A Quick Case For Jesus’ Resurrection

By Evan Minton

I’ve always struggled with brevity some of my apologetic presentations. The trick is to keep it a decent length while simultaneously not skimming on important facts. A handful of my blog posts are kind of long due to my struggle, but fortunately, the vast majority of them are at a length you would want a blog post to be. Given that it’s Easter weekend, I thought I would rewrite one of my articles on the resurrection specifically for the person who wants to get his information quickly. That said, I’ll still leave the longer ones up for those interested in a more in-depth study.

Resurrection Jesus Easter

In this blog post, I plan on giving an overview of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Contrary to popular opinion, belief in Jesus’ resurrection isn’t something one has to believe on blind faith alone, one can confirm the resurrection on the basis of powerful historical evidence. The resurrection is important because if Jesus has risen from the dead, then God has put His stamp of approval on everything Jesus said and did. God agrees with Jesus’ ministry. This means that we can put great stock into anything Jesus taught about, such as His claim to be God, the existence of angels and demons, the existence of Heaven and Hell, and that He Himself is the only way to get to Heaven. It gives good reason to believe The Bible is divinely inspired, for Jesus Himself quoted from the Old Testament and taught that it is the word of God, and He commissioned apostles who would go on to write The New Testament. After all, who would be in a better position to know whether or not the Old Testament is divinely inspired than God Himself, and since God chose Matthew, Paul, Peter, etc. it makes sense to think that God put His stamp of approval on their teachings as well. So, if Jesus rose from the dead, that gives good grounds for believing in the inspiration of The Bible and for accepting whatever The Bible teaches.

Historical Method, Not “Using The Bible To Prove The Bible”
I want to make it clear that while I’ll be appealing to The New Testament at certain points in this article, I won’t be “quoting from The Bible to prove The Bible”. No, instead I’ll be applying the historical method to the New Testament documents to determine certain aspects as fact just as I would any other ancient document. Historians apply what is known as “the criterion of authenticity” to secular documents all the time in order to determine whether something is historical or not. That’s what I and many other Christian Apologists do with The New Testament. We apply historical principles like multiple attestation, the principle of embarrassment, the principle of enemy attestation, etc. to the gospels to argue that X, Y, and Z are more likely to be historical than not. And by the way, even non-Christian historians, like Bart Ehrman and Gerd Ludemann, take this approach with The New Testament when trying to gather information about the historical Jesus, and have come to many of the same conclusions that Christian historians have via the same arguments. They are certainly not presupposing The Bible’s divine authority when they argue, for example, that Jesus’ tomb was most likely empty because it would have been embarrassing for the gospel authors to have women as witnesses to the empty tomb.

When I argue for Jesus’ empty tomb, or for the postmortem appearances, I do not quote the New Testament as scripture and declare that since it’s in The Bible, it must be true. Rather, I presuppose that The New Testament documents are purely human documents for the sake of the argument, I apply the same principles or criteria of authenticity to the text, and when one does that one comes up with certain pieces of data which I think can only make sense in light of the hypothesis: God raised Jesus from the dead.

Two Step Process To The Resurrection Inference 
In the case for the resurrection, there are two steps.

1: What Are The Facts To Be Explained?
2: What Is The Best Explanation Of The Facts?

Fact 1: Jesus Died By Crucifixion

*Jesus’ death by Roman crucifixion is multiply attested in 7 independent documents. 4 of those sources are secular, 3 of them are from The New Testament.
Secular Sources — Josephus, Tacitus, Mara-Bar Sarapian, Lucian Of Samosata.
NT Sources — The Synoptic Gospels, The Gospel Of John, Paul’s Epistles.

This makes it overwhelmingly more probable that Jesus’ crucifixion is an event of history. It is statistically impossible for 7 independent sources to all make up the same story. Denial of crucifixion’s historicity entails that 7 sources fabricated the same lie independent of each other.

