The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ: Historical Or Mythological?

A Study In Historical Evidences
By Edward C. Wharton

The Propositon: Abundant evidence from historical sources is decidedly in favor of the biblical claim that Jesus Christ was actually raised from the dead.

The Challenge: We will seek to convince you of a single miracle in the Bible – the resurrection. If we can sustain that, the rest will be easy. If not, the rest will not matter. Of course, you cannot decide until you have examined the evidence. The challenge here is like finding gold nuggets. They are not lying on top of the ground. You have to dig for them. We are wondering if a people fed on magazine literature will pay the price. Perhaps you will not feel over-challenged in relation to this historic event. The evidence is before you. We trust you will accept the challenge and will read on.

What Are The Implications Of The Resurrection?

Think for a few moments what this event necessarily implies with reference to the following three subjects:

1. Jesus Christ. If he were raised from the dead, then inasmuch as the resurrection is the supreme sign of deity,(1) he was who and what he claimed to be. Jesus claimed to be the son of God,(2) and that he came to give us eternal life.(3) The point is if Jesus were raised from the dead, then his claims are true.

If, however, Jesus were not resurrected, his claims are false and he is guilty of fraud! What then was Jesus? It is not consistent with his claims to say that he was a great teacher, a moralist and philosopher, but that he was not the son of God as he claimed. Good men do not invent such lies about themselves. We will be forced to conclude that either Jesus was the son of God or an imposter. But which? Reason must decide on the basis of the evidence.

footnotes: 1.) Romans 1:1 2.) John 10:36 3.)John 3:14-15

2. The Old Testament Scriptures. Are these scriptures genuine history? Jesus believed them to be. He referred to the Genesis account of creation as historical fact.(4) He taught that Noah was an historical person.(5) He said that what Moses wrote is actually what God spoke through him.(6) He also insisted that Jonah was a real person and that his experience in the belly of the fish is not Hebrew mythology, but history.(7) He taught that the entire body of Old Testament scriptures spoke of him, predicting even his death and resurrection.(8) The force of the argument is this: if Jesus were literally reaised from the dead then he is divine and since He endorsed the Old Testament, viewing it as historical truth, it stands confirmed as genuine history. Reason leads us to conclude that we have only to believe in Jesus resurrection to believe the entire Bible as authentic.

footnotes: 4.) Matthew 19:4 refers to Genesis 1:26-27 5.) Matthew 24:37-39 6.) Matthew 22:31-32 Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6 7.) Matthew 12:39-41 8.) Luke 24:44-47;John 5:39

3. You. What the resurrection means to you, and this is the real reason why this effort is being made, is that Jesus died for you. What he did at the cross was preplanned to provide redemption from sin and resulting death. The resurrection will prove that the cross of Christ was no failure. It was a triumph for ruined humanity. Jesus was not martyred at Calvary. Though he was killed by men’s hands, it was according to God’s plan.(9) And the resurrection proved it.

footnotes: 9.) Jesus claimed that no man could take his life from him, a number of times. Finally Jesus allowed the Jews to seize him, John 18:1-11. A few days later Peter preached this was God’s plan. Acts 2:22-24

Now for a fast look at the ground we have covered. If Christ has been raised then he is the son of God, the scriptures are true, and therefore mankind stands in urgent need of redemption. No thoughtful person should quickly cast aside such critical implications if he thinks for a moment they may contain the truth. Will you be convinced? That depends on your willingness to honestly weigh the evidence.

What Is The Evidence For The Resurrection?

It is the written testimony of six men: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and Paul. Four were apostles and claimed to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord. Their testimony recorded in the New Testament is the historical evidence for the resurrection. It is a mistake to think that these writers merely assert that Jesus was raised without pointing us toward the weight of historical evidence. They do not seek to convince by emotionalism, but by an appeal to the intelligence. John expresses the logic of each of these writers as he focuses upon the purpose of his book which he says was “written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”(10) He only asks that we read his book and weigh the evidence.

