The Public Proofs for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – part 1 of 2

Risen movie sealed tomb screen shot

Risen movie sealed tomb screen shot

Secular skeptics have this idea that biblical revelation comes from some guy hearing voices in his head, to the extent that it is not purposely made up to appear to be revelation.  Revelation is purely subjective in their view, completely separate from science, the realm of objective, provable facts.  In another essay, I have addressed how the truth of Christian theism is actually necessary for the possibility of science.[1]  Putting religion completely in the realm of the subjective is an error for the additional reason that Christianity makes numerous historical claims.  Michael Patton points out that Christianity is unique among the world’s religions in its falsifiability:

They [religions of the world] are all, with the exception of Christianity, based on private encounters which cannot be falsified or subjective ideas which are beyond inquiry. The amazing thing about Christianity is that there is so much historic data to be tested. Christianity is, by far, the most falsifiable worldview there is. Yet, despite this, Christianity flourished in the first century among the very people who could test its claims. And even today, it calls on us to “come and see” if the claims are true.[2]

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, admitted that he performed no miracles.[3]  His revelations were purely private encounters.   Mormonism has some testable historical claims, but they turn out to be false.[4]  Joseph Smith performed no public miracles.  Buddhism and Hinduism have no historical claims to test.

There are philosophical provisos to the testability of Christianity.  First, all facts are interpreted facts.  Facts do not “speak for themselves,” as postmodernists have had to admit in rejecting modernism.  Second, modern scholarship is committed to the anti-Christian philosophical approach to facts that science must exclude the supernatural.  The Christian must accept what modern scholarship generally rejects, which is that God can speak infallibly about historical events, and He knows more than any scientist ever could.  This Christian assumption is necessarily true for the possibility of science, as I argue in the essay mentioned above.  And, third, even apart from the atheist biases, there is a danger making absolute pronouncements about events thousands of years ago when there is so much evidence that has been destroyed by the passage of time that could put what we have discovered in a different light.

Nevertheless, the Bible makes many historical claims that are easily falsifiable.  Some historical claims could only have been examined by those living near the time that they happened, and others involve evidence that can be investigated in our own day.  The Bible, in fact, dictates empirical tests for the validity of revelation.  For example, there is the test of a prophetic prediction being fulfilled:

“And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

Another test is the performance of miracles.  Moses was concerned that no one would believe that God had sent him:  “Then Moses answered, ‘But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, “The Lord did not appear to you”’” (Exodus 4:1).  Did God rebuke Moses for asking Him to provide empirical proof to the skeptical audience Moses would face rather than leaving it to blind faith?  No.  God gave Moses three miraculous signs to perform, just in case one or two signs were not enough:  1) a staff that would turn into a snake and then back into a staff; 2) putting his hand in his coat and pulling it out as leprous, and then reversing it; and, 3) pouring water from the Nile onto dry ground where it would turn into blood (Exodus 4:2-9).  On top of that, God sent nine more devastating plagues on Egypt (with the Nile turning to blood being the first of ten).  These weren’t miracles that could be attributed to positive thinking, like people walking with crutches leaving their crutches behind.  Neither could such spectacular miracles be credibly dismissed as staged tricks.  An atheist could always hold onto their faith that a miracle will someday be explainable by the laws of nature, yet even an atheist would have a hard time denying miracles like the plagues of Egypt.

As with Moses, when Gideon asked for validation that the message he heard was from God, God complied (Judges 6:36-40).  Gideon laid a fleece on the ground and asked God for dew to appear on the fleece in the morning, but for the ground to be dry.  It happened just as Gideon had asked.  Then Gideon asked for a second test to be sure, that the dew would be on the ground and the fleece would be dry.  That happened too.

Elijah provided proof that the God of Israel was the true God by proposing a test to the prophets of Baal, for the true God to send fire from heaven to burn a sacrifice of an ox cut up on a pile of wood (1 Kings 18:20-40).  For nearly a day, the prophets of Baal jumped around and cut themselves according to their rituals and asked their god to answer, but they couldn’t get their god to send fire to burn the sacrifice – or give any other answer.  Elijah then poured four barrels of water over the ox and the wood until the trench around it overflowed with water.  God immediately answered Elijah’s petition, and fire came down from heaven and consumed the ox, the wood, and the water in the trench.  No reasonable room for skepticism was left about who the true God was and who was a true prophet of that God.

