The Resurrection of Jesus

I decided this would be a great post to kick off my new (ish) blog. Hope you guys like the new look and enjoy the stuff I put out on it! Hoping this will be the first post of many, and hoping to go beyond my usual “why I believe” stuff to some life stuff also.

scarred hands
Christians see Jesus’ scars as a symbol of altruistic sacrifice. Interesting historical tidbit? Scholars debate whether the nails would have been in the palm or wrist.

To my surprise, I have yet to write anything blog related on the resurrection of Jesus (and why I believe it to be a true historical event). Why so surprising? Because it’s one of the most substantiated facts in the Christian religion.  

New Testament textual and historical studies have been a booming research field in the last half-dozen or so decades. One of the main reasons for this has been the archaeological findings of the New Testament geographical areas. Whether early manuscripts of the Bible, findings on Jewish culture and practises of the first century and much more, there has been a lot to study and a lot to try and understand. And of course, with the person of Jesus of Nazareth so significant to this time period and the rise of the Christian church so pivotal to even world history, it’s really no surprise a lot of attention has been given to understanding the events around these peculiar happenings.

I won’t spend any time looking at the rise of the Christian church right now, though it is relevant to the discussion. You can check out the archives for that one.  

What I want to focus on is an overview of the current scholarship regarding the resurrection of Jesus (yes, serious secular historians study it even if they don’t all assert that it happened). You might be interested to hear the results.  

First let’s start with the facts. By “facts” I mean what scholars affirm quite unanimously to be factual, given multiple independent attestation and other historical criteria agreed upon.  

5 Facts about the Resurrection of Jesus

We know Jesus of Nazareth died, so we will start with that. It might sound insignificant to affirm, but what you might not know is how well attested to the fact of the man’s death is. Multiple Roman and Jewish sources affirm it, as well as the multiple and independent Christian sources we have. The only source ever to outright deny the death of Jesus is the Muslim sources that came over six hundred years later. There is simply no debate among historians here.

Secondly, Jesus was specifically buried by a man named Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (a leadership council of sorts). Besides being multiply attested to by independent sources, it’s important to note that no alternate burial story exists (probably because it was less controversial).

Thirdly, there was an empty tomb. Note we haven’t said that Jesus “rose again” yet, but are simply affirming that the tomb he was placed in was empty. Of historical note, we see the sources attest to women discovering the empty tomb. Given the insignificance of women’s testimony in that society, it would have been actually embarrassing for the Jewish Christians to have to include this fact, especially in “selling” the story to fellow Jews and the Greeks they would share it with (scholars call this “embarrassment criteria”). Also very interesting is the Jewish response to the empty tomb: his disciples stole the body! If the tomb wasn’t empty, they would have just pointed to it. Instead, they had to find an explanation for what was obvious fact.  

Fourthly, different groups of people experienced post-mortem appearances of Jesus at different occasions. Again multiple and independent sources attest to this fact, and an apostolic epistle that we have guarantees it. A letter written by the Apostle Paul likely 20-25 years after Jesus’ death attested to over five hundred people seeing Jesus in the Jerusalem area after his supposed resurrection (he writes this because some people in the new church were under the impression that the resurrection wasn’t literally real). In effect, he was saying that they could go and talk to many of these 500+ witnesses who would still be alive to get their eye witness accounts for themselves. Such an audacious claim couldn’t have been made if indeed those eye witnesses weren’t around to confirm, nor would that letter or the Apostle Paul’s story have held any weight either. (You can read this appeal in the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15).

Finally, the original disciples came to a sudden and sincere belief that their leader had risen from the dead – and were ready to die for it – despite all predispositions to not believe it. Jewish theology and Messianic understanding did not permit a crucified Messiah coming back to life right away like that, nor did any disciples of executed revolutionists before Jesus go through a similar pattern of martyrdom-embracing belief. It is very remarkable, and a unique and even strange historical phenomenon.

Finding the Best Explanation

So those are five very agreed upon facts surrounding the death and supposed resurrection of Jesus. Note also that these are not simply what “conservative” or even Christian scholars affirm. Rather, it is the pattern of the vast majority of New Testament scholars to affirm these facts.

A very plausible explanation of these five facts is that Jesus indeed was resurrected from the dead by God, given the following criteria that scholars use: It has great explanatory power and scope, it is plausible given what we know about Jesus’ life and claims, it’s not “ad hoc” or contrived (it only requires one other hypothesis, namely that God exists), AND it easily beats out other explanations. Actually, contemporary scholarship has almost universally rejected all other proposed theories.

Now you might have guessed it – not all of the scholars believe that Jesus rose from the dead! My understanding is that most take an agnostic position on it, unable yet to give a solid alternate theory.

Making the Call, Historian or Not


So that’s a lot to take in, and we’re really only scratching the surface of a lot of these historical understandings and criteria and so on. Perhaps we can dig in a little more in the future (I’ll post some resources you can look at right away for further study below). But I do want to end with a personal story on why I think even an objective historian can look at these facts and still be persuaded honestly that Jesus rose from the dead.

