Proof for Christ’s Resurrection

The fact of Christ’s resurrection is central to the Christian faith.  Paul tells us without the resurrection our faith is pointless (I Corinthians 15:14).  On such a critical tenant of our faith, how can we be certain it actually happened?

It is an indisputable fact that we have a greater possibility of success in knowing the truth of what occurs today and in our presence than the truth of events that occur further from our time and presence.  This is because events that occur today and in our community can be verified by personally visiting the site and by talking to our neighbors, whose veracity we know, to determine what they saw or experienced.  We can handle the evidence and experiment with it to determine exactly what happened.

Events that occurred in the past are more difficult to verify because time erases or degrades the physical evidence and people who experienced the event die or their memory fades.  Events that occur away from our community mean we must travel to where the event occurred and that can take some time or we must depend upon people who witnessed the event and we most likely know nothing about the veracity of those individuals.

The human condition is like living in a fog.  Objects and events that are close to us are easily seen but as we try to observe those objects and events that are further away, they become obscured in the mists.

So how do we discover the truth of historical events?  Gary R. Habermas states we believe those historical events that have been subjected to detailed research and have withstood the challenges and criticism of others.  While new information might necessitate a reevaluation of a particular event, we cannot withhold judgment just because such a reevaluation is possible.  Without new data, we consider a particular event that has been well researched as certain or at least probable. [1]

Habermas’ solution makes sense.  We will never be able to prove everything in life with mathematical precision, but there is an alternative between the two extremes of having absolute proof or utilizing unsupported assertions or guesses.  It is a well-established fact that given our limitations (God did make us finite) we must rely on probability to discover the truth of events that occur away from our space and time.  Some events or truths are more probable than others and it is those events we believe and those truths we hold.

Determining the validity of an historical event such as Christ’s resurrection is essentially an appeal to authority. To believe in an historical event is to believe the experiences of the person(s) reporting the event constitute an honest, reliable, and objective account of the event.  To Christians, this means believing the record contained in the Bible is accurate.  In this short blog, there is no way I can prove the accuracy of the Bible and validity of Jesus’ resurrection other than to point to others who have.  Examples of books I have read include:  When Skeptics Ask by Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, The Testimony of the Evangelists by Simon Greenleaf, The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas, Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Is the Bible True? by Jeffery L. Sheler, and A Lawyer Examines the Bible by Irwin H. Linton.

But even with the wealth of evidence concerning the resurrection of Christ we have from the sources listed above, we must consider a statement made by Laplace:  The more extraordinary the claim, the greater the probability of error or falsehood in the one making the claim. [2]  Now virtually everyone agrees the resurrection of anyone from the dead is a very extraordinary event.  So if we Christians make an extraordinary claim, we must have extraordinary evidence to back it up if we expect other to believe us.  The world has seen enough of snake oil salesman, hucksters, politicians, and assorted con men to know one cannot believe everything one hears.  Our position should be that we will not reject extraordinary events (such as the resurrection) as impossible but we must require a high degree of proof before we accept them or we will believe the extravagant claims of every charlatan around.

The degree of proof each individual requires is different.  Each of us has a different background.  Because of our life experiences, some are more trusting and others trust no one; some accept new ideas readily and others resist any new ideas.  While there are substantial arguments for Christ rising from the dead, there are some individuals who find it difficult to believe in the resurrection of Jesus because of the violation of the laws of nature it entails.  To them it is easier to explain away all the evidence for Christianity than it is to believe in such an extraordinary event.  These individuals have a valid point.  One does not observe violations of the laws of nature on a daily, weekly, or even annual basis.  In fact vast majority of us will never see such an event in our entire lives.  Documenting and assembling proof for these violations of the laws of nature is even more improbable.  Additionally, we are looking at these events after 2000 years.  We are looking at these events from the perspective of our own culture which is considerably different from the culture of Jesus’ time.  This distance complicates our attempt to determine the truthfulness of these events.  While there is considerable evidence for the validity of Jesus’ resurrection, reasonable people can disagree because of the extraordinary character of this event.

Christian doctrine asserts God requires us to believe in the extraordinary event of Christ’s resurrection.  Now if reasonable people can disagree about the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, how can God send people to hell who have doubts?  God knows we are limited in our ability to know the truth of historical events; he made us this way.


[1]   Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MO:  College Press Publishiing Company, 1996), p. 263.

[2]   Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Classics, 1995), pp. 55-56.

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