2 – The Resurrection of Jesus
Five Historical Principles
(The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, pp. 37-40)
A. Guidelines used by historians in assessing historical testimony
1) Multiple, Independent Sources – Event is attested to by >1 independent source
2) Enemy Attestation – Source doesn’t sympathize with message/cause that profits from event
3) Embarrassing admissions – Source not expected to create a story that weakens its position
4) Eyewitness testimony – Primary accounts are usually stronger than secondhand accounts
5) Early testimony – The less time between event & testimony, the more reliable the witness
B. Minimal Facts approach (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, pp. 43-44)
Find historical evidence with high certainty - Consider only data that are strongly evidenced
– Data that are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject (even skeptical ones)
1) Jesus was crucified and buried.
2) The early Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them.
3) Paul suddenly changed from being a persecutor of the Church to a preacher of Christianity.
4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty. (Virtually all scholars accept first 3, 75% accept the fourth)
- The resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation that fits the above facts.
- If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what natural explanation accounts for the above facts?
Fact #1 - Jesus’ Death by Crucifixion
1) Multiple and early attestation
- All four Gospels report the death of Jesus by Crucifixion.
- Many letters of the New Testament report it. Paul reports Jesus' death in 1 Corinthians and
Galatians no later than 55 A.D and notes in 1 Cor 15:1-11 that he preached it earlier to
Corinth in 51 A.D.
- Present in several extrabiblical sources: (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p. 48)
Josephus – “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among
us, had condemned him to be crucified…”
(Antiquities 18.64, Josephus in Ten Volumes, vol. 9, Jewish Antiquities, Loeb Classical Library, 1981)
Tacitus – “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.” (Annals 15.44, ~115 AD)
Lucian of Samosata – “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the
distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that
account.” (The Death of Peregrine, 11-13, mid 2nd cen.)
Mara Bar-Serapion – “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?”
(Syriac Manuscript, Additional 14,658 (c. late 1st-3rd century, trans. from A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and
A.C. Coxe, eds. and trans., 11-13, mid 2nd cen., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1997)
The Talmud – “on the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.”
(Sanhedrin 43a, late 2nd cen., The Babylonian Talmud, I. Epstein, ed. and trans.)
Yeshu = Joshua in Hebrew, Iesous in Greek, or Jesus. Hanging on a tree = Crucifixion.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us -- for it
is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’” (Gal 3:13, cf. Luke 23:39)
2) Chances of surviving crucifixion were very remote
- Only 1 account of a person surviving crucifixion after receiving Rome’s best medical care.
- Jesus was also scourged beforehand, making his chances of survival even worse.
- There is no evidence that Jesus did survive.
3) Survival wouldn’t explain belief in Jesus’ resurrection
- Even if he did survive, as 19th c. liberal scholar David Strauss noted, Jesus couldn’t have
convinced his disciples that he had been resurrected:
“Imagine Jesus, half-dead in the tomb. He wakes up in the dark and wants to get out. So he takes his hands
which have been pierced by nails, places them on an extremely heavy stone, and pushes it out of the way.
Then he’s met by the guards who say, ‘Where do you think you’re going, pal?’ He says, ‘I’m out of here,
guys.’ And then he beats them up! Then he walks perhaps miles on pierced and wounded feet in order to find
his disciples. Finally, he finds where they’re at. <Knock, knock, knock.> Peter opens the door and sees Jesus
hunched over in this pathetic and mutilated state and says, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to have a resurrection body like
yours!’ No, he would have said, ‘Let’s get you a doctor. You need help!’” (Mike Licona vs. Richard Carrier,
Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?, Veritas Forum, UCLA, 2004)
Even the highly critical co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan wrote, “That Jesus
was crucified is as sure as anything historical could ever be.”
Fact #2 – Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them
1) Early Creeds that pre-date the Gospels
The Apostles wrote letters to the churches as early as 51 AD. These letters clearly teach us who
Jesus is and the essentials of the Christian faith. Paul quotes from creeds which existed long
before he wrote the letters.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he
was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to
Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one
time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to
James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
This is clearly a creed that was used by the early Christians and was taught to St.
Paul sometime after his conversion (~31-33 AD).
