Thursday, May 3, 2018

An Historical Case for Christ’s Resurrection

By Keith Thompson


There are various theological implications for Jesus’ resurrection. One of them is that if Jesus rose from the dead then his divine and messianic claims he made during his earthly advent are vindicated. It would demonstrate he was not lying about himself or what he said was doctrinally true in various areas.

This implication causes many to reject Jesus’ resurrection from the outset. Indeed, a naturalist, materialist presupposition is difficult to penetrate, especially when one factors in original sin and the noetic effects of sin. Nevertheless, it is important for normal people such as Christians and those God is drawing to observe how strong an historical case can be made for the resurrection. If it happened, atheism, Islam and every contrary world view are discredited, and Christianity is vindicated.

During the last thirty years or so, leading evangelical evidentialist and classical Christian scholars, as well as some others, have produced strong cases for Jesus’ resurrection. It has become a sort of specialized field in academia because of how large and detailed a case can be made. One can think of the numerous and often bulky works on the subject written by Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, N. T. Wright, and William Lane Craig. In their works they work with arguments to the best explanation (i.e., C. Behan McCullagh’s six criteria to determine the best explanation for given historical facts). They also work with the criteria of authenticity historians rely on.

Although we affirm the New Testament writings are inspired, in this essay we will be assessing them simply as first century historical documents to be critically analyzed on the matter. We are going to examine the New Testament texts and surrounding literature as an historian would in order to ascertain weather or not the resurrection can be historically authenticated.

The Reliability of Jesus’ Resurrection Predictions

A way historians discern if a purported event or saying in history is authentic is to determine if the section of the document reporting it meets the criteria of authenticity. The more of these criteria which are met, the more reliable a saying or event is demonstrated to be. These criteria include the criterion of dissimilarity which means a saying may be attributed to Jesus if it neither agrees with the early church or with the Judaism of Jesus’ day. There is also the criterion of multiple independent attestation which means a statement is likely to go back to Jesus if it is reported in two or more independent documents. Then there is the criterion of semitisms which refers to a saying with Aramaic or Semitic background pointing to authenticity. There is also the criterion of Palestinian environment which refers to sayings that reflect early Palestinian social, domestic, or religious customs. There is likewise the criterion of earliness which means a saying is more trustworthy if it is reported in an early account(s). Then finally there is the criterion of embarrassment which refers to sayings pointing to authenticity if they would have embarrassed or caused difficulty for the early church. Such sayings would not have been invented by the early church and are thus deemed authentic. 

There are various demonstrably authentic sayings which meet multiple criteria of authenticity where Jesus predicts his own resurrection. We will examine two of them.

Mark 8:31 reports “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Now, Mark is the earliest gospel and so the criterion of earliness is met. Also, in the immediate context (i.e., Mark 8:32-33) Jesus rebukes one of his leading apostles, Peter, and actually calls him “Satan” for defying what was to take place. This is an embarrassing feature about Peter which later Christians would not invent, thus meeting the criterion of embarrassment. Moreover, Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man” in this text is dissimilar to how later Christians identified Jesus, which shows they didn’t invent Jesus’ statements here. Thus, the text also meets the criterion of dissimilarity. Lastly, there are semitisms or semitic elements in the text and in the parallel texts in Matthew 16:21-23 and Luke 9:22.(1) The criterion of semitisms is therefore also met.

In Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants and the vineyard (Mark 12:1-11; Matthew 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19) the Jewish people murder the prophets and then Jesus, yet Jesus is vindicated and becomes the cornerstone the builders rejected which points to Jesus’ resurrection where God vindicates his death. Even the radical critics of the Jesus Seminar regard this parable to be an authentic saying of Jesus meeting the criterion of multiple attestation. Moreover, Craig Evans notes this parable reflects the Jewish, Palestinian experience of absentee landlords,(2) thereby meeting the criterion of Palestinian environment. Also, Klyne Snodgrass has written a thorough, scholarly defense of the authenticity of this parable in his book The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

The conclusion is history shows Jesus predicted his own resurrection from the dead in demonstrably authentic sayings, an event which was also later reported as historical, and thus corroborated, by various first century biographies and epistles.

Other Primitive Attestations

When historians seek to discern if a saying or event is authentic, they want to be able to examine primitive or early material. The earlier the material, the more reliable it is seen to be. When we apply this principle to Jesus’ resurrection, we see it is reported in very primitive material produced by Jesus’ earliest followers. If Jesus truly did rise then this makes perfect sense. If he did not then such reports are quite difficult to explain.

