ARE THE BIBLICAL SCRIPTURES RELIABLE? PART EIGHT
The virgin birth:
What is the evidence for the virgin birth of Jesus the Christ? Virgin births are reported in other religious systems, not just Christianity. Some scholars believe Christianity borrowed virgin birth traditions from non-Christian religions and incorporated such tradition into the account of Christ’s birth. What is the evidence for the Christian claim? Why should we believe that Christ was born of a virgin?
The Christian claim that Jesus was born of a virgin is based on faith in the reliability of the Biblical Scriptures. Throughout this series we have discussed the issue of Scriptural reliability and have determined that the Scriptures, while not inerrant, do provide a reasonable level of reliability comparable to other ancient literature. Therefore, we have no good reason to doubt the credibility of Matthew and Luke recording that Jesus was born of a virgin. We will examine the evidence for the virgin birth of Jesus within the context of believing that what Matthew and Luke wrote regarding this event is true. I will limit our examination of the birth accounts to questions internal to those accounts.
Almah, Bethulah, Parthenos:
Matthew 1:18-23: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" -which means, “God with us”(NIV).
We see in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus a reference to the fulfillment of an OT prophecy. Matthew doesn’t name the prophet he is quoting. Scholars attribute this statement to Isaiah as recorded in Isaiah, chapter seven. Chapter seven records that Ahaz was king of Judah, Pekah was king of Israel and a man named Rezin was king of Aram. As can be seen, Israel was split into two nations, Judah to the south and Israel to the north.
King Pekah of Israel formed an alliance with king Rezin of Aram and the two kings and their armies came up to fight against Ahaz and Judah. God, through the prophet Isaiah, told Ahaz that this alliance would not succeed against Ahaz and Judah. It’s recorded that God gave a sign to Ahaz to show him the alliance would not succeed.
Isaiah 7:14-16: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.”
As can be seen, the sign given to Ahaz pertains to the situation he was facing relative to being attacked by the alliance. There is nothing in Isaiah’s prophecy that would indicate Isaiah is prophesying that Christ would be born of a virgin. The name “Immanuel” in the Hebrew means “God is with us” or “God with us.” The name Immanuel given to the boy mentioned in this prophecy signified to Ahaz and Judah that God would be with them in their battle against the alliance. When the angel speaks of Mary's child being called Immanuel (God with us), the angel is not saying the child is God anymore than Isaiah is saying that the child born to the woman in Isaiah 7:14 is God. The child born in Isaiah was to be a sign to Ahaz that God would be with him. Jesus being called Immanuel is a sign to first century Israel that God would be with them in providing a savior in the person of Jesus.
The Hebrew word translated virgin in verse 14 is almah, which has the basic meaning of a young girl of marriageable age. The Hebrew word for virgin in a moral sense is bethulah. It appears Matthew was quoting from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) where the Hebrew word almah was translated into the Greek word parthenos. This Greek word has a broader meaning than almah and can be translated virgin, marriageable maiden or young married women. Context will determine the meaning.
Some who challenge the idea of the virgin birth do so based on the following consideration. Since almah is not the common Hebrew word for virgin, it is believed Isaiah was not speaking of a virgin in a moral sense but was instead referring to a young woman that may or may not have been a virgin. It is therefore concluded that Matthew is inappropriately using the quote from Isaiah to substantiate a supposed virgin birth of Christ.
This argument, however, is superfluous. There is nothing in the meaning of almah (which means a young girl of marriageable age) that prohibits an almah from also being a bethulah which is the Hebrew word for virgin. The Hebrew Scriptures themselves bare this out. In the account in Genesis 24 where a wife is being chosen for Isaac, both Hebrew words are used to describe a virgin.
Genesis 24:16: The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; (bethulah) no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.
Genesis 24:43: See, I am standing beside this spring; if a maiden (almah) comes out to draw water and I say to her, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar,"
This entire twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis is dealing with choosing a wife for Isaac. The writer uses the Hebrew for virgin and maiden interchangeably. The translators of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek (Septuagint) knew this and therefore had no problem using the Greek parthenos which includes the meaning of virgin.
Luke also speaks of the virgin birth but says nothing about prophecy being fulfilled. Luke doesn’t mention the account in Isaiah. Luke uses the Greek word parthenos to describe Mary. By context it should be apparent Luke is talking about a woman who has not had relations with a man as Mary says flat out that she is a virgin.
