Disciples & others convinced that the resurrected Jesus appeared to them – general scholarly consensus.
It may come to the surprise for many that current scholarship unanimously holds that the disciples, James, Paul & Peter were convinced that the risen Jesus had appeared to them and convincing them that he had been raised from the dead. This in fact, falls into the category of the minimal facts, in other words it is a bedrock fact that is undeniable on historical grounds (1). Habermas is the brain behind this method, and having sifted through some 3400 academic articles written by critical scholars over the last half century on the historical Jesus, he writes: “This method considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones” (2). Believe it or not, that the disciples and others were convinced that Jesus appeared to them is as historical as anything can ever be. Bear in mind that this is not the consensus of conservative Christian scholars, rather it encompasses all historians independent of their personal worldviews, for example atheist historian Ludemann asserts that:
“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” (3).
Agnostic historian James Crossley says that: “… the resurrection appearances are some of the hardest, best evidence we have” (4).
Perhaps the most notorious historian, Rudolph Bultmann, in the last century for his radical views on the historical Jesus concedes that: “All that historical criticism can establish is that the first disciples came to believe the resurrection” (5).
Agnostic & skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman, a leading contemporary critic of Christianity, informs us that “Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. For 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” (6).
Scholars widely recognize that the disciples had these experiences for several reasons and we will briefly look at why they have come to this conclusion.
Resurrection’s Early & Independent Attestation:
One of the criterion used by historians to determine with high certainty what is historical is the earliness of a source. This is certainly the case for the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, for example, we have it recorded in the sermon summaries of Acts. It was the central message proclaimed by the early church in Acts 1:21-22; 2:22, 24, 32; 10:39-41, 43a; 13:30-31, 34a, 37; 17:2-3, 30-31; 24:21; 26:22-23.
Secondly, it is evident in Paul’s early creed that he received less than five years after Jesus’ death. Atheist historian Ludemann dates this creed to within three years of Jesus’ death: “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years…the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 C.E.” (7) This creed can be found in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 and it records that Peter, the twelve disciples, 500 witnesses, James, and lastly Paul had experiences where the risen Jesus appeared to them and thus convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.
Thirdly, Paul evidently made at least two trips to Jerusalem. According to Galatians 1-2 he interviews the disciples about the gospel, and later he writes that they preach the same message (1 Cor. 15:11). This suggests that the disciples, Paul, and possibly other anonymous Christians were preaching the resurrection from the earliest of times.
Regarding the resurrection’s earliness it is attested to by Paul in his early creed, and by Luke in Acts with the resurrection as its central message. Paul also affirms that the resurrection was part of the early preaching of the disciples. This strongly suggests that the resurrection was known at the earliest time of the Christian movement and is not some later mythological or legendary embellishment.
Multiple & Independent Attestation:
All four canonical gospels independently attest to the resurrection. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John (8).
We also saw that Paul attest to the resurrection to throughout all his epistles, and one of these epistles contains a very early creed. Likewise early sermons are reported in Acts that confirms that the resurrection message was central to early preaching.
We also have independent attestation from extra-biblical Christian writings from Clement of Rome, he informs us that we have “complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ… (9)” Clement was writing very early and likely at the same time of the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, being written around 95 AD. Likewise Polycarp, around 110 AD, refers to the resurrection and the beliefs of the disciples (10). Importantly, both Clement and Polycarp are contemporaries of the disciples, and they were reported as knowing them. Irenaeus tells us that Clement “had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them,” and that “Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna… (11)” Likewise, Tertullian informs 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” (12).
We have the case of 1st century historian Josephus Flavius independently attesting to Jesus’ resurrection (13). However, Josephus’ reference is widely viewed to be a Christian interpolation over a historical nucleus. In other words, scholarly consensus holds that Josephus did in fact write on Jesus before his passage was subject to some later scribal interpolation, a position supported by Feldman, one of the world’s leading scholars on ancient Judaism & Josephus’ work (14). As long as the gist of the core text is there is all that matters.
