Truth is not negotiable. Historical statements of fact are not open to question. When we read, for example, that George Washington and his men spent the winter of 1777 enduring wretched conditions at Valley Forge, we are obligated to believe it. Although none of us observed their long, deadly winter, what we know about it is supported by the written testimony of those who were there and by the scholarship of later inquirers who studied the Revolutionary War. The written accounts may differ on a few minor details, but we know that we can trust the record of the historians.
In a historical sense, the resurrection stands on ground that is just as solid as the story of George Washington’s winter at Valley Forge. Reliable witnesses wrote about meeting and talking with Jesus after His death. Skeptical enemies noticed His disappearance from the tomb. Extrabiblical, historical reports were given of His resurrection. Eyewitnesses of Jesus’ postdeath appearances died defending their belief in it.
In order for an honest historian to be convinced that something actually happened, he needs to see two specific criteria met: (1) The event in question must be supported by the testimony of believable, trustworthy witnesses. And (2) the circumstantial evidence must be authentic. When both of these demands are clearly supported by the evidence at hand, the inquirer is compelled by logic to believe that the event actually took place. We will see that each of these criteria is met by the things we know about the resurrection.
Even so, some still don’t believe. To make that refusal, a person must not only reject the eyewitness accounts and the circumstantial evidence, but he must make an even greater leap. The person who thinks that the resurrection is a fraud or a hoax must reject the entire New Testament. There can be no picking and choosing. If the resurrection is a hoax, then so is the New Testament and everything Jesus said or did. Claiming that Christ was a great teacher or a prophet—as even most unbelievers attest—while rejecting His resurrection is an impossible position. Consider what Jesus said during His ministry— before the crucifixion:
The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day (Lk. 9:22). For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Mt. 12:40).
Think about it. Wouldn’t we consider a man who made such wild claims to be untrustworthy if he couldn’t follow through on his predictions? Instead of calling such a person a great teacher, wouldn’t we call him a charlatan and a threat to mankind? There can be no middle ground. If Jesus did not do what He said He would do, He must be rejected completely. And along with Him go the Old Testament (because of its predictions of the Messiah’s coming), the trustworthiness of Paul (who converted to Christ at the cost of beatings, imprisonments, and banishment from his former colleagues), and 2,000 years of church history (which rests solely on the resurrection).The evidence to be presented in the next few pages is based on the biblical and historical data as we know it. We will see why both secular and religious scholars find Jesus to be a captivating, historical person. So, let’s get logical. Let’s take a hard look at the evidence that gives us reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.