were crushed. They were not expecting for Jesus to rise from the dead. They were doing their best to return to ordinary life.
We have to understand that a crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah. Typically, followers of self-proclaimed messiahs whose hopes were dashed when their would-be messiah was killed, either sought a new Messiah or gave up on the search for a Messiah altogether. No one responded to their would-be messiah's death by proclaiming God raised him from the dead. N.T. Wright said
I simply cannot explain why Christianity began without it [a real historical resurrection of Christ]. I've already said there were many other messianic or would-be messianic movements around in the first century. Routinely they ended with the violent death of the founder. After that what happens? The followers either all get killed as well, or if there are any of them left they have a choice: they either quit the revolution, or they find themselves another messiah. We have examples of people doing both. If Jesus had died and stayed dead, they would either have given up the movement, or they would have found another messiah. Something extraordinary happened which convinced them that Jesus was the Messiah."36
What happened after Jesus' crucifixion that changed the minds of the apostles who had denied, disobeyed, and deserted Him?
2. There were many diverse Messianic expectations in first century Judaism, but no one was expecting a dying, yet alone rising Messiah.
3. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded people rising from the dead prior to the general resurrection at the end of the age (Daniel 12:1-2; John 11:24; Mark 9:9-13). The apostles could not have anticipated, yet alone hoped for Jesus-and only Jesus-to be resurrected from the dead in the middle of history.
4. Proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus brought great personal loss to the disciples, and very little gain. They were excommunicated from Judaism, were abused on multiple occasions, and ultimately gave their lives.
5. According to Jewish law, Jesus' form of death (on a tree) showed He was accursed by God (Galatians 3:13). How could a condemned, crucified man come to be followed and worshipped if He had not been raised from the dead? One could argue that His most committed disciples might do so, but why would anyone else do so? Worshipping someone with Jesus' fate is comparable to modern men worshipping a man put to death by electric chair.
6. According to John 7:5 Jesus' brothers did not believe He was the Messiah. And yet we read in Acts 1:14 that His brothers were among the believing community. In fact, His brother James assumed leadership of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15; 21:18; Galatians 1:19). What could account for this dramatic change of opinion? Jesus' death at the hands of the Romans should have only solidified their doubt, not caused their conversion! Why did they come to believe their brother was a divine Messiah, and even die for that belief? Jesus' post-mortem appearance to His brother James (I Corinthians 15:7) is the best explanation for this quick change of heart, under any but optimal circumstances.
7. The concept of bodily resurrection was philosophically repugnant to the Gentile world. How did the Jewish claim of Christ's resurrection attract such large numbers of Gentile adherents if the apostles did not provide a persuasive case for Christ's resurrection?37
The Gentile mission also argues against those who think the resurrection was a later, legendary development within Christianity. It would not make sense for the church to invent a resurrection story to sell to the Gentiles. Conventional wisdom would have told them the Gentiles would not buy it. So what would their motive have been to invent the story?
8. If the disciples invented the resurrection story, why would they say it was a bodily resurrection? Doing so opened up their story to falsification. It would make more sense to claim Jesus experienced some sort of spiritual resurrection, or ascension to heaven. And yet they boldly proclaimed His resurrection as bodily in nature.
Cambridge professor, C.F.D. Moule, got it right when he wrote, "We have here a belief which literally nothing in terms of antecedent historical influences can account for apart from the resurrection itself."
Inference to the Best Explanation
What is the best explanation of these four accepted historical facts? What can account for the empty tomb, the multiple and varied reports of Christ's post-mortem appearances, and the disciples' conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead despite having no antecedent reason to conclude this? The best way to answer this question is to employ a principle known as the inference to the best explanation.38 An inference to the best explanation considers six characteristics when judging the plausibility of a hypothesis:
1. Explanatory scope (can the hypothesis explain all, or only part of the evidence?)
2. Explanatory power (how well does it explain what it attempts to explain?)
3. Plausibility (is the hypothesis plausible given our background knowledge?)
4. Degree of ad hoc interventions (does the hypothesis require you to believe other things as true-for which we have no reason to believe are true-in order for the hypothesis to work?)
5. Is it disconfirmed by accepted beliefs? (does one have to deny or alter accepted beliefs in order for the hypothesis to work?)
6. It outstrips rival hypotheses in meeting conditions 1-5
The resurrection is one explanation of the historical data, but it is not without its challengers. Alternative theories have been proposed. We will examine each proposal to see how well it accords with the historical data and the six criteria above before we make a judgment as to which explanation is the best.
While most historians and critical Bible scholars accept the four historical facts discussed above, most reject the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. I would argue that they reject it-not because it is not the best explanation-but because of a bias against the supernatural. They either reject the existence of God, the notion that God actively participates in human history, or that the discipline of history is able to evaluate God's activity in history. Given any of these ideas, a bodily resurrection is ruled out a priori.
I would venture to say that most historians and critical scholars who reject the conclusion that Jesus' rose from the dead do so because they reject the existence of God and the supernatural. Christians will be the first to admit that the probability of Jesus' resurrection is directly connected to the probability of God's existence. If God does not exist, Jesus' resurrection is so improbable as to almost be ruled out prima facie. After all, the likelihood of every cell in Jesus' body spontaneously and simultaneously reviving is too improbable to be considered a rationally credible possibility. It is simply too improbable to happen naturally by chance. Only a supernatural cause is sufficient to explain it. The more evidence there is for God, then, the more evidence there is for the resurrection of Jesus. As Norman Geisler and Frank Turek noted, "Since there's a God who can act, there can be acts of God."39
So how do critical historians and Biblical scholars explain the historical facts without appealing to the supernatural?
The theft hypothesis holds that the disciples stole Jesus' body from the tomb to fake a resurrection. This hypothesis was maintained by the early Jews, Deists, and Hermann Reimarus. While this can explain the empty tomb, it cannot explain (1) the many post-mortem appearances of Christ, (2) why the apostles suffered martyrdom rather than confess their lie, (3) and how the disciples were able to move a two ton boulder being protected by Roman guards without waking them. Thus, the theft hypothesis lacks explanatory scope and power.
Some have suggested that Jesus' body was stolen by grave robbers, unbeknownst to the apostles, causing them to believe Jesus rose from the dead. Not only is this explanation ad hoc, but it ignores the fact that the disciples did not infer Jesus' resurrection from His empty tomb40, and fails to account for the post-mortem appearances. Furthermore, if grave robbers stole Jesus' body, why did they take the time to fold Jesus' grave clothes (John 20:6-7)? Thus, the theft hypothesis is not plausible given our background knowledge either.
