The Case for Christ: Proof FOR THE Resurrection OF JESUS


Written by Keith Long, MDiv

Author |  Pastor |  BE Contributor

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Date written: 18 Sep 2022


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

From movies like “God is Not Dead” to books like Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” and “The Case for Easter,” Christians around the world love to defend the honor of their namesake by arguing for the legitimacy of their religious beliefs…

…especially in the totally inconceivable and unnatural claim that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the grave after being brutally flogged and crucified by the Romans in Jerusalem in the early part of the first century. 

So, let’s take a look at proof of Jesus’ resurrection. 

The Case for Christ

The Case for Christ: Proof of Jesus' Resurrection & Science 

No time period in the history of the world has been as disbelieving and critical of that claim than the one we are living in.

Scientific research has never been as robust and thorough as it is today nor have human beings had so many books and experts to count on for education in history, archaeology, anthropology, mythology, and just-about-any-other-” ology” you can think of. 

Yet, Christians persist that what the early church had to say about Jesus the Christ is accurate.  Worthy of our worship, awe, and obedience as modern-day disciples in his name. In this article we examine the seven strongest evidential claims Christians make for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, otherwise known as the Case for Christ.

7 CLAIMS CHRISTIANS MAKE THAT BOLSTER BELIEF IN THE IMPOSSIBLE

1. Historical Proof for Jesus Christ’s Existence

Regardless of their personal or religious beliefs, few historians disagree that Jesus Christ was an actual person – a Jew from Galilee who lived in the first century.  There are multiple reasons to think this. 

First of all, we have four gospels about him. Actually, several more if we include the non-canonical gospels which tell about his sayings and deeds.  We also have a very early report from Paul, who says he knew Jesus’ brother and Peter, Jesus’ closest disciple. 

On top of that, there is good linguistic evidence that while the Gospels were written in Greek, many of the traditions go back to Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his followers. Which gives more proof that the original sayings and creeds stemmed from Aramaic origin rather than being made up by Greek-speaking authors of the Gospels. 

The Case for Christ: Proof of Jesus' RESURRECTION & Christian Apologists 

Many Christian apologists point to the facts for Jesus’ existence as well as his death on the cross (also well attested), as evidence for the resurrection.  It’s as if proof that Jesus existed means he really rose from the dead! 

But I’ve never bought into these arguments.  Just because we have solid evidence that he existed, that doesn’t make the case for the risen Jesus any stronger.  A miracle would be necessary for one, but not for the other.

NOW AVAILABLE!

Dr. Bart D. Ehrman debated leading Christian apologist, Dr. Mike Licona on April 9th, 2022, on the topic of the resurrection.  Dr. Licona argued his case for the historical resurrection of Jesus while Bart argued against it.

Jesus Resurrection Debate

2. Jesus really Did Die

Lee Strobel, the famous writer of “The Case for Christ,” offered a broad defense for the Christian faith in his first book by offering evidence for the trustworthiness of the Gospels and evidence for the resurrection. 

In a subsequent edition, Strobel wrote “The Case for Easter”.  A book focused solely on the question, “Did Jesus of Nazareth really rise from the dead?”  The first half of the book centers around the fact that Jesus really did die. 

Strobel interviews Dr. Robert Stein, a forensic pathologist, and Dr. Alexander Metherell M.D, PH.D., to establish that Jesus’ torture on the cross led to his certain death.  The implication of death is that Jesus did not merely revive or resuscitate after only appearing dead – as is alleged of Jesus in the Koran.

Proof of Jesus' Resurrection - Yes, He really Died

Strobel concludes that Jesus could not have simply fainted from exhaustion on the cross to be revived later, as speculated by 18th and 19th century promoters of the “Swoon Theory,” Karl Bahrdt and Karl Venturini. 

I understand the need to prove Jesus really died. After all, you can’t get a resurrection without a death – Jesus’ death, in and of itself, is not really evidence for a resurrection. 

Indeed, even if Jesus really did die by crucifixion – and did not, in fact, swoon – that still doesn’t rule out other possibilities for the empty tomb.  Perhaps Jesus’ body was stolen.  Grave robbery was prevalent at the time.  In fact, so rampant was grave robbery in the 1st century that Caesar issued an edict – dated to AD 50. Anyone caught robbing tombs or extracting bodies would be put to death. 

