Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event? – Fact 3

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Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event?

Did only people who were friendly to Jesus claim to have seen him after his resurrection?  The last few weeks we’ve been examining the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, using the Minimal Facts Approach.  I’m presenting the five minimal facts that are so well historically confirmed that they are accepted by nearly every scholar, even the skeptical ones.  Two weeks ago we looked at the first fact, Jesus died by crucifixion.  Last week built upon that with the second fact, Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.  The last three facts support the first two.

4-5 resurrection investigate

Fact 3 : The Church Persecutor Paul was Suddenly Changed

Saul of Tarsus, better known to most of us as the Apostle Paul, was a devout Jew who believed it was God’s will for him to persecute and imprison member of the new Christian church.  He was going about doing that when he suddenly changed and became one of the church’s most influential messengers and leaders.

In his letters to three different churches Paul writes of his change from persecutor of the church to promoter. The story of his conversion is also recorded in the book of Acts.  It also seems that the story of his dramatic change was going around the region of Judea within three years of his conversion.  Paul hinted at this in writing to the Galatians that though they did not know him by sight, they had heard the report that “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (Galatians 1:23)  So multiple sources report his sudden change but what could bring this radical change about?


Both Paul himself and Luke, in Acts, report that it was because Paul firmly believed that he had experienced an encounter with the risen Jesus. (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:9-23; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8)  Paul’s conversion is so interesting because he was an enemy of Jesus and the church when he claimed that he saw the risen Jesus appear to him!  And so the resurrection of Jesus is testified to by both his friends and an enemy.  We saw in the introduction to this series of posts that confirmation by an enemy strongly supports historical claims.

What’s more, we must realize that Paul’s sudden change came at a great cost.  Someone might say, “People do change their minds and positions sometimes, what’s the big deal?”  However this wasn’t like Rush Limbaugh suddenly supporting a Democrat candidate for President, as shocking as that would be.  Remember what Paul was doing when he was converted.  He was persecuting the church.  He was imprisoning Christians under the authority of the Jewish leaders and he had been there at the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.  Luke reports that Paul was, “still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” (Acts 9:1)

As shocking as it would be for Rush to support a Democrat, he wouldn’t be persecuted, imprisoned or possibly killed for it.  Paul was so convinced that he had seen Jesus, risen from the dead, that he chose to go from being an authorized and empowered persecutor to being one of the persecuted!  Paul began preaching about the risen Jesus even though that meant that he would suffer greatly for it and it would end in his martyrdom.  This is well documented by Paul himself, Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth and Origen.

Friend and Foe Alike

So not only did Jesus’ friends and followers so firmly believe that the risen Jesus appeared to them that they were willing to suffer for their testimony, so too was Paul, the once great enemy of the church.

As we continue to add these five minimal facts I think you can see that they build a very strong case.  Any alternate theory has to account for not just one, but all five facts.  For example, one could say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and lied about the resurrection, as the Jewish leaders did.  However (aside from the fact that that seems unlikely given the disciple’s willingness to suffer and die for their claims) how does that explain how an enemy of the church came to claim he had seen the risen Jesus and went from persecutor to persecuted?  And it will become even more difficult for any other theory to explain all the facts once we add the final two.

Come back next week for Fact 4: The skeptic James, the brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.

Source: The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona

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Posted on by Reasons for Hope 315 in Evidence for the Resurrection

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