IS JESUS ALIVE?
Can we rationally believe Jesus is alive today?
Christians make the claim that Jesus is alive today, 2000 years after he was crucified in Jerusalem. No other religion claims that their founder was raised from the dead, and well...to our modern ears that seems like a pretty strange claim. In our everyday experience, you might know of someone who was dead for a few seconds or maybe even a few minutes only to be revived somehow. But alive after three days?
If you haven't seen the "Happy Zombie Jesus" greetings around Easter time, you may be living under a rock. It's less than just a subtle jab at Christianity. And the thing about it is this - Christians probably do deserve to be made fun of for their beliefs if they aren't true.
The apostle Paul even says this: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
So if Jesus' body is still in the tomb, Christianity is pretty pathetic. But if Jesus is alive from the dead, nothing could possibly be more important. Scientists are working around the clock to find new ways to help prolong our lives, but we all know that we're not getting out of this life alive. The Bible claims that Jesus is the key to immortality and the one who will one day resurrect us from the dead. Paul preached to the people of Athens "God...now commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead". (Acts 17:30-31)
But it gets even stronger. Jesus is also preached as the ONLY way to this immortality. Peter said to the Jewish leaders "Jesus Christ of Nazareth...whom God raised from the dead...there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:10)
So if Christianity is true, it's importance cannot possibly be understated. If it's not true, Paul said that "we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead." (1 Corinthians 15:15).
Hey, wait a second!
Now you might be irritated when I say that we're going to use the Bible in order to do this. You can't prove the Bible with the Bible! But that's not what I'm up to.
Historical Jesus scholars use the New Testament texts to do their research, even if you won't. And if you know anything about modern historical Jesus scholarship, they're not exactly a group of people singing in the church choir every Sunday.
We're talking college professors, writers, historians, researchers. Some of which tend to be very skeptical. They might believe that Jesus really existed, had disciples and was crucified but when it comes to some of the things that the Bible claims he said or did, many of them will be quick to brush aside a lot of what's in the New Testament.
Here we're going to look at facts that the majority of these scholars will accept. Once we identify these facts, we'll then interpret rival explanations of these facts and see which one best explains them all.
This is what we call abductive reasoning. We're going to put on our detective hats a little bit and then infer to the best explanation.
First, some historical background regarding the death and burial of Jesus:
Jesus was crucified. This is not only reported in all four gospels but is externally confirmed by non-Christian historians. The Jewish historian Josephus says: "Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross". (Antiquities 18:3)
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote: "Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus". (Annals 15:44)
Secondly, Jesus was buried. Jewish law required burial, even for foreigners and for criminals who were executed. (Josephus, Against Apion 2.211, Deuteronomy 21:23) Also, it's reported in the gospels that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in one of his family tombs. This is unlikely to be a Christian invention, as Joseph was also on the same council that ended up calling for the crucifixion.
Moving forward through the facts about the origin of the Christian faith
Down below is the relevant data that we'll be considering. Further below are the most popular explanations of the facts. They're not the only explanations, but any explanation has to cover all the facts that we'll be looking at. I recommend reading them in order.
It may surprise you that current scholarship unanimously holds that the disciples, James and Paul were convinced that the risen Jesus had appeared to them.
In the patriarchal society that was second temple Judaism, women were not highly regarded. In particular, their testimony was looked down upon in comparison to the testimony of men. Yet the Gospel writers make the then-embarrassing admission that women were the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. Why is that important?
Every piece of first-century evidence indicates that the resurrection was proclaimed in Jerusalem beginning at Pentecost, just 50 days after Jesus' crucifixion. What's the importance of the time and the place this message was announced?
After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ. Find out why that matters.
According to scholar Gary Habermas: “An intriguing development in recent theological research is that a strong majority of contemporary critical scholars seems to support, at least to some extent, the view that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was subsequently discovered to be empty” Here we look at just a few reasons why historians believe this to be fact.
