A Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

By. Rev. David A. Richards

Christians throughout church history have gathered over countless Sundays to sing and worship Jesus Christ, frequently making mention of his death and resurrection. It has become something of a cultural phenomenon. Christians who do not even attend a church on a regular basis will make a point to show up on Easter Sunday. Christians gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Do they pause amongst all of the holiday rituals or even during their standard Sunday service to consider the importance of what they are claiming in worship? The real question is this: Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ just merely a good story? Is it a moral fable told to teach a lesson? Did the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happen or is it just a mythological tale that has been continuously handed down simply because tradition demands it?[1]

The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians is bluntly clear about the real importance of the resurrection in relation to the Christian faith.[2] Paul writes that if Christ was not raised from the dead then the Christian faith is worthless and its adherents are rather pitiful people. Without the resurrection there is no salvation, and there is nothing to worship. Furthermore, all of the people who have died believing in the resurrection of Jesus have perished in vain. That is, they have perished in vain if indeed the resurrection did not occur as an actual historical event.

The point in this passage is abundantly clear. The Christian faith rises and falls on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[3] Either Christ did in fact rise from the dead, or if not, then every church ought to be torn down and every copy of the Bible thrown to the flames.

Having established the importance of this one singular event, it becomes necessary to ask the question of the real historicity of the resurrection. Is the resurrection a historically documentable event, or just a common fable that Christians hope might have happened but cannot demonstrate? What evidence is there for the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

To begin to answer this question, another question must first be asked. Did Jesus Christ actually exist? Considering the Gospel writers’ position in the church, their writings at this point in the discussion are suspect. If the only proof of Jesus’ existence are the writings of a few isolated people, it becomes possible that these few people might have made the whole thing up. Therefore, it becomes helpful to seek sources outside the Christian faith and close enough to the events in question to be considered primary source material.

The Roman historian Tacitus[4] wrote of the great fire (64 A.D.) that leveled large portions of Rome.[5] In doing so, he mentions how Emperor Nero shifted the blame for the fire away from himself. He did this by placing the blame on a group of undesirable people who called themselves Christians. Nero also punished them with the utmost refinements of cruelty. In his description of these Christians, Tacitus explains that they got their name from their founder Christus (Christ, in Latin). Also, this Christ was executed in the reign of Tiberius by Pontius Pilate. Tacitus further explains that it was thought that this disease had been dealt with. It then broke out once more not only in Judea, where it started, but also in Rome itself.[6] Tacitus confirms specific details of the gospel accounts with regards to the place, time, and severity of the sentence of Jesus.[7] These details, being echoed in the gospel accounts, offer evidence of Jesus’ life from outside the gospels.

Another historical tidbit that can be gleaned from writings outside the Gospels comes from a man by the name of Suetonius.[8] In his work, Lives of the Caesars, he mentions the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by the Emperor Claudius.[9] This event has been dated to around A.D. 49 [10] and it is mentioned in the book of Acts.[11] Suetonius writes that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because of Chrestus. It is possible that the disturbances were being made by a person named Chrestus as this was a common name.[12] The more likely scenario, however, is that this is merely a misspelling of Christus (Christ).[13] As the conflict between the traditional Jews and those Jews who were proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Messiah escalated, disturbances in the city became a problem. The result being that Emperor Claudius simply kicked out all Jews regardless of which side they were on. The Romans, at this point, still saw Christians as simply another sect within Judaism.[14]

If this is truly a reference to Jesus Christ (which it more than likely is) then it further supports what Tacitus had written, that after the execution of Jesus Christ by Pilate, Christianity was still a growing movement. The Christian church grew to the point that by A.D. 49 it was beginning to become such a problem for Rome that the emperor wanted them out of his city.[15]

Yet another reference from outside the church comes from a collection of letters sent from Pliny[16] (the younger) to the Roman emperor Trajan. The collected letters to and from the emperor deal with a variety of subjects. On one occasion Pliny writes to ask for advice on dealing with the Christians. In this letter Pliny describes to Trajan some facts about Christians that he was able to learn from those interrogated Christians that had renounced their faith, made offerings to the gods and to the emperor, and cursed Christ (because no true Christian can be forced to do that).[17] These were released. Others who refused to denounce Christ and worship the gods were executed.[18] This letter shows that not only was the Christian church still around and considered a problem for the empire, but it also shows that the early Christians were in the habit of meeting together and worshiping Christ as God.

