This is Part Two of the What Everyone Ought to Know About Easter Series. Have you had a chance to check out Part One?
Today, most evangelical scholars take what is called a minimal fact approach when it comes to evidence for the resurrection. This is an apologetical approach that will only use criterion that the majority of scholars (critical and evangelical) will accept as valid. The majority of scholars accept that Jesus died by crucifixion, that his followers had experiences that they believed were post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and that later Saul of Tarsus experienced what he believed were post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.
Did you catch that? All scholars, even those who aren’t Christians are nearly unanimous in accepting those three facts as historical. Dr Gary Habermas writes that other facts that many scholars agree on are the conversion of James because he experienced what he believes was a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus and they also accept an empty tomb. Habermas writes, “…between two-thirds and three-quarters of the critical scholars who comment on this matter favor the tomb being empty for other than natural reasons.” On a side note, there is evidence that the apostles’ creed regarding the resurrection appearances found in 1 Corinthians 15, can be dated to the year of Jesus’ crucifixion.
What about other historical references? Are there any historical references outside of the New Testament and the early church fathers? The answer is yes! Many of the historical references are hostile to Christianity and the writings are generally a polemic against Christianity, yet the references affirm many things about the biblical account of Jesus.
Here are a few; the Jewish historian Josephus has two references to Jesus, he lived from about AD 35-100. He writes, “He [Ananus the high priest] seated the judges of the Sanhedrin Council and after he led to them the brother of Jesus who was called the Messiah, the man whose name was James, and certain others, and accused them of having transgressed the law, he handed them over to be stoned.”
Another reference, and probably the most well known by Josephus in Testimonium Flavianum reads:
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who have become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.
The Babylonian Talmud also refers to Jesus several times. The Babylonian Talmud is a collection of rabbinic teachings. However many of the references are not considered historically accurate because of the late date. There are a few references that are considered historically significant. One of them reads:
On the eve of Passover they hanged Jesus the Nazarene. And a herald went out before him for forty days, saying: “He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.” But not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of Passover.
The Babylonian Talmud does not deny the resurrection instead it says, “He then went and raised Jesus by incantation.”
Another text says, “Woe to him who makes himself alive by the name of God.”
The authors of The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown write, “Several texts also refer to the disciples of Jesus miraculously healing others in Jesus’ name. They forbade Jews to heal or receive healing in Jesus’ name.”
The Roman historian Tacticus (c. AD 113) referenced the crucifixion of Jesus and seemed to reference the belief in the resurrection when he wrote about the fire of Rome that Nero blamed on the Christians. The Roman historian Seutonious (c. AD 120) wrote about the Jews being expelled from Rome because they were in an uproar over Jesus. Mara Bar Serapion (c. AD 73) writes, “For what advantage did…the Jews gain by the death of their wise king?”
Pliny the Younger (c AD 110) wrote to the Emperor Trajan about the Christians worshipping Jesus as a God.
The historian Julius Africanus (c. AD 230) quoted the historian Thallus (c. AD 52) who referenced the darkness that covered the land during the crucifixion of Jesus. Lucian of Samosata (c. AD 115-200) wrote a satire which discussed Jesus being from Palestine, the crucifixion, the worship of Jesus by Christians, and the religion that Jesus established.
Though these historical accounts come from hostile witnesses a few things can be gleaned from them; that Jesus existed, that he was crucified, his followers believed that he rose from the dead, and that he performed miracles.
Jesus’ followers claimed to have seen him rise from the dead. In fact according to 1 Corinthians 15 over 500 people claimed to have witnessed a post-resurrection sighting of Jesus. The majority of these followers died horrible deaths because they refused to recant. Why would they refuse to recant if they lied about the resurrection? I have heard it said that many people will die for something they believe in but how many people would die for a known lie?
Even some of Christianity’s biggest critics will say that all the evidence points to the resurrection being true, yet because of their presuppositions they will deny that it could be possible. From all the evidence I have looked into I can say that I confidently believe that the resurrection is a verifiable historical fact.
What should we take away from all of this? The resurrection is the single most important event for the Christian faith. Yet there is an essential purpose in the resurrection which is that God loves you and created you to know Him personally. He has a wonderful plan for your life. People are sinful and separated from God, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love and plan. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for our sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God’s love and plan. This is why he died by crucifixion. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love and plan. This is the power of the resurrection and its purpose. This is the true meaning of Easter.
For more information visit Dr Gary Habermas’ (a leading expert on the evidence for the resurrection) website at GaryHabermas.com. My husband does an apologetics show on the radio and he has interviewed Dr, Habermas, you can listen to those here: EternityImpact.Blogspot.com and here: EternityImpact.Blogspot.com
Erin Herbst gave her life to Jesus Christ around the age of eight and has been joyfully serving the Lord since that time. Erin is happily married and has two young children with another on the way. She has been ministering to college students since 2004, with Master Plan Ministries. As well as being a wife, mother, and minister to college students she is also working toward a Master’s degree at Liberty University.
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 Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity,” GaryHabermas.com http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm
(accessed February 22, 2013).
 Josephus, “Jewish Antiquities,” quoted in Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) 104.
 Josephus, “Testimonium Flavianum,” quoted in Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) 106.
 b. Sanh. 43a, quoted in Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) 108.
 b. Git. 57a, MS. M., quoted in Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) 108
 b. Sanh. 106a., quoted in Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) 108.
 Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) 108.
 Mara Bar Serapion, quoted in Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) 110.