We have an abundance of ways to determine whether Jesus resurrected and the New Testament is reliable. These include examining the scholarly majority opinion concerning Jesus’ resurrection, conducting legal tests, identifying consistency with archaeological findings, identifying consistency with extra-biblical sources, and checking for bibliographic support. For an excellent discussion on the latter, please click here: https://ibs.cru.org/files/6314/2108/7768/Bibliographical_Test_Josh_McDowell.pdf.
The present article will examine the scholarly majority opinion about Jesus’ resurrection, legal tests (as provided by former atheist and former legal editor for the Chicago Tribune Lee Strobel) and archaeological support.
Before we begin, let me present a quote concerning the fringe theory that Jesus is merely a myth generated over a single generation of people and perpetuated by Richard Carrier. John Dickson, the founding director of the Center for Public Christianity who teaches Historical Jesus at the University of Sydney issued this challenge: “I will eat a page of my Bible if someone can find me just one full professor of ancient history, classics, or New Testament in an accredited university somewhere in the world (there are thousands of names to choose from) who thinks Jesus never lived. I don’t deny that there are substantial questions that could be raised about the Christian faith, but the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth is not one of them.” He received the chirps of crickets.
Scholarly Majority Opinion about Jesus’ Resurrection
Yet how do we know that Jesus of Nazareth is who He says He is? The foundation of Christianity is Jesus’ resurrection. If the resurrection did not occur, Christianity would not exist. Accordingly, we will examine facts surrounding the resurrection.
William Lane Craig presented four historical claims that are rarely contested. Click on this video for his explanations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmKg62GDqF4. These are (1) that Jesus was given a proper burial following His crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea; (2) the empty tomb was discovered by females; (3) various individuals stated they saw the risen Jesus and that He appeared to them both individually and in groups; and (4) the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead despite all inclinations not to believe.
Support for Jesus’ burial comes from multiple independent sources. These include the Markan passion story, the other three Gospels, and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul shares one of the earliest Christian Creeds, which scholars have estimated was written within 5 years of Jesus’ resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul says, “From what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 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. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Jesus’ burial is also supported by the criterion of embarrassment, since Jesus was not buried by his own family or disciples. His disciples had gone into hiding. Instead He was buried by a member of the Sanhedrin, which is the same court that convicted Him for saying He is the Son of Man.
When He was asked whether He is the “Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One,” Jesus answered, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62). The Sanhedrin recognized the obvious parallel from the book of the prophet Daniel (7:13-14) and immediately ordered His crucifixion for blasphemy.
According to John T. Robinson, professor of New Testament Studies at Cambridge the burial in the tomb is one of the “earliest and best attested facts about Jesus.” (quoted by WLC).
Female Discovery of the Empty Tomb
Multiple independent sources stated that the first people to discover Jesus’ empty tomb on the Sunday after He was crucified were women: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul noted the “third day.”
This also meets the criterion of embarrassment as women were second class citizens in Jesus’ time. According to Josephus, women should not even be admitted into court because of the “levity” and “boldness” of their sex (https://lexundria.com/j_aj/4.219/wst).
Furthermore, Jesus’ enemies pre-supposed the empty tomb. In Matthew 28:13, the Jewish leaders said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’”
Jesus Appeared Multiple Times in Various Circumstances
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul noted that some of the 500 who had seen Jesus had “fallen asleep,” yet others were alive, so his accounts could be verified with them. Further, Jesus appeared to Peter and James, Jesus’ half-brother. Both were skeptical of Jesus during His ministry. Peter didn’t have the faith needed to walk on water beside Jesus and he eventually denied Jesus three times after Jesus’ arrest, just as Jesus predicted he would do. James and Jesus’ other brothers tried to stop Jesus’ ministry. It was not until they received the Holy Spirit after seeing the risen Jesus that they became courageous, preaching for Him for decades despite intense persecution and eventual martyrdoms. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ family supported His ministry (Acts 1:14) and James became an early church leader of the Jerusalem Church.
For a discussion of the evidence we have support the early Christian martyrdoms, click here: https://christian-apologist.com/2018/04/15/early-christian-martyrdoms-persecution-in-the-roman-empire/
The Disciples Believed God Raised Jesus from the Dead
The disciples were not only not rewarded materially for saying Jesus rose from the dead, they were punished! Many were beaten, stoned, burned, beheaded, and crucified, yet they insisted over decades that they had seen the risen Jesus.
