I love watching those real-life murder mystery shows, like Dateline and Forty Eight Hours.  But I always find myself getting sucked in, completely convinced at first that they did it, then, completely convinced they’re innocent!  Part of this is due to editing, of course.  But part of it is due to the fact that the evidence is never clear-cut.  It’s always filled with ambiguity and open to interpretation.  And this is with recent events, crimes that occurred within a few years of the show.

So, how can there be any clear-cut evidence for the Resurrection, an event that happened 2000 years ago?

Actually, scripture scholars have found a very reliable way how.  Over the years, they’ve developed a set of historical criteria that enables them to judge with a fairly high degree of certainty whether something recorded in the Gospels is likely to have happened or not.  One of the most powerful of these tools is known as the Criterion of Embarrassment.  It says that the early church or gospel writers would never create material that would be embarrassing to them or weaken their position.  Instead, they would naturally suppress or soften such material if they could.  So, where we find embarrassing material, we can be very certain it’s historical.

For example, it was a terrible embarrassment to the early church that Peter denied Jesus and Judas betrayed Him.  Virtually all scholars today believe that these are solid historical facts.  The shameful way two of Jesus’ closest followers behaved is not something the early church would invent.  If it wasn’t an undeniable part of the historical record, it would never have been recorded in the Gospels.

So, how does this apply to the Resurrection?  I only have space for one quick example.  However, there are many pieces of evidence for the empty tomb and bodily appearances to which these criteria apply.

John 21 records one of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples.  At first, they have trouble recognizing that it’s Him.  But when they do realize it’s Jesus, John says that no one dared to ask him: “who are you?”, a very odd thing for John to add—if they already recognize Him, why do they want to ask who He is? (That they “dare” not implies that they want to but are afraid to.)   The rare Greek verb used here is the word exetazo.  It implies much more than simply asking.  Rather, it means to “press with a question”, “scrutinize, examine, enquire”. 

To get a sense of it’s meaning, imagine an extraterrestrial landed on earth.  If we could, we would want to examine it closely, to poke and prod and even do experiments to understand what this alien creature is all about.  That’s the sense of the disciples’ reaction to seeing Jesus.  They don’t simply say, “Oh, it’s Jesus, come back from the dead.  How awesome!”  No, instead, they react like they want to do a science experiment on Him!  They want to examine Him as if He’s some kind of alien object they’ve never encountered before!

At first, they fail to recognize Him, and then, when they do, they are utterly perplexed by His strange appearance.  They don’t react with adoring faith.  They want to examine Him further.  They continue to wonder what’s really going on!

In their context, this bizarre reaction would only create an element of damaging doubt: if Jesus’ disciples were confused about his identity, maybe they were also mistaken about seeing him alive again; maybe they were so overcome by grief they weren’t thinking straight or mistook him for someone else.  Recording this reaction, as John does, is counterproductive.  It undermines the credibility of the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection.  For the church, their reaction is a complete embarrassment.

And for this reason, by the Criterion of Embarrassment, it’s not something the church or John would have invented.  It is very likely an authentic memory of the disciples’ actual reaction, an undeniable part of the historical record.

But here’s the thing: their bizarre reaction points to the fact that the Jesus they want to examine more closely because He is somehow inexplicably different from His earthly appearance, is something they can examine, something external, something physical, out there in the real world.  This means it’s not all just in their mind.  They aren’t just seeing a ghost, or having a hallucination, but are seeing an embodied, albeit radically transformed, Jesus—the same real person they knew before His death, but somehow inexpressibly different.

We may have a hard time deciding whether someone committed a murder they’re accused of a few years ago, but—based on this and a lot of other evidence that points to the same reality—we can be very certain that the disciples saw something external, Jesus somehow physically risen from the dead! 

And if Jesus actually is risen from the dead, that means He is Lord of All.  That means His perfect love reigns.  That means love really does conquer all.

Do you think any evidence from 2000 years ago is reliable?  Why or why not?  Go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and tell me what you think!  Also, please “Like” our Facebook page, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and keep telling your friends about us.  Thank you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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