Jesus Resurrection-Weighing the Evidence
The way historians determine the truth of an event is by weighing the evidence.
There are three truths that most Biblical Scholars agree:
- The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion. (A skeptic may say these accounts are only in the Bible so cannot be trusted.)
- Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ. (They either had real experiences are they tricked, deceived, or mentally ill.)
- As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its center, the Christian church was established and grew. (One cannot deny the concept of a resurrected Christ is the foundation of the Christian faith.)
Empty Tomb Theory-Is it plausible?
A. The resurrection was preached in the same city where Jesus had been buried shortly before. Jesus’ disciples did not go to some obscure place where no one had heard of Jesus to begin preaching about the resurrection, but instead began preaching in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had died and been buried. They could not have done this if Jesus was still in his tomb–no one would have believed them.
B. The earliest Jewish arguments against Christianity admit the empty tomb. The Toledoth Jesu, a compilation of early Jewish writings, acknowledges this. Further, we have a record of a second century debate between a Christian and a Jew, in which a reference is made to the fact that the Jews claim the body was stolen. So it is pretty well established that the early Jews admitted the empty tomb. Why is this important? Remember that the Jews were opposed to Christianity. In acknowledging the empty tomb, they were admitting the reality of a fact that was certainly not in their favor. So why would they admit that the tomb was empty unless the evidence was too strong to be denied?
C. The empty tomb account in the gospel of Mark is based upon a source that originated within seven years of the event it narrates. This places the evidence for the empty tomb too early to be legendary, and makes it much more likely that it is accurate.
D. The empty tomb is supported by the historical reliability of the burial story. NT scholars agree that the burial story is one of the best established facts about Jesus. One reason for this is because of the inclusion of Joseph of Arimethea as the one who buried Christ. You see, Joseph was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrein, a sort of Jewish supreme court. People on this ruling class were simply too well known for fictitious stories about them to be pulled off in this way. This would have exposed the Christians as fraud’s. So they couldn’t have circulated a story about him burying Jesus unless it was true
E. Jesus’ tomb was never venerated as a shrine.
F. Mark’s account of the empty tomb is simple and shows no signs of legendary development.
G. The tomb was discovered empty by women. Why is this important? Because the testimony of women in 1st century Jewish culture was considered worthless. If the empty tomb story were a legend, then it is most likely that the male disciples would have been made the first to discover the empty tomb.
H. Was the body was stolen? The Jews or Romans had no motive to steal the body–they wanted to suppress Christianity, not encourage it by providing it with an empty tomb. The disciples would have had no motive, either. Because of their preaching on the resurrection, they were beaten, killed, and persecuted. Why would they go through all of this for a deliberate lie?
Did Jesus’ disciples have real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ. We have the testimony of the original disciples themselves that they saw Jesus alive again. (Note: There is absolutely no question by historians that the disciples of Christ were real people, not myths.
Now, just because the disciples think they saw Jesus doesn’t mean that they really did. There are three possible alternatives:
1. They were lying
2. They hallucinated
3. They really saw the risen Christ
A. Were they lying? On this view, the disciples knew that Jesus had not really risen, but they made up this story about the resurrection. But then why did 10 of the disciples willingly die as martyrs for their belief in the resurrection?
B. The hallucination theory is untenable because it cannot explain the physical nature of the appearances. The disciples record eating and drinking with Jesus, as well as touching him. This cannot be done with hallucinations. Further, the hallucination theory cannot explain the conversion of Paul, three years later. Was Paul, the persecutor of Christians, so hoping to see the resurrected Jesus that his mind invented an appearance as well? And perhaps most significantly, the hallucination theory cannot even deal with the evidence for the empty tomb.
C. Since the disciples could not have been lying or hallucinating, we have only one possible explanation left: the disciples believed that they had seen the risen Jesus because they really had seen the risen Jesus.
Origin of the Christian Faith
Finally, the existence of the Christian church is strong proof for the resurrection. Why is this? Because even the most skeptical New Testament scholars admit that the disciples at least believed that Jesus was raised from the grave. But how can we explain the origin of that belief? There are three possible causes: Christian influences, pagan influences, or Jewish influences.
A. Could it have been Christian influences? Craig writes, “Since the belief in the resurrection was itself the foundation for Christianity, it cannot be explained as the later product of Christianity.” Further, as we saw, if the disciples made it up, then they were frauds and liars–alternatives we have shown to be false.
B. But what about pagan influences? Isn’t it often pointed out that there were many myths of dying and rising savior gods at the time of Christianity? Couldn’t the disciples have been deluded by those myths and copied them into their own teaching on the resurrection of Christ? First, it has been shown that these mystery religious had no major influence in Palestine in the 1st century. Second, most of the sources which contain parallels originated after Christianity was established.
C. Jewish influences cannot explain the belief in the resurrection, either. 1st century Judaism had no conception of a single individual rising from the dead in the middle of history. Their concept was always that everybody would be raised together at the end of time. So the idea of one individual rising in the middle of history was foreign to them.
So we see that if the resurrection did not happen, there is no plausible way to account for the origin of the Christian faith. We would be left with a third inexplicable mystery.
Other Resource on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