This theory holds that it was not Jesus, but someone else who was mistaken for Jesus, that was crucified. Jesus, who remained unscathed, appeared to His disciples after the event and they interpreted this as a resurrection. This is the Muslim explanation. This assertion is not based on any historical data, and post-dates the event in question by 600. Why should this be given precedence over eyewitness testimony, and first and second century non-Christian testimony? It is a bit much to ask someone to deny all the first and second century evidence in favor of an assertion from one man who was 600 years removed from the events in question. The fact of the matter is that Jesus' death by Roman crucifixion is one of the best-attested historical facts of ancient history!
Are we to believe that everyone-including Jesus' friends and mother-would fail to recognize that it was not Jesus on the cross? Furthermore, this theory fails to explain the empty tomb. It does not explain what happened to Jesus either. Where did He go? According to Scripture He showed Himself alive for 40 days. Where did He go after those 40 days? Did He go into hiding? If so, why? If He did it to fool His disciples, then Jesus was a deceiver.
We should also ask why Jesus did not clear the matter up with His disciples, disavowing their conclusion that He rose from the dead? Surely they would have asked Him, "But how are you alive? We saw you get crucified!" If Jesus would have denied that it was He who was crucified, it would have stopped the resurrection story in its tracks. Yet the apostles continued to proclaim the resurrection until their deaths. If Jesus led them to believe that it was He who was crucified, then Jesus was a deceiver. This is inconsistent with Jesus' character, even on the Muslim view of Jesus.
The Switcheroo theory lacks explanatory scope, plausibility, and is disconfirmed by accepted historical beliefs.
Also known as the apparent death theory, the swoon theory holds that Jesus did not really die on the cross. He was drugged to feign death. Once He was put in the tomb, He was resuscitated and proclaimed as the resurrected Messiah. This theory was popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries among German rationalists, including Friedrich Schleiermacher. It was discredited in the late 19th century by David Strauss in his book, A New Life of Jesus. So persuasive was Strauss' critique of the theory that most scholars abandoned it for good.
While this theory can explain Jesus' burial, the empty tomb, and Jesus' post-mortem appearances, it fails to provide a plausible explanation of the origin of the disciples belief in Jesus' resurrection. As such, it lacks explanatory scope. Let me explain.
The swoon theory is highly unlikely given the torture Jesus endured: Roman scourging, having a spear thrust in His side (presumably through His heart). Jesus was beat to a bloody pulp. Based on the description of His beatings in the Gospels, and knowing what we know about Roman scourging, Jesus' death was almost assured from the beatings alone. Hanging for six hours on cross, and having a spear thrust in His side would have sealed His fate.
Even if we assume He was able to survive all of this, the fact of the matter is that His body would be a mangled, bloody mess. Given His condition, why would the disciples have concluded that He was the Lord of life? Why would they proclaim that our resurrection will pattern Christ's? That is unreasonable. As such, the Swoon theory lacks plausibility as well.
The theory also turns Christ, or His disciples into deceivers. If Christ alone concocted the plan, then He purposely deceived His disciples. This picture of Christ is not consistent with His moral character as found in Scripture. If one or more of His disciples were involved in the plot, then they are also found to be liars. As noted previously, they gave up their lives rather than deny the resurrected Christ. If they knew this claim was fabricated, why didn't they confess it rather than die? Liars do not make good martyrs. This idea is disconfirmed by other accepted beliefs.
Further problems with this theory are as follows:
- Roman executioners were skilled in the art of crucifixion and death. They confirmed that Jesus was dead. It is highly unlikely that they would be mistaken in their assessment.
- How could Jesus have moved the boulder that sealed His tomb given His physical condition? How could Jesus have exited the tomb without alerting the guards? (not plausible)
- Even non-Christians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, and the Talmud affirmed that Jesus died. (disconfirmed by accepted beliefs)
The hallucination theory holds that Jesus' post-mortem appearances were illusory. Those who claimed to see Jesus alive after His death did see something, but it was not a bodily, physical Jesus. It was an intra-mental event brought on by wish projection, or guilt. This theory was popular in the 19th and early 20th century. David Strauss was a prominent proponent of this view. It is gaining ground once again in defenders such as Gerd Ludemann, who argues that the disciples were suffering from a guilt complex, causing them to hallucinate, and see visions of a living Jesus.
This theory might explain Jesus' burial, post-mortem appearances, and origin of the disciples' belief in the resurrection, but it cannot explain the empty tomb. If they disciples were only hallucinating when they saw Jesus alive after His death, then Jesus' body would still be in the grave. And yet everyone agreed the tomb was empty. The hallucination theory, like the others, lacks explanatory scope.
Further problems with this theory include:
- Hallucinations are individual occurrences, not group occurrences. No two people experience the same hallucination. Psychologist, Gary Collins, notes that "[h]allucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people.... Since an hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it."41
Not only would one have to maintain that these hallucinations were experienced by many people in a given group, but also that the same sort of hallucination was experienced by others outside that group at different times, various locations, and diverse circumstances. Given what we know about hallucinations this is impossible. The theory is contradicted by accepted beliefs, and not plausible given our background knowledge of the cause and nature of hallucinations.
- If the disciples had experienced post-trauma hallucinations, it is highly improbable that they would have projected a resurrected Jesus because hallucinations are tied to one's belief system, and the idea of a resurrected messiah was entirely foreign to their belief system. They did not expect a dying, yet alone rising Messiah. Furthermore, Jewish theology understood the resurrection as a corporate event occurring at the end of time. No one thought it possible, and thus no one expected for a single person to be raised from the dead in advance of this time. This also renders the theory implausible.
Alister McGrath wrote, "The idea of the resurrection Jesus being explicable as some sort of wish-fulfillment on the part of the disciples also strains the imagination somewhat. Why should the disciples have responded to the catastrophe of jest death by making the hitherto unprecedented suggestion that he had been raised from the dead? The history of Israel is littered with the corpses of pious Jewish martyrs, none of whom was ever thought of as having been raised from the dead in such a manner."42
- Why did the hallucinations stop after 40 days? Why didn't other disciples claim to see Jesus alive after this point?43
This theory, proposed by Kirsop Lake in 1909, holds that the women disciples went to the wrong tomb. The tomb they went to was empty, causing them to falsely conclude that Jesus had risen from the dead. When the gardener said "Jesus is not here", he was stating a fact.
The only historical fact this theory can explain is the empty tomb, so it lacks explanatory scope and power. Other than that, this theory is sunk with factual and logical problems.
First, the Bible does not say the gardener said "Jesus is not here," but that the women supposed he was the gardener. In fact, the supposed-gardener who appeared to the women identified himself as the risen Christ (John 20:14-17).
Secondly, we know from the Biblical testimony that the disciples did not interpret the empty tomb as evidence that Jesus had been resurrected. They were puzzled by it, not persuaded by it. It presented a problem to be solved, not an answer. N.T. Wright wrote:
Neither the empty tomb by itself, however, nor the appearances by themselves, could have generated the early Christian belief [in Jesus' resurrection]. The empty tomb alone would be a puzzle and a tragedy. Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus, by themselves, would have been classified as visions or hallucinations, which were well enough known in the ancient world."44 "We are left with the conclusion that the combination of empty tomb and appearances of the living Jesus forms a set of circumstances which is itself both necessary and sufficient for the rise of early Christian belief. Without these phenomena, we cannot explain why this belief came into existence, and took the shape it did. With them, we can explain it exactly and precisely.45
Thirdly, the Jewish authorities knew where Jesus was buried. They only had to point the disciples to the correct tomb, and the error would have been corrected.