I had the sweet opportunity of taking a Religious Studies class at McMaster University as an elective. Obviously, the program itself is secular. While studying the resurrection and events surrounding it, my professor said that the resurrection of Jesus has been problematic for historians, because of the religious implications that would come with affirming it.  

Now, in ways I understand this problem, but in other ways I do not. I think it’s possible for one to hold religious persuasions and still be an objective historian. Can he not say that the best explanation of the evidence is that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead? Does this affirmation necessarily undo his academic integrity or affect all the other work he does?

I think we need to be able to hold even religiously affirming views while still looking at evidence honestly and objectively. And I think we can do so too – in fact, I think if we cannot look at things objectively while holding on to some kind of worldview, then none of us can actually think or critique objectively! I say this because we all bring our own presuppositions and assumptions to the table, no matter who we are. This doesn’t mean objectivity is impossible or even that difficult, but it does mean that things will take some effort and a decent amount of introspection. It will also take a lot of trying simply to understand, rather than to make ourselves understood, while we have the conversations needed (be they in book or paper form, or in actual verbal discussion and healthy debate).

You, too, have a decision you have to make confronted with the evidence I’ve put forward. Shall you take an agnostic position? Try and make up your own theory? Or will you take a step of well evidenced trust and investigate further into this person who appears to have risen from the dead?

I hope it is the latter!

Keep thinking.  


The Miracle of the Church

Original Post: Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Not so Humble Origins

The majority of people today don’t know much about the beginnings of Christianity. A lot of people seem to think religions just kind of spawned out of nothing or some dude just wrote a book and started yelling at people and some people just believed, or maybe that political leaders made up a system of government that was used to manipulate people with so-called “spiritual truths”.

Though some religions probably have spawned in these ways or for these purposes, the case with Christianity is quite contrary.  

Christianity arose in the midst of a Jewish and Greco-Roman context right around 0 A.D.

After the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and his death around 33 A.D., people suddenly came to worship the crucified man in droves. This is attested to not only by reliable Biblical sources (anyone who’s studied the exceptional historian Luke and his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles accounts of early Church history understands his knack for historicity) but by external sources as well (Pliny the Younger, Josephus, etc. ) This might not seem significant at first, but referring back to our historical context and the proceeding historical events surrounding the early Church we see that it is very much so.

The people who professed this Jesus as their saviour and Lord were heavily persecuted in both Jewish and Greek contexts for varying reasons. Social pressures were intense – confess and practice this faith, and you very well could die. In fact, 11 of the 12 disciples of Christ died horrible deaths; upside down crucifixion, being boiled alive and skinned alive, etc. So this raises an important question: why would people be willing to go this far for a man who had simply died?

I think the best explanation for this is simply that they had every reason to believe that he was no longer dead; that indeed, this man had been resurrected. The Bible claims that at least 500 people saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion at some point. This was actually an early claim of an apostle in a letter, written well within a generation after Jesus’ death. This is then a claim that could have been verified by talking to apparent eyewitnesses, as could be the claims about the empty tomb that were circulating at that time.

Being Totally Honest

To be honest, I can’t see thousands of people falling to their knees in worship of a man who had just been brutally murdered unless they truly believed he was who he claimed to be (that is, they believed that he was resurrected and therefore his claims were vindicated). There were many self-proclaimed messiahs and prophets before Jesus of Nazareth who also had radical claims and were eventually put to death for them – but none of those men had thousands of people worshipping them post mortem amidst persecution and even death.

This then is the miracle. Nothing natural can suitably explain the rise of the Christian Church. There is no good reason why Jesus Christ should still be worshipped as God today unless his seemingly preposterous claims were vindicated by his post mortem appearances. Only then would people face death fearlessly knowing with full assurance that their Saviour was alive.

Hopefully this has you thinking, and if it does, I’m sure there are many questions and potential rebuttals floating around in your head – all are welcome here. Don’t simply let this pass over you – if Jesus did rise from the dead, it matters, and so we should inquire honestly, and I know many have challenged these claims before (and still do today). I might like to look at these different proposals/challenges, so if you can think of any or find any, post away and we can discuss.



Tried and Tested Scriptures

Original Post: Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Bible is an interesting style of religious text. It’s a compilation of books of ancient history, poetry, wisdom, biography, and even letters written by Christians to Christians only years after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. These books (66 of them) were written by around 40 different authors over a time span of around 1 500 years and in 3 different languages. Among their authors are kings, “prophets”, fishermen, a doctor, teachers, and lots more.

Yet despite all of this broad variation, the entirety of the Bible coalesces in an epic history of creation, fall, forgiveness and redemption. Even before I start talking about the historical reliability of the Bible, I just want to articulate that even apart from the hard evidence that I can trust in, I think the Bible speaks for itself. It was said of Jesus that “no man has ever spoken like this man”… And the more I read the Bible, the more convinced I am that it truly is the very inspired words of God I am reading.

