HomeArticlesHistorical Eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Christ (Part 2)

Historical Eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Christ (Part 2)

As we continue to consider the historical evidence of eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is necessary to remember the discussion from Part 11)Heath Henning, Historical Evidence from the Eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Part 1); April 15, 2022; https://truthwatchers.com/historical-eyewitnesses-of-the-resurrection-part-1/ how ancient historians focused on eyewitnesses, not ancient literature as our modern historians do. Craig Keener state,

For the Greeks, the very term used for research or investigation, ἱστορια (historia), left “no doubt possible about what was early considered the defining characteristic of the genre…. The method… consisted basically of the interrogation of witnesses and other informed parties” and then weaving their responses into a cohesive narrative. Even if some writers failed to travel to all the places their narratives covered, travel was apparently a familiar component of historical research. Herodotus initiated this emphasis on research (Hdt. 1.1), traveling widely; Thucydides, who cross-examined his sources, assumed this approach as the standard (Thucyd. 1.22.2; 5.26). Diodorus Siculus claims to have visited the sites of his history in Asia and Europe, complaining that even some of the best historians err when they do not visit the sites in question (Diod. Sic 1.4.1). Appian (Hist. rom. Pred. 12) claims to have checked out his reports by traveling to Carthage, Spain, Sicily, Macedonia, and elsewhere. Likewise, the later historian Herodian insisted that he accepted nothing secondhand without tracking down all the facts (Hdn. 1.1.3). Although most of Philostratus’s sophistic subjects were long deceased, he interviewed some who still lived, even on multiple occasions (Vit. soph. 2.23.606)….

Polybius avers that investigation is “the most important part” of writing history (Polyb. 12.4c.3)…. Although interviews were impossible when one was dealing with the distant past, writers preferred them when living witnesses remained available. Greek historians often traveled to the locations of events and consulted those who were considered reliable oral sources.2)Craig S. Keener, Acts An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1-2:47, Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2013), Vol. 1, pp. 183-184

Many people today view the ancient world as gullible and superstitious people willing to believe anything their told. Such an opinion can only be sustained by ignorance as the ancient world was very capable of logic, skepticism, and traveling in order to investigate any event they were curious enough to examine. Such investigations involved traveling to locations where the event took place and interrogating eyewitnesses. As it is stated in the quote above, the ancient “accepted nothing secondhand without tracking down all the facts.” When Paul speaks of over 500 eyewitnesses of the risen Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:6), he is inviting such investigations into his claims.

The Greek word Paul uses to speak of “delivering” this evidence to the Corinthians is παραδιδωμι, which may be used in various ways but in this context is defined as “of oral or written tradition hand down, pass on, transmit, relate, teach[.]”3)A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979), p. 615 An example how this is used by ancient historians can be provided by Josephus, a first century Jewish historian who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem. Being captive by the Roman army, he became an eyewitness of all the event that took place. Josephus records:

since they see some of the present generation bold enough to write about such affairs, wherein they were not present, nor had concern enough to inform themselves about them from those that knew them; examples of which may be had in this late war of ours, where some persons have written histories, and published them, without having been in the places concerned, or having been near them when the actions were done; but these men put a few things together by hearsay, and insolently abuse the world, and call these writings by the name of Histories.

As for myself, I have composed a true history of that whole war, and of all the particulars that occurred therein, as having been concerned in all its transactions; for I acted as general of those among us that are named Galileans, as long as it was possible for us to make any opposition. I was then seized on by the Romans, and became a captive. Vespasian also and Titus had me kept under a guard, and forced me to attend them continually. At the first I was put into bonds, but was set at liberty afterward, and sent to accompany Titus when he came from Alexandria to the siege of Jerusalem; during which time there was nothing done which escaped my knowledge; for what happened in the Roman camp I saw, and wrote down carefully; and what information the deserters brought [out of the city], I was the only man that understood them. Afterward I got leisure at Rome; and when all my materials were prepared for that work, I made use of some persons to assist me in learning the Greek tongue, and by these means I composed the history of those transactions [παραδοσιν]. And I was so well assured of the truth of what I related, that I first of all appealed to those that had the supreme command in that war, Vespasian and Titus, as witnesses for me, for to them I presented those books first of all, and after them to many of the Romans who had been in the war….

