Evidence of the Resurrection: Part 1 – Internal Evidence

Just as we test the historicity of any event, not through emotional conviction, but with historical evidence, I would like to devote some time to laying out a brief historical case for the Resurrection of Christ, the central issue of the Christian faith.

Here is what we need:

1. Internal Evidence: Evidence coming from within the primary witness documents, the New Testament.

2. External Evidence: Collaborative evidence coming from outside the primary witness documents.

Internal Evidence:

  • Honesty
  • Irrelevant Details
  • Harmony
  • Public Extraordinary Claims
  • Lack of Motivation for Fabrication

The entire Bible records both successes and failures of the heroes. I have always been impressed by this. It never paints the glorious picture that you would expect from legendary material, but shows them in all their worst moments. The Israelites whined, David murdered, Peter denied, the apostles abandoned Christ in fear, Moses became angry, Jacob deceived, Noah got drunk, Adam and Eve disobeyed, Paul persecuted, Solomon worshiped idols, Abraham was a bigamist, Lot committed incest, John the Baptist doubted, Abraham doubted, Sarah doubted, Nicodemus doubted, Thomas doubted, Jonah ran, Samson self-served, and John, at the very end of the story, when he should have had it all figured out, worshiped an angel (Rev 22:8). I love it! (ahem).

And these are the Jews who wrote the Bible!

In addition, the most faithful are seen as suffering the most (Joseph, Job, and Lazarus), while the wicked are seen as prospering (the rich man). In the case of the Gospels, the disciples who recorded it claimed to have abandoned Christ and did not believe in His resurrection when told. Even after the resurrection, they still present themselves as completely ignorant of God’s plan (Acts 1:6-7). Women are the first to witness the resurrection which has an element of self-incrimination since a woman’s testimony was not worth anything in the first century. If someone were making this up, why include such an incriminating detail? (I am glad they did—what an Easter message this is for us today!)

Irrelevant Details:
The Gospel writers (especially John) contain many elements to their story that are really irrelevant to the big picture. Normally, when someone is making a story up, they include only the details that contribute to the fabrication. Irrelevant details are a mark of genuineness in all situations.

Notice this small segment of the Gospel of John 20:1-8 (HT: Gregory Boyd, but modified):

“Early on the first day of the week (when? does it matter?), while it was still dark (who cares?), Mary Magdalene (an incriminating detail) went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one who Jesus loved (John’s modest way of referring to himself—another mark of genuineness) and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have taken him!” (note her self-incriminating lack of faith here). So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. They were running, but the other disciple out ran Peter and reached the tomb first (who cares who won the race? a completely irrelevant detail). He bent over (irrelevant, but the tomb entrance was low—a detail which is historically accurate of wealthy people of the time—the kind we know Jesus was buried in) and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in (why not? irrelevant detail). Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb (Peter’s boldness stands out in all the Gospel accounts). He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head (irrelevant and unexpected detail—what was Jesus wearing?). The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen (somewhat irrelevant and unusual. Jesus folded one part of his wrapping before he left!). Finally the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went inside (who cares about what exact order they went in?)

The four Gospel writers claim to have witnessed the resurrected Christ. The same is the case for most of the other writers of the NT. The four Gospel writers all write of the same event from differing perspectives. Although they differ in details, they are completely harmonious to the main events surrounding the resurrection, and all claim that it is an historical event. Many people are disturbed by the seeming disharmony among the Gospels since the Gospel writers do not include all the same details. However, this is actually a mark of historicity since if they all said exactly the same thing, it would be a sign that they made it up. However, the Gospel writers contain just enough disharmony to give it a mark of genuine historicity.

Public Extraordinary Claims:
The Bible records that the resurrection of Christ happened and gives the time, place, people involved, and it names many of the witnesses. In other words, the extraordinary claims were not done in secret as would be the case if it were fabricated. Look to all the ancient myths and you will see how obscure the mythology has to be in order to claim historicity. Why? Because if you give too many details of times, people, and places it can be easily disproven. If it was a fabrication, the author should have said only one person knew about it. He should have said it happened in a cave or a place no one has ever heard of. We have those type of stories that start religions.

Lack of Motive for Fabrication:
There is no reasonable explanation as to why the Apostles (or anyone for that matter) would have made up such a story. They had no popularity, power, or riches to gain from it if it was a lie. They were in constant persecution because of their confession, and finally, most met a terrible death, sealing their testimony in blood.

Beyond this, it was culturally unacceptable at all levels to have a crucified and resurrected Messiah. The Jews certainly were not expecting their Messiah to be crucified. The Greek world would have nothing but disdain for the idea of a bodily resurrection. Therefore, for this idea to arise as a fabrication at this time in history would have been about the most counterproductive story anyone could have made up.

It could not have been an illusion, for illusions do not happen in mass over time. It could not have been a case of mistaken identity (i.e., they merely thought they saw Christ), since it is impossible to explain how this many witnesses could be mistaken about seeing someone dead and buried, and then seeing the same person alive three days later. It could not be that Christ did not really die, since the Romans were expert executioners, and many people helped in the burial process, wrapping Christ in burial cloths as was their custom. It could not have been made up since all the objectors (and there were plenty of them) had to do was to produce a body.

