The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection/Program 4

By: Lee Strobel; ©2007
Over the years many have offered what they consider better alternate explanations to the biblical resurrection accounts. How to they hold up under scrutiny?



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. We have got a great one for you today. My guest is Lee Strobel. He is the former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. He was there for 13 years, won many awards. Unfortunately, all of that time he was an atheist. And somewhere along the line circumstances brought him to examine the evidence for the historic Jesus, and was Jesus who He claimed to be; and did He give proof by rising from the dead? The evidence brought him to become a Christian and he put that evidence into a best selling book called The Case for Christ which sold over 2 million copies worldwide. He has also written The Case for Faith, The Case for the Creator and he has got a new one coming out that is called The Case for the Real Jesus.
Now what we want to get to today is, there are new attacks on the resurrection facts. And there are scholars today in both the media as well as in modern scholarship that have tried to take the facts, the minimal facts that we were looking at last week, and said, “We have got a better explanation than that Jesus actually rose from the dead.” And we want to look at some of those and examine them in light of the five facts, and we will go both sides today.
So, Lee, let’s start off. One of the things that is very interesting is probably 1.5 billion people hold to this view. Can they all be wrong? And we are talking about the Qur’an vs. the Bible. Explain what you are talking about.
Strobel: Well, certainly, John, the Islamic belief is that Jesus did not die on the cross. And I can back that up for you and just show you how clear in which this articulated in the Qur’an. I will read it to you. This is from Surah 4:157-158, “That they said (in boast) ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not; Nay Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;…” So either, according to the Islamic belief, either Allah made it appear that Jesus died when He really didn’t and then he healed Him afterwards, or he substituted someone for Jesus and people thought it was Jesus who was being killed, but it really wasn’t. And as you say, this is certainly the teaching in Islam. And it is defended more and more vociferously by Muslims who are debating Christians on this topic. They know, just like I know as a Christian, the ballgame is the resurrection.
Ankerberg: Right.
Strobel: And if you can somehow undermine that then you have undermined the entire faith.
Ankerberg: Now, how do those five facts refute their objection?
Strobel: Well, I have a good friend who is a Muslim. He is a well known Muslim, probably one of the most famous in America. If I told you his name you would know it. And he comes over to my house and we debate these things. We grill steaks and we were talking, and I said, “Let me just tell you why I am not a Muslim.” He said, “Yeah, I would be interested.” “Okay, let me tell you why.” I said, “I have got on my side, in terms of the resurrection of Jesus, I have got these five facts that virtually every scholar in the world, even skeptics, will agree to: that Jesus was executed; that the disciples believe that they encounter Him after He was resurrected; the conversion of Saul of Tarsus into Paul the great Apostle; the conversion of James, the skeptic the half-brother of Jesus to become a leader of the early church who died for his faith; and the empty tomb, which is 75% of all critical scholars will accept this as being historically true. And I have got this evidence that goes right back to the first century itself. I have got writings in the first century. I have got a creed of the early church; it goes right back to the scene itself.
“Now, on the other hand, I read the Qur’an and I read in Surah 4: 157-158 that it isn’t true. Now I am told that in a cave 600 years later Muhammad is greeted by an angel who tells him Jesus wasn’t really crucified. And then that becomes what Muslims believe today. Now,” I said, “Just read the two. Just purely on an historical basis, which one makes more sense?”
And I think the evidence, John, the historical evidence, is so strong when it supports the resurrection of Jesus compared to, frankly, someone being told in a cave 600 years later that it isn’t true. I think there is a reason why there is virtually no scholar in the world, when they investigate the historical Jesus, who uses the Qur’an as a source. So I just think the evidence is on the side of believing that Jesus did indeed return from the dead.
Ankerberg: You also have an Islamic catch-22. What does that mean?
Strobel: Yeah. Michael Licona, who is an expert on the resurrection, actually brought this up to me, and I think it is a very good point. He said the Qur’an creates a catch-22, and here is what it is. According to the Qur’an, Jesus is a great prophet. Now, historically speaking we have excellent, excellent evidence that Jesus predicted His imminent and violent demise. Now, if Jesus predicted His imminent, violent demise and it never happened, well, that would be consistent with what the Qur’an said. But it would contradict the Qur’an, because then He wouldn’t be a great prophet. He would have been false in His prediction of the future. If Jesus did predict His violent and imminent death and He did indeed die on the cross, well, it proves that He is the Son of God, and it contradicts the Qur’an, because the Qur’an says that He didn’t die on the cross and, by the way, He isn’t the Son of God. So either way it is sort of heads I win, tails you lose. I think that the Qur’an has got a problem in this particular area.
Ankerberg: And even the explanation that is in the Qur’an portion that you just read to us says that it is possible that Allah made Him to appear.
