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5 Reasons to Believe in Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection

Risen

Q. This Easter season, how can I convince my friends that Jesus physically rose from the dead? It’s been especially difficult for me to do this because my friends are either a) not Christians, or b) they don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God. They simply think it’s a merely human book that contains things Christians believe.

A. The good news is that it is possible to show your friends plausible evidence that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. And you can do this without even appealing to the authority of the Church, or to the Bible as the Word of God. It’s called the “Minimal Facts” approach, popularized by Dr. Gary Habermas. There are five historical facts concerning the Resurrection of Jesus that must be accounted for, no matter what one believes. They are:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion. This is an event of history that is recorded outside the Bible. Many non-Christian historians, such as Josephus and Tacitus, wrote about it.

2. The tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter Sunday. All parties, both Christians and the enemies of Christ, agree that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on Easter Sunday. The fact that opponents of the Christian message admit this gives us the very best type of evidence for our case, called “enemy attestation”.

3. Jesus’ disciples were willing to suffer and die for their belief in the Resurrection. While many people are willing to die for what they believe is true, no one willingly dies for what they know to be a lie. The Apostles knew whether or not they had encountered the Risen Jesus in the flesh.

4. The Church persecutor known as Saul the Pharisee converted to the Catholic Christian faith, became Paul the Apostle, and was martyred for his faith in the Risen Jesus. This is an unimpeachable historical fact.

5. The skeptic James, a relative of Jesus, converted because the Risen Jesus appeared to him. James became the Bishop of Jerusalem and a martyr.

There are many more facts that we could mention, such as the evidence of the appearances of the Risen Jesus in his physical body to various individuals and groups , including 500 people at one time. This shatters the erroneous theory that Jesus’ disciples were ‘hallucinating” when they thought they saw Jesus. Hallucinations are individual occurrences and cannot be shared. Plus, they do not account for the empty tomb.

Whatever explanation one comes up with to attempt to explain our “minimal facts” listed above, one’s explanation must account for all of these facts, and must do so more persuasively than alternative arguments. The only explanation that accounts for all of these facts in such a manner is the conclusion that Jesus was Resurrected.

Q and A on the Resurrection: Just the (minimal) facts

An Empty TombQ. This Easter season, how can I convince my friends that Jesus physically rose from the dead? It’s been especially difficult for me to do this because my friends are either a) not Christians, or b) they don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God. They simply think it’s a merely human book that contains things Christians believe.

A. The good news is that it is possible to show your friends plausible evidence that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. And you can do this without even appealing to the authority of the Church, or to the Bible as the Word of God. It’s called the “Minimal Facts” approach, popularized by Dr. Gary Habermas. There are five historical facts concerning the Resurrection of Jesus that must be accounted for, no matter what one believes. They are:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion. This is an event of history that is recorded outside the Bible. Many non-Christian historians, such as Josephus and Tacitus, wrote about it.

2. The tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter Sunday. All parties, both Christians and the enemies of Christ, agree that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on Easter Sunday. The fact that opponents of the Christian message admit this gives us the very best type of evidence for our case, called “enemy attestation”.

3. Jesus’ disciples were willing to suffer and die for their belief in the Resurrection.  While many people are willing to die for what they believe is true, no one willingly dies for what they know to be a lie. The Apostles knew whether or not they had encountered the Risen Jesus in the flesh.

4. The Church persecutor known as Saul the Pharisee converted to the Catholic Christian faith, became Paul the Apostle, and was martyred for his faith in the Risen Jesus. This is an unimpeachable historical fact.

5. The skeptic James, a relative of Jesus, converted because the Risen Jesus appeared to him. James became the Bishop of Jerusalem and a martyr.

There are many more facts that we could mention, such as the evidence of the appearances of the Risen Jesus in his physical body to various individuals and groups , including 500 people at one time. This shatters the erroneous theory that Jesus’ disciples were ‘hallucinating” when they thought they saw Jesus. Hallucinations are individual occurrences and cannot be shared. Plus, they do not account for the empty tomb.

Whatever explanation one comes up with to attempt to explain our “minimal facts” listed above, one’s explanation must account for all of these facts, and must do so more persuasively than alternative arguments. The only explanation that accounts for all of these facts in such a manner is the conclusion that Jesus was Resurrected.

