Criswell Theological Review 4.1 (1989) 159-74
Copyright © 1989 by The
CRITICISM: AN APOLOGETIC*
GARY R. HABERMAS
There is widespread agreement among scholars today across a
broad theological spectrum that the resurrection of Jesus is the central
claim of Christianity. This has long been asserted by orthodox be-
lievers, based on NT passages such as 1 Cor 15:12-20. But it is also
admitted by higher critical scholars, as well.
For instance, W. Marxsen points out that, of all the current issues
which face Christian theology, "the question of Jesus' resurrection
plays a decisive part; one might even say the decisive part." In fact, if
we are uncertain or obscure about the faith and hope which are
"closely connected" to the resurrection, then "there is a risk of jeopar-
dizing more or less everything to which a Christian clings."1
He is not alone in such an assessment. J. Moltmann asserts that
"Christianity stands or falls with the reality of the raising of Jesus
from the dead by God. In the NT there is no faith that does not start
a priori with the resurrection of Jesus."2 G. Bornkamm likewise ad-
mits the ultimate importance of this event: " . . . there would be no
gospel, not one account, no letter in the NT, no faith, no church, no
* This is the first of two lectures read at the Criswell Lectureship Series, Criswell
College, January, 1989.
1 W. Marxsen,
The Resurrection of Jesus of
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 12.
2 J. Moltmann,
Theology of Hope, trans. by J. W. Leitch (
Row, 1967) 165.
160 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
worship, no prayer in Christendom to this day without the message of
the resurrection of Christ. . . ."3
Therefore, considering the issue of Jesus' resurrection is of prime
importance. I agree with those who assert that the historicity of this
event is a major question, for it is upon this aspect that the truthful-
ness of Christian theology depends.4 Repeated treatments and evalua-
tions of this occurrence appear in Christian studies, but such are
justified both by its centrality and by the new faces of contemporary
In light of this importance, the major purpose of this essay is
fourfold. First, we will describe several contemporary approaches to
the resurrection, dividing these into five groups, or models, for the
sake of clarity. Second, a more-or-less traditional apologetic for the
resurrection will be briefly summarized. Third, a contemporary apol-
ogetic will be presented in order to strengthen further the earlier case
for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. The force of this latter
effort is that even by utilizing contemporary critical principles, this
event can still be shown to be historical. In fact, the major theme of
this essay is to point out how the resurrection can be historically
demonstrated even by such skeptical standards of investigation.
Fourth, we will suggest several areas for future concentration in
I. Contemporary Approaches
Before turning to an apologetic for the resurrection, it will be
advantageous to cite various recent approaches to this event. The over-
all critical approach has changed substantially in recent decades.
Rarely held are the naturalistic alternative theories of the 19th-century liberal
theologians, as will be mentioned below (see section II). Rather,
contemporary scholars have approached this event from a different
perspective, although they occasionally do revert to select older
3 G. Bornkamm, Jesus of
Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1960) 181.
4 It should be carefully noted that the historicity of the resurrection is in view in
this essay and not the question of whether the resurrection was a miracle performed by
God. However, for a refutation of D. Hume and other naturalistic positions which
disallow miracles, see G. Habermas, "Skepticism: Hume" in Biblical Errancy (ed. N. L.
resurrection as a miracle, see G. R. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apol-
ogetic (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980; repr., Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984),
especially chaps. 2-3.
Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECI10N 161
Today, most critical theologians find much less history in the
gospels than their 19th-century counterparts, to be sure. Yet, a sub-
stantial number of historical facts are recognized with regard to the
death and resurrection of Jesus.
Virtually all scholars today agree that Jesus died by crucifixion
and that his body was afterwards buried. Due to his death, his
disciples were despondent, believing that all hope was gone. At this
point many contemporary scholars add that the burial tomb was
found empty a few days later, but that it did not cause belief in the
It is virtually unanimous that, soon afterwards, the disciples had
experiences which they were convinced were appearances of the
risen Jesus. These experiences transformed their lives as they believed
that Jesus was literally alive. These experiences also emboldened
them to preach and witness in
had been crucified and buried only a short time previously. Here it
was the message of Jesus' resurrection which was the central procla-
mation for these eyewitnesses.
