“And if Christ has not been raised. . . your faith is in vain.”
For the past couple of weeks, I have been giving reasons for why I should trust God as revealed in the Christian Scriptures. These reasons have been pillars in my spiritual journey and have helped me evaluate the differences in other formal religions or worldviews. Firstly, I have observed the correspondence of truth and reality and how they meet within the Christian framework and worldview. Secondly, based on this observation, I have been reasonably convinced of the existence of God through primarily the Kallam Cosmological Argument. Finally, I am convinced to trust the God of the Bible because of the historical veracity of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
3. The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
Personally, there is not one single thing that could convince me of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. However, what has persuaded me to believe that the historical Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead is the result of a cumulative case study of historical facts surrounding the resurrection and the mode of the resurrection. Fortunately, Christianity is a religion rooted in history and makes claims that can in important measure be investigated historically. Even critics, who do not observe the New Testament writings as inspired Scripture, accept the central facts undergirding the resurrection of Jesus.
Fact #1: After His crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. This can be substantiated with some historical insights. Firstly, Jesus’s burial is attested in very old tradition quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Secondly, the burial story is part of very old source material in Mark’s gospel account. Mark being the first written gospel gives us confidence in this account. Finally, Joseph of Arimathea is highly unlikely to be a Christian invention. He was a part of the high Jewish court that condemned Jesus, and yet he still thought it fit to give Jesus a proper burial instead of being tossed out as a common criminal.
Fact #2: On the Sunday following the crucifixion, Jesus’s tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. In support of the fact that the tomb was actually empty, the empty tomb story is included in Mark’s account as well as the old tradition cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. This account lacks embellished details in contrast to second-century apocryphal gospels that describe Jesus exiting his tomb with his head reaching high above the clouds and followed by a talking cross! Also, the fact that a woman’s testimony was discounted in first-century Palestine demonstrates the trustworthiness of the testimony of the women who first discovered the empty tomb. If a writer would have wanted to make the resurrection story more “credible” in a first-century context, he would have made the first discoverers to be men.
Fact #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. This fact is widely accepted amongst New Testament scholars because of key reasons. Paul’s quotes in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 of the resurrected Jesus in his epistle guarantees that they occurred. These appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple and varied witnesses, which is a very important mark of historicity.
Fact #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead, despite their having every predisposition to the contrary. What did the disciples have to have confronted during Jesus’s burial? Their leader was dead. He was no longer with them. They had no belief in a dying, or rising again leader; they wanted a leader to unshackle them from the Roman rulership. According to Jewish Law, their leader was a criminal (Deuteronomy 21:23). Also, Jewish beliefs precluded an afterlife or resurrection until the general resurrection. Yet, the disciples believed in and went to their deaths for the fact of Jesus’s resurrection.
Where do these facts take us and what are we to conclude based on them? While this might have been good enough to convince a 1st-century Palestinian, is this evidence sufficient for a modern person? Many scholars will choose to remain skeptical or agnostic but the scriptural phrase, “God raised Jesus from the dead,” is the best explanation for these facts.
In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests that historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:
- It has great explanatory scope: it explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
- It has great explanatory power: it explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
- It is plausible: given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.
- It is not ad hoc or contrived: it requires only one additional hypothesis: that God exists. And even that needn’t be an additional hypothesis if one already believes that God exists.
- It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” doesn’t in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.
- It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions (1)-(5). Down through history, various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. These hypotheses, and others like them, have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as the resurrection hypothesis.
Based on the widely agreed facts described above about the Resurrection and the historical justification for those facts, I can conclude that there is very good reason to believe in the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If you would like to further discover more about support for Jesus’s resurrection, I highly recommend reading Lee Stroble’s book “Case for Christ,” or on the encyclopedia spectrum of books, Josh McDowell’s book, “Evidence That Demands A Verdict.” Other great researchers like Jonathan McLatchie have devoted themselves to an evidential defense of the resurrection and the Christian faith.
It would be foolish of me to assume that you as the reader would be convinced to trust the God of the Bible solely based on what I have been writing in this article and previous. However, I do hope that this has been a help in understanding key concepts that are necessary to the Christian worldview. The correspondence between truth and reality is vital in establishing an apologetic for the Christian faith and for understanding the visible world. The existence of God can be demonstrated positively through reasonable, sound, falsifiable, and verifiable arguments. The resurrection of the historical Jesus of Nazareth can be understood as a historical event. I trust that you will not take my words at face value, but that this will launch your journey into discovering why you can trust in the God of the Bible.