In other words, nine early and independent sources testify to the disciples’ proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead and that he appeared to them: Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Paul, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Josephus Flavius. Of these nine early sources two of them are very early: Paul’s creed (1 Cor. 15:3-8), and early Christian preaching (Acts 2). When historians have just two sources to affirm historical events they consider themselves lucky (15/16).
A Needed Clarification for the Eyewitnesses Willingness to Suffer and Die:
An important distinction must be made at this juncture regarding the sincerity of the willingness, of the disciples & eyewitnesses, to suffer and die for their proclamation that Jesus had appeared to them. We will look at this evidence in the following points.
One may challenge the disciples’ sincerity by pointing to, for example, contemporary Islamic martyrs who are quite evidently more than willingly to die for their faith or what they believe is true. This is a common misunderstanding, although an innocent one at that. For example, those (disciples, James etc.) who were willing to suffer and die for the risen Jesus were eyewitnesses and thus in the position to know that what they were risking their lives for was authentic. Whereas, the many contemporary Muslims willing to give their lives for their religion are surely sincere in their belief, but this sincere belief was inherited from those before them. This is not the case for the disciples who were present at the very time of Jesus, and who saw him eat, teach, and perform miraculous deeds during his ministry. Scholars Habermas & Licona explain it thusly:
“Modern martyrs act solely out of their trust in beliefs that others have taught them. The apostles died for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus. Contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true. The disciples of Jesus died for what they knew to be either true or false” (17).
Or as E.P. Sanders affirms for us: “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” (18).
When we review the hard data below, this distinction ought to be kept in mind.
James, brother of Jesus, converts after witnessing the risen Jesus:
James was the brother of Jesus (see my article: Historicity of James, the brother of Jesus, & other brothers), and he was converted after witnessing the risen Jesus. This is a powerful line of evidence since he was previously a skeptic who rejected Jesus as independently attested to in Mark (3:21; 6:2-4, 6) and John (7:5; 19:25-27). Atheist historian Ludemann confirms that “James had no religious link with his brother during Jesus’ lifetime” (19). Even further, James becomes a leader in the early church and is later martyred for this!
This fact also passes the criterion of embarrassment. This criterion says that the early church would not make up an embarrassing detail that would make them look silly if it didn’t actually happen. In other words, that the early writers would include such details shows that they are trying to be honest and report events as they happened, and thus not trying to hide anything. According to theologian Chris Price:
“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” (20).
This would have surely been embarrassing for James as it demonstrates an embarrassing flaw in the very leader of the Jerusalem church; a detail not likely to have been invented. Scholar Habermas tells us that: “For it to be remembered over many decades, James’ unbelief was probably rather staunch” (21).
Thirdly, that Jesus appeared to James is attested very early as Paul names him in the early creed (1 Cor. 15: 3-7) that dates to within three to five years of Jesus’ death. This negates any accusation of later legendary embellishments, according to Ludemann: “Because of 1 Cor. 15:7 it is certain that James ‘saw’ his brother” (22). In fact, this is certain as Paul had direct access to James and spoke with him regarding the gospel on at least two occasions (Galatians 1-2).
Subsequently, something dramatic must have happened to James because in Acts 1:14 he is recorded as being among the disciples after Jesus had appeared to him and convinced him. James is clearly an important figure in the early church as he is mentioned first in the list of disciples by Paul (Gal. 2:9). In other words, James went from a a) skeptic to a b) disciple and then to a c) leader.
Fifthly, James was willing to suffer and die for his faith in the risen Jesus. In fact, James does die as a martyr as recorded by Josephus Flavius who tells us that James “the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ… was delivered to be stoned” (23). This passage (the second reference to Jesus in Josephus’ writing) is, according to ancient Judaism scholar Louis Feldman, “universally acknowledged” (24). Yet, we also have further corroboration of this by Hegesippus, a church historian who writing around 165 to 175 AD, who also confirms that James was stoned (25). Furthermore, a little later the church historian Eusebius quotes Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria regarding the martyrdom of James (26).