How impudent then must those deserve to be esteemed that undertake to contradict me about the true state of those affairs! who, although they pretend to have made use of both the emperors’ own memoirs, yet could not they be acquainted with our affairs who fought against them. (Josephus, Against Apion 1.45-51, 56) 4)The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 940

First notice how Josephus uses the word παραδοσιν to indicate he is passing on his eyewitness testimony, not oral tradition as mere hearsay. Further note Josephus’ comments that: 1) he was an eyewitness to the events which makes him a better testimony for accuracy of details; 2) being personally involved in the event did not bias his testimony but made him more reliable; 3) he was able to question people who escaped Jerusalem to investigate what was occurring behind the walls inside the city; 4) he used the emperors memoirs as documents to compare his own notes with; 5) He took notes while the events took place and wrote what he heard from the deserters of the city; 6) Josephus’ own written account was presented to others that were present at the event to verify that what he wrote was accurate; and 7) those who have written on the same subject that did not have the same qualifications as he did were not considered reliable “histories”. These very same marks confirming the accuracy and authenticity of Josephus’ records are the same qualifications the authors of the gospels acclaim for themselves. Reflecting how Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 names authoritative eyewitnesses such as Cephas and James compared to Josephus naming Vespasian and Titus. These were key figures of authority Josephus called to testify of his accuracy as Paul also had key figures to name to confirm. Josephus was able to compare his notes with those of the emperor just as Paul was able to do with Peter and James (Galatians 1:18-19). Paul identified himself as an eyewitness (1 Corinthian 15:8) as Josephus did and Paul noted above five hundred others that could vouch for the truthfulness of his eyewitness experience as Josephus mentions “many of the Romans who had been in the war.”

Josephus elsewhere uses this Greek word in a similar way.

But then I was not in like manner afraid of my own writing, but I offered my books to the emperors themselves, when the facts were almost under men’s eyes; for I was conscious to myself, that I had observed the truth of the facts [παραδοσιν]; and as I expected to have their attestation to them, so I was not deceived in such expectation. (Josephus, Life 361)5) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 38

Josephus again appeals to his eyewitness testimony and the authority of the emperors to confirm the truth of what he wrote. By saying “the fact were almost under men’s eyes” is to express that these events did not take place in secret hidden away in a corner of the globe which cannot be verified (cf. Acts 26:26).

Paul, similarly, did not expect ignorant superstitious people to credulously believe what he proclaimed about the resurrection of Christ. He expected a skeptical culture to be suspicious about, and deny the very possibility of such a thing occurring. Alfred Edersheim remarked,

The details, or ‘signs’ are clearly intended as evidences to all of the reality of the Resurrection, without which it would not have been believed; and their multiplication and variety must, therefore, be considered as indicating what otherwise would have been not only numerous but insuperable difficulties. Similarly, the language of St. Paul implies a careful and searching inquiry on his part; the more rational, that, besides intrinsic difficulties and Jewish preconceptions against it, the objections to the fact must have been so often and coarsely obtruded on him, whether in disputation or by the jibes of the Greek scholars and students who derided his preaching.6)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 2, p. 625

In other word, Paul did not simply assume the Jews would easily forsake their former beliefs that the resurrection would only happen in the end times and the Greeks who despised the idea of a bodily resurrection would humbly give up their bias against the very concept. Paul know he would need to argue this truth with convincing evidence being presented to all who would hear him. Thus he “delivered” this gospel message with an emphasis on confirmable evidence and names that could be tracked down and interrogated.

