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What historical evidence has been used by people who argue for truth of Jesus' Resurrection?

It’s important to distinguish between the evidence and the best explanation of that evidence. This distinction is important because in this case the evidence is relatively uncontroversial.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is not a comment on the quality of your answer, but rather a standard welcome message. I did however, make a minor edit to your question to make it within site guidelines - please feel free to re-edit if desired. – ThaddeusB Aug 25 '15 at 17:22
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    possible duplicate of External reference of Jesus's resurrection? – Nathaniel is protesting Aug 25 '15 at 17:34
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    @Nathaniel I don't think it is a duplicate (although I am surprised the question had not been asked) - historical evidence doesn't have to be external to the Bible. – ThaddeusB Aug 25 '15 at 17:51
  • @ThaddeusB If the person posing the question wants to include a defense of the historicity of the relevant Bible manuscripts (for example), then I agree. But I think a more natural answer to this question on this site is "The Bible says so, and <external references>," which to me makes it a duplicate. – Nathaniel is protesting Aug 25 '15 at 18:33
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    @Nathaniel I read it as a request to explain the historical argument (i.e. Christianity is true because the Resurrection best explains the historical data), but perhaps that is just my bias (since I know the argument well) speaking. Perhaps the OP can clarify what she wants? – ThaddeusB Aug 25 '15 at 18:57
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That's actually a very good question that people do not ask as often as they should. You are right that it is important to distinguish between evidence and the explanation of that evidence.

With historical evidence, it is also important to qualify what we mean by historical "evidence." Many people today limit this to physical evidence like archaeological records - something that can be seen, felt and measured. If this is what we mean by evidence, then the answer is that we actually have no evidence! There is no physical tangible item that proves definitively that Jesus rose from the dead according to our modern scientific standards of proof.

The only evidence that exists is the accounts of eye-witnesses - both written accounts and accounts shared orally that have passed down to us as one tradition or another, often recorded in the writings of an early Christian writer (first two hundred years).

I actually think that the question is not about how we explain the evidence, but whether we accept it as fact.

History is full of events that we have no tangible, scientific proof actually happened, but events that we do have eye-witness accounts of and, generally, we accept them as factual reports of what people saw, heard and experienced. Even modern day events are like this.

Imagine that you are out hiking in the woods with two or three friends and you stop for a break by a lake to eat lunch. As you are sitting there, getting ready to bite into your apple you brought along, a deer walks out of the forest, sees you, and runs back in.

Now, what actual proof is there that this event happened? It happened so fast that everybody was shocked by what they saw, and nobody had time to pull out their phones to record it. Besides, you are out in the woods - you should have your phones off and enjoy the world around you, anyway!

The only proof that exists is your eye-witness testimony. Either we believe that it happened, or we don't. No scientific proof, no evidence. You could march people back to the spot and look for footprints, but the weather may have washed it away. But you saw it - you know that it happened.

That's all that we have with many historical events - people's eye-witness account. Interestingly, this is normally enough for us, especially if it comes from a source that we trust.

What is most striking is that the resurrection of Jesus is attested to by at least three different people who recorded what they saw and many more who shared their experience with the resurrected Jesus orally to the community around them. This is far more "evidence" than we have for most of the history that we generally accept as "factually true!"

The problem, I believe, is not with the reliability of the testimony and the fact that the resurrection is one of the most attested to events in ancient history, but with the idea of resurrection. People start with the assumption that resurrection is not possible, so immediately the story - regardless of how many eye-witnesses there were - is assumed to be not true. This is true of any story or account that includes something we believe impossible. We reject it not because we have evidence that it didn't happen, but because we have no tangible empirical scientific proof that what you are talking about is possible - no empirical "evidence" that it did happen. None that we would accept, anyway.

I think that what you mean by explanation of evidence is just this - whether we accept it as fact or not. I'm not talking about all the details about Jesus walking through walls and eating fish, but whether or not the simple fact of his resurrection is real.

