Well, I know you won't read all of this, but I'll post it anyone, if for any other reason than you might try to say no one came "come up with any responses."
“If Jesus remained dead, how can you explain the reality of the Christian church and its phenomenal growth in the first three centuries of the Christian Era? Christ’s church covered the Western world by the fourth century. A religious movement built on a lie could not have accomplished that…All the power in Rome and of the religious establishment in Jerusalem was geared to stop the Christian faith. All they had to do was to dig up the grave and to present the corpse. They didn’t.” - Henry Schaefer III, Ph.D. (1944- ), Professor of Chemistry and Director at the University of Georgia
“I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.” - Thomas Arnold (1795-1842) Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University
“The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” - Anthony Flew, Ph.D. (1923-2007) British Philosopher, atheist and author
"I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus of Nazareth (3-35) Jewish peasant and prophet
Notes, Disclaimers & Things to Remember
- It’s not about proof but about what the reasonable, logical and likely conclusion is.
- When the phrase “most scholars” is used, this is accurate and not an assumption. Dr. Habermas conducted a study of every scholarly work on the resurrection, published since 1975, in French, English and German, creating a table of each scholar, their work, and their position, resulting in a 500-page document.
- Given that most people reject the Bible, it will not be used in any other manner, than simply being a work of ancient literature. On top of that, we will only use those portions that are so strongly evidenced historically, that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, skeptic or otherwise. So if (and when) you come across a biblical reference for something, and your gut says, “Hey, that’s from the Bible, it can’t be trusted,” keep in mind we are only using portions that hardly any scholar publishing works over the last 40 years would reject.
- Historical data, such as archaeological finds, documents, and eyewitness reports, are all we have to tell us of events that occurred and people who lived in antiquity. When sifting through all of this, certain principles (seen below) are applied by historians to determine if something is historically reliable:
• Multiple, independent sources support historical claims.
o When an event or saying is attested by more than one independent source, there is a strong indication of its historicity.
• Attestation by an enemy supports historical claims.
o If testimony affirming an event or saying is given by a source who does not sympathize with the person, message, or cause that profits from the account, we have an indication of authenticity.
• Embarrassing admissions support historical claims.
o An indicator that an event or saying is authentic occurs when the source would not be expected to create the story, because it embarrasses their cause and weakens their position in arguments with opponents.
• Eyewitness testimony supports historical claims.
o Eyewitness testimony is usually stronger than a secondhand account.
• Early testimony supports historical claims.
o The closer the time between the event and testimony about it, the more reliable the witness, since there is less time for exaggeration, and even legend, to creep into the account.
Basically, since we don’t have a certified video record of what occurred in antiquity, these principles are commonsense guidelines for evaluating the written record of something that is alleged to have happened. It is all we have to go on…
- The approach taken can be described as a “minimal facts” approach. Meaning, we consider only those data that are so strongly attested historically, that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones. The facts presented, in this case, must meet two criteria: (1)They are well evidenced (multiple independent sources) and (2)nearly every scholar (remember Habermas’ laborious study) accepts them.
In reality, no fact or theory finds total agreement or disagreement. Skeptical scholars are notorious for disagreeing with one another. Extreme, radical positions can always be found. If we look hard enough, we will find people who deny that even we exist. Thus, the “minimal facts” approach includes what nearly all scholars hold as authentic. Seldom can we speak about what all agree upon, for seldom do they all agree….
So, what are the facts?
Fact One: Jesus died by crucifixion.
That Jesus was executed by crucifixion is recorded in all four gospels. However, a number of non-Christian sources of the period report the event as well.
• Josephus writes, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified…”
• Tacitus reports, “Nero fastened the guilt (of the burning of Rome) and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.”
• Lucian of Samosata, the Greek satirist, writes, “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.”
• Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to his son from prison, comments, “Or what advantage came to the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?”
• The Talmud reports that, “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.”
The highly critical scholar of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan, writes, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”
Fact Two: Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
There is a virtual consensus among scholars who study Jesus’ resurrection that, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his disciples really believed that he appeared to them raised from the dead. This conclusion has been reached by considering data that suggest 1) the disciples themselves claimed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them, and 2) subsequent to Jesus’ death, his disciples were radically transformed from fearful, cowering individuals who denied and abandoned him at his arrest and execution to bold proclaimers of his resurrection. We’ll take a look at a number of ancient sources that lead to this conclusion.
They claimed it. Paul provides very strong evidence for establishing the resurrection claims of the original disciples (remember, he wasn’t one). He reported that he knew at least some of the other disciples, even the “big three” of Peter, James and John. The Book of Acts reports that the disciples and Paul knew and fellowshipped together. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:11 that whether “it was I or they, this is what we preach,” talking about the resurrection. Paul knew them personally and says they claimed Jesus rose from the dead. Yes, this is from the Bible, but remember in our minimal facts approach, we’re treating the NT as any other book, and beyond that, are only entertaining the data that is well evidenced and accepted. Virtually no one doubts the authenticity of Pauline authorship here. Plus, Paul is a source independent of the original disciples.
