Updated: Aug 27, 2019
I love a good conspiracy theory - Lizard people. The illuminati. What’s really going on at Area-51. Bigfoot. These theories make people believe and do some crazy things. But as a Christian I have been made to feel that believing Jesus rose again is on par with these conspiracy theories.
Admittedly, I haven’t studied out Lizard People or the Illuminati but I can guess that these theories take small facts and make massive leaps of judgement.
Is that what we do with Jesus?
The only way to find the answer to that question is to first look at the historical and archeological evidence for the resurrection of Christ. From there, we must try and connect the evidence with the best fitting explanation. So let’s walk through the historical evidence surrounding Jesus.
First, it’s never really been up for serious debate that Jesus was a real man. In his book Stealing From God, Dr. Frank Turek claims, "Jesus is cited by forty-two sources within 150 years of his life and ten of those sources are non-biblical. By contrast, the Roman emperor Tiberius is only mentioned by ten sources!"1 This is just one of the many examples that there are both biblical and non-biblical sources verifying the life of Jesus.
So what about the whole claiming to be the Messiah and rising again from the dead thing? Was Jesus just an ordinary guy who was misunderstood? Perhaps, but there is actually good evidence to the contrary.
Take it from someone who has no bias whatsoever: Bart Ehrman.
Ehrman is a New Testament scholar who is also agnostic. Which means he doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But as a historian, Ehrman is interested only in hard evidence.
Ehrman's claims are discussed at a bit more length in Dr. William Lane Craig’s, Reasonable Faith. But here is how Dr. Craig summarizes Ehrmans position:
“With respect to Jesus’ burial and empty tomb, he [Bart Ehrman] judges that ‘the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying Jesus was in fact buried by his fellow Joseph of Arimathea, and so it’s relatively reliable that that’s what happened. We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later.’ As for the postmortem appearances, Ehrman agrees with virtually all scholars in holding that we can say with some confidence that some of his disciples claimed to have seen him alive … Ehrman surmises that had Jesus died and no one believed in his resurrection, no new religion would have emerged following his death.” 2
So just looking at the brute facts from an agnostic scholars position, we have good evidence to believe:
1. Jesus lived and was crucified.
2. He was buried in a tomb most likely by Joesph of Arimathea.
3. There were women who discovered an empty tomb three days after his burial.
4. Jesus' disciples claimed to see Jesus alive following his burial.
(side note: they were willing to die and get absolutely nothing out of this claim. In fact, we have non-biblical sources that claimed these men went to their deaths making claiming Jesus rose again).
5. There must have been people who believed in the resurrection for a new religion to burst forth (Especially in Rome where early Christians faced persecution).
Those are the facts.
The next question is obvious: What is the best explanation of those facts?
In the next blog, we will examine the best possible explanation for these historical facts.
1. Frank Turek, Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress), 208.
2. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 351.