The death and resurrection of Jesus is critical to the Christian faith. It’s not hard to believe Jesus died, after all, death is the intended result of crucifixion. But it is harder to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. People don’t usually come back to life. But does this mean it didn’t occur? People have come up with theories to explain away the resurrection of Jesus. The disciples stole Jesus body. Others stole the body. Jesus didn’t really die, just fainted. Accounts of seeing Jesus alive were mass hallucinations. Jesus had a lookalike. How can you be sure the resurrection of Jesus was an historical event? I asked some of Christianity’s leading thinkers why they were certain. Here’s what they said.
What gives you the most confidence in the resurrection of Jesus?
“Though my personal experience (incredible answers to prayer and so on) often come into play, I’d have to say that it is the incredible amount of evidence that is available at the very highest levels of research. When even a group of Minimal Facts, highly evidenced individually and hence accepted as historical by virtually all scholars, is enough to show the resurrection occurred, it is a very difficult argument to dismiss, as seen in the decreased attempts to employ another, natural explanation.”
Gary Habermas is an author and speaker, and writes on-line at garyhabermas.com. He is the Distinguished Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Liberty University, and has authored, co-authored, or edited 40 books including work on the resurrection. His course, The Resurrection of Jesus, is free for a limited time at credocourses.com.
“What gives me most confidence that Jesus’ resurrection actually occurred is how the resurrection hypothesis is able to address the full scope of relevant historical facts in a manner that is far superior to the ability of any competing hypothesis to do the same. Stated differently, when I set aside faith and examine the data using strictly controlled historical method, the hypothesis that Jesus was raised stands head and shoulders above the rest. And that’s quite remarkable!”
Michael Licona is passionate about helping others engage with the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. He has authored, co-authored, or edited 7 books, and is an associate professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University Mike’s on-line ministry is at risenjesus.com.
“There are two things that actually give me the most confidence in the resurrection. First, the changed lives of people who have been transformed through the power of the resurrection, such as my father. Second, the historical evidence is quite compelling. There is strong evidence that Jesus lived, died, was buried, and then appeared to people after three days. Skeptics have tried to dispel this evidence since the beginning of the church, but from my perspective, the evidence is only getting stronger.”
Sean McDowell aspires to help young people understand the Christian faith. He has authored, co-authored, or edited over 18 books and serves as an associate professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University. His blog is at seanmcdowell.org.
“For me, the most compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the testimony of the disciples, since “…men will not suffer martyrdom for myths they make up themselves.” Here is the way I put it in “Four Facts” in The Story of Reality:
What would transform a group of shivering, shaking, terrified men who had abandoned Jesus—one even denying he knew Him—scattered, hiding from the authorities, doors locked, lights out? What could account for their transformation into bold advocates for the resurrection, standing up to authorities who threatened to scourge, imprison, and execute them for declaring a risen Christ?
What would change Saul of Tarsus, a man so dedicated to his religion he rounded up men and women to be bullied, beaten, and killed for following Jesus? What would cause such a man to turn on a dime and take his place with those he oppressed, eventually sacrificing his own life for the very Gospel he previously despised? What best explains that?
Only one answer will do. It is the answer given by the one who had earlier renounced Christ with an oath. In Peter’s words, “This Jesus, God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32).
Greg Koukl is the founder and president of Stand to Reason. He is passionate to equip younger generations to explain and defend their faith. Greg has written 15 books and is an adjunct professor at Biola University.
“The explosive growth of Christianity in the first 100 years gives me a ton of confidence in the resurrection. The Romans would never embrace a Savior who claims to be a man. The Jews would never embrace a Savior who claims to be God. Yet so many Romans and Jews bow their knees to Jesus as Savior. The only answer for this is the reality of the resurrection.”
Tim Kimberley serves as a Pastor and Community Director at Frontline Church Edmond Congregation in Oklahoma. Tim is passionate about making the truth of God accessible to all people through Plough Boy Resources. While serving as the Executive Director at Credo House Ministries, Tim was a co-host of the long running podcast Theology Unplugged and also has an interest in church history.
“I have an inner confidence in the hope of the future resurrection and transformed creation accompanied by joy in experiencing the reality of Christ in the present, but this is rooted in the past (historical) reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, without which any inner experience would be unwarranted. Paul makes clear this connection between historical fact and confident hope in 1 Corinthians 15. A strong historical confidence is warranted given the fundamental facts recognized by a wide range of historical scholars, including critics of the Christian faith. These facts, taken together, are best interpreted by the thesis that God raised Jesus’ body from the grave. These historical facts include the following: Jesus’ death under Pontius and burial in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, the acceptance of an empty tomb by friend and foe alike, the conviction of Jesus’ followers—as well as unbelievers—that they had been appeared to by Jesus in a variety of circumstances, and the early church’s dramatic and sudden beginning through its very early proclamation that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Further well-founded facts to consider are the conversions of the former persecutor Paul and James, the sincerity and honesty of Jesus’ followers, the surprising feature that Jesus’ women followers were the first witnesses to the resurrection, and the disciples’ deaths for propounding news that they were eyewitnesses to these post-resurrection events (which further suggests authenticity rather than fabrication).”
Paul Copan is an apologist who seeks to present the Christian faith as historically true rather than an inherited belief system. He has authored, or co-authored, 15 books, and currently serves as a professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University.