After many months of exploring every possible angle to refute it, I concluded that the resurrection is one of the best attested facts in ancient history. As with Josh McDowell in More Than a Carpenter, though the problems with belief were obvious, I couldn’t reconcile a certain set of facts without it.
In Evidence That Demands a Verdict, McDowell cites Simon Greenleaf the famous professor of law at Harvard University and one of the finest legal mindsof the last century. A renowned expert in the field of legal evidence, he stated that there has never been a more airtight case than for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (2) p 108 more than a…Professor Tom Arnold, author of the famous three volume History of Rome and chair of modern history at Oxford, wasaccustomed to looking at the value of evidence in determining historical events. In his words, “there is no fact in the history of mankind which is proved bybetter and fuller evidence than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”
Dr. John Warwick Montgomery in History and Christianity wrote, “It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufacturedsuch a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it by simply producing the body of Jesus.”
Historian Will Durant, who was trained in the discipline of historical investigation, spent his entire life analyzing works of antiquity. He has this to say about the general credibility of the evangelists:
Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere
inventors would have concealed. . . That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and
appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic, and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far
more incredible than any recorded in the gospels.
The fact that Pilate condemned Christ to the cross is an undisputed historical fact. As archaeologist Edwin Yamauchi stated: Even if we did not have the New Testament or Christian writings, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings such as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger that…he [Jesus—KB] was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. Tacitus, the ancient Roman historian writing in approximately A.D. 115, documented Christ’s physical demise when he wrote concerning the Christians that “their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus.”
Early Jewish rabbis whose opinions are recorded in the Talmud also acknowledged the death of Jesus. According to the rabbis, Jesus of Nazareth was a transgressor in Israel who practiced magic, scorned the words of the wise, led the people astray and said that he had not come to destroy the law but to add to it. He was hanged on Passover Eve for heresy and misleading the people.
Likewise, Jewish historian Josephus wrote: “[T]here arose about this time Jesus, a wise man…. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease.”
John R. W. Stott notes that the news spread rapidly of a movement that threatened to undermine the foundations of Judaism and to disturb the peace of Jerusalem. The Jews feared conversions; the Romans were apprehensive about riots. Though the authorities could produce the remains of the body, they were silent and resorted to violence. “But all this was entirely unnecessary if they had in their own possession the dead body of Jesus… What the authorities didn’t say is as clear a pointer… as what the apostles did say.”
In Hugh Schonfield’s infamous Swoon Theory, he postulated that Christ did not die on the cross but merely fainted or “swooned.” Later, after being laid on a cold slab in the dark tomb, he revived and exited. Yet, this theory fails to take into account the nature of the scourging that Christ endured.
In the March 1986 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, William Edwards and his coauthors wrote an article, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.” Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson coauthored an updated review “An Examination of the Medical Evidence for the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.” After their in-depth, medically based descriptions of the horrors to which Christ was exposed, and the condition of his ravaged body, the Swoon Theory loses credibility.
Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar, actually conceded the truthfulness of the resurrection. Although he did not become a Christian, he looked at what happened with Jesus’ disciples, considered the different explanations, and came to the conclusion that the only explanation was that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
In criticizing liberal scholars who refuted the resurrection, he said, “I cannot rid myself of the impression that some modern Christian theologians are ashamed of the material fact of the resurrection. Their varying attempts at dehistoricizing the Easter experience which give the lie to all four evangelists are simply not understandable to me in any other way.”
Yamauchi notes that in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he actually appeals to a hostile audience to question eyewitnesses who were then still alive. The enemies of Christ were never able to give a refutation of the resurrection. He writes:
What gives a special authority to the list (of witnesses) as historical evidence is the reference to most of the five
hundred brethren being still alive. St. Paul says in effect, ‘If you do not believe me, you can ask them.’ Such a
statement in an admittedly genuine letter written within thirty years of the event is almost as strong evidence as
one could hope to get for something that happened nearly two thousand years ago.
Yamauchi considered a courtroom scenario in which the more than 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive after His death and burial testified for only six minutes, including cross-examination. This would constitute 50 hours of firsthand testimony. Add to this the testimony of many other eyewitnesses and you would well have the largest and most lopsided trial in history NT Wright, in The Victory of God, refutes the assumption that only friends and followers saw Jesus after his burial. The facts show that he appeared to Saul of Tarsus who despised Christ and persecuted Christ’s followers. He later became the apostle Paul, one of the greatest witnesses for the truth of the resurrection.
Almost overnight, the disciples were changed from a band of defeated, disillusioned followers into courageous spokesmen willing to die for their beliefs. How could the disciples have recovered from the shattering experience of Jesus’ death and regrouped afterwards, testifying that they had seen the risen Jesus, while being quite willing to face persecution because of this belief.
