Christianity’s Greatest Proof: The Resurrection

It’s astonishing and slightly disheartening how little the Resurrection is used in modern Christian apologetics. I’ve only rarely heard people cite the Resurrection of Christ when making a case for the truth of Christianity. One argument is tossed around in debate and conversation that stands out from the others: “I believe in Christianity (or Jesus) because the Bible says so” (or some variation of this argument.) As Christians, we do ultimately believe in Jesus because of what the Scriptures have to say about Him. This is because we believe the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God. However, this is one of the least helpful or effective arguments to make to an atheist or a skeptic. In order for this argument to hold any water, one must come into the conversation with a presupposition: the Bible is inerrant. This statement on the authority of the Bible only means something if the person already believes in inerrancy. Without the belief of inerrancy, it is a circular argument. In other words, “the Bible is true because the Bible says so.”

This statement on its own doesn’t prove a point or hold any logic from the perspective of an unbeliever. There must be a presupposition in order for this argument to make any sense. A logical case must first be made to prove the inerrancy of Scripture. How do you prove this supernatural concept to someone who doesn’t believe in the supernatural?

Making the Case
People who grow up in an inerrancy-believing church will for the most part accept inerrancy because it’s what they’ve always been taught. They learned from a young age that God doesn’t lie or make mistakes. Sadly, when some of these Christians attempt to logically validate the inerrancy of Scripture, they don’t know where to turn. If they happen to mention their doubt in conversation, they’re often told, “You just need to believe. Have faith.” However, faith is not something that exists apart from logic or reason. Faith is founded on a reasonable claim, more specifically, the belief that Christ suffered and died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day. In short, the supernatural claims of Christianity are founded on the natural things that God has used, such as a fully human savior, normal bread and wine, and drinking water.

How does this relate to something like the inerrancy of Scripture? Basically, a logical proof must be presented that correlates to the doctrine of inerrancy. Christians sometimes have difficulty coming up with reasons for some of their more miraculous beliefs. In reality, the logical and historical proof to present in simple: Christ died. He was buried in a tomb. He didn’t stay dead.

Christians who have believed in the Resurrection from childhood usually accept this fact on account of their belief in the Bible. However, even to a skeptic, the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a well-supported historical event. This is what sets Christianity apart from other world religions. It’s a historical religion. Mormonism and Islam’s holy texts were written in a corner without any historical proof of their claims. Christianity, on the other hand, has Scriptures that span across thousands of years, citing and relating to historical events, prophesying about and mentioning people who the secular world actually recognizes as historical realities. Think about this for a moment: Christianity’s earliest and most well-known creed, the Apostles’ Creed, contains a seemingly trivial reference to an obscure Roman governor who lived in the first century. This actual, historical person is part of the evidence that attests to the Truth of Jesus.

Examining the Proof [1]
Atheists and secular historians have offered various rationalistic explanations for Jesus’ resurrection. None of them, however, actually present a reasonable and natural explanation, as we will soon see. From a secular perspective, there are essentially three different arguments that have arisen. There are additional arguments from people who believe in Christ, yet don’t believe in a physical resurrection, but those can be examined another time. The three main theories are as follows:

The Swoon Theory
This theory suggests that Jesus did not actually die on the cross. He was merely unconscious or not “completely” dead, and He was revived or resuscitated after His burial. Basically, there wasn’t a real resurrection from death to life.

The Theft Theory
After Jesus’ death, the Pharisees were worried that the disciples would steal Jesus’ body to make it seem as if He had come back to life. They were so paranoid that they had the tomb closed off with a heavy stone and guarded by Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:63). Supposedly, the disciples of Jesus gained access to the tomb and carried off His body, hiding it somewhere safe.

The Mass Hallucination Theory
This is probably the most desperate and comical theory. It is suggested that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, but His disciples and the other 500 who saw Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6) all had a simultaneous, identical hallucination that caused them to see Jesus appear, when, in fact, it was all in their heads.

Debunking these Claims
I’m sure most people would immediately be able to spot the flaws in these explanations, but I want to lay them out here for clarity.