Aside from Paul’s writings, we have oral tradition. Remember, the ancients did not have our tools for recording and passing along information, like tape recorders, video cameras, etc., and the individual copies that could be made by hand couldn’t reach very many people, never mind the fact that most of them couldn’t read them if they did. They relied heavily on oral tradition. And a key point about oral tradition is that it had to exist prior to the NT writings in order for the authors to include them. So this takes us back to some of the earliest teachings of the Christian church.
An example of this is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (A.D. 55). He said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” How do we know this was an oral creed of the early church?
• “Delivered” and “received” communicates that Paul is giving them a tradition he himself was given.
• It contains indicators of an Aramaic original:
o Fourfold use of the Greek term hoti is common in creeds
o “Cephas,” is Aramaic for Peter (he obviously knew his real name)
o The content of the text contains parallelisms
o The text contains non-Pauline terms (he used words he doesn’t use anywhere else)
Many critical scholars believe that Paul actually received this creed from the disciples themselves (Peter and James) when he visited them in Jerusalem, because he uses the word historesai in Galatians 1:18-19 (his account of their time together), which means, “to get an historical account.”
So we have Paul, oral tradition, and now, the writings of the early church/Church Fathers. Despite their apparent bias, the Gospels cannot be ignored either. It is well accepted that all four gospels were written during the first century, which means we have accounts written within 70 years of Jesus at the very latest, containing reports that the disciples believed they saw him raised from the dead. On top of the Gospels, we have the writings of the apostolic fathers, who are the church leaders directly succeeding the Apostles. Several apostolic fathers taught that the Apostles were dramatically impacted by Jesus’ resurrection.
• Clement, bishop of Rome (c. 30-100, likely the same Clement Paul refers to in Philippians 4:3) in a letter to Corinth (which is quoted by Irenaeus) says that he “had seen the blessed Apostles, and had been conversant with them, and might be said to have the preaching of the Apostles still echoing, and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone, for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the Apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brothers at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians.” Tertullian goes on to say, “For this manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church in Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the Church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter.” If Irenaeus and Tertullian are correct, Clement had seen the Apostles and had fellowshipped with them, particularly Peter. I mention all of that, because it lends great historical value to Clement’s writings concerning the Apostles and their teachings. He actually knew them. So what does he say they taught? “Therefore, having received orders and complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and believing in the Word of God, they went with the Holy Spirit’s certainty, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God is about to come.”
• Polycarp, is in the same situation, having been appointed a successor by John, writing that the Apostles, “did not love this present age, but him who died for our benefit and for our sake was raised by God.”
Combining this with Paul and the oral tradition, we have 9 sources, in 3 different categories pointing to multiple, very early, eyewitness testimonies to the disciple’s claims of witnessing the risen Jesus.
You might ask yourself why this is so important. It’s important because we have to establish that the resurrection of Jesus was really what the disciples taught, and more importantly, what they really believed. They didn’t make it up, they didn’t lie about it. They were in actuality completely transformed by their experience. I’m not saying here that this is proof Jesus was really raised, but that the disciples genuinely believed he was. This is the foundation for the rest of the argument.
As University of Chicago New Testament scholar Norman Perrin (who denies the resurrection) states, “The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based.” Jesus died by crucifixion, and the disciples claimed they had seen him raised from the dead.
They believed it. After Jesus’ death, the lives of the disciples were transformed to the point that they endured persecution and even martyrdom. Such strength of conviction indicates that they were not just claiming that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them in order to receive some personal benefit. They really believed it. Compare this courage to their character at Jesus’ arrest and execution. They denied and abandoned him, and they hid in fear. Afterward, they willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ. These facts are validated by multiple accounts, both from early sources in the NT as well as outside sources.
• Clement of Rome reports the sufferings (and what appears to be the martyrdoms) of Peter and Paul:
o “Because of envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set the good Apostles before our eyes. Peter, who because of unrighteous envy endured, not one or two, but many afflictions, and having borne witness went to the due glorious place. Because of envy rivalries, steadfast Paul pointed to the prize. Seven times chained, exiled, stoned, having become a preacher both in the East and in the West, he received honor fitting of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, unto the boundary on which the sun sets; having testified in the presence of the leaders. Thus he was freed from the world and went to the holy place. He became a great example of steadfastness…They are in the place due them with the Lord, in association with him also they suffered together, for they did not love this present age…”
• Tertullian also reports the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul:
o “That Paul is beheaded has been written in their own blood. And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Caesars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith. Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the cross. Then does Paul obtain a birth suited to Roman citizenship, when in Rome he springs to life again ennobled by martyrdom.”
