April 12, 2017


By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 13, 2017


Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

The Christian “gospel” or good news is that God loves us and has defeated death.

God (God the Son) became a human being in the man Jesus. By suffering and dying on a cross, Jesus took our punishment for sin onto Himself. Then God (the Father) raised Jesus from the grave (tomb).

Jesus’ return to life in the same body but somehow wonderfully renewed is a sign that grounds this good news in reality.

By faith in Jesus—i.e., by believing Jesus' resurrection occurred plus trusting in and submitting to Jesus as Lord—we receive forgiveness and (with help from God the Holy Spirit) we become new creations who learn to love truly and have hope of eternal life.

It's an interesting story. But is it true? Did Jesus actually resurrect?

In the little book Finding the Real Jesus: A Guide for Curious Christians and Skeptical Seekers, investigative journalist and former atheist Lee Strobel argues that Jesus really did resurrect.
(Significantly, Strobel's conversion story has just been released as a movie, named after one of his several other books: The Case For Christ.)

Strobel first dismantles some popular claims that purport to cast doubt on the Jesus described by the New Testament (e.g., claims from the Qur’an that Jesus wasn’t killed, claims from the scholar Bart Ehrman that the New Testament can’t be trusted, claims from others that the later Gnostic gospels are more reliable than the New Testament).

Ably sweeping away the skeptical confusion, Strobel then sets out a historical case for Jesus’ resurrection, a case that consists of (at least) five facts.

Fact 1: Jesus was killed by crucifixion.

Fact 2: Within days of Jesus’ death, Jesus’ disciples believed that He physically rose and appeared to them.

Fact 3: Paul, a former foe of the early church, claimed he saw the resurrected Jesus.

Fact 4: The skeptic James (Jesus’ half-brother) believed Jesus resurrected.

Fact 5: Jesus’ tomb was empty.

Strobel points out that the vast majority of New Testament scholars, whether skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection or not, concede the historicity of these facts.

Also, Strobel defends each of the above historical facts, emphasizing that the witnesses not only suffered immensely for the alleged truth of their belief but also knew, because they claimed to be eye witnesses, whether their belief was true or not.

Significantly, this makes them unlike the general religious person (or religious fanatic) who might suffer and die for his/her belief but doesn’t know first-hand whether his/her belief is true. Rather, the witnesses knew the truth of their resurrection claim, and they were willing to give up physical comfort and suffer immensely to proclaim Jesus’ actual resurrection.

Strobel’s conclusion: the best explanation of the evidence is Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.

I think Strobel is right.

Because of what we know about dead bodies (e.g., irreversible cell death and decay), a resurrection, if it happened, would be best explained as supernaturally caused.

Also, in view of the general evidence suggesting God’s existence (see Strobel's book The Case for a Creator), and in view of Jesus’ self-understanding as God, this means that a God-caused resurrection shouldn’t be ruled out prior to historical investigation.

(Asserting prior to investigation that Jesus' resurrection is impossible or improbable assumes there is no God who sometimes does miracles. But this assumption is at issue. Thinking otherwise commits the question-begging fallacy, the mistake of assuming as established what is at issue.)

Moreover, the witnesses’ declarations concerning Jesus’ resurrection should be taken seriously. As New York Law School professor Annette Gordon-Reed points out (in a different case), “Declarations against interest are regarded as having a high degree of credibility because of the presumption that people do not make up lies in order to hurt themselves; they lie to help themselves.”

All this counts in favour of taking the resurrection reports handed down to us via the historical facts as truthful.

The result: Jesus’ miraculous—i.e. God-caused—resurrection is strongly suggested by, plus makes good sense of, the historical evidence.

Happy Easter!

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

For further reading:

No comments: