Three Evidences for the Historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection – Holy Week #5

Closing out this week of blogposts with three historical evidences (of course there are more) for the resurrection of Jesus from Michael R. Licona’s recent book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010):

The Conversion of James, Jesus’ brother:

  • Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him during his ministry (Mk 3:21, 31-35; 6:3; Jn 7:1-10).
  • Jesus’ brothers taunted him (Mk 6:3; Jn 7:1-10).
  • Jesus’ brothers were apparently absent at Jesus’ crucifixion, where Jesus entrusted the care of his mother to one of his disciples, suggesting his brothers were nonbelievers at the time (Jn 19:25-27).
  • Jesus’ brothers were in the upper room with Jesus’ disciples and mother after the resurrection (Acts 1:14).
  • James was an apostle and leader in the Jerusalem Church (Gal 1:19; 2:9, 12; Acts 12:17; 15:13).
  • Paul reported his activities to James (Acts 21:28).
  • It would appear that at least some of Jesus’ brothers became believers (1 Cor 9:5).
  • James’s transformation from skeptic to believer is plausibly explained by his belief that Jesus had been raised and by a postresurrection appearance of Jesus to him (1 Cor 15:7).
  • James believed his risen brother appeared to him…

“With James, we have signifiacant evidence that indicates he and his brothers were not among Jesus’ followers. However, sometime after the crucifixion of Jesus, James became a follower of his brother, a leader in the church Jesus had started and finally died as a Christian martyr. The best explanation for this change of heart is that James came to believe that his brother had risen from the dead. It is problable that James had an experience that he perceived as being a postresurreciton appearance of Jesus.” (460, 461)

The Disciples Willingness to Die for their Faith in the Resurrected Jesus:

“The disciples willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs indicates that they certainly regarded those beliefs as true. The case is strong that they did not wilfully die about the appearances of the risen Jesus. Liars make poor martyrs.

No one questions the sincerity of the Muslim terrorist who blows himself up in a public place or the Buddhist monk who burns himself alive as a political protest. Extreme acts do not validate the truth of their beliefs, but their willingness to die indicates that they are sincerely convinced of the truth of their beliefs. Moreover, there is an important difference between the martyred apostles and those who die for their beliefs today. Modern martyrs act solely out of their trust in beliefs passed along to them by others. The apostles died for holding to their own testimony that they had personally seen the risen Jesus. Contemporary martyrs die for what they believe to be true. The disciples of Jesus suffered and were willing to die for what they knew to be either true or false…

We must also keep in mind that there is an absence of any hints that any of the Twelve (other than Judas) had recanted or walked away from the Christian community. If the news had spread that one or more of the original disciples had recanted, we would expect Christianity to have been dealt a severe blow…

It may likewise be suggested that to claim that the disciples suffered because they believed in the risen Christ is to claim too much, because they suffered for Christian teachings, of which the resurrection was only one. However, if the original disciples had not believed that they had seen the resurrected Jesus, their firm commitment to the Christian faith after the death of their leader is not easily explained.” (370, 371)

The Witness of Women:

“The main argument posited for the historicity of the appearance to the women, and the empty tomb for that matter, is that the early Christians would not have invented the story, since the low view of women in first-century Mediterranean society would raise problems of credibility. Bauckham provides evidence that in the Greco-Roman world educated men regarded women as ‘gullible in religious matters and especially prone to superstituous fantasy and excessive in religious practices.’…

Precisely because of the low view of women in antiquity, many see the appearance to the women, and to Mary Magdalene especially, as historical given the criterion of embarrassment. It seems unlikely that the Evangelists, especially Mark, would either invent existing testimonies to make women the first witnesses of the risen Jesus if that is not what was remembered in the earliest traditions. Why fabricate a report of Jesus’ resurrection that already would have been difficult for many to believe and compound that difficulty by adding women as the first witnesses?…Thus, as Bauckham assess the reason for the report’s lack of credibility in the first century is a reason for its credibility in the twenty first: ‘Since these narratives do not seem well designed to carry conviction at the time, they are likely to be historical, that is, believable by people with a historically critical mind-set today?'” (349-351)

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