In the end, all other alternatives for the resurrection, while possible, are completely improbable and take a greater leap of faith than believing that Christ rose from the grave.

Next I will cover the external evidence.

147 Responses to “Evidence of the Resurrection: Part 1 – Internal Evidence”

  1. “The four Gospel writers claim to have witnessed the resurrected Christ. ”

    Do the four Gospels really claim to be eyewitness accounts? Luke?

  2. “In the end, all other alternatives for the resurrection, while possible, are completely improbable and take a greater leap of faith than believing that Christ rose from the grave.”

    Improbability is the most subjective of conclusions. Given that there is a God who does miracles, then the resurrection is barely worth a mention. Otherwise, it is pretty hard to swallow. It all depends on where you start.

  3. Michael:

    You do a wonderful job on this blog.

    Since I believe that the Bible is the word of God I need not further proof if any were possible. The willingness of the Apostles to die for this teaching is convincing to me. The phenomenal growth of the early Church is convincing to me. The most convincing thing to me is my own experience with the Living Lord Jesus.

    In Christ,

  4. I am going to have to second Scott F on his two points. The writer’s (compilers) of the Gospels were themselves not an eyewitness, maybe John, if he wrote John. Also, no reasonable historical investigation would conclude that a man rose from the dead. That is my problem with trying “prove the resurrection”. I believe, and I understand and appreciate your reasons for having faith, but for me that last step of believing a man rose from the dead is strictly a faith step.

  5. I do like your point about harmony. To me the fact that the Gospels were not exactly alike points to a higher likelihood that the events could have happened. If I asked four people to describe a car wreck right after it happened I would probably get four stories that got the main points right but differed greatly on the details. The fact that the Gospels, 30 to 50 years after the events, describe the same story so closely, says a lot.

  6. Nate, of course the last step to every issue is a “faith” step. Even when I go to sleep at night, it is a “faith step” that I will wake up. The issue is the warrent for such faith. Some faith steps are irresponsible leaps contrary to the evidence. Others, like belief in the resurrection, are responsible beliefs according to the evidence.

    I agree with you both though, it should have been worded differently—they are based on eyewitness accounts (or at least claim to be).

  7. I have a few things I could say about this, but since there already seems to be some pushback, I’ll only pick one.

    “It was culturally unacceptable at all levels to have a crucified and resurrected Messiah.”

    First of all, it is irrelevant that the Greeks would have found the idea of bodily resurrection disdainful. The gospels were written by Jews with Jewish sensibilities for whom bodily resurrection was actually a cardinal feature of their eschatology.

    Second, while the idea of a crucified Messiah was certainly a scandal, the resurrection is actually the only way one could possibly overcome this scandal. Claiming that Jesus rose from the dead and would return some day to complete his Messianic mission is the only way to prevent Jesus’ death from being a complete embarrassment to his Messianic claims. In some ways, it even tries to turn this apparent weakness into a strength. After all, what greater confirmation could there be of Jesus’ authority than for God himself to raise him from the dead?

    I think that this is actually a pretty good reason to make up the story of the resurrection. Some of your other arguments are a little bit stronger, particularly the testimony of martyrdom. I’m curious to see how others will respond.

  8. The resurrection once believed might be used to overcome the shame of the cross if people could be made to believe it. But what motive would people have to believe it. The logical response to a crucified candidate for Messiah is to write him off as another fake. A few fanatical friends might try to float such an idea but why would anyone outside the immediate circle believe them. Yet this belief continued to spread widely and was eventually accepted as the official belief of the Roman Empire. How is that explained?

  9. Mike B.

    In High School I had a friend that was talking boldly and arrogantly and then got “jumped” (beat up) by several other guys that didn’t like the way he was talking.

    My response cowardly as it was, was to rationalize my lack of assistance to my friend by saying, “he shouldn’t have said all of those things”. Did I try to replenish his image afterward? No, as cowardly as it was, I wanted to distance myself from him. My friend was a real person that I would have to look in the eye from time to time. Jesus if not resurrected was a dead guy! Easy to forget and deny association with. That would have been the natural response of the Apostles, it is contrary to human nature to want polish a dead persons image at the cost of your own life.

  10. Indeed, Christianity stand or fall with the Resurrection of Christ. I appreciate your blog. I like to share what I learn from Dr. Habermas ‘Minimal Facts’. He list six though there is a longer version of twelve minimal facts. These facts are generally accepted by majority of ‘critical scholars’ who actually studied this subject. Each facts when expanded will devastate skeptics challenge such as Swoon Theory, just to name one. His book The Risen Jesus and Future Hope is a good start.
    When he comes on ‘Converse with scholars.’ it would be nice to have him expand on his Minimal Facts to really appreciate it.

  11. ScottF Improbability is the most subjective of conclusions. Given that there is a God who does miracles, then the resurrection is barely worth a mention. Otherwise, it is pretty hard to swallow. It all depends on where you start.

    Nate Hardee Also, no reasonable historical investigation would conclude that a man rose from the dead. That is my problem with trying “prove the resurrection”.

