Sunday, April 8, 2012

The First Witnesses to the Resurrection

    The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central miracle of the Christian faith. It is the proof that Jesus actually was what He claimed to be, and it constituted the decisive victory over sin and death. Moreover it is the guarantee that we, too, can have eternal life.

    But how can we know that it really took place? The event was so extraordinary that many modern skeptics have found it hard to believe that it really happened. The writers of the New Testament, however, were unanimous in insisting that it was a genuine historical event, and the four gospels in particular are aimed at providing the necessary documentary evidence.

    By all accounts the first witnesses to the resurrection were a group of Galilean women who rose early that Sunday morning to anoint Jesus' body with aromatic spices. It will be noted that they became the first to learn of Jesus' resurrection precisely because they were busily engaged in meeting the temporal needs of their Lord and Savior. These were women who had been helping Him throughout His earthly ministry, and they continued to care for Him even after His death. Significantly they were up before dawn to engage in their work of devotion.

    They went, having every reason to believe that Jesus was really dead, and fully expecting to find His corpse in the tomb. When they arrived, they received instead the surprise of their lives. The tomb was empty, and they were met by a young man with an announcement that scarcely seemed possible: Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive!

    The appearance of the young man – he was wearing a shining robe – suggested that he was an angelic being of some sort. In addition to His announcement, "He is risen! He is not here" (Mark 16:6; NKJV), he offered two lines of empirical evidence to verify the claim. The first was the empty tomb itself: "See the place where they laid Him." One might suspect that the body had been stolen, but if they had been the case, all that the Jews or the Romans would have had to do to prove that Jesus was really dead was to produce the body, and they did not. It was, in fact, never found, at least not dead.

    The second line of evidence was especially astonishing: the women were to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they would actually see Jesus – alive. They would then know for certain that Jesus had risen from the dead.

    When we add to this the angel's testimony itself, the women were confronted with a total of three different lines of evidence: the verbal testimony of a heavenly being, the empty tomb, and the possibility of actually seeing Jesus alive again. That Jesus actually rose from the dead may seem hard to believe now, but the first witnesses found it hard to believe, too. The were seized with trembling and amazement, "for they were afraid" (v. 8). But we are confronted with essentially the same three lines of evidence as were the women of Galilee, and to a great extent the record of their discovery forms the basis of our faith today. The resurrection of Jesus is, in fact, one of the best documented facts in history. The available evidence compels faith in Jesus as the risen Lord and Savior. Let us bow before Him in reverence and trust, and own Him as our Savior, too.


  1. But how can we know that it really took place?

    Good question.

    The writers of the New Testament...

    Who were they and why would they be in a position to know?

    By all accounts the first witnesses...

    Wait a minute. By "all accounts", do you mean the writers of the New Testament?

    ...he offered two lines of empirical evidence to verify the claim.

    How do you know this? This is from that same New Testament, right? Hmm. Spot the basic problem.

    When we add to this the angel's testimony itself...

    Your Honour, I would like to present my first witness. Ms Tinkerbelle, will you please take the stand?

    ...the women were confronted with a total of three different lines of evidence:

    Three different lines of evidence. Hmm. It sounds so much better than just saying "I read it all in the bible".

    Christopher Hitchens Destroys Biblical miracle claims

  2. Bob writes, The resurrection of Jesus is, in fact, one of the best documented facts in history... if you know nothing about what constitutes facts, nothing about what constitutes documented facts, nothing about what constitutes factual history, and nothing about what constitutes compelling documented historical facts. Besides these small quibbles, almost EVERYTHING considered historical fact is better documented than the resurrection of Jesus.

  3. From Crossan: There is a Jesus as a political revolutionary by S.G.F. Brandon (1967), as a magician by Morton Smith (1978), as a Galilean charismatic by Geza Vermes (1981. 1984), and a Galilean Rabbi by Bruce Chilton (1984), as Hillelite or proto-Pharisee by Harvey Falk (1985), as an Essene by Harvey Falk (1985), and as an eschatological prophet by E.P. Sanders (1985) … But that stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment. It is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history, to do autobiography and call it biography. [quote from John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant, xxviii, in Hector Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, 198]

    This is why it is absurd to call the resurrection of Jesus one of the best documented facts in history. It isn't.

