Tag Archives: why I believe in the resurrection of jesus

Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part III

It seems to me that there are at least five established facts in the case for the resurrection. These “minimal facts” are the death of Jesus by Roman crucifixion, the empty tomb, the disciple’s resurrection claims, the conversions of James and Paul, and the rapid growth of the early church in the face of suffering and death.

This is compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus that every skeptic must confront with historical, logical, and consistent reasons of rebuttal if they wish to challenge mainstream biblical and historical scholarship or engage in an attack on the gospel of Jesus.

Furthermore, there are certain biases, presuppositions, and cultural conditioning that must be acknowledged on the outset of an investigation into the case for the resurrection. The skeptic, as well as the Christian, must be aware of this and seek openly and honestly with heart and mind.

III. Limitations of Science & Boundaries of Human Reason

The seventeenth and eighteenth century Enlightenment has conditioned much of the West to separate faith and reason. The church has often been guilty of refusing to take serious the discoveries of science. The sloppy practice of using the Scriptures to attack and defend scientific theories has furthered the idea that faith and reason are at odds with one another.

Of course, there is such a thing as bad science, something that many evolutionary biologists and skeptics of religion today refuse to acknowledge. But who will argue that it was right for the church to denounce Galileo’s heliocentrism—that the earth revolves around the sun?

Like many European intellectuals who grew tired of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, some modern skeptics abandon faith altogether, reject any spiritual dimensions to life and the cosmos, only to rely solely upon science as the only infallible guide to epistemology (what we can know and how can we know it). This is just as arrogant and foolhardy as the fundamentalist preacher who tries to read the first chapters of Genesis as a literal scientific account of creation. It’s wrong. We should recognize it’s wrong. And start being honest about faith and reason.

In his book, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, N.T. Wright describes spirituality as a “hidden spring” within our society. The ruling class has tried to pave over the spring of spirituality with concrete, regulate and dispense with it in ways that are best for them, and keep it from pouring out freely into the public square. Wright says, sooner or later, that spring is going to burst open!

I think we have been seeing that spring bursting open in American society. Despite the heightened sensitivity to religious fundamentalism, and the claims by the new atheists that God is a delusion—making most of the world’s population schizophrenic—people are not turning away from faith, they are merely beginning to question some of the old paradigms and practices of a church that is stuck in a bygone age—a church that has failed to give them Jesus.

Many people, young and old, are leaving the church to discover faith. While I don’t think abandoning the church is the answer, it may allow for some to discover the Lord’s idea for the ekklesia (i.e. called out community) of God in close-knit Christian relationships, enabling a spiritual revolution among the organized church of Christ within society.

Others who are seeking different forms of spirituality give evidence to the deep yearnings within us all. In fact, Tom Wright says they are “echoes of a voice” that serve as signposts to a future world where God sets the world to rights. These universal desires can be seen in our longing for justice in an unjust world, the continued need we have for relationships in a world broken with heartache and divorce, the dream of knowing a beauty that never fades, and the hunger for spirituality that fully expresses what it means to be human. Wright says the “echoes” are from the voice of God.

I don’t believe that science (i.e. a study of the physical world) can fully account for the way things really are in the universe. The naturalistic criteria laid down by a community that has set the rules according to human reason and observation limits our understanding of the world to what we can see, touch, quantify, and calculate. Life as we know it is too complex to fathom. There are simply too many mysteries in the known universe to let a few skeptics in the scientific community tell us that there is no God, and that the laws of nature are never suspended.

Naturalism may dictate that dead people stay dead. But if there is a God who created the world, and sent his Son to reveal his divine program, then how can we be so certain that this God wouldn’t raise Jesus from the dead in order to vindicate him and affirm divine revelation? I believe it is just the sort of thing God would do to reveal himself and redeem mankind for a new world—a world that he has not left to simply wind down, grow cold, and become stardust.

The thinking of philosopher David Hume has left an indelible mark on Western society. Hume rejected the idea of miracles, largely based on his naturalistic perspective that the laws of nature prohibit them from happening. Hume wrote:

“The Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.” (Concerning Human Understanding, 10.2.101.)

Did you catch that? Hume is saying that it is a miracle that anyone could ever be dumb enough to believe in the Christian faith!

Would the resurrection of Jesus be a violation of natural laws? Are miracles to be entirely ruled out because Hume concluded that they are contrary to nature and the whole of human experience? I don’t believe so. And I think further scientific investigation can get us there.

There are currently three main views of natural law: the regularity theory, the nomic necessity theory, and the causal dispositions theory. None of these theories actually allow for miracles to be understood as violations of the laws of nature. Instead, miracles are naturally impossible events that require an unknown or “supernatural” force to interrupt the natural world at a certain time and place. William Lane Craig writes:

“When a scientific anomaly occurs, it is usually assumed that some unknown natural factors are interfering, so that the law is neither violated nor revised. But suppose the law fails to describe or predict accurately because some supernatural factors are interfering? Clearly the implicit assumption of such laws is that no supernatural factors as well as no natural factors are interfering. Thus, if the law proves inaccurate in a particular case because God is acting, the law is neither violated nor revised. If God brings about some event which a law of nature fails to predict or describe, such an event cannot be characterized as a violation of a law of nature, since the law is valid only under tacit assumption that no supernatural factors come into play in addition to the natural factors” (Craig, 262).