    Yet the disciples consistently pointed to the resurrection as proof.

    Evidence of the resurrection is an appropriate type of proof. It may be reasonable to have presuppositions, but when the evidence accumulates to prove them incorrect it is time to abandon them. Yes it is difficult to believe in the resurrection of the dead if you deny God or miracles. But when the evidence shows the resurrection is true it is time to change the denial of these things.

  12. CMP,

    Thank you for this post . There is a vocal lot of ex-Evangelicals out there trying hard to unevangelize the faithful. Attacking the resurrection of Jesus is key to maintaining their position. No one who has recanted their faith has In my knowledge done so because of evidence against the resurrection. Only after being overcome by doubts about the problem of evil, eternal suffering of the damned, blood-thirsty behavior by OT Jews sanctioned by God, etc. have they then sought for plausible scenarios to explain away Easter.

    That said, I think that we do need to think more critically about the discrepancies in detail and tone of the 4 accounts. Rather than saying glibly “the Gospel writers contain just enough disharmony to give it a mark of genuine historicity” I’d rather say “the contain the kind of disharmony one would expect of eyewitness accounts recorded many years after the fact.” The fact that there are truly irreconcilable differences in details supports the historicity of the four accounts on the “main events,” as you say. If it were a made up story, the details would have been more harmonized.

    So my question is, can evidence of human fallibility in recounting the events of the death and resurrection, actually be evidence for the historicity of the resurrection?

  13. Well this might not be the most appropriate forum to post this thought but I would be interested in feedback. I look at this week as the most important historically in all of mankind so, am I wrong to be angry that there is so much made of candy and the Easter bunny and egg hunts? I mean, what gives with this crap?

  14. Horn,

    Don’t misunderstand me…I am not saying that the disharmony is based on human failure in any way, it is just the fact of having various historical witnesses who all attest to the same event with different details that creates the possibility of disharmony, but in now way a necessity of seeing is as such. I think that all of the accounts can be harmonized well.

    I might have worded the original wrong though.

  15. Mike B. #7-

    One difference, as pointed out by NT Wright, is that the role of messiah, mission, and authority of executed messiahs had previously been passed along to that of a relative. But not in this case. Even though the brother of Jesus, James, took a leadership role, he still pointed to the resurrected Jesus as the Messiah and Authority.

    Also, some of mentioned the need for a different “worldview” (belief in miracles, etc…) to see how the Resurrection is possible and real.

    N.T. Wright touches on these and some other points in this brief clip.

  16. Michael,

    I really don’t find that any of these arguments have much weight.

    As it relates to (1) honesty –the gospel writers would not have had the women to be the first to witness the resurrection, there are other explanations which could explain this. One would be that the gospel writers are actually using a literary technique to bolster their claim. IOW, since people would assume it unlikely that they made up the story of women being the first, the fact that they did adds credibility to the story (just as you conclude). Another explanation, and I find this one more likely, is that the “empty tomb” story developed much later in the tradition and a natural question would arise, “why are we just now finding out about this”? There is no mention of the empty tomb in Acts nor is there any mention in Paul’s epistles. By having the women be the first to discover the empty tomb, it became somewhat understandable to the first readers of Mark as to why this was not revealed earlier (i.e., the embarrassment factor) and in addition, Mark he says that the women were afraid and told no one.

    Concerning (2) the inclusion of irrelevant details in John 20, this is probably the weakest of all your arguments. Most good story tellers will include what might seem to be irrelevant details. We see it all the time.

    Regarding the (3) harmony , this can be explained simply on the fact that Matthew and Luke made use of Mark’s document and John may have too and of course they all made use of oral tradition. As you admit in the comment section, the gospel writers were not eyewitnesses but had to rely on source material that was available to them.

    (continued in next comment)

  17. (continued from previous comment)

    In reference to the (4) Public Extraordinary Claims , it seems to me that it could have been much more public. If the risen Jesus had appeared to Pilate or Herod or the High Priest, and this had been documented in non-canonical sources, you would have a strong case for the resurrection. The fact that Jesus only appeared to his followers makes it much more suspect in my opinion. If the account of Joseph of Arimathea is genuine, then it seems that Peter would have mentioned him on the day of Pentecost and said something like: “Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and its now empty. You can go and look for yourselves. You can also ask Joseph if Jesus was really dead and what he thinks happened.” Joseph would have been the star witness for the resurrection and yet he is not mentioned at all outside of the gospels. As for the non-believers producing the body to silence the disciples, there are two problems. One, if Jesus was buried as criminals were in those days, it may have been impossible to locate his particular grave. Second, even if they had produced a body on Pentecost, it would have been so badly deteriorated that no one could have made a positive identification.

    As it relates to (5) Lack of Motive for Fabrication, I don’t believe the early Christians made up the story. I think that one or more of them experienced something they interpreted to be the risen Jesus. As these stories were told and retold, a lot of embellishment took place until eventually you have an empty tomb, Jesus eating fish, and so on. One thing we know from contemporary visions of Jesus is that the percipients are sincere. They really believe they have seen something.