History also relates that, due to this testimony, the Christian
church grew, featuring Sunday as the primary day of worship. Some
scholars add here that one of the early church leaders was James, the
brother of Jesus, who was a skeptic until he believed he saw the risen
Jesus. Basically all agree that a persecutor of the church, Saul of
believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
These are a minimum number of facts agreed upon by almost all
critical scholars who study this topic, whatever their school of thought.
From this summary, at least eleven separate facts can be considered to
be knowable history (while another is additionally recognized by
many): (1) Jesus died due to crucifixion and (2) was buried afterwards.
(3) Jesus' death caused the disciples to experience despair and lose
hope, believing that their master was dead. (4) Although not as widely
accepted, many scholars acknowledge several weighty arguments
which indicate that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered
to be empty just a few days later.
Almost all critical scholars further agree that (5) the disciples had
real experiences which they thought were literal appearances of the
risen Jesus. Due to these experiences, (6) the disciples were trans-
formed from timid and troubled doubters afraid to identify them-
selves with Jesus to bold preachers of his death and resurrection who
were more than willing to die for their faith in him. (7) This message
was the center of preaching in the earliest church and (8) was espe-
cially proclaimed in
cently died and had been buried.
162 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
As a direct result of this preaching, (9) the church was born, (10)
featuring Sunday as the special day of worship. (11) James, a brother
of Jesus who had been a skeptic, was converted when he believed
that he saw the resurrected Jesus. (12) A few years later, Paul was also
converted to the Christian faith by an experience which he, likewise,
thought was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
Such facts are crucial in terms of our contemporary investigation
of Jesus' resurrection. With the possible exception of the empty tomb,
the great majority of critical scholars who study this subject agree that
these are the minimal historical facts surrounding this event. As such,
any conclusions concerning the historicity of the resurrection should
at least properly account for them.
Now, it needs to be carefully noted that the actual resurrection of
Jesus, in the sense of his exit from the tomb, is nowhere narrated in
the NT.5 The teaching that he actually rose from the dead was a
conclusion drawn from the fact that he had literally died, followed by
his appearances in a transformed body to numerous individuals and
Therefore, the pivotal fact from our list, recognized as historical
by virtually all scholars, is the original experiences of the disciples. It
is almost always admitted that the disciples had real experiences and
that "something happened." Yet, while contemporary scholars rarely
employ naturalistic alternative theories, various views exist concern-
ing the ability to ascertain the exact nature of these experiences.
At the risk of oversimplification, at least five models may be
delineated in the contemporary theology of the last 25 years, each
representing a critical position on the issue of the historicity of the
resurrection appearances of Jesus. These models move from those
which disallow or seriously question the actual appearances to those
which firmly support attempts to demonstrate them in historical
Granted, there are numerous possible angles from which to study
and view the resurrection of Jesus (and it is perhaps true that evan-
gelicals are sometimes guilty of placing too much emphasis on his-
toricity), so it ought not be pretended by any means that this is the
only worthwhile perspective.6 Yet, many evangelicals think that such
5 However, the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (ca. 150-180 A.D.) does record Jesus'
exit from the grave, assisted by two young men (presumably angels). For the extant
text of this fragment, see R. Cameron, ed., The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel
Texts (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982) 78-82.
6 G. O'Collins notes six contemporary models of the resurrection, only one of
which stresses the aspect of historicity. In a sense, then, I am dividing the historical
aspect into five distinct sections. See What Are They Saying About the Resurrection?
(New York: Paulist, 1978) 7-34.
Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION 163
is at least a crucial starting point, agreeing with Paul (1 Cor 15:12-20)
that any theological meaning for this event depends on the question
It should be carefully noted before we begin our survey that it is
always risky to attempt to identify the positions of a broad cross-
section of scholars on almost any issue. This is particularly true with
regard to the resurrection, since there are numerous subtle shades of
meaning which may be apparent (or not so apparent!) even to the
trained eye. In fact, it is rather frustrating to read certain noted
scholars on this topic and to come away still attempting to understand
their positions. So, while such is a potentially hazardous process, it
may be helpful, as long as it is understood that there will necessarily
be some overlap (since some scholars have similarities to more than
one model, for instance) and that such can be identified only in fairly
approximate terms. But even these broader categorizations may still
serve our purpose, while at the same time revealing some "strange
The first model is characterized by those scholars who manifest
the tendency either to dismiss or at least seriously to question the
facticity of the resurrection appearances. While these persons are
more radical in their criticism, they still generally accept facts such as
those delineated above as historical and usually (perhaps surprisingly)
reject the naturalistic explanations for the appearances. Yet, they also
tend to dismiss any literal claims either that Jesus' tomb was empty or
that he was actually seen by his followers, preferring only to conclude
that the nature of the original eyewitnesses' experiences cannot be
For instance, R. Bultmann and his followers claim that the real
cause of the disciples' transformation is obscured by the various NT
texts. Regardless, it is not crucial to inquire into the nature of these
experiences.7 Similarly, W. Marxsen also believes that the reconstitu-
tion of these encounters cannot and should not be attempted, includ-
ing whether the disciples actually perceived appearances of the risen
Jesus. However, it makes little difference for the chief point, is that,
regardless of what happened, faith is still warranted.8
Sometimes this first model is more characterized by what it does
not (or cannot) say than by what it does state. So it is with the view of
H. Koester, who asserts -that it is not his. concern to inquire into the
nature of 1 esus' appearances. But they can best be characterized as
the "catalyst" that started the early Christian missionary activity and
7 See R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, trans. by K. Grobel (New
8 Marxsen, chaps. 3-4, especially 96, 111, as well as 77, 119, 147, 152.
164 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the planting of churches. At any rate, the resurrection revealed noth-
ing new, but it did change life for the first believers.9
For H. Kung, the resurrection is not to be considered as "a
supernatural intervention which can be located and dated in space
and time." Again, it is "not an event in human space and human time."
All that can be known is that Jesus died, followed by the rise of faith
and the Easter message of the disciples. But nothing objective can be
apprehended or checked out with regard to either the resurrection
itself or Jesus' appearances.10
In P. Van Buren's earlier thought, he held that "something hap-
pened" which changed the disciples' outlook from discouragement to
faith. Although these experiences were more than subjective and were
expressed in terms of actual appearances of the risen Jesus, their
nature still cannot be ascertained.11
While some recent trends still reflect this first perspective, the
position as a whole appears to be much less popular today. It is quite
possible that the view was heavily influenced by the work of R.
Bultmann to the extent that it is suffering a similar fate in terms of the
decrease in new thinkers who are supporting these options.12 Perhaps
symbolic of this last point is the conclusion reached by N. Perrin, who
is often viewed as a major American representative of Bultmann's
position due to his frequent similarities to the latter's interpretations
on NT topics such as the resurrection of Jesus. But strangely enough,
in a volume on this subject written at the very end of his career,
Perrin concluded that the tradition behind Jesus' appearances was
firmly based. In fact, his synopsis of what actually happened appears
at least to allow for some sort of objective visions whereby Jesus
commissioned the apostles for a new mission. Beyond this, Perrin
9 H. Koester, Introduction to the New Testament (2 vols.;
1982) 1.84, 86.
10 H. Kung, On Being a Christian, trans. by E. Quinn
11 P. Van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel (New York: Macmillan, 1963)
12 Some scholars hold positions which are at least related in some regards.
T. Sheehan's thesis (see part IV below) exhibits a number of similarities to Bultmann's
view, including a clear rejection of the resurrection of Jesus in any literal sense, as
stated in First
Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity (
Random House, 1986), especially part 2. Yet, neither does Sheehan explicitly espouse a
naturalistic theory. NT exegete H. Conzelmann is another scholar who is strongly
influenced by Bultmanns work. Some of his thoughts on the resurrection appearances
of Jesus are found in his commentary on I Corinthians, trans. by J. Leitch (
Fortress, 1969), 251ff.
Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION 165
does not think that anything further can be said.13 Here it seems clear
that Perrin has moved beyond Bultmann.
In the second model, scholars are distinguished from the first
group not only by displaying more interest in the nature of the
disciples' experiences, but often by the acceptance of the literal resur-
rection itself.14 But although the naturalistic theories are generally
rejected, this group still insists that these experiences cannot be his-
torically verified but can only be accepted by faith.
The theologians and exegetes in this second model have usually
been influenced by S. Kierkegaard15 and, in the 20th-century, by K.