3. Look Who Saw Jesus First After the Resurrection!

According to all four gospels, Jesus’ empty tomb was discovered first by women. Although the number of women to whom he appeared varies depending on which gospel you read

Christian apologists like NT Wright have leaned heavily on the resurrection’s first witnesses being female because of the patriarchal prowess of the ancient world.

The claim goes something like this: “In the first century, a woman’s social status meant that their testimony was not admissible in court. So, the only possible explanation for why the gospels rely on their testimony of the resurrection is that it must have really happened that way.

Men telling the story would have preferred that men would have gotten the credit for the most spectacular event in human history…”  In other words, the only plausible explanation for Jesus first being discovered by women was that’s exactly what happened. 

4. The eyewitnesses: Including 500 Witnesses to the Resurrection

“God’s Word” also indicates that there were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.  But just who saw Jesus after his resurrection and how many people actually saw him?  As previously noted, Jesus first appeared to Mary and some of Jesus’ other female companions and followers.

Jesus then appeared to Peter and John and the remaining disciples. In Luke’s gospel, two men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus received a special viewing and interaction with the resurrected Jesus before he disappeared in the act of breaking the bread before supper.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 15:5-8) provides a convenient summary of the eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus, including the claim that he appeared to more than 500 brothers and sisters at one time!

The last witness Paul mentions by name is himself. For Christians, Paul witnessing the risen Jesus and writing from direct knowledge and experience is a significant boost to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. 

Is this Proof of Jesus' Resurrection?

Is this another powerful proof of Jesus resurrection?  I would not say so.  It’s quite possible that Jesus really did die by crucifixion and that some of his female followers really did find his body missing a few days later. 

But is this the sort of proof that would convince modern-day people?  As Bart Ehrman says, “When people find an empty tomb, they’re not going to immediately think ‘resurrection!’  No!  They’re going to think, ‘grave robbers!’ or, ‘maybe I’m at the wrong tomb!’”  

The Case for Christ supporters has another problem here and it is this: the earliest written testimony of the resurrection – written by Paul in I Cor. 15 – leaves the women out entirely, saying that Jesus first appeared to Peter.

The Case for Christ, Special Note: 

A special note about the 500 witnesses to the resurrection. Apologists love to read this verse by Paul and declare, “It’s as if Paul is saying, ‘If you don’t believe me, 500 others saw him too, and you can go ask them yourselves!’” 

I’ve always chuckled at this line of thinking.  Paul doesn’t give us any names.  He simply tells us that Jesus appeared to “the 500.”  Now, I suppose that would be a useful lead for people living in the 21st century. 

Today, we could follow up on a lead like this via email or some calls to the region.  Surely, if that many people witnessed a resurrection, it would be easy to find someone to corroborate the story. 

But Paul is writing here in the first century to the church of Corinth – as in Corinth, Greece!  How would anyone living there corroborate this statement aside from traveling to Jerusalem? 

NOW AVAILABLE!

Dr. Bart D. Ehrman debated leading Christian apologist, Dr. Mike Licona on April 9th, 2022, on the topic of the resurrection.  Dr. Licona argued his case for the historical resurrection of Jesus while Bart argued against it.

Jesus Resurrection Debate

5. The Disciples’ Change of Heart

Christians are proud of the stories contained within scripture that testify to Jesus defying death and rising bodily from the grave after three days. But perhaps they are even more proud of the disciples who completed a 180-degree turnaround, going from fearful and guilt-ridden followers to leaders of the Christian movement that changed the course of religious history.

From “Rocky” to “Rudy” to “Batman” and “Harry Potter,” the world’s obsession with comeback-from-the-brink-of-death stories is well known. Christians argue that of course Jesus actually rose from the dead because the disciples could not have possibly changed so radically if he had not.

They claim that the disciples would not have endured the persecution, suffering, and death for a lie or conspiracy that Jesus rose from the dead. That they witnessed such brutality at the hands of the Roman Empire as Jesus asphyxiated upon an instrument of evil like the crucifix...then claimed he was alive and conquered the grave.  It had to have happened in order for them to complete such a radical change of heart.

PROOF OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION - Disciples stand firm despite Torture 

Christian legend claims that Peter insisted on being crucified upside down upon his capture and conviction of his proselytizing in the name of Jesus. There are also the legends of the other disciples who were apparently snuffed out by way torture, stonings, beheadings, and other unsavory ways to meet one’s demise.