Having looked at Roman sources from around the first century there is one more writer who ought to be considered. This one, also outside of the Christian church, is a Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus.[19]

In his work “The Antiquities of the Jews” he mentions Jesus a couple of times. One of these times is considered more controversial than the other. On one occasion Josephus writes about James, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ. James was brought before the Sanhedrin and executed before the new Roman governor could arrive.[20] In another place Josephus mentions Jesus and seemingly informs his readers that Jesus had been crucified by Pilate and even was raised from the dead three days later.[21]

The authenticity of this passage, however, has been called into question. On one hand, all of the existing manuscripts of this work have this passage, other ancient writers have mentioned it, and the language in it is consistent with Josephus’ writing. On the other hand, from what we know about the man Flavius Josephus, it is doubtful he would have written it because he was not a believer in Jesus.[22] Another point is that this text still exists because the Christian church is actually responsible for copying and preserving the text, and probably added a bit to further explain what Josephus wrote. This and other arguments have led many scholars to believe that Josephus did indeed write about Jesus but without the overtly Christian details that are added.[23] A paired down version of this text has been suggested by Ehrman and also another by F.F. Bruce.[24] However, even with a paired down version of Josephus’ statement it can still be shown that Josephus was aware that Jesus was considered by some to be the Messiah, he was executed by Pilate, and that after his death his followers continued to stay loyal to him.

In summary, it is known by historical documentation that Jesus Christ existed. Some people before his execution considered him to be Messiah. Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate in Judea during the reign of Tiberius. Finally, after his execution followers of Christ organized themselves into a group whose expansion began to cause issues for the Roman Empire. One emperor had them expelled from Rome. Other emperors adopted a policy of executing anyone who professed and would not deny faith in Jesus Christ. These facts raise a serious historical question. Before addressing this question, it is necessary to examine the state of Jesus’ closest followers after his death.

To understand the general state of the disciples after the death of Jesus it is necessary to look at specific details within the Gospel narratives. For starters, the Gospel of Matthew tells of Peter, who had previously claimed that he would never deny Jesus, doing just that.[25] Peter’s is the only out-right denial mentioned in the Gospels. After the arrest of Jesus the rest of the disciples are nowhere to be found, except Peter in the courtyard. Of all of the people coming forward to offer testimony none of the disciples came to his defense. The disciples are scattered and unwilling to even claim knowledge of Jesus. From the Gospel of Luke, we see the women coming from the tomb to tell the disciples the good news of the resurrection.[26] The disciples did not believe them! Even though Jesus had told the disciples many times that he would rise from the dead,[27] none of them believed it would actually happen. They did not believe the testimony of these women. They were not waiting for or expecting a resurrection anytime soon. In another passage, Luke writes of two disciples walking along a road to Emmaus.[28] In their conversation with a stranger (Jesus himself whom they did not recognize), they tell the stranger that they were hoping Jesus would redeem Israel. They were, as in past tense, hoping. The disciples had no hope that Jesus would be able to do anything more for them. He was dead. In a final passage from the Gospel of John, the disciples are in a room and the doors were shut … for fear of the Jews.[29] The word shut here actually has a further meaning – barred or locked.[30]

After the death of Jesus, the disciples were scattered and unwilling to acknowledge their relationship with Jesus. They were not looking for Jesus to rise from the grave nor did they believe that he would. All of their hopes for Jesus being the Messiah died with him. They were without hope and hiding in fear for their lives.

Let’s come back to the historical question mentioned earlier. Simply put: What happened? What is the historical connection between a group of scattered and hopelessly afraid disciples and a Church whose growth came to threaten and eventually conquer one of the largest empires the world has ever seen? What event transformed these disciples into bold and fearless (to the point of death) preachers. What was it about their message that spread across the Roman roads defying all attempts to stop it? What happened?!

