Is The Resurrection Historically Reliable? -- By: Jared M. Compton

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 22:4 (Fall 2009)
Article: Is The Resurrection Historically Reliable?
Author: Jared M. Compton


Is The Resurrection Historically Reliable?

Jared M. Compton

Introduction

Is the Resurrection historically reliable? It depends on whom you ask. The human writers of Scripture, particularly Paul and the gospel writers, seem to have thought so. In fact, Paul went so far as to suggest that if Jesus did not rise, Christianity is nothing but a blind alley—a fool’s hope (1 Cor 15:14). To be sure, a good number of people think Christianity, along with its tale of resurrection from death, is precisely that—a tale. They routinely suggest that the Resurrection did not happen, and that the existing records (especially the gospel accounts) are themselves the problem. These records, it is claimed, are simply the late and largely fictitious creations of that strand of Christianity eventually dubbed “orthodox” (much to the chagrin of the competitors it snuffed out). Therefore, we must ask, can the history Scripture teaches be trusted, or has the alternative view gotten things right?

Evidence

The alternative view has gotten things wrong, because it erroneously assumes two things about Scripture’s account. First, it wrongly assumes the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection were written long after the death of the historical Jesus (i.e., the Jesus nearly everyone admits lived and died in the first century). Second, it mistakenly assumes these later writers fabricated the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, so that the historical Jesus would match the Christ they were already worshipping. To deal with these false assumptions, we must show that the records are both early and filled with details not likely to have been invented by later Christian groups. We will do this by noting three firm facts.

Fact 1: The Empty Tomb

This fact is supported by three considerations. First, Jesus was buried in a well-known tomb. This is important, because if the location of Jesus’ tomb was uncontroversial, the claim by the early Church that Jesus had vacated His tomb could be easily verified (or, for that matter, discounted). That Jesus’ tomb was well known is attested by material both early and non-legendary. Mark’s gospel, written no more than 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and itself based on even earlier sources, mentions that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Mk 15:43). This early detail was not likely a fictitious insertion by later Christian authors. After all, Joseph was a member of the Jewish Council (or Sanhedrin; Mk 15:43). In other words, why would later Christians invent a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist helping Jesus? Had the early Christians created this detail, the Jewish author...

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