The reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb must remain the cornerstone of any apologetic for the Christian faith.
Time and again we must challenge unbelievers or agnostics to honestly examine the evidence we have for the resurrection. There are a good number of up to date and clearly written books on the topic, but this article provides a good, short summary.
One of the key arguments against the evidence of the New Testament itself is that these documents were produced by the early church, and are therefore biased and unreliable. Some also argue that the New Testament documents are written so long after the events as to be unreliable.
This must be taken seriously, so let’s examine the evidence. New Testament scholarship places the authorship of the entire New Testament before the turn of the first century. So at the latest the New Testament was completed no more than seventy years after the events of Christ’s death. However, more and more evidence is emerging of early dating of the gospels–placing their authorship before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Therefore, the stories of Jesus Christ and the resurrection were composed well within the lifetimes of eye witnesses of these events. We must remember that there were eyewitnesses who were both Christians and enemies of the Christian faith. We must also remember that the New Testament documents were public documents. They were written and circulated to be read in public. The eyewitnesses would have corrected the accounts if they were not accurate.
There are only three options when considering the New Testament documents: 1) that the documents record real events recounted by real eyewitnesses 2) the authors were sincerely deluded about events and exaggerated “resurrection stories” that others had told them 3) they were intentionally constructing a ‘myth’–a meaningful story to convey certain truths about Jesus.
The second option could be possible except that the eyewitnesses would have corrected them. The third is possible except that the stories are presented as historical and have all the feel of real events–complete with unpredictable and unfortunate (for the believers) details like the fact that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women–and again–the eyewitnesses would have corrected them.
Therefore, if we want to ascertain the truth, we must regard the gospel narratives as being basically reliable accounts of what people experienced. As in all accounts of historical events, we make allowance for blurring of details, fuzzy memories and different perspectives, but the fact that these human frailties exist in the accounts make them feel and sound all the more reliable.
We also have to examine the motivations of those who wrote the gospel accounts. If the accounts are an intentional, well meant hoax what could be the motivation for it? Why would anyone develop such a preposterous story and promote it? Why would they risk their life for it–eventually enduring torture and martyrdom? What did the authors of the New Testament have to gain? They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Indeed, the fact that they did go on to lose everything give more credence to their claims.
Finally, the critic will claim that other religions have miracle stories, and that their founders endured much misunderstanding, persecution and hardship. Joseph Smith and his vision of the angel Moroni comes to mind, or the message of an angel to Mohammed. First, neither of these claimed experiences come close to the claim of the resurrection from the dead, but secondly, a short examination of the lives of both Mohammed and Joseph Smith will show that they not only had a fair bit to gain through the advancement of their religion (wealth and power and sex with young girls for instance) but they did actually claim these things.
The same cannot be said of the apostles–who’s sole reward was martyrdom.