Not only is Jesus’ resurrection reported in multiple first century gospel biographies and letters, but resurrection material in such documents has been traced back to earlier sources such as “Q,” Mark’s pre-Makran source, and various primitive formulas, speeches, and creeds. These sources pre-date the gospels and epistles bringing us extremely close to the time of Jesus’ death.

“Q” Evidence

“Q” is short for quelie which is the German word for “source.” The Q source was used by both Matthew and Luke when not using Mark. In Q there is a saying of Jesus where he predicts his imminent resurrection. It is found in Luke 11:16, 29 and Matthew 12:38-39.(3)

The saying reads, “others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. . . . When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’” How is this relevant to Jesus’ resurrection? Well the first century interpretation of the sign of Jonah in relation to Jesus found in Matthew’s gospel is explained in this way: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Thus, the sign of Jonah refers to Jonah escaping the belly of the whale in three days and nights just as Jesus would escape the heart of the earth through resurrection after three days and nights.

Q was composed around A.D. 50.(4) It is therefore another very early attestation to Jesus’ resurrection.

Mark’s Pre-Markan Source

New Testament scholars and historians note Mark utilized earlier material for his passion narrative known commonly as Mark’s pre-Markan source.(5) He did not simply sit down and write his account of Jesus’ fate. He had an earlier source he used as a framework.

Scholars note this primitive passion source Mark relied on did not simply end with a burial account.(6) Instead the burial and empty tomb stories in Mark are actually just one story tied together by grammatical and linguistic links.(7) This indicates together the burial and the empty tomb stories in Mark both go back to this pre-Markan source. And, the empty tomb evidence necessitates the resurrection (more on this later). In fact, Rudolf Pesch has convincingly argued the pre-Markan passion source consisted of Mark 14:1-16:8 with little editing from Mark.(8) The pre-Markan source is thus a primitive attestation to Jesus’ resurrection. 

This source dates to within seven years of Jesus’ death. We know this because it speaks of “the high priest” without using Caiaphas’s name (Mark 14:53, 54, 60, 61, 63). Thus, Caiaphas was high priest while this source was composed since its audience knew who the high priest was without mention of his name being necessary. It is similar to how we speak of “the president” without mentioning his name and people knowing who we are talking about because of the time in which we are speaking. Therefore, the pre-Markan source was written while Caiaphas was presiding as high priest (i.e., between A.D. 18-37). It must therefore have been composed sometime prior to the end of his reign in A.D. 37. Mark’s pre-markan source is therefore extremely primitive material which affirms Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts Speeches

With regards to the early apostolic speeches recorded for us in the book of Acts which mention Jesus’ death and resurrection, New Testament scholar Graham Stanton notes semitic material is behind them.(9) Non-Christian Jewish historian of ancient Judaism and Christianity Jacob Neusner observes certain Acts speeches are awkward in their contexts or attached to their contexts only by artificial links thus showing evidence of not being deliberately contrived by Luke. He concludes his study noting “Luke started with material of a primitive nature, some of it at least with roots back in the Aramaic stage of the tradition. . . . Acts arose out of the need to preserve and make sense of certain basic elements of traditional material; they were not pasted, so to speak, afterwards, but were of the very essence of the venture”(10). Based on his studies, the non-Christian Jewish scholar Geza Vermes similarly concluded, “The ideas attributed to the beginning of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem and Judea, chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles, have every probability of mirroring in substance the earliest thoughts of the first Jewish-Christian communities of Palestine.”(11)

At this time in history there was an expectation for historians who reproduced speeches to be accurate. Ancient Greek historian Polybius tells us historians should only report speeches that actually occurred.(12) Likewise, Suetonius was part of the tradition of avoiding idealized speeches (i.e., what he thought a subject would say), and instead, “quotes the actual words of his subjects, cataloguing, for instance, the idiosyncrasies of Augustus’ Latin” (Catherine Edwards, Suetonius: Lives of the Caesars, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. xxviii). David G. Peterson observes when reporting speeches, Luke’s “concern for style seems to have been subordinated to his concern for faithfulness to his sources.”(13) That Luke conformed to this standard and did not intend to write entertainment or purposeful error, Bart Ehrman was forced to admit, “Luke meant to write a history of early Christianity, not a novel. Indeed, all of the ancient Christian authors who refer to the book appear to have understood it in this way.”(14) Thus, exegetical historian Samual Byrskog notes, “the consensus, it seems, has now moved away from U. Wilckens’ insistence on the strongly redactional character of most of them [i.e., Acts speeches] and acknowledges the author’s thorough dependence on earlier material.”(15) Therefore, there is good reason to affirm the reliability of these early Acts speeches which mention Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Some examples of resurrection attestation in these early Acts speeches are Peter’s speeches in Acts 2:23-24, 32; 4:10, and the speech of Peter and the Apostles in Acts 5:30, etc. These speeches were originally delivered in the early to mid 30’s A.D.

