I have heard many arguments for and against the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, but never one that came so solidly from the Apostle Paul as this one argued by Dr. Gary Habermas. Apologist Dr. Gary Habermas has dedicated his professional life to the examination of the relevant historical, philosophical, and theological issues surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. His extensive list of publications and debates provides a thorough account of the current state of the issue.
Here I present his argument the best I can and tag a few of the known arguments that maybe some haven't yet heard as well. Not every possible argument is addressed; as it is, this article is a bit long. But I hope what I have provided here is helpful to some.
Here are the three points I intend to address, largely with the aid of Dr. Habermas, without any forward or introduction beyond what I have already given.
1 - How do we know that Jesus died on the cross.
2 - How do we know He was raised from the dead.
3 - What difference does it make in our day and age.
1 - How do we know that Jesus died on the cross?
First of all, let us agree that the Romans knew very well how to kill a man. They were expert at crucifiction. Receiving 39 lashes with a cat-o-nine-tales (the equivalence of about 351 lashes), having to carry His own cross through the streets of Jerusalem afterward, having nails pin His hands and feet to the cross where He hung for 6 hours and having a Roman spear thrust into His heart would surely have killed Him. You might argue that the spear was thrust through His side, not His heart. Yes, through His side, but standing on the ground the thrust would have been delivered upwards through His side and into His heart. We know this also because the Bible says that from the wound flowed blood and water. The medical field tells us that the only place from which water can flow in such a way is from the heart. Also, when the storm arose, in order to quickly dispose of the victims on the crosses that day, the soldiers broke the legs of the other two hanging next to Jesus in order to hasten their deaths. They did not break Jesus' legs. Why? Because they could tell He was already dead. Surely, these Roman soldiers knew death when they saw it. But just to be sure, they stabbed Him with a spear.
Could Jesus have just passed out and revived again after He was placed in the tomb? After all the above, no. I was going to say, not likely, but no, not even possible. But just for the sake of argument, let's say maybe this happened. Then what we have is a man beaten, lashed 39 times, crucified Roman style, pierced with a spear, who then lies unattended in a tomb for 3 days bleeding profusely from His wounds. Then suddenly, this amazing man (any atheist who believes this, should indeed have no argument that He wasn't God) with whatever strength He had left, rolled the stone away from the entrance of His tomb, somehow did whatever He needed to do to the Roman soldiers who were guarding His tomb, and walked hunched over, grasping His wounded side, staggering on nail pierced feet, leaving a blood trail straight to the door of the upper room where He declared to His disciples, "See, I told you I'd rise from the dead?" Looking at Jesus standing there looking the way He would have looked under such a scenario, the disciples must have thought sarcasticly, "Just imagine, one day we too will rise from the dead... just like He did."
Some might say that maybe He had help. Still much of the above would come into play. They would have had to render the guards asleep, somehow. Then roll away the stone and carry Jesus out of the tomb still bleeding from the wounds He received from the trauma He received three days earlier. The likelihood of Jesus' survival is only slight better than my first scenario, which is not likely at all. This still would not account for His appearance and the problem with how they would have provide the medical attention that would have been required to keep Him alive, even with Dr. Luke in their midst, not to mention His ability to pass as "risen in a glorious state" as revealed by His apprearing to so many so soon after the event of His crucifiction.
No, I'd say any rational thinker would say it is impossible that Jesus got off that cross alive, much less allowing for three days lying in the tomb with no medical attention.
2 - How do we know He was raised from the dead?
"Okay," the skeptic will say, "I have no problem with the crucifixion. My problem is with the resurrection." Well let's look at Dr. Habermas' argument using, 1Corinthians 15:3 and a few following passages: "For what 'I received' 'I passed on' to you as of first importance: that Christ 'died' for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was 'buried', that he was 'raised' on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (that is Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."(NIV - emphasis added)
Note: According to Dr. Gary Habermas, critics (non-Christians) take these passages more seriously than probably any other scripture in the New Testament. This is because Paul is an eye witness (meaning, I suppose, that he saw the Lord after His resurrection and that his written testimony is the closest to the date of the crucifixion - only +25years), they trust Paul, and he said that he got it from somebody else. They like that. I can imagine they're thinking that here's a man who admits that he is not an actual eyewitness of the act of resurrection. So the skeptic feels he has just eliminated all references to the resurrection from any of Paul's books in the New Testament. They will argue this point vehemently, since his are even earlier dated books than the four Gospels.
However, reading 1Corinthians 15:3-8, the question arises: from where, whom and when did he receive it? Some say that he received it when he went off to be alone with the Lord in Arabia for 2 to 3 years after his Damascus Road conversion by divine revelation, which took place immediately after the resurrection. Most liberal theologians believe it was when he went to visit and consult Peter and James in Jerusalem about 5 or 6 years after his conversion. And certainly this would have been the case whether he had the information before hand by divine revelation or not. So then, for sake of argument, I'll go with the latter and say it was revealed to him 6 years after the actual events though it could have been as early as three years.
