Sunday, April 4, 2010

In Honor of Easter, Why the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is Historically True

Needless to say, there have been many books written by devoted scholars to the subject of the Resurrection and the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus of which go into far greater detail and length than I am able to do here. This is just a summary of the most important facts.

1. For being a fairly obscure figure with little significance among the Romans, Jesus Christ was remarkably well documented compared to other figures of antiquity. There are numerous sources attesting to his existence including Jewish and Roman historians in addition to the New Testament. Most of the extra-biblical sources seem to confirm the New Testament description of Jesus.

2. When the early church collected the various documents that became the NT, they followed proper historiography methods and chose the documents that were the earliest and closest to Christ and rejected those that were written later and obviously forgeries and fakes such as the gnostic/apocryphal gospels.

3. We have found sources in the gospels that date back to within just a few decades from when Christ was alive, including a creed that was used by the very earliest Christians. Compared to other ancient texts, the manuscripts we have are dated far closer to their originals which means they are more reliable. Most other ancient documents and literature manuscripts are hundreds or thousands of years later than their originals. As calculated by historians and scholars, the time it takes for a legendary account to accumulate and wipe out the core of historical fact requires more than two generations or more than a couple hundred years. The earliest records of Alexander the Great written by Plutarch, for example, are dated to 400 years after Alexander and yet historians consider them to be reliable. The New Testament is the best attested ancient text in history both in terms of the number of texts produced, and the nearness of the text to the originals. The New Testament as we have it today is over 99 percent accurate to the originals.

4. There was not sufficient time for legendary accounts to develop and expunge the facts. Legends develop over hundreds of years and only survive and propagate when the original eye witnesses of the event have died. The Gospels were written during the time when Jesus' followers and contemporaries were still alive and would have recognized any embellishments or outright lies. The Gospels all contain the same essential details on the burial account of Christ, drawing upon the earliest Gospel of Mark which contains source material which goes back to the AD 30s. The canonized Gospel accounts also do not bear the signs of legendary embellishments that the later gnostic and apocryphal gospels contain.

5. Jewish culture had a very refined and meticulous oral tradition where people learned to faithfully memorize tradition since childhood. The ability to memorize sacred tradition and large passages of scripture was a highly valued and developed skill. The Jews were very scrutinizing and exact about transcription, whether orally or in writing.

6. The gospel writers deliberately state that what they wrote is true. Luke especially comments that he carefully investigated the events for which he writes about and that they are based on eye-witness testimony. That is not opening for a work of metaphor or an allegorical tale or a legend. In fact, the opening of Luke was written in classical Greek, the learned language of historians. Luke did this to demonstrate to Theophilus his academic competency. Moreover, if the gospels are not literal, factual accounts, it would mean that Luke is lying and deliberately trying to deceive people if the events he describes never happened. That is nonsensical. What would Luke have to gain by lying? Death from the Romans? Ridicule and ostracizing by the Jews? Luke ,who also wrote the book of Acts, has proven to be repeatedly accurate in all his historical details when examined by historians and scholars. Luke's credibility and careful documentation has been repeatedly ascertained by historians and thus there is no reason to believe that Luke was lying or mistaken. "Luke is a historian of the first rank. This author should be placed among the very greatest of historians."- Sir William Ramsey, archeologist.

7. The disciples were martyred and the earliest Christians in Rome suffered from severe persecution by the Romans. These Christians would have known whether or not Christ rose from the dead because they lived during the time of Christ's life. The idea that the disciples and early Christians would have suffered and died for what they knew to be a lie defies all logic and understanding of basic human psychology. No one willingly makes such personal sacrifice for what they know to be a falsehood. Moreover, the very origin of the early Christian's beliefs would most likely never have arisen in classical pagan Roman and Jewish society due to profound hostility if they were not based on fact. The very idea of God raising Jesus from the dead confounded all traditional Jewish theology and thus Jewish influence is ruled out as an explanation for the disciples beliefs. Pagan influence is also highly unlikely as explained in point 9. The disciples and the early Christians had a belief which nothing in terms of antecedent historical influences can account for. If Christianity was founded on a myth, Christianity would never have survived its birth in classical Rome. In fact, it would never have been born at all.

8. The majority New Testament scholars, even liberal, skeptical, and non-Christian scholars agree that 4 details surrounding the resurrection of Christ are historically accurate: (1) that Jesus was honorably interred in a wealthy man's tomb and thus accessible to both Christians and Jews of the time, (2) that the tomb was found empty, (3) that the disciples, many other followers of Jesus, and even non-believers claim to have had the experience of seeing the resurrected Christ (a total of 500 people), and (4) the fact that the disciples sincerely believed that Jesus was the risen Lord when they had every predisposition not to as first century Jews (also ties into point 7 above).

