Essentials of Apologetics - Lesson 13

Evidence for the Resurrection (Part 2)

This lesson discusses the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, emphasizing four key facts. The first fact is the death of Jesus by crucifixion, followed by the second fact, the empty tomb. Dr. McDowell highlights the significance of women, specifically Mary Magdalene, discovering the empty tomb, as their testimony was considered less significant in the patriarchal culture of the time. The second part of the lesson delves into the appearances of Jesus after his death, citing 1 Corinthians 15 and emphasizing the early and multiple accounts of these appearances. The final fact presented is the transformation of the disciples, challenging skeptics to provide an alternative explanation for the origin of Christianity and the disciples' willingness to suffer and die for their beliefs. Sean refutes common alternative explanations such as the disciples stealing the body or hallucinating, arguing that these theories fail to account for all the historical facts.

Sean McDowell
Essentials of Apologetics
Lesson 13
Watching Now
Evidence for the Resurrection (Part 2)

I. Introduction to the Resurrection

A. Overview of Previous Lecture

B. Case for the Resurrection

II. Empty Tomb as Historical Evidence

A. Gary Habermas and Resurrection Arguments

B. Significance of Women Discovering the Empty Tomb

C. Jerusalem as the Setting

D. Religious Leaders' Response

III. Appearances of Jesus

A. Early Accounts in the Gospels

B. Paul's Letter to Corinthians as a Historical Source

C. Examination of Paul's Conversion

D. Jesus's Appearances to Skeptics and His Family

IV. Transformation of the Disciples

A. The Apostles' Radical Shift in Focus

B. Martyrdom and Suffering for the Beliefs

C. Evaluation of Alternative Explanations

V. Questions and Challenges from the Audience

A. Exclusion of Women in Some Accounts

B. External References to the 500 Witnesses

C. Historical Accounts Beyond the New Testament

D. Saints Resurrected After Jesus's Death

VI. Conclusion

A. Confidence in the Resurrection as Historical Fact

B. Challenges to Embracing the Resurrection

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of apologetics, the theological discipline of defending the Christian faith, through a personal mall encounter that highlights the importance of being prepared to provide reasoned defenses, with a focus on biblical foundations, addressing objections, and fulfilling a ministry to those with questions.
  • This second lesson on apologetics, highlights the importance of understanding worldviews, using practical exercises and examples to illustrate how our minds shape beliefs, categorizing worldviews based on their answers to fundamental questions, and exploring Christianity's unique perspective on creation, the world's problem, and the solution through Jesus.
  • This lesson explores Antony Flew's shift from atheism to recognizing Christianity's uniqueness. Dr. McDowell provides four reasons why a spiritual quest ought to begin with Christianity: testability in history, free salvation, a livable worldview, and Jesus' central role beyond religious boundaries. The lesson includes a Q&A time reviewing Islam's view on Jesus and Darwin's evolution.
  • Debunking the myth of blind faith, Sean counters with a scriptural foundation, using personal encounters and anecdotes. Examining biblical narratives, especially in Exodus and the New Testament, reveals a pattern: God provides evidence, imparts knowledge, and calls for faith and action. The story of doubting Thomas underscores that belief aligns with evidence, not against it. The lesson closes by emphasizing faith's dynamic nature, which can be fortified through evidence-based study.
  • In this session, you'll delve into the speaker's exploration of truth, gaining insights into its multifaceted importance in various life aspects. The session highlights three key reasons for the significance of truth, introduces the correspondence theory, and underlines the implicit connection between Christianity and truth, offering a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • You gain a deep understanding of the distinction between subjective and objective claims in this lesson, illustrated through relatable examples like ice cream preferences. Sean communicates that subjective claims rely on personal beliefs, while objective claims are based on the external world. Overall, you will develop a nuanced perspective on truth, specifically in differentiating between subjective and objective claims, with a focus on moral values.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the moral argument for the existence of God. Sean draws from a personal debate experience, emphasizing that God provides a solid foundation for moral values. Three key points are highlighted: the need for a transcendent standard for right and wrong, the role of free will in moral accountability, and the requirement for divine grounding of human value. The lesson challenges naturalistic worldviews, asserting that they fail to offer a satisfactory explanation for objective morality, ultimately suggesting that living in accordance with God's design leads to true freedom and fulfillment.
