The following quotations are from scholars who have largely studied in detail the rise of early Christianity and are experts in New Testament history, Pauline studies, and historical Jesus studies. A diverse range of scholars is quoted including Christians, agnostics, atheists, and Jewish thinkers. The majority of scholars are historians in some sense, whether general history or more specifically biblical and New Testament history. There are also several philosophers, scientists, and theologians included.
1. Jesus’ Disciples and his skeptics became convinced that Jesus had appeared to them after his death.
“In order to work, the Jesus tomb hypothesis has to claim that the disciples died for something they knew was a lie—in fact, something they themselves had fabricated. Further, it has to acknowledge that none of the disciples defected, even when faced with suffering and horrible deaths, including stoning and crucifix-ion. Is that likely?”
-Darrell Bock (New Testament scholar) and Daniel Wallace (New Testament scholar) (1)
“Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was.”
-Luke Timothy Johnson (New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity) (2)
“All that historical criticism can establish is that the first disciples came to believe the resurrection.”
-Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976) (Theologian and scholar of New Testament) (3)
“I am sure that the disciples saw Jesus after his death.”
Typical encounters with the recently deceased do not issue in claims about an empty tomb, nor do they lead to the founding of a new religion. And they certainly do not typically eat and drink, and they are not seen by crowds of up to five hundred people.”
-Dale Allison (New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity) (4)
“It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection.”
“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that… he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.”
-Bart Ehrman (New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity) (5)
“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”
“Paul’s tradition that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time has led some people to suggest that Jesus’ followers suffered mass hysteria. But mass hysteria does not explain the other traditions.”
“Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it.”
-E. P. Sanders (New Testament and Pauline scholar) (6)
“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
-Gerd Ludemann (1946-2021) (Biblical historian) (7)
“After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ.”
–Michael Licona (New Testament scholar) (8)
“I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event. If the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on that Easter Sunday were a public event which had been made known…not only to the 530 Jewish witnesses but to the entire population, all Jews would have become followers of Jesus.”
-Pinchas Lapide (1922-1997) (Jewish theologian) (9)
“The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.”
-Robert Funk (1926-2005) (Biblical scholar) (10)
“The disciples thought that they had witnessed Jesus’ appearances, which, however they are explained, “is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree.”
-Reginald Fuller (1915-2007) (Biblical scholar) (11)
“Even the most skeptical historian” must do one more thing: “postulate some other event” that is not the disciples’ faith, but the reason for their faith, in order to account for their experiences. Of course, both natural and supernatural options have been proposed.”
-Reginald Fuller (Biblical scholar) (12)
“I know in their own terms, what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know as an historian, that they must have seen something.”
-Paula Fredrickson (Historian and scholar of early Christianity) (13)
“If Jesus had died and stayed dead, they would either have given up the movement, or they would have found another messiah. Something extraordinary happened which convinced them that Jesus was the Messiah.”
-Nicholas Thomas (N. T.) Wright (New Testament and Pauline scholar) (14)
“… that is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”
-Nicholas Thomas (N. T.) Wright (New Testament and Pauline scholar) (15)
“We are left with the conclusion that the combination of empty tomb and appearances of the living Jesus forms a set of circumstances which is itself both necessary and sufficient for the rise of early Christian belief. Without these phenomena, we cannot explain why this belief came into existence, and took the shape it did. With them, we can explain it exactly and precisely.”
-Nicholas Thomas (N. T.) Wright (New Testament and Pauline scholar) (16)
“These three great facts–the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith–all point unavoidably to one conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred.”
-William Lane Craig (Philosopher and theologian) (17)
“Any responsible historian, then, who seeks to give an account of the matter, must deal with these four independently established facts: the honorable burial of Jesus, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection and, hence, of Christianity itself. I want to emphasize that these four facts represent, not the conclusions of conservative scholars, but rather the majority view of New Testament scholarship today. The question is: how do you best explain these facts?”
-William Lane Craig (Philosopher and theologian) (18)
“The idea of the resurrection Jesus being explicable as some sort of wish-fulfillment on the part of the disciples also strains the imagination somewhat. Why should the disciples have responded to the catastrophe of jest death by making the hitherto unprecedented suggestion that he had been raised from the dead? The history of Israel is littered with the corpses of pious Jewish martyrs, none of whom was ever thought of as having been raised from the dead in such a manner.”
-Alister McGrath (Scientist and theologian) (19)
“We have strong data on at least the martyrdoms of Peter, Paul, and James, the brother of Jesus, recorded by Josephus and Clement of Rome, both before the close of the First Century. Josephus, of course, was not a Christian, so we cannot argue that he wanted to make the Christians look good. Further, Roman historians like Tacitus and Suetonius, along with Roman governor Pliny the Younger also tell us that early Christians were persecuted and even killed. These were also non-Christian authors who were trying to disparage Christianity, not brag about believers. Then, just a few years later, others died for their faith, like Ignatius and Polycarp. Willing deaths show that the martyrs sincerely believed their own reports. So, just to preach Jesus in the early church context would expose the preacher to at least the possibility of death. Virtually no scholars would deny that this occurred. But please note that I generally base these points on the disciples’ willingness to die, because this keeps me from having to prove the actual point and their being willing is all you need to show they were sincere.”
