The Search for Jesus – Program 8
By: Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Dr. Craig Blomberg, Dr. Darrell L. Bock, Dr. Magen Broshi, Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Hillel Geva, Dr. Gary Habermas, Mrs. Claire Pfann, Dr. Stephen Pfann, Dr. Ben Witherington, Dr. N.T. Wright; ©2001
Those who deny the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection must deal with certain historical facts which are accepted even by many skeptics.
The Resurrection of Jesus – Many Convincing Proofs
- Announcer: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Whom do people say the Son of Man is?” [Matt. 16:13]
- Dr. Craig Evans: If I were a secular historian and looking at what Jesus is saying, I’d say this guy clearly thinks that he’s some kind of emissary from Heaven.
- Announcer: They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [Matt. 16:14]
- Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: There are also many implicit indications that Jesus was more than an ordinary human being.
- Announcer: “What about you?” He asked, “Whom do you say that I am?” [Matt. 16:15]
- Dr. Darrell Bock: I think that the voice addressed Jesus: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” [Luke 3:22]
- Announcer: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [Matt. 16:16]
- Today, Jesus’ question continues to challenge historians and theologians, believers and unbelievers, alike. Some still acclaim him as the Messiah, the Son of God, as did his followers in the first century. Others declare that Jesus never said or did most of what is recorded about him in the Gospels. Still, the search for Jesus continues.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: Historians believe that after watching Jesus die on the cross, his disciples fled in despair. The question that is raised is, what caused them to change their mind and proclaim Jesus was alive and that he was the Messiah, the Son of God?
- Dr. Ben Witherington: Well, in terms of the psychological profile of the disciples, if we believe that it is true that they denied, deserted and betrayed Jesus, that they had given him up for lost when he died on the cross, psychologically something significant had to have happened to change all of their minds about this particular issue after the crucifixion of Jesus. Because remember, no early Jews were looking for a crucified Messiah. If you wanted to scotch the rumor that Jesus was Messiah, get him crucified. That would prove that he was cursed, not blessed by God.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: Archaeologists have now found evidence of how terrible crucifixion was in Jesus’ day.
- Dr. Randall Price: This is the right heel-bone of Yohanan ben Ha’galgol down in the northern suburb of Jerusalem. He’s a 30 year old man, about the age of Jesus. The nail pierces not only the bone but also contains fragments of the cross, the wood, because it was bent in such a way that they had to remove it along with pieces of the cross. So here we have an example of how an individual was crucified in the time of Jesus.
- Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: Now, if the resurrection had not happened, then we wouldn’t be here speaking. There would have been no Christian movement. He would have been a mistaken Messiah.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: So, history tells us that after Jesus died on the cross, he was honorably buried. Three days later, his tomb was found empty. Then his followers began proclaiming this surprising message: “God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32).
- Dr. William Lane Craig: The third fundamental fact that any responsible historical hypothesis has to account for in explaining the fate of Jesus of Nazareth is the fact that after his death different individuals and groups of people claimed to have seen Jesus of Nazareth alive from the dead on different occasions and under varying circumstances. Now, this general fact is one that is universally acknowledged today among New Testament critics.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: But according to the historical sources, how many people claimed to have seen Jesus?
- Dr. Gary Habermas: Now, of course, the key list there is in 1 Corinthians 15. In that list you have individuals, leaders of the Church. Paul starts with Peter, ends with himself, in the middle has James, the brother of Jesus. Three key individuals who saw the risen Jesus. But you also have groups and that’s very important to ascertain some evidence for these appearances. You have the Twelve; you have a group he calls “all the Apostles”; you have more than 500 brethren, most of whom remain alive.
- Now, when you go to the Gospels, I think also with good grounds we have, for example, the women. You have several women at the tomb and probably Mary Magdalene alone as she returns. So you’ve got them sighting Jesus as well as the empty tomb. And again, if you’re going to put your best foot forward, you do not use women, because they can’t go to a law court. You’re not going to impress people in first century Palestine. By far the best reason for starting with the women and secondarily with Mary is very simple: they saw the risen Jesus.
- Now, the Gospels also tell us about a long walk with two men on the way to Emmaus. I mean, it takes a while to walk and talk for miles with this visitor who turns out to be Jesus.
