What do we know about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection? We know that Jesus’ resurrection forms the foundation of Christianity. Without the resurrection, we do not have a foundation for our beliefs. Accordingly, I identified eight well-supported claims concerning Jesus’ resurrection.
I recently created a meme and labelled these well-supported claims as “facts” and shared the meme with my followers on social media. A skeptic who calls himself “Paulogia” immediately spotted my meme and asked me to join him in a debate to determine whether the facts I presented are indeed facts. A fact, according to the dictionary, is a thing that is known or proved to be true.
Last night I debated Paulogia on the Non Sequitur YouTube channel. Click here to watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_S2yE6L1DU&t=1245s
Paul challenged six of the eight facts I presented – and by the end of our debate, we agreed upon some slight modifications to the wording of a few of the disputed facts. Below I have presented the well-supported claims with the agreed upon modifications. I assert that the best explanation for the following eight claims is that Jesus is risen and He is divine. Paulogia disagrees.
But before I present the eight claims, let me first dispel the notions of the Jesus mythicists who may be reading this article. Several quotes from a well-known agnostic who has studied the historical person of Jesus serve this purpose.
New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (2012) states, “Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian but because they have some other agenda this denial serves.”
“The idea of Jesus’s resurrection did not derive from pagan notions of a god simply being reanimated. It is derived from Jewish notions of resurrection as an eschatological event in which God would reassert his control over this world.”
“There is no unambiguous evidence that any pagans prior to Christianity believed in dying and rising gods, let alone that it was a widespread view held by lots of pagans in lots of times and places.”
Next I have presented eight claims with respect to Jesus Christ.
- Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
Extra-biblical support for Jesus’ historicity and crucifixion
Josephus (37 AD – 100; Antiquities):
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”
Mara bar Serapion (73 AD)
“For what advantage did…the Jews [gain] by the death of their wise king?”
Tacitus (110 AD; Annals 15:44)
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt 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 Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”
Suetonius (120 AD)
“Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome [49 AD; cf., Acts 18:2] who, instigated by Chrestus, never ceased to cause unrest.”
Talmud (200 AD)
Sanhedrin b., 43a; 10:11; 7:12; Tg. Esther 7:9; b. Sanhedrin 67a; y. Sanhedrin 7:16
“On the eve of Passover they hanged Jesus the Nazarene. And a herald went out before him for forty days, saying ‘He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel away. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.’ But not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of the Passover.”
Sanhedrin b., 106a
“Woe to him who makes himself alive by the name of God.”
Isaiah 53:5 (~700 BC)
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Psalm 22: 16-18 (~1000 BC)
Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
Zechariah 12:10 (~500 BC)
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
- Women 1st discovered His empty tomb, and we have no evidence to suggest that anyone claimed Jesus was buried anyplace else (or was merely a myth) until about 1700 years later. His “dead body” was never produced.
All four gospels attest that women discovered the empty tomb.
Jews claimed someone stole the body.
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
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 was trying to avoid a revolution as the early Christians were busy turning the world upside down. The Nazarene inscription has been identified archaeologically. It is a Greek inscription on a marble tablet measuring 24×15 inches found around 1878.
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.
3. All four Gospels attest that Jesus is risen.
Mark is the only contested gospel.
Some claim in the final chapter 16, verses 9- 20 were added later and Mark never stated that Jesus is risen. Yet in the verses 6-9 just prior, Mark does make this statement.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene,who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
- In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul (who once hunted and persecuted Christians) indicated the risen Christ appeared to Cephas (Peter), James, the “twelve apostles,” along with 500 others before appearing to him as the one “abnormally born.”
At this point, Matthias had been elected to serve as Judas Iscariot’s replacement. The criteria for election was that Matthias had been a witness to the resurrection, so referring to the “twelve” was likely a reference to Matthias and the other remaining 11.
1 Corinthians 15 is an early church creed, which scholars believe was memorized in the church within around five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Given a date of 33 AD for Jesus’ crucifixion, this suggests that 1 Corinthians 15 was recorded in or before 38 AD.
1 Corinthians 15
“For 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. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 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. 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. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Isaiah 53:11-12 (~700 BC)
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
- Early Christians (including Paul, Peter, Stephen, and James) were often beaten, jailed, stoned, hung on crosses or beheaded. Stephen was martyred early, but Paul, Peter, James and other early disciples preached for decades, stating they saw the risen Christ. Examples can be found in Acts, the Epistles, and in external writings by Polycarp, Pliny the Younger, and Tacitus.
In the book of Acts, Stephen was the first Christian to be martyred, and Paul who was then a persecutor stood as a witness to the martyrdom (Acts 7:54-60). James the brother of John was also martyred (Acts 12:2).
Paul was also stoned, beaten, jailed, which he documented in his New Testament books. His beheading by Nero was documented by Origen, Tertullian, and Dionysius of Corinth (Habermas & Licona, 2004). The martyrdom of Jesus’ half- brother James was documented by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Peter was crucified upside down, as confirmed by Eusebius, the first church historian, in his book “Ecclesiastical History” and also by Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen.
