The Resurrection Is Credible & Historical
Of all the teachings of Christianity, no doctrine is more central than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Put bluntly, if Jesus Christ claimed to be the savior but remains dead in a tomb after a brutal crucifixion, his claims were, and are, meaningless. However, if Jesus did rise from death, then his claims to deity, his bearing the penalty of our sins in our place on the cross, and his statements about the afterlife are vindicated.
No future without the resurrection
Without the resurrection, Christians have no savior and are left without hope of a future resurrection, since Christ himself did not rise. Paul writes in 1 Cointhians 15:14 and 17, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” On this basis alone, it is fair to say that Paul saw the resurrection as the lynchpin of the Christian faith.
Throughout the history of the church, the truth of the resurrection has been attacked from every angle. New books and television media appear questioning the truth of the resurrection, by re-hashing old theories about what happened to Jesus’ body. Since the resurrection is crucial to Christianity, Christians ought to be concerned with giving an apologetic defense of it.
Historically credible accounts
The first step is defending the resurrection from the detractors is to establish the fact of the historical events that took place as conveyed in the Gospels. As William Lane Craig notes in his book Reasonable Faith, “The issue is whether the gospel narratives are historically credible accounts or unhistorical legends.”
The resurrection can be defended by showing that the Gospel accounts were:
- authentic—that they were written by the authors who claimed them
- pure—that they were not changed from their original form
- reliable—that the apostles were neither deceived nor deceivers
Even Bart Ehrman, the notorious New Testament critic, says that “we can say with some confidence that some of his disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive.”
Not only an empty tomb
In his impressive book The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright establishes the fact of the historical events that took place as conveyed in the Gospels. He sketches a map of ancient beliefs about life after death in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds. He then highlights the fact that the early Christians’ belief about the afterlife belonged firmly on the Jewish spectrum, while introducing several new mutations and sharper definitions. This, together with other features of early Christianity, forces the historian to read the Easter narratives in the Gospels, not simply as late rationalizations of early Christian spirituality, but as accounts of two actual events: the empty tomb of Jesus and his appearances.
Since the resurrection is crucial to Christianity, Christians ought to be concerned with giving an apologetic defense of it.
The Gospel accounts are historically credible, not merely mythological legends embellished over time.
In the next two posts, we will see that the resurrection is the best explanation of the historical events, over and against rival hypotheses.