KNOWN HISTORICAL FACTS ON THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST

Resurrection of Christ by Noel Coypel

At least eleven events are considered to be knowable history by virtually all scholars, and a twelfth event is considered to be knowable by many scholars. Whatever school of thought, liberal or conservative, atheist or theist, literalist or not, critical historians, philosophers, theologians, and scripture scholars who address the subject of Christ’s resurrection accept the following as factual history.

1)      Jesus died due to the rigors of crucifixion;

2)      He was buried;

3)      Jesus’s death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope;

4)      Many scholars hold that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was discovered to be empty just a few days later;

5)      At this same time, Jesus’s disciples had real experiences that they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus;

6)      Because of these experiences, the disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of His death and Resurrection, even willing to die for this belief;

7)      This message was central to the early church preaching;

8)      This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem;

9)      The church was born and grew;

10)   Sunday became the primary day of worship for these believers;

11)   James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus;

12)   A few years later, Paul, the persecutors of the Christians, was also converted by an experience he believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

These historical facts are crucial to any investigation of Jesus’s Resurrection. Except for the empty tomb, virtually all critical scholars who deal with this issue agree that these are the minimum known historical facts regarding this event. Any conclusion concerning the historicity of the Resurrection should therefore properly account for this data.

Because these core historical facts have been established by critical and historical procedures, no one should reject this evidence simply by referring to “discrepancies” in the New Testament or to its general “unreliability.” These facts are attested to be true by virtually everyone. It can be demonstrated even when the minimum number of historical facts are utilized.

In short, instead of stating what cannot be believed concerning the Gospel accounts, skeptics would do well to concentrate on what they admit to be known about the texts.

If Jesus did not rise from the dead then what happened on that first Easter morning?

(Excerpted from the book, Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?, The Resurrection Debate between Gary Habermas and Antony Flew.  Edited by Terry L. Miethe.  San Francisco: Harper & Row, © 1987, pp. 19-20).

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For further reading: How Easter Killed MyFaith in Atheism, by Lee Strobel

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VIDEO DOCUMENTARY: Case for Christ (2007) by Lee Strobel

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TWO MEDIA GENIUSES SIT AROUND AND TALK ABOUT JESUS’S RESURRECTION.  “SOMETHING VERY POWERFUL HAPPENED”  they surmise.

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17 Comments on “KNOWN HISTORICAL FACTS ON THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST”

  1. LoveLoudly March 30, 2011 at 7:42 AM #

    As a seminary student I wish I could agree with the universally accepted historicity of these assertions but its just simply not the case. While in the first few centuries subsequent to the Crucifixion most of these facts were not disputed (opponents rarely objected to the account of an empty tomb but instead argued that Christ’s body was stolen by the disciples). However, in more recent historical study (the last several centuries) this is no longer the case.

    It was just two years ago John Dominic Crossan caused a stir by suggesting that Jesus’ body was never buried but instead thrown to beasts. While Bart Ehrman might be off the rails with most of his theological (a-theological) assertions, he is still one of the best academic New Testament scholars in the world today (his textbook is used as the introductory book for most NT courses) and his disputes with the historical record are well attested to and need to be addressed.

    One book is not going to give you the breadth of the field necessary to make universal claims, speaking as someone currently residing in the academic field, I can tell you this is by no means a closed case to one side or the other and there are very smart people who stringently defend either side.

    • Nicholas Voss March 30, 2011 at 8:45 AM #

      Good morning LoveLoudly:
      I’ve taken note that you are still in religious school. This indicates that you are still learning, that you have not yet acquired the necessary experience and education to weigh both sides to determine what it is you believe going into ministry. Indeed, until you graduate you will be pressured to adopt the philosophies of your teachers and the books they assign you to read. There are seminaries that will not issue your diploma if you do not sign on to the beliefs of the institution. Hopefully this is not the case with you.

      Antony Flew, who is said to have been the prominent voice of atheism for the past 50 or so years, debated Gary Habermas on the subject matter I brought up in my blog. Flew lost the debate. Judges cast four votes for Habermas and none for Flew – there was one draw. One judge was shocked at how weak Flew’s approach was. Time went by and Habermas and Flew became close friends. At the end of his life, Flew abandoned his atheistic views and became some kind of theist. We don’t know exactly what he meant by this conversion, but we do know (by his own admission) that his debates with Habermas had something to do with it. I am not saying Flew died believing in the Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, but that he had modified his views and abandoned atheism.

