The Resurrection of Jesus Christ – The evidence from sceptics


Dr. V. J. M. de Silva

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a central event of history, and the very corner-stone of the Christian faith. Christianity is based on the death of Christ and the Resurrection. It stands or falls on the truthfulness of this event. The earliest evidence for this is from the writings of St. Paul. Now, Paul, then known as Saul of Tarsus, was a Jewish Pharisee, committed to persecuting the early Christians. He was converted after encountering the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, while journeying with companions, a few years after the death of Christ – (around AD 33-36). In a letter to the Church in Corinth, he sets this down very clearly – "And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty." – (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17 & 19).

A relevant question here is, where did Paul get this information from? He had never associated with Jesus. Scholars have identified oral ‘creeds’, formulated and used by the early church in the New Testament. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians - (I Cor. 15: 3-7), mentions one. He says, "What I received I passed on to you ……. 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 Peter, and then to the Twelve……". Scholars believe that Paul received this creed from Peter and James while visiting them in Jerusalem (AD 36), three years after his conversion. That is extremely early!

In fact, the Christian Gospels have been recorded very early, within a few years of the happenings, when most witnesses and observers were alive. It is more valid than ‘hearsay’.

Christianity stakes its claim to truthfulness on historical events open to critical investigation. This explains the number of conversions by sceptics throughout history. One of the best evidences for the truth of Christianity and in particular the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the testimony of former sceptics, many of whom attempted to disprove Christian faith.

As Dr. Henry Morris (1918 – 2006), scientist and Christian apologist, says, compared to other religions, "the entire subject of evidences is almost exclusively the domain of Christian evidences ….. Christianity stands or falls upon the objective reality of gigantic supernatural events in history and the evidences therefore. This fact in itself is an evidence of its truth." (Morris, Many Infallible Proofs, 1982)

In this article, I have not just enumerated all the ‘evidencs for the resurrection’, but looked at whole subject from a different angle. I have tried to show that both those who were once committed sceptics, and those who are expertly trained to sift evidence, have declared on the basis of evidence, that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact. I select lawyers as they are expertly trained in sifting evidence and coming to conclusions.

The Conversion of Sceptics - In the mid-eighteenth century, Lord George Lyttelton and Gilbert West, both sceptics, went to Oxford University as young men. There, they were determined to attack the very basis of Christianity. Lyttelton set out to prove that Saul of Tarsus (Paul), was never really converted to Christianity, and West intended to demonstrate that Jesus never really rose from the dead. Each had planned to do a painstaking job in research, taking a year to establish his case. But, as they proceeded, they eventually concluded that Christianity was true. Both became Christians. West eventually wrote Observations on the History and Evidences of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1747). George Lyttelton wrote a lengthy text titled The Conversion of St. Paul (reprint 1929) – [American Antiquarian Society, Early American Imprints, No. 8909 (1639-1800)]

In the 1930s, Frank Morrison (1881 -1950), an English lawyer and a rationalist, attempted to discover the "real" Jesus. He was convinced that "Christ’s history rested upon very insecure foundations". He was dogmatically opposed to the miraculous elements in the Gospels. Morison decided to "take the crucial last phase in the life of Christ and to strip it of its overgrowth of primitive beliefs and dogmatic suppositions, and to see this supremely great Person as he really was.... It seemed to me that if I could come at the truth why this man died a cruel death at the hands of the Roman Power, how he himself regarded the matter, and especially how he behaved under the test, I should be very near to the true solution of the problem." (Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone)

But the book that Morison ended up writing was not the one he intended. He proceeded to write one of the most able defences of the Resurrection of Christ in our time, Who Moved the Stone? The 1st chapter is titled ‘The Book that Refused to be written’.

The Cambridge scholar C. S. Lewis (1898 -1963), a former atheist, was converted to Christianity on the basis of the evidence, according to his text Surprised by Joy. He recalls, "I thought I had the Christians ‘placed’ and disposed of forever." But C. S. Lewis became a Christian because the evidence was compelling and he could not escape it. Even against his will he was "brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting [my] eyes in every direction for a chance of escape". The God whom he so earnestly desired not to meet became His Lord and Saviour - (Surprised by Joy). His book on Christian evidences, Mere Christianity, is considered a classic - (translated into 36 languages, over 3.5 million copies sold), and has been responsible for converting thousands to the faith, among them Charles ("Chuck") Colson – a man with a keen legal mind and a former sceptic and "hatchet man" of the Nixon administration of the 1970s. Involved in the Watergate scandal, he was imprisoned, and became a committed Christian while in prison. He later wrote the book, Born Again.

