The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Part 2

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This article was first published in the Spring 2002 Journal of Ministry and Theology, published by Baptist Bible Theological Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pa. It has reproduced here with permission of the author.

Excerpt “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty, and your faith is also empty” (1 Cor 15:14). For Christians the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the foundation of our faith. Apart from the resurrection, there is no gospel, no good news for a despairing world. Continue reading

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One of the strongest arguments for the historicity of the resurrection is the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples and to unbelievers who then became believers.1 The empty tomb by itself did not lead to faith in the resurrection of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:21-24; John 20:13).2 It was primarily the witness of the risen Jesus that led to the first disciples’ faith in their risen Lord.

 

THE RESURRECTION APPEARANCES OF JESUS

 

The first resurrection appearances of Jesus were made to women.3 The risen Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9). Mary Magdalene came with the other women to the tomb on that first Resurrection Sunday (Matt 28:1-8). An angel told her and the other women not to be afraid because Jesus was risen from the dead. An angel also told them to go quickly and tell the disciples of Jesus that he had risen from the dead. When the women saw that the stone had been rolled away and heard the announcement of the angel that Jesus was not there, Mary Magdalene ran ahead to tell the apostles while the other women returned slowly (Matt 28:8; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:8-10; John 20:2). Peter and John then ran to see the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene then apparently came back to the empty tomb after Peter and John had visited the tomb and had left. Here she saw the risen Christ and mistook him for the gardener, but she immediately recognized him when he spoke to her (John 20:11-17; cf. Mark 16:9-11). After she had seen the risen Jesus, Mary Magdalene returned to the disciples and told them that she had seen the Lord (John 20:18; Mark 16:10-11).

 

The second resurrection appearance of Jesus was probably to the other women who had come with Mary Magdalene to the tomb (Matt 28:9-10). The women listed in the gospels were Joanna, Salome, and Mary the mother of James (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10). They met the risen Jesus after they told the disciples about the empty tomb.4

 

The third resurrection appearance of Jesus was to Peter in the afternoon of the resurrection day. There are no specific details given for this encounter. Luke reports that after the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had seen the risen Jesus, they went back to Jerusalem  and  told  the  disciples  that  the  Lord  had  appeared  to  Simon (Luke 24:34). This means that either the Lord had told them that he had appeared to Simon (highly unlikely since they did not recognize Jesus until he broke the bread), or that they had seen Peter on their way back to Jerusalem or in Jerusalem. Paul confirms this resurrection appearance of Jesus to Peter in 1 Corinthians 15:5.

 

The fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus was to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not initially recognize him. This has led some to believe that the appearance of the resurrected body of Jesus is distinctive from the earthly body that he had prior to his resurrection. These two disciples heard the risen Jesus expound the Old Testament and explain to them that the Messiah had to suffer before he could reign. They recognized him when he broke bread with them (Luke 24:13-35; cf. Mark 16:12-13).


The fifth resurrection appearance of Jesus was to the ten disciples in the upper room on Resurrection Sunday night (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23; Mark 16:14). The ten disciples were minus Judas Iscariot, who had commit- ted suicide, and Thomas. The risen Jesus showed his disciples the marks of crucifixion on his resurrected, glorified body and ate some fish and honeycomb to prove that he was not a ghost. The disciples were amazed when they saw him.

 

The sixth resurrection appearance of Jesus was to the eleven disciples more than eight days after his resurrection. This time Thomas was present (John 20:26-29). The Lord told doubting Thomas to touch his resurrected body at the place where he had been wounded, but the text does not say that Thomas did. The text does say that Thomas recognized the deity of Jesus by saying, “My Lord and my God.”

 

The seventh resurrection appearance of Jesus was to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23). On this occasion Jesus provided a miraculous catch of fish for the disciples, prepared breakfast for them, and had a private conversation with Peter.

 

The eighth resurrection appearance of Jesus was probably to five hundred disciples. Paul cited this as proof of the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:6. Paul said that some of those disciples were still alive at the time of his writing 1 Corinthians (A.D. 56). These disciples could have given legal eyewitness testimony of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.


