The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
No other event in history has been the object of as much scrutiny and criticism as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Christ is the basis upon which all Christianity stands. If the resurrection never happened, then there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." This is why opponents of the Christian faith have tried to attempt to discredit the Biblical account of the resurrection. Of the many theories of the resurrection, the Biblical account is the only historically reliable and possible explanation of the resurrection.
The historical reliability of the Bible is the first matter that needs to be discussed. There are three criteria that the military historian C. Sanders lists as principles for documentary historical proof: the bibliographical test, internal evidence test, and the external evidence test (McDowell 43). The bibliographical test is the examination of text by the documents that have reached us. The reliability of the copies of the New Testament is tested by the number of manuscripts (MSS) and the time intervals between the time in which the piece of literature was written and our earliest copy. There are more than 5,300 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and 10,000 Latin vulgate manuscripts, not to mention the other various translations. Totally there are around 24,000 total MSS for the New Testament. The next closest document in respect to MSS is the "Illiad" by Homer, with 643 manuscripts(McDowell 43).
The textual reliability then continues with respect to the time interval between the original and the first known manuscript. The shorter the interval, the more reliable the text is. Homer's "Illiad" was written in 900 BC and the earliest copy was found in 400 BC. This is compared to the New Testament that was written from 40-100 AD. The first known manuscript of the New Testament was found in 125 AD. This twenty-five year gap is very impressive as compared to the Illiad's five hundred year span (McDowell 45). This first test has basically shown that the text which people have in their possession is essentially the original text.
The second test is the internal evidence test. The internal evidence test proves whether or not what was recorded is credible and to what extent. Dr. Louis Gottschalk, former professor of history at the University of Chicago, states the ability of the writer to tell the truth is helpful in determining credibility. The "ability to tell the truth" is related in two ways. They are the witness's nearness chronologically and geographically (McDowell 51-52). The New Testament accounts were written by men who were eyewitnesses or related the story from eyewitness accounts. Chronologically speaking, the Gospels were all written while people, other than Christians, who had been eyewitnesses to the life of Christ were still alive. For the most part the non-Christian eyewitnesses were opponents of the faith. The resulting effect of this would be the necessity for the disciples to relate the life of Christ accurately due to the fact that any inaccuracies would have allowed opponents to discredit Christianity right from the beginning (McDowell 52-53).
The third test to prove historical reliability is that of exterior evidence. Gottschalk defines external evidence as "conformity or agreement with other known historical or scientific facts...(McDowell 54)." Other writers are a great source of exterior evidence. The writings of historian Eusebius, and Iraneous, Bishop of Lyons, have confirmed the writings of the Apostle John. These men did their historical writing between 130 and 180 AD. They researched scrolls from the time of Christ. Archaeology also provides exterior evidence. Archaeologist Joseph Free states, "Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical and contradictory to known facts (McDowell 54)." A wonderful example of this is found in Paul's letter to the Roman's. In this letter he makes reference to the city treasurer, Erastus. A pavement fracture was found during the excavations of Corinth, in 1929, on it was inscribed the words: "ERASTVS PRO:AED:P:STRAVIT ('Erastus, curator of public buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.')(McDowell 110)" Archaeologist F.F. Bruce states that this man and the man Paul refers to are one in the same (McDowell 110). These three tests when applied to the Bible show it as the most historically reliable text known to man, thus the events found upon the pages of the Bible are actual historically proven events.
In light of these facts there are still many theories other than that of the Biblical account. Three of them include the "Visionary" theory, the theft theory, and the wrong tomb theory. The first theory is that of Strauss, that the appearances of Jesus after His death on the cross were "visions generated by the imaginations of the disciples (Ramsey 48)." This may be the easiest of all the theories to discredit. First of all it does not take into account the inability of the disciples to grasp this idea that Christ was alive and to recognize Him for who He was (Ramsey 48). There were many doubters even among those who walked with Jesus for His three years of ministry. The best known is the story of Thomas, who didn't believe until he had touched the wounds on Christ's hands (Jn 20:25). There is also the fact that Christ revealed Himself to a group of people equaling 500 (1 Cor. 15:6), it would be ludicrous to assume that all of them had seen the same hallucination.
The next major theory is one developed by B.H. Streeter, who states that the tomb was definitely empty, however the resurrection was not the cause, but theft (Ramsey 50). Streeter thinks that the disciples had stolen the body to prove the supernatural claims of Jesus (Wells 206). This theory is also easily reputed due to two major facts: the Roman Guard and the boulder. First for anyone to steal the body of Christ the thieves would have to get by the Roman Guard Unit. According to Josh McDowell, a magna cum laude of Talbot Theological Seminary, the Roman Guard of that day is considered one of the greatest fighting forces of all time. A unit consisting of sixteen, eight at a time would guard the tomb, and every four hours they would be relieved. The Guards were laden with the best armor and weapons of the time. Their only punishment was death, these men did not fail assignments (McDowell 227-229). According to Streeter this unit must have fallen asleep, which if caught, would result in death. Next is the boulder, it weighed between one and a half to two tons (McDowell 226). The moving of this boulder would have been a very difficult thing to do without waking up the Roman Guard.
The third theory is that of Dr. Kirsop Lake who states that the women who had first seen the empty tomb had gone to the wrong tomb (Ramsey 51). This theory lacks plain common sense and does not take into account the broken Roman seal. First these women had followed the tomb owner and the Roman Guard to the tomb, to see where Jesus was buried (Lk. 23:55). For these women to have gone to the wrong tomb on that first Easter Sunday then the owner of the tomb, and the Roman Guard would have all gone to the wrong tomb. The broken Roman seal is however the icing on the cake. This seal was equivalent to that of police lines today. The Roman seal was placed on the tomb after being inspected by a guard. The seal was a cord that stretched across the boulder that was placed at the tomb entrance, and was sealed at either end with clay. Finally the clay was stamped with the official mark of the Roman governor (McDowell 230). The seal was used to show authenticity, to prove that Jesus was inside the tomb (McDowell 230). If the women had gone to the wrong tomb there would have been no broken seal, because it was not common for dead bodies to be protected by the Roman government.
The Biblical account of Christ's resurrection is the only historically possible version of the resurrection. The other theories that have been introduced all have large holes in them. Many do not take into account all of the facts of the resurrection, because they do not view the Bible as the historically reliable piece of literature that it is. When one takes into account the reliability of the Bible, and the many facts of the resurrection it is impossible to conclude any other theory than that of the Bible. Christ died on the cross for man's sins. On the third day He rose from the grave, proving all He had preached and taught. The fact of the matter is this: all the opponents of Christians at the time of Christ's resurrection had to do was find the body and march through the city square. They weren't able to, because it wasn't there, He has arisen, and that's a fact!
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