This discussion will now turn toward some early church writings which are not part of the New Testament canon.[31] In the First Epistle of Clement which was held in high regard by Christians in the latter part of the first century,[32] the writer discusses not only the resurrection[33] of Jesus Christ but also his second coming.[34] Clement, in using both the Old and New Testaments speaks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and also to a future resurrection of those who have put their faith in Jesus. Yet another writer, Ignatius in his letter to the Smyrneans,[35] also speaks of the resurrection of Jesus.[36] He links the resurrection of Jesus with salvation.[37] Ignatius makes a point to show that Jesus was raised with a physical body. Jesus died and was raised as flesh and blood as well as being one with God. Ignatius argued that by the resurrection of Jesus Christ those who had faith in him would become conquers of death along with Jesus. In another letter to the Trallians Ignatius describes the details of Jesus’ death and resurrection and adds that, apart from Jesus, one does not possess true life.[38] Ignatius, like Clement, believed that Jesus rose from the dead and because of his resurrection, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ would also have their part in the resurrection of Jesus. Finally, in his letter to the Philippians, Polycarp[39] also mentioned the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[40] Polycarp, like Ignatius, died a martyr’s death,[41] believed that Christ had indeed been raised from the dead. Not only that, but through his death and resurrection, Christian believers receive salvation and have nothing to fear from death.

Christians in the later part of the first century believed that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a real historical event. It was this belief and their faith in a future resurrection through Jesus Christ that spurred many to willingly suffer and die at the hands of the Romans. They believed in this so strongly that when given a choice to deny Christ and live, they could not deny what they believed to be true.

Where did the early church get this belief in the resurrection of Christ? Looking at what is known about these authors can shed some light on this question. Clement’s first epistle was bound together with copies of the New Testament and even quoted as authoritative.[42] Although not much is known about Ignatius, his epistles show that he is familiar with the Gospels, Paul’s epistles, and other books from the New Testament. Polycarp, who lived to the age of 86 before he was martyred, was actually said to have been taught by the apostle John and knew others who had seen Jesus.[43] He also quoted from the Gospels and other books in the New Testament.

With various scholars today arguing that the current version of the New Testament is corrupt, note that these second century authors[44] would have had access to the earliest copies of the New Testament.[45] Their writings show that the writers of the New Testament (the earliest documents in existence speaking of the resurrection) did in fact write that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was and is an actual historical event.

In speaking further of the New Testament text, note that there is more manuscript evidence for the New Testament than any other written work from antiquity. In Greek alone there are about 5,600 manuscripts of the New Testament in existence. Many of those are fragmentary; the average manuscript being about 450 pages long. As far as early manuscripts of the New Testament go, there are 12 manuscripts from the second century, 64 from the third, and 48 from the fourth. Thus, there are 124 manuscripts that were copied within 300 years of the original texts. The same cannot be said for any other ancient writing in existence today. Furthermore, writers from the early church and later periods quoted from the New Testament heavily. From their witness alone, it is possible to reconstruct nearly the entire New Testament. The current translations of the New Testament can say with much more certainty what the original texts would have said than any other work from antiquity.[46]

The writers of the New Testament claimed that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was and is a real historical event. The disciples who were closest to Jesus were a group of scared, fearful, deniers of Jesus. Overnight, they became bold followers of Jesus who disregarded their own lives proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. They did this because they believed and would not deny that Jesus physically walked out of the tomb after he had been dead for three days. This belief was passed on to others who took up the cause with equal boldness.

This entire argument rests on these original disciples who followed Jesus throughout his ministry.[47] They listened to him. They learned from him. They saw the amazing things that he did. After Jesus died they gave up all hope in his being the Messiah. Then they went through a remarkable change.[48] The result of this is that thousands of years later people still passionately and boldly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of their testimony passed down from generation to generation.[49]

Evans argues that it was not only the resurrection of Jesus that caused the growth of the Christian church. What Jesus taught his disciples gave meaning to his death and resurrection. The appointment of the twelve apostles (minus Judas, plus Matthias) signaled the restoration of Israel. The Church, through their leadership, carried on the mission and ministry that they had been called to. All of this was made possible because they had encountered the risen Jesus Christ.[50]

