Sunday, December 05, 2021
image
Op-Ed

DISCUSSING THE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS

1
By EMN Updated: Apr 19, 2014 11:57 pm
A A A

Jochuhyulo Tsela

Did Jesus really rise from the Dead? What if the bones of Jesus were found tomorrow, should we walk away from Christianity? One Christian commented: we should walk away from Christianity ifwe found the bones of Jesus orif the Resurrection of Jesus is not true, because if Jesus still remains dead in the grave, our Christians faith is useless. One might even say: if the bones of Jesus were found, Easter Sunday worship service and celebration are worthless. Thus, as Christians, everyone one us must understand that Jesus’ Resurrection is the heart and the foundation of Christianity. Apostle Paul addressing the believers of Corinthian wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (1 Cor. 15:14).
There are number of reasons why the Resurrection of Jesus needs serious discussions. We must as Christians understand that the Resurrection of Jesus is in fact the most important event mentioned in the Bible and in the History of Christianity. If the Resurrection is true historical event, we Christians can have confidence becauseour faith is justified, but if it is not, our faith falls apart. Gregory Koukl once said: the only thing you need to do to disprove Christianity is to refute the Resurrection. This is because the doctrines of Christianity cling on the Resurrected Jesus. For example, Christians believe in the life after death, and the only logical reason for this belief is Jesus’ Resurrection. Jesus declared, “I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies’ (John 11:25). In the book of Roman 6:5, Paul wrote, “If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His Resurrection.” Thus, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, the beliefs and doctrines of Christiansare false and pity. On contrary, however, if Jesus rose from the dead, Christians’beliefs in the life after dead or the Bible arejustified and credible (e.g. The Resurrection of Jesus fulfills the prophecies of Old Testament (Hosea 6.2,Psalm 16.10) and confirms Jesus’ own teachings, such as the prediction of His Death and Resurrection (Matthew 16:21-23).In this article, I attempt to present the case for the Resurrection of Jesus,offering some of the data and evidencesBiblical Scholars and Historians concurtoday, such as, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the belief in the Resurrection. Then I will point out on the basis of evidences that the Resurrection of Jesus is true and historically credible event.

THE EVIDENCE OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION:
1. JESUS’ EMPTY TOMB
The empty tomb to my mind is one of the most powerful evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection. There are thousands of Biblical scholars and Historians today, who concurs Jesus’ empty tomb as credible on the basis of their rigorous research works and scholarships. In one of his classic book Reasonable Faith, William L. Craig observed on the empty tomb story, that if it were accurate, then the location of Jesus’ tomb was known in Jerusalem to both Jew and Christian alike. But in that case, there should be reasons why the tomb must have been empty when the disciples began to preach that Jesus was risen. The disciples could not have believed in Jesus’ Resurrection if His corpse still lay in the tomb, and it would have been wholly un-Jewish, not to say foolish, to believe that a man was raised from the dead when his body was still in the grave. The case as this certainly points out that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty on the early Easter Sunday morning. There are other reasons why we can reasonably infer that Jesus’ tomb was empty. For example, if Jesus’ corpse still remains in the tomb, the enemies of Christians in those days could have easily taken or point out the body of Jesus in the tomb and disproof the preaching and the proclamation of the disciples. Thus, the burden of proof would have lain upon the shoulders of those who said that these were not Jesus’ remains. However, Biblical scholars and Historians tell us that there are no such dispute over the identification of Jesus’ corpse ever seems to have taken place as the dispute between Jewish, non-Christians and Christians elsewhere in the New Testament account.
How can we know for certain that something happened in the history are true? One of the methods Historians use in identifying the credible account in the history is by observing and investigating attestations. For example, today if we found a document or a story that says, A.Z. Phizo wrote a book but it was agreed among his colleagues to be published only after Naga Independence. How we can believe this document or story to be true or what will make us believe or rejectit?One can reasonably infer whether it is true or false by applying the method of observing attestations; that is, if the story of Phizo’s book is multiplyattested or corroborated by various people or groups or Naga tribes, the story is highly probableto be factual, but if it has no attestations, we can infer it to be false and reject it.
