A Simple Argument for the Resurrection

In my personal experiences regarding apologetics, evangelism, and other matters pertaining to gospel presentations, discussions about the Resurrection of Jesus are always the most interesting in terms of the form they take. In the discourse of presentation I am always interested in finding a common ground between me and the other person (shortly after having asked some questions about their own personal position on some subjects). Luckily, I have come across a number of individuals who find that truth is unchanging, and something of eternal merit in it’s own right (something I try to aim for).

Later in the discussion I will point the person to Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 where He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (NIV). As the argument goes, if Jesus made this statement and it is in fact true, then all claims contrary to Jesus’ claims are by default considered false. However, we must ask, what warrant do we have to believe that Jesus was telling the truth in John 14:6? Consider the following argument:

  • (1) If Jesus resurrected from the dead, then Jesus is God.
  • (2) Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • (3) Therefore, Jesus is God.

Generally, unbelievers will concede to the first premise (unless we should deny that resurrected men are more than mere men). This is a very basic and easy-going three step syllogism in elementary deductive logic. If the premises are valid (i.e., follow rules of logic) and are sound (i.e., true), then we have a pretty air tight conclusion that follows. However, by virtue of upholding any deductive argument we are inclined to respectfully provide reasons for holding (2) as true – since, this argument does not contain any premises that are true by definition (Jesus’ resurrection is not an a priori truth). In light of (2), let’s examine a simple case for structuring a “conversational case” for the resurrection of Jesus in more in depth manner.

Investigating the Steps of the Argument

In personal contexts pertaining to sharing the resurrection of Jesus with others I have adopted the simple walk through method found in Norman Geisler’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (2004)[1]. In the Introduction, Geisler outlines the structure of the book with simple matters of first principles:

We need to start [with no truth] because if the prevailing view of the culture is right – that there is no truth – then it can’t be true that a theistic God exists or that there is a true word from that God. However, if there is truth, and that truth can be known, then we can go on to investigate the truth of God’s existence and the other points that follow (e.g. miracles are possible; the New Testament is historically reliable; and so forth). [2]

Firstly then, it is important to note that if premise (2) were true, then all claims contrary to that of Jesus’ (even claims of divinity) are considered false. For example, if the resurrection is a historical event (which relies on New Testament reliability, historical evidences, and etc.), and the event as recorded in the Bible is true, then (say) the Q’uran’s denial of the resurrection is rendered false (since it’s denial functions as an opposite of (2)).

These are simple points of logic. Namely, that truths and their opposites cannot both be true at the same time (p & ~p). So, logically speaking, the opposite (or contradictory) of (2) would be false. However, in this post I don’t hope to examine an exhaustive historical analysis of the evidences associated with Jesus’ resurrection. Rather, for the reader I would like to think that a quick and practical approach in demonstrating Jesus as God to the unbeliever would be of particular interest in terms of initiating a pragmatic approach to apologetics.

 

An Interesting Perspective on Jesus

First, I am interested in making a few comments on the character of Jesus. To try and obtain this character from which one of the world’s leading religions flow, we have to examine the sources available for a figure that has often been cited as “shady” or “clouded”. Richard Cornish in his short volume, “5 Minute Apologist” (2005) in regards to the outside sources of Jesus writes, “…many ancient records, Christian and nonChristian, confirm the New Testament accounts about Christ. Ancient historians, government officials, nonChristian religious writers, and others have irrefutable record of the reality of Jesus” [3].

Catholic Priest Andrew Greeley on the other hand has said something in a rather different contrast. He writes in the Chicago Sun-Times (Jan. 2004), “Much of the history of Christianity has been devoted to domesticating Jesus, to reducing that elusive, enigmatic, paradoxical person to dimensions we can comprehend, understand, and convert to our own purposes. So far it hasn’t worked.” The quest for the historical Jesus for some individuals has sometimes been seen as a discovery of “who they wanted to find in the first place” [4]. Liberals found a liberal Jesus, deists found a deist, the Romantics found a Romantic, and so on. This might be most notably echoed with Albert Schweitzer’s statement in “The Quest of the Historical Jesus” (2010), “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus” [5].

