Defending the Resurrection

By James M. Rochford

Paul explains the importance of the resurrection of Christ quite clearly in his letter to the Corinthians:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Note Paul’s emphatic language here: If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the entire Christian faith is worthless! Paul was staking his entire faith on this one historical fact. As George Ladd writes, “If this faith is not founded on fact, the message of the entire New Testament rests on a fallacy.”[1] As another writer has explained, the “resurrection means endless hope, but no resurrection means a hopeless end.”[2]

Is there good evidence to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Let’s consider each line of evidence.

1. Early Sources

In addition to the four gospels, we have a short historical document that dates back to the first few years after Jesus’ resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15. The early Christians contained this statement of faith within a couple of years after Jesus’ death, which Paul quoted in 1 Corinthians 15. Most scholars date this section (1 Cor. 15:3-5) between 3 to 5 years after the death of Christ.[3] In fact, even the hostile atheistic scholar Gerd Lüdemann believes that this section in 1 Corinthians 15 is an extremely early account of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and appearances. He writes,

The testimony of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is the earliest text in the New Testament to make concrete mention of the death, resurrection, and appearances of the risen Christ. Here Paul uses traditions which he knows from an earlier period. As 1 Corinthians is usually dated around 50 A.D., we may note, first, that the traditions which he mentions must be even older… It is hard to say what the relationship is between the event itself and the development and description of it. Because of the extraordinary nature of the event in question we may suppose that it was also reported immediately after the appearance of Jesus. How could it be conceivable that an event took place and was only related, shall we say, ten years later?[4]

Lüdemann argues that this section in 1 Corinthians 15 must have originated “immediately” after the death of Jesus. He doesn’t think that it is even “conceivable” for a decade to have gone by before the early Christians wrote this down.

Why is this important?

This section in 1 Corinthians 15 demonstrates that these core events were not late legends. They were recorded right from the beginning of the Christian movement, and Paul cited this declaration in his letter to the Corinthians (written in 51-52 C.E.). Therefore, this section of 1 Corinthians 15 is an incredibly early document that details the basic facts surrounding the core of Christian faith (for a complete explanation for dating this section 3-5 years after the resurrection, see comments on 1 Corinthians 15:3b-5).

2. Execution

Jesus was executed by crucifixion in AD 33. The evidence is so strong for this that even hostile critics of the Christian faith agree with this. For instance, Gerd Lüdemann—an atheistic NT critic—explains, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”[5] John-Dominic Crossan—a radical NT critic—concludes, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus… agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”[6] Moreover, biblical critic Bart Ehrman writes, “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.”[7]

Why would critics of the Bible be so certain on this historical event?

First, ancient non-Christian historians and writers mention the crucifixion of Jesus. For instance, Tacitus—the anti-Christian Roman historian—writes, “Christus… was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.”[8] Tacitus doesn’t seem like a Christian sympathizer in this passage, calling the Christian faith a “pernicious superstition.” And yet, he agrees identically with the biblical account of the crucifixion, even mentioning details like the governor in charge of the execution: Pontius Pilate. Elsewhere, Jewish historians record details about Jesus’ death, which mention the fact that he was “hanged (or crucified) on the eve of Passover.”[9] Moreover, a Greek satirist named Lucian wrote, “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day… and was crucified on that account they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage”[10] Just imagine that you were put on trial, and three of your most hated enemies testified in favor of your alibi; consider how much that would validate your story! It is similar to the historical evidence for the execution of Christ.

Second, modern medical analysis concludes that Jesus was dead before the spear punctured his side. In connection with this historical evidence, two medical doctors analyzed the biblical account in The Journal of the American Medical Association in March of 1986. They pieced together the accounts in the four gospels, and they concluded that it is medically clear that Jesus must have died on the Cross. They noticed that John wrote, “One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (Jn. 19:34 NLT). These three men cited this verse as evidence that Jesus was dead even before the spear pierced through the rib. They explained:

Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.[11]

Other physicians and medical experts have come to similar conclusions:

For this article cited above, see William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association vol. 255, No. 11, 21 March 1986 found here.

Robert Bucklin, “The Legal and Medical Aspects of the Trial and Death of Christ,” Medicine, Science and the Law (January, 1970) found here.

C. Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus: The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View,” in Arizona Medicine, March, 1965, pp. 183-187 found here.

Pierre Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary (Garden City: Doubleday, 1953) found here.

