Time to Think. 8.“How Do You Know Jesus Rose From the Dead” Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ

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This is a really important question. Christianity stands or falls on the evidence for this event. Is there enough support for the truth of this and to give an answer with confidence, you might ask? I believe there is strong historical evidence that Jesus did rise from the dead.

It is not generally accepted that people come back from the dead, but the evidence is overwhelming that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. And I will tell you why I say this.

The resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith. If the resurrection is shown not to have happened, Christianity will collapse into insignificance. If Christ was not raised from the dead, then holding on to this belief, ‘spreading the Gospel’, would all be in vain, not only worthless but misleading, a message deceiving people.

Christianity is not ‘blind faith’ asking us to believe what we do not see but is based on verifiable facts. The testability of the facts of the resurrection is of particular importance. In stark contrast to all other religions, which is not supported by verifiable facts, Christianity is testable. The resurrection in particular sets Christianity apart from all other religions. It leaves itself open to scrutiny, to claims that are testable. If the ‘evidence’ for the resurrection is found to be inaccurate, Christianity can be written off as a mythical story, a legend, a narrative hardly worth any consideration except that it misled hundreds of millions of people over the last 2000 years and nothing short of a tragedy.

To answer the question of the truth of the resurrection, we need to look carefully at the sources of knowledge available to us. Firstly, what are these sources and are they reliable? Do they represent the original text so we can know that we read today is what was written millennia ago and secondly, is the content of that that was originally written, reliable?

The Case for the Resurrection – discussion points

I. Sources of Knowledge and Reliability

  A. Sources

    1. Non-Biblical (extra-)

     2. Biblical manuscripts

B. Reliability of the manuscripts

II. Reliability of the Content

1. Changed lives

2. Birth of the Christian church that exploded into a worldwide Church

3. Academics (Christian and non-Christian) agree on a number of minimal facts about the resurrection

The Case for the Resurrection

I.                       The Available Sources and Reliability of the Sources

Ancient Biblical manuscripts describe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We also find descriptions of this in non-Biblical external Christian and non-Christian sources.

A. The Sources are a. the ancient manuscripts that were used to reconstruct the New Testament. b. Extra-Biblical ancient writings and c. Archeology. Do b. and c. support what was written in a. the ancient Biblical manuscripts?

1.  Non-Biblical (External) Support. Support for the truth of the New Testament is found in archeology as well as in ancient writings. a. Two examples of archeological findings that support the New Testament records are the existence of an ossuary of Caiaphas1, the Roman-appointed Jewish high priest, who sent Jesus to Pontius Pilate for His execution and secondly an inscription of the name of Pontius Pilate on a tablet2, the Roman ruler who gave Jesus over for crucifixion. An important side note is that not once in history has any archeological finding contrasted Biblical content. b. Several ancient writings support what is written in the New Testament. Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Thallus, and Pliny the Younger and others, all describe the life of Jesus, where He lived and died, that He did miracles as well as mention that Jesus claimed to be God. ‘We know 60 facts of the life of Jesus from sources outside the New Testament (the Biblical manuscripts), from 130 Christian and non-Christian sources, about His life. Seventeen of these non-Christian sources were written within 100-159 years of Jesus’ life.’ Gary Habermas3.

2.     The Biblical Evidence, the New Testament. How can we know that what was written 2 000 years ago is what we read in today’s reconstructed New Testament, and that it is trustworthy? We do not have a single original manuscript at our disposal, not of the Gospels nor any of the letters of the New Testament.

There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and nearly 20,000 in other languages (close to 10 000 in Latin Vulgate, 9 300 in other ancient languages) available to us today4. Today’s New Testament is reconstructed from all the different ancient manuscripts available.

A.   Reliability of the Sources

Are the available manuscripts reliable in communicating what was written in the original texts?

Historians evaluate the authenticity of ancient manuscripts on mainly three points.

1. How many copies are available – the more copies, the more reliable the reconstruction would be. The number of copies of ancient writings available today is 5,735 New Testament Greek manuscripts. The closest to this number in other ancient writings is Homer’s Illiad (a recount of the significant events of the final weeks of the Trojan War and the Greek siege of the city of Troy) with 643 copies5. On Plato, there are 219 manuscripts available.5

2. How large is the time gap from the original writing to the earliest manuscripts.  Homer’s Illiad 400 years, Plato 1300 years, and the earliest New Testament copies 35 years.6

3. How significant are the differences between the different copies/manuscripts. There are 400 000 differences between the numerous different New Testament manuscripts. However, the vast majority are spelling differences and different synonyms that were used. Less than one percent of these differences have significance in meaning and none of these differences affect the core doctrines or principal beliefs of Christianity.7

When was the New Testament written? Most researchers place the date of Jesus’ death at Passover time around the year 30. In the year 70, the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. The earliest New Testament books, the letters written by Paul, were composed in the decade of the 50s. In the mid-60s, James, Peter, and Paul were all killed. None of the four Gospels or the book of Acts, neither any of the 21 epistles (letters of Paul and others, e.g., James, Peter) mention the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, except for Jesus predicting it forty years earlier, before His crucifixion. One would expect that such a major event in the life of the Jews, would have been mentioned unless the books were written before it happened. It is, therefore, reasonable to accept that the Gospels, Acts, and letters of Paul and others were written pre-A.D. 70. Thus around 35 years after the event.

Homer’s Illiad, (like the Bible of the ancient Greeks) was composed in 800 BC by Homer with an account of the Trojan war that was fought around 12th or 11th century BC – a 400-year lapse.