    (continued in next post)

  18. (continued from last comment)

    If people are thoroughly convinced that they have experienced something real, they will stake their lives on it, especially if it has religious ramifications. The evidence of this among non-Christian religious people is seen throughout history and today.

    So, I don’t think your arguments are too convincing UNLESS one has already by faith accepted the canonical gospels to be the divinely inspired Word of God. If one wants to believe in the resurrection of Jesus because it seems true to him (ala Plantinga) or because he believes he has experienced the risen Jesus in his own life (ala Craig), then that is fine. I believe, however, that they should be honest about the real reasons and not try to pretend that their faith is based on historical evidence.

  19. Thank you for a marvelous blog of The Resurrection.

    Frankly, I’ve long been a skeptic. I question what I read in newspapers, magazines and books, and what I hear on the radio, in the movies, on TV and from podiums and pulpits. I remember when the Chicago Tribune’s front page ran a big banner headline saying something like “Dewey Wins” or “Dewey Beats Truman.” I’ve read old Science textbooks that contain “facts” that today seem rediculous.

    But if a weather forecast says there’s an 80% chance of rain, I take an umbrella with me when I go out. If a fire alarm sounds in a building where I am, I evacuate quickly. And when I was a boy 70 or so years ago, junior skeptic that I already was, I believed that if I ate meat on Friday I’d go to Hell. My point is, whether we admit it or not, we all accept many statements as true based on what most folks call “faith.”

    There’s enough evidence to accept that the Resurrection actually occured. That’s obvious. Is there proof? Proof? There’s absolute proof of nothing.

    Few statements, if any, can be absolutely proved, not even that two lines parallel will never meet.

  20. People in the first century claimed to see a resurrected man. These people were so committed to their belief in the resurrected man that they started a new religion and some of them died for their beliefs. Shouldn’t that convince us of the reality of what they claimed to see?

    I don’t necessarily think so. I would suggest comparing these claims from the first century with claims from the 20th century of people who say they saw aliens from outer space. There are many, many claims and many eyewitnesses who are still living today. As Stephen Law asks: Aren’t these people justified in taking their experiences at face value? And aren’t we justified in supposing, on the basis of their testimony, that at least some of these subjects have indeed met, been probed by, etc. aliens? He answers, “No,” and gives five reasons. He then uses those same five reasons to dismiss religious visions .

    I highly recommend his discussion to anyone who has not already made up his or her mind about the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

  21. Re: 20. Ken Pulliam:

    I think your statements are a reason the Acts and Corinthian/Galatians-mentioned workings of the Holy Spirit have to be given a greater place in Christian life and worship. I.e., it wasn’t just the resurrection appearances/accounts that proved the Messiahship of Jesus. It was also the realized promise and experiences of the outpouring(s) and workings of the Holy Spirit.

    Reading the book you recommended/linked to on VISIONS OF JESUS has been faith-confirming for me. Thanks again for alerting us to it.

    Re: alien visitations. Funny you should mention this. I was somewhat personally acquainted with a well-known purported abductee, Karla (Kandy) Turner (now deceased). I also had a friend, a strong Evangelical Christian and a highly intelligent degreed physicist and philosopher, who had personal experiences with both poltergeists and the “grays.”

    Life is strange.

  22. Or maybe the resurrection appearances were instances of encephalitis:

    (Truly weird story – anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis)

  23. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Christ was witnessed by over 500 brethren.

    It’s unlikely that over 500 people would have the same exact ideas, beliefs and experiences.

    It is reasonable to belive that if they all saw the same miraculous event, they would all be in agreement that, “Yes, we saw a resurrected Jesus”

    It is unlikely that with that number of witnesses, that if someone wanted to fabricate details about such an event, they would not be soundly corrected by someone (or many) who was (were) a witness(es)to the event.

    It is also unlikely that you could get that many people to lie about and event like this.

  24. Does anyone really think that Paul interviewed each one of those 500 people? Isn’t it more likely that someone told him a story about Jesus appearing to 500 people and Paul believed it. No doubt Paul believed that many of those five hundred people were still alive and that they would testify to having witnessed the appearance, but that does not mean that Paul had any first hand knowledge of their claims. The fact of the matter is that Paul is the only one who gives a first person report of an appearance of the resurrected Jesus. All the others are second hand at best.

  25. Vinny #24-

    “The fact of the matter is that Paul is the only one who gives a first person report of an appearance of the resurrected Jesus. All the others are second hand at best.”

    John and Matthew may disagree with you, if they are the writers of those gospels, but even if you are correct, does that impact the reliability of the accounts? Paul is not the only one giving the report of many seeing the resurrected Christ (1st hand or 2nd hand).

  26. Damon,

    You said: It’s unlikely that over 500 people would have the same exact ideas, beliefs and experiences.

    First, as was pointed out by Vinny, the 500 Paul mentions are anonymous, no details are give as to when and where they supposedly saw Jesus and no way to fact-check any of it.

    Second, just 10 miles from where I live, back in the 1990’s thousands of people on multiple occasions claimed to see the Virgin Mary. They apparently had the same exact ideas, beliefs and experiences .