  • Explore the Christian view on the soul, diving into its significance through moral law and beauty. Analyze arguments supporting its existence, like its role in free will, using analogies. Address contemporary debates on gender and transgender issues, suggesting a dual human nature. Incorporate biblical references, evaluating flawed arguments and introducing stronger ones. Discuss practical implications for personal well-being. This lesson explores the soul's concept from a Christian standpoint.
  • Gain insights into the intricate relationship between science and faith, exploring arguments for God's existence, the concept of fine-tuning in cosmology and biology, and the conclusion that the fine-tuning of the universe and DNA's information complexity point towards a fine tuner and an author of life, offering compelling evidence for the existence of God.
  • In this exploration of miracles, the lesson shifts from discussing God's existence to questioning divine revelation, challenging skeptics to reconsider their worldview and illustrating the philosophical underpinnings of miracles, ultimately emphasizing an open-minded investigation and hinting at a compelling case for theism and Christianity with overwhelming evidence for miracles.
  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of near-death experiences (NDEs) and their potential as a compelling apologetic tool, exploring evidentiary aspects, transformative impacts, objections, and the significance of information unattainable by natural means in supporting the case for an afterlife and the soul.
  • Dr. McDowell reviews the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection and the significance of the resurrection.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus, including the crucifixion, discovery of the empty tomb by women, early and multiple accounts of Jesus's appearances, and the transformative impact on the disciples, ultimately challenging alternative explanations and asserting the resurrection as the most reasonable conclusion based on historical facts.
  • Exploring the Bible's trustworthiness through the character and copy tests, this lesson establishes the reliability of the New Testament by highlighting the writers' honesty, the disciples' willingness to endure hardships, and the exceptional proximity and quantity of early manuscripts.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a thorough understanding of the New Testament's reliability through an exploration of its extensive manuscript evidence, addressing skeptics' concerns about variations, and highlighting corroboration from external sources such as historical records and archaeology.
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the problem of evil and suffering, exploring its intellectual and emotional dimensions, drawing on personal experiences, historical perspectives, and a philosophical approach, and laying the groundwork for a more in-depth exploration in the next session.
  • In this lesson, you will learn of the logical problem of evil, exploring the philosophical challenge to God's existence posed by the coexistence of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and evil, while examining the limitations of God's power, the compatibility of free will, and the unique Christian perspective emphasizing the redemptive nature of the incarnation and the cross in addressing the problem of evil.
  • Gain insights into responding to objections in apologetics, including addressing conflicts between a loving God and hell, defending the Bible against contradictions, clarifying misconceptions about God's stance on homosexuality, explaining the concept of the Trinity, and attributing natural evil to the brokenness of the world due to sin.
  • Gain insights into a personal and relational approach to apologetics by understanding that everyone is an apologist and theologian, as the lesson, through anecdotes, underscores the importance of discerning underlying questions, emphasizing active listening and probing inquiries to address the genuine needs and heartaches beneath surface-level queries.
  • Gain insights into effective spiritual conversations by asking four key questions: understanding beliefs, exploring reasons behind them, finding common ground, and navigating areas of disagreement, with an emphasis on listening and fostering genuine understanding.

In this day and age, it is critical that followers of Jesus know how to think clearly and biblically about their faith and how it intersects with and often contrasts with how the world thinks. These areas include one's worldview, the fact that faith is not blind, why the truth matters, why seeing design in creation points to a designer, and evidence for the soul, resurrection, and the Bible. How can God allow evil, and how do we talk with skeptics? Dr. McDowell discusses these topics and others in this easy-to-understand course on apologetics.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Part 2)

Sean McDowell
Lesson 13
Essentials of Apologetics

In our first lecture on the resurrection, we talked about how the resurrection answers three big questions, then we started to lay out a case of four facts we can know, historically speaking. The first is the death of Jesus by crucifixion.