The ninth resurrection appearance of Jesus was to James, the Lord’s brother (1 Cor 15:7). There is some evidence that James was not a believer prior to the resurrection of Jesus (cf. John 7:3-5), but after his conversion experience James became a “pillar” in the early church (Acts 1:14; 15:13-21; Gal 1:19; 2:9).

 

The tenth resurrection appearance of Jesus was to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee. On this occasion Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission to make disciples of all different ethnic groups around the world (Matt 28:16-20). The means of carrying out the Great Commission was through evangelism, baptism, and teaching. The risen Jesus promised his presence with his disciples as they carried out this great task.

 

The eleventh resurrection appearance of Jesus was to the disciples at the time of his ascension from the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:3-9). This is the last recorded appearance of Jesus to his disciples on earth.


The remaining resurrection appearances of Jesus were from his present location in heaven. The twelfth resurrection appearance of Jesus was to Stephen just prior to his martyrdom (Acts 7:55-56). The thirteenth resurrection appearance of Jesus was to Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6; cf. Acts 22:6-11; 26:13-18). The fourteenth resurrection appearance of Jesus was also to Paul in Arabia (Acts 20:24; 26:17; Gal 1:12, 17). There is no record of the precise revelation given to Paul in Acts 9 or 22. In Acts 22:10 he was promised a later revelation which would give him necessary instruction. The fifteenth resurrection appearance was to Paul in the temple when Paul was warned concerning the persecution which was to come (Acts 22:17-21). The sixteenth resurrection appearance of Jesus was again to Paul while he was in prison in Caesarea. It is recorded that “the Lord stood by him” and told him that he would bear witness in Rome (Acts 23:11). The final resurrection appearance was to the apostle John when he was on the island of Patmos. John describes the resurrected, glorified Jesus in all of his glory in Revelation 1:12-20.

 

A CRITIQUE OF EXPLANATIONS FOR THE APPEARANCES OF JESUS

 

The Hallucination View

 

The hallucination view says that the disciples thought they saw the risen Jesus, but they really did not. According to this view, the disciples had hallucinations or visions of Jesus after his death. The disciples imagined that they saw Jesus and that was enough for them to declare that Jesus was alive.

 

Bultmann writes, “The historian can perhaps to some extent account for that faith [in the resurrection] from the personal intimacy which the disciples had enjoyed with Jesus during his earthly life and so reduce the resurrection appearances to a series of subjective visions.”5

 

Johannes Weiss writes that “the appearances were not external phenomenon but were merely the goals of an inner struggle in which faith won the victory over doubt. The appearances were not the basis of their faith, though so it seemed to them, so much as its product and result.”6


Marcus Borg, a leader in the Jesus Seminar, thinks that while “the story of the historical Jesus ends with his death on a Friday in A.D. 30, the story of Jesus does not end there. According to Jesus’ followers, he appeared to them in a new way beginning on Easter Sunday.”7 Borg rejects the bodily resurrection of Jesus and claims that we cannot know what form the appearances of Jesus took since Borg says they are described as visionary and other times as corporeal.

 

There are several ways of refuting the hallucination view. First, the hallucination view fails to account for the appearances of Jesus to various individuals and groups of people at different times and places. By definition, a hallucination is a private event, a purely subjective experience void of any external reference or object. Psychologist Gary Collins says, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce an hallucination in somebody else. Since an hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.”8

 

The gospels tell us that the risen Jesus appeared to many different people at different times and places. The risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the apostles, to the apostles as a group with a skeptic named Thomas who wouldn’t believe unless he physically saw the risen Jesus, and to a persecutor of the church who afterwards would become the great apostle Paul. The risen Jesus appeared to five hundred people at one time. How does one explain five hundred people having the same hallucination at the same time?


Second, the hallucination view fails to account for the initial unbelief of the disciples. It is interesting that the disciples did not initially believe the reports of the empty tomb and that later they were amazed when they saw the risen Jesus (Mark 16:11, 13, 14; Luke 24:41). Jesus himself rebuked the disciples for their unbelief (Mark 16:14).

