Author: Steven B. Cowan –

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV)

The Apostle Paul hinged everything on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As he said in 1 Corinthians 15, the truth and meaningfulness of the Christian faith rest on this event. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then faith in Christ is futile, and preaching the Christian gospel a waste of time. On the other hand, if Christ is raised from the dead, then that event becomes the most pivotal event in human history. If he is risen, then nothing can be more meaningful than having faith in him, and no activity more important than preaching his message.

So, the all-important question before us is: Did Jesus rise from the dead? Christians, of course, believe that he did. But is there any reason, apart from blind faith, for believing in Jesus’ resurrection? What’s more, it is no secret that skeptics and opponents of Christianity have attacked the resurrection on numerous grounds over the centuries, contending that it is a fabrication of the early church. Can those of us who believe in the resurrection of Jesus rebut these skeptical attacks?

In this article, the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus will be presented and defended against objections. As we will see, the resurrection of Jesus is a well-attested historical event with life-changing ramifications.

Some Preliminary Matters

Before diving in to the case for Jesus’ resurrection, though, I need to address a couple of preliminary issues. I need, that is, to point out a few important assumptions that I will make in my argument, and the historical methodology that I will follow.

God and the Possibility of Miracles

In a short article like this, there isn’t space to argue for everything that might be challenged. I will simply have to assume a couple of significant points. That does not mean that the assumptions made cannot be defended. It simply means that I will not defend them in this article. If the reader has trouble with these assumptions, I encourage him to study Christian arguments in support of them.1

Some people dismiss the resurrection of Jesus out of hand without ever even looking at the evidence. They dismiss it because it is a miracle, and they assume that miracles don’t happen. There is nothing impossible or incredible about miracles, however, at least not if one believes that God exists. Those who dismiss the possibility of miracles implicitly assume a naturalistic worldview in which all that exists is the natural world, governed by immutable natural laws.

If God does exist, however, then miracles\
are surely possible, and we cannot rationally dismiss miracle claims with a wave of the hand. So, for the purposes of this article, we will assume that God exists and that miracles therefore are real possibilities.

Testing Historical Hypotheses

How are we to test historical hypotheses? There are times when historians, attempting to explain why and how some historical event took place, may have to choose between two or more competing explanations. How do they decide? There are several criteria that historians employ to test competing explanations or hypotheses.2 I will briefly discuss the two most important criteria. These criteria will become very important when we turn in a moment to discuss the resurrection of Jesus.

First, there is the criterion of explanatory power. This criterion has to do with whether or not a proposed explanation for some historical event actually explains or accounts for the event in question. Does the hypothesis explain the facts as well or better than competing hypotheses? Or does the hypothesis leave us wondering if the facts have been adequately explained?

Second, there is the criterion of explanatory scope. This criterion is concerned with how much of the observable data the historian needs to explain is accounted for by the proposed hypothesis. Suppose that there are three related facts—x, y, and z—that need to be explained. And suppose that we are considering two rival explanations A and B. If A accounts for only x and y, but B accounts for x, y, and z, then B (all other things being equal) is the preferred explanation.

What is the relevance of all this? We will see shortly that the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead has greater explanatory power and scope than any competing explanation for what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

Three Established Facts

What evidence is there that Jesus rose from the dead? There are three major facts, agreed upon by almost all biblical scholars which, taken together, are best explained by the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead. These three facts are: (1) The empty tomb of Jesus, (2) the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and (3) the disciples’ belief in the resurrection of Jesus.3 Let us look at each of these three facts, see why they are indeed known to be facts, and then see how the miraculous explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead has greater explanatory power and greater explanatory scope than any rival hypotheses.