Luke 1:26-35: In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
The question here is not whether Mary was a virgin as by her own admission she is. The question is whether there is a legitimate link between Isaiah’s prophecy and the birth of Christ. There is nothing in Isaiah's account of a young women or virgin giving birth that suggests a fulfillment of an event 700 years later. The sign given to Ahaz was directed to Ahaz. Even the naming of the child Immanuel relates to the events at hand. The context of Isaiah 7:14-16, clearly shows that the son spoken of is a boy that would be living at that time and behaving in a certain way relative to the two kings being laid waste.
So what are we to make of this matter? As already discussed in this series, the Greek for fulfilled means, “to make full, to fill, to fill up.” Matthew may simply be saying that the birth of Christ reflects a greater fulfillment of something that occurred on a much smaller scale in the past. Matthew does not say Isaiah was prophesying the birth of Christ but only that the birth was a filling up or making full of a prophecy that appears to pertain to events that occurred in Isaiah’s time. This being said, it still remains that Matthew compares Mary becoming pregnant while still being a virgin with the woman in Isaiah which is to suggest that the woman in Isaiah is seen as giving birth while still a virgin.
It is interesting that the Hebrew construction of the phrase “The virgin will be with child" in Isaiah 7:14 strongly suggests that Isaiah is not saying that the "virgin" or "young maiden" will be with child but that she already is with child at the time Isaiah is speaking to Ahaz. In its footnotes to Isaiah 7:14, the New English Bible (NET) points this out This same conclusion is reached in a detailed discussion of the Hebrew construction of this passage at www.crivoice.org/isa7-14.html. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates it this way:
Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
If indeed Isaiah is speaking about a women that is already pregnant and not a women who is about to become pregnant, it better fits what is written in Matthew 1:18-23 where the author speaks of Mary already being with child at the time the angel addresses Joseph. The question that remains is whether the woman in Isaiah became pregnant through sexual intercourse or did God perform a miracle in supernaturally facilitating her pregnancy? For Mary's virginal pregnancy to reflect the pregnancy of the woman in Isaiah to have valid meaning, the woman in Isaiah would also have had to experience a virginal birth. Is there reason to believe the woman in Isaiah experienced a virginal birth?
Isaiah said that the birth of the child would be a sign to Ahaz that God would be with him and he would be successful against the alliance. The Hebrew word translated "sign" in this passage can mean something miraculous and is used in this fashion by Isaiah in other of his writings. A child born in the normal way would not be a very convincing sign to Ahaz whereas a child born to a virgin would get his attention. Therefore, it would appear that when Isaiah used almah, which can mean virgin (young girl of marriageable age) and when the Septuagint translators used parthenos which can also mean virgin, it was because the woman in Isaiah was indeed a virgin when she became pregnant. There is nothing in Isaiah's account of this event that prohibits this conclusion.
If this is not the case, and the woman in Isaiah became pregnant in the normal way, then Matthew's use of the woman's pregnancy in Isaiah as analogous to the manner in which Mary became pregnant is bogus.
The birth of Christ is discussed only in Matthew and Luke. Some believe that because Paul, whose letters are thought to pre-date the Gospels, makes no mention of a virgin birth, the virgin birth is suspect. On the other hand, we have Luke, a disciple of Paul, taking what appears to be a very scholarly approach in the writing of his Gospel and the Acts. It is very unlikely Luke would write about a virgin birth without having thoroughly investigated its validity. Luke records Mary saying she was a virgin. We have Matthew record that Joseph found Mary to be pregnant prior to them having sex.
Matthew was one of the twelve. He had access to a lot of information. He had contact with Mary. He obviously had a lot of contact with Christ. Matthew would have had the facts relative to the birth. For Matthew or Luke to have written about an extraordinary event such as the virgin birth of Jesus Christ without good evidence appears unlikely. As stated above, Luke takes a very scholarly investigative approach. He clearly said at the beginning of his Gospel that he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” Luke appears to be a trustworthy reporter. There is every reason to believe what Matthew and Luke wrote as to the virgin birth is reliable information.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ should not be in doubt. It is recorded in all four gospels and spoken of throughout the NT narrative. A passage found in the Jewish Talmud speaks of Yeshu (Hebrew for Jesus) being hanged on the eve of the Passover. Both secular historians Josephus and Tacitus allude to the crucifixion of Jesus. In the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus (56 A.D. - 117 A.D.), in book 15, chapter 44, written in 116 A.D., there is a passage which refers to Christ, to Pontius Pilate, and to mass executions of the Christians. The passage describes the six-day fire that burned much of Rome in July of 64 A.D. and was thought by some Romans to have been set by Emperor Nero himself.
Tacitus: “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”
Josephus: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
While the allusion to Jesus being the Christ and being resurrected appears to be a later insert by Christian copyists, scholars generally agree that Josephus’ reference to Jesus being condemned to the cross is from the pen of Josephus.
