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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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Friday, April 02, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 5 - The Empty Tomb

As we end our recent study on the resurrection as a fact of history, we look at one of the most daunting problems posed to the skeptics - the empty tomb of Jesus. The absence of Jesus' dead body from its burial place gives incredible support to the disciples' claims that He had risen from the dead. It is therefore not surprising that this point is attacked continuously by doubters. Was the tomb empty? And if so, could it have become empty through some other means than Jesus' resurrection?

If we can show that the empty tomb did in fact exist and that there is no good naturalistic explanation for Jesus' missing body, then we have strong evidence for a supernatural explanation. This not only argues for God's existence but also legitimizes the truth of Christianity.

Was the Tomb Empty?

There exist many objections to Jesus' tomb being empty at all. Most notably, the Jesus Seminar's John Dominic Crossan puts forth the belief that Jesus was never buried in a rock tomb but his body was placed in a common grave and probably eaten by dogs.1  However, Crossan fabricates this explanation because there is absolutely no evidence on which to base his specific account. Although, as Crossan himself admits, burial for crucified criminals was rare it did occur and we have both written and physical evidence to support it. 2

Tomb commonly assumed empty by both Christians and Jews.

So was there a tomb that Jesus was buried in? Crossan and others argue that the whole tomb event had to be added later because the most primitive reports of the resurrection never cited it. However, this is an argument from silence. Even though Peter doesn't specifically mention the empty tomb in his speech in Acts 2, that doesn't mean it didn't exist. It is quite likely that an empty tomb didn't need to be stated because it was "front page news" if you will.

J.P. Moreland says, "In the early speeches of Acts, no mention is made of the empty tomb... Why is the empty tomb not mentioned in those speeches? The best answer seems to be that the fact of the empty tomb was common ground between believers and unbelievers."3

Likewise Paul's recount of the resurrection belief in 1 Corinthians does not prove that there was no empty tomb, but just that the writer felt no pressing need to mention it. The tomb was assumed to be empty - a fact we can derive from our next point.
The stolen body story corroborates Jesus' tomb being empty.

Another explanation given is the women in Mark's account simply went to a random tomb or found the wrong tomb. However, the early accusations by the Jews of Jesus' disciples stealing His body demonstrate that this cannot be the case.

Dr. William Lane Craig writes,

In Matthew 28, we find the Christian attempt to refute the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection. That polemic asserted that the disciples stole away the body. The Christians responded to this by reciting the story of the guard at the tomb, and the polemic in turn charged that the guard fell asleep. Now the noteworthy feature of this whole dispute is not the historicity of the guards but rather the presupposition of both parties that the body was missing. The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was an attempt to explain away the empty tomb. Thus, the evidence of the adversaries of the disciples provides evidence in support of the empty tomb.4

As we mentioned in a previous article, because the Jews were opposed to the idea of Jesus being raised, this lends credence to Jesus' tomb specifically being empty. It makes no sense for the Jews to lie about Jesus' body being stolen when producing the body or showing the tomb would be their strongest argument against the resurrection. The same is true for the women being mistaken. We must conclude that the tomb of Jesus was truly empty and it was available for all to examine.

How Do You Explain it?

So, if the tomb of Jesus really was empty, how is it explained? Did the disciples steal Jesus' body? Given Matthew's account of the tomb being sealed and a guard placed there, it wouldn't seem likely. There's also the problem of the disciples having to roll back that huge stone in order to accomplish their goal , and they would have had to do so without being detected. However it seems to be the best naturalistic explanation, so many doubters claim it must be so.

But Dr. Craig notes the biggest obstacle to believing this scenario. "Perhaps the most serious objection to [the idea of someone stealing Jesus' body] is that it seeks to explain only half of the evidence (namely, the empty tomb) and completely ignores the other half (that is, the appearances). A second hypothesis to explain must be added. But if explanatory scope is the criterion for preferring one hypothesis to another, then the resurrection... is to be preferred."5

In looking at the evidence: the historicity of the resurrection accounts, the trustworthiness of the reports from the disciples, the fact that eyewitnesses saw the resurrected Christ, their changed lives and the fact of the empty tomb, one can see that it is reasonable to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Since He claimed He would do as much beforehand, it also shows that His claims of deity are true and that the Christian God exists.