Barth, who held that the resurrection should be accepted by faith as a
literal event, but that it cannot be ascertained by any historical in-
vestigation. Barth emphatically rejected the naturalistic alternative
theories and asserted that Jesus appeared empirically to his disciples,
yet these occurrences happened in a different sphere of history and
cannot be verified historically.16
Similar views were held by other neo-orthodox theologians such
as E. Brunner17 and D. Bonhoeffer18 and are also quite popular in
more recent works. For example, G. Bornkamm notes the failure of
naturalistic theories but still, in a manner reminiscent of Barth, states
that the resurrection appearances can only be accepted by faith apart
from historical examination.19
Likewise, K. Rahner points out that just because the resurrection
cannot be incorporated "into the normal world of space and time,"
this does not mean that this event should be denied.20 For M. Barth,
13 N. Perrin, The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark and Luke (Phila-
delphia: Fortress, 1977) 78-84.
14 It is difficult in all examples below to ascertain those scholars who espouse faith
in literal resurrection appearances of Jesus to his followers, but it is sufficiently clear in
15 See especially Kierkegaard's work Philosophical Fragments, trans. by D. F.
Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962) chaps. 3-4 and Concluding
Unscientific Postscript, trans. by D. F.
1941) chapter 1 and 86ff., 188-00.
16 The progress in Barth's thought on this idea is very informative. For his most
authoritative statement of these views see The Doctrine of the Reconciliation, Volume
IV, Part 1 of his Church Dogmatics (ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance; Edin-
burgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956) especially 334-36, 351-52.
17 See, for examples, E. Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemp-
tion, Vol. 2 of Dogmatics, trans. O. Wyon (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1952) 366-72.
18 D. Bonhoeffer,
Christ the Center, trans. J. Bowden (
Row, 1966) 71-77.
19 Bornkamm, 180-86.
20 K. Rahner,
Belief Today, chap. 3 trans. W.
Ward, Inc., 1967) 127.
166 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the resurrection of Jesus is certainly an actual historicaf occurrence,
but, in words quite reminiscent of his father, Karl, it
is an event which occurs at the boundary of empirical scientific knowl-
edge. . . beyond the realm of experience and sensation which is acces-
sible to rationality and empirical investigation. . . . 21
An extremely interesting view (at least partially because it also
reaches beyond the second model) is the position of T. Torrance. A
well-known interpreter of K. Barth's
repeatedly explains his literal acceptance of the resurrection of Jesus.
He places even more stress on the historicity of the resurrection than
does Barth, such as his identification of it as "an event that happens
within history. . . a happening within the same order of physical
existence to which we belong. ..an event in space and time. . . ."22
He even differentiates his position from that of the early Barth, whom
"not as really historical." A footnote implies that Barth only held such
a view in his earlier stages, dated 1910-31.23 But it should be objected
that Barth continued to speak of the resurrection having occurred in a
different sort of history long after this.24
At any rate,
agrees with Barth that the resurrection cannot be proven, but is
"apprehended only by faith."25 Other scholars also hold similar
The third model is characterized by scholars who generally have
a significant interest in more historical aspects of the resurrection.
Like the second position, naturalistic theories are also rejected. But
there are at least two primary differences between this and the previ-
ous view. Whereas those in the second model generally state their
appropriation of the resurrection by faith, those in this third group
often proceed a step further by setting forth a more-or-less abstract
reconstruction of the historical nature of the appearances. Addition-
ally, they tend to point out reasons why the empty tomb is the best
21 M. Barth
and V. H. Fletcher, Acquittal by
Rinehart and Winston, 1964) vi-vii. Cf. 14-15,29 with 25, 31 for this contrast. For an
intriguing parallel, see K. Barth, The Resurrection of the Dead, trans. H. J. Stenning
(New York: Revell, 1933) 134; cf. 131-42.
86-88; cf. also 21,89-91,94-95,171-175.
23 Ibid, 95.
24 See footnote 16; see also K. Barth, The Faith of the Church, trans. C. Vahanian;
(ed. J. L. Leuba;
26 For example, see H. Thielicke, "The Resurrection Kerygma" in The Easter
Message Today, trans. S. Attanasio and D. L. Cuder (
1964), especially 59, 70-71, 73, 77.
Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION 167
explanation for the data, as opposed, once again, to the more straight-
forward statement of belief in it.
The chief difference between these models, then, is the attempt
of those in the third group to go beyond more-or-less generalized
statements of faith in the resurrection to get behind the NT texts in an
effort to ascertain at least a minimalistic understanding of what really
happened, including the providing of reasons27 for the acceptance of
the appearances of Jesus and the empty tomb. However, it is still
agreed that the resurrection itself is an eschatological event and is not
demonstrable by historical methodology, although it is sometimes
held that it will be verifiable in the future.