Was it possible that the early disciples were lying? History has confirmed the ethical qualities of their lives and their selfless dedication for almost forty years. Josh McDowell contends that many die a a martyr’s death for an idea they believe to be true, but no one dies for something they know to be a lie. In this instance, the disciples either saw the resurrected Jesus or they were lying.
Wright addressed the mistaken idea that only modern, enlightened individuals have rational skepticism. The ancients, however, who knew about hallucinations, ghosts and visions, were dumbfounded when faced with the resurrection. In Jesus and the Victory of God, NT Wright argues for the resurrection not by enlightenment style proofs but by looking at the best possible explanation of historical facts. He offers the possibility that the closed worldview of modern science is incorrect–that God who is not distant is able to to act within the world in mysterious and dramatic ways.
Habermas and Licona co-authored the award winning book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Gary Habermas has studied the claim that the bereaved sometimes have hallucinations of their loved ones after they’ve died. He also has addressed the possibility that this was at work in Pauls’ conversion. Jesus was seen in groups by different types of personalities and at varying times and places. It would be impossible that they were all in the same state of mind. Furthermore, neurologists emphasize that because people are talked out of their hallucinations, they rarely change lives.
Hallucinations are internal events, like dreams and cannot be shared. In the studies of mass hallucinations of pilgrims, the sitings were accompanied by emotional exuberance and a high degree of expectation. These conditions were contrary to the state of the disciples and other followers. After the crucifixion they were dejected and depressed.
As to Paul and James, they were not grieving or guilty because they were in a skeptical mindset. Paul saw Jesus in Person on the road to Damascus, but the others with him did not see Him on the same road. They heard a voice and saw the light but they didn’t see Jesus. Paul lost his sight after seeing and speaking with Jesus. Habermas discusses facts which dispute Kent’s theory of Paul, James and Peter having conversion disorder. A disorder of this type would not be convinced by a hallucination that eventually passes. Additionally, they would also need auditory hallucination, visual hallucinations, and visions of grandeur or messiah Complex. It’s clear from the text that Paul was not glorifying himself, but God. Moreover, this condition occurs among individuals who are uneducated and who have a lower IQ.
Habermas recorded 1,400 scholars, both skeptics and non-skeptics alike. Seventy-five percent agree that the tomb was empty and nearly all agree the original disciples truly believed they had seen Jesus alive. A vision would not have convinced the disciples of resurrection. He continues:
If we start with the cross approximately 30 AD and call that ground zero, 1 Corinthians 15 checks in at about
55 AD whatever the writer, conservative or not conservative, we have 25 years… his earlier preaching may
have taken place 51 AD about 21 years after the cross. Almost all contemporary scholarship believes Paul
received this material when he went to Jerusalem about 5 years after the cross. Some put it as early as 3
and as late as 8, but he was converted about 2 years after the cross before he went away for 3 years.
Paul spent 15 days with Peter. It is safe to say they talked about more than just the weather.
According to NT Wright many Jews believed in bodily resurrection as the ultimate destiny of all God’s people. They clearly meant bodily resurrection, as seen from Maccabees 7. Yet, as devout Jews, they didn’t reach for that category in their grief after the death of Jesus. The early Christian view of resurrection is utterly Jewish, but significantly different from anything we find in pre-Christian Judaism. Resurrection was something that was supposed to happen to everyone at the end of time, but not to a person in the middle of history. Nobody expected the Messiah to be raised from the dead because nobody expected the Messiah to be killed in the first place.
There were plenty of messianic or would-be messianic movements in the century before and after Jesus. When they ended with the violent death of the founder, the followers either gave up the movement, or found a new leader. To say that the leader had been raised from the dead was not an option. Wright wrote that we can only understand early Christianity as a movement that emerges from within first-century Judaism. Because it is so unlike anything else we know in first-century Judaism (and anything in the pagan world) that we are forced to conclude that they were caused by the actual bodily resurrection, into a transformed physicality, of Jesus himself. Put that in place, and everything is explained.
Wright finds it totally incredible to suppose that the gospel accounts of the resurrection, especially those in Luke and John, represent a late development in the tradition If the early Christian church wanted to communicate that Jesus was special, despite his shameful death on the cross, they would have made up a story using the existing Jewish concept of exaltation. Applying the concept of bodily resurrection to a dead Messiah would be a radical departure from Jewish theology, when an invented exaltation was already available to do the job.
Wright refutes the idea that texts were “written up” by second- or third-generation scribes or theologians intent on mythologizing the event because of by piety or politics. He points out that the texts show the eyewitnesses were confused and presented inconsistent accounts. This is common among those who have seen something not easily comprehensible. Because the texts include facts that put the disciples in a bad light, they don’t resemble propaganda.