The Resurrection of Jesus Christ/Part 3
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©1996|
|Jesus’ disciples were initially skeptics. But the resurrection appearances were of such a convincing character that the disciples became transformed men who proceeded to literally transform the world.|
Skeptics and the Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus
How does the initial skepticism of the apostles supply evidence for the resurrection?
Jesus’ disciples were initially skeptics. But the resurrection appearances were of such a convincing character that the disciples became transformed men who proceeded to literally transform the world. That Jesus appeared to the disciples as a group at least five times was sufficient to cause them to believe. One brief appearance you could doubt—and most people probably would! Seeing a risen man twice would at least make you stop and think, and, one assumes, make you a bit nervous. But seeing Jesus at least five different times over an extended period, and each time He operates within the context of normal activities—no doubt could remain! When Jesus had lengthy conversations with the disciples (Luke 24:27; John 21), eaten physical food with them at the dinner table (John 21:10-14; Luke 24:30-43), accompanied them on a seven-mile walk (Luke 24:13, 28-29), and similar things, they couldn’t deny it anymore. And neither could anyone faced with such evidence—even in spite of skepticism.
But we must not forget that the disciples were skeptics. Thomas wouldn’t believe unless he actually placed his hand inside Jesus’ wounds: “But he said to them, ‘Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’” (John 20:25). When Jesus appeared before him and urged Thomas to do exactly this, Thomas actually placed his hand and fingers into Jesus’ wounds. At this point, Thomas had no choice. He could only respond to Jesus, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). If you had experienced what Thomas did, wouldn’t you have said that also? However, some apostles were so doubtful they behaved almost like modern rationalists—people whose biases won’t permit them to believe in a miracle even after they have witnessed it. These apostles didn’t even believe when they saw Jesus standing there right in front of them: “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful” (Matthew 28:16-17).
Consider this. One of those skeptics was Jesus’ own brother, James. (Read Mark 3:20-21; 6:3; John 7:3-5.) What would it take to convince you that your very own brother (whom you grew up with for 30 years, whom you had personally seen publicly executed) had now risen from the dead? It would take a lot of evidence. But James was eventually persuaded and wrote the book of James. The only possible explanation for this change is found in 1 Corinthians 15:7: “then He appeared to James.”
After Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene she went and reported to the apostles that He was risen. But “they were mourning and weeping” and would not believe: “And when they heard that He was alive, and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it” (Mark 16:11).
After Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and walked with them for up to seven miles, they went and reported to the other apostles, but “they did not believe them either” (Mark 16:13).
In fact, the apostles were so reluctant to believe that Jesus Himself rebuked them for their unbelief: “Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14 NIV).
In another appearance—after the two disciples on the road to Emmaus went to the apostles claiming that the Lord has really risen—even after Jesus Himself “stood in their midst”—they still would not believe:
- But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” [And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.] And while they still could not believe it for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat? “And they gave Him a piece of broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them (Luke 24:37-43).
In other words, Jesus had to convince the apostles. “And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). Let us ask, “What do you think it would have taken to convince such skeptics that Christ had risen?” Nothing more or less than it would take today, and this is exactly what was done back then. There comes a point when skepticism itself is forced to retreat.
Certainly nothing can explain these events except the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ. Again, these appearances were so convincing that the apostles testified to Christ’s resurrection even to their deaths. How persuasive is this? “So strong an assurance of truth and sincerity accompanies the declarations of a man who truly believes he is then and there dying that the law admits such declarations as testimony even though to do so violates two major rules of the law of evidence: that against ‘hearsay’ and the prohibition against testimony which has not been subjected to the test of cross-examination.” But the apostles were hardly the only skeptics to be converted; history is full of them.
What causes zealous skeptics to convert and believe in the Resurrection?
