“In Christian apologetics, no historical argument surpasses the resurrection of Jesus for its sheer evidential force.”1 Regardless of such strong evidence there have been, and possibly always will be, objections as to whether or not Jesus physically rose from the dead. There are books both objecting to, and supporting the arguments surrounding the resurrection of Christ. However, the purpose of this paper is not to address the objections, but to provide evidence that Christ, in fact, rose from the dead. The approach presented here will consist of four facts accepted by most scholars, both conservative and skeptical alike, while the fifth that “enjoys acceptance by an impressive majority of scholars, though not by nearly all.”2 They are:
1. “Jesus died by crucifixion
2. Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them
3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed
4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed
5. The tomb was empty”3
Jesus Died by Crucifixion
To many this may appear as a given, that Jesus died from crucifixion, but in reality it is crucial in building the foundation for our argument. Basically stating; that if Jesus didn’t actually die, then there is no argument to be discussed.
1. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
2. Habermas, Gary, Licona, M., The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications Grand Rapids MI. 2004
In claiming Christ died of crucifixion, it must first be established what exactly crucifixion actually is. The point of this brief overview, or definition, would simply be to solidify our argument since no objections are being presented against it for our purpose here.
“The Greek word for “cross,” stauros, literally refers to an upright, pointed stake or pale. The word xylon is usually “wood” or “tree”. In the New Testament and in some other literature of the time both frequently refer to a particularly cruel and degrading form of capital punishment known as crucifixion.”4 Typically, victims of crucifixion were beaten prior to being crucified and then affixed to the wood either by rope or nails being tied or pierced through the wrists and feet. “Death usually came slowly; it was not unusual for persons to survive for days on the cross. Exposure, disease, hunger, shock, and exhaustion were the usual immediate causes of death.”5 However, in the case of Jesus, “the majority opinion is that he died by asphyxiation, or from the lack of oxygen.”6 This being prior to the Roman soldier stabbing Him in the side to verify Jesus being dead, thus not breaking his legs as was common to speed up the process of death. “In the article “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” the Journal of the American Medical Society concluded:
4. Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Ed. Baker Book House Grand Rapids MI. 2001
6. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
“Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between His right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” (March 21, 1986, p. 1463)”7
All four gospels in the Bible, Matthew (27:35), Mark (15:24), Luke (23:33) and John (19:18) provide an account of Jesus being killed by crucifixion. However, when presenting a defense, or argument, for the first of the five facts being discussed, one must go outside of the Bible in order to solidify the evidence.
“Jesus’ execution is also reported by a number of ancient non-Christian sources. Josephus (late first century), Tacitus (early second century), Lucian (mid-second century), and Mara bar Serapion (second or third century) all reported the event.”8
Jesus’ Disciples Believed that He Rose and Appeared to Them
As with the crucifixion, all four gospels record the disciples making claims concerning Jesus. Only this time it was their belief that Jesus had risen and had appeared to them. Yet, when presenting the facts of the resurrection, one must clarify why to accept eyewitness testimony from a source that would appear favorable of the facts, (the Bible).
7. Geisler, Norman L., When Skeptics Ask, Baker Books Grand Rapids MI. 1990
8. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
“This conclusion can be reached from nine early and independent sources that fall into three categories:
1. The testimony of Paul about the disciples
2. The oral tradition that passed through the early church
3. The written works of the early church”9
When faced with using the New Testament, part of our argument for the resurrection, one only must explain its acceptance as ancient literature as we would consider any other ancient text. This is not necessarily overcoming an objection but simply explaining the argument as with the crucifixion. So without going in to the nine sources mentioned previously, the three categories is a direct and simplistic way of presenting the initial evidence concerning the disciples believing that Jesus rose and appeared to them.
“First, we have Paul who claims to have known and fellowshipped with the disciples firsthand. He says that they said it. Second, we know of some very early oral tradition that was circulating within the church before the New Testament was even written and points to the disciples saying it. Third, we have written tradition that portrays or assumes the disciples saying that Jesus had appeared to them after he rose from the dead.”10 These three main points cover the nine sources in a broad overview, yet if needed the nine are there. Typically, a basic approach with direct and to the point answers will suffice for this type of argument, but that does not mean one does not need to know the details, or to graciously back out of a conversation if they do not know, until further time that the details can be presented.
9. Habermas, Gary, Licona, M., The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications Grand Rapids MI. 2004
However, to this writer the most compelling evidence concerning the disciples has yet to be presented. And yet again, it would seem so simplistic, but yet many appear afraid to have these type discussions.
