How Do We Know Jesus Rose From The Dead?

Dear Bill,

Thank you so much for our conversation yesterday. I wish we had more time to discuss the many questions you had. I’m writing this letter to you with the hopes of addressing your question, “Why should I believe in the resurrection?”

As we established yesterday, it is widely accepted that Jesus of Nazareth lived, taught, and had followers.[1] It is also well established, and we agree that in the first century Jesus was crucified.[2] Biblical and extra-Biblical sources testify to this. For example we have the non-Christian eyewitness accounts as well as the writings of Josephus, Lucian of Samosata, and Tacitus.[3] In an attempt to clearly show you that we can know that Jesus rose from the dead we will look to three independently established facts: sincere eyewitness testimony, the conversion of skeptics, and the empty tomb of Jesus as attested to by unfriendly sources.[4]

The earliest Christian apologists cite hundreds of eyewitnesses; many of these witnesses also documented their experiences, which we can examine. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives us a list of witnesses to Jesus resurrection.[5] It’s important to understand that claiming the risen Christ was not without consequence. Many times we take for granted our freedom to claim Jesus as our savior. We must be reminded that eyewitnesses willingly and resolutely were subjected to torture and death in defense of their claim to have seen Jesus resurrected. Knowing this we can be sure of their sincerity and be confident that they were not lying or perpetuating an elaborate hoax. Looking at the historical record found in Acts 4:1-17, Pliny’s Letters to Trojan and others, early believers could have ended their suffering by simply renouncing the faith and claim of seeing Jesus post-resurrection, however this was not the case.[6] Most endured suffering to the point of death while claiming the risen Jesus.

You might object that martyrdom, while testifying to someone’s wholehearted belief, does not validate that belief. And this is true, but the early Christian martyrs are an exception because they knew whether they were professing the truth or not. They either saw a resurrected Jesus or they didn’t and this is extraordinary. If it were a lie why would so many people defend it? There was no social, political or financial benefit. In fact claiming this only lead to persecution, imprisonment, torture or death. What they were claiming to have seen was either true or not, and they were willing to die for that claim.[7] Considering the large number of witnesses present eventually someone would have confessed to the truth once they or their family members fell victim to the Roman cross, sword, spear or Emperor Nero’s fires.[8] But the fact is that even in the face of horrible suffering and persecution to this day we don’t have one record of an early Christian denouncing the faith in an attempt to end the suffering. Instead we have numerous accounts of Jesus appearing post-resurrection and hundreds of eyewitnesses willing to suffer and even die for that claim.

In order to gain a complete understanding of the effects of seeing Jesus resurrected we should look to the Apostles specifically. They all underwent undeniable change after the appearances of the post-resurrected Jesus. These were not the bravest of men, directly following Jesus’ capture and crucifixion they ran and hid in fear. But following Jesus’ resurrection they started boldly confessing Christ and the resurrection in the face of persecution. There is no explanation for this other than that they believed what they had witnessed to be true. Instead of any worldly gain these men gave up everything they had for this belief, eventually giving their lives!

Among these martyrs were a few key skeptics, specifically Paul and James. The second evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is the unlikely conversion of these two men. Paul personally admitted to being a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man,” specifically toward Christians and the early church.[9] Following an encounter with what he claimed to be the resurrected Christ Paul was immediately and drastically changed.

He was a rabbi, a Pharisee, a respected Jewish leader. He hated the Christian heresy and was doing everything in his power to stamp it out. He was even responsible for the execution of Christian believers. Then suddenly he gave up everything… and became a Christian missionary: he entered a life of poverty, labor, and suffering. He was whipped, beaten, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked three times… and was martyred for his believe in the risen Christ in Rome.[10]

James too was skeptical, while not quite to the same extent as Paul. Like Paul though an encounter with the post-resurrection Jesus turned him into an unwavering believer and leader of the Church. In Acts and Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews we see that James also willingly suffered and eventually died for his testimony, speaking to the sincerity of his belief.