I do think, however, it is precisely the evidence itself that is controversial with this issue. Do we believe that their eye-witness evidence is fact, or do we believe that it is fiction? That all comes down to whether you believe resurrection is possible.

I believe that all things are possible with God. But there is no empirical truth for that. It must be accepted by faith.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. When you get a chance, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is not a comment on the quality of your answer, but rather a standard welcome message. – ThaddeusB Aug 26 '15 at 0:36
  • Well explained!! It all comes down to what you believe in, I get it!! Its all about faith!! – Marie Aug 26 '15 at 0:41
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    @Marie i don't think that is what Matthew is saying at all, where do you get that from? In addition to (and in support of) the points made here, I think you would benefit from this excellent answer on skeptics.se that also addresses the question of the meaning of the word 'evidence' in a historical context rather than, say, a reproducible scientific experiment. – Jack Douglas Aug 28 '15 at 1:09
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The best historical evidence to Jesus resurrection would have to be given by someone with nothing to gain from it. As a follower of Christ and believer that He is the Messiah, I have something to gain from telling everyone I've seen the resurrected Jesus - it gives proof and validity to my beliefs; It makes me "not crazy" to have followed Him. This would apply to the 10 and the women who visited the tomb.

But the fact that Paul, who was dedicated to the Persecution of the Church, and therefore who had nothing to gain from Jesus' Resurrection bore witness is the strongest proof for His resurrection. I would say the 500 men who saw Him at one time is also great proof.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for offering an answer. For a quick overview of what this site is about, please take the Site Tour. While your answer does offer an interesting possibility, it would be helped by some references to generally known Christian theologians or other Christian writings that have made this argument. For some tips on writing good answers here, please see: What makes a good supported answer? Meanwhile, please enjoy the site! – Lee Woofenden Aug 29 '15 at 10:15
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The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is central to the Christian message. Without it, Christianity would be just another religion. What makes the case so compelling for belief? Here are several ideas to consider.

God knew how hard it would be for us to believe someone could rise from the dead, so he told us throughout the Old Testament that he will raise a particular person at a particular time. Those passages, called prophecies, tell us that Jesus would be in the ground only three days and that his body would not decompose (Acts 2:24-32). It tells us that Jesus would die with pierced hands and feet, foreshadowing the torture of the cross (Psalm 22:16), a method of capital punishment which had not been in existence at the time of the prophecy.

Resurrection was not a fluke occurrence, but planned. Jesus himself spoke to his followers about dying and rising from the dead. They did not understand what he meant, for they had supposed the Messiah of whom God prophesied would live long enough to overthrow the Roman yoke. His resurrection was not a secret, for Jesus shared it repeatedly to his disciples. Jesus used his resurrection as a sign that his ministry and words would be vindicated. If he had not risen from the dead, he would be just another good man among historical figures who told people to live a good life. Because he did rise from the dead, his message has startling urgency.

God had a reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection. God had established a means through which his people, the Israelites, could be “cleansed” of their sins, and by which his holy presence could remain in their midst: he instituted animal sacrifices. When a person sinned, he would come to the priest with an animal specified in the law, such as a lamb, place his hands on the animal, and thus transfer his sins to the substitute, then kill the sacrifice. The sinner would see with his own eyes that the animal bore the penalty of death for what the sinner had done. This institution of animal sacrifices looked forward to the sacrifice of Jesus, who became the Lamb of God on the cross, suffering in our place. In Isaiah 53, we see ahead of time Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice fully revealed. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice who died for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died so that we would not have to suffer sin’s punishment in the next life. His death rendered all subsequent animal sacrifices superfluous.

Many people reject the message of the resurrection simply because they do not believe the Bible. However, the resurrection is not a religious issue. It is a historical issue. It occurred in a particular time and place, with particular people impacted by the event. The early Christians lived and died for witnessing to a singular event – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They did not stand for a particular morality or ethics, but a person who was raised up from the dead.

Jesus’ enemies acknowledged that he had indeed died and had been buried in a tomb. They requested of Pilate “that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first” (Matthew 27:64b).

