Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Prophecy and Resurrection

Prophecy and Resurrection by Shelby Cade
A.W. Tozer once stated, “The unattended garden will soon be overrun with weeds; the heart that fails to cultivate truth and root out error will shortly be a theological wilderness.”1 Tozer recognized the importance of truth, especially theological truth. What evidence can be given to show that Christianity is the religion that has truth as its foundation?

In looking at the Christian truth claims compared to other religions, the divisions are distinguished by way of the evidence. Truth, by its very nature, is exclusive. Truth can be defined as that which corresponds to reality or the way things really are. If something is true, it is irrelevant if an individual believes it or not. All religions can be critiqued – including Christianity – to verify which one corresponds to the way things really are. What evidence exists for Christianity? (MP3 Audio RSS iTunes)

The evidence for Christian truth rests on prophesy and the resurrection. The first bit of evidence comes by way of prophecy. Jesus of Nazareth uniquely fulfilled the prophecies that were spoken of him hundreds of years earlier, even to the point of detailing the type of death he would receive (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53). According to Norm Geisler, the Old Testament records 191 Messianic prophecies.2 Peter Stoner has calculated the odds of just eight prophecies being fulfilled as one chance in ten to the 1017th power. An analogy of this is like covering the state of Texas with silver dollars two feet deep and marking one red for an individual to identify, blindfolded, on the first guess.3 The prophetical evidence shows strong support that Jesus was the expected Messiah, but what about the resurrection evidence?

Perhaps the biggest truth claim in context of Christianity is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Christianity lives or dies based upon the resurrection of Jesus. Paul states in his first book to the Corinthians, "If Christ has not been raised…we are then found to be false witnesses." (I Cor. 15:14-15). Paul claims that the resurrection of Jesus either verifies the truth of Christianity or it does not. If Jesus did rise bodily from the dead, then the best explanation is that Christianity is true. Is there evidence to verify the resurrection?

Being that no one witnessed the resurrection event, the evidence falls to those who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus, but how can these accounts be trusted? First, there are multiple attestations to the resurrection, with one of the most important given by the Apostle Paul. Multiple attestations help to show why the individuals who saw Jesus were not hallucinating or seeing a vision. Hallucinations are always individual, not group experiences.4 Paul, writing to the Corinthians, states that Jesus appeared to over 500 individuals at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). This letter to the Corinthians was written when the people of Paul's day could easily have offered counter explanations, but none were given. Also of note is the almost universal agreement of scholars that 1 Corinthians 15, specifially the first 8 verses, is a creedal passage concerning the resurrection that goes back to the resurrection itself. Jack Kent, a skeptic of bodily resurrection said the I Corinthian 15 passage “could be dated very close to the actual resurrection.”5 In other words, the resurrection story is not a later invention.

What other evidence exists to validate the resurrection story? According to the four gospel writers, the first appearances of Jesus were to women. In the first century, the testimony of women was considered invalid, so why would the authors include this point if they were simply trying to invent myth?

Another piece of evidence is the place at which the resurrection occured, Jerusalem. Jeruselem was the hub of Judaism. The Jews had strongly condemned Jesus for claiming that he was equal to God (Matthew 26:63-66, John 19:7). If Christianity were forged, we should expect to see this new group start anywhere but Jerusalem. Knowing the kind of persecution that would ensue claiming that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah of Judaism is just one more shred of evidence to point to the truthfulness of Christianity.

The final piece of evidence centers on the disciples themselves. They believed they had physically encountered the resurrected Jesus (Luke 24:36-43, Galatians 1:11-12). They changed from scared men to individuals who were willing to die for their encounter (John 20:19). No other stories existed to explain away the appearence of Jesus as the ressurected Messiah during the first century.

In summary, the body of Jesus was missing from the known burial tomb. The Jews claimed the body was stolen, only confirming that the body was gone. Women and a multitude of others saw Jesus alive. The Christian community was birthed in the most hostile environment imaginable, but this did not slow down the followers who had seen the resurrected Jesus. The resurrection story is early and the scale of evidence tips toward the truthfulness of Christianity.

Centuries later, other theories developed to explain the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus, such as the swoon theory, wrong grave theory, legendary story theory, hallucination theory and so forth. The fact is these explanations appeared late and can be discounted as false for not matching up with reality. Only one story has stood the test of time in aligning with the evidence. The one story that puts the pieces of truth together is that Jesus rose from the dead. Ultimately, Christianity is true based upon the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

1 http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/t/truth.htm, acquired 14, January 2010
2 Geisler, Norm, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 610
3 http://www.factnet.org/vbforum/archive/index.php/t-1809.html, acquired 16 January 2010
4 Collins, Gary as quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, p. 238
5 Kent, Jack, The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth, p. 16-17

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