Fourthly, the wrong tomb theory cannot explain the post-mortem appearances experienced by the disciples.
This theory relies on a changing of the facts as recorded in the primary sources, and thus it is disconfirmed by accepted beliefs.
Twin Brother Theory
Dr. Greg Cavin of the University of California Irvine proposed that Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who was separated from him at birth, came back to Jerusalem at the time of his brother's crucifixion, stole Jesus' body from the grave, and presented himself to the disciples, who mistakenly inferred that Jesus was risen from the dead.
While this theory accounts for all four strands of historical data, it is so far-fetched that one can hardly take it seriously. There is not a shred of historical evidence to suggest that Jesus had a twin brother, yet alone that they were separated at birth. And why should we believe that this long-lost brother would return to Jerusalem at precisely the time of Jesus' crucifixion? Why didn't he reveal his true identity to his brother's disciples? Furthermore, are we to believe that those closest to Jesus, who followed and lived with Jesus for three plus years, would not notice that this was not Jesus?
This theory possesses explanatory scope and power, but fails miserably at plausibility, and relies too much on ad hoc historical inventions to be taken seriously as a historical explanation.
Copycat of Pagan Mythology
The copycat theory holds that the disciples invented the story of Jesus' resurrection, patterning it after a combination of various elements in pagan mythology.
This theory lacks explanatory scope in that it cannot explain the empty tomb or the post-mortem appearances. If the disciples fabricated the story, patterning it after pagan mythology (as if these simple fisherman were studied enough to do that), then Jesus' body would still be in the grave, and the skeptics could have exposed it. Like other theories, this one fails to explain why the disciples would die for what they knew to be a lie.
The quality of the stories is different as well. "There is a marked difference between the Biblical stories and other mythological stories. While all of them have a moral to them, only the Biblical stories are clearly placed in a space-time context that one could falsify. Furthermore, the magic in those stories seem to be part of the world itself. The Biblical stories, however, present the world in exactly the same naturalistic way we all experience it, but introduce occasional divine intervention."46
More importantly, the premise is mistaken on factual grounds. The first parallel of a dying and rising god does not appear until A.D. 150. The only pre-Christian pagan myth that is even remotely comparable to the resurrection of Jesus is the Egyptian account of the cult god, Osiris. In the myth, Osiris was cut into 14 pieces, scattered throughout Egypt, and then brought back to life by the goddess Isis. But Osiris did not come back to physical life. He came back to a spiritual life in the shadowy underworld. The message of Christ's resurrection only finds parallels in Jewish ideas.
Some cite parallels to the cyclical dying and rising gods of pagan mythology. Scott Klusendorf explains why these are not true parallels: "Christian resurrection differs significantly from the dying and rising Gods (cyclical) of ancient mystery religions. These icons of mystery religions are not analogous to a historical Jesus. Many times they are not real people and most post-date Christianity. Hence, the comparisons to Christianity are unfair."47 Some will cite Appollonius of Tyana as an exception to this rule. Klusendorf responds by nothing that
there are serious historical and theological reasons to contest this. First, the author of the story, writing 120 years after Apollonius dies, has the alleged messiah figure visiting Ninevah and Babylon-cities that were destroyed hundreds of years earlier. Second, what we get with Appollonius is apotheosis-that is, a man who is elevated to a god-like figure after death-not bodily resurrection as early Christians understood and proclaimed it. Third, the Appollonius story is backwards to the Christian one. That is, Appollonius the man dies, then becomes god-like. Christ, meanwhile, first exists as God, eventually takes on an additional human nature, dies, gains a resurrected and transformed body, then finally returns to the Father. Hence, the alleged parallels between Apollonius and Christ are far from compelling.48
Even if genuine parallels to the resurrection story existed in pre-Christian pagan mythology, it would not mean any similarities to these myths must be myth as well. The Star Trek myth predated our journey into space, but that does not render our journey into space mythic. A later reality is not invalidated by the presence of earlier myth.49 Klusendorf concludes, "Simply put, Christian resurrection is unique. Neither the pagan world nor the Jewish one anticipated the bodily and transforming resurrection that was experienced by Christ and later proclaimed by his apostles. The early Greeks thought it absurd, later Greeks found it distasteful, and the Jews simply couldn't imagine it. Hence, there is no reason to suppose that the NT authors made the story up from borrowed sources. If critics aim to prove resurrection false because of its alleged parallels to the ancient world, they would do well to consult that world before discounting the claims of the New Testament writers."50
While the copycat theory was popular in days past, today it has been abandoned by most scholars. C.S. Lewis, a historian and writer of mythology himself noted, "If anyone thinks the Gospels are either legends or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic."
The Pagan Copycat theory lacks explanatory scope in that it fails to explain the existence of a genuinely empty tomb. It lacks explanatory power in that it does not explain why the disciples first believed in Jesus' resurrection, or why Christianity was born and flourished in such a short period of time. It is not plausible either, given what we know about the content of pagan mythology, and its temporal introduction to Palestine.
This theory asserts that the early disciples believed Christ experienced a spiritual-not physical-resurrection, and then ascended to heaven. Over time the tradition was enhanced to that of a physical resurrection.
This theory is inadequate on Biblical, lexical, and logical grounds. Even if one might wish to deny a real bodily resurrection of Christ, a quick read of the Gospels makes it clear that the church proclaimed Christ's resurrection as bodily. In Acts 2:29-32 Peter contrasted David who was dead and buried and whose tomb was still with the Jews, to Christ whose flesh did not see corruption. Such a contrast only makes sense if Jesus' body was no longer in the grave (where it would be if Christ only experienced a spiritual resurrection).
The early disciples said Jesus was raised from the dead "three days" after His death. This is a strange twist on the story if the disciples only believed Jesus was resurrected in a spiritual sense, for such an event could be had without any temporal interval.51 Furthermore, how would they have known Jesus attained this resurrection after three days? His body remained unchanged in the grave both before and after the three days. What was the objective event which clued them into the fact that Jesus experienced a spiritual resurrection on the third day? The objective event was the physical resurrection of Jesus. On the third day His body was gone, after which He began to appear to His disciples. Since Jesus' body was in the grave prior to three days, and He had not appeared to His disciples prior to the third day, they concluded that He rose from the dead on the third day.
