(This is the series of Facebook notes I started during Easter Weekend. The homework started to pile on, so I didn't get to finish the series during Easter. Here, I post the Facebook notes as I posted them back then in order. The only difference is, I will actually continue the series now lol.)
In the spirit of the Easter weekend, I am going to do a series on why I believe the resurrection occurred. If we are to place our hope of eternal life in the resurrection, we certainly ought to know why we believe it happened. In the words of the apostle Paul "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (1 Cor. 15:14) If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, I say without reservation that I would wholeheartedly reject Christianity!
Over 95% of New Testament historians, including the majority of non-Christian ones, accept the crucifixion, burial and death of Jesus. This implies that Jesus really existed. The fact that the scholars accept this does not make it true, but the reason it's so widely accepted is because the evidence is so powerful.
How Do We Know the Crucifixion Really Happened?
There are at least 5 non-Christian sources for the crucifixion of Jesus in the ancient world. These are: Tacitus, Suetonius, Bar Mara-Serapion, The Talmud, and Pliny the Younger.
However, Christian sources for the events should not be discounted at all, simply because they may be "biased". Indeed, if a reporter who likes the New York Giants reports that they won the super bowl, do we discount that reporter's testimony because they are "biased?" Indeed, we must use all of the source material we have.
There are 4 detailed accounts of the death of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Just on the basis of these, historians can conclude that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Indeed, these are better sources than for other monumental events in history. Julius Caesars assasination has only two primary sources in history: Suetonius and Plutarch. (1) However, as we mentioned above, there are at least 4 primary sources for the crucifixion. In addition, the sources for Julius Caesar's assasination were written over 100 years after the events. Nevertheless, even the most skeptical scholars accept that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all written within 70 years of the event.
It doesn't matter if there are apparent contradictions in the gospels, because contradictions exist between Suetonius and Plutarch on Caesar's assasination. Indeed, they even disagree on his last words. Furthermore, it doesn't matter if the sources weren't written by the people ascribed to them. An ancient source is an ancient source, and we have to factor it in to the total evidence.
Regarless of all of this, there is a creedal tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 about the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Jesus. This creed was developed by the early Christians within 2 years of the death of Jesus, according to atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann. Many people believe Paul received this creed from the disciples of Jesus themselves. Since it is only 2 years away from the events, it makes it the earliest source in ALL of ancient history. While it does not say Jesus was crucified, it says he died and was buried. If anything in ancient history is legend, it is definitely not the crucifixion, since the source material is so early. Indeed, it vastly overtakes other historical sources in the ancient world for other events.
Did Jesus fake his death and pretend to be resurrected?
We have established that if we want to use a consistent standard for ancient history, we ought to wholeheartedly accept the crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, some atheist and agnostic historians not only agree to this, but insist that it is a matter of history.
But what if Jesus faked his death? Christians believe that Jesus appeared to his followers after his death, ate and drank with them, and gave "many convincing proofs that he was alive." Acts 1:3. But what if Jesus only fainted on the cross, and then woke up later and tricked his disciples that he was the risen Lord?
While this notion was popular among 19th Century New Testament scholars, it has fallen into non-existence as a naturalistic theory for the resurrection. There are many good reasons to reject this idea.
1) The Romans and Execution
First, we must keep in mind that Jesus wasn't just killed, he was executed. The Romans were professionals at crucifixion, so to speak. This makes them a lot less likely to mess up. Indeed, there were big penalties for soldiers who let convicts escape, so there was big incentive not to make a mistake. (source: Acts 27:42; Acts 16:27.)
2) Journal of American Medical Association
Second, according to the Journal of American Medical Association, crucifixion is a death by suffocation. Essentially, the victim has to push upwards on the cross to take a breath, because hanging down is so constricting on the diaphragm. JAMA did an experiment where they had male volunteers get their arms tied on boards like in crucifixion. The only difference is that there feet were completely off the ground. Every one of them went unconscious within ten minutes. (Imagine if we duct taped your hands to monkey bars and didn't let you touch the ground.) The moral of the story is that it is not difficult to tell if Jesus is really dead. If he is not pushing up for several minutes, the guards can be certain he has finally suffocated and is no longer struggling.
3) Escaping His Burial
Third, the majority of scholars believe Jesus was buried in some fashion (not necessarily the tomb). After all, most people who have best friends that die go ahead and bury them. So there is no reason to doubt the burial. However, if Jesus really did faint on the cross, as unlikely as that is, he would have suffocated if buried in the ground. If you accept the tomb accounts, he was wrapped in linen strips. This would have certainly caused suffocation. Furthermore, he would then have to roll a very heave stone out of the way of the tomb entrance, all while in his extremely bad medical condition. But that isn't even the main reason the scholars reject apparent death theory.
4) Only Survived, Not Resurrected
Finally, the main reason scholars reject the apparent death theory is because even if Jesus did survive, he wouldn't have been able to convince the disciples he had been resurrected. He would be in terrible condition, and the disciples would assume he only survived. Early Christian belief claims that the believers resurrection body at the Second Coming of Christ is of the same nature as the resurrected body of Jesus. This beat-up body that Jesus would have had is nothing to hope for at all! Basically, the point can be illustrated as follows. If you saw a person who was recently executed walk up to you in terrible condition, you would not consider resurrection to be plausible. You would think they had merely survived the process, not that they had been raised from the dead.
Even the most passionately atheistic New Testament historians today reject the idea that Jesus survived his own crucifixion. Furthermore, we have seen that the sources of the crucifixion are superior than those used for establishing other important historical events. All of these are very good reasons to believe Jesus really died.
If Jesus really died, then that is the first half of establishing the resurrection. Tomorrow, I will post about what the disciples claimed happened on Sunday morning, and in further posts examine whether or not we should believe them.....
(Unless otherwise noted, the factual information provided in this note can be found in "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus" by Dr. Gary Habermas.)