“People will die for something they believe to be true, but people do not die for something they believe to be a lie,” according to Dr. Frank Turek in his promotional video for I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. What does this have to do with the disciples believing that Jesus rose and appeared to them? Consider the night before Jesus was actually crucified and was arrested, where were His followers? We know Peter denied Him three times, and the others seem to have scattered throughout the area out of fear. Now consider how miraculously brave they suddenly became after He rose and appeared to them. This is exactly what Dr. Turek is referring when he makes the statement concerning people not dying for a lie. The disciples were so afraid the night of Jesus’ arrest for their own lives and safety that they abandon Him, denied Him, and hid as not to be arrested for being an associate of His. “In all, at least seven early sources testify that the original disciples willingly suffered in defense of their beliefs. If we include the sufferings and martyrdoms of Paul and James the brother of Jesus, we have eleven sources. These facts are validated by multiple accounts, both from early sources in the New Testament as well as outside of it.”11 And besides, “liars make poor martyrs”.12 Of course, as discussed previously, the skeptic may accept or deny this type of claim based on many objections that they themselves may present.
11. Habermas, Gary, Licona, M., The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications Grand Rapids MI. 2004
Keep in mind this is the basic facts for the resurrection of Christ. There are nine, at a minimum, independent sources not mentioned here to solidify this piece of the argument, and basic answers to most questions the skeptic may pose. However, it would seem sufficient for our purposes that the three categories and the fact of the disciples going from cowards to extremely brave men would be enough for an opening presentation, or defense, of the resurrection.
The Church Persecutor Paul was Changed
We have shown that Jesus died by crucifixion and that the disciples believed He rose and appeared to them. We will now turn our attention to the three remaining facts to confirm the disciples’ beliefs, and solidify our argument that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.
“Recent scholars agree, for a variety of reasons, that Paul is the most reliable witness to Jesus’ resurrection appearances.”13
“Saul of Tarsus, better known by history as the apostle Paul, changed from being a skeptic who believed that it was God’s will to persecute the church to becoming one of its most influential messengers.” These two statements provide for the reader a foundation of our defense of the resurrection in connection with one of the most powerful pieces of evidence. It has been shown, as stated above, the disciples believed, and now we are presented with another eyewitness that had no reason to promote such a belief, and as a matter of fact was en route to
13. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
kill Christians when he witnessed the risen Christ. (Acts 9:1-19) Thus it is here that we will unfold possibly the strongest eyewitness to our defense.
Like the disciples, Paul’s belief was so strong that he was willing to suffer and die a martyr’s death for the sake of the gospel, while obviously convinced by his belief of his own experience with the risen Jesus.
“In recent New Testament research, few conclusions are more widely recognized by scholars than that the text in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 significantly predates Paul.”14 It is here one is presented with Paul’s personal experience, and not only that but many had witnessed the risen Jesus. This, coming from a man that killed Christians, but is now proclaiming evidence, that he himself had verified to be true from experience and the apostles themselves. Paul describes his trip to Jerusalem and how he had spent time with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus gathering information. This would have to be very early, as many believe his trip took place around A.D. 35. Comparatively speaking to other historical documents, nothing dates this closely to an actual event thus making one of our best eyewitness accounts extremely reliable. Paul was so determined to gather the truth that he made yet another trip to Jerusalem, this time meeting with not only Peter and James, but with John also. “This point is well documented, reported by Paul himself, as well as Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysiuss of Corinth, and Origen.”15
14. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
As with all of the facts thus far presented, and the others to be presented, there will always be objections. In fact many may or may not believe the resurrection accounts based on a variety of reasons. However, the fact of Paul behind such a key eyewitness is not so much that he was converted and believed, it is why he believed what he did. You see, many people believe things for different reasons, typically from something they have read or have been told by others. In the case of Paul, he had firsthand experience. Meaning, not only did he verify his belief with others, (secondary information), he experienced his belief first hand, (primary information). For Paul, it was not just a blind faith, but a belief in both primary and secondary information. “We have said enough to round off our treatment of Paul with the clear understanding that he believed he had seen the risen Jesus in person, and that his understanding of who Jesus was included the firm belief that he possessed a transformed but still physical body.”16
The Skeptic James, the Brother of Jesus, was Suddenly Changed
Though we do not have as much information on James as we do Paul, he is still crucial for the evidence presented, and yet another eyewitness. The same arguments can be used concerning James as far as his belief that he actually saw a risen Jesus and that he was willing to die for such belief as with Paul and the others. “James’s martyrdom is attested by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria. We no longer have any of the works of Hegesippus or the writings of Clement where the event is mentioned.