The question is, are these documents trustworthy? Let’s draw a parallel. Do you believe in Alexander the Great? Julius Ceasar? Napoleon Bonaparte? Of course you do. But why? History, you say. But when we refer to history we are actually referring to the testimony which someone else has written. Where do present day historians get their information about ancient events? From testimony left by yet other men. No one doubts that Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, or that Julius Caesar ruled Rome some 2000 years ago. There is no reason for rejecting the historical accounts of these events. By the same token we cannot reject the New Testament records on any grounds of historical evidence. F. F. Bruce of Manchester University says, “The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”(11)

Will Durant, quoting the great Jewish scholar J. Klausner, writes that, “If we had ancient sources like those in the Gospels for the history of Alexander or Caesar, we should not cast any doubt upon them whatsoever.”(12)

One may conjecture that what the New Testament says is not true, but such is still merely conjecture. To be suspicious of this testimony because it is a part of the Bible is not justified on historical grounds. We believe generally what Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century had to say. What grounds can be given for not trusting the accounts of six other men of the same century whose writings have been verified archaeologically as well as historically?

footnotes: 10.) John 20:30-31 11.) F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, P.15, Eedman’s Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan 12.) J Klausner as quoted by Will Durant, Daesar and Christ, P.557, Simon and Schuster, New York:1944

The Reliability Of The Evidence

The apostle Paul in writing about the resurrection laid it right on the line by saying, “If Christ hath not been raised, then…we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ.”(13) That quite candidly states the issue: if Christ were not raised as the apostles said, then they lied to us. But their testimony has been verified again and again. The following should help you accept the New Testament as bonafide history.

footnotes: 13.) I Corinthians 15:14-15

I. HISTORIANS accept the gospel accounts as genuine history. There are but four books which can reproduce the life and teachings of Jesus. Those books are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. For historians to write about Jesus they must go to the four gospels for a full story.

A. Mr. H.G. Wells, author of THE OUTLINE OF HISTORY, was no Christian. He had no motive to endorse the gospels as historically reliable outside of an historical context. His comment upon the beginning of Christianity is interesting: “About Jesus we have to write not theology but history…Almost our only sources of information about the personality of Jesus are derived from the four gospels all of which were certainly in existence a few decades after his death…But all four agree in giving us a picture of a very definite personality…In spite of miraculous and incredible additions, one is obliged to say, ‘Here was a man. This part of the tale could not have been invented’. “(14) Though Wells without offering the slightest reason, other than his own philosophical pre-supposition, brands the miraculous element of the gospels as “incredible,” he nevertheless admits the historicity of the gospel documents and uses them freely and authoritatively as his source material for that section of his historical work.

footnotes: 14.) H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, P.497, Garden City Publishing Co., New York

B. Will Durant, former professor of The Philosophy of History at Columbia University, and a scholar of the first rank, says, “We may conclude, with the brilliant but judicious Schweitzer, that the gospel of Mark is in essentials ‘genuine history’. “(15) Concerning the darkness which accompanied Jesus’ crucifixion as recorded by Mark he further comments, “About the middle of this first century a pagan named Thallus, in a fragment preserved by Julius Africanus, argued that the abnormal darkness alleged to have accompanied the death of Christ was a purely natural phenomenon and coincidence; the argument took the existence of Christ for granted.”(16) We might add that such an argument took the darkness for granted, too! Thus Mark told us the truth when he said “there was darkness over the whole land: from 12:00 noon till 3:00 P.M.(17) Nor does Durant dispose of the gospel miracles as myth. He believes they happened. He reasons, “That his powers were nevertheless exceptional seems proved by his miracles.”(18) This does not mean that Durant is a believer. Of these miracles he says that “Probably these were in most cases the result of suggestion.”(19) However, mere suggestion would not be sufficient to raise the dead,(20) change water to wine,(21) or to sustain him as he walked upon water in the presence of witnesses.(22) But the point is that Durant believes miracles happened on the grounds of New Testament documentation. He even defends the historicity of the gospel miracles: “The fact that like stories have been told of other characters in legend and history does not prove that the miracles of Christ were myths.”(23)

We are not seeking to make more of Durant’s statements than he did. We are merely insisting as he does that the gospel accounts are reliable histories. After enumerating several events in the life of Christ as recorded in the gospels, he concludes: “That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of brotherhood would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the gospels.”(24)

The New Testament documents are not inventions. This is the judgment of one of the foremost historians of our day.

