5 Views Pertaining to the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus

This may seem like an odd topic to be discussing nearing the Christmas season. However, every major Christian holiday is coupled with drawn-out attacks pertaining to the historicity of the event being celebrated. The resurrection of Christ takes center stage in this regard. How do people view the historicity of the events within the pages of the Bible?

I have been reading a fantastic work by Alister McGrath called Christian Theology. On pages 309 through 313, McGrath discusses 5 ways that people during the past few centuries have evaluated the historicity of the miraculous biblical claims. The resurrection of Christ is the pivotal miracle as it most relates to the viability of Christianity.

The Enlightenment View: The Resurrection as a Non-event

First, there is the view held by individuals in the days of the Enlightenment.[1] Individuals during the days of the Enlightenment, as least those accepting the popular claims of the time, viewed history with great skepticism, especially if that historical event is rooted in the miraculous. David Hume claimed that any miraculous event was impossible to prove and impossible to believe because the event did not represent what was the normal operation. Anything that operated beyond the scope of those things that are normally observed could not be proven, and, therefore, could not be accepted as fact.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was more lenient than Hume concerning miracles. However, he still did not view the miraculous as something that could be demonstrated as history. Lessing noted,

 “I do not for one moment deny that Christ performed miracles. But since the truth of these miracles has completely ceased to be demonstrable by miracles happening in the present, they are not more than reports of miracles…I deny that they could and should bind me to have even the smallest faith in the other teachings of Jesus.”[2]

Thus, Lessing, like Hume, did not accept the miraculous as a historical event due to Lessing’s belief that miracles did not continue to occur. Thereby demonstrating that miracles hold no legitimate claim to history, Lessing felt that faith in the teachings of Christ was invalid. Lessing and the views of those in the days of the Enlightenment were extreme. A less critical view was held by Strauss.

The View of David F. Strauss: The Resurrection as a Mythical Event

David Friedrich Strauss, in his work Life of Jesus, notes the “central importance [of the resurrection] to the Christian faith.”[3] However, due to the Enlightenment criticism of the miraculous, the resurrection is best seen as a myth according to Strauss. Strauss believed that the resurrection was the result of the disciples’ “social conditioning and cultural outlook”[4] more than a recollection of a real, historical event. Thus, while Strauss accepted that the disciples believed in some form of resurrection, the idea was more an allegory than an event found in reality. Strauss’ views would be picked up and expanded by a man who served as a predecessor to the modern, liberal Christian outlook—Rudolf Bultmann.

The View of Rudolf Bultmann: The Resurrection as a Mental Event

Bultmann, like Strauss before him, believed that miracles were impossible to accept in a scientific age. Miracles were not acceptable to modern, scientific minds according to Bultmann. Unfortunately, many accept Bultmann’s cynical prognosis. Because of this, Bultmann thought that the church must de-mythologize the Bible to keep Christianity relevant for modern minds. Otherwise, Christianity would fade away in the halls of history. So what does Bultmann do with the resurrection, the pivotal event of the Christian faith?

Bultmann accepted the resurrection as a “mythical event, pure and simple.”[5] Bultmann denotes,

“The real Easter faith is faith in the word of preaching which brings illumination. If the event of Easter Day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord, since it was this faith which led to the apostolic preaching. The resurrection itself is not an event of past history.”[6]

In other words, Bultmann believed that the resurrection of Christ was not the literal bodily revivification that orthodox Christians accept. Rather, Bultmann thought that the resurrection of Christ was the continuation of the Christian message after Christ’s death. Taking Bultmann’s concept to its end, the body of Jesus still lay in a tomb. However, the message of the Christ continued. For Bultmann, that was the resurrection. Luckily, Bultmann’s beliefs did not represent all of Christianity. Karl Barth would legitimize the resurrection event where Bultmann and Strauss did not.

The View of Karl Barth: The Resurrection as a Faith Event

Karl Barth was amazed at the writings of Bultmann. Barth accepted the resurrection as a historical event. He emphasized the importance of an empty tomb, especially later in life. However, Barth did not place a lot of emphasis on the historicity of the resurrection event. Rather, he focused on the faith in the event which he thought was the emphasis of the early disciples. Barth did not so much question the historicity of the resurrection as much as he questioned the historical enterprise. Could anything be accurately demonstrated as historical? As McGrath notes, “Barth is left in what initially seems to be a highly vulnerable position. Concerned to defend the resurrection as an act in public history against Bultmann’s subjectivist approach, he is not prepared to allow that history to be critically studied.”[7] Another individual would take the historicity of the resurrection to another level—Wolfhart Pannenberg.

The View of Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Resurrection a Historical Event

Wolfhart Pannenberg accepted both the historicity of the resurrection event and the historicity of the events described in the Bible. Faith only makes sense if it is rooted in reality. Pannenberg writes,

“History is the most comprehensive horizon of Christian theology. All theological questions and answers have meaning only within the framework of the history which God has with humanity, and through humanity with the whole creation, directed towards a future which is hidden to the world, but which has already been revealed in Jesus Christ.”[8]

For Pannenberg, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a historical event. Because it was a historical event, it is open to the scrutinies of historical research. Therefore, the historian researching the resurrection event should approach the event without preconceived biases against the miraculous. The historian must be neutral. So which of these approaches best works with the miraculous events of Christ and Scripture in general?

Conclusion

Bultmann and Strauss are children of the Enlightenment. The views of the Enlightenment, Strauss, and Bultmann all find themselves in some form of a Humean philosophical presupposition (that is, the idea that miracles cannot occur because they are aberrations to the norm—stemming from secular humanist David Hume). However, just because something does not ordinarily occur does not indicate that the event could never occur.

For instance, the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series in over 100 years. People derived from the Cubs post-season performance that they would never win another World Series. Their presupposition was based upon the ordinary workings of the Chicago Cubs. Enter the 2016 Cubs team. The 2016 Cubs team defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series! Was their win a historical event? Absolutely! Had it normally happened? No.

Bultmann, Strauss, and the thinkers of the Enlightenment think either that God does not exist (e.g., Hume) or that God does not interact with the world in miraculous means (implied by Bultmann and Strauss). Therefore, their ideology is rooted in an anti-supernatural bias. For the record, Craig S. Keener has written a 2-volume work titled Miracles which reveals various modern day miracles performed in the name of Jesus. While miracles are not the norm, such an investigation divulges that they are not as uncommon as Humean thinkers suppose.

Karl Barth accepts the resurrection as a historical event. However, he exposes a critical weakness in his argument when claiming that such things cannot be demonstrated historically. Did the event truly happen? If so, then it stands to reason that the event actually occurred within space and time. If the event took place within space and time, then the event is historical. If the event is historical, then it can be historically scrutinized. Such an argument reveals the weakness in Barth’s view and the strength of Pannenberg’s.

I also take issue with Barth’s idea that the disciples only pleaded for faith in Christian adherents rather than acceptance of things taking place in history. Throughout the OT, one finds reminders of God’s deliverance of the people from the hands of Egypt. In addition, one finds reminders of the reality of Christ’s historical resurrection. Paul argues that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).[9] Paul directed the attention of the Corinthians back to the reality of Christ’s historical resurrection. Much more could be said, but I have far extended the length of most of my articles. So, let us conclude by saying that Christ’s resurrection is a historical event. Therefore, it should be possible to examine the resurrection from a historical perspective. The same is true for most miracles in the Bible.

 

© December 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] The Enlightenment is a period lasting from the 17th and 18th century found mainly in Europe. The period focused on importance of human reason, claiming that human reason could explain all things. Miracles and the sort were viewed with great skepticism. David Hume, the great secular humanist, lived in this period.

[2] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Uber den Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft,” in Gotthold Ephraim Lessings samtlichen Scrhriften, vol. 13, Karl Lachmann, ed (Berlin: Goschen’sche Verlagshandlung, 1897), 4-8, 20.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackburn, 2011), 310.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Basic Questions in Theology, vol. 1, George Kehm, trans (London: SCM Press, 1970), 15.

