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Apologetics Articles

Why Christianity? Part 2

Historical Evidence For the Faith

One of the most interesting and convincing areas for the Christian faith is in the area of history. In order to provide a fair and well-balanced argument, the following evidences will be based on facts agreed upon by the wide majority of scholars. Scholars agree on the following facts: Jesus of Nazareth existed, He was crucified by the Romans under Pontius Pilate, He was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, His followers found His tomb empty, and His followers as well as two skeptics (including James and Paul) reported that Jesus had appeared to them on multiple occasions.

First of all, the existence of Jesus as a historical person is almost universally accepted by historians. Skeptical agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman says this about the scholarship of the historicity of Jesus, “… the view that Jesus existed is held by virtually every expert on the planet.”1 This quotation by a radical skeptic is in agreement with scholars at academic institutions. Yet the internet myth propagated by non-scholars continues to exist.

Why do scholars accept Jesus as a historical figure? He is multiply attested to by early independent sources. The narratives of his life were written by His followers or those who knew Jesus’ followers. Also, we have the writings of Paul who not only knew Jesus’ brother James and close disciples, but also saw and talked with Jesus Himself. Lastly, there is an abundance of skeptical sources that refer to Jesus. A brief list would be: Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and others. To say that Jesus was entirely mythical would be foolishness.

In addition, the fact that Jesus was crucified is a non-controversial fact conceded by almost all scholars. According to Miami University professor of history Edwin Yamauchi, the following facts are historically certain based off of secular sources alone: “Even if we did not have the New Testament of Christian writings, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger that: (1) Jesus was a Jewish teacher; (2) many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; (3) he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; 4) he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius;(5) despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine, so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; 6) all kinds of people from the cities and countryside-men and women, slave and free-worshipped him as God by the beginning of the second century.2

The secular information we derive from Tacitus’s Annals, Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, Pliny the Younger’s Letters, and the Talmud are enough to convince mainstream historians about the main historical claims of the Gospel. Now that we have established that Jesus lived and died by crucifixion, what about the burial, empty tomb, and appearances?

The burial of Jesus is also a historical event that is attested to by multiple, independent sources. All of the Gospels affirm that a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea, who was a council member and follower of Jesus, received Jesus’s body from Pilate and buried it in a tomb. Dr. William Lane Craig has noted that, “…the burial account is widely recognized to be one of the most historically reliable narratives concerning Jesus’s suffering and death…”3

In addition to the Gospels as historically reliable sources, there is a creed that Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 that contains an excellent apologetic for the resurrection account. It reads as follows, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”4 These verses represent an early Pre-Pauline creed that contains information which goes back to the original disciples themselves. Scholars have dated the creed to around 30 -33 A.D. It is worth noting that the majority of scholars believe that Paul received this early tradition when he visited Jerusalem three years after he converted to Christianity (Galatians 1:11-2:10).5

Since the facts regarding the crucifixion and burial of Jesus have been firmly established, what are we to make of the empty tomb? Once again, we have unanimous, independent testimony from the Gospels that women were the first to find Jesus’s tomb to be empty. This is ironic because the Jewish historian Josephus says that the testimony of women was not allowed in court because it was not deemed trustworthy.6 Therefore it is extremely unlikely that the Gospel writers would have made up women disciples to discover the empty tomb first, especially since the testimony of women was deemed worthless in Jewish society.

Furthermore, the disciples would not have proclaimed that Jesus rose from the dead if Jesus’s body was still in the tomb. It would have been impossible for them to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead if his corpse was still in the grave. Indeed, it would have been simple for the Pharisees or Romans to simply point out that Jesus’s body was still in the tomb.7

As already noted, Paul provides an extremely creed about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. In the passage, he mentions that Jesus appeared to Cephas (Peter), the rest of the disciples, and over 500 brethren. Then, he appeared to His half- brother James who earlier denied Jesus as the Christ (John 7:5, Mark 3:20-21). He also was seen by all the apostles and Paul. This important information provides historical evidence that Jesus was seen by numerous people after his Resurrection, including enemies such as James and Paul.

