In the movie Patch Adams Robin Williams gives us a sobering scene involving the topic that no one really likes to discuss:
Death! To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, demised, departed and defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying, “Slow down.” To check out. To shuffle off this mortal coil. To head for the happy hunting ground. To blink for an exceptionally long period of time. To find oneself without breath. To be the incredible decaying man. Worm buffet. Kick the bucket. Buy the farm. Take the cab. Cash in your chips….
Every worldview attempts to answer the question, “What happens after we die?” Different religions offer possible answers, such as heaven, hell, reincarnation, limbo, purgatory, nothing etc. One conclusion is sure; they cannot ALL be true because they are contradictory. How would we actually KNOW if there was life after death? The only reasonable way to answer this questions is for someone to die, come back to life and then actually tell us what is on the other side. But that has never happened.
OR HAS IT??
I Corinthians 15 contains one of the most bizarre passages in all of sacred literature:
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.” (I Cor. 15:14-15)
The resurrection of Jesus is of utmost importance. It is the linchpin of Biblical Christianity. Simply put, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is false. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then Christianity is true.
I want to approach this topic from the standpoint of a historian. Historians, evolutionary biologists, crime scene detectives, and archaeologists cannot hop in a time machine and travel back to observe the past. What they must do, is make inferences based on the data as what most likely happened. They try to posit a hypothesis that best fits. I would like to make a case for the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus using 2 walls: Facts and Methods
Wall #1 – FACTS
Dr. Gary Habermas has catalogued over 1400 sources in 3 languages (French, English, German) from 1975 to present. His research led him to a number of “minimal facts” meeting two criteria: 1) They are strongly evidenced; 2) They are granted by virtually all scholars who study the subject, even the skeptical ones.
Fact #1 – Jesus died by crucifixion.
Strong evidence exists that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed crucified at the hands of one Pontius Pilate.
I Cor. 15:3 mentions that Christ died..
Jesus crucifixion is evidenced in non-canonical literature as well. Josephus records in Antiquities 18.3.3. “Pilate…had him condemned to the cross.”
Tacitus, the Roman Historian 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, “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?”
Talmud “on the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged.”
Atheist Gerd Ludemann writes,” Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”
John Dominic Crossin, (critical scholar of the Jesus Seminar) writes, “That he [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”
Fact #2 – The disciples had experiences they believed to be the appearance of the risen Jesus, in individual and group settings.
Of extreme importance is I Corinthians 15:3-8, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve.6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
After Jesus was arrested and crucified, we find the disciples hiding for fear of the Jews. These guys were scared, scattered and skeptical. Then, their lives were transformed to the point that they endured persecution and martyrdom. Why the big change? One only need to read the book of Acts to find reports that the disciples were willing to suffer for their belief that the risen Jesus had appeared to them. Luke, the historian, who wrote Luke-Acts records in Acts 12 that James the brother of John, was put to death by the sword by Herod. Tertullian, an early Church Father writing just prior to 200, records the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. Origen, another church father, wrote, “Jesus who has both once risen Himself, and led His disciples to believe in His resurrection, and so thoroughly persuaded them of its truth, that they show to all men by their sufferings how they are able to laugh at all the troubles of life, beholding the life eternal and the resurrection clearly demonstrated to them both in word and deed.”
Eusebius, called the first church historian, cites Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian and Origen on the Martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. He cites, Josephus, Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria on the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus.
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 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.”
Now one might object saying just because one believes something doesn’t make it true. The Muslim terrorists believe that by flying the planes into buildings would get them a quick escort to paradise. Great Point!! But people will die for what they BELIEVE to be true. No one dies for what they KNOW is false. The disciples were there, they know whether Jesus appeared to them or not. Liars do not make good martyrs. This is eyewitness testimony to the fullest. Now it is up to you, whether or not you accept the eyewitness testimony as credible or not.
Fact #3 – The conversion of Paul
Within a few years of the crucifixion, the most prominent persecutor of the Christian Church becomes its biggest proponent. This is due to an experience that he believed was an appearance from the risen Jesus (Acts 9; Acts 22; Acts 26; I Corinthians 15). We must now ask the question, what caused this change in Paul? What caused Paul to change from being the Church’s most notorious persecutor to its most able defender? His change must have been caused by an impact event. Paul’s conversion is interesting because he was an enemy of the church when he claimed to see the risen Jesus. Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is testified to by friend and foe alike.