Robert Wassenar, “A Physician Looks at the Suffering of Christ” in Moody Monthly, 79/7, March 1979, pp. 41-42; James H. Jewell, Jr., and Patricia A. Didden, “A Surgeon Looks at the Cross,” in Voice, 58/2, March-April, 1979, pp. 3-5.

Third, the Roman executioners surely would have ensured Jesus’ death. We can also be confident that Jesus died on the Cross, because of those who were responsible for Jesus’ execution: the Romans. The Romans were excellent at torture and execution. Perhaps no other society in human history has ever gained such an adept skill in the art of carrying out capital punishment. What are the chances that we would expect someone to survive a modern day execution? They are probably no more likely than the first century Roman system. In fact, the first century executioners may have even been better at it, considering their expertise and practice.

3. Expectation of Resurrection

The eye-witnesses of Christ described a corporeal (or physical) resurrection from the dead. They did not believe that he was a spiritual being floating around, nor was he merely an immaterial projection or vision. John describes the gory wounds and scars in his flesh, which were poked at by a skeptic of the resurrection (Jn. 20:24-28). Luke describes Christ eating with the disciples, gnawing on a piece of fish (Lk. 24:41-43). Even Paul’s early affirmation in 1 Corinthians 15 (“…that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day…”) assumes a bodily resurrection. If Jesus was buried, this would mean that his physical body was placed into the ground. Therefore, if he was raised, this would imply his physical body leaving the tomb.

But where did the concept of dying and rising Messiah come from?

From Judaism?

The Jews had no concept of a dead and rising Messiah.[12] The Jews did have a concept for an individual being “translated” into heaven (Gen. 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11) and for “resuscitation” (1 Kings 17:21-23; 2 Kings 13:21). But it was clear to them that these people still had a mortal body—doomed for death—after they were resuscitated. While some of the Jews (the Pharisees) believed in a mass resurrection from the dead at the end of human history (Is. 26:19; Ezek. 37; Dan. 12:2; Job 19:25-26; Ps. 22:29), they had no concept of an individual resurrection before that time.[13] Jesus’ resurrection was entirely different. He had an immortal body—being physically and individually raised.

From Paganism?

Paganism had no concept for a resurrection of the body after death. Vain attempts have been made to connect the resurrection of Christ with other Pagan mystery religions that involve stories of dying gods who later came back to life (e.g. Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite, Isis, Osiris, etc.). Modern documentaries such as Peter Joseph’s Zeitgeist and Brian Flemming’s The God Who Wasn’t There both claim that the concept of resurrection existed before the time of Christ. And yet these Pagan myths turn out to be myths themselves for two primary reasons:

First, the Pagan worldview despised the concept of a physical resurrection. For one, neo-Platonism largely influenced Pagan thinking about the resurrection of the body. In the neo-Platonic worldview, the material world was considered evil and repugnant, while the immaterial world was considered pure and enlightened. When someone died, their immaterial and pure soul escaped from the prison of the body on a one-way street to the afterlife. Neo-Platonists were offended by the notion of a physical resurrection, because this meant that the evil and disgusting body would be reanimated after death. Nothing could be more offensive to a Pagan thinker.[14] N.T. Wright explains, “This same sort of denial of bodily resurrection is also there in Homer, Plato, and Pliny, and it is there consistently through a thousand years of paganism, up to and through the time of Jesus.”[15] Therefore, on the basis of their overarching worldview, Pagan thinkers despised the Christian concept of resurrection.

Second, we find no primary Pagan sources about resurrection until after Jesus. While popular atheistic documentaries and free-thinker websites have made it seem like Paganism believed in resurrection long before Christianity, it was actually the other way around. Geisler and Turek write, “The first real parallel of a dying and rising god does not appear until A.D. 150, more than a hundred years after the origin of Christianity. So if there was any influence of one on the other, it was the influence of the historical event of the New Testament on mythology, not the reverse.”[16] Even critical scholar Bart Ehrman bluntly writes, “There is no evidence. This is made up.”[17] Later, he concludes, “The majority of scholars agree… there is no unambiguous evidence that any pagans prior to Christianity believed in dying and rising gods. Anyone who thinks that Jesus was modeled on such deities needs to cite some evidence—any evidence at all—that Jews in Palestine at the alleged time of Jesus’s life were influenced by anyone who held such views.”[18]

