Legend comes with the passing of time. Extraordinary things can be stated about an event and an individual if sufficient time passes. The reasons for this is that there are no eyewitnesses to validate the claims being made. Since no one can validate the claims of legends, myth and truth are placed in the same historical blender and legend is poured out. When it comes to the subject of the Ressurection of Jesus Christ, how do we prove that Jesus’ resurrection was not a created legend or urban myth? The Apostle Paul’s life and writings are extremely valuable in understanding the early Christian belief in Jesus. Michael Licona argues,
Paul is thus a very important source for us in understanding the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection, especially when comparing his view of resurrection with the views expressed in the canonical Gospels. On the one hand, if Paul wrote about resurrection in terms of something that occurs in a “spiritual” sense—that is, a person’s spirit lives on while his corpse decays and is never raised—the chances significantly increase that the Evangelists invented the empty tomb and bodily appearances. On the other hand, if Paul thought about resurrection as something that happens to a corpse, then it is much more difficult to argue that Mark invented the empty tomb and that the resurrection narratives in the Gospels were invented, since the earliest extant Christian literature that comments on Jesus’ resurrection would appear to be in agreement with the Gospels.
Can a person “prove” that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead? Dr. Norman Geisler, distinguished scholar of philosophy and apologetics argues,
An empty tomb as such does not prove the resurrection any more than a missing body from a morgue proves it was resurrected. Further, mere appearances or “manifestations” as such do not prove a real resurrection any more than the angelic “manifestations” in the Bible proved these angels had resurrected from the dead. And mere personal identity is not enough; there must be a material identity as well. That is, the resurrection body must be the numerically same material body that was placed in the tomb.
The historical record of the eyewitness states that they actually saw the same Jesus (John 20:17, 27-31). Why is this important? Because it must be noted that the resurrection of Christ is the hinge upon which the door of Christianity opens. In fact, Paul made it very clear in I Corinthians 15:14-19 that the resurrection of Jesus was the central truth of Christianity. He provided at least seven facts that would take away the credibility of the gospel if Christ is not risen:
1) Our preaching is useless.
2) Our faith is useless.
3) The apostles are false witnesses.
4) Our faith is vain.
5) We are still in our sins.
6) The dead in Christ are lost.
7) We are the most pitied of all men.
The proof of Jesus’ resurrection lies in the historical, prophetical, and transformational evidence. The historical evidence is validated by the data that passes the test of reliability. The prophetical evidence is attested by the remarkable accuracy of its predictions pertaining to Messiah. And the transformational evidence is attested by the radical transformation of the disciples, especially Paul’s conversion. According to Michael Licona, he quotes Dr. Gary Habermas by stating,
Habermas, in light of his survey of more than thirty years of critical scholarship relating to Jesus’ resurrection, writes, “Perhaps no fact is more widely recognized than that early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus. In particular, virtually all scholars recognize Paul’s testimony that he had an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.… Seldom is the historical authenticity of any of these testimonies or the genuine belief behind them challenged by respected critical scholars, no matter how skeptical.”
The radical transformation of Paul from persecutor to preacher can only be explained by one logical answer—The Resurrection of Jesus. The dynamic change in Paul’s life is a witness to the validity of the resurrection of Jesus. This once religious terrorist was transformed by the appearance of Jesus Christ in bodily form. The testimony of Paul was not a way to deceive the Christian masses so that he could persecute them further. Nor was Paul deceived by his imagination or mentally impaired by the environment concerning what he saw on the Damascus road. With all his reasoning abilities in place, Paul proclaims the resurrection of Christ until the day he died. One writer argues,
“Whether or not Acts was written specifically to vindicate Paul himself, it seems clear that not only the fact of Paul’s conversion but the manner of it was intended to be seen as powerful testimony to the truth of the Christian faith, and powerful support for its legitimacy within the Roman empire.”
Outside of Paul’s conversation, I examine the impact of the truth claim of Jesus Christ on my own life. His resurrection has caused me to place His interests above my interests as I obey His Word. It is not “I” as Paul says, providing the power to move forward in a missional manner, but Christ that lives within me (cf. Galatians 2:20). Since there were still eyewitnesses alive to attest to Paul’s gospel claim (cf. I Corinthians 15), and not enough time had passed for legend to occur, the most logical explanation for Paul conversion and many others is—the Resurrection of Jesus!
Geisler, Norman L. The Battle for the Resurrection. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1992.
Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.
Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003.