Friday, April 10, 2020

The Resurrection of Jesus: Fact or Fiction?

Why do we need to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and why do we accept the resurrection as true? What is our basis?

One of the most important aspects of our faith is that we believe Christ resurrected from the dead after dying on the cross. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” 

One inspiration for Christians is we have a savior and this savior rose from the dead. However, not all of us believe in the resurrection. Many people during the early times were willing to die because they believed in God and the resurrection.

1.) The Seven Brothers in the Old Testament who underwent torture 

There is a deep-seated tradition among devout Jewish martyrs who want to be vindicated through resurrection after their violent and brutal deaths. This is seen in 2 Maccabees 7, in the dreadful stories of the torture and execution of the seven brothers, who refused to defy the Mosaic law. 

Here is what a noted Protestant scholar Craig Evans said when he used 2 Maccabees 7 in the book, Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science edited by Edited by Michael R. Licona and William A. Dembski to support the truth about the resurrection:
“Third, there is a strong tradition of pious Jewish martyrs who expect vindication through resurrection after their violent and cruel deaths. This is seen especially in 2 Maccabees 7, in the gruesome stories of the torture and execution of the seven brothers, who refuse to violate the Mosaic law. One of the brothers angrily replies to Antiochus, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (v. 9). Another brother warns the tyrant, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!” (v. 14). If these young men anticipated resurrection, why wouldn’t Jesus?” (Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science edited by Edited by Michael R. Licona and William A. Dembski, p. 162)

2.) Polycarp, one of the Church Fathers and disciple of John the Evangelist

Polycarp is known as one of the Church Fathers and disciple of John the evangelist.  He was arrested during the second century. His death was a triumphant witness to the resurrection.
"According to the narrative, as Polycarp entered the stadium a voice from heaven proclaimed: 'Be strong, Polycarp, and act like a man!" (Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Paul Hartog,  Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 6, 2013), page 295)

According to Michael R. Licona, a New Testament Scholar in his book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach on pages 288-289:
"In the second century, Polycarp is arrested. He feeds his Roman captors and is given the opportunity to pray for two hours. Polycarp refuses the multiple demands of the proconsul to curse Christ and offer allegiance to Caesar. When threatened to be fed to wild animals and to be burned alive, he says, in effect, "Bring it on!" When Polycarp is condemned to be burned, he asks the Romans not to nail him as a restraint, since God will enable him to stay on the pyre without moving.  He then offers praise and thanks to God for considering him worthy of martyrdom. Again, only the Christians are then privy to seeing that the flames form an arch around Polycarp that does not consume him, and they smell the scent of incense. When the Romans realize that his body is not being consumed by the flames, an executioner stabs and kills him upon which so much blood comes forth from Polycarp that it puts out the fire. In these stories, the martyrs are strong, bold and courageous in their final hour. They are valiant to the very end."

3.) Rabbi Akiva was a prominent Jewish scholar and lived during the 2nd century and was tortured to death by Romans

According to information, while Akiva suffered, he started reciting the Shema.  

The Romans arrested him and whipped his flesh using iron combs. Unaffected by the pain, He recited the Shema, blissfully awaiting the chance to consecrate God's name with his life. The Shema is one of only two prayers particularly ordered in Torah. It is the oldest permanent daily prayer in Judaism which was recited morning and night during ancient times. Rabbi Akiva's sacrifice inspired numerous Jewish martyrs throughout the centuries.

Did Josephus Record the Resurrection?

According to C. D. Elledge, a Professor of New Testament and Early Jewish literature in his book, Resurrection of the Dead in Early Judaism, 200 BCE-CE 200 on page 176:
"While his descriptions of the Jewish sects provide the best-known examples, life after death counts as a recurrent motif throughout Josephus’ portrait of Judaism, including his catalogue of Jewish beliefs in the Against Apion (2:218–19) and the speech materials of the Jewish War (1:648–50, 3:361–82, 6:33–53, 7:337–88). He also calls attention to the importance of immortality and its relation to providence in a brief editorial transition in the Antiquities (17:353–54). He further alludes to Abraham’s faith in immortality in his account of the ‘Aqedah (Ant. 1:229–31). As Chapter 6 has documented, Josephus’ descriptions universally attribute a conspicuously philosophical belief in the soul’s immortality to multiple sectors of Judaism. Fortunately, Josephus’ accounts can be cross-examined by contemporary literary evidence in which Jews expressed their hopes regarding the afterlife. As weighed alongside such evidence, Josephus’ reports yield a mixed verdict with regard to their historical quality."

