Tag Archives: john dickson

Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Well, if he didn’t then the Christian faith is seriously the most elaborate hoax of all time.

I recently told my students, “If I thought there wasn’t enough historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I wouldn’t be a Christian.”

Think about that for a minute. Let that simmer in your saucepan a bit.

The apostle Paul said that if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead then our faith is “useless” and all of the apostles are just a bunch of dirty liars—to be pitied more than anyone else in the world (1 Cor 15:12-20).

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, Paul quotes an early Christian creed:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”  1 Cor 15:3-8 NIV

Last year I wrote a meaty 3-part post, for Christians and skeptics alike, on Why I Believe in the ResurrectionI discussed three categories of reasons that have convinced me of the historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I encourage you to read that post if you missed it last Easter.

In the following video, historian John Dickson shares a brief challenge for us to consider the historical evidence for the resurrection.

John Dickson (PhD) is the co-director of Centre for Public Christianity, an independent research and media organization promoting the public understanding of the Christian faith. With a degree in theology (Moore Theological College, Sydney) and a doctorate in ancient history (Macquarie University, Sydney), he is a senior research fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University, where he teaches courses on Christian origins and the world religions. Check out his Life of Jesus DVD.

Have you given serious thought to the historical evidence surrounding the resurrection claims? It has become increasingly important in our post-Christian culture to offer up an intellectual defense for the hope that we have in the resurrection of Jesus. Are you prepared to answer the skeptics?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part II

The majority of scholars agree on some basic events in the life of Jesus. E.P. Sanders has written, “There are no substantial doubts about the general course of Jesus’ life: when and where he lived, approximately when and where he died, and the sort of thing that he did during his public activity …” (Sanders, 11). You simply will not find any real expert denying these things.

Even the liberal Jesus Seminar scholar, John Dominic Crossan, admits that the crucifixion of Jesus is historical “as sure as anything historical can be” (Crossan, 145). It’s one of the major points of agreement between liberal and conservative Jesus scholars. For any person to deny the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, they must be ignorant of history or purposely distorting the facts. Ancient historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Jewish Talmud, mention that Jesus was crucified.

[This is an embarrassing historical blunder on behalf of the Quran, which denies that Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross (Surah 4:157-158). That’s not some insignificant textual variant or slight discrepancy in the Islamic text, that’s what you call a historical contradiction—plain and simple.]

So, let’s get the facts straight. Jesus really lived, he was crucified, he died, and he was buried. And Joseph of Arimathea let Jesus use the family tomb for the weekend (Mk 15:42-47; Matt 27:57-61; Lk 23:50-54).

II. Empty Tomb, Resurrection Appearances, & Growth of the Early Church

The empty tomb is recorded and admitted by Christians, enemies of Jesus, and skeptics alike—in ancient and modern times. All four canonical Gospels mention the empty tomb. Paul affirms the empty tomb with the early creed in 1 Cor 15:3-4, and so does Luke in Acts 13:29.

While you can find scholars today that refuse to acknowledge an empty tomb (e.g. Crossan believes that Jesus’ body was discarded with criminals and eaten by dogs), most scholars recognize the empty tomb as a historical fact. The empty tomb makes the most historical sense. If the body wasn’t missing, the early Christian message could have been easily stamped out with, “Resurrected? We have his body right here!”

The big question is ‘why was it empty?’

The Jewish polemic against the Christian message was that the disciples had stolen the body (Matt 28:11-15; Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, 108; Tertullian’s On Spectacles, 30). Matthew writes, “And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (28:15). If you have a “stolen” body, then you have an empty tomb.

The swoon theory was first proposed in the eighteenth century. This theory claims that Jesus was not really dead after all, but merely slipped into a coma, later to be revived in the cold conditions of the dark tomb.

Let there be no mistake. The Romans knew how to kill condemned criminals. While there may have been an occasion where someone escaped the cross (e.g. when Romans fled the scene of battle), the historical evidence in the case of Jesus does not allow for a great escape. The medical evidence recorded in the Gospels indicates a certain death (Jn 19:34).

“. . . interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” The Journal of the American Medical Association “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” Vol. 255 (March 21, 1986), 1463.

David Strauss, a nineteenth century liberal scholar, was unconvinced of the swoon theory, saying that a half-dead Jesus would not have convinced his disciples of a glorified resurrection. Strauss points out that you can’t talk about the empty tomb without considering the transformation that took place with the disciples who had previously abandoned Jesus. How can we explain what they claimed they saw, and empowered them to speak the message of the risen Jesus?

According to a small few, the disciples actually had some sort of mass LSD trip, a group hallucination. Yeah, that’s the theory some have proposed—they were trippin’ with the psychedelic Christ!

After you’re done laughing, please keep reading.

There are many reasons why this theory doesn’t add up. In short, the disciples claimed to have touched him, ate with him, yet he walked through walls! Also, there has never been one documented account of an entire group of people having the same hallucinations. And the disciples would need to be under a continual psychotic delusion to face martyrdom with non-resistance, declaring that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Other theories have been proposed: Jesus had a twin brother that dropped in after the crucifixion and appeared to the disciples; the women went to the wrong tomb; and the resurrection was only spiritual. But none of these theories can account for all of the historical evidence, what the disciples believed were resurrection appearances, the teaching of the apostles, and the growth of the early church in the face of intense persecution.

