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BIBLICAL EVIDENCE IS ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE, TOO, PER THE MANUSCRIPTS
Introduction: The resurrection of Jesus Christ stands as a pivotal event in Christian history, carrying profound implications for the truth and validity of the Christian faith. In this article, we will explore the resurrection as a vital piece of evidence supporting the truth of Christianity. We will examine the biblical accounts of the resurrection, analyze their historical context, and reflect on the significance of Jesus’ resurrection for believers. Throughout this discussion, we will draw upon relevant Bible verses to shed light on this transformative event.
I. The Biblical Accounts of the Resurrection
The New Testament provides multiple accounts of the resurrection, affirming its significance as a central theme in the early Christian community. These accounts include the empty tomb, encounters with the resurrected Jesus, and the testimony of eyewitnesses. Let us examine some key Bible verses that highlight the resurrection narrative:
- Mark 16:6 – “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”
- Luke 24:6-7 – “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.'”
- John 20:14-16 – At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
II. The Historical Context and Witness Testimony
The resurrection accounts in the New Testament were not mere legends or myths fabricated centuries later. They were rooted in the historical context of the first-century CE, shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion. The writers of the Gospels and the apostle Paul, who penned several New Testament letters, were eyewitnesses or relied on firsthand testimonies. Consider the following verses:
- 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 – For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
III. The Significance of the Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus carries profound theological, historical, and personal significance. It validates Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God, affirms the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and serves as the foundation of Christian hope. Reflect upon these impactful verses:
- Romans 1:4 – and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Acts 2:24 – But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
- 1 Peter 1:3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The resurrection stands as a pivotal event that provides key evidence for the truth of Christianity. The biblical accounts, supported by historical context and eyewitness testimonies, affirm the reality and significance of Jesus’ resurrection. As believers, we find hope, assurance, and the promise of new life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. May this foundational truth continue to strengthen our faith and impact our lives.
DR. GARY HABERMAS
Dr. Gary Habermas, a prominent Christian apologist and historian, has extensively researched and presented evidence for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of the key evidences he has highlighted include:
Early and Multiple Independent Sources: Habermas emphasizes that the New Testament contains early accounts of the resurrection, written by various authors, providing multiple independent sources. He argues that this attests to the historical nature of the event.
Empty Tomb: Habermas points to the empty tomb as a significant piece of evidence. He argues that the empty tomb is widely attested in the Gospel accounts and is supported by the historical reliability of the burial narrative.
Eyewitness Testimony: Habermas highlights the importance of eyewitness testimonies to the resurrection. He argues that the appearances of the resurrected Jesus were witnessed by various individuals and groups, as recorded in the New Testament.
Conversion of Skeptics: Habermas highlights the conversion of skeptics like James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul, who was initially an opponent of Christianity. He argues that their transformation provides evidence for their encounter with the resurrected Christ.
Growth of the Early Church: Habermas points to the rapid growth of the early Christian movement, even in the face of persecution. He argues that this growth can be attributed to the conviction and belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
Transformation of the Disciples: Habermas emphasizes the radical transformation of the disciples after the resurrection. He argues that their fear and doubt were replaced with courage and conviction, which suggests a real and transformative encounter with the risen Christ.
Circumstantial Evidence: Habermas also explores circumstantial evidence, such as the creeds and hymns found in the New Testament, which he argues reflect early beliefs in the resurrection.
It’s important to note that this is a brief summary of some of the evidences presented by Dr. Gary Habermas. He has written extensively on this topic and has engaged in debates and dialogues, providing a comprehensive case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
When it comes to archaeological evidence specifically pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s important to note that direct archaeological evidence specifically confirming the resurrection event itself is not available. The resurrection is primarily a matter of faith and belief based on the testimonies recorded in the New Testament.
However, there are several archaeological discoveries that contribute to the historical context and credibility of the New Testament accounts, indirectly supporting the historicity of Jesus and the events surrounding his crucifixion and burial. These discoveries include:
The Shroud of Turin: While highly debated and controversial, the Shroud of Turin is a cloth that bears the image of a crucified man, believed by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus. The shroud has been subjected to scientific analysis, and while results are inconclusive, it remains an intriguing artifact for many believers.
The Pilate Inscription: In 1961, an archaeological discovery was made in Caesarea Maritima, Israel, where a stone inscription was found bearing the name of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion. This finding provides historical evidence of the existence of Pilate during the time of Jesus.
The Caiaphas Ossuary: In 1990, an ossuary (bone box) was discovered in Jerusalem with the inscription “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” This is significant because Caiaphas was the high priest during Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, as mentioned in the New Testament.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is traditionally believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. While no direct archaeological evidence confirms these events, the church and its surrounding archaeological features provide a historical and geographical context for the events described in the New Testament.