  27. Vinny #24

    Vinny, I appreciate the skepticism. The fact that should be in question is not whether Paul interviewed all 500, but whether the 500 brethren exisited. Either they did or they didn’t. You could argue that they did not…but none of the other NT writers disagreed or corrected Paul…and they easily could have. I believe Paul was stating a know fact, not his opinion and not a heresay account. You could argue otherwise….

    You state that “…that does not mean Paul had any first hand knowledge of their claims” and this is possible.

    Maybe Pauld did not have had first hand knowledge, but maybe he did have first hand knowledge–there is nothing to suggest he didn’t. We only have Pauls testimony. Since most of the brethren were apparently alive at this time and these letters were widely circulated, I would suggest either the ‘500’ did not exist or they heard what Paul wrote and agreed.

    Since the title of the post is “Evidence for the Resurrection” and we both agree that Paul was, at the very least, a first hand witness to the resurrected Jesus…then the argument for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is still viable.

  28. Vinny #24

    Remember that in an honour/shame society making a claim of 500 witnesses, when you couldn’t produce anything close to that number would see you solidly clipped around the ear. Also, that section is generally regarded as a Creed dating back to within 5 years of the crucifixion. It was indeed what Paul received, handed down.

    Ken Pullian #16

    Here we go round the mulberry bush… (1) honesty, apparently the disciples were so convinced of their falsehood that they placed females (regarded as only half as good a witness as a man) as the fictional first witnesses to an event (that didn’t happen) in order to convince others that it happened. What a brilliant idea! [/sarcasm] Arguments from silence, which is all your assertions about the mention of the tomb in Acts are, simply beg the question. Christians (as Paul was addressing in his letters) would have already known about the tomb. Non-Christians in Jerusalem would already have known about it (something about a seal on the stone to keep it shut springs to mind). Non-Christians outside Jerusalem are rarely addressed.

    (3) harmony I would have said, not necessarily eye-witnesses, however Church tradition from the earliest days has been that Matthew and John were the writings of eye witnesses, and Mark was based on Peter’s teachings. Luke of course claims to be the record of other witnesses, compiled orderly.

    (4) public extraordinary claims once again, a whine about how if only Jesus had done x, y, z we’d have far more evidence and then the atheist could complain that he should have done m, n and o instead. Once again, as Matthew records, the Temple elders sealed the tomb and set a guard (although I’m sure atheists claim this didn’t happen either) so they could find the tomb if they wanted. Pulling out a body of approximately Jesus’ height and build with the marks of crucifixion would have all they’d have needed.

  29. Ken Pullian #26

    Or perhaps they did have a vision of the Virgin Mary? Without actually assuming that they didn’t we’ve no reason to doubt their experience.

  30. Ken,
    Basically all you said in a nutshell is that you disagree what the inference to the most likely explanation from the data should be. The criteria behind what CMP is explicating are the widely accepted criteria for judging the authenticity of any ancient document.

    It is clear that you have a non-supernatural bias and will look for a natural explanation no matter how unlikely. So when someone points to the self-incriminating details rather than admitting that this is something that historically is a hallmark of authentic eyewitness documents you will instead insist they simply put in those incriminating details to bolster their case (which is odd considering the modern criteria for authenticity didn’t come to be used until modern times – somehow they must have known almost 2000 years ahead of time what would make their documents appear more authentic). Or when someone points out the numerous people who claimed to see the risen Christ you will say “well he didn’t appear to X,Y, and Z so it’s not enough”. I’ve even seen claims by individuals claiming Christianity was actually a Judaic cult that did hallucinogenic drugs and the whole thing was an acid trip.

    Ultimately the burden of proof for a supernatural event for you would be it happening to you personally it would seem (and even then you would likely doubt it). I agree that the historical claims here do not “prove” Christianity in a beyond the shadow of a doubt way and I don’t think CMP is saying they do. However, they do make the inference reasonable and warranted. The only reason one would think otherwise is that they’ve determined a priori that there is nothing supernatural.

  31. Jason,

    You said: Pulling out a body of approximately Jesus’ height and build with the marks of crucifixion would have all they’d have needed.

    Which would have been what? Another interesting fact is that the gospels nowhere tell us anything about Jesus’ physical appearance.

    In addition, we know there were at least two other people crucified at the same time as Jesus, how do you know they were not of the same approximate height and build of Jesus?

    You also said: Or perhaps they did have a vision of the Virgin Mary? Without actually assuming that they didn’t we’ve no reason to doubt their experience.

    Most evangelicals I think would be highly dubious of the various claims that people have made to see the Virgin Mary if for no other reason than Mary’s messages associated with these appearances contradicts evangelical theology.

  32. Michael T.,

    I have not determined a priori that the supernatural does not exist. I am open to the possibility but I would like to see some decent evidence.

    Do you believe the appearances of Mary at Conyers, GA, and Medjugorje, Bosnia are genuine? If not, why not?

    Do you believe that Jerome’s claim that he saw Jesus and Jesus ordered him to be scourged is true? If not, why not?

    Do you believe that the claims of Ramakrishna to have seen the Hindu god Kali as well as Muhammed are true? If not, why not?

