And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19).A student at the University of Uruguay said to Josh McDowell, “Professor McDowell, why can’t you refute Christianity?”
He answered, “For a very simple reason-the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
After more than 700 hours of studying this subject and thoroughly investigating its foundation, he came to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon people, or it is the most important fact of history.
The resurrection issue takes the question, “Is Christianity valid?” out of the realm of philosophy and makes it a question of history. Does Christianity have a historically acceptable basis? Is sufficient evidence available to warrant belief in the resurrection?
Obvious Observations from McDowell :
In my attempt to refute Christianity, I made five acute observations of the resurrection that I previously had been totally unaware of.
OBSERVATION #1-Testimony of History
Before my research, I had never realized there was so much positive historical, literary and legal testimony supporting its validity.
ROMAN HISTORY SCHOLAR
Professor Thomas Arnold, for fourteen years the headmaster of Rugby, author of the three-volume History of Rome, and holder of the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts.
This great scholar said,
I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead. 3/324
Brooke Foss Wescott, English scholar, said, “Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.” 82/4-6
PROFESSOR OF ANCIENT HISTORY
Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, concluded that, “If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy or archaeology that would disprove this statement.” 56/A-10
Lord Caldecote, Lord Chief Justice of England, has written:
My faith began with and was grounded on what I thought was revealed in the Bible. When, particularly, I came to the New Testament, the Gospels and other writings of the men who had been friends of Jesus Christ seemed to me to make an overwhelming case, merely as a matter of strict evidence, for the fact therein stated … The same approach to the cardinal test of the claims of Jesus Christ, namely, His resurrection, has led me, as often as I have tried to examine the evidence, to believe it as fact beyond dispute.
One man who was highly skilled at dealing with evidence was Dr. Simon Greenleaf. He was the famous Royall Professor of Law at Harvard University and succeeded Justice Joseph Story as the Dane Professor of Law in the same university. The rise of Harvard Law School to its eminent position among the legal schools of the United States is to be ascribed to the efforts of these two men. Greenleaf produced his famous three-volume work, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which still is considered one of the greatest single authorities on this subject in the entire literature of legal procedure.
Greenleaf examined the value of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ to ascertain the truth. He applied the principles contained in his three-volume treatise on evidence. His findings were recorded in his book, An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice.
Greenleaf came to the conclusion that, according to the laws of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history.
Dr. Frank Morrison, a lawyer who had been brought up in a rationalistic environment, had come to the opinion that the resurrection was nothing but a fairy-tale happy ending which spoiled the matchless story of Jesus. He felt that he owed it to himself, and to others, to write a book that would present the truth about Jesus and dispel the myth of the resurrection.
Upon studying the facts, however, he, too, came to a different conclusion. The sheer weight of the evidence compelled him to conclude that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. Morrison wrote his book-but not the one he had planned. It is titled, Who Moved the Stone? The first chapter, very significantly, is called, “The Book That Refused to Be Written.”
The literary scholar, C. S. Lewis, former professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University, when writing about his conversion to Christianity, indicated that he had believed Christians “to be wrong.”
The last thing Lewis wanted was to embrace Christianity. However, “Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. ‘Rum thing,’ he went on. ‘All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.’
“To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not -as I would still have put it -‘safe,’ where could I turn? Was there then no escape?”
After evaluating the basis and evidence for Christianity, Lewis concluded that in other religions there was “no such historical claim as in Christianity.” His knowledge of literature forced him to treat the Gospel record as a trustworthy account. “I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myth.”
Finally, contrary to his strong stand against Christianity, Professor Lewis had to make an intelligent decision:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdelen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 1 gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. 52/211, 215, 223
OBSERVATION #2-Resurrection Foretold
Christ actually predicted He would rise on the third day. His claims are substantiated throughout the four Gospels. When Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered to death. They will deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him. And on the third day He will be raised up” (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22).
Mark points out in his Gospel that “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).
John confirms this when he writes: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews therefore said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:19-21).
OBSERVATION #3-Basis of Christianity
The historical fact of the resurrection is the very basis for the truth of Christianity. To put it simply, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christianity stand or fall together. One cannot be true without the other.
The apostle Paul emphasized this point when he wrote:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; your faith also is in vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15:13-17).
OBSERVATION #4-Intelligent Faith
My fourth observation on Christianity was quite an eye-opener. The more I studied the historical/biblical Christian faith the more I realized it was an “intelligent faith.” When an individual in the Scriptures was called upon to exercise faith, it was to be that intelligent faith. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth [not ignore it] and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
A lawyer asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment?”
Jesus replied, ” [To] love the Lord your God with all your heart … and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Never is an individual called upon to commit intellectual suicide in trusting Christ as Savior and Lord. Instead, a believer is instructed to be ready always to give an answer (an intelligent one) as to why he believes (1 Peter 3:15).
In his work, I Believe in the Resurrection, Dr. George Eldon Ladd observes that faith does not mean a leap in the dark, an irrational credulity, a believing against evidences and against reason. It means believing in the light of historical facts, consistent with evidences, on the basis of witnesses.
OBSERVATION #5-Historical Criteria
The resurrection of Christ must be examined by the same criteria as is any other past event in history. The faith of the early church was founded on experiences in the factual realm. For example, the followers of Christ said He showed Himself alive to them by “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3). Luke used the word tekmerion. That connotes a “demonstrable proof.”
It became apparent to me that my research would have to include the historical criteria for truth if I were to discover what really happened that first Easter.
Sufficient Evidence Needed
Wolfhart Pannenberg is a professor of systematic theology at the University of Munich, Germany. He has been concerned primarily with questions of the relationship between faith and history. This brilliant scholar says, “Whether the resurrection of Jesus took place or not is an historical question, and … at this point is inescapable. And so the question has to be decided on the level of historical argument.”
The evidence must be approached with an honest, fair view of history and the investigation must not be prejudiced by preconceived notions or conclusions. There is a compelling need to let the evidence speak for itself. Historian Ronald Sider writes about the need for objectivity in historical research:
What does the critical historian do when his evidence points very strongly to the reality of an event, which contradicts his expectations and goes against the naturalistic view of reality? I submit that he must follow his critically analyzed sources. It is unscientific to begin with the philosophical presupposition that miracles cannot occur. Unless we avoid such one-sided presuppositions, historical interpretation becomes mere propaganda. We have a right to demand good evidence for an alleged event, which we have not experienced, but we dare not judge reality by our limited experience. And I would suggest that we have good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Erlangen historian Ethelbert Stauffer gives further suggestions on how to approach history:
What do we (as historians) do when we experience surprises which run counter to all our expectations, perhaps all our convictions and even our period’s whole understanding of truth? We say as one great historian used to say in such instances: “It is surely possible.” And why not? For the critical historian nothing is impossible. 72/17
Historian Philip Schaff adds to the above: “The purpose of the historian is not to construct a history from preconceived notions and to adjust it to his own liking, but to reproduce it from the best evidences and to let it speak for itself.”
The ultimate test historically concerning the resurrection is whether the purported facts are supported by the evidence.