Examining accounts in the New Testament can rule out several possible objections that have been raised to the resurrection. Did the disciples lie or make up the whole story? The culture in which the New Testament was written, Jewish and otherwise, did not have a high regard for the testimony of women. If the early Christians were going to invent the resurrection, even for a non-Jewish audience, they would not have chosen women as the first witnesses because that would have made the story less credible to the original audience.[51] The culture of the Greco-Roman world also negates this objection because of the focus on the physicality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[52] Did Jesus simply faint or swoon and then recover later? The very nature of this question shows a lack of understanding of the nature of crucifixion.[53] Was the tomb actually empty? It would have been impossible for the disciples to convince people of the resurrection of Jesus Christ had their actually still been a body in the tomb.[54] Could the appearances of Jesus after his death been mass hallucinations or visions? It has been argued that New Testament writers citing living witnesses to the physically resurrected Jesus negates the mass hallucination theory. It could not have been a mass hallucination if it can be demonstrated that people encountered a living physical person. Note also that accounts of other historical events are often accepted as fact with far less documented evidence than we have presented in the New Testament.[55] The disciple’s reaction to the women’s testimony of visions of angels show that no mere visions alone would have been enough to affect the change that took place within the disciples.[56] The historical accounts presented in the New Testament are capable of standing in the face of historical scrutiny.

All of the evidence that can be historically documented points to the only logical explanation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact.[57] The historical evidence of Jesus’ life combined with the early church witnesses show that the accounts in the New Testament are historically reliable. Jesus existed, he was believed by some to be the Messiah, he was executed by Pilate, and three days after his death his followers believed that he was raised from the dead. After logically eliminating the objections to the resurrection, the only possible conclusion is that Jesus physically walked out of the grave alive.

On this point, N.T. Wright argues that unlike Gentile culture, the Jewish worldview did hold a belief in a resurrection. The Jewish understanding of the resurrection was of a final resurrection on the last day. Prior to Jesus the concept of resurrection was not connected with the Messiah or any one individual person. In the first century other messianic movements came and went. They ended with the death of the person the movement was centered around, or the movement simply found another messiah. People in the first century had a clear understanding (as do people in the modern world) that dead people do not come back from the dead. When Jesus died on the cross that was the end of his messianic movement. No one expected that he would rise from the dead. They had no Old Testament Scripture in mind to convince themselves that it would happen. Whenever a messianic hopeful died there was no further reason to continue believing in that person any longer. After Jesus’ death no one would have continued to say or believe that he was or is the Messiah, unless something entirely remarkable happened. Not only was there an empty tomb, there were people who saw and verified that the physical person of Jesus appeared to his disciples three days after his death on the cross. The only reasonable bridge between these two facts is the true resurrection of Jesus Christ.[58]

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was and is a real historical event and forms the basis for the historically transmitted Christian faith; as the writer of the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus aptly puts it.

Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation.[59]


Rev. David Richards holds a Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife are members at Shiloh Advent Christian church near Monroe, N.C., and is serving as interim preacher at First Advent Christian Church in Hickory, N.C.


[1] Rudolf Bultmann, 1941, argued that the New Testament presents a mythological worldview. The stories written in it cannot be interpreted in terms of our modern scientific understanding because they are primitive mythological tales. People can get truth from the New Testament but it cannot be understood as a historical account. Schubert Ogden. New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings: Rudolf Bultmann,“New Testament and Mythology: The Problem of Demythologizing the New Testament Proclamation” (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1984), 1-43.

[2]Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:12-22 NASB).

[3] “The very nature of Scripture demands that the exegete have some skills in investigating the historical-cultural background of the NT texts. The NT, after all, does not come in the form of timeless aphorisms; every text was written in a given first-century time/space framework.” Gordon Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 96. Also: “Whether we are comfortable with it or not, Christianity does indeed stand or fall on certain historical facts – not merely historical claims, but historical facts. Among these facts that are most crucial to the Christian faith is that of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.” Ben Witherington, New Testament History A Narrative Account (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 166.

[4] Tacitus, along with being a historian was also a political figure. He held various titles finally becoming Proconsul in the province of Asia in the year A.D. 112. His work, The Annals was probably written between A.D. 110 and 120 and covered the time from Tiberius in A.D. 14 to the death of Nero in 68. Cancik and Schneider,“Tacitus”: Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, vol. 14 (Boston, MA: Brill, 2009), 106.

