Do historical evidences matter? Should they be used?
- Our class: a tool belt, not a blueprint. Be ready to draw from what is needed.
- Today: historical evidences; one tool to use with wisdom.
- How? To put a pebble in the shoe; ask the unbeliever to account for the evidence.
- We believe in Jesus because of Scripture’s authoritative testimony to him.
- But what if someone does not accept the authority of Scripture? We can press with evidence.
Surveying the Facts
- Our knowledge of Jesus comes from several sources:
(1) The four Gospels (dated latter part of the first century)
(2) The other New Testament documents (many earlier than the Gospels)
- But aren’t these all “religious” documents and therefore suspect? Virtually all documents from the ancient world are religious in character.
(3) The Jewish historian Josephus (mentions that Jesus was called Christ, crucified by Pilate)
(4) The Roman historian Tacitus (mentions that Jesus was crucified by Pilate, movement continued)
(5) The Babylonian Talmud (mentions Jesus’ unusual birth, miracles, claims, death)
(6) A few other sources
- These are the facts most scholars agree on:
1. The crucifixion of Jesus
- 1 Corinthians 15:3 (written mid 50’s, drawing on earlier tradition)
- All four Gospels refer to Jesus’ crucifixion, ordered by Pontius Pilate
- Corroborated by Josephus, Tacitus, Babylonian Talmud
- This is not legendary material; it is too close in time to the event in question to be a legend.
2. The burial of Jesus’ body
- 1 Corinthians 15:4 mentions his burial (as opposed to being left on cross or thrown into mass grave).
- All four Gospels mention Joseph of Arimathea in connection with the burial.
- The early Christians would have had no motivation to make up a character who was part of the Sanhedrin giving Jesus an honorable burial.
- There is no competing burial tradition.
3. The empty tomb
- Implied by 1 Corinthians 15:4
- Affirmed in all four Gospels in a way that rings true:
- Simple narrative, clear similarities, but no collusion
- All four report that women first discovered the empty tomb; no motivation to make that up.
- Jews who opposed early Christians could never produce the body.
- Matthew 28:11-15 reports that Jewish opposition granted that the tomb was empty.
4. The resurrection appearances
A. 1 Corinthians 15:4-8:
- Cephas, disciples, 500 (most still alive!)
- Two appearances (to James and Paul) explain a lot about their extraordinary stories.
B. Matthew 28:
- Appeared first to the two Mary’s on Easter Sunday
- Appeared in Galilee later to all the disciples (and probably many more)
C. Luke 24:
- Appeared to two disciples on Easter Sunday
- Appeared to Simon Peter (Cephas)
- Appeared to all the disciples
D. John 20-21
- Appeared to Mary Magdalene, then the disciples on Easter Sunday
- Appeared about a week later to the disciples
- Appeared to seven disciples in Galilee some time later
- Multiple accounts attested by multiple written documents/oral tradition
5. The endurance and spread of Christianity
- Gamaliel’s testimony: Acts 5:33-39
- Other historical examples: Simon bar-Giora (killed by Romans in AD 70); Simeon bar-Kochba (killed by Romans in AD 135)
- Have you ever met a follower of Theudas, Judas the Galilean, Simon bar-Giora, or Simeon bar-Kochba? Why not?
- The Christian movement is built on the unusual, unexpected claim of Jesus’ resurrection
- Unusual: dead men normally don’t rise!
- Unexpected: Jewish doctrine on the resurrection: happens to all at the end of history
Surveying the Explanations
1. The swoon theory
- Jesus did not really die, but swooned on the cross; in the cool tomb he revived.
- Wildly improbable: were the Roman soldiers mistaken? Could Jesus have escaped the tomb on his own, moved past the guards, and appeared to his disciples to convince them he had been raised?
2. The wrong tomb theory
- The women went to the wrong tomb, heard, “He is not here,” and the rest is history.
- Does not account for the appearances or the inability of Jewish authorities to produce the body.
- Gospels are careful to indicate that the women knew where the tomb was.
3. The stolen body theory
- Early story, from Matt. 28:11-15
- Portrays the disciples as evil geniuses who pulled off the greatest hoax in history
- Would you go to your death, and knowingly lead others to their deaths, for what you knew to be a lie?
4. The hallucination theory
- The disciples hallucinated appearances of Jesus after his death.
- Does not explain the empty tomb.
- Hallucinations would not occur in violation of the disciples’ expectations about resurrection.
- Hallucinations would have been of Jesus at Abraham’s side, etc.
- The resurrection of Jesus is not a bare fact; it is an event with meaning:
- It is the climax of the Bible’s story; has meaning in light of Jesus’ teachings, claims.
- The unbelieving worldview, confronted with facts of history, has difficulty accounting.
- Nevertheless, many unbelieving minds will regard resurrection as more implausible than the other implausible views.
- This brings us back to the importance of worldview; what is your interpretive grid?
- Use this tool as a way to press toward deeper questions.