-Gary Habermas (Historian and New Testament scholar) (20)
“Most striking perhaps is that fact that Jesus appeared to Paul. Paul hated Christians and was hell-bent on destroying the church. What transformed him from a persecutor of Christians to a pastor, who was willing to endure extraordinary hardship to proclaim the Gospel? Paul claimed it was the resurrection. This also indicates that Jesus didn’t just appear to friends or followers who might have been predisposed to think high and exalted things about him. Christ appeared to skeptics (James) and unbelievers (Paul) and they were convinced based on the reality of the resurrection.”
“When Jesus died the disciples were discouraged and fearful. But a few weeks later they remerge as individuals committed to boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus to the point of death. What caused this radical transformation? They encountered the risen Christ! The James mentioned above is likely Jesus’ brother. Remarkably, James didn’t believe in his brother during Jesus’ earthly ministry, an embarrassing detail the Gospel writers wouldn’t have made up. In fact, John 7:5 just states, “For even his own brothers didn’t believe in him.” But we also know as a matter of history that James becomes a leader in the early church (Galatians 1, Acts 15), worshiping his brother as messiah and Lord to the point of eventually dying for that belief.”
-Christopher Price (Theologian) (21)
“For reasons like these 10, the vast majority of contemporary scholars conclude that Jesus’ disciples and others thought that they had seen Jesus after His crucifixion. This is what the earliest believers claimed and this teaching is confirmed by an amazing variety of details from a number of perspectives. We might even say that the disciples were overpowered by these evidences themselves, which convinced them that they had seen the risen Jesus. Given that natural theses cannot explain these experiences, Jesus’ resurrection appearances remain the best explanation of the historical facts.”
-Gary Habermas (Historian and New Testament scholar) (22)
“If, as tradition tells us, Paul was executed in Rome, it was not because he practiced some kind of interiorized spirituality to the effect that “Jesus is Lord of my heart,” but something of his message and conduct brought him to the attention of the imperial authorities and warranted capital punishment in their eyes.”
-Michael Bird (New Testament scholar and theologian) (23)
“There are at least a handful of things about the origins of the Christian religion which we can reasonably conclude based on the things that we know. Among them are that there was most likely a guy named Jesus who preached and was killed outside Jerusalem, and that after his death a diverse following [of disciples] emerged which built around that event a narrative which grew to become the Christian faith.”
-Neil Carter (Atheist teacher) (24)
“That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so loft an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospel.”
-Will Durant (1885-1981) (Historian and philosopher) (25)
2. The resurrection appearances could not have been hallucinations.
“Although at least a few if not all of Jesus’ disciples may have been in an emotional state that rendered them candidates for a hallucination, the nature of some of the experiences of the risen Jesus, specifically those that occurred in group settings and to Jesus’ enemy Paul, and the empty tomb strongly suggest that these experiences were not hallucinations.”
-Michael Licona (New Testament scholar) (26)
“If the experience of the first Christians was the kind of experience that Bultmann, Borg, and Crossan suggest—visionary and internal, simply the conversion of their hearts to God’s truth and the real meaning of Jesus life and death—then why on earth did they not say so? The language to describe such experiences was clearly available, so why did the first Christians not use it? Why did they choose instead to use the language of resurrection, words such as egeiro and anistemi, words which, we have noted, were normally used in quite different connections and whose use here was therefore inviting misunderstanding of experiences that would, in fact, have been perfectly acceptable to many in the ancient world who found resurrection ridiculous?” Why did the first Christians bring “resurrection” into their proclamation at all (other than future open)—unless they genuinely believed that something had happened that could be only be spoken of in this way?”
-Christopher Bryan (New Testament scholar) (27)
“Everyone in the ancient world took it for granted that people had strange experiences of encountering dead people. They knew at least as much as we do about visions, ghosts, dreams, and the fact that when somebody is grieving over a person who has just died, they sometimes see, briefly, a figure that seems to be like that person appearing to them. This is not a modern invention or discovery; ancient literature is full of it. They had language for that sort of phenomena, and that language was not ‘resurrection.’ They described these situations as a kind of angelic experience.”
-Nicholas Thomas (N. T.) Wright (New Testament and Pauline scholar) and Craig Evans (Historical Jesus scholar) (28)
“None of these features [hallucinations] adequately describe the New Testament experiences.”