At the same time, as I’ve really challenged my faith, I’ve sought after more empirical evidence to see just how well the Bible stands up to the tests of time and criticism.

I think today I’ll focus on one particularly significant area in New Testament scholarship: manuscript evidence.

Of all ancient documents, the New Testament has the most and earliest manuscripts still in existence and still studied today. (A manuscript being: A book, document, or piece of music written by hand rather than typed or printed) Also of note, this is by a fair margin. There’s well over 5 000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and some still around are dated within a couple generations of the original authors. Other ancient documents such as Homer’s Iliad don’t even come close to these numbers. This runner up to the New Testament is lucky to have 700 manuscripts, and well over 900 years spans between when it was first inked to our earliest known manuscript. But why does this matter?

Scholarship has shown through study of these manuscripts just how reliable New Testament scribal work really is. Despite variations in them throughout the centuries, scholarship unanimously declares that our current day New Testament is well over 99% pure to its original form.[1] The remaining < 1% of impurities has zero effects on any major Biblical doctrine. With this alone, I feel more than confident that what I’m reading are the very same documents that tell of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, and how his church grew and developed in the years following. It also dispels the idea that the early church corrupted the documents to further a religious agenda of some kind.

Don’t take my word for it – I encourage you to check out what scholarship says when it comes to the historicity and reliability of the New Testament. If you have any questions about this topic you want explored more, let me know, as there is a lot to say on this. I may go deeper in later posts, but I think this serves as a solid intro into why we can trust the Bible.

Recommended resources: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.

The history detailed in the gospels and extracted from the letters of the apostles of Jesus furthers my confidence to the historicity of the claims made. Why would the writers of these documents lie? Why would so great a number of people profess faith in a man who had simply been murdered, knowing that doing so was putting oneself at so high a risk for a brutal death? Because they knew he wasn’t dead, and knew he and his message were worth dying for. This is often called “The Miracle of the Church” – I explore it and the questions surrounding the resurrection of Christ and the early church in another post.



The Hope That I Have: Faith and Reason

“All truth is God’s truth” – Arthur F. Holmes

Original Post: December 29, 2011

A number of years ago, when I started to finally take my faith more seriously, I was assailed on all fronts concerning the rationality of it (not so much from people but from my own mind). I had heard of the challenges before, but had never been compelled to take them on intellectually. Some of the challenges were philosophical, some scientific. Others were historical, and some were emotional. On the scientific side of things, the belief held by many today is that faith and reason, or at least religious belief and science, are mutually exclusive. I’ve never believed this, and still don’t.

Reason and faith are not mutually exclusive. They can’t be. All rational belief is based in a faith (trust) of some kind; therefore reason presumes faith. In fact, this is the very basis of the scientific method. Science presumes on faith that the world surrounding us is intelligible and that truths can be drawn from its analysis.

6937142431_516b364032_nHere’s a more pragmatic example. You trust, in faith, that the next time you step in to your car it will not fall out from under your weight. Some now argue that you have rational grounds for believing that your car will support your weight – and they’re right. Based on rational grounds, you trust that your car will support you, but you can’t prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, so you trust. So there is an element of trust that work
s with your rational cognitions. I would content that this is true for almost every aspect of your life as you know it. You are always basing decisions you make and positions you hold on both faith and reason.

You also cannot scientifically prove anything. Outside perhaps mathematical proofs of certain relationships, no scientific “fact” is proven. They are simply well-founded. One has much reason to believe something based on the given verified evidence, but we really can’t be 100% certain of anything. This is assumed in the scientific method. Even the outspoken atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins states in his book “The God Delusion” that he would on a 7-point scale consider himself only a 6, where 7 would be a position of more absolute certainty that God does not exist (The God Delusion, p. 51).

With that said, don’t religious people in general and maybe Christians in particular believe in things that are not rationally grounded at all, and based purely in faith? I think it’s a fair question, mostly because I do think there are many a religious person who don’t think through what they claim to believe. They have a sort of blind faith, or what you might call faith without reason. Though I could go on about the specifics, I think for now I’ll focus on how things should be, as opposed to how they sometimes are. I would now contend that biblical Christianity is not to be of blind faith. I believe this not only because I think my faith is rationally grounded (and it would make sense that if God gave us brains he gave them to us to use them), but because the Bible teaches it. What is the great commandment? To “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37, emphasis added). The apostle Paul wrote that “… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile… we of all men are to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:16). Christianity is founded on truths like the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and its truthfulness is assumed throughout the Bible; it is therefore not to be believed on untruthful or irrational bases.4355587247_c0d854d5f4_n

There’s so much to say on this topic, so I’m sure I’ll cover it in more depth in the future. If you have any questions or contentions I’d be glad to hear them out and address them either here or personally, so don’t be afraid to message or text or whatever.

If you have any particulars you want discussed or questions you have or have heard, send them my way.



“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus Christ,  John 14:6