Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus

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.

I was so enthralled by the shimmering waters of the bay; unfortunately, my otherwise nifty camera couldn't quite capture that beauty.

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!

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6 thoughts on “Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus

    1. Hi, 7!

      No, I haven’t read said book yet, though I remember its author, Richard Dawkins, being mentioned in a book I recently skimmed through. It’s written by sociologist Rodney Stark and is titled The Triumph of Christianity (2011, HarperOne). I did a quick search and found this from Chapter 16:

      The original warfare between religion and science never happened: Christianity not only did not impede the rise of science; it was essential to its having taken place. As for the contemporary conflict between religion and science, it is a battle limited to extremists. On the “science” side are militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins who claim science has proved there is no God. On the “religion” side are fundamentalists such as the late Henry M. Morris (1918–2006), who claim the Bible proves that much of modern science is nonsense. This is a debate that can best be described by quoting Shakespeare, as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

      I plan to read Stark’s book this summer, and then blog about it. I hope to read Dawkins’ in the future. 🙂

  1. Hi Doc! You have a wonderful bedroom window! 🙂 Thanks for the links to the extrabiblical sources. I have read references to them from other books. It’s nice to finally read the actual passages. I resonate more with the circumstantial evidences. In the words of John Young in “Teach Yourself Christianity”..

    “In place of bitter disappointment there was joyful confidence; in place of fear there was boldness. Instead of thinking gloomily that their leader was dead, they proclaimed that he had conquered death. In other words, they were transformed. The question is: what transformed them?”

    1. Thanks, Sherie!

      Indeed it is great to read of the marvelous transformation of the apostles’ and other disciples’ internal disposition as well as outward behavior as a result of the Resurrection! What is even more marvelous is that the power of the Resurrection continues to transform people, like you and me, to this day!

      I’m glad you’re reading books like Teach Yourself Christianity, which you quoted from and which seems to be a good one. Keep it up, and God bless!

    1. Thank you, Scott. Thank you, too, for sharing your post on the power of the Holy Spirit for the believer. I liked your notion that “seeking after this power is one of the best things a believer could do.” Indeed with the infilling of the Holy Spirit comes boldness and spiritual gifts.

      I’d like to add that although the initial infilling is indeed a special event, the daily/constant infilling is at least as important, lest one’s boldness and gifts slowly lose their heat as dying embers do. And so Paul exhorts Timothy: “Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.” (2 Timothy 1:6)

      God bless!

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