In this blog post, I plan on giving an overview of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Contrary to popular opinion, belief in Jesus’ resurrection isn’t something one has to believe on blind faith alone, one can confirm the resurrection on the basis of powerful historical evidence. The resurrection is important because if Jesus has risen from the dead, then God has put His stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. God agrees with Jesus’ ministry. This means that we can put great stock into anything Jesus taught about, such as His claim to be God, the existence of angels and demons, the existence of Heaven and Hell, and that He Himself is the only way to get to Heaven.
It gives good reason to believe The Bible is divinely inspired, for Jesus Himself quoted from the Old Testament and taught that it is the word of God, and He commissioned apostles who would go on to write The New Testament. After all, who would be in a better position to know whether or not the Old Testament is divinely inspired than God Himself, and since God chose Matthew, Paul, Peter, etc. it makes sense to think that God put His stamp of approval on their teachings as well. So, if Jesus rose from the dead, that gives good grounds for believing in the inspiration of The Bible and for accepting whatever The Bible teaches.
Historical Method, Not “Using The Bible To Prove The Bible”
I will appeal to The New Testament, but this doesn’t mean I’m begging the question, as skeptics will accuse me of. I’ll appeal to the gospels, but I’ll treat them the same way historians treat other historical documents. When historians are examining documents and are trying to figure out whether what they say is true, they’ll employ certain tests or “criteria” to the recorded events in question. If one or more of the criteria can be applied to the text(s), the historian concludes that it’s likely the event actually occurred.
For example, if historians looked at a letter written by George Washington, and Washington wrote that while horseback riding out in the countryside, he soiled himself, had to go behind a tree, and go commando the next day, historians would conclude it’s more likely than not that Washington is telling the truth. This is because Washington is mentioning an event that is embarrassing. People don’t make up lies that embarrass them. So, on the principle of embarrassment, the historian would conclude it’s true. If historians found 3 independent sources that also mention Washington soiling himself on this occasion, they would conclude it’s even more probable that it’s a historical event. This time on The Principle Of Multiple Attestation. The more and more independent sources you find an event mentioned in, the less and less likely it is to be made up. Multiple different people simply cannot conjure up the same fiction and treat it as history.
A few of the principles of authenticity are listed as follows:
1. The Principle Of Multiple Attestation
If an event is mentioned in 2 or more independent documents, it is far more likely that the event occurred.
2. The Principle Of Embarrassment
If a recorded event is embarrassing to the author, hurts an argument he’s trying to make, or embarrasses someone he cares about, then it’s very likely to be true.
3. The Principle Of Early Testimony
The earlier a document is relative to the event it records, the more reliable it is, as there’s less of a chance for things to get distorted.
4. The Principle Of Historical Fit
If a recorded incident fits well with known and established historical facts of the particular time and place that the historical document talks about, then that favor’s the document’s event’s historicity.
5. The Principle Of Enemy Testimony
Those who hate you or are opposed to your message aren’t going to make up lies that make you look good or bolster your message.
Two Step Process To The Resurrection Inference
In the case for the resurrection, there are two steps.
- What Are The Facts To Be Explained?
- What Is The Best Explanation Of The Facts?
Facts that Support the Resurrection #1: Jesus Died By Crucifixion
*Jesus’ death by Roman crucifixion is multiply attested in 7 independent documents. 4 of those sources are secular, 3 of them are from The New Testament.
Secular Sources — Josephus, Tacitus, Mara-Bar Sarapian, Lucian Of Samosata.
NT Sources — The Synoptic Gospels, The Gospel Of John, Paul’s Epistles.
This makes it overwhelmingly more probable that Jesus’ crucifixion is an event of history. It is statistically impossible for 7 independent sources to all make up the same story. Denial of crucifixion’s historicity entails that 7 sources fabricated the same lie independent of each other.
*Jesus’ crucifixion is attested to by sources hostile to Christianity (i.e Tacitus and Lucian).
These sources would have nothing to gain by saying Jesus’ crucifixion really happened if it didn’t. In fact, they are ridiculing Christianity in the very same context of their passages referring to the crucifixion of Jesus.
*Historical Fit makes it plausible that Jesus died by crucifixion.
Secular History attests to the fact that Romans crucified people in the first century. That Jesus was crucified fits well with what we know of first century crucifixions.
Facts that Support the Resurrection #2: The Empty Tomb
*The Jerusalem Factor
If Jesus’ body was not absent from the tomb, the enemies of Christianity could have easily stomped out the movement by removing Jesus’ body from the tomb and showing it to everyone. If they did that, Christianity would have died before it even began. It did not die back then. We can infer from this fact that they did not take Jesus’ body out of the tomb in order to parade it down the street to prove to everyone that the resurrection claims of the disciples were false. Why didn’t they do this? Most likely because Jesus’ body was not even in the tomb to be taken out.
*All four gospels feature women as witnesses to the empty tomb.
Women were considered second class citizens back then and their testimony was considered worthless. The empty tomb narrative is most likely historical because it would have been awkward for the early church to have women as the chief witnesses when their testimony wasn’t considered valid back then. They would have made males the first ones on the scene if they were just conjuring up this narrative. So, by the principle of embarrassment, we know that the tomb of Jesus was empty.
*The enemies of Christianity claimed that the disciples stole the body. This presupposes the empty tomb.
