Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Part 1b-Historical Evidence)

Click here to listen to the “Redeeming Truth” show summarizing this information.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ:

Historical Evidence (Part 2)

 Pastor Brian Chilton

Look for the 1st installment of “Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ: Historical Evidence (Part 1A).”  It will appear on a separate post here on this same website.  God bless.

VI.       Crucifixion Evidence

Some critics have postulated that Jesus may have passed out on the cross and may not have actually died.  We will deal with the “negative evidence” or the alternatives that have been postulated by critics in a later article.  But right now, we want to look at the brutality of the cross.

First, we see that Jesus was flogged or “scourged.”  It appears that not all crucified victims were scourged.  A close reading of the gospels show that Pilate had Jesus scourged in order to appease the abbreviated Sanhedrin and to keep from crucifying Jesus.  The motive of Pilate in doing this is debatable as history shows that Pilate was anything but a compassionate man.

When a person was scourged, the person was beaten so brutally that many did not survive.  The Jews had a limit of 39 lashes in scourging.  The Romans had no limit.  They literally tried to break the victim’s back.  The whip had 3 strands with each strand embedded with glass, nails, stone, and other materials which would strike the body and shred the skin.  It has been noted by ancient historians that a person’s internal organs were exposed by the time many scourgings had come to an end.  So, Jesus would have been severely weakened by the end of the scourging in addition to having been up all night and having no nourishment.  It was of no surprise that Jesus only lasted 6 hours on the cross.

Second, the victim carried a crossbar that weighed around 110 pounds.  The victim took the crossbar to a vertical, stationary post.  The victim was either tied or nailed to the crossbar and then lifted up where he would have been nailed to the vertical post.  Some crosses were “X” shaped (otherwise called St. Andrew’s cross), some “T” shaped, and others “t” shaped (or Latin shaped).  Jesus was most likely attached to a Latin shaped cross.

Third, the victim was nailed through the wrists of the hand.  This would have caused massive blood flow if the nails were removed.  The victim would have been doomed by loss of blood flow by the scourging and the tearing of arteries in the wrists.  A single nail ripped through the ankles or straight through the feet.

Finally, the Romans were good at killing people.  They were experts of execution.  If a Roman allowed a condemned victim to live, the Roman’s life would be taken instead.  The spear through the side, most likely through the fifth rib tearing into the heart, would have sealed the deal.

So how does this apply to the resurrection?  According to the testimony of the gospels of Jesus’ crucifixion and evidence regarding crucifixion in general, it is highly unlikely if not improbable that anyone could ever naturally survive the brutality that Jesus suffered.  So, the fact that the disciples saw Jesus alive on Easter Sunday speaks volumes to the fact that Jesus must have been brought back from the dead and totally restored.  But there’s more.  There is evidence of an “empty tomb.”

VII.     Empty Tomb Evidence

The empty tomb is as sure of a historical fact as any fact of history.  Dr. William Lane Craig gives us insight to the validity of the empty tomb when he writes,

“First, the disciples could not have believed in Jesus’ resurrection if His corpse still lay in the tomb.  It would have been wholly un-Jewish, not to say stupid, to believe that a man was raised from the dead when his body was known to still be in the grave.  Second, even if the disciples had preached Jesus’ resurrection despite His occupied tomb, scarcely anybody else would have believed them…And third, even if they had so believed, the Jewish authorities would have exposed the whole affair simply by pointing to Jesus’ tomb or perhaps even exhuming the body as decisive proof that Jesus had not been raised.”[1]

So the empty tomb shows forth another piece of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Why was the tomb empty?  Did someone steal the body?  Well that wouldn’t make sense psychologically as we shall soon see.  Did the authorities steal the body of Jesus?  Well, that would have made less sense.  Why would they perpetuate a religion that they wanted to squash?  In addition, that does not speak to the fact that the disciples witnessed Jesus alive from the dead.  The empty tomb serves as a reminder that Jesus of Nazareth is not still buried.  He is alive and well.  But there is yet another piece of evidence we must consider: the embarrassment evidence.

VIII.    Embarrassment Evidence

When someone tells a story about his or herself and the story is not flattering, one could assume that the story is legitimate because people do not want to tell bad tales concerning themselves.  People have the inherit desire to be liked and approved.  Yet, with the gospels and the stories pertaining to the resurrection appearances of Jesus, we see several embarrassing details concerning the disciples.  I will concentrate on three main embarrassing details: 1) the bravery and witness of the women, 2) the appearance of Jesus, and 3) the borrowed tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea.