 

Third, the hallucination view fails to account for the surprise of the disciples at the appearances of the risen Jesus. People who have hallucinations often are expectant and are looking for something. The gospels tell us that on that first Easter Sunday the disciples were fearful and were in hiding for their lives. They did not expect the risen Jesus to suddenly appear. Luke tells us in his gospel that the disciples were “terrified and frightened” when the risen Jesus appeared to them. They thought that when they saw the risen Jesus they were seeing a spirit (or ghost), but Jesus proved that he was not a hallucination or spirit by showing them his hands and feet with the crucifixion marks and then by eating some broiled fish and some honeycomb in their presence (Luke 24:36-43). Jesus proved to them over the forty days between his resurrection and ascension that he was risen from the dead.9

 

The Impersonation View

 

In The Passover Plot, Hugh Schonfield proposes that Jesus tried to deceive his disciples into thinking that he was the Messiah.10 To fulfill Old Testament prophecy, he plotted with Joseph of Arimathea to receive a drug while he was on the cross. The scheme supposedly backfired when the Roman soldier thrust a spear into Jesus so that he died. Before dawn, the body of Jesus was then supposedly taken down quickly from the cross and disposed of in an unknown grave. An unknown young man was then supposedly mistaken as Jesus by an emotionally distraught Mary and the confused disciples. Neither Joseph of Arimathea nor the mysterious young man ever corrected the confused disciples. The disciples then supposedly spread the story that Jesus had risen from the dead.

 

There are many problems with Schonfield’s view. First, the arguments presented against the unknown grave view can be used here as well.11 Several women along with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus saw where Jesus was buried. He was not thrown into an unmarked grave. Second, several disciples saw and recognized Jesus. They were not confused about the identity of the risen Jesus. Mary Magdalene did recognize the man in the garden as Jesus. She recognized him by the sound of his voice and the way he said her name (cf. John 20:11-18). The two disciples on the road to Emmaus would not have turned around and come back if they did not believe that they had seen the risen Lord (Luke 24:13-32). Thomas recognized Jesus when he saw him hold out his hands which bore the mark of crucifixion (John 20:26-29).


John Dominic Crossan’s View

 

John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago and the former co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, views the resurrection narratives as a socio-political commentary on the early church leadership. Crossan says of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 that there are three types of recipients of Jesus’ apparitions or revelations consisting of three specific leaders (Peter, James, and John), two leadership groups (the twelve and the apostles), and one single general community (represented by the five hundred).12 The post-resurrection phenomenon, according to Crossan, refers not to Jesus’ appearances, but shows the priority of one leader over another, or one group over the community as a whole.

 

Gary Habermas gives the following critique of this view:

 

(1) inadequate basis: “Crossan has not established his socio-political schema as a central theme in the early church.”13 

 

(2) the resurrection and early church authority: “For Paul, it was not merely receiving revelation from Christ that even made one an apostle in the first place, but specifically having seen the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8)”;14 and

 

(3) the centrality of the resurrection: “The resurrection is central to the New Testament as a whole and should not be limited to just an argument for authority in the church.” Habermas goes on to note: “The resurrection is a sign for unbelievers (Matt 12:38-40; 16:1-4), as well as a comfort for believers (John 11:23-26; Luke 24:36-39). It was an indispensable part of the gospel (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 15:1-5) and the heart of early preaching (Acts 4:2; 4:33). It was the impetus for evangelism (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 24:45-48) and the chief message in Paul’s church planting methods (Acts 17:1-4).”15

 

THE WITNESS OF THE APOSTLES

 

The Witness Of The Apostle Peter

 

Peter preached the death and resurrection of Jesus to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23-35). Acknowledging God’s sovereign plan, Peter accused the Jews of crucifying Jesus (2:23). Jesus was delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, yet sinful men were responsible for crucifying Jesus on the cross. Peter stated that Jesus was one “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (2:24, NKJV). In Acts 2:25-35 Peter quoted two Old Testament scriptures to prove the resurrection of Jesus. First, he quoted Psalm 16:8-11. Peter emphasized that David could not be referring to himself in these verses as he pointed out that “of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:29-32).16

 

Peter and John raised a lame man in the temple. When the people ran up to them at Solomon’s Porch, Peter told them that it was not their power that had raised the man, but that the power had come from the risen Christ. Peter accused the Jews of killing “the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). He also told them, “To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:26).