This all well suggests and attests to the sincerity of James. For example, if it is alleged that James only claimed to see the risen Jesus in order to become a leader in the early church, he would have surely recanted this in the face of being stoned to death with rocks. None of the disciples or early Christians had anything to gain from their commitment to the proclamation of the risen Jesus. In fact, they were persecuted for such a belief (as we shall see below) and never recanted their faith.
For these several reasons we can know confidently that James was converted to faith in Jesus after his experience of the risen Jesus. Reginald Fuller writes: “It might be said that if there were no record of an appearance to James the Lord’s brother in the New Testament we should have to invent one in order to account for his post-resurrection conversion and rapid advance” (27).
Paul Converts After Witnessing the Risen Jesus:
We have a second line of powerful evidence supporting Jesus’ resurrection. Paul, who formerly persecuted and killed early Christians, had converted as a direct result of an experience with the risen Jesus. Paul tells us of his persecution of the early Christians, and goes as far as to say that: “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). Yet, in our early creed he affirms that Jesus had appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:8), and many others.
Having looked at James above we ought to note an important difference between Paul and him. Whereas James was skeptical and an unbeliever, Paul was that too and a persecutor of the early church. Paul witnessed the murdering and persecution of early Christians, as well as sanctioned such activity. Of course, our first question ought to then be: “Why was Paul, as a Pharisee, so hostile to the early Christian proclamation of the risen Jesus?”
In fact, Paul answers this for us. As a Pharisee, Paul had a high view of the Old Testament (OT), yet in the OT we find that if anyone is crucified he has been cursed by God: “for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” (Deuteronomy. 21:22-23, emphasis mine). Paul, like other Jews were waiting and anticipating the coming of the Messiah who would overthrow Roman rule and their oppressors. So, when the early Christians were telling fellow Jews & gentiles that Jesus was this long awaited Messiah after him having been crucified, what they were then in fact saying is that the long awaited Messiah was cursed by God and condemned to hang on a cross like a common criminal. That Paul considered seriously blasphemous. According to scholar Martin Hengel: “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated” (28).
To this Paul even admits after his radical conversion. He writes that the: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor.1:21-22, emphasis mine). Jesus also became a curse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE” (Gal 3:13, emphasis mine). Exegete William Craig writes:
“Jesus’ crucifixion was something the early church struggled to overcome, not something it invented. Jesus’ crucifixion is one datum upon which all historical scholars, even the most radical, agree” (48).
Thus, preaching the early Christian message of the crucified and resurrected Jesus was certainly tough, and even tougher for many Jews to accept. Unless one posits that Jesus really did in fact appear to Paul then this is very hard to explain away. Whatever one believes of this something certainly did happen on Paul’s voyage to Damascus where the resurrected Jesus appeared to him, and such a dramatic change in Paul’s behaviour demands an explanation. Even the skeptical scholar Ehrman alleges that “Paul was undoubtedly the most important convert in the history of the Christian religion” (29).
Beyond what we’ve just combed through there are several other reasons as to why scholars are convinced of Paul’s conversion and allegiance to the risen Jesus.
Firstly, the fact that we have and can determine Paul’s authentic epistles goes a long way as historical proof. Paul’s accounts thus provide early eyewitness testimony of his experience of Jesus and those close to Jesus. Of course, as we briefly saw above, Paul himself admits to persecuting the early church in his authentic epistles (1Cor. 15:9-10; Gal. 1:12-16, 22-23; Phil. 3:6-7). This is further confirmed by Luke’s attestation in the book of Acts where Sual (Paul) “began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (8:3). Luke also reports that Paul sanctioned the stoning of Stephen (8:1). Thus Paul’s persecuting of the early church enjoys both his self-admittance and multiple & independent attestation.
Next, Paul’s early Christian persecuting passes the criterion of embarrassment. Paul was self-admittedly a staunch enemy of the early church, and as he admits in 1 Corinthians 15:9 he viewed himself as the “least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” To Paul such persecution on his behalf ashamed him, and certainly embarrassed him, and thus is not a story that he, or Luke, would have invented. The persecution that he sanctioned surely damaged his reputation and credibility, and he would have felt it.
