Thursday, June 8, 2017

Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ

This article is addressing an incredibly important issue.  It is about the life and claims of Jesus of Nazareth, and the fact of His resurrection. 

As Christians, we look to the Bible for truth.  And it is absolutely clear that the Bible teaches about the sinless life of Christ, His miracles, His crucifixion and death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection.  All Christians believe (or should believe) in these things, and should be persuaded by what the Bible says about them. 

But what about those who don’t believe the Bible? If atheists, naturalists, etc., are right, and the resurrection of Jesus is not true, then all of Christianity is false and we (Christians) are to be most pitied and are left in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).  But if Jesus Christ was indeed raised from the dead, then all His statements are true and all His miracles actually did happen.
The skeptic might ask, “But are there any recordsoutside the Bible that suggest that Jesus even existed in the first place?” Yes indeed there are.

There were very early non-Christian (pagan and Jewish) sources who testified of Jesus and His followers.  Some of these include Cornelius Tacitus (115 A.D.), Caius Suetonius (115 A.D.), Pliny the Younger (112 A.D.), Lucian of Samosata (165-175 A.D.), and Flavius Josephus (93 A.D.).  The evidence of these non-Christian historians and authors, taken together, demonstrates that there was indeed a person named Jesus, who was called the Christ, who was said to have done miracles (which the pagans called “magical superstition”), and who was considered a “lawgiver,” and was executed as a criminal and crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.  His followers were said to have loved the truth at any cost, yet were despised and persecuted by Nero.  Even so, they experienced a rapid growth in their “new religion,” and they spoke of their leader as a god and still worshiped Him after His death.  See here for more details:

Remember, all this is from ancient pagan and/or Jewish historians.  None of the above historians were Christians, so no one can accuse them of bias toward Christianity.  Yet, much of what they said confirms what Scripture says about Jesus and His disciples.  Not only does this demonstrate the existence of Jesus, but it also strengthens the integrity of the other things mentioned in the gospel accounts.

Add to that the fact that Julius Africanus (215 A.D.), who was a Christian, speaks of a (pagan) Syrian historian called Thallus (52 A.D.) who acknowledged the period of darkness at the time of the crucifixion.  In the same passage, Africanus also refers to a (pagan) Lydian historian, Phlegon (138 A.D.).  Africanus writes, “Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth.”  (Chronicle, Fragment 18, Section 1)  The Christian historian Eusebius (300 A.D.) directly quotes Phlegon:  "However in the fourth year of the 202nd olympiad, an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour, day turned into dark night, so that the stars were seen in the sky, and an earthquake in Bithynia toppled many buildings of the city of Nicaea." Jerome’s translation (2005) of Eusebius’ Chronicle, Part II(Page 257 - online)

Both Thallus and Phlegon attributed the darkness to a solar eclipse, but even so, the point is that they both verified that this darkness was a real event. But this was a supernatural darkness - solar eclipses don’t make it dark enough to see the stars, and they only last for several minutes, not three hours.  Not only is this event of the darkness referred to in Scripture (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44), but so is the earthquake that Phlegon mentioned (Matthew 27:51).  So we have unbelievers recording many things that verify the historical truth of the gospel message.  Is all this just a coincidence?  Surely not.  This should boost the Christian’s confidence in the truth of the resurrection (and the Bible, itself).

There are also many more modern writers who have spent a significant part of their lives diligently studying the facts of history, and have concluded that the resurrection did indeed happen.  These include historians, scholars, textual critics, lawyers, etc., some of whom are non-Christians.  As you will see, the resurrection is not just based on a “blind leap of faith.” Below is just a small sampling of those who acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the basis of historical evidence.

Thomas Arnold, English educator and historian said:

“Now in this same way the evidence of our Lord’s life and death and resurrection may be, and often has been shewn to be, satisfactory; it is good according to the common rules for distinguishing good evidence from bad.  Thousands and ten thousands of persons have gone through it piece by piece, as carefully as ever judge summed up on a most important cause:  I have myself done it many times over, not to persuade others, but to satisfy myself. I have been used for many years to study the history of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them; and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind, which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort to the understanding of a fair enquirer, than the great sign which God has given us, that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”  Christian Life, Its Hopes, Its Fears and Its Close(page 15-16, online)

British scholar and theologian, Brooke Foss Westcott wrote:

"Indeed taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no single historic incident better or more variously supported than the Resurrection of Christ.  Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.”  The Gospel of the Resurrection:  Thoughts on its Relation to Reason and History (Page 117-118, online)

Scholar and historian F. F. Bruce:

“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt… in point of fact there is much more evidence for the New Testament than for other ancient writings of comparable date.”  The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable?(Chapter 2, online)

British lawyer, Sir Edward Clarke (King’s Counsel) in a letter to E. L. Macassey:

“As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter Day.  To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling… as a lawyer I accept [the Gospel evidence for the resurrection] unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate.”  Basic Christianity  (J.R.W. Stott, Page 58, online)

According to Simon Greenleaf (Harvard Professor and world renowned expert on evidence):

“It was therefore impossible that they [the apostles] could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact.”  The Testimony of the Evangelists: Examined by the Rules of EvidenceAdministered in Courts of Justice (Page 29, online)

In the same book, Dr. Greenleaf also said:

“The evidence which we have of the great facts of the Bible history belongs to this class, that is, it is moral evidence; sufficient to satisfy any rational mind, by carrying it to the highest degree of moral certainty. IF such evidence will justify the taking away of human life or liberty, in the one case, surely it ought to be deemed sufficient to determine our faith in the other.” Ibid. (Page 46, Online)

Historian Philip Schaff, on “rationalistic” historians:

“The ablest of the infidel [unbelieving] biographers of Jesus now profess the profoundest regard for his character, and laud him as the greatest sage and saint that ever appeared on earth. But, by rejecting his testimony concerning his divine origin and mission, they turn him into a liar; and, by rejecting the miracle of the resurrection, they make the great fact of Christianity a stream without a source, a house without a foundation, an effect without a cause. Denying the physical miracles, they expect us to believe even greater psychological miracles; yea, they substitute for the supernatural miracle of history an unnatural prodigy and incredible absurdity of their imagination.” History of the Christian Church (Paragraph 15)

There are several “explanations” and “theories” today by skeptics as to why the resurrection can’tbe true.  But an actual resurrection of Jesus Christ would explain ALL the evidence, e.g., the empty tomb, Jesus’ appearances to His followers, the change in the disciples’ boldness, the rapid rise of Christianity, etc., while the theories of the skeptics cannot.  The resurrection is the best explanation.
This has been only a small part of the evidence.  It is our hope that this evidence has encouraged and strengthened the faith of fellow Christians, and has also provided some food for thought for the skeptic.

See also:

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