The Bravery and Witness of the Women

We first see the very embarrassing fact that the women first saw Jesus alive from the dead.  They were also presented as believing and faithful whereas the men were not.  Mark, the Gospel that most scholars believe to be the earliest, writes,

“Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning,* just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth,* who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.*”[2]

Where was Peter?  Where were the rest of the disciples?  They were absent, but the women were faithful.  In a culture where the witness of women was not held in high regard, this would have been unspeakable to have the women to be the first witnesses of the risen Christ and of the empty tomb if it were not so.  It would be like telling someone to believe a story from someone who was known for being a compulsive liar.  This is not to say that the women were liars, but this is to show that in the culture of the day that women’s opinions and witness were not held in high regard.  This speaks volumes to the legitimacy to the first resurrection appearances of Christ.

The Unrecognized Appearance of Jesus

We also notice in the gospels that Jesus was not easily recognized by many disciples.  Notice the words of Luke, 28 “By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,* he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!”[3]

It is an oddity that the gospels present Jesus as having a real body, but also show Him unrecognizable at times and able to become invisible at a moment’s notice.  Before you automatically reject the notion that Jesus could be physical and then become intangible, consider the rainbow.  The rainbow can become visible and then invisible depending on moisture in the air and light reflecting the wavelengths to the human eye.  If God was able to design the phenomenon, then God could easily have performed this feat.  Nonetheless, this is embarrassing for the disciples in their testimony.  The embarrassing nature to the story speaks to its’ validity.

Joseph Arimathea’s Borrowed Tomb

Lastly, it was an embarrassment to the disciples that they were unable to give Jesus a proper burial.  Joseph of Arimathea was a member to the very same Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus.  Evidence exists that Joseph may not have been in the trial that condemned Jesus, but nonetheless, this would have been embarrassing for the disciples.  This also speaks to the validity of the resurrection story.  Dr. William Lane Craig adds, “As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.  Joseph is described as a rich man, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin…There was an understandable hostility in the early church towards the Jewish Sanhedrinists.  In Christian eyes, they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus.”[4]

IX.       Psychological Evidence

It is difficult to imagine someone willing to die for something about which they were not certain.  It is nearly impossible to imagine someone willing to die for a lie that the person or a group of people concocted.  Some leaders die for power.  Others die for freedom.  But only the disciples died for something they witnessed.  Even if it were possible for a few people to die for a lie, it would be difficult if not impossible to imagine a large group of over 500 people for several decades willing to die for something that was made up.  Eventually, someone would crack.  This never happened with the church.

Wallace writes, “Sex, money, and power are the motives for all the crimes detectives investigate.  In fact, these three motives are also behind lesser sins as well…On the flip side, however, defense attorneys often cite the lack of motive when they are making a case for their client’s innocence.”[5]  Wallace goes on to show that the disciples were not driven by sex, money, or power, yet all of them died for what they knew to be true.  Wallace ends by stating, “As the apostles rose to positions of leadership, they made themselves the target of persecution and abuse.  The more prominent they became, the more they risked death the hands of their adversaries.  The most reasonable inference, given what we know about their deaths, is that the pursuit of power and position was not the motive that drove these men to make the claims they made in the Gospels…Certainly there was no benefit to any of the apostles  in the three areas we would expect to motivate such a lie.”[6]

What was their motivation?  Their motivation was that the resurrection was true.  They had the power now to proclaim the gospel without fear because they knew that there was a life beyond the grave.  It had been proven to them by the literal resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

X.        Shroud of Turin Evidence

Time will not allow us to go into the details of the Shroud of Turin.  The Shroud of Turin is a 14.3 by 3.7 foot linen cloth that bears the image of a man whom has been crucified.  We will have a show and article on the Shroud of Turin at a later date.  However, it should be noted that the carbon dating of 1988 which dated the Shroud to the Middle Ages has been disproven.  The blood stains on the shroud have been shown to be actual hemoglobin.  Finally, there have been pollen grains that have been dated to the first century and some which are exclusive to Jerusalem.  While it is impossible to declare the Shroud as the genuine burial cloth of Christ with certainty, it could be shown to be the cloth beyond reasonable doubt.  I believe recent evidence shows just that.  Even if the Shroud is not the authentic burial cloth, you still have ten other lines of evidence presented in this article.  But this could indeed be yet another piece of evidence pointing to the risen Jesus.

XI.       Modern Resurrection Evidence (Not mentioned on Show)

I would like to close by the mentioning of near-death experiences.  These experiences are modern resurrections, not in the same regard as Jesus’, but still nonetheless resurrections.  So, I simply add this for the following reason; some claim that any resurrection from the dead is impossible.  If it is true that some are raised from the dead in our day and age, one could say that the resurrection of Christ is unlikely, but that person cannot claim that it was impossible.