“I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.” Paula Fredriksen (Boston University) Peter Jennings interview, July 2000.

Even the late atheist, Christopher Hitchens admits that “something was going on” that Sunday morning. But what was going on? Whatever it was, it was enough to change the mind of James, the brother of Jesus, and Saul of Tarsus, a zealous Pharisee and persecutor of the church.

James becomes the leader of the Jerusalem church, and he is later martyred for his belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Seriously! Who is going to believe that their brother is the Son of God? James didn’t—not until some life-altering event. What could have happened to prompt the brother of Jesus to become one of the church’s greatest leaders? I think that an encounter with the risen Jesus is the most likely of all possible scenarios.

We’re told that Saul of Tarsus had a first-hand encounter with the resurrected Christ, while on his way to persecute the church in Damascus, Syria (Acts 9). Something happened to this Saul, student of the great Jewish teacher, Gamiliel (Acts 22:3). He said his transformation from persecutor to apostle was a result of being confronted by the resurrected and glorified Christ. What could change this zealous teacher of the Law? I can think of one thing, and one thing only. The apostle Paul had met the risen Jesus.

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus… ” Acts 4:33

The message of the resurrection of Jesus began circulating very early on in the Christian movement. And the growth of the early church steadily rose during local and empire-wide persecutions. By the early fourth century, there are estimates of about 3-5 million Christians in the Roman Empire. Was this a result of a stolen body or of a mass hallucination?

On multiple occasions, I have read and heard renowned scholar N.T. Wright make the claim that he knows nothing else that could explain the initial birth and rapid expansion of the early church, but that Jesus was really raised from the dead. I’m in agreement with Wright. The growth of the early church occurred because the church was on a mission for the resurrected Jesus. She advanced in humble service and sacrificial love, not by coercive force or religious violence.

What is most convincing to me at this point in my examination of the Gospels is the way the story of the resurrection is told. Fitting with the principle of embarrassment, the Gospel writers report that it was women who first found the empty tomb and met the risen Jesus (Matt 281-10; Mk 16:1-11; Lk 24:1-11). This is rather peculiar since women were not even considered reliable witnesses in a first century law court (Josephus, Ant. 4.219).

It’s no surprise that the disciples did not believe the report of distraught women (Lk 24:11). They would need to see Jesus for themselves.

Why would they tell it like that unless it really happened that way? If you’re making up a story about a resurrected Messiah, especially when the whole idea was foreign to Judaism in the first place, the last thing you do is have women as the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and resurrection. But there is no attempt made to gloss over this embarrassing episode.

I believe this account is historically accurate. I believe this adds to the credibility of the story. It’s heavy evidence in the case for the resurrection.

For this reason, and many reasons that I will not mention here, the historical narrative reads as an authentic retelling of the events. The tomb was indeed empty. I believe the physical resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the empty tomb, the experiences of the disciples, and the rapid growth of the early church against all odds.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Now Read: Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part III.                 Limitations of Science & Boundaries of Human Reason                                   Conclusion—Believing in the Face of Objections & Seasons of Doubt

Life of Jesus DVD

Life of Jesus: Who He is and Why He Matters
Six-Session DVDDiscussion Guide Included
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) by John Dickson

It is with the Life of Jesus documentary that I am reminded of how the Gospels in the New Testament are entirely set apart from all other works of antiquity.

In this wonderful six-session journey filmed on location in Israel, John Dickson explores the world of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Dickson’s presentation is powerful proof that there simply are no rivals to biblical scholarship. The case for Jesus has never been stronger than it is today.

Unlike other sacred writings making truth claims, the Gospels are not merely a collection of proverbial adages. Instead, they are biographical portraits of Jesus rooted in human history. And the historical background that Dickson sets forth brings the Gospel narratives to life.

Life of Jesus explores what is known about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the context of first-century Palestine.

Dickson even addresses personal issues and philosophical objections along the way with fellow scholar, Greg Clarke. There are 25 extra conversations that deal with those objections and help to clarify the message of Jesus.

Session titles include the following:

  • God’s Signpost
  • Christos
  • Kingdom Come
  • Judge & Friend
  • Cross Examination
  • The Resurrection

Dickson’s Life of Jesus is a refreshing look at the historical Jesus in 150 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised by the intellectual and spiritual balance of this documentary. This production will be helpful for skeptics, and challenging to the fundamentalist and the liberal alike.

“I strongly recommend this study to anyone who wants to re-examine the deep historical roots of Christian faith and to find them as life-giving as they ever were.” N.T. Wright, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

John Dickson (PhD) is the co-director of Centre for Public Christianity, an independent research and media organization promoting the public understanding of the Christian faith. With a degree in theology (Moore Theological College, Sydney) and a doctorate in ancient history (Macquarie University, Sydney), he is a senior research fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University, where he teaches courses on Christian origins and the world religions.

“Without a doubt, the best case for Christianity is the life of Jesus.”

Also recommended:

D.D. Flowers, 2011.

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