- You have appearances to the groups of disciples. You have in John 20 all the disciples present except, of course, Judas and Thomas. You have a second appearance a week later with Thomas in the famous incident where Thomas asks for evidence.
- So you’ve got a wide range of activities. You’ve got men and you’ve got women. You’ve got individuals and you’ve got groups. You’ve got indoors, outdoors, sitting, standing, fishing, making a shore lunch; walking with them; hanging on by the ankles. Wide variety.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: But scholars want to know, “What did these people really see? Did they see Jesus in his physical body, or in some kind of a vision?”
- Dr. Ben Witherington: Most scholars would certainly say that the disciples believed that they saw Jesus. And many of them would want to just leave it there and say, “Okay, it was subjective phenomenon that happened here.” But if you interpret those Gospel documents about the resurrection appearances of the risen Lord, and you interpret the Pauline evidence, the rest of the New Testament evidence, they were claiming far more than that. They were claiming to actually have a physical encounter with Jesus after his death, and that he ate, was tangible, could be touched, that he was still moving in space and time as a real person. So they were claiming more than just having had a vision of Jesus.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, scholars have used different words to describe what they think the disciples saw. Some claim the disciples saw an ordinary appearance of Jesus, that is, Jesus was literally, physically present with them. He ate with them, and invited them to touch him.
- Dr. William Lane Craig: If there had been people there with tape recorders and cameras, they would have had photographic and audio images of Jesus appearing in the Upper Room. That would be an ordinary appearance.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: Other scholars use the word “vision” to describe what they think the disciples saw. A vision is defined as seeing an object in the mind without the use of the five senses. Further, there are two kinds of visions: a truthful vision and a false vision. An example of a true vision, what scholars also call a “veridical” vision, would be a prophet who receives information from God.
- Dr. William Lane Craig: A veridical vision, I think, would be an example of what Stephen saw when he was stoned. He looked up and saw the heavens opened and he said, “I see the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God.” [Acts 7:56] But the Jewish persecutors about Stephen saw nothing at all. They didn’t perceive anything and they rushed upon him and stoned him and killed him. What Stephen saw was a veridical vision, a God-induced visionary seeing of the exalted Christ.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: But scholars also talk about a false or non-truthful vision. An example of this would be a person who gets drunk and sees a pink elephant. They really do see the pink elephant, but it is a hallucination, purely a projection of the person’s own mind and is not really there. This is what scholars usually refer to when they admit the disciples saw something, but then imply it was some kind of vision, not a literal physical appearance of Jesus. The question is, did the disciples know the difference between a real physical appearance of Jesus and a vision of Jesus in their minds?
- Dr. William Lane Craig: Now, it’s interesting that the New Testament draws a clear distinction between appearances of Christ and visions of Christ. The appearances of the risen Christ were to a limited circle and soon ceased. But visions of the exalted Christ went on in the New Testament Church. Paul saw them when he was praying in the temple in Jerusalem. Stephen saw a vision of Christ at the stoning. In the Book of Revelation you have a vision of the throne room of God that John sees.
- So the visions in the Church were something that did not cease, that went on; and yet these were distinct from a Resurrection appearance.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: But what can be said to those who claim Jesus’ disciples were only having hallucinations of Jesus?
- Dr. Gary Habermas: What’s wrong with hallucination theory? Probably no theory has more problems.
- Problem #1: Groups of people, not even two at once, see the same hallucination. An hallucination is something you believe so firmly that you invent the mental picture. Two cannot share an hallucination any more than two can share a dream. So if you’ve got groups of… if you have examples of group appearances and you have them, for example, three in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff, those are not hallucinations, not as a group.
- Secondly, the disciples didn’t believe it. It’s granted by everybody, both from scripture and from psychology, that you can’t have exuberant, expecting disciples after this calamity: best friend, livelihood, everything is destroyed, and they’re supposed to be hoping for a resurrection and making these sorts of images. So second, they’re not in the right frame of mind.
- Three may be the most devastating one. Too many different people, times, places. You have men, you have women; indoors, outdoors; walking, standing. Everything. The problem is, to believe that every one of these people manufactured a private, individual hallucination is beyond credulous. We rarely even see hallucinations today, but they were just supposed to have them on demand. That’s too problematic.