When Jesus was asked by the disciples of John the Baptist whether He was the Messiah they had been looking for, or if they should look for someone else,  Jesus responded by performing several miracles in front of them and then telling them to go tell John what they had seen ( Luke 7:18-22).  Of course, His resurrection from the dead was His greatest miracle, and He followed that with “many convincing proofs” that He had come back to life over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3).   He showed Himself in a variety of settings to a diverse group of over people, including over 500 people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  Paul expected Agrippa, King of Judea, to be familiar with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for, he told the king, “this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).

When Thomas refused to believe until he could touch Jesus’s puncture wounds, Jesus obliged Thomas’ request.  Jesus then says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  Does this mean that Jesus rejected providing evidence for a claim?  No, I just pointed out several other instances in which He provides evidence.  Jesus could make that statement because Thomas had already been given sufficient evidence without actually touching Jesus’ wounds.  Also, as I’ll explain in part 2, there is other evidence of His claims that Jesus provided to those who would live later in history, evidence even more publicly available than the resurrection and that indirectly supports the resurrection.

A:  The Evidence for the Resurrection

The attempts to deny the historicity of Christ’s resurrection fall short:[5]

  1. Explaining the Empty Tomb.

If Jesus had not really been resurrected, the enemies of Christianity almost certainly would have been able to find the body and display it.  The location of the tomb was well-known, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  Mary Magdalene, another Mary, and Nicodemus visited it (Matt. 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42), and the Roman soldiers were dispatched to it by the chief priests, Pharisees, and Pilate to guard it, without any issue being raised about its location (Matt. 27:62-66).   It would be been nearly impossible for someone to steal the body because a) it was guarded by Roman soldiers who would abandon their post only on penalty of death (cf. Acts 12:19, 16:25-30), and b) the Roman soldiers “sealed” the large stone that was over the tomb (Matt. 27:66).  The seal was a warning that anyone breaking the seal would suffer a painful death by the power of the Roman Empire.  And yet, the best that the Jewish leaders could do to undermine the report of the resurrection was to claim that the body had been stolen (Matt. 28:11-15), even though they themselves had put strong security measures in place to prevent that very thing.  Their claim that the body was stolen also inadvertently testifies to two things:  1) The empty tomb and, 2) that there had been a dead body in their to begin with that needed to be guarded.  If they could have produced the body rather than claiming it had been stolen while under Roman guard, they would have had a much stronger argument that Jesus had not been resurrected.

Some liberal scholars have claimed that it is unlikely that Jesus was buried because Rome usually left the corpses to rot and be scavenged by vultures on the cross and later be eaten by dogs.[6]  While that happened, especially for those convicted of high treason, Roman law recommended that “The bodies of those who are condemned to death should not be refused their relatives.”[7]  The first century Jewish historian Josephus records that the Romans tried to accommodate the religious customs of the Jews in Israel ,[8] specifically including the opportunity to bury the corpse of an executed person within a day as required by Deuteronomy 21:22-23.[9] Furthermore, convincing people that Jesus had been resurrected after having been eaten by dogs and vultures would have been a much harder sell than if His body had been laid in a tomb.

  1. Mass Hallucinations?

Some have claimed the possibility of a mass hallucination to account for the reports of Christ’s resurrection, but there is no proof that mass hallucinations occur, especially ones extended in time with different groups of people in different places.  He appeared to a crowd of 500 people at one time (1 Cor. 15:6).  During the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, He had time to present “many proofs” to many different people that He was alive from the dead (Acts 1:3).  Not all believed, but they saw Him anyway, like Thomas (John 20:24-29; cf. Matt. 28:17).  Individuals are known to have hallucinations of loved ones who have died, but there is no reason that Paul, when busy as an enemy of Christians, would have had a hallucination of the resurrected Christ.  Visions of the recently-dead were well-known in the ancient world, but such visions were taken as proof that the person was dead, not alive.  When Peter escaped from prison and knocked on the door where Christians had gathered to pray for him, those inside were could not believe that Peter was actually there and insisted that instead it must be Peter’s angel at the door (Acts 12:15).  A similar thing could have been said about appearances of Jesus if there had not been further physical proof that it was really Him, alive in the flesh.  The hallucination theory, or any other psychological theory to discount the resurrection, does not explain the absence of a body.