 

Authenticating the Resurrection of Jesus: The Corinthian Creed

Today’s first reading from 1 Corinthians 15 contains one of the first “creeds” of the early Church. As Saint Paul writes,

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the Apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

In an interview with Lee Strobel for the book The Case for Christ, scholar Gary Habermas showed that Saint Paul is, in fact, quoting a very early creed of the Church. First, Paul uses the terms translated “received” and “handed on”, technical rabbinical language for the passing on of sacred tradition. The text is also in stylized format, using parallelism, presumably to aid memorization. The use of the Aramaic version of Peter’s name, “Cephas” is likely a sign of its primitive date. The creed also uses phrases that are uncommon in Paul’s writings: “the Twelve”; “he was raised”; “the third day”. Habermas noted that scholar “Ulrich Wilkens says that it ‘indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity'” (Strobel, The Case for Christ, p. 230).

Habermas, among others, would contend that this creed could have been composed within mere months after the resurrection of Jesus. He notes that no credible scholar disputes Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, which was likely written between 55-57 AD. But Paul says in 15:3 that he passed the creed on to the Corinthian Church at some point in the past, predating his visit there in 51 AD. That places the composition of the creed no later than within 20 years of the original Easter event.

But Habermas – and others – think the creed goes back even further: between 32-38 AD, when Paul received it, in all likelihood in Jerusalem. Three years after Paul’s conversion, he travelled to Jerusalem to interview the Apostles Peter and James (whose feast day we celebrate today). Habermas draws our attention to the fact that, when Paul described this trip in Galatians 1:18-19, he uses the Greek word historeo, which indicates a thorough investigation of the facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection was being made. So, in all likelihood, this creed was delivered to Paul by the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, Peter and James.

Of course, the creed goes on to enumerate other Easter eyewitnesses, including an appearance of the Risen Christ to over 500 people at once – “most of whom are still living” at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Paul is virtually daring any skeptics to interview these people.

The 1 Corinthians creed authenticates the resurrection of Christ in many ways, not the least of which is this: its incredibly early, eyewitness testimony precludes any possibility of legendary accretion. The fact is, the resurrection is a fact.


Authenticating the Death and Burial of Jesus

St Joseph of Arimathea buries JesusEven as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, this Holy Saturday is a good time to examine the reality of Jesus’ death and burial. It has become necessary to do this because both events have been denied by skeptics over the years. It is also important because, in order for Christianity to be true, Jesus must have died, for without his death there could not have been a Resurrection. He also must have been buried, because  scripture and the Church have constantly asserted this fact as part of the kerygma.

1. The death of Jesus. Scholar Gary Habermas states that “the death of Jesus is the most recorded event in ancient, non-Christian history” (The Historical Jesus, p. 281). In an earlier post, we looked at Habermas’ use of the Roman historian Tacitus to this effect. Here is another quote from another, non-Christian source, referring to the death of Jesus (there are numerous Christian references to this as well, but I find secular sources are often more convincing to secular people). This one is from the Jewish Talmud, which was compiled between AD 70-200:

“On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!”

– Quoted in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p. 203

2. The burial of Jesus. Affirming this fact is necessary due to theories like that of former Catholic priest John Dominic Crossan, who famously claimed that Jesus’ dead body was likely thrown into a shallow common grave, where it was eaten by dogs. While not denying that at times in late antiquity, the Romans would leave bodies on crosses to be mauled by animals and birds of carrion (as a public deterrent to revolt), there is no chance this happened to Jesus, because it was peacetime. For Pilate to have left Jesus’ body hanging on the cross overnight during Passover would have been a fatal mistake, all but guaranteeing a riot by the myriad Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. The Romans never would have risked offending Jewish sensibilities here, which they respected during times of calm. Leaving Jesus’ body on the cross would have defiled the land (see Deut. 21:22-23), making it impossible for Jews to celebrate the feast in an acceptable manner. No, Jesus did receive a proper burial with the help of Joseph of Arimathea, an undoubtedly historical reference (no early Christian would have invented a story of Jesus receiving a proper burial, not from his followers, but from a member of the very council that condemned him).