- Fourth problem: if the disciples were seeing hallucinations, we’ve got a little problem with the empty tomb. It wouldn’t be empty. And so the leaders are saying, “Now, fellows, we’ve got a problem here.” Now critics say, “Now, come on, 50 days later what would the body look like?” Hey look, it doesn’t make any difference. This body looks like it’s crucified. Here’s the nails. This is your man. Blows the theory away. So the empty tomb is a deathblow to hallucination.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: In addition, neither visions nor hallucinations explain what the disciples proclaimed, namely, that Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead.
- Dr. William Lane Craig: It’s offered as an explanation of the appearances; but in fact, it does not explain why the disciples came to believe Jesus was risen from the dead. For you see, given the typical Jewish mentality about beliefs in the afterlife, they would have believed that Jesus would have gone to Abraham’s bosom, to Paradise, where the souls of the righteous dead would be with God until the Resurrection at the end of the world. And therefore, if they had hallucinated visions of Jesus, they would have projected visions of him as exalted, in Heaven, where God had taken him up until the resurrection at the end of the world. But that, at most, would have led them to proclaim the assumption of Jesus into Heaven or the glorification of Jesus in Heaven, not his literal resurrection from the dead. For the Jew, the resurrection was an event that took place in space and time, in history. And therefore something more is needed than just hallucinations of the dead man to explain why they came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus rather than merely his translation into Heaven.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, the fourth historical fact accepted by all historical scholars is that the disciples believed Jesus appeared to them and proved he had risen from the dead.
- Dr. N. T. Wright: The origin of Christianity is actually itself one of the most extraordinary phenomenon in the history of the world. AD 20, “there ain’t such a thing as a Christian church.” By AD 120, the emperor in Rome is getting worried letters from one of his proconsuls off in northern Turkey about what to do about these Christians. So in that century you have this extraordinary thing suddenly appearing out of nowhere. And all the early Christians for whom we have actual evidence would say, “I’ll tell you why it’s happened. It’s because of Jesus of Nazareth and the fact that he was raised from the dead.”
- Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, once we face these four historical facts squarely, namely, the honorable burial of Jesus, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and the disciples’ belief that Jesus was risen from the dead, these four facts call for the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead.
- Dr. Gary Habermas: We have framed this argument to take facts which believers and unbelievers hold in common. And what we want the critic to understand here is, these are your facts. They’re in your books. They’re in everybody books. The disciples believed they saw the risen Jesus. How do you stop this path from thought they saw to really saw? You come up with a naturalistic theory. And I want them to take one of those and run with it. Don’t hide behind “something” happened. Tell me what these facts indicate. I think we’re pushing straight toward the resurrection of Christ.
- Dr. William Lane Craig: I believe that when you assess the various alternatives, the various live options, using the ordinary canons of historical assessments, the best explanation for the facts is that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, if God did raise Jesus from the dead, what was he trying to tell us?
- Dr. Darrell Bock: I think the Gospel is the good news that God has provided a way to come into your life forever, not as a ticket, but into a relationship. And he has provided the way to that relationship through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Not only the sacrifice for sins, but the provision of his very own Spirit coming into your life so that you can relate to God on a healthy level and overcome the sinfulness that is inherent in you. And the good news is that God is committed to that relationship; so committed to that relationship that he sent his only son to die that it might take place. And the only requirement that exists – it’s a serious requirement – the only requirement is that you believe that he’s done that for you and, in faith, you ask for that relationship through Jesus Christ. It’s that simple, and that demanding. Because once God comes into your life, he’s in it to do a marvelous work, a work that grounds you in a relationship with God that will never end.
- Dr. John Ankerberg: And so the search brings us to this point. What have we found?
- Dr. Craig Evans: If a person is going to say, “Jesus is not going to be important in my life, I’m not going to believe in him,” then they’re going to have to say that for other reasons besides historical. The evidence is there, the sources are there, the picture is clear and coherent, and in my academic opinion, the picture is quite compelling.
- Dr. N.T. Wright: Therefore, the historian, whether that historian be a secularist, a Muslim, a Christian, whatever, the historian has to say, “How do we explain the fact this movement spread like wildfire with Jesus as the Messiah, even though Jesus had been crucified?” The answer has to be, “It can only be because he was raised from the dead.”
- Dr. William Lane Craig: So that the claim of the resurrection of Jesus alone makes him unique among religious figures of the world. The fact that we have good evidence for it makes it more than unique. It makes it astonishing.