First-Century Tombs: Archaeological discoveries of first-century Jewish tombs in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas help provide insights into burial practices and the types of tombs used during the time of Jesus. This contextual information contributes to our understanding of Jesus’ burial in a tomb, as described in the New Testament.
These archaeological findings, while not directly proving the resurrection, add historical and contextual support to the accounts recorded in the New Testament. They help establish the historical plausibility of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and the subsequent growth of the early Christian movement that proclaimed his resurrection.
NON-CHRISTIAN WITNESSES TO THE HISTORICAL JESUS CHRIST
Christianity has its own testimony that lays the foundation for all Christians, with archaeological evidence that is second to none, which makes the historicity of Christ and Christians unshakable and enduring! There is no need for Christians to build their faith in secular historians. Nevertheless, Christians are in the business of making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) of unbelievers who have been inundated with the question of whether Jesus ever existed and the atheists, agnostics, Bible critics of all stripes, as well as liberal-moderate Bible scholars, who argue that using the Bible and the writing of the early Church Fathers to validate the historicity of Christ and early Christianity is circular reasoning. Thus, as Christian apologetic evangelists who must reason, explain, prove, persuade, and defend, Christians show that Jesus Christ did live by using sources other than the Bible and the writing of the early Church Fathers. For those who question Christianity, this historicity of Jesus, the authority of the New Testament documents, you need to examine carefully what the secular historians and other writers have written that, in fact, corroborates the testimony of the Bible.
Christians, therefore, need to familiarize themselves with the testimonies of the secular historians, for therein is unveiled what an enormous impact Christianity had on the ancient Greco-Roman world some 1,980 years ago. When we consider the tremendous amount of physical evidence from archaeology that is from Bible manuscripts and the writing of the early Church Fathers, coupled with observations and remarks made by non-Christian authors, we have additional evidence that the account found in the Bible about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is not some human contrivance, is not some fanciful made-up story. No, we can have absolute confidence in the historicity of Jesus Christ and early Christianity as laid out by the Bible. Their historicity and authenticity are fully secured, and even the few disrespectful, scornful, disdainful comments of modern-day critics cannot set aside evidence that such events occurred.
The Christian needs to be aware that the default argument from the Bible critic will be that there is only one secular historical reference to Jesus Christ. That claim is being made by someone who is unaware or someone that is hoping that the Christian is unaware. There are, in fact, twelve secular historical references. Once you state that fact, the critic needs to drop back to his second default argument when he says, ‘yeah, but that is relatively few references to Christ and Christianity encountered in the existing writings of the first two centuries.’ The first response to the critic should be that if you were familiar with ancient history, you would know that historians and other writers only covered the wealthy, the powerful, the warriors, the politicians, and such. Common folks were almost never mentioned. And certainly, Jesus Christ, a carpenter from an obscure town like Nazareth, was certainly as common as it gets. In fact, to have the references that we have is quite impressive. Even with Jesus founding Christianity, the apostles growing it to making up one million disciples by 130 CE, few historians and especially enemies would have recorded much about them in elaborate detail. In such a pagan world, early Christianity was viewed profanely by almost every segment of society. They were nothing more than a small split-off group from the despised Jews, who had long been hated by the Roman Empire. Some even thought that their effective evangelism was designed to at overthrowing the Roman Empire and its popular idolatry of the day.
The Critical Handbook of the Greek New Testament, by Edward C. Mitchell, 1896, Chapter III.
“There is, therefore, but little reason to expect that a heathen historian, writing of his own time, and having no personal interest in Christians, should make very frequent allusions to them, or be very minute or accurate in his description. And we should have still less reason to anticipate that literary men of the same period, whose themes are not necessarily related to Christianity, should go out of their way to make mention of it. Nevertheless we shall find, upon examination, that a fair proportion of Pagan writers have in some way recognized the existence and spread of Christianity during the first two centuries.”
The Greek historians Appian and Pausanias and the Latin historians ivy, Paterculus, Valerius, Justin, and Florus, all recorded their history before the reign of Tiberius (reigning from 14 to 37 CE), therefore, it is not unexpected that they would not mention Christ or Christianity. But we turn our attention to the Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 CE), who stands high among all the secular historians of antiquity. He is believed to be accurate in his coverage and faithful in his judgments. In his Annals, Book 15, in describing how a rumor had been reported that it was, in reality, Emperor Nero, who was the one guilty of burning Rome,
Tacitus says in paragraph 44:
“To get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus [Christ], from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”—Translated by A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb.
