Jesus’ Resurrection on Trial
“I can tell you frankly that while we can be absolutely sure that Jesus lived . . . , we cannot with the same certainty say that we know He was raised by God from the dead.” So stated the Church of England’s ranking prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
THE Christian apostle Paul had no such reservations. In chapter 15 of his first inspired letter to fellow Christians in ancient Corinth, Paul wrote: “I handed on to you, among the first things, that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, yes, that he has been raised up the third day according to the Scriptures.”—1 Corinthians 15:3, 4.
It was faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that moved his disciples to preach the gospel throughout the Greco-Roman world—“in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) In fact, Jesus’ resurrection is the very foundation of Christian faith.
From the very beginning, though, the resurrection of Jesus met with doubt and disbelief. To the Jews in general, it was blasphemous for Jesus’ followers to claim that this impaled man was the Messiah. And to most educated Greeks, with their belief in the immortality of the soul, the very idea of a resurrection was repugnant.—Acts 17:32-34.
In recent years, some scholars who profess to be Christians have published books and articles dismissing Jesus’ resurrection as a fable and have initiated a fierce debate over this subject. In their search for “the historical Jesus,” various scholars argue that the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb and Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances are pure fiction, devised long after his death in order to support claims of his heavenly power.
For example, take the views of German scholar Gerd Lüdemann, professor of New Testament and author of the book What Really Happened to Jesus—A Historical Approach to the Resurrection. He argues that Jesus’ resurrection is “an empty formula” that must be rejected by anyone holding a “scientific view of the world.”
Professor Lüdemann maintains that the resurrected Christ who appeared to the apostle Peter was a vision resulting from Peter’s overwhelming grief and guilt for having denied Jesus. And according to Lüdemann, Jesus’ appearance to upward of 500 believers on one occasion was a case of “mass ecstasy.” (1 Corinthians 15:5, 6) In short, many scholars reduce the Bible accounts about the resurrected Jesus to a series of subjective experiences that produced in the disciples a renewed sense of spiritual self-confidence and missionary zeal.
Of course, many have little interest in academic skirmishes. However, a discussion of Jesus’ resurrection should be of concern to all of us. Why? Because, if he was not resurrected, Christianity is based on a false foundation. On the other hand, if Jesus’ resurrection is really a fact of history, Christianity is based on truth. Under those circumstances, not only are Christ’s claims vindicated but so are his promises. Moreover, if there is a resurrection, death is not the great victor but an enemy that can be defeated.—1 Corinthians 15:55.
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From the Self-Pronouncing Edition of the Holy Bible, containing the King James and the Revised versions