Why I am a Christian Part II: A Resurrected Savior

In Part I, an offer was presented to re-examine how Christians respond to being asked why they follow Christ. I argued that since the resurrection is a real historical event, we need to include that in any answer. I also mentioned the tension between Christians perpetuating blind faith and skeptics who believe there is no evidence even to examine. The Bible denies both those positions; never does God demand blind faith, and there is abundant evidence for His existence. Classical arguments for God, such as the cosmological, moral, or teleological, are essential. However, another area to examine is simply the resurrection of Jesus. Consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

Therefore, it is worth the time to ask did Jesus really rise from the dead? If you’re not a Christian, it is probably the best place to begin. If the resurrection did happen, and Jesus claimed to be God, not only does the supernatural exist, but the Christian claims elsewhere can be trusted. If you are a Christian, becoming familiar with what grounds your faith is tremendously important. I became a Christian in my late teenage years. Over the past 25 years of following Christ, I’ve experienced multiple seasons of doubt, brought on by challenges to my faith by atheist friends and by times of suffering. Having a firm knowledge of why we can say Christianity is true provides an anchor for your soul in troubled waters. When you know you cannot always trust your feelings, preaching to yourself the confidence we can have in the resurrection can keep your head afloat enough to cry out “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

What is the evidence for a risen Savior?

While I cannot unpack all the evidence for the resurrection in a short blog post, the aim is to highlight that the Christian faith is not blind and provide some sound resources. Philosopher and theologian Gary Habermas compiled decades of Christian and secular research into the resurrection and identified several minimal facts that the majority of scholars agreed were true.[1] New Testament historian Michael Licona goes into even greater detail through his research and assigns a rating to the possible evidence, rating sources as unlikely to bedrock, for example.[2] The following five facts are part of Habermas’ minimal facts as well as ones which Licona either assigns a rating of possible, bedrock, or second-order facts concerning the resurrection:

  • Jesus died by crucifixion: This is recorded in all four Gospels that are four separate ancient documents written by four individuals at different times. For this argument’s purposes, one does not have to agree the New Testament is divinely inspired; it only relies on the New Testament being ancient writings. In addition to the Gospel accounts, there are at least five non-Christian (and even hostile toward Christians at that time) independent accounts. These were written by Josephus (the great Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman senator), Lucian of Samosat (a writer of Greek satire), Mara Bar-Serapion (Stoic philosopher), and the Jewish Talmud.
  • The disciples believed they saw Christ post-crucifixion: With their belief comes two things; one, they claimed it, and two, they died for it. We know they claimed it through various independent sources. These sources include the four Gospel narratives and Paul’s letters. Next are a couple of the early creeds found in the New Testament, such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, which existed as an oral tradition before they were written and can be dated within years of Jesus’ death. Licona writes of the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 that it is “perhaps the most important and valuable passage when discussing the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.” [223] Then there are the four written accounts found in the Gospels. And last is the apostolic fathers. These were the immediate successors of the apostles. Both Clement, Bishop of Rome (30-100 A.D.), and Polycarp (69-155 A.D.) wrote that Jesus’ resurrection significantly changed the disciples.
  • Then, the apostles’ almost all willingly suffered and died for their belief. I recommend Sean McDowell’s book The Fate of the Apostles to examine the evidence. We have at least seven independent sources that speak to the martyrdom of various apostles. These sources again include both Biblical and non-Biblical writers, which include the Book of Acts, Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, Origen, and Dionysius of Corinth.
  • The conversion of Paul: A well-known persecutor of Christians who experienced something so pressing that he immediately left his old life of Judaism and persecuting Christians to becoming one of Jesus’ most faithful follower.
  • The conversion of James: This was the brother of Jesus. James was a pious Jew who initially mocked his brother’s claims of deity, and his conversion did not happen until after Jesus’ resurrection and a personal appearance of Jesus. James was so convinced he went on to become the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
  • The empty tomb: The majority of scholars agree Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. There is also the unanimous testimony of women discovering the empty tomb. If the story was fabricated, women would not have been the critical witnesses as their testimony would not have been accepted. Within weeks of the claimed resurrection, the disciples preached in Jerusalem against both the Jews and Romans’ wishes. If the tomb was not empty, couldn’t the authorities just have produced the body?

N.T. Wright brings forth another powerful piece of evidence: the rise of the church itself centered around a transformed understanding of resurrection and grace. Over the course of an entire chapter, Wright weaves an intricate and convincing argument that this belief among Second-Temple Jews could only have come about if the apostles did see a risen Jesus and the tomb was actually empty.[3]

How else do we account for this data besides Jesus’ rising from the dead and there being eyewitnesses? What is just a conspiracy? Apologist J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective, argues no motivations existed for the apostles to make up a resurrection story knowing they would likely die for their beliefs (read more in his book Cold Case Christianity). Could it have been a hoax? Again, look at the life of the apostles and their death while gaining nothing of value. The early dating of the Gospel narratives and Paul’s writings place them at a time witnesses could have easily discredited the writers’ eyewitness accounts. Could Jesus have been a hallucination? The short answer is no; you can view another blog post I did specifically addressing why that is highly improbable here.

Wright concludes, “The question which must be faced is whether the explanation of the data which the early Christians themselves gave, that Jesus really was risen from the dead, explains the aggregate of the evidence better then these sophisticated scepticisms. My claim is that it does.”[4] It is my claim as well and I’m a Christian because there is good evidence to declare with all the saints in history that “Christ has risen!”

[1] Gary R Habermas and Michael R Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004)

[2] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010)

[3] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 685 – 710.

[4] Wright, The Resurrection, 717.

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