The Empty Tomb

All four Gospels record the Christian belief that Jesus died on a Roman cross, and was buried in a sealed and heavily guarded tomb, and yet on Sunday morning the tomb was found empty by several of Jesus’ followers. This is one of the most well-attested facts of ancient history. Even liberal scholars will admit that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was found empty on Easter morning. In fact, the vast majority of biblical interpreters, of every theological stripe, grant the historicity of the empty tomb.4 Lest there be any doubt, however, several bits of evidence underscore the fact of the empty tomb. These include:

  1. The fact that the empty tomb account is included in multiple, independent sources. Historians and Bible scholars often employ what is called the criterion of multiple attestation to verity the authenticity of a purported historical event. On this criterion, a story is considered to be historically verified if it is recorded in more than one, independent source. The empty tomb story is included in Mark (from whom Matthew and Luke may have borrowed) and John. These are two independent works. Additionally, Matthew includes details of the empty tomb tradition in source material unique to his Gospel (material often labeled “M”). The empty tomb is also presupposed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 when he refers to Jesus’ burial and resurrection. Paul says “that Christ died for our sins. . .that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day. . .” As William Lane Craig explains, “When Paul then says ‘He was raised,’ this therefore necessarily implies that the tomb was left empty.”5 This is so, because Paul, like all first-century Jews, understood the resurrection to be a bodily resurrection.6 A bodily resurrection without an empty tomb is incomprehensible. So, the empty tomb of Jesus is attested in at least four independent sources.

​2. The fact that the empty tomb account is part of very old source material used by Mark. The careful reader will note that in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus’ passion narrative—the account of his trial, death, burial, and empty tomb—forms one continuous narrative. As William Lane Craig explains, “That suggests that the narrative is all of one piece and already existed before the Gospel writers sat down to write their Gospels.”7 Moreover, most scholars believe that Mark was the first of the four Gospels to be written, and a convincing case can be made that Mark could not have been written any later than the late 50s of the first century.8 This means that the passion narrative is older still, with in perhaps a few years of Jesus’ death. The significance of all\
this is that it makes very unlikely the idea that the empty tomb story is a legend developed by the early church. Legends take time to develop, and there simply was not enough time between Jesus’ death and the origin of the empty tomb tradition.

​3. The fact that women are portrayed in the Gospels as the first to discover the empty tomb. In ancient Jewish culture, the testimony of women was considered worthless. Therefore, if the early church were going to invent a story about an empty tomb of Jesus in order to convince people of his resurrection, it is unlikely in the extreme that they would have had women be the first to discover the tomb.

​4. The fact that the Jewish leaders accused the disciples of stealing the body. In Matthew 28:11-15, Matthew records the story of how the Jewish leaders bribed the guards at the tomb to say that the disciples had stolen the body. He says that this story was circulated widely in Jerusalem during his own day. Matthew could not have recorded this episode (even if he was lying!) unless it was common knowledge in Jerusalem that the tomb of Jesus was empty. We can add to this the observation that if the tomb was not empty, it would have been impossible for the disciples to have preached the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem as they did.

Given these four pieces of evidence, it is beyond any reasonable doubt that the tomb of Jesus was found empty on the first Easter Sunday morning. We turn now to our second fact.

The Post-mortem Appearances of Jesus

Another fact that is widely accepted, even among liberal critics, is that, on many separate occasions, several people saw what they took to be Jesus alive again after his crucifixion. For example, Reginald Fuller states, “That the experiences did occur, even if they are explained in purely natural terms, is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree.”9 Again, there are objective evidences to support this fact:

​1. Paul’s testimony supports the fact that many people saw appearances of Jesus. In 1Corinthians 15:5-8, Paul reported that Jesus appeared to several people, including Peter, the other apostles, and James; and that on one occasion he was seen by over 500 people, many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote and could have corroborated his claims; and, of course, he appeared to Paul himself. Paul’s testimony is considered to be very early, and he claims to have received the information he reports from others when he says in the same context, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance” (v. 3). So, the account that Paul relates concerning eyewitnesses to post-mortem appearances of Jesus is very ancient. As Gary Habermas explains, “Virtually all scholars agree that in this text Paul recorded an ancient tradition(s) about the origins of the Christian gospel” and that “Paul received the formula between two and eight years after the crucifixion. .”10

Most significant is Paul’s mention of the five hundred brethren who saw the risen Christ at one time, “most of whom are still living” (v. 6). About this, New Testament scholar C.H. Dodd said, “There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that most of the five hundred are still alive, unless Paul is saying, in effect, ‘the witnesses are there to be questioned’”11 These facts make it virtually undeniable that the appearances Paul mentions actually took place.