Not all attestations to the empty tomb came from early Christians and the Apostles. The third evidence for the resurrection of Jesus to explore is the empty tomb as according to unfriendly sources. Jesus was executed in public and buried in Jerusalem. Were the tomb not empty it would have been incredibly easy for the Sanhedrin to squash the rumors that ultimately lead to Christianity. All they would have had to do is exhume the body and display it, squashing any theory of a risen Jesus. But instead the Sanhedrin, admitting the tomb was empty, accused the disciples of stealing it, trying to explain the missing corps. But we can be sure that the accusations were as empty as the tomb.[11]

All knew that the tomb was empty, so what were the possible explanations of this? As the Sanhedrin hypothesized, the disciples of Jesus could have stolen the body. But if they had somehow distracted the Roman guards, rolled away the massive stone sealing the tomb and then taken the body, they themselves would have known that Jesus had not risen. They would have known it was a hoax. And they certainly would not have been willing to suffer and die for what they knew to be false as discussed above.

These three lines of evidence all point to “the same marvelous conclusion: that God raised Jesus from the dead.”[12] What’s more is that in light of this I hope that you will give some serious thought as to the implications for you own life of a risen Jesus both here and in eternity.

Blessings,

JRN


[1] Habermas, Gary, “The Historical Jesus” Defending the Faith Lecture Series, (Biola University, La Mirada, CA, 2010) and Craig, Reasonable Faith: pgs. 378-380

[2] Doug Geivett, “Miricles and the Modern Mind” Defending the Faith Lecture Series, (Biola University, La Mirada, CA, 2010)

[3] Montgomery, John Warwick, History, Law and Christianity (Calgary, AB, Canada: Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy, 2002): p. 29-34

[4] Craig, William Lane, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books): pgs. 333-400

[5] Habermas, Gary, “The Historical Jesus”

[6] Craig, Reasonable Faith: pgs. 339

[7] Montgomery, History, Law and Christianity, pgs. 55-59

[8] Craig, Reasonable Faith: pgs. 338-340

[9] 1 Timothy 1:13 (NIV)

[10] Craig, Reasonable Faith: p. 380

[11] Habermas, Gary, “The Historical Jesus”

[12] Craig, Reasonable Faith: p. 399

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “How Do We Know Jesus Rose From The Dead?

  1. Per the title… the answer is “we don’t”.

    In fact, we know very little for certain about early Christianity. Our earliest useable text on that subject is the Chester Beatty Papyri dated to 200CE. So our understanding of early Christianity is very much dictated by that document. This is one reason you do not see many people with history Ph.D.s writing about this time period. They simply do not have enough archeological or textual data to talk about this period.

    This is where the religion industry comes to the rescue. They step in, calling themselves “historians” giving the people what they want. Some information about early Christianity.

    The only problem is that pretty much everything they write is based on speculation that no historian would ever write, and be able to face other historians.

    When you are reading anything on early Christian, look before you read a book or article to see if the writer has a Ph.D. in history, or if it is some Ph.D. in something like NT Studies, Theology, Biblical Studies, or any of the number of religious industry degrees that often will call themselves historians, but are not.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com (use for responses)

    • jonjonjon

      Thank you for your comment Rich. While the Chester Beatty Papyri are an impressive example of early biblical manuscripts it is not our earliest by 200 plus years. We have the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from the third century B.C. to 68 A.D. which contain fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of Esther.

      Further, we are able to conclude that the New Testament is accurate and reliable by comparing a multitude of manuscripts. Between the second and fifteenth centuries 5,366 partial and complete manuscript were reproduced. Compared to each other we see amazing accuracy and likeness. When compared with other ancient writings like the Iliad with it’s 643 manuscripts and Caesar’s Callic Wars with it’s 9 or 10 manuscripts, these 5,366 Greek manuscripts far surpasses them. You’re main objection isn’t with the ressurection of Jesus but with the historicity of the Bible, for more on this I recommend reading my earlier post “The Historicity of the Bible – A letter to a fictional editor defending the historicity of the Bible”. I would also be willing to provide you with some very helpful reading.

      Not many people with Ph.D.’s writing on the topic? I disagree strongly. One great author is Mark Noll, check him out.