*Jesus’ crucifixion is attested to by sources hostile to Christianity (i.e Tacitus and Lucian). 
These sources would have nothing to gain by saying Jesus’ crucifixion really happened if it didn’t.  In fact, they are ridiculing Christianity in the very same context of their passages referring to the crucifixion of Jesus.

*Historical Fit makes it plausible that Jesus died by crucifixion.
Secular History attests to the fact that Romans crucified people in the first century. That Jesus was crucified fits well with what we know of first century crucifixions.

Fact 2: The Empty Tomb

*The Jerusalem Factor
If Jesus’ body was not absent from the tomb, the enemies of Christianity could have easily stomped out the movement by removing Jesus’ body from the tomb and showing it to everyone. If they did that, Christianity would have died before it even began. It did not die back then. We can infer from this fact that they did not take Jesus’ body out of the tomb in order to parade it down the street to prove to everyone that the resurrection claims of the disciples were false. Why didn’t they do this? Most likely because Jesus’ body was not even in the tomb to be taken out.

*All four gospels feature women as witnesses to the empty tomb.
Women were considered second class citizens back then and their testimony was considered worthless. The empty tomb narrative is most likely historical because it would have been awkward for the early church to have women as the chief witnesses when their testimony wasn’t considered valid back then. They would have made males the first ones on the scene if they were just conjuring up this narrative. So, by the principle of embarrassment, we know that the tomb of Jesus was empty.

*The enemies of Christianity claimed that the disciples stole the body. This presupposes the empty tomb.
Even though our knowledge of this claim comes from Matthew 28, we can still count this as enemy attestation. Matthew said they were spreading the story “to this day”, which means if Matthew said the pharisees were saying this when they really weren’t, he would be easily found out by those alive “to this day”. Matthew wouldn’t open himself up to such easy falsification. Secondly, people don’t usually respond to accusations unless someone actually made that accusation of them. For example, you wouldn’t deny stealing your friend’s car unless he accused you of stealing it.

Fact 3: Jesus’ Post-Mortem Appearances To The Disciples 

*Paul’s List Of Appearances In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Gives Us Powerful Reason To Believe These Appearances Occurred. 
Paul’s citing an early creed that he himself received. We know this is a creed because he says “For what I received, I passed onto you as of first importance” This is ancient rabbinic language employed whenever oral tradition was being passed on. Plus, Paul’s word usage in verses 3-8 is foreign to Paul in the rest of his epistles. On top of that, Paralellism (long sentence followed by a short sentence followed by a long sentence again) implies that this is a creed since this structure was common to oral tradition to contribute to easy memorization.

Paul most likely got the creed from Peter and James during his fact-finding mission that he recounts in Galatians 1:18-19, which would mean this creed goes back to eyewitnesses of the resurrection. That this is when Paul received this creed is plausible from the fact that Peter and James are two individuals explicitly named, plus Paul’s use of “historieasi” which indicates they were talking about recent events.

Therefore, the creed goes back to within only a few years of Jesus’ crucifixion. This list of appearances is so early that anyone skeptical about them could question the witnesses to see if the creed were accurate. If these people did not see Jesus as the creed claims, then the cat would be out of the bag and Christianity would be discredited. Many scholars have noted that Paul’s mentioning of many of the witnesses still being alive is most likely a challenge from Paul to question these witnesses, as if Paul were essentially saying “Don’t believe me? Go talk to them yourselves! Go ask them yourselves!”

*The Appearance Narratives In The Gospels Provide Multiple, Independent Attestation Of The Appearances. 
The appearances to the disciples are mentioned in 3 independent sources.

1: 1 Corinthians 15
2: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
3: The Gospel Of John.

It is highly unlikely that three independent sources would all fabricate the same lie. Given that we have at least three sources for the post-mortem appearances to the disciples, we have good grounds for confirming that the disciples believed they saw the risen Jesus.