 

The Jewish priests, captain of the temple, and the Sadducees arrested Peter and John because “they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). Peter gave this defense before these Jewish leaders: “Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole” (Acts 4:10).

 

On another occasion, the apostles were arrested and put on trial. The Sanhedrin reprimanded them for filling Jerusalem with their teaching. Peter and the other apostles answered, “We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree” (Acts 5:30).

Peter went to the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius and preached the gospel to him and his family. Peter said:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. (Acts 10:38-41)

 

The Witness of The Apostle Paul

 

The apostle Paul gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in his missionary sermons and in his legal defenses when he was on trial. Paul told the Jews in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia:

Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption. For David after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers and saw corruption; but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. (Acts 13:30-31, 33, 34, 37)

 

Paul preached the gospel to the Greek philosophers in the marketplace in Athens and at the Areopagus in Athens, Greece. Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered Paul saying, “What does this babbler want to say?”17 Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:18). The Greek philosophers rejected the concept of a bodily resurrection from the dead. They viewed the material body as being evil and of no eternal value. Paul preached the gospel to these Greek philosophers at the Areopagus.18 After showing that idolatry is illogical and expounding on the immaterial nature of God, Paul warned the Greek philosophers that they would be judged by God if they did not repent of their idolatry. The assurance that God will judge all men is that he has raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:29-31).

 

AN EARLY TRADITION: 1 CORINTHIANS 15:3-8

The gospel of Jesus Christ concerns the death, burial, resurrection and appearances of Jesus. Paul wrote:

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (1 Cor 15:3-8)

 

Paul did not invent the gospel. Paul told the Corinthians that he delivered to them first of all what he himself had also received.19 Paul indicated that he received this gospel from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Elsewhere he wrote, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught I, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11-12).

 

EXTRA-BIBLICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS

 

Archaeological Sources

 

The Nazareth Decree

 

In 1878 a marble slab was discovered in Nazareth which contained an “ordinance of Caesar.” Scholars generally agree that it was issued by Roman emperor Claudius between A.D. 41-54. The inscription was written in Greek. Here is the translation:

Ordinance of Caesar: It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain perpetually undisturbed for those who have made them for the cult of their ancestors or children or members of their house. If, however, anyone charges that another has either demolished them, or has in any other way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred the sealing on other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted, as in respect of the gods, so in regard to the cult of mortals. For it shall be much more obligatory to honor the buried. Let it be absolutely forbidden for anyone to disturb them. In case of violation I desire that the offender be sentenced to capital punishment on charge of violation of sepulcher.20

 

It is possible that Claudius investigated some of the beliefs of Christians as a result of some riots in Rome. The riot in Rome in A.D. 49 led the emperor to expel the Jews, including Aquila and Priscilla (cf. Acts 18:2). Possibly Claudius discovered that the Christians were teaching that Jesus arose from the dead, and he possibly heard the Jewish report that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus from a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers (cf. Matt 28:11-15). Hearing that a certain Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead, Claudius made the decree for the town in which Jesus grew up. The punishment for the crime of grave robbing was made a capital offense and punishable by death.21

 

The Shroud Of Turin?

 

The shroud of Turin is a linen cloth measuring fourteen feet, three inches long by three feet, seven inches wide. It has been proclaimed to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus.22 The linen contains a double exposure, an image of a crucified man reposed in death, that reveals both the obverse and reverse of the body. Ian Wilson postulates that the cloth left Israel around A.D. 30 and went to the kingdom of Edessa, to Constantinople, to France, to Switzerland, and finally to Italy.23 Samples of pollen discovered on the cloth point to an origin in Israel possibly as far back as the first century.

