My last several articles have focused on the historical reliability of the Scriptures. My overall goal is to show that the Bible is reliable and various claims against its veracity are not strong.
There is one Christian belief, that if proven untrue, would immediately radiate any justified reason for believing in the Bible or in Christian: the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus did not bodily, physically raise from the dead, then Christianity is false. The resurrection is the historical hinge upon which all redemptive history turns.
Given the critical nature of the resurrection, it shouldn’t be surprising that it has received considerable pushback over the last 2,000 years. For example, in his book, Resurrection: Myth or Reality, John Shelby Spong writes, “I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation…I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world.” He further adds,
Jesus died alone. He died the death of a publicly executed criminal. His body probably received the typical treatment given to those so unfortunate as to fall into the category. He was removed from the instrument of execution, placed in a common grave, and covered over. No records were kept, for no value was attached to those who had been executed. Bodies did not last that long in their graves anyway. Burial removed the stench of decaying flesh, and in a very short time only some unmarked bones remained. Even the bones were gone before too long. Nature rather efficiently reclaims it own resources.
To Spong, it isn’t the bodily resurrection that is significant, it is the impact of the resurrection narrative to inspire humanity to strive for something greater than what this life offers.
Though I don’t have the space to fully engage Spong’s claims, it seems to me that belief in a spiritual resurrection of Jesus (whatever he means by that) is much harder to believe than a physical resurrection. Why? Because we have several distinct historical facts that prove strong evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
First, it is generally agreed upon by all historians (both Christian and non-Christian) that Jesus was crucified on a cross around Jerusalem. Granted, not every historian accepts all the biblical details of Jesus’ death, but most accept that he was executed on a cross.
Second, most historians agree that Jesus was buried in a tomb. It would be very strange for a writer—like Mark—to name Joseph of Arimathea as the owner of the tomb in which Jesus was buried if he had not be physically laid there.
Third, there is significant agree on the empty tomb several days after the death of Jesus. One of the oldest statements in the New Testament is given to us by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:3-5. There Paul uses a common Christian hymn or statement that Christ was buried and raised on the third day. This construction of this passage and the information given is strong evidence that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was empty three days after the crucifixion of Christ.
The fourth piece of evidence, Jesus postmortem appearances. Paul writes that over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:6). In fact, historically speaking, the overwhelming majority consensus of all Christians believed that Jesus bodily and physically appeared to the disciples and others after his resurrection. This isn’t a myth that started somewhere downstream in church history. It has always been believed.
The last piece of evidence is more of a sociological notation. Who would die for a known lie? If Jesus never bodily raised from the dead, the disciples would have known such a fact above all others. Yet, all historical evidence indicates that the disciples (other than Judas and John) died because of their belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Millions of people have died for a falsehood they thought was true, but hardly anyone would die for a lie. At least, 10 of the original 12 disciples died because of their belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So there you have it! Given all these pieces of evidence, I believe that the most likely explanation for this evidence is that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. And I find the evidence for the physical resurrection far more convincing that any argument for a mere spiritual resurrection of Jesus. And this evidence all comes from Scripture. Granted, this doesn’t prove that all Scripture is true, but it does show that the best explanation of the information given in Scripture is for a physical resurrection. Therefore, the resurrection isn’t something that hinders the reliability of the Scriptures.