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.
One of the weirder objections I’ve come across against the resurrection of Jesus runs something like this: “Who’s to say that God raised Jesus from the dead? Couldn’t it have been the work of some advanced alien race?” There are a few things that are tacit in this cheeky kind of reply. For starters, maybe they don’t know how to refute the historical evidence because it’s really just that good. This would definitely be a point on the Christian’s side. Or, they think that theistic belief is a lot like believing an advanced alien race killed all the dinosaurs or are responsible for the ancient pyramids. Well, that’s not a very friendly move to make. … Read more
The question “who made God?” is not a knock-down refutation to the cosmological argument. Skeptics need to stop pretending that it is.
One of the most astonishing facts that scientists have discovered over the last 100 years is that all physical reality began to exist in the finite past. Before big bang cosmology, scientists thought that the universe existed eternally. While there are still a few Christians who get a little squeamish about the Big Bang theory, I like to tell them that the Big Bang is your friend, not an enemy. Far from disproving the existence of God, the theory shows that all space, time and matter began to exist. If that’s the case, then the required cause of space, time and matter can’t depend on space, time and matter. Let that sink in a little. … Read more
OK, so this was pretty good. Peter J Williams has a Ph.D. from Cambridge, works for Tyndale House and has debated the likes of Bart Ehrman on public radio. The man knows his stuff. He recently published a book titled Can We Trust the Gospels?. I’m halfway through it now and I’d highly recommend it to anyone just for the gold-mine that is in Chapter 3 alone. It’s really, really good. Anyway, whoever the brain trust is behind the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s Twitter account thought they’d try and tango with Peter. More jollity https://t.co/1NsdnYNd1S — Peter J. Williams (@DrPJWilliams) January 9, 2019 Yeah, they asserted the old “Jesus probably never even existed” canard. You may … Read more
The topic of hell usually generates more heat than light, pun intended. The doctrine gets used as a bludgeon against those who claim to follow Jesus, who is said to be meek and lowly of heart, yet spoke so often of this harsh subject. The late outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens said, “not until the Advent of the Prince of Peace do we hear of the ghastly idea of further punishing the dead.” You hear many thinking believers say they’d prefer to get rid of the doctrine if it didn’t have such scriptural support. CS Lewis said, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this if it lay in my … Read more
A look at an alleged contradiction in the Gospels: Was Jairus’ daughter alive when Jesus was approached or was she already dead?
For historical documents to be reliable, they can’t be full of contradictions. That’s just common sense. As Christians, we say that the Gospels give us an accurate portrayal of historical events, but critics are quick to call foul. They say that the gospel accounts are so full of contradictions that it’s hopeless to even try and argue for their reliability. Or so critics like Bart Ehrman would like us to believe. When asked on his blog if there was a “slam-dunk” contradiction that would be impossible to defend, Bart’s reply was: “I don’t have ONE that is [a] slam-dunk. But there are dozens that are pretty good. Here’s one: Jairus came to Jesus to ask him to … Read more
Skeptics say that Paul knew next to nothing about the life and teachings of the historical Jesus. Here are 27 reasons why that’s false.
You can find the craziest conspiracy theories on the internet. The earth is flat. 9/11 was an inside job. Saved by the Bell was a brainwashing tool by the Illuminati. Jay-Z is a time-traveling vampire. Or that Jesus never existed. One tactic of the Jesus-mythers is that they say that Paul knew nothing of the historical Jesus. They claim that the Jesus of the gospels is nothing like the Jesus of Paul’s Epistles. There’s nothing about his birth, baptism, the Sermon on the Mount, his healings and exorcisms, his walking on water, feeding of the 5000, his cleansing of the temple, and so on. Paul only speaks about a ‘heavenly man’, seemingly unconnected to real … Read more
An awesome quote about how the conversion of Paul is one of the greatest Christian evidences we have
I’m not normally one for just dropping a quote in a blog post and calling it a day, but this is a money quote on the evidential value of the conversion of Paul. I couldn’t pass up on sharing it. Farrar was a linguist, Anglican minister, and a teacher. He wrote primarily in the 19th century. He was also a pallbearer at Charles Darwin’s funeral, which makes me curious to know to the story there, but that’s personal research for another day, I guess. Here it is: …it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of St. Paul’s conversion as one of the evidences of Christianity. That he should have passed, by one flash of conviction, … Read more
A look at an alleged contradiction in the gospels: Did the centurion ask Jesus directly to heal his servant, or did he send others to ask?
If you’ve ever been in a discussion online with atheists, you know that one of their favorite moves is to dump a heap of alleged contradictions in the Bible and act like it is game over time. It’s probably a strange way of thinking about it, but I liken it to throwing a bucket of snakes into a crowded movie theater. It only takes a few seconds to dump some slithering serpents and watch people scatter, but it takes a lot longer catch them one by one and deal with them. It can be a pain to play the role of animal control, but someone’s gotta do it. These things do bother people. One of … Read more
Here are 18 eye-opening passages from the Gospel of Mark that prove the deity of Jesus. Even if all we had was Mark and the Old Testament, we’d still know that Jesus is God.
Biblical critics like Bart Ehrman say that the deity of Christ was a later invention that developed near the end of the first century. Bart and others of his ilk say that Mark, the earliest gospel, has a lower view of Jesus than John, who says he’s the pre-existent Word made Flesh. Quoting Bart: “If Jesus went around Galilee proclaiming himself to be a divine being sent from God…could anything else that he say be so breath-taking and thunderously important? And yet none of the earlier sources (read: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) says any such thing about him. Did they (all of them!) just decide not to mention the one thing that was most significant … Read more
Most Christians know that they ought to be sharing their faith. I mean, there is the whole “make disciples of all nations” thing that Jesus said. (Matthew 28:19) But knowing and doing end up being two different things for many believers. When Christians hear the word evangelism, there’s a sense of anxiety that springs up for many. Asking a friend “hey buddy, do you know Jesus?” can be an awkward thing. It’s only more awkward to spring that question on a total stranger. There’s a certain yuck factor, as you don’t want to come across overly salesy or be lumped in with some cult. Our society is growing increasingly secular. We have to be aware of … Read more