That Jesus' resurrection was physical, not spiritual in nature is also clear from I Corinthians 15:8 where Paul says he saw Jesus out of sequence. Why? Because there was a temporal end to His appearances (His ascension into heaven after 40 days), and yet Paul saw Him anyway. If Paul only thought of Jesus' resurrection as a spiritual resurrection, and the appearances as non-corporeal, there would be no reason to make such a statement. Every Christian could have a spiritual vision of the risen Christ, but not everyone could see Jesus in bodily form.52 The New Testament makes a distinction between appearances of Jesus, and visions of Jesus (such as Stephen in Acts 7:55).
The story of the chief priests requesting guards to guard the tomb also shows that Jesus' resurrection was understood in physical terms. Guards could not prevent Jesus' spirit from ascending to heaven.53
This theory also fails on lexical grounds. In both Judaism and paganism anastasis (the word translated "resurrection") always referred to "life after life after death". It was a two-tiered timeline; something that happened to the body after an interim period of disembodied life after death. It was not something that happened instantly after death. It was a reversal of death, not mere life after death.54 No one in the ancient world used anastasis to refer to anything other than a return to bodily life after a period of death. The idea of a spiritual resurrection of Jesus is excluded by the very word used to describe the event. The theory, then, is disconfirmed by accepted beliefs.
It also fails to explain the empty tomb. If Jesus' resurrection was spiritual, his body would be in the grave. The spiritual resurrection hypothesis lacks explanatory scope.
For those who think the original disciples only claimed that Jesus went to heaven when He died (such as Bultmann) or experienced a spiritual resurrection, one has to postulate that sometime in middle of the 1st century someone began using the word "resurrection" to describe this. Others, hearing the word and knowing its standard definition, misunderstood this to mean that Jesus rose physically from the dead. From there, legends were created about empty tombs and physical appearances. This misunderstanding, and the legends that flowed from it, overtook the church to the point that the original belief was entirely abandoned without a historical trace.55 All of this occurred within 15 years or so of Jesus' death. As with many other Bultmannian constructions, the sequence of moves required to support the hypothesis takes far more historical imagination than the thing Bultmann is trying to avoid.56 Thus, the theory lacks plausibility, and requires too many ad hoc interventions to be taken seriously.
N.T. Wright explains how unlikely it would be for the disciples to begin with a spiritual resurrection model, and then evolve into a physical resurrection model:
Even if we suppose the very unlikely hypothesis that the early disciples, all of them of course Jewish monotheists, had come to be convinced of Jesus' divinity without any bodily resurrection having taken place, there is no reason to suppose that they would then have begun to think or talk about resurrection itself. If, somehow, they had come to believe that a person like Jesus had been exalted to heaven, that would be quite enough; why add extraneous ideas? What, from the point of view we are hypothesizing, could resurrection have added to exaltation or even divinization? Why would anyone work back by that route, to end up predicating something which nobody was expecting and which everybody knew had not happened?57
Why These Alternative Theories Fail
How well do these theories satisfy the six criteria used in making an inference to the best explanation? Very poorly! They lack explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, rely on ad hoc interventions, and are disconfirmed by accepted knowledge. James D.G. Dunn concluded that "alternative interpretations of the data fail to provide a more satisfactory explanation" than the resurrection hypothesis.58 Philosopher Stephen Davis spoke to skeptics' inability to come up with a historical theory that is more plausible than the resurrection when he wrote, "[Critics] are unable to come up with a coherent and plausible story that accounts for the evidence at hand. All of the alternative hypotheses with which I am familiar are historically weak; some are so weak that they collapse of their own weight once spelled out.... the alternative theories that have been proposed are not only weaker but far weaker at explaining the available historical evidence...."59
These alternative explanations of the historical facts are derived from an a priori philosophical objection to the supernatural. Those who espouse them do so, not because they offer a better explanation of the data, but because they eliminate the supernatural. Adherents object to the best explanation-the resurrection-on philosophic, not historical grounds.60 But that philosophic bias itself must be questioned.
When it comes to explaining the historical data, the best explanation is the one offered by the early disciples: Jesus' body was raised from the dead by supernatural power. This hypothesis has explanatory scope, explanatory power, is plausible, does not require ad hoc interventions, and is confirmed by accepted beliefs. C.F.D. Moule wrote, "If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with? [T]he birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the church itself."61
Jesus' resurrection cannot be proven beyond all doubt, but the facts provide adequate justification for concluding that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead as the earliest disciples proclaimed. The resurrection hypothesis is the best explanation for the facts. There is no historical reason to reject this hypothesis; only a philosophical bias against miracles. While it is absurd to believe a man can come back to life by natural means, it is not absurd to believe that He can do so with supernatural assistance. All that is necessary is that God exist-and there is good evidence for this conclusion. Given theism, the resurrection is very probable. The greater the evidence for theism, the greater the probability that Jesus was raised from the dead.62
What do you do with a man who was raised from the dead, never to see death again? That was the question early Christians posed to an unbelieving world. It is the same question we must ask ourselves today. The historical evidence for Christ's resurrection compels us to consider the God of Christianity, because in the resurrection of Jesus, God has acted in time-space history in a decisive way.
Christians share a conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead as the forerunner and exemplar of our own eschatological resurrection. It is His resurrection that constitutes the factual foundation upon which the Christian hope is based. His resurrection (1) demonstrates that there is a God, and He is the God of the Bible; (2) confirms for us that Jesus is who He claimed to be; (3) confirms the veracity of His teachings; (4) confirms the coming of a future judgment; (5) and firmly establishes our own hope of future resurrection.
All of us have rebelled against God; all of us have rejected His will in favor of asserting our own. We have broken His just laws, and are deserving of punishment. But the God who is perfect justice is also perfect love. While His perfect justice demands punishment for sin, His infinite love desires mercy. What is God to do? How can He abstain from punishing us, and yet remain just? His solution was Christ. God's justice and mercy meet at the cross. Christ, whose sinless life made Him undeserving of punishment, accepted God's holy wrath in our stead. He volunteered to be our substitute. As God manifest in human existence, Christ's death was of infinite value, able to atone for the sins of the whole world. All He asks of us is that we accept what He did on our behalf; that we acknowledge our sin, and our lack of ability to fix the problem.
God has offered us a solution to our sin problem, but on His terms, not ours. Christ paid the penalty for our sin, receiving the punishment that ought to have been our own. No one else has done this-not Buddha, not Mohammed, or any other man. Now we have a choice. If we accept Christ, God considers our debt of sin as paid in full. If we reject Christ, however, we reject the only solution to our guilt, and elect to pay for our own crimes against God. If we choose to stand before God based on our own works we will surely face condemnation. If we choose to stand before God based on Christ's work on our behalf, however, we can expect mercy and grace. That's the Gospel. That's the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection.
The Biblical Witnesses to the Resurrection are Disqualified Because They are Christians
Some argue that we cannot admit the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, et al because they are Christians, and their testimony is recorded in the Bible. It is reasoned that as Christians, they are biased to believe in the resurrection, making their testimony unreliable.