Lawyer, theologian, and philosopher Dr. John Warwick Montgomery points out that, “The historic Christian claim differs qualitatively from the claims of all other world religions at the epistemological point: on the issue of testability.” In other words, only Christianity stakes its claim to truthfulness based on historical events open to investigation. And only this openness to critical investigation and verification explains the number of conversions of skeptics throughout history.
Evidence is defined in the Oxford American Dictionary as: “1. anything that establishes a fact or gives reason for believing something. 2. statements made or objects produced in a law court as proof or to support a case.”
Other religions in the world are believed in despite the lack of objective evidence for their truth claims. Only Christianity can claim credibility because of the evidence supporting its truth claims. The truth is that no genuinely historical/objective evidence exists for the foundational religious claims of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or any other religion.
As scientist, Christian apologist, and biblical commentator Dr. Henry Morris observes, “As a matter of fact, the entire subject of evidences is almost exclusively the domain of Christian evidences. Other religions depend on subjective experience and blind faith, tradition, and opinion. Christianity stands or falls upon the objective reality of gigantic supernatural events in history and the evidences therefore. This fact in itself is an evidence of its truth.”
One of the most interesting evidences for the truth of Christianity and, in particular, the resurrection, is the testimony of former skeptics, many of whom attempted to disprove it.
A devout Pharisee named Saul was born in Tarsus. Here he was exposed to the most advanced philosophical learning of his day. He had great command of the Greek language and considerable expertise in argument and logic. At age 14 he was sent to study under one of the greatest Jewish rabbis of the period, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).
As a Hebrew zealot and Pharisee who “was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries… being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Galatians 1:14), Saul was not so much intending to disprove Christianity as he was attempting to destroy it (Galatians 1:13). There is no doubt he was a skeptic of both Jesus and the claims of Christians for the resurrection. He persecuted many Christians to their death, and literally laid waste to the Church: “And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify” (Acts 22:4,5; cf, 8:1,3; 9:1,2,13; 22:19-20; 26:9-11).
But something changed Saul so radically the world has never quite gotten over it. Even the early Christians, after suffering such persecutions at his hand, could not believe his conversion: “And immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ And all those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, ‘Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ “(Acts 9:19-23).
Let us ask you, What was it that converted the greatest enemy of the church, Saul of Tarsus, into its greatest defender? It was a direct appearance by no less than the risen Christ Himself—nothing else would have sufficed. In his own words, Paul [Saul] records the experience of meeting the resurrected Christ and how it changed his life forever. He confessed, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1; see also Acts 22:4-21; Galatians 1:11-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-19).
Yet few people are aware of the impact that this once committed enemy of the church has had upon the world’s history because of his experiencing the resurrected Jesus. Paul’s three missionary journeys and lifelong evangelism and church-planting helped to change the Roman Empire and even the destiny of Western civilization. Writing in Chamber’s Encyclopedia, Archibald MacBride, professor at the University of Aberdeen, asserts of Paul: “Besides his achievements … the achievements of Alexander and Napoleon pale into insignificance.” Yet Saul [Paul] was one of the greatest skeptics in Christian history.
Consider another former skeptic, Athanagoras. He was a second-century scholar, brilliant apologist, and first-head of the eminent School of Alexandria. He originally intended to write against the faith, being “occupied with searching the Scriptures for arguments against Christianity” but was converted instead.
Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) was raised in a pagan environment. At the age of 12 he was sent by his parents to the advanced schools in Madaura, a center of pagan culture and learning. He later studied and taught rhetoric in Carthage. He mastered the Latin classics, was deeply influenced by Plato, Neoplatonism, and Manicheanism and was for a period a skeptic of religion. But after careful reading of the Bible and hearing the sermons of Bishop Ambrose while in Milan, he was converted to Christian faith and became the greatest father of the Western church. His two most famous works are Confessions and the City of God; but he also wrote apologetic texts such as Contra Academicos (Against the Academics), a critique of the academic skeptics of his day.
The next 14 centuries contain thousands of additional testimonies of converted skeptics.
