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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Truth-Value of the Resurrection

Jim Wallace had a job they make TV shows out of: he was a cold-case detective in Southern California. Wallace had spent most of his career as an avowed atheist, and by relying on forensics and science in his job he naturally elevated them in the rest of his worldview. But after some fifteen years, his views changed. In his book, Cold-Case Christianity, he tells of how he began believing that Jesus' teachings could hold some merit to the full realization that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead. The amazing this is that it wasn't in spite of his trust in forensics and the dispassionate weighing of testimony that that he believed, it was because of those techniques. Wallace writes, "I began to use FSA (Forensic Statement Analysis) as I studied the Gospel of Mark. Within a month, in spite of my deep skepticism and hesitation, I concluded that Mark's gospel was the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter."

But Cold-Case Christianity isn't the first book that documents an atheist who becomes a believer using his professional skills in a different context. Most people are familiar with Lee Strobel and his best-selling book The Case for Christ. Lee has told his story many times. He was a journalist with the Chicago Tribune and an atheist who began to use investigative journalistic techniques to find out the truth about Jesus. Like any good journalist, he interviewed experts, and sought to make sense of the accounts as they were presented. After two years of studying the evidence, Strobel became a Christian within five years of that, he became a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Church.

Even before Strobel, though, these kinds of events would happen. Frank Morison would get my vote for the Less Strobel of the Al Capone era.  Morison regarded Jesus highly, but he also loved the physical sciences and 20th century how something like a resurrection could never happen. Morison decided to write a book debunking the resurrection, "to strip it of its overgrown and primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions." But, as Morison puts it, that book refused to be written. Instead, after years of thought and investigation, Morison's book, Who Moved the Stone?, became a testimony for the truthfulness of the resurrection.

Of course, we can go back farther and we see similar stories with similar results. Most people may not know that every court case in the United States bears the fingerprints of Simon Greenleaf. A legal scholar in the early 1800's who helped establish the Harvard School of Law, his three volume Treatise on the Law of Evidence set the standard for what counts as evidence in legal trials and became the standard textbook for most law schools up until the 20th century. Greenleaf was challenged at one point by some Christian students to apply those same rules of evidence to the gospels and see what he found. The result was Greenleaf's book Testimony of the Evangelists, Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice.

There are probably many more examples but these four are accessible enough to make my point. Why do such stories exist and why do they become so popular? Certainly, every Christian has some kind of testimony so why do these stick out and why to people buy the books that hold their stories? I think the answer is simple. As we have developed as a society, we've come up with some pretty good tools to weigh the truth value of testimony. Reporters, jurists, and criminal investigators use these tools in their perspective professions because they have found that the tools serve them better than anything else to date. When those professionals then use that same trustworthy approach on the gospels, they find that the gospel accounts are in fact what they claim to be: true accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The only reason that one would reject such a claim is if one rejected the supernatural aspect of the accounts ahead of time. But that's an assumption that isn't warranted by the evidence. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the only explanation that accounts for all the facts of the New Testament. No other explanation fits the bill.


  1. Jesus' resurrection after his death is the ultimate and defining proof of Jesus' divinity. Just about everyone knows the story, which is summarized in the Apostles' Creed. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

    There is only one way for Jesus to prove that he rose from the dead. He had to appear to people. Therefore, several different places in the Bible describe Jesus' appearances after his death:

    •Matthew chapter 28
    •Mark chapter 16
    •Luke chapter 24
    •John Chapter 20 and 21

    1 Corinthians 15:3-6 provides a nice summary of those passages, as written by Paul:

    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. As you can see in this passage, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people a number of different times.

    Being like Paul: When we look at these Bible passages, there is a question that comes to mind -- why did Jesus stop making these appearances? Why isn't Jesus appearing today? It really is odd. Obviously Paul benefitted from a personal meeting with the resurrected Christ. Because of the personal visit, Paul could see for himself the truth of the resurrection, and he could ask Jesus questions. So... Why doesn't Jesus appear to everyone and prove that he is resurrected, just like he appeared to Paul? There is nothing to stop Jesus from materializing in your kitchen tonight to have a personal chat with you. And if you think about it, Jesus really does need to appear to each of us. If Paul needed a personal visit from Jesus to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why wouldn't you? It is an important question for the following reasons:

    •We are told by the Bible that Jesus appeared to hundreds of people.

    •We therefore know that it is OK for Jesus to appear to people -- it does not take away their free will, for example.

    •We know that it would be easy for Jesus to appear to everyone all through history, since Jesus is all-powerful and timeless.

    •We know that, if Jesus did reappear to everyone, it would be incredibly helpful. We could all know, personally, that Jesus is resurrected and that Jesus is God. If Paul (and all the other people in the Bible) needed a personal visit to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why not you and me?

    •Yet, we all know that Jesus has not appeared to anyone in 2,000 years.

    THINK folks! Which is more likely: A dead man walked out of his grave 2,000 years ago, ate a broiled fish lunch with his fishing buddies and then 40 days later levitated into outer space, or, this entire story of a Resurrection is a legend: a legend based on false sightings and/or visions and hallucinations, of well-intentioned but uneducated, illiterate, hope-shattered, superstitious Galilean peasants, desperately trying to keep alive their only source of hope in their miserable, first century existence?

    1. A legend for which all of them proceeded to die.


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