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Proclamation Index

If Christ is Not Raised…

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

1 Corinthians 15:17-19 (NIV)

When we reflect on the celebration of Easter, a day set aside to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we can’t help but consider the significance of such an event. The bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is an event that has changed the political, moral, cultural, and religious landscape of all human history. It marks the difference between someone who was merely a good teacher or philosopher and someone who was God in the flesh. When we consider the validity and historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, we see that, if true, the resurrection of Jesus confirms that He was, in fact, God. The question then becomes, what evidence do we have that supports the bodily resurrection of Jesus?

            The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the most controversial historical events to be recorded in the history of humankind. There are many who have proposed that the resurrection was a hoax or have tried to provide some other explanation other than bodily resurrection to explain the happenings at the tomb of Jesus following His crucifixion. The entirety of orthodox Christian doctrine hinges on the physical resurrection of Jesus. When we look to Scripture, we see that the accounts of the Gospel writers support the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. However, this does not necessarily provide meaningful evidence for the resurrection of Jesus in the eyes of the skeptic. The Gospel narratives, and particularly their recording of the resurrection of Jesus, certainly speak to the existence of the resurrection as a historical event, however, questions of bias are often raised due to the relationships which existed between Jesus and the Gospel writers. Paul’s writings provide information needed to dispel such concerns. W. David Beck and Michael Licona, in their book, Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, posit, “The earliest New Testament witness to the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, mentions numerous appearances of the risen Jesus but says nothing about an empty tomb: Jesus died, was buried, was raised, and appeared to many believers— some of whom (e.g. Paul) were not believers until Jesus appeared to them.” Prior to seeing the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul, who was then still called Saul, was murdering followers of Christ at the command of the Sanhedrin (the people who essentially had Jesus condemned to death). Paul’s conversion gives significant credence to the validity of the resurrection of Jesus. In Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 15, he shares how Jesus appeared to over 500 people at one time.

In his discussion of the Pauline accounts of the resurrection, Dale Allison, in his book, The Resurrection of Jesus: Apologetics, Polemics, History, shares, “1 Thessalonians 4:14 and Romans 8:34 avow that Jesus died and rose, Romans 4:25 that he was put to death for believers’ trespasses and raised for their justification, and 1 Corinthians 15:5 that he ‘dies for our sins…and…was raised on the third day.”  It is important to remember that Paul’s accounts of seeing Jesus in resurrected form are certainly interesting, however, the more important thing to remember is that he became a follower of Christ and wrote his accounts of what he saw after the fact. Paul’s accounts come from someone who was not initially a believer, in fact he was quite the opposite. However, Paul was convinced by the things that he saw and heard. So much so that he ultimately converted to Christianity. For someone such as Paul to be converted, the evidence would have needed to be overwhelming in nature for the physical resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there is still the issue that one could ultimately argue the potential biased nature of Paul’s accounts. To solve this problem, we turn to the extra-biblical accounts of the resurrection.

One of the most reliable extra-biblical sources for the resurrection of Jesus is the 1st Century historian, Josephus. It should be noted that Josephus was not a Christ follower. Josephus wrote, “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” It should be noted that, while not surprising, Josephus does not necessarily say much about the resurrection on a large scale. He does, however, affirm that the disciples not only claimed but wholeheartedly believed that that the resurrection took place.

Other extra-biblical sources indicate that evidence for the resurrection can be found in the events which took place in the earliest days of the Christian Church. Persecution was faced by early Christians from the start. It is of great significance that early Christians including those who had walked with Jesus such as the disciples refused to give up their faith but rather carried it with them to their own death. One notable period of persecution came under the Roman Emperor, Nero. This is believed to have taken place approximately 30 years after the death of Jesus. It is reasonable to assume that there were still individuals alive that could have potentially known Jesus on a personal level or, at the very least, personally witnessed His ministry during His time on earth in human form. These individuals with firsthand knowledge of Jesus would not have been likely to endure persecution and death if they had known that the Gospel accounts and the reports of Jesus’ resurrection were false. Scholars widely agree that the Gospel accounts were being circulated at that time. Although they could have claimed the Gospel accounts were false, followers of Christ chose to endure significant hardship and suffered horrendous torture and death because of their faith. 

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a vital part of the Christian faith. Its historicity and validity can be proven through various sources both biblical and extra-biblical. There is little doubt that the historical person of Jesus existed. Virtually every reputable scholar agrees on that point. The source of contention comes when one examines the claim that He physically rose from the dead. While there are many theories and objections that stand in opposition to the validity of the resurrection of Jesus, there is much evidence that serves to support it. While scholars may not be univocal, one thing is certain, the resurrection of Jesus is the lynchpin of Christianity. Without its validity as an historical fact, Christianity at its core ceases to exist.

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