Jews of the first century would not have confused a claim that someone was resurrected from the dead with a claim of a vision.  While Jews had their beliefs about ghosts and visions, they also had strong belief in the possibility of physical resurrection from such Old Testament passages as Ezekiel 37 and Isaiah 26:19. Belief in a physical resurrection based on the Old Testament is seen in the testimony of the Jewish martyrs during the Maccabean revolt (2 Macc. 7:10-11); and the Pharisees were strong believers in a physical resurrection (Acts 23:6-9).  Some of the Pharisees joined the Christian movement (Acts 15:5).  Therefore, when the Jews who followed Jesus proclaimed His resurrection, the meaning of their claim was very clear to their audience; and they would have distinguished between that claim and a non-physical vision.

A comparison of the claims of recent visions of Mary and the resurrection of Christ shows that they are very different claims.[10]  In the Marian visions of Medjugorje eight children claimed to have a vision of Mary and even touch her robe.  But others present when they had  the vision could see nothing.  The children’s vision happened to be described exactly like a picture of Mary that had been hanging in their church for years, including the colors of her clothing and her blue eyes.  There is little chance that the real Mary from the Middle East had blue eyes and wore the same clothes as the artist chose to depict her with over a thousand years later.  These children received fame and fortune with no negative consequences.  The apostles and many other witnesses maintained their belief in the resurrection of Jesus despite suffering severe persecution and martyrdom .  Unlike the children at Medjugorje, the witnesses to the resurrection knew Jesus before His death; so after the crucifixion they were in a position to know that it was Him who stood before them alive again.  Jesus was concerned to prove that He was not a ghost, even eating fish in their presence that the disciples gave Him (Luke 24:36-42).  As mentioned above, Jesus appeared to a large number of people in a variety of settings, and even those who had been skeptics became convinced that they had seen the risen Christ.

People having visions of Jesus while His body was still lying in the tomb would not have been sufficient to produce belief in the resurrection, at least not in a significant number of people or in a significant strength of conviction.  That would have simply been regarded as strange experiences.  And a missing body without appearances would not have been enough to produce significant belief in the resurrection either, especially for skeptics like Thomas, James, and Saul/Paul of Tarsus.  But an empty tomb plus appearances were sufficient proof for many to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, even strong skeptics, with the additional factor of belief in the teachings of the Old Testament (see 6 below) providing the context to properly understand what the resurrection meant.

