Bonus Teaching: 23 Arguments for the Historical Validity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

How is your Easter going? Are you winding down the family activities? Need something educational to finish off the day?

How about some historical validity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

1. The resurrection narratives have the ring of historical truth

The resurrection narratives bear unmistakable signs of being historically accurate. The earliness of these accounts, at a time when hostile witnesses were present, would have made a fabrication unlikely and dangerous. There is agreement on the main facts and great variety in the witnesses given, yet they are not a mere repetition of some standardized story with all the discrepancies worked out. Indeed, the accounts of Christ’s resurrection appearances are clearly independent of one another, as their surface dissimilarities suggest. Deeper scrutiny, however, reveals that these appearances are non-contradictory. Henry Morris writes:

It is a well-known rule of evidence that the testimonies of several different witnesses, each reporting from his own particular vantage point, provide the strongest possible evidence when the testimonies contain superficial contradictions that resolve themselves upon close and careful examination. This is exactly the situation with the various witnesses to the resurrection. [1]

2. The Apostle Paul’s life and ministry is a strong witness of the resurrection

At the time Paul met the resurrected Christ, he was an ardent antagonist to the Christian faith. A highly educated man, he was not easily persuaded of anything that appeared contrary to or inconsistent with the Mosaic traditions. It could be said that he would have been the last person on earth to accept the idea of a crucified and resurrected Messiah based on the Jewish expectations of the time. The fact that he became so fully persuaded of the resurrection of Christ that he completely dedicated his life to his risen Lord is powerful evidence of the reality of the resurrection. Canon Kennett writes:

Within a very few years of the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus was, in the mind of at least one man of education [the Apostle Paul], absolutely irrefutable. [2]

3. The empty tomb is a historical given

No reputable New Testament historian doubts the historical fact that the tomb in which Christ was placed after his crucifixion was empty. Therefore, there are only three explanations for it. Either his enemies took the body, his friends took the body, or Jesus was raised from the dead. The first possibility is extremely unlikely, because his enemies would have certainly displayed his body if they could have, in order to humiliate his disciples, quell the rumors of his resurrection, as well as to cut short any new religious movement that threatened their Mosaic traditions.

It is equally unlikely that his friends would have taken his body, because after his crucifixion they were profoundly disappointed and discouraged men who did not believe that he would be resurrected. It is absurd to think that under these conditions they would invent a scheme in which they would steal away the body to fabricate a story they obviously did not believe. [For further study read The Burial of Jesus Christ.]

4. The disciples were devout Jews

The disciples were Jews who took seriously their Jewish privileges and obligations. Therefore, it is unthinkable that they would have been party to making up a new religion for personal gain. To a first-century Jew, such an act was equivalent to lying against the God of Israel, as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (where he called it “bearing false witness,” contrary to one of the Ten Commandments). For a first-century Jew, lying against God and perverting His revelation would mean risking one’s salvation and future participation in the Messianic Kingdom. Would such a person risk divine retribution for a few years of prestige as a leader of a new religion? The answer can only be an emphatic no.

5. The testimony of women

The presence of women at the tomb is strong evidence that the biblical record is true. Women had virtually no credibility in the first-century Jewish culture, and their testimony in a court of law was considered worthless. For example, if a man was accused of a crime that only women witnessed, he could not be convicted on that basis. If the account of Jesus’ resurrection were a fable added later in an attempt to authenticate Christianity, why would the record have women be the first to see him and testify to the empty tomb, unless it had really happened that way? Women bringing testimony of his resurrection that is then denied by the male disciples makes the latter look bad, and these men were the first leaders of the Christian Church. A fabricated story added later by the Church would certainly have painted their first leaders in a more favorable light. [For further study on the role of women in the church, click here.]

6. Jewish propaganda presupposes the empty tomb and the missing body

The Jewish Temple authorities paid those who had seen the tomb empty to lie and say that the disciples had stolen the body, and they even murdered many of those who preached about his resurrection. With such a powerful incentive to squash the new movement, they would have stopped at nothing to produce Jesus’ dead body if they could have. The fact that they did not means they could not because he was risen.

7. His enemies would have produced his dead body to silence the believers

If he did not rise from the dead, what became of his body? If his enemies stole it and never showed it openly, that would have encouraged the very rumors of a resurrection that they were very anxious to prevent. But the decisive proof that his enemies did not take the body is that they surely would have quickly produced it with great fanfare, for they stopped short of nothing to discredit the story. As William Lane Craig argues:

“This is historical evidence of the highest quality, since it comes not from the Christians but from the very enemies of the early Christian faith.” [3]

8. There was no veneration of the tomb

If Jesus was not resurrected, why is there no record of his disciples venerating his tomb as so often happens to religious leaders? Though God forbade it, the practice continued among the Israelites to the point that God Himself disposed of the bodies of Elijah and Moses lest their followers venerate their gravesites.

9. A non-Christian historian testifies in support of the resurrection

Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, wrote about Jesus Christ and the growth of Christianity as follows:

And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. [4]

Though some have tried to dismiss this corroborating secular testimony as fraudulent, this is unlikely because Josephus’ writings were well received at the time of their writing by both Jews and Romans. He was even made an honorary Roman citizen.

There is no record of any objection being raised to this passage by early detractors of Christianity, and had this been a fraudulent and late insertion into the writings of Josephus, this fact would have been openly debated in the literature of the day. Because this did not happen, the silence of the critics is damning to their cause.

10. No alternative explanations in the early non-scriptural sources

There is no alternative explanation for the rise of the Christian Church given in early historical sources that would even attempt to give the “real” story. In the event that the story was fabricated, surely some critic or disgruntled “ex-christian” would have attempted such an alternative explanation. But the only adequate explanation for the rise of the Church that has ever been given is that the early Christians believed Jesus had been raised from the dead.

11. The biblical records of the resurrection appearances give unified witness

The Four Gospels and the Apostle Paul give a unified witness of ten resurrection appearances. Because these records are harmonious and non-contradictory, the burden of proof is upon those who would say that they do not tell the truth.

The ten resurrection appearances, in their likely order, are as follows:

1. To Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18)
2. To the other women (Matt. 28:8-10)
3. To Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)
4. To the two men on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-35)
5. To eleven of the disciples (except Thomas—Luke 24:33-49; John 20:19-24)
6. To the twelve a week later (John 20:24-29; 1 Cor. 15:5)
7. To seven disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-23)
8. To five hundred followers (1 Cor. 15:6)
9. To James (1 Cor. 15:7)
10. To the twelve at the ascension (Acts 1:3-12) [5]

12. The idea of Christ’s new body was a totally foreign concept

The disciples had enough trouble believing that Christ would die and then be raised, and would never have even conceived of the idea of the Messiah having a different body. It is virtually inconceivable that early Christians fabricated such a story, which even today sounds like science fiction to many doubters.

Read the rest of the reasons here.

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