1. See: Crossan, John Dominic PhD. Who Killed Jesus? San Francisco: Harper, 1996.
2. Crossan, John Dominic PhD. "Was Jesus Buried?"
3. Moreland, J.P. PhD. Scaling the Secular City.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1987 pg 162.
4. Craig, William Lane; PhD.. "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ." June 16, 1998.
5. Craig, William Lane PhD. In Defense of Miracles. Ed. R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 1997 pg. 260. Image courtesy Frank Swift and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 4 - The Changed Lives Of The Disciples

In our studies of the resurrection of Jesus, we've shown how the resurrection accounts must be considered as written documentation of an historical event. Many skeptics of Christianity will argue against these premises vehemently, because to admit them would mean that Jesus was who He claimed to be - the only Son of the living God.

Today, I'd like to examine a proof for the resurrection that most skeptics won't deny - at least initially. That is, how the lives of Jesus' followers were radically and completely changed after the resurrection event. The disciples faced some of the most unspeakable tortures and persecutions because they believed Jesus was resurrected and they would not admit otherwise.

Now, many people undergo a change in lifestyle when they adopt a new belief system, but that's not really what I'm talking about. In order to more clearly demonstrate the uniqueness of the disciples' transformation, we'll examine three prominent figures of the early church: Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and the apostle Paul.


Peter is one of the most well-known of Jesus' early followers. All four gospels show him to be a man who was impulsive; one who would react to a situation first and analyze it later. Sometimes he benefited from this, as when he proclaimed Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16. Other times it was to his detriment, as when he denied the Lord three times.

However, throughout all the accounts we see Peter as completely human, and because of that we can relate to him so well. So, what happened to Peter that changed him from the person who fled with the other disciples at Jesus' capture (ref. Matt 26:56)to the strong believer we read about in the book of Acts? One who would not give up his faith in the face of beatings, jail and even an excruciating death?

Peter's shortcomings are clearly documented throughout the Scripture.  Is it reasonable to believe, then, that he would admit to a falsified resurrection when faced with repeated punishment? He would, unless the resurrection accounts were true and Peter could not deny them because he knew them to be true. He says as much in Acts 5 when he explains why he continues to preach Jesus raised from the dead:
"We must obey God rather than men."


Some critics may object at this point and say that Peter still had a vested interest in wanting to believe the resurrection to be true. After all, he had spent three years under Jesus' teachings and was either not ready to give that up or was in denial. However, when we look at James, the Lord's brother, we find an entirely different scenario.

James didn't follow Jesus throughout his years of ministry. John 7:6 tells us that James did not believe in Jesus. As J.P. Moreland writes "What could cause a Jew to believe his own brother was the very Son of God and be willing to die for such a belief? It certainly was not a set of lovely teachings from a carpenter from Nazareth. Only the appearance of Jesus to James (1 Cor. 15:7) can explain such a transformation." 1


Even more amazing than James' conversion is that of Saul of Tarsus.  Paul was a well-schooled Pharisee, not easily given in to fables. He was also so wholly devoted to Jewish law that he sought out Christians to persecute them. He became so good at it the Bible says he "laid waste the church (Acts 8:3)".

So how can anyone explain his complete and immediate reversal? What, other than the real appearance of Jesus to him, would be so convincing that he would abandon a lifetime of convictions and join the very group he hated most? In summarizing Lloyd Littleton, Josh Mc Dowell writes "If Paul's twenty five years of suffering and service for Christ were a reality, then his conversion was true, for everything he did began with that sudden change. And if his conversion was true, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for everything Paul was and did he attributed to the sight of the risen Christ." 2

When examining the lives of not just these three, but all the eyewitnesses of Christ's resurrection, we find that the situation is the same. Not one person exposes Jesus' being raised as a fraud.  They all truly believe they saw Jesus and every one is willing to die because of that belief. There is no explanation for such a steadfast faith among such a divergent group other than Jesus really did rise from the dead and show Himself to his disciples, to James, and finally to Paul.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about the last point in our resurrection series - the stone that was rolled away from the tomb. If you're enjoying these features, would you write and tell us? Until then, God bless.


1. Moreland, J.P. Scaling the Secular City. ; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987.179.
2. McDowell, Josh A Ready Defense.  San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Pub., 1990. 434.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 3 - Eyewitnesses

The last few days we've been studying the resurrection of Jesus as history. Of course, the resurrection is the most compelling evidence we have to show that it is the Christian God to whom we refer when we speak of God's existence. It validates Jesus' teaching and His claims of deity.