  1. The Resurrection Myth Developed Years after Christ’s Death?
    1. Skeptics were convinced of the resurrection soon after Jesus’ death: Jesus’ brother James was a skeptic prior to the resurrection (Mark 3:21-35; John 7:5), but because of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to James (1 Corinthians 15:7), he became a believer and even a leader in the Jerusalem church soon after the resurrection.  Similarly, Paul was originally an enemy of the Christians (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:4-7), but is convinced of the resurrection by His own encounter with living Christ on the road to Damascus, plus by his research into the testimony of others who saw the resurrected Christ, including James (1 Cor. 15:3; 2:1-10).
    2. A large number of eyewitnesses to the resurrection of different types of people in different types of situations: Paul gives an account of Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 that lists various people and groups who witnessed the risen Christ, including a crowd of over 500 at one time.  Making claims that can potentially be refuted by so many people is a big risk if the story is false.
    3. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is a statement about Christ’s resurrection that reflects a belief originating within two to five years after Christ’s death: Nearly all historians, including the liberal ones, accept that this understanding of the resurrection, possibly a formal creed, dates to within five years of the death of Jesus, possibly as early as two years later.  Paul says that he “received” the belief about Christ’s post-resurrection appearances from others (1 Cor. 15:3), so it predates Paul’s conversion.  The other apostles are preaching the same doctrine as Paul (1 Cor. 15:12, 15).  That the creed is not Paul’s own creation is also supported by the fact that it contains several non-Pauline words.  Paul had visited the major apostles in Jerusalem twice (Gal. 2:1-10) to make sure that he understood the gospel, which is likely when he would have been taught this account of the resurrection.[11]
    4. The historical order is the church first believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, then came theories of a spiritual-only resurrection: Liberal scholars claim that belief in the resurrection of Jesus at first amounted to a metaphorical way to express feelings of forgiveness and comfort when people thought about Jesus, and then later grew into a legend of his bodily resurrection.   This view arose among liberal scholars at the same time that existential philosophy was also in vogue among biblical scholars, and a spiritual-only resurrection fit neatly within that philosophical commitment.[12]   These scholars were not neutrally examining the facts but rather looking through a distorted lens of philosophical commitments to arrive at their view of how belief in the resurrection arose in the early church.The liberals’ claims about Jesus’ resurrection is related to the issue of the dating of the New Testament manuscripts.  Liberals have given a second-century date for the creation of the New Testament manuscripts, which gives them historical room to claim that there were wide-spread Christian beliefs very different from the beliefs that are expressed in the New Testament when it was written nearly a century later.  On the other hand, if the New Testament was written much earlier and reflects early Christian beliefs, then the historical trend is the opposite of that claimed by liberals.  In that case, belief in physical resurrection preceded belief in a spiritual-only resurrection by about a century.[13]In addition to the belief about the resurrection expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 originating two to five years after Jesus’ death, the four gospels and other New Testament letters depict a physical resurrection.  A strong case can be made that all of the New Testament was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 because none of the New Testament books mention it.  Appeal to the A.D. 70 destruction would have been likely because it would have served as a strong polemic against the Pharisaic Jews who were persecuting the Christians.  For example, Matthew mentions the veil to the Holy of Holies in the Temple being ripped in two when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51).  Such a sign of God’s abandonment of the Temple would have been reinforced by the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.  Matthew mentions Jesus’ prophecy that it would be destroyed (Matthew 24), but he does not mention the fulfillment of the destruction, nor does any other New Testament writer.  If the New Testament had been written at a late date, we should also expect one or more of them to mention the execution of James, the brother of Jesus, in A.D. 62, and the executions of Peter and Paul in A.D. 65.By time that Luke writes his gospel and Acts, he says that, already, “many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us” (Luke 1:1).  Luke is extremely accurate in his historical details, such as accurately identifying the titles for Roman officials for a particular point in history despite the fact that those titles often changed,[14] which means that he was very close to those events; and the previous writings that he mentions would have been even closer.  All four gospels were nearly universally regarded by Christians throughout the world as canonical (part of the Bible) by at least the mid-second century; therefore, they had to be in circulation long before that.[15]Twentieth century liberal scholars have claimed that the New Testament must have been written in the second century because early Christians were largely illiterate and disdained written records over oral tradition.  But while the literacy rate among the first generation of Christians was probably about the same low rate as others at that time period, about 10-15%, the Jewish culture nevertheless placed a high value on written documents because of the role that the Old Testament played in shaping their culture.  In the Old Testament, major redemptive acts of God are accompanied by new  The new revelation amounts to a renewal of God’s covenant with His people, and like the suzerain covenants of the ancient world, the covenants were memorialized in written documents.  The coming of the Messiah was a new redemptive act of God bar none, and is described in the Old Testament as a “new covenant” with God’s people (Jeremiah 31:31; cf. Luke 22:20).  Therefore, a new written revelation of the new covenant by God’s chosen prophets of that time is to be expected.  As Moses and David authored new covenantal material for the instruction of God’s people, so were the Apostles of Christ directed to record the history and terms of the New Covenant, now known as the New Testament (cf. John 14:26, 15:27, 16:13-15).[16]

      In contrast to the mid-first century origin of the New Testament and its teaching of a bodily resurrection of Jesus, belief in Gnosticism, which denied the physical resurrection of Jesus because the physical was seen as sinful and the spiritual as good, did not arise to a significant degree until the second century.  The Gnostic gospels, which were written in the second century and later, had to be written to support the Gnostic view because the canonical gospels did not support that view.[17]  The Gnostic gospels were rejected by church leaders because they knew that they did not come from the apostles, in addition to teaching views contrary to the received gospels.  The church only accepted writings as canonical which could be traced to the apostles or their associates in ministry because eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus were the only ones who could give credible testimony to the events of His life.[18]  Those writings all testify to a physical resurrection of Jesus.