Even though our knowledge of this claim comes from Matthew 28, we can still count this as enemy attestation. Matthew said they were spreading the story “to this day”, which means if Matthew said the pharisees were saying this when they really weren’t, he would be easily found out by those alive “to this day”. Matthew wouldn’t open himself up to such easy falsification. Secondly, people don’t usually respond to accusations unless someone actually made that accusation of them. For example, you wouldn’t deny stealing your friend’s car unless he accused you of stealing it.
Facts that Support the Resurrection #3: Jesus’ Post-Mortem Appearances To The Disciples
*Paul’s List Of Appearances In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Gives Us Powerful Reason To Believe These Appearances Occurred.
Paul’s citing an early creed that he himself received. We know this is a creed because he says “For what I received, I passed onto you as of first importance” This is ancient rabbinic language employed whenever oral tradition was being passed on. Plus, Paul’s word usage in verses 3-8 is foreign to Paul in the rest of his epistles. On top of that, Paralellism (long sentence followed by a short sentence followed by a long sentence again) implies that this is a creed since this structure was common to oral tradition to contribute to easy memorization.
Paul most likely got the creed from Peter and James during his fact-finding mission that he recounts in Galatians 1:18-19, which would mean this creed goes back to eyewitnesses of the resurrection. That this is when Paul received this creed is plausible from the fact that Peter and James are two individuals explicitly named, plus Paul’s use of “historieasi” which indicates they were talking about recent events.
Therefore, the creed goes back to within only a few years of Jesus’ crucifixion. This list of appearances is so early that anyone skeptical about them could question the witnesses to see if the creed were accurate. If these people did not see Jesus as the creed claims, then the cat would be out of the bag and Christianity would be discredited. Many scholars have noted that Paul’s mentioning of many of the witnesses still being alive is most likely a challenge from Paul to question these witnesses, as if Paul were essentially saying “Don’t believe me? Go talk to them yourselves! Go ask them yourselves!”
*The Appearance Narratives In The Gospels Provide Multiple, Independent Attestation Of The Appearances.
The appearances to the disciples are mentioned in 3 independent sources.
1: 1 Corinthians 15
2: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
3: The Gospel Of John.
It is highly unlikely that three independent sources would all fabricate the same lie. Given that we have at least three sources for the post-mortem appearances to the disciples, we have good grounds for confirming that the disciples believed they saw the risen Jesus.
Facts that Support the Resurrection #4: The Post-Mortem Appearance To Paul
*Saul Of Tarsus was hired by the Jewish Sanhedrin to persecute Christians by beating them, throwing them into prison, stoning them to death, etc.
The Principle of Embarrassment makes it highly likely that he was indeed a persecutor. People don’t make up horrible things about themselves, and usually, don’t admit them even if they’re true. Yet in 3 different epistles, Paul says that he was a harsh persecutor of Christians before his conversion (see 1 Corinthians 15:9, Galatians 1:13, 1 Timothy 1:13).
Multiple Attestation — Both Paul’s epistles and the book of Acts say that Paul was a persecutor of the church.
*Saul Converted To Christianity all of a sudden and became an active evangelist who suffered for his faith.
Multiple Attestation — Paul attests to his own suffering for the sake of the gospel in his epistles. The book of Acts also records Paul’s suffering.
The early church fathers, Polycarp, Tertullian, Clement of Rome, and several others record the account of Paul’s martyrdom under the emperor Nero.
*Saul — who later became known as Paul — claimed that he went from being a Christian destroyer to being a Christian maker because the risen Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. This is the most reasonable explanation for why he went from being someone who killed Christians to being a Christian himself virtually overnight.
Facts that Support the Resurrection #5: Jesus’ Post Mortem Appearance To James
*Jesus had a brother named James who did not believe He was God incarnate or the messiah during Jesus’ lifetime.
Multiple Attestation — The Gospel Of John (chapter 7) and The Gospel Of Mark (chapter 3) both attest to Jame’s skepticism. Very unlikely that they both fabricated the same lie independent of each other.
The Principle Of Embarrassment — Casts Jesus in a bad light given the stigma back then of any Rabbi whose family opposed his teaching. Casts James in a bad light, particularly in John 7 because in John 7, James and Jesus’ other brothers are trying to goad Him into a death trap by showing himself publicly at a feast when they were well aware that the Jewish authorities were seeking to kill Him. Why would John paint James and Jesus’ other brothers in such a bad light if this is not what actually happened?
*A short time after Jesus’ death, James came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead
Multiple Attestation — The book of Acts as well as Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Galatians 2:9) reveals that James had become a leader of the church in Jerusalem.
*James was Martyred for his Christian faith
Multiple Attestation — Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement Of Alexandria all record that James were murdered by the Jewish Sanhedrin for his belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah.
*The Most Likely Explanation for why James went from being a skeptic to being a believer virtually overnight is because the risen Jesus appeared to him as 1 Corinthians 15:7 says.
This is the historical evidence for the 5 facts undergirding the inference to the resurrection. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these 5 facts. It meets all 6 of the standard criteria for confirming a historical theory.
- It has great explanatory power.
- It has great explanatory scope.
- It is plausible.
- Not ad-hoc.
- It is in accord with accepted beliefs.
- It outstrips rival theories in criteria 1-5. None of the naturalistic theories raised over the last 2,000 years to explain these 5 facts are tenable. They all fail.