Lets review once again what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

For I delivered [παρέδωκα] unto you first of all that which I also received [παρέλαβον], how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen [ὤφθη—aorist, passive, indicative: ‘οραω] of Cephas, then [seen is an implied verb] of the twelve: after that, he was seen [ὤφθη—aorist, passive, indicative: ‘οραω] of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen [ὤφθη—aorist, passive, indicative: ‘οραω] of James; then [seen is an implied verb] of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen [ὤφθη—aorist, passive, indicative: ‘οραω] of me also, as of one born out of due time. 1 Corinthians15:3-8

Paul uses the same Greek verb 4 times (with it also being implied twice) for emphasis about what was “seen.” Paul rides his authority as an apostle on the basis of having seen the resurrected Lord (1 Cor. 9:1). He magnified his office as an apostle (Rom. 11:13; 1 Cor. 9:2; 12:28-29; 2 Cor. 11:5; Eph. 2:20). His apostleship comes directly from Christ (Rom. 1:1, 4-5; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 2:6; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:1, 11; Tit. 1:1). “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)” (Galatians 1:1). “Accordingly we may add the appearance [of the resurrected Christ] to Paul to our collection of facts that make up our historical bedrock.”7)Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: a New Historiographical Approach, IVP Academic (Downer Grove, IL: 2010), p. 400 All the apostles’ office were dependent on seeing the resurrected Lord (Acts 1:21-22; 10:36-42; 1 Cor.15:7)

Many commentators have erroneously claimed the use of the words “I delivered… which I also received” is rabbinic terms indicating mere hearsay, passing on oral traditions.

Paul, for example, constituted the single intermediary between the eyewitnesses (especially Peter: cf. Gal 1:18) and the Corinthians when he ‘handed on to you… what I first received’ (1 Cor 15:3), and even when he, just like Josephus, appeals to the confirmation of the account that could be given by many other eyewitnesses (‘five hundred brothers and sisters…, many of whom are still alive, though some have died’: 1 Cor 15:6), since the events were well within the living memory of people to whom easy access was possible. As we also learn from Josephus, the language of tradition does not require that an account be handed down orally. It can refer to the writing of recollections. So, when Luke’s preface claims that ‘those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word handed on (paredonsan) to us [the traditions of the events]’ (Luke 1:2), the reference could be to or could include written accounts by the eyewitnesses.8)Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Second Edition), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2017), p. 37-38

Paul’s use of the common rabbinic phrase “I delivered [παρέδωκα]… which I also received [παρέλαβον],” is clearly not being used in the same sense of later rabbis. As we have seen from how Josephus used the word, the phrase does not necessitate the delivering and receiving of oral tradition as commonly interpreted by commentators. He received a revelation of the risen Lord, acknowledging himself as an eyewitness in 1 Corinthians 15:8. He confirmed his eyewitness experience with Peter (verse 5) and James (verse 7) who were also eyewitnesses of the risen Christ (Galatians 1:18-19). This was also confirmed “according to the Scriptures” which predicted the resurrection of the Messiah. Paul’s use is completely contrasted to Rabbinic delivering and receiving traditions as we read of in the Mishnah. “Nahum the Scrivener said: I have received a tradition from R. Measha, who received it from his father, who received it from the Zugoth, who received it from the Prophets as a Halakah given to Moses from Sinai” (Mishnah, Peah 2.6).9) The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 12 Here the tradition is said to extend back to Moses who received it on Mount Sinai. There is no valid eyewitnesses offered. No Scriptural warrant. Only passing oral tradition that cannot be validated.

Paul not only “delivers” the gospel which is established on eyewitness evidence that can be tested, he also challenges any opposing opinion. He writes, “Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.” (1 Corinthian 15:15) In the context Paul is rebuking those in Corinth that are teaching there is no resurrection from the dead. Paul refutes this claim by saying obviously there is a future resurrection since the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, and if there is no resurrection in the future than Christ could not have risen either. Observe the court case terminology Paul uses: “false witnesses,” and “testified” (1 Corinthian 15:15). The “we” is identified as “above five hundred” (1 Cor. 15:6) that are still “present” to testify what they have witnessed. What they witnessed is that God raised Christ from the dead. Another early Christ author, Papias, writing around AD 110, said, “If then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,—what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip or Thomas, or by James or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord say.” (Papias, frag 1)10) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 153 Aristion is not named in the New Testament but Papias grouped him with the apostles as an eyewitness. Other ancient sources name Aristion as the first Bishop of Smyrna (The Apostolic Constitution 7.46).11) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 7, p. 478 Aristion may be intended in Revelation 2:8 which refers to the pastor of the church of Smyrna as an angel.