    Do you believe the claims of 30 different people interviewed in Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the New Testament to Todayare real? if not, why not?

  33. Fellas, what it comes down to is not whether or not you can produce other scenarios than that which history suggests, but whether or not those other scenarios are compelling to militate against the evidence. Again, I have written about this before.


    Especially here for the philosophical epistemic underpinning:

    I could produce alternative explanations for the assassination of JFK or the landing on the moon (and, believe me, there are plenty of them out there).

    Michael has said correctly that if you start with an anti-supernaturalistic bias (i.e. you are an atheist who is looking to support an atheistic worldview), you will not be able to see this evidence as supportive of the resurrection and therefore MUST come up with alternatives, no matter how unlikely.

    As well, if you are emotionally committed to the resurrection, you are going to say “bravo” and “amen” to everything I have said because it confirms your prejudice.

    In the end, there is so much more to the mystery of belief than we realize. All I have done here is produce a case that makes it intellectually viable to believe in the resurrection of Christ, at least, or intellectually responsible to believe in the resurrection of Christ, at most.

    I will not say which it is, I will simply say that if you don’t admit that belief in the resurrection is viable, it is a strong indication that your presuppositions are your primary guide, not the evidence.

  34. Michael,

    You said: I will simply say that if you don’t admit that belief in the resurrection is viable, it is a strong indication that your presuppositions are your primary guide, not the evidence

    I guess it depends on what you mean by viable. Is the resurrection possible based on the limited evidence we have? Yes. Is it likely, not in my opinion.

    I think your presupposition or bias argument against the supernatural is not valid. You are biased to believe in the resurrection because of your Christian experience and/or training and thus the amount and quality of evidence you need is far less than one who say was brought up as a Muslim. The Muslim is not biased against the supernatural just your supernatural.

  35. Ken, we are all bias to believe whatever mom and dad (or any respective authority which we respect in our lives). That is just the way it is. Anyone who does not admit to this is simply flipping a multiple sided coin.

    Our experiences cause us to be bias. Our emotions cause us to be bias. These are about the two most powerful factors that, left unchecked to some degree, determine what it is we believe. This certainly does not discredit us. We just need to know how to evaluate our experience in a critical way attempting to step outside them to interpret reality. Easier said than done!

    Conversions from one side to another don’t really increase credibility too much in my opinion and should not be used in a heavy-handed way. Christians use atheists that convert to Christianity or theism (such as Anthony Flew). Catholics use Protestants who convert to Catholicism (Peter Kreeft) and vice-versa. Biases are recreated at this point as commitments change. We must be ready to change to conform to the truth.

    In the end, the beliefs that I have concerning the resurrection, and 2000 years of Christianity, have much warrant. Could it be clearer? You bet! Why isn’t it? I don’t know…a fly in the ointment of my beliefs.

    Sure you can draw a narrow parallel between alien sightings and the resurrection, but these must be seen in the context of implications that they have as well as the type of evidence that is present, both internal and external.

  36. As well, I might note, I have seen people go through bouts of serious clinical depression that causes them to lose all their faith and interpret all the data in a completely different light (and I am dealing with someone now in this position). And I have seen people who don’t experience such things that never doubt at all, but I wonder if they truly believe since belief is so natural and easy.

    There is a great mystery in belief and unbelief. I think Ruth Tucker’s book on this subject is very well done and open ended enough to see that she is truly trying to understand this mystery.

    Why did you quit believing? All we can do is listen to your testimony, but the evidence is strong enough in favor of Christianity to make us all thing (and I am sure you would admit) it is much deeper than this.

    However, as my current series of blog posts has been wrestling with, we still need to cover all our bases as Christians even if I don’t have a magic formula to bend biases, emotions, and experience. They are simply too powerful. That is why Christians are firmly committed to the finality of the power of God to change hearts. And this is one of the primary reasons why I am am a Calvinist! But that is a minor issue in the bigger picture that is being discussed here.

  37. One thing that needs to be remembered is that Christianity had critics from the very beginning. Galen the physician criticized them, men such as Celsius wrote books against them, people spread wild rumors about them. If the evidence for Christianity was as flimsy as some would claim it to be would it not have been cut off at the knees before it spread anywhere and if Christianity was a mystical experience that slowly became an historic fact would that have not constantly be thrown in Christians faces.

  38. Thank you one and all for a wonderful discussion from both sides of the fence.

  39. Hi,

    You are presenting some sophisticated evidence here… A very good job indeed. I am going to subscribe to your RSS feed. I want to read all the blog articles of this series… Specially I like the part in which you stress out the irrelevant portions found in the Gospels which gives evidence that the writers were honest…

  40. 1. Internal Evidence: Evidence coming from within the primary witness documents, the New Testament.

    2. External Evidence: Collaborative evidence coming from outside the primary witness documents.

    Internal Evidence:

    * Honesty
    * Irrelevant Details
    * Harmony
    * Public Extraordinary Claims
    * Lack of Motivation for Fabrication

    Simply put, the claim of “Lack of Motivation for Fabrication” is ridiculous since the document is the basis for your entire claim of the existence and reporting of everything in support of your beliefs.

