Resurrection Monday. I looked out my bedroom window today (a holiday) after my daily quiet time and was simply enthralled by the quietly shimmering waters of the Manila Bay.
While gazing at the shimmering waters, thanking God for so many things including the Resurrection of Jesus, I thought of blogging about evidences for the Resurrection, mainly for the sake of those who might have a few doubts about it. (As to Jesus’ death, there does not seem to be much doubt, given extrabiblical sources such as the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 18:3:3) and the Roman historian Tacitus (see Annals 15:44)).
Several books and book chapters have been written on the Resurrection by very smart people, and since this is not my PhD dissertation, all I’ll do is summarize their main arguments, which, thankfully, are basically only two, and cite the main sources for interested readers.
1. DIRECT EVIDENCE. This would be in the form of eyewitness reports. Several people saw the resurrected Jesus. That Peter, James, Paul, and many others saw the resurrected Jesus is contained in, inter alia, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which contains what is probably the earliest recorded Christian creedal formula:
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me — that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles. After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, I saw him, too, long after the others, as though I had been born at the wrong time.
There seems to be widespread agreement among scholars that 1 Corinthians was written by the Apostle Paul between A.D. 55 and 57 AD, and several scholars have traced the above creed to A.D. 32 to 38, when Paul visited Jerusalem to talk to Peter (leader of the 12 Apostles) and James (leader of the Jerusalem church), as Gary Habermas writes in Chapter 1 of The Risen Jesus and Future Hope:
Critical scholars usually agree that this tradition introduced by Paul had a remarkably early origin. Joachim Jeremias calls it “the earliest tradition of all.” Ulrich Wilckens declares that the material “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.” Walter Kasper even states, “We have here therefore an ancient text, perhaps in use by the end of A.D. 30.” Most scholars who provide a date think that Paul received this creedal tradition between two and eight years after Jesus’s death, or from approximately A.D. 32 to 38.
That the above creedal formulation was developed very early — only a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus — means that it was too early for mythological interpolation and legendary exaggeration to take place.
2. CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE. This would be mainly through the radical changes that people who saw the Risen Jesus went through. For example, Paul persecuted Jesus’ followers until he himself saw the resurrected Jesus; James (Antiquities 20: 9:1) was skeptical of his half-brother’s claims until he saw the Risen Lord. As Lee Strobel quotes J. P. Moreland in Chapter 14 of The Case for Christ:
How can you possibly explain why in a short period of time not just one Jew but an entire community of at least ten thousand Jews were willing to give up these five key practices that had served them sociologically and theologically for so many centuries? My explanation is simple: they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.
Among the key practices that Moreland cited was the shift from Sabbath worship to worship on the first day of the week, i.e., Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead.
Moreover, the disciples not only gave up key practices; they in fact stood ready to be slaughtered (and were indeed slaughtered except for John) for their belief in the Resurrected Jesus. As Pope Benedict XVI notes in Chapter 9 of Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two:
Indeed, the apostolic preaching with all its boldness and passion would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter, coming to them from outside, with something entirely new and unforeseen, namely, the self-revelation and verbal communication of the risen Christ. Only a real event of a radically new quality could possibly have given rise to the apostolic preaching, which cannot be explained on the basis of speculations or inner, mystical experiences. In all its boldness and originality, it draws life from the impact of an event that no one had invented, an event that surpassed all that could be imagined.
REFERENCES (which are also the best sources on the topic for laypersons, in my opinion):
Habermas, Gary. (2003). The Risen Jesus and Future Hope. Roman and Littlefield Publishers. Lee Strobel calls Habermas the “Resurrection expert” and quotes atheist Michael Martin as saying, “Perhaps the most sophisticated defense of the resurrection to date has been produced by Gary Habermas.”
Pope Benedict XVI. (2011). Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. Ignatius Press. In an earlier post, I wrote about how I originally bought Part One of this book to serve as a souvenir of a visit to Rome but when I started reading the book, I couldn’t stop.
Strobel, Lee. (1998). The Case for Christ. Zondervan. Lee Strobel, a journalist and originally an atheist, interviewed 13 prominent evangelical scholars to find answers to his questions about Christ after his wife’s conversion. This book contains the results of his investigation.
Thank God for the Resurrection! And thank God for shimmering waters and holidays!