Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Evidence and Proof

By Rory Roybal

Resurrection of Jesus Christ — Evidence and Proof

The Uniqueness of Proven Bible Evidence

At first, I was skeptical of all religions. The reason I initially considered Biblical Christianity is because it is the only belief system massively supported by historical evidence that can be objectively verified. It has the only set of ‘scriptures’ in the world filled with real places, real people, real historical accounts, and real scientific claims that are proven accurate when critically investigated. The Bible is also the only record that had a significant amount of future prophecy when written (~1/3). Man-made religions don’t come close to matching up to the overwhelming and flawless physical evidence that has been thoroughly examined and verified from the Bible.

The Legal Perspective of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and Character

Simon Greenleaf was Royal Professor of Law at Harvard and a main founder of the Harvard Law School. He wrote the famous legal volume A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which many consider to be the greatest legal volume ever written. Greenleaf was a skeptic firmly set against Christianity, and taught his students Christianity was false. When one of his students challenged him to investigate evidence for Christianity for himself, he set out to disprove the Biblical testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Greenleaf was certain that a careful examination of the internal witness of the Gospels would dispel all myths at the heart of Christianity, and disprove it once and for all. However, this legal scholar concluded Bible eyewitnesses were reliable, and that Christ’s bodily death and resurrection were objective fact. If anyone should be qualified to state the reliability of Christ’s resurrection as an actual historical event according to the laws of legal evidence, it is Greenleaf. After years of exhaustive research and analysis, Greenleaf concluded

“The foundation of our religion is a basis of fact – the fact of the birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection by the Evangelists as having actually occurred, within their own personal knowledge … it was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually rose from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact.”

Simon Greenleaf, LL.D., The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence, Grand Rapids, MI, Kregel Classics 1995.

Regarding the character of Jesus Christ portrayed by the Evangelists, Greenleaf determined:

“ the great character they have portrayed is perfect. It is the character of a sinless Being ; of one supremely wise and supremely good. It exhibits no error, no sinister intention, no imprudence, no ignorance, no evil passion, no impatience; in a word, no fault; but all is perfect uprightness, innocence, wisdom, goodness and truth.”

Simon Greenleaf, LL.D., Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists, by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, with an Account of the Trial of Jesus, Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown 1846, p. 67.

Eyewitnesses to the Resurrection and Miracles of Jesus Christ

The entire framework of the Bible is based on reliable eyewitness accounts, which are the strongest form of legal evidence. These accounts include multiple eyewitness testimonies of the unique birth, life, miracles, death, bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Eyewitnesses included many people who knew Christ face to face for three years, such as the Apostles, so they could not have mistaken His identity. They saw, heard, touched, ate and drank with Christ after His bodily resurrection for 40 days. This overwhelming physical evidence overcame their initial incredulity and disbelief. They were so sure of their experience that they were also willing to die for what they knew to be true. People may sometimes die for a lie, but for a large group of individuals to all willingly endure severe persecution throughout their lives and die torturous deaths for something they know to be a lie (which they certainly would have known), doesn’t happen.

There are many miracles recorded in the gospel records, but not a single conflict in prepositional logic among the accounts. Therefore, there is no logical or historical reason to consider these accounts as invalid (barring devotion to the atheistic/naturalistic ‘religious’ assumption that miracles are impossible). As expected with genuine eyewitness accounts, and as I have personally witnessed in jury trials, different witnesses in the Bible’s Gospel records naturally focus on different people and events. If the Gospel accounts matched exactly, this would make their independence suspect, and they would be less credible from a legal perspective.

Even Christ’s disciples had a very hard time believing His resurrection, though He specifically predicted this and told them in advance. In fact, they rejected it over and over until they saw Him with their own eyes, heard, touched and ate with Him. Their initial skepticism is understandable, but they were finally overwhelmed by verifiable evidence. The reactions of people recorded in the Bible seem very natural, and add credibility to the accounts.

Witnesses who saw Christ alive and well after His death and resurrection were numerous at the time these events were recorded, and they were certainly carefully examined at the time. If these eyewitnesses were not credible, Christianity would have stopped before it started, since Christianity is foundationally based on the divine identity, physical death and bodily resurrection of Christ. When one examines evidence objectively according to standard application of the mature science of legal and documentary evidence, the resurrection of Christ is shown to be one of the best proven facts of history.

Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam all hold to the miracle of God’s special creation of the universe and life, but only Christ proved He is the Creator and Messiah by His well authenticated miracle of bodily resurrection from the dead. All leaders of ‘religions’ are dead and buried, but as Creator, Christ alone was victorious over physical death, and is the only One we must follow.

Historical and Archeological Accuracy of Old and New Testaments

Nelson Glueck was one of the greatest modern archeologists, an ordained Rabbi, and former president of the Hebrew Union College and Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. He personally discovered over 1,000 ancient sites, including the copper mines of King Solomon and the ancient sea port of Ezion Geber. After studying archeological evidence for the Bible for decades, he said:

“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”

Dr. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert: a History of the Negev, New York, New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy 1959, p. 136.

The renowned Sir Frederic Kenyon was a leading authority on the reliability of ancient manuscripts, and is considered to have been one of the greatest Directors of the British Museum. He drew this conclusion:

“The interval then, between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

Kenyon, F. G., The Bible and Archaeology, New York and London: Harper 1940, pp. 288, 89.

Sir William Ramsay, an eminent British scholar and archaeologist, was a Professor at both Oxford and Cambridge. He was raised as an atheist and skeptic and was convinced the Bible was fraudulent. He believed Luke’s writings were not historically sound, and that travels of the Apostle Paul recorded in the book of Acts were the weakest part of the New Testament. Therefore, he set out to disprove the book of Acts by personally tracing the Apostle Paul’s journeys, spade in hand. However, his own extensive 15-year field investigation of Near East archaeology in Bible lands forced him to completely reverse his position. He stated:

“I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.”

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of facts trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense … In short this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”

Sir William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 1915, pp. 81, 222.

Of Ramsay’s book, Josh McDowell, Christian author and former skeptic, writes:

“The book caused a furor of dismay among the skeptics of the world. Its attitude was utterly unexpected because it was contrary to the announced intention of the author years before … for twenty years more, book after book from the same author came from the press, each filled with additional evidence of the exact, minute truthfulness of the whole New Testament as tested by the spade on the spot. The evidence was so overwhelming that many infidels announced their repudiation of their former unbelief and accepted Christianity. And these books have stood the test of time, not one having been refuted, nor have I found even any attempt to refute them.”

Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers 1972, p.365.

Academia’s Outdated Bible Teaching

Our academic institutions generally teach false and disproven information about the Bible to unwitting and trusting students. The idea that Bible authors and historical events are not as internally stated and that the Old Testament is inconsistent with the New are common claims among skeptics, widely taught and accepted in higher academia as fact.

However, so-called ‘higher criticisms’ of the Bible still generally taught in university religion or philosophy courses have been completely discredited by the last century of archeology and rock solid manuscript evidence. Their ideas are obsolete, so much so that no leading historian today would dare challenge historicity of the Biblical text (all of it) and destroy their own professional reputation, regardless of theological beliefs.

Many professors still teach outdated and unfounded hypotheses and are aware they are obsolete, but don’t want to change their course material for obvious personal reasons, and some have gone on record saying it would simply be too much work to change their curriculum.

Unified Old and New Testaments

The Old and New Testaments form a tightly integrated whole, and are not disjunct as skeptics often claim. The New Testament was written almost exclusively by Jews well versed and believing in the Old Testament. Much of the New Testament is exposition of the Old Testament by those who were in a position to know it best, and they directly quoted the Old Testament approximately three hundred times in the New. Paul the Apostle was an ex-Pharisee from the eminent school of Gamaliel, and Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament. Many of the Pharisees had the Old Testament completely memorized, and Jesus Christ Himself said:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18).

It is hard to imagine any stronger statement of reverence for the Old Testament, and in no cases do New Testament writers contradict it.

The Mature Science of Documentary Evidence

The mature discipline of documentary evidence is to determine whether recorded events are credible. It demands one look for things mentioned in documents that can be objectively verified, such as names of cities, cultural practices, names of people, and well known historical events.

