The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection/Program 3

By: Lee Strobel; ©2007
Since Jesus’ resurrection is clearly a miraculous event, how can you possibly prove whether or not it happened? How do you “investigate” a miracle?



Announcer: Question? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Is it fact or fiction? Does it matter? What’s the evidence? And what answers would you present to a non-Christian friend who asks, “Isn’t Jesus’ resurrection just a myth?” How do we know that he was really dead when they took Him off the cross? And after His burial, were Jesus’ resurrection appearances to over 500 people, just psychological events in their minds, or real physical appearances of the risen Jesus? My guest today who will answer these questions is former atheist, turned Christian, Mr. Lee Strobel, former award winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, and New York Times best seller of over 20 books. We invite you to join us to hear the amazing evidence for Jesus’ resurrection on this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show
Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. My guest is Lee Strobel, the award winning author of many books that are in the news stores all the way around the country, The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for the Creator and he has got a new book coming out on The Real Jesus. Lee was the former editor, legal editor, of the Chicago Tribune for 13 years, won many awards. During that time, though, he was a straight atheist. Didn’t believe in God, thought it was a myth, fairytale, didn’t need it. But circumstances brought him around to investigating the evidence. And it took him two years to investigate the claims of Jesus Christ and to know what to do with it. The evidence brought him to faith in Jesus Christ. And what we are talking about is that evidence. I want you to hear it.
Well, recently, as you know, there have been new radical attacks on the resurrection. And so Lee has come out with another book where he had to rethink the first position that he had back in 1981. Was what he discovered then still true in light of these radical attacks?
So, Lee, let me give you some of these radical attacks and you just kind of briefly, we will do an overview, and then we are going to get into them more in depth. Probably most people are familiar with the name of Bart Ehrman at the University of North Carolina. And he has written Misquoting Jesus and a host of other books. He is on a lot of the news shows. What is his main beef with the resurrection?
Strobel: Well, he says historians can’t even really investigate a miraculous event like the resurrection, so he says, “Everything I learned about the resurrection I no longer believe.”
Ankerberg: Yeah, and then you have got The Family Tomb of Jesus. This is a special that came out not too long ago. What was that all about?
Strobel: Yeah, supposedly they discovered the ossuary or bone box that contained the bones of Jesus. Well, if His bones were in there then He wasn’t…
Ankerberg: His body is still in the grave.
Strobel: Exactly.
Ankerberg: Of all people Ayman al-Zawahiri the second guy in al Qaeda made a statement when he was addressing George Bush that also was religious. What was he saying?
Strobel: He said the whole world ought to convert to Islam because Islam correctly teaches, he said, that Jesus never died on the cross therefore He was never resurrected and He is not divine.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and then a prominent Hindu leader made some statements.
Strobel: Yeah, he said that Jesus only was injured on the cross and then He actually lived and went back, he says, to India.
Ankerberg: Alright and then you have got The Jesus Papers by Michael Bagient. He has been on NBC and ABC. Tell me about that?
Strobel: Yeah, his allegation is that Pilate didn’t really want to kill Jesus because Jesus was telling people to pay their taxes, so that was a good thing. So they conspired to make it look like He died on the cross, when He didn’t really.
Ankerberg: Yeah. So all of these people are coming out with a frontal attack. But I find it really interesting that you have got a chance to go and talk to Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion, and you went and you talked to him and he made some interesting comments about the resurrection. I want you to slow it down and tell us that story.
Strobel: Yeah. I had a chance to go to the Playboy Mansion, interview Hugh Hefner for a TV program that I was doing. And I asked him about the resurrection. And he seemed confused. And I said, “What about the evidence for the resurrection?” and he said, “What are you talking about?” And I said, “What do you do with the historical data that support the return of Jesus from the dead?” And he said, “I have never heard this before.” And I gave him a copy of my book The Case for Christ. And he was looking through the Table of Contents and said, “This is fascinating. Nobody has ever told me this before.”
