Criswell Theological Review 4.1 (1989) 159-74

                           Copyright © 1989 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission.    




                           JESUS' RESURRECTION

                            AND CONTEMPORARY

                     CRITICISM: AN APOLOGETIC*



                                                GARY R. HABERMAS

                                                     Liberty University

                                                 Lynchburg, V A 24506



            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 Nazareth, trans. by Margaret Kohl

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 12.

            2 J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, trans. by J. W. Leitch (New York: Harper &

Row, 1967) 165.




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

resurrection studies.


                                    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 Nazareth, trans. by I. and F. McLuskey with J. M.

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.

Geisler; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980). For more details on the identification of the

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 Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus

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

Tarsus, was converted to Christianity by an experience which he also

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 Jerusalem, the same city where Jesus had re-

cently died and had been buried.



            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

bodily terms.

            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

of historicity.

            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

York: Scribner's, 1951, 1955) 1.45.

                8 Marxsen, chaps. 3-4, especially 96, 111, as well as 77, 119, 147, 152.



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.; Philadelphia: Fortress,

1982) 1.84, 86.

            10 H. Kung, On Being a Christian, trans. by E. Quinn (New York: Doubleday,

1976) 348-53.

            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 (New York:

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 (Philadelphia:

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

several cases.

            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. Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press,

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 (New York: Harper and

Row, 1966) 71-77.

            19 Bornkamm, 180-86.

            20 K. Rahner, Belief Today, chap. 3 trans. W. Whitman (New York: Sheed and

Ward, Inc., 1967) 127.



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 theology, Torrance carefully and

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. event in space and time. . . ."22

He even differentiates his position from that of the early Barth, whom

Torrance surprisingly identifies as holding that the resurrection was

"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, Torrance still

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 Resurrection (New York: Holt,

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.

            22 T.F. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976)

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; New York: Meridian, 1958) 105-8.

            25 Torrance, 18-19; also 220.

            26 For example, see H. Thielicke, "The Resurrection Kerygma" in The Easter

Message Today, trans. S. Attanasio and D. L. Cuder (New York: Thomas Nelson,

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 (2nd ed.; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck

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 (New York: Harper & Row,

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),

especially 116-25.



            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 (New York:

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,

127 -28.

            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 (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1976) 98-107. .

            39 J. A. T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids: Eerd-

mans, 1917) 120-29.

            40 R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New

York: Paulist, 1973) 125-29.

            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

Today, 44-52.

            43 A. M. Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ (London: Collins, 1961) 35-74.



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; Torrance,

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 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

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 (Grand Rapids.

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 (Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1976; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), especially chap. 13; N. L. Geisler, Miracles

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); N. Anderson, Jesus Christ: The

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

(Chicago: Moody, 1967); and M. Tenny, The Reality of the Resurrection (New York:

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



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

literally occurred.

            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. Montgomery (New York:

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 Jerusalem itself, which is the last place one


                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-

son, 123-25.



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-

cerning Paul.62

            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

historical event.


            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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