Fact 4: The Post-Mortem Appearance To Paul

*Saul Of Tarsus was hired by the Jewish Sanhedrin to persecute Christians by beating them, throwing them into prison, stoning them to death, etc. 
The Principle of Embarrassment makes it highly likely that he was indeed a persecutor. People don’t make up horrible things about themselves, and usually, don’t admit them even if they’re true. Yet in 3 different epistles, Paul says that he was a harsh persecutor of Christians before his conversion (see 1 Corinthians 15:9, Galatians 1:13, 1 Timothy 1:13).

Multiple Attestation — Both Paul’s epistles and the book of Acts say that Paul was a persecutor of the church.

*Saul Converted To Christianity all of a sudden and became an active evangelist who suffered for his faith. 
Multiple Attestation — Paul attests to his own suffering for the sake of the gospel in his epistles. The book of Acts also records Paul’s suffering.

The early church fathers, Polycarp, Tertullian, Clement of Rome, and several others record the account of Paul’s martyrdom under the emperor Nero.

*Saul — who later became known as Paul — claimed that he went from being a Christian destroyer to being a Christian maker because the risen Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. This is the most reasonable explanation for why he went from being someone who killed Christians to being a Christian himself virtually overnight. 

Fact 5: Jesus’ Post Mortem Appearance To James

*Jesus had a brother named James who did not believe He was God incarnate or the messiah during Jesus’ lifetime. 
Multiple Attestation — The Gospel Of John (chapter 7) and The Gospel Of Mark (chapter 3) both attest to Jame’s skepticism. Very unlikely that they both fabricated the same lie independent of each other.

The Principle Of Embarrassment — Casts Jesus in a bad light given the stigma back then of any Rabbi whose family opposed his teaching. Casts James in a bad light, particularly in John 7 because in John 7, James and Jesus’ other brothers are trying to goad Him into a death trap by showing himself publicly at a feast when they were well aware that the Jewish authorities were seeking to kill Him. Why would John paint James and Jesus’ other brothers in such a bad light if this is not what actually happened?

*A short time after Jesus’ death, James came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead
Multiple Attestation — The book of Acts as well as Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Galatians 2:9) reveals that James had become a leader of the church in Jerusalem.

*James was Martyred for his Christian faith
Multiple Attestation — Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement Of Alexandria all record that James were murdered by the Jewish Sanhedrin for his belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah.

*The Most Likely Explanation for why James went from being a skeptic to being a believer virtually overnight is because the risen Jesus appeared to him as 1 Corinthians 15:7 says. 

Conclusion
This is the historical evidence for the 5 facts undergirding the inference to the resurrection. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these 5 facts. It meets all 6 of the standard criteria for confirming a historical theory.

1: It has great explanatory power.
2: It has great explanatory scope.
3: It is plausible.
4: Not ad-hoc.
5: It is in accord with accepted beliefs.
6: It outstrips rival theories in criteria 1-5. None of the naturalistic theories raised over the last 2,000 years to explain these 5 facts are tenable. They all fail.

For a more in-depth treatment, check out chapter 8 of my book “Inference To The One True God”, and the longer article this one is based on, “The Miminal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1”. 

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2q4d761


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26 replies
  1. Apostate says:

    “That cat would be out of the bag and Christianity would be discredited.”
    You know, I do hear this a lot.
    But then, I have only to glance around at friends and family and see that believing in discredited people and ideas is in vogue. Your sentence conveys a sentiment of human incredulity, honesty, and skepticism that I simply do not see (though I certainly wish that I did!)
    Instead, I see plenty of credulity, dishonesty, and susceptibility. In a post-Enlightenment Age nonetheless!
    That is not to say that everyone was a drooling idiot back then, but I doubt they had surpassed the foibles that afflict humanity in general.
    I wish that I could share in your optimism, but I’m also wary of it. I’m wary of it because you’re trying to drive a point home, and it seems you’re willing to go down less-than discerning routes to get there.