Conclusion:

When then shall we do with this information?  Perhaps you are reading this and you are still skeptical.  I encourage you to review the bibliography presented in this article and do the research yourself.  I have found that the evidence points clearly to a historical fact that transcends generations and all of time.  I have found that the evidence points to a historical fact that grants ultimate faith based upon real historical events.  I have found that the evidence points clearly to a historical fact that gives amazing hope in a world full of grief.  I have also found that the evidence points clearly to a historical fact that grants us all the ability to become part of a freely offered gift of unconditional love.  That historical fact is that Jesus of Nazareth literally rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday, April 9th, 30AD (Nisan 17th, 30AD).[7]  This is a fact that has changed all of history.

 Bibliography

All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

Craig, William Lane, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2010), 221.

Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), quoted in in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 44-45.

Geisler, Norman L., Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 48.

Josephus, Flavius, Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3.

McDowell, Josh, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 44-45.

Tacitus, Annals and the Histories 15.44, In Great Books of the Western World, ed. by Robert Maynard Hutchins, Vol. 15, The Annals     and the Histories by Cornelius Tacitus, (Chicago: William Benton, 1952).

Wallace, J. Warner, Cold-Case Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013), 50.


[1] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2010), 221.

[2] Mark 16:1–8.

[3] Luke 24:28–31.

[4] Craig, 224.

[5] Wallace, 241.

[6] Wallace, 246-247.

[7] On a previous article, I listed April 5th, 33AD as the date for the resurrection of Christ.  While this is still a possibility, I have since seen that April 9th, 30AD is the more likely candidate for actual date for the resurrection of Christ.

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4 thoughts on “Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Part 1b-Historical Evidence)”

  1. This, of course, hinges solely on the biblical text.

    If you believe in the accuracy of the accounts all well and good.

    Only Christians do.

    Do you believe in the accuracy of a Harry Potter novel? Me neither.

    1. Actually, no. There are extra-biblical texts that address the fact that the church saw something. Even if the biblical texts were the sole account of the resurrection of Christ, one would have to take each account separately. One cannot take the New Testament as a complete work. For the New Testament consists of 27 separate books. Within the New Testament, there are ancient creeds, hymns, and formulations. One of the most interesting is a formulation found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. Scholars date this formulation back to the time of the earliest church as this was information that Paul received when he became a believer…3-5 years after Jesus died and resurrected. The resurrection is so well documented that the vast majority of historians…including agnostic Bart Ehrman…believe that something happened the first Easter morning. The New Testament is not a work of fiction like Harry Potter. Even most secular historians see historical value in the content of the New Testament as you have 27 separate documents. I believe Ehrman, an agnostic, has even claimed that no reputable scholar dismisses the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. This does not mean that one must believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God. But, it does show that if one is going to be true to history, one must at least deal with the historical Jesus. After evaluating the evidence, I have concluded that the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are one and the same.

      1. Actually, no. There are extra-biblical texts that address the fact that the church saw something.

        I am not sure exactly what is meant by this sentence. However, there was no ”christian church” during the first century for them to witness anything. Could you elaborate, please?

        Even if the biblical texts were the sole account of the resurrection of Christ, one would have to take each account separately.

        Each account of what? The gospels accounts, taken collectively or separately have no evidence to back them up at all.

        One cannot take the New Testament as a complete work.

        Are you suggesting the New Testament is incomplete and there might be more books added at a later date?

        For the New Testament consists of 27 separate books. Within the New Testament, there are ancient creeds, hymns, and formulations. One of the most interesting is a formulation found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. Scholars date this formulation back to the time of the earliest church as this was information that Paul received when he became a believer…3-5 years after Jesus died and resurrected. The resurrection is so well documented that the vast majority of historians…including agnostic Bart Ehrman…believe that something happened the first Easter morning.
        It is not documented at all other than in the gospels.

        The majority of Christian scholars consider something happened. They have to, as the Christian Faith hinges solely on a resurrected Yeshua. No secular scholar or scholar of any other faith believes what is written about the resurrection.

        The New Testament is not a work of fiction like Harry Potter. Even most secular historians see historical value in the content of the New Testament as you have 27 separate documents.

        The contents of the new testament are largely a fictionalized account overlaid onto a dubious geographical pastiche, including several historical figures with the sole the intent of conveying a theological message. They are a (slightly smudged) window into I st century Palestine.

        I believe Ehrman, an agnostic, has even claimed that no reputable scholar dismisses the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

        Ehrman considers Jesus was an historical figure. I do not recall him saying Jesus of Nazareth. Though I stand under correction on this point.
        However, what has this got to do with the topic of the post?

        This does not mean that one must believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God. But, it does show that if one is going to be true to history, one must at least deal with the historical Jesus. After evaluating the evidence, I have concluded that the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are one and the same.