In Annals (15:44), Tacitus documented the way that Nero singled out Christians to blame for the great fire in Rome in 64 A.D. Tacitus stated that Christians were singled out for their “hatred of the human race” and “abominations.” According to Tacitus, Nero punished Christians by nailing them to crosses, burning them as torches for light after sundown, and covering them in animal skins so they could be eaten by dogs.
“Nero’s mass executions had in any event set a precedent, and thereafter the mere fact of ‘being a Christian’ was sufficient for state officials to impose capital punishment. This situation is strikingly illustrated in the famous correspondence between Emperor Trajan and Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 A.D.), the provincial governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor in A.D. 112 (Bryant, 1993, p. 314).”
Pliny the Younger
In his Letters (to Emperor Trajan 10:96-97), Pliny the Younger states: “It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.
Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.”
Trajan responded: “You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.”
According to Bryant (1993, p. 314), “Tertullian provides the classic summary, observing that the pagans take the Christians to be the cause of every public disaster, of every misfortune of the people; if the Tiber reaches the walls or if the Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky doesn’t move or if the earth does, if there is famine or a pestilence, at once the cry goes up: ‘Christians to the lion’. (Apology 40.1-2).
“The first Christian martyrs to be thrown to the wild beasts died in the arena of the Colosseum and, because of these martyrs, who succeeded the gladiators, the Colosseum was venerated greatly during the Middle Ages. It was considered to be a monument consecrated to the martyrdom of the early Christians. Only for that reason was it saved and for the same reason the vast structure, partially in ruins but still impressive in character, is still revered by many in the civilized world” (Rutledge, 1940).
“Immediately after registering Marcus Aurelius’ succession to Antoninus Pius [in 161 A.D.], Eusebius reports that, at the time discussed, there were great persecutions in Asia (IV, 14, io-i5, I) and that Polycarp was one of the martyrs of these persecutions…. Before telling the story of Polycarp’s arrest, torture, and execution Eusebius makes references to ‘the other martyrs’ with a summary characterization and some gory details of the barbarous treatment of these victims in this round of anti-Christian violence in Smyrna. For Polycarp was the twelfth martyr in this city, all the other martyrs being from Philadelphia (IV, 15, 45). Apart from Polycarp, Eusebius mentions only one other martyr by name, Germanicus (IV, I5,5 (Keresztes, 1968, p. 322).”
“According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, it was the noonday crowd [at the Colosseum] that reacted ‘with uncontrollable wrath’ when [Bishop] Polycarp confessed to being a Christian. They first cried out to Philip the Asiarch to let a lion lose on Polycarp, but Philip could not do that, for the morning hunts were closed. Then the crowd cried out ‘with one mind that he should burn Polycarp alive’” (Thompson, 2002, p. 33)…. “Polycarp gazed directly at the crowd as he said ‘Away with the atheists’” (Mart. Pol. 9.2 cited in Thompson, 2002, p. 43). He was soon burned at the stake.
- Christians had no legal protections until 313, when Constantine legalized Christianity.
Christians were not offered legal protections until 313 AD, when Constantine signed the Edict of Milan and offered Christians comprehensive acceptance.
7. Christianity started as a religion of peace, growing through the peaceful efforts of the apostles and disciples.
Prior to official legalization in 313, Christians worshipped peacefully. It wasn’t until later that they gained power and started the bloody Crusades.
8. By 313, Christianity had between 2 and 6 million adherents, according to a variety of sources.
In the book of Acts (5: 34-39), Luke records the prescient words of a Pharisee called Gamaliel, who had questioned the wisdom of the persecution of Peter and other apostles:
“But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’”
Did Christianity die down, as predicted by Gamaliel, or did the faith grow in number based upon its Godly inspiration? Historians offer the answer: by 300 A.D., Christianity had between five and six million adherents according to one source (Wawro, 2008). Other historians have been more conservative, estimating at least 2 million followers by 313, so we can fairly assert that Christianity had over two million adherents before legal protections were given.
Following legalization in 313 A.D. by Constantine, Christianity grew even more dramatically. By 350 A.D., Christians numbered over 33 million (Wawro, 2008). “In terms of world-historical significance, few developments can rival the enduring impact of the triumph of Christianity within the Roman world” (Bryant, 1993, p. 303).
In conclusion, we have an abundance of evidence to support Jesus’ historicity and the well-supported eight claims I provided at the outset. Taken together, the best explanation is that Jesus is risen and is LORD. Thank you for your time.
Bryant, J.M. (1993). The sect-church dynamic and Christian expansion in the Roman Empire: Persecution, penitential discipline, and schism in sociological perspective. The British Journal of Sociology, 44(2): 303-339.
Chapman, J. (2013). St. Cyprian of Carthage. The Catholic Encyclopedia, 4. Robert Appleton Company, 1908.
Ehrman, B.D. (2012). Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne
Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
Keresztes, P. (1968). Marcus Aurelius a persecutor? The Harvard Theological Review, 61(3): 321-341.
Rutledge, H.T. (1940). Restoring Rome’s Colosseum. Scientific American, 162(3): 150-151.
Scarre, C. (1995). Chronicle of the Roman Emperors: the reign-by-reign record of the rulers of Imperial Rome. Thames & Hudson.
Thompson, L.L. (2002). The martyrdom of Polycarp: Death in the Roman games. The Journal of Religion, 82(1): 27-52.
Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Elanora Heights, Australia: Millennium House.