    Reply
  2. Andy Ryan says:

    “If they did that, Christianity would have died before it even began”

    Who says? Plenty of religions thrive in the face of clear evidence against their claims. Even today, people will continue to believe in nonsense in the face of all sorts of evidence. There used to be a televangelist called Peter Popoff who claimed supernatural powers. Then in 1986, the debunker James Randi exposed him as a fraud quite definitively. Popoff then went bankrupt. However, he resurfaced in the 1990s and is back making a healthy living fooling the gullible.

    Joseph Smith was shown to be a con-artist and fraud too, and yet we still have millions of Mormons.

    So if back in around AD60 there was one group of people going around claiming Jesus rose from the dead, it wouldn’t matter if others were calling them liars and offering to show you a decades-old corpse – not only could they not show it to EVERYONE, but plenty of people would say it was someone else’s corpse, or just would only get one side of the story.

    What if after 20 years or so no-one knew where the tomb was to check? The Bible says it was clearly marked, but what if that wasn’t true? Would people look for the tomb, not find it and thus conclude that the whole Bible was nonsense? Probably not – they’d just figure some other explanation.

    Also, doesn’t the Bible say the tomb was only guarded after the first night had passed? What’s to stop someone stealing the body before then?

    What if the entire story was made up, or embellished – 30 after the events described, how easy would it be to check all the details – perhaps the much later accounts we have of the crucifixion from Josephus etc were simply referring to the (made up) accounts they had heard. Or perhaps those accounts were themselves embellished by others (certainly Josephus’ accounts are acknowledged to have had at least some tampering by Christians.

    You can say that last paragraph sounds UNLIKELY to you, but your alternative explanation is that a man rose from the dead. Virtually any non-supernatural explanation is more likely than that.

    Reply
    • Dave Sohn says:

      What if Christ raised a man from witnessed death, could he then also raise himself after his crucifixion… rhetorical ?

      Reply
    • Bryan says:

      “Joseph Smith was shown to be a con-artist and fraud too, and yet we still have millions of Mormons.”

      Mormonism is a great example of how religions evolve. Their chief problem today is that too many of the early Mormon leaders kept detailed records and journals that later leaders have tried to spin or outright suppress. Knowing human behavior how is it impossible to imagine this happening in early Christianity?

      Reply
    • Sherlin says:

      Christianity was illegal under the Romans until 303AD. The punishment was death. Christianity would not have thrived if Jesus was proven not to have risen from the dead. Religious Jews would not have left their religion to follow a fairytale because the punishment was so servere. It they were wrong it would have cost them their lives. Believers of other religions like Mormonism etc do not face the death penalty by authorities so you cannot compare situations. Your claim is invalid.

      It is impossible that the disciples went to the wrong Tomb because Joseph of Arimethea buried Jesus in his Tomb. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin. He was well respected and if the disciples did not know where the Tomb was then Joseph would have definitely corrected them. Your claim is invalid.

      The guards were only stationed after the first night is a terrible argument because it presupposes that the guards did not check the tomb to see if the body was in the Tomb and was that of Jesus. Romans were highly trained and they were put to death for making errors. They would have definitely checked the Tomb before sealing it with there signature Roman seal.

      The stolen body theory makes no sense because Jesus definitely died on the cross and it cannot explain why the 12 and 500+ others saw him alive and were willing to die for what they saw. People will die for what they believe but they will not die for what they KNOW is false.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “Christianity would not have thrived if Jesus was proven not to have risen from the dead”

        People deny evidence that challenges their world view all the time – people even die rather than face up to their worldview being false.

        “Religious Jews would not have left their religion to follow a fairytale because the punishment was so severe.”

        If they fool themselves that heaven awaits them then sure they’ll suffer a punishment on earth. All religions have martyrs – given that only one religion can be real (at most) that means false religions have martyrs.

        “and it cannot explain why the 12 and 500+ others saw him alive”

        500+ people? Who were these people? Where are their testimonies? What do you know about them?

        “People will die for what they believe but they will not die for what they KNOW is false”

        And as I said, people fool themselves all the time in the face of contrary evidence.