4.) The Faith of Early Christians especially Apostles of Jesus which prove the truth of the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus is the core of early Christian faith. It indicates reality. Thus, it was affirmed time after time by believers and challenged by unbelievers. For example, St. Paul visited the apostles twice or thrice to ensure his gospel message was straightforward. There should have been no Christianity without this event.

The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem possessed the power and motives to investigate thoroughly the proclamation of the resurrection. They knew about Jesus death and burial. They wanted to expose the error but did not contest the evidence. Many modern skeptical scholars are cannot explain this occurrence.

The best line of reasoning for the resurrection is the numerous eyewitnesses who voluntarily gave up their lives due to the belief that it is true. It is a biblical claim. (1 Corinthians 15). St. Paul writes:
“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17)

The resurrection is KEY to finding out if Christianity is real. If the resurrection is factual, then Christianity is true. If it isn’t, Christianity is false. St. Paul expounds on the eyewitnesses to the resurrection:
“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.” (I Corinthians 15: 3-8)
There is nothing strange regarding people dying for things, causes and religions they espouse. What is important is these people were in a DIRECT position to KNOW if Christ rose from the dead.

They know if he did rise from the dead because they saw him alive after he died. They would also have known the opposite. According to history, MANY of these eyewitnesses WILLINGLY sacrificed their lives for Christ.

St. Paul mentions that Christ appeared to the twelve apostles. Look at the list of how they died:

To go over the argument:
  • People only readily die for causes if they believe those causes are genuine.
  • Christianity is factual only if the resurrection is true.
  • The apostles definitely knew if the resurrection is true.
  • The apostles gladly died brutal deaths for Christ. This supports the theory they KNEW about the resurrection of Christ.

Eye Witnesses strongly supported the historical basis of the resurrection

The confirmation by witnesses is undoubtedly stronger than second-hand accounts. For example, the accounts of two persons who witnessed a crime before the investigator and police arrived is stronger evidence than five individuals who merely heard about the incident and went to the scene of the crime. 

The closer the time between the occurrence and relevant testimony makes the witness more reliable since there is less time for exaggeration. It prevents myths to tarnish the account.  Since there was no technology yet like a certified video recording of what happened, these sources are practical guides for examining the written record of something that allegedly took place. A balanced judgment is mentally fitted in the historian’s brain who studies available evidence. 

In the Gospels, women eyewitnesses played an important role. They saw Jesus die and his body buried. They also discovered his empty tomb. The truth is some of these women were present in all happenings proves that Jesus was dead when laid on the tomb. This is the place where the eyewitnesses found to be empty.

First, we can read that they saw how Jesus died (Matthew 27:55 and Luke 23:49).

Second, they saw him laid on the tomb (Luke 23:55).

Third, they went here during the first day of the week to see the tomb (Matthew 28:1). They saw the stone “rolled away”. The angel told them, “But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” (Matthew 28:5).

Heraclitus (Greek Philosopher) said:  
"Eyes are surer witnesses than ears." (The Art and Thought of Heraclitus: A New Arrangement and Translation of the Fragments with Literary and Philosophical Commentary (Edition of the Fragments with Translation and Commentary)  Charles H. Kahn, p. 106)

Lucian of Samosata (ca AD 125-180), a Greek satirist, mentions the crucifixion. According to Robert E. Van Voorst, a Professor of New Testament Studies in his book, Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence on page 60:
"He accurately reports several things about second-century Christianity. He knows that Christians worship a god who was a man, and one who was crucified in Palestine. They have a strong belief in life after death which affects their present life."

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