“Certain truths known through means other than science must be in place before science can begin testing for other truths.” -quote from Greg Koukl, Christian apologist, radio talk show host, author, speaker, and the founder of the Christian apologetics organization “Stand To Reason”
Many disputes through the ages have arisen about Jesus Christ, especially surrounding his divine resurrection appearances. Even contemporary in house disputes among his own followers took place, notably with the “Doubting ‘Thomas” Disciple who said “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John ch.20: vs.25). I don’t expect hard skeptics to believe the gospel account of how that played out since it’s couched within context of that which many resign to “legend,” only to contend with the eventuality that faith is the most important step in concluding anything about the resurrection. We all presuppose at some point, exceeding pure verificationism with relative satisfaction of all available data, and as Dr.Gary Haberman was quoted: “Our rules need to be adjusted that we make for ourselves.”
Dr.Bart D. Ehrman, one of the most prominent skeptics (Ph.D from Princeton University) and a self-proclaimed “agnostic leaning towards atheism”, claims the New Testament book of Romans, 1st & 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Phillipians and 1st Thessalonians “are the authentic ‘Pauline espistles,’ no one is gonna’ give you problems if you use this material” according to Dr.Gary Habermas (Doctorates from MSU and Emmanuel College in Oxford, England, author and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University). Even though skeptics don’t accept everything the New Testament Apostle Paul wrote as true or inspired, they accept “he was in the right place, at the right time, we know who he was, he was a scholar who was changed by this message”(of Christ). To add to that, Dr. Habermas also elaborates that “Paul knew what was going on, and knew the other people who knew what was going on: ‘He knew the other eyewitnesses.”
Dr.Habermas on The John Ankerberg Show (jashow.org)
Now, what we said was something like this; If we can imagine about a 25-year time line: beginning with the cross – 30ish A.D., ending with the writing of 1 Corinthians – 55 to 57 AD, you’ve got about 25 years there. Paul said in 1 Corinthians ch.15: vs.1-2, “I gave you this gospel when I came.” That’s about 51 AD, we’ve cut it down to 20 years. And then he outlines it in 1 Corinthians ch.15:vs.3 and he said, “I delivered unto you that which I also received.” And the typical view is Paul ascertained this material in Jerusalem with Peter, with James, the brother of Jesus, from Galatians ch.1:vs.18, about 35 A.D. And, of course, if we’re only five years from the cross at Paul’s visit to Jerusalem, then somebody had it before he did.
The Apostle Paul gave a list of recorded appearances from three individuals and three groups: Paul, himself (on the road to Damascus 2, maybe 3 years A.D., authoritatively), “Peter”, Jesus‘ brother “James”, a group called “the twelve” (Jesus‘ disciples), a group of five-hundred “brothers”, and a group of Apostles.”
Galatians ch.2: vs.2-6: “I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery. To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)– well, those who were of reputation added nothing to me.”
The majority skeptic-accepted New Testament author & scholar Paul discussed and compared the information he had with Peter and James’ historecai who were contemporary with and involved in Jesus‘ earthly ministry & post-resurrection appearances, at the conclusion of which they did not feel the need to add a thing.
The Appearance To Saul Of Tarsus (Known in the New Testament as “The Apostle Paul” post-conversion)
The final appearance is just as amazing as the appearance to James: “last of all,” says Paul, “he appeared also to me.” The story of Jesus‘ appearance to Saul of Tarsus (or Paul) just outside Damascus is related in Acts ch.9: vs.1-9 and is later told again, twice.
That this event actually occurred is established beyond doubt by Paul’s references to it in his own letters. It changed Paul’s whole life. He was a Rabbi, a Pharisee, a respected Jewish leader. He hated the Christian heresy and did everything in his power to stamp it out. He was even responsible for the execution of Christian believers. Then suddenly he gave up everything. He left his position as a respected Jewish leader and became a Christian missionary. He entered a life of poverty, labor, and suffering. He was whipped, beaten, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked three times, in constant danger, deprivation, and anxiety. Finally, he made the ultimate sacrifice and was martyred for his faith in Rome. And it was all because on that day outside Damascus, he saw “Jesus our Lord” (1 Corinthians ch.9:vs.1). We can try to explain these appearances away as hallucinations if we wish, but we cannot deny they occurred. Paul’s information makes it certain that on separate occasions various individuals and groups saw Jesus alive from the dead. According to Norman Perrin, the late New Testiment critic of the University of Chicago: “The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based. This conclusion is virtually indisputable.”