Maybe the original message of what happened to Jesus changed substantially over the years until it grew into the legend of the resurrection. This might be one of the more popular explanations, but does it cover what we know?
This is the oldest explanation, dating back to the first century and is found in historical literature several times in the early centuries of the church. Could Jesus' disciples have pulled off the biggest hoax in history?
Is it possible the disciples were seeing visions or apparitions of Jesus when he wasn't really there? This would explain the appearances of Jesus, but does this theory work?
The disciples, Paul, and others were telling the truth about what they experienced. They were not deluded or deluding others. A miracle really happened. Is it rational to consider that a miracle occurred? You might be surprised.
Sometimes you gotta make an apologetic for apologetics. Often well-meaning Christians spout off pious-sounding platitudes like “faith isn’t based on reason, that’s why it’s called faith”, or “God doesn’t need us to defend him, just preach the gospel.” That sounds spiritual, but it isn’t biblical. That’s not the way Jesus operated, and that’s not the way … Read more
Historical Truth or Holy Fiction: Did Herod really order the Massacre of the Innocents, or did Matthew just make up a story?
When we think of the Christmas story, our minds go to some dingy, yet warm and cozy places. We picture Mary, Joseph and a swaddling baby in a manger. We see angels, shepherds and the Magi bearing gifts. I can almost hear “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” now. But smack dab in the middle of … Read more
John Allen Chau’s death has sparked questions about the morality of Christian missions. Is missionary work full of “cultural imperialism and insane arrogance?”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you’ve heard about the death of John Allen Chau. The 26-year old missionary traveled to a remote Indian island in hopes of sharing his faith with an isolated and uncivilized tribe called the Sentinelese. This group was known for their aggression towards outsiders and even fired arrows … Read more
Critics say that Jesus never predicted his resurrection. These statements were allegedly put in Jesus’ mouth to further their theology. There are two big reasons why that’s false.
Over and over in the Gospels, we read that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection. Like Babe Ruth, he called his own shot. This prediction may have fallen on deaf ears, but nevertheless, his disciples should not have been surprised on the first Easter. Yet critical historical Jesus scholars tell us that he never … Read more
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No, the resurrection accounts in the Bible are not “fake news” because they are written by biased sources. Why the “Biased Testimony” objection fails.
This is the age of fake news. Distrust of the media has never been higher. There aren’t all bad reasons for that. We’ve all seen the press skewing things to suit a political narrative. Both sides have been guilty. It’s gotten so bad, you even have social media companies trying to combat fake news. Funny … Read more
Can miracles pass historical tests? Charles Leslie, a 17th-century clergyman created a method for testing historical events. Jesus’ resurrection passed the test. Skeptics of his time couldn’t refute his criteria or the results.
There are so many good books that have been written in the last 10 years on the subject of Christian apologetics. It can feel overwhelming to keep up with! Not to mention expensive. Many of these books are responses to modern criticisms against the faith. Because of this, we tend to focus on the new books … Read more
Why does the Biblical God need our worship? Is he some sort of egomaniac? Was David Hume right when he said God has a “restless appetite for applause?”
The Biblical God requires worship. Some find that repulsive. Isn’t someone who wants constant adoration prideful? Is God some kind of narcissist? David Hume was a famous 18th-century philosopher. He was also no fan of Christianity. He wrote: “It is an absurdity to believe that the Deity has human passions, and one of the lowest … Read more
ost of what we learn about Jesus and early Christianity comes from the New Testament. This is not a big shock. But what does come as a shock to some is that we can also learn a lot from non-Christian sources. There are some hostile sources from the first century from whom we can glean … Read more
Skeptics say “You’re only a Christian because you grew up in America. If you were born in Iran, you’d be a Muslim.” While this is wrong, it should make us think.
“How thoughtful of God to arrange matters so that, wherever you happen to be born, your local religion turns out to be the true one.” Richard Dawkins How are you so sure your faith is the right one? Isn’t religion only a reflection of culture? Some might say that you’re just a Christian as an … Read more