  4. Jesus was all of the above.
    It is certainly true that we have a tendency "to do autobiography and call it biography" - just look at the most common picture of "Jesus" we see - Nordic features, a slightly feminine appearance, in a word, a perfect 19th century northern European liberal theologian! One thing that we can be certain of is that He did NOT look like that!
    Honest historiography has to begin with the primary source materials interpreted in the light of their cultural context. In this case the source documents are the four gospels themselves. What is interesting is the light that the Dead Sea Scrolls have shed on the cultural setting. It was a turbulent period of history, and there were a variety of radical Jewish groups typified by the Qumran community that hoped for a better day. And according to the gospel records Jesus was a rabbi from Galilee Who performed miracles and left a deep impression on many who heard him. And to the extent that He identified Himself as the Messiah and proclaimed the imminent arrival of the kingdom, He certainly would have been taken as a political radical by His contemporaries. What doesn't fit into the paradigm is the crucifixion and resurrection.

    1. From Eric MacDonald:

      "However much Christians may want to find a foundational figure on which to base Christian faith, even allowing for the effect of history in severely qualifying many of the supernatural aspects of the story, the general tenour of the story is mythological. Do away with those mythological aspects of the story, and the whole thing is reduced to a fairly bland story about a failed messianic figure.

      Take the crucifixion of Jesus, for example. In the gospels the crucifixion of Jesus is accompanied by an almost Byzantine complexity of court appearances, appearances before Herod, private conversations with Pilate, Jewish leaders lusting for his blood, and then that last, lonely walk to Calvary, jeered on his way by crowds of Jews denying their redeemer. McGrath says that the fact that these dramatic events were not mentioned in contemporary non-Christian sources is easily dismissed:

      It is true that Jesus is not mentioned in any Roman sources of his day. That should hardly count against his existence, however, since these same sources mention scarcely anyone from his time and place.

      But for Pilate to have gone to such extreme lengths to try to free Jesus from the wrath of his own people, or to have bothered, in the first place, to try the case himself, when such figures as Jesus were more likely to have been peremptorily dispatched by persons lower in the chain of command, without fanfare, and then no one to have written about it, does seem, on the face of it, historically improbable.

      None of this means that a man named Jesus (or Joshua), around whom these mythical events grew in the intense religious and political atmosphere of the time, did not exist, but it does suggest that the figure of Jesus, whoever he was, has been buried under accretions of religious mythology which are unlikely to be penetrable by the historical resources available to us almost 2000 years later."

      Now consider the 'primary' sources... written from third hand accounts starting about half a century after the death of the central figure and some hundreds of years later, later translated and edited by an unknown number of clergy who may or may not have bee good at their jobs.

      Now compare these loose third hand accounts that offer much disagreement between them with the abundance of evidence - including autobiographical writing' of Julius Caesar himself - matched up with accounts of those who served with and under him, official biographies written by his peers and historians, consistent and overwhelming archeological evidence of the works he claims to have done, backed up by historical documents like letters and plans and drawings as well as ongoing correspondence, stamped coins with his likeness, detailed family connections verified by historical documents and land titles, letters of inheritance, deeds of ownership, with the right names at the right times consistently connecting all the various people with whom Caesar had contact and dealings, and so forth.

      Simply put, there is obviously no comparison in historic detail available to us today between Julius Caesar and this supposedly historical Jesus of the Gospels. Put another way, you need no faith that Julius Caesar was the conqueror of Gaul (as well as many other titles) and, later, Emperor of Rome. The evidence speaks for itself. The same cannot be said (honestly) of the biblical Jesus.

  5. P.S. The life of Jesus is probably just as well documented as the life of Julius Caesar or any other figure from the First Century.

    1. Why do you lie?
      Julius Caesar is a genuine historical figure.
      It's possible to demonstrate he existence using, multiple independent sources. It's bog standard history.

      Your understanding of how scientists do their job is clearly matched by your understanding of how historians do their job. This shapes your beliefs.
      Your claims will fool only the ignorant.
      The internet is not your friend.