Considering the contemporary climate of Jewish cultural dogma
1) The disciples could never have believed in the resurrection of Jesus. For a first century Jew the idea that a man might be raised from the dead while his body remained in the tomb was simply a contradiction in terms.
2) Even if the disciples had believed in the resurrection of Jesus, it is doubtful they would have generated any following. So long as the body was interred in the tomb, a Christian movement founded on belief in the resurrection of the dead man would have been an impossible folly.
3) The Jewish authorities would have exposed the whole affair. The quickest and surest answer to the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus would have been simply to point to his grave on the hillside. For these three reasons, the accuracy of the burial story supports the historicity of the empty tomb.
I know at this point the entombed part of the story is always being questioned, which has brought mental gymnast counter-arguments out to refute Dr.Craig’s plausible hypothesis. Many question Joseph of Arimathea’s motivations, along with all activity in the Markan account, but I think the overarching issue is of his divine appearances after being brutally executed, aside from how his corpse was handled. No matter how much historical investigating & speculation one can do, the sum total of probabilities, possibilities, opponents & proponents, assumptions, presumptions, presuppositions, existential questioning, motivational analyses, Jewish & Roman law review, eyewitness character studies and every other thing that can be brought forth it will come down to historical conjecture to make a supposed purely “scientific” conclusion. I believe the accusation made by atheistic examiners on this that christians are “intellectually lazy” is an old hat, strawman tactic designed to shove back believers far enough to be victimized by the intellectualism in question, being the real motivation, not science or history: not even to reach a religiously-neutral hypothesis. There was a television show called “Cheaters” where people were filmed by a team of investigators in the process of being unfaithful, then confronted and shown the evidence. Countless times, those who were caught watched the recordings with their arms folded and said “That’s not me, that’s NOT ME.” If somebody can be filmed, shown the film of themselves committing the act, and still boldly deny it while viewing it with the person who filmed it, how much easier it is to refute something that happened 2000 years ago without any technology to document anything, only written accounts passed down through the ages. The fact any current reductionist made it through the most basic history course is miraculous in itself. The “Hallucination Theory” of post-resurrection appearances having been rolled out is of ludicrous extravagance, folly and scientific implausibility as W.L. Craig explains: “The disciples had no anticipation of seeing Jesus alive again; all they could do was wait to be re-united with him in the Kingdom of God. There were no grounds leading them to hallucinate him alive from the dead. Moreover, the frequency and variety of circumstances belie the hallucination theory: Jesus was seen not once, but many times; not by one person, but by several; not only by individuals, but also by groups; not at one locale and circumstance but at many; not by believers only, but by skeptics and unbelievers as well. The hallucination theory cannot be plausibly stretched to accommodate such diversity. Thus, hallucinations would not have elicited belief in Jesus’ resurrection, an idea that ran solidly against the Jewish mode of thought. Nor can hallucinations account for the full scope of the evidence. They are offered as an explanation of the resurrection appearances, but leave the empty tomb unexplained, and therefore fail as a complete and satisfying answer.”
“It was common and undisputed knowledge in the second half of the first century that Jesus Christ had been crucified. If there were any question that he had died in this way, it would have been eagerly disputed wherever Christians preached. But it wasn’t. The fact of his death by crucifixion was not questioned.” – from “The Great Offense: Was Jesus Really Crucified?” by John Piper
Dr.Bart Ehrman (again, the best-known skeptic in America as Dr.Haberman appeals) claims we can trace all of this gathered material to one or two years after the cross, which is still not contemporary, but it was taken in-person from contemporary sources by a widely-accepted & respected scholar who was completely transformed by this message. This outdoes other academia-professed figures’ historicities, many of which, like Alexander the Great, who’s earliest accounts are 300 years postmortem, and the most notable were Arrian of Nicomedia & Plutarch of Chaeronea between 425 and 450 postmortem. Many people use stories of miracles included within New Testament writings as an excuse to toss it out, but as Dr.Habermas mentioned, Greco-Roman historical writings are filled with miracles.