When we do find apparent cases of “dying and rising” gods in Pagan mythology, these always mimic the seasons of the spring and fall harvest. The Pagan cults would perform plays each year to bring in the spring harvest and yearly cycle of the seasons. These were not based in history, nor did they deal with physical resurrection. Wright explains, “Did any worshipper in these cults… think that actual human beings, having died, actually came back to life? Of course not. These multifarious and sophisticated cults enacted the god’s death and resurrection as a metaphor, whose concrete referent was the cycle of seed-time and harvest, of human reproduction and fertility.”[19] There is a big difference between a person dying and coming back to life and the gods “dying” in the fall and “resurrecting” in the spring each year. These weren’t literal reports of corpses coming back to life; they were metaphors for the yearly crop cycle.

What caused these first-century Jews to change overnight?

Imagine a village of modern day Amish people suddenly abandoning their strict Christian separatism for a lifestyle of technology and secularism. They burn their Bibles in the town square, and they religiously read Darwin’s Origin of Species on Sunday morning; they dismantle their horse and buggies, and they all buy Volvos and Volkswagens; they shuck their gingham clothes in favor of the spring line from Abercrombie and Fitch. Now, not only would we be amused at such a radical revolution in the Amish community, but we would also need to offer an explanation for it. Communities of deeply religious people do not abandon their cherished beliefs overnight. That is, they do not do this without an explanation. Secularists have rightly observed that religious beliefs are often the most rigid and unbending of all beliefs. Never could this observation be better applied than in first-century Palestine. It seems that a powerful explanation is in order to account for the sudden genesis of resurrection teaching within the heart of religious Jerusalem.

4. Empty Tomb

Jesus’ empty tomb is also a well-attested historical event. Historians value embarrassing material as highly historically likely. That is, it is highly unlikely that an author will write highly embarrassing material about themselves. If they do, it raises the credibility of the event in question. With this in mind, consider the NT description of the empty tomb of Jesus.

First, the NT claims that women were the first to find the tomb empty. It is historically unlikely that Christians would place the evidence for their story in the hands of women, because women couldn’t testify in a court of law at the time.[20] This would be similar to having two black slaves as witnesses in a Mississippi courtroom in 1860! You simply would never stage an event like this. And yet, all four gospels mention women witnesses.

Second, two members of the Sanhedrin buried the body. The “whole Council” voted to put Jesus to death (Mk. 14:55, 64; 15:1), and yet the NT tells us that two of the members of the Sanhedrin had the honor of burying Jesus’ body (Jn. 3:1; Jn. 19:38-40). It is historically unlikely that Christians would create a story where their mortal enemies buried the body of Christ.[21] To illustrate, imagine if you are accused of murder, and you used two U.S. senators as your alibi. If you were inventing the names, you’d be immediately discredited. However, if you were inventing the story, you’d be falsified easily. Conspirators wouldn’t write the story in this way; only historians would.[22]

Third, the Nazareth Inscription also supports an empty tomb. The Nazareth Inscription was found in 1878. It is a small marble slab that contains a 14-line statement from the emperor of Rome that declares capital punishment for anyone who steals a body from a tomb (dating either to Tiberius [14-37 AD] or Claudius [41-54]). Other edicts from the time gave a fine, but this edict declared death! This would fit with the rumors at the time that the disciples had stolen the body (Mt. 28:11-15).

Fourth, there is evidence for the empty tomb from early Christian practice. There is absolutely no record that the early Christians worshipped the empty tomb of Jesus. We can point to other revered leaders (religious or otherwise), who have tombs that are visited by religious followers. For example, Martin Luther King’s grave is still visited by thousands of tourists every year. So is J.F.K.’s. But, there was absolutely no veneration of Christ’s tomb. This is because his followers really believed that he was no longer there, and he had risen to be with the Father. The empty tomb held no spiritual or nostalgic value whatsoever; the spiritual value rested in Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead, which existed elsewhere. How contrary this is to other religions that quickly worship holy spaces and places!

5. Eye Witnesses

There were several eye witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. In fact, even hostile atheistic critics will admit that many eye witnesses believed that Jesus had appeared to them after his death and burial. For instance, Ludemann writes, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”[23] Let’s see why Ludemann would write this:

To Whom did He appear?—believers, non-believers, enemies, skeptics, and family

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him” (1 Cor. 15:5-8 NLT). This is not a list of the usual suspects, and the testimonies of these men carry great weight in assessing the validity of the resurrection. Paul writes that Christ appeared to:

Peter.