[6] Ibid.

[7] McGrath, 312.

[8] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Redemptive Event and History,” in Basic Questions of Theology, vol. 1, George Kehm (London: SCM Press, 1970), 15.

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 3-The Biblical and Theological Arguments)

For the previous couple of weeks, we have looked into the veritability of the empty tomb hypothesis; that is, that the tomb of Jesus was literally found empty on the first Easter Sunday morning. We have already confirmed historically that the tomb was found empty due to the burial practices of the first-century Jews and also due to the numerous times that Romans allowed clemency for the families to bury the victims of crucifixion especially during the days of Emperor Tiberius (things radically changed in this regard with Emperor Caligula). We have also noted the failure of alternate viewpoints in explaining away the empty tomb. In this article, we will conclude our research as we investigate the biblical and theological arguments for the empty tomb. The biblical argument will ask the question, “Did the early church really believe that the tomb was found empty the first Easter Sunday?” The theological argument will weigh how much Christian theology revolves around the empty tomb hypothesis. Why would the early church value these important attributes of Jesus if the tomb still held the body of Jesus?

The Biblical Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Did the early church believe that the tomb was empty? Scholars hold that strewn throughout the pages of the New Testament are ancient traditions. These ancient traditions predate the writing of the New Testament and represent the beliefs of the earliest church. Gary Habermas notes that some of the passages considered to be ancient traditions in addition to 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 “receiving scholarly attention are 1 Corinthians 11:26…Acts, especially 2:22-36, 4:8-10, 5:29-32, 10:39-43, 13:28-31, 17:1-3, 30-31; Romans 4:25; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; [and] 1 Peter 3:18.”[1] In addition to these passages, Habermas also notes that “Matthew 27:26-56; Mark 15:20-47; Luke 23:26-56; [and] John 19:16-42”[2] represent ancient traditions that date to the time of the earliest church. Licona adds Romans 6:4 to the forum.[3] Of the numerous traditions listed, the paper will evaluate only two that pertain most directly to the empty tomb: the original ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1-8),[4] and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

Scholarly consensus along with evidence in the earliest manuscripts indicates that Mark’s Gospel ended at Mark 16:8. Whereas Mark 16:1-8 does not enjoy the consensus that some of the other traditions hold, Licona notes that there “appear to be close similarities between the four-line formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 and other passages such as Mark 15:37-16:7 and Acts 13:28-31.”[5] If Licona is correct, then one can argue that Mark 16:1-7 holds nearly the same force, being an early tradition, that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 seemingly enjoys. Seeing 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 enjoys strong consensus that the text relates a tradition that dates back to the earliest church, a fact that will be addressed later in this section.

Nevertheless, Mark 16:1-7 provides evidence that Mark believed that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Mark notes that the women “went to the tomb” (Mark 16:2). The women wondered who would roll away the large stone from the tomb (Mark 16:3). The women noticed that “the stone had been rolled back—it was very large” (Mark 16:4). The women “entered the tomb” (Mark 16:5). The women had an angelophany where an angel announced they sought “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women left the tomb with great fear (Mark 16:7). Review the information provided in the text. The women came to the tomb, acknowledging that Jesus was indeed buried in a tomb. The women entered the tomb expecting to see the body of Jesus. The women had an angelophany in the tomb where it was announced that Jesus had risen, noting that the tomb was empty. The women left with great fear because the tomb was empty. Thus, Mark’s original ending demands the existence of an empty tomb. It was noted earlier that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 holds universal scholarly consensus as being an ancient tradition. Does 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 afford any insight to the existence of an empty tomb?

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is a tradition that Paul received from the church “within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion and from the disciples themselves.”[6] Thus, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is of great historical value. The tradition also allows for the empty tomb hypothesis. The tradition notes that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-5). The structure of the tradition assumes that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Craig notes that the reference to the burial of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 makes “it very difficult to regard Jesus’ burial in the tomb as unhistorical, given the age of the tradition (AD 30-6), for there was not sufficient time for legend concerning the burial to significantly accrue.”[7] It notes that Jesus physically died. Jesus was physically buried. Jesus physically raised from death. Jesus physically appeared to the disciples, demanding that the previous place of burial was left empty. Therefore, the empty tomb holds biblical support with early church traditions demonstrating that the early church believed that Jesus’ tomb was empty. So, what theological value does this hold?

