Criswell Theological Review 4.2 (1990) 373-385
Copyright © 1990 by The
JESUS' RESURRECTION AND
AN APOLOGETIC (PART II)*
GARY R. HABERMAS
I. A Contemporary Apologetic: An Outline
As noted in our survey of contemporary approaches to the resurrec-
tion appearances, the pivotal point is ascertaining the cause of the
disciples' faith. As R. Fuller asserts:
The very fact of the church's kerygma therefore requires that the
historian postulate some other event over and above Good Friday, an
event which is not itself the "rise of the Easter faith" but the cause of the
Easter Faith.1 (italics added)
Fuller finds this cause in the literal (though nonbodily) resurrec-
tion appearances of Jesus, which he terms "revelatory encounters."2
Yet it was related that more radical scholars (such as R. Bultmann and
W. Marxsen) do not believe that it is possible to ascertain what
occurred. For Bultmann, it is not even important to know what
caused the disciples' faith. But J. Macquarrie, a major interpreter,
asserts that Bultmann's dismissal of the resurrection is an entirely
* This is the second of two lectures read at the Criswell Lecture Series, Criswell
College, January, 1989.
Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection
1971) 169. Cf.
J. A. T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (
Eerdmans, 1976) 124-25.
2 Fuller, 170.
374 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
The fallacy of such reasoning is obvious. The one valid way in
which we can ascertain whether a certain event took place or not is not
by bringing in some sweeping assumption to show that it could not have
taken place, but to consider the historical evidence available, and decide
Similarly, both R. E. Brown and G. O'Collins are examples of
those who charge Marxsen with hypercriticism for his ad absurdum,
reductionistic treatment of the resurrection in that he avoids making
any specific conclusions concerning the nature of the disciples' expe-
riences in spite of having early and reliable material. Therefore,
Brown and O'Collins regard Marxsen's contribution at this point as
The chief purpose for the remainder of this essay will be to
determine, by continuing both to investigate and utilize critical meth-
odology, if the cause of the original eyewitnesses' faith can be further
ascertained. If such verification is found, it will corroborate the earlier
apologetic (which can still be presented in a very strong form) and
also serve as a more conclusive refutation of radical scholars who
deny that such a cause can be discovered.
A. An Early Christian Creed
It was pointed out above that the resurrection was the center of
the earliest Christian teaching. This is crucially based, for instance, on
1 Cor 15:3ff., where virtually all scholars agree that Paul recorded an
ancient creed(s) concerning Jesus' death and resurrection which is
actually much earlier than the book in which it is recorded. That this
material is traditional and earlier than Paul is evident from numerous
considerations, such as the usage of the technical terms "delivered"
and "received" (which indicate the imparting of oral tradition), the
parallelism and somewhat stylized content, the proper names of Peter
and James, the non-Pauline words, and the possibility of an Aramaic
original. Further pointers to the presence of traditional material in-
clude the Aramaic name Cephas (see the parallel in Luke 24:34), the
threefold usage of “and that” (similar to Aramaic and Mishnaic He-
brew means of narration), and the two references to the fulfillment of
3 J. Macquarrie, An Existentialist Theology (New York: Harper & Row, 1965)
4 R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New
(New York: Paulist, 1978) 100-15.
5 In particular, see Fuller, 9ff.; P. Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish
Perspective (Minneapolis: Augsberg, 1983) 97-99. See also Brown, 81, 92; Robinson,
125; P. Van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel (New York: Macmillan, 1963)
Gary R. Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION AND CRITICISM 375
Concerning the date of this creed, critical scholars generally
agree that it has a very early origin. J. Jeremias terms it "the earliest
tradition of all."6 U. Wilckens declares that it "indubitably goes back
to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity."7 In
fact, many scholars date Paul's receiving of this creed from two to
eight years after the crucifixion itself, or from about A.D. 32-38.8 Most
of those who comment on the issue hold that Paul most likely received
material during his visit in
are included in the list of appearances (1 Cor 15:5, 7; Gal 1:18-19).9
There are at least four indications that the content of this gospel
creed (if not the actual words themselves) is actually apostolic in
nature. (1) As we just said, Paul recorded very early material which
recounts the appearances of Jesus to the disciples (vv 4-7). Further,
he probably received the list directly from a couple of them. (2) Paul
himself is the eyewitness and apostolic source behind the appearance
recorded in 15:8. (3) Paul asserts that the apostles as a whole were
themselves currently teaching the same message concerning Jesus'
126-27; R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (
1955) 296; cf.