footnotes: 15.) Will Durant, Op.Cit., P.556 16.) Op.Cit., P.555 17.) Mark 15:33 18.) Will Durant, Op.Cit. P.562 19.) Op. Cit., P.562 20.) Matthew 9:18-25; John 11:1-45 21.) John 2:1-11 22.) John 6:16-20 23.) Will Durant, Op.Cit., P.562 24.) Op.Cit., P.557

C. A Russian Historian. It may be interesting to note that for the last few years of official Soviet line “has conceded that Jesus did, in fact, live and that the New Testament Gospels are not forgeries but, in the words of one Russian scholar, ‘definite fact’.” (25) If we multiplied the list of quotations from historians it would come out the same. Historians accept the gospels as genuine history.

footnotes: 25.) John Allen Chalk (quoting from “News adn Views” P.600, Commonweal, Sept.23,1966) Hearld of Truth radio program, transcript number 842

II. THE GOSPELS bear upon themselves the marks of genuine history.

A. The gospel narratives are not like myths which happened once upon a time. Myths are not located among people and places that can be verified. But the gospels are set within the historical context of the first century. Jesus’ birth is related in an environment that can be and has been verified. The political figures and events contemporaneous with Jesus’ birth are described. Ceasar Augustus decrees a census in Judaea which is accomplished during the time Quirinius is governor of Syria. This is the reason for Joseph’s going to Bethlehem with his family to be enrolled. And while there, Jesus was born in an over-crowded condition where a stable was the only available residence.(26) Luke’s Gospel informs us: “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Teberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tatrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”(27)

Another has observed about that statement that: “Every political and religious figure mentioned here is historically verifiable. Why would any half-smart forger or semi-literate inventor of myth want to tie his character to so many people who lived at the very time he wrote? There is but one solution: Jesus of Nazareth is an authentic historical character.”(28) Luke, who wrote his gospel to a governmental official,(29) documents his source material as having come directly from eyewitnesses in whose company he often traveled. He writes the books of Luke and Acts documenting every event with time, place, and governental officials which are historically verifiable. These events, like the life and conversion of Saul of Tarsus had “not been done in a corner,”(30) that is, in seclusion. The gospels are not unsupported myths. They are the accounts of real men and of actual events.

Though the gospel writers did not write for today’s critics it would yet seem that they challenged their contemporary critics to find a flaw. In substance they said: here are the facts, check them out!

footnotes: 26) Luke 2:1-7 27) Luke 3:1-2 28) John Allen Chalk, Hearld of Truth radio transcript number 840 29) Luke 1:1-4 where Luke addresses his gospel to “most excellent Theophilus.” This title is applied onlly to governmental officials in Luke’s writings. Cf. Acts 23:26; 24:2-3; 26:25 30) Acts 26:26

B. There are four gospel accounts. If we believe the history of Josephus of the first century or that of Horodotus of the 5th century B.C., then on what grounds can we reject a history written by four contemporaries? Especially, as stated by the late Dr. A.T. Olmstead, probably the most distinguished authority in the field of ancient history, inasmuch as the gospels were “written down and circulated while those leaders (of the Jews) were yet living and able if they wished to refute them.”(31)

footnotes: 31) Wilbur M. Smith quoting A.T. Olmstead,”Therefore Stand,” P.401, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan

III. The Writings Of The Apostolic Fathers between AD 90 and 160 very nearly reproduced the New Testament. F.F. Bruce of Manchester University says that, “It is evident from the recently discovered writings of the Gnostic School of Valentinus that before the middle of the second century most of the New Testament books were as well known and as fully venerated in that heretical circle as they were in the Catholic (i.e., universal) Church.”(32)

Here was a collection of documents written during the same generation of people among whom the events transpired and were quickly circulated among them. They were accepted as authoritative among the churches. They were reproduced by men like Polycarp who sat at the feet of the apostles themselves. Unless we conclude the genuine historicity of the gospel accounts we are, as states Will Durant, “Driven to the improbable hypothesis that Jesus was invented in one generation! ” (33) Can you imagine the up-coming generation embracing a religion which promised them persecution and death when they knew it was a lie? If we cannot conclude that the New Testament documents are genuine history then we can conclude nothing with certainty. When we read the New Testament we are reading facts, not fiction.

footnotes: 32) F.F. Bruce, OP.Cit., P.19 33) Will Durnat, Op.Cit., P.555

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