​2. The four Gospels provide independent corroboration of Paul’s testimony. As if Paul’s testimony were not enough, we can verify the authenticity of the appearances of Jesus he report can verify the authenticity of the appearances of Jesus he report 34) attests the appearance to Peter. Luke and John independently corroborate the appearance to the Twelve (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-20). Luke (Luke 24:36; Acts 1:4-9) also twice corroborates Paul’s mention of the appearance to “all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:7); and he further attests the appearance to Paul himself (Acts 9:1-6).

There is no independent corroboration of the appearance to James, the Lord’s brother, but its historicity is highly probable. Like Paul, it is noteworthy that James was an unbeliever during Jesus’ earthly ministry (cf. Mark 3:21; John 7:1-10). Yet, James appears rather unexpectedly as a leader in the early church (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13; Gal. 1:19). James’ experience of an appearance of Jesus post-mortem, just like the Apostle Paul, would readily explain his conversion.

​3. The radical transformation of the disciples indicates he historicity of Jesus’ post-mortem appearances. When Jesus was arrested, his disciples scattered and hid in fear of the authorities (cf. Mark 14:50; John 20:19). Their hopes that he was the Jewish Messiah were dashed (cf. Luke 24:19-21).Yet, after that first Easter Sunday, they stood up and boldly proclaimed their faith in him, being willing even to suffer and die for him (cf. Acts 2:14-40; 5:41-42; 7:1-60). Something dramatic had to have happened to them in order for such a radical change to occur. Most scholars, therefore, readily grant that the disciples must have witnessed post-mortem appearances of Jesus which they understood to be Jesus resurrected.

The Disciples’ Belief in the Resurrection

As we noted in the previous section, it is granted almost universally that the disciples had post-mortem experiences of Jesus. The primary reason why this fact is granted is that such appearances are needed to explain the disciples’ belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead. If anything is known for sure about Christ’s disciples it is that they believed that Jesus had been resurrected. Paul, an early source, proclaimed, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Paul defended his claim by citing an even earlier creed of the church which testified that “he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (v. 4). The Apostle Peter, accompanied by the other apostles, boldly preached on Pentecost that “God raised [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 2:24), vindicating him against those who had killed him.

It is important to reiterate that these disciples were persecuted for their preaching of the resurrection, many of them dying as martyrs. This latter point is important because it deflects the charge that the disciples were scam-artists preaching simply to deceive people. Someone might die for something that is false (like the followers of David Koresh), but no one will die for something he knows to be false. The disciples truly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Explaining the Three Facts

We have seen that there are three significant facts associated with the first Easter Sunday on which almost all scholars agree: (1) the empty tomb, (2) the post-mortem appearances, and (3) the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. What explains these facts? There are two broad possibilities. First, there is the possibility that there is a set of purely natural explanations for these facts. Second, there is the possibility of a supernatural explanation, namely, that God raised Jesus from the dead. Let us explore the former possibility first.

Attempted Natural Explanations

Several attempts have been made to give natural explanations for these three facts. Concerning the empty tomb, several possibilities have been given in history. Yet, few scholars today (even liberal ones) accept these explanations because they lack sufficient explanatory power and scope. However, in demonstrating the superiority of the resurrection hypothesis, it will be helpful to briefly outline them and point out their inadequacies.