The twelve apostles.

500 disciples.

His brother James.

Paul.

Peter

Peter was not ready for a crucified Messiah. Like every other Jew at the time, he was expecting an earthly ruler who would deliver the Jewish people from the siege of Roman rule. Moreover, Peter fled the crucifixion of Christ, fearing even young girls who were accusing him of following Jesus (Mt. 26:69-71). After the death of Christ, Peter is found fishing outside of town, just as he always did. And yet, this hillbilly Galilean is later radically changed into a central leader of the Early Church, experiencing suffering and torture, and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government.

The 500 disciples

What about the 500 disciples? It would be counterproductive for Paul to mention that there were 500 eyewitnesses of the resurrection, if they were not alive to promote the authenticity of the resurrection. C. H. Dodd writes, “There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that most of the 500 are still alive, unless Paul is saying, in effect, ‘The witnesses are there to be questioned.’”[24]

Almost all scholars agree that 1 Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul in the early 50’s AD. This means that many of these 500 men and women would still be alive to be interrogated and questioned. In other words, Paul was not making an empty boast, when he told his readers about this mass group of witnesses “most of whom are still alive” (1 Cor. 15:6). He was taunting his opponents with the fact that there were plenty of eye-witnesses, who sincerely believed that they had seen the risen Christ.

James—the Lord’s brother

James was not a believer in Christ, and it seems easy to sympathize with him. I can’t imagine having a brother who claimed to be God incarnate! Craig writes,

Many of us have brothers. What would it take to make you believe that your brother is the Lord, so that you would die for this belief, as James did? Can there be any doubt that the reason for this remarkable transformation is to be found in the fact that “then he appeared to James?” Even the skeptical NT critic Hans Grass admits that the conversion of James is one of the surest proofs of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[25]

The Bible is fully realistic about James’ disbelief in his brother’s spectacular claims to deity. Mark writes, “When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. ‘He’s out of his mind,’ they said” (Mk. 3:21). John also concurs that “even his brothers didn’t believe in him” (John 7:5). But once James sees Christ risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:7), he becomes a dedicated Christian follower. The next time James is mentioned in the Bible is when he is sitting in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Then he becomes an apostle (Gal. 1:19). Then he becomes a “pillar” of the early church (Gal. 2:9). James went from being a skeptic to becoming one of the central leaders of Christianity.

Typically, when a leader of a messianic movement was killed, the nearest brother would take up the role. However, instead of being announced as the new messiah, James continued to believe that Jesus—his brother—was the Messiah.

After he is mentioned in Acts 21:18, James falls off the pages of the Bible. We are told by Josephus, a Jewish historian, that James was martyred in AD 60 by the Sanhedrin.[26] He was illegally stoned to death for his dogged belief in Jesus. What would it take to believe that your brother was God incarnate? What then would it take to go to your death for this conviction? James found this motivation in seeing the resurrected Christ, as 1 Corinthians 15 tells us.

Paul of Tarsus

Finally, Paul was an enemy of Christianity. He was not merely a passive bystander. He was actively torturing and executing Christian men and women. Ladd writes:

There is every evidence that Paul was sincere in his belief that a crucified Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah, and the church could therefore not possibly be the people of God. The very fact of crucifixion disqualified Jesus from being Messiah, for it was Messiah’s role to reign, not to die. Only a personal confrontation with Jesus, risen and exalted, could change Paul’s mind. It would not be too much to say that Paul’s conversion was a psychological miracle. There was no psychological conditioning to prepare him for this experience.[27]

Jesus had appeared to them. Gary Habermas writes, “It seems clear that the disciples were utterly persuaded that the risen Jesus had appeared to them.  The data are strong enough that this is granted by virtually all critical scholars.”[29] While this does not prove that Jesus rose from the dead, it does prove that these men sincerely believed that he did. Therefore, the closest witnesses of Jesus sincerely believed that Jesus was raised from the dead.

Paul was not the only radical Jewish follower. It can be shown that many of the Pharisees and Levitical priests also converted at this time.[28] It seems reasonable, therefore, to conclude that these men sincerely believed that they had witnessed Jesus alive from the dead. What else could account for this abrupt, 180 degree turn in beliefs, which occurred in even the most dogmatically religious circles?