It might be said that the popularity of this third position in recent
decades dates from the 1956 publication of a volume on the resurrec-
tion by H. Grass. Arguing that the gospel accounts of Jesus' corporeal
resurrection appearances are legendary, Grass contended that the
application of critical procedures to the NT texts reveals that Jesus
actually appeared to his disciples, but in a spiritual form which would
not even have been photographable.28 Unlike most in this group,
Grass also rejects the accounts of the empty tomb.29 Other scholars
have followed this lead in interpreting Jesus' appearances as spiritual,
rather than physical, phenomena.
J. Moltmann holds that the disciples witnessed visionary30 ap-
pearances of the risen Jesus, which involved spoken messages and
charged his hearers with a mission of service in the world. These
events, which are not actually verifiable, occurred in eschatological
history and are subject to future verification.31 U. Wilkens likewise
concludes that history cannot determine exactly what happened. Thus,
while naturalistic theories can be refuted and the historical facticity of
the empty tomb upheld, Jesus' appearances Were private revelations,
indications of a future, eschatological existence.32
27 I am not implying that those in the third model engage in formal apologetics,
which these scholars also eschew. However, regardless of their intent here, there is a
tendency among some of these individuals to provide numerous reasons, including
some "evidences," for their position, in contrast to those in the second model.
28 H. Grass, Ostergeschehen und Osterberichte
and Ruprecht, 1962) 93; 226-49; cf. 232.
29 Grass, 93.
30 The term “visions” is often employed without sufficient care. We are not utilizing
the word as a synonym for hallucinations or some entirely subjective phenomena.
31 J. Moltmann,
Theology of Hope, trans. J. W. Leitch (
1967) 172, 181, 188, 100, 197-98, 202; Religion, Revolution and the Future, trans. M. D.
Meeks (New York: Scribner, 1969) 49-55.
32 U. Wilkens, Resurrection, trans. A. M. Stewart (Edinburgh: S. Andrew, 1977),
168 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
R. Fuller notes that the disciples' transformations necessitate an
adequate cause. This source is Jesus' appearances, which are his-
torically defined as visionary experiences of light and auditions of
meaning communicated to the earliest witnesses. The messages both
proclaimed that Jesus had been raised to a new eschatological exis-
tence and further, imparted a mission to his followers, such as Paul's
commission to preach to the Gentiles. Such phenomena were not
subjective visions, but actual experiences. But even though they
provided the source for the Easter faith and message, they are re-
moved from historical demonstration.33
J. Jeremias similarly holds that the resurrection appearances of
Jesus were spiritual visions of shining light by which the disciples
experienced Jesus as the risen Lord.34 Preferring to view the resurrec-
tion as an historical question, G. O'Collins postulates that Jesus' ap-
pearances ought to be termed "Christophanies" since they involved
manifestations of Jesus as "glorified and divinized as fully as that is
possible." And once again, such appearances cannot be known except
in faith.35 Others concur on these and other similar points.36
The fourth model is comprised of scholars who hold that the
available textual data is sufficient to demonstrate the probability that
the tomb was empty and that Jesus was literally raised from the dead.
Probably the best known recent theologian to accept this conclusion is
W. Pannenberg, who argues against naturalistic theories and, as just
noted, concludes that the historical facts demonstrate the likelihood of
both the empty tomb and the literal appearances of Jesus. Yet,
Pannenberg dismisses a corporeal resurrection body in favor of ap-
pearances which are described in terms of a spiritual body which
appeared from heaven, but was recognized as Jesus, who imparted an
audition and, at least in Paul's case, was accompanied by a pheno-
menon of light.37
33 R. H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives
Macmillan, 1971) 46-49, 169-72, 181.
