Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event? – Fact 5

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Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Real Historical Event?

Easter is just a week away and today we wrap up with the fifth historical fact in what I could call my Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. We’ve been examining the evidence for the resurrection using the Minimal Facts Approach presented by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.  This deals with the five minimal facts that are so well historically confirmed that they are accepted by nearly every scholar, even the skeptical ones.  Check out the four previous posts if you missed them.

4-5 resurrection investigate


Fact 5 : The Tomb was Empty

This fifth fact doesn’t have as wide an acceptance among scholars as the previous four but still an impressive majority of about 75% accept it.  What’s more there is strong evidence for it.  Let’s look at that evidence.

The Jerusalem Factor

tombJesus was publicly executed in Jerusalem.   Then his after death appearances and empty tomb were first proclaimed publicly in Jerusalem.  That being the case, it would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if the body had been in the tomb.  His enemies in the Jewish leadership and Roman government would have only had to exhume the body and display it to bring an end to it all.  But not only are Jewish, Roman and all other writings missing any such account, there is total silence from Christianity’s critics who would have jumped at this sort of evidence.  Certainly the 2nd century critic Celsus would have mentioned it when writing against the resurrection but no such mention is made.

Some have said that by that time the body wouldn’t have been recognizable so they didn’t produce it.  However, it is reported that they began proclaiming it about 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion and in the arid climate there, a corpse’s hair, stature, and distinctive wounds would still have been identifiable.  Besides that, regardless of the condition of the body, the enemies of Jesus would still have found benefit in producing the corpse.

Enemy Confirmation

Enemy confirmation is strong evidence and the empty tomb is not only reported by Christian sources but Jesus’ enemies confirmed it as well, even if indirectly.  Rather than produce a body, early critics accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body.  This is reported by Matthew, Justin Martyr and Tertullian.  There would have been no need to account for the missing body if it was still in the tomb.  This is the only early opposing theory that we know of that was offered by Jesus’ enemies.  So they indirectly confirmed that the tomb was empty.

You Wouldn’t Make That Up

If someone was making up a story to deceive others, we wouldn’t expect them to invent parts of the story that would hurt the credibility of their story.  This is the principle of embarrassing testimony.

Let’s consider one of the interesting details of the story of the empty tomb.  Who were the primary witnesses of the empty tomb? Some of the women followers of Jesus were.  Not only are women the first witnesses mentioned, they are mentioned in four gospels whereas male witnesses only appear later and only in two gospels.

So what?  This would be a very odd invention when you consider how the testimony of women was viewed in Jewish and Roman cultures at this time.  A woman’s testimony was considered questionable and certainly not as credible as a man’s testimony.

First century Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servant be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.”

 The Talmud said, “Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer.”

 According to the statement in Rosh Hashannah, a woman’s testimony was given the same regard as that of a robber.

 So given that view of the testimony of women at the time, it is highly unlikely that the gospel authors would invent the story and have women be the witnesses.  Imaging them saying, “Let’s make up this story that’s hard to believe in the first place, and let’s make some women, that most people won’t listen to, let’s make them the ones who witness and report it.”

This doesn’t sound like an invention.  Rather it sounds like the accurate reporting of the facts, even though those facts might not be the most helpful to them.

And so, for these three reasons, the empty tomb seems historically credible.

Former Oxford University church historian William Wand writes, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history.”


Come back next week as we sum up the case for the resurrection and celebrate what that great, historically verifiable event can mean to your life and my life today.

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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