The Evidence for Christ's Resurrection
Have you ever found yourself in a circular argument? Have you ever spoken to someone who dismisses the argument for the reliability of the Bible as circular logic? Maybe it has bothered you too? The circular argument goes like this: How do you know that the Bible is God’s Word? Answer: Because it says so! But how do you know that what it says is true? Answer: Because it is the Word of God! How do you know that the Bible is God’s Word? Answer: Because it says so! You can almost see the eyes of the skeptic roll. Can we break this vicious circular logic?
In my last post [PART 1] I tried to make a case for the use of apologetics, an apology (defense) of apologetics! In this post I will try to demonstrate how, with a little work, any Christian can answer the question I just raised and hopefully bring people to the message of Christ crucified. With that the Spirit will do his work of graciously giving faith. What follows is a specific kind of apologetics called evidentiary apologetics. It is based on the evidence of the resurrection as we know it from the Gospels. When St. Paul was on trial before Festus and Agrippa he stated, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:25-26). The claims of Christianity are not based on circular logic or mythical events. They are based on real events in history, events anybody can investigate. They weren’t done in a corner.
Why do Christians believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and therefore the truth? Faith is the answer of course. However, faith is only as good as the object of faith. That object is Christ. He proved himself to be true God by rising from the dead. Since he is true God, what he says is true or, at the very least, it would be wise to agree with him! Throughout his ministry, Jesus showed that he believed the entire Old Testament to be the true Word of God. He once said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law” (Mt. 5:18). As for the New Testament, Christ specifically promised the Holy Spirit to his apostles which gave them the ability to recall what Jesus taught them (Jn. 14:26).
This argument is one way to break that vicious circular logic I mentioned above. Why do we believe that Bible is the Word of God? Answer: Jesus said so and he rose from the dead. This of course hinges on the resurrection. No wonder Paul said that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then the Christian faith is worthless (I Cor. 15:14). This is true both theologically (if there is no resurrection, there is no point in trusting in Christ) and epistemologically (if there is no resurrection, we don’t have much of a reason to believe that anything the Bible says is true).
So can we prove to the skeptic that Jesus rose from the dead? Paul seemed to think so. He claimed that over five-hundred people were eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-8). Could they all be insane? It hardly seems possible to have that many crazy people in one place and time, let alone have them all get their stories straight! Could this be a conspiracy on their part to gain power or money? No, all they gained was persecution. How can we explain these witnesses and the early Christian worship of Christ as a living deity? Maybe somehow he didn’t actually die? No credible historian could believe that considering the track record of the Romans. They knew how to crucify someone, and it is clear from the texts that Jesus died.
Well maybe, a skeptic might say, they were duped. This doesn’t seem possible either. Who would have taken the body from the tomb? The Romans wanted him dead and done with. The Jewish leaders craved the same. Would the apostles do this? Why would they? Why would they risk their livelihoods and indeed their lives for something they knew to be a hoax, namely the resurrection of Christ? Besides it hardly seems likely in their pre-resurrection character for them to be so bold.
So as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would say, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” It may seem improbable for a man who died to come back to life, but the evidence tells a different story.
Now the skeptic may say, “This is all based on the opinion that the Gospels are real historical documents, when we all know that they were written, or at least altered, centuries later by the Christian Church to consolidate power for itself.” Yet this is simply not true. We don’t have the space to recast the argument for what we call the transmission of the New Testament texts here, so I will have to summarize it and hope that you will dig deeper on your own! Simply put, if an honest historian puts the same test of credibility to the four Gospels as he or she puts to other documents, the four Gospels not only pass test but are miles ahead of any other historical document from the period. If you don’t believe that Jesus said and did what the Gospels claim, then you need to also throw out every bit of knowledge we have about Greece, Rome, and the classical world. (A book I recommended last post will get you started on this and point you to other material: Religion on Trial by Craig Parton.)
Younger people often come with this preconceived notion that the Bible is mostly (if not completely) myth. This is a huge fundamental shift from previous generations in which many came with the preconceived notion that the Bible is mostly (if not completely) true. The above argument is one way to challenge the notion that the Bible is simply not reliable.