Pre-Pauline Oral Formula in Romans 1:3-4

Romans 1:3-4 is a pre-Pauline oral formulation Paul borrowed from the early Jerusalem Church. In this text we read, “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4). Thus, the text affirms Jesus died and then rose.

We know this is an early oral formulation Paul borrowed which goes back to the primitive Jerusalem Church because in it there are participle constructions, parallelisms of two clauses, utilization of untypical Pauline words, and theological themes that are uncommon in Paul such as the reference to Jesus’ Davidic sonship, etc.(16) Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans around A.D. 57.(17) Thus, prior to this date Christians were teaching Jesus rose from the dead in oral formulations dating back to the primitive Jerusalem Church.

The 1 Corinthians 15 Creed

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul provides an ancient apostolic creed which is dated by scholars very closely to the end of Jesus’ life in the 30’s A.D. In this creed, coming from the most primitive Christians, Christ is said to have died for our sins and rose from the dead: “3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We know this is an earlier creed because in v. 3 Paul explains how he received and passed this creed using the technical rabbinic terms denoting passing of earlier oral tradition such as paredōka (“delivered”) and parelabon (“received”).

While visiting Peter and James in Jerusalem in A.D. 35 (Galatians 1:18-19), five years after Jesus’ death, Paul said in Galatians 1:18 that he “went up to Jerusalem to historēsai Peter and remained with him for fifteen days” (Galatians 1:18). The word historēsai means “to get information from.”(18) This explains where Paul got this 1 Corinthians 15 creed about Jesus’ death and resurrection. He got it from Peter and James five years after Jesus’ death. This is demonstrated by F. F. Bruce’s insightful remarks, “In that list two individuals are mentioned by name as having seen the risen Christ, and two only: ‘he appeared Cephas’ and ‘he appeared to James’ (1 Corinthians 15:5, 7). It is no mere coincidence that there should be the only two apostles whom Paul claims to have seen during his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion [in Gal 1:19]. . . .  It was almost certainly during these fifteen days in Jerusalem that Paul received this outline.”(19)

Plus, this creed contains non-Pauline traits like using the phrase “for our sins” when Paul prefers the word “sin” itself, and the phrase “according to the scriptures” which is absent from Paul’s writings. Instead he prefers “it is written.”

Thus, even radical liberal and unbelieving critical scholars affirm this 1 Corinthians 15 creed mentioning Jesus’ resurrection dates to the 30’s A.D. Form critical scholar Reginald Fuller states: “It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition.”(20) Liberal critic James D.G. Dunn observes: “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as a tradition within months of Jesus’ death”(21). Liberal Jesus Seminar critic Robert Funk agrees the creed was formulated very closely to the time of Jesus’ death(22), as does atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann.(23)

Thus, belief in Jesus’ resurrection goes back to the apostles and earliest primitive Christians even before Paul. This is because the resurrection is historical. 

Early “God Raised Jesus from the Dead” Sayings

New Testament scholar Dale C. Allison has shown the numerous “God raised Jesus from the dead” sayings peppered throughout the New Testament documents represent a primitive formula used by the earliest followers of Jesus.(24) The formula is found in numerous texts such as Acts 3:5, 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30; 1 Peter 1:21; Romans 4:24; 6:4; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:12; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 2, etc).

As we have seen, the most primitive Christians affirmed Jesus’ resurrection. It is my argument the historicity of the resurrection explains the origin of the early Christian movement as well as this early materiel. As New Testament scholar N. T. Wright observes, “The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivaled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity.”(25)

The Empty Tomb

There is much evidence for Jesus’ tomb being empty after at first being occupied by his corpse. Also, there is good evidence to affirm the reason the tomb was empty was because Jesus rose from the dead as opposed to other theories such as the “conspiracy theory.”