Like we saw is historically certain with James, Paul lived his post-conversion life with a willingness to suffer and be persecuted for the message of Jesus. This is quite the dramatic change considering that his pre-conversion life had him persecuting and killing Christians. Not only did Paul suffer abuse, persecution, heartache, and isolation but he was also later martyred. On several occasions Paul was incarcerated, while other times he endured beatings (2 Cor. 11:24-27). The Jews with whom Paul spoke tried to kill him (Acts 9:29), he was persecuted (Acts 13:50, 1 Corinthians 4:12, 2 Corinthians 4:9, 2 Timothy 3:11 & Phil 1:12-30), he was stoned and dragged out of the city (Acts 14:9), beaten with rods (Acts 16:22), endured trial (Acts 18:12), verbally abused by crowds (Acts 21:36 & 22:22), and incarcerated (2 Timothy 2:9). Paul was clearly willing to suffer for his faith, and this is multiply & independently attested. From our early New Testament writings Paul’s suffering is attested by his authentic letters (1 Corinthians etc.), disputed letters (2 Timothy etc.) and by Acts. That is at least three independent traditions attesting to his persecution and willingness to suffer for the risen Jesus. Let me quickly clarify one detail – to have two or three independent sources on Paul’s suffering depends on whether or not one holds that 2 Timothy is an authentic or disputed epistle of Paul’s. According to roughly 80% of scholars 2 Timothy was not authored by Paul (30). We will accept this consensus, and therefore we have three independent sources from within our New Testament attesting to the persecution and suffering of Paul. According to Christ Price:
“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” (31).
Nonetheless, beyond our three independent New Testament sources we have further confirmation of Paul’s sufferings and eventual death at the hands of the Romans. Clement of Rome tells us that: “[Paul] after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned…and suffered martyrdom under the prefects” (32). This is early as Clement was writing around the mid-90’s AD, thus putting it on par with our final NT writings of John and Revelation. Further, Polycarp attests to Paul’s martyrdom (33), as does Tertullian who tells us that: “Paul was beheaded” (34). Later, Eusebius quotes Dionysius of Corinth as well as Origin regarding Paul’s martyrdom (35).
Thus, in concluding our brief investigation of Paul, multiple & independent sources suggest a high probability of Paul’s willingness to suffer and eventual martyrdom. The fact that Paul himself admits to his own received persecution, and that he also persecuted the church prior to his conversion passes the criterion of embarrassment and thus suggests it is certainly historical. Like James, Paul’s radical conversion to Jesus’ cause that ended in suffering, persecution and eventually death demands explanation. Of course the best explanation is Paul’s: that the risen Jesus appeared to him.
The Appearance to the 500:
As already demonstrated we have an early creed that Paul picks up and relays to his readers in Corinth. This creed is dated to within just a few years of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Scholar Dan Wallace tells us that in this creed Paul “defends physical resurrection as part of the passed-on tradition he received when he became a Christian, beliefs he reports in the AD 50s but that reach back to his conversion in the 30s” (36).
This is very early. Often skeptics tell me that Jesus’ divinity and/or resurrection appearances are legends, but this simple creedal formula surely sinks that challenge, and as Moreland tells us that: “There was simply not enough time for a great deal of myth and legend to accrue and distort the historical facts” (37).