    Where is the secular, independent, contemporaneous evidence that supports your claims? Josephus is not valid since the only sections even remotely related is known to be forgeries and not accepted by the vast majority of scholars.

    Any work close to the time is not at the time of the events and occur long after the claimed events.

    So since your entire belief is based upon a claimed work without any proof of who wrote it is not traceable your whole theory falls apart.

    In responding please do so with only secular non biased sources and remember only those who have nothing at stake or is taken in whole or part from the Bible or the NT.


  41. I feel that every discussion with Ken is the same:

    1. We make an argument.
    2. He says (in effect), “Is that the best you can do?”
    3. We say, “Is that really all you can say in rebuttal?”
    4. They go back and forth for awhile
    5. At this point, someone calls out someone else for bias…(which is true)
    6. The other party mentions that we are all biased…(which is true)

    Seriously though, as someone who has read Lüdemann, Crossan and even the radical Price, I’ve gotta say that arguments like these are actually faith building. As with any discussion there are questions that arise early on, but as the alternatives work themselves out and I really think through the alternatives, I always end up thinking that for the data alone (independent of worldview issues), the resurrection is the best explanation.

    But, as NT Wright said about his philosophy professor who read his book on the resurrection, thought it was a powerful argument, but chose to believe some other yet to be confirmed explanation, “Fine, that is as far as I can take you, the rest requires a complete shift in worldviews.” I think those of us in the more Reformed corners of Christianity would completely agree.

    From what I know about Ken, I think he would agree as well. All of my friends who are former atheists (at least the ones who became Christians as adults) will attest that they didn’t used to see the world in the way that they see it now. Everything is radically different, and it was much more than simply believing the evidence for the resurrection (which was a catalyst in some cases). [Insert something about Thomas Kuhn, haha]. Of course, I would say that it was the work of the Holy Spirit. On the side of the spectrum, the same could be said about those who are agnostics now (like Ken). When he embraced his agnosticism it was a radical shift in perspective, much more than simply choosing to believe that their may be another explanation for the data on the…

  42. TFR,
    I’m not going to get into a fight (in fact, chances are that I will never read this comment thread again), but your argument has a serious problem:

    You say, “In responding please do so with only secular non biased sources and remember only those who have nothing at stake or is taken in whole or part from the Bible or the NT.”

    1. There is no such thing as a non-biased source. Every source comes from a “somebody” and every “somebody” is subjective. History is always told through a biased perspective. For instance, which do you consider more “non-biased,” CNN, FoxNews or MSNBC? Your answer depends on your personal bias. None are non-biased, not even close.

    2. By asking for only “secular” sources, you are saying that you will only accept evidence in favor of the resurrection from people who deny the resurrection? Do you see the problem here? You are begging the question. If they are already known as “secular” sources, then they manifestly do not believe that the resurrection happened. Of course, if they believe the resurrection happened and tell about it, recount firsthand accounts, etc., then they are by definition not “secular.”

    3. If a “secular” historian were to say that Christians claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead, you would simply respond that they were just claiming what we already knew the Christians believed. This happens all the time in discussions on Tacitus or Pliny the Younger, right?

    4. If a non-Christian, 1st century document were to be found written by a Jewish or mystery cult member claiming that they knew of someone who saw the disciples steal the body from the tomb, would you believe it? Would this count as evidence? If you think it would count, then you shoot yourself in the foot, because this would clearly not be either a “non-biased” or “secular” source.

    I hope that helps you see the problems with your criteria for acceptable evidence.

  43. Amigo and others here…
    I am asking for evidence other than the book and those based upon that book which is only geared to promote your beliefs.

    For example, show us where any secular, non christian governmental entity at the time claimed for the accounts you say is the major basis for your beliefs that actually prove any of this occurred.

    Like the dead walking the streets of the town, city or even milling about around it. Certainly something of that magnitude would show up someplace. Even Josephus commented about the color of the buildings and conditions. This obviously overtly mundane report about those particulars would pale in comparison to the resurrected dead coming back to life, the sun standing still, the earth quaking and please don’t tell me or anyone else that they were too far away to notice or felt it if it happened.

    This isn’t meant to incite, just inquire and discuss the topic as presented. Take a look at this link and then follow the instructions asked to see if any of you can do this as you are all such knowledgeable people on the subject or at least should be able to produce a simple time line using just the alleged facts contained in your NT:

    Or try this one:

    That covers Paul and his allegedly written letters.
    Try those and I can post many more to which anyone is welcome to respond to and about civilly. This is about discussion of the topic and should be considered carefully in your response since many here contend their beliefs and justifications for them are valid, well then convince everyone that you can.

    Try it and stick to the terms of the challenges. The first one you use only the NT and the other secular sources please not biased to support something proved to faked to support a religion.