As previously noted, Mark’s early pre-Markan source affirms the empty tomb, and it is likewise implicitly affirmed in the primitive 1 Corinthians 15 creed which comes from Peter and James. The relevant portion of that creed says “that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:4). Craig Keener notes “Paul believed that Jesus was ‘buried’ . . . and must therefore have assumed that the risen Jesus left the tomb.”(26)

Moreover, the first century gospel biographies report it was women who discovered the empty tomb (Mark 16:1-8; Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1-2). If the gospels were misleading people with fiction, they would not declare women discovered the empty tomb since the testimony and intelligence of women was highly questioned in the ancient Mediterranean world.(27) This meets the principle of embarrassment, for, later Christians would not invent details that embarrassed them or caused them difficulty. Hence, the gospel writers were reporting truth concerning the discovery of the empty tomb and had to live with the fact women discovered it.

Also germane to note is it was known the tomb was empty early on is confirmed by the fact that the Jewish authorities living during Jesus’ time speculated his followers may have stolen his body as an explanation (Matthew 28:11-13). William Lane Craig thus argues, “The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb.”(28)

What is more, scholars note the empty tomb account in Mark, the earliest gospel, is very basic and lacks legendary embellishment commonly found in fictional works, which is not what one would expect if Mark was putting forth myth or legend. As Craig notes, “all you have to do is compare Mark’s account of the empty tomb with the account found in the so-called Gospel of Peter, a forgery from around A.D. 125. In this account . . .  two men descend from heaven to the tomb . . . the heads of the two men reach up into the clouds. . . Then a cross comes out of the tomb, and a voice from heaven asks, ‘Have you preached to them that sleep?’ And the cross answers, ‘Yes.’(29)

Lastly, Jesus’ primitive followers could not have preached Jesus’ bodily resurrection in Jerusalem the way they did (e.g. in Acts speeches, early formulas and creeds) if the tomb was not empty. This is because skeptics and Jewish authorities could have gone and seen Jesus’ body in the tomb to refute the primitive Christian preachers.(30)

This evidence is so compelling even non-Christian Jewish scholar Geza Vermes(31) and atheist scholar Michael Grant(32) affirm the empty tomb. Many, many others do as well.

Conspiracy hypothesis

Now, New Testament scholars and historians do not argue Jesus’ followers stole his body from the tomb. There are many reasons for rejecting such a position. For example, the disciples would have been too shaken and depressed after Jesus’ death to organize and carry out such a conspiracy.

Moreover, the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection is evidence against such an idea. The conspiracy hypothesis does not account for the fact that the disciples truly believed they saw the risen Lord in post-resurrection appearances. And, why would the disciples maintain their resurrection position in the face of death if they simply stole Jesus’ body from the tomb? To such evidence we will now turn (note I have elsewhere refuted another response to the empty tomb evidence – the so-called “swoon theory”).(33)

Resurrection Appearances to Martyr Disciples

Another argument for Jesus’ resurrection is the disciples firmly believed they saw the risen Jesus in post-resurrection appearances to them, and even went to their deaths for such beliefs.

Evidence for Appearances

Evidence the risen Jesus appeared to the disciple Peter is found in the previously mentioned primitive 1 Corinthians 15 creed in v. 5 (which goes back to Peter and James) and is independently attested in a tradition found in Luke 24:34 which says, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34). That the 1 Corinthians 15 creed and Luke testify the same appearance is evidence for a common, early tradition. That Luke is reporting an earlier tradition is further evidenced by the fact that this appearance to Peter is foreign to Luke’s narrative (i.e., he does not detail the appearance anywhere), and its mention is awkwardly introduced into Luke’s gospel while covering another issue (i.e., the two Emmaus disciples). Thus, we can be confident the appearance to Peter comes from primitive tradition Luke relied on and did not invent. Moreover, the appearance to the twelve affirmed in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed in v. 5 is also multiply attested in Luke 24:36-42 and John 10:19-20. Lastly, the appearance to the five-hundred brethren mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed in v. 6 is multiply attested in Matthew 28:9-10, 16-20 as D. A. Carson and many others have shown.(34) Thus, we have good, primitive tradition that individuals, small circles and large assemblies all had experiences in which they saw the risen Jesus. This is what best explains the empty tomb evidence. Based on this kind of evidence, even atheist New Testament critic Gerd Lüdemann admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”(35) Similarly, influential liberal New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders admits, “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact.”(36) Also, respected liberal scholar James D. G. Dunn admits, “It is almost impossible to dispute that at the historical roots of Christianity lie some visionary experiences of the first Christians, who understood them as appearances of Jesus, raised by God from the dead. . . . By ‘resurrection’ they clearly meant that something had happened to Jesus himself. God had raised him, not merely reassured them. He was alive again.”(37)