    5. The early adoption of worship on Sunday: The earliest records describe Christians setting aside Sunday as the day of the week for corporate worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).  Yet the Saturday Sabbath was ingrained in Jewish thinking and life.  It was a thousand-year-plus tradition from Moses, who received it directly from God on Mt. Sinai.  There had to be a major event to convince thousands of Jews to change their day of corporate worship to Sunday.  The reason given in writings of the early church is that the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week marked the first day of a new creation.[19]
    6. Women as witnesses: The gospels describe Jesus appearing to women first, which would not be expected if the story were made up since women were not competent witnesses under the laws of that time.
    7. No anachronisms from later church history:  The view of liberal theologians has been that the resurrection story was invented to address situations that the church was facing at a later time and place.  But there is no indication of this.  Says N.T. Wright, “Those redaction-critics who have attempted to reconstruct the world, the agenda, and the aims of the different evangelists have increasingly realized that they were, by and large, careful to describe Jesus as they supposed he was in his own day, not simply as though he were a member of their own church.”[20]
    8. Descriptions of the resurrection that lacks interpretive embellishment: The accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are simple historical accounts without any interpretive interjections. [21]    Matthew, for instance, often interprets an event in Jesus’ life as “fulfilling” something in the Old Testament; but he gives no interpretive commentary in his account of Jesus’ resurrection.  None of the four gospel accounts of the resurrection comment about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection, such as it being the basis for the resurrection of God’s people in the future as Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 15.
    9. No indication of an attempt to harmonize the details of the account: If the resurrection had been made up years later, we would expect the authors of the gospels to try to harmonize their different accounts.  But while not necessarily contradictory, each gospel records details about the events that have left both Christians and non-Christians puzzled about how to harmonize all the details.[22]  This is how real eyewitness accounts look.
    10. There are no competing accounts of what happened to Jesus’ body: If the resurrection story had been made up years later by Christians, then other Christians could have been equally free to make up other stories, or even to pass along the originally-known truth that Jesus was not resurrected and how the body was really disposed of.  But there are no other competing stories from early Christians.
    11. The change in the disciples’ attitude in a short time from defeatist fear to fearless faith: Initially the disciples were cowering in fear because their leader was dead.  There was no reason to have an attitude of victory that their leader was really the resurrected Ruler of the Nations when the Roman Empire had just ruthlessly executed Him.    Jesus’ execution looked like just another instance of a crushing Roman victory over a conquered people.  In fact, they expected just the opposite, like other Jews at that time; they believed that their Messiah would lead a military campaign to conquer Rome and reign as a king on earth.  Instead, Rome had publically executed their leader of the revolution.  Even though Jesus told them about His death and resurrection on several occasions before it happened, the disciples did not really get what He had been talking about until after the resurrection (cf. Mark 9:31-32; Luke 9:44-45, 18:321-34, 24:20-27). But shortly after the execution of their leader, the disciples were boldly proclaiming the resurrection even at the risk of death.  All of the apostles were put to death for their testimony about the resurrection, except for John, who survived being boiled in oil.  This indicates that at least they believed strongly in the truth of Christ’s resurrection.  Actually seeing the resurrected Christ easily explains this radical change.  Competing explanations, such as those that have already been reviewed, do not offer such a strong explanation for the change in the disciples.  In particular, “doubting Thomas,” James the brother of Jesus, and Saul (later Paul) the persecutor of Christians were very strongly predisposed not to believe in Jesus’ resurrection; but their minds were changed.James the brother of Jesus knew Jesus intimately because he grew up with Jesus.  Who would believe that his own brother was the Son of God, deserving universal worship?  As Jesus said, “A prophet is not without  honor, except in his own town and in his own home” (Matt. 13:57).  Yet, when the Pharisees asked James to denounce the Christian faith, James told them that “Christ himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven.”[23]  When they heard this they threw him off of the Temple Mount.  He was still alive after the fall and was heard praying for his persecutors, until he was killed by a blow to the head.

      A thirteenth-century mosaic depicting the martyrdom of James.

      A thirteenth-century mosaic depicting the martyrdom of James.

  2. Jesus didn’t die on the Cross?

The claim that Christ did not really die on the cross is practically impossible given the torture that He endured on the road to Golgotha and then when His body hung by nails on a wooden cross.  The Romans were experts at killing people through crucifixion.  As mentioned in John 19:31-33, the Roman practice was to break the legs of the person hanging on the cross so that he could not raise himself up to breathe.  Very soon the condemned person would die from suffocation.  The soldier passed by Jesus without breaking His legs because he could see that he was already dead.  Just to make sure, the soldier thrust a spear in His side.  Water and blood poured out (John 19:34).  Medical experts say that the watery fluid indicates that Jesus had suffered from heart failure of some sort, causing fluid to collect around the heart.[24]   There must have been a dead body in the tomb when the Jewish authorities and Roman guards secured it against robbers.   Even if Jesus could have survived crucifixion, there is hardly any chance that He could have been put in a cave and left there for three days without care in His condition.  He has suffered substantial blood loss and dehydration.  He would have had to have rolled the stone away and beat up the Roman guards.  Then he would have had to have walked around well enough to convince people that He had been supernaturally raised from the dead.