Among great literary writers, few can match the brilliance of famous author Malcolm Muggeridge (1903- 1990). He, too, was once a sceptic of Christianity. But near the end of his life he became fully convinced of the truth of the Resurrection of Christ, writing a book acclaimed by critics, Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975). He wrote, "The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history..... What is unique about Jesus is that, on the testimony and in the experience of innumerable people of all sorts and conditions, of all races and nationalities, from the simplest and most primitive to the most sophisticated and cultivated, he remains alive." Muggeridge concludes, "That the Resurrection happened... seems to be indubitably true ….Either Jesus never was, or he still is.... With the utmost certainty, I assert he still is." (Muggeridge, Jesus, The Man who Lives, 1978)

To name a few others:

 Giovanni Papini (1881 -1956), foremost Italian intellectual atheist & iconoclastic philosopher. Also a journalist, he converted to faith in Christ and in 1921 and wrote Life of Christ, to the surprise of many.

 Josh McDowell (b 1939), a former sceptic, who as a law-student said that every Christian had two minds: ‘one was lost while the other was out looking for it’. He eventually wrote a number of books in defense of Christianity - author or co-author of over 150 – best known is, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

 Sir William Ramsay (1859 -1939), one of the greatest archaeologists, professor at both Oxford and Cambridge, was once a sceptic, convinced that the Bible was fraudulent – he thought that the Book of Acts was a 2nd century production. He spent fifteen years in Asia Minor and Palestine ‘digging for the evidence’, doubting the story of Paul’s travels. In his research he had to do a topographical study of Asia Minor. For this, he was compelled to study the writings of Luke – (the Book of Acts). As a result he was forced to reverse his beliefs. Ramsay confirmed the trustworthiness of St. Luke as a historian. He says, "It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth". (Saint Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, 1896). His own archaeological findings convinced him of the reliability and truth of the Bible.

Such intellectuals who were once sceptics, are numerous, right up to modern times. There are hundreds of such books in various languages – (the entire Bible has been translated into 670 languages, and the New Testament into 1521).

The Evidence for the Resurrection –I will now examine what some leading lawyers have concluded about the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus In actuality, the truth of the Resurrection can be determined by the very reasoning used in law to determine questions of fact. (This procedure is also true for establishing the historical reliability and accuracy of the New Testament documents.)

Lord Darling, a former Lord Chief Justice in England, asserts: "In its favour as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true." (Michael Green, Man Alive, 1969)

Lord Caldecote, also Lord Chief Justice of England, observed that an "overwhelming case for the Resurrection could be made merely as a matter of strict evidence … and His Resurrection has led me, as often as I have tried to examine the evidence, to believe it as a fact beyond dispute". (Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible: A Defense of the Christian Faith, 1977),

Simon Greenleaf, founder of the Harvard Law School, once a sceptic, who later became a Christian. In his book Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, Greenleaf writes: "All that Christianity asks of men... is, that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses [to the Resurrection] be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to a rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability and truth".

Sir Edward Clark, K. C., observes: As a lawyer, I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court, I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. Inference follows on evidence, and a truthful witness is always artless and disdains effect. The gospel evidence for the resurrection is of this class, and as a lawyer, I accept it unreservedly as a testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate. (In John Stott, Basic Christianity, 1969)

Conclusion - It has been said that Christians believe in God because they want to believe, while atheists refuse to believe, because they don’t want to believe. The important thing is to have an open mind. Unfortunately, most of us have our own worldviews which we rarely change. May be, as the singer Paul Simon says (in ‘The Boxer’): "A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest."

Finally, may I say, the Word of God has withstood attacks from the 1st century. I will close with a summary of a poem by John Clifford, ‘The Anvil of God’s Word’ – "Truly, it can be said that just as the hammers in a blacksmith’s shop get worn out through years of beating, leaving the anvil unchanged, though the noise of falling blows can be heard, so has the ‘Anvil’ of God’s Word prevailed against the ‘hammer’ blows of the sceptics. The Anvil is unchanged, the hammers gone".

(Most of the facts mentioned in this article are from the writings of Dr. John Ankerburg & Dr. John Weldon)

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