However, what is crucial for our current purposes is Paul’s mentioning of the 500 people who saw the risen Jesus. Now, we have already established that Paul was absolutely sincere in his belief of the risen Jesus, a belief that got him beaten, incarcerated, whipped and eventually killed. There was no motive for Paul other than his eternal communion with Jesus Christ in heaven. So, for several reasons the 500 Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to is almost certainly historical, that at least these many people claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. Price writes: “Jesus’ appearance to the five hundred individuals is also significant because Paul boldly proclaims that many are still alive, which is an invitation to the Corinthians, they can check up on his story. You don’t give people that opportunity if you fabricated a myth!” (38)
Bear in mind that Paul is clearly inviting others to investigate this for themselves as he is publicly affirming that 500 people witnessed the resurrected Jesus. Now, remember that Paul, as we established above, was clearly embarrassed and ashamed about his pre-conversion persecution of the early church. That one may allege that Paul is being dishonest here on top of that stretches my credulity. Scholar Wallace articulates:
“It is agreed upon by all teaching scholars in the western world (6000+) that Paul believed that Jesus appeared to these more than 500 eyewitnesses,” Wallace then goes on to stay: “Paul’s credibility was on the line with many false teachers in Corinth and so if these more than 500 could not be corroborated it would have greatly hurt Paul’s reputation” (39).
Paul is clearly sincere, and he is almost certainly telling his readers the very truth. Thus, this is a powerful piece of evidence supporting the resurrection appearances of Jesus to many groups of people (which in itself negates powerfully against the hallucination hypothesis since it is impossible for many to have the same hallucination in groups and on different occasions (40) – but this is beyond our scope for this article).
The Disciples & Peter’s willingness to suffer for the risen Jesus:
Having looked at James & Paul we shall now turn to have a look at some of the evidence that suggests that the other disciples & Peter were convinced that Jesus had appeared to them after his death. This evidence will show that they were willing to suffer, face persecution, and never once recant their faith.
Firstly, we ought to note Peter’s denial of Jesus during his ministry. For instance, Jesus foresaw Peter’s denial before it would even happen (Mark 14:29-31; Mathew 26: 33-35, Luke 22:33-34, John 13:36-38). Later, after Jesus is captured, Peter denies him (Luke 22:54-57, Mark 14:69-70; Matthew 26:73-75; John 18:13-27). This event passes the criterion of multiple & independent attestation by being reported in at least two or more sources, thus it has a high probability. Peter’s denial also passes the criterion of embarrassment as he would later become a leader in the early church after Jesus’ death. It is hard fathom that one would make a pivotal leader of the church deny the very person behind its existence if it did not actually happen. Peter would have been ashamed, however, he undergoes a dramatic change from fearing for his life to becoming a bold proclaimer and willing to suffer and die.
We ought to note the prior state of the disciples before Jesus’ appearance to them. We are told that they went into hiding behind locked doors following the crucifixion (John 20:19), they were also afraid to publicly talk about Jesus (John 7:13), and during Jesus’ arrest they fled (Mark 14:50; Matthew 26:56). However, they had a radical transformation. Firstly, we have the apostles proclaiming the risen Jesus within the book of Acts and the resurrection was their central message. Both Jesus’ apostles Peter and John are imprisoned for this (Acts 4), and in Acts 5 we see that apostles are arrested, imprisoned, and flogged. Acts 12 informs us about the martyrdom of James, the brother of John, and another imprisonment of Peter. Stephen was stoned to death after his witness before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6–8). The first statewide persecution of Christians is reported as being under Nero in 64 AD as reported by Tacitus (Annals 15.44:2–5) and Suetonius (Nero 16.2). Although persecution was sporadic and local, from this point forward Christians could be arrested and killed for proclaiming the name of Jesus. According to Revelation John is said to be in Patmos where he was possibly exiled to (1:9). As we saw above in the context of Paul, Clement of Rome (writing around 95 AD) attests to the persecution and martyrdom of both Peter and Paul. Clement writes that “Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labors and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him” (41). Further, Ignatius writing around 110 AD says that “on this account [of experiencing the risen Jesus] also did they [the disciples] despise death” (42). Sometime later Origen argues that the disciples would not have despised death if they did not in fact experience the risen Jesus (43). According to scholar Sanders “Many of the people in these lists [of witnesses] were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause” (44). Exegete Gary Habermas articulates that: “Virtually no one, friend or foe, believer or critic, denies that it was their convictions that they had seen the resurrected Jesus that caused the disciples’ radical transformations. They were willing to die specifically for their resurrection belief” (45).