This sort of reasoning is misguided. It presumes that rational objectivity is impossible if one has taken a position on a matter (in this case, the resurrection of Jesus Christ). This confuses rational neutrality with rational objectivity. One is still capable of rational objectivity even if they are not rationally neutral (anyone who has some knowledge of a topic ceases to be rationally neutral). If that were not so, none of us would ever change our mind about anything we have come to believe. Clearly we have, and thus psychological bias does not preclude rational objectivity. Another way of saying this is that psychological objectivity (i.e. having formed no conclusions) is not a prerequisite for rational objectivity.
Furthermore, it ignores the fact that rational objectivity may be what led these individuals to believe in the resurrection in the first place. The evidence could have been so strong in favor of that conclusion that they were incapable of remaining intellectually honest without affirming that Jesus rose from the dead.
The individual making this objection should be privy to the fact that the principle works both ways. Those who deny the resurrection have taken a position on the matter. If taking a position eliminates objectivity, and hence trustworthiness, then we should dismiss the evidence against Christ's resurrection presented by those who deny it. Their belief that Jesus was not raised from the dead makes their testimony against it unreliable. What's good for the goose is good for the gander! Of course, this is foolish reasoning.
The objection presumes that the only valid, objective evidence for the resurrection of Jesus must come from those who do not already believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But if they do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, why would they present evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? Those who do not believe in the resurrection are not going to provide evidence for that which they do not believe! Can you imagine this standard being applied to any other topic? What if I said the only valid, objective evidence for global warming must come from those who do not believe in global warming, because only they are rationally objective on the issue? That is nonsensical. We would expect the evidence for global warming to come from those who are convinced that it is a real phenomenon, and we weigh that evidence on its own merits.
Furthermore, if those who deny the resurrection knew the evidence for the resurrection, they might be compelled to believe in the resurrection as did the earliest Christians. At that moment we would have to reject their testimony as well. The skeptics have set up an impossible, self-serving standard, and then claim victory when it cannot be met. The testimony of those who believe in the resurrection is valid evidence, and needs to be evaluated on its own merits.
The Resurrection Accounts Differ
It is true that the resurrection accounts differ in their details, but what follows from that? Does it follow that therefore nothing happened? As N.T. Wright wrote, "To put it crudely, the fact that they cannot agree over how many women, or angels, were at the tomb, or even the location of the appearances, does not mean nothing happened."63 What matters most is that they are in basic agreement on the salient details. That they are is beyond question.
Many of the differences in the resurrection account have to do with wording, what is reported, and what is not reported. None of these are contradictions, however. If one writer chooses to provide more detail than another author (nothing the presence of additional women, or additional angels for example) they are free to do so. That is not a contradiction. Neither is it a contradiction for one author to include or leave out events another author includes, or even use slightly different words in his recorded dialogues. Writers in that day were not concerned with verbatim quotes or recording every detail. Neither were they consumed with chronological order. They would often arrange material thematically. We cannot impose modern standards of writing on ancient authors, and then cry foul because they do not conform to our literary expectations.
Consider a case in point. John depicts Peter and the beloved disciple both running to Jesus' tomb to investigate Mary's report that Jesus' body was missing. In Luke 24:12 Luke only names Peter. Is this a contradiction? In the immediate context Luke goes on to tell of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus to whom Jesus appeared. These disciples recounted the story to Jesus, telling him how "some of our number" went to the tomb and discovered it empty. It is obvious that Luke was aware of the presence of more than one disciple at the tomb, but for whatever reason, he chose to only mention Peter. If Luke can say it was one person, and then turn right around a couple of verses later and say it was more than one without us thinking this is an internal contradiction (how could it be given the proximity of the passages?), then we should not think it a contradiction when one author records the presence of more women or more angels than another.64
In fact, the number of women at the tomb is another case in point. In John 20:1, John only mentions Mary Magdalene as a witness to Jesus' resurrection. The synoptic writers all report a plurality of women. Some see this as a contradiction. Was John only aware of one witness, while the other Gospel writers were aware of others? No. In the very next verse John records Mary as saying to the apostles, "We do not know where they have laid him." While John only names a single witness, he is clearly aware of the fact that there were more present at the tomb than just Mary.
N.T. Wright explains how the differences in details-rather than arguing against the historical authenticity of the Gospels-actually argues for their authenticity as a reliable historical accounts: "The surface inconsistencies between Mark 16:1-8 and its parallels, of which so much is made by those eager to see the accounts as careless fiction, is in fact a strong point in favour of their early character. The later we imagine them being written up, let alone edited, the more likely it would be that inconsistencies would be ironed out. It strongly supports the idea that they were early, that they were not assimilated either to each other or to developed New Testament theology, and that the inconsistencies between them should not be allowed to stand in the way of taking them seriously as historical sources."65
Recognizing the presence of differences should not cause one to lose sight of the amazing similarities in the testimonies. All four Gospels agree the empty tomb was discovered in the early hours of the first day of the week following Passover. All agree that Mary Magdalene, as well as at least one other woman discovered the tomb. All agree that the stone was already moved supernaturally prior to the arrival of the women. All agree that the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples over a period of time in various locations and under various circumstances.
Why Didn't Jesus Appear to Unbelievers?
Those who make this objection argue that if Jesus had been raised from the dead, He would have, or at least should have been seen by unbelievers as well as believers. Since He only appeared to those who already believed Him to be the Messiah, the credibility of the disciples' claim to have seen Jesus are seriously undermined. After all, it is rather convenient that Jesus would only appear alive to those who believed He was the Messiah before He was crucified.
The most glaring problem with this objection is that its premise is factually mistaken. Jesus did appear to unbelievers. He appeared to His brothers, who did not believe He was the Messiah prior to His crucifixion. He also appeared to Paul, a persecutor of Christians.
The objection is flawed in another way as well. It assumes that Jesus needed to appear to unbelievers to validate His resurrection, but why assume this? We tend to think (and skeptics often claim) that people would believe in God if only they saw a miracle. For some that is true, but not for most. They will do their best to explain the miracle away before confessing the Creator as their Lord. We underestimate the extent of the rebellion against God that is bound up in the human heart. As Jesus said in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, "If they will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded even if one rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31).
Jesus' own apostles are a case in point. In Matthew 28:17 we read, "When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. (NET Bible) If Jesus' own apostles doubted upon seeing Him alive, how much more those who were not previously disposed to believe in Him? Call to memory the Jewish leaders' response to Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 12:9-11). It appears that they believed Jesus really did raise him from the dead, but their response was not repentance. Their response was to kill Lazarus so as to prevent others from believing on Jesus due to this miracle. Jesus did not need to appear to unbelievers at large. Even if He had, it probably would not have had the effect of causing anyone to believe in Him who did not already believe in Him, or who would not believe in Him through the testimony of those who saw Him alive.