We've already shown how the resurrection accounts read more like history than myth, and how the written accounts are so close to the proximity of the events they record that any myths or legends creeping into them is highly improbable. Today, I'd like to more closely examine the idea of eyewitness testimony and how it also supports the resurrection as a matter of historic fact.

Eyewitness Testimony From Live Witnesses

The four gospels are believed to be written by eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection (Matthew and John) or by people who spoke directly with eyewitnesses (Mark and Luke). The gospels themselves contain reports of Jesus appearing to many different people in the forty days after He was raised from the dead.

Some skeptics believe that the gospel writers fabricated the resurrection in order to help them establish their new religion. Others claim that the witnesses were suffering from some type of mass-hysteria or communal hallucination. But a careful study of the gospels shows why these theories don't make sense.

Because the gospels were written approximately 30 to 50 years after the events they record, many of the people who are offered as witnesses to the resurrection were still alive when they were circulated. This means that as people heard or read about the resurrection, they weren't left to "just take the matter by faith." Anyone who had reason to doubt the resurrection could ask the witnesses themselves if the events recorded in the gospels were true. Because the many different witnesses were available to corroborate the testimony of the gospels, any hallucination or wishful thinking would be quickly pointed out and the claims made by the apostles would be dismissed.

Now, because the testimonies by Jesus' disciples agree doesn't make that testimony unimpeachable. It doesn't rule out the idea of a conspiracy to lie about the resurrection. However there exists an even more compelling argument that answers this objection - the existence of hostile witnesses.

The Existence of Antagonistic Eyewitnesses

Because Christianity represented a danger to the power structures of the Sanhedrin, the leaders and chief priests did everything they could to extinguish this new movement within Judaism. They were vehement in stopping the apostles from spreading tales of the resurrection. They beat and imprisoned Peter and John and stoned Steven to death.

However, the easiest way to quash this new religious movement would have been to demonstrate that the apostles were lying when they claimed that Jesus rose from the dead - by producing a corpse! The Sanhedrin could easily counter the testimony of the eyewitnesses by saying "Look, you know that we took the body and put it in a potter's grave" or "here is the tomb where Jesus' body lies." They said nothing of the kind. They admitted that His body was no longer in the tomb when they created the story of the apostles' stealing it. (There are many reasons why this is implausible which we will cover in an upcoming post.) By claiming that Jesus' body was stolen they corroborate the fact that Jesus' tomb was indeed empty.

In fact, any discrepancy or inaccuracy from Jesus' disciples would have been immediately exploited by the Jewish leaders of the day as proof that the tales told by the believers were false. Considering that not only were these leaders intimately involved with the crucifixion and its resulting events, but they had every opportunity to counter the claims of Jesus' followers and offered nothing tangible in their defense, the truth of the resurrection is compelling.

Appeal to the Facts

The last group of witnesses we will examine are the multitudes in Jerusalem. Jesus attracted many disciples, most of whom did not continue to follow Him after His death. He also was known by many more of the general public. His crucifixion, a public execution before a high feast-day, would have been a very visible spectacle.

If the disciples were playing fast and loose with the truth, the people they were preaching to would have objected, knowing that their tale was fictional. However in Acts 2:22 we see something completely different. The disciples appealed to the knowledge of the crowd in order to support their claims of resurrection. Peter used the phrase "as you yourselves know" when speaking at Pentecost. He knew what he was saying was true and the facts were on his side. Even more telling was that the people listening responded to his claims by being "pricked in their hearts" and repenting, not by contradicting them.

The fact that we have many first-hand accounts of Jesus' resurrection makes the argument for the resurrection credible. The fact that these eyewitnesses were giving testimony while facing a hostile audience makes it stronger. The fact that the enemies of the apostles could offer no evidence to contradict their testimony makes it beyond merely reasonable to hold the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection becomes as trustworthy a piece of history as any other. Next time, we'll look at how the changed lives of the disciples also bolster our case. God bless until then

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 2 - Too Soon for Fables

Last time we studied how the resurrection accounts read like history. But another reason to believe in the resurrection of Christ is how close the records we have were to the actual events they record.

In the game of telephone, a message is told from person to person until it eventually becomes unrecognizable to its initiator. There is less chance the message has been corrupted the closer a person is to the originator. This is one of the ways scholars studying ancient historical events judge a record's accuracy.