  1. Copycat Resurrection?

We should not assume that the people of that day were so credulous as to believe just any report that someone was physically resurrected from the dead.  People living two thousand years ago experienced death all the time, and they knew that the dead stayed dead.  Despite the urban myth among atheists that there were numerous other religious myths about a dying and rising god that served as the basis for “the Christ myths,” the adherents to those pagan myths did not really expect a real, physical person to die, and then physically come back to life several days later.  Their ideas of death and resurrection were more metaphorical, such as a way to describe the seasons of spring and winter as a dying and rising god.  In his comprehensive study of Christ’s resurrection, N.T. Wright says on the issue of alleged pagan precursors,

. . . [I]t can be shown on good historical grounds that these suggested parallels and derivation are figments of the (modern) imagination. . . .  When the early Christian spoke of Jesus being raised from the dead, the natural meaning of that statement, throughout the ancient world, was a claim that something had happened to Jesus which had happened to nobody else.  A great many things supposedly happened to the dead, but resurrection did not.  The pagan world assumed that it was impossible. . . .“[25]

It is important to realize that the pagan myths involved a very different view of reality from the biblical worldview.  Taking note of the similarities (which happen to be quite superficial), and not the dissimilarities, between Christianity and other religions is an extremely shallow approach to comparative religion studies.  The pagan myths of dying and rising gods involved a cyclical view of time, and the gods were part of nature.  In contrast, the biblical context of the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a linear view of time with a God who remains ontologically distinct from His creation.[26]  Jesus Christ is not resurrected every spring as part of nature coming to life.  His one, historically unique redemptive death was sufficient:  “Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:25-26).

  1. The Cultural Context of First Century Israel.

It’s possible that a person could believe that the historical facts prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus was resurrected from dead, yet not accept the Biblical view that He was the God/man Messiah whose death paid for humanity’s sins.  Both the credibility and the meaning of the resurrection are tied to its cultural context.  The resurrection is not meant to be understood bracketed from issues of worldview presuppositions, as if that were even possible.  As postmodernists have realized in their rejection of modernism, facts do not speak for themselves; all facts are interpreted facts.   The Old Testament provides the interpretive context in which Jesus’ resurrection is meant to be understood.  Ever since the Fall (Gen. 3:15), God had been giving predictions of a Messiah in order to prepare His people for His appearance, giving them a context for believing and better understanding the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As a general rule, if someone at any arbitrary point in history had been badly injured and left for dead, and then unexpectedly recovered, we would look hard for some natural explanation, even if we also talked about God’s hand being involved in the sense of Him setting up the natural circumstances that were at work in the person’s recovery.   Few, if any, would claim that the person was a god, even if the natural explanation were never discovered.  The Bible records a few people other than Jesus who are raised from the dead, like Lazarus (John 11:1-44; cf. Matt. 27:52-53); but even the Bible does not attribute to them the status of being a divine savior of humanity.   There were many self-proclaimed messianic prophets in the first century, and none of their followers believed that they had been physically raised from the dead after the Roman Empire had executed them.[27]

Jesus was in a different position from just any random person in history.  The Jews of that time were expecting a divine Messiah to arrive in their lifetime based on the teaching of the Old Testament going back thousands of years.  The most specific prophetic prediction of when the Messiah would appear is given in Daniel 9.  The Messiah is predicted to be active in His ministry 490 years from “the word to restore and build Jerusalem” (Dan. 9:25).[28]   Then the Messiah had to meet other criteria.  He had to perform miracles, and no prophet in all of Israel’s history had performed as many miracles as Christ had (John 7:31).  He had to be born in the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and be born into the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; Isa. 11:1-2), to name a few.  All the various criteria that Jesus fulfilled contribute to the conclusion that Jesus was the God/man who came to save Israel and the whole world from its sins by His death and resurrection.  The weight of claims such as mass hallucination or a stolen body are diminished to near the vanishing point given the fact that His resurrection and divine status are predicted by the divinely inspired Old Testament.  Given Old Testament prophecy, the Messiah had to be someone around that time of history, and who better meets the criteria than Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Israel?