The declaration of the gospel and resurrection appearances acknowledged in 1 Corinthians 15 are furthermore confirmed being multiply attested. The fact that Jesus Christ died is mentioned in Matthew 27:45-54; Mark 15:33-39; Luke 23:44-48; John 19:28-30; and 1 Corinthians 15:3. The act of being buried is cited in Matthew 27:56-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-55; John 19:38-42; and 1 Corinthians 15:4a. The event of rising again the third day is further declared in Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-9; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1-10; and 1 Corinthians 15:4b. The incidents that He appeared to various individuals are referenced in Matthew 28:9-10; Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:11-18; and 1 Corinthians 15:5, 7-8. The appearance to the twelve is attested in Matthew 28:16-17; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-51; John 20:19-23, 26-29; and 1 Corinthians 15:5, 7. The only one point missing in other accounts is the appearance to James only mentioned by Paul.

Michael Licona relates, “the appearance to James is not mentioned elsewhere… Its presence in this tradition and nowhere else indicates the presence of tradition independent of the canonical Gospels.”12)Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: a New Historiographical Approach, IVP Academic (Downer Grove, IL: 2010), p. 322-323 Paul met James 3 years after his conversion in Jerusalem (Gal 1:18-19) and had the chance to interrogate him concerning this appearance that he mentioned. Clearly Paul did not make it up out of thin air. James became the central leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21; 21:18-25; Josephus, Antiquities 20.200).13) Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 656 Though Paul can rebuke Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11-14), Paul submitted to James’ advice (Acts 21:26). N. T. Wright remarks, “Since he [James] had probably not been a disciple of Jesus during the latter’s public career, it is difficult to account for his centrality and unrivalled leadership unless he was himself known to have seen the risen Jesus.”14)N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN: 2003), p. 325

John also has a focus on the fact that he was an eyewitness of the event of Christ’s life and that He rose from the grave. John’s use of the terms indicating eyewitness evidence, like Paul’s use, falls in line with court case terminology. “The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record.” (John 12:17) Here we find the people being eyewitnesses that bare record of what they saw. John says, “who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw” (Rev 1:2). Richard Bauckham proposes,

John never suggests that ‘witness’ is something else that later Christian believers also do. Similarly Luke confines the vocabulary of witness almost entirely to those who have been personal disciples of Jesus, with the single major exception of Paul, who is a witness on the basis of his own special experience of the exalted Christ. For both John and Luke witness is something that requires firsthand contact with the events of Jesus’ history.15)Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Second Edition), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2017), p. 389-390

Other references from the pen of John can confirm this usage of the term.

  • “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.” (John 3:11)
  • “And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.” (John 3:32)
  • “And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.” (John 19:35)
  • “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24)
  • “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)