The Theological Argument for Accepting the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

Thus far, the paper has evaluated the evidence for the empty tomb hypothesis. William Lane Craig notes that the evidence for the empty tomb “is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars, such as Pinchas Lapide and Geza Vermes, have declared themselves convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty.”[8] However, one must ask, what value does the empty tomb hypothesis hold for the overall scope of Christian theology?

First, the empty tomb serves to demonstrate the divine nature of Christ. The empty tomb serves as evidence for the resurrection. The resurrection serves as evidence of Jesus’ deity. Millard Erickson denotes that “to Jews of Jesus’ time, his resurrection would have signified divinity, we must ask about the evidence for it.”[9] Norman Geisler states that “while the empty tomb in and of itself is not proof of the resurrection, it is an indispensable prerequisite to the evidences (the physical appearances of Jesus).”[10]

Also, the empty tomb provides evidence that God will fulfill the teachings and promises given through Christ, especially that Christ will one day return. Perhaps Paul says it best when he notes that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Theologically, the entire basis of the Christian faith rests upon the resurrection of Christ. If Christ has been raised from the dead, then the Christian faith is verified. Furthermore, if Christ was raised from the dead, then obviously one clearly concludes that the tomb which housed his body was emptied of his physical presence.

Conclusion

The empty tomb hypothesis holds great weight historically, biblically, and theologically. Secular naturalism does not offer any appropriate alternatives. If one is to follow the evidence where it leads, one must note that the disciples encountered an empty tomb on the first Easter Sunday. While it is impossible to know anything with absolute certainty, it is highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first Easter Sunday. Yet, the empty tomb did not transform the disciples. The encounters the disciples had with the risen Jesus empowered the disciples with great courage and boldness. The empty tomb serves as a reminder that Christ has been raised from death and that each person can have an encounter with the risen Jesus by simply calling upon his name. The empty tomb also reminds humanity that Jesus came, Jesus left, and one day Jesus will return.

 Copyright, March 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.

  Notes

[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 39, 65n.

[2] Ibid., 39, 66n.

[3] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 222.

[4] While the ending of Mark is not listed among the early traditions, scholars generally hold to the primacy of Mark’s Gospel as it represents the earliest of the Gospels. Thus Mark represents the earliest tradition in the Gospel narratives.

[5] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, 321.

[6] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 53.

[7] Davis, Kendall, and O’Collins, eds. The Resurrection, 253.

[8] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 371.

[9] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 710.

[10] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 1512.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

 

 

The Resurrection of Christ Will Change Everything for You

As many of you know, I left the ministry for seven years. While I had questions about the Bible’s relation to science, my true doubts came from history. Could we know that the resurrection actually happened? If the resurrection was true, then Christianity was verified. If not, I was not going to waste my time telling other people that they should believe in the event. What a deceptive thing! Yet in the summer of 2005, I came across a three books that led me on a quest to see the truth. The three books were The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict and A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell as well as The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. I found that the resurrection was a verifiably certain event of history. This changed everything for me.

Many people are satisfied with thinking that the resurrection is a fantasy, even a fairy tale on the level of unicorns, fairies, and leprechauns. However, if the resurrection of Christ is a historical reality, then everything changes. Then one is forced to recognize how the resurrection can change a person. Today, we will see four ways that the resurrection has changed people both in Bible times and in modern times, as well.

  1. The Resurrection of Christ Changes HORROR into HAPPINESS (20:11-18).

In John 20:11-18, we read of the experience that Mary had with the risen Jesus. Mary, along with many of the other women and John, did not leave Jesus’ side during his crucifixion. She witnessed the gore. Ancient historians tell us that floggings were so severe that often the inner organs were exposed. Jesus was beaten, flogged, and nailed through his wrists and feet. She watched this loving, compassionate teacher die the most horrific death imaginable. Yet, here she was on Sunday. She saw Jesus…alive! His scars were gone. Blood was not pouring from him. Now, the glory of God shone through, with only the nail-prints in his hands and feet to serve as evidence of his death. Mary’s horror had now turned into great happiness!!!

2. The Resurrection of Christ Changes DOUBT into DEVOTION (20:24-29).

Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. We do not know why. Perhaps Thomas was looking to go back to his previous job? One can only speculate. When Thomas speaks with the disciples who had seen Jesus, he tells them that he would need overwhelming evidence to believe that Jesus actually raised to life. Jesus was more than happy to oblige. For Jesus appeared to Thomas and changed Thomas’ doubt into devotion.

 As I noted earlier, I had doubts pertaining to the historicity of the Bible and the resurrection. What I found is that there is great evidence for the resurrection of Christ! We have evidence from multiple and early eyewitness testimonies, enemy attestation, evidence for the reliability of the biblical manuscripts, the psychological evidence, the failure of other hypotheses, the transformation of 2 individuals who were once enemies of the faith to turn to devoted believers (Paul and James), the inclusion of belief by some of those in the Sanhedrin (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea), the later transformation of Roman soldiers (Cornelius), the absolute nature of Jesus’ death, and most of all—the problem of an empty tomb! This just scratches the surface! I came to the point that it took more faith not to believe than to believe! My doubts led me to intense devotion to the Lord and a passion for apologetics.

3. The Resurrection of Christ Changes MISTAKES into MINISTRIES (21:9-19).

In John 21:9-19, we find Jesus reinstating Peter into the ministry. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Surely Peter thought that he would not be able to ever minister again. However, Jesus asks Peter if he loved him three times. Jesus turned Peter’s mistakes into a great ministry.

 I imagine that Peter dreaded speaking to Jesus after the resurrection. Sure, Peter was happy! However, he may have been like a young child who knows that they are guilty of a particular thing and realizes that they will have to speak to their parents. Yet Peter did not find condemnation. Peter experienced grace and forgiveness. Peter also was able to be used of God in a mighty way. The first half of Acts describes the amazing work that Peter accomplished for Christ. History also tells us that in AD 64 that Peter would be executed in Rome by crucifixion. He was crucified upside-down because he did not deem himself worthy of being crucified in the same fashion as Christ.

4. The Resurrection of Christ Changes SIN into SALVATION (20:30-31).

John gives the thesis to his entire manuscript in chapter 20:30-31. John shows that Jesus performed far more signs than what John could even write. John notes that all the things in his Gospel are “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

 If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then no Gospels would have been written because there would be nothing about which to write. Jesus’ resurrection ensures that sin has been forgiven and that salvation has been offered. As Paul says, “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” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). The resurrection validated salvation. Jesus was vindicated. Jesus defeated death, hell, and sin.

So what does this mean for you? It means the following five things:

  1. The resurrection of Christ ensures our salvation! With Christ’s resurrection as a historical fact, then our salvation is ensured. How is one saved? One is saved by accepting the atoning sacrifice that Christ paid for you on the cross. You must enter into a walk with Christ having him as the center of your life.
  1. The resurrection of Christ ensures that there is life beyond the grave. One of the greatest blessings of the resurrection is that we can know that life exists beyond the grave. Death is not the end for the believer. Rather, it is the fascinating beginning to a new state of existence. To be absent from this body is to be present with God (2 Corinthians 5:8). Yet that is not the end of the story. Christ’s resurrection ensures us that we too will experience a resurrection. We will be raised from the dead. Even if our bodies are nothing more than a few molecules at the time of Christ’s appearance, we will be transformed with bodies much that the risen Christ held.
  1. The resurrection of Christ is evidentiarily solid. The resurrection of Christ is as certain an event of history as it was that Alexander the Great was a Macedonian conqueror, that General George Washington became the first President of the United States, or that Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation.
  1. The resurrection is our basis of hope! While life can often seem hopeless, the historicity of the resurrection tells us that all is not lost. Christ has overcome! We have victory in him, hope for tomorrow.
  1. The resurrection is evidence of God’s love! Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is evidence of God’s great love towards us. All of this was done to save us from sin and to ensure us that we have eternal life through God’s Son Jesus. What could be better than that? This morbid life with all its perils and horror will not have the final say. God gives us life everlasting…as promised and evidenced through the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

 

Happy Easter everyone!!!

