The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Historical Truth or Heightened Tale?

Did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead?

If the answer is no, then Christianity is proven to be false. As the Apostle Paul puts it, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christians are to be pitied more than any other, as our faith is useless, futile, without foundation, worthless.

However, if the answer is yes, then there is good reason to believe in the truthfulness of Christianity. The question then becomes, how do we know whether Jesus really did rise from the dead?

For some, they can read the biblical accounts of the resurrection and simply believe what’s written there.  Others need something more than that – arguments that can be made and evidence presented where a case can be made for the historicity of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection.

If you are one who needs a little something more, I present to you Drs. Gary R. Habermas and Craig Hazen.

Dr. Habermas is the Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University.  In his book, The Historical Jesus, he writes that “There are a minimum number of facts agreed upon by practically all critical scholars, whatever their school of thought. At least twelve separate facts are considered to be knowable history.” [1]

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. He was buried.
  3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
  4. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
  5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
  6. Because of these experiences, the disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection.
  7. This message was the center of preaching in the early church.
  8. [This message] was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
  9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and grew.
  10. Sunday [became] the primary day of worship.
  11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also believed that he saw the resurrected Jesus.
  12. Paul was converted by an experience which he likewise believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus. [2]

If these facts are considered to be knowable history by Christians and critics alike, it stands to reason that any viable theory of Jesus’ resurrection must account for all twelve of these factors.

Dr. Craig Hazen is the Professor of Comparative Religion and Apologetics at Biola University.  Dr. Hazen put together a chart of the most prominent theories concerning Jesus’ resurrection. Basing his chart on the work of Josh McDowell, Dr. Hazen puts each theory to the test to see how well they correspond to Dr. Habermas’s twelve known historical facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Here’s what he came up with (The numbers correspond to the known historical facts that DO NOT fit the theory):

  1. Unknown Tomb – The disciples didn’t know which tomb Jesus was buried in. (4-12)
  2. Wrong Tomb – The disciples went to the wrong tomb. (5-12)
  3. Legend – Jesus was not a real historical figure. He’s no more than a legend. (1-12)
  4. Twin – Jesus had a twin brother who suddenly appeared as the resurrected Jesus. (4, 11)
  5. Hallucination – All of the post-resurrection appearances were the result of hallucinations. (5, 11, 12)
  6. Existential Resurrection – Jesus is alive in the hearts of Christians regardless of whether He actually rose from the dead. (4, 5, 11, 12)
  7. Spiritual Resurrection – Jesus’ spirit was resurrected but not his body. (4, 5, 11, 12)
  8. Disciples Stole the Body – (5, 6, 11, 12)
  9. Authorities Hid the Body – (5-12)
  10. Swoon – Jesus didn’t really die. He just swooned to make it seem as if He had died. (1, 6)
  11. Passover Plot – Based on a book written by Hugh Schonfield, Jesus was a mortal man who believed he was the Messiah. He deliberately planned his entire ministry according to the Old Testament prophecies to the point plotting his own arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. (5, 6, 11, 12)
  12. Jesus was an Alien – Yes, a space alien! (None!)
  13. Bodily Resurrection – The Christian view. (None)

In the end, only two theories account for all twelve knowable historical facts concerning Jesus’ resurrection. Either Jesus was an alien or He experienced a bodily resurrection.

While the latter is the Christian theory of Jesus’ resurrection, there is something to the whole Jesus is an alien thing! Dr. Hazen characterizes the alien-hood of Jesus not in the sense of his being a space man the likes of E.T. Rather, Jesus was an alien in the sense that He was not of this world. Jesus didn’t come down by way of the mother ship. He was sent by the Father. In obedience to the Father, Jesus died on the cross, but was raised back to life. Resurrected from the dead, Jesus lives. In Christ, we too shall defeat death, not merely to enjoy the spoils of heaven, but to enjoy and worship the One who gives us life.

End Notes

  1. Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence For the Life of Christ, (Joplin: College Press, 1996), 158.
  2. Ibid., 158.