Is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ just a myth or fact?
Is the resurrection of Jesus, the greatest feat or a gargantuan fraud?
Did Jesus Christ actually exist? If he did, is it reasonable to believe that he rose from the dead? Is there any historical evidence to support such a momentous claim? Where do we start when searching for evidence?
Considering that the New Testament (NT) is the source of many Christians’ belief in the life and supposed resurrection of Jesus, it seems logical to start our search there. However, an immediate question is, “Why should we believe what the NT says?” In order to answer that, we must examine its historical reliability.
When examining the reliability of any ancient document, an important test to consider is the bibliographic test, which determines the quantity of manuscripts and also the time span between the original documents and our earliest copies. The more copies, the better able we are to work back to the original. The closer the time span between the copies and the original, the less likely it is that serious textual error has crept in. Although space does not permit me to include the evidences in this article, any reputable historian would attest to the fact that the NT has stronger bibliographic support than any classical literature – including Homer, Tacitus, Pliny, and Aristotle according to ‘Is the New Testament Reliable?’ by Paul Barnett (Intervarsity Press).
If in fact the NT is historically reliable, then it logically follows that Jesus is an historical figure since it clearly speaks of him as such. In fact, the Encyclopedia Britannica commits over 20,000 words to Jesus, and says with respect to his historicity that it was not until the end of the 18th century that it was disputed for the very first time - and that on inadequate grounds.
However, even if the NT is reliable and Jesus is historical, are these reasons to believe in his resurrection? After all, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then millions of people have put their faith in him in vain. However, if Jesus in fact rose in support of his claims to deity then he is indeed worthy of our praise. Christianity literally lives or dies at Christ’s resurrection. The remainder of this article will be largely adapted from the first several chapters of Resurrection, a book by Hank Hanegraaff, the president of the Christian Research Institute. In it he uses the acronym F-E-A-T to discuss some of the evidences supporting the historicity of the resurrection: Fatal torment, Empty tomb, Appearances, and Transformation.
Fatal torment: The crucifixion of Jesus is one of the most well established facts of ancient history. There is a virtual consensus among liberal and conservative New Testament scholars that Christ died on the cross, that he was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Aritmathea, and that his death drove his disciples to despair. The best medical minds of ancient and modern times have demonstrated through scientific evidences that Jesus’ trauma was fatal. After being arrested by the temple guard, Christ was brought before Caiaphas the High Priest, and there he was mocked, beaten, and spat upon. The next morning Jesus was led into the Praetorian and subjected to a Roman flogging, during which he was struck 39 times with a whip containing razor sharp bones and lead balls. The soldiers pressed a crown of sharp thorns into his scalp and thrust a heavy wooden beam upon his critically wounded body. At Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”), Jesus experienced ultimate physical torture in the form of the cross. The Roman system of crucifixion had been finely tuned to produce maximum pain, and the word excruciating (literally “out of the cross”) had to be invented to fully describe it. The Roman soldiers drove thick seven-inch iron spikes through Christ’s wrists and feet, and Jesus began to die of asphyxiation and significant blood loss. After his death, a Roman legionnaire thrust his spear through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through the pericardium, and into Jesus’ heart. Immediately, there rushed forth blood and water, demonstrating conclusively that Christ had suffered fatal torment.
Empty tomb: The late liberal scholar John A.T. Robinson of Cambridge conceded that the burial of Jesus “is one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.” This statement is based on several sound arguments. First, as mentioned earlier, both liberal and conservative NT scholars agree that Jesus’ body was buried in the private tomb of Joseph of Arithmathea. Christian scholar William Lane Craig underscores this fact by explaining that: (1) Joseph of Arithmathea, as a member of the Jewish court that condemned Jesus, is unlikely to be a Christian invention; Christ’s early disciples would not have attributed such a respectable act to a member of this group if it was not factual; (2) no competing burial story exists; (3) the account of Jesus’ entombment is substantiated by Mark’s gospel and is, therefore, far too early to have been the subject of legendary corruption. Furthermore, in first-century Jewish society, women had low social status and their testimonies had very limited legal validity. Therefore, if the empty tomb story were simply legendary, women would not have been featured as the initial discoverers of this dubious event. The fact that they were, presents strong evidence that the four gospel writers faithfully recorded what actually happened. Finally, the earliest Jewish response to the resurrection presupposes the empty tomb. Instead of denying that the tomb was empty, the enemies of Christ accused his disciples of stealing the body.
Appearances: In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul exudes confidence in the post-resurrection appearances of Christ: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [the Old Testament], that he was raised on the third day . . . that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve [apostles]. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of who are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) According to a great majority of scholars, Paul is reiterating an early creed that can be dated to within three to eight years of the crucifixion itself. The historian Gary Habermas states that this creed is not only early, but it is also free from legendary contamination, unambiguous and specific, and ultimately rooted in eyewitness accounts. In addition, Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles claimed that Christ appeared to hundreds of people who were alive and available for cross-examination. The appearances could not have been mere hallucinations because they were too numerous and occurred over a long period of time to people who had no expectation of them; these conditions are the exact opposite of those characteristic of hallucinations.
Transformation: Only a few days after Jesus’ death, the apostles began eagerly proclaiming their faith in him. In fact, eleven out of the twelve apostles went to their deaths proclaiming him to be the risen Messiah. Since they were eyewitnesses and thereby able to investigate whether or not he actually rose from the dead, they would not have willingly gone to their deaths for the sake of a lie. Moreover, Paul was transformed from a ceaseless persecutor of Christians to the chief apostle to the Gentiles. Within weeks of the resurrection, entire communities of at least ten thousand Jews were willing to give up the very sociological and theological traditions that had given them their national identity.
In conclusion, either the resurrection is a gargantuan fraud or the greatest feat in human history. As the apostle Paul explains, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . for we testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-17). However, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then his many claims about himself are verified, including: his equality with God (Mark 14:61-64; John 8:58,17:5; Revelation 1:17); his power to raise and judge the dead (John 5:21,25,29); his ability to forgive sins (Mark 2:5-11); and his claim that no one comes to God the Father except through him (John 14:6). It is not enough to know the historicity of the resurrection, but it is also necessary to understand its importance: on the cross Christ bore the sin and suffering of all humanity and through his resurrection he triumphed over evil (Colossians 2:14). Jesus makes it very clear that anyone who accepts him as Lord will have eternal life (John 3:16-17).
I urge anyone who has not yet accepted Christ as Savior and Lord to investigate the evidences supporting Christianity. It is not a blind leap of faith but rather a faith firmly grounded in history and science. Everyone has to make a choice; may your search guide you to the correct one.
Volume I, Issue IV