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  • Adam Butler

Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?


Christianity is not founded on a book; it is founded on an event. If this one event did not happen, then everything we as Christians believe about the New Testament is false. These are not my words, they are the words of the Apostle Paul. 1 Corinthians 15:14 says “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”


That is a bold statement, to say the least; Paul is admitting that the entire Christian belief system hinges on this one occurrence.


Apologist Frank Turek puts it this way: the Gospel writers did not create the resurrection; the resurrection created the Gospel writers. In other words, the writers of the Gospel accounts believed what they did concerning Jesus because they believed that he truly rose from the grave. If Jesus of Nazareth did, in fact, rise from the dead, then Christianity is true. So, the question remains: did Jesus actually rise from the dead, as the Gospel writers claim?


One of the world’s leading scholars on the topic of the resurrection of Christ, Dr. Gary Habermas, has constructed an argument consisting of a number of facts concerning the event. He describes this line of reasoning as the “minimal facts” approach to defending the resurrection. That is, these are the “minimal” facts which even the majority of liberal scholars are willing to accept. In other words, both believers and skeptics of the New Testament have to admit the following arguments as fact. The only question, then, is “what is the best explanation to the facts?”


The facts are indisputable; but do they adequately support the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the grave? Let us examine them briefly.


  1. Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion on a Roman cross.

  2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he appeared to them after he had died.

  3. Paul, the church persecutor and sworn enemy of Christianity, was suddenly changed into its greatest advocate.

  4. James, the brother of Jesus, suddenly dropped his skepticism and became the leader of the Jerusalem church.

  5. The tomb where they buried Jesus on Friday was empty on Sunday.


Let us address each of the facts, one by one.


Jesus of Nazareith died by crucifixion on a Roman cross

Virtually every scholar who has fairly investigated the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth will conclude that 1) he existed and 2) he died by crucifixion. This is, after all, what the gospel accounts claim as well. Jesus’s life and death have been recorded in extra-Biblical accounts as well. There are at least 10 non-Christian sources that mention Jesus, all within 150 years of his death. That is remarkable, compared to many other historical figures of the time, namely Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor of the time. Jesus has more mentions than even him. Jesus’s death on a cross is also virtually indisputable among scholars, both conservative and liberal.

Even so, it is important to remember that the gospel accounts themselves are also historical documents. These documents alone boast historical reliability that supersedes almost every other document of its time. You can trust the New Testament documents. They were written early, by eye-witnesses of the events. (We will delve into the reliability and trustworthiness of the New Testament in another article.)


Jesus’ disciples believed that he appeared to them after he had died.

The disciples of Jesus, who had no reason to invent a resurrection story, believed whole-heartedly that they saw him raised from the dead. In fact, they went to their graves believing this fact. The gospel writers were persecuted, some killed, thrown out of Jewish synagogues, and ridiculed because of their claim that Jesus had risen. In other words, they had no motivation whatsoever to create a risen messiah story. They had everything to lose and nothing to gain.


Paul, the church persecutor and sworn enemy of Christianity, was suddenly changed into its greatest advocate.

Saul of Tarsus was one of the leading persecutors of Christians after Jesus ascended to heaven. His life mission was to kill everyone who claimed to be a Christian. Historical evidence is incredibly strong on the side of this man and these facts. However, Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, converted to Christianity himself, after claiming to have had an encounter with the risen Jesus. There is no better way of explaining this phenomenon, other than the fact that his words were true: he really did witness Jesus.


James, the brother of Jesus, suddenly dropped his skepticism and became the leader of the Jerusalem church.

James was one of Jesus’s siblings, who is recorded in the gospels as being skeptical of the fact that Jesus claimed to be God. He did not believe his own brother’s testimony. However, this changed radically after the resurrection event. How does someone who grew up with Jesus, witnessed his death, and was still skeptical of his claims, suddenly change everything he believes after one event? The best possible explanation is that the event was miraculous and trustworthy.


The tomb where they buried Jesus on Friday was empty on Sunday.

Possibly the most crucial fact in the argument is the empty tomb. If the tomb were not empty, the entire narrative would collapse. However, the tomb was empty, which leaves a number of explanations.


1. The disciples stole the body.


Some skeptics will attempt to explain away the evidence for the empty tomb by suggesting that Jesus’s disciples came and stole his body. This is an implausible possibility for several reasons. 1) As we have discussed, the disciples had no motivation to invent a risen Christ. Stealing the body to feed their narrative would have been absurd. 2) There were trained Roman guards outside of the tomb. There would be no way for the disciples to overpower the guards, move the stone, and take the body of Jesus without getting caught.


2. The disciples went to the wrong tomb.


Another objection to the empty tomb is that the disciples merely thought the tomb was empty, but the real tomb was never found. Again, there are issues with this idea. 1) The tomb would have been in a very specific location. It would not have been possible to go to the “wrong tomb.” 2) If this were the case, the Pharisees could have proven the disciples wrong by simply removing the real body of Jesus from the actual tomb, and parading it around the city in order to destroy their testimony. But, they did not do this at all. Why? Because the tomb really was empty.


Conclusion


The inference to the best explanation, according to these few facts we have addressed, is that Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead. There are more facts than these, which we may investigate in a later article. However, we can conclude confidently that the most reasonable explanation of the evidence is that Jesus rose from the grave. If this is the case, then he is God. If he is God, then everything he teaches is true. If everything he teaches is true, then the Bible is God’s Word, and can be trusted completely. The Gospel is true, and the evidence is on the side of Christianity.



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