The Jesus movement died with Jesus on a cross in Jerusalem around 30 CE. The resurrection alone explains, grounds, begins, and justifies what happened next. What happened next was Christianity. Without the resurrection, it is ludicrous. With it, atheism is obsolete.
4 Reasons to believe in the historicity of the resurrection
On April 15, 1912, the Titanic hit an ice berg and sank. There were never any Titanic-sinking-deniers. Similarly, no one is agnostic about it or “a-titanic.” Why not? Because certain reasons make it historical.
1. There are numerous, early sources.
2. The Titanic clearly left Southampton on April 10.
3. The sinking explains all the relevant data.
4. There is a Titanic-shaped hole in history only explained by the disaster of April 15.
But before I go on, let’s consider the earliest accounts. There are major discrepancies concerning what actually happened. Did the ship break in half as it sank? Who dined with whom in the main cabin? The earliest sources disagree on significant details, but no one argues that therefore the Titanic didn’t sink. Similarly, even if early sources to the resurrection are biased or differ on important details, the resurrection remains cemented in history for reasons comparable to the Titanic sinking:
1. We have numerous, early independent sources.
2. The resurrection happened to a man who clearly impacted history.
3. It explains all the relevant data to the origin of Christianity.
4. There is a resurrection-shaped hole in the first century.
Do you consider the sinking of the Titanic a fact? If so, consider the resurrection!
1. Numerous, early sources
There are numerous, early eyewitnesses to the resurrection. This is agreed upon by skeptical and Christian scholars alike.
First, consider Antony Flew (1923-2010), one of the most outspoken atheists of the 20th century who abandoned his atheism in 2004. He never became a Christian, but says:
“The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It's outstandingly different in quality and quantity.”
Much of this evidence has been studied by Bart Ehrman (1955-), a prominent skeptical New Testament scholar. He argues, on historical grounds, that a former Christian persecutor named Paul had what he thought to be an experience of the risen Jesus. He then met with Peter (a former cowardly disciple) and Jesus’ brother James (a former skeptic) to receive a creed about the resurrection going back to within about two years of Jesus’ death.
Then there’s Pinchas Lapide (1922-1997), a scholar and ORTHODOX JEWISH RABBI, who goes further and argues that the resurrection was a historical FACT. He writes, “I accept the resurrection of Jesus not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event.” Although he doubted the gospels, he refused to deny the resurrection for two main reasons. First, he joins the vast majority of NT scholars by arguing that Jesus’ women followers, former skeptics, doubters and disciples had experiences of the risen Jesus. Second, he discusses the empty tomb. He writes, “according to all four Gospels, women are the first ones to find the tomb of Jesus empty. In a fictional narrative one would have avoided making women the crown witnesses of the resurrection since they were considered in rabbinic Judaism as incapable of giving valid testimony.”
We have early, independent testimony and an empty tomb. We have scholars from all sides weighing in. We have a dead Jesus movement, and then we have what happens next. We have Christianity! We have a resurrection. But having said this, what makes this different from anything like an Elvis or UFO sighting?
2. Historical and religious context
UFO sightings fit into our world about as much as Ashton Kutcher in a Coast Guard helicopter fits into a historical Titanic narrative. That is, they don't. But just as the Titanic clearly left Europe on a course to America, the resurrection happened to a man who clearly changed the course of history. It’s no mere coincidence that the most remarkable event happened to the most remarkable person. Huston Smith, a world religions expert, observes that only two people have prompted the question, not “Who are you?” but, “What are you?” They are Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth. Yet Buddha claimed to be, not an angel or a saint, but merely a man while Jesus claimed to be, not an angel or a saint, but the Son of God.
Jesus accomplished something unprecedented. He didn’t claim to be a deified man. He claimed to be the incarnated God - and He got away with it. Jesus’ entire life is one massive question to humanity. “Who do you say that I am?”
Yet he wasn’t mighty, but meek. In His story “Right” became “Might,” not the other way around. Jesus had no army, held no political office, never wrote a book, never received academic training, never campaigned abroad. He was a Jewish lower-class peasant with an itinerant 3-year preaching ministry. But we know more about Him than about some of the greatest statesmen of his time. James Francis remarks: “I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.”