Since there is no detail of the crucifixion of Jesus in secular records, our only source of information as to the dynamics of His crucifixion is the Gospel accounts and what is written in the NT letters. In addition, we have secular accounts of how Roman crucifixions were carried out.
It is recorded that Jesus, in anticipation of what was to befall Him, began to sweat actual drops of blood while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. There is a medical condition known as hematidrosis where under extreme anxiety, there can be a release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. The result is a small amount of bleeding in these glands resulting in the sweat being tingled with blood. This would also result in the skin becoming very fragile and sensitive.
It’s recorded that Christ was flogged. Roman floggings were known to be brutal. They consisted of thirty-nine lashes but frequently were more. The soldier would use a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions which would break open with additional blows. The whip also had pieces of bone imbedded in the leather that would cut deep into the flesh. Many would die from this kind of beating before they could be crucified.
In crucifixion, the Romans used ropes or spikes to secure a person to a cross. Archaeology has established the use of spikes. These spikes were five to seven inches long and tapered to a sharp point. They were driven through the wrists and feet. Once a person is hosted up to a vertical position he dies a slow death by asphyxiation. The stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position. In order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nails would tear through the feet, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones. After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax and take in another breath. Again he would have to push himself up to exhale. This would continue until complete exhaustion would take over and the victim would no longer be able to push himself up to breath. In the case of Jesus, a soldier also thrust a spear into his side to insure death.
Some have tried to show that Christ didn’t really die but somehow survived the crucifixion and later appeared to his disciples. In view of what we know about the ordeal that Christ would have gone through, such an idea is rather absurd. The idea that within three days of His having been flogged and nailed to a cross and having had a spear run through his side, he would be walking around looking normal is completely without merit and too ludicrous to intelligently discuss. There is no way that Christ would have survived this type of execution and live to tell about it as some have theorized. I therefore will not waste space discussing these kinds of theories. It should be apparent the death of Jesus by crucifixion is a historical reality.
There is no recorded eyewitness to the resurrection. Apparently no human saw Christ leave the tomb and provide a written witness to such an observation. All that is known about the resurrection of Jesus and events associated with the resurrection come to us from the Scriptural writers.
As discussed earlier in this series, all indications are that the Gospels were written within 30 to 40 years after the ascension of Christ. It is recognized by most Biblical scholars that Apostle Paul wrote the earliest Scriptural material and this material precedes the writing of the Gospels. While Paul's writings preceding the writing of the Gospels is problematic as seen in part one of this series, Paul’s discussion of the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthian Church is noteworthy.
I Corinthians 15: 3-7: For what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of them are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as one abnormally born.
Paul, in what is believed to be a very early letter, speaks of the resurrection and subsequent appearances of Jesus. He writes that others handed down this information to him. He relates that Jesus appeared to over five hundred of the brothers at the same time. We therefore have a very early written attestation to the resurrection. From where did Paul get his information as to the appearances of Christ.
We are all familiar with Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. The scriptures indicate Jesus spoke directly to Paul who was out and about persecuting the Christians. Paul was a well educated leader within the Jewish community. He knew all about the Christ event. It is obvious that Paul did not believe Jesus to be the promised Messiah to Israel. He did not believe Jesus was the Christ, the promised anointed one. He obviously didn’t believe that Jesus was resurrected. Paul had no tolerance for the developing Christian community or their belief in a resurrected Messiah. However, after being knocked off his horse and blinded, it wasn’t long before he begins to preach that Jesus is the Son of God. Thus Paul implicitly begins to preach the resurrection.
Some dismiss Paul’s experience as a hallucination and define Paul’s subsequent dedication to Christ as the result of his having had a conversion experience. It must be remembered, however, that Paul was not seeking to be a follower of Christ. He was not seeking to be converted to Christianity. Paul was a dedicated, loyal adherent to the Judaism of his day. His focus was to destroy the developing Christian community. Most conversion experiences occur subsequent to a person seeking enlightenment in whatever religious system they become converted to. Scripture records that, “Saul (Paul) began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).
Acts 9:1-2: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Paul was a high ranking Pharisee in the Jewish religious system. He would not have been easily persuaded to change his theological perspectives. He was not seeking to do so. Instead he was on a “witch hunt” to drive the Christians off the face of the earth.
The incident on the road to Damascus certainly got Paul’s attention. After being blind for three days, the disciple Ananias prayed for him and his sight was restored. Paul then spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. I am sure that during this time Paul learned a great deal about Jesus and was convinced of Christ’s resurrection. It was probably here where Paul learned about the various appearances of Christ after His resurrection which he later shared with the Corinthians. In a short time after Paul's Damascus experience, he was proving to the Jews that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.