-James Porter (J. P.) Moreland (Philosopher and theologian) (29)
“Why did they choose instead to use the language of resurrection, words such as egeiro and anistemi, words which, we have noted, were normally used in quite different connections and whose use here was therefore inviting misunderstanding of experiences that would, in fact, have been perfectly acceptable to many in the ancient world who found resurrection ridiculous?” Why did the first Christians bring “resurrection” into their proclamation at all (other than future open)—unless they genuinely believed that something had happened that could be only be spoken of in this way?”
-Christopher Bryan (New Testament scholar) (30)
“Resurrection” (anastasia )in Greek was a word which has already developed a clear meaning. It referred to a physical raising back to life within this world of those whom God chose –“the resurrection of the just” “on the last day” (cf. Matthew 22:28; John 11:24). So when the disciples claimed Resurrection for Jesus, they were claiming that God had done for one man what they were expecting him to do for all his faithful people at the end of time (what Paul refers to as the “hope” of Israel [Acts 23;26:6]. If they had meant merely that Jesus was a good fellow who did not deserve to die and whose effect on people would surely continue beyond his death, they would have used some other word. They would not have dared to use this word, which meant one thing and only one thing—God’s act of raising from physical death. That is what they meant. And that is what they would have been heard to mean.”
-P. W. Walker (Biblical scholar) (31)
“Typical encounters with the recently deceased do not issue in claims about an empty tomb, nor do they lead to the founding of a new religion. And they certainly do not typically eat and drink, and they are not seen by crowds of up to five hundred people.”
-Dale Allison (New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity) (32)
“…when assessed by standard criteria used for testing historical descriptions, Lüdemann’s Hallucination Hypothesis is seen to have narrow explanatory scope, to have weak explanatory power, to be implausible, to be unacceptably ad hoc, to contradict quite a large number of accepted beliefs, and not to outstrip its rivals in meeting these tests.”
-William Lane Craig (Philosopher and theologian) (33)
3. The evidence is good.
“The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.”
-Antony Flew (1923-2010) (Philosopher) (34)
“There is good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, unlike other ancient miracle reports.”
-Randal Ruaser (Theologian and philosopher) (35)
Jesus’ resurrection is unparalleled in terms of strong evidence.”
-Michael Licona (New Testament scholar) (36)
“The resurrection hypothesis passes all the standard criteria for being the best explanation.”
-William Lane Craig (Philosopher and theologian) (37)
1. Bock, D. & Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. p. 201.
2. Johson, L. 1996. The Real Jesus. p. 136.
3. Bultmann, R. 1953. “The New Testament and Mythology,” in Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate. p. 38.
4. Allison, D. 2005. Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and its Interpreters. p. 283.
5. Ehrman, B. 1999. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 230-231.
6. Sanders, E. 1995. The Historical Figure of Jesus.
7. Ludemann, G. 1996. What Really Happened? p. 80.
8. Michael Licona quoted by Sean McDowell in Did the Apostles Really Die as Martyrs for their Faith? (2013). Available.
9. Lapide, P. 2002. The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective.
10. Funk, R. 1998. The Acts of Jesus. p. 466.
11. Fuller, R. 1965. The Foundations of New Testament Christology. p. 142.
12. Fuller, R. 1980. The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives.
13. ABC, Interview in The Search for Jesus w/ Peter Jennings (June 26, 2000), as cited by Habermas.
14. N. T. Wright in a CBS special, Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus, aired June 19, 2000.
15. Wright, N. 1993. “The New Unimproved Jesus” in Christianity Today. p. 26.
16. Wright, N. 2012. The Resurrection of the Son of God.
17. Craig, W. Jesus’ Resurrection. Available.
18. Craig, W. Jesus and his passion. Available.
19. McGrath, A. The Resurrection. Available.
20. Habermas, G. 2010. Q&A. Evidence for the Resurrection. Available.
21. Price, C. 2015. Is Jesus Dead? Available.
22. Habermas, G. The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus. Available.
23. Bird, M. 2014. Colossians and Philemon: A New Covenant Commentary. p. 91.
24. Carter, N. 2014. An Atheist’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus. Available.
25. Will Durant quoted by Frank Viola in Will Durant on Jesus. Available.
26. Licona, M. 2010. “Were the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Hallucinations?” in Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy and Science. p. 178.
27. Bryan, C. 2011. The Resurrection of the Messiah. p. 169.
28. Wright, N. 2009. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. p. 101.
29. Moreland, J. 1987. Scaling the Secular City: a Defense of Christianity. p. 177.
30. Bryan, C. 2011. Ibid. p. 53.
31. Walker, P. 1999. The Weekend That Changed the World. p. 63.
32. Allison, D. 2005. Ibid. p. 283-284.
33. Craig, W. Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. Available.
34. Anthony Flew in My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew. Available.
35. Rauser, R. 2010. The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails. p. 115.
36. Michael Licona quoted by William Lane Craig’s in Dealing with doubt. Available.
37. Craig, W. Jesus and his passion. Available.