Strobel: Right.
Ankerberg: Okay, but that is deceitful as well
Strobel: Exactly. If that were true then Allah and Jesus are deceiving people. Now, it is one thing to say I am going to deceive my persecutors who are trying to kill me. But they would be deceiving the disciples. If Allah knew that a false religion of Christianity would spring up because of this mistaken belief that Jesus had been put to death, you would think that he would have set it straight rather than letting the deceit create a false religion. So I just think there are too many logical problems with the explanation. And certainly I think the fatal flaw is the fact that we have got so much historical data on the other side. And really, 600 years later, I mean, it is not possible to have you know reliable historical data concerning Jesus as persuasive as it is from right there in the first century.
Ankerberg: Yeah. I mean let’s say America is 250 years old, approximately. And the fact is, if you had something happen in George Washington’s day, and now somebody 250 years later talked about it, you would say, “Well, listen. Should we talk to the guys that were right there with Washington or 250 years later? Well, let’s make that 600 years later, three times the length of America, is what you are saying. Are we going to trust this source, or the guys that were right on the scene that we have multiple attestation for?
Strobel: Exactly. And often when I talk to Muslims about this, their response is to simply say, “I choose to believe the Prophet.” Well, that is their right. They can choose to believe the Prophet and they have every right to be able to do that. However, I would say that sidesteps the issue. The issue to me is, where does the evidence point? Where does the evidence of history point? Where does the evidence of logic and reason point? And I want to invest my life in a faith that is not contrary to the evidence, but a faith that is a step we take in the same direction that the evidence points. That is logical to do, that is rational to do, we do that every day of our life. We take a step of faith in the same direction that the evidence points. And I think that when we do that, in terms of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, we take a step of faith to receive, then, Jesus as our forgiver.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Former Muslims Emir and Ergun Caner, they have been on the program. And the thing that got them as Muslims was, they wrote a book on the title, More than a Prophet. And they were asked the question, “Well, you believe that Jesus was put on trial and He was supposed to die?” Yeah. “Well, what was the charge?” Well, it was blasphemy, because He was asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And he said, “I AM.” [Mark 14:61-62] Well, was He telling the truth? I mean forget the resurrection for a moment, was He telling the truth there? If He was, then He is the son of God, He is the Messiah, He is the son of the Holy One there, the Son of Man, all of those titles are wrapped up right there. And the fact is, you can’t just…because the Qur’an says He is an honored prophet of Allah.
Strobel: Yeah. It says specifically God does not have a son. I mean, again it is another problem there historically, because we have very good evidence right there in the very first biography of Jesus about that exchange between Caiaphas the High Priest and Jesus.
Ankerberg: Alright. Now we have got another one. Let’s switch hats here and let’s go to some of the stuff that has been in the popular media. It’s been on Dateline, they have done special programs on Michael Bagient’s book, The Jesus Papers. Okay, what is the theory that he is saying that refutes the resurrection?
Strobel: Yeah. John, this is bizarre stuff. His claim is that when Jesus was being crucified Pilate didn’t want Him to really die, because Jesus was encouraging people to pay their taxes, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” [Matt. 22:21] So Pilate liked him for that, and so he didn’t really want to kill Him. So he crucified Him but then he gave Him some aloe and myrrh on the cross and that somehow healed Him and He was able to pretend He was dead and then He was healed by these medications that He was given. And so the whole idea is that He was not resurrected, He was merely resuscitated.
Now, this is so full of holes, so bizarre, that number one, I was talking to one expert on the resurrection and he said, “Look, if aloe can accomplish this, if it can heal a man who has been scourged, beaten to a pulp, in hypovolemic shock, who has had nails driven through His hands and feet, who has had a spear driven through His side, if these simple herbs can cure somebody, why aren’t we using them in every hospital in the world?”
Ankerberg: It would be the wonder drug.
Strobel: The miracle drugs, are you kidding me? This is great stuff. So it is just an absurd idea that, and plus the fact that Paul encouraged people to follow the law and thus pay their taxes; it didn’t stop them from killing Paul. And so this idea that somehow, oh, Pilate wouldn’t kill Him because He was saying people should each pay their taxes, it doesn’t hold up anyway. It makes me so mad, John, that you have people like Bagient, what his master’s degree is in is mysticism, who, they write things that are so historically ridiculous and yet they are getting published by major publishers. And people think it is in print, it must be true. And this is stuff that there is no serious historian on planet earth who would subscribe to such an absurd theory.
Ankerberg: Alright, take a third one. And that is Richard Carrier, the atheist. And he psychoanalyses Paul. Why is that supposed to be a refutation of the resurrection? What does Carrier say?