These are the facts that nearly all scholars who study the subject accept even the more skeptical ones. Now the question remains, what do we do with these facts? That leads to my second wall.
Wall #2 Methods – By Method, I mean, arguments to the best explanation making inferences and weighing hypotheses according to specific criteria. The hypothesis that best meets the criteria is the one preferred as what most likely occurred. The criteria are as follows:
- Explanatory Scope. This looks at the quantity of facts accounted for by a hypothesis. The hypothesis that includes the most relevant data has the best explanatory scope.
- Explanatory Power. This criteria looks at the quality of the explanation regarding the hypothesis explaining the data with the least amount of effort, vagueness or ambiguity.
- Plausibility – The hypothesis must be implied to a greater degree and by a greater variety of background knowledge than other hypotheses.
- Less Ad hoc. A hypothesis is said to be “ad hoc” when it contains non-evidenced assumptions or it displays evidence of being contrived. The hypothesis which is least “ad hoc” is to be preferred.
Let’s look at a medical example. Suppose a 15 year old male goes to the doctor and says, “Doc, what’s wrong with me? His symptoms are as follows:
- Abdominal Pain
The doctor has 3 medical students with them and asks what diagnosis they would offer. So, the 1st posits that it possibly could be the flu. The doctor responds that the flu diagnosis does not provide good explanatory scope, because it would only account for the fever. Lower abdominal pain and vomiting are not usually associated with the flu. The 2nd student, responds by saying that although rare, it is medically possible that abdominal pain and vomiting are associated with the flu. The Dr. agrees but mentions that in all of his years of experience, he has never encountered these 3 symptoms with the flu so the flu diagnosis lacks explanatory power and lacks plausibility.
The 3rd medical student opines that maybe 15 year old male does have the flu and decides to try to pull thru it and goes to martial arts practice after school and gets kicked in the abdomen and then goes out to eat afterwards and gets food poisoning. This would explain the abdominal pain and the vomiting. However, these are non-evidence assumptions and therefore contrived making them more ad hoc.
The Dr. then explains that this is a textbook case of appendicitis. All 3 symptoms occur in appendicitis; therefore this is the diagnosis to be preferred since it best explains the known facts. The historian like the doctor tries to make inferences to the best explanation based on what is before him.
The Resurrection hypothesis
Let’s now weigh the strength of the Resurrection Hypothesis by using the 4 criteria mentioned earlier.
Explanatory scope – The Resurrection Hypothesis accounts nicely for all the facts mentioned. Therefore, it passes this criterion.
Explanatory power – The Resurrection Hypothesis explains our facts with no strain at all, therefore also passing this criterion.
Plausibility – Is The Resurrection Hypothesis implied by a greater degree than other hypotheses? That depends on one’s worldview. If one rules out supernatural events beforehand, then The Resurrection Hypothesis is implausible. If one accepts without question supernatural events beforehand then it becomes very plausible. However, one must bracket one’s worldview and neither reject nor presuppose supernaturalism, beforehand. On this view, one could say that The Resurrection Hypothesis has some degree of plausibility.
Less ad hoc – The Resurrection Hypothesis claims that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” The problem is knowing whether God would want to raise Jesus from the dead. So,The Resurrection Hypothesis does contain some degree of adhocness.
The Resurrection Hypothesis passes three criteria and does not fail a fourth. It accounts for all the minimal facts. Therefore, until another hypothesis is offered, The Resurrection Hypothesis is reasonable.
The implications of this one event is remarkable! If Jesus rose from the dead then he is who he claimed to be, which is God incarnate. Furthermore he has answered the question about life after death. The whole gospel message is centered around the historicity of the resurrection. Christian faith is not a blind faith but a historical one. I am so sure of this event that I have become a follower of Jesus and am willing to bet my whole eternity on it. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:55-57 “Where , O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sing of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
JESUS IS ALIVE!!
 See. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, ,305, note 108-109.
 Tacitus, Annals 15:44.
 Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13.
 Letter at the British Museum.
 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a.
 Gerd Ludemann, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry, Amherst, N.Y.:Prometheus, 2004, 50.
 Quoted in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Licona and Habermas, 49.
 Mike Licona and Gary Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus p.58
 Quoted in The case for the Resurrection, Licona and Habermas, p.58
 Ibid, 59.
 Ibid, 60
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010),109-110