Conversion of Skeptics due to Appearances

Another reason we know the disciples truly believed they saw the risen Jesus in appearances is because those who were initially skeptical of Jesus and his resurrection afterwards became leaders in the early Christian movement. This is best explained by the early reports of their seeing the risen Jesus for themselves. For example, Jesus’ brother James’ initial skepticism is multiply attested in the following texts (Mark 3:20-21, 31-32; 6:2-4; John 7:1-5). Nevertheless, we are told in v. 7 of the primitive 1 Corinthians 15 creed that Jesus appeared to James after the resurrection. Jesus’ appearances to James together with the twelve apostles are also attested in Matthew 28:16-20, Luke 24:33-40, and Acts 1:2-9. Then, there is early evidence that after this James became a believing leader of the church (Acts 1:14; 15:1-21; 21:17-26; Galatians 1:19; 2:1-10; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1; Hagesippus quoted in Eusebius, Church History, 2.23; Papias, Fragments, 1, 10). In light of this multiply attested, early evidence, the best explanation for James going from disbelief to belief is that he believed he saw the risen Jesus, just as the early evidence affirms. Many liberal and unbelieving critical scholars agree.(38) The principle of embarrassment is also met in regards to the early material admitting James disbelieved in his own brother. In regards to the Apostle Paul, at first he was an unbelieving Pharisee who persecuted the church (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; 22:1-5; 26:4-5, 9-11; Galatians 1:13, 23; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13). Nevertheless, we are told in v. 8 of 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to him which led to his conversion. That Jesus appeared to Paul is attested also in Galatians 1:15-16, 1 Corinthians 9:1 and Acts 9:3-20; 22:6-16; 26:12-18. Then, after this, we see early, multiply attested evidences of Paul becoming a major, believing leader of the early Christian church (Galatians 1:15-16; 1 Corinthians 5:10-11; Philippians 3:7-9; Acts 15:12; 13:13, 26-30; Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 5, 47; Ignatius; Letter to the Romans, 4; Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 3). The principle of embarrassment is also met in regards to the admissions that initially Paul was a disbelieving skeptic who persecuted the early Christians. The best explanation for the conversions of the skeptics James and Paul are the multiply attested resurrection appearances they experienced.

Martyrdoms of those who Believed Jesus Rose and Appeared to them

To further buttress the fact the disciples truly believed they saw the risen Jesus, is the fact the disciples were willing to go to their deaths for this idea they preached. We have shown evidence Peter, James and Paul experienced post-resurrection appearances and preached the risen Jesus. Thus, the fact we also have evidence of Peter (John 21:18-19; Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 5), Paul (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 5; Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 12, Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 9), and James (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1; Hagesippus quoted in Eusebius, Church History, 2.23) being martyred for such central, Christian beliefs, is proof they truly believed they saw Jesus risen. People do not go to death for what they know to be false. Thus, the fact they went to their death proclaiming the resurrection message means they truly believed it, and believed they experienced the risen Jesus. Keener argues, “People of course die regularly for values that are false; they do not, however, ordinarily die voluntarily for what they believe is false. Intentional deception by the disciples is thus implausible.”(39). Hence, because the disciples were willing to die for their belief Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them, we have good grounds for maintaining they truly believed such things and did not fabricate them. Even liberal New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders concedes, “Many people in these lists [of witnesses] were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause.”(40) That the disciples truly believed Jesus rose from the dead before going to their own martyrdoms, agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman admits, “it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.”(41)


Now, some have claimed the appearances of Jesus to the disciples were actually just mere hallucinations originating from the minds of the disciples. However, this reply contains three major difficulties we will now cover.

