Post-Resurrection Appearances & the Beginning of Christianity
In this post we will investigate the post-resurrection appearances of Christ and the origin of the Christian faith.
A defense of the resurrection must give evidence for the historical validity of the events described in the New Testament, and it must show how the resurrection of Jesus provides the best explanation for this historical data.
The Post-Resurrection Appearances
In 1 Cor. 15:3-8, Paul says that Jesus appeared to Cephas, the Twelve, more than five hundred people at once, James, all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself. 1 Corinthians, an authentic letter composed by a man acquainted with the first disciples, actually claims that people saw Jesus after his death.
Because of the specificity of the list that Paul puts forth, it is fairly indisputable that Jesus actually appeared to the people that Paul mentions. The gospels all speak of post-resurrection appearances of Christ. It would be quite ridiculous to suggest that each of these events was a hallucination. Few scholars argue, therefore, that on different occasions different groups of people had experiences of seeing Jesus. They therefore question whether the experiences were actual physical, bodily appearances of Christ. However, Paul leaves no room for a merely psychological experience. His theology of the resurrected body ensures that he meant that Christ actually, physically appeared. This is confirmed by the gospel accounts. In light of this evidence, one can be certain of the fact that Jesus appeared to the people mentioned in 1 Cor. 15 after his bodily resurrection.
A Plausible Explanation
The resurrection is the most plausible explanation for the postmortem appearances of Christ. The alternative—the hallucination hypothesis—says nothing to explain the empty tomb. Nor does it explain the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. In typical psychological postmortem experiences, the person having the experience rarely would think that a dead person actually returned physically to life. As N.T. Wright argues, postmortem appearances in the ancient world would be more evidence that the person was dead than that he was alive.
Because of the diversity of appearances catalogued, it is highly unlikely that the hallucination theory can be held. Therefore, the physical resurrection of Jesus proves to be the best explanation for the postmortem appearances described in 1 Cor. 15.
The Origin of the Christian Faith
The fact that Christianity started and grew is evidence for the resurrection. William Lane Craig writes: “Even skeptical New Testament scholars admit that the earliest disciples at least believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.” For Jews, the Messiah was viewed as a figure that would be triumphant and rule on David’s throne, not a figure that would be crucified and die.
The resurrection undid the catastrophe of the crucifixion. The Messiah, who had died, is risen! The resurrection validated and verified the claims that Christ had made about his own identity. The origin of Christianity rests solely on the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
The resurrection validated and verified the claims that Christ had made about his own identity.
To deny that the resurrection was the cause of the Christian faith, an alternative explanation must be given. But there is no plausible alternative. Therefore, “Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that the tomb was somehow emptied and the disciples saw hallucinations—suppositions which we have seen to be false anyway—the origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection still cannot be plausibly explained” (Craig).
Come Let Us Reason…
It stands to reason that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead victoriously on the third day after his death. No alternative hypothesis can adequately explain the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the Christian faith. For this reason, one has no good reasons why not to accept this most central element of Christianity.