Most conservative scholars date the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection from between A.D. 50 to A.D. 80. If we are to assume Jesus died somewhere near 30 A.D., then these historical records would be between 20 to 50 years after the events they record. Not only are these dates very close to the actual events by historical standards, but that also implies that the Gospels were circulated when the apostles were still alive to be questioned by skeptics and detractors.

Now there are other scholars who would prefer a late dating of the Gospels, from the middle of the first century to perhaps as late as the beginning of the second. But late-dating the Gospels doesn't put the historicity of the resurrection in doubt, because a record exists that is older still than any of the Gospel accounts.

In 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3-8 the Apostle Paul writes "For I delivered unto you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time... then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as one untimely born, He appeared to me also."

Nearly all scholars, those both sympathetic to Christianity and skeptical of it, believe that First Corinthians was written by Paul and was written about 55 or 56. However, scholarship also shows that the above passage is considered an ancient tradition that Paul received from others in the early church when he first became a convert to Christianity. This means that the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 dates from somewhere between two to eight years after Jesus' death!

That early dating means that it is virtually impossible for the resurrection account to be a myth that gradually grew into the church tradition. It had to be accounts from eyewitnesses who saw the events themselves, otherwise too many people would be around to contradict the events in question.

Because this evidence is so convincing, there are those doubters who feel that the resurrection account was a deliberate fraud made up by the apostles to continue their movement. In our next post, we'll look at those claims and show why this couldn't be so. (If you'd like a preview of some of the things we'll discuss then, you can read our article "Is Eyewitness Testimony Reliable?")

For a modern day example to this, think of someone telling you that John F. Kennedy didn't die in November of 1963. He is still alive and in hiding because the CIA wanted to remove him from office. The government made the whole assassination up for their benefit. The problem with such a story is that there are too many people still alive who remember the event and can contradict your assertion.

The more we study the documents testifying to the resurrection of Jesus, the more we can understand why it is called "the most well-attested fact of ancient history." I hope these discussions bolster your faith in Christ and Him being raised from the dead. Comment below and let us know what you think!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fact of the Resurrection Part 1 - Resurrection as History

The resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. If it really happened, then it affects your entire worldview. If Jesus really rose from the dead it means He had power that no one else had. And since He claimed to be God's Son, then it means there really is a God. And if there really is a God - the type of God Jesus talked about - then we will really be held accountable for our actions in this life.

You can see why the resurrection is such a target to the skeptic. If he cannot dismiss this event, then all that follows makes him accountable to God. He must find a way to reject its truth.

The most common way people reject the resurrection is to say that it was a myth created by disciples who wanted to give their new religion credence. If you've ever read any of the Iliad or the Odyssey, you'll be familiar with myth. The ancient Greeks used myth as a way of explaining the world around them and getting some type of understanding.

However, when one reads the New Testament accounts of the resurrection, a careful reader should pick up on something else - these accounts aren't written like myths but like historical reports to an actual event. There are numerous passing comments and inferences that, unless they really happened, make no sense for a writer to invent.

Things such as all the disciples abandoning Jesus when He was arrested, James and John's mother asking for her sons' favor from the Lord, and the women at the tomb. This last idea is very compelling, as women were looked down upon drastically in this society. Women were considered more property than persons, with any excuse serving as grounds for divorce and their testimony wasn't considered solely reliable in a Jewish court of law.

In this light, having women being the first ones to find the empty tomb and the first ones to believe that Jesus was resurrected rings as true history rather than something made-up to justify some created religion. In fact, Josh McDowell quotes Oxford ancient history scholar Thomas Arnold who said:

"I have been used for many years to study the histories 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 inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead."[1]

Now, most Biblical scholars, whether conservative or liberal, agree that Jesus did really live and He really was crucified. Most liberal scholars, however, doubt the resurrection as history. But any explanation that liberal scholarship offers to explain away the resurrection must be manufactured out of thin air. This is because there is no evidence of any kind that can be offered to counter the resurrection story! So, if we are to make judgments about historical reliability, an honest approach would be to base the claims on the evidence that exists. To manufacture a counter story because you want to disprove the evidence is faulty logic.

The resurrection accounts are the best evidence we have as to what happened to Jesus Christ on Sunday morning. This is one part of the proof that Jesus rose from the dead and because of that we know God exists. Next time we'll look at how the proximity of the recorded accounts to the events themselves lends even more credence to our argument. God bless until then.

1. Mc Dowell, Josh A Ready Defense Here's Life Publishers 1991 pg.216
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