The Disciples Invented the Resurrection of Jesus to Bolster Their Divine Claims of Him
What would the connection be? Being raised from the dead does not make one God.
"Even if we suppose the very unlikely hypothesis that the early disciples, all of them of course Jewish monotheists, had come to be convinced of Jesus' divinity without any bodily resurrection having taken place, there is no reason to suppose that they would then have begun to think or talk about resurrection itself. If, somehow, they had come to believe that a person like Jesus had been exalted to heaven, that would be quite enough; why add extraneous ideas? What, from the point of view we are hypothesizing, could resurrection have added to exaltation or even divinization? Why would anyone work back by that route, to end up predicating something which nobody was expecting and which everybody knew had not happened?"66
Why Didn't the Disciples Immediately Proclaim Christ's Resurrection?
After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to His disciples several times over the course of 40 days, until He ascended to heaven. Why didn't the disciples proclaim the resurrection of Christ until after His ascension? Why, if they knew Jesus had risen from the dead three days after His crucifixion did they wait another 37 days to publicly proclaim it (at Pentecost)? The delay seems odd. If you saw someone alive who had previously been dead, would you hesitate more than a few moments to proclaim it abroad? Add to this His celebrity, the public nature of His death (many saw Him die), the disciples' close relationship with Him, and the fact that His resurrection would vindicate His messianic claims, and the disciples had every reason to instantly proclaim to everyone in Israel that they saw Jesus alive. The delay lapse in time between the resurrection of Christ and the disciples' proclamation of His resurrection argues against the credibility of the apostles' story. It would appear that they delayed their public proclamation because they fabricated the story, and needed those five weeks to corroborate the details among themselves. At least that's how the objection goes.
As with the previous objection, the premise of this objection is factually mistaken. The disciples did proclaim the resurrection of Jesus prior to Pentecost. Recall the periscope of doubting Thomas. Before Thomas saw the risen Christ, he would not believe the report of the other disciples who said they saw Him alive. But then Jesus appeared to Thomas as well, and he believed. Jesus told Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)
It's important to note that "believed" is in the aorist tense. Contrary to popular interpretation, Jesus is not referring to those in the future who would believe He rose from the dead without having seen Him alive, but to those in the past who believed He rose from the dead without having seen Him alive. For Jesus to say there were people in the past who believed in His resurrection without having seen Him alive requires that the apostles/disciples were proclaiming the resurrection prior to Pentecost! If they had not been proclaiming the resurrection, no one except for those to whom Jesus had appeared to would believe in His resurrection. Of course, we don't know how many people the disciples told about the risen Christ, or who they told (only previous followers of Jesus, or unbelievers as well), but this passage is evidence that the disciples did not wait until after Pentecost to begin proclaiming the resurrection. That proclamation only intensified and widened after Pentecost.
For the sake or argument, let's say the apostles limited their pre-Pentecost proclamation of Jesus' resurrection to existing followers of Jesus. Would this support the notion that the disciples used that time to fabricate their story? It could, but only if it could be demonstrated that they had no sufficient reason to delay their public proclamation to unbelievers. That would be a difficult case to make. I can think of at least one good reason they might do so: fear. Remember, Jesus only appeared to His followers and relatives. While His death was very public, His resurrection and resurrection appearances were not. He did not go the temple and show Himself alive to the chief priests or temple-gatherers. He did not walk the streets of Jerusalem showing the people the nail prints in his hands and feet. He only showed Himself to His close associates and relatives. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think the disciples were afraid to proclaim the resurrection because they feared that they would be killed, just as Jesus had been. Indeed, Scripture portrays the disciples as fearing for their lives after Jesus' crucifixion (Mark 16:8).
Why would they begin proclaiming the resurrection at Pentecost, then? The answer is given to us in Scripture. During one of His post-mortem appearances Jesus told His disciples that they would receive power through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of His resurrection, beginning in Jerusalem and then beyond (Acts 1:8). It was precisely when the disciples were filled with the Spirit in Acts 2 that they began a very public proclamation of the resurrection.
Another possible reason for the apostles' delay is because they were waiting on Jesus to reveal Himself as Israel's king. We know they were expecting Him to do so from Acts 1:6-7. Just prior to Jesus' ascension to heaven the disciples ask Him if He was about to restore Israel's national sovereignty. With such an expectation, maybe they were waiting on Jesus to make the next move, fearing that any proclamation of their experience may hinder His plans.
In summation, it's not true that the apostles waited to proclaim the resurrection. While there may have been a delay in a widespread public proclamation to unbelievers, such a delay is quite reasonable. There is no need to resort to a conspiracy theory to explain it.
Matthew's Report of the Dead Coming to Life is Ridiculous
Matthew tells of some amazing events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus, among them being the resurrection of dead saints who were seen by many in Jerusalem. Some find this report so unbelievable that it renders the credibility of Jesus' resurrection story unbelievable as well.
Even if we agreed that this report is unbelievable, fails to bear the marks of historicity, and probably never happened, it does not detract from the details of Christ's resurrection that do bear the marks of historicity. One cannot throw out the baby with the bath water.
Beyond this, I see no reason to doubt that this happened. If God can raise one man from the dead, He can raise multiple people from the dead.
I leave you with some insightful thoughts N.T. Wright has to offer both believers and skeptics alike: "It remains the case that the events Matthew describes in 27:51-53, as well as being without parallel in other early Christian sources, are without precedent in second-Temple expectation, and we may doubt whether stories such as this would have been invented simply to "fulfill" prophecies that nobody had understood this way before. This is hardly a satisfactory conclusion, but it is better to remain puzzled than to settle for either a difficult argument for probable historicity or a cheap and cheerful rationalistic dismissal of the possibility. Some stories are so odd that they may just have happened. This may be one of them, but in historical terms there is no way of finding out."67
Tactic: Focus on the Resurrection, not an Inerrant Bible
The truth of Christianity does not depend on an inerrant Bible (no logical connection), but the acts of God in history to which the Bible is a historical record of. So long as the Bible is accurate in its salient details regarding Christ and His resurrection, Christianity is validated.68
The Bible may inform our faith, and give us a starting point to come to faith, but our faith is not derived from, nor dependent on the Bible. It is dependent on the genuine existence of God and the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If Christ rose from the dead 2000 years ago, the game is over! The truth of Christianity is established. These two truths can be established beyond a reasonable doubt through non-religious tools such as philosophy and historiography. We do need the Bible, but we don't need to establish it as a spiritual authority before we can have faith. It need only be established as a historical authority. We can then investigate its historical claims. If those prove to be accurate it gives weight to its spiritual claims as well (spiritual authority).