Non-Contemporary Extra-Biblical (non-hostile & hostile) authors who mentioned Jesus from “Is There Any Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible?” by J. Warner Wallace.
(I know this particular list has been “parroted” alot, but I believe in its’ validity, just as if these authors were presented in a lecture at any college pertaining to his existence that overwhelms the blanket claim he is altogether “make-believe,” even considering some of these authors’ works are disputed. Dr.Bart D. Ehrman has even been heard rebuking his own crowd for sounding dumb for trying to deny Jesus existed.- Details of these writings’ content are at “Cold-Case Christianity.com” in J.Warner Wallace’s 2014 article under the title mentioned above)
“Thallus” (52 A.D.), who previously tried to explain away the darkness occurring at Jesus’ crucifixion
“Tacitus” (56-120A.D.), a senator under Emperor Vespasian and was also proconsul of Asia alludes to a fact which no one disputed: Christ had been crucified under Pontius Pilate.
A Syrian philosopher named “Mara Bar-Serapion” (70 A.D.) encouraging his son, compared the life and persecution of Jesus with that of others who suffered persecution for their beliefs.
“Phlegon” who wrote a chronicle of history around 140 A.D. in the time of Tiberius Caesar
“Pliny the Younger” (61-113 AD) in a letter to the Roman emperor Trajan
“Suetonius” (69-140 A.D.) a Roman historian and annalist of the Imperial House under the Emperor Hadrian in a letter about Christians describes their treatment under the Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.)
“Lucian” of Samosata: (115-200 A.D.) who verified Christ & his followers sarcastically
“Celsus” (175 A.D.) who also unknowingly affirmed and reinforced the Biblical authors and their content
Josephus (37-101 A.D.) in more detail than any other non-biblical historian, writes about Jesus in his “the Antiquities of the Jews” in 93 A.D.
“The Toledot Yeshu” (1000 A.D.) a medieval Jewish anti-Christian retelling of Jesus‘ life in a hostile effort to explain away the miracles of Jesus and to deny the virgin birth, affirms him.
“It is also important to recognize that in A.D. 70, the Romans invaded and destroyed Jerusalem and most of Israel, slaughtering its inhabitants. Entire cities were literally burned to the ground. We should not be surprised, then, if much evidence of Jesus’ existence was destroyed. Many of the eyewitnesses of Jesus would have been killed. These facts likely limited the amount of surviving eyewitness testimony of Jesus.” –“Got Questions.org”
In “The Resurrection Argument That Changed a Generation of Scholars,” Dr.Gary Haberman claims to possess test data in a study revealing 70-85% of modern atheists reject God for emotional reasons, not scientific, which would illuminate plausibility that within the first century A.D., talk of divine resurrection would have sparked a similar share of challenges through unquenchable emotional denials but in-fact the crucifixion & empty tomb events of Jesus were not found to be challenged remotely near the rabid intensity of present time, and virtually non-existent until much time had passed. In the skeptics’ defense, I can only offer that they didn’t have the technology & speed of information travel as we have now, but then again, that could have also worked against the skeptics providing more methods of verification than word of mouth and writings. I imagine all the fun of doubting would be gone with absolute proof, even in the face of “it was photoshopped” accusations. It’s my strong opinion the distancing of time from the scene was the main corroding factor providing skepticism what it needed to build a counter-argument through the ages and into this trending, post-christian society. We’ve all heard someone who committed an offense in the distant past say “Oh, that was a long time ago”; Time is used to diminish penalty, time is used to erode claims as well, but the statute of limitations obviously does not apply to the case of the empty tomb which makes the offenses charged at that time pale in comparison to the controversy unraveling, since. This event was divine providence or they would’ve expected things to become worse for them by doing what they did.
“No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” John ch.10 vs.18 †