Due to personal study commitments, I have been unable to blog as frequently as I would have liked; however, with Passover upon us I feel compelled to share this excellent article by Chris Price regarding the resurrection of Jesus. The historical evidence for the resurrection is something that I personally find very compelling. Enjoy!
Resurrection: Making Sense of Historical Data
On Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus not as fiction, not as a product of wishful thinking, not as a beautiful metaphor, or an existential experience, but as an actual historical event. Jesus died for sins in our place, and then three days later God raised Him bodily from the dead in a transformed physical body, a different mode of existence that stretches the descriptive power of our language to its limits. (1)
Many people in the ancient world understandably had difficulty believing in the first Christians’ claims about Jesus. The resurrection of Christ is a belief that probably shouldn’t be held by any thinking person without sufficient evidence. Therefore, the purpose of this post is to outline some of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.
In order for Jesus to rise bodily from the dead He would first have to die. No credible historian believes that Jesus didn’t die on a Roman Cross by crucifixion. Jesus’ crucifixion is mentioned by all four gospels, including various epistles contained in the New Testament. Jesus’ death is also recorded by non-Christian historians like Tacitus, Josephus and the Jewish Talmud and, therefore, is witnessed to in early historical sources with multiple lines of evidence, including hostile sources (Talmud).
Moreover, we know too much about how brutal crucifixion was in the 1st century to seriously deny that Jesus didn’t die. For example, if a Roman soldier failed in his duty, his life would be forfeit so they were highly motivated to accomplish the job. To quote a popular pastor and theologian,
Jesus was crucified, and a professional executioner declared Him dead. To ensure Jesus was dead, a spear was thrust through His side and a mixture of blood and water poured out of His side because the spear burst his heart sac. Jesus’ dead body was wrapped in upwards of one hundred pounds of linens and spices, which, even if He were able to somehow survive the beatings, floggings, crucifixion, and a pierced heart, would have killed Him by asphyxiation. Even if through all of this Jesus somehow survived (which would itself be a miracle), He could not have endured three days without food, water, or medical attention in a cold tomb carved out of rock. In summary, Jesus died. (2)
For reasons like those stated above, it becomes clear that Jesus died on the cross. And it is worth pointing out that to suggest that God would not allow a prophet of His to endure such a humiliating death, shows a profound lack of awareness about the fate that many prophets in the Old Testament endured (see. Hebrews 11). Moreover, implying that God disguised someone to look like Jesus and had that individual crucified in Christ’s place is to accuse God of radical deception, impugning the trustworthiness of His character.
The Tomb Was Empty
Jesus died and was buried in a tomb. Three days later the tomb was found empty. We can be sure of this, as a matter of history, based on these lines of evidence.
First, if you read the Gospels you find that the women discovered the empty tomb. In the 1st century Judaism women were not allowed to be legal witnesses. Their testimony was not considered valid or taken seriously.
But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.
Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman.
— Talmud (Rosh Hashannah)
Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women.
— Talmud (Sotah) (3)
This is not a very positive view of women that is for certain! In light of this cultural context, if you are going to create a story about an empty tomb you don’t make women the first eyewitnesses. This is a counterproductive detail included by the writer simply because he was committed to telling the truth. In addition to this point, in the stories surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus you have the leader of the disciples (Peter) denying Jesus and many of the other disciples running away discouraged and hiding fearfully behind closed doors when Jesus is killed. The leaders of the church look like cowards! You don’t include these embarrassing details about your leaders unless you are a movement really committed to authenticity and telling the truth.
Second, the disciples started preaching about the death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus was publicly killed and crucified a few weeks earlier. So, at the very least, this required an empty tomb otherwise the opponents of Christianity, which were many, could have just found the tomb and produced the body. ‘Here is your risen Christ!’ Even a skeleton in the tomb would have done the job!
Third, Joseph of Arimathea provided the tomb that was found empty on Easter Sunday. Joseph was a rich member of the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem, called the Sanhedrin, the same council that handed Jesus over to Pilate to be killed. As a result, there was some resentment between the early Christians and the Sanhedrin, which makes it extremely unlikely that the early Christians would create a story that paints a member of the Sanhedrin in such a great light. Moreover, because Joseph was a prominent, well-known man, a burial in his tomb would make Jesus’ burial site extremely easy to locate by people in Jerusalem, making it impossible that the disciples or women could have gone repeatedly to the wrong tomb.