I have found that it is important to do your study of the historical Jesus by first discarding of the presupposition that naturalism can fully account for the way things are in the world. As Craig has written, “If we begin by presupposing naturalism, then of course what we wind up with is a purely natural Jesus. This reconstructed, naturalistic Jesus is not based on evidence, but on definition” (Craig, 279).

Craig Keener has recently reminded us of the reality of miracles in contemporary times with his two-volume set, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2011). I agree with Keener, there is good reason and ample evidence that ought to prompt us to believe in miracles today.

Miracles are not a problem for me simply because I believe that God exists, but because I believe this loving God is actively involved in creation. The very laws of nature (as we know them) are continually sustained by his power. He has revealed himself in the natural order and in the spiritual order. But more specifically, God’s good will for creation has been made known in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

And he has displayed his saving power by raising this Jesus from the dead.

Conclusion—Believing in the Face of Objections & Seasons of Doubt

I believe that once you exhaust all normal causations for the resurrection story, the evidence points to the “high probability” that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, we have the sort of evidence we would expect to find if Jesus was raised from the dead. It’s actually not all that difficult to believe, depending on your presuppositions. I believe an honest search will lead a person to at least acknowledge the weight of the evidence.

However, a historical, biblical, or scientific investigation is not enough to push someone over the edge of skepticism into belief. In the end, it’s not the intellectual inquiry that produces and completes faith. While faith involves reasoning with the intellect, there is still yet another dimension of faith that must be embraced: mystery. Once a person reaches the boundaries of human reason, they will be faced with the mystery of it all.

What do you do with the mystery?

If you don’t allow for mystery, there can be no such thing as real faith. Don’t confuse mystery with ignorance. To recognize mystery is simply to take notice of the boundaries of human reason—the finite mind of man in contrast to the infinite mind of God—and revel in the majesty of God’s power.

When I was in the sixth grade, Mrs. Fuller was my English teacher. There were many times when I apparently tried to take over the class, insert my all-knowing wisdom, and stand in the place of Mrs. Fuller. She would always patiently respond with a kind reminder that she was the teacher and I was the student. She would point to herself, “teacher,” and then to me, “student.” After a while, all she had to do is say those words to me when I got too big for my britches. Now I use this with my students.

In the face of objections by skeptics, and in my own seasons of doubt, the living Lord continually reminds me that he is the Teacher, and I am merely the student. So, as the student, I will take the evidence that has convinced me of the resurrection of Jesus, and then go sit down amidst all the objections and doubt, in order to be taught by the risen Lord.

Happy Easter!

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Suggested Reading:

“The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” by F.F. Bruce; “Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament” by Daniel B. Wallace; “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels” by Craig Blomberg; “What are the Gospels?: A Comparison of Graeco-Roman Biography” by Richard Burridge; “Who Was Jesus?” by N.T. Wright; “Jesus & the Victory of God” by N.T. Wright; “Historical Jesus: Five Views” by James Beilby; “The Historical Figure of Jesus” by E.P. Sanders; “Lord or Legend: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma” by Gregory Boyd & Paul Rhodes Eddy; “The Aims of Jesus” by Ben Meyer; “Jesus & the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony” by Richard Bauckham; “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas & Mike Licona; “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by N.T. Wright; “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” by Mike Licona; “The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown; “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth & Apologetics” by William Lane Craig; “Jesus & His World: The Archaeological Evidence” by Craig Evans; “Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ” by Darrell Bock; “Lost in Transmission: What Can We Know About the Words of Jesus” by Nicholas Perrin; “Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels” by Craig Evans

Films & Documentaries:

“The Life of Jesus: Who He Is & Why He Matters” by John Dickson (book & DVD); “Jesus: The Complete Story (BBC, 2004); “Resurrection” by N.T. Wright; “The Gospel of John” (Philip Savile, 2005); “Passion of the Christ” (Mel Gibson, 2004); “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel (book & DVD); “Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? A Critical Examination of the Facts About the Resurrection of Jesus” by Ignatius Press (2008).

Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part I

With Palm Sunday behind us, we will now take the next few days to remember the Passion Week of Christ—soon to celebrate the death of Christ by Roman crucifixion.

Let’s be honest, it’s a rather odd thing to celebrate someone’s death, especially when it was such a brutal and barbaric execution. Have you seen Passion of the Christ (2004)?

Some skeptics today, certain that Christians are a few fries short of a happy meal, have written us off as sick delusional people. No doubt, it’s an old charge. We only need to remember how strange it appeared to Pliny the Younger who investigated the early church’s worship of the crucified Jesus—those who sang “a hymn to Christ as to a god.”

