[Note: This essay was penned for a newsletter and therefore is confined to a strict word limit. It cannot look at all the purported evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.]
Christians should have good reasons for affirming Christianity’s truth on the basis of God’s resurrecting of Jesus Christ from the dead. The purpose here is to make a brief evidential case in support of this claim.
New Testament Evidence
Historian Gary Habermas, having examined over 3000 academic articles on Christ’s passion, discovered that the majority of scholars agreed that  Christ was crucified,  buried in a tomb,  that the tomb was found empty, and  that Paul, James and the disciples had resurrection experiences of Christ (Habermas, 2004: 44). Historians widely attest to these facts from the New Testament sources. Christian contend that the resurrection hypothesis is what best explains these facts. For example, an empty tomb coupled with Christ’s resurrection appearances to his earliest followers, skeptics, and enemies alike would seem to favour the resurrection hypothesis.
Early and Independent Attestation
An event in history attested to in two independent sources is given value by historians. The more independent historical sources affirming an event the more probable it is that it occurred. In respect to Christ’s resurrection the historian has no less than eight independent (and often early) sources attesting to it. There is attestation in Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Paul, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp. Of these eight sources two of them are early: the pre-Pauline creed (1 Cor. 15:3-8), and the Gospel of Mark.
Willingness to Suffer and Die.
11 historical sources testify to the willingness of the apostles to suffer and risk their lives for their belief in the resurrection. Professor Craig Keener explains, “These disciples plainly believed that Jesus had risen; and not only that, but that they had seen him alive” (Keener, 2012: 342). Nine of these sources specifically attest to their resurrection proclamation. None, however, defected from this belief even when faced with stoning and death. According to Habermas “The apostles died [and suffered] for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus” (Habermas, 2004: 59). Scholar Sanders says “They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it” (Sanders, 1993: 279-280). There is not good reason to doubt the sincerity of their belief which was that Christ had been raised from the dead.
The Dramatic Conversions of Paul and James.
Both Paul and James (Christ’s brother) did not believe in Christ’s message. Prior to his Damascus conversion Paul admits to persecuting early Christians (1 Cor. 15:9). He hated Christ, and the blasphemous movement he founded since he saw a crucifixion as a curse from God (Gal. 3:13). However, Christ appears to Paul on his voyage to Damascus (Acts 9:3–9) and, as a result, Paul converts and later faces persecution while leading the very movement he tried to exterminate. Moreover, James, according to gospel traditions, rejected his brother’s message (Mark 3:21; 6:2-4, 6; John 7:5; 19:25-27). However, Christ appears to him and he is likewise converted. Both Paul and James end up leading the early church and both die as martyrs. What can account for their radical change? According to them it was Christ’s resurrection.
Jewish beliefs about the afterlife excluded anyone rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection at the end of the world (Craig & Armstrong, 2003: 24). Thus, it is rather odd that the earliest disciples, Paul and James, all of whom were Jews, end up proclaiming this very thing. They were proclaiming a single resurrection of a single man in the middle of history, an antithetical concept to Jewish thought. What accounts for this radical change? Our best evidence, and their own testimony, says it was the resurrection.
The Uniqueness of Jesus’ Resurrection.
When a Jewish rebel (seen as a messianic figure by Jewish followers as one who would vindicate Israel from foreign rule as prophesied in the Old Testament), with a following, was crucified the followers either disbanded the cause and searched for another Jewish rebel to follow or, alternatively, they died alongside their leader because of fighting the Romans. Either way the movement died. As far as we know this happened to Theudas, Simon ben Giora, Athronges, Bar Kockbar, John of Gischala, and others. However, this is what should have happened to Christ. Christ should have been crucified and his movement obliterated like everyone else’s. The disciples and earliest followers should have, judging from history, disbanded and gone looking elsewhere. However, the opposite seems to have happened as from Christ an entire movement begins. What do the earliest witnesses tell us it was? The resurrection.
The abovementioned is not all one could present in favour of the resurrection hypothesis. However, as a cumulative case the evidence reviewed appears to provide an impressive case for God’s resurrecting of Christ from the dead. The resurrection hypothesis boasts early and independent attestation, captured the hearts and minds of Christ’s earliest followers (disciples), enemies (Paul), and non-believers (James). Couple this with its unlikely Jewish conception and its radical uniqueness “it may,” explains historian Gerd Ludemann, “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” (Ludemann, 1995: 80).
Craig, W. & Armstrong, W. 2003. God? A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist. Oxford University Press.
Habermas, G. & Licona, M. 2004. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Michigan: Kregel Publications.
Keener, C. 2012. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing.
Ludemann, G. 1995. What Really Happened? Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press
Sanders, E. 1993. The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books.