When Jesus died, his followers took down his body from the cross and prepared his body for burial. They had plenty of opportunity to ascertain his condition.

The resurrection of Jesus was central to early evangelistic preaching, and, predictably, it was not readily believed. “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter'” (Acts 17:32). The stories that follow Jesus’ death and resurrection credibly relate the believers’ and unbelievers’ conflict over the message. All the encounters had the ring of truth.

Jesus’ resurrection appearance dramatically changed the disciple’s lives. Immediately after Jesus’ death and before his resurrection, they were cowering in an upper room “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19b). Within days of his miraculous bodily appearance to them, they were standing boldly in the face of opposition, confirming that this “This Jesus God has raised, up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts. 2:36).

No attempt was made by the enemies of the disciples to prove that Jesus’ death and subsequent appearances were a hoax. They presented no evidences to disprove his miracles or the miracles of his disciples. Instead, the leaders attacked the followers themselves and sought to stop their message. The witnesses were so numerous that Paul the apostle, in writing to the Corinthians, noted that many of the five hundred who saw Christ’s post-resurrected appearances were still alive at his writing to confirm or deny the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:6). Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection were historically attested to. Historians have more evidences for the death and burial of Jesus than for any other ancient historical character.

Consider that the Jews have been keeping the Sabbath, wearing the yarmulke, being circumcised, meeting in synagogues, and keeping other practices for thousands of years. Even when persecution scattered them throughout the world, they kept their traditions. The fear of violence and living in foreign lands far from their homeland did not stop their practices. Yet something happened two thousand years ago, at the time of Jesus, that changed their practices. In a short period, the Jews had abandoned the yarmulke, circumcision, and animal sacrifices – something that violence and death had not been able to change for thousands of years.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormons) has a unique addition to the already shared answers, which you might find interesting, at least.

This is not an attempt at a complete answer to the question - the question has already been answered by others who have much more education and knowledge than me. This is simply an additional piece of information from the LDS faith to consider as an addition to those answers.

Latter-day Saints view the Book of Mormon as historical fact. To them, the Book of Mormon itself is additional evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That's the quick answer, but I'm sure most people reading this won't know why, so here's a bit more to read for some of an explanation:

The Book of Mormon contains a 1000-year history of a group of people in the Americas from about 600 BC to 400 AD. The central message of the Book is that Jesus Christ was resurrected and that the testimony of the 12 apostles in Jerusalem is true. The most important moment in this book's history is when the resurrected Jesus Christ visits these people for 3 days. He tells them who he is and that he has finished the work his Father sent him to do, then he invites everyone to feel the nailprints in his hands and feet so that they can know that he is the God of Israel that was crucified (see 3 Nephi 11:10-15)

The Book of Mormon was never intended to stand on its own as the testament of Jesus Christ. It was always meant to stand beside the New Testament as another testament of Jesus Christ (thus the subtitle, Another Testament of Jesus Christ). The people in the Book knew that the mortal Jesus Christ would not live among them, but they believed that after he was resurrected he would come visit them. Here are two important passages about the role their knowledge of Jesus Christ plays:

First, a man named Nephi wrote a vision he received. Among the things he saw was the record of the prophets and of the 12 apostles (the Bible) being brought to the Americas and shared with his people - and the role that the record of his people (the Book of Mormon) would play beside that:

1 Nephi 13:39-40

39 And after it [the Bible] had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.

40 And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records [Book of Mormon], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, ... and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.

Second, Mormon, who lived around 400 AD and compiled the Book of Mormon, speaks to any of his people who might read the record. He talks about the Bible:

Mormon 7:8-9

8 Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you [the Bible].

9 For behold, this [Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe that [Bible]; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.

So, to the main point. The Bible is a record from the Old World. The Book of Mormon is a record from the New World. The Book of Mormon peoples had no contact with Jerusalem or the apostles or any "Christian" missionaries during and after Christ's mortal ministry. However, the Book claims that these people saw the resurrected Christ.