This is interesting for several reasons. It not only means that Paul had the information given to him, which appeared in his Letters to the Churches, dated +25years after the event (which is remarkable in itself for ancient documentation), but his knowledge of the events can actually be traced back to as close as within 6 years of the event. Not only that, but it also provides documented evidence (+6years) to both Peter and James' testimonies, also found in the New Testament, no matter what the actual dates of the texts themselves. In addition, if this be true of Peter and James who were undisputed eyewitnesses, then so it would be also of the Gospel writers. This then adds credence to the all of the books of the New Testament, including the Pauline scriptures.
The date of the "passed on" portion of the text in 1Corinthians can be dated even 5 years earlier. Now remember what Paul said in verse 3 - "For what I received I passed on to you...". When was it that Paul passed it on to them? Well if you go back to the first two verses of this chapter, you'll read this: 1)- "Now, brothers and sisters, 'I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you', which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2)- By this gospel you are saved, if you 'hold firmly to the word I preached to you'. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." If you cross reference this passage with Acts Chapter 18, you will find that the Church of Corinth was founded by Paul as Luke records it in Acts 18:1-17. This happened in AD 50 when Paul became the first to preach the Gospel of Christ there. So, "...what I received I passed on to you..." occurred only +20 years from the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Just another interesting side note: Can you imagine the first meeting of Paul, Peter and James? What a motley bunch. First you have Peter the Denier, who denied Christ three times - then you have James the Skeptic, who was the brother of Jesus but did not believe He was the Messiah until he witnessed the resurrection - then you have Paul, who as Saul of Tarsus, a Roman by decree and a Jew by nationality, took every available opportunity to kill Jesus' followers. These fellows met about +6 years from the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and what were they talking about? They were talking about the Gospel; and what is the Gospel? You guessed it, the true identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Savior of mankind, His crucifixion, His burial, His resurrection and His ascension. Amazing are the events that occurred to change these three men, that caused all three to be the greatest of all the followers of Christ. So don't ever think that anybody you meet is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit. Anyone can change - anyone at all.
But the greater point is that according to Acts 15, Paul went back to these men, to the Church in Jerusalem, at least 3 more times throughout his ministry. Why? Well, he just wanted to check to see that he had it right. That's right, he was that conscientious a scholar. And we are the beneficiaries of that scholarly attentiveness. Paul wanted constant confirmation from fellow Apostles (after the second visit, John was added to the list) that he had everything right. And seeing no inconsistencies within his message, it would appear he had it right all the way through. What a meeting of minds. The four most respected men of all of Christendom to this very day, met in fellowship regularly. Wouldn't you had loved to sit at the feet of those four great men?
So, to get back on point, is all this good enough evidence? Well, not if you're a critic. You might say, "Well it says so right there in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. You just showed it to us and explained how it works. It all makes sense." Yes, it does to you, but if you're a critic, saying something, or pointing it out in scripture is not going to be good enough - is it? They'll just say, "People can say and write anything."
So we will have to pursue this further.
The people giving the report of the resurrection (Peter and James) are eyewitnesses at a period of a mere 5 or 6 years after after the event. There is no stronger evidence than that given by eyewitnesses. Jesus appeared to all the disciples, to the women that aided them, to Paul, and to a group of 500 witnesses.
Another strong piece of evidence of Jesus' resurrection is the Father's authentication of Jesus as the Messiah. How did this happen, you might ask. If Jesus was dead, and it's clear that He was, then He could not have raised Himself from the dead. So, just as the scriptures proclaim, the resurrection was performed for Jesus by the Father. God would never have raised Him from the dead if Jesus was a heretic. God would only resurrect the true Messiah as a witness to HIs victory over death.
The empty tomb, of course, is also evidence of the resurrection. There were enough people who wanted Jesus dead, and would not have benefited from his martyrdom should He be reported risen. So surely these people, namely the Jewish and Roman leaders, as well as perhaps, anyone who knew of Jesus but didn't believe His message. Anyone of these people or groups of people, would have surely checked the tomb. If Jesus hadn't risen, they simply would have pointed to His body lying in the tomb and that would have been the end of Christianity before it even started.
What about the possibility that the body was stolen? By who? The disciples? So the disciples stole the dead body of Christ and buried Him in a secret grave, or somehow destroyed the body. Why? To propagate a lie? The same guys who ran away when Jesus was taken into custody? Okay, let's imagine this happened for a second. Maybe the women among them, brought wine laced with something to the guards to knock them out because they first would have had to contend with them. Then they roled away the stone and stole Jesus' body. But first, they took the time to fold the head clothe neatly to one side - strange thing to do. They disposed of the body. Then they had to bring out the man they must have arranged for in advance, so that this impostor could play the role of Jesus after His fabricated resurrection. First, this means the man playing the part would have to looked very much like Jesus. Then he would have had to have his hands and feet pierced clean through with an object that would resemble the size of a crucifixion nail. Then have his side pierced with a spear and maybe his head wounded by something resembling thorns. After meeting all the people, for a full 40 days, that Jesus is said to have spent time with, convincing all of them, he would have had to appear to ascend (or not, if all present were part of the conspiracy) before he left the country forever. And why? All to propagate a hoax. When would they have planned this elaborate hoax? Who and how many would have had to be involved? Is it even imaginable that so many would all stick together and none would break and tell the truth? Also, wouldn't Jesus Himself have to had been part of this elaborate sceme? Of course He would have, because think about the timing. For instance, when would the fake Jesus have to recieve his wounds? In other words, how long would the fake Jesus have to heal from his wounds in order to be healed enough to function convincingly in the role? These wounds would have had to be recieved long before Christ was even arrested. And how would they have known to give the fake Jesus a spear wound in his side?