Strobel: Yeah. Carrier says that Paul, and he goes through this big psychoanalysis thing. By the way, I know Richard Carrier. I like him, I have talked to him and he is a good guy. But I think he is terribly wrong here. To try to psychoanalyze somebody 2000 years later and say that somehow Paul felt guilty because he was killing these Christians and persecuting the Christians, and by the way he wasn’t so happy about where he was, his status as a Pharisee. He could be a leader of the church, he could be someone who really had status. And so somehow he had these psychological reasons for imagining this experience with Jesus in which he is converted on the road to Damascus.
Now, with all due respect, this is just wacky. Because, first of all, Paul tells us why he became a follower of Jesus; that is, he encountered the resurrected Christ. And, by the way, it wasn’t just something in his mind. The people with him saw the light. They heard the speaking. They didn’t understand it, but it wasn’t just a subjective experience, it was an objective thing that happened to him that others knew something was happening. And so this wasn’t something just in his head. Plus, we have multiple historical accounts verifying that Paul was willing to live a life of deprivation, continual suffering and persecution because of his conviction that Jesus is the Son of God who proved it by returning from the dead. “And by the way, I talked to him; I know it is true.” So he tells us why he was converted. We don’t have to psychoanalyze him 2000 years later, which is kind of crazy when you think about it anyway. So I think that it is just grasping at straws. It does not account for the evidence. Plus, if it were true, what about the empty tomb? Where is the body?
Ankerberg: What about the other disciples?
Strobel: What about James? James, the half brother of Jesus, who was a skeptic during the life of Jesus, becomes a leader in the local church because of the resurrected Christ. He was another one who had no reason, no psychological reason, to somehow put his faith in his brother. And then, why? So he could knowingly and willing die for a lie? John, I looked through history. I don’t find a whole lot of examples of people who knowingly and willingly were willing to die for what they knew was a lie.
Ankerberg: Alright, so the resurrection is still standing, and we are going to continue this in a moment. We are going to look at the objection that it wasn’t a physical, literal, physical bodily resurrection. It was a spiritual resurrection; it was kind of an experiential deal. Marcus Borg and some of the others in the Jesus Seminar floated this. We are going to look at that and some others when we come right back. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back. And we are talking with Lee Strobel, who is the former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune for 13 years. He is the best selling author of many great books like The Case for Christ, The Case of Faith. And we are talking right now about the new, supposedly, attacks on Jesus resurrection. We have talked in other programs about five minimal facts that are accepted by virtually all scholars across the spectrum. You take those five facts, you have to draw a conclusion. You have to ask, what is the best explanation for those five facts? We are saying Jesus actually rose from the dead. That is what the evidence shows. The new scholars, modern scholarship, some of those that are popular in the media, bookstores galore, the fact is, some of these guys are saying, “No, we have another explanation.” And we are looking at some of those explanations. Let’s take another one. A lot of people say it wasn’t a physical resurrection of Jesus, but this was a spiritual resurrection. It was kind of something that they experienced, but it wasn’t really a literal body that appeared to them. What do you think?
Strobel: That is just so contrary to the evidence, John. I mean, the fact is that Paul himself, in Acts 13, specifically said that Jesus’ body did not see decay. In 1 Corinthians 15, where we have the creed of the early church, said he was buried and he was resurrected. N. T. Wright, in his voluminous book about the resurrection, documents convincingly that the resurrection, to that Jewish audience, meant a physical resurrection from the dead. Now, what some people say is, “Well, what about where Paul says you sow a natural body and then you get a…”
Ankerberg: It’s raised as a spiritual….
Strobel: “…it is raised as a spiritual body.” [1 Cor. 15:44] And they say, “Well, there you go. It started as a material body and then it is spiritual.” Well, I talked with a scholar who actually researched the way that word in the Greek for a natural body, natural, he researched every single way it was used in any published literature from 800 BC through 300 AD. And never once is it used as the idea of being physical. Natural does not mean physical. What it means is, as we have natural bodies we have a natural appetite for worldly and fleshly and sinful things. And yet we are then born again and we end up with a new body that has spiritual appetites that is imbued by and follows the Spirit of God. That is what it is getting at there. Some people say, “Well, Paul’s vision was unlike the other disciples and it was much more subjective.” Yeah, but you have got to remember this was after Jesus had ascended into heaven. And so it is understandable that his experience would be different. Plus it was, as we said earlier, an objective experience that others noticed the phenomenon, even though they didn’t understand the voice. They notice that something has happened. Now, if the historian is going to accept the fact that he did have this encounter on the road to Damascus, they have got to accept the whole package.
Ankerberg: What did Paul mean when he said in Galatians 1:16 that God “was pleased to reveal his Son in Me”?