34 J. Jeremias, "Easter: The Earliest Tradition and the Earliest Interpretation" in
New Testament Theology, trans. J. Bowden (New York: Scribner's, 1971), especially
35 O'Collins, 14,55,62.
36 Interestingly enough, and although his position is difficult to identify, Jewish
scholar P. Lapide firmly accepts the facticity of Jesus' resurrection and the subsequent
appearances even though they are recognized by faith. Furthermore, he also provides
some good reasons to accept these conclusions. See P. Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus:
A Jewish Perspective (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1983), especially 92, 95-99, 118, 125,
37 See, in particular, W. Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man, trans. L. L. Wilkens and
D. Priebe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), especially 88-106.
Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION 169
A. M. Hunter utilizes textual considerations and applies some
initial historical investigation to conclude that Jesus' resurrection can
be demonstrated by the facts.38 J. A. T. Robinson points out that
while historical studies cannot ascertain the exact details, they may be
sufficient to formulate a probable case for this event.39 R. Brown, after
an extensive study of the textual data, likewise supports the facticity
of Jesus' resurrection.40
J. D. G. Dunn carefully examines the pros and cons for both the
empty tomb and the resurrection appearances of Jesus. He concludes
that it is almost impossible to reject the disciples' visionary experi-
ences, which cannot be explained by alternative theorization. The
empty tomb, he states, is "almost as difficult to deny."41 In a similar
but less systematic way, L. Goppelt also finds that the data favor both
the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances of Jesus. He
critiques Grass for not going far enough in his conclusions.42 A. M.
Ramsey is even clearer in his defense of the empty tomb and the
appearances. He also takes a more positive perspective on the gospel
In the fifth and last model to be discussed, scholars agree with the
previous group that the evidence refutes the naturalistic theories, that
the tomb in which Jesus was buried was found empty and that Jesus
actually appeared to his followers. But the primary difference be-
tween the last two models is that, additionally, the scholars in this fifth
group hold that Jesus rose bodily, as well. There are many different
conceptions of the term "body," but it will be specified that the word
is being used here in the sense employed by the gospels. There we
find that Jesus rose in the same body in which he was crucified, but
that it had been transformed, as well.
Having very briefly delineated this last point, it must now be
admitted that it is sometimes very difficult to ascertain who holds to
this specific concept of Jesus' resurrection body and who does not.
Some of the scholars whom we have already discussed also hold that
Jesus was raised bodily. This appears to be clear, for example, in the
38 For example, see A. M.
Hunter, Jesus; Lord and Savior (
Eerdmans, 1976) 98-107. .
39 J. A. T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (
mans, 1917) 120-29.
40 R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New
41 J. D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985) 66-78.
42 L. Goppelt, "The Easter Kerygma in the New Testament" in The Easter Message
43 A. M. Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ (London: Collins, 1961) 35-74.
170 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
works of K. Barth and T. Torrance.44 M. Barth, Goppelt, and Ramsey
likewise make this point, but at least the last two regard the view
taken by Luke and John as being too drastic.45
Most of the scholars who comprise this fifth model are evan-
gelicals. Rather than attempting to identify each one separately, we
will simply cite examples of distinctive contributions by some of
those who have written entire volumes on this subject. G. E. Ladd
and W. Craig have set a defense of the resurrection in the context of a
brief apologetic for both the gospels and Paul's testimony, specializ-
ing in their endeavors to face contemporary critical challenges fairly.46
G. Osborne has defended the resurrection against the critical ques-
tioning of the NT testimony by his attempts to inquire concerning any
positive value which can be derived from redaction criticism.47
D. Fuller, after a masterful survey of contemporary thought on
the resurrection, has championed Luke-Acts as a sufficient answer to
critical objections.48 Even though attempted harmonies of the Easter
traditions in the NT are looked at disdainfully by most critical schol-
ars, this has not deterred J. Wenham from comprising one of the most
ambitious works on a possible outline of events.49
Lastly, although not primarily on the resurrection, at least two
other volumes need to be mentioned. R. Gundry's influential work on
NT anthropology has a chapter devoted to the crucially important
subject of Paul's agreement with the gospel authors on Jesus' resurrec-
tion body. N. Geisler's treatise on contemporary critical challenges to
the belief in miracles serves as an excellent summary of seldom-
known, but influential, objections to these events.50 Many other evan-
gelicals have also published defenses of the bodily resurrection of
44 See K. Barth, The Doctrine of
Reconciliation, 4.1, especially 351-42;
26, 164, 171.
45 M. Barth and V. Fletcher, 9,11, cf. p. vi; Goppelt, 43, 47-49; Ramsey, 108-9.
46 G. E. Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (
1975) see chaps. 7-8; W. L. Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection: Our
Response to the Empty Tomb (Ann Arhor, MI: Servant, 1988), especially 44-61, 70-86,
47 G. Osborne, The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study (
Baker, 1984), see chaps. 2-6 and 233-72.