The Swoon Theory – Anyone with a basic understanding of human anatomy can see how ridiculous this claim is. Jesus was crucified on a cross, bleeding from every square inch of His body. On top of that, the Roman soldiers pierced His side with a spear, causing blood loss that no person could withstand (John 19:34). (Side note – John mentions the specific detail of both water and blood flowing from Jesus’ body. Christians can appreciate the image given by these details – Christ’s body and blood given in Communion, along with water used in Baptism, are portrayed.) The Romans would have made absolutely certain that Jesus was dead before burying Him. All promoters of the “Swoon Theory” most likely don’t believe Jesus was anything more than human. If He was somehow placed in the tomb while still living, He would have had to roll away the massive stone and fight of the Roman soldiers guarding His body. (Which, admittedly, would be a pretty cool to see.)

The Theft Theory
This theory has its fair share of problems as well. Not only would have stealing the body from under the nose of Roman soldiers been a difficult feat to accomplish, the Bible presents clearly how astonished all of the disciples were about the Resurrection. It would have proved near impossible for them to lie about the Resurrection and falsify all the widespread belief that followed. Unless the body was hidden extremely well, one would expect Jesus’ opponents to discover it eventually to prove He was a fraud.

The Hallucination Theory
I think most of the flaws of this theory are glaringly obvious. First of all, the disciples and everyone else following the events of Jesus’ death were skeptical to believe in the first place. It would have taken some exceedingly realistic hallucinations to change their minds. From what we know of psychology, hallucinations are isolated events that happen inside an individual’s mind. They aren’t contagious or consistent between different people. We also know that even minor hallucinations are very rare occurrences, much less ones as major as this theory would require.

General Refutation of These Theories
If all of the apostles were not completely certain that the Resurrection happened, would they have continued confessing Christ until the grave, facing brutal torturous deaths? How did these disloyal and cowardly disciples (Mark 14:50-52) suddenly transform into the most dedicated, determined, fearless missionaries the world has ever seen? How did Paul of Tarsus, one of the most fundamentally anti-Christian individuals in history, become the greatest most most effective missionary of the Christian faith? How did a religion founded by an obscure and insignificant Jewish man – which would become outlawed – spread like wildfire throughout the world at such a phenomenal rate? How does it still stand as the largest religion humanity has known? As Christians, we can answer these questions. Jesus did rise from the dead. He proved Himself to be God. He breathed out His Spirit on the apostles, driving and compelling them to become courageous evangelists and martyrs. Christ blessed the growth of His Church and continues to preserve it today – and will preserve it for all time (Matthew 16:18, 28:20).

Back to Inerrancy
By stating this evidence and importance of the Resurrection, I’ve tried to make a point – Once someone realizes the Resurrection was a real historical event, the only conclusion they can come to is that Jesus is more than just a man. No mere human could have overcome death. Once Jesus is seen as the true God, His words and teachings suddenly become invaluable. Jesus and His sent apostles testify to the power and inerrancy of Scripture. Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can create faith through the proclaiming of God’s Word. By explaining these things to the skeptics, the message of Christ will carry the seed of faith through the Spirit.

I hope that the certainty of Christ’s resurrection will affirm all Christians in the Faith. I also hope that Christians would understand the apologetic and logical value that the Resurrection provides. As we live as witnesses of Christ, we seek to teach others to treasure and keep the things Jesus has taught us (Matthew 28:20).

(For a interesting perspective of an atheist’s view of the Resurrection, you should check out Gary Habermas’s “Did the Resurrection Happen?” In the book, Habermas discusses the historical proof of the Resurrection with atheist Antony Flew. Flew basically admits the historical evidence does affirm that the Resurrection actually happened, but he refuses to believe it because of its supernatural circumstances.)

[1]Information on the Resurrection theories gathered from this bible.org article.

Interpreting the Biblical Text – Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics
How can we make sense of the Bible? How can we know what it really means? One of the growing philosophies in American Christianity is a reflection of postmodernism – “Well, that’s what you think the Bible says. But that’s not what it means to me.” It is the notion that we can never really know for sure what the Bible is saying. Now, of course, humans make errors frequently. The same thing can happen when we try to discern exactly what the Bible means. Do we take it literally? Is it a figurative allegory? Is it filled with mysterious myths constructed by primitive minds?