 

Gary Habermas writes:

Biblical questions concerning the type of burial depicted on the shroud have failed to discover any discrepancies with the New Testament texts. Wrapping a body lengthwise and positioning it as shown on the shroud is corroborated by both recently discovered Qumran burial practices and by the Code of Jewish Law (“Laws of Mourning”). Further studies have revealed that the head napkin was first rolled up and then wrapped around the head, as reported by the Gospel of John (11:44; 20:5-7), the Jewish Mishnah (Shabbath 23:5) and the “Laws of Mourning.” While some believe that the body of the man wrapped in the shroud was not washed, the “Laws of Mourning” point out that there are conditions when washing is not appropriate, such as when a person suffered capital punishment or a violent death. The use of several strips of linen in John is also confirmed on the shroud, since pieces of linen were apparently used there, as well. One additional point concerns Jesus’ burial, as it is recorded in the Gospels. Since it is related that Jesus underwent a hasty burial with the women planning to return later to finish the process (Luke 23:54-24:4; Mark 15:42; 16:1-3), we have another explanation of possible oddities in his burial procedure.24


Habermas indicates that scientists are puzzled by a number of interesting correlations between the image on the shroud and the facts surrounding Jesus and his crucifixion and burial. Both the image on the shroud and Jesus suffered many punctures, a bruised face, a horrible whipping (over one hundred wounds from this beating have been counted), abrasions on the shoulders from a rough, heavy object, and contusions on the knees. Both had punctured feet and wrists, and strangely both escaped without having ankles or knees broken. Both had postmortem chest wounds. Both were buried quickly in fine linen and were buried individually. The shroud contains no evidence of bodily decomposition, indicating that the body exited the cloth after a short internment. Even more interesting is the possibility that the image was caused by some light or heat source that emanated from the dead body onto the shroud. The converging scientific facts show that the body left the cloth by some yet unknown means. Some scholars believe that the shroud is a forgery from the Middle Ages because of some carbon-14 dating done to the shroud.25 But there are others who object to this dating and believe that the shroud is authentic.26

 

Ancient Non-Christian Sources

 

Tacitus

 

Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 55-120) was a Roman historian who lived during the reigns of several Roman emperors and has been called the “the greatest historian” of ancient Rome. Tacitus is best known for two works: the An- nals and the Histories. The Annals cover the period from Augustus’s death in A.D. 14 to Nero’s death in A.D. 68, while the Histories begin after Nero’s death and go to Domitian in A.D. 96. Tacitus wrote:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.27

 

J.N.D. Anderson writes, “It is scarcely fanciful to suggest that when he adds that ‘a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment again broke out’ he is bearing indirect and unconscious testimony to the conviction of the early church that the Christ who had been crucified had risen from the grave”28

 

Suetonius

 

Suetonius was a Roman historian and the chief secretary of Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138). He had access to the imperial records. Suetonius wrote about how the Jews were expelled from Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius: “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.”29 This historical fact fits with Luke’s statement in Acts 18:2 that Paul met Aquila and Priscilla who had recently left Italy because Claudius had demanded that all Jews leave Rome. Most view “Chrestus” as a variant spelling of “Christ.”

 

Suetonius refers to the punishment of Christians by Roman Emperor Nero. He writes, “After the great fire of Rome punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”30 Suetonius does not specifically state what the “new and mischievous religious belief” was, but it would be plausible to say that it was the teaching of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Josephus

 

Josephus was a Jewish historian who was born in A.D. 37 and died in A.D. 97. He was born into a priestly family and became a Pharisee at the age of nineteen. After surviving a battle against the Romans, he served Commander Vespasian in Jerusalem. After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Josephus came to Rome, where he became the court historian for Emperor Vespasian.

 

The “Testimonium Flavianum” is a debated text found in Josephus’ work Antiquities of the Jews 18.3. It reads:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.31

There are three views on the validity of the “Testimonium Flavianum” as it appears in  the Greek  text:

 

(1) Josephus wrote it,

(2) some later Christian authors wrote it and Josephus really wrote nothing about Jesus, or

(3) Josephus wrote some statements about Jesus in the original edition of the Antiquities, but the present Greek text contains some later alterations done by Christians. Origen (third century) says of Josephus that “he disbelieved in Jesus as Christ”32 If Origen is right, then the original Greek text attributed to Josephus has been changed by Christians. Most scholars believe today that the third view is correct: that some portions of the “Testimonium Flavianum” are authentic while other sections have been changed by Christians.33