​1. The disciples stole the body. The Jewish leaders in the first century were the first to propose this explanation (Matt. 28:11-15). It will not work, however, for several reasons. First, this hypothesis would require the unlikely scenario of the disciples over-powering the Roman guards. Second, and more serious, it leaves inexplicable why the disciples would believe and preach that Jesus had risen from the dead. If they had stolen the body, they clearly would not have come to believe that he was resurrected. And if they nevertheless preached that he was raised, they would have knowingly perpetrated a fraud. But, we have no reason to believe that they would have wanted to perpetrate such a fraud, and it is unlikely in the extreme that they would have been willing to die (as they did) for what they would have known to be a lie.

​2. The Jewish authorities stole the body. Perhaps, however, the Jewish leaders absconded with Jesus’ body. But, why? Contrary to their wishes, this would have provided the disciples with an opportunity to preach the resurrection. Yet, even so, if the Jews had stolen the body, they could have easily squelched the early church’s preaching of the gospel by producing Jesus body! But, they did not. So, it is most unlikely that the Jewish authorities stole Jesus’ body.

​3. Jesus only swooned on the cross. According to this explanation, Jesus did not really die on the cross, but only passed out (swooned). This hypothesis, however, requires us to believe many very unlikely things. That is, we would have to believe that the Roman executioners made a mistake in declaring Jesus dead (cf. John 19:31-34), and that Jesus, wounded and near dead, unwrapped himself from his shroud, pushed away the stone door from the tomb by himself, crawled (not walked) passed the guards undetected, and then convinced his disciples that he had risen from the dead! This explanation would, in effect, require us to believe in a miracle even greater than the resurrection itself!

​4. The women went to the wrong tomb. Some claim that Jesus’ tomb was found empty because the women accidentally visited the wrong tomb on Sunday morning. The problem here is that it means that other visitors to the tomb (Peter, John, etc.) also went to the wrong tomb. And it leaves us wondering why they did not discover their error (or weren’t told their error by the Jewish leaders!) and later go to the correct tomb.

None of these proposed explanations for the empty tomb have significant explanatory power. They simply do not give an adequate account of the relevant data. Moreover, many of them cannot account for the full scope of the facts. In providing historical explanations, the hypothesis that explains the greater scope of evidence is to be preferred to one that explains only part of the evidence and which needs to be supplemented by additional hypotheses. Even if one of the naturalistic hypotheses outlined above explained the empty tomb, it would leave unexplained the post-mortem appearances and the disciples’ belief in the resurrection, thus requiring additional, supplementary hypotheses.

The major naturalistic explanation for the appearances of Jesus to his disciples is the claim that what they saw were hallucinations. The disciples (as well as Paul and James) saw what they took to be the risen Jesus, but they were mistaken. What they saw was an illusion or vision caused by the deep psychological trauma they experienced when Jesus died. However, there are several reasons to reject the hallucination theory:

​1. The physicality of the appearances. The reports of these appearances do not cohere with hallucinatory events. By all accounts, Jesus’ appearances were not vague, ghostlike apparitions, but were unmistakably physical in nature—Jesus talked with them and walked with them; He touched them and ate meals with them. Moreover, as William Lane Craig points out, the biblical writers make a clear distinction between a vision of Jesus and an appearance of Jesus. He writes,

The appearances of Jesus were confined to a brief period at the beginning of the Christian Way; they soon ceased and were never repeated. Visions, however, continued and were repeated. Paul himself had visions (2 Corinthians 12:1-7), but what he saw on the Damascus road was no mere vision. That is very interesting, for it shows that the appearances seen by the disciples were essentially different from visions, with which they were familiar.
Visions, even ones caused by God, were exclusively in the mind of the beholder, whereas an appearance involved the actual appearance of something “out there” in the real world. That conclusion seems to me to be nearly inescapable.12

​2. The number and nature of the witnesses. The resurrection appearances do not fit the psychology required for hallucinations. For example, it is not possible that an hallucination would be had by more than one person at the same time. Yet, the eleven apostles saw Christ in the upper room together, and over 500 disciples saw him at one time, as well. Moreover, hallucinations require that the person be psychologically predisposed to have them. But the disciples had given up on Jesus and did not expect him to come back (see Luke 24:19-21). What is more, as we mentioned above, he appeared not only to believers, but to unbelievers: the Apostles Paul and James were both unbelievers when the resurrected Christ appeared to them; so, it is difficult to imagine them having hallucinations of Jesus due to emotional trauma.