Then we have the Roman satirist and poet, Juvenal (c. 60-140 CE), who was active in the late first and early second century. He made a reference to Tacitus’ account of the persecution Christians had faced. (Sat. i. 155-157). There is the highly respected Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, Seneca (c. 4 B.C.- 65 CE), who became a tutor of Nero in 49 CE. He made a passing reference to Christianity. (Epist. xiv.) So does the Greek orator, writer, philosopher, and historian Dio Chrysostom (c. 40-115 CE), the “golden mouthed.” (Orat. Corinthiac. xxxvii. p. 463) Furthermore, Arrian (86/89 – c. after 146/160 CE), a Greek historian, public servant, military commander, and philosopher of the Roman period. (Dissertat. iv. 7. ¶ 5, 6) Moreover, we have Suetonius (c. 69 – 122 CE), the Roman historian who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire, in depicting the life of Claudius Caesar. He says:
“[Claudius] expelled from Rome the Jews, who were continually exciting disturbances, at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ].” (Vit. Claud. cap. 25.) And again, in telling of the cruel persecution under Nero, Suetonius says: “The Christians were punished, a set of men of a new and mischievous superstition.”—Vit. Nero. cap. 16.
PLINY THE YOUNGER AND EMPEROR TRAJAN
Pliny the Younger (61 – c. 113 CE) was governor of Bithynia. He wrote to Emperor Trajan asking what the best way for him to deal with the early Christians was. This writing took place about 110-112 CE, some 50 years after the martyrdom of the apostle Paul. Pliny had never carried out a legal investigation into the Christians and thus to be on the safe side of things, he consulted Trajan so as to be effective regarding his actions. Pliny did not throw away his letters and Trajan’s replies. So these classic documents are the earliest surviving compelling Roman documents making reference to the early Christians, giving us confidence in the Biblical account of Christ, that he, in fact, did live, that he was an extremely effective teacher, that he had many zealous disciples, whose lives were so far different the paganic people of the Roman Empire, which is why they caught the attention of Roman leaders.
Pliny admitted in this letter that up unto the time of his writing, he had never personally attended the “trials concerning those who profess Christianity.” he says:
“The method I have observed toward those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed.… Others … at first confessed themselves Christians, and then denied it; true, they had been of that persuasion but they had quit it … many years … ago. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, and cursed Christ (Ep. 10.96).” – Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: John, Acts., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 148.
Still others, Pliny says, revealed that at one time they had been Christians and indeed had “addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity”, but they were no longer Christians and had not been for some time.—Harvard Classics, vol. 9, pp. 425-428.
Pliny was making certain that Trajan supported these methods and tactics. Emperor Trajan replied to Pliny on how he had been handling the situation. “You have adopted the right course,” Trajan wrote, “in investigating the charges against the Christians who were brought before you.” Trajan was succeeded by his cousin Hadrian (117-138 CE), whom it is said that Trajan supposedly adopted on his deathbed. In writing to the proconsul of Asia concerning Christians, Hadrian declared: “If, therefore, in accusations of this sort, the people of the province can clearly affirm any thing against the Christians, so as to bring the case before the tribunal, to this only let them have recourse, and not to informal accusations and mere clamors.”—Ap. Euseb. Hist. Eccles., iv. 9.
ENEMIES OF CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIANS
Lucian (c. 125 – after 180 CE) was a Greek satirist and rhetorician who was born toward the end of Trajan’s reign. He criticized the teachings of Christians and mocked their form of worship. Writing to Cronius (a celebrated Neopythagorean philosopher) concerning the death of Peregrinus Proteus ( c. 95 – 165 CE), a famous Greek Cynic philosopher, Lucian says, among other things, that the Christians “spoke of him [Christ] as a god, and took him for a lawgiver, and honored him with the title of Master. They therefore still worship that great man who was crucified in Palestine, because he introduced into the world this new religion.”
Origen (c. 185 – c. 254 CE), probably the most notable Church Father, has preserved the testimony of some additional non-Christians witnesses of ancient times for the historicity of Christ. For instance, there was a Greek philosopher named Numenius (mid-2nd century CE), of which, Origen says, “quotes a fragment from the history of Jesus Christ, of which he seeks the hidden interpretation.” (McClintock & Strong, Cyclopedia, vol. 7, p. 225) Origen also speaks of Phlegon (2nd century CE), a Greek historian freedman of Emperor Hadrian, as mentioning the fulfillment of certain prophecies pertaining to Christ.—Contra. Cels. lib. ii., ¶ 14.