These passages clearly indicate that the eyewitness evidence is supportable by what evidence would be expected within any court of law. Specifically of interest is 1 John 1:1-3 which go beyond simple language of seeing, but include hearing and touching to provide unquestionable support of the physical bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As was discussed in Part 1,16)Heath Henning, Historical Evidence from the Eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Part 1); April 15, 2022; https://truthwatchers.com/historical-eyewitnesses-of-the-resurrection-part-1/ John also provides us with names that a first century audience would be able and encouraged to track down to interrogate. Prominent figures in the Jerusalem elite such as Nicodemus (John 3:1, 4, 9; 7:50; 19:39) and Joseph of Arimathæa (Matt. 27:57; Mk. 15:43; Lk. 23:51; Jn. 19:38) are called upon to give testimony. Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson state, “Joseph of Arimathea is specifically mentioned by name. Since, as a member of the Sanhedrin, his name could have been well-known, someone inventing the story would probably not have used it…. Anyone in Jerusalem could very easily walk over to his house and check out the story first hand.”17)Josh McDowelll and Bill Wilson, He Walked Among Us, Thomas Nelson Publishers (Nashville, TN: 1993), p. 281 J. P. Moreland concurs, “No one could have invented a person who did not exist and say he was on the Sanhedrin if such were not the case.”18)J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI: 1987), p. 167 A Nicodemus (Niqdimon) is identified as living during Nero’s reign and Jerusalem’s destruction being mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud was distinguished as the riches citizen in Jerusalem. His real name was Buni, son of Guryon, and is said to have a daughter that was a disciple of Christ who lost all her riches (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 20a; Ketubot 66b; Gittin 56a; Abot D’Rab Nathan 6; Genesis Rabbah 42; Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes 7.12; and Lamentations 1:5). Pilgrimages also allowed Jews of the dispersion to travel to Jerusalem to check out the facts. So when Paul was writing to Gentile regions, he never once would have entertained the idea that his claims could not be examined. By traveling to the location, they would also see an empty tomb corroborating the claims of a resurrection.

The Jewish leaders attempted to cover up the evidence of an empty tomb by claiming the corpse was stolen (Matthew 28:11-15; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, chap. 108).19)The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, Vol. 1, p. 253 This claim would include the guards having fallen asleep to permit the disciples to rob the grave of the body. But in the ancient world, guards caught sleeping were put to death (Acts 12:19) or at very least beat with a staff and have their clothes set on fire (Mishnah Middoth 1.2).20) The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 590 Craig Keener notes, “Nevertheless our evidence for the theft of corpses appears in Gentile regions, never around Jerusalem.”21)Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2009, 2012), p. 341 The Jewish leaders obviously knew the tomb was empty in order to accuse disciples of robbery (Mt. 28:11-15). The disciples could not preach resurrection without an empty tomb (Act 2:23-31). The disciples maintain claims of truth against persecution (Acts 4-5). However, the disciples could not protect Christ while He lived so why would they have risked death to rob the tomb (Luke 22:33-34, 47-53)? Furthermore, the disciples were too emotionally distraught, depressed, and fearful to risk such a dangerous act.

Besides these factors, the disciples did not expect a resurrection so why would they fake it? Edersheim expressed, “Thus, even so fundamental an article of the faith as the resurrection of Christ is described as having come upon the disciples themselves as a surprise—not only wholly unexpected, but so incredible, that it required repeated and indisputable evidence to command their acknowledgement.”22)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 1, p. 690 Since it was Joseph of Arimathaea who buried the body (Mt. 27:57-60; Mk 15:43-46; Lk 23:50-53; John 19:38-40) and Nicodemus who prepared spices for burial (John 19:39-40) along with the women who also prepared spices (Mk 16:1; Lk 23:55-56; 24:1), it is clear the disciples had nothing to do with Christ’s burial and they attempted to part themselves from any connection of the dead body of Christ for fear of receiving the same fate their former leader received—crucifixion. The mention of spices was identifying a Jewish custom for burials (Mishnah, Berakoth 8.6;23) The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 9 Josephus, Antiquities 17.199;24) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 571 Wars 1.673)25) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 727 were intended to diminish stench of rotting body during second burial (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.6;26) The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 391 Pesahim 8.8).27) The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 148 The fact that there were spices buried with Christ reveals that they were expecting His body to decompose in the tomb. Even after Peter and John saw the empty tomb we are told, “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.” (John 20:9) Edersheim comments on this verse, “And this also is most instructive. It was not the belief previously derived from Scripture, that the Christ was to rise from the Dead, which led to expectancy of it, but the evidence that He had risen which led them to the knowledge of what Scripture taught on the subject.”28)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 2, p. 634