Which brings us to the point that nearly all the disciples and so many of the followers of Christ during that time died without ever denying Christ, or His Gospel, even though they could have saved their lives had they done so. So they gave their lives for a hoax? Remember, these were Jews, religious people. They would have known following a false messiah, especially one they knew was a hoax and one they had helped propagate, would have gained them eternal damnation. Is this really very likely? Frankly, I think it's more likely that two guys by the names of Bill and Ted went back in time and Bill said to Ted, "Dude, let's pull a fast one on these dudes."
Some say that those who saw Jesus after His resurrection were just hallucinating. Really? One or two hallucinations and I'd grant you the possibility - but over 500 strong? Not likely. Those who postulate this, actually believe that all who saw Him, every time they saw Him, whether they were alone or in small or large groups - all were just hallucinating. This is the weakest of all arguments, in my opinion. After you dismiss this out of hand for it's shear unlikelihood, you can go one further. All hallucinated the same thing. They all saw the same image. And guess what - they all saw exactly what they should not have seen if they were indeed hallucinating. People who hallucinate see things the way they know them to be. For example, if you were to hallucinate that you saw a Leprechaun, he probably wouldn't be wearing a cowboy hat and an orange jumpsuit. He would most likely be dressed in green with a gold buckled belt and so-forth. Why would these people claim to see Christ any other way than manacled, beaten, bruised and bloody? Why would they have seen Him in a glorified body? All of them - each and every time they saw Him. And would they expect a risen Savior to eat, to sleep, to teach, to hang out so-to-speak for 40 days only to ascend bodily? All of them? All of this? I don't buy it - do you?
3- What difference does it make in our day and age?
Jesus is our Savior as much today as He ever was or ever will be. Often you will hear atheists and agnostics refer to the Bible as an ancient book written by a bunch of ignorant goat-herders that lived more than 2000 years ago. When I hear this, I assume they are referring to the New Testament (becuase of the us of the time span of 2000 years). Wouldn't you? But since none of the writers of the New Testament, were goat-herders, maybe they are referring to the Old Testament book of Psalms and the sheppard David. But then, David was also a mighty warrior and a King, so I'm really not sure who they are referring to. But, writing all that off to mere mockery, their main claim is, of course, that the Gospel is irrelevant to us living in the 21st Century. Is that true ?
Dr. Habermas would first take us to 1Corinthians 15:58 - Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV) Paul tells us here, to be steadfast in the Lord. He says this after he has spoken to us about the Gospel message he had given in Verses 3-8 and then went on to talk about even death several passages before this final one.
"More people fall away from the faith due to peer pressure than by anything else," Dr. Habermas says. I agree wholeheartedly, don't you? Today the pressure is mainly focused on two fronts as I see it. The first way peer pressure comes, is the same way it probably always has. The enticement into sin. People see themselves fallen into sin and, frankly, they like it there and want to stay. But anyone wishing to get out of that way of life is quickly tempted back in by ridicule and the coaxing of friends and acquaintances. The deeper into a sinful lifestyle the harder it is to get out, and the more pressure is applied to keep them there.
The other way I'm referring to is the lure of the intellect. This type of peer pressure is leading more people to Hell today, in my opinion, than all other ways of doing so combined. It has been said that statistically about 80% of our children lose their faith when they go off to college. The New Age philosophy and especially Modern Science Theories of Origins is a very persuasive deception.
Be firm in your faith, Paul says, your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Paul teaches, if you study this entire Chapter, that there is a direct connection from the resurrection of Jesus all the way down to doing good works in the world and showing ourselves to be approved. Am I saying that Paul is teaching salvation my works? No, Paul teaches clearly that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by works lest any man should boast. But he teaches us here that "...your labor in the Lord is not in vain". We are not saved BY good works, but TO good works. And if we will abide in Him and He abides in us, we will do good works as a witness to the world, and by doing so, win souls to the Lord - or at least plant seeds of the type that will grow once they reach fertile ground. And none of us (as stated above) knows where that fertile ground lies.
So remind your children when they go off to school, "You have received the greatest gift in the world, don't walk away from it." Even death is swallowed up in victory, Paul say in verse 54. And in verse 55 he crys out, "Oh death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?". He then concludes in verse 58 with the word 'Therefore'.
There is obvious much more that could be covered, but before this turns into a book, I'll end now. I hope this has spoken to someone and I wish everyone God's blessing -