[5] Frend and Stevensonm, A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 2.

[6]“Therefore, to scotch the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the Procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world find a vogue.” Tacitus, The Annals of Tacitus XV, XLIV(Loeb Classical Library)

[7] Matthew 27:2; Mark 15:1; Luke 3:1-2; John 19:6

[8] Suetonius was born around A.D. 70 to high class parents. He was trained as a legal advocate and was a court official under Emperor Hadrian. Suetonius is most known for his biographies of 12 Roman emperors, which he wrote around the year 128 or earlier. Cancik and Schneider, “Suetonius [2] S. Tranquillis, C.” Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, vol. 13 (Boston, MA: Brill, 2008), 918.

[9] “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars: The Deified Claudius V, XXV (Loeb Classical Library)

[10] Frend and Stevenson, 2.

[11] And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, (Acts 18:2 NASB)

[12] Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper One, 2012), 53.

[13] F.F. Bruce argues that “Chrestus” was a common slave name, and was a popular misspelling of Christus (Christ). F.F. Bruce, Jesus & Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1974), 21.

[14] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2010), 32-33.

[15] Josh McDowell points out that in less than 20 years after the death of Christ (about A.D. 30) the Christian church has become such a growing movement that it has even reached Rome. Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 121-122.

[16] Pliny (called “the Younger” to distinguish him from his uncle) was born A.D. 61 or 62. He came from a noble family and upon his parents’ death came to live with his uncle. He was well educated and had a fairly successful political career, eventually serving as Legate in the province of Bithynia about A.D. 109. He probably died before 117, which places the writing of this letter between A.D. 109 and 117. Cancik and Schneider, “Plinius [2] P. Caecilius Secundus, C. (Pliny the Younger).” Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, vol.11 (Boston, Mass: Brill, 2012), 390.

[17] “They affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food – but food of the ordinary and innocent kind.” Pliny, The Letters of Pliny X, XCVI (Loeb Classical Library)

[18] “In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards 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. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel no doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. … Those who denied they were, or had ever been, Christians, who repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered adoration, with wine and frankincense, to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for that purpose, together with those of the gods, and who finally cursed Christ – none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing – these I thought it proper to discharge.” Pliny, The Letters of Pliny. X, XCVI (Loeb Classical Library)

[19]Flavius Josephus, who lived from about A.D. 37 to 100, seems to have been a noted scholar even at a young age. He was sent to Rome once to negotiate the release of some priests. After this successful endeavor, he was later placed in command of the Galilean forces during the Jewish uprisings. Upon his capture he flattered Vespasian with a prophecy that he would become emperor. Vespasian let Josephus live to see if the prophecy would come true. When it did, Josephus spent the rest of his life working for the Romans. During this time he composed his two well know works Jewish Wars and Antiquities of the Jews. Skolnik and Berenbaum,“Josephus Flavius,” Encyclopedia Judaica Second Edition vol. 11(Detroit, MI: Thomas Gale, 2007), 435.

[20] “Ananus thought that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus was dead and Albinus was still on the way. And so he convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned.” Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XX, 200 (Loeb Classical Library)

[21] “About that time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so they are called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” Loeb Classical Library. Josephus. Jewish Antiquities XVIII, 63-64

[22]Loeb Classical Library, Josephus Vol. 9 Jewish Antiquities Books XVIII – XX, 49.

[23] Ehrman, 57-66.

[24]This is Ehrman’s version: “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. He was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. When Pilate, because of an accusation made by leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.” Ehrman, 61. F.F. Bruce gives another possibility for what the original text might have looked like. Bruce’s version does not merely extract the “Christian” statements in the passage but also theorizes that other offending statements might have been removed by later editors. Bruce’s version is as follows: “Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles. He was the so-called Christ. When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the Chief men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had attached themselves to him at first did not cease to cause trouble, and the tribe of Christians, which has taken this name from him, is not extinct even today.” Bruce. Jesus & Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, 39.

[25]Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man” (Matt. 26:69-72 NASB).

[26]Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11 But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them (Luke 24:10-11 NASB).

[27] Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 27:63; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 46; John 11:25, 20:9

[28] “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 “But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive (Lk. 24:21-23 NASB).