It is important to note that the disciples both saw and interacted with Jesus. He ate food with them (John 21:15), Luke 24:42-43) and interacted with them like a real person. Doubting Thomas even touched the holes where Jesus had been pierced (John 20:25-27)! The disciples believed that Jesus had been physically raised from the dead because of their experiences with Him. Virtually all scholars agree that the disciples had a visual claim of Jesus after they had seen the empty tomb. Paul, Peter, James, and the rest of the disciples all claimed that they had seen the resurrected Jesus.8 The only question is, were these appearances the result of hallucinations or an actual miracle?

The hypothesis that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is a much more powerful argument than the hallucination hypothesis for several reasons. First, hallucinations do not explain the empty tomb. If the disciples had been hallucinating, the Roman and Jewish leaders could have easily dispelled their belief in the resurrection by presenting the body. In addition, the disciples would not have preached that God had raised Jesus from the dead and that He was exalted to the right hand of the Father in heaven (Acts 2:22-24,32-36,3:15, 5:30-31, 7:55-56). An apparition is not the same as someone rising from the dead! Furthermore, hallucinations are private experiences, much like dreams. Hallucinations are not collective but individual experiences, thus it is impossible for all the disciples to hallucinate a risen Jesus doing the same things on multiple occasions at different locations and times. Jesus was seen by over 500 people on numerous occasions and ate with his followers. These are not experiences that are the result of hallucinations.9

Lastly, the explosion of Christianity in the very city that the Christian leader cannot be explained unless a miraculous event took place. A common expression is that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Well, here is your extraordinary evidence! The Christian faith took off in the very city that Jesus was crucified in! Simply put, if this was a hoax, the authorities would have produced the body. Instead, the chief priests told the soldiers who guarded Jesus’s tomb that the disciple stole the body. This theory fails for two reasons: a group of Jesus’s disciples (mainly women) would not beat up Roman soldiers or even attempt to. Also, if they did somehow steal the body, the disciples would not preach that Jesus rose from the dead and then go to their deaths for something that they knew to be a lie.

The best that the authorities could do was to arrest, imprison, and beat those that preached Jesus’ resurrection (talk about and ad hominem attack!). Ultimately, the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is far superior to that of rival naturalistic hypothesis. No naturalistic explanations can adequately explain: the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciple’s belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

One question remains, is the belief in the resurrection a result of preconceived beliefs? If we look at Jewish literature and the Old Testament (Ezekiel 37, Isaiah 26:19, and Daniel 12:2) the answer would be an obvious no. As resurrection expert Dr. William Lane Craig points out, “…the Jewish conception of resurrection differed in two important, fundamental respects from Jesus’ resurrection. In Jewish thought the resurrection always (1) occurred after the end of the world, not within history, and (2) concerned all the people, not just an isolated individual. In contradistinction to this, Jesus’ resurrection was both within history and of one person.”10

All in all, when one looks at the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus and the historical facts surrounding it, one should come to the same conclusion as doubting Thomas did. Namely, that Jesus is both Lord and God (John 20:28). From the conversion of James and Paul, to the willingness of the disciples to preach that Jesus died and rose for the forgiveness of sins even if it meant that they would be persecuted, to the empty tomb, any honest truth-seeker will realize that God has defeated death for them through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now the question remains, will you repent and put your faith in Him as Lord and God?

[1] Ehrman,
Bart. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical
Argument for Jesus of Nazareth
. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.:
pg.4.2012

[2]
McDowell, Josh. Evidence for Christianity.
Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, TN.: Pgs.191-192. 2006.

[3]
Craig, William Lane.  The Son Rises. Wipf and Stock
Publishers. Eugene, OR. Pg. 46. 2000.

[4] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Co 15:3–8.

[5]
Habermas, Gary R. et. al. To Everyone An Answer. InterVarsity Press. Downers
Grove, IL. 2004. Pgs. 182-185.

[6]  Sacred-texts.com. Antiquities of the
Jews-Book IV. Accessed May 29, 2016 at http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/ant-4.htm

[7]
Craig, ibid. Pg.46

[8]
Habermas, ibid. Pg. 190

[9] Geisler, Norman L. and Turek, Frank.  I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Crossway. Wheaton, IL. Pgs. 302-303. 2004.

[10]Craig, ibid. Pg. 129

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