      Antony Flew was unable to refute Habermas’s argument for the resurrection during this debate. The twelve main points I posted are irrefutable, despite your claim that they are not. I’ve noticed you, too, were unable to refute them or even seriously address one point. Crossan’s conjecture (actually it is wild imagination) that Jesus’s Body was thrown to dogs is not a serious threat to the Christian message any more than the Sunni Muslim claim that Jesus’s Body was exchanged for Judas’s. One might was well speculate that Jesus was taken away by space aliens.

      In your response you have twice implied that you are an academic. However, because you are a student does not make you an academic. It only means you are still learning. Now go learn some more. Like Dr. Flew did.

  2. LoveLoudly March 30, 2011 at 9:10 AM #

    A few points:
    1) You seem to have missed a key point. I affirm all of the points made above. This is not the contention I’m raising. It is not a question of your content but the validity of your argument for it.

    2) Do you have a list of the judges for the debate in question?

    3) Nearly every professor I have is or was an ordained minister in their respective denomination. They do in fact believe in the resurrection.

    4) The point in question is the validity of making broad claims regarding the entirety of an academic field, both ancient and modern, based on the assertions of a single book or author.

    5) Since you made a point of questioning my own qualifications to evaluate this debate I would politely ask what your own are. I note from your link that your professional field seems to lie in audio visual equipment.

  3. vinny March 30, 2011 at 10:21 AM #

    There is no evidence whatsoever that “James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus.” The appearance to James is only reported by Paul who does not indicate whether or not James was already a believer at the time of the appearance. Nowhere in the gospels does it indicate when James became a believer, but early sources suggest that he was an established member of the community of believers prior to the ascension.

    As far as agreement among scholars on this point goes, the Catholic Church has traditionally identified James the Just with James the son of Alpheus who was one of the twelve apostles who followed Jesus during his lifetime. That would suggest a fairly solid block of scholars who do not believe that James was a skeptic at the time of the appearance.

    • Nicholas Voss March 30, 2011 at 3:54 PM #

      Good afternoon Vinny!
      James the Just is the Lord Jesus Christ’s brother, which makes him the son of Joseph, not Alpheus.

      Like Pilate and other personalities of the early church era, he is mentioned by Josephus, an historian notoriously contemptuous of the whole Christian movement: “…Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned …” (Josephus Ant. 20.9.1).The year this incident occurred was A.D. 62.

      But five years earlier, A.D. 57, we read of James visiting with the Apostle Paul: “…And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present…” (Acts 21:17).

      We can then go back seven years to A.D. 50 to get a clearer picture of James, where is a kind of “president” or primary spokesperson of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13).

      We can go back another six years to A.D. 44 read another outstanding reference to James. Peter, always in some kind of personal danger, is for the second time thrown in prison. Peter escapes by way of supernatural intervention and relays a message to James who is clearly the leader of the party by inference of this passage (Acts 12:17).

      There is still one earlier reference to James the Just that dates to A.D. 36 in Galatians 1:18-19 where Paul is visiting with “James, the Lord’s brother.”

      Then we read in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that “…and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles …”

      Before that we learn that James was an unbeliever. In Mark 6:2-3 we read that “…When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.’”

      I am therefore bringing forth the case that James was a skeptic until the time of the resurrection.

      • vinny March 30, 2011 at 4:56 PM #

        None of those references tell us when James became a believer. The church historian Eusebius relates that James was appointed the bishop of Jerusalem based on his well known virtue. This took place just after Matthias was appointed to replace Judas as the twelfth apostle. This would suggest that James was already well known to the community of believers rather than being a recent convert. The Gospel of the Hebrews relates that James was a believer who participated in the last supper. The Apocryphon of James relates that James and Peter were together when Jesus appeared to them. Of course none of this is definitive, however, the earliest traditions seem to indicate that James overcame his doubts and began following Jesus prior to the crucifixion.