In the mid-eighteenth century, Lord George Lyttleton (a member of Parliament and Commissioner of the Treasury) and Gilbert West, Esq., went to Oxford. There they were determined to attack the very basis of Christianity. Lyttleton set out to prove that Saul of Tarsus was never really converted to Christianity, and West intended to demonstrate that Jesus never really rose from the dead. Each had planned to do a painstaking job, taking a year to establish their case. But as they proceeded, they eventually concluded that Christianity was true. Both became Christians.
West eventually wrote Observations on the History and Evidences of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1747). George Lyttleton wrote a lengthy text titled The Conversion of St. Paul (reprint, 1929). Their correspondence back and forth, showing their surprise at the quality of the evidence, can be found in any university microfilm library. West became totally convinced of the truth of the resurrection and Lyttleton of the genuine conversion of Saint Paul on the basis of it. For example, Lyttleton wrote to West in 1761, “Sir, in a late conversation we had together upon the subject of the Christian religion, I told you that besides all the proofs of it which may be drawn from the prophecies of the Old Testament, from the necessary connection it has with the whole system of the Jewish religion, from the miracles of Christ, and from the evidence given of his reflection by all the other apostles, I thought the conversion and apostleship of Saint Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity a divine revelation.”
In our own century, the conversion of skeptics and doubters has continued. In the 1930s a rationalistic English journalist named Frank Morison attempted to discover the “real” Jesus Christ. He was convinced that Christ’s “history rested upon very insecure foundations”—largely because of the influence of the rationalistic higher criticism so prevalent in his day. Further, he was dogmatically opposed to the miraculous elements in the Gospels. But he was, nevertheless, fascinated by the person of Jesus, who was to him “an almost legendary figure of purity and noble manhood.”
Morison decided to take the crucial “last phase” in the life of Christ and “strip it of its overgrowth of primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions, and to see this supremely great Person as he really was.” “It seemed to me that if I could come at the truth why this man died a cruel death at the hands of the Roman Power, how he himself regarded the matter, and especially how he behaved under the test, I should be very near to the true solution of the problem.”
But the book Morison ended up writing was not the one he intended to. He wrote one of the most able defenses of the resurrection of Christ in our time, Who Moved the Stone?
Dr. Cyril E.M. Joad, head of the philosophy department at the University of London, once believed that Jesus was only a man. For many years he was an antagonist of Christianity. But near the end of his life he came to believe that the only solution for mankind was “found in the cross of Jesus Christ.” He became a zealous disciple.
Giovanni Papine was one of the foremost Italian intellects of his period, an atheist and vocal enemy of the church, and self-appointed debunker of religion. But he became converted to faith in Christ and, in 1921, penned his Life of Christ, stunning most of his friends and admirers.
Cambridge scholar C. S. Lewis, a former atheist, was converted to Christianity on the basis of the evidence, according to his text Surprised by Joy. He recalls, “I thought I had the Christians ‘placed’ and disposed of forever.” But, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere—‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘Fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”But C. S. Lewis became a Christian because the evidence was compelling and he could not escape it. Even against his will he was “brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting [my] eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.” The God “whom I so earnestly desired not to meet” became His Lord and Savior. His book on Christian evidences, Mere Christianity, is considered a classic and has been responsible for converting thousands to the faith, among them the keen legal mind of former skeptic and Watergate figure Charles Colson, author of Born Again.
As a pre-law student, Josh McDowell was also a skeptic of Christianity and believed that every Christian had two minds: one was lost while the other was out looking for it! Eventually challenged to intellectually investigate the Christian truth claims and, thinking this a farce, he accepted the challenge and “as a result, I found historical facts and evidence about Jesus Christ that I never knew existed.” He eventually wrote a number of important texts in defense of Christianity, among them Evidence That Demands a Verdict, More Evidence that Demands a Verdict, More Than a Carpenter, and Daniel in the Lion’s Den.