He delivered it to the Corinthians when he visited Corinth (~51 AD).
The use of “Kephas” and 4x use of “that” (Gk. hoti) indicates this creed was likely
first composed in Aramaic the spoken language of the Jewish Christians. This
pushes for an earlier dating.
Many scholars believe Paul received this creed when he visited Peter and James in
Jerusalem (Gal 1:18-19), around 35 AD.
(Gary R. Habermas & Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, pp. 259-260)
Phillipians 2:6-11 “As early as twenty or so years after Jesus’ death, the great Christ-hymn
of the Letter to the Phillipians (cf. Phil 2:6-11) offers a fully developed Christology stating
that Jesus was equal to God, but emptied himself, became man, and humbled himself to die
on the Cross, and that to him now belongs the worship of all creation, the adoration that
God, through the Prophet Isaiah said was due to him alone (cf. Is 45:23).” (Pope Benedict XVI,
Jesus of Nazareth, 2007, p. xxii)
2) Four Gospels & Acts
- Mark 16:5-7, Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20, Acts 1. Even if Mark 16 is viewed as a latter
addition, Mark predicts Jesus resurrection 5x (8:31, 9:9,31; 10:32-34; 14:28)
3) Seven early sources testify to the disciples willingness to suffer and die for this belief.
- Luke, Ignatius of Antioch, Clemet of Rome, Polycarp, Dionysius, Tertullian, Origen.
- Not proof of Jesus’ resurrection in itself, since followers of other religions are willing to die
for what they believe. But voluntary suffering & acceptance of death shows sincerity of belief
– that they weren’t liars making up a story themselves.
- "We have reports that Jesus had been raised from the dead from at least one eyewitness (Paul)
and probably more (the Jerusalem apostles preserved in the kerygma [core of the Gospel]).
These reports are very early and provide multiple independent testimonies, as well ass
testimony from one who had been hostile to the Christian message previous to his conversion
experience." (Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus – A New Historiographical Approach, pp. 277-8)
Fact #3 – Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christianity to a preacher
1) Paul arrested, beat, and had Christians executed.
- We read this directly from Paul himself in his letters compiled in the New Testament.
Luke confirms it in the Acts of the Apostles.
- Also an extra-biblical quote referring to Paul: “He who persecuted the Church now proclaims
the faith he once sought to destroy.” This is the type of evidence that historians drool over.
2) Seven sources testify to Paul’s willingness to suffer & die for this belief
- Paul, Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Dionysius, Tertullian, Origen.
“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
don’t know what they saw. But I do know that as an historian that they must have seen something.”
(Paula Fredriksen, Ph.D. Boston University)
Fact #4 – Jesus’ tomb was found empty
Empty Tomb: Mary of Magdala (John 20:1), Peter & John (John 20:3-10)
“When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth
that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” (John 20:5-6)
1) Jerusalem factor
Jesus was publicly executed and was buried in Jerusalem (John 19:39-41). It would have been
impossible for Christianity to have gotten off the ground if the body had still been in the tomb.
- If the Jewish authorities could have exposed the corpse of Jesus in order to discredit the
resurrection, they would have done so immediately.
2) Enemy attestation
- Justin Martyr and Tertullian report that members of the Jewish leadership were claiming that
the disciples of Jesus had stolen his body. (Matt 28:13)
“Jewish polemic shared with Christians the conviction that the sepulchre was empty, but gave
natural explanations for it. And such positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest
kind of evidence and becomes self-authenticating.” (Paul Maier, Ph.D. Distinguished Prof. of Ancient
History, Western Michigan University)
Natural Explanations for Christ’s Resurrection
I. Conspiracy Theory
Origins: The earliest attempt to explain away the miracle.
“Then [the chief priests] gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, "You are to say, 'His
disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.' And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we
will satisfy (him) and keep you out of trouble." The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.
And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present (day).” (Matt 28:13-15)
Argument: Disciples stole the body and formed a conspiracy to spread Jesus’ teachings
and deceive followers into thinking that he is alive.