Conclusion

 

In his final chapters, Wright categorizes historical events on a scale of “highly unlikely” all the way to “highly probable.”[30] Regarding the resurrection of Christ, Wright claims, “the historian, of whatever persuasion, has no option but to affirm both the empty tomb and the ‘meetings’ with Jesus as ‘historical events…’ I regard this conclusion as coming in the same sort of category, of historical probability so high as to be virtually certain, as the death of Augustus in A.D. 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.”[31]

Likewise, even Jewish scholars have come to believe in the resurrection based on the historical evidence. For example, Pinchus Lapide (a Jewish scholar at Hebrew University in Tel Aviv) writes, “I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event. If the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on that Easter Sunday were a public event which had been made known…not only to the 530 Jewish witnesses but to the entire population, all Jews would have become followers of Jesus.”[32]

Alternate Hypotheses

Naturalistic historians offer alternate explanations for the resurrection account of Christ. A number of the most popular hypotheses are encountered below:

1. Legend Theory Some critics argue that the resurrection was the result of an accumulating legend. After Jesus died, the story of his “resurrection” was exaggerated from person to person. After time went by, the resurrection account was created over time. Is this the case?

2. Swoon (or “Apparent Death”) Theory Some critical and Muslim thinkers postulate that perhaps Jesus swooned on the Cross. This means that Jesus didn’t really die, but he merely went into a deep comatose state near death. However, after he was laid in the cool, dark tomb, Jesus regained strength and came back to life. Does this theory explain the historical data surrounding the resurrection?

3. Hallucination Theory Some critics argue that Jesus did appear to his disciples after death, but he only appeared to appear. They argue that it is more likely that the disciples had a mass hallucination that Jesus had risen from the dead.

4. A Spiritual Resurrection Some skeptics point out that 1 Corinthians 15 refers to our resurrected bodies (and Christ’s resurrected body) as “spiritual.” That is, his body was immaterial and non-physical. From this, they argue that the disciples believed that Jesus’ body was a ghost—not a real resurrected body.

One Final Evidence…

We have considered five lines of evidence for the resurrection:

1. Early sources.

2. Execution.

3. Expectation of Resurrection.

4. Empty Tomb.

5. Eye Witnesses.

However, there is one final line of evidence that we should consider. Today, nearly 2,000 years after his death, Jesus of Nazareth still captures the attention of modern people. But it would be unfair to say that he captures their attention in a purely academic sense. Millions (perhaps even billions) of people, across the scope and field of human history, have found that Jesus has captured their heart in sometimes inexplicable ways. People from all cultures, ages, and walks of life have found Jesus to be there for them, walking with them in their fears, comforting them in their sorrows, forgiving them in their failures, and releasing them from their shame. His presence still governs over the lives of countless people; his power still strengthens those who are hopeless; his forgiveness still brings grown men to their knees in reverence. His Cross still invokes tears from modern men and women. This, then, is the final argument for the resurrection of Christ…

Experience.

If we were studying the history of a dead man, then we could leave the evidence in the library. But instead, we are studying the evidence of a Living Person, who loves us and calls us into a relationship with himself.

Ultimately, we can find this Person by asking him to find us. And, according to millions of people today…

He will.

Further Reading

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. 3rd Edition. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Chapter Eight “The Resurrection of Jesus.”

Craig is a philosopher of religion and theologian who specializes in both the Kalaam Cosmological Argument and the Resurrection of Jesus. His final chapter in Reasonable Faith covers the evidence for the resurrection.

Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, 2012.

Ehrman is an atheistic critic of the New Testament. However, in this work, he supports the historical claim that Jesus existed. This book is good to give to a radical skeptic of the NT, because it shows that even atheistic critics are overwhelmed by the historical evidence for Jesus.

Evans, Craig A., N. T. Wright, and Troy A. Miller. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009.

Habermas, Gary R., and Mike Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004.

This book is definitely written for the lay person, but it covers much of the persuasive evidence for the resurrection.

Ladd, George Eldon. I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975.

Lapide, Pinchas. The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective. Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1983.

Lapide was a Jewish historian at Hebrew University in Tel Aviv who was persuaded by the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010.

If you are looking for depth, Licona’s book has one of the most well-researched treatments of this subject.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999.

Wilkins, Michael J., James Porter Moreland, and William Lane Craig. Jesus under Fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003.

