Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? An Outline

by Ryan Turner

The following is an outline of a presentation titled "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?" that I delivered at an apologetics conference.  My approach is to use facts that are accepted by the vast majority of critical scholars, sometimes extremely skeptical ones. 1

  1. Introduction
    1. Why Talk about the Resurrection of Jesus?
      1. Paul and the Resurrection
        1. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:13-19, NASB).
      2. Jesus and the Resurrection
        1. “The Jews then said to Him, "What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?“  19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  20The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  21But He was speaking of the temple of His body.  22So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken (John 2:18-22; cf. Mt. 12:38-40; 16:1-4; cf. Mk. 14:58; Lk. 11:29-30).”2
    2. Two Resurrection Arguments Compared
      1. Bible Reliability Approaches: Jesus rose from the dead because…
        1. The Bible says so.
        2. The Bible is inerrant.
        3. The Bible is reliable.
      2. The Minimal Facts Approach
        1. Treat the New Testament as an ancient historical document.
        2. Use only those facts which are:
          1. Extremely well supported by evidence.
          2. Accepted by the vast majority of critical scholars, even extremely skeptical ones.
            1. Leads us to 5 main facts
    3. How History Works
      1. The Nature of History
        1. Dealing with probability.
      2. Standards of Historical Credibility
        1. Multiple, independent sources of testimony.
        2. Early testimony.
        3. Eyewitness testimony.
        4. Enemy testimony.
        5. Embarrassing testimony.
  2. 5 Facts That Deserve Explanation (CEO-PJ)
    1. Fact #1: Jesus Died by Crucifixion (C)
      1. Christian Sources
        1. All four gospels, Acts, some of Paul’s letters, etc.
        2. Jesus’ death is reported much earlier (1 Cor. 15:3-8).
        3. Meets some of our criteria:  (1) Multiple, independent testimony, (2) early testimony, (3) embarrassing testimony, etc.
      2. Secular Sources
        1. Josephus (Antiquities, 18:3) – c. A.D. 90-95
        2. Tacitus (Annals, 15:44) – c. A.D. 115
        3. Lucian (The Death of Peregrine, 11-13) – 2nd Century A.D.
        4. Mara Bar Serapion (Letter at British Museum) – Late 1st to Early 3rd Centuries A.D.
        5. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) – c. A.D. 70-200
        6. Tacitus Sample Quote
          1. “Nero fastened the guilt [of the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44).
      3. Medical Evidence
        1. The Flogging: “The usual instrument was a short whip…with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals…the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post… The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged…. The scourging…was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death…. As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles (“On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 255.11, (21 March 1986): 1457).
        2. When the wrists were nailed to the cross, “the driven nail would crush or sever the rather large sensorimotor median nerve. The stimulated nerve would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms” (JAMA).
        3. Alex Metherell: like using pliers to crush the nerve that causes intense pain when we hit our elbow or “funny bone” (The Case for Christ, p. 197).
        4. “Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge” (JAMA, 21 March 1986).
        5. John Dominic Crossan, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be” (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 145).
    2. Fact #2: The Empty Tomb (E) (JET Acronym)
      1. Jerusalem Factor (J)
        1. Impossible for Christianity to survive and expand in Jerusalem if the body was still in the tomb.
      2. Enemy Attestation (E)
        1. Early polemics presuppose the empty tomb (Mt. 28:12-13; Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30).
      3. Testimony of Women (T)
        1. Women are the primary witnesses.
        2. Women’s testimony was not regarded highly (Lk. 24:11).
          1. “Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman” (Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8).
          2. “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants 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” (Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.15).
          3. “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a).
    3. Fact #3: The Origin of the Christian Faith (O)
      1. A Pre-Pauline Creed:
        1. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;  7then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
          1. Red: Definitely part of the pre-Pauline creed
          2. Green: Probably part of the pre-Pauline creed
          3. Black: Paul's (Pauline) writing
      2. How do we know it’s a creed? (4 Reasons)
        1. “delivered and received” (v. 3) indicates Paul is passing on tradition which he received (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23).
        2. Fourfold use of the Greek hoti (“that”) is common in creeds.
        3. The content is stylized, containing parallelisms.
        4. Non-Pauline terms: “for our sins,” “according to the scriptures,” “the twelve,” etc.
      3. When did Paul receive the creed?
        1. Crucifixion of Jesus (A.D. 30)
        2. Paul’s conversion (A.D. 32)
        3. Goes to Jerusalem on a fact finding mission (A.D. 35) in Galatians 1-2: meets Peter and James.
        4. Damascus another possibility (A.D. 32)
        5. Trip to Corinth (A.D. 51) – the latest date possible
      4. What is the date for the formulation of the creed?
        1. Rough Date – A.D. 30-35
        2. Atheistic New Testament scholar, Gerd Ludemann – A.D. 32-33
        3. Jesus Seminar – Early 30’s
      5. What is the date for the events on which the creed is based?
        1. James D. G. Dunn and Larry Hurtado – A.D. 30
        2. Hurtado: There never was a time when the New Testament church did not preach Jesus’ deity and resurrection (How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?, pp. 4, 194-95).
        3. Alexander the Great’s biography written 400 yrs. after his death.
      6. Summary of the Creed
        1. Early testimony to Jesus’ resurrection appearances (A.D. 30-35).
        2. Probably eyewitness testimony to Jesus’ resurrection appearances.
        3. Multiple testimonies to the resurrection appearances: Cephas, the Twelve, more than 500, all the apostles, James, (and Paul).
    4. Fact #3b: The Transformation of the Disciples
      1. Despairing Doubters to Persevering Proclaimers 
        1. Radical transformation in their views of the Messiah.
      2. Willing to Die (and some Faced Martyrdom)
        1. Acts
        2. Early Church: Clement of Rome (A.D. 100), Ignatius (A.D. 110), Dionysius of Corinth (c. A.D. 170),  Tertullian (late 2nd Century), Origen (early 3rd Century), etc.
    5. Fact #4: The Transformation of Paul, the Church Persecutor (P)
      1. His Conversion
        1. Paul (1 Cor. 15:9-11; Gal. 1:13-16; Phil. 3:6-7)
        2. Recorded in Acts (9; 22; 26)
      2. His Suffering and Martyrdom
        1. Paul (2 Cor. 11:23-28; Phil. 1:21-23)
        2. Luke (Acts 14:19; 16:19-24; etc.)
        3. Church Fathers:  Clement of Rome (1 Clem. 5:2-7), Polycarp (Pol. Letter to the Philippians 9:2), Tertullian (Scorpiace 15), etc.
    6. Fact #5: The Transformation of James, the Skeptic (J)
      1. His Conversion
        1. Gospels: Jesus’ brother unbelievers before His resurrection (Mk. 3:21, 31; 6:3-4; Jn. 7:5).
        2. Early creed: appearance to James (1 Cor. 15:7).
        3. Paul and Acts: James a leader in the church (Gal. 1:19; Acts 15:12-21).
      2. His Suffering and Martyrdom
        1. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 20:200).
        2. Hegesippus (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2:23) and Clement of Alexandria (EH 2:1, 23).
    7. Summary of our Facts (CE0-PJ)
      1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
      2. Jesus’ tomb was found empty. (JET)
      3. The origin of the Christian faith: Jesus’ disciples were transformed and sincerely believed that He rose from the dead and appeared to them.
      4. Paul, the church persecutor, was converted to Christianity and willing to die for his faith.
      5. James, the skeptic, was converted to Christianity and willing to die for his faith.
    8. Historical Credibility Criteria
      1. Multiple, independent sources of testimony.
      2. Early testimony.
      3. Eyewitness testimony.
      4. Enemy testimony.
      5. Embarrassing testimony.
    9. What is the Best Explanation?
      1. Jesus rose from the dead!
    10. 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
      1. “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 55"O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
  • 1. I am using this "Minimal Facts" approach which was developed by Gary Habermas and is used in his many writings especially his coauthored book with Michael Licona titled The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.
  • 2. It is interesting to note that some scholars think that Jesus actually predicted His resurrection since His resurrection predictions are: (1) multiply attested in each of the gospels and (2) connected with the Son of man sayings which are considered part of the "authentic" sayings of Jesus by many critics.