Strobel: Yeah. Some people say that “revealing in me” means it is just a subjective experience. However, you can also translate that “reveal to me”. So I think that might be perhaps another way to look at it. If perhaps equal weight can be given for the idea that it is translated “to me,” then that’s solved. On the other hand, even if it is translated “to me,” that cannot negate Paul’s own words. You cannot then negate what else he says, where at least three different times he indicates this was a physical resurrection. “His body did not see decay.” [Acts 2:31] How much more do we need to say than he believed that this was a physical resurrection?
Ankerberg: Yeah. 1 Corinthians 15 again, that which was buried, whatever you want to call it, that was a physical body, that is the thing that was raised.
Strobel: Right. Exactly.
Ankerberg: Alright. Another objection is that this was an hallucination. Alright, explain….
Strobel: Yeah. This was my,… this was the way I tried to get around it, John. When I was an atheist and I was investigating I said, “Wait a minute, these were hallucinations.” So then I thought, okay, I am going to check it out. So I went to a guy. I figured I would find a qualified individual. I found someone who was a Ph.D. in psychology, who was a professor for over 20 years in a major university in psychology; author of 40 books on psychology, and president of a national association of psychologists and counselors. I figured he is pretty qualified.
So I said, “Could this have been hallucinations?” Thinking, hey, I solved it. And he said, “No, it can’t.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Lee, hallucinations are individual events. They cannot be shared.” It is not like I can say to you, “How do you like that dream I had last night?” You cannot share it. Or as one person said to me, he said, it is not like you can be asleep at night and you wake up your spouse and you say, “Honey, honey, I am having a dream about a vacation in Maui. Why don’t we both go back to sleep; we will dream it together and we will save all this money.” Well, you can’t do that. Hallucinations cannot be shared; they are individual.
And then he said something to me, John, I will never forget. He said, “Lee, 500 people experiencing the same hallucination at the same time would be a bigger miracle than the resurrection itself.” So the idea that it is a hallucination, and I’m shocked that anybody even believes this anymore. And yet recently in the atheistic literature this is being floated again as some explanation for what happened. Some people say, “Well, it was wishful thinking. They hallucinated because they missed Jesus so much. Oh, we want Him to be back.” Well, that doesn’t explain the Apostle Paul, who was a persecutor of the church as Saul of Tarsus. He didn’t want Jesus to be back. It doesn’t explain James, the half brother of Jesus, who didn’t follow Jesus during His lifetime. So right there you have, and plus the fact it doesn’t deal with the empty tomb.
Ankerberg: What about delusions? People say they were just deluded.
Strobel: Delusion. Hallucination is something you imagine is there that isn’t. A delusion is when you persist in believing something even when you have good evidence that it is not true. And, of course, the famous example is the people who committed suicide because they believed a space ship was coming. It was hiding behind the comet Hale-Bopp, and it was going to come get them. Well, they had been told by scientists, that is not a space ship you see hiding behind the comet, that is the planet Mars. But they persisted in their bizarre beliefs and were willing to die for it, because they were deluded. That is not the case with the disciples. They had positive, affirmative evidence that Jesus did return from the dead. They touched Him, they talked with Him, they ate with Him, they experienced Him in a way that it couldn’t be a mistake. It couldn’t be a hallucination. It wasn’t wishful thinking. And knowing the truth – that they had encountered Him – they were willing to die for that truth.
Ankerberg: We have 30 seconds left. Give me the five facts and the conclusion that you came to. We are going to pick this up again next week.
Strobel: Sure. Five facts that virtually every scholar will agree to: the execution of Jesus; the disciples believing that they encountered the resurrected Jesus; the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of Christians, into being Paul the Apostle, the great missionary of the church; the conversion of James, the half brother of Jesus, who didn’t follow Jesus during His lifetime, who encountered the resurrected Jesus, became the leader of the Jerusalem church and died for it; and the empty tomb, which 75% of critical scholars will admit is true.
Ankerberg: And what drove you, then?
Strobel: Well, for me the conclusion is obvious: what explanation best fits the facts? If you don’t rule out the supernatural at the outset as a lot of historians do, they say it can’t happen, so I am ruling it out. If you let the evidence take you wherever it will take you even to a very uncomfortable conclusion as I did, I came to the conclusion the best explanation: Jesus returned from the dead and thus proved He is the Son of God.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Folks, if you listen, these explanations that supposedly refute the resurrection are just nutty. I mean, they just don’t make sense in light of the facts. But we are not done looking at some of the things that are very popular in the press today, that are in the bookstores right now. And you probably see media shows on them coming up. Stick with us, and next week we are going to continue these supposed objections to the historical facts concerning the resurrection. Stick with us. We will see you then.

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