Wright’s 800-page book is revered as one of the most exhaustive treatments of the resurrection to date.


[1] Ladd, George Eldon. I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975. 43.

[2] See the footnote in Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 196.

[3] Habermas writes, “Even radical scholars like Gerd Lüdemann think that ‘the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion… no later than three years after the death of Jesus.’ Similarly, Michael Goulder contends that Paul’s testimony about the resurrection appearances ‘goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.’” Gary Habermas, “Tracing Jesus’ Resurrection to Its Earliest Eyewitness Accounts.” From Craig, William Lane., and Chad V. Meister. God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009. 212.

[4] Emphasis mine. Lüdemann, Gerd, and Alf Özen. What Really Happened to Jesus: a Historical Approach to the Resurrection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995. 9; 15.

[5] Emphasis mine. Lüdemann, Gerd. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994. 50.

[6] Emphasis mine. Crossan, John-Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. Harper One. 1995. 145.

[7] Emphasis mine. Ehrman, Bart. The Historical Jesus: Lecture Transcript and Course Guidebook, Part 2 of 2. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company. 2000. 162.

[8]Cornelius Tacitus Annals 15.44. Cited in McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999. 120-121. Even though Tacitus errs on his title (Pilate was prefect of Judea, not procurator), it still shows that he was cognizant of the historical Pilate and his administration in Judea.

[9] McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999. 123.

[10] Lucian The Death of Peregrine (p.11-13). Cited in McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1999. 121.

[11] William D. Edwards, MD; Wesley J. Gabel, MDiv; Floyd E Hosmer, MS, AMI On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ: The Journal of the American Medical Association (March 21, 1986, Volume 256) 1986.

[12] Wright explains, “The world of Judaism had generated, from its rich scriptural origins, a rich variety of beliefs about what happened, and would happen, to the dead. But it was quite unprepared for the new mutation that sprang up, like a totally unexpected plant, within the already well-stocked garden.” Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003. 206.

[13] This thought form spills over into the New Testament in a number of places. Mary and Martha believe in a general resurrection of the dead at the end of time, but they do not believe in individual resurrections at the present time (Jn. 11:23-24). It is also clear that the disciples are unaware of a dying and rising Messiah (Mk. 9:9-10). The concept was foreign to them. In fact, Peter has to convince them of this in his earliest public debates (Acts 2:23, 36).

[14] For biblical examples of this, see 1 Corinthians 1:23 and Acts 17:31-32.

[15] Evans, Craig A., N. T. Wright, and Troy A. Miller. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009. 77.

[16] Geisler, Norman L., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004. 312.

[17] Ehrman makes this statement in regards to atheist Frank Zindler’s arguments for parallels. Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne, 2012. 212.

[18] Ibid., 230.

[19] Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003. 80.

[20] Josephus writes, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.” Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.15.

[21] William Lane Craig writes, “A Christian fictional creation of a Jewish Sanhedrist doing what is right for Jesus is almost inexplicable, given the hostility toward the Jewish leaders responsible for Jesus’ death in early Christian writings. In particular, Mark would not have invented Joseph in view of his statements that the whole Sanhedrin voted for Jesus’ condemnation.” Wilkins, Michael J., James Porter Moreland, and William Lane Craig. Jesus under Fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995. 148.

[22] Christian skeptic D. H. Van Daalen writes, “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.” Van, Daalen David H. The Real Resurrection,. London: Collins, 1972. 41.

[23] Of course, Ludemann chalks this up to a hallucination or vision. Lüdemann, Gerd, and Alf Özen. What Really Happened to Jesus: a Historical Approach to the Resurrection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995. 80.

[24] Dodd, C. H. More New Testament Studies. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968. 128.

[25] Craig, William Lane., and William Lane. Craig. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. 2nd ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994. 283.

[26] Josephus Antiquities of the Jews Book 20:197-203.

[27] Ladd, George Eldon. I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975. 122.

[28] See John 3:1–21; 7:40–52; 19:38–42; c.f. 12:42–43; Acts 6:7; 15:5.

[29] Gary Habermas Experiences of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection Originally published in Dialog: A Journal of Theology, Vol. 45; No. 3 (Fall, 2006), pp. 288-297; published by Blackwell Publishing, UK.

[30] Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003. 687.

[31] Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003. 709-710.

[32] Lapide, Pinchas. The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective. Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1983. 15; 123.