Now the second one is the empty tomb. Unfortunately, we actually have an image of the empty tomb. No, I'm just kidding. If you can see it, it's the Legos depiction of an empty tomb. This part is key because now we're starting to move towards the positive evidence that requires an explanation.

Now, Gary Habermas is one of the leading experts on the resurrection in the world. He has chronicled over about 21 to 22 arguments, some stronger than others, for the tomb being empty. So it's a cumulative case. We're just going to briefly look at two or three of them that I think are most compelling and many of my Biola grad students agree.

First one is who discovered the empty tomb? And you've read this story probably hundreds of times and in all four Gospels, who discovers the empty tomb?

Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene, the women, do.

Now, why is it significant that the women discover the empty tomb? Well, in that culture at that time, a woman's testimony was considered less significant than a man's. It was a patriarchal culture. Men tended to be educated more, held a lot of positions of power.

So imagine you're the disciples and you're inventing a story that relies upon an empty tomb. Who would be the least likely witnesses you would invent to report it? The answer's obvious. It'd be women. So minimally, this tells us they're not inventing this story. They're reporting what they think is true. If I had to pick one argument for the empty tomb and only one, this would be my argument for the empty tomb and, interestingly enough, a lot of skeptics will agree with that.

Second, in what city in the world was Jesus crucified? It's not a trick question, by the way.

[inaudible 00:02:14].

Jerusalem, right?

Now what's interesting is when the apostles start proclaiming in the Book of Acts and they start preaching, they say things like, "This happened in public, and you yourselves know that this is true."

In Jerusalem, they invite people to investigate the facts if they don't trust the account of the apostles. Now, if you're inventing a story, which would be the most difficult city in the world to invent a story about a well-known at least preacher, miracle worker, crucified publicly, buried in a known rich man's tomb within walking distance, what would be the hardest city to invent this?


It'd be Jerusalem. They go to Canada, they come to the US, they go somewhere else in the Middle East, they go to Australia, they go anywhere, but they march right back to the very city within days, probably weeks after the events, and start publicly proclaiming that this is true. Again, minimally, this shows a lot of confidence that the disciples not only think this is true, but that their audience is going to believe it and will not be able to refute it.

So the disciples preaching the risen Jesus in Jerusalem within weeks is another piece of the cumulative case that they would not have been able to go simply find the body and prayed around town and disprove Christianity.

Now, some people say the religious leaders never would've done this, but there's actually some cases of this kind of thing happening in extreme instances. So in some ways they wouldn't typically take a body and do this, but in the case of a figure like Jesus, given what is at stake, we have precedent that such a thing could take place.

Now the third one is what is the first response the religious leaders give to the proclamation of the resurrection when they're trying to explain away? What do they say?

They stole it.

They stole the body. The Jewish response or the religious leader response is that the disciples stole the body.

Now, if you stop and think about this, if they say they stole the body, what does that assume about the status of the tomb?

It's empty. The body-

The body is gone and the tomb is empty. You don't say to your teacher, "My dog ate my homework," if you have your homework. You give that explanation if your homework is lacking. This is another piece that says, "Wait a minute, body's gone," and even the enemies know that the body is gone.

Now so far with the death of Jesus and the empty tomb, does this require a supernatural explanation? Not necessarily. It's open to that, but in itself, a death and an empty tomb doesn't necessarily point towards a resurrection. This is why N.T. Wright says we need an empty tomb, but we also need the appearances, which we'll come to.

This is a picture of me a number of years ago. I had a chance to go to the Garden Tomb, which looks like you want the tomb to look like. It's probably not the right site. It's probably the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. But what's cool is when they close the gate there, it says "He is not here. He is risen." And you get goosebumps being in that kind of tomb in that place.

Now the third point, we have the death of Jesus, the empty tomb, is the appearances of Jesus, the appearances of Jesus.

Now, there's a lot of different ways we could point towards the appearances. For example, some of the first appearances are to the women. Again, why invent this?