​3. The theory fails to explain the full scope of the evidence. Even if the hallucination theory worked to explain the appearances, like the natural explanations for the empty tomb, it does not explain the other relevant facts. That is, it does not account for the empty tomb and the belief of the disciples in the resurrection (see below). Thus, the hallucination theory, even if it helped to explain the post-mortem appearances, would have to be supplemented with additional theories.

What about the disciples’ belief in the resurrection of Jesus? Is there a plausible natural explanation for it? Those who wish to explain the disciples’ belief naturalistically appeal to the hallucination theory discussed in the previous section. The disciples, it is claimed, came to believe that Jesus rose from the dead because they saw visions which they took to be appearances of the resurrected Jesus. Will this explanation work? Again, the answer is no. As we saw above, the hallucination hypothesis suffers from several defects. Moreover, the disciples came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite having many strong reasons not to believe such a thing. As previously mentioned, when Jesus was crucified, the apostles were frightened and disillusioned. The last thing they expected was a resurrection, especially since Jesus had died on a cross, the symbol in their Jewish minds of God’s curse (cf. Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13).

The most significant reason to reject the hallucination theory as an explanation for the disciples’ belief, however, is the fact that Jews in the first century had no concept or expectation of a resurrection other than the general resurrection at the end of history (cf. John 11:23-24). Gerald O’Collins shows that first century Judaism “had no concept of a dying and rising Messiah, nor any notion of one person enjoying a final, glorious resurrection from the dead even though the end of the world had not yet occurred.”13 As William Lane Craig explains, “In Jewish thought the resurrection always (1) occurred after the end of the world, not within history, and (2) concerned all the people, not just an isolated individual.”14

So, if the disciples had seen hallucinations of Jesus after his crucifixion, they would not have seen him as risen, but as translated to heaven (like Enoch and Elijah). In other words, they would have had an experience similar to Stephen’s in Acts 7, where he saw Jesus in heaven exalted to God’s right hand. Craig explains,

Hallucinations, as projections for the mind, can contain nothing new. Therefore, given the current Jewish beliefs about life after death, the disciples would have projected hallucinations of Jesus in heaven or in Abraham’s bosom, where the souls of the righteous dead were believed to abide until the resurrection. And such visions would not have caused belief in Jesus’ resurrection.15

In other words, the disciples’ prior theological beliefs and traditions would have prevented them from believing that Jesus rose bodily from the dead even if they had seen hallucinations of him alive again after his crucifixion. Stephen T. Davis sums up this point aptly:

The point is, however, that the disciples were prepared neither psychologically nor theologically for the idea of the resurrection of a crucified messiah, and the fact that they arrived at this idea so early and so confidently needs explanation. . . .The Easter faith of the disciples was something new; it cannot be traced to Jewish or pagan sources. Nor does it seem explicable in terms of the impact that the life and teaching of Jesus had on his followers, since Jesus’ death on the cross tended strongly to negate that impact (see Luke 24:21).16

The Superiority of the Resurrection Hypothesis

None of the natural explanations for our three central facts hold any water. They are insufficient with regard to both explanatory power and explanatory scope. But there is one explanation that adequately explains all three of these facts: the miraculous explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead. This explanation is certainly possible given that miracles are possible (see above). Further, it has some initial plausibility given that (1) Jesus predicted his resurrection (Mark 8:31; 10:32-34), and (2) raising Jesus from the dead is what we would expect God to do if he were indeed the Son of God as he claimed to be.