 

Pliny the Younger

 

Pliny the Younger was a Roman author and administrator who served as the governor of Bithynia in Asia. He was the nephew and adopted son of historian Pliny the Elder. Pliny wrote several letters some of which speak of Christianity in the province of Bithynia around A.D. 112. Pliny gives us an account of early Christian worship of Christ whom he described as a “god”:

They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.34

 

Ancient Christian Sources (Non-New Testament)

 

Clement Of Rome

 

Clement was the leading elder in the church at Rome and wrote Corinthians about A.D. 95 to help end a dispute between the church members and elders at Corinth. His letter to the Corinthian church is generally considered to be the earliest extra-New Testament Christian writing. Clement’s letter contains an important historical reference to Jesus and the resurrection:


The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having there- fore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.35

Ignatius

 

Ignatius was bishop of Antioch who wrote seven letters to six churches and one individual named Polycarp. These letters contain several historical references to Jesus and his resurrection. In his epistle to the Trallians, Ignatius wrote:

Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe on Him.36

Justin Martyr

 

Justin Martyr was the most notable of the second-century apologists. Justin’s First Apology was addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161) and aimed to clear away prejudice and misunderstanding about Christianity. He claimed that popular charges that Christians were atheists and immoral were unfounded. He argued that Christian beliefs and practices actually reflected a higher reason and morality.37 Justin Martyr defended the resurrection of Jesus Christ when he wrote:

Accordingly, after He was crucified, even all His acquaintances forsook Him, having denied Him; and afterwards, when He had risen from the dead and appeared to them, and had taught them to read the prophecies in which all these things were foretold as coming to pass, and when they had seen Him ascending into heaven, and had believed, and had received power sent thence by Him upon them, and went to every race of men, they taught these things, and were called apostles.38

 

Justin Martyr debated Christianity with a Jew named Trypho. In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr argued for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He wrote,

Christ said amongst you that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that he rose from the dead, but, as I said before, you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.39

 

CONCLUSION

 

What are we to make of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ? The Jesus Seminar led by Crossan and Funk has looked at the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus and has come up with the following conclusions:

On the basis of the aggregate evidence of these stories and reports, the Jesus Seminar agreed that: The resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse. If the resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse and if a Christophany had developed out of an angelophany, it follows that: Belief in Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on what happened to his body. Since the empty tomb was a late development, probably created by Mark, the report that Jesus had been buried in a tomb known to the women has come under scholarly suspicion. The tendency to elaborate and enhance the burial stories heightened that suspicion. In view of the nature of the appearances and the late emergence of stories representing the resurrection as physical and palpable, the Seminar concluded: The body of Jesus decayed as do other corpses. All the evidence, when taken together, seemed to suggest that: The resurrection was not an event that happened on the first Easter Sunday; it was not an event that could have been recorded by a video camera. The Seminar followed this trail of evidence to its conclusion, which they formulated as follows: Since the earlier strata of the New Testament contain no appearance stories, it does not seem necessary for Christian faith to believe the literal veracity of any of the later narratives. This conclusion, of course, assumes that there were Christians and hence Christian faith prior to the rise of specific appearance stories. The Fellows were unanimous in this judgment; there were no dissenting votes. At the same time, many Fellows hold the view that narratives of the appearances of the risen Jesus are affirmations that Jesus was a living lord. They are confessions of the conviction held by the earliest Christian communities. They are properly understood only when it is recognized that they are not historical reports.40

In contrast to the Jesus Seminar, I believe that the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be refuted. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ meets the criteria of authenticity used by the Jesus Seminar:

1. Multiple attestation: the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples come from the four gospels and the tradition given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. These accounts are inspired, inerrant scripture.