And then he said something very interesting. He said, “If this is true, this trips a whole bunch of dominoes that have a wonderful effect.” He said, “I am getting to be an old man. I wish it were true that there were eternal life.” And I said, “You know what, look into the evidence yourself. Come to your own verdict. But I am telling you there is convincing, there is powerful, persuasive, compelling evidence that Jesus did return from the dead. And when He tells His followers they will spend eternity with Him, we can believe Him as a result.”
Ankerberg: Yeah. This also goes back to your own story. You realized as a straight atheist that the fact is, the key point, the lynchpin here was, did Jesus rise from the dead?
Strobel: Yeah. Everything hangs on that, because anybody can claim to be the Son of God. Can you prove it? Can you back it up? And that is the issue.
Ankerberg: Alright. Before we get to these attacks on the resurrection, folks need to know what is the case that they are actually attacking. And you have got in your book something that Gary Habermas has put into his books. It is called the five minimal facts. Explain what the five minimal facts are and why they are so important.
Strobel: These five minimal facts, first of all, are so important because they strip down the case to something that virtually every historian will concede is true. The implications they may not like, but what Gary Habermas did is he studied every reference to the resurrection in all of the literature done by atheists and Christians, scholarly literature dating back 30 years in French, English and German. And he analyzed their positions. And so this case, this minimal facts case is built on two things: facts that are 1) strongly evidenced, for which we have strong historical support; and 2) facts which virtually all of these scholars, including the skeptics, will accept as being true. So that is what makes it such a powerful case.
Ankerberg: Alright. What we are going to do is we are going to give these five facts and the evidence for these facts that has persuaded these scholars to take that position. And then we get to the end, then you get to the tough spot. What is the best historical information or explanation that accounts for these facts? But let’s go through them. Basically they are about the resurrection, but what is fact number one?
Strobel: Fact number one is Jesus’ death by crucifixion. And, John, this is absolutely bedrock belief among historians, including skeptic and atheists. Gerd Ludemann of Vanderbilt University, an atheist, says this is absolutely true historically. We know this to be true. John Dominic Crossan, extreme liberal, says it is true. And even James Tabor, who is a professor, who is an atheist, concedes that this actually took place, that Jesus was killed by crucifixion.
We have five sources outside the Bible in addition to the four Gospels that all confirm that Jesus was dead when He was taken down from the cross. So, you know, historically speaking there is no dispute about this. You would have to be on the radical loony fringe, people who say, “Oh, Jesus never existed;” these crackpots that try to make these ridiculous statements. If you are a legitimate scholar you are going to accept the fact that Jesus was put to death and came down that cross. He was not ….
Ankerberg: Yeah. But there are a lot of popular books out there. I remember back when I was in college, you get the Hugh Schonfield’s The Passover Plot, and you have got other people that, you know, Jesus resuscitated in the tomb; and we are going to take a look at that. But He got out somehow and He went to Egypt or to Spain. I mean Jesus, the traveler; or even to India…
Strobel: Right. I still say, you know, the answer to that is what kind of condition would He have been in if somehow He had survived the cross? How would that have convinced His followers to be so excited about someday having a resurrection body like this too, and to build a whole worldwide movement based on this glorious hope? Because Jesus would have been in horrible condition. He was in hypovolemic shock, according to the medical experts I interviewed, after the beating before He was even crucified. He had a spear driven through His lung and heart, for goodness sake. I mean, there is no way He came down from this cross alive. And even the Journal of the America Medical Association carried an article in which they studied the historical record and it said any interpretations that Jesus did not die on the cross is at odds with modern medical understanding and historical evidence.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Were the Roman soldiers competent enough to know that Jesus had died?
Strobel: This was their job. This is what they did for a living. I mean, there is no question they knew exactly when Jesus was declared dead by multiple experts after His death. They knew that He was no longer among the living.
Ankerberg: Why is crucifixion really death by asphyxiation?
Strobel: It puts such a stress on the muscles of your chest that it locks your lungs into the inhale position so you can’t breathe. The only way you can breathe is to push up against the cross so you can lessen that stress and exhale and take in a new breath and settle back down. And if you settle back down for a period of time, you will eventually, your heart will give out because of the stresses of the suffocation that you are experiencing.
Ankerberg: Yeah. And so if a Roman soldier is looking at you and you haven’t moved for 30 minutes on the cross you are dead.
Strobel: You’re dead. You’re dead.
Ankerberg: Alright. And so it is a fact that Jesus died, and that is a very important one. We will come back as to why it is important, but what is the second one?
Strobel: The second one is the belief among the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus. Now, this is built on three bits of evidence. Number one, it involves Paul, the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul, we know from historical record, was friends with James, Peter and John, some of the key disciples of Jesus. And Paul, who himself talks about his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, and says that he encountered Him and He was alive. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:11 that he and these other disciples are proclaiming the same thing. So we are on the same page. We are all saying the same thing. So we have got all of these people declaring that Jesus returned from the dead. Second, we have oral tradition, that is, early beliefs of the Christians in creeds and hymns and so forth about the resurrection that are so early they cannot have been the product of legendary development.
Ankerberg: And some of those found their ways into the books and letters of the apostles.
Strobel: Exactly. The apostle Paul, everybody agrees, wrote 1 Corinthians, which is a book in the New Testament of the Bible. It was written about 55 AD, Jesus was put to death about 30 AD. And yet we know we can go back even earlier than that, because this is what he says. I will just read it to you. He says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.” [1 Cor. 15:3] In other words, I already have passed this on to you earlier, and by the way, I didn’t make this up. I got this from, and historians believe it was from Peter and James shortly after the resurrection. “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 then he appeared to Peter and then to the twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time most of whom are still living.” In other words, go ask them yourself if you don’t believe me; “Though some have fallen asleep” – some have died. “Then he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles, and then to me.” [1 Cor. 15:3-6]
Ankerberg: Yeah, Joachim Jeremias, the Jewish scholar, says this is really traditional material. The very words that Paul uses are not necessarily his words, these are words that he did get from somebody else.
Strobel: It is very early and that tells us that it can’t be the product of legend. And so I think that is powerful testimony of the truth…
Ankerberg: And the way we know is Galatians 1 and 2, where Paul is writing about some of his adventures, after he got saved he went back, he said, and he went to Jerusalem basically three years after he got saved. If he got saved two years after Jesus basically died and rose again. The fact is, you are at 32 AD when he got saved, and three years would be 35 AD. And so now he is in Jerusalem with Peter and James and John. I mean that is what he says.
Strobel: Right
Ankerberg: And he uses a word historao.
Strobel: Which means he investigated, he cross examined.
Ankerberg: That’s down your path, buddy.
Strobel: That’s right. He wanted to know, let’s make sure we are on the same page here. He question them intensely to determine he knew exactly what they were saying and that it synced up with what he was saying. And, by the way, some scholars believe that he was actually given this creed immediately upon his conversion when he met some followers of Jesus as well. So either way, this is extremely early stuff. And think about it. By the time this is in creed form the beliefs that make up that creed go back even earlier, so we are going right back to the cross itself. This is so extraordinary historically. This is a news flash from ancient history. This is so rare, this is a gem from among historians how powerful it is.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and that tradition that he got, if he got it from Peter, James and John, Peter is one of the guys that saw Jesus.
Strobel: Exactly.
Ankerberg: James, who is skeptical all of his life, he actually is giving this firsthand to Paul, “I saw my brother.”
Strobel: This is very important. Paul, in other words, who himself was a witness to the resurrected Jesus, he is not getting this creed on the streets somewhere from strangers, he is getting it from eyewitnesses himself. And therefore Pinchas Lapide, the Jewish New Testament scholar says this has such incredible historical validity it can be taken as a statement of eyewitnesses.
Ankerberg: Alright, so you have got …
Strobel: You’ve got Paul, you’ve got the oral tradition, and then you have got the written tradition. You have got Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reporting this. You have got the early church fathers. This is very important.
Ankerberg: Before you go on, some people say, “Wait a minute, Strobel, you just snuck in, you know, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I mean, you believe in that’s the inerrant inspired word of God?”