Dr. Gary Habermas was raised a Christian, but he soon questioned his faith. He concluded that while the resurrection could be believed, he personally doubted it and was skeptical that any evidence for it was really convincing. But after critical examination it was the evidence that brought him around, and he concluded the resurrection was an established fact of history. He proceeded to write four important books in defense of the resurrection and related issues: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus; The Resurrection of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry; The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic; and Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?: The Resurrection Debate.
As a brilliant philosophy student at Cornell University, John Warwick Montgomery was a convinced skeptic when it came to Christianity. But he, too, was challenged to investigate the evidence for Christianity and became converted. He states, “I went to university as a ‘garden-variety’ 20th century pagan. And as a result of being forced, for intellectual integrity’s sake, to check out this evidence, I finally came around.” He confessed that had it not been for a committed undergraduate student who continued to challenge him to really examine the evidence, he would never have believed. He shares, “I thank God that he cared enough to do the reading to become a good apologist because if I hadn’t had someone like that I don’t know if I would have become a Christian.”
Montgomery went on to graduate from Cornell University with distinction in philosophy (Phi Beta Kappa). Then he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, a second doctorate in theology from the University of Strasburg, France, plus seven additional graduate degrees in theology, law, library science, and other fields. He has written over 125 scholarly journal articles plus 40 books, many of them defending Christian faith against skeptical views. Montgomery has held numerous prestigious appointments and is a founding member of the World Association of Law Professors. There are many individuals with similar backgrounds, temperaments, and philosophical premises as Dr. Montgomery. They simply do not believe in Christianity apart from sufficient evidence.
Among great literary writers, few can match the brilliance of Malcolm Muggeridge. He, too, was once a skeptic of Christianity, but, near the end of his life, became fully convinced of the truth of the resurrection of Christ, and wrote a book acclaimed by critics, Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975). He states: “The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history…”; and, “What is unique about Jesus is that, on the testimony and in the experience of innumerable people, of all sorts and conditions, of all races and nationalities from the simplest and most primitive to the most sophisticated and cultivated, he remains alive.” Muggeridge concludes, “That the Resurrection happened… seems to be indubitably true,” and “Either Jesus never was or he still is… with the utmost certainty, I assert he still is.”
Famous scholar and archaeologist Sir William Ramsey was educated at Oxford and a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge. He received gold medals from Pope Leo XII, the University of Pennsylvania, the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and was knighted in 1906. He was once a skeptic of Christianity and was convinced that the Bible was fraudulent.
- He had spent years deliberately preparing himself for the announced task of heading an exploration expedition into Asia Minor and Palestine, the home of the Bible, where he would “dig up the evidence” that the Book was the product of ambitious monks, and not the book from heaven it claimed to be. He regarded the weakest spot in the whole New Testament to be the story of Paul’s travels. These had never been thoroughly investigated by one on the spot.
- Equipped as no other man had been, he went to the home of the Bible. Here he spent 15 years literally “digging for the evidence.” Then in 1896 he published a large volume on Saint Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen.
- The book caused a furor of dismay among the skeptics of the world. Its attitude was utterly unexpected, because it was contrary to the announced intention of the author years before… for twenty years more, book after book from the same author came from the press, each filled with additional evidence of the exact, minute truthfulness of the whole New Testament as tested by the spade on the spot. The evidence was so overwhelming that many infidels announced their repudiation of their former unbelief and accepted Christianity. And these books have stood the test of time, not one having been refuted, nor have I found even any attempt to refute them.
One of the greatest classical scholars of our century, the outstanding authority on Homer, Dr. John A. Scott, professor of Greek at Northwestern University for some 40 years, one time president of the American Philosophical Association as well as president of the Classical Association of the Midwest and South, wrote a book, We Would See Jesus, at the age of 70, concluding a lifetime of ripened convictions. He, too, was convinced that Luke was an accurate historian: “Luke was not only a Doctor and historian, but he was one of the world’s greatest men of letters. He wrote the clearest and the best Greek written in that century.”
