I affirm the resurrection of Jesus. One may wish to know why I do. The answer is simple. We have sufficient historical textual evidence that when put together makes an evidentially persuasive case. I have made an argument for the resurrection without appealing to the gospels, and elsewhere I have looked at the evidential case for the resurrection post-mortem appearances. Couple these lines of evidence with several sound arguments and we have something worthwhile to consider.
I think everyone knows that although the evidence is persuasive for some, it won’t be for others. However, in brevity, let me explain what I’ve found convincing. There are several reasons why I find the evidence convincing and why it has urged me to place my faith in Jesus. One is early and independent attestation. Nine early and independent sources testify to the disciples and skeptics proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead and that he appeared to them. We have this in 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). Considering that historians are oftentimes confident of the historical events based upon just two independent sources (1), I think we have some worthy evidence for Jesus’ resurrection appearances. At the very least I don’t think that anyone can merely shrug at this evidence. It is enough to be considered, and those who do shrug at it, or dismiss it out of hand, don’t have honest inquiry on their agendas. Although many historians won’t go as far as to affirm an actual resurrection miracle in space-time, all of them, as far as I know, take this data very seriously.
Apologists have also routinely, and rightly, shown that sound argument supports the resurrection hypothesis. Beyond our disciples’ resurrection experiences, we have the conversions of the early church persecutor Paul, and Jesus’ unbelieving brother James. What is quite valuable here is that both Paul and James have resurrection appearances of Jesus that were so overwhelming, so real, that they convinced them of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul, by his own hand and affirmed in the book of Acts, tells us how he made it his mission to persecute the church and kill, and imprison, as many Christians as possible. This took place in very close proximity to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul had no predisposition to convert to a cause he was hell-bent on exterminating. However, Jesus appears to him and he changes dramatically. What does Paul tell us convinced him? The resurrection. Historically, Paul’s radical conversion is attested to in no less than three early independent sources. What about James? Gospel tradition affirms James’ disbelief in his brother (Mark 3:21; 6:2-4, 6; John 7:5; 19:25-27). However, like with Paul, Jesus appears to him and he is radically converted. James, like Paul, had no predisposition to convert to a cause he did not believe in.
What is further valuable is that we know both James and Paul not only become church leaders, but that they are too martyred for their new belief in a resurrected Jesus. As a matter of history, James’ martyrdom is affirmed by the 1st century historian Josephus Flavius, and sometime later by the church historian Eusebius who quotes Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria regarding the martyrdom. Paul’s violent end is affirmed by the disputed epistle 2 Timothy and 1 Clement. We cannot, historically speaking, dispute the sincerity of their radical conversions and subsequent martyrdoms.
How do arguments feature in here? This considered historical data coupled with the uniqueness of the death of Jesus after which an entire religion is birthed is significant. Our best historical evidence shows that when a Jewish rebel (who is often seen as a messianic figure by Jewish followers. A figure that has come to vindicate Israel from foreign rule as prophesied in the Old Testament), with a following, is crucified the followers have either disbanded the cause and gone looking for another Jewish rebel to follow, or they are dead because they fought alongside their leader against the Romans. Either way the movement is squelched and it dies there. History shows that this is what happened to the unfortunate Jewish rebels Theudas, Simon ben Giora, Athronges, Simeon ben Kosiba (also Bar Kockbar), John of Gischala, Jesus ben Ananias, Judas the Galilean, Menahem, and Eleazar ben Simon. This is what should have happened to Jesus. Jesus should have been crucified and his movement obliterated. However, Jesus proves to be an unusual exception simply because after his death an entire movement begins. But what accounts for this beginning? As far as our historical evidence suggests it was his resurrection.
Then there’s the unlikely conception of a resurrected messiah. 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. With that in mind it is rather odd that the earliest disciples, Paul and James, and the other early Christians, end up proclaiming this very thing. They were proclaiming a single resurrection of a single man in the middle of history, a concept unheard of and entirely antithetical in Jewish thought. What accounts for this radical change? Our best evidence says it was the resurrection.
So what of the evidential value for the resurrection of Jesus? I can see why these lines of evidence have proven convincing for many to place their faith in Jesus. However, in one way I would agree with the skeptic is that I also wish there was even more evidence for the resurrection. Right now we have nine early and independent sources testifying to the disciples and skeptics proclamation of the risen Jesus. It would have been even better if we had 15 sources, but we don’t. Apologists have likewise provided several sound arguments for the resurrection, however it would have been even better if we had another five on top of that, but we don’t. I am likewise convinced that if we could double, or even triple, the lines of evidence for the resurrection many skeptics would remain unconvinced. But that wouldn’t be an issue with the actual evidence itself, it would be an issue with the heart of the skeptic. However, I maintain that the evidence is sufficient enough to ground reasonable belief. It is sufficient enough to place our faith in Jesus. The evidence isn’t “overwhelming” or “absolute,” but it is persuasive and sufficiently convincing. I don’t think we can deny that.
1. Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb. Available.