But there's one piece of evidence that some people would consider in itself one of the most compelling pieces of evidence for the resurrection, and this is what's found in Paul's letter to 1 Corinthians.

Now, keep in mind, when Paul says, "For I delivered to you," you are the Christians in Corinth. Even skeptical scholars will concede that Paul wrote this letter in the middle of the '50s. So within two decades, two decades and a half of the death of Jesus, there were still a lot of people around that could confirm or potentially deny these kinds of claims. Paul says, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received."

When my 19-year-old son was about five, he said, "Dad, what's the most important thing you know?" I said that Jesus lived, died and rose on the third day. And so Paul says, "I delivered to you of first importance what I also received," that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.

Now, what's interesting about this passage is keep in mind, Paul wrote this in the mid-'50s, but scholars have realized over the past few decades that the language and the style of what Paul is giving here is not his own wording, but he's passing on something called a creed. A creed was a short saying that would be passed from one person to the next that encapsulated key beliefs and, in this case, you can look at the structure of it. It tells us it's not Pauline language that he's doing what? He's delivering to the Christians in Corinth something he earlier received.

Now that raises a really interesting question, doesn't it? If Paul writes this in the mid-'50s and he's delivering something he earlier received, the question is when and where did Paul receive this? So minimally, 55 AD, within 25 years, a claim that Jesus died, was buried and appeared to people, historically speaking, alone is very significant.

But we can get even closer to the events and notice what Paul says. He says that he appeared to Cephas, which is an early Aramaic name for Peter, and then to the 12, which by the way it really was 11, but the 12 is a term for the group, after he appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time.

What is Paul doing here? He's saying, "I'm delivering to you the short statement which includes the death, the burial and the appearances of Jesus to Peter, to the 12." He mentions other apostles. He goes on to mention James and the 500.

When did Paul receive this? If you look in the Book of Galatians, we know that he visited the apostles about three years-plus after his conversion, and then another 14 years later. One of those two times, and a case could be made the earlier time, that Paul would've received this. And if you're converted to the faith within three years and you go see the apostles, you're not going to be thinking like, "Let's go play golf and let's go watch a movie." You're going to want to know what happened, who's this person Jesus, tell me all the stories, what are the facts, if you're going to go put your life on the line for this.

Minimally 25 years, good chance 14, a very good chance within three years, historically speaking, we have an account of the appearances of Jesus very, very early that doesn't necessarily overturn, but pushes back on the idea that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was a legend that emerged decades and decades or centuries later. The earliest written account we have, this is the earliest written account, is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose on the third day and appeared to people. That's a powerful early account of such a claim.

Now, sometimes you maybe hear skeptics say, "Well, why did Jesus only appear to those who already believed in Him?" First off, I think if you're going to criticize the methodology of Jesus, good luck with that. Seem to know what He was talking about. More people call themselves followers of Jesus than anyone who ever lived. Minimally, can we give Him credit that just maybe He knew what he was doing?

But that's a fair question as well. Why didn't He show up to Pilate and go, "Boo, I was right. I've got more power than you?" What's interesting is we don't know for sure that Jesus didn't appear to Pilate. We don't have a record of it, but we don't have a record of all the appearances of Jesus necessarily, interestingly enough. But Jesus didn't only appear to people who believed in Him. The Apostle Paul, also known as Saul, was persecuting Christians, and Jesus appeared to him.

Now, Gary Habermas for the past few decades has been studying, I can't remember what number it is, thousands of journal articles and dissertations from the left to the right on scholarship, and it is almost unanimously agreed that Paul had an experience he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus and it radically transformed him. Almost all scholars can see that.

Now, they'll try to explain away and say, "Well, maybe it's schizophrenia, maybe there's some other explanation," but virtually all scholars agree that Paul had an experience he interpreted as being of the risen Jesus, which radically changed his worldview to start proclaiming Christ as the risen Messiah. That requires explanation if you don't accept the one that Paul himself and Luke give us in Galatians and in the Book of Acts.

