October 27, 2011

Resurrection: Tests of Authenticity

Multiple Attestations

If a God-man had died and was buried for a sustained period of three (3) days and then rose and appeared to people we should then expect to see and hear from those people that witnessed the death and resurrection, attesting to this fact. In the case of the Bible we see this exact thing. Not only are there multiple attestation where are multiple early attestations (within a decade through oral/aural tradition). For nearly two months after His Resurrection we see many people vouch for the fact they had seen the Risen Lord. In the Gospels we see the woman including Mary Magdalene were first in Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16 & Luke 24. The disciples in the road to Emmaus also had an encounter but realized it after the fact. Jesus appeared in a Resurrection body to the ten disciples in the Upper room. We also see individual appearances to Peter and James. We also see Jesus show up as the disciples are fishing and then they subsequently eat the fish Jesus is cooking. We also know from Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 15:6-7 that Jesus also appeared to more than 500. He even appears to Paul last of all on the Road to Damascus.


The idea of a Suffering Servant King that would die as the Son of God or Messiah to overcome the world was so far outside the Jewish understanding of what their Messiah would be it made the idea dissimilar. The Jewish cultural and religious understanding was so different or opposed to this understanding it appeared contradictory. Therefore Christ and His Resurrection were an unacceptable outcome. Yet this is exactly what we see happen in the New Testament. Except in a few cases like that of the Disciples and early adherents of the Faith, the precursor religion (Judaism) that led up to Jesus and His resurrection and those within it completely failed to recognize Jesus as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

On the flip side we see the resultant belief system of Christianity. A band of tightly knit misfits ostracized by society and persecuted by their beliefs. Beliefs that they held so tightly to that they went to tortuous deaths and their graves refusing to recant their belief of a religious leader that rose from the dead. These tightly held beliefs then become the core doctrine of the belief system that lasts until today that tells us to be distinct from the evil of the world system but to continue to engage it to spread the Gospel even at the risk of persecution.


Nothing about Jesus death, burial or resurrection is immune from awkwardness and humiliation. A proclaimed King scourged and crucified naked on a cross by His own people. King of a Roman backwater called Jerusalem. Jesus goes through a miscarriage of justice that amounts to nothing more than a state sanctioned murder. During His crucifixion He is beaten to within inches of His life and mocked mercilessly and finally dubbed King of the Jews on a placard hung on His cross with Him. Even this placard mocking Him incenses the Jews and they want it removed. This supposed criminal named Jesus is so dirt-poor He has no grave or burial chamber to His name so one is donated by a recent convert named Joseph of Arimathea. After His resurrection His first witnesses are woman. They are women who have no credibility or say in a male dominated society and therefore their witness is useless not to say inhibiting to a newly forming faith. Ironically, his is the known foundation for a faith that will, over a few hundred years pretty much take over the known world. The probability of these events happening are so far outside the bounds of reality as to be impossible…yet it happens and it happens quickly as if according to plan.

Context & Expectation

This Jewish criterion for the Messiah and the Resurrection is similar to the idea of dissimilarity. The expectation from the Jews and the Jewish culture is that their Messiah would be a conquering King that would free them from the subjugation and oppression of Roman rule in a literal earthly sense. In a metaphoric way, Jesus did just that. Furthermore, in the context of time and over the long-haul of history, what Jesus did on the Cross inevitably accomplishes exactly what the Jews expected their Messiah would do…although not in their lifetimes. Instead of a conquering king on a war stallion we see a suffering servant on a donkey’s colt. Instead of the ushering in of an earthly Jewish kingdom we see the ushering in at least in part of the Kingdom of God spiritually.With such an uphill struggle to found a faith it is amazing that it would succeed with all these blots and smears against it.