        “Believers of other religions like Mormonism etc do not face the death penalty”
        What, you think Mormons don’t actually believe, and it would just take the threat of death to get them to admit it? Nonsense. As for Christianity being the only religion that has even faced the death penalty – again, nonsense.

        “Your claim is invalid”
        No, it’s very valid.

        Reply
        • Kalmaro says:

          There’s a difference between someone being I’m denial about the resurrection back then and someone making the entire story up and then dying for it.

          Not only that, but how do you trick people into believing you died while bring crucified? The Roman guards were not working with Jesus and they were experts at killing. Not only that, but the fact that we do not have 500+ written testimonials about the resurrection does not discredit it. If anything, it would be odd if we found that many, considering the extreme persecution.

          What it basically boils down to is that we have the apostles who claim they say Jesus after he died, were persecuted themselves and no record exists of them taking that claim back.

          We also have numerous people also claiming to have seen Jesus resurrected and while we have evidence to suggest these people existed and were tortured, we have no evidence of them taking thier word back.

          The list goes on. What one has to ask is, what could have happened to have convinced so many people so rapidly that what they saw was true? The most likely explanation is that they were telling the truth.

          Reply
          • toby says:

            “What it basically boils down to is that we have the apostles who claim they say Jesus after he died, were persecuted themselves and no record exists of them taking that claim back. ”

            Also no records exist of them being asked to recant. In all likelihood they were killed regardless of what they said just because they were christian. They were already guilty and all that mattered after that fact was that they were killed.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            “Not only that, but the fact that we do not have 500+ written testimonials about the resurrection does not discredit it. ”

            I’m asking what backs up the claim that 500 people witnessed Jesus after his death.

            “The most likely explanation is that they were telling the truth”

            How are you calculating this likelihood? You’re asking us to weigh up the motivations of people living 2000 years ago, about whom we know virtually nothing. And you’re saying it’s more likely that an event occurred that we’ve never seen happen since (a man rose from the dead) that an event we see all the time (people acted irrationally) or something else that happens regularly (reports of what happened are unreliable).

            Added to which, we don’t know which so-called witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were given the chance to recant to save their lives but still kept claiming it. What if they recanted but were killed anyway? What if they died of natural causes and stories that they died grew later? What if they were killed for something completely different but the reports blamed their faith? None of these things are even that unlikely, let alone when compared to the likelihood of someone rising from the dead.

    • Sherlin says:

      Non Christian sources for Jesus – 7

      Sources for Alexander The Great – 2 (Written 300 years after he lived)

      No one questions Alexander and other ancient people of interest who have less sources than Jesus. Why do critics have a different standard for Jesus compared to other ancient people in history? It’s not the lack of evidence that worries them, it’s the fact that they don’t want to be held accountable for their immoral lives and they dont want a God to exist.

      Reply
      • ANTHONY says:

        So, you’re saying that people who don’t believe in the gospels don’t believe in God, and “live immoral lives?” Where’s your evidence for that?

        Reply
        • Ed Vaessen says:

          ANTHONY says:
          “Furthermore, you’re lying about Alexander.”

          I do not think Sherlin is lying on purpose. He writes things like this:

          “it cannot explain why the 12 and 500+ others saw him alive and were willing to die for what they saw. ”

          It only shows he does not know what good arguments are and swallows any story without checking it.

          Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        “No one questions Alexander and other ancient people of interest who have less sources than Jesus.”

        Don’t they? How do you know this?

        “Why do critics have a different standard for Jesus”
        Why do people think you need decent evidence that someone came back from the dead?

        Reply
      • ANTHONY says:

        You also miss the important point: few people doubt that Jesus EXISTED. That is not the point. The point is, they doubt that he was God and rose from the dead.

        Reply
      • toby says:

        Of these 7 sources which ones were and weren’t based on existing documents that became part of the bible?

