The following post is based on The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Michael Licona and Gary Habermas. All quotes are taken from this book unless otherwise noted. This is part two of a series on the topic of Jesus' Resurrection; see part one here. I am posting this in honor of Easter weekend (which I believe is not about the Easter Bunny, chocolate, or eggs at all, but is about Christ's Resurrection). I am not sure how far I will get through this series before Easter's end, since it is rather long, but I do hope you enjoy the series! Be looking forward to the other parts in the series coming soon!
A recap from the introduction:
Throughout the centuries, skeptics have maligned the Resurrection of Christ, placing so much weight on theories and arguments that do nothing to support the real evidence. But what these critics fail to understand is that Jesus’ Resurrection is not just a myth that can be easily dismissed; it is a fact of history, and, as such, it is the central point of Christianity.
In this post, we focus especially on the historical aspect of the Resurrection. In part one, we left off just before we discussed the minimal facts approach, so let's begin there (we will only get through two of them in this post)...
Some skeptics try to argue that Jesus didn’t really die; therefore, it is necessary to examine the first of five facts, known as the minimal facts approach, which are agreed upon by almost all scholars and argue indisputably in favor of the Resurrection: Jesus death by crucifixion. Not only was it reported in all four Gospels, but it was also reported by a number of non-Christian sources. Crucifixion was a punishment commonly used by the Romans. Josephus attests to this fact: “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned to be crucified....” (page 49). Tacitus alludes to this fact when he records, “Nero fastened the guilt [of the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate” (page 49). Additionally, the Greek satirist, Lucian of Samosata stated, “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account” (page 49). In a letter to his son from prison, Mara Bar-Serapion said, “Or [what advantage came to] the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?” (page 49). Mara fails to mention Jesus’ crucifixion, but the Jews offer an explanation for Mara’s statement in their own Talmud: “‘On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged’ Being hung on a tree was used to describe crucifixion in antiquity” (page 49). These are all secular sources, attesting to Jesus’ crucifixion resulting in His death!
The second fact validating the Resurrection is that the disciples firmly believed that Jesus died and rose from the dead, and they proclaimed this belief. All scholars agree upon this second fact, that the disciples believed that Jesus had appeared to them after His resurrection and they were transformed from scared rabbits into bold lions. There is evidence called POW that demonstrates this point. “P” stands for Paul, who wrote about the Resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15 and asserts the claim that the disciples preached the Resurrection: “whether it was I or they, this [i.e, the Resurrection appearances] we preach” (verse 11). Additionally, in Galatians 2:1-10, Paul refers to the Gospel being preached to both the Gentiles and the Jews, further supporting the fact that the Resurrection was being preached by the disciples. Some critics try to claim that we can’t trust Paul; however, there is Biblical proof for Paul’s authority. Not only did he claim it in numerous passages – “For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed...” (2 Corinthians 10:8) – but he also stated, “For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5). So did Paul’s testimony agree with the apostles? Apostolic Father Clement wrote, “Therefore, having received orders and complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and believing in the Word of God, they went with the Holy Spirit’s certainty, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God is about to come” (page 54). Likewise Polycarp stated that he had witnessed the “righteousness and endurance” in the lives of several of the apostles, including “Paul himself and the other apostles,” stating, “For they did not love the present age, but him who died for our benefit and for our sake was raised by God” (page 55). But the disciples didn’t just claim the Resurrection of Christ; they believed it. In his writings, Ignatius, a bishop of Antioch in Syria, mentions the willingness of the disciples to die for their belief, stating, “And when [Jesus] came to those with Peter, he said to them: ‘Take, handle me and see that I am not a bodiless demon.’ And immediately they handled him and believed, having known his flesh and blood. Because of this they also despised [literally, disregarded or cared nothing for] death; but beyond death they were found” (page 57). Thus, we see that the disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead and they were unafraid to preach it from the housetops.
Creeds were very important to the Jews; they held these oral traditions (the “O” in “POW”) in high regard – to the point of memorizing them until they could say them word for word to someone else!
It is generally agreed upon that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 – a verse upon which the disciples based their preaching – was an early church creed. But how can we know this for certain? This passage states, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” The first indication that this is a creed comes from Paul’s use of the terms “delivered” and “received” which provides evidence that he is passing down the tradition that he received. Secondly, there are several Aramaic clues within this text that speak in favor of its originality as a creed. Firstly, there is a fourfold use of the Greek word hoti, a common word in creeds. This creed also uses the Aramaic word for Peter, Cephas, even though Paul wrote in Greek. The passage also includes parallelisms and terms that are not Paul’s style. Additionally, the creed is dated within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion (A.D. 30, the date agreed upon by most scholars). Furthermore, Paul’s conversion took place between A.D. 31-33. Then, he went away for three years after which he went back to Jerusalem to visit Peter and James; many scholars believe that this was when Paul received this creed. Others believe that he received it three years earlier in Damascus when he was converted. Both possibilities point to a date of within two to five years of Jesus’ crucifixion, and this creed came from a source which Paul considered to be trustworthy. In addition, Paul often quotes from secular sources, although this does not make them a part of the New Testament. Likewise, there are sources outside the New Testament that demonstrate that the creed existed before Paul’s writings, and that he was not the original author of the creed (i.e. the terms “delivered” and “received” and the “non-Pauline terms” [page 222]).
Let’s break down the important points of the creed. First, it is an early witness to Jesus’ resurrection, probably by eyewitnesses of the event (this is what it purports to be). Secondly, this is multiple eyewitness testimonies, and the creed provides the names of those witnesses in order of Jesus’ appearance to them: Cephas (Peter), the Twelve, more than five hundred at one time, James, all of the apostles, and Paul. Additionally, Jesus appeared to groups of people; that is, He appeared to the 12, then to over 500 people at once, and lastly to all of the apostles. Thirdly, the disciples preached the resurrection of Christ – there are many a sermon contained in the Book of Acts. These sermons can be dated within twenty years of the Resurrection, providing not only early testimony of Jesus’ Resurrection as the creed also attests, but also possible eyewitness accounts of it. In fact, certain passages in Acts even contain group appearances. More importantly, we have written tradition – the “W” of “POW”; altogether, the four Gospels record multiple eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection written within seventy years of Jesus. Even many church fathers fall under this time period. Tertullian stated concerning Clement of Rome and Polycarp, “For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter” (page 54); in their writings, both of these Apostolic Fathers passed down oral tradition concerning the Resurrection having received it directly from the apostles.
To Be Continued... Be on the lookout for part three of this series where we will discuss what the disciples' belief in the Resurrection cost them and how this validates the Resurrection.