16. Wright, N. T., The Resurrection of the Son of God, Fortress Press Minneapolis MN. 2003
However, sections have been preserved by Eusebius. Therefore, his martyrdom is attested by both Christian and non Christian sources.”17 This particular fact as mentioned earlier is an indication of why we consider him a valid source of information. “In 2002, what was thought to be a significant archaeological discovery was made. An ancient ossuary or bone box dating to the first century was found with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” While controversy continues regarding the authenticity of the inscription, the fact that such a find enthralled the religious world shows the historical importance attached to James, the brother of Jesus.”18
We turn to Mark 3:21-35 for our look at James prior to his conversion. It is here that he, along with the rest of Jesus’ family was at least skeptical, if not unbelievers, in Jesus and His ministry. Could one possibly imagine, as with Paul, someone going from unbeliever, to believer? Of course that is possible, but yet again we see that it was not based on secondary information concerning James, but as with Paul, firsthand experience. In fact, “critical scholars almost always hold that James, the brother of Jesus, was a skeptical unbeliever during the time of Jesus’ ministry”19 citing the aforementioned verse of scripture.
So where does James, the brother of Jesus, and his eyewitness testimony appear; 1 Corinthians 15:7 in Paul’s writing to the church at Corinth. Here, and only here, is where we find a resurrection appearance to James, thus leading to his conversion.
17. Habermas, Gary, Licona, M., The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications Grand Rapids MI. 2004
19. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
This may not seem as though it would bear much credit to James, the brother of Jesus, as a eyewitness, yet according to critical scholar Reginald Fuller “we should have to invent” such an appearance in order to account for two things; James’s conversion from skepticism and his elevation to the pastorate of the church in Jerusalem, the center of ancient Christianity.”20 In fact “most scholars think this was the reason James became a believer.”21
As with Paul, James, the brother of Jesus, provides solid evidence of someone being converted to Christianity after what they believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus. And, once again, we are presenting eyewitness testimony, accepted by most scholars, to the fact that Jesus indeed rise from the dead and appeared physically to believers and non believers alike.
It would seem if one were to present this case in a court of law, and stop at this point, that the evidence provided would give a jury reasonable doubt allowing for the acceptance that Christ, in fact, rose from the dead. However, outside of the eyewitness accounts, the most compelling evidence has yet to be presented; the evidence that could have stopped Christianity in its tracks, if only…for the empty tomb.
The Tomb was Empty
All of the evidence presented up to this point is accepted by most scholars. It is here we must concede that not as many scholars accept the empty tomb as evidence for Christ rising from the dead.
20. Habermas, Gary, Licona, M., The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications Grand Rapids MI. 2004
21. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
However, to this writer it is possibly the strongest evidence, and in fact is accepted by “an impressive majority of critical scholars. Gary Habermas discovered that roughly 75 percent of scholars on the subject accept the empty tomb as a historical fact.”22
It would seem the empty tomb would be one of, if not the strongest pieces of evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Simply put, or at least to the common individual, a body would have been all that was needed to discount every eyewitness, regardless of a particular tomb being empty. However, there are many objections and theories as to the tomb. The point in this section of our five facts will be to give solid evidence supporting the empty tomb without addressing the objections and theories.
The first point concerning the empty tomb reverts back to our initial claims concerning the crucifixion and disciples; the empty tomb is presented in all four gospel accounts. More significant than it being in each gospel is how it is presented; by women. “This was an embarrassing situation because in ancient culture, female testimony in crucial matters was widely dismissed. Due to this attitude, the unanimity regarding the women’s testimonies hardly qualifies as an early Christian invention.”23 For the skeptic not understanding ancient history this may seem as a futile attempt, or grasping for solid evidence, when in reality it is certainly one of the strongest points indicating the tomb was actually empty. The obvious question would have to be if the disciples or anyone else were trying to fabricate a story, then why include such an embarrassing story of women being the first to discover the empty tomb.
22. Habermas, Gary, Licona, M., The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications Grand Rapids MI. 2004
23. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
Second, why would, of all places, did the apostles make such a claim, (Jerusalem), of the empty tomb, if in fact it was not empty. It would be common knowledge of a tomb being empty, especially of such a well known event as the crucifixion that it could have been easily verified by most anyone. This leads back to this writer’s previous statement concerning producing a body, thus stopping Christianity instantly. Yet, based on the evidence it would seem there was no body to produce, and the tomb was indeed empty.
“Further, the empty tomb is confirmed by multiple accounts, a very important test for historical truth.”24 “The empty tomb is, therefore, well evidenced for historical certainty. Former Oxford University church 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.”25
The purpose of this paper has been to provide evidence that Christ, in fact, rose from the dead using five facts:
1. “Jesus died by crucifixion
2. Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them
3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed
24. Habermas, Gary, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics; Harvest House Publishers Eugene, Oregon 2008
25. Habermas, Gary, Licona, M., The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publications Grand Rapids MI. 2004
4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed
5. The tomb was empty”26
Each of these facts has been presented, along with evidence supporting them. Though objections do indeed exist, the point has been well established, along with the evidence that Christ, in fact, rose from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:14 “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Apostle Paul