Apologetic Bites: The Case of the Missing Body

Apologetic Bites (link from the app) are brief talking points to help equip you to defend the faith when asked some common questions.

Evidence for the resurrection

A quick summary to outline one possible approach, and to aid the memory – by no means is this the complete picture! We also recommend John Dickson’s The Christ Files online, on video, and in book form.

1. Did Jesus really exist?

There is more evidence for Jesus’ existence than for Julius Caesar or other contemporary figures. No historian – even one seeking to disprove Christianity – would doubt that there was a Jesus of Nazareth.

Other than the Bible, Jesus is mentioned in the writings of non-Christian historians of the time. From non-Bible sources we can know the following:

(i) Jesus was executed in Judea when Tiberius was emperor & Pontius Pilate was governor. [Roman historian Tacitus (b. AD55)]

(ii) The movement spread from Judea to Rome [Tacitus]

(iii) Jesus claimed to be God & that he would depart & return [Rabbi Eliezer]

(iv) He was called ‘the Christ’, meaning ‘the anointed one’ [Jewish historian Josephus]

(v) His followers worshipped him as God, and his followers were named after him, ‘Christians’. [We get this from letters (AD112) between Pliny (regional governor) & Trajan (emperor), where we read of their problems with a new religion, stirred up by these pesky followers of Jesus who just wouldn’t admit that their hero was dead.]

(vi) It was a world-wide movement [Rabbi Eliezer]

 2. Do we possess an accurate copy of what was originally written about Jesus in the bible?

No originals have been found, but we possess more early copies (from the second century onwards) than for any other ancient document, which no-one disputes.

  • Roman historian Tacitus – written in 116AD, our only evidence of it is one copy written in 850AD, which is a 700+ year gap.
  • Homer’s Illiad written in 800BC – we have 650 manuscripts and fragments (the second most for any ancient document), the oldest copy we have is around 150AD. That’s a 900+ year gap.
  • New Testament – 5000+, the earliest fragment from around 100AD, a gap of only 70 yrs from Jesus’ alleged death & resurrection, and of only around 30-40 yrs from when most of the NT was written.

As with all ancient documents, there are some verses and words in doubt, with different versions existing. No major doctrine of Christianity is affected by these variants. Mostly the original word or phrase can be reconstructed by the science ‘textual criticism’ (applied to all ancient documents with multiple copies, not just the bible), beyond reasonable doubt.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 demonstrates the accuracy of Old Testament copying. The DSS date from around the time of Jesus, and were preserved in some caves until they were discovered by a shepherd boy. Comparing these with the current copies of the Hebrew OT, in 1900 years hardly any variation has occurred. There’s no reason to doubt the New Testament wasn’t copied with a similar degree of accuracy.

3. Were the Bible authors telling the truth about the resurrection?

a. Who are the witnesses we have?

The bible authors. Sceptics would say ‘That figures, you’d expect the Bible authors to be biased.’ But that’s putting the cart before the horse. The Bible was not written down one day ‘out of the blue’ in order to start a religion. The authors didn’t get together and say ‘OK let’s write the Bible, so we can make this dead Jesus guy into God’. The NT is a collection of ancient eyewitness documents, which existed about 300 yrs before there was the decision to stick them together into the one book.

The witnesses are:

  • Two eyewitnesses to the last 3 yrs of Jesus’ life – Matthew & John. John, it seems, was one of the three closest followers to Jesus.
  • The secretary of an eyewitness – Mark, who wrote his biography of Jesus from the memoirs of Peter, most famous disciple & first bish of Rome.
  • Luke, the investigative journalist. He wasn’t there at the time, but this is how he starts his report:

(Lk 1:1-4) ‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’

Luke would have collected all sorts of evidence – written evidence, spoken to eyewitnesses – all within 40 years of Jesus’ alleged resurrection. People who were there at the time were still alive, and would have had the opportunity to challenge him (and the other gospel writers) if they were not accurate.

b. Some people argue that the gospels are just myths

…stories that are made up. Do the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John believe they are telling myths, or giving full, factual accounts to the best of their abilities?

  • Luke 1:1-4 He ‘carefully investigated’ the matter, ‘so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’
  • John 20:30-31 ‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’
  • The editors of John, who knew him to be trustworthy: Jn 21:24 ‘This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.’

c. Why should we believe the authors were telling the truth, as far as they knew, about the resurrection?

Were the authors themselves deceived about the resurrection?

  • They were eyewitnesses, an ‘investigative journalist’, and a secretary to an eyewitness.
  • They were prepared to die for it – who would die for a known lie?
  • The transformation in their lives and character

Maybe Jesus didn’t die, he just fainted?

But the Romans knew how to kill someone. They made sure he was dead by the spear in his side (blood & water came out, John 19:33-34). And someone who had been through all that Jesus had, and somehow wasn’t dead, would have a hard time escaping from a tomb, past a platoon of soldiers, and appear fit & healthy to his friends.

Maybe someone stole the body?

Who could, as the Romans were guarding it? Only the Romans themselves, or the Jews with Roman permission.

Maybe the Jewish authorities moved the body?

But the Jews were the ones who wanted to kill him in the first place, and having a disappearing body only made it easier for the disciples to start up a ‘rival religion’.

Maybe the Roman authorities moved the body?

What would they have to gain? And they had plenty of trouble with these pesky Christians claiming to follow Jesus, the Son of God. [See the letters between Pliny & Trajan]

If either the Jews or the Romans had stolen the body, all they would have had to do to kill off Christianity once and for all would be to parade the body throughout the streets of Jerusalem. Son of God you say? Here he is.

Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at different times

You can’t fool that many people with a hoax. (1 Cor 15:5-7).

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