Jews venerated tombs to respect the dead body inside, but Christ’s tomb was not venerated for the first few centuries by Jews or Gentile believers. Christ rebuked the Pharisees with words indicating the veneration of tombs. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous” (Matthew 23:29; cf. Luke 11:47). Abraham’s tomb was venerated in Hebron (Genesis 23:19; 25:10; 49:31) and was said to have been made a monument of the “most excellent marble, and wrought after the most elegant manner” (Josephus, Wars 4.531-532).29) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 833 David’s tomb was known by Jews returning from captivity (Nehemiah 3:16) and in the first century (Acts 2:29). David was buried “with great magnificence… and immense wealth” (Josephus, Antiquities 7.392),30) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 266 “There the king kept the gold from Ethiopia and the spices” (Lives of the Prophets 1.12).31) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 386 It was defiled by gentiles when Hezekiah showed the riches of his kingdom (Lives of the Prophets 1.13;32) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 386 cf. 2 Kings 20:12-13). Hyrcanus took 3,000 talents of silver from it (Josephus, Antiquities 7.393;33) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 266 13.249;34) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 437 16.179;35) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 538 Wars 1.61),36) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 672 and Herod opened it finding “furniture of gold, and those precious goods that were laid up there” (Josephus, Antiquities 16.179-181;37) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 538 cf. 7.394).38) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 266

Other notable tombs at Jerusalem would include Philip, Herod’s brother (Josephus Antiquities 18.108),39) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 594 Helena the mother of Syrian kings that became proselytes (Josephus, Antiquities 20.94-95).40) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 647-648 Also Isaiah’s tomb “near the tomb of the kings, west of the tomb of the priests in the southern part of the city[,]” (Lives of the Prophets 1.9)41) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 386 Haggai “buried near the tomb of the priests, in great honor as were they[,]” (Lives of the Prophets 14.2)42) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 394 and Zechariah “buried near Haggai” (Lives of the Prophets 15.6).43) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 394 Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest (Lives of the Prophets 23.1;44) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 398  cf. 2 Chronicles 24:20-22) and James the Lord’s brother (Eusebius, History of the Church 2.23.18).45) The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine (Trans. G. A. Williamson), Dorset Press (1984), p. 102 A debated ossuary was discovered which may be James. Not only Jews, but also Christians venerated tombs. An inscription was discovered in 2003 on what was previously believed to be Absalom’s tomb, which reads: “This is the tomb of Zechariah, martyr, very pious priest, father of John.” “The inscription reveals that local Christians venerated the site and believed Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer (Luke 1:5-26, 57-66), was buried in the tomb.”46)Randall Price with H. Wayne House, Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 2017), p. 252 Josh McDowell remarks, “At least 50 tombs of prophets or religious leaders were venerated as shrines in Palestine during the time of Jesus.”47)Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection, Regal (Ventura, CA: 2009), p. 189; referencing Edwin Yamauchi, “Easter—Myth, Hallucination, or History?” Christianity Today, vol. 4 (March 15, 1974), pp. 4-16 Randall Price and H. Wayne House write, “the mounting archaeological clues confirm Jesus’ statement concerning the erection in this place of monuments to the prophets.”48)Randall Price with H. Wayne House, Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 2017), p. 253

The Lord Jesus was buried in a garden tomb (John 19:41-42; 20:15). Kings were commonly buried in garden tombs (2 Kings 21:18, 26). King David’s tomb was traditionally believed to be a garden tomb (Nehemiah 3:16 in an addition from the LXX— “as far as the garden of David’s sepluchre”). This general location is north of the old city. Josephus identifies it with “that gate which they called ‘Gannath’” (Josephus, War 5.146).49) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 852 The name “Gannath” is derived from the feminine  plural form of גַּן (gan) the Hebrew word meaning “garden.” This is where “the monument of John [Hyrcanus] the high priest” (Josephus, War 5.259)50) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 859 and “monuments of King Alexander [Jannaeus]” (Josephus, War 5.304)51) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 862 are located. “The Kidron valley and the area north of Jerusalem are dotted with monumental tombs from this period, commemorating (accurately and inaccurately) the memory of prophets, holy men, sages, priests, and royalty.”52)Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, DoubleDay (New York, NY: 1994), Vol. 2, p. 1280-1281

