The most critical doctrine within the body of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is so critical that the entire Christian faith hinges on the ideology that Jesus Christ died by crucifixion and was bodily raised from the dead. Simply put, without the resurrection, Christianity catastrophically falls apart.
Today we will begin our journey by establishing the testability of Christianity among other world religions. To support this we will then investigate and compare historical records of antiquity as a measure of credibility to strengthen our case for Jesus’ resurrection. Finally, we will use our findings in the ladder statements and view historical references that verify Jesus’ resurrection and that He is alive and well.
If truth is what we are seeking, I believe it is reasonable to start with the worldview of Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ. Christianity, more than any other religion, is founded on a single being, Jesus Christ (not to be confused with monotheism). Before we explore Jesus, it’s important to note the significance of the prophecies made prior to Jesus’ coming. Prophecy is unique to Christianity in that no other holy book contains fulfilled prophecies; this includes the Quran, the Hindu Vedras and the book of Mormon. Open any Bible and you will read on its first pages that the words of scripture, the writers and the prophets are inspired by God for His will and glory. Therefore, if God inspires the Word of scripture, the writers and the prophets, it only begins to strengthen the validity and credibility of truth claims that others too had prophecies of Him; mainly that the Messiah will be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14), that the Messiah will die by crucifixion (Psalm 22) and that the Messiah will be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10,11).
Here, Jesus stands alone in His unique place in history. Not only did He fulfill the prophecies written long before him, He spoke with an authority and acted publicly in His ministry. As Steiger states, “Jesus asserted his own divinity… Jesus didn’t claim to have discovered the way to God; he claimed to be the way to God. He did not claim to have learned the truth about God; he claimed to be truth. He did not claim to have found life; he claimed to be life.” What is unique within this statement is that it excludes all other religious ideas.
As a comparison, when looking at Islam, we see that Muhammad claims that he received his spiritual revelation from the archangel Gabriel in a cave. He was the only one who experienced this and he became the sounding board for all Islam; But how do we verify this? In Buddhism, we can logically reason that virtually anyone could have been enlightened, it didn’t have to be Siddhartha, a mere man, who decidedly renounced Hinduism and sought enlightenment. Again, how do we verify he was actually enlightened?
What we witness here, and we will see further in our journey, is that Jesus’ moral character is built on the foundation of an everlasting objective reality: God’s word never changes.
Additionally, Dr. Ravi Zacharias provides us with an important framework stating that, “in order to be held reasonably truthful a religious worldview must be testable on the grounds of empirical forms of measurement; historicity and logical reasoning all of which are required to form corresponding truths and coherence of a worldview.” Otherwise the result is a worldview that collapses on itself and cannot be held as reasonable truthful based upon the evidence.
Secondly, would you be surprised if the world’s foremost historians and scholars accepted biblical documents as credible sources of ancient history and archeological evidence? It is correct that this is overwhelmingly true and widely accepted as fact. Bart Erhman, renowned agnostic scholar and skeptic tells us, “virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian and non-Christian, agrees based on clear and certain evidence.”
In the case of historicity, historical research primarily relies on the earliest sources of documents such as eyewitness accounts of events and other sources of information to verify ancient documents. In addition to the historical method, scholars often elicit the bibliographical test, which aims to examine manuscript reliability. “The bibliographical test compares the closeness of the oldest surviving manuscripts to the date of its original handwritten documents. To verify this further, historians then look at the total number of surviving documents with the number and earliest surviving manuscripts and cross reference to other important ancient documents.”
Let’s examine the historical documents of Homer’s Iliad, more commonly known as the poetic story of the Trojan War. The Iliad is important to us because it is considered to be among the oldest extant works of western literature and ancient history. Homer’s Iliad was written at approximately 800BC with the earliest manuscript surfacing around 400BC making it 400 years before the first form of literature appears; the number of earliest manuscripts is approximately 1,757. In addition, the Gallic wars written by Julius Caesar were written in approximately 100-44BC with the earliest manuscripts dating to 900AD making it 1000 years before our first forms of literature appear and only 10 copies of manuscripts. Alexander the Great’s (330AD) earliest manuscripts arrive at approximately 350 years.
