Exploring the Evidence for Christ
If the evidence for the resurrection stands, then the Christian faith stands; but if the evidence falls, then so does Christianity.
1 Corinthians 15:17 (NLT) And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.
1) Was Jesus Alive at Point A?
- There are 10 known non-Christian writers who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life.
- 3 of those are considered to be anti-Christian.
- Over that same time there are 9 non-Christian sources who mention the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus (Tiberius Caesar).
- Taking into account these non-Christian references, the theory that Jesus never existed is clearly unreasonable. How could non-Christian writers collectively reveal a storyline so consistent and in agreement with the New Testament if Jesus never existed?
- Bart Ehrman is an agnostic New Testament scholar who’s no friend of Christianity. He wrote a book attacking the idea that Jesus never existed. “The claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground.”
- Historian Paul Maier is even more blunt: “The total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.”
2) Was Jesus Dead at Point B?
- We have 9 different sources confirming the crucifixion of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Talmud
- Alexander Metherell said a witness described Roman floggings like this:“The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles and tendons and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.”
- Agnostic New Testament scholar James Tabor said, “I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus’ execution by Roman crucifixion, he was truly dead.”
- Even the atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann said, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”
3) Was Jesus Alive Again at Point C?
- There are two strands of evidence that establish that Jesus came back to life:
- His tomb was empty.
- How do we know the tomb was empty?
- First, the Jerusalem Factor.
- Second, the Criterion of Embarrassment.
- Third, Enemy Confirmation.
- B) He appeared to people.
- We have numerous appearances of the risen Jesus to a variety of people in a variety of settings.
- We have nine ancient sources confirming that the disciples were convinced Jesus had risen and that he appeared to them.
Nine ancient sources confirming that the disciples were convinced
Jesus had risen and that He appeared to them.
From scholar Michael Licona in Lee Strobel’s book In Defense of Jesus:
- The 1 Corinthians 15 Creed: In 1 Corinthians 15:3–7, the apostle Paul reported an early creed of the church: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter] 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.”
What’s important is the timeline that resurrection scholar Gary Habermas has developed: Jesus was crucified in AD 30 or 33. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in about AD 54 or 55, or within twenty-five years of Jesus’ execution. Paul used the past tense, which suggests he had given the church in Corinth the creed earlier. This dates the creed even earlier, which gives even more credibility.
But we can go even earlier still—even closer in time to the actual resurrection. Paul used to be Saul of Tarsus, a hater and persecutor of Christians. One to three years after Jesus’ death, he was on the road to Damascus when he encountered the risen Christ and became the apostle Paul. Immediately, he went into Damascus and met with some apostles. Many scholars believe this is when he was given this creed that he eventually gave the church in Corinth. But other scholars believe he received it three years later, when he went to Jerusalem and met for fifteen days with two people specifically named in the creed as eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus: Peter and James. Paul described this meeting in Galatians 1:18–19, using the Greek word historeo, which suggests this was a personal inquiry or investigation. Many scholars believe this is when Peter and James gave him the creed.
Either way, this means Paul was given the creed one to six years after the crucifixion—but most probably between AD 34 and 36 AD! By then, it was already in creedal form, and therefore the beliefs that make up the creed go back even further! Historian James D. G. Dunn concluded, “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death.”
So there’s no big time gap between the death of Jesus and the subsequent development of a legend that he rose from the dead. This is like a news flash that goes right back to the scene! This is historical gold. The creed’s historical credentials are so impressive that even one of the few Jewish New Testament scholars, Pinchas Lapide, is quoted in The Case for Christ, saying that it “may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.”
- Paul: Our second ancient source is Paul’s testimony about the disciples. Paul came to know some of the apostles personally, including Peter, James, and John. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:11, regarding resurrection, that “whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” So Paul was confirming the belief of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus, too.
- Sermon Summaries in Acts: Even skeptical scholars will admit that the book of Acts contains summaries of the sermons of the early church. And what were they focused on? The resurrection. Peter himself said in Acts 2:32: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.” Three thousand people agreed—and the church was born.
4, 5, 6, and 7.
The Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John confirm that the disciples encountered the risen Jesus. Craig Evans said, “There’s every reason to conclude that the Gospels have fairly and accurately reported the essential elements of Jesus’ teachings, life, death, and resurrection. They’re early enough, they’re rooted into the right streams that go back to Jesus and the original people, there’s continuity, there’s proximity, there’s verification of certain distinct points with archaeology and other documents, and then there’s the inner logic.”
- Clement: We have the testimony of some early church fathers who knew the apostles personally and heard what they taught about the resurrection. Clement, who was ordained by Peter, wrote a letter to the Corinthians in the first century, saying: “[The apostles had] complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Polycarp: He was appointed by John as bishop of Smyrna. He wrote a letter to the Philippians in which he mentioned the resurrection no fewer than five times. Referring to Paul and the other apostles, he said: “For they did not love the present age, but him who died for our benefit and for our sake was raised by God.”