Historiography can determine whether or not it is more or…

Historiography can determine whether or not it is more or less probable the resurrection was an actual historical event—it cannot prove the theology—but so far, ‘yes, it was a real event’, is the “best” hypothesis that explains all the data.


Claiming the New Testament is unreliable because it contains a few errors is fallacy. A few errors are not sufficient to prove any text is unreliable or that the event discussed is not historical.

As Gilbert Garraghan says in his standard historiography textbook: “almost any critical history that discusses the evidence for important statements will furnish examples of discrepant or contradictory accounts …”

Or as Murray Harris emphasizes ‘the presence of discrepancies in circumstantial detail is no proof the central fact is unhistorical.’

If one argues against the validity of the resurrection, an alternate explanation for history must be offered and those things that are known as historical must be fully accounted for.

The explanation must stand up to the same critical examination all historiography must face.

(So far, none of the anti-resurrection theories stand on evidence alone. This lends a kind of back-handed support for tradition.)

These are the historical facts that must be accounted for:

Minimal Facts

Amy-Jill Levine says there is a general scholarly consensus on the basic outline of Jesus’ life in that most scholars agree: Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, debated Jewish authorities on the subject of God, performed some healings, taught in parables, gathered followers, and was crucified by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.

Gary Habermas asserts the four most significant facts scholars agree upon begin with Jesus’ death under Pontius Pilate, the subsequent resurrection experiences of the apostles that they believed were actual,the transformation they experienced afterwards, and Paul’s conversion (everyone agrees something happened with Paul that changed him).

These core facts relate to the founding of Christianity which is an undeniable historical fact in itself.

If the resurrection isn’t true, some alternative explanation must be offered that includes a viable explanation of these facts.

The Resurrection was reported early—not after 80 years.

1 Corinthians 15: 3ff is probably the oldest creed—oral history—recorded in the New Testament and it dates to within a few years of Jesus’ death. It is an early Christian, pre-Pauline creed recognized by virtually all critical scholars across a wide theological spectrum. There are indications of an Aramaic and ancient Hebrew source. It speaks of the resurrection and identifies the first witnesses.

Scholars also believe the sermons recorded in Acts use slightly different language and date to the earliest period before being included in the written texts. They reference the resurrection.

Nearly all historical scholars show the resurrection was reported early (AD 30’s) by those who claimed to be eye-witnesses.

The Apostles were true believers

They testified as Jews who believed in the importance of eye-witness testimony, and not bearing false witness, and they would have been placed under oath each time they spoke to the Sanhedrin.

Their Belief Transformed Them

Their lives attest to the Apostles being genuine in their belief. Something happened to genuinely convince them Jesus was resurrected. This has to be accounted for somehow.

Hallucination and other subjective explanations for the apostle’s belief can be ruled out by the facts. “What emerges from the records is that various disciples did see somebody, a real living person.” Their experiences were not subjective.

Paul and James

The changed lives of Paul and Jesus’ brother James, who was not a supporter of Jesus’ ministry while his brother was alive but who became a leader of the church after Jesus showed himself to James as it says in 1 Cor.15. is powerful evidence that something substantive happened to both of them as well. Both were later martyred rather than deny Jesus.

It doesn’t matter if one believes any of these men were correct in their belief; it only matters that it is accepted historical fact that they believed it and some viable explanation for that must be offered.

The Creeds

The nearly four dozen creeds contained in the New Testament are demonstrable proof of early belief in the resurrection and christology, as well as early belief in eye-witness testimony to it.

The Empty Tomb.

The historical evidence of the empty tomb is very strong.

The Jews report the tomb was empty by offering an alternate explanation for how and why that was so. This is a hostile report or ‘enemy attestation’ and so it carries more than ordinary weight.

There are no sources that report the tomb contained Jesus’ body.

So far, the resurrection is the only theory that embraces and sufficiently explains all these facts.

By the middle of the first century—within a generation of Jesus’ death—the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, along with his teachings, had spread around the Mediterranean basin. Skeptics were offering rationalistic explanations and refutations within twenty years after his death.

Christian teachings reached Rome at least by AD 49.

By Nero’s reign Christians in Rome had grown into a group large enough to gain the Emperor’s attention.

Extra-biblical sources all agree Christianity was based—from its beginning—on its central claim that Jesus rose from the dead.

If that’s not true, explain it—but explain all of it.

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