48 D. P. Fuller, Easter Faith and History (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965),
especially chaps. 7-8.
49 J. Wenham, Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict? (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).
50 R. Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology (
and Modern Thought (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).
51 For just a few of the more recent volumes containing these defenses; written at
various levels and for varying audiences, see C. C. Anderson, The Historical Jesus: A
Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION 171
Contemporary critical thinkers have generally based their most
crucial discussions on the resurrection almost exclusively on the writ-
ings of Paul, and 1 Corinthians 15 in particular. Evangelicals have too
long been largely ignored by the critical community for their "over-
commitment" to the gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection appear-
ances as credible sources. But it is certainly time that evangelical
scholars do a more thorough job stating why we think these gospel
accounts, in particular, deserve equal emphasis along with the testi-
mony of Paul and others. To date, too many evangelicals have been
complacent, largely attempting to write to each other, repeating old
presentations of evidence for Jesus' resurrection without really grap-
pling with contemporary concerns. For this we deserve criticism.52
In retrospect, there appears to be the possibility of some intrigu-
ing connections between these five models, although it is difficult to
be dogmatic here. The third group seems to be a more recent devel-
opment from the second, where it is possible that the latter was
judged to have placed too much emphasis on the disjunction between
history and faith. Model four is a modern, critical defense of the
resurrection which might be viewed at least partially as a reaction to
the first and second models while not going as far as the traditional,
orthodox view represented by the fifth group. Conversely, models
one and five may be viewed as antitheses, while two and four are
rivals on the issue of historicity.
It is also very important to note that of these five models, only the
first is generally characterized by a rejection of (or agnostic attitude
towards) the literal resurrection of Jesus. Just as significant is the
observation that the first view not only appears to be losing ground,
but varying positions which support the facticity of the resurrection
appearances are presently quite popular.53 It is for this reason that
Continuing Quest (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972);
Witness of History (Leichester: InterVarsity, 1985); F. F. Bruce, The New Testament
Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960); Green, The Empty
Cross of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984); A. J. Hoover, The Case for
Christian Theism: An Introduction to Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976); C. S.
Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: Macmillan, 1960); P. L. Maier, First
Easter (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); J. McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San
Bernardino: Here's Life, 1981); J. W. Montgomery, History and Christianity (Downers
Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1964,1965); J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense
of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987); R. Nash, Christian Faith and Historical
Understanding (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984); C. Pinnock, Set Forth Your Case
Moody, 1967); and M. Tenny, The Reality of the Resurrection (
Harper & Row, 1963).
52 I am not speaking of the volumes in notes 46-51, many of which have made
serious contributions in these areas.
53 Once again, this is a broad survey, hence necessitating generalities rather than
detailed expositions of these five positions. Concerning the second group in particular, it
172 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
much of the remainder of this essay will be addressed, in a special
sense, to the first viewpoint (although it will be related to the others as
II. A Traditional Apologetic: A Summary
Before proceeding to a more contemporary defense, it is advan-
tageous that a brief summary be given of a more-or-less traditional
apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus, perhaps including some new
angles. Arguments for the historicity of the resurrection appearances
have traditionally been based on two major lines of support. First,
naturalistic theories have failed to explain away this event, and,
second, there are evidences which indicate that Jesus' resurrection
That naturalistic theories have failed is evident for several rea-
sons. Initially, each individual alternative hypothesis has been shown
to fall prey to various criticisms and has been disproven by the known
historical facts. In other words, theses such as those relying on fraud,
swoon, hallucinations, legends, spiritualistic, or psychological experi-
ences have individually been refuted by several key objections which
render each one quite improbable.54
Another indication of the failure of the naturalistic theories is that
each one was disproven by the 19th century liberals themselves.
These scholars refuted each other's hypotheses, thereby leaving no
viable alternative. For example, D. Strauss delivered the historical
death blow to the swoon theory held by K. Venturini, H. Paulus and
others.55 On the other hand, F. Schleiermacher and Paulus pointed out
errors in Strauss' hallucination theory.56 However, the major decima-
tion of the hallucination theory came at the hands of T. Keim.57 The
fraud and legend theories were disproven by later critical research.58
has already been noted that it is difficult to ascertain in all instances if the resurrection is
being accepted as a literal event. At any rate, since many in this group do accept a literal
resurrection, a rejection of this event is therefore not a characteristic of the second group
as a whole, as it is with the first.