Shall we withhold judgment on the matter altogether? If we are not able to unmask the historicity of this given issue provided that so many ambiguous interpretations of such have been given over the past 50 years alone, why should proceed to discuss the matter? Some scholars seem to hold on to the glimpse of hope that we may have reliable sources in Jesus’s time period that point us to such. One predominant scholar in this field, N.T. Wright has written on this issue:

The historian is bound to face the question: once Jesus had been crucified, why would anyone say that He was Israel’s Messiah? Nobody said that about Judas the Galilean after his revolt ended in failure in AD 6. Nobody said it of Simon bar-Giora after his death at the end of Titus’s triumph in AD 70. Nobody said it about bar-Kochbar after his defeat and death in 135. On the contrary, where messianic movements tried to carry on after the death of their would-be messiah, their most important task was to find another messiah.

The fact that the early Christians did not do that but continued against all precedent to regard Jesus Himself as Messiah, despite outstanding alternative candidates such as the righteous, devout, and well-respected James, Jesus’ own brother, is evidence that demands an explanation. [6]

Of course, like all other considerations of historical data, credibility of a given source can be discredited or brought into scrutinous questioning relative to certain criterions and issues. A notorious skeptic of Christian authenticity responsible for wide discussions of this issue is Sir James Frazer when he published his book, ‘The Golden Bough’. In Chapter 7 on Incarnate Human Gods, he writes, “Christianity itself has not uniformly escaped the taint of these unhappy delusions; indeed it has often been sullied by the extravagances of vain pretenders to a divinity equal to or even surpassing that of its great Founder” [7].

Bertrand Russell in his address, “Why I Am Not a Christian” (1927) has also written in regards to the character of Jesus, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment” [8]. To make matters even more confusing, the great “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon has also written in regards to Jesus:

I never could believe in the Jesus Christ of some people, for the Christ in whom they believe is simply full of affectionateness and gentleness, whereas I believe there never was a more splendid specimen of manhood, even its sternness, than the Saviour; and the very lips which declared that He would not break a bruised reed uttered the most terrible anathemas upon the Pharisees [9].

The character of Jesus from the view point of secular philosophers, New Testament scholars, theologians, and historians are portrayed somewhat more vaguely than others, and even when we are assured from top scholars in the field we here often somewhere else almost absolutely contradictory remarks (I recommend seeing Bart Ehrman’s ‘Forged‘, cp. 2012 for this particular issue. I think a large majority of his work on the epistles [see his chapter on Ephesians] is conjectural to its very core, but nonetheless he is a scholar to consider later). How are we as the lay people supposed to intervene?

From the outset of this post to maintain proper and rational discourse, I will base this these evidences off of the assumption that a (i) historical Jesus of Nazareth existed in the mid-1st century AD, and (ii) our best sources of Jesus come from the New Testament gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). I think there is an amazing burden of proof on the person wishing to deny [what appear to be axiom’s] (i) and (ii), since I am unaware of any counter-factuals to the existence of Jesus or any new evidence that suggests that the gospel writers were (a) lying, (b) conspiring, or (c) deluded to some degree of psychological defect (which is what I mean by a denial of (ii)).

Therefore, I will be using the “minimal facts approach”, which, according to Gary Habermas, “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” [10]. Thus, I hope to present the minimal facts that lead us to the rational conclusion of the resurrection of Jesus (cf. Matthew 28:6).

Five reasons are presented for thinking that critics who accept the historical credibility of the gospel accounts of Jesus do not bear a special burden of proof relative to more skeptical critics. Then the historicity of a few specific aspects of Jesus’ life are addressed, including his radical self-concept as the divine Son of God, his role as a miracle-worker, his trial and crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead [11].

The Minimal Facts About Jesus

In varying works regarding this approach scholars have cited five [12] sometimes twelve [13] indisputable facts surrounding the life of Jesus from his crucifixion to the post-resurrection appearances. The first fact addressed is the following:

  • (1.0) Jesus was killed by crucifixion under Roman rule

According to Luke Johnson’s ‘The Real Jesus’ (cp. 1996), “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its coagents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion”[14]. The reason being for such a death is grounded in Jesus’s self-concept of being the Son of God, which assuredly would have been counted as treason from Roman standards. William Lane Craig writes in ‘Rediscovering the Historical Jesus’:

…the evidence indicates that his crucifixion was instigated by his blasphemous claims, which to the Romans would come across as treasonous. That’s why he was crucified, in the words of the plaque that was nailed to the cross above his head, as “The King of the Jews.” But if Jesus was just a peasant, cynic philosopher, just a liberal social gadfly, as the Jesus Seminar claims, then his crucifixion becomes inexplicable [15].