The Book of Mormon itself stands as evidence of Jesus Christ's resurrection. The people in it could not have testified of his resurrection unless he came and visited them himself - as a resurrected being. It establishes the truth of the first witness, the New Testament, by providing the world with a second witness of the Resurrection of Jesus.

  • I'm not horribly worried about the downvote I got from this answer, but I don't really understand why. To me this seems like a valid, interesting, informative, and direct answer to the question. So, for my own further education on how this site works, anyone have feedback on possible reasons why this answer would be downvoted? – Alamb Apr 26 '17 at 4:43
  • Voting is anonymous, so as soon as someone has the required reputation to be able to downvote, they can do so for any particular reason they choose. Unfortunately, some people will do so, just because they disagree with the content provided regardless of its appropriateness to the question or its quality. Usually such people would refrain from downvoting LDS questions or LDS answers to LDS questions, but they may well do so for an LDS answer to a more general question. My advice would be to not take it to heart too much - an odd down-vote or two is really neither here nor there. – bruised reed Apr 26 '17 at 5:40
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People have argued for the truth of Jesus' Resurrection on the basis of the biblical record alone, because there is no archaeological evidence and no extra-biblical evidence for his Resurrection.

The UCLA Institute on Primary Resources describes as primary resources that material which provides first-hand evidence of historical events. It says that they are a source of direct evidence that describes or documents an historical event from the perspective of someone who was there. On definitions such as this, the gospels would probably be primary resources if their authors saw, or participated in those events.

The Gospels of Matthew and John have long been regarded as eyewitness accounts, which means that they ought to be sufficient evidence. However, the four New Testament gospels were all written anonymously and were only attributed to the men whose names they now bear later in the second century. Uta Ranke-Heinemann says in Putting Away Childish Things, page 218, Matthew could not have been written by the Apostle Matthew, because it is incomprehensible that an eyewitness (Matthew) would choose to depend so radically on a non-eyewitness (the author of Mark). And Raymond E. Brown says in An Introduction to the New Testament, pages 368-9 that it is doubted by most scholars that John's Gospel was written by an eyewitness of the public ministry of Jesus.

As a result, people who have argued for truth of Jesus' Resurrection have used secondary, unattributed sources, rather than actual historical sources. In the absence of contemporary, historical evidence, it must be accepted by faith.

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    You leap from questioning whether the actual authors of the gospels are those to whom they have been attributed to, to calling them "secondary, unattributed sources, rather than actual historical sources", why? For example, whether or not Luke-Acts was authored by Luke the physician (about which critical opinion is evenly divided), there is strong internal evidence that it is indeed an eye-witness account. Whether you consider that internal evidence… – Jack Douglas Aug 28 '15 at 0:58
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Dick Harfield Aug 28 '15 at 1:35
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    To describe the gospel accounts as not "actual historical sources" is bizarre. They are primary sources (by the definition used by historians, which does not depend on whether the author is an eye-witness. See also here). You may argue they are not reliable or independent but you are not free to dismiss them as not "historical sources". – Jack Douglas Aug 29 '15 at 7:57
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    @jack-douglas The gospel accounts are secondary sources, because whatever primary sources they were drawn from are not available to us. We have only partial erroneous translations of fragmentary copies. Also, the gospel accounts are not historical records of the resurrection of Jesus, because they don't agree on the facts and no extrabiblical account concurs with the resurrection events. So while you may be right that the gospels are the closest thing we have to whatever the gospel teachers said, that neither makes them primary sources, nor does it make them historical records. – bignose Aug 30 '15 at 1:14
  • @JackDouglas I was going to respond to your comment, but I think bignose did so much better than I could. I would add that using emotive words like 'bizarre' and citing your own question on another stackexchange site do not add weight to your argument. You ought to know that sources that are not 'historical sources' can nevertheless be very reliable. BTW the chat room for this question is still open. – Dick Harfield Aug 30 '15 at 1:23

protected by Nathaniel is protesting Apr 25 '17 at 15:15

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