Comparatively, the New Testament documents, comprising of 27 books and 8 authors, were written between 40-90AD with the earliest forms of literature surfacing around 70AD or 40 years, the book of Mark . The total number of surviving documents with the earliest number of manuscripts is approximately 5,366. This number does not include the approximately 15,000 plus manuscripts written in other languages.
Interestingly, Muslim Apologist Dr. Shabir Ally tells us, “the book of Mark cannot be considered as reliable evidence as it is written long after Jesus’ death”. Comparatively, what we find here is that the manuscripts of the Gospel are found significantly earlier than any other historical document on record.
Through using fair and consistent approaches of historical methods prescribe by the world’s foremost scholars, we can see that New Testament documents are highly respected and significantly pass the criteria as credible historical sources of evidence that provide us with an insight into the person of Jesus and the resurrection.
Thirdly, in his book Did Jesus exist?, Bart Erhman tells us that there are many facts about Jesus in which the elite scholarly community unanimously agrees upon concerning Jesus Christ mainly, “that Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and a teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution), in Jerusalem during the Reign of Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilot was governor of Judea.”
To support these claims Dr. Gary Habermas states that, “the only explanation that can account for the existence of all of these facts is the resurrection of Jesus.” Habermas’ research has concluded that the vast majority of scholars accept 12 historical facts that can demonstrate the proof of Jesus’ resurrection, we are going to look at 2.
Of the 13 epistles in the Bible, approximately 7 are accepted as being hand written by Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus). In particular, the book of First Corinthians passage 15 (55AD) gives us eyewitness insight into these historical events. It is important to note that Jesus’ death is to be between 30-33AD.
Here Paul writes, “I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which I also received… for what I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day.” Firstly, the message Paul preaches is known as an ancient creed that was used to quickly summarize truth in a simplified manner to avoid the development of heresy; this was the creed the church was founded upon. We also find that Paul learnt this creed 15 years before his first mission to Corinth in 51 AD from James, the recently converted brother of Jesus, placing Paul approximately 4-5 years out from the cross (Galatians 1:11). This is important to us, as Maier states, “many facts from antiquity rest on just one ancient source, while two or three sources in agreement generally render unimpeachable.” Here, we have an account of James advising Paul on the matter of the resurrection facts (Galation 1:18-19). This moment in time is further emphasized by the fact the both Paul and James we’re not previously believers of Christ. Paul was a tremendously feared persecutor of the Church and James is Jesus’ brother whom didn’t believe until he saw Jesus in His resurrection body. We then learn that it took Paul 3 years before he first visited James in Jerusalem placing him 1-2 years from the cross at his conversion on the road to Damascus.
Next, the verse continues, “and then he [Jesus] appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brother and sisters at the same time, most of them are still living today, though some have fallen asleep.” This passage is often debated by skeptics as the hallucination theory claiming that resurrection appearances of Jesus were not literal and instead hallucinations. What nullifies this theory is that there are no medical records anywhere of mass hallucinations. Furthermore, what we witness in this passage is large groups of people acting on seeing the resurrected Jesus and converting to Christianity, marking widespread change. Who would do that if it were just a hallucination? Paul further solidifies his testimony by stating to the Church in Corinth, “that most of them are still living today” thus implying they were accessible if people wanted to fact check.
These historical events lay witness to truly remarkable moments in history and are only explained by the resurrected Jesus. We have historical documentation accepted by the scholarly community as our foundational evidence that far outweighs other ancient documents on the same criteria. Empirically, we have many eyewitness accounts and credible sources placing people at and near these events. Through logical reasoning all of these factors can be tested and verified; in your pursuit of truth I encourage you to do so.
In conclusion, what I hope you have found here is something to consider… to really think about. There are many ideas that the world would have you believe in; but truth is exclusive, and it is only found is the person of Jesus Christ.
Although you may not know him know today, He loves you and is preparing your heart to receive Him, that you might choose to be in relationship with him for eternity.