First, we have argued for the reliability of appearances to groups of people based on the primitive 1 Corinthians 15 creed which comes from Peter and James. The appearance to the twelve mentioned in v.5 of that creed is multiply attested in Luke 24:36-42 and John 10:19-20. And the appearance to the five-hundred mentioned in v. 6 of that creed is multiply attested in Matthew 28:9-10, 16-20. Now, it is one thing to suggest a single individual had a hallucination which was mistakenly thought to be an appearance. But, it is something entirely different to say a group of twelve or five-hundred people all had the same hallucination at the same time. In fact, that is quite absurd to say. Hence, the diversity and nature of these corporate visions stand as a strong refutation for the hallucination theory. Since this suggests there were not multiple, corporate hallucinations but instead real appearances, it follows the other similar, individual events Peter, Paul and James experienced were likewise not hallucinations but were also real appearances

Secondly, if one opts for hallucinations and rejects resurrection appearances, they are left without an explanation for the fact of the empty tomb we have thoroughly established.

Thirdly, the disciples did not simply see Jesus. Instead, the early and often multiply attested accounts bear witness they also ate with him, touched him and conversed with him. This is inconsistent with hallucination and it is consistent with physical resurrection.


We have good historical support for Jesus’ resurrection in the form of Jesus’ demonstrably authentic sayings meeting the criteria of authenticity, primitive sources like “Q,” Mark’s pre-Markan source, early Acts speeches, early oral formulas and early creeds. We have likewise seen good historical evidence for aspects of the resurrection such as the empty tomb, post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, and the disciples’ martyrdoms for such beliefs. We have even quoted liberal and unbelieving scholars who agree with the empty tomb, and that the martyr apostles believed Jesus rose and appeared to them.

Why then do liberal and unbelieving critics continue to deny the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection when, according to academic historiography, the evidence is so strong? The reason is they have naturalistic, materialistic presuppositions they are not willing to abandon. Hence, they can’t accept the resurrection because it is inconsistent with their assumptions and world views. They also have a natural bias and disposition against God and the Bible (Colossians 1:21; Romans 8:7) and they suppress the truth of God they know deep down for the sake of unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-23). It is precisely because liberals and unbelievers reject Jesus’ resurrection, even though it is highly evidenced, that this essay is not meant for them. It is meant for normal people such as Christians and those God is drawing to salvation.

Sometimes unbelievers swiftly reject all the aforementioned evidence and just assert Jesus’ resurrection is just a myth that developed over time. However, Greco-Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White has shown even two generations are too short to allow for legend or myth to overtake the historical core of an oral tradition.(42) Plus, we have shown belief in Jesus’ resurrection goes back to material shortly after the time of Jesus’ death. That is not enough time for myth-making, especially in the context of first century Jews who specialized in memory and preserving oral tradition.(43)

Other unbelievers presuppose naturalism and claim they will not affirm Jesus’ resurrection because miracles allegedly do not occur. However, Craig S. Keener’s recent, large two-volume work Miracles thoroughly dispels such thinking by documenting many miracle reports today and from history with things like doctor testimony and multiple eyewitness testimony. He has pre-and-post CAT scans and MRI's as well. Other unbelievers claim Jesus’ resurrection is an idea borrowed from previous pagan myths. However, the pagan parallel’s to Jesus movement arose in the late 1800’s in Germany and with the help of people like James Frazer writing in 1906, but was thoroughly refuted by late 19th and early 20th century scholars like Samuel Cheetham, H. A. A. Kennedy, J. Gresham Machen, A. D. Nock, Bruce Meztger and Gunter Wagner. Since this devastating refutation, it was abandoned by scholarship. Now in the 21st century only a few fringe kooks espouse it and they’re rejected by scholarship. Such recent fringe writers have been refuted in modern works as well such as Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?, Wallace et al’s Reinventing Jesus, Nash’s The Gospel and the Greeks, N. T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God, and Eddy and Boyd’s The Jesus Legend, etc. No serious historian of the relevant fields who holds a university chair affirms Jesus did not exist and that his resurrection was borrowed from pagan myths. 

For more detailed information on how Jesus’ resurrection can be historically proven, as well as answers to objections, see Michael R. Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus, William Lane Craig’s The Son Rises and Reasonable Faith, Gary R. Habermas’s and Michael R. Licona’s The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, and N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

What I do recommend “atheists” examine is my documentary Atheists Don’t Exist and my essay Failure of False Religions to Account for Valid Human Experience. In them we tear down the world view of the atheist, show they already know God deep down, and prove Christianity alone is the necessary precondition to make valid human experience intelligible. We know “atheists” will not accept evidentialist and classical arguments for the existence of God and the resurrection, and so this is why we produced those materials. They show they already know God and must abandon their faulty unbelieving world views if they are to make sense of what we all do and say. This is the effective and God-honoring approach to dealing with atheists, not giving them evidentialist arguments as though God was on trial and they were the judges who determine if he exists.


1) Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, [IVP Academic, 2010], p. 285
2) Craig. A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, [InterVarsity Press, 2006], pp. 132-135
3) Robert H. Stein, Mark, [Baker Academic, 2008], p. 373
4) Patrick Hartin, James and the ‘Q’ Sayings of Jesus, [Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015], pp. 226-227
5) Martin Bigelius, From Tradition to Gospel, [James Clarke & Co., 1971.], pp. 178-217; also more recent is Gerd Theissen's essay "A Major Narrative Unit (the Passion Story) and the Jerusalem Community in the Years 40-50 C.E" which shows Mark 14:43-52 is part of the pre-Markan passion source since it protects Peter's identity (protective anonymity) as the one who cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. If it protected Peter's identity due to his crime then that means the pre-Markan source existed and was composed between AD 30-60 when Peter was still living and vulnerable to legal consequence.
6) Ludger Schenke, Der gekreuzigte Christus, [KBW, 1974], p. 83
7) William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, [Crossway, 2008], p. 364
8) Rudolf Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, Vol. 2, [Herder, 1977], pp. 1-27
9) Graham Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, [Cambridge University Press, 1974], p. 70
10) Jacob Neusner, Christianity, Judaism and other Greco-Roman Cults, [Wipf & Stock, 1975], pp. 213, 223, 224
11) Geza Vermes, The Resurrection, [Doubleday, 2008], p. 112
12) Polybius, Histories, 2.56
13) David G. Peterson, Acts, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, [Wm B. Eerdmans, 2009], p. 20
14) Bart Ehrman, The New Testament, [Oxford University Press, 2008], p. 143
15) Samuel Byrskog, Story as History, [Brill, 2002], p. 284
16) Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, ed. Moises Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 1998], pp. 39-40
17) D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, [Zondervan, 2005], p. 394
18) Walter Bauer, Frederick Danker, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christianity Literature, [University of Chicago Press, 2000], p. 483
19) F. F. Bruce, Paul, [Paternoster Press, 1977], pp. 85-86
20) Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, [Macmillan, 1980], p. 10
21) James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, [Eerdmans, 2003], p. 855
22) Robert Funk et al, The Acts of Jesus, [HarperSanFransisco, 1998], p. 466
23) Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Christ [Prometheus, 2004], p. 31
24) Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, [T & T Clark, 2005], pp. 229-232
25) N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, [Fortress, 2003], p. 718
26) Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, [Wm B. Eerdmans, 2009], p. 340
27) Jos. Ant. 4.8.15; Luke 24:11; Origen, Cels. 2:59; 3:49; Rosh HaShana 1:8
28) William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, [Crossway, 2008], p. 369
29) William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, [Crossway, 1994], pp. 275-276
30) Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, [Wm B. Eerdmans, 2009], p. 341
31) Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew, [Fortress, 1973], p. 41
32) Michael Grant, Jesus, [Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973], p. 176
33) Keith Thomson, Comprehensive Case Jesus Died by Crucifixion,
34) D. A. Carson, Matthew, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, Vol. 8, [Zondervan, 1984], p. 589: also affirmed by Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, [Regency Reference Library, 1982], p. 355; Ernest Bernard Allo, Saint Paul, [Gabalda, 1956], p. 396; W. Harold Mare, 1 Corinthians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, [Zondervan 1976], p. 282; Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1985], pp. 202-203; Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, [Thomas Nelson Inc, 1998], p. 570; Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, [Random House Digital, Inc., 2002], p. 282 n. 3.
35) Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden, [Westminster John Knox Press, 1995], p. 8
36) E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, [Penguin, 1993], p. 280
37) James D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus, [Westminster, 1985], p. 75
38) Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, [Fortress, 1994], p. 109; Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament, Vol. 2, [Fortress, 1982], p. 84; Robert Funk, Honest to Jesus [Collins, 1996], p. 33; John Shelby Spong, The Easter Moment [Harper and Row, 1987], p. 68
39) Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, [Wm B. Eerdmans, 2009], p. 342
40) E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, [Penguin, 1993], pp. 279-280
41) Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, [Oxford University Press, 1999], p. 231
42) A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, [Clarendon Press, 1963], pp. 188-191
43) See the Reliability of the Oral Jesus Tradition section of the essay Keith Thompson, Are the Gospels Too Late and Unreliable?,

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