As a total 11 early sources testify to the willingness of the apostles to suffer and willingly risk death for their belief in the resurrection: Luke, Paul, Josephus, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen, and Hegesippus. According to Professor Keener: “These disciples plainly believed that Jesus had risen; and not only that, but that they had seen him alive” (46).
On top of that nine early and independent sources testify to the disciples’ proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them: Paul, Creeds (1 Cor. 15:3-8), Sermon Summaries (Acts 2), Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Clement of Rome, Polycarp. We can thus be confident in a high historical probability that these events certainly happened: “Further, it has to acknowledge that none of the disciples defected, even when faced with suffering and horrible deaths, including stoning and crucifixion.”
Christianity’s Uniqueness Based on the Resurrection of Jesus:
It is worth noting that when we compare Christianity to other earlier movements it stands out. Other movements had hit a brick wall when the leaders were killed, for example, Gamaliel in Acts 5 makes exact mention of this trend of ending revolts by killing the leaders (Acts 5:34-40). Other failed movements after the death of their leaders include Judas the Galilean (AD 6), Simon bar-Giora (AD 70) and Bar Kochbar (AD 135). However, this was not the case with Jesus, but instead we find the proclamation of his resurrection by his earliest followers (48). We soon see this movement overtake an empire and subsequently become the world’s largest religion. Scholar Johnson writes that: “Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was” (50).
The Unlikely Conception of a Resurrected Messiah.
The ability for the disciples to conceive of a resurrected Messiah is problematic, and is an issue for the skeptic who tries to explain the early Christian movement without referring to a real resurrected Jesus. The Jewish idea of a resurrection was an event that was expected to happen sometime in the future. It was expected that there would be a general resurrection of everyone at the same time and not that one person would be resurrected before others. For instance, Jewish scholar Vermes writes that “But above all…neither they [the disciples] nor anyone else expected a resurrection” (51).
According to exegete Craig: “The disciples would have been completely un-Jewish to adopt language of resurrection from the dead to express their experience, and there were other categories of Jewish thought and vocabulary that could have been used to express their experience, and resurrection – which had reference solely to the raising up of the dead body in the tomb to new life – was not one of them” (52).
Likewise scholar Wright articulates: “Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion-experience would have generated such ideas; nobody would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures. To suggest otherwise is to stop doing history and to enter into a fantasy world of our own” (53).
Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection at the end of the world (54). With that in mind it is rather odd that this is what they end up proclaiming after Jesus appeared to them and convinced them that he had been raised from the dead.
In finishing we can draw several well founded conclusions. Firstly we saw that the vast majority of critical scholars agree to the very basic fact that the disciples, Peter, Paul & James were convinced that the risen Jesus had appeared to them. We then went through the historical evidence that has convinced scholars of this. We saw that the evidence reviewed passes several criterion such as multiple & independent attestation, early attestation, and the criterion of embarrassment. We saw that the resurrection proclamation was preached very early as suggested in early creeds, Paul’s authentic & disputed epistles, and our record of early Christian preaching in the book of Acts. This negates any challenge that the resurrection proclamation, and high Christology of Jesus as saviour, is a late legendary embellishment. We also reviewed the critical difference between the martyrdoms of Jesus’ earliest followers and contemporary cases. Historically, James, Paul, Peter & the disciples willingly suffered and were persecuted for their proclamation of the risen Jesus. Paul, James, and Peter, alongside other early Christians (Stephen & John), are historically certain to have died as martyrs. The best explanation is that Jesus had appeared to them convincing them that he had been raised from the dead. This passes the criteria of multiple and independent attestation as the disciples’ willingness to suffer while proclaiming the risen Jesus is attested to in 11 sources: Luke, Paul, Josephus, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen, and Hegesippus, while nine early sources attest to their proclamation of the risen Jesus: Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Paul, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Josephus Flavius. We also looked at Paul’s mentioning of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the 500 in his early creed, and thus concluded that he was sincere. Our last two points reviewed Christianity’s uniqueness in the context of the resurrection, and how it was extremely unlikely that Jesus’ earliest followers would have come up with the conception of a resurrected Messiah. In concluding I think we can now feel the power behind Wright’s own conclusion:
“That is why, as an historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him” (55).