An appeal to Old Testament prophecy requires a belief in the possibility of divine revelation and miracles, but that is a proposition that is perfectly rational given the existence of a personal God who necessarily exists in order for human rationality to be possible.   David Hume’s claim that the weight of probability is always in favor of a natural explanation for an alleged miracle falters on several counts.  First, he is unable to prove that his strict empiricist theory of knowledge can account for any knowledge, including cause-and-effect relationships.  His view of knowledge leaves us with disconnected sense impressions, not unbreakable laws of nature.   As I argue in the essay mentioned above, a God who can intervene into His creation as an intelligent agent to alter the laws of nature that He established is necessary for knowledge and cause-and-effect relationships to be possible.  Second, Hume’s claim about the uniformity of testimony in favor of natural causes is circular, given that it requires discounting testimony of all miracles, the very issue in question.[29]  Third, what is probable depends on the circumstances.  The Old Testament prophecies put the first century in a special circumstance as the time of when the miracle-working Messiah should appear.  Jesus was born in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4, Eph. 1:10) and announcing that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Jews who knew their Scriptures were “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25) and “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38) at that time.  We can easily narrow that Messianic person down to Jesus based on His life fulfilling all sorts of prophecies.    For those who witnessed the events of Jesus’ life, it all came together when the Scriptures were explained to them (Luke 24:25-27).  Regarding the resurrection in particular, we must consider the improbability of a natural explanation for Jesus’ resurrection, given our knowledge of the human body and what kills it.  (Note that determining that an event is miraculous is based on our knowledge, not on our ignorance.)  Given the existence of God, we certainly have a cause that is sufficient to bring about the effect of a resurrection from the dead.  Therefore, given the theistic worldview, other Old Testament teachings, and our knowledge of human physiology, the only reasonable explanation for a large number of people in different circumstances seeing Jesus walking around as if He had been physically resurrected after all that He suffered is that God actually did physically resurrect Jesus because He was the Messiah that had been predicted.

  1. Did Jesus Really Fulfill Old Testament Prophecy?

Skeptics have questioned whether the Old Testament prophecies that are claimed by the New Testament to be fulfilled by Jesus really are predicting what is claimed.  Getting into the details of that are beyond the scope of this article, but a large part of the resolution is to recognize the difference between direct predictions and typological predictions.  That the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem is a direct prophecy (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6).  In contrast, the statement in Hosea that “out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15) applied to the nation of Israel directly, but it applied to Jesus typologically because the Messiah was the fulfillment of all that Israel was supposed to be.  The life of Jesus recapitulated the history of Israel in many ways, with Jesus being faithful to God in situations where Israel rebelled against God, such as Jesus’ time in the wilderness for 40 days compared with the Israelite time in the desert for 40 years.[30]  A modern reader who thinks that a New Testament author is claiming a direct fulfillment and who goes back to the Old Testament to read the cited passage can come to the mistaken conclusion that the New Testament author twisted the meaning of the Old Testament passage in order to claim that Jesus fulfilled that passage of Scripture, if the reader does not recognize the category of typological fulfillment.

  1. Jesus did not Exist?

Some atheists confidently trumpet the claim that Jesus was not a real person in history, but that claim is as silly as claiming to having been visited by green space aliens from Mars.  There is no doubt about Jesus being a historical figure, even among the more liberal scholars.  The celebrity/skeptic/New Testament manuscript scholar Bart Ehrman writes:

With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. . . .  [T]he claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground.[31]


Conclusion on the Resurrection:

Both Christian and non-Christian scholars with expertise in the relevant fields largely agree on the following facts:[32]

  • Jesus died and was buried.
  • The tomb was found empty.
  • Many different people under many different circumstances experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
  • Even though they were not predisposed to it, Jesus’ disciples came to sincerely believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, as did non-disciple skeptics like Saul of Tarsus and Jesus’ brother James.

Belief in these facts plus the interpretive context of the Old Testament leaves a person no excuse for not believing in the resurrection of Jesus, the Savior and Ruler of the world.  As the Apostle Paul argued:  “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).


[1]  Michael H. Warren, “Christian Civilization is the Only Possible Civilization – in a sense, of course,”

[2]  Michael Patton, “Christianity, the World’s Most Falsifiable Religion,” (7/8/2013),

[3]  There are some later stories of questionable authenticity outside the Quran that attribute miracles to Muhammad, but in the Quran itself, Muhammad denies performing miracles.  For example, “And the disbelievers say: ‘Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?’ You are only a warner, and to every people there is a guide” (The Interpretations of the Meaning of the Holy Quran (, S. 13.7).  See Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, Anne Carter, trans. [New York: Pantheon, 1980), p. 44; Michael R. Licona, Cross Examined (Virginia Beach: TruthQuest, 1999), pp. 153-55.

[4]  See, for example, Robert K. Ritner, “’Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham’ — A Response,” In a 1998 letter, the National Geographic Society stated, “Archaeologists and other scholars have long probed the hemisphere’s past and the society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon.”

