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A Look at the Historical Fact of the Resurrection, Part 2

by Walt Windish

In my last blog, I looked at the importance of the testimony of 1 Corinthians 15. After restating the gospel that both he and the Corinthians “received,” Paul continued by mentioning over 500 eyewitnesses, some named specifically, noting that most were still alive at the time the epistle was written.

Now I’d like to take a look at the reliability of the testimony of the apostles and then consider some sources outside of the Bible. I believe the more you look at the evidence, the more reliable you realize it is. There have been skeptical lawyers like Simon Greenleaf, Frank Morison, and Lewis Wallace who, when approaching the evidence in the gospel using the principles of the courtroom, came to the conclusion that the testimony was reliable and true. Each of these men were predisposed not to believe and ended up writing books about their investigations.

Frank Turek, whom I met at Southern Evangelical Seminary, developed a mnemonic device to use when discussing the testimony in the gospels that I will use here.[1]  Each of six aspects of the testimony starts with “E.”

1. Early Testimony
In my last blog I noted that 1 Corinthians was written 55–56 AD, a little over 20 years after the resurrection. Paul was beheaded by order of Emperor Nero between 64 and 67 AD (Nero committed suicide in AD 68.) Obviously, all of Paul’s writings were completed before his death. We have other ancient writings that mention 1 Corinthians by 70 AD. Further, the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 15 is thought to be an ancient creed that dates back to within a few years of the resurrection. The NT authors incorporated into their writings several creeds and hymns with which their audience would be familiar (this makes a great study in itself!).[2]  The testimony in the gospel accounts comes to us from an age when eyewitnesses were still alive.

2. Eyewitness Testimony
The apostles were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ (along with almost 500 others). Were they reliable witnesses?

Were they persons of good character?

They taught the highest standard of ethics, pray for those who persecute you, love your neighbor as yourself.

Were they prejudiced?

They were predisposed not to believe. They were strictly monotheistic Jews. Although the Trinity is seen dimly in the Old Testament, it wasn’t until Christ was resurrected and the Holy Spirit was sent to believers that the apostles and other believers really understood. Before then, the apostles were routinely seen as in the dark, not believing, not understanding. (Remember that Thomas didn’t believe until he felt the wounds.) All of a sudden, they switched from worshipping on the Sabbath to Sundays, they stopped sacrificing animals and relied on the ultimate and final sacrifice of Jesus, and they adopted baptism and communion as signs of the new covenant (replacing circumcision). They also abandoned the common idea of a Messiah that would bring them political freedom and victory from Rome and adopted the view of a suffering Messiah who would free them from sin but leave them under Roman rule.

What made the apostles, devout Jews, make such a radical change in their beliefs and practices? They witnessed a life-changing event: the resurrection of their Lord, Jesus Christ. After that event, nothing was the same for them. We see the exact same effect on the apostle Paul when he met Jesus on the Damascus Road. He was on his way to Damascus to find Christians (“followers of The Way”) to bring back to Jerusalem, bound, for persecution (Acts 9:2). He met the risen Christ, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and before Acts 9 ends, Paul is proclaiming Christ and the Jews are plotting to kill HIM! (see also Philippians 3:1–11.)

3. Embarrassing Testimony
The gospel accounts include many details that would have been embarrassing to the apostles.
The apostles are often painted as dim-witted, not understanding what Jesus was trying to tell them (Mark 9:32; John 12:16).

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the apostles seem to be uncaring, falling asleep twice instead of praying and comforting Jesus on the night before His death. Later that night, Peter denied Christ three times after being warned by Jesus that he would betray him.

Also, they make no effort to bury Jesus – he was buried by the enemy – Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, who was part of the group who sentenced Jesus to death. (Of course, this fact made it hard for the Jews to say that Christ was never buried – one of their own gave him the burial. The Sanhedrin could have produced Christ’s body if he wasn’t resurrected. Instead, they created the story that the disciples stole the body.)

To me, the best example of this is the morning of the resurrection. The disciples had run away and hid like cowards while the women were the brave ones and became the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection—in a culture where a woman’s testimony was not even allowed in a court of law. The disciples doubted the news that Christ rose from the dead, even though they had been told of it in advance by Jesus (John 2:18; 20:24–29; Matthew 12:39–41; 17:9, 22–23). Some even doubted after they saw the risen Christ! (Matthew 28:17)

This is not how myths read! If this was an invented myth, the disciples would have written themselves in as wise, spiritual leaders who triumphantly paraded down to the tomb to greet the risen Christ. (“We knew it all along!”) That’s how myths read. The only way an account like we have in the gospels gets written is because the apostles were recording HISTORY.

They even included potentially embarrassing details about Jesus. (see Mark 3:21–22; John 6:66; 7:5; 10:20 and many more).

4. Excruciating Testimony
“Excruciating” literally means “out of the cross.” These eyewitnesses, the apostles, were in a position to know whether the crucifixion was a hoax or not and died excruciating deaths for saying the resurrection occurred. All they had to do was deny that it happened and they would have saved themselves.

All the apostles except one (John, who was exiled to the island of Patmos) died horrible deaths. Peter was crucified upside-down because he would not allow himself to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. James was martyred in 62 AD when the Sanhedrin threw him off the roof of the temple and then stoned him when they discovered that the fall had not killed him. Paul was most likely beheaded by order of Nero (as a Roman citizen, he could not be crucified). Admittedly, the evidence for the martyrdom of some of the lesser-known apostles like Bartholomew and Thaddeus is not as well documented as the most well-known, but we have no reason to doubt that all these high-profile evangelists gave their lives for Christ.

The point is this: What did the NT writers have to gain by making up a new religion?