[29]So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you” (John. 20:19 NASB). Note also that the “Jews” mentioned in the passage, refer to the Jewish religious leaders like the high priest and the Sanhedrin who had condemned Jesus.

[30]κεκλεισμένωνfromκλείω : to prevent passage at an opening, shut, lock, bar. BDAG.

[31] In this case, the term “early church” is not referring to those people and events in Acts and Paul’s letters as many church goers tend to think. Early church refers to those people who were living in a time close enough to the death of Jesus to have known and been taught by those who knew Jesus, approximately A.D. 30 to 100. For our purposes we will be looking at documents written before or slightly after A.D. 100 by people who would have been born and lived prior to A.D. 100. These are also considered primary source documents.

[32] This epistle like the Gospels does not mention the author in the text. Ancient Christian tradition attributes the epistle to Clement who is listed by Eusebius as the third bishop of Rome. This distinction, however, does not carry the same meaning as the office of bishop and did not have the same prominence when this letter was written (sometime in the last two decades of the first century about the same time frame that the book of Revelation was written). Clement was probably one of several bishops or presbyters overseeing the church in Rome, Clement possibly being one of the more prominent ones. This epistle was held in such high regard by the early church that it was even sometimes bound together with early copies of the New Testament and quoted from by other early church leaders. Michael Holms, The Apostolic Fathers in English (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 36-40.

[33] “Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead.” The First Epistle of Clement. XXIV (The Ante-Nicene Fathers)

[34] “Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, ‘Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;’ and ‘The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look.’ ” The First Epistle of Clement XXIII (The Ante-Nicene Fathers)

[35] What we know of Ignatius the bishop of Antioch is that he wrote several letters to various churches while on his way to be martyred in Rome. His letters, which were probably written between A.D. 98 and 117 during the reign of Trajan, have an interesting view of martyrdom. Ignatius equates real discipleship with martyrdom. Holmes, 87-94.

[36] “For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them ‘Lay hold, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.’ And immediately they touched Him and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after His resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although He was united to the Father.” Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrneans III (Ante-Nicene Fathers)

[37] “Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians].” Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrneans II (Ante-Nicene Fathers)

[38] “Stop your ears, therefore, when anyone speaks to you with variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.” Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians. IX (Ante-Nicene Fathers)

[39] Polycarp bishop of Smyrna died a martyr’s death at the age of 86. His life and ministry spanned the time between the deaths of the Apostles and the organizational structure that became the early “catholic” church. He was influential in leading the church through many of the difficulties of that period such as persecution and even in the formation of the New Testament canon. This letter to the Philippians was probably written within a few weeks or months of the writing of the letters from Ignatius (A.D. 98-117) (Holmes, 130-133).

[40] “I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in the days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] ‘whom God raised from the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave.’ ‘In whom , though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory;’ in which joy many desire to enter, knowing that ‘by grace ye are saved, not of works,’ but by the will of God through Christ Jesus.” The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, I (Ante-Nicene Fathers)

[41] “So the proconsul said: ‘I have wild beasts; I will throw you to them, unless you change your mind.’ But he said, ‘Call for them! For the repentance from better to worse is a change impossible for us; but it is a noble thing to change from what is evil to righteousness.’ Then he said to him again: ‘I will have you consumed by fire, since you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.’ But Polycarp said: ‘You threaten with fire that burns only briefly and after just a while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Come, do what you wish.’” Martyrdom of Polycarp. XI (Holmes, 151).

[42] Holmes notes that this letter is one of the earliest Christian documents outside of the New Testament. The epistle was bound together with significant biblical manuscripts. It was quoted by writers in the early church and even cited by Clement of Alexandria as Scripture. It was also listed in some early New Testament canons. Also note that attempts have been made to link Clement of Rome with the Clement mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3, however there is no evidence to support this (Holmes, 36 – 40).

[43] Irenaeus was one of Polycarp’s disciples. He mentions Polycarp was “instructed by the Apostles and conversed with many who had seen Christ.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies III, III, 4 (Ante-Nicene Fathers). See also Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus. II (Ante-Nicene Fathers)

[44]First Clement was written in the first century while Ignatius and Polycarp were writing in the early second century.