1. Habermas, G. The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity. Available.
2. Habermas, G. & Licona, M. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. p. 44.
3. Ludemann, G. 1995. What Really Happened? p. 80.
4. Crossley, J. 2015. Unbelievable? New Testament listener Q&A – Gary Habermas & James Crossley
5. Bultmann, R. quoted in Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Myth (p. 42) by Robert Segal.
6. Ehrman, B. 1999. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 231.
7. Ludemann, G. 1994. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. p. 38.
8. Craig, W. The Resurrection of Jesus. Available.
9. Clement, 1 Clement, 42.
10. Polycarp, To the Philippians, 1,2,9, and 12.
11. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.3
12. Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 32.
13. Antiquities, 18:3.3.
14. Feldman, L. 1997. Josephus, Judaism and Christianity. p. 55–57.
15. Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb. Available.
16. Howell, M & Prevenier, W. 2001. From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods.
17. Habermas, G. & Licona, M. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. p. 59.
18. Sanders, E quoted in A Serious Way of Wondering (p. 44) by Reynolds Price.
19. Ludemann, G. 1994. ibid. p. 109.
20. Price, C. 2015. Making Sense of Resurrection Data. Available.
21. Habermas, G. 2003. The Risen Jesus and Future Hope. p. 22.
22. Ludemann, G. 1994. Ibid. p. 109.
23. Josephus, F. 95 AD. Antiquities, 20.9.1.
24. Feldman, L. quoted in A Rabbi Looks at Jesus of Nazareth (p. 129) by Jonathan Bernis.
25. Hegesippus, fragments from His Five Books of Commentaries on the Acts of the Church, 1.
26. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.
27. Fuller, R. 1980. The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives. p. 37.
28. Hengel, M. 1977. Crucifixion.
29. Ehrman, B. 2006. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. p. 101.
30. Collated by Stegmann, R. 2015. New Testament Foundations. p. 85.
31. Price, C. 2015. Ibid. Available.
32. Clement, 1 Clement, 5.
33. Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians, 9.
34. Tertullian, Scorpiace, 15.
35. Eusebius quotes Dionysius of Corinth in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.25.8 writing that “I have quoted these things in order that the truth of the history might be still more confirmed.” Eusebius also quotes Origin regarding both Peter and Paul’s martyrdom in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.1.1-2
36. Bock, D. & Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ.
37. Moreland, J. 1987. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. Chapter 6.
38. Price, C. 2015. Ibid. Available.
39. Wallace, D. 2015. Fact Checking Dan Barker From our Recent Debate. Available.
40. Craig, W. Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann’s Hallucination Hypothesis. Available.
41. Clement, 1 Clement, 5.
42. Ignatius, To the Smyrnaeans, 3.
43. Origen, Contra Celsum, 2:56; 2:77.
44. Sanders, E. 1995. The Historical Figure of Jesus. p. 279-280.
45. Habermas, G. The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus. Available.
46. Keener, C. 2009. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. p. 342.
47. Craig, W. 2012. Stephen Law on the Non-existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Available.
48. Wright, N. Jesus Resurrection and Christian Origins. p. 615–635.
49. Bock, D & Wallace, D. 2010. Ibid.
50. Johnson, L. 1997. The Real Jesus. p. 136.
51. Vermes, G. 2011. Jesus the Jew: A Historians Reading of the Gospels. p. 40.
52. Craig, W. Doctrine of Christ (part 18). Available.
53. Wright, N. 2003. Christian Origins and the Question of God, III: The Resurrection of the Son of God. p. 707.
54. Craig, W. The Resurrection of Jesus. Available.
55. Wright, N. 1993. The New Unimproved Jesus. p. 26.