Strobel: Set that issue aside. Let’s not even deal with that. I will accept the New Testament for what it undeniably is: a set of ancient historical records. And we can take the tests of history and apply it as we would any other document. Let’s not give it any favored status. Let’s not think and believe it is the word of God. I DO, but let’s set that aside, and let’s investigate it for what it is. And when you investigate it you will see it has the earmarks of accuracy, the earmarks of eyewitnesses. And Richard Bauckham in his monumental new book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, a scholarly book that reaffirms the eyewitness nature of the gospels themselves.
And we have these early church fathers, we have Polycarp who was a disciple of John, so he knew John, he was discipled by John. What does Polycarp say? He says that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. You have Clement of Alexandria, who was discipled by Peter, the eyewitness to the resurrection. And Clement says Jesus rose from the dead. So we have this affirmation in the writings of the early church fathers that this is what they believed.
And I am telling you, John, the question of whether the disciples believed this is hardly up for debate, because even the skeptics will admit that. Even the skeptics will admit, like Gerd Ludemann. I mentioned him earlier, atheist New Testament scholar, Vanderbilt University, will tell you this is part of the historical bed rock. This is true in terms of historically speaking. They really believed it. Now he tries to get around it, tries to explain it away, but I don’t think his explanations are very good.
Ankerberg: And we will look at that in a minute.
Strobel: Right.
Ankerberg: Alright, we are going to take a break, and then we will get back to the other facts here. So stick with us. We’re humming good here, but we need to take a break. We will be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back. And we are talking with Lee Strobel. He was the former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune for 13 years. He was a skeptic, an atheist. And there was certain evidence that he started to investigate concerning Christianity that brought him to belief in Jesus Christ. One of the main points that he had to grapple with was, did Jesus rise from the dead? What is the evidence? And that is one of the key points that the radical scholars today are attacking. And what we are giving to you, first of all, is what is the case? If you are going to attack it, let’s know what the facts are. And there are five minimal facts that virtually all critical scholars, whether they are Christian or non-Christian, accept. And we are trying to start with that and then we are going to come back to what the critics say in relationship to those facts. But we are up to the conversion of the Apostle Paul.
Strobel: Right. Here we have Paul, who says he encountered the resurrected Jesus and as a result went from being a persecutor of the church – that is, someone who is trying to kill Christians and destroy the Christian movement; a Pharisee, who encounters the resurrected Jesus, has a 180 degree turn, becomes the greatest missionary of all times. And we have numerous ancient sources that confirm to us that Paul was willing to continuously suffer because of his faith. Why does he give up this cushy job, so to speak, of being a Pharisee and live a life of deprivation and beatings and suffering and eventual death? Why? Because, we are told in 1 Corinthians 15 among other places, he encountered the resurrected Jesus and it convinced him, not just because he believed Jesus rose from the dead, he knew it! He encountered it, he talked to Him. And as a result his life changed 180 degrees.
Ankerberg: Yeah, it wasn’t because he was inclined to believe. This boy was against it from the beginning.
Strobel: He didn’t have wishful thinking; he didn’t conjure up images of Jesus in his mind because he wanted Him to be back because he believed in Him. No! He hated Christians; he wanted to kill Christians; so he was not susceptible to that sort of thing.
Ankerberg: Alright, then the next one is what?
Strobel: The conversion of James, the half-brother of Jesus. And here is a fascinating case. We know for a historical fact that James was not a follower of Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime. How do we know that? Well, first of all, it is reported in the New Testament. [John 7:5] Well, why would you trust that? Because of what is called the criterion of embarrassment. When historians look at something historically that is embarrassing to the people who are reporting it, they know it is probably true, because why would you write something that is embarrassing to yourself and to your cause? Well, we know that in the first century for someone like Jesus, a rabbi, not to have His family members as His followers was embarrassing. You would not admit that, you would not concede that, if it weren’t true. Well, the New Testament tells us that James was not a believer in Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime, so it was probably true.
