Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Four "E"s of the Resurrection

The most significant event in human history is celebrated on Easter: The resurrection of Jesus Christ, of which Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If He was not raised, we may just eat, drink, and do whatever we wish because all of us will die with no hope. Fortunately, not only was He raised, but the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best-attested event in ancient history. Here we will list four easy lines of evidence for the reliability of the gospel accounts, particularly of the resurrection.

1. Eyewitnesses: John, Peter, Matthew, and James personally observed the life of Jesus. Luke and Mark wrote their accounts based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. Peter stated, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). John wrote, “The Word became flesh and lived among us. We have seen His glory” (John 1:14). Luke as an investigative reporter, indicated, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). Luke traveled with Paul (Col. 4:14, Philemon 24) and wrote his account prior to A.D. 62, so many eyewitnesses were alive to interview. Mark was an associate of Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and wrote his account based on that information, a fact mentioned by early church father Papias. Furthermore, when most of the books in the New Testament were being written, hundreds of additional witnesses were alive to corroborate these accounts, as Paul wrote: “He (Jesus) appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living” (1 Corinthians 15:6).

2. Early: I Corinthians was written around 55 AD by Paul and contained a creed in Chapter 15 that dated to within only a few years of the resurrection. Historical non-Biblical records show that Paul died around 62 AD, during the reign of Emperor Nero, so all of his writings were complete before that time. Relating that to the modern era, suppose sometime in the 1980s, a person became well-known for performing miracles, was arrested, killed, then seen alive again afterward. Would an eyewitness of those events still remember three decades later? Absolutely. Much of the Bible was written while dispassionate, as well as hostile, witnesses were still alive to dispute the accounts.

3. Embarrassing: If many of us had been with Jesus and decided to write our memoirs, would we have included embarrassing details of seeming insignificance? For example, between the crucifixion and resurrection, the brave disciples were hiding (John 20:19). Furthermore, in this patriarchal society, the first courageous ones to visit the tomb were women (Matthew 28:1). If the valiant disciples were making up this story, they would surely have mentioned something about boldly marching down to the tomb, kicking some Roman guard hindquarters, and rescuing their Savior. Then, there was the verbal exchange in which Jesus called Peter “Satan” (Mark 8:33). If Peter was making up the story, do you think he might have said to Mark, “Don’t include that part about Jesus calling me Satan”? Various other mentions of the unbelief and intellectual deficiency of the disciples in the gospels would surely have been deleted if they were only stories. The fact that embarrassing details are recorded lends credibility to the accounts.

4. Empty Tomb: John records, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!’" (John 20:1-2) Did they go to the wrong tomb? It was a very traumatic time, the burial was made hastily, and it was dark, so perhaps they did. However, the Jewish leaders would have been very motivated to quickly locate the correct tomb - with help from Roman guards - prove Jesus was still dead, and put an end to this resurrection foolishness. Well then, maybe the disciples stole the body and invented the story? One problem with that theory is that it would have been impossible to get past the Roman guard. Two, if the disciples did steal the body, then they clearly knew he was dead. And if so, they were the stupidest people in history to willingly die for a false story they knew was false. Some may be willing to die for a lie they think is true, but all of the disciples (except Judas) were willing to die for their belief.

These are four, simple yet convincing, reasons to believe the Biblical resurrection accounts.
(A more detailed account of these lines of evidence may be found in the book "I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler.)