Why would one historian make the claim below concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ?
“No one fact in the history of mankind is proven by better and fuller evidence of every sort than this one: Christ died and rose from the dead.” - Thomas Arnold (1795-1842) Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University
Perhaps Thomas Arnold made the claim because the evidence is compelling. Below are some arguments for the resurrection (there are many more).
The First Century Christians Had Opportunity To Verify The Resurrection Claim
In one of the earliest New Testament letters (written about 25 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus) Paul makes the claim that Jesus rose from the grave, a claim that could be validated by talking to the eye witnesses he refers too.
“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9” 1Cor 15:3 – 8
Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to large numbers of people. The first century Christians would have had opportunity to talk to those individuals Jesus appeared to.
The Most Unlikely People Believed the Resurrection Claim
Jesus’ mother and brothers worshipped Him as God. With their Jewish background it would have been blasphemous and deserving of Hell to worship a man as God. Your close family knows you best. If anyone had opportunity to reject claims that Jesus was sinless it was his family – yet they ended up worshipping Him too. What convinced them that Jesus was God? It would certainly be a miracle to resurrect someone else from the dead, but to resurrect yourself from death, without external help (cf John 10:18), is truly exceptional.
Further the apostle Paul was completely opposed to Christians, intent on murdering and imprisoning as many as he could. What changed him if not the appearance of the risen Lord Jesus Christ as he claimed?
If The Resurrection Account Was Fabricated, It Was Fabricated In A Way That Would Not Convince First Century People
The Gospels make it clear that the first witnesses at the tomb were women. In the culture of that day women were not legally allowed to testify as witnesses. Having women as the first recorded witnesses would not have created a credible hoax. However the women are recorded as the first witnesses because this is a historical narrative and that is exactly what happened.
A small footnote here is that the Apostle were all men to whom truth was deeply important, both from their Jewish background (e.g. the 9th commandment) but also from Jesus (e.g. John 8:32, 14:6). These were men who were extremely unlikely to fabricate anything.
The Resurrection Turned Frightened Followers Into Bold Witnesses
When a leader or movement fails, people tend to move on to the next phenomena and forget the failure of the past. In 1991 a BBC sports presenter claimed to be the “Son of Godhead”, and that the world would soon be devastated by earthquakes and tidal waves. None of these things came to pass and as a result few people today know the name David Icke.
So why is Jesus not forgotten, especially when immediately after His death His followers numbered only about 120, and met in locked rooms for fear of the Jewish and Roman authorities? What transformed them into powerful witnesses for Jesus Christ, sharing a faith that would over the course of about 300 years conquer the Roman Empire? One man, who was not a Christian, the Romano-Jewish Scholar and Historian Titus Flavius Josephus (c 37AD – c 100AD), put it this way:
“ … when Pilate at the suggestion of the principal men among us had condemned him to the cross those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold, these and 10,000 other wonderful things concerning him, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.”
The Resurrection Turned Frightened Followers Into Bold Witnesses Who Died For Their Faith
Many have a natural inclination to die for what they know is true, but how many would die, and die extremely painful deaths, for what they know to be false? Of the 12 Apostles, 11 were martyred. The 12th Apostle, John, was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Many of Jesus’ followers died at the hands of either the Jewish or Roman authorities. Would you die for something you knew to be a lie?
When Jesus died on the cross, his followers thought this was the end of the “Jesus Movement”. Their prophet, teacher, healer, miracle worker and friend was dead. Their expectation was for a political and physical deliverance from Roman governance, and yet the Romans had crucified Him. All their hopes and dreams were crushed.
They had completely failed to realise that the by His death on the cross, Jesus was reconciling all who would believe to Himself, taking the penalty for their sin (God’s wrath) and breaking the power of sin over them. What transformed their understanding, gave power to witness in this life, and hope for life beyond death, if not the risen Lord Jesus Christ?
Lastly, only Jesus has died and returned to life. He can tell us authoritatively what lies after death, and in the Gospels no one mentions Hell more often than Jesus. He clearly warns us that judgment awaits when we die – but through faith in Jesus, making Him Lord and Saviour, we can have eternal life. Thanks be to Jesus!
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.