[5]  For a more in-depth treatment of evidence of Christ’s resurrection, see Gary R. Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregal Publications, 2004);  J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Colorado Springs, CO:  David Wallace, 2013); Thomas A. Miller MD, Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?: A Surgeon-Scientist Examines the Evidence (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2013); N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).

[6]  Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God:  The Exhaultation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: NY:  HarperCollins, 2014), p. 159.  John Dominic Crossan, Jesus:  A Revolutionary Biography (San Fransisco:  HarperSanFransisco, 1994), ch.6.

[7]  Digesta 48.24.1; quoted in Craig A. Evans, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” How God Became Jesus, p. 76

[8]  Josephus, Against Apion, 2.73, and Jewish War 2.220.

[9]  Against Apion, 2.211.

[10]  This issue is discussed in detail by John Tors, “Do Apparitions of Mary Undermine the Case for Jesus’ Resurrection? Debunking Hector Avalos’ ‘Living Laboratory,’” (4/6/2014),

[11]  Gary R. Habermas, “Experiences of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology, Vol. 45; No. 3 (Fall, 2006), pp. 288-297,

[12]  For example, the leading New Testament scholar Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976) held the existentialist philosophy of Martin Heidegger.  See N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 318, 383.

[13]  See Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy:  How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2010); Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited:  Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2012); The Question of Canon:  Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Academic, 2013); Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth:  A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Books, 2007); Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon Gathercole, Charles E. Hill & Chris Tilling, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart D. Ehrman (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2014).

[14]  Charles H. Talbert, Reading Lucke-Acts in Its Mediterranean Milieu (Boston:  Brill, 2003), pp. 198-200.  Luke has been criticized about some historical details because Josephus records something different, but Luke was closer to the events he describes than Josephus.  See J. Warner Wallace, “Unbelievable? Is Luke’s Description of Quirinius Historically Inaccurate?,” (8/21/2013),

[15]  Kruger, Canon Revisited, p. 229.

[16]  See Kruger, The Question of Canon, chs. 2 and 3.

[17]  “The alternative teaching of the Gnostics had proposed that one should replace the very Jewish message of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven by a very non-Jewish message about a ‘kingdom’ that turned out to be a new form of self-help spirituality.”  N.T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (HarperOne, Kindle Edition, 2012), pp. 16-17.

[18]  Jones, Misquoting Truth, pp. 124-27.

[19]  N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 580.

[20]  Ibid., p. 598.  Also see Eugene E. Lemcio, The Past of Jesus in the Gospels (Cambridge University Press, 1991).

[21]  Ibid., pp. 599ff.

[22]  In Luke 24:12, Peter is described running to the tomb, looking in, and then “he went home marveling at what had happened.”  This seems to indicate that Peter was alone.  But in Luke 24:24 the two on the road to Emmaus say that “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said.”  This is the same author.  It shows that the mention of just one person does not mean that others were not present.

[23]  Hegesippus, in Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord, Book 5.

[24]  Thomas A. Miller MD, Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?: A Surgeon-Scientist Examines the Evidence.

[25]  N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 36, 83.

[26]  See Stanley Jaki, Science and Creation:  From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (Edinburgh:  Scottish Academic Press, 1974); Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews:  How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, (New York, NY:  Nan A. Talese, 1998).

[27]  N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 558, 700.

[28]  See Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion   (Tyler, TX: ICE, 1992), pp.310ff.

[29]  George Campbell, A Dissertation on Miracles (London: T. Tegg, 1824), p. 31-32.

[30]  See James M. Hamilton, Jr., “’The Virgin Will Conceive’:  Typological Fulfillment in Matthew 1:18-23,” in Built Upon the Rock:  Studies in the Gospel of Matthew, Daniel M. Gurtner and John Nolland, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008); Hank Hanegraaff, Has God Spoken?:  Proof the Bible’s Divine Inspiration (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, 2011), chapter 13 “Typological Prophecy” (excerpted here: “The Key to Messianic Prophecy,”; Dennis Bratcher, “Immanuel in Isaiah and Matthew,” at; and Charles L. Quarles, A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator (Phillipsburg, NJ:  P&R Publishing, 2013).

[31]  Bart D. Ehrman, “Did Jesus Exist?” The Huffington Post, 5/20/2012,

[32]  Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 48-76; Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus:  The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity,” Southeastern Theological Review, 3/1 (Summer 2012) 15–26,

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