But for us who are Christians, Good Friday is a time of deep theological reflection. The biblical narrative from creation to fall, from exilic despair to salvific hope, from sinner’s debt to atoning sacrifice, has reached its climax in the life and death of Christ—the true Israelite, the promised Messiah who takes away the sins of the world.

It’s a beautiful death because it’s the first and only death in the history of mankind that has the power to save. The Creator God becomes human flesh and displays boundless love to his broken creation. The idea of it is too good to be compared to any ancient myth of dying and rising gods, and it is so self-incrementing that any man would or could make it up only to endure the wrath of empire for proclaiming it.

But we need to remember that the death of Jesus holds no power if he stays dead. That’s why the apostle Paul was so adamant about it to the Corinthians who were arguing about the future of those who had died before Christ’s Second Coming (parousia). He writes:

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:14-17) NIV

There has been no shortage of books, articles, and journal entries written on the resurrection of Jesus, especially in the last ten years. There are excellent presentations that have been published that I could recommend—much of it is very readable, even to the man on the street (no worries, suggested reading list sure to come).

But I think we all know that a good number of folks won’t take the time to read them. So, I’ll bring out what I believe to be some of the strongest points in defense of the historical resurrection of Jesus. I will do this by discussing three primary reasons that have convinced me of the resurrection, while discussing many other interesting points along the way.

I. Reliability of the New Testament, Eyewitness Testimony & Multiple Attestation

All four of the Gospels record the death and resurrection of Jesus (Matt 28; Mk 16; Lk 24; Jn 20). If you engage folks today about anything pertaining to the Christian faith, and you appeal to the authority of Scripture, you may discover that the inspiration and trustworthiness of the Bible is no longer a given anymore. There was a time not long ago that many assumed what is written in the Bible is accurate and reliable. Those days are gone.

Truthfully, the reliability of the Bible has been heavily attacked since the Enlightenment. It would appear that even those of us in the Bible-belt are now beginning to feel the affects. I think our response should be to step up to the plate and be willing swing for the fences with a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15). We can no longer afford to settle for the old clichés, church programs, and “momma said” or “my pastor said” or some other spiritual platitude.

The place to begin is by taking a look at the evidence for ourselves. While a case could be built for the death and resurrection of Jesus apart from the New Testament sources, I’m not so willing to give up on the reliability of the NT, and the Gospels as historical ancient biographies of Jesus.

Daniel Wallace has recently written, “In Greek alone, there are more than 5,600 manuscripts today… altogether about 20,000 handwritten manuscripts of the NT in various languages” (Wallace, 28). Even if someone were to destroy all of those manuscripts, the NT could be entirely reconstructed with the one million quotations by the early church fathers! We have more evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus than Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great.

What about all those discrepancies you say? Well, there are certainly textual variants in the many manuscripts we have, but don’t let Bart Ehrman convert you to agnosticism just yet. F.F. Bruce has written, “The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice” (Bruce, 14-15). That’s enough to make Greek scholar Bruce Metzger come back to life and smack his old student (Ehrman) around a bit.

The more historical and textual criticism that is being done on the NT Gospels, the more scholars are recognizing just how meticulous the ancient authors were in their creative retelling of the life of Christ. For instance, Luke, a companion of the apostle Paul, says he consulted with the “eyewitnesses” and “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Lk 1:2-3). Luke’s concern to give an “orderly account” of the things that truly happened in the first half of the century simply can’t be denied if any historian is consistent with their treatment of historical texts.

Luke said it happened the way he reports it, and we have no historical reasons why we should doubt his account is an accurate retelling of the events, or any of the other Gospel writers for that matter, since they are sharing much of the same material.

Now, there will be some who will reject the “supernatural” occurrences within the Gospels. Thomas Jefferson did this in his “Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” where all miracles of Jesus, including the resurrection, were cut out of the Gospels because they didn’t fit his eighteenth century naturalist perspective on the way things are in the world—a world where men can’t walk on water, blind people can’t be made to see, and dead men stay in the grave.

It is for the reason of “miracles” and the divinity attributed to Jesus that some “historians” find reason not to trust anything the Gospel writers say. They believe the Gospels are tainted with wishful thinking. Therefore, it’s hard to determine who the “historical Jesus” really is after all.

It will not come as a surprise to you that I’m not so quick to dismiss the miraculous as human inventions by lunatic disciples wanting to start their own religion on a failed Messiah. I think we must welcome in the mysterious possibilities and phenomenon of miracles into our decision-making. More on that coming up in my third reason for believing in the resurrection of Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, the apostle Paul passes along an early creedal statement about Jesus.

“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 Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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.”

James D.G. Dunn has written that we can be “entirely confident” that this tradition was formulated within months of Jesus’ death. So, with the early dating of the Gospels being within approximately 30 years of the actual events, the careful oral transmission and tradition between Jesus and the writing of the Gospels, and the multiple eyewitness testimony that Jesus was seen in a resurrected form (something they had a difficult time finding the words to express), I would say that’s good reason to believe that something out of the ordinary happened.

I believe it happened just as it is written.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Now Read: Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part II.
Empty Tomb, Resurrection Appearances, & Growth of the Early Church

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