Appendix: Who are the Scholars?
(This information is valid as of the time this program was recorded. Information and affiliation may have changed since that time).
Dr. John F. Ankerberg: President and founder of The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute; host and moderator of the weekly television program The John Ankerberg Show; Doctor of Ministry degree from Luther Rice Seminary.
Dr. Gabriel Barkay: Archaeologist and former professor of archaeology at Tel-Aviv University. He is a lecturer at the Jerusalem University College. He was awarded the Israel Prize for archaeology last year and is regarded as the foremost authority on the necropoli of Jerusalem (e.g. he excavated the Ketef Hinnom tombs where the silver amulet – oldest biblical inscription – was found). He is an expert on tombs and burial practices during the time of Jesus.
Dr. Craig Blomberg: Ph.D. in New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke and Acts, at Aberdeen University in Scotland. Previously he was senior research fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge, England.
Dr. Darrell L. Bock: Research Professor of New Testament Studies and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture, Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas. Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Dr. Magen Broshi: Former curator of the Shrine of the Book, Museum of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jerusalem. He is a recognized archaeologist and scholar on the Second Temple period, having excavated the most recent discovery of caves at Qumran. He has authored numerous articles in journals on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian connections. Excavated first-century level at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and defends it as most reasonable place for crucifixion of Jesus.
Dr. William Lane Craig: earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, England, before taking a doctorate in theology from the Ludwig Maximiliens Universitat-Munchen, Germany, at which latter institution he was for two years a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, studying the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Having spent seven years at the Katholike Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, he is currently a Research Professor at Talbot School of Theology.
Dr. Craig Evans: Ph.D. in New Testament from Claremont Graduate School and is the Director of the Graduate Program in Biblical Studies at Trinity Western University, where he has taught since 1981. He has lectured at Cambridge, Durham, and Oxford and frequently speaks at scholarly and popular conferences in North America and around the world.
Dr. Weston Fields: Graduate of Grace Theological Seminary and former professor at Western Seminary. Ph.D. from the Hebrew University with dissertation on Sodom & Gomorrah tradition. Present Director of the Dead Sea Scroll Foundation which supports the translation and publication of the scrolls and funds excavations for new scrolls. He has written numerous articles on the Christian connection with the scrolls and is an expert on Jesus and Jewish messianism in the Second Temple period.
Dr. Hillel Geva: Archaeologist on staff with the Israel Exploration Society and editor of leading Hebrew journal on Biblical Archaeology – Qadmoniot. Has worked with some of the most important archaeological excavations in Jerusalem since 1967 and was editor of scholarly book Ancient Jerusalem as well as author of many articles in leading journals. Works also as a guide for the State of Israel with Christian groups and is well-versed in archaeological backgrounds and connections with Christian sites.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy and chairman of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Dr. Amy-Jill Levine (A. J.): E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Nashville, Tennessee. Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University.
Mrs. Claire Pfann: Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, University of the Holy Land, author, and an expert on Jewish birth practices and culture of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus.
Dr. Stephen Pfann: Director of the Jerusalem School for the Study of Early Christianity and of the Nazareth Village. He is well-published in the area of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Dead Sea Scroll concordance, journal of Roland DeVaux, excavator of Qumran settlement) and has been assigned the Daniel fragments from Cave 4 for translation and commentary and also is working on the mysterious Angel Scroll. He is a leading scholar in the area of Jesus and his cultural and social background in the Second Temple period.
Dr. J. Randall Price: President of World of the Bible Ministries, Inc.; Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in Middle Eastern Studies with a concentration in Hebrew and Archaeology with graduate work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has been involved in archaeological excavations in Tel-Yin’am, Jerusalem and is the current director of the Qumran Plateau Excavations Project in Israel.
Dr. Ben Witherington III: Ph.D. from University of Durham, England; currently Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary;
Dr. N. T. (Thomas) Wright: present Canon Theologian of Westminister Abbey 2000; Doctorate in Pauline theology from Oxford; ordained Anglican priest.
Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: History Professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. One of the leading experts in the United States in biblical archaeology and the history of the Christian religion. Ph.D. in Mediterranean studies, focusing primarily on the study of ancient languages. While studying in Israel he participated in the excavation in Jerusalem uncovering parts of the marble pavement of the ancient Herodian Temple which was destroyed during the days of Jesus.