[45] This was prior to the official forming of our current New Testament canon. F.F. Bruce argues that by A.D. 177, late in the second century, there was an informal canon of 22 books that were being used as Scripture, which make up almost all of the New Testament as it is known today minus five books. F.F. Bruce, The Cannon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1988), 170-179.

[46]Daniel Wallace, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscripts, Patristics, and Apocryphal Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Academic and Professional, 2011), 26 – 31.

[47] The Gospels show that Jesus had 70 disciples of which the Twelve Apostles made up the core. Luke 10:1-17; Matthew 10:2-5.

[48] “The death of Jesus brought an abrupt halt to his mission and his proclamation of the kingdom of God. Other Jewish prophets and would-be messiahs of late antiquity saw their respective ministries come to sudden and tragic ends. So, in a sense, this was nothing new; it had happened before and would happen again. But the end of Jesus’ ministry, as it turned out, did not last long. The resurrection of Jesus ‘on the third day’ after his crucifixion reignited his mission and launched, or perhaps I should say ‘relaunched,’ his community.” Craig Evans, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 56.

[49] “Yet it is significant and one of the compelling proofs of the resurrection is that the crucifixion left the disciples in despair and that, hopeless, they were transformed by their experience of the risen Jesus. The resurrection became essential in the faith of subsequent generations of Christians. It meant assurance that because Jesus lived they also would live. Even more was the conviction in Christians that by the resurrection Jesus had been vindicated and had been shown to be the Son of God with power.” Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity Beginnings to 1500 Revised Edition (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2003), 58-59.

[50] Evans, 56-61.

[51] Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament (Downers Grove, IL:IVP Academic, 1993), 130, 256, 316.

[52] Ben Witherington argues that the Gentile culture of the day did not have an understanding of the afterlife that involved any physicality at all, very much the opposite. It makes no sense to argue that the Christians invented the resurrection story to attract Gentile converts. Gentiles, as shown in Acts 17, would be more likely to reject the Christian faith because of the focus on the resurrection of Jesus. Ben Witherington III, New Testament History A Narrative Account (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 165.

[53] “The skeptic’s proposal that Jesus had only swooned and then recovered would not explain how he could have loosed the strips tied around him or escaped a sealed tomb, but it also ignores the nature of crucifixion: Josephus had three friends of his taken down alive from a cross, but two of them died despite medical attention because their bodies had become so weakened from the crucifixion” (Keener, 316).

[54] Keener notes that the religious leaders tried to explain the empty tomb in bribing the guards, but they never deny that the tomb is in fact empty. Keener goes on to argue that even though ancient evidentiary laws differ from modern ones, no one would have staked their lives on a report without actually examining the tomb first. Keener, 130, 315

[55] “Paul’s purpose in appealing to witnesses still alive (1 Cor. 15:6) is to invite his reader to check his facts if they doubt his words. We may safely rule out the suggestion that the resurrection appearances were mass hallucinations, because such a mass hallucination of a demonstrably physical person is unparalleled in history. Were this evidence being cited for a war, about which we often take the word of a single ancient author, or any other event in history, no one today would think to deny it; that some regard this evidence as insufficient proof of the resurrection’s historicity may indicate more about their own presuppositions concerning the existence or activity of God or His vindication of Jesus.” Keener, 485. Witherington also notes that the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection happened at different times, in different places, to different people. Hallucinations are not contagious (Witherington, 166).

[56] Witherington notes that the hearing of the women’s testimony still left the disciples in a state of unbelief – hopeless to any further chances of Jesus being the Messiah. He further argues that visions and even an empty tomb would not have been enough to cause any change in the disciples. The only thing that could cause such a transformation in the disciples was an encounter with a risen Jesus Christ (Witherington, 164).

[57] “Thus, a consistent witness to Jesus’ resurrection runs throughout our sources, and this provides prima facie evidence that Jesus’ resurrection and appearances provide the key historical middle terms between the life and death of Jesus and the birth of the early church” (Witherington, 170).

[58] N.T. Wright, “The Surprise of the Resurrection,” From: Evans, Craig, and Wright, ed. Troy Miller, Jesus, the Final Days (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 75-107.

[59]The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus. VII (The Ante-Nicene Fathers)


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