When we look at the historical evidence for the existence of Christ and His resurrection from the dead, the most reasonable conclusion is that Christ did rise from the dead. If He did, then Christianity is true, and Christ is an authority concerning the spiritual realm and we ought to listen to what He says about it. It doesn't matter if the Bible has contradictions in it--either ideological contradictions, or factual contradictions. So long as the salient details of Christ's teachings and resurrection are historically accurate, Christianity is established as true. How we deal with the rest of Christianity, including the interpretation of Christ's revelation to man through His apostles and prophets is another matter. One thing is for certain: Jesus rose from the dead and we cannot ignore that. To ignore this because of what we perceive to be Biblical problems is wrongheaded.
While there are many Biblical difficulties I have not yet resolved, I am at ease with my ignorance because I know that faith in the God of Christianity is the only reasonable place to put my faith.
1. This is not to say that faith in Christ without any supporting historical and rational evidence is irrational or invalid. Most Christians believe in the resurrection based on an existential witness of the Spirit, and that is perfectly legitimate. The evidence of the resurrection is a luxury we enjoy, not a superior rationality. As William Lane Craig is fond of saying, the way we know Christianity to be true is through the Holy Spirit, but the way we show it to be true is through argumentation based on the evidence. Christians would do well to research the evidence for the resurrection for two reasons. First, faith in Christ without any supporting historical/reasonable evidence runs the danger of being forsaken when presented with intellectual or emotional challenges to it. Secondly, it faces the problem of not being able to reproduce itself in others who need some level of justification to believe in Christ.
2. See my article titled "The 'Jesus Never Existed' Fable", available at www.apostolic.net/biblicalstudies/jesusexisted.htm.
3. Limiting my examination to extra-biblical, non-Christian sources should not be interpreted to mean the testimony preserved by Christians cannot be trusted. Craig Blomberg noted the absurdity of the argument that the Christian testimony cannot be trusted when he said, "As long as someone who saw or heard about Jesus' ministry remains unconvinced by his claims, he or she is an objective reporter; but as soon as one becomes a disciple, nothing one says can be trusted! The logic is similar to requiring a journalist describing a physics experiment not to believe in the scientific method ." (Jesus Under Fire, pp. 39-40). I am limiting my examination to extra-biblical sources because skeptics find such "neutral" sources more convincing than they do the Gospel accounts.
4. An Arabic manuscript of this text reads: "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders." This Arabic translation is less likely to be tampered with by early Christians seeing that most Christians spoke Aramaic, Greek, or Latin, not Arabic. As such, it is more likely to be very close to the original text. It should be pointed out that this version omits the accusation that the Jews were to blame for Jesus' death-something Josephus was not likely to have written.
5. In A.D. 125 Papias affirmed that Mark wrote his Gospel based on Peter's eyewitness testimony, and affirmed Matthean authorship. Eusebius records Papias as saying this about the Gospel of Mark: "This also the presbyter [John in Ephesus, Asia] said: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely." (History of the Church III.39.15)
He goes on to say concerning the Gospel of Matthew: "These things are related by Papias concerning Mark. But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: 'So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.'"
In Dialogue with Trypho 106.3 Justin Martyr referred to a passage in Mark as the memoir of Peter (A.D. 160). In A.D. 180 Irenaeus writes in Against Heresies 3.3.4: "Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter's preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia."
6. J.P. Holding, "Gospel Dates, Gospel Authors, Gospels Freedoms: Profiles of Key Issues Concerning the Four Gospels"; available from http://tektonics.org/ntdocdef/gospdefhub.html; Internet; accessed 11 April 2006.
7. Norman Geisler, "The Dating of the New Testament"; available from http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=233&TopicID=1&CategoryID=2&Page=1; Internet; accessed 29 November 2005.
8. They did not quote from II John or Jude.
9. Paul quoted Luke's Gospel in I Timothy 5:18. That epistle was written somewhere between A.D. 62-65, so the Gospel of Luke must have been written earlier.
10. Craig L. Blomberg, "Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?" in Jesus under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 22.
11. William F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1955), 136.
12. William F. Albright, interview in Christianity Today, June 18, 1963.
13. Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 284-5.
14. William Lane Craig, "Equip to Engage Islam", lecture delivered at the January 2003 Master's Series in Christian Thought conference.
15. Darrel Bock, "The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex?", in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 91.
16. The New Testament authors could not have gotten away with connecting events to such high-profile figures if those events did not happen.
17. Many of the facts Luke mentions are not particularly important to the story. Consider his report of the many priests who were converted to Christianity (Acts 6:7). This remark was tangential to his story, so why incorporate it into the story if it was not true? The ruling authorities in Jerusalem could have easily pointed that out, exposing Luke as a fraudulent historian. They did not, however, because Luke was reporting accurate history. If you are inventing history, you do not make it easy for your enemies to expose your lies by giving unnecessary details such as this.
18. A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarrendon, 1963), 189, quoted in Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 259-60.
19. William Ramsey, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (New York: Putnam, 1896), 8, quoted in Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 260.
20. Quoted in F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 82, quoted in Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 262.
21. John Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 177 as found in Craig Blomberg, "Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?" in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 21.
22. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 600.
23. Gary Habermas surveyed more than 1400 of the most critical scholarly works on the resurrection between 1975-2003. Reporting in The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, Habermas noted twelve facts about the life of Christ the majority of liberal scholars agree are historical:
1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion
2. He was buried in a private tomb
3. After His death the disciples were discouraged because they lost hope
4. Jesus' tomb was discovered to be empty soon after Jesus' interment.
5. The disciples had experiences they believed to be actual appearances of Jesus after His death
6. These experiences transformed their lives, and they were willing to die for their belief.
7. The disciples proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus from the beginning of church history.
8. The disciples proclaimed the resurrection of Christ beginning in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified and buried.
9. The gospel message centered on the death and resurrection of Christ.
10. Sunday was the primary day of worship for the early church.
11. The Lord's brother, James, was a skeptic who later converted to the Christian faith after he believed he saw Jesus alive from the dead.
12. Saul of Tarsus became a Christian after he believed he saw Jesus alive from the dead.
24. John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), 131.
25. That this is an early Christian creed is deduced from the fact that (1) Paul does not use the phrase "according to the Scriptures," but rather "it is written"; (2) Paul does not use the expression "the twelve" to refer to the other apostles; (3) there is a parallelistic pattern of four lines beginning with kai hoti ("and that") that is Semitic in nature, suggesting a n early origin when the church was still purely Jewish; (4) "on the third day" is a Semitic expression, and "Cephas" is Peter's name in Aramaic. All these facts point to an early origin.
When did Paul receive this tradition? According to Galatians 1:18 Paul went to Jerusalem to learn from Peter and James three years after his conversion. These are the same people Paul names in I Corinthians 15:5,7. It seems likely, then, that Paul received this creed at that time, which was approximately five years after Jesus' crucifixion.
26. Justin Martyr mentions this polemic as well (Dialogue with Trypho 108), but it is not clear if he got this from Matthew, or some other source.
27. Interestingly, the polemic the Jews invented to counter the Christians' claim to Christ's resurrection was unbelievable on its face. As Norman Geisler and Frank Turek point out in their book, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, if the guards were sleeping, they could not have known the identity of the grave robbers!
