Exploring Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus: Part 1

 

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very heart and core of the Christian Faith.

If Jesus truly did rise from the dead, no event in human history holds more weight. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, the Apostle Paul says that Christianity is pointless if Jesus did not rise from the dead. The New International Version reads this way: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Author and Professor Dr. Sean McDowell says, “…the resurrection is the very foundation for the Christian faith. It is not an optional article of faith—it is the faith!”[1]

Unfortunately, Jesus did not leave us with 100 percent certainty about His Resurrection. He is not walking among us as a physical person. We can’t touch or interact with Him like we could other humans.  Can we have confidence that our faith is not “useless?”

Throughout the next several posts, we will be taking a short look at aspects of the Resurrection to help our understanding of, and confidence in, Jesus’ Resurrection.

We hope our introduction proves useful to further study.

 

The Minimal Facts Approach

Resurrection Scholars Gary Habermas and Michael Licona are advocates of the Minimal Facts Approach. This approach only examines information that is so strongly attested historically that it is accepted by nearly all scholars who study the subject, including the skeptical ones.[2] Licona has taken Habermas’s points and narrowed them down to three:

 

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. A short time of Jesus’ death, His disciples had experiences that led them to believe he had been resurrected.
  3. A few years after Jesus’ death, Paul converted after experiencing what he believed was a post-resurrection appearance of Christ.[3]

The Empty Tomb, another part of the Minimal Fact approach, was not examined as part of this series. For our discussion, we have assumed it. For more information on the Empty Tomb in the Minimal Facts Approach, please check here.

If there is sufficient evidence to support these facts, we have a plausible explanation for the empty tomb.

In this post, we will be looking at the first point, Jesus’ death by crucifixion.

 

Jesus’ Death by Crucifixion

 

Crucifixion was common form of execution in the Roman world, and the Romans were known for being particularly brutal. Before a victim even came to the cross, they could expect to be beaten with clubs or even whipped and scourged. These whippings were often so brutal that muscle, veins, or bone would be exposed. The Roman Historian Seneca described some of the victims as being deformed and maimed before they actually experienced crucifixion.[4]

Crucifixion itself was equally horrible. Victims would be led through the streets, mocked, and eventually bound to the cross. They were often left to die by asphyxiation, meaning their lungs were so collapsed that the victims were unable to breathe . Several Roman historians recorded more brutal treatments and tortures that occurred to victims while on the cross.[5]

 

Licona gives us several reasons to believe that Jesus died by crucifixion:

 

  1. Jesus’ death was written about by multiple sources, including Christians and non-Christians alike. This includes discussion by historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, and Mara bar Serapion. Having this diverse collection of authors, including those that believe and skeptics, is called Multiple Attestation.[6]
  2. These reports occur early, especially for ancient historical documents. The apostle Paul has writings around A.D. 55. (1 Corinthians, Galatians)[7]
  3. Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospels is different than many ancient accounts because it doesn’t make Jesus out to be a hero. Instead of seeing a stalwart hero, bravely taking the cross as a gallant martyr, we see a trembling, weak Jesus who dies with no heroic last stand. If the story were fiction we should expect to see more positive embellishment. Instead, we see only embarrassing details. This is called the Criterion of Embarrassment.[8]
  4. The low probability of surviving crucifixion. The Roman historian Josephus is reported to have friends saved mid-crucifixion and only one survived despite excellent medical care. Crucifixion, as noted above, was a brutal process designed to inflict a painful death.[9]

 

While the evidence listed would suggest that Jesus was indeed crucified, more evidence would certainly be required to suggest that He experienced some form of resurrection event. In the next post, we’ll explore the next point in the Habermas/Licona Minimal Facts approach: The Disciples Belief and Transformation.

 

[1] http://seanmcdowell.org/blog/resurrection-heart-of-the-christian-faith

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 44

 

[3] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, a New Historiographical Approach. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 303

[4] Ibid, 303-304

[5] Ibid.

[6] Licona, 304-305

[7] Licona 305

[8] Licona 306

[9] Licona, 311

 

Photo by Sean Wolf

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