Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Part One

Christianity is not merely the collection of moral teachings and parables from Jesus of Nazareth. Much of what Jesus taught can be found in the teachings of other religious leaders that came before him. What makes Christianity unique from all other religions, however, is the claim by Jesus of Nazareth that he would be killed, but that he would be raised from the dead three days later. This resurrection of Jesus is the pivot point upon which all of Christianity revolves. The resurrection was the focus of the apostles’ preaching, as recorded in the book of Acts.

Paul, in the book of Romans, stated that belief in the resurrection of Jesus was a necessity of salvation (Romans 10:9). Peter states that the resurrection secured our inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4). Most important, however, is Paul’s statement that if the resurrection of Jesus did not occur, then Christians are indeed lost (1 Corinthians 15:17). Not only is the resurrection the focal point of Christianity, but it was the event that Jesus pointed to in order to validate his teachings (Matthew 12:38-40; 16:1-4; John 2:18-21; cf. Mark 14:58; Luke 11:29-30). The resurrection was also the chief evidence produced by the apostles that Christianity was true (Acts 2:22-32; 3:15; 17:2-3, 18, 31; 1 Cor. 15:17). Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus confirms Jesus’ claims, Christian doctrine, and the truthfulness of Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Contrast this claim with other religions’ claims to authority. Muslims tell us that we should follow Islam because only God could have written the Qur’an. Sura 2:23 says, “And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant [Muhammad], then produce a Surah like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true” (cf. Surahs 10:37-38; 17:88). Dr. Anis Shorosh has demonstrated that this claim is false in his work The True Furqan. Now the Muslim may object to Dr. Shorosh’s work, and say that this Surah applies only to the Arabic of the Qur’an, but this only fails to aid their cause because the Jews can say the same of the Hebrew in the Psalms.

Mormon missionaries instruct those reading The Book of Mormon to do so with an open mind and after asking God to confirm the truth of it by some sign. This confirmation comes in the form of a “burning in the bosom.” The problem is that this sort of confirming sign could also be the result of food that did not agree with one’s stomach. In other words, it is subject to something other than God.

In either of the cases mentioned above, the tests are mutually exclusive. They are conflicting truth claims as the only way to God. Both provide different ways to God, yet both cannot be the only ways to God. This leads us to the conclusion that both claims to exclusivity of one or both of these religions are incorrect, as are their truth tests.

Christianity, however, does not rely on subjective claims such as the ones mentioned above. Christianity stands or falls on the basis of a historical fact: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. First, Jesus predicted his resurrection. If the resurrection happened then there is no need to dismiss Jesus’ own predictions concerning his resurrection. Second, embarrassing testimony concerning the actions of his disciples or the women at the tomb is related in the gospels. This embarrassment principle lends weight to the authenticity of the resurrection accounts found in the gospels. Third, Jesus turned the thinking of the Jewish religious leaders (and his own disciples) upside-down by his use of the Messianic title “Son of Man” in reference to his resurrection (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). Last, Jesus predictions of his own resurrection are referenced numerous times in the gospels: Matthew 12:38-40; 16:1-4, 21; 17:23; 20:19; Mark 8:31-32; 9:31; 10:33; Luke 9:22; John 2:18-21; cf. Mark 14:58; Luke 11:29-30.

While there are numerous pieces of evidence that support the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:3), it is my intention to focus on the “minimal facts” as posited by Dr. Gary Habermas. In a study of over 1,400 sources on the resurrection compiled by Dr. Habermas, he has discovered five facts that are both strongly supported evidence and are conceded by almost every scholar, even those skeptical of Christianity.

It must be understood at the outset that historical evidences do not give anyone 100% certainty, but rather provide a range of certainty from very doubtful to very certain. This lack of certainty is one of the weaknesses of evidential apologetics. This lack of certainty can be dealt with a healthy dose of presuppositional apologetics. Understand, however, that no form of apologetic will save anyone. Only the Holy Spirit can regenerate a person’s heart and cause her to make a profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

With that said, I will be presenting the following positive argument for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. First, that Jesus did indeed die on a Roman cross. Second, that Jesus’ disciples sincerely believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them. The third point, the conversions of Paul (a church persecutor) and James (a skeptic) from Judaism to Christianity. And fourth, the empty tomb. Since no plausible opposing explanation exists that can account for all four of these historical facts, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead must be the only explanation.

In our next post, I will discus the four (plus one) facts of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

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