Most importantly, the resurrection hypothesis has strong and obvious explanatory power with regard to the three central facts we have been discussing. If Jesus rose bodily from the dead, then we would clearly expect the tomb to be empty. So, the resurrection hypothesis explains the fact of the empty tomb. Moreover, the post-mortem appearances of Jesus are adequately accounted for on the theory that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. Not only would the resurrection hypothesis explain the appearances per se, but it would account for their physical nature, and the fact that multiple people saw him at one time. Lastly, the fact that Jesus’ disciples came to believe in his resurrection, despite the fact that nothing in their psychological or theological background would have prepared them for this belief, is perfectly explicable if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead!

The resurrection hypothesis also has the greatest explanatory scope—it explains all the facts together, unlike the natural explanations which have to be combined with additional hypotheses. If Jesus actually rose bodily from the dead, then the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the disciples’ belief in the resurrection are all fully explained. We need look no further for any other explanation. So, the resurrection hypothesis provides us with a single, simple, and powerful explanation for what happened on the first Easter Sunday.

Before we leave this section, though, I need to address one more possible objection to the resurrection hypothesis. Some have argued that, despite any explanatory power and scople that this supernatural explanation might have, we should reject it nonetheless because the accounts of the resurrection in the four Gospels are contradictory. How many women went to the tomb on Easter morning and which ones? The Gospels do not seem to agree at this point. Neither do they seem to agree on when the women went to the tomb—was it before (Matthew, John), during (Luke), or after (Mark) dawn? How many angels were at the tomb—one (Matthew) or two (Luke)? Mark seems to indicate the Jesus appeared first in Galilee (Mark 16:7), while the other Gospels set the first appearances in Jerusalem. These and other discrepancies in the resurrection narratives have led many scholars to dismiss the whole account as a fabrication.

Two things may be said in response. First, it is by no means clear that the resurrection narratives are contradictory. There are some difficulties (noted above), but it is possible to harmonize the accounts.17 Most of those who charge the Gospels with contradiction implicitly assume that difference = error/contradiction. Yet, the differences may be due simply to the different perspectives and purposes of the witnesses.

Second, even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that there are errors and contradictions in the resurrection narratives, it does not follow that the whole story of Jesus’ resurrection should be dismissed as unhistorical. A historical account does not have to be inerrant in every detail in order to be a credible witness to what actually happened. Stephen Davis makes this point regarding the resurrection narratives:

[D]espite differences in details, the four evangelists agree to an amazing degree on what we might call the basic facts. All unite in proclaiming that early on the first day of the week certain women, among them Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb; they found it empty; they met an angel or angels; and they were either told or else discovered. . .that Jesus was alive. There is also striking agreement between John and at least one of the Synoptics on each of these points: the women informed Peter and/or other disciples of their discovery, Peter went to the tomb and found it empty, the risen Jesus appeared to the women, and he gave them instructions for the disciples. Furthermore, although it would be misleading to place great emphasis on this argument, it may be that the discrepancies themselves lend credence to the basic facts, showing as they do that a variety of Christian interpretations of the empty tomb [and resurrection appearances], at many points quite independent of each other, all agree on these basic facts.18

The differences or discrepancies in the resurrection accounts are, as Richard Swinburne notes, “very small confusions”19 (assuming they are confusions at all, which they are not). As such, they cannot call into question the historicity of the basic facts we have discussed in this article—facts which are best explained by the miraculous intervention of God in raising Jesus from the dead. We have every reason to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a fact of history.

The Life-changing Implications of the Resurrection

What does it matter that Jesus rose from the dead? Much in every way. Since God raised Jesus from the dead, we can be sure of the following:

​1. We can be sure that everything he taught is true—which means that we can be sure that his teaching about himself is true, namely, that he is God incarnate, come to Earth to reveal God to us, and to die on the cross for our sins; that he would arise from the dead, ascend into heaven, and come again to judge the world.

​2. We can be sure that those who believe have indeed had their sins forgiven. Romans 4:25 says that Christ “was delivered over to death on account of our sins and was raised to life on account of our justification.” This means that Jesus’ resurrection is God the Father’s stamp of approval on his atoning work, his saying to Jesus, in effect, “Yes, I accept your death as payment for the sins of the world.”