    T(hanks) F(or) R(eading)

  44. To Amigo, as to biased sources here is the problem with using the NT and things based upon it to “prove” your point.

    1. The book was not written at the time of the events;
    2. No one can prove the people the work is purported to have been written by are the actual people stated and/or that those people mentioned are real people;
    3. No secular contemporary source gives any supporting data to back up the NT claims of Jesus, the Disciples and the alleged events taking place and/or such claim are of such a magnitude that they would have been noticed and reported regardless;
    4. The portions people claim to follow are so full of contradictions they simply ignore it when asked to explain them;
    5. The portions that are often relied upon as absolutes are the very same ones that are ignored when it becomes troublesome to adhere to them by the very same folks who force them on others.

    I can continue but that is more than enough to keep you busy in responding to. Please do try and keep the proselytizing to a minimum if you do.

    (Alockslee is the name and TFR means Thanks For Reading)


  45. Amigo said:”3. If a “secular” historian were to say that Christians claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead, you would simply respond that they were just claiming what we already knew the Christians believed. This happens all the time in discussions on Tacitus or Pliny the Younger, right?”

    Check the following link for more about your listed claimed “sources”

    That is just one of very many that do away with your “sources”

    As to your last sentence, please try to stay on tract and not engage in circular reasoning or trying to pretend to argue a point when you aren’t but only stating your opinion and then acting as if it is supporting the premise your sources can’t. You next jump to an assumption and act as if they are proof when the source material you rely upon doesn’t stand up as valid or accepted by independent secular sources that real historical events are tested and stand up because of the existence of secular evidence, while your material has nothing beyond itself or that of something a follower produced to bolster their beliefs.


  46. In response to Jen #31

    You first have to prove that the lack of physical description of Jesus allows for a actual person.

    Next you have to prove this isn’t a conglomeration of the past deities prior to this time and a creation to match the needed persona.

    Move on to the fact that the written material you have is not original but only copies at best to something that is not supported by any source from secular entities which would be unbiased or in the extreme biased against and would go to better prove the existence far better than an account that is nothing more than a purported work to invent such a person and religion.

    The NT lacks the necessary support form contemporary outside sources of a secular nature that exist and prove other facts from the same period. So why doesn’t anything exist to prove a learned rabbi who would have to know how to read and write to become a rabbi not exist but you claim works exist from his followers that according to you would have been destroyed just as your claims to why nothing exists form the main person of your religion.

    Your arguments do more to disprove your faith than it does to bolster it. If the surviving works exists and has survived then certainly any work for the Master or leader of it would have been preserved at any cost. And to continue to state that this being you claim to be god couldn’t insure that absolute proof survived to prove his existence is plain silly.

    With every effort your position becomes so transparent and indefensible it is reduced to utter nonsense. You must prove your sources with the same proof that others historical figures are made to do and until you do, you are left without any reasonable expectation of even a foundation to start from. The NT is not ptoof nor is it usable in any manner until you can prove the validity of the material and the authorship beyond doubt.

  47. Is that quote from Greg Boyd, the same Greg Boyd who is an Openest teacher?

    I like it. And the Bible does prove it’s truth by the integrity of the writers.

    I like Dr. Luke’s secong Epistle wher he begins by saying:

    “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself ALIVE to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:1-3

    I share this scripture verse with my atheist friends.

    Have a blessed Easter! Jesus truly is our living Lord and Savior and Friend!

  48. I am wondering if Michael Patton is willing to amend the article so that there is no claim that Luke claims to have seen the resurrected Christ, and anything else along those lines that would need correcting. Otherwise, please let us know where the basis is for the claim that Luke claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ, etc.

  49. Other than that, I think the general five points about why the documents seem authentic and true, and also the four points about the external evidence, are all totally valid. The “rebuttals” to these seem to be about certain specific claims in the article that miss the big picture. A specific is about producing the body … while there could be many reasons why the corpse wasn’t produced besides just a resurrection, this misses the general point that there was plenty of time and motivation to create the arguments that would prove the whole account to be a fabrication in the early centuries, yet such arguments were not produced, or were not united. There was a story, for instance, that the disciples stole the body at night, but nobody has explained how they could have gotten past the guards, or tried to produce evidence that the guards weren’t there, … etc.

  50. Having followed the link to the rational responders site there are a couple of things I would like to note. This post seems to assume that the resurrection was just an interesting historical that anyone might comment on as a curiosity. It was a claim of what was regarded as a fanatical sect which secular historians would have avoided to not embroil themselves in this kind of controversy. The proof of this is that all but three of the sources listed (Seneca the younger is marginal) were alive after the persecution of Christians by Nero attested by both Tacitus and Suetonius. If these people did not mention Christ or Christians even to show that they were a sect who had made their founder up it can only be that they did not want. A understandable response to a touchy religious controversy.
    That Christian did not refer to the relevant passages in Josephus does not prove they were not there but they did not feel they needed to. I see no evidence that anyone in the early denied the historicity of Jesus, whatever they thought of His claims.


  1. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? « who am i? - April 2, 2010

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    […] Evidence of the Resurrection Part I – Internal Evidence and Evidence for the Resurrection Part II – External Evidence – [Reclaiming the Mind] – C. Michael Patton does the opposite of the cable networks and takes the Easter season to offer a defense of the resurrection. […]

  4. Is There Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? – Justin Taylor - April 2, 2010

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  6. The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! « 1.21 blog - April 4, 2010

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