W. Marxsen, The
Resurrection of Jesus of
1970) 80; G. Bornkamm, Jesus of
182; J. Jeremias, "Easter: The Earliest Tradition and the Earliest Interpretation," New
Testament Theology (New York: Scribner's, 1971) 306.
6 Jeremias, 306.
7 U. Wilckens, Resurrection (Edinburgh: St. Andrew, 1977) 2.
8 For some scholars who accept such a dating, see H. Grass, Ostergeschehen und
Osterberichte (2d ed.;
The Early Church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology (ed. A. J. B.
the New Testament," The Easter Message Today (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1964) 36;
W. Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) 90; Fuller, 10,
14, 28, 48;
C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its
16; A. M. Hunter, Jesus: Lord and Saviour (
Brown, 81; T. Sheehan, First Coming: How the
Christianity (New York: Random House, 1986) 110, 118; G. E. Ladd, I Believe in the
Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 105. H. Kung dates this con-
fession from A.D. 35-45 in his work On Being a Christian (New York: Doubleday, 1976)
348. N. Perrin holds that it is no later than A.D. 50, but he does not venture a closer
approximation. See Perrin's The Resurrection according to Matthew, Mark and Luke
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) 79. O.Collins asserts that he is not aware of any scholars
who place the date for Paul's reception of this material after the A.D. 40s (112). It should
be carefully noted that the major conclusions drawn here would still follow, even with
such a slightly later date.
9 Goppelt notes that it is usually held by scholars that this creed is Palestinian in
(36). For those who generally favor the
8. However, Grass prefers
date (96), whereas Kung, Perrin, and Sheehan do not appear to answer the question in
their immediate contexts.
376 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
appearances (1 Cor 15:11, 14, 15). (4) Paul specifically checked the
nature of the gospel (which included the resurrection, 1 Cor 15:1-4)
with the apostolic leadership and found that the content of his teach-
ing was accurate (Gal 1:11-2:1-10).10 These are strong reasons to
conclude that this creedal data is authoritative and apostolic. As far as
this writer knows, no contemporary scholar holds that Paul was com-
pletely mistaken at all three of these junctures.
Accordingly, this creedal statement is an invaluable report of the
original eyewitnesses' experiences. As German historian H. von Cam-
penhausen contends concerning this pre-Pauline material, "This ac-
count meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly
be made of such a text."11 A. M. Hunter likewise repeats the same
assessment.12 C. H. Dodd adds the point that anyone who would
assert the unlikely claim that Paul was mistaken regarding the apos-
tolic nature of the gospel message must bear the burden of proof.13
A point to be made here is that, even if one doubts the conclusion
concerning the actual date and specific location of this creedal mate-
rial, there is still an excellent foundation for this data being early and
apostolic in nature, and hence authoritative. We conclude that this
pre-Pauline report of Jesus' resurrection appearances and the atten-
dant data clearly link the eyewitness content of the gospel with its
later proclamation, and all of the evidence thus far shows that the
participants actually did see the risen Jesus, both individually and in
B. The Visual Nature of Jesus' Appearances
One major advantage of the critically ascertained and accepted
historical facts listed in part 1 is that these data deal directly with the
issue of the disciples' experiences. On a more limited scale, the mini-
mal amount of recognized facts may be used in arguing decisively
against each of the naturalistic theories, although details cannot be
These minimal facts also provide some of the strongest evidences
for the literal appearances of the risen Jesus such as the disciples'
10 For the possible meaning of i[storh?sai in Gal 1:18 and its importance in
ascertaining the inquiring nature of Paul's visit to Peter in
study by W. R. Farmer, "Peter and Paul, and the Tradition Concerning 'The Lord's
Supper' in 1 Cor 11:23-25," in the Criswell Theological Review, 2 (1987), esp. 122-30.
For the Petrine and apostolic nature of this confession, see 135-38.