But that's not the only skeptic He appeared to. Interestingly enough, Jesus's own family rejected Him during His lifetime. You see, in Mark Chapter 3, His family thought He was crazy. In John Chapter 7, they try to trick Him, potentially to get killed. Jesus was an embarrassment to His family. He was an embarrassment to them.

And then James becomes a leader in the early church, is martyred in AD 62. What happened? Best explanation is 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appears to James, so He did not just appear to those who believed in Him. In fact, Thomas, by the way, was not a doubter. We need to stop calling Thomas a doubter. It actually really bothers me because doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is when you go, "Yeah, I think so. I'm not sure." You might be wavering. You might think something is true, but you have questions about it.

That's not what Thomas did. Thomas was like, "I will not believe unless you give me proof." That's not a doubter. He flat-out rejected it. That's the third person who didn't believe until Jesus appeared to him, minimally.

So fact number one, Jesus died by crucifixion. Fact number two, the tomb is empty. Fact number three, we have early and multiple accounts of Jesus appearing to people.

Fact number four is the transformation of the disciples. If you don't believe the account that the early Christians give that Jesus appeared to them, you have to give some other explanation for the origin of the Christian faith, what led to this radical shifts in their focus, and as we're going to see, willingness to suffer and die for these beliefs? If it's not what the apostles tell us, then what better explains it? And I can't find a better explanation that can account for it.

Now, I actually did my dissertation on the deaths of the apostles and I've written a 300-page academic book on this. And if you look at church history, here's what we're told. Peter was crucified, some would argue upside down, Andrew crucified, Phil crucified, Bartholomew flayed to death, James The Greater beheaded, Matthew killed with a sword, Matthias stoned to death and that has nothing to do with smoking pot, just for the record, Thomas stabbed with spears, John died after exile, James The Just thrown, beaten, Paul beheaded. That's what we're consistently told.

Now, I examined this to ask, don't take a picture of this yet, where history ends and where legend begins. And I think historically we can confirm these four, these four with a significant high degree of probability.

Andrew and Thomas might be more probable than not, but the evidence is later and the evidence is a little bit weaker. Some of these stories like Bartholomew being flayed to death shows up about five centuries later. Doesn't mean it's false, but you can see why it'd be hard to trust that historically speaking.

But what matters here, what matters is the apostles, you just look in the Book of Acts, they start proclaiming early on that Jesus dead and He had appeared to them and they're witnesses of this. They get threatened, they get beaten, they get thrown in prison. Stephen is killed in the early chapters of Acts, and all they had to do was stop proclaiming the risen Jesus and they refused to do so. This doesn't prove Christianity is true, but it seems to prove to me they're not liars. They're not inventing a story to intentionally get themselves put in harm's way. That makes no sense.

A friend of mine, some of you might recognize the name J. Warner Wallace, cold case detective, former atheist, has never lost a case in a court of law. He said people commit crimes for one of three things and what are they? Their power, sex and money. You look at the apostles. Power? Jesus said, "Lay down your life." Sex? Jesus showed nothing but dignity and care for women. Money? They emphasize giving to the poor. Friends, the motivation is not there. I think these facts can only be explained by Jesus actually rising from the dead.

Now, some would say, "But the disciples stole the body." Well, number one, how did they get by the guard? Number two, that means they're liars. So they're intentionally propagating something they know is false and then intentionally putting themselves in harm's way for something they know is a lie? Be that the disciples stole the body, then how do you explain the conversion of Paul? So best you could get an empty tomb, but this can't account for all the facts.

Another popular explanation is that the disciples were hallucinating. They were hallucinating. This is a very popular academic explanation. It's also all over the internet.

Well, one big problem amongst others is the very minimal evidence of group hallucinations. A hallucination is a projection of something that is internal. You cannot share a hallucination with a group, any more than you can share a dream with a group.

