It’s that time of year again. The time of year when we as a culture celebrate mythical egg-laying rabbits and are bombarded on with ‘earthshaking special reports and documentaries’ that proclaim the latest (or rehash old) ‘discovery’ that supposedly disproves the resurrection of Christ.
There are a LOT of resources (some linked to at the bottom of the page) that explain and refute the popular theories about the resurrection, but I don’t have a lot of time to write this week, so I’ll just give a brief summary of what Gary Habermas calls the ‘Minimal Facts’ approach to showing that the most probable and reasonable explanation for the resurrection story based on the evidence is that it actually happened.
The argument is that the historical, eyewitness evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is even better and more contemporary than the accepted historical accounts of other events of the time – and can be demonstrated using ONLY those minimal facts that are generally accepted by the great majority of even the most skeptical scholars of ancient history.
The following is a short list of the most crucial of these minimal facts:
1. Jesus of Nazareth died of crucifixion in the spring between 30 and 33 a.d.
2. The tomb in which he was buried was found empty three days after his death.
3. His disciples were sincerely convinced that he was God, and rose from the dead.
4. James, the brother of Jesus, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but suddenly became a prominent follower and church leader AFTER his death and resurrection.
5. Saul of Tarsus, who later changed his name to Paul, was a zealous persecuted of Christians but later became a tireless church leader after seeing who he believed to be the resurrected Jesus.
6. The Gospel as preached by Paul and the other Apostles consisted of the Deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I will not detail the extra-Biblical accounts that confirm these facts here. For the sake of brevity, I want to focus on the fact that these facts are given by eyewitness accounts, and those accounts can be dated to within five years after the event of the resurrection.
Let’s start with Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Written by Paul at about either 48, 49 or 56 a.d., using the 49 a.d. date (reasons given in one of the links below), that places the writing of the letter at between 16 and 19 years after the resurrection, and about 15 years after his conversion. In Galatians 1:11 – 2:10, Paul gives a summary of his conversion, and his consultations with Peter, James and John. These three leaders confirmed that he was preaching the accurate account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. According to the text, he met with Peter for 15 days three years after his conversion, which would place Paul receiving any eyewitness account of the resurrection three years after his own post-resurrection encounter with Jesus and about five years after the resurrection.
Couple the first two chapters of Galatians with the account in Acts 2 of Peter’s speech given on the first Feast of Pentecost after the resurrection, and it is clear even by using minimal facts that the resurrection of the Christ was firmly believed and proclaimed by eyewitnesses less than a year after the event.
Add to that the following facts, and the evidence in favor of the resurrection being an actual, factual, historical event are quite compelling:
-) The resurrection was public knowledge early enough that by simply producing the body would have immediately falsified the claim. This was not done.
-) Two of the most prominent skeptics (James and Paul) not only completely changed their minds about Jesus being the Messiah and having rose from the dead, but were both executed because they refused to recant that belief.
-) The apostles (Christ’s ‘inner circle’ of disciples) had no incentive at all to fabricate such a story, and compelling reasons to declare it false. Because of their preaching of the resurrection, all but one was executed, many were beaten, John lived the last years of his life in exile – and yet not one denied their belief in the resurrection. Is it plausible that twelve men with nothing to gain by maintaining a lie would to a man be willing to die for it? And if it was false, how could they not know?
So, here’s the gospel, based on historical events, and confirmed by eyewitnesses:
We are all damned for our rebellion against God, but Jesus of Nazareth, who is the God of the universe, chose to live a perfect human life, die the death of the worst of the worst criminals, and by His own power rose from the dead in order to give us the option to submit our will and become disciples of the Living Eternal God and spend an eternity of joy with Him.
Gary Habermas’s official website. He has enough material on the website to keep you busy for hours, including written articles, audio files and opportunities to purchase his excellent books.
Greg Herrick has a very good article about the dating of the book of Galatians here.
J. Warner Wallace has a new article at Cold Case Christianity about how the commitment of the Apostles provides convincing evidence of the resurrection.
This article at Stand to Reason directly takes on some of the most popular ‘refutations’ of the resurrection.