Acts 9:17-22: Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
Some look at the Scriptural record of the resurrection and conclude that it is legend. The Scriptural record of the resurrection is thought to be a mytholization of Christ? This is believed to be the case because many scholars have concluded the Gospels were written fifty to seventy years after the Christ event which allowed for mytholization to set in. It should be noted, however, that the very scholars who take this position believe Paul's letters were written in the 50's A.D. which would have been within twenty years of the Christ event.
In his letters, Paul speaks of the resurrection of Christ being a fact. Paul speaks of Christ's resurrection in his letter to the Romans (Romans 1:4, 4:24, 6:4,9, 7:4, 8:11, 34,) He does the same in his letters to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:4, 20, 2 Corinthians 4:14, 5:15). Paul references the resurrection of Jesus in letters to the Galatians (1:1), Ephesians (1:20), Colossians (2:12), Philippians (3:10), and Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:10). He does the same in a letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:8). While scholars dispute the Pauline authorship of some of these letters, Scholars are in general agreement that Paul authored the letters to the Romans and Corinthians. In these two letters Paul makes it clear he believed in the resurrection of Christ.
Because the letters of Paul are believed to be the earliest record of the Christ event, there would be little chance of legend having developed to corrupt the record. To propose that Paul's references to the resurrection is based on legend having developed about Christ simply does not stand up to reason. Paul’s attestation of the resurrection should be considered reasonable evidence.
Paul claims that more than five hundred people had witnessed the risen Christ. While it is true this is the only report of five hundred people seeing Christ, Paul does say that most of them were still alive. This would be a rather flippant claim if it were untrue. Paul could have been easily challenged by his contemporaries as to the validity of his claim and therefore would have put himself at risk for much ridicule if he couldn’t produce any of these purported witnesses.
Since so many people are reported to have seen the resurrected Christ, some have questioned why there wasn’t more recorded material about the resurrection. There may have been more recorded material, which has since become lost. We just don’t know. Of those that Paul reports as having seen Christ, we have to question how many of them were literate and therefore able to record what they saw. We know that all writers of New Testament documents attest to Jesus being alive.
When Jesus was crucified, his followers must have been discouraged, depressed and disillusioned. Jewish law stated that anyone crucified was accursed by God. The disciples, like the Israelites in general, were looking for a Messiah to restore the Davidic Kingdom and rescue them from Roman rule. The followers of Christ thought that He was that messiah. Now their hopes and dreams were shattered. Then after a relatively short period of time, we find them abandoning their occupations, and traveling throughout Israel and beyond declaring that Jesus is alive and the Son of God.
They were willing to endure ridicule, beatings, imprisonment, torture and in many cases death. Why? They were convinced that they had seen Christ alive after He had been dead. So convincing were their arguments for the risen Christ that thousands converted to Christianity in a very short period of time and many of these individuals were willing to suffer much persecution from the Jewish community and also suffer torture and death at the hands of the Roman government under Nero.
Some people will die for their beliefs if they sincerely believe they are true. People will not die for their beliefs if they are not convinced they are true. The followers of Christ were convinced he was alive because a number of them were convinced they had seen Him alive.
It can be argued that to die for ones beliefs isn’t all that extraordinary. Look at the suicide bombers in the Middle East or the Kamikaze pilots during World War 11. People have been willing to die for all sorts of beliefs throughout history. Sometimes these beliefs have been based in religion, sometimes in political movements and sometimes in just dogged conviction of a principle or moral ethic.
For example, a Muslim may be willing to die for his belief that through the Angel Gabriel, Allah appeared to Muhammad and therefore the tenants of the Muslim belief system are divinely based and something to die for. The difference between the Muslim and the Christian example is that Muhammad is the only reported witness to the appearance of Gabriel. No one else was present to either prove or disprove the witness of Muhammad.
With the Christian example, the Scriptural record points to multiple witnesses to the resurrected Christ along with the distinct opportunity available for someone to disprove the resurrection by simply producing a body or demonstrating that the one claiming to be the resurrected Christ was an impostor. There is no evidence that this ever happened. The enemies of Christianity could have blown the Christians out of the water by simply producing the dead body of Jesus.
The Scriptures report the burial of Christ and three days later an empty tomb. Some dismiss the empty tomb narratives because of apparent discrepancies in the various accounts. All four of the gospel authors, however, do report the same basic observation that the tomb was indeed empty. So even if secondary details are somewhat different, the basic detail is the same, a common characteristic of historical narratives. It is recorded that when confronted with the fact the tomb was empty, the Jewish leadership didn’t deny it but instead said the body was stolen when the guards fell asleep. Yet the body was never found. Some to this very day believe the body was stolen. Was the body stolen?