  4. Nicholas Voss March 31, 2011 at 7:27 AM #

    Good morning Vinny-
    In Mark 6 the Scripture tells us that Jesus’s own family despised His preaching: “…”Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him…” His brothers looked upon Jesus with contempt. Hence the famous saying, “A prophet is not despised anywhere but in His own country, even among his own family.” This incident is reckoned to have occurred in January or February 32 A.D. according to Project Ingrafting and others.

    In John 7 we read, “…Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing … For not even His brothers were believing in Him.” This happened around late summer-early Fall of 32 A.D.

    In 1 Corinthians 15 we read that the Lord appeared to James around the same time as He appeared to the Apostles and the Five Hundred. This occurred April or May A.D. 33.

    Thus we can deduce with reasonable confidence that the conversion of James occurred shortly after the Resurrection.

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    The Gospel of the Hebrews and The Apocryphon of James are not canonical; therefore they are spurious and untrustworthy documents. I recommend that you do not use these documents upon which to base scholarly opinion in regard to Holy Scripture.

  5. thom waters January 14, 2012 at 11:48 AM #

    Nick,

    It occurs to me that you might need to differentiate between a “fact” and an “element” of a story. Your list of “facts” actually is filled with “elements” to the story of Jesus and his resurrection, and not only do they fall short of being established “facts” but would eliminate actual real “facts” to the story taken from and using only the gospels. Just a thought.

    Thanks.

    • Nicholas Voss January 14, 2012 at 1:01 PM #

      Hi Thom –
      Please elaborate further. Your criticism does not contain any “facts,” just your opinion. If you list a few specifics maybe I can correct any errors.

      Thanks for taking time to contribute to the conversation.

      • thom waters January 17, 2012 at 1:23 PM #

        Nick,

        Sorry that I was so vague and terse in my e-mail. It was mostly a comment concerning the attempt by some to state as “facts” some elements to the story of Jesus that seem to fall short of establishing these elements as something more, that is, “facts”. For instance:

        It would appear to be an established “fact” that one Jesus was crucified. Not only do the gospels give account and attest to this event, but there are authors outside of the early Christian community who refer to and give further attestation to the “fact” that one Jesus was crucified.

        It is, however, an all together different proposition to claim as a “fact” that one Jesus died by crucifixion. Only the Christian documents themselves make this claim, even though these unknown authors were not present themselves at the event and could certainly give no first-hand confirmation to this claim. Certainly none of the non-Christian sources that apologists cite can attest to or confirm this claim regarding the death of Jesus. I’m not here saying that he didn’t die, only pointing out that this particular claim is actually something that was believed and certainly falls short of something that can be established as a “fact”.

        It is less than even-handed to suggest that the non-Christian sources that make mention of a crucifixion can, therefore, give attestation to the “death” of one Jesus. Obviously they cannot, and to suggest otherwise is to misrepresent what they tell us.

        That it was believed that one Jesus died by crucifixion is to recognize the early nature of this belief as it appeared in Christianity. Nothing wrong to stating that something was believed. Paul in I Cor. 15:3-8 does this when he apparently cites an early creed and what was believed. After all, that is what a creed is. It is a statement of belief and things believed.

        Whether one believes or disbelieves that Jesus died by crucifixion is a matter of belief. The information that we have concerning this belief seems to fall far short from establishing this belief as a “fact”. The evidence is sketchy at best and certainly not very persuasive or compelling. I can talk at great length concerning this point and the contrary evidence to support the position that perhaps Jesus did not die. And this evidence is certainly as, if not more, compelling than the evidence to suggest that he did die.

        One thing is for certain. If you are going to claim that someone was raised from the dead you better be able to prove with both concrete and compelling evidence that this person was dead to begin with. That is certainly the first step in either substantiating the claim or in disproving it. I find it most intriguing that most apologists move on as quickly as they can from this “fact”. I think that they ultimately realize the virtual lack of any real evidence or data to support it.

        Anyway, I hope this helps.

  6. thom waters January 23, 2012 at 1:04 PM #

    Nick,

    Sorry not to have heard back from you.

    Should I read anything into the “fact” that you replied to my first e-mail within 2 hours, but have not replied to my second within a week’s time?

    Thom

  7. Nicholas Voss January 23, 2012 at 1:17 PM #

    Hi Thom –
    You are free to read into anything your heart desires. The reason I did not respond is that I thought your last post was so ridiculous that I determined you are not a qualified participant in scholarly discussions of this type. I simply did not want to waste my time corresponding with you. Hope that helps.