Nothing. As soon as they believed and started preaching the risen Christ they were kicked out of synagogues, beaten, tortured, and killed. They had every reason not to preach Christ. That’s why the early church didn’t need membership or baptism classes—if you professed Christ, you were automatically putting your life on the line. You better be regenerate!

“Yeah, but many people have given up their lives for a lie. What does that prove?”

On September 11, 2001, I stood in Jersey City and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center. The Islamic martyrs died for what they believed. So, what’s the difference between them and the apostles?

The difference is that the apostles were eyewitnesses and were the ones who would know if the resurrection was a hoax or not. If the resurrection was a hoax, it would have been accomplished by the apostles. The apostles knew Jesus, ate with him, touched him, and saw his risen glorified body. The Muslim martyrs had faith, but faith in a lie. They believed what they heard was true but were not in a position to know for sure. Many have died for a lie that they thought was true, but no one will die for a lie they know is a lie. Not one apostle denied Christ to save his life. And many other men and women gave their lives as well.

The excruciating testimony of the apostle’s martyrdom is a powerful testimony to the truth of the resurrection. And not only did they give their lives, but that they were in a position to know if the resurrection was truth or a lie.

5. Expected Testimony
This recognizes that the Old Testament predicts the Messiah would come. Not only does the OT contain over 200 fulfilled prophesies about Jesus, including his resurrection and ascension, but Jesus himself foretold his own death and resurrection.

When I speak on this point, I have a few sample prophesies that illustrate how the OT “hones in” on Jesus. For example, in the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, we learn that the Messiah will be part of the human race, born of a woman. Later, we learn that he will be from the line of David (Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15) and born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Isaiah 9:6 tells us that the Messiah would be both God and Man (this child would be almighty God). Malachi 3:1 tells us that this Messiah would visit the temple, and the book of Daniel’s prophecy of “seventy weeks”  predicts that he would die around 33 AD.[3] Finally, Isaiah declares that the suffering Messiah would give his life as a sacrifice (Isaiah 53, written 700 years before the event).[4]

6. Extra-Biblical Testimony
My last point is that writers outside of Christianity, who have no reason to corroborate its beliefs, also support some of the gospel accounts.

This includes people like the historian Josephus (who is the source of us knowing the details of James’ martyrdom in 62 AD), Phlegon (a freed slave of Emperor Hadrian, ca. AD 80), Thallus (AD 52), Tacitus, and Suetonius. There are also government officials like Pliny the Younger, Emperor Hadrian, and Emperor Trajan. Even the Jewish Talmud can be included on this list. They are not eyewitnesses, but most were writing to record a history that they had received. Frank Turek compiled a list of details contained in the extra-biblical sources above:[5]

1.Jesus lived during time of Tiberius Caesar.
2.He lived a virtuous life.
3.He was a wonder-worker.
4.He had a brother named James.
5.He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6.He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7.An eclipse & earthquake occurred when He died.
8.He was crucified on the eve of the Passover.
9.His disciples believed He rose from the dead.
10.His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11.Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12.His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.

These authors don’t have the same authority as the biblical writers, but they too have nothing to gain by supporting the biblical account. They did so because they saw these details as part of history. And, you can see, all of the above statements support the gospel accounts.

The last witness I’d like to call upon is the witness of archaeology: No archeological find has ever refuted the Bible, yet many finds have confirmed it. There are many to choose from, but a few examples related to the resurrection are:

1. The “Pilate Stone” was discovered in 1961. It is a tribute by Pilate to Tiberius and states that he was prefect/governor of Judaea.  Before this was found there was no evidence of Pilate except what was written about him in the Bible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_stone

2. The Ossuary of Caiaphas, the High Priest that sentenced Jesus to death.

https://www.nytimes.com/1992/08/14/world/tomb-may-hold-the-bones-of-priest-who-judged-jesus.html

3. A remnant from a first century crucifixion victim discovered in Jerusalem. (I think the current count is four separate remnants of crucifixions have been found, with the latest one in England discovered last year.)

https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/11/1/6

This is as far as I go today. I think the evidence is overwhelming for the gospels containing a historical account of the resurrection. You’ll find a few suggested resources below for additional study.

In my next and last blog in this series I will look at the “So What?” of the resurrection.

Footnotes:
[1] Norman Geisler and Frank Turek wrote I don’t Have enough Faith to be an Atheist together, which became a PowerPoint presentation that I have used many times. For more information see https://crossexamined.org.

[2] A good start to this study: https://crossexamined.org/3-startling-truths-early-church-pre-new-testament-texts and https://carm.org/evidence-and-answers/an-analysis-of-the-pre-pauline-creed-in-1-corinthians-151-11.

[3] For a great explanation of this see Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ by Harold Hoehner.

[4] If you have a Jewish friend, read them Isaiah 52:11–53:12 and ask him/her who is it describing. It can’t be anyone but Jesus. The great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls dates 100 years BC and has this entire passage intact–100 years before the birth of Christ.

[5] See I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek.

For Further Study:
Books
The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas.
Good introduction to the topic.

Risen Indeed: A Historical Investigation into the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek.
Great introduction to apologetics.

Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Timelines
A great book to browse and add context to your Bible reading. Includes maps, all kinds of charts, and archeological finds supporting both the OT and NT.

Online
https://crossexamined.org/
Good place to learn apologetics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKcWgqsqJGg
A short snip of an interview with Habermas on evidence for the existence of Jesus with a link to the full interview.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wICHji-kh-s
Mike Winger, one of my current favorite YouTubers, summarizes the case for the resurrection but focuses on how skeptics react to the evidence.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDgu3jXeCTM&t=516s
Lee Strobel on the Evidence for the Resurrection.

https://www.garyhabermas.com/