One of my friends, Michael Cohen, has written a massive book on the resurrection. He said, "Imagine you could share a dream," he's like, "you wouldn't even... I wouldn't have to go to Hawaii. I'd just go to sleep, wake up my wife and be like, 'I'm in Maui. Join me in Hawaii. Let's have a vacation together.'" We know it doesn't work that way, the movie Inception aside, the problem with hallucinations, the big problem, is there's so many accounts of group appearances of Jesus. By the way, at best, hallucinations could explain the appearances, but then how does it account for the empty tomb? And then how do you get the conversion of Paul?

You see, one exercise I'll do with my students when I teach this is I'll say, "Okay, you invent the best explanation you can think of to account for the rise of Christianity, the empty tomb and the appearances," and they'll come up with creative ones. And then we start writing them on the board and, one by one, analyze them and they all fall away. There's no explanation that can account for all the facts, apart from Jesus rising from the grave.

So why don't we embrace that? Well, number one, an anti-supernatural bias. But number two, if you believe in Jesus, He says, "Come and pick up your cross. Come and lay down your life and give it all up and follow me." Sometimes it's easier to be skeptical than to pick up the radical call of Jesus.

So much more could be said about the resurrection. I teach an entire semester-long class at Talbot School of Theology, but we've laid out the basics.

Questions, challenges, your thoughts on the resurrection or the evidence for the resurrection? Yes?

Why did the stories going forward not include the sightings by the women?

Okay, so why don't the stories going forward include the sightings of the women?

The gospels include the sightings of the women. 1 Corinthians 15 does not. So the gospels include it because the gospels are narratives and they're simply telling the story.

1 Corinthians 15 does not because it's making a different point. It's making authoritative point so it lists Peter first as the head of the apostles, lists the 12, lists other apostles and lists the 500. So it is including some context and not others, which tells us that the level of authority that women had was less, so they likely would not have invented it in the gospels if they didn't think it was true.

That's a really good question. Thank you. Yes?

Out of the 500 that He saw and more, is there any outside biblical reference to that sighting?

So the appearance to the 500 has some apologetic value, but I think it's also somewhat limited.

So here's why. We don't know who those 500 were. We don't know exactly when that was, and we don't know exactly where, and there's no additional reference to that 500 so sometimes we can overstate the evidence for that.

But on the other hand, Paul just mentions it in this letter as if everybody knows, in a sense of like, "If you don't believe me, track somebody down and investigate it." Now, that'd be a lot harder then than it would be today, but it's still very doable and possible. So I think the confidence and clarity with which Paul says it is a part of a larger cumulative case for the appearances. Don't want to totally get rid of it, but we got to be careful not to overstate it.

Great question. Let's do one more.

What about Josephus or Pilate, any of historians or any other books that they talked about the day and what about-

So when you go outside of the New Testament, you can confirm many of the basic facts around the person of Jesus. Things like Jesus lived. It was believed that Jesus was a miracle worker. Jesus was a teacher. Jesus died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. In the early second century, he's worshiped as God and believed to be the Messiah, so you're not going to get the full story. And, of course, Greeks and Jews and Romans don't believe that it's true, but they add certain elements to the larger case that you might just say buttress and strengthen it.

Now some people say, "Well, why don't we have more about Jesus?" And I'd say, first off, his public ministry was three years in that obscure part of the Roman kingdom. No military power, no political power. It's kind of amazing we have anything, given how sparse the amount of writings were at that time. If there were no extra biblical sources, I would still believe in the biblical accounts, for reasons we'll get to soon, because of the evidence that the New Testament are reliable sources.

Great question. All right, for sake of time, we'll do one because you're a young guy. Go.

Thank you. What about the saints who are resurrected after the death of Jesus?

What about him?

Is there any evidence of them actually marching on Jerusalem?

Okay, so only in the Gospel of Matthew is there a reference to the saints that arise after the resurrection of Jesus. I'm not aware, I haven't studied church history to see if there's other corroborative references to this, but I don't think there's any outside of the New Testament that is early.

Scholars debate whether that's meant to be taken historically or whether it's kind of an apocalyptic sign, so to speak, that's saying God has broken in specially here. That is a controversial debate among scholars, but in one sense, that we don't need additional evidence for that to prove that Jesus rose from the grave.

Great question, though. Love it.