Did Easter happen?
Chocolate bunnies aside (at least temporarily), ‘tis is the season to think about Easter.
Easter is (or used to be) the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The traditional Christian “gospel” or good news is that God (God the Son) came to Earth in the man Jesus; He took our punishment for sin onto Himself by suffering and dying on a cross; then God (God the Father) raised Jesus from the grave (tomb).
The question naturally arises: Did Jesus actually resurrect?
In the little book Finding the Real Jesus: A Guide for Curious Christians and Skeptical Seekers (Zondervan 2008), former atheist Lee Strobel argues that it is reasonable to believe that Jesus really did resurrect.
Strobel first dismantles some popular claims that purport to cast doubt on the Jesus described by the New Testament (e.g., claims from the Qur’an that Jesus wasn’t killed, claims from the contemporary scholar Bart Ehrman that the New Testament can’t be trusted, claims from some other scholars and fiction writers that the so-called Gnostic gospels are more reliable than the New Testament).
Having ably swept away the skeptical confusion, Strobel then sets out a historical case for Jesus’ resurrection, a case that consists of (at least) five facts.
Fact 1: Jesus was killed by crucifixion.
Fact 2: Within days of Jesus’ death, Jesus’ disciples believed that He physically rose and appeared to them.
Fact 3: Paul, a former foe of the early church, claimed he saw the resurrected Jesus.
Fact 4: The skeptic James (Jesus’ half-brother) believed Jesus resurrected.
Fact 5: Jesus’ tomb was empty.
Strobel points out that the vast majority of New Testament scholars, whether believers in Jesus’ resurrection or not, concede the historicity of these facts.
Also, Strobel defends each of the above historical facts, emphasizing that the witnesses not only suffered immensely for the alleged truth of their belief but also knew, because they claimed to be eye witnesses, whether their belief was true or not.
Strobel’s conclusion: the best explanation of the evidence is Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.
I think Strobel is right.
Because of what we know about dead bodies (e.g., irreversible cell death and decay), a resurrection, if it happened, would be best explained as supernaturally caused. In view of the general evidence suggesting God’s existence (as presented in previous Apologia columns), and in view of Jesus’ self-understanding as the God of the Bible, this means that Jesus’ actual resurrection shouldn’t be ruled out prior to historical investigation.
Also, the witnesses’ declarations concerning Jesus’ resurrection should be taken seriously. As New York Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed points out (in connection to a different case), “Declarations against interest are regarded as having a high degree of credibility because of the presumption that people do not make up lies in order to hurt themselves; they lie to help themselves.”
All of this counts in favour of taking the resurrection reports handed down to us via the historical facts as truthful. The result: Jesus’ miraculous—i.e. God-caused—resurrection is strongly suggested by, plus makes good sense of, the historical evidence.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)