11 H. von Campenhausen, "The Events of Easter and the Empty Tomb," Tradi-
tion and Life in the
12 Hunter, 100.
13 Dodd, 16.
Gary R. Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION AND CRITICISM 377
early eyewitness claims which have not been explained away on
alternative grounds, their transformation into persons who were even
willing to die for their faith in this specific Gospel content, and the
claimed visual experiences and corresponding transformations of Paul
and James. The fact of the resurrection as the very center of the
earliest preaching and the evidences for the empty tomb14 are also
significant in this regard. Therefore, the critically ascertained histori-
cal data include material which further verify the disciples' report
concerning their witnessing of Jesus' resurrection appearances, all in
the absence of viable alternative schemes.
Due to similar studies of the relevant facts, most critical scholars
have concluded that the disciples' experiences were definitely visual
in nature, for no other conclusion satisfies all the data. Historian
M. Grant asserts that an investigation can actually "prove" that the
earliest witnesses were convinced that they had seen the risen Jesus.15
C. Braaten explains that even recent critics and skeptics agree with
the conclusion that, at least for the early believers, the Easter appear-
ances were real events in space and time.16 R. Fuller labels the
disciples' belief in the risen Jesus as "one of the indisputable facts of
history." Then Fuller states that we can also be sure that the disciples
had some sort of visionary experiences and that this "is a fact upon
which both believer and unbeliever may agree."17
Thus, as W. Pannenberg asserts, "few scholars, even few rather
critical scholars, doubt that there had been visionary experiences."18
But since the hypothesis of hallucinations (or other subjective theories)
fails badly in its attempt to explain the data19 as recognized by critical
scholars,20 the facts certainly favor the view that the original disciples
14 For other defenses of the empty tomb besides that of von Campenhausen, see
E. L. Bode,
"The First Easter Morning," Analecta
Biblica 45 (
Press, 1970) 155-75; W. L. Craig, "The Empty Tomb of Jesus," Gospel Perspectives:
Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels (ed. R. T. France and D. Wenham;
Tomb Really Empty?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 20 (1977) 23-29.
15 M. Grant, Jesus: An
Historian's Review of the Gospels (
16 C. Braaten, History and Hermeneutics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) 78.
H. Fuller, The Foundations of the New
Testament Christology (
Scribners, 1965) 142.
18 W. Pannenberg, "The Historicity of the Resurrection: The Identity of Christ"
Intellectuals Speak Out about God (ed. R. A. Varghese;
way, 1984) 260.
19 For details, see G. R. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Rational Inquiry
(Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1976), 127-45.
20 For examples of such scholars, see K. Barth, Church Dogmatics (ed. G. W.
T. F. Torrance;
378 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
experienced some sort of appearances of the risen Jesus. In other
words, while we will mention the issue of corporeality below, the
actual core elements of the disciples' experiences indicate their per-
ception of actual appearances of the risen Jesus. And in fact, as
J. D. G. Dunn points out, there is widespread agreement among con-
temporary theologians of just this conclusion: Jesus appeared to his
disciples, and not just as a spirit.21 And this must be carefully stated:
this is not true simply because critics say that it is, but because the
facts dictate this conclusion. In other words, while critical conclusions
at this point are helpful, the most important consideration is that the
factual data demonstrate that Jesus appeared to his disciples after his
Since this data can be established by critical procedures which
utilize the minimal amount of knowable historical facts, contemporary
scholars should not reject such evidence by referring to "discrepan-
cies" in the NT texts or to its general "unreliability." Not only are such
critical claims problematical on other grounds not discussed here, but
it has been concluded that the resurrection can be historically demon-
strated even when the minimum amount of critically admitted his-
torical facts is utilized. Neither should it be concluded, as is popular
today, merely that "something" occurred which is indescribable due
to naturalistic premises, or to the nature of history itself, or because of
the "legendary character" or "cloudiness" of the NT texts. Neither
should it be said that Jesus lives on through his teachings but not
literally. Again, these and other such views are confronted by the
historically ascertainable data which are, in turn, admitted by virtually
all scholars and which are adequate historically to demonstrate the
literal resurrection appearances of Jesus.