Likewise,Biblical scholars and Historians used this historical method to Jesus’ Resurrection account, and it is well established today that the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb is multiply attested in very early independent sources. For example as Craig points out, the pre-Markan passion source in all probability did not end with Jesus’ burial but included the event of the women’s discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. There are also good reasons to discern independent sources attested for the empty tomb story in the other Gospels and Acts. Biblical scholars have identified at least five independent sources used by Gospel writers and Apostle Peter in the book of Acts that supports Jesus’ empty tomb which is astonishing.Thus, from these multiple attestations we can also reasonably infer that Jesus indeed has risen from the dead.
Women Discovered the Empty Tomb: The other significant narrative that tells us that the tomb of Jesus was empty is the fact that Jesus’ empty tomb was first discovered and reported by women (Matt 28:5, 6, Mark 16:6). Some people might be thinking, what is the big deal about this? Biblical scholars and Historians have pointed out interesting fact that if the women were the first reporter of Jesus’ resurrection, this account shows us at least two things important things. First, it is reasonable to believe that the writings of the Gospels are genuine, and secondly, it shows that the Gospel writers faithfully recorded the event and they are not legendary account.
Historians have shown us that in the patriarchal Jewish society, testimonies of women were not highly regarded. Timothy McGrew and Lydia McGrew pointed out Josephus writing and Talmud to illustrate this point, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex (Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.15), any evidence which a woman (gives) is not valid (to offer) (Talmud, Rosh Hashana 1.8c). However, as McGrew also notice that these observations are not to be overstated for there are disagreements reported in the Talmud regarding the degree of credibility to be granted to the testimony of women. Nonetheless, the fact that the women first report of the Resurrection were accepted and recorded faithfully by the Gospel writers adds weight in the context of early Jewish tradition.
William L. Craig in his debates with Bard D. Ehrman, on the Resurrection of Jesus, observed that in light of this fact that women discovered the empty tomb, any later legendary account would certainly have made male disciples like Peter and John discover the empty tomb (Luke 24:12, John 20:3-8). The fact that it is women, rather than men, who are the discoverers of the empty tomb, is best explained by the fact that they were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb, and the Gospel writers faithfully recorded what, for them, was an awkward and embarrassing fact. The report of Jesus’ empty tomb by women, thus indicates the story to be genuine as all the Gospel writers concurred in their writings (Luke 24:2, 3, Matt 28:5, 6, Mark 16:6, John 20:2), despite of the fact that their Jewish tradition will likely not accept women’s witness. Not only that, it also shows the story is not any later legendary development as any later legendary account would certainly have made male disciples to have discovered the empty tomb.
The Guards’Report:The report of guards on the empty tomb account is a fascinating one as well. While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ (Matthew 18:11-15). This first attempt to explain away the empty tomb, “the stolen body hypothesis” was offered by Jewish chief priests to disprove the fact of empty tomb. However, what is interesting about this attempt to refute Jesus’ resurrection is that, it presupposes the tomb was indeed empty, hence indicates that the Jewish authority themselves did not deny the empty tomb but affirms it. Whether thestolen body hypothesis is reasonable is another question, though numerous scholars have already refuted and rejected it.
William Craig agrees with Jacob Kremer, a New Testament critic who has specialized in the study of the resurrection says, by far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb. He further refers Gary Habermas, a historian, philosopher of religion and acclaimed expert in resurrection studies, who found out that 75 percent of scholars accept the historicity of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb.
Thus, taken together the evidences discussed above on Jesus’ empty tomb, such as, the historical reliability of the story of Jesus’ burial, the multiply attested independent sources on Jesus’ empty tomb, the reports of Jesus’ empty tomb etc., we have good reasons to believe, Jesus indeed no longer remains in the grave. “Jesus’ tomb is empty.”