Therefore, the large number of manuscripts, the short period from when they were written to the first manuscripts, the insignificant differences between the copies, and the short period between the actual events and when the original was written, makes a very strong case for the confidence one can have that the reconstructed books of the New Testament are the same as the original writings penned nearly 2,000 years ago and that the content is reliable.

II.        The Reliability of the Content of the Manuscripts

How do we know that what was written is true? We have tried to beyond reasonable doubt, establish that the New Testament is a reliable source of what was written about the life and death and the resurrection of Christ. But can we be sure that what was written actually happened and was not made up by the writers?

If the sources are found to be reliable, how can we be sure that what was written in them is true, a true reflection of what really happened? Here we will consider, amongst many facts, the dramatic and radical changes that took place in peoples’ lives that claimed to have seen the risen Christ and interacted with Him, and the dramatic explosion of the Christian church into a worldwide movement despite brutal persecution.

1. Changed lives. In the scriptures Jesus’ disciples claimed to have seen and interacted with the risen Christ. We read that it radically and dramatically changed their lives from timid scared followers of Jesus afraid of the Jewish authorities into bold preachers that would directly disobey the authorities ‘We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard’ Acts 4:20. They were prepared to be imprisoned and to die for what they believed was true. Paul, a devote Jewish pharisee, filled with zeal for God, for Judaism, and for the Jewish tradition was prosecuting the church but dramatically changed when he encountered the risen Christ. (Galatians 1:11-14) He became a most zealous follower of Christ and wrote most of the new Testament letters.  James, Jesus’ brother, and a skeptic was converted and became one of the prominent leaders of the Christian faith in Jerusalem.

Let us look in particular at what Paul wrote and witnessed. We read in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-4 and 14. 3 ‘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. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ This account was written much earlier than the Gospels’ time of writing, around AD 54-57, at most 27 years after the crucifixion.

2. The Christian church was born. The Christian church was born at this time and exploded into a worldwide Christian movement spreading the news and meaning of the resurrection as the central theme, because of the absolute confidence of these men in what they experienced. A movement that has 2.3 billion followers today despite the fact that most of the disciples and Paul were tortured and martyred and so many millions more Christians to follow, persecuted and many martyred throughout history to this day. Something dramatic touched them and is still touching them confirming what they saw. The risen Christ Jesus said: “… I am always with you until the end of time.” Matthew 28:20. His tangible presence. Colossians 1:22. And a  love that compels them. 2 Corinthians 5:14

3. Scholars agree on a number of minimal facts about the resurrection. The available information that we find in all of the manuscripts makes the most sense in coherence and in a logical progression of the narratives and argues for the truth of the resurrection. The belief that the disciples, Paul, and many other witnesses (500, many still alive at the time of Paul’s writing, 1 Corinthians 15:6) saw the risen Christ is the best explanation of the data available today.

‘On the basis of accepted principles of textual and historical analysis, the Gospel records are found to be trustworthy historical documents — primary source evidence concerning the life of Jesus of Nazareth.’ About 95% of New Testament scholars, that is, academics anywhere on the theological spectrum (Christian and non-Christian), agree with a number of minimal facts about the resurrection as assembled from the Biblical and extra-Biblical ancient manuscripts. Dr. Gary Habermas.3

William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas catalogs the historical data concerning the resurrection, twelve historical facts from the ancient Biblical and extra-Biblical manuscripts that even the harshest, most skeptical critics consider to be true:

1) Jesus died by crucifixion 2) He was buried 3) Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended 4) The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later 5) The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus 6) The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection 7) This message was the center of preaching in the early church 8) This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before 9) As a result of this preaching the church was born and grew 10) Sunday became the primary day of worship 11) James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus 12) A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

All the available facts argue for the resurrection and the fact that all other theories trying to explain away the resurrection fail and have to yield to the conclusion that Paul and disciples really saw the risen Christ. Liars do not make martyrs.

Some of the many different theories that try to explain away the resurrection are the unknown tomb theory, the wrong tomb theory, the legend theory, twin theory (Jesus had a twin brother), hallucination theory and more. We can test these theories against known facts and all have been shown not to be supported by facts or logic and have failed.8

Lord Darling, formerly Lord Chief Justice of England, wrote: “On that greatest point (the resurrection of Christ) we are not merely asked to have faith. In its favor as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in the verdict that the resurrection story is true.”9  

If Jesus claimed to be deity and He was in fact raised from the dead, then this would be a very powerful argument for His deity. His resurrection would confirm the claims of Jesus, including His claim to be God. If Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, that what He predicted, His death and resurrection, and He claimed to be God, we should give Him our fullest attention and adoration.

 

References

1 Israeli, Yael, and Mevorach, David, Cradle of Christianity, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2000, English / Hebrew

2 Caesarea, Israel. New Testament Period. Pontius Pilate, (26-37 AD), Limestone, inscribed 82.0 cm H, 65.0 cm W. Building Dedication, 4 Lines of Writing (Latin). Date of Discovery: 1961. Israel Museum (Jerusalem). AE 1963 no. 104

3. Gary Habermas. New Testament scholar and Christian apologist who frequently writes and lectures on the resurrection of Jesus. He is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University.

4 McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 34-36.

5 Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody, Chicago, Revised and Expanded 1986, 366-67.

6 http://generationword.com/_notes/2.html

7400,000+ Scribal Errors in The Greek New Testament Manuscripts What Assurance Do We Have that We Can Trust the Bible? by Edward D. Andrews

8 Josh McDowell The Resurrection Factor, p. 76

9. From ‘ The Day Death Died’, p.15. Michael Green (Author)’

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