Celsus was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of early Christianity, who lived about 130 years after the death of Jesus. He made numerous quotations from the Greek New Testament, explaining: “We take these things from your writings, to wound you with your own weapons.” We do not have the original works of Celsus, but Origen in about 248 CE preserved nearly 80 of his quotations (Contra Celsum) from the Scriptures. Jesus, Celsus states, was portrayed as the Word of God; was called the Son of God; was from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter; declared to have had a miraculous conception. Celsus makes allusion to Jesus’ being carried down to Egypt, to his baptism in the Jordan, to the voice declaring him to be God’s son, to the temptations in the wilderness, to the choosing of the 12 apostles. He admits that Jesus performed great miracles: fed multitudes opened blind eyes, healed the lame, cured the sick, raised the dead. He also makes reference to many points of doctrine in the teachings of Christ. And in the end, he refers to the betrayal by Judas, Peter’s denial, the scourging, crowning, and mockery heaped upon Jesus, as well as the darkness and earthquake that came at Jesus’ death, and then the resurrection that followed. Thus this heathen writer unwittingly proved that such things were written down and were universally believed by Christians at that time.—Mitchell’s Critical Handbook of the Greek New Testament.
Celsus addressed the miracles of Jesus, holding that “Jesus performed his miracles by sorcery (γοητεία)”:
O light and truth! he distinctly declares, with his own voice, as ye yourselves have recorded, that there will come to you even others, employing miracles of a similar kind, who are wicked men, and sorcerers; and Satan. So that Jesus himself does not deny that these works at least are not at all divine, but are the acts of wicked men; and being compelled by the force of truth, he at the same time not only laid open the doings of others, but convicted himself of the same acts. Is it not, then, a miserable inference, to conclude from the same works that the one is God and the other sorcerers? Why ought the others, because of these acts, to be accounted wicked rather than this man, seeing they have him as their witness against himself? For he has himself acknowledged that these are not the works of a divine nature, but the inventions of certain deceivers, and of thoroughly wicked men. – Ernest Cushing Richardson, Bernhard Pick (1905).
The Ante-Nicene fathers: translations of the writings of the fathers down to A.D. 325, Volume 4. Scribner’s. “
But Celsus, wishing to assimilate the miracles of Jesus to the works of human sorcery, says in express terms as follows: “O light and truth! he distinctly declares, with his own voice, as ye yourselves have recorded, that there will come to you even others, employing miracles of a similar kind, who are wicked men, and sorcerers; and Satan. So that Jesus himself does not deny that these works at least are not at all divine, but are the acts of wicked men; and being compelled by the force of truth, he at the same time not only laid open the doings of others but convicted himself of the same acts. Is it not, then, a miserable inference, to conclude from the same works that the one is God and the other sorcerers? Why ought the others, because of these acts, to be accounted wicked rather than this man, seeing they have him as their witness against himself? For he has himself acknowledged that these are not the works of a divine nature, but the inventions of certain deceivers, and of thoroughly wicked men.”
Turning to yet another non-Christian witness, the renowned Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100 CE), who was no friend of Christianity. A passage in his Antiquities of the Jews (Book XVIII, chapter iii, ¶3), though claimed to be, but not proved, spurious, reads: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day [about 93 CE].” Again, Josephus (Book XX, chapter ix., ¶1) tells how the high priest Ananus “assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”.—Translated by William Whiston.
The sections bolded in the above from Josephus are what is considered spurious, to have been added later by Christians in the church. Therefore, the Bible critic wanted to discount the entire writing. Of course, they would never do such a thing if it was referring to a secular person. They would simply remove what they knew to be a spurious interpolation and call the authentic portion historical evidence, as we should do here as well. When we remove what seems to be spurious, we still have a testimony from a Jewish historian who was no friend to the Christians, who still informs us about the historical Jesus Christ. Josephus has more to say about Jesus by way of talking about James, his half brother.
“Ananus [who was a high priest], therefore, being of this character, and supposing that he had a favorable opportunity on account of the fact that Festus was dead, and Albinus was still on the way, called together the Sanhedrim, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, James by name, together with some others, and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned.” – Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 127.
So, we have two very early statements by Josephus, who lived 37-100 CE. Another Jewish source that refers to Jesus Christ as a historical person is the Talmud. One would think the Jewish Talmud would simply ignore any reference to Christ the founder of Christianity because that Christians and Jews were at odds with each other for almost 300 years at the time of compiling the Talmud in the fourth century.
Thus, we have given the reader a number of testimonies of many non-Christian witnesses who confirm the historicity of Christ and early Christianity, both being authentic and true. Let all non-believing Bible critics, therefore, who imagine that Christ has no historical support outside of the Bible, know that they simply have been taught false ideas and misconceptions. They need to objectively investigate the historicity of Christ and the early Christians, accepting that the Word of God is truth. (John 17:17; Ps. 103:15; Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25.) Stop feeding your skepticism and your unbelief, and be receptive to the idea that real historical evidence exists.
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