9. Atheists and skeptics are forced to adopt ridiculous and desperate theories to try and rebut these facts such as:

-Conspiracy theory: such as Christ having a twin brother or the disciples stole the body of Christ and staged the whole event.

-Hallucination theory: that all the supposed witness of the resurrected Christ suffered from mass hallucinations, including the non-Christian witnesses. This theory is highly improbable because of the diversity of people, location, and circumstance regarding the witnesses, the disciples, as mostly Jewish men, would never have hallucinated images of Christ individually resurrected bodily and physically because there was no such concept in Jewish theology (Jewish theology held that resurrection did not happen until the end of the world and it was ubiquitous of all humanity at once), and the hallucination hypothesis does not explain the empty tomb.

-Attempting to attribute the beliefs of Christianity to the influence and plagiarism of pagan religions that happened to have similar motifs paralleling the core tenets of Christianity. However, these pagan parallels were only superficially similar to the Christian concept of Christ's resurrection and there simply is no causal link or historical trace of any pagan religion influencing the formation of early Christianity. The very idea of pagan influence was repugnant to early Christians. This is no less true with the most popular candidate of skeptics, the esoteric Roman cult of Mithras. In addition to all the other difficulties, Mithraism is an unlikely candidate for influencing the birth of Christianity because it was a cult almost totally exclusive to the Roman military which most certainly had little influence on the thinking of early Christians. There is no evidence that the disciples even had any meaningful contact with this pagan cult. These claims of pagan influence are almost entirely spurious.

-The Christ myth theory, simply dismissing the Gospel accounts and all other historical accounts as complete rubbish and declaring the Jesus Christ was never even a real figure at all. This is a view seriously entertained by only the most fringe and radical atheist scholars and diverges far from mainstream academia and scholarship regarding the historicity of Christ.

10. The gospels themselves show the signs of historicity that scholars use to analyze any literary text. One in particular is the test of embarrassment. One of the surest signs of a historically reliable document is one that does not hide the gruesome and embarrassing details related to the author or the author's beliefs. For example, many of the Biblical authors describe their own failures and flaws whereas a fictional account or a propaganda would attempt to make the proponents of the cause look as good as possible. Another example is the fact that the gospels describe women discovering the tomb being empty and seeing Jesus first. Women were not even considered reliable witnesses in Jewish society and court and so they would not have been an intelligent choice if you were trying to convince people of a lie. It would also be an embarrassment to Jewish men to admit that women made such a discovery. If the Gospels were propaganda, the authors would most certainly have made the male disciples discover the empty tomb. The empty tomb was also implicitly attested to by the Jewish polemics who were enemies to the early Christian movement who tried to explain it away by accusing the disciples of stealing the body.

11. Contrary to what critics believe, the discrepancies in the synoptic Gospels are a testament to their authenticity and reliability, not their forgery. Differing details are expected in eye witness accounts told by different individuals with different perspectives on the same event whereas if the Gospels were all fabricated as part of a collaborative conspiracy, all the details would be exactly the same.

12. If the resurrection of Christ never happened, a man like the apostle Paul, an ardent persecutor and hater of Christians, would never have converted to Christianity. Paul's radical conversion defies any logical explanation other than the fact that he saw the resurrected Christ and was transformed by his experience.

13. The explanation of Christianity, namely that Christ rose from the tomb is the best explanation for the historical facts surrounding the resurrection because it has the best explanatory scope and power compared to other explanations which only potentially explain some of the facts. The best explanation is the one that is both the most logical and parsimonious, coherently and adequately assimilating all the facts harmoniously. No other explanation succeeds at doing this but the one the disciples gave; namely, that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The resurrection of Christ is not only important in terms of its theological and philosophical implications for humanity and reality itself, but it is the very foundation on which Christianity stands or falls. If Christ never rose from the dead, then Christianity is a fraud. One need not even argue about the existence of God. If the resurrection was a true event, God's existence is necessarily evident. If it was a lie, then the prospects and hope of a loving, theistic God are grim and unlikely as is any higher meaning, value and purpose to life.

"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." 1 Corinthians 15:13-19

"After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, and thoroughly investigating its foundation, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history." - Josh McDowell

Fortunately, the "myth" became and is reality. "The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. They contain many marvels--peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: 'mythical' in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the "inner consistency of reality.' There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath....But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified." - J.R.R. Tolkien

Happy Easter, He is Risen