2. Dissimilarity: the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection is a clear example of the application of this criteria, for their belief is not the result of antecedent Jewish influences. The women were the first ones to visit the empty tomb and see the risen Christ. Their testimony to the male disciples of Jesus was initially rejected. The witness of women was rejected in the first-century Jewish court of law. This would normally be a source of embarrassment for Christianity. But their witness is an argument for the authenticity of the resurrection. The disciples’ faith in a risen Messiah cannot be explained as an expectation within Judaism, for there was no such belief. The Jews were expecting a political messiah who would overthrow the Romans and establish a Jewish kingdom. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus revealed their disappointment concerning that unfulfilled expectation. The dramatic conversions of the unbelievers James and Paul cannot be explained apart from the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, who subsequently appeared to each of them with the result that their lives were dramatically changed. James, who refused to believe in Jesus during his lifetime, became a “pillar” in the early church. Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted the church, became Paul the apostle who preached the gospel throughout the Roman empire. The account of the empty tomb in Mark should not be considered as legend. When one compares Mark’s account with the embellished account in the Gospel of Peter, the authenticity of Mark’s account stands out as distinctive.

3. Coherence: the three independently established facts pointing to the resurrection of Jesus—namely, the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in the risen Jesus—cohere together and form a powerful argument for the historicity of the resurrection.41

Is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead the best historical explanation of the facts? The Jesus Seminar would say “no” because of their naturalistic presuppositions that reject the possibility of miracles. When the existence of an all-powerful God is recognized, then the possibility of miracles and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is more plausible than any of the other rival hypotheses.

William Lane Craig writes, “The stupefaction of contemporary scholarship when confronted with the facts of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection suggests that no better rival is anywhere on the horizon. It is hard to deny that the resurrection is the best explanation of the facts.”42

Endnotes

1. The unbeliever Saul of Tarsus was converted on the road to Damascus when the risen Jesus appeared to him (Acts 9; Acts 22:1-21; 1 Cor 9:1; 1 Cor 15:8).

2. The first article in this two-part series examined the possible explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus and demonstrated that the best explanation for the facts recorded in the gospels is the historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. See the previous article: Gary R. Gromacki, “The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” JMAT 6, no. 1 (2002): 63-87.

3. The risen Jesus honored women by first appearing to them. These female disciples testified to the male disciples that Jesus was alive, but the male disciples refused to believe them (Matt 28:8; Mark 16:9-11, 14; Luke 24:10-11; John 20:2, 18). Interestingly, the testimony of women was not accepted in a Jewish court of law. The Mishnah says “The law about an oath of evidence applies to men but not to women …” (Shevuoth 4:1). Josephus wrote, “Let not the testimony of women be admitted because of the levity and boldness of their sex” (Antiquities 4:219). Jesus rebuked the two men on the road to Emmaus for their refusal to believe the women’s report of his resurrection (Luke 24:22-26) and also the eleven when they sat at table (Mark 16:14).

4. The New King James Version reads “And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet and worshipped Him” (Matt 28:9). The clause “And as they went to tell His disciples” has been added by scribes and probably is not a part of the original text according to UBS III Greek text. Bruce Metzger writes, “Although it is possible that the words w de; eporeuvonto apaggei'lai toi' maqhtai' autou' kai; idouv  fell out of the text due to homoeoteleuton, their absence from the earliest and best representatives of all three early types of text (the Alexandrian, the Western, and the Caesarean) led the Committee to regard them as a natural expansion derived from the sense of the preceding verse” (Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [London: United Bible Societies, 1971], 72).

5. Rudolph Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (New York: Scribner’s, 1951), 1:45.

6. Johannes Weiss, Earliest Christianity (New York: Harper, 1959), 1:30.

7. Marcus Borg, Jesus: A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship (San Francisco: Harper, 1987), 184.

8. Quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 238-39.

9. Acts 1:3 says that Jesus “presented himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” The Greek word for “infallible proofs” (tekmhrivoi) is defined as “that which causes something to be known in a convincing and decisive manner, proof” (Walter Bauer, A Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3d ed. [Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000], 994; hereafter abbreviated BDAG).

10. Hugh Schonfield, The Passover Plot (New York: Bantam, 1967).

11. Gromacki, “The Historicity of the Resurrection,” Part I, 79-80.

12. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: Harper, 1994), 169.

13. Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 131.