This quote in particular is interesting in that Tertullian is saying if one did not want to believe the Christian records concerning the martyrdoms of some of the Apostles, he could find the information in the public records, namely “the lives of the Caesars.”
• Origen, a church father, in his work Contra Celsum relates how the disciple’s devotion to the teachings of Jesus “was attended with danger to human life…[and that they] themselves were the first to manifest their disregard for its [death’s] terrors.”
• Eusebius is called the “first church historian.” In his Ecclesiastical History he quotes the works of Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen for the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. And he sites Josephus, Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria in regards to the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus.
All of these sources, biblical and non-biblical alike, affirm the disciple’s willingness to suffer and die for their faith. Obviously, the conviction of the disciple’s that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them does not mean they were right. But this misses the point. The disciple’s willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs indicates that they certainly regarded those beliefs as true. The case is strong that they did not willfully lie about the appearances of the raised Jesus. Liars make poor martyrs.
At this point you could argue that many people die for their beliefs, such as a Muslim terrorist blowing himself up in public or the Buddhist monk who burns himself alive in a political protest. Extreme acts do not validate the truth of their beliefs, but willingness to die indicates that they regard their beliefs as true. But there is an important difference between people like this and the Apostles. Modern martyrs act solely out of their trust in beliefs that others have taught them. The Apostles on the other hand, died for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus. Contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true. The Apostles died for what they knew to be true, from their own experience (whether true or false).
What do contemporary scholars have to say about the disciple’s beliefs?
• Highly critical NT scholar Rudolf Bultmann agreed that historical criticism can establish “the fact that the first disciples came to believe in the resurrection” and that they thought they had seen the risen Jesus.
• Atheistic NT scholar Gerd Ludemann concludes, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
• Paula Fredriksen of Boston University comments, “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 attest 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 that as a historian that they must have seen something.”
Going back to that massive undertaking of Dr. Habermas I mentioned early, he says:
“I recently completed an overview of more than 1,400 sources on the resurrection of Jesus published since 1975. I studied and catalogued about 650 of these texts in English, German and French. Some of the results of this study were certainly intriguing. For example, perhaps no fact is more widely recognized than that the early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus. A critic may claim that what they saw were hallucinations or visions, but he does not deny that they actually experienced something.”
Since the original disciples were making the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, his resurrection was not the result of myth making. His life story was not embellished over time if the facts can be traced to the original witnesses, which we have seen is historically believed to be the case.
Moving on, are there any data that will lead us to believe that the disciple’s claims to have seen the risen Jesus were actually true?
Fact Three: The church persecutor Saul of Tarsus was suddenly changed.
Saul of Tarsus (now known as Paul), changed from being a skeptic who believed that it was God’s will to persecute and stomp out the church to becoming one of its most influential messengers. His notorious pre-Christian activities and conversion are attested to by multiple sources. We have Paul’s own testimony, Luke’s record in the Book of Acts, and a story that was circulating among Christians in Galatia.
What caused Paul to change so drastically?
Both Paul himself, and Luke the Physician, report that it was because he believed firmly that he had experienced an encounter with the risen Jesus. Paul’s conversion is so interesting because he was an enemy of the church when he claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. Which, if you’ll recall, is a red flag of historical authenticity because friend and foe are now testifying to the resurrection.
Paul’s experience is affirmed in the works of Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth and Origen, as well.
You could ask yourself, “What’s the big deal? People convert all the time?” The difference here is of primary versus secondary sources. Paul believed because he experienced it for himself, rather than relying on the testimony of someone else.
Fact Four: The skeptic James, the brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.
James, if you’ll recall, was one of at least four brothers of Jesus mentioned in the gospels. We know James was a pious Jew as Paul states in Galatians that legalistic men were claiming affiliation with James in order to keep the Jewish Law. Hegesippus reported that:
“James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the Apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the public bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, ‘bulwark of the people’ and ‘justice,’ in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.”
We don’t have the same wealth of historical information about the life of James (like we do for Paul) but we do have enough information to conclude that after the alleged event of Jesus’ resurrection, James, the brother of Jesus, became a convert to Christianity because he believed the risen Jesus appeared to him. This conclusion is arrived at because:
• The gospels report that Jesus’ brothers, including James, were unbelievers during his ministry.
• The ancient creedal material quoted in 1 Corinthians (which we discussed earlier) lists an appearance of the risen Jesus to James, (“then He appeared to James…”).
• Subsequent to the alleged event of Jesus’ resurrection, James is identified as a leader of the Jerusalem church.
• Not only did James convert, he died as a martyr, as is mentioned by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria.