28. William Lane Craig, "The Guard at the Tomb"; available from http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/guard.html; Internet; accessed 27 February 2005.
29. Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 221.
30. John 20:1-9 is the only possible exception. According to John, Peter and the beloved disciple (most likely John himself) ran to investigate Jesus' tomb upon being told by Mary Magdalene that Jesus' body was missing. When they arrived they found the body missing just as Mary said. Jesus' grave clothes were still in the tomb, and his facecloth was rolled up. When John saw this the text says he "believed." There is some ambiguity, however, as to what John believed. Did he merely come to believe the tomb was empty as described by Mary, or did he believe Jesus had been raised from the dead? Verse nine says, "For they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead." If neither Peter nor John understood the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead, how could John have believed Jesus rose from the dead? This would seem to indicate that what John believed was Mary's report.
There are two reasons to think that what John believed in was the resurrection of Jesus. First, it would seem rather strange to note that John-and only John-believed Mary's report. Both Peter and John saw that the tomb was empty, so both would have believed her report. The fact that John's response is singled out indicates that what John believed was different from what Peter believed. Both believed the tomb was empty, so John's belief must have been that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Secondly, John makes it a point to tell his readers how Jesus' grave clothes were arranged in the grave. Jesus' facecloth was rolled up in a place by itself. If grave robbers would have stolen the body, they would not have taken the time to unwrap the body in the tomb. If they did, they would not have bothered to fold the facecloth prior to leaving! If grave robbers had not stolen Jesus' body, John reasoned, Jesus must have risen from the dead. Interestingly, Peter, who saw the same grave clothes, did not draw the same conclusion. Therein lies the difference between John's belief, and Peter's lack.
31. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 628.
32. Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien: Geschicten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), 49-50 quoted in William Lane Craig, "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?" in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 152.
33. William Lane Craig, "In Defense of the Resurrection"; lecture series delivered at Biola University campus February 24-26, 2005.
34. Paul Fredriksen in a CBS special, Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus, aired June 19, 2000. Paula is a Catholic turned orthodox Jew. Academically she is a historian of ancient Christianity and Hellenistic Judaism, and Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture at Boston University.
35. Quoted in William Lane Craig, Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000], 33-34.
36. N.T. Wright in a CBS special, Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus, aired June 19, 2000.
37. William Lane Craig, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan, Paul Copan, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 137
38. There is a distinction between plausibility and probability. Plausibility is the broadly logical possibility of something being true, whereas probability is the likelihood of something being true. The former deals in the realm of the possible, whereas the latter deals in the realm of the probable. We might evaluate an explanation in terms of its probability as well, but that explanation need not be more probable than not to be considered the best explanation; only more probable than the alternatives.
39. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 209.
40. John 20:1-9 is the only possible exception. According to John, Peter and the beloved disciple (most likely John himself) ran to investigate Jesus' tomb upon being told by Mary Magdalene that Jesus' body was missing. When they arrived they found the body missing just as Mary said. Jesus' grave clothes were still in the tomb, and his facecloth was rolled up. When John saw this the text says he "believed." There is some ambiguity, however, as to what John believed. Did he merely come to believe the tomb was empty as described by Mary, or did he believe Jesus had been raised from the dead? Verse nine says, "For they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead." If neither Peter nor John understood the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead, how could John have believed Jesus rose from the dead? This would seem to indicate that what John believed was Mary's report.
There are two reasons to think that what John believed in was the resurrection of Jesus. First, it would seem rather strange to note that John-and only John-believed Mary's report. Both Peter and John saw that the tomb was empty, so both would have believed her report. The fact that John's response is singled out indicates that what John believed was different from what Peter believed. Both believed the tomb was empty, so John's belief must have been that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Secondly, John makes it a point to tell his readers how Jesus' grave clothes were arranged in the grave. Jesus' facecloth was rolled up in a place by itself. If grave robbers would have stolen the body, they would not have taken the time to unwrap the body in the tomb. If they did, they would not have bothered to fold the facecloth prior to leaving! If grave robbers had not stolen Jesus' body, John reasoned, Jesus must have risen from the dead. Interestingly, Peter, who saw the same grave clothes, did not draw the same conclusion. Therein lies the difference between John's belief, and Peter's lack.
41. A personal communication between Gary Habermas and Gary Collins, quoted in Gary Habermas, "Explaining Away Jesus' Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories"; available from http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=337; Internet; accessed 11 July 2007.
42. Alister McGrath, "The Resurrection"; available from http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=205&TopicID=5&CategoryID=5; Internet; accessed 27 April 2006.
43. Gary Habermas, "Explaining Away Jesus' Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories"; available from http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=337; Internet; accessed 11 July 2007.
44. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 686.
45. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 696.
46. Scott Pruett, "Open Letter to Bill Maher"; available from http://pspruett.brinkster.net/Articles/Bill_Maher.htm; Internet; accessed 14 March 2005.
47. Scott Klusendorf, "Resurrection Accounts--Were They Borrowed from Earlier Traditions?"; available from http://prolifetraining.com/pro-life_blog/; Internet; accessed 17 June 2005.
48. Scott Klusendorf, "Resurrection Accounts--Were They Borrowed from Earlier Traditions?"; available from http://prolifetraining.com/pro-life_blog/; Internet; accessed 17 June 2005.
49. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 311-2.
50. Scott Klusendorf, "Resurrection Accounts--Were They Borrowed from Earlier Traditions?"; available from http://prolifetraining.com/pro-life_blog/; Internet; accessed 17 June 2005.
51. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 322.
52. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 318.
53. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 638.
54. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 31, 38.
55. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 626.
56. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 626.
57. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 574.
58. James Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Louisville: Westminster, 1985), 76, as quoted in Gary Habermas, "Explaining Away Jesus' Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories"; available from http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=337; Internet; accessed 11 July 2007.
59. Stephen Davis, "Is Belief in the Resurrection Rational?: A Response to Michael Martin," Philo, Vol. 2; No. 1 (Spring-Summer, 1999), 57-58, as quoted in Gary Habermas, "Explaining Away Jesus' Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories"; available from http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=337; Internet; accessed 11 July 2007.
60. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 313-4.
61. C.F.D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology 2/1 (London: SCM, 1967), pp. 3,13.
62. William Lane Craig, "In Defense of the Resurrection"; lecture series delivered at Biola University campus February 24-26, 2005.
63. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 614.
64. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 613.
65. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 612-3.
66. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 574.
67. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 636.
68. Some argue that the inconsistencies in the story should cause us to dismiss the stories. No historian throws out sources because of inconsistencies. They look for the historical nuggets. The inconsistencies are not in the same source, but between independent sources. And it does not suggest that both or all are wrong; only one or more might have to be wrong (assuming they cannot be harmonized). All Gospels agree that on the salient details (which are many).
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