The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction
The significance of the resurrection of Jesus to Christianity cannot be overstated. As Hans Kung has said, “Christianity begins with Easter. Without Easter, there would be no gospel, not a single narrative, not a letter in the New Testament. Without Easter, Christendom would have no belief in Christ, no proclamation of Christ, nor any church, any divine worship, any mission.” In other words, if the resurrection is false, so is Christianity. The Apostle Paul made this clear when he said in I Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” Conversely, if the resurrection is true, then it provides tremendous evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity. If it happened, noted Apologist Josh McDowell says, “It is the most important fact of history.”
The events surrounding the resurrection are well documented in the Gospels, and these accounts clearly “pass strict historical interrogation with flying colors.” In regards to these events, Dr. Gary Habermas has identified several important facts that are agreed upon by most historical scholars, including the skeptics. The first is the certainty of Jesus’ death. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Society said, “Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted.” Second, the dead Jesus was placed in a tomb that was found to be empty several days afterward. “Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, concluded, ‘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’.” Third, the disciples truly believed that they had seen the resurrected Jesus. Even the atheist scholar Gerd Ludemann has acknowledged, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” Fourth, “The New Testament writers abandoned their long-held sacred beliefs and practices, adopted new ones and did not deny their testimony under persecution or threat of death.” Thousands of others did too. According to McDowell, “The changed lives of those early Christian believers is one of the most telling testimonies to the fact of the resurrection.” Together, these constitute what Habermas refers to as “The Minimal Facts.” Furthermore, these facts reflect “only data that meet two criteria: 1) The data are strongly evidenced 2) The data are granted by virtually all scholars on the subject, even the skeptical ones.”
While the Bible clearly teaches that God miraculously raised Jesus from the dead as a proof of Jesus’ deity, numerous other explanations have been offered to refute the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection. One of these is known as the Theft Theory. This is the explanation offered by the Jewish authorities that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. However, it seems rather difficult to believe that the cowardly disciples who forsook Jesus in the garden would challenge a group of trained soldiers guarding the tomb. Furthermore, if the soldiers were indeed sleeping, then how would they know who stole the body? So, this theory is at odds with the facts.
According to the Swoon Theory, Jesus did not actually die on the cross; rather, he went into a comma. So, after the brutal suffering associated with the crucifixion, Jesus’ comatose body was wrapped and laid in an airtight tomb. Then, after three days with no medical attention, He revived and somehow moved the stone. Even if true, Jesus would have been in such a terrible physical condition that none would have proclaimed Him to be the Messiah. If anything, they would have pitied Him and sought immediate medical attention. This theory is so preposterous that few, if any, accept it anymore.
The Hallucination Theory suggests that the alleged appearances of Jesus were merely hallucinations of an emotionally distraught group. However, according to Dr. Gary Collins, who is an author, professor and former president of a national association of psychologists,
“Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce a hallucination in somebody else. Since a hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.”
In other words, it would be impossible for over five hundred people to see the same hallucination repeatedly over a period of forty days.
While other possible explanations for the resurrection have been offered, no compelling evidence has been offered to support any of these claims either. As Habermas has noted, “Skeptics must provide more than alternative theories to the Resurrection; they must provide first-century evidence for those theories.” The simple fact of the matter is that there is only one possible explanation for the empty tomb that is supported by the evidence. That explanation is the one recorded in the New Testament. Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead on the third day by the power of God.
In considering the New Testament, it is important to remember that the accounts are based upon eyewitness testimony. Regarding such testimony, former cold case homicide investigator J. Warner Wallace has identified four different tests in evaluating the reliability of these type of witnesses. “First,” according to Wallace, “we’ve got to find out if the witness was even present to observe anything in the first place.” Second, the honesty of the witness must be considered. Third, can the eyewitness accounts be verified by other evidence? Finally, the motivation of the witness must be analyzed. According to Wallace, the New Testament accounts easily pass each of these tests. It is worth noting that Wallace was an atheist until he decided to apply his detective skills to the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection as recorded in the Bible. Startled and amazed by what he found, Wallace became a Christian and is now a leading defender of the resurrection. In his book Cold Case Christianity, Wallace writes using his skills as a homicide detective and provides a defense of the resurrection that is well worth reading.
After reviewing the evidence, it is quite reasonable to conclude that the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus were provided by credible and trustworthy eyewitnesses to the events. As such, this affirms the key tenant of Christianity, proving it to be true. Furthermore, no plausible alternative theories have been offered to prove the narrative false. Consequently, this presents an important and often troubling question. It is the same one asked by Pilate centuries ago. “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22) As the late C. S. Lewis said, “Either this man was, and is the son of God: or else a madman or something worse.” Obviously, the answer to this question can only be decided by the individual, but because of the resurrection, it cannot be ignored. As Christians, however, we can truly rejoice knowing that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is indeed a historical fact and not mere historical fiction!
 Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), viii.
 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the King James Version of the Holy Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004).
 Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), 215.
 David Marshall, The Truth Behind the New Atheism (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2007), 117.
 Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 299.
 Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask? (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990), 123.
 McDowell, 216.
 John Lennox, Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists Are Missing the Target (Oxford, England: Lion, 2011), 212.
 Geisler and Turek, 290.
 McDowell, 238.
 J. Warner Wallace, Cold Case Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), 41.
 Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapid, MI: Kregel, 2004), 47.
 Lee Strobel. The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), p. 238.
 Geisler and Turek, 299.
 Wallace, 71.
 McDowell, 241.
Geisler, Norman and Ron Brooks. When Skeptics Ask? Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990.
Geisler, Norman and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL:
Crossway Books, 2004.
Habermas, Gary. The Risen Jesus and Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield
Habermas, Gary and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapid, MI:
Lennox, John. Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists Are Missing the Target. Oxford,
England: Lion, 2011.
Marshall, David. The Truth Behind the New Atheism. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers,
McDowell, Josh. A Ready Defense. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013.
About the Author
Bro. Tim Hudson has a Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Relations, a Master of Arts in Theology, a Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Theology. A former pastor, he and his wife now travel preaching/teaching and are doing mission work in the country of Myanmar (Burma).