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Reason for Believing

• Greg Boyd

The Resurrection of Christ is central to the Christian message, yet it can be hard for some people to believe. Usually when people die, they stay dead! If Christ rose from the dead, it confirms his claims. Either Jesus rose from the dead, or the disciples were lying (Hoax theory) or the story is legendary (Legend theory). In this message Greg looks at the reasons to believe in the resurrection of Christ from historical evidence, and he examines problems with Hoax and Legend theories.

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Greg begins by looking at four indisputable historical facts that are recognized by scholars as true.

1. In the mid-first century, Jewish believers worshipped and proclaimed Jesus as Creator, Savior, and God. For the first century Jews, the idea that a human being could be God was totally antithetical to their beliefs.

2. The Jewish faith of these early believers was radically transformed. Early Christians were largely Jewish, yet their faith was totally transformed. They stopped offering sacrifices, believed they were set right with God through Christ rather than the law, and eventually changed their Sabbath to Sunday.

3. These early Christians underwent terrible persecution. In the early history of the Christian church believers were outcasts from their Jewish communities. By 62 AD the Roman emperor Nero began persecuting Christians severely. The persecution was so terrible and severe that the Roman history Tacitus expresses sympathy for Christians. Christians were surrounded by a hostile audience that would have jumped at the chance to ruin their message, yet we have no record of any of the disciples or early Christians recanting and saying that the resurrection wasn’t true.

4. The Christian movement originated and quickly spread in the same region as Jesus lived, taught, and died. The gospel accounts give times, places, names, and details. This is not a story that takes place long, long ago in a place far, far away. In fact, the gospel authors even appeal to their audience about the facts.

Where there is smoke there is fire. What would explain these historical events? If Jesus did in fact rise from the dead then all these facts are perfectly explained. If however it is false, you have two options: it is a hoax or a legend.

If it is a hoax then the disciples know it is not true and intentionally tried to spread a lie. There are four major points against this argument:

1. No motive. The disciples had nothing to gain from lying. They faced persecution and great personal cost for preaching this message.

2. No means. The disciples and gospel authors use names and details that could easily be checked out. You don’t go around dropping names of powerful well known people (like Joseph of Arimathea) if you are making up a story. Christianity is birthed in a hostile environment. Of all the records from that time none dispute that Jesus existed. They even confirm that He was a miracle worker (though opponents believed that He was a charlatan or acted through the power of the devil).

3. No evidence they made up the story. As soon as persecution starts someone usually recants if the story isn’t true. If someone would have recanted they would have been paraded around.

4. Much evidence against the idea they made it up. Historians have criteria that they hold ancient documents to in order to assess their trustworthiness. The New Testament passes these tests with flying colors. Scholars who reject the trustworthiness of the New Testament due so because of their presupposition against the supernatural and believing at the outset that miracles could not happen. The gospel writers also share incidental details that would not be present in a made up story. In fact, the gospel writers share information that they would have no reason to share unless it was true.

In John 20:1-10 Mary Magdalene is the first person to see Jesus alive. In first century culture women are seen as untrustworthy witnesses. In fact, a woman could not testify in court without the corroboration of a man. There is no reason to include this detail if it is not true.

The second option is the Legend theory, which argues that the resurrection story developed over time. However, this view has serious problems as well.

1. Not enough time. For some perspective, it took five centuries for the belief that Buddha was a god to develop within a sect of Buddhism. Yet 1 Corinthians 15:1,3 is a creed held by the early church about the resurrection, that can be traced back to within three years of the events themselves. This is simply not enough time for legendary material to develop. Legends develop over time to re-enforce the cohesiveness of traditional values. Yet, the story of Jesus does just the opposite!

2. Jewish culture is resistant to the development of legend.

3. Numerous Eyewitness (including James who started out as a hostile witness!) seeing Jesus over a period of 40 days.

4. Five early and independent accounts. Even the supposed contradictions of the resurrection accounts bolster their credibility. These differences agree on the central truth of the resurrection, but from different viewpoints. This is common in eyewitness accounts and shows that the authors of the gospels were not copying each other.

5. The accounts pass the standard of historical trustworthiness. If they were telling the truth then Jesus rose from the dead and He is who He said He is. His death reveals the very heart of God and the truth that nothing can separate us from God. This is the greatest love story ever told and you are invited in.

If He has been raised then the most important question you can ask yourself is, what is my relationship to Jesus?

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Topics: Defense of Christian Faith, Resurrection

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Focus Scripture:

  • John 20:1-10

    Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

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