This was a high profile case for the Jewish leadership. They wanted Christ out of their hair and accomplished this through the crucifixion. Now the body was missing. I am sure they would have left no stone unturned to find the body. Yet no body was found.
It should be observed that the disciples of Jesus were not expecting a resurrected Christ. When the women found the tomb empty and reported to the disciples that they had seen Christ, Mark writes that the disciples thought it was nonsense. Like most of Israel, these men were looking for a Messiah to reestablish the Davidic kingdom and save them from Roman oppression. The disciples thought Jesus might be that Messiah. When Jesus was crucified, their hopes were dashed. Even though Christ had told them He would rise, that message had not sunk in. The reality of seeing a dead Jesus on the cross was all they could focus on. This had become their new reality.
To conclude that the disciples would steal the dead body of Christ and then proclaim it was alive and proceed to build a religious system based on that lie and die for that lie is ludicrous. It should be noted that the gospel narratives record that it was women who were the first witnesses to the risen Christ. In first century culture, women were not generally recognized as reliable witnesses. It is pointed out that if the resurrection account were legend, you would not find women recorded to be witnesses to the resurrection.
We need to ask if it is reasonable to believe that the writers of the NT narrative purposely wrote fictional narrative as to the appearances of Christ and then proceeded to spend the rest of their lives suffering for their fiction and in many cases dying for it, all the while knowing it to be fiction. Such a conclusion simply does not square with normal human behavior.
Humans have supported, promoted, suffered and died for a wide variety of beliefs. Such beliefs are based on a conviction that what is believed is true. Humans will not suffer and die for what they know to be false unless they are coerced into such behavior by governing authorities. We find no coercion evident among the followers of Christ. Instead we find fearful and disappointed men at the death of Jesus, suddenly becoming powerful in word and deed upon believing that the dead Jesus is no longer dead but alive. Could these men have somehow been deluded into believing that Jesus was alive? The Scriptural record presents Christ as appearing to them in a variety of ways and under a variety of circumstances over a period of forty days. To conclude that all these appearances and interactions were delusional would appear to be an unreasonable conclusion.
Those who believe in the divinity of other “saviors” do not have the kind of eyewitness evidence for their return to life from the dead that is inherent in Christianity. There are no multiple attestations in any other religious system of men witnessing the appearances of a person that was dead but is now alive. While other religious systems have crucified and resurrected “saviors” as part of their system, they do not have documented attestations and therefore they lack any preponderance of evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that would support their conclusions.
The response of the disciples to seeing the resurrected Christ was to proclaim and witness what they had seen to the world. That witness was supported through many miracles, signs and wonders. So convinced were they of the presence of Christ that the converts to Christianity were willing to suffer greatly for their convictions.
While other religious systems have arisen based on reports of miraculous events that came to be believed by many people, our belief in the validity of the Christian religious system must rest on determining whether there is sufficient and reasonable evidence to conclude that Jesus rose from the dead. While there is no record of a direct witness to Christ’s resurrection, there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence as already covered. There is the recorded witness of Christ being seen as alive by His disciples and by over five hundred at the same time. Obviously, if Christ was seen alive, we can conclude He was resurrected.
Some will question the validity of the Scriptural record in general and will therefore be reluctant to place faith in the record of Christ being seen alive after His crucifixion. It should be noted, however, that even if one doubts the reliability of the Scriptural record, the fact remains that the Christian system developed rapidly in response to a perceived extraordinary occurrence. This occurrence was convincingly communicated to a wide range of people including Jewish leaders, Roman officials and Gentiles who had been worshiping pagan gods. This all happened in a short time frame subsequent to the crucifixion, as documented in several historical works outside of the Biblical Scriptures.
There is a preponderance of evidence to conclude that the resurrection took place. The sudden and rapid growth of Christianity shortly after the Christ event strongly points to the validity of the resurrection as the impetus for this sudden and rapid development. The Biblical and secular history of persecution and death that Christians were willing to suffer gives additional credence to the resurrection having taken place. Many disciples of Jesus were willing to die for their conviction that He who was dead, was now alive. Such behavior occurred within a short time of the purported resurrection. The opportunity was there to disprove the resurrection actuality occurred. Yet we find the behavior of the Christians to strongly support the reality of the resurrection. Much of the Jewish leadership was vehemently opposed to the developing Christian faith. Yet they were unable to prevent thousands of their own flock from accepting the Christian message. Something extraordinary had happened. I submit it was the resurrection of Christ Jesus.