Here we have two of the greatest intellects of recent time (Ramsey and Scott), among many that could be cited, vouching for the historical accuracy and integrity of Luke, who wrote not only the Gospel of Luke, but the book of Acts as well. In the latter book he claimed that the resurrection of Christ had been established “by many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3). It is only by means of such “convincing proofs” that skeptics such as Ramsey and Scott could have been converted in the first place. Indeed, the entire history of Christianity involves the conversion of skeptics to Christian faith.
Unfortunately, there are also plenty of scholars who have the evidence laid out clearly before them and still do not believe in the resurrection. For example, Michael Grant, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, professor of Humanity at Edinburgh University, and president and vice chancellor of the Queens University, Belfast, holds doctorates from Cambridge, Dublin, and Belfast, and is the author of numerous books, among them The Twelve Caesars, and The Army of the Caesars. In his book Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, he fully admits, “But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.”
But he does not believe in the resurrection: “Who had taken the body? There is no way of knowing… at all events, it was gone.” He even admits how the subsequent events of Christian history astonish the historian, “For by conquering the Roman Empire in the fourth century A.D., Christianity had conquered the entire Western World, for century after century that lay ahead. In a triumph that has been hailed by its advocates as miraculous, and must be regarded by historians, too, as one of the most astonishing phenomena in the history of the world, the despised, reviled Galilean became the Lord of countless millions of people over the course of the 1900 years and more between his age and ours.”
Yet, perhaps, if Dr. Grant had been both a historian and a lawyer, he might have better understood the reason for “the most astonishing phenomena in the history of the world.”
- Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible: A Defense of the Christian Faith (San Diego: Creation Life Publishers, 1977), p. 192.
- John Warwick Montgomery, “The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity,” in John Warwick Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question (Dallas: Probe/Word, 1991), p. 319.
- E.g., cf., John Warwick Montgomery, “How Muslims Do Apologetics,” in Faith Founded on Fact (New York: Nelson, 1978); David Johnson, A Reasoned Look at Asian Religions (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1985); Stuart C. Hackett, Oriental Philosophy (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979); John Weldon, Buddhism, M.A. thesis, on file at Simon Greenleaf University, Anaheim, CA.
- Henry Morris, Many Infallible Proofs (San Diego: Master Books, 1982), p. 1.
- McDowell, More Than a Carpenter, p. 86, citing Chamber’s Encyclopedia (London: Pergamon Press 1960), vol. 10, p. 516.
- A. Harnack, “Alexandria, School of,” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977), pp. 124-25, 347, and L. Russ Bush, ed, Classical Readings in Christian Apologetics: A.D. 100-1800 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), p. 31.
- Bush, Classical Readings, pp. 195-98.
- American Antiquarian Society, Early American Imprints, no. 8909 (1639-1800 A.D.), p. 3.
- Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1969), pp. 9-10.
- Ibid., p.10.
- Ibid., p. 11.
- In Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict rev. ed. (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1979), p. 351.
- Ibid., p. 368.
- C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York; Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1955), pp. 175, 191.
- Ibid., pp. 228-29.
- McDowell, Evidence, p. 373.
- Personal conversations, March 26-28, 1990.
- “The John Ankerberg Show,” transcript of a debate between Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and John K. Naland, televised April 1990, p. 39.
- John Warwick Montgomery, “Introduction to Apologetics” class notes, Simon Greenleaf School of Law, Anaheim, CA, January 1986.
- Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus: The Man Who Lives (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), pp. 7, 184, 191, emphasis added.
- In McDowell, Evidence, p. 366.
- In W. J. Sparrow-Simpson, The Resurrection in Modern Thought (London, 1911), p. 405, from Smith, Therefore Stand, p. 365.
- Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (New York: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1977), p. 176.
- Ibid., pp. 190-91, emphasis added.