II. THE POST MORTEM APPEARANCE OF JESUS
We have discussed the case for the empty tomb hypothesis and concluded on the basis of evidences that Jesus no longer remains in the grave, and His tomb is indeed empty. The next logical question then follows: did Jesus appear to people after His resurrection? We shall begin our discussion with Apostle Paul’s letter to Corinthian believers, as Paul’s authorship of the first letter to Corinthians is undisputed.
Paul’s Testimony and Reports: In his first letter to Corinthian believers, Paul mentioned twice how he personally encountered Jesus Christ. He wrote, “Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1), “…that Christ appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:8). Notice the account made by Paul in these passages, he said, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and to more than five hundred people. These accounts as one Biblical scholar commented are incredible claim, which was written at a time when people could still check them out if they wanted confirmation.The other unique thing about Paul naming people in his letter, who saw Jesus after Resurrection as observed by Gary Habermas isn’t just random. Paul did not chose common people on the streets or somewhere else, but the prominent disciples like Cephas (peter), James etc., thus provide the firsthand eye witness testimony.
Another expert on Jesus’ Resurrection, Michael Licona, strongly supports Paul’s testimony of encountering with Jesus after His Resurrection which led him to his conversion. The fact that Paul was the persecutor of Christians, we cannot claim he was a friend of Jesus, who was primed to see a vision of him due to wishful thinking or grief after His crucifixion. In fact as Licona rightly observed, Saul was a most unlikely candidate for conversion as his mind-set was to oppose the Christian movement that he believed was following a false Messiah. However, his radical transformation from persecutor to missionary demands explanation and the best explanation is that, Paul was telling the truth when he mentioned, “I met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus” (Acts 9, 22). So, what we have on the post-mortem appearances of Jesus is attested by His disciples, friends, and enemies alike, which are very significant. With these observations, we shall now move on to the Gospel accounts on the post-mortem appearances of Jesus.
The Post-Mortem Appearance in the Gospel: The accounts of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples are neither ‘vague’ nor in the form of ‘spirit’, but rather circumstantial, empirical, and detailed. Not only do the disciples purport to give number of Jesus’ statements, but they also state expressly that Jesus deliberately displayed empirical evidence that He was not a spirit but rather a physical being. It was therefore a physical resurrection claim that the disciples made (Luke 24:39–43; John 20:27; John 21:9–13). Jesus gives the disciples every opportunity to examine His bona fides but chides them for not believing the testimony of others (John 20:27). The disciples attesting to a physical resurrection of Jesus is further supported by Peter’s reference in his Pentecost sermon to the decay of David’s body in contrast with Christ’s body, which did not decay (Acts 2:29–32).
Jesus’ appearances after Resurrection occurred in several different ways, and to several different people. We have in the Gospels and Acts, some individually, some in groups, sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, to softhearted people like John and skeptical people like Thomas. At times they touched Jesus or ate with Him. Jesus was physically present among His disciples and the appearances occurred over several weeks. There are good reasons to trust these accounts because they lacks typical mythical tendencies, as several of them are based on early material and the appearances being confirmed in more than one Gospel or by the epistles like Corinthians. On the day of His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the women in the early morning (Matthew 28:8-10); and in the evening when the disciples were gathered with door locked in fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus appeared to them (John 20:20:19). After a week later from His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Thomas the skeptic and other disciples (John 20:26-30). In Galilee, the eleven disciples saw Jesus and they worship Him (Mathew 28:16-17); Jesus appeared to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus located approximately seven miles Northwest of present day Jerusalem (Luke 24:33-49); In Jerusalem when the eleven disciples and those with them assembled together discussing how the Lord appeared to Simon and others, Jesus appeared to them (Luke 24:33-49); Jesus was with the Apostles at the Mouth of Olives before His ascension (Luke 24:50-52). All these post-mortem appearances of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels give us good reasons for our belief in His Resurrection. “Jesus indeed appeared to several different people, in several different occasions, in several different locations after His Resurrection.”