With James, we have another example of a skeptic converting to Christianity based on what he perceived to be a personal appearance by the risen Jesus. As with Paul, we have to ask ourselves: What happened to James to cause such a conviction?
Fact Five: The tomb was empty.
The empty tomb is the one “fact” of ours that does not meet the “minimal facts” approach, because it is not accepted by nearly all scholars, but there is still fairly strong evidence for it. According to Habermas’ survey, roughly 75% hold this to be true.
Jesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem. His post-mortem appearances and empty tomb were first proclaimed publicly there. It would have been virtually impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had still been in the tomb. His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would only have had to exhume the corpse and publicly display it for the hoax to be shattered. Not only are Jewish, Roman, and all other writings absent of such an account, but there is a total silence from Christianity’s critics who would have jumped at evidence of this sort.
The empty tomb is attested not only by Christian sources. Jesus’ enemies admitted it as well, albeit indirectly. Rather than point to an occupied tomb, early critics accused the disciples of stealing the body (Matt. 28:12-13; Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30).
We also have the testimony of women. Given the low first-century view of women that was frequently shared by Jew and Gentile, it seems highly unlikely that the Gospel authors would either invent or adjust such testimonies. That would mean placing words in the mouths of those who would not be believed by many, making them the primary witnesses to the empty tomb. The empty tomb appears to be historically credible in light of the principle of embarrassment.
The empty tomb is, therefore, reasonably well evidenced for historical certainty. Former Oxford University historian William Wand writes, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of the empty tomb, and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”
We have presented evidence for Jesus’ resurrection using a “minimal facts” approach, which considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that even the majority of non-believing scholars accept them as facts. We have not appealed to, or even suggested, the inspiration or inerrancy of the Bible in order to support the case.
Using the “minimal facts” approach, we considered four facts that meet these stringent criteria and one additional fact (empty tomb) that enjoys acceptance by an impressive amount of scholars, though not nearly all of them.
What we covered:
Shortly after Jesus’ death, his disciples believed that they saw him risen from the dead. They claimed that he had appeared to individuals among them, as well as to several groups. Two of those who once viewed Jesus as a false prophet, later believed that he appeared to them risen (Paul, the church persecutor, and James, the skeptic and Jesus’ brother). Both became Christians as a result. Therefore, not only do we have the testimony of friends; we also have enemy attestation. And finally, the empty tomb.
Any opposing theory to Jesus’ resurrection is going to have to account for all of these facts as well as others. For example, some might speculate that the disciples experienced grief hallucinations, or that they lied, or that they stole the body, or that the whole story is simply a legend developed over time, etc. But these 5 facts that we have covered accomplish two things: (1) they provide compelling evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and (2) they stand as data that must be accounted for by any opposing theory.
Since the first reports of Jesus’ resurrection, critics have formulated opposing theories to account for the known data. These are commonly referred to as naturalistic explanations, because they appeal to a natural cause for the event rather than a supernatural one. Interestingly, liberal scholars of the 19th century both rejected Jesus’ resurrection and provided refutations of most of these naturalistic theories. Neo-orthodox scholar Karl Barth was perhaps the most influential theologian of the twentieth century. Barth pointed out how each opposing theory to Jesus’ resurrection suffers from many inconsistencies and concluded, “Today we rightly turn our nose at this.” Raymond Brown, a moderate New Testament scholar echoed Barth, writing that 20th century critical scholars had rejected existing theories that oppose the Resurrection. He added that contemporary thinkers both ignore these theories and even treat them as unrespectable.
Today the prevalent view among sophisticated critics is that the disciples seem to have experienced something, but what it was may not be known, and the general bias is against resurrections. As Charles Hartshorne articulated in his comments pertaining to a public debate between Habermas and prominent atheist philosopher Antony Flew, “I can neither explain away the evidences to which Habermas appeals, nor can I simply agree with Flew’s or Hume’s positions…My metaphysical bias is against resurrections.”
It is fair to raise questions regarding an opposing theory to Jesus’ resurrection. Aside from the faith factor, when it comes to reports of miracles, the historian must seek a natural explanation before considering a supernatural one. It’s the responsible thing to do. Even Christians do this continually in examining reports of miracles in other religions. Our own faith is not exempt from similar investigation. When no plausible natural explanation is available—as appears to be the case with Jesus’ resurrection—and a historical context with obvious religious implications exists where a resurrection is at home—for example, if Jesus performed miracles and claimed divinity—there are then no reasons why a supernatural cause cannot be considered.
At times, the skeptic demands that an explanation be so strong that no questions can be raised against it. If historians took this approach, I think you’d agree, we could know very little about history.
Opposing theories to date simply cannot account for this collection of historically granted facts, thereby leaving Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation.