A Beginner’s Guide to the Evidence for the Resurrection

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There are 5 Major Points of Interest you should know pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus.
1. Jesus’s resurrection is the ultimate test pertaining to whether Christianity is true.

Almost all historians of Jesus agree that, at the very minimum, Jesus claimed that he had a special relationship with God who had chosen him to usher in his kingdom. Among other things, they also agree that Jesus challenged the Jewish leadership and accused them of various misdeeds. The Gospels inform us that Jesus’s critics responded by challenging him to give proof to support his claims. On one of those occasions, the Gospel of John reports that Jesus answered he would rise from the dead after they had killed him (John 2:18-20). In this response, Jesus provided a test by which others could know if he was the real deal. The apostle Paul would later state that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is futile, God has not forgiven us, our loved ones who have died as followers of Jesus are forever gone, and those who are persecuted for their faith do so needlessly. In that case, Christians should party hard now, because this life is all that there is (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, 30-32). There are many items about Jesus and the Bible that are debated. But few are as important as the resurrection of Jesus. For if Jesus truly rose from the dead, Christianity is true. So, even if there were errors in the Bible, even if the author of Genesis had actually borrowed the story of Noah’s flood from the Epic of Gilgamesh, even if Israel had wiped out her enemies, not by God’s command but, by the command of its brutal kings who had claimed it was God’s will, these would only call into question the divine inspiration of the biblical literature. However, if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity would still be true, even if certain reports in the Bible were not.

2. Historical Investigation yields “probability” rather than “certainty.”

Historians are in a predicament similar to those shared by geologists, evolutionary biologists, and archaeologists: They cannot use a time machine to return to the past in order to verify their conclusions. So, they employ strictly controlled method and choose the hypothesis that accounts for the data better than other hypotheses. That preferred hypothesis is regarded as what “probably” occurred.

3. There are a number of facts about Jesus’s fate that are nearly universally accepted by historians.

These are (1) Jesus’s death by crucifixion under the orders of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate in April of either AD 30 or AD 33. (2) Shortly thereafter, a number of his disciples had experiences that convinced them Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them. Although not enjoying a universal consensus, roughly 80 percent of historians also think some of the appearances were experienced by groups. (3) A Jewish leader named Paul, who was in the throes of persecuting the Christian Church, had an experience he was convinced was the risen Jesus appearing to him; an experience that forever altered the course of his life, leading him to become a Christian who so passionately proclaimed the message of Jesus that he willingly endured persecution, beatings, imprisonment, and martyrdom.

4. The Resurrection Hypothesis accounts for the known facts far better than competing hypotheses.

The hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead easily accounts for the experiences of many of Jesus’ disciples that led them to believe the risen Jesus had appeared to them. It accounts for their claim that Jesus had appeared to several individuals and to a few groups. It also explains why the persecutor of the Christian Church named Paul came to believe the risen Jesus had appeared to him. The alternate hypothesis most popular among non-Christian scholars is that these experiences were nothing more than hallucinations. However, the Hallucination Hypothesis does not do as well explaining the appearances of the risen Jesus as does the Resurrection Hypothesis. Multiple studies have shown that while half of those in the frame of mind to experience an hallucination actually do, only 7 percent of candidates for hallucinations experience them visually, as opposed to other modes, such as auditory, tactile (i.e., touch), kinesthetic (i.e., sense of motion), gustatory (i.e., taste), and olfactory (i.e., smell). Yet, the earliest claims are that Jesus appeared (visual) to an unthinkable 100 percent of his disciples. Moreover, since hallucinations are false sensory perceptions of something not actually present, the identical hallucination can no more be experienced by a group than every member of a group participating in the same dream simultaneously. And since Paul was far from grieving over Jesus’s death, he would not have been a good candidate for experiencing a hallucination of the risen Jesus that was so powerful that it convinced him to become one of his followers. Although, in this short article, we have only been able to compare the ability of the Resurrection and Hallucination Hypotheses to account for the facts that are widely agreed upon by scholars, there are no other hypotheses that can account for those facts as well as the Resurrection Hypothesis.

5. Conclusion: Christ is Risen Indeed!

Since the Resurrection Hypothesis accounts for the widely agreed upon facts in a manner far better than competing hypotheses do, the historian can conclude that Jesus probably rose from the dead. It follows, then, that Christianity is probably true. Because this conclusion can be arrived at apart from faith, one is certainly rational to believe Jesus rose from the dead and to become one of his followers. And, if Jesus truly rose as the evidence suggests, there are important matters that can be inferred. We can know that each of us has intrinsic value, since we were created by God. This means that YOU possess great value because God created you. We can also know that God loves us, that we are never alone, and that following Jesus yields eternal life, which opens the door to fellowship with God in this life and to enjoy him forever in heaven.

Michael R. Licona, Ph.D. is associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and president of Risen Jesus, Inc. He is the author of several books, including The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic) and Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press). Visit Mike’s web site: https://www.risenjesus.com and YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/2KiV88L.

Further Reading:
Intro Level: Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. LiconaThe Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014)
Intro Level: Michael R. LiconaPaul Meets Muhammad (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006)
Intermediate Level and for Specialists: Michael R. LiconaThe Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010)