With this point, Craig said he was going to switch gears a bit. "We've been saying that if we have good reasons to believe in God, then we can believe in miracles," he said. "I've been giving reasons that point toward God's existence. But miracles themselves also can be part of the cumulative case for God. That's true, for instance, of the Resurrection. If Jesus of Nazareth really did come back from the dead, then we have a divine miracle on our hands and, thus, evidence for the existence of God."
I asked Craig to recap why he believes the historical evidence points toward that conclusion-"But," I stressed, "don't assume that the New Testament is the inspired word of God." He agreed for the sake of his answer to consider the New Testament to be merely a collection of first century Greek documents that can be subjected to analysis like any other ancient records.
"There are at least four facts about the fate of Jesus that are widely accepted by New Testament historians from a broad spectrum," Craig began. "The first is that after Jesus was crucified, he was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. This is important because it means the location of the tomb was known to Jew, Christian, and Roman alike."
"What evidence do you have for this?" I asked.
"Jesus' burial is reported in extremely old information that Paul included in his first letter to the church in Corinth.30 This information can be dated to within five years after Jesus' death, so it wasn't legendary. Further, the burial story is part of very old material that Mark used in writing his gospel, and his story lacks signs of legendary development. There are no traces of any competing burial story. What's more, it would be inexplicable for anyone to make up Joseph's involvement, since he was a member of the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus.
"The second fact is that on the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. This is substantiated by Paul's early report to the Corinthians, which implies the empty tomb, and by Mark's very old source material. So again we have early, independent attestation.
"And we have a lot more. For instance, the empty-tomb story lacks signs of legendary embellishment, and the earliest known Jewish response to the proclamation of Jesus' resurrection presupposes that his tomb was empty. In addition, it's reported that women discovered the tomb empty. Now, the testimony of women was considered so unreliable that they couldn't testify in Jewish courts. The only reason to include the highly embarrassing detail that women discovered the empty tomb is that the gospel writers were faithfully recording what really happened.
"The third fact is that on multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. This is almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars for several reasons.
"For example, the list of eyewitnesses to Jesus' resurrection, provided by Paul to the Corinthians, guarantees that such appearances occurred. Given the early date of the information and Paul's own acquaintance with the people involved, this cannot be dismissed as legendary.
"Also, the appearance narratives in the gospels provide multiple, independent attestation of the appearances. Even the skeptical New Testament critic Gerd Ludemann has concluded: 'It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.'3i
"The fourth fact is that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their predisposition to the contrary. Jewish beliefs precluded anyone's rising from the dead before the general resurrection at the end of the world. Even so, the original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus that they were willing to die for that belief. New Testament scholar Luke Johnson said: ' Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was.'"32
"Okay, then," I said, "what do you think is the best explanation for these four facts?"
"Frankly, there is absolutely no naturalistic explanation that fits," he replied. "All of the old theories like 'the disciples stole the body' or 'Jesus wasn't really dead' have been universally rejected by modern scholarship.
"Personally, I think the very best explanation is the same one provided by the eyewitnesses: that God raised Jesus from the dead. In fact, this hypothesis easily passes all six tests that historians use in determining what is the best explanation for a given body of historical facts."33
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