 

© March 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

 

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 2: Historical Evidence)

The previous section examined the arguments posed against the empty tomb hypothesis. The paper demonstrated in the first article that the arguments against the empty tomb hypothesis fail greatly. This article will provide a historical argument for the empty tomb hypothesis. If the Gospels are correct in that the tomb was truly empty on the first Easter Sunday, then one would expect to find that the ancient burial practices of first-century Judaism would match the type of burial that is presented in the Christian tradition. Did people in first-century Palestine bury their dead tombs like the “new tomb…cut in the rock” (Matthew 27:60)?

The canonical Gospels’ account of Jesus’ burial indeed matches the burial practices of first-century Palestine. Elwell and Beitzel denote that “Bodies were buried in tombs, that is, natural caves or rock-hewn sepulchers, such as that belonging to Joseph of Arimathea where the body of Jesus was laid (Mt. 27:59, 60), as well as in shallow graves covered with rock heaps serving both to mark them and to prevent desecration of the body by animals.”[1] Thus, even if Jesus had been buried in a shallow grave, the practices of the time did not readily allow easy access to predators. Yet, as it was noted earlier, it is highly unlikely that the Gospel writers would invent Joseph of Arimathea. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Evangelists would invent the empty tomb especially due to the use of a rock-hewn tombs at the time.

N. T. Wright notes that “the burial so carefully described in the gospels was, as we would expect in first-century Palestinian Judaism, the initial stage of a two-stage burial.”[2] Families would bury their dead in a rock-hewn tomb. The families would prepare the body with spices. Then after a year, the family would return to gather the bones of the departed and place them in a family ossuary.[3] Why did they conduct this practice? Wright, paraphrasing Eric M. Meyers work, notes that “secondary burial…reflects a belief in a continuing nephesh, [sic] enabling the bones to provide ‘at least a shadow of their strength in life’, with the mortal remains constituting ‘the very essence of that person in death.’”[4] Since the Evangelists’ description of the burial of Jesus matches the practices of first-century Palestinian Judaism, the empty tomb hypothesis again strengthens. But, would Pilate have granted the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea?

JamesOssuary-1-
This ossuary holds an inscription that it is the burial box belonging to James, the brother of Jesus–traditionally held to be the writer of the Epistle of James and early leader of the church.

History demonstrates that the Romans often granted clemency under certain circumstances. Craig Evans notes that Septimius Vegetus, governor of Egypt; Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor; and an inscription from Ephesus all demonstrate that Roman officials often provided various acts of clemency towards various condemned individuals.[5] Evans goes on to say,

 This mercy at times extended to those who had been crucified. Clemency sometimes was occasioned by a holiday, whether Roman or a local non-Roman holiday, or simply out of political expediency, whatever the motivation. We actually have evidence that Roman justice not only allowed for the executed to be buried, but it even encouraged it in some instances.[6]

Therefore, one will find that history provides ample evidence that not only did Palestinian Jews bury in accordance to the method prescribed by the Evangelists, but also that the Romans provided clemency for the body of the condemned to be given to the family to bury. If one remembers that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred during Passover when the bodies of the condemned were not to be allowed to remain on the cross (John 19:31), then the empty tomb hypothesis gains further merit.

This section has reviewed the historical data that confirms the empty tomb hypothesis. However, one must also query whether evidence exists that the early church believed that Jesus’ was placed in a tomb and that the tomb was found empty on the following Sunday. That topic will be evaluated in the forthcoming article next week.

Copyright, March 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Notes

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 386.

[2] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 707.

[3] Ossuaries were burial boxes where the bones of several family members could be kept after their bodies had mostly decomposed.

[4] Eric M. Meyers, “Secondary Burials in Palestine,” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 15, 26, in Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 91.

[5] Craig Evans, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 75.

[6] Ibid., 75-76.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

_______________., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

The Resurrection Denying Pastor: If the Resurrection Doesn’t Constitute Christianity, then What Does?

jim-rigby.jpgJim Rigby is not a name that will resonate with many. However, Rigby represents far deeper than just the person behind the name. Rigby represents that which is wrong with certain branches of so-called Christianity. Jim Rigby, the teaching elder at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Austin, Texas wrote the following on his social media page on Christmas of 2015: “Apparently, because I don’t believe in a literal resurrection, I’m not really a Christian…This also means I won’t be going to Heaven with many of you.”[1] Mocking the traditional gospel message, Rigby continues his rant in saying, “All that matters is that we admit that we are worthless trash, but that Jesus likes us anyway. Oh, and we have to LITERALLY believe Jesus’ corpse got up…So, anyway, if you believe the ‘good news,’ your physical cadaver will get up too. Hopefully, someone will remember where you are buried and come dig you up.”[2]

 Shocking as it may be, Rigby—a supposed Christian leader—treats the gospel message with more contempt than most atheists would. Houston, we have a problem!!!

There are many things I would like to say about Rigby’s comments. However, I will contain my comments to one general area.

Must one believe in the literal resurrection of Christ to be a Christian?

Well, let’s examine this with four points.

1. Every religion possesses qualifiers.

Norman Geisler writes that “The only alternatives to analogy are skepticism or dogmatism: Either we know nothing about God, or we assume that we know things in the same infinite way in which he knows them.”[3] Only the atheist would assume that one can know nothing about God. Thus, nearly every other worldview would accept that certain things are knowable about God.

Every religion holds qualifiers. For Islam, the Muslim is expected to say the Shahada, an Islamic creed which holds the oneness of God and that Muhammed is God’s prophet. Buddhists are expected to accept the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Jews are expected to hold to the Shema (from Deuteronomy 6:4).

These qualifiers help distinguish the core fundamentals of the particular belief system. Without the qualifiers, the belief system would become non-existent.

 2. Christianity is a religion.

Christianity is a religion and thus possesses qualifiers. Meaning, Christianity is a system of beliefs. These qualifiers distinguish the Christian worldview from other worldviews.

3. One of the earliest qualifiers for Christianity was the belief in the literal resurrection of Christ.

Without exception, Christianity was built upon the belief that Jesus of Nazareth walked out of the grave that first Easter Sunday. Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless…And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins…And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 19, NLT).[4] Scholars universally consider 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as a pre-New Testament formulation that dates to the earliest church. The text reads,

 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV).[5]

Thus, from the very beginning the church focused upon the literal resurrection of Jesus.

4. Therefore, the belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ is a qualifier for Christianity.

If the literal resurrection was a building block of the earliest church, then to say otherwise would be to dismiss one of the cornerstones of the Christian message. Thus, if one denies the cornerstone of the Christian faith—the literal resurrection of Christ—then one would not find oneself within the parameters of the Christian worldview.

Conclusion

The apostle Paul provides an excellent synopsis to this problem. Paul wrote to the Galatians,

 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-10, ESV).[6]

It seems to me that Paul pegs the problem quite nicely. One must choose whether God or humanity will be served. Denying the core essentials of the gospel places one outside the boundaries of Christianity. I fear Jim Rigby finds himself in such a position. It is my prayer that Rigby will find himself back into the fold of orthodox Christianity.

On another note, it concerns me how several people are attempting to stretch the boundaries of what constitutes Christianity, making Christianity into something that it was not intended.

Jesus did not come to help us feel good about ourselves. Jesus came to save us from ourselves–to save us from our sin. Which leaves us with this question…

 If the Resurrection doesn’t constitute Christianity, than what does?