III. THE HISTORICAL EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS AND ORIGIN OF THEIR BELIEF
In discussing the case for the Resurrection on the account of the origin of the disciples belief, Norman Geisler and Frank Truek pointed out how Jesus’ Resurrection is supported by historically confirmed eyewitness documents which goes back to the time of the events, and that the evidence demonstrates the narrative is not invented, embellished, or the product of deception. They observe: the New Testament documents are written very early, most of them from fifteen to forty years after Jesus resurrection, i.e. within two generations of the events, and they contain independent eyewitness testimony from multiple sources. The New Testament documents are written by trustworthy people who taught and lived by the highest standard of ethics, and who died for their testimony which describe events, locations, and individuals corroborated by archaeology and other writers. And the New Testament documents describe some events that enemies tacitly admit are true (enemy attestation), as well as describes the events and details that are embarrassing to the authors and even to Jesus himself. Geisler and Truekthen observed how these historically confirmed eyewitness documents tell the following story:
1. At the time and place, and in the manner predicted by the Old Testament, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and claims to be the Messiah. He teaches profound truths and according to numerous independent eyewitnesses, performs many different miracles.
2. Once-cowardly and unbelieving eyewitnesses suddenly begin to boldly proclaim Jesus’ Resurrection in the face of persecution and death. (Misguided people may die for a lie they think is true, but they will not die for a lie they know is a lie. The New Testament writers were in a position to know the real truth about the Resurrection).
3. In the very city where Jesus was crucified, a new movement (the church) was born and quickly spreads by peaceful means on the belief that Jesus has risen from the dead. (This is difficult to explain if there was no Resurrection. How could Christianity begin in a hostile city like Jerusalem if Jesus’ body was still in the tomb? The hostile religious and government authorities would have exposed Christianity as fraudulent by exposing the body.) Furthermore, the Jewish enemies of Christianity do not deny the evidence but offer faulty naturalistic explanations to account for it.
4. Saul, the most ardent enemy of the new church, is suddenly converted and becomes the most prolific proponent of the Church. He travels the ancient world to proclaim the Resurrection, suffering persecution and martyrdom. (If there was no Resurrection, then why did the greatest enemy of Christianity suddenly become its greatest leader? Why did he willingly suffer persecution and death?).
All these incredible and unique events indicate that after His Resurrection,Jesus appeared in several different way, to several different people; some individually, some in groups, sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, which eventually led the origin of His disciples’ belief in His Resurrection.
In conclusion then we have discussed some of the primary and reasonable evidences for the empty tomb, the post mortem appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the belief in the Resurrection, such as, the historical reliability of the story of Jesus’ burial support the empty tomb; the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb which is multiply attested; Jesus’ empty tomb reported first by women, then by His enemies and His disciples; the early eyewitness testimonies of independent and groups account documented with multiple sources attested; Paul’s testimony and reports of the appearance of Jesus; the appearance of Jesus to individual and other groups; the account of Jesus setting aside himself for the empirical verification of His body after resurrection; the origin of belief in the resurrection, etc., which confirm our belief in the Resurrection as true and historically credible event. Thus, taken together the evidences discussed above, we Christians can certainly conclude that Jesus no longer remains in the grave.“Jesus has risen from the dead.”
What if we found the bones of Jesus tomorrow, shall we leave Christianity? On the basis of the evidences, we have very good reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead a little more than two thousand years ago; therefore this question appears to be inappropriate in that it is very highly improbable to find the bones of Jesus tomorrow. We shall close our discussion with C.S. Lewis’s comment on the Resurrection of Jesus, “The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone believe this ‘Gospel’, no Gospels would ever have been written.”Happy Easter Sunday!

1
By EMN Updated: Apr 19, 2014 11:57:46 pm