      I’d like to ask you what it would take to serve as “proof” for you? What is your standard of proof?

  2. Rich Griese

    QUOTE : Thank you for your comment Rich. While the Chester Beatty Papyri are an impressive example of early biblical manuscripts it is not our earliest by 200 plus years. We have the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from the third century B.C. to 68 A.D. which contain fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of Esther.

    My earlier comment was about Christian texts not Jewish texts. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain only Jewish texts, and no Christian texts, so I am not sure why you mention them with regards to Christian texts. While we do have small scraps of Christians texts in P52 (125CE), P90 (150CE), P98 (?150CE), P104 (150CE), P4 (175-250), P75 (175-225CE), and P32 (200CE) all of these are small pieces of Christian texts that do not give use the gospels and pauline text. Our earliest text that gives us this is the Chrester Beatty Papyri (200CE) as I mentioned earlier. You can see a complete list of all registered papyri if you doubt what I say at; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Testament_papyri#List_of_all_registered_New_Testament_papyri

    QUOTE : Further, we are able to conclude that the New Testament is accurate and reliable by comparing a multitude of manuscripts. Between the second and fifteenth centuries 5,366 partial and complete manuscript were reproduced. Compared to each other we see amazing accuracy and likeness. When compared with other ancient writings like the Iliad with it’s 643 manuscripts and Caesar’s Callic Wars with it’s 9 or 10 manuscripts, these 5,366 Greek manuscripts far surpasses them. You’re main objection isn’t with the ressurection of Jesus but with the historicity of the Bible, for more on this I recommend reading my earlier post “The Historicity of the Bible – A letter to a fictional editor defending the historicity of the Bible”. I would also be willing to provide you with some very helpful reading.

    I said nothing about the accuracy of the NT from 200CE and beyond. My comment is that our earliest copies of the the NT and Pualine texts date from no earlier that 200CE.

    I would recommend a very good work on the history of Christianity called Antiqua Mater, By Edwin Johnson for anyone that wants to pursue the topic further. It can be downloaded as a PDF at;

    http://t.co/A5F2kMw

    Cheers!

    • jonjonjon

      Nice to hear back from you Rich, and I do appreciate your comments. Thank you. I have to take issue with some of what you say though. Again, your objection has less to do with the ressurection of Jesus than the authenticity of the Bible. But never the less: Are you concluding that the texts forming the Christian Old Testament are not Christian? I disagree and would say that the OT is just as “Christian” as the NT. Maybe we should define terms: Could you define what you consider to be a “Christian text”?

      If your main objection is that we do not have an autograph of any New Testament document then you are right. But do we need to have an autograph in order to verify the date something was written or it’s authenticity? What is your standard of proof in regards to textual criticism? Do you apply that same standard to everything you read?

      Ignoring the Dead Sea Scrolls let’s briefly look at some of what we can render from the NT. While we don’t have autographs most scholars agree that much of the NT was written before 70 AD. For example, we know that Harrods’s Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, an event that was not mentioned. This is significant because Jesus predicted it’s destruction. This was an event which the authors of the NT would have mentioned had they witnessed it. Meaning they had completed their works prior to the temple being destroyed.

      Another example: We can look to the Gospel of Matthew and date it without having the original by reading what others wrote. The earliest quote from Matthew is found in Ingatius who died around 115 AD. From this we can conclude that Matthew was written and pretty widely circulated before Ingatius’ death. Again, it is widely accepted that Matthew was written between 50 AD and 70 AD.

      These are but two of many example. You see, we don’t need original copies of any document, including those forming the New Testament in order to date them or believe they are historically reliable. Greg Koukl says, and I agree: “This issue is no longer contested by non-Christian scholars, and for good reason. Simply put, if we reject the authenticity of the New Testament on textual grounds we’d have to reject every ancient work of antiquity and declare null and void every piece of historical information from written sources prior to the beginning of the second millennium A.D.” (this quote is from http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6068 I recommend it.)

      Edwin Johnson? He was a radical skeptic who went as far as to doubt the very existence of Jesus Christ, a position which is all but abandoned in today’s academia. Earlier you raised an objection to the quality of the scholarship being appealed to by many, I suggest that Edwin Johnson should not be considered an authority on Biblical literature.

