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Belief in the Resurrection

Bob Branden

If evolution is highly suspect as the central plank in the materialist worldview, what is the central plank in the Christian worldview? The central plank in the Christian worldview is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not a theory which can’t be tested, but rather a historical event that is either true or false. Christianity is either true or false, but it is not one religion on a smorgasbord of faiths. No other system of belief (materialism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) has a claim so strange and yet so compelling.Facts about the Resurrection. There is a reason this section uses the term “facts.” What we mean by “facts” is that no scholar, whether from a Christian worldview or non-Christian worldview, debates these truths. They are givens. They overwhelmingly meet two criteria. First, as we mentioned, they are agreed upon by all scholars. Second, they are well attested to by the historical documents, both biblical and nonbiblical. They are five in number and they are as follows.First, Jesus died by crucifixion. Second, Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose from the dead and bodily appeared to them. Third, Paul, a persecutor of the early church changed his mind concerning the resurrection. Fourth, James, Jesus’ half brother, a skeptic like Paul originally, also changed His mind concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Fifth, Jesus’ tomb was empty. Attempted explanations. In the course of 2,000 years, the following represents the best efforts of those from a non-Christian worldview at explaining the above facts: It is only a legend and embellishments crept into the original legend over time. It is a fraud since the disciples or someone else stole the body. Everybody went to the wrong tomb. Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. The disciples were psychologically deranged. Natura-lism as a worldview dictates that this simply didn’t happen, so forget the facts above.Some observations. First, when there are many attempts to explain the facts above, it can be readily concluded that this is because none of them have any explanatory power. For example, if Jesus didn’t really die on a cross, why propose everyone went to the wrong tomb? Second, the extra-biblical historical documents (i.e. Tacitus, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Phlegon, Lucian, Celsus, Mara Bar-Serapion, Suetonius and Thallus) never once hint that this is a legend. These sources are non-Christian and they mention this as fact. Third, the fraud theory has insurmountable problems. There was a sizeable contingent of Roman guards at the tomb, which would easily have prevented the disciples or anyone else from taking the body. And, perpetrators of frauds don’t die martyr’s deaths with nothing to gain from their lies. Fourth, the geography around Jerusalem is not that difficult, and so the people didn’t go to the wrong tomb. Besides, this would have convinced no one over time. Fifth, Jesus certainly died. Crucifixion is brutal. Roman centurions know what death is. And being wrapped in linens, essentially mummified, would kill someone even if they weren’t already dead. Sixth, the possibility of the disciples being deranged is not tenable at all. They wrote the No. 1 best seller every year since the Bible came out. Paul and James would not have been convinced by deranged people. Seventh, that leaves us with materialism.This is the crux of the matter. You should be aware by now that worldview controls you. It can make you believe something even though every fact points in a different direction. You can easily do some research on your own. You will find that there is no answer for the fact of the resurrection of Jesus other than it is true. Those who deny it do so on the grounds that their worldview simply will not let them believe it. Here is a simple admonition: choose your worldview very carefully; it determines who you are and your destiny.Book of the year. The reader might suspect by this point that the book of the year is the Bible. Indeed. But this section is on the book of the year in 2003, by N.T. Wright, “The Resurrection.” As with many scholarly books, this one first appeared as a series of lectures, in this case given at Harvard University to an audience of skeptics. It conclusively proved the Resurrection and thus was given book-of-the-year status. The gist of the 700-page argument goes as follows.The logic. In the discipline of historical inquiry, endeavor to understand the concept of necessary and sufficient conditions (or causes). By way of analogy, a necessary condition is the fact that a house has to have an electric power supply for my computer to work. But this is not a sufficient condition. There are other things in the computer itself that would all have to be in place for it to work even with the power supply. A sufficient condition is different in that it alone can account for a result. For instance, my daughter coughing and crying and throwing up next to me in the bed will keep me up all night. However, a sufficient condition is not a necessary condition. For there are many other things that can keep me up all night. In historical study, if one can establish both a necessary and a sufficient condition to an event or a result, then one is very close to an inescapable conclusion. Imagine a signpost with both a vertical pole and a horizontal arm. Such a sign clearly identifies the right path. However, just a vertical post doesn’t communicate much. And a horizontal arm lying on the ground catches no one’s attention and would not be effective if it did. But put together, the effective signpost, both vertical and horizontal parts, unfailingly steers the traveler in the right path.The historical reality. The historical facts show that the break-off from Judaism by virtually all early Christians was caused by the belief that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. This belief was the center of the practice, their narratives, their symbols, and all their belief. It was the basis of their recognition of Jesus as Messiah and Lord and that he had inaugurated a new era. What caused this belief and action?The argument for the Resurrection as the cause of belief and action of the earliest Christians:1. Judaism, in the first century, had a concept of resurrection, but the Christian development of this (i.e., not just physical but imperishable) was different enough that it was impossible that it spontaneously developed from within Judaism. The “strange stories” at the end of the canonical gospels proclaim that the tomb was empty (being careful to let us know that it was certainly the tomb in which the dead Jesus had earlier been buried) and that the disciples saw him alive, talked with him, and ate and drank with Him.2. The empty tomb alone could not have generated this Christian development. Though difficult to explain in this case, empty tombs were not that uncommon in the first century. The appearances by Jesus alone could not have generated this Christian development. Again, though difficult in this case, ghosts or apparitions were not uncommon in this culture. Note John 20:8.3. However, an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together, would have presented a powerful reason for the emergence of the Christian belief.4. Without the concreteness (i.e. truth) of these two events the Christian idea of resurrection could not have come out of Judaism. Keep in mind that many other Jewish leaders, heroes and would-be Messiahs died within Jesus’ era, but in no case did anyone suggest that they had been raised from the dead.5. Other explanations of the empty tomb and the appearances have no explanatory power.6. Thus, in all probability, indeed, with certainty, Jesus’ tomb was empty and he bodily appeared afterwards.7. One can reasonably conclude only one thing: Jesus rose from the dead. The combination of the empty tomb and appearances of the living Jesus forms a set of circumstances which is itself both necessary and sufficient for the rise of early Christian belief. Without these phenomena, we cannot explain why this belief came into existence and took the shape it did. With them, we can explain it exactly and precisely. No other explanations ever put forth even begin to hold up to scrutiny or adequately explain the historical facts. Corroboration. Note the four following points: 1) The early Christians, remarkably soon, began to regard the first day of the week as their special day. 2) There is no evidence whatever that anyone ever venerated Jesus’ tomb. 3) There was never a question of anyone performing a secondary burial for Jesus. 4) The fact that dead people do not ordinarily rise is itself part of early Christian belief, not an objection to it. The early Christians insisted that what had happened to Jesus was precisely something new, that it was, indeed, the start of a whole new mode of existence, a new creation. The fact that Jesus’ resurrection was, and remains, without analogy is not an objection to the early Christian claim. It is part of the claim itself.The implication. Just as belief in the resurrection of Jesus forms the central plank of a Christian worldview, so, though seldom considered this way, does denial form a central plank in the materialist worldview. Again, we are faced with a simple choice and the compelling nature of truth: Did Jesus rise from the dead are not? Decide carefully.Bob Branden, Ph.D. in New Testament studies, is the pastor of the newly founded Eagle Bible Church, which meets Sunday mornings in the Eagle Valley High School auditorium. He is writing a series of commentaries on worldviews. Vail, Colorado


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