14. Ibid., 132.

15. Ibid., 133.

16. Psalm 16:10 is a direct Messianic prophecy and is one of two such prophecies in the Psalms (the other being Psalm 110:1 which Peter also quotes in this message; cf. Acts 2:34-35). David’s body did see corruption, but the body of Jesus did not see corruption as it was raised on the third day. Paul made this point as well when he quoted Psalm 16:10, “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; but He whom God raised up saw no corruption” (Acts 13:36-37).

17. The Greek word for “babbler” is spermolovgo"  which means “seed picker.” The word was used of a kind of bird, “the ‘rook’ and in pejorative imagery of persons whose communication lacks sophistication and seems to pick up scraps of information here and there; scrapmonger, scavenger” (BDAG, 937). Apparently these Greek philosophers viewed Paul as an amateur philosopher, someone who had no new ideas of his own, but only picked among prevailing philosophies and constructed one with little depth of insight.

18. The Areopagus was a court named for the hill on which it once met. Paul was not being formally tried for some crime. He was just asked to defend his teaching there. Acts 17:19 shows us this as it says, “And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.’” Luke then makes the observation, “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:19-21).

19. For a detailed analysis of this first-century creed that was delivered to Paul, see William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence For The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1989), 1-50.

20. Quoted from Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 176.

21. Maier observes, “All previous Roman edicts concerning grave violation set only a large fine, and one wonders what presumed serious infraction could have led the Roman government to stiffen the penalty precisely in Palestine and to erect a notice regarding it specifically in Nazareth or vicinity” (Paul Maier, First Easter [New York: Harper, 1973], 122).

22. All three Synoptic Gospels record that when Jesus was taken down from the cross, he was wrapped in a “linen shroud” (sindwvn; Matt 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53).

23. Ian Wilson, The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? (New York: Doubleday, 1978).

24. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 178-79.

25. Carbon-14 testing was done on a 4 inch by 2.8 inch cut from the shroud on April 21, 1987. Each of three laboratories (Oxford, England; Zurich, Switzerland; and the University of Arizona, USA) received one third of the piece of the shroud. The official results were submitted to the British Museum. The shroud was dated to the fourteenth century. Even if the shroud had been dated to the first century, it would not have proven, nor could it, that the shroud belonged to Jesus Christ (John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991], 219-20).

26. Kenneth Stevenson and Gary Habermas, The Shroud and the Controversy (Nashville: Nelson, 1990).

27. Tacitus, Annals, vol. 15, The Complete Works of Tacitus, ed. Moses Hadas (New York: Random House, 1942), 44.

28. J. N. D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History (London: Tyndale, 1969), 19.

29. Suetonius, Claudius, 25, quoted in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 191.

30. Suetonius, Nero, 16, quoted in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 191.

31. Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.63-64, quoted in J. J. Scott, “Josephus,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 393.

32. Origen, Contra Celsum, 1:47, in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, rev. A. Cleveland Coxe (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 416.

33. Historian Edwin Yamauchi writes, “Almost everyone agrees that a number of phrases in the passage are so patently Christian that a Jew like Josephus would not have penned them: (1) ‘If indeed one ought to call him a man’ implies that Jesus was more than human. (2) ‘He was the Christ.’ Josephus elsewhere says very little about messianic expectations, because he wanted to downplay those beliefs. (3) ‘On the third day he appeared to them restored to life.’ This seems to be an unambiguous testimony to the resurrection of Christ” (Edwin Yamauchi, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?” in Jesus Under Fire, ed. Michael J. Williams and J. P. Moreland [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995], 213).

34. Pliny, Letters, trans. William Melmoth, rev. W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1935), vol. II, X:96.

35. Clement of Rome, Corinthians, vol. 42 in The Apostolic Fathers, ed. J. B. Lightfoot (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965), 31.

36. Ignatius, Trallians, vol. 9 in The Apostolic Fathers, 74.

37. Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity (Herts, England: Lion, 1977), 108.

38. Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 50, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:179.

39. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 3:108.

40. The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus, ed. Robert Funk (San Francisco: Harper, 1998), 461-62.

41. William Lane Craig, “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” in Jesus Under Fire, 162-63.

42. Ibid., 165.

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