There is a whole area of theology devoted to the study and interpretation of the Biblical texts known as Hermeneutics. The most basic definition of this word is –

The science of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures.[1]

Methods of Interpretation
To start at the basis of Biblical hermeneutics, we should look back at the methods and interpretations of the Christian Church across all of history. Since the founding of the New Testament texts, Christians have, with few exceptions, interpreted the Bible in a literal and historical sense. There were a small number of the Church fathers that interpreted stories like the creation account as merely symbolic. However, there’s a slight hermeneutical nuance apparent in many of the writings of the early Church fathers: they really liked to allegorize the text. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t also take it literally. This means that they understood the text of the Bible as real, historical, literal truth, but also liked to apply every story and detail to the Christian life. While the Bible certainly does contain examples and situations we should reflect with our actions, we also have to accept that not every single sentence in Scripture is supposed to apply to our daily lives. Ultimately, the reason the Bible was written is not to tell us how to live. Rather, the narrative of the Scriptures is primarily there to point the reader to Christ and His cross.

Starting with the philosophical era of the Enlightenment, many scholars began to look at the Bible through the lens of a type of hermeneutics labeled as the “historical critical” method. At the very core of this principle is the human reason and secular thought. Instead of looking at the Bible as historical and inerrant, interpreters began to question the actual meaning and accuracy of the Scriptures. Real events like the Flood were painted as ancient myths that were just there to symbolize Biblical concepts. When miracles were mentioned in the Bible, they weren’t perceived to be true, supernatural acts. They either didn’t happen at all, or they had a reasonable explanation. This shift from the inerrancy of Scripture to a method of higher criticism is still used by liberal Bible scholars that make up much of the academic landscape of America.

The hermeneutic principle used by Confessional Lutheranism, as well as (most of) Roman Catholicism and (most) Reformed churches, is that of the “historical grammatical” method. This principle is the same one held by the Church throughout history, until people began questioning the historical accuracy of the Bible. The main emphasis of this method is on the history, context, and grammar of the text. This view holds up the inerrancy of Scripture as the sole determining factor. However, it also focuses on the historical context in which the book was written, which gives us greater insight into the text.

Scripture was not written inside of a vacuum – the books in the Bible were written by real, historical people who were writing for a specific reason. Many books were written to specific groups of people, like Paul’s epistles. The grammatical part of this method examines the structure of the language used in the texts, and uses the known rules of human languages to determine meaning. For example, when we read the word “day” in Genesis 1, we take it to literally mean a single day, because the literary and grammatical context of the word points to this interpretation.

This isn’t to say that we don’t take anything in the Bible as symbolic. Rather, we only take portions of Scripture as symbolic if Scripture tells us that they are symbolic. In the beginning of Revelation, Jesus clearly states that the lamp stands and stars that John sees in his vision represent something else, and are not to be taken literally. Above all, the historical grammatical method of hermeneutics uses Scripture to interpret Scripture. When we come across a verse with an unclear meaning, we look to other clear verses of Scripture to interpret the unclear ones. We realize that Scripture is inerrant, so we take the interpretive steps needed for Scripture to remain harmonious.

So, as a summary:

Historical critical – Bible is not always historically accurate, and the “supernatural” cannot really occur. There are many myths and exaggerations in the text that need to be recognized.

Historical grammatical – The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. Scripture is used to interpret Scripture, and historical and grammatical context are very important for determining the meaning of the text. Human reason is used and is valuable, but it is not used to disregard portions of the text that our minds can’t comprehend.

P.S. While writing this article, something occurred to me: If the Bible were not a religious text, it would likely be used by secular scholars as one of the most accurate and complete historical records of ancient history. Because of the presence of supernatural elements, they disregard the whole book as inaccurate. We should be reaffirmed that the Scriptures are exceptionally historically accurate.

All Scripture is the Word of the Holy Spirit and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (Micah Jahns Paraphrase)

[1]Definition from dictionary.com