The Bible has been intensely investigated in this area probably more than any other book, in no small part due to intense desire of skeptics to disprove it, but much also by people who are objective researchers and those who wish to further substantiate it. New Testament accounts are precisely true according to this rigorous and objective science, despite unfounded objections of skeptics.

Precise Bible Accuracy

Evidence for accuracy of the Bible is overwhelming, the greatest of all ancient books. There are over 40,000 extant New Testament manuscripts for comparison as of this writing, and less than .0015% statistical chance of textual errors This amounts to a few verses maximum, and none of those are direct statements of Jesus or change any basic tenets.

William Albright was a Biblical and archeological scholar who mastered more than 26 ancient and modern languages. He stated:

“The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phrases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.”

Albright, William F., The Archaeology of Palestine and the Bible, Ada, MI: Revell 1935, p. 127.

Millar Burrows, renowned Professor of Archaeology at Yale University, exposed the cause of persistent unbelief:

“The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural.”

Burrows, Millar, What Mean These Stones? New York, NY: Meridian Books 1956, p. 176.

Early Writings

Dr. John A. T. Robinson, lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge, and one of England’s most distinguished scholars, originally accepted ‘late dating’ of New Testament books. After investigating, however, he concluded that the New Testament is the work of the apostles themselves or of those who directly worked with them (such as Luke). He dates every book of the New Testament before 70 A.D., even including John’s gospel which was previously considered by many scholars to be the latest.

At one time, John’s Gospel was said by scholars to have been written no earlier than 150 years or so after Jesus’ lifetime. But then a fragment of papyrus was discovered in Egypt and acquired by the John Rylands Library in England. It was discovered that Fragment 52 of the John Rylands papyrus, dated to 135 A.D. or earlier, contained portions of John 18. In other words, what is thought to be the latest New Testament book can now be conclusively dated to within at least fifty years of John’s estimated lifetime, if not sooner.

William F. Albright, one of the world’s foremost biblical archaeologists, wrote:

“We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80.”

Albright, William F., Recent Discoveries in Biblical Lands, New York, New York: Funk and Wagnalls 1955, p. 136

In summary, the most current discoveries and research indicate that all the books of the New Testament were written within fifty years after the events they report, which would have been during the lifetimes of eyewitnesses, as the Bible internally claims.

First Century Eyewitness Manuscripts

Early manuscripts were written and distributed long before existence of the Roman Catholic Church, or Gnostic or Montanist counterfeit ‘gospels’ popularized in the fictional Da Vinci Code book and movie. Therefore, any supposed deviations would be revealed in extensive manuscript evidence.

Until a few years ago, the oldest assumed manuscript was the St. John papyrus (P52), housed in the John Rylands museum in Manchester, and dated at 120 A.D. (Time, April 26, 1996, p.8). Thus, it was thought the earliest New Testament manuscript could not be corroborated by eyewitnesses to the events. That assumption has now changed, for three even older manuscripts, one each from the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke have now been dated earlier than the Johannine account.

The Lukan papyrus, situated in a library in Paris, has been dated to the late 1st century or early 2nd century, so it predates the John papyrus by 20-30 years (Time, April 26, 1996, p.8). However, of even more importance are the manuscript findings of Mark and Matthew. New research has now been uncovered and published in a recent book The Jesus Papyrus by Matthew D’Ancona and Dr. Carsten Thiede, mentioning a fragment from the book of Mark found among the Qumran scrolls (fragment 7Q5) showing that it was written sometime before 68 A.D. It is important to remember that Christ died in 33 A.D., so this manuscript could have been written, at the latest, within 35 years of His death; possibly earlier, and thus during the time that eyewitnesses to that event were still alive!

The most significant find, however, is a manuscript fragment from the book of Matthew (ch. 26) called the Magdalene Manuscript. Using a sophisticated analysis of the handwriting of the fragment with a state-of-the-art microscope, Dr. Thiede differentiated between 20 separate micrometer layers of the papyrus, measuring the height and depth of the ink as well as the angle of the stylus used by the scribe. After this analysis Thiede was able to compare it with other papyri from that period; notably manuscripts found at Qumran (dated to 58 AD), another at Herculaneum (dated prior to 79 AD), a further one from the fortress of Masada (dated to between 73/74 AD), and finally a papyrus from the Egyptian town of Oxyrynchus. The Magdalene Manuscript fragment matches all four, and in fact is almost a twin to the papyrus found in Oxyrynchus, which bears the date of 65/66 AD. Thiede concludes that these papyrus fragments of St. Matthew’s Gospel were written no later than this date and probably earlier.