Today, we name our guard dogs “Nero” and “Caesar” but our children “James and John.” That is, we name our dogs after emperors and our children after Jewish peasants. What explains this? It is the resurrection, attested to by early sources, emerging from the most remarkable life ever lived.
3. The aftermath
So far, we've covered the event of the resurrection; then the person; now let’s look at the aftermath. Just as the sinking of the Titanic explains other facts – the missing passengers, the lucky survivors, etc. – so the resurrection explains all data relevant to the origin of Christianity. Why would pious Jews change their day of worship from the Sabbath – on Saturday – to the Lord’s day – on Sunday? Similarly, why would Jews allow Roman pagans into the church? Those who lorded over their people? Only if they saw Jesus’ resurrection as a proof that God called both Jews and Gentiles, not merely as enemies to be reconciled, but as sinners to be saved.
Why would Jesus’ skeptical brother give up his life – as recorded by the Jewish 1st century historian Josephus? Why would cowardly disciples suddenly sacrifice homes, jobs, even their lives to share their message?
Neither did this happen in a corner, like some modern cult. It happened in the city where Jesus’ tomb lay empty. Nothing explains these events except Jesus’ resurrection. Let me phrase it in a question. When and why did Christianity begin? The answer is not Jesus’ life. Christianity began in his cold, dark tomb when something happened that lit up human history. Why did it happen? The resurrection.
4. The explanation
Having looked at the event, the person, and the impact, let’s consider its explanation. There is a resurrection-shaped hole in history only explained by its truth. And in this case, its truth is supernatural. Often, skeptics at this point apply Occam’s razor and argue that a natural explanation is always better than a supernatural because it is always simpler –no “God” explanation needed. Occam’s razor states that, all things being equal, the simplest explanation is the best.
But NOT ALL EXPLANATIONS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Sometimes the simplest explanation is plainly wrong, because it fails to conform to facts or has little explanatory power. In such a case, a more complex, but far more powerful explanation is actually better, especially if no feasible alternative exists. Such is the case with the resurrection.
Let’s look at alternative naturalistic theories, starting with mere visions. If these are expressions of the mind, how can disciples with completely different states of mind envision the same thing? Peter, the lose canon; John, the contemplative philosopher; Paul, the rabbinic persecutor – what do these men have in common? Little to nothing, except their belief in the resurrection.
And hallucinations? These would never have produced the beliefs early Christians held. My neighbor hallucinated his dead wife coming up through the floor of his kitchen and have a chat with him. But he DIDNT worship her as lord, obey her as master, and proclaim her bodily resurrection across the Olympic Peninsula!
Additionally, the scholar NT Wright in his 815-page book, “The Resurrection of the Son of God” argues overwhelmingly that there was NO BELIEF in bodily resurrection prior to Jesus. The only exception is the Jewish belief of the general resurrection at the end of the age. If the disciples hallucinated Jesus, they would have concluded that he had ascended spiritually into heaven, not resurrected.
What about the existence of other “dying and rising” savior gods? T.N. Mettinger – the last proponent of their existence – in his book “the Riddle of Resurrection” concedes that, although they existed, they didn’t influence the origin of Christianity.
Second, Mettinger’s case for these myths has been thoroughly demolished. Later scholarship has shown that these gods either returned but didn’t really die; or they died but didn’t return. New Testament scholar Jonathan Smith writes, “There is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity.” The naturalistic explanation has zero explanatory power.
The resurrection is true for 4 reasons.
To repeat and emphasize, we have looked at the event, the person, the aftermath, and the explanation. I have given reasons comparable to those of the Titanic sinking. The resurrection is a fact of history. The Jesus movement died with Jesus on a cross in Jerusalem around 30 CE. The resurrection alone explains, grounds, begins, and justifies what happened next. What happened next was Christianity. Without the resurrection, it is ludicrous. With it, atheism is obsolete.
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