As I mentioned in a previous post, a few years ago I went through an intense period of questioning my faith and the truth of Christianity. I eventually concluded, for a few reasons, that Christianity wasn’t true.
One of the main reasons I abandoned my beliefs was that I could no longer believe that the resurrection of Jesus happened. Afterall, dead men don’t rise.
It got to the point where I could no longer rely on my “inner sense” of Jesus or internal experiences and feelings that I had. When it came to the resurrection, I needed cold hard facts. And I didn’t have any.
I was, however, exposed to many people who had many arguments against the resurrection. And in the absence of arguments and evidence for this outlandishly strange event (outside of emotion and experiences), I walked away. But things obviously didn’t end here for me.
Christianity has always been a religion that claims to be founded on a real historical person and real historical events. Public events, none the less!
If this is the case, what can we actually know about the resurrection?
Before we can even highlight the facts regarding the historical event of the resurrection, it’s important to define what a fact is. In his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Michael Licona defines a historical fact as “something that happened and that historians attempt to ‘discover’ through verification procedures.”
Licona presents 3 facts that he refers to as “historical bedrock.” They’re called historical bedrock because these facts are (1) strongly evidenced and (2) they are regarded as historical facts nearly unanimously by contemporary scholars. If a fact does not fulfill these criteria, it’s not considered bedrock. If we are going to determine what exactly happened to Jesus, the 3 bedrock facts must be accounted for in any explanation that’s given.
Give Me the Facts
So, what are the 3 facts that make up the historical bedrock pertaining to the fate of Jesus?
1. Jesus death by crucifixion.
The historical evidence is very strong that Jesus died by crucifixion. There are at least four reasons for believing this:
- The event is multiply attested (confirmed) by several ancient sources. Some of these sources are non-Christian, and not biased toward a Christian interpretation of the events.
- Some of the reports are very early and can be traced back to the Jerusalem apostles (Peter and James the brother of Jesus).
- The Passion Narratives (the parts of the Gospels where we find the account of the crucifixion) appear credible. The narratives fulfill the criterion of embarrassment (one of the signs of historical authenticity) and contain numerous plausible details.
- The probability of surviving crucifixion was very low. This is especially true given the torture that was often experienced before the actual crucifixion.
2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.
It is nearly unanimously agreed that after Jesus’ execution, several of his followers had experiences, in individual and group settings, that convinced them Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to them in some manner.
3. Within a few years after Jesus’ death, Paul converted after experiencing what he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.
The majority of modern scholars grant that Paul had an experience he was convinced was an appearance to him of the risen Jesus.
Paul then converted from a staunch persecutor of the church to one of its most aggressive advocates.
I understand why people think it’s crazy to believe that this Carpenter from Nazareth rose from the dead over 2000 years ago.
Dead. Men. Don’t. Rise. Not like this.
I was once told that I was delusional for believing in a “levitating telepathic zombie carpenter guy.” But if you’re going to believe something other than “Jesus rose from the dead,” you’re going to have to at very least account for the historical bedrock mentioned above in a much better way than “Jesus rose from the dead” does.
Yes, this is outlandishly strange. The thought of this man rising from the dead should make us feel something in the pit of our stomachs. And for good reason.
After all, what if it’s true?