This suggests that we either have a portion of the original gospel of Matthew, or an immediate copy which was written while Matthew and the other disciples and eyewitnesses to the events were still alive. This would be the oldest manuscript portion of the Bible in existence today, one which co-exists with the original writers!

ref. Matthew D’Ancona and Dr. Carsten Thiede, The Jesus Papyrus, New York, New York: Galilee Trade, 2000.

An Avalanche of Evidence

There are even more manuscripts written in Latin and Syriac (Christian Aramaic), some of which were written as early as 150 A.D., such as the Syriac Peshitta (150-250 A.D.).

There are also over 32,000 quotations from the New Testament found in writings from before the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Quotations of the Scripture in the works of early church writers are so extensive that the New Testament could virtually be reconstructed from them without the use of New Testament manuscripts. Sir David Dalrymple sought to do this, and from the second and third century writings of the church fathers he found the entire New Testament quoted except for eleven verses! Thus, we could throw the New Testament manuscripts away and still reconstruct it with the simple help of these letters, e.g. Clement (30- 95 A.D.), Ignatius (70-110 A.D.), who knew the apostles directly and quoted from 15 of the 27 books, and Polycarp (70-156 A.D.), a disciple of John.

The evidence at our disposal today provides us myriads of manuscripts with which to corroborate our current New Testament. The earliest of these manuscripts have now been dated earlier than 60-70 A.D., within the lifetime of the original writers, with an outside possibility that they are the originals themselves. On top of that we have 15,000 early translations of the New Testament, and over 2,000 lectionaries. Finally, we have scriptural quotations in the letters of the early Church fathers with which we could almost reproduce the entire New Testament.

Rock Solid

From a documentary standpoint, it is difficult to imagine how evidence for the life, miracles, physical death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ could be stronger. From a scholarly perspective, the default assumption of truth goes to the authors, and the burden of proof is on others to clearly prove why the consistent eyewitness accounts are not true based on fallacious internal or external evidence.

Skeptics almost always take an unscholarly approach, revealing extreme bias against the message, simply because they don’t want to believe what God says in His Word. As of today, manuscript evidence is rock solid, so we definitely have in our hands what was originally written, and the Bible’s consistent eyewitness accounts are worthy to be believed.

All evidence we could reasonably expect for the life, miracles, resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ is in our hands today. Credible eyewitnesses carefully recorded dates, times, and events, and these written records are supported by overwhelming manuscript evidence according to the reliable and mature discipline of documentary science. This evidence aligns precisely with well known historical events, further substantiating eyewitness testimony.

If the Bible is 100% accurate on events which are provable (including hundreds of fulfilled prophecies, present in no other religions), it should be considered accurate for events with no human eyewitnesses, and for which God Himself is the only eyewitness. These events include God’s creation of the universe and future events, which no man can know from direct experience, but will determine the eternal destiny of each of us.

How Will You Respond to Christ’s Love?

God has revealed His incredible love to us through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but will we accept and love Him in return?

By far, the Bible has much more historical and manuscript evidence to substantiate it than any other ancient text. According to standard literary analysis, the Bible should be considered accurate and historical unless proven inaccurate, like all other ancient documents.

Jesus Christ is the Creator of the universe and life, which He proved by well authenticated miracles that showed complete power over nature and death. Because the Creator so loves us, He humbly came to serve, and give His life a ransom to redeem us so we can be reunited with Him. God wants a restored, living, loving relationship with each one of us, not dead ‘religion’ or rituals, and this relationship may only be established through the living Jesus Christ.

Historical evidence and proof for the life, miracles, physical death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is thoroughly substantiated, clearly proving He is our Creator and Savior. If you have not already done so, don’t wait, but from the heart, humbly turn and be personally reconciled to the living Christ by faith now. It will be the best decision you ever make, and you will know the reality of God’s love by personal experience for eternity.

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