Summary: A historical defense of the Resurrection account.
Note: This is the first article in a series on the resurrection of Jesus.
PREMISE: God raised Jesus from the dead.
PURPOSE OF ARTICLE: To establish the historicity of the Resurrection narrative.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has generated more controversy, more retellings, and more of an impact than any other event in human history. Today, churches around the world are celebrating this crucial event. However, there are many who believe that Jesus never rose from the dead and that the Easter story is just an elaborate deception.
Today, we will demonstrate that the main facts of the Resurrection story (as presented in the Gospels) are historically valid.
1. Jesus of Nazareth died.
Jesus of Nazareth existed historically and was executed by Roman crucifixion. This can be independently confirmed by secular sources, without any references whatsoever to the four Gospels or the writings of the church fathers.
Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian (often called one of the greatest Roman historians), makes a definite reference to Jesus’ death and impact in the Annals.1 Tacitus was a non-believer.
In a passage of the Antiquities of the Jews known as the Testimonium Flavianum, Josephus, a Romano-Jewish scholar and historian (37 – c. 100 AD), writes about Jesus.2 Although references to Jesus being “the Christ” and his supposed Resurrection are considered by scholars to be later Christian interpolations, the general consensus is that, in the words of historian Edwin Yamauchi, “[The first] part of the passage – which talks about Jesus’ trial and crucifixion… – is unexceptional and considered genuine.”3
Jesus’ death is also described in the Jewish Talmud, compiled between 70 and 200 AD.4 Even Lucian of Samosata, a second-century satirist who mocked and ridiculed Christians, testifies to the historicity of Jesus’ death in his play The Death of Peregrinus: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.”5
Even if Jesus had not suffered from hematidrosis, physical abuse, severe scourging, and the placement of a crown of thorns on his head (all of which are attested to in the Gospel narratives), he would have been dead by crucifixion alone. Roman soldiers in charge of execution were mandated to ensure the death of their victims on pain of death.6 The fact that the apostle John, a first-century fisherman, records a medically accurate description of pericardial rupture (the emission of water and blood) following the crucifixion (John 19:34-35) is excellent proof of the validity of Christ’s death.
In a 1986 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. William D. Edwards and his colleagues state categorically that “Jesus…was flogged, and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock…death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus’ death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier’s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.”7
2. Jesus was buried.
The second indisputable fact is that Jesus was buried.
According to Mark 15:43, Jesus was buried in the prepared tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin. As the ruling council of Israel, the Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one members or less at any given time. To invent a fictional member of this small body in a historical biopic would be similar to fabricating the name of a United States senator (who could easily be cross-checked with public records) in a history book. Given the early nature of Mark’s Gospel and the public nature of the Sanhedrin, it would have been impossible for Mark to fake the story without being called out for it. The name of Joseph, his prominent position, and the location of the tomb would have made it very easy for someone to check if these events occurred.
Furthermore, given Christian resentment toward the Jewish authorities for crucifying Jesus, it would have been highly unlikely for a Christian author to concoct a story about an honorable member of the Sanhedrin giving Jesus a proper burial. And given that the Gospel of Mark is widely considered to be the earliest Gospel and is based off of the apostle Peter’s eyewitness testimony (according to Eusebius),8 it is hard to doubt the scenario of burial in a tomb.
A second proof of Jesus’ burial is the early Christian creed that Paul delivers in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
According to philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig, “vv. 3-5 are a highly stylized four-line formula filled with non-Pauline characteristics.”9 Thus, most scholars date this creed to 36 AD, during Paul’s visit to Jerusalem. That visit is described in his letter to the Galatians, which all New Testament scholars, including well-known atheist skeptic Bart Ehrman, attribute to the historical Paul.10 The creed, then, was created within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion (no room for legend to develop) and testifies to his burial after death.
3. Jesus’ tomb was found empty.
Finally, virtually all serious scholars agree that Jesus’ tomb was later found empty. A story of the disciples stealing the body (perpetuated in later anti-Christian documents) would not have been necessary if the body or bones of Jesus had been found.
The original Resurrection accounts in the Gospels also yield much implicit evidence. First, these accounts are written in very realistic and non-fantastical literary styles, unlike later non-canonical “Gospels” that describe bizarre Resurrection stories.
Second, according to the Gospel accounts, it was Jesus’ female followers who discovered the empty tomb. In ancient Jewish culture, women were not considered credible witnesses. According to Josephus, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex” (Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.15).11 If the Gospels had been edited for credibility, surely the men would have been the ones to discover the tomb. But it is not so in any of the accounts.
Finally, the twelve disciples initially distrusted the account of the female witnesses (Luke 24:10-11). This embarrassing fact could have easily been omitted, but it was not. The disciples were also cowardly, hiding in an upper room (Mark 16:14, John 20:19) and later doubting the validity of the Resurrection itself (John 20:24-29). If this account were fictional, surely the disciples, the future leaders of the church, would not have been portrayed in such a negative light.
The facts are now clear: it can be shown historically that Jesus died, was buried in the prepared tomb of a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, and was later missing from his tomb. At least these essential facts can be trusted.
Christians hold that these facts can only be explained by the Resurrection (a supernatural event), but what if this is not the case? What if one of the many other posited theories works better? Next week, we will examine these theories from a medical and historical vantage point and decide which one fits perfectly.
 “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus [Jesus], 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…” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb) “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3, translated by William Whiston)  Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. Print.  Babylonian Sanhedrin 43a-b – “on the eve of Passover they hanged Jesus the Nazarene” (Editions or MSs: Herzog 1, Karlsruhe 2)  Lucian, The Death of Peregrine 11-13, translated by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler in The Works of Lucian of Samosata (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), vol. 4, as quoted and cited by Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (College Press, 1996, 2008).  Persaud, Christopher H.K. Contending for the Faith: 22 Methodical Arguments for Biblical Truth. N.p.: Xlibris, 2013. Print.  Edwards, William D. “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.” Jama 255.11 (1986): 1455. Web.  “Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: ‘The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.’ This is the account of Clement.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.5-7, translations from The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers; Second Series; Volume 1)  Craig, William Lane. ‘The Resurrection of Jesus.’ Reasonable Faith. Reasonable Faith, n.d. Web.  a) “Most scholars, however, agree that Paul actually wrote only eight of the thirteen ‘Pauline’ letters now included in the New Testament collection: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.” (“Who Wrote Paul?” The Jesus History Project. N.p., n.d. Web.)
b) “‘Virtually all scholars agree that seven of the Pauline letters are authentic: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon,’ says Ehrman.” (“Bart D Ehrman: Was the New Testament Written by Those It Is Attributed To?” Examiner.com. N.p., 28 Feb. 2012. Web.) Translation by William Whiston.