The likely location of Christ’s tomb was leveled by Hadrian to build a temple to Aphrodite/Venus after the Bar Cochba revolt (A. D. 135-136). The city of Jerusalem was completely “ploughed” on the 9th of Ab (Mishna, Taanith 4.6),53) The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 200 and Jews forbidden to view their ancestral soil from a distance (Eusebius, History of the Church 4.6)54) Eusebius, The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine (Trans. G. A. Williamson), Dorset Press (1984), p. 157 with “death is decreed against a Jew apprehended entering it” (Justin Martyr, First Apology 47).55) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 178 The city was renamed Colonia Aelia Capitolina or simply Aelia. A Temple of Jupiter with a statue of Hadrian was erected where the Jewish Temple formerly stood. A church was planted being completely Gentile with the first Gentile pastor in Jerusalem named Mark (Eusebius, History of the Church 4.6),56)Eusebius, The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine (Trans. G. A. Williamson), Dorset Press (1984), p. 158 braking any ties with the Jewish/Christian traditions of the exact location of where the Lord was actually buried. Helena, Constantine’s mother, had a church built on the location of the Temple of Aphrodite/Venus based on earlier traditions. This church was constructed A.D. 325-335 which is where the present “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” is located. There is no record of the tomb of Jesus being venerated or pilgrimages being taken until this time (i.e., 4th century). Tertullian makes a sarcastic comment implying an early Jewish tradition arguing against Christ’s resurrection. “This is He whom His disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said He had risen again, or the gardener abstracted, that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants” (Tertullian, The Shows, or De Spectaculis 30).57) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 3, p. 91 This depict evidence for a garden tomb with the gardener fearful of his crops being damaged, moved the body because the common knowledge of tombs becoming venerated and producing pilgrimages. Yet no such evidence exists for Christ’s tomb being venerated until 4th century. The only explanation for this historical fact is that the body of the Lord Jesus Christ had not remained in the tomb as all the evidence validates an empty tomb.

Historian Michael Grant writes,

Even if the historian chooses to regard the youthful apparition as extra-historical, he cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels—as critical pagans early pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.58)Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, Charles Scribner’s Sons (New York, NY: 1977), p. 176

Apparitions or the so called “spiritual resurrection” does not and cannot leave an empty tomb. Jews of the first century held to superstitions of ghosts (see 1 Samuel 28:11-14; Matthew 14:26; Mark. 6:49; Luke 24:37; 2 Baruch 27.9;59) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 630

48.34;60) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 637 Josephus, Antiquities 13.317;61) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 443 19.272;62) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 632 Wars 1.84,63) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 675 521,64) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 713-714 599,65) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 721 607;66) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 721 7.452;67) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 936 Against Apion 2.54).68) The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 963 “Ancients commonly reported apparitions of deceased persons or deities, and hence occasionally those of persons who had become immortal, but these are not resurrection appearances.”69)Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2009, 2012), p. 333 Paul distinguished between resurrection appearance and mere apparitions (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8; 2 Cor 12:1-4). Norman Geisler discussed, “Indeed, His resurrection body had the same scars of His crucifixion (John 20:27)…. Thomas eventually recognized Jesus from His crucifixion scars (John 20:27-28).”70)Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN: 1989), p. 45-46 Jesus Christ himself said, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24:39)

The evidence for the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ abounds. An empty tomb (Matthew 28:6; John 20:5-8). The fact that Mary recognized Him from His voice (John. 20:15-16). He was seen physically by eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-9). The resurrected Christ was handled physically (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:39; John. 20:17, 27; 1 John. 1:1-30. He had flesh and bone (Luke 24:39; Acts 2:31). He ate food (Acts 10:41), which occurred at least on four separate occasions.

  • With 2 disciples—Luke 24:30
  • With 10 apostles—Luke 24:42-43
  • With 7 apostles—John 21:12-13
  • Before His ascension—Acts 1:4

He still has scars evident from the resurrection (Zechariah 12:10; John. 20:27; Revelation 1:7; 5:6). These were all parts of evidences He gave for His physical resurrection, as Luke said, “to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3).

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Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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