Christian apologist Walter Martin used to say that the real death rate is one per person, meaning that each person’s death is a matter of when, not if. Therefore, because we are mortal creatures and thus stalked by death, if Jesus Christ actually conquered death through his resurrection, then this is the most important news for all human beings to hear and to reflectively consider. The inevitability of death should motivate Christians to share the message of the resurrection.
In part 1 of this series, I briefly addressed two evidences for Jesus’s resurrection. In this article I’ll present one more reason in our series of 12 evidences for believing that Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead actually happened.
3. Short Time Frame between Actual Events and Eyewitness Claims
Support for the factual nature of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead comes from eyewitness testimonies that were reported soon after the events happened. The apostle Paul claims both that he saw the resurrected Christ (Acts 9:1–19; 22:6–16; 26:12–23) and that others witnessed the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3) prior to his personal encounter. Paul asserts in his writings that he received the firsthand testimony from Jesus’s original apostles who were witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection even before him.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he employs a creedal statement1 about the resurrection that dates to the earliest period of Christianity. This creed is believed even by critical scholars (those who doubt the supernatural) to be part of the original Christian kerygma (“proclamation”—representing the earliest preaching and teaching message of Christianity). This early statement of faith that Paul relays mentions by name two of Jesus’s apostles who said they had seen the resurrected Christ. These two apostles are Peter (one of the original 12 apostles and principal spokesperson of primitive Christianity) and James (the brother of Jesus who was also an early apostolic leader).
Here is that early creedal statement as the apostle Paul weaved it into his first Corinthian epistle:
For what I 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 Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
– 1 Corinthians 15:3–7
Paul’s statement gives us a fourfold formula of the primitive Christian proclamation as it relates to Jesus’s death and resurrection:
1. Christ died.
2. He was buried.
3. He was raised.
4. He appeared.
This time frame evidenced in the early creed places the original proclamation by the first apostles about Jesus’s resurrection very near to the time of Jesus’s death and resurrection. This development has led even critical New Testament scholars to be amazed at the early and reliable testimony evident in Paul’s writings. In fact, distinguished New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn states, “This tradition [of Jesus’s resurrection and appearances], we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’s death.”2
Therefore, given the short interval of time between the early eyewitness testimonies about Jesus’s resurrection and the actual event itself (a mere matter of months), these accounts must be considered historically credible. There was clearly no time for myth, legend, or embellishment to accrue around the initial resurrection reports.
Watch for the next article in this series as we continue briefly considering 12 evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Reflections: Your Turn
Since death is one of the big questions of life, doesn’t that make the message of Jesus’s resurrection a topic relevant to all people? Is this a probative philosophical way of approaching evangelism?
- I address the resurrection of Jesus in two of my books, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (see chapter 10) and 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas (see chapters 1 and 2).
- I also recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona and Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb by William Lane Craig.
- A further recommended source is N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.
- For more about these primitive Jewish-Christian creeds, see Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations: A Guide for Christian Students, vol. 2 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999), 268.
- James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 855.