Christians stand firm that those who died proclaiming “Christ is Risen” would not have succumbed to such horrible fates if they were lying about it.  

Another interesting point to make here is the disciples’ reaction to seeing Jesus is actually proof outside the Bible for the resurrection.  We don’t need the Bible to tell us that people were convinced of Jesus’ resurrection.  History itself tells us due to the growth of the early Church and the very early belief in the resurrection.

6. The Case for Christ: Ancient People Weren’t Stupid

Christians also rely on their fellow human beings living thousands of years ago who would have heard this tall tale and had the opportunity to discredit it before publication and distribution.

The argument is that while humans today possess incredible intellectual capabilities, that didn’t mean ancient people were stupid and unable to discern folklore and fiction from the truth.

This was an argument world famous Christian apologist C.S. Lewis termed “Chronological Snobbery.” In other words, people living then would have been able to tell if the preachers were “full of it” or if they were truly inspired and authentic believers in the miraculous events they stressed actually happened.

Some claim that the ancients would have been perplexed by something so radical to their worldview. So, by default, they would have denied it happened. Instead, they were moved to belief because their skepticism had been vanquished by the powerful eyewitness testimony of their contemporaries.

7. The Bible Says So: Does that “Close” the Case for Christ?

For Christians the Bible is authoritative. What that means is that if the Bible says something happened, then that is what a Christian is supposed to believe. There are two different ways to understand what “authoritative” means to a body of believers.

For some, the Bible is without error and for others, like in my denomination of the ELCA, the Bible is viewed as “inspired,” not inerrant.

For those in the first group who believe the Bible is “inerrant,” there’s no amount of contradiction or pointing out that will shift them from their staunch and stubborn belief that nothing is wrong or out of place about the contents of this ancient collection of words.

The Word of God Is Proof of Jesus' Resurrection 

For the second group, there’s definitely more wiggle room, but in general, Christians from both camps are expected to trust that the Bible is “the Word of God.”

So, it’s a big deal that the Bible includes Jesus’ resurrection in all four gospels (Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20) and is discussed at length by the apostle Paul in all of his letters in the New Testament, especially (1 Corinthians 15.)

For the group that claims the Bible is without error, it doesn’t matter that the story changes in each gospel. What is important is that “God’s Word” says that Jesus rose from the dead after three days and that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all mention how that event transpired…and Paul teaches why it is so important to the Christian faith.

Even if most people have no idea what the hell Paul is talking about, Jesus is mentioned by name to have been resurrected and that is enough for many, many Christians.

The Case for Christ: My Thoughts on the Proof Of Jesus' Resurrection

In my opinion, none of these seven reasons have stood the test of time nor held up under the scrutiny of modern science and scholarship. The holes in each of the seven claims and several others not listed here have been exposed and unraveled as any true skeptic and researcher into the roots of Christianity could attest. For example, there is no scientific evidence for the resurrection.  

But that doesn’t mean that all is lost, and Jesus’ comeback-from-death is a moot point. On the contrary, people living two thousand years removed from this peasant rabbi turned risen Messiah continue to weigh in and discuss his impact on the ancient world. This ongoing discussion may perhaps be the best evidence that Jesus was indeed a very special individual after all.

As Bart Ehrman has suggested in various blog posts and books on the validity of the resurrection claims…something happened that altered the way the disciples knew Jesus from being dead to being alive again.    

Was Jesus' Resurrection - a Vision or Reality? 

Gun to my head, I would say that the likeliest explanation for the turn of events after Jesus’ death were the result of an individual vision of him to Mary, Peter, and Paul.

While impossible to prove, I believe their independent interactions with this undead version of Jesus were so vivid and real to them that a new movement and understanding of Jesus rolled into motion through their testimony. And here we are today and somehow that rolling stone hasn’t come to a full stop, nor showing any signs of slowing down, with or without the evidence.  

Keith Long, MDiv

About the author

Keith Long has an MDiv from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, and is the author of two books including "Doubting Faithfully: Confessions of a Skeptical Pastor." As a pastor and author, Keith pours his writing into messages intended to inform, inspire, and cultivate critical thinking among those interested in Jesus, the Bible, and early Christianity. He lives in St. Paul, MN.

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