Then we find later reported in a secular source, Josephus a Jewish historian, that James is put to death later as a leader of the Jerusalem church. So he dies for his belief that Jesus is the Son of God who proved it by returning from the dead. What happened? 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, appeared to James. Now what does it take? William Lane Craig, the scholar, likes to ask what does it take you to convince you that your brother is the Son of God? It has got to be something pretty radical. You have got to know my brothers, okay. For my brothers to convince me that they are the Son of God something radical has got to happen. Well, I will tell you, something radical happened to James, and that is that after three days in the tomb Jesus appears alive to him and convinces him so powerfully he ends up dying for his faith.
Ankerberg: Yeah, when you just think about that, that has got to be a moment.
Strobel: Oh, man!
Ankerberg: Okay? All of a sudden he is face to face with his risen brother.
Strobel: And all of a sudden all of His teachings and all that He said floods into his mind and he realizes, “Oh my, I was wrong.”
Ankerberg: Alright, the fifth fact is the empty tomb.
Strobel: The empty tomb is conceded by about 75% of these critical historians including skeptics.
Ankerberg: Which is a lot.
Strobel: That is the vast majority. The other points are universal, virtually, but 75% is really big.
Ankerberg: Yeah, a president that got 75% of the vote, we would be electing him Pope here, you know.
Strobel: Absolutely, absolutely. So we have three points, quickly, on this to establish the empty tomb. First of all, we have the Jerusalem factor. The fact that the disciples were able, in the very city where Jesus was put death, just a short time later proclaim that He had returned from the dead to audiences who knew better if it wasn’t true. They knew if they were lying, they knew if they were making it up. And yet we see historically the church is birthed right in that very place, because people knew that they were telling the truth when they talked about the resurrected Jesus.
Secondly, enemy attestation. What that means is that even the enemies of Jesus admitted that the tomb was empty. The argument was that the disciples had somehow stolen the body. That was the rumor they floated. Well, think about it. That doesn’t make any sense. The guards were supposedly asleep. Well, how did they know that the disciples stole the body if they were sleeping? And then they don’t have the motive or the means or the opportunity. It is ridiculous. Nobody believed it then, nobody believes it now. But think about it. If I came to you and I was a little kid and you were the teacher and I came to you and said my dog ate my homework, I would be conceding I don’t have my homework. Why would I make up that story if I had my homework? Well, the same thing. Why would you make up a story about the disciples stealing the body if the body is in the tomb? They are conceding the body is gone.
And then third we have the testimony of women. The gospels report to us that it was women who discovered the tomb empty. And why that is important, again, is the criterion of embarrassment. In first century Jewish and Roman culture, the testimony of women was not taken seriously. They did not have credibility. As a general rule they weren’t even allowed to testify in a court of law. So this is an embarrassment that it wasn’t John who discovered the tomb empty, or Peter, it was some women. If you are going to make up this story about the empty tomb, if you are going to manufacture it, you would never say women discover the tomb empty. It was embarrassing; hurt their own case in front of their audience. You would have said John discovered it empty. Instead we see the report that women discovered it empty. Why? That’s what happened, and they were committed to telling the truth.
Ankerberg: Alright. So we have compelling testimony about the resurrection from the friends of Jesus; an enemy of Christianity, a skeptic, namely James. We have strong historical evidence that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Even the enemies agreed to that. Got to answer where did the body go, and we have got the disciples saying they saw the risen Jesus.
Strobel: You put that together, John, and even though this is a minimal facts case – I believe there are other strong historical evidence we could marshal – but strip that away. Go back to what virtually every scholar in the world who studies this stuff, be it atheist or Christian, it doesn’t matter, and I tell you even this minimal case, I believe, is persuasive enough to convince me that Jesus really did return from the grave. And why is that important? Because it authenticates, it backs up His claim that He is the one and only Son of God.
Ankerberg: And yet it does not persuade others who agree with those facts, all right? And they have come up with their own theories about how to interpret those facts, which is what we are going to look at in our next program. And we are going to ask our audience to listen to what the critics say in light of these five facts and see if it is persuasive to them, alright. We don’t believe it is; we think that these facts win hands down. But we are going to check it out next week. And, folks, I hope that you will join us.

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