According to Gary Habermas, theories to contradict these facts (provided above) that have first century evidence should be supported with first century evidence. In other words, we should have evidence that secular detractors made opposing claims. We do not. Accordingly, we can write off the twin, swoon, mass tomb, mass hallucination, and myth theories. The first postulations of such theories didn’t come until the 1700s!
The best explanation for the facts presented is that Jesus is who He said He is: the Son of Man. He resurrected from the dead, forming the foundation of Christianity.
The criteria for inclusion in the New Testament Canon included the reliability of the persons who wrote the books. Reliability was a function of whether the accounts were collected by eyewitnesses or those who knew the eyewitnesses. For this reason, Gnostic books written hundreds of years later were discarded as either or both too late or fraudulent.
The New Testament authors had the ability. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses who traveled with Jesus. Mark was a friend of Peter. The early church father Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History) stated that Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis (60 – 130 A.D.), described Mark’s gospel as a record of Peter’s teachings that were related to what he saw and heard from Jesus. Luke traveled with Paul (which was noted when he made the transition to the first person in Acts 16) and he knew other apostles. In Luke 1:1, Luke makes it clear that he was relying on the testimonies of eyewitnesses. He further stated that he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” In John 21:24, John states “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”
Adverse Witness & Corroboration
We have nine secular sources within 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection that support the core components of the Gospels. These are: Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher and anti-Christian polemicist), Mara Bar-Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius, and Thallus.
Further details on each of the nine can be accessed here: https://christian-apologist.com/2018/02/17/early-secular-sources-support-new-testament-accounts-of-jesus-divinity/
Bias and Cover-Up
If bias were present, we would likely find very few examples of embarrassing testimonies, yet we have examples of Jesus’ family trying to stop His ministry, Jesus calling out to God on the cross (“My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”), Peter’s denials, Paul’s persecution history, and more. They strove to document the details to give accurate histories.
Throughout the New Testament, we can identify examples in which the authors exalted high moral standards of living. The early church was a community of believers who were peaceful, prayerful, and morally strong. They became the example of Christ. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow me, as I follow the example of Christ.”
As Hugh Ross has noted and others concur, we have no proven contradictions in the Bible. We have assertions of contradictions, but the accounts are always reconcilable.
As noted above, the authors of the New Testament had intentions to document their experiences with historical accuracy.
- Ossuary inscriptions: 7 ossuaries may provide support for the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. They may further offer support for the origins of the Christian movement. See Craig Evan’s article on this topic: https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_2003a_02_Evans_JesusAndOssuaries.pdf
- Pools of Bethesda and Siloam: Jesus healed a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:29) and Siloam (John 9:7). Further information can be found here: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/the-bethesda-pool-site-of-one-of-jesus%E2%80%99-miracles/
- Site of Jesus’ trial by Pontius Pilate: A “kishle,” or prison, was discovered in Jerusalem’s Old City by excavators who believe it is the site of Jesus’ trial. Further information can be found here: https://www.timesofisrael.com/archaeologist-believes-hes-found-site-of-jesuss-trial-by-pontius-pilate/
- Quirinius, Proconsul of Syria: His name was discovered on a coin and at the base of a statue. These confirm he was the Proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 B.C. to 4 B.C., debunking the theory that Luke was wrong about the date of Quirinius’ census. Further information can be found here: https://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/unbelievable-is-lukes-description-of-quirinius-historically-inaccurate/
- Nazarene Decree: Claudius, the Emperor of Rome from 41 – 55, issued a decree in which he stated that anyone found digging up a body would face capital punishment. Why? It is likely he wanted to avoid a revolution. Look what happened after Jesus resurrected! Further information can be found here: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/07/22/The-Nazareth-Inscription-Proof-of-the-Resurrection-of-Christ.aspx
By 313, Christianity had between five and six million believers, despite no legal protections (Wawro, 2008). With God, nothing is impossible.
Thank you for your time.
Dickson, J. (2014, Oct. 16). I’ll eat a page from my Bible if Jesus didn’t exist. ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-17/dickson-ill-eat-a-page-from-my-bible-if-jesus-didnt-exist/5820620
Evans, C.A. (2003). Jesus and the Ossuaries. Bulletin for Biblical Research. 13.1, 21-46.
Sales, S. (2015, April 6). Archaeologist believes he’s found the site of Jesus’ trial by Pontius Pilate. Times of Israel.
Strobel, L. (1998) The case for Christ: A journalist’s personal investigation of the evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Wawro, G. (2008). Historical atlas: A comprehensive history of the world. Elanora Heights, Australia: Millennium House.
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