The Historicity of the Resurrection of Christ

“I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”  –  Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), Professor of History Oxford, Author of the three-volume History of Rome (Source: Christian Life, Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close, 6th ed., London: T. Fellowes, 1859, pp. 15-16. per Apologetics 315)

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Speaking of his doctoral studies under Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich, William Lane Craig writes, “I was astonished to discover as a result of my study that the main facts undergirding the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection are actually agreed upon by the majority of historical Jesus scholars today, not just conservative scholars but the broad mainstream of New Testament scholars, including a good number of Jewish scholars, who teach at secular universities and non-evangelical divinity schools. So I think faith in Jesus is historically quite well-founded.”  (Source: Response to a question on Reasonble Faith, Craig’s Blog; by this statement Craig, of course, is not saying that the majority of today’s scholars believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but that they agree about the main historical facts upon which belief in that resurrection is based.)

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The Historicity of Jesus

Whether or not a scholar of ancient times believes that Jesus was raised from the dead may be considered a spiritual, theological, or religious question.  But whether or not said scholar believes that Jesus was in fact a Jewish preacher who was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans under Pontius Pilate 25-35 AD is simply a historical question.  Practically speaking, modern scholars unanimously attest to these facts, as evidenced by the quotes that follow.

“Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed.”  –  Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford University Press, 1989) 145.

“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”  –  John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (HarperOne, 1995). p 145.

“Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it [theories of the nonexistence of Jesus] as effectively refuted.”  – Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000) p. 16

[The theories of non-existence of Jesus are] “a thoroughly dead thesis.”  –  James D. G. Dunn, “Paul’s Understanding of the Death of Jesus” in Sacrifice and Redemption, ed. S. W. Sykes (Cambridge University Press: 2007) 35-36.

“Combining the evidence of Thallus, Pliny, Tacitus, and Suetonius one can accumulate enough data to refute the fanciful notion that Jesus never existed without even appealing to the testimony of Jewish or Christian sources.”  Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove: IVP, 1987)  p 197.

“Despite [an] enormous range of opinion [on Jesus], there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree.  Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.  […T]his is the view of nearly every trained scholar on the planet…”  –  Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (p. 12). HarperOne, 2012) 

“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”  —H.G. Wells (Source: Apologetics315.com)

The source for the first five quotes above is How to Answer a Jesus Critic (p. 7-9) by Scott M. Sullivan, PhD.  In these same pages, Sullivan himself says:

“When we use the same historical standards as we do in other areas of ancient history, the historical evidence that Jesus existed is overwhelming.”

“[T]he evidence for Jesus is far greater than nearly all other figures from ancient history.”

“Virtually every professional historian regards the existence of Jesus as historically certain.”

“The Christian has every good reason to comfortably rest within the academic mainstream that Jesus really existed.  Those who deny this intellectually marginalize themselves to the crackpot realm.”

See also the Wikipedia article “Historicity of Jesus,” from which the following two quotes are taken:

“There is near unanimity among scholars that Jesus existed historically…”

“Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.”

“There is no evidence today that the existence of Jesus was ever denied in antiquity by those who opposed Christianity.”

Abundant substantiation for these statements, and other like them, can be found in the article.  While some scholars can vary wildly from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, there is near-universal agreement among all scholars to 1) Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, and 2) his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.  (Perhaps needless to add, John the Baptist, Paul, James are likewise acknowledged as actual historical persons.)

To say that Jesus did not exist puts you in a category with the sort of people who say that the 1969 moon landing was faked or that the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attack.

All that said, merely believing that Jesus lived and died is not what He’s looking for from us.  Rather, it’s believing that He was raised from the dead and that He lives and reigns forevermore that He wants to see.  But if you let someone talk you into the absurd notion that Jesus never existed, you’ll spend your life as a conspiracy theorist and never even give yourself a chance to believe in His resurrection.

Even Bart Ehrman Believes That Jesus Lived and Died

Like John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman is a biblical scholar who denies that Jesus was raised from the dead.  But also like Crossan, Ehrman, along with practically all other modern scholars, is convinced of certain historical facts about Jesus.  When he says “virtually all scholars of antiquity” in the quote below, Ehrman indeed means “all” – he is not just talking about Christian scholars.

“Despite [an] enormous range of opinion [on Jesus], there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree.  Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.  […T]his is the view of nearly every trained scholar on the planet…”

Source:  Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (p. 12). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.  (373 pages total)

Even John Dominic Crossan is certain that Jesus was crucified.

 “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”

Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145.

Source: Wikipedia article on the Crucifixion of Jesus

Conclusions About Historical Accuracy of the Bible by Glenn Smith

This post is mainly about the historical reliability of Luke-Acts.

Excerpts:

– The best evidence shows that Luke and Acts were composed by 60 A.D.

– Luke and Acts are so well attested historically and archaeologically that they have more support than any other book in ancient history.

– There is no reasonable way that Luke/Acts could have been written by anyone other than someone living in the region in the first century.

(4 min read; 1,021 words)

Conclusions About Historical Accuracy of the Bible | Thomistic Bent
(
HT: Greg West at The Poached Egg from Ratio Christi)

The Bible Is Not One Book | J.W. Wartick

When one part of the Bible confirms another part, it is not one book confirming itself – which would be circular reasoning.  Rather, it is one book confirming a different book.  This is because the Bible is a collection of books.

(3 min read; 798 words)

The Bible Is Not One Book | J.W. Wartick -“Always Have a Reason”.

(HT: Greg West of The Poached Egg at Ratio Christi)

What and When Were the Earliest Claims About Jesus? – J. Warner Wallace

Jim Wallace builds a timeline of events backwards from 70 A.D. to 33 A.D., relying on Acts, then Luke, then Mark, then 1 Corinthians 15 (per Gary Habermas).

What and When Were the Earliest Claims About Jesus? – YouTube.

How Heretics Help Establish the Historicity of Jesus | J. Warner Wallace

(3 min read; 822 words)

How Heretics Help Establish the Historicity of Jesus | Cold Case Christianity.

A Brief Sample of Archaeology Corroborating the Claims of the New Testament | J. Warner Wallace

(4 min read; 1,042 words)

A Brief Sample of Archaeology Corroborating the Claims of the New Testament | Cold Case Christianity.
(HT: Greg West of The Poached Egg from Ratio Christi)