​3. We can be sure that those who believe will also be resurrected from the dead to enjoy eternal life with Christ. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Because Jesus is raised, we know that those who have faith in him will be raised as well at the general resurrection. Death is not the end. There is hope for eternal life.

​4. We can be sure that each and every human being has a choice to make. The eternal destiny of every person is determined by his relationship to Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” If you would be saved from the wrath to come, if you would have eternal life, then you must repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus Christ. He is your only hope. AJ

Steven B. Cowan is Associate\
Director of the Apologetics Resource\
Center and editor of Areopagus Journal.


1 For arguments for the existence of God, see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 77-125; J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 15-75, 105-132; William C. Davis, “Theistic Arguments,” in Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael J. Murray (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 20-46; and Robin Collins, “A Scientific Argument for the Existence of God: The Fine-Tuning Design Argument,” in Ibid., 47-75. For defenses of the possibility and credibility of miracles see R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, eds., In Defense of Miracles (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997); as well as Willian Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 127-155; and J.A. Cover, “Miracles and Christian Theism,” in Reason for the Hope Within, 345-374.

2 For a thorough discussion of these historiographical criteria see C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge University Press, 1984). For an in-depth application of McCullagh’s criteria to the resurrection, see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 295-98.

3 For much of the structure and content of this section of the article, I am greatly indebted to William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 272-93.\
4 The consensus on the historicity of the empty tomb is significant enough to prompt New Testament scholar D.H. Van Daalen to declare, “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions” (The Real Resurrection [London: Collins, 1970], 41). William Lane Craig cites the work of Jacob Kremer who lists twenty-eight prominent scholars in support of his claim that “By far, most exegetes hold firmly. . .to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb” (see Craig, Reasonable Faith, 277).\
5 William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1981), 67.\
6 Some scholars, based on Paul’s use of the term “spiritual body” in 1 Cor. 15:44, argue that Paul did not believe in a bodily resurrection, but only a spiritual “resurrection” that would not then require an empty tomb. However, this is a misinterpretation of Paul. By “spiritual body” he does not mean a non-physical “spirit” or “made out of spirit.” Rather, he has in mind a physical body dominated by the Spirit instead of the sinful nature. For detailed defenses of this interpretation, see William Lane Craig (Ibid., 108-112); and Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 51-59.\
7 Craig, The Son Rises, 51.\
8 It is very likely that the Book of Acts was written about A.D. 62. This is in part because Luke ends the book with Paul still awaiting his trial in Rome, mentioning neither Paul’s martyrdom nor the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This means that the Gospel of Luke, which predates Acts, was probably written in 60 or 61. If we accept the majority view that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a source for his Gospel, then Mark had to have been written earlier still, no later than A.D. 59. For a more detailed case for the early date of Mark see Craig, (Ibid., 103-06).\
9 Reginald H. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Scribner’s, 1965), 142.\
10 Gary R. Habermas, “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus,” in In Defense of Miracles, 264.

11 C.H. Dodd, “The Appearances of the Risen Christ: A Study in the form criticism of the Gospels,” in More New Testament Studies (University of Manchester Press, 1968), 128.

12 Craig, The Son Rises, 112-113.\
13 Gerald O’Collins, Jesus Risen (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 110-11.\
14 Craig, The Son Rises, 129.\
15 Craig, Reasonable Faith, 292.\
16 Davis, Risen Indeed, 184.\
17 For example, see the clear and plausible harmonization offered by John Wehham, Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict?, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).\
18 Davis, Risen Indeed, 69-70.\
19 Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford University Press, 2003), 151-159. Swinburne himself offers a plausible solution to some of the difficulties in the ressurection accounts, while arguing that none of the discrepancies that he thinks are unsolvable are significant enough to bring into question the basic story, and that his reconciliation “does not make any very implausible suppositions” (p. 159).

Taken from the Areopagus Journal July/August 2003 Volume  3 Number 4


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