(1) These simple, ordinary Galilean Jews develop such a deceptive, sophisticated hoax
Why would they? What would the disciples gain from their conspiracy? Imagine one of them gathering
the others together and saying, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s make up a story about Jesus being
risen from the dead. It’s sure to get us expelled from our kinsmen! We’ll lose our wealth, our families,
our land. Most of us will be subject to torture and martyrdom! So who’s with me?” The answer is NO
ONE. People are not willing to die for a lie.
(2) A large group of people agree to lie and none of them ever break, even under torture…
“No one, weak or strong, saint or sinner, Christian or heretic, ever confessed, freely or under pressure,
bribe or even torture, that the whole story of the resurrection was a fake, a lie, a deliberate deception.
Even when people broke under torture, denied Christ and worshiped Caesar, they never let that cat out
of the bag, never revealed that the resurrection was their conspiracy. For that cat was never in that bag.”
(Kreeft & Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 185)
- Voluntary suffering & acceptance of death shows sincerity. Taken alone, this does not show that the
Apostles were correct in their belief in the Resurrection (they could be sincerely wrong!) but it does
show they were sincere.
(3) Theory is contrary to all the evidence of the Gospels, considered reliable documents.
The Gospels were written soon after the events they described, in the same place the events occurred,
read by people who were eyewitnesses themselves. If a hoax, then the conspiracy theory would have
been the main theory.
(4) Doesn’t match the psychological state of the disciples after the crucifixion
“The disciples were fearful cowards at the brink of despair, filled with unbelief. What transformed them
into fearless preachers and aspiring martyrs who can’t wait to suffer and die for the lie they conspired to
tell together?” (Scott Hahn, The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ, tape 1)
II. Apparent Death / Swoon Theory
Origins: Found in 18th & 19th century, and used today by Muslim apologists.
Argument: Jesus didn’t die. Instead he was placed in an unconscious state, by Joseph of Arimathea.
The cool air and the darkness and the rest revived him.
1) Ignores the severity of Jesus injuries:
- Scourged at the pillar - designed to rip flesh off and expose bone, could easily be fatal
- Repeatedly beaten by soldiers, kept up all night, 4 trials.
- Crowning with thorns with thorns up to 2 inches in length.
- Spear thrust into his side, wound which flowed with blood and water, a sure sign of death:
lungs fill up with blood and water.
- Wrapped in burial cloths (70-75 pounds of linen) in addition to the spices.
2) All the problems of the Conspiracy theory above, as they had to hide him for months
III. The Wrong Tomb Theory
Origins: The most famous statement of this theory, British scholars Kirsop & Lake in 1907.
Theory: Women & disciples went to wrong tomb. Found it empty, conclude he rose from the dead.
(1) The women take note precisely where the location of Jesus’ tomb was to be found (Luke 23:55, Matt
27:61, Mark 15:47) in order to return to visit the grave.
(2) The women tell the disciples, who amazingly run to the same wrong tomb, and draw the same false
(3) The Sanhedrin and all of the Jews as well went to the wrong tomb, because if they went to the right one,
they could have produced the body. If the Jewish authorities could have exposed the corpse of Jesus in
order to discredit the resurrection, they would have done so immediately.
(4) Roman centurions went to the wrong tomb as well!
IV. Hallucination Theory
Origins: Psychology. State of mind caused by grief conjures up images of their deceased loved one.
Theory: Disciples were hysterical and collectively hallucinated and saw the Resurrected Jesus.
Susceptible to a sustained, collective state of hallucination that is otherwise unprecedented.
Problems: Psychologists admit this possibility, but…
(1) Numerous appearances - Persons can hallucinate, but not together in a group, generally
(2) People don’t sustain a hallucination over a period of weeks.
(3) Not dealing with hysterical people, but ordinary humdrum Galilean fishermen, Mary Magdalen
weeping, women were afraid & astonished, Peter full of remorse, Thomas incredulous, disciples were
discouraged and distracted by the events. None of them likely to have this hallucination.
(4) If they were hallucinating, how would they get the Jewish unbelievers to participate in this
hallucination? Why wouldn’t they just produce the body and end it?
We have covered the logical possibilities:
He didn’t die Swoon theory
He didn’t rise Apostles knew it Conspiracy theory
Apostles didn’t know it Hallucination/Wrong tomb
He rose again Christianity