        Reply
  3. Bob says:

    The “appearance” to Paul was a “vision” which he places in the same list as the other “appearances” without a distinction in 1 Cor 15:5-8. Therefore, we can infer that the others had “visions” of Jesus as well and not physical interactions with a resuscitated corpse like the later Gospels describe. Paul is the earliest and only firsthand source so his testimony is preferred over secondhand or worse hearsay which is what the Gospels are.

    Reply
  4. Danny says:

    Evan, I enjoyed reading this piece. However I think your presupposition of “not using the Bible to prove the Bible” doesn’t hold up, especially for facts 3 and 4, the most important ones. You provide no external sources to suppliment Paul’s claims in his letters. Instead, from the outset you seem to trust Paul at face value and accept what he says as truth. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Remember Paul is writing his letters to churches far removed in distance from where the events are said to have occurred. It would be highly unlikely anyone from his church in Corinth would travel to Israel and seek out these apparent witnesses. And don’t forget, Paul is sure to finish this verse with, “though some have fallen asleep.” If he’s writing these letters in say the early 50s, 20 years removed from said events, he’s essentially saying “but you may not find any said witnesses since they may be dead, so please trust what I’m telling you.” 1 Cor 15:3 is not Rabbinic language for transmission of oral traditions. See any page of Talmud and you’ll notice how careful the writers are in ascribing specific names to specific passages. Paul makes no such reference. In fact 4, these are hardly independent sources. An independent source would corroborate Paul’s conversion experience, yet we only hear about it from his perspective. He doesn’t name those who were traveling with him. So I guess my ultimate question is, you put so much trust in Paul…why?

    Reply
  5. Kalmaro says:

    @Andy
    Continuing from here:
    http://crossexamined.org/quick-case-jesus-resurrection/#comment-81548

    I’m sure that some people may have wavered, but clearly it was such a small number that it was not worth reporting, if it indeed happened.

    Though I have to ask, what would you suggest happened that got so many people to abandoned centuries of traditions rapidly and almost willingly be persecuted on the claim that a man was risen from the dead?

    I can not think of any good answer other than they had to have seen something. Something so shocking that people changed world views rapidly. Whatever happened would have to have been incredibly significant.

    It is true that we do not no everything about these people and they certainly were superstitious, however, circumstances seem different here than normal. People rarely ever die for something they know is false, and whether or not Jesus was really risen would have been simply to verify, his tomb was in a well known spot.

    If he hadn’t risen then the Jews and Romans would have just paraded Jesus’s body down the street. Christianity would have died before it even began then. Just saying that they acted ‘irrationally’ does not cut it, you still have to explain why these people were saying Jesus rose and were willing to die for it.

    The best answer I can think of is that Jesus actually arose, which explains a lot of things.

    Reply
    • Cyril says:

      People will basically believe any old nonsense. Even today, people believe utterly bizarre and demonstrably false things. Lots of people in America think Donald Trump is wonderful, for example, when he is quite obviously an utter twat.

      Reply
    • toby says:

      “If he hadn’t risen then the Jews and Romans would have just paraded Jesus’s body down the street. Christianity would have died before it even began then. Just saying that they acted ‘irrationally’ does not cut it, you still have to explain why these people were saying Jesus rose and were willing to die for it.”

      What’s the timing of when Jesus died and when the romans and jews became aware of he’d risen? Day 4? A week later? A month? If it’s anything beyond a week, then any body could have been discounted as a fake due to decomposition.

      People will die for anything, even a conspiracy!

      And you’re saying that the best answer is he rose from the dead based on anonymously written sources. I don’t have enough faith to be a christian, jew, or muslim.

      Reply
    • ANTHONY says:

      Unfortunately, even today in this more enlightened age, people have a tendency to believe any old rubbish. And some of the nonsense people believe in is so utterly ridiculous that you would not..er believe it.

      Seriously, given the choice of two explanations, 1. Miraculous event 2. Gullible humans, I go for gullible humans every time.

      Reply

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