Semitic Traces & Hints 

There are Semitic traces/remnants or Aramaisms which are words, phrases, idioms, or other characteristics of the Aramaic language occurring in the Bible which is written mainly in Hebrew and Greek. These Aramaisms are maintained regardless of the translation language. We see them in many places. Some familiar ones are abba/father, "Eli Eli lema sabachthani?" which is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mark 5:41’s, "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise.”, Mark 7:34’s, “Ephphatha," which is 'be opened' and John 20:16’s, “Rabboni" which is to say, "Master". All of these Aramaisms point consistently to a Jewish or Semitic tradition even though a majority of the Jews at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion deny Him. Something more is going on here though. The Christian belief that Jesus was raised from the dead could not be account for by Jewish belief systems because Jews saw the Messiah more as an Elijah figure that would be “translated” bodily to Heaven, not resurrected in the way He was. Pagan beliefs comparatively are even more spurious with their pantheon of capricious gods. Nor could these claims of resurrection be a claim of Christian theology or doctrine at this point because “Christianity” as we understand it did exist at the point of the Resurrection. The only thing that exists immediately following the Resurrection of Jesus is the belief of the Disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead based on the fact they were/are eyewitnesses.


We see a profound effect on individuals that were either not on Jesus’ side during His life like James or were actively persecuting the brethren like Paul. As a matter of fact the effect the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ was so profound that when people today have a dramatic unexpected conversion to Christianity that dramatic conversion is oft referred to as a Damascus Road experience. We see hundreds of people willing to risk persecution to spread the Good News. We also see conversions en masse in the book of Acts and since the first days of Christianity we see a continual and often remarkable change of people from the inside which is the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. It is the work of Christ in people’s hearts. All of this based on testimonies of a small handful of original believers

Principles of Embellishment

This is the idea that later embellished accounts arise because of an inability to defend the Resurrection without later embellished. There is also the problem of trying to rationalize and backup and overly complex scenario to justify and tell the story repeatedly with known embellishments or lies layered on top of an already hard to believe story of a man that’s resurrected in a Resurrection body after three days in a tomb. Compound this with the fact that Jesus came as a form of King that His own people rejected and even fewer understood even after His Resurrection (i.e.: Road to Emmaus)


Christians have some pretty substantial and impressive evidences in the form of the historicity of an empty tomb, a resurrected God-man Jesus and many appearances. This is further validated by consistent and coherent accounts of Jesus appearances, further accounts later by Paul. The Scripture backs up the accounts in many places without contradicting itself. The entire story regardless of what angle it is approached from whether it be from Paul back to Christ or from Christ ahead to Paul’s explanations stay consistent and coherent. They do not come off like the ramblings of madmen. As we would say today, the story "gels".

Historical Congruence

We see a consistency between the 1st century’s cultural milieu and the writings of the Gospel and New Testament accounts. Many of the idioms, practices and social mores recorded in the text of Scripture are consistent with what we know about the times Jesus lived in, died in and the time immediately thereafter.

It is within this body of facts that we can examine and then support of the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. Based on the information provided in the Gospel accounts we also have multiple fronts in which we can defend the truth of the Resurrection. Of course we can never be absolutely certain of the things we believe in the Faith because it is by faith that we gain the reward of eternal life through the atonement of the Resurrection. If it were a known fact our methodology for our salvation is blown asunder. We must be satisfied to accept these facts in faith as this is God’s requirement for us. The surprising thing is that these pieces of information that we can glean from Scripture are pretty close to fact anyway. Close enough for most believers to be comfortable that is.


The most profound arguments against Jesus’ Resurrection are put forward by people with what? Doubt…the very antithesis of faith. Because of doubt & lack of faith ideas more implausible than the raising of a man from the dead are advocated by those that are enemies and mockers of the Cross. Faith …the very thing we are called by God to use to believe in the Resurrection. At the core of peoples unbelief is a failure of obedience and lack of faith, not a lack of evidence and experiences in the Bible. Ironically, the best defense of the Resurrection is based in the experiences/evidences God allowed first. The most profound evidences of the Resurrection are eyewitnesses, events and their documentation in the Scripture seen through eyes of faith by people of faith.

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