  8. thom waters January 25, 2012 at 2:22 PM #

    Nick,

    Somewhat disappointed but certainly not surprised by your last e-mail.

    Some years ago when I first began researching the life, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus I encountered a great number of apologists whose main approach was to convince others of the reliability of certain events based on historical records and data. This includes Craig, Habermas, Licona, and others who champion this approach.

    It became and is quite clear that much of what they offer falls short of what can be explained or accepted as actual data to prove the certainty or truth of a thing. It also became quite evident that the world of apologetics is filled with many who appear quite happy and satisfied to simply parrot the thoughts of others without giving much actual thought or consideration to what they say or why they say it.

    Sorry to have ruffled your feathers.

    Thom

    • Mark November 17, 2013 at 7:48 PM #

      Hi Thom,

      I have no idea if you are still connected to this blog, but you state that you can cite as much evidence against the death of Christ as there is in support of the death of Christ. This news is interesting to me. I was hoping you could cite these sources in context. Also, I am hoping that they will have the same “quality” as those in support of the death of Christ.

      I like having my feathers ruffled, so feel free to drill into the nerve.

      Thanks!

  9. Nicholas Voss January 25, 2012 at 6:17 PM #

    No worries Thom. I’m not ruffled in the least. No need to “read into” my lack of interest in you.

    May I suggest that start your own blog where you can propagate your views? You might find some likeminded people who will listen to you or find your opinions interesting.

  10. Chase February 23, 2012 at 12:35 PM #

    I enjoy the debates and in some cases, arguing the same point. I, personally being lazy, like to read the different opinions (possible truths) versus going to the library and searching for books that may or may not be available. I believe in Christ’s divinity, life, death and resurrection based on what I have heard, read and also experienced through direct answers to prayer. However, personal experience aside, I like facts and I like to know what I am defending/refuting. The Bible is full of warnings against false Christs and contradictions due to human perspective and error. I have recently read a discussion that I would like addressed by someone well-studied on the side of Jesus Christ’s authenticity or even a solid argument against the to be mentioned theory to compare and add to any intelligent debate I am involved in in the future. Two things: 1) The similarity to Zorastrian (sp?) belief (I believe it is the first example of monotheism) and 2) mention of Yeshua (Ys, Ees etc) Ben Pantera. It seems to me that the dates and other information leaves a century or more discrepancy.
    Again, I would like to know what you (or anyone that has done legitimate research) have/has found on these topics.

    p.s. If I am wrong in believing, I have lead a life of love and striving to be a better person in effect losing nothing. If I am correct, I have gained everything.

  11. Mark November 17, 2013 at 3:34 PM #

    Just seen this post in passing concerning the death of Jesus.

    In sections validated by scholars, the historian Josephus, attest to the brother of James, who is called Christ, being executed by Pilate. Also, I Cor. 15:3-8 is enough proof by itself, for most scholars, even some of the harshest N.T. critics (i.e.Gerd Ludemann for example. Ludemann accepts the authenticity of the passage, but believes Paul and the other witness were disillusion by a mass hallucination). The date of this 1 Cor. passage in recognized as being established extremely (early 40-50’s a.d.) and the church’s creed that Paul relays is believed by some scholars to be formulated within 3 years of the resurrection. Either way, the authority of the creed is early enough that Paul quotes as he has received it, likely, placing the creed’s formulation before Paul’s conversion. It is concerning the creed claims, nevertheless, that Paul invites critics to go and talk to those who seen the risen Christ. Paul even cites particular names and states that there is some 500 hundred of these witness alive and available to discuss this resurrection. Now, it should go without saying that if they seen the resurrected Jesus, these witnesses knew that he was in fact dead. Moreover, later in the same passage, Paul hinges all of Christianity on Christ’s death and resurrection. One would have to wonder why the persecutor Saul, pharisee of the pharisees, would suddenly abandon his entire privileged life and cite that it was because of the resurrection, if he did not understand that Jesus was in fact dead, too. All of these early references are enough to draw a simple inference that Christ was dead and then alive, unless one does want to accept the bible or even Josephus as solid sources. It is only simply all the more like the gracious Lord that before these events took place, Paul notes that the Lord already foretold of them in the O.T. – “according to the Scriptures”.

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