  3. Dear JonJonJon,

    My use of “Christian Scriptures” in the last post is simply my usage. Some call them the OT & NT, but to a Jew the idea of a OT would be kind of insulting. So I use the term Christian Scriptures and Jewish Scriptures. Christian Scriptures would include the Jewish scripture.

    It was in a response to this by you… “Thank you for your comment Rich. While the Chester Beatty Papyri are an impressive example of early biblical manuscripts it is not our earliest by 200 plus years. We have the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from the third century B.C. to 68 A.D. which contain fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of Esther.”

    None of those texts would have any material about the early Christian church. The earliest texts that we have that tell us about early Christian thought and doings is the Chester Beatty Papyri from 200CE.

    your mention of Ignatius is interesting. Ignatius apparently knows nothing about any of our gospels. He does not mention any of our known texts.

    RE Edwin Johnson, I know who he is you can find basic info about him here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Johnson_(historian) I will assume your labeling him a “radical skeptic” means that you do not like him or his writing. That is one handy way to dismiss his writings without actually dealing with them.

    Regarding your thoughts about dating the gospels without having actual texts. I understand how the speculation is done. But it is just that… speculation. We are still left with the fact that it is only as of 200CE that we have physical evidence of the beginning of Christianity.

    If you wanted to chat more about this, feel free to come and use the CHAT feature on RichGriese.NET any time. I am usually around. For gerneral talk like this, that is pretty handy.

    Cheers!

    • jonjonjon

      Rich,

      Again, thank you for the comment. I do apologies for the delay in both posting your comment and a response.

      In regards to your use of terms, Jewish as opposed to Christian scriptures, no matter how you personally classify the writings I just don’t see grounds for claiming the OT books are not Christian. That was my point and I think that’s valid. Therefore, the Dead Sea Scrolls are extremely significant as they relate to Christian and Jewish history and are considered biblical.

      With this though, if your main assertion is that we have no New Testament manuscripts then, as I stated earlier, I completely agree with you (although there are manuscript fragments dating even earlier). But does that mean that we can’t know anything about the early Church or the resurrection of Jesus? Not at all. This is why I asked you what your standard of proof is. What would be considered convincing proof texts of early Christianity? What is your view of textual criticism?

      As mentioned above, while we don’t have any original manuscripts we do have a few very early manuscript fragments, dating from the second and third centuries. You have pointed this out. By contrast the manuscripts of most other ancient writings date from a thousand or more years after the originals. If you distrust the Biblical texts you must also distrust many historical writings and almost all of antiquity. Hence the quote offered earlier. But I have already addressed this issue in an earlier blog entry on the historicity of the Bible. Feel free to check it out and comment there.

      Your comment regarding the earliest texts giving insight to the early church is misleading. The Chester Beatty Papyri is the earliest and most complete set of NT documents, not the earliest writings on the Church. This brings us to Ignatius of Antioch.

      Ignatius was a known teacher and defender in the early church who wrote on many books of the New Testament including Ephesians and Romans. He also quoted the first Gospel of the NT, Matthew. He quoted Matt 12:33, 19:12 and 10:16 in three separate letters. These writings, along with many more extra-biblical sources give us a very accurate view of early Christianity. See this site for more on Ignatius: http://www.ntcanon.org/Ignatius.shtml#Gospel_of_Matthew

      Radical skeptic isn’t my label but the label others have attributed to Johnson. His writings reflect an extreme view of unbelief so the label is actually quite accurate. His writings have been adequately dismantled already by people far more qualified than myself. My original comment was in response to your assertion that there are few qualified scholars holding to a high view of textual criticism in regards to the NT. You then offered Johnson’s writings as an example of credible work. I, along with many others do not agree. Finally, if you or I had to deal with every author writing in descent of our view we would never have time to enjoy conversations like this one.

      Ultimately your issue is with the historicity of the Bible and deals with textual criticism. I again point you to my other posting, that would be the proper place to continue this conversation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s