Apologetic Issues and the Resurrection of Jesus

When it comes to the Christian faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings but on the person and work of Jesus Christ. From a soteriological perspective, if Jesus Christ was not raised from the dead, Christians are still dead in their sins (1Cor.15:7). Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” An important aspect of possessing eternal life is the ability to raise the dead. The Jewish people knew the God of Israel as the only one who could raise the dead (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13).

Therefore, by claiming the authority to raise the dead, Jesus was exemplifying both the same actions and attributes of the God Israel. Through the resurrection, Jesus took on the role as advocate and intercessor (1 John 2:2; Rom. 8:34). Jesus’ resurrection also guaranteed the Christian the opportunity of having a resurrected body’s like Jesus’ (1Cor. 15:20-23, 51-53; 1 Pet. 1:3; Phil. 3:20-21; John 5:25-29). Since Jesus did predict his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), if Jesus did not rise from the dead, he fails the test for a true prophet (Deut. 18:20). The resurrection demonstrated that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and the whole world. The resurrection also marked Jesus Christ as the one who will be the judge all men (Acts 17:31).

Evidence/Historical Apologetics

When it comes to evidence, the skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “Do we really know what we think we know-especially in religion- when our beliefs are not properly based on evidence?” And in the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? Verification has to do with how to test the meaning or truth of a claim. It is true that Christianity is a historical faith and it has been common for apologists to appeal to the historical evidence of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a verification of its claim to be true. Within apologetic methodology, the classical apologist says it is futile to speak about the resurrection as an act of God unless it is established that there is a theistic God who can act within human history. Historical apologetics overlaps with classical apologetics. However, historical apologists believe that the truth of Christianity, including the existence of God, can be shown from the foundation of historical evidence alone. In examining the resurrection of Jesus, one must utilize a variety of disciplines. Some of them include:

1. Philosophy of History/Historiography: What tests do historians utilize when examining written documents in antiquity? What approach do they use in approaching a miraculous claim such as the resurrection of Jesus?

2. Metaphysics: Any attempt to examining a claim such as the resurrection of Jesus will involve a metaphysical commitment. Without metaphysics, a person would be incapable of constructing a worldview. A worldview must explain all of the pieces of the puzzle we call reality. What tends to be forgotten is that evidential claims must be interpreted in light of one’s worldview. An apologist can give all the evidence for a historical claim such as the resurrection of Jesus, etc. However, the apologist may have to deal with a philosophical or metaphysical issue as well. If one has a commitment to philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, the resurrection of Jesus will be interpreted in a naturalistic way.

The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatual but not anti-natural. Biblical theism does acknowledge that while God is the primary Cause of all things, He also works through secondary causes. In other words, God acts in the world through direct intervention (a miracle such as creation or the resurrection of Jesus) and natural casues or indirect actions (preservation).

In the debate about the resurrection of Jesus, the word “fact” needs some clarification. If one argues the resurrection of Jesus is not a fact, there needs to be a clear definition of the word “fact.” As Norman Geisler says,

If “fact” means original event, then neither geology nor history is in possession of any facts. “Fact” must be taken by both to mean information about the original event, and in this latter sense facts do not exist merely subjectively in the mind of the historian. Facts are objective data and data are data whether anyone reads them or not. What one does with data, that is, what meaning or interpretation he gives to them, can in no way eliminate the data. There remains for both science and history a hard core of objective facts. The door is thereby left open for objectivity. In this way one may draw a valid distinction between propaganda and history: the former lacks sufficient basis in objective fact but the latter does not. Indeed, without objective facts no protest can be raised either against poor history or propaganda. If history is entirely in the mind of the beholder, there is no reason one cannot decide to behold it any way he desires.” (1)

And since history has a large role in the evidence for a miracle the resurrection of Jesus, one must always realize the following. As Geisler says:

“Every historian interprets the past in the overall framework of his own Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview). The Weltanschauungen will determine whether the historian sees the events of the world as a meaningless maze, as a series of endless repetitions, or as moving in a purposeful way toward a goal. These world views are both necessary and inevitably value oriented. So, it is argued, without one of these world views the historian cannot interpret the events of the past; but through a world view objectivity becomes impossible. A world view is not generated from the facts. Facts do not speak for themselves. The facts gain their meaning only within the overall context of the world view. Without the structure of the world-view framework the “stuff” of history has no meaning.” (2)

3. Epistemology: is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. People rely on the testimony of others on a regular basis. Also, the historian knows it is difficult to know much of anything in history apart from eyewitness testimony. Testimony as an epistemological enterprise plays a large role in examining the eyewitness testimony to the resurrection in the New Testament.

4. Linguistics/Hermeneutics: When examining resurrection passages, an individual will have to utilize the original languages. Biblical hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. When a person assumes the resurrection of Jesus is not to be taken literally, hermeneutics helps answer what is to be taken literally and non-literally in the Bible. Hermeneutics also enables the reader to understand what the author of a text meant when he wrote it to his original audience.

5.  Genre Studies: It is important that an individual understands the genre of the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament before interpreting it. If someone makes the claim that the Gospels or other parts of the New Testament are myth (meaning half-truth, folklore, fantasy, or a fictionized account of history, etc), genre studies help clear up the confusion about this issue).