54 It is impossible in the scope of this essay to deal with each of these naturalistic
theories and their refutations. For details, see G. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: A
Rational Inquiry (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1976), especially 114-71.
55 Strauss, A New Life of Jesus (London: Williams an Norgate, 1879) 1.412; see also
A .Schweitzer's assertion that Strauss administered the death blow to such rationalistic
thought in The
Quest of the Historical Jesus, trans. W.
Macmillan, 1968) 56.
56 F. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart
(New York: Harper & Row, 1963) 2.420; Schweitzer, 54-55.
57 J. Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1908, 1965) 219.
58 For examples, see R. Fuller, 46-49; Bornkamm, 185.
Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION 173
By such critiques these scholars pointed out that each of these theories
was disproven by the known data.
After 19th century liberals decimated each other's views indi-
vidually, 20th century critical scholars have generally rejected these
theories as a whole, judging that they are incapable of explaining the
facts. This contemporary approach is a characteristic of 20th century
schools of thought across a wide theological spectrum.
For instance, K. Barth pointed out that each of these liberal
hypotheses is confronted by many inconsistencies and concluded that
"to-day we rightly turn up our nose at this. ..."59 Brown likewise
asserts that 20th-century critical scholars have rejected these theories,
holding that they are no longer respectable. He adds that such con-
temporary thinkers ignore these alternative views and any popularized
renditions of them, as well.60 Such rejections are also manifested by
theologians as diverse as Tillich, Pannenberg, Bornkamm and Robin-
son.61 That even such critical scholars have rejected these naturalistic
theories is a final epitaph on the failure of these views. But, as pointed
out above, that these theses have been disproven by the factual data
remains the chief reason for their failure.
The second major point in our traditional apologetic for Jesus'
resurrection concerns the many positive evidences which corroborate
the historical and literal nature of this event. Our earlier list of ac-
cepted historical facts contains at least ten such evidences. Thus, their
factual basis is generally admitted by virtually all scholars (with the
exception of the empty tomb which is nonetheless attested by many).
However, because of limitation, these ten will simply be stated with
very little elaboration.
The key evidence for Jesus' resurrection is (1) the disciples'
experiences which they believed to be literal appearances of the risen
Jesus, especially since these reports cannot be explained by naturalistic
theories, as just noted. We will concentrate further on the nature of
these experiences in the next article. Other positive evidences include
(2) the transformation of the disciples into bold witnesses who were
willing to die for their faith, (3) the historical facts in support of the
empty tomb and (4) the central nature of the resurrection message, all
of which require adequate explanations. Additionally, (5) the disciples
proclaimed this message in
59 K. Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, 4.1, 340.
60 R. Brown, "The Resurrection and Biblical Criticism." Commonweal, Nov. 24,
1967, especially 233.
61 P. Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972) I
especially 2.156; Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man, 88-97; Bornkamm, 181-85; Robin-
174 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
would expect. Yet, in repeated confrontations with the authorities,
(6) the Jewish leaders could not disprove their message. Further,
(7) the very existence of the church, (8) featuring Sunday as the
primary day of worship demands historical causes, as well.
Two major facts arguing for the historicity of the resurrection are
that two skeptics, (9) James and (10) Paul, became believers after
having experiences which they also believed were appearances of the
risen Jesus. Fuller concludes that even if the appearance to James was
not recorded by Paul (1 Cor 15:7), such an occurrence would still
have to be postulated anyway in order to account for both James'
conversion and subsequent promotion to a position of authority in the
early church. The same could be said even more emphatically con-
When combined with the failure of the naturalistic theories, this
minimum of ten evidences provides a strong case for the historicity of
Jesus' resurrection. This is especially so in that these evidences were
based on critically recognized historical data; they can be shown to be
factual. In particular, when the eyewitness experiences of the dis-
ciples, James, and Paul are considered along with their correspond-
ing transformations,63 the historical resurrection becomes the best
explanation for the facts, especially since the naturalistic theories
failed. Therefore, it may be concluded that the resurrection is a
62 R. Fuller, 37, 46-47.
63 This does not even include the experience of the more than 500 persons who
claimed to see the risen Jesus and concerning whom Paul asserted that most were still
alive and therefore could be questioned.
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