 

© January 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

 Clark, Heather. “‘I’ll Try to Keep Down My Screams of Agony’: Resurrection-Denying ‘Pastor’ Mocks Being Hellbound.” ChristianNews.net (January 2, 2016). Accessed January 4, 2016. http://christiannews.net/2016/01/02/ill-try-to-keep-down-my-screams-of-agony-resurrection-denying-pastor-mocks-being-hellbound/

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

 Endnotes

[1] Jim Rigby quoted in Heather Clark, “‘I’ll Try to Keep Down My Screams of Agony’: Resurrection-Denying ‘Pastor’ Mocks Being Hellbound,” ChristianNews.net (January 2, 2016), retrieved January 4, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 22.

[4] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2013).

[5] Scripture marked NIV comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

[6] Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

The Future Implications of the Resurrection of Christ

Normally, I do not write about topics that are covered in previous messages. However, today I must make an exception. This past Easter I delivered a message by the same title of this article. The message centered around the future implications that come from Christ having been risen from the dead. It seems to me that many do not contemplate the great impact that Christ’s resurrection has made. Many try to imagine what it must have been like to have been at the tomb on the first Easter morning. What would it have been like to have watched the motionless body of Christ animate with life anew? Would there have been a spectacular light shining about his body or would it have just involved Christ getting up as if He had been slumbering? Such questions are important, however one often forgets what such an occurrence means for the future. Paul and John provide answers in 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20-22.

1.     The Resurrection of Christ Indicates the Future Resurrection of Humanity.

Some think that only believers will take part in the future resurrection. However, the New Testament makes it clear that everyone will take part in some form of a resurrection at the end of time. Paul writes “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).[1] In the book of Revelation, John notes that two resurrections exist. The first resurrection consists of those who are in Christ. John writes that “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:6). The second resurrection consists of individuals who are not in Christ. Nevertheless, all individuals will have a similar resurrection experience as Christ had. Some, however, will experience a resurrection unto life eternal, whereas others will experience a resurrection unto a tormented eternity. As Paul denotes, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). If Christ has risen, then death is already defeated.

2.     The Resurrection of Christ Indicates the Future Defeat of Evil.

This point I have taken straight from my message. Easter promises the future defeat of evil. In fact, evil has already been defeated. How so? Isn’t there still evil in the world? Yes, however it is only momentary. For the resurrection of Christ ensures us that eventually “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). In Revelation, John notes that “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). How do you defeat evil? You must destroy the root cause of evil. Case in point, have you ever had a boil? Boils are painful sores that are caused by an inflammation of a hair follicle. Anyone who has ever had a boil knows that they are pesky and sometimes painful. The boil may burst and one may think that they have cured the problem. However, if the seed of the boil is not removed, the boil will return. Similarly, if the symptoms of a disease are treated and the disease itself is not cured, no true healing can ever transpire. The root cause of evil in the world is Satan, the adversary of God and the faithful. The only way to permanently rid society of evil is to eliminate the presence of the evil one. Easter promises that good will eventually win and evil will be defeated.

3.     The Resurrection of Christ Indicates the Rewards of Heaven.

Paul writes that “no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived–the things that God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; see also Isaiah 64:4). Due to the eternal life promised through Christ’s resurrection and the future defeat of evil, one can conclude, as does the New Testament, that Easter ensures the future established reward of the faithful. In Revelation 21, John writes that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The One sitting on the throne even states “I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:5)! Easter provides the great hope that a better life awaits the faithful of God.

Conclusion:

Many have often said, “You Christians focus on the afterlife and do not live in the present.” That is not necessarily the case. For the Christian knows that he or she has a purpose here on the earth. They are called to do a particular task. Yet, because of the resurrection of Christ, the Christian has the hope in knowing that this life is not all that there is. There is a better day coming. As Bob Dill wisely said in Bible study, “The Bible tells us things are going to get bad, then get worse, but things will eventually get better.” That is so true. Easter provides us with the hope that we do not have all of our eggs in one basket (pun intended) in that this life is all there is. Rather, we have the hope in knowing that the things done on this earth really matter and hold an eternal significance. Life is tough. But heaven awaits! As a t-shirt I once saw noted, “Keep working for the Lord, the pay isn’t much, but the retirement plan is OUT OF THIS WORLD!!!”

Happy Easter!!!

Pastor Brian

Copyright April 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).