Evidences for such are also grounded in J.G. Davies’s, “Christianity: The Early Church” (1959) where he writes: “Jesus regarded himself as the divine agent, as indeed the Son of God, and sent to announce the fulfillment of the hope of Israel. As the Messiah designate who was to become, through death, the glorified Son of man, he proclaimed the approaching Kingdom. His own death he interpreted as the means by which the barrier of sin between God and man would involve a victorious struggle over the powers of evil” [16].

The association of excruciating pain and the cross of Roman crucifixion have been described by some ancient reporters as “the most wretched of deaths” [17] and too disgraceful to be discussed by the lips of descent and common men [18]. A few discussions of this matter could be recommended for further research [19]. John Dominick Crossan exhibits his concluding remarks on the matter, “Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be” [20].

Ravi Zacharias in his Can Man Live Without God? (1994) writes an interesting account for the “deductions” that follow from this supposed event:

  1. Jesus Christ Himself talked of His resurrection on repeated occasions. oth His enemies and His followers were told to expect it. Those who sought to smother His teaching took elaborate steps to counter the possibility of His claim, including the placement of a Roman guard at the door to the tomb.
  2. Although His supporters basically understood His promise to rise from the dead and had even witnessed His raising of Lazarus, they did not really believe that He meant it literally until after the fact. Therefore, they could not be accused of creating the scenario for this deception.
  3. It was the postresurrection appearance that made the ultimate difference to the skeptical mind of Thomas and the resistant will of Paul.
  4. The transformation of the disciples from a terrified bunch of individuals who felt themselves betrayed into a fearless group ready to proclaim the message to Rome and to the rest of the world cannot be explained with a mere shrug of the shoulder. [21] (R. Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God?; cp. 1994, p. 162).

After Zacharias’ summation he writes, “it was Jesus’ victory over the grave that provided the grand impetus for the early church to tell the world that God had spoken and, indeed, had done so in a dramatic and incontrovertible manner” (Ibid. p. 163).

 

Concluding Thoughts 

In this post I only meant to walk through the basics of the matter regarding the historicity of Jesus and some evidences regarding his resurrection (death, crucifixion, etc.). I would encourage you to examine the works cited throughout this post and further your reading on the subject of Jesus’ resurrection since the material available on this subject is overflowing with resources. If you wish for some recommended material on the subject, see my “Recommended Books” tab on the front of my page. It contains a plethora of material regarding numerous subjects about apologetics, atheism, philosophy, science, and topics akin to the like.

_________________________

Bibliography:

  • [1] Norman Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, Ill. 2004)
  • [2] Ibid. p. 29
  • [3] Rick Cornish, 5 Minute Apologist (Navpress; 2005) p. 147
  • [4] Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (2007) p. 12
  • [5] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (2010 ed.) p. 478
  • [6] N.T. Wright, Jesus’s Resurrection and Christian Origins (in Passionate Conviction, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig; 2007), p. 128
  • [7] Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough (ch. 7, p. 19)
  • [8] Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (ed. Paul Edwards, cp. 1957) p. 17
  • [9] quoted from J. MacArthur’s, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore; cp. 2008, xxxvii
  • [10] G. Habermas and M. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus; (2004) p. 44
  • [11] Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus. Faith and Mission 15; cp. 1996, pp. 16-26
  • [12] see Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (2007) pp. 110-126
  • [13] see G. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (rev. ed.; cp. 1996) pp. 158-167
  • [14] Luke Johnson, The Real Jesus (cp. 1996) p. 125
  • [15] W. L. Craig, Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus (Scholarly Articles)
  • [16] see ‘Encyclopedia of the World Religions (1959) p. 44
  • [17] Josephus, J.W. 7.203
  • [18] Cicero, Pro Rabirio Perduellionis 5.16
  • [19] see M. Driscoll and G. Breshears; Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (2010) pp. 245-251
  • [20] J. D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (p. 145)
  • [21] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (1994) p. 162
Advertisements

One response to “A Simple Argument for the Resurrection

  1. Pingback: Why the Resurrection Doesn’t Necessarily Show Jesus as Divine | Hellenistic Christendom·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s