The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection
Taken from a talk by William Lane Craig
After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his personal tomb. This is significant because it would have been difficult for the disciples to make up the story of an empty tomb when everyone knew where the tomb was located.
- Jesus’ burial is attested in the very old tradition quoted by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” (1 Co 15:3-5)
Paul “received” this account from Peter within the first five years of Jesus’ crucifixion making the possibility of legend or myth very unlikely.
2. The account of the burial is part of very old source material used by Mark in writing his gospel. The passion narrative, in particular, is thought to be from an even earlier account that was used by all of the gospel writers.
3. As a member of the Jewish court that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.
4. No competing burial story exists.
On the Sunday following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his female followers.
- The empty tomb story is part of the very old source material used by Mark.
- The old tradition cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians implies the fact of the empty tomb.
- Mark’s story is simple and lacks signs of legendary embellishment.
- The fact that women’s testimony was worthless in first century Palestine strengthens the case that women were the first to discover the empty tomb. Why would any account use the suspect testimony of women if it were not an accurate recounting of what really happened?
- The earliest Jewish allegations that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body presupposes that the tomb was empty.
On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death.
- The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances (which is quoted by Paul and vouchsafed by his personal acquaintance with many of the people involved), guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter, to the Apostles, to 500 people at one time, and to James.
- The appearance traditions in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation to these appearances.
- Researchers have noticed signs of historical credibility in the specific appearances; for example, the unexpected activity of the disciples’ fishing prior to Jesus’ appearance by the Lake of Tiberius or the otherwise inexplicable conversion of James.
The disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite having every reason not to believe it.
- Their leader was dead, and Jews had no belief in a dying (and rising) Messiah.
- According to Jewish law, Jesus’ execution as a criminal showed him to be a heretic and a man literally under the curse of God.
- Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead before the general resurrection at the end of the world.
The historical resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of these facts.