        This is an opinion based on faith and ( largely cultural) indoctrination and has no basis in verifiable evidence. Period. And it takes us back to my original comment.

        If you believe in the accuracy of the accounts ( of the resurrection) all well and good.
        Only Christians do.

      2. 1. Actually, no. There are extra-biblical texts that address the fact that the church saw something.
        What I am saying is that the New Testament texts address that the earliest church witnessed the risen Jesus. Most reputable scholars will admit that the early church saw something. Some may believe that the early Christians had a vision. Others claim that they saw a spiritual Jesus. However, there is the widespread belief in academia today that will admit that the earliest Christians saw something on the first Easter morning. I believe Ehrman agrees with this, but I do not know what he thinks they saw. All this is to say that the events of the first Easter Sunday are based upon historical events.
        2. Even if the biblical texts were the sole account of the resurrection of Christ, one would have to take each account separately.
        There are different traditions in the New Testament. Remember, the New Testament is not a one-volume work. It is a collection of 27 works. There is the Matthean tradition within the New Testament (as there are traditions presented in Matthew that are original to Matthew). There is the Markan tradition. There is the Lukan tradition. And there is the Johannine tradition. There is also the Pauline tradition as Paul adds important information about the resurrection in his works. These are five separate accounts. Yes, many believe there to be sharing among the gospel accouts. However, each gospel holds information exclusive to the particular gospel as Paul shares information not found in the gospels.
        3. One cannot take the New Testament as a complete work.
        No, I am not claiming that the New Testament is incomplete. However, I am suggesting that the New Testament is a compilation of works. It is not a single volume. It is a collection.
        4. “The majority of Christian scholars consider something happened. They have to, as the Christian Faith hinges solely on a resurrected Yeshua. No secular scholar or scholar of any other faith believes what is written about the resurrection.”
        While it is true that the majority of Christian scholars hold that something happened on the first Easter morning, it is also accurate to claim that the majority of New Testament scholars concede that fact. Remember, I said that the majority of scholars consider that “something” happened. Secular scholars will admit this much. This does not mean that secular scholars believe in a literal resurrection of Christ. Some very well may. But, the majority of New Testament scholars admit that the earliest Christians saw something that they believed to have been the resurrected Jesus.
        5. “The contents of the new testament are largely a fictionalized account overlaid onto a dubious geographical pastiche, including several historical figures with the sole the intent of conveying a theological message. They are a (slightly smudged) window into I st century Palestine.”
        What evidence do you have to support your claim? The facts are that 18% of biblical lands have been excavated and already 80 Old Testament and 40 New Testament persons have been historically confirmed. The vast majority of the events laid out in the New Testament have been confirmed by archaeology. For instance, in the early 1800s, liberal scholars claimed that the Gospel of John could not be trusted because the Pool of Bethesda had not been discovered. However, in the late 1800s to early 1900s, archaeologists discovered the Pool of Bethesda. It even had the five porticoes that were designated by John. Now, I would suspect that the reason you believe that the New Testament is fictionalized is due to the miraculous accounts listed therein. However, Craig S. Keener has written a two-volume work titled Miracles: Showing the Credibility of the New Testament. Materialism is in trouble. Even atheist Thomas Nagel admits as much in his book Mind and Cosmos. Both books are available on Amazon.
        6. “Jesus of Nazareth” is a historical title given to the historical Jesus. Since Jesus is believed to have grown up in the town of Nazareth, he is given that name.
        7. This is an opinion based on faith and ( largely cultural) indoctrination and has no basis in verifiable evidence. Period. And it takes us back to my original comment.
        Well, one could say the same about your beliefs. You take the New Testament to be fictionalized by the same faith that I do in considering it to be true. If one can examine the evidence and lay aside bias, then I feel that it leads to the New Testament’s authenticity. Verifiable evidence has been presented. It is impossible to list all the evidences for the New Testament in this reply. I would highly suggest picking up a copy of Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. In it, he lays out many of the evidences for the New Testament. However, even that material is dated now as there are more discoveries that have been made since then.
        One also could say that the atheist is culturally indoctrinated, as well. Modern culture tends to promote secularism. So, in our day and time, it could be argued that the secularist is more culturally indoctrinated than the believer. However, that is all passé because what really matters is that each individual investigates the claims for his/her self and comes up with his/her own conclusion. To be honest, I nearly left the Christian community due to problem that I had with the community. There are still problems that must be fixed. But, I came back to the ministry and a stronger faith because I honestly and earnestly believe that the New Testament is authentic. It was in no part due to the local Christian community, but due to Christian defenders (apologists) who were used to show me that the Christian faith is defendable. It is logical and rational. But that is not to say that all Christians are logical and rational. I would be lying if I said that were true.

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