Briefly stated, instead of simply relating what they believe we
cannot know concerning the NT resurrection accounts, critics should
concentrate on what even they admit can be known about these texts.
The factual basis is enough to show that Jesus' resurrection is by far
the best historical explanation of this data. While critics may still have
questions concerning other issues in the NT, the minimal facts are
adequate in themselves to show that the same Jesus who had died by
crucifixion shortly before had later appeared to his followers.
However, evangelicals must go beyond this critical consensus to
include not only the testimony of Paul, but also that of the Gospels. In
speaking of the nature of the apostles' experiences, it should be noted
"The Resurrection and Biblical Criticism," Commonweal (1967) 233; Pannenberg, Jesus-
God and Man, 94-97; Bornkamm, 185; Lapide, 124-26; N. Clark, Interpreting the
Resurrection (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), 100-101. .
21 J. D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985) 73-75.
Gary R. Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION AND CRITICISM 379
again that most critical scholars in the first four models stress the
descriptions of Paul's experience on the road to
critics do recognize the fact that the Gospels likewise contain some
early material concerning the resurrection appearances of Jesus. For
instance, Luke 24:34 is believed to be based on tradition perhaps as
early as that of the creed recorded by Paul in 1 Cor 15:3ff.22
After applying form-critical techniques to the Gospels, Dodd
shows that these books contain several reports of the resurrected Jesus
which rely on early tradition. He cites the appearances recorded in
Matt 28:8-10, 16-20; John 20:19-21, and, to a lesser extent, Luke
24:36-49, as being based on such early material. However, he states
that the other Gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances lack
the mythical tendencies of much ancient literature and, thus, also
merit careful consideration in a formulation of the appearances of the
risen Jesus.23 At any rate, I wish to add that there are numerous
reasons why the Gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances
should be utilized as records of what the eyewitnesses actually saw,
along with Paul's account. Evangelicals cannot be content to offer
only critical conclusions such as those of Dodd, but must go beyond
them, although such cannot be done in this essay.
As already stated, most critical theologians still hold either, that
the resurrection can be accepted by faith as an actual event or that
some sort of appearances (abstract or bodily) may be postulated as
historical realities. Although it is beyond the limits of this essay to
attempt to describe the actual characteristics of Jesus' resurrection
body or to endeavor to reconcile the various accounts, it may be
stated that the combined testimony of the NT is that Jesus rose in a
literal, physical body which was transformed.24 This is the report of
the earliest eyewitnesses.
We have outlined several sets of arguments for Jesus' resurrection,
namely, the failure of the naturalistic alternative theories, the positive
evidences, the early pre-Pauline creedal material, and a minimal-facts
argument based on data ascertained and recognized as historical by
virtually all scholars. I think that evidence such as this conclusively
shows that the reported claims of the earliest eyewitnesses have been
vindicated: Jesus was literally raised from the dead and appeared
physically to a number of his followers, both individually and in
22 Jeremias, 306; Bultmann, 1.45; Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily
Resurrection of Jesus, 93.
23 C. H. Dodd, "The Appearances of the Risen Christ: An Essay in Form-Criticism
of the Gospels," More New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1968).
24 We will return briefly to the importance of this topic in the next section.
380 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
II. New Prospects for Future Study
Actually, evangelicals have long been involved in defending the
historicity of the resurrection appearances of Jesus. While some have
questioned the need to indulge constantly in these apologetics, such is
required by the new faces of contemporary criticism. Critics appar-
ently realize that this event is the center of the Christian faith, as
explained in part 1 of this essay. Accordingly, it appears that new
attempts to deal with it on critical grounds can take many forms.
While this is not to imply that there are "devious liberals" who lie
awake at night attempting to invent schemes against Jesus' resurrec-
tion, it is simply true that those who formulate alternative renditions
of the Christian message should somehow respond to the chief Chris-
tian miracle claim. Accordingly, there is an important need to con-
tinue to combat new attempts that question the historicity of this
The new faces of critical thought pose many challenges to belief
in the resurrection. At the same time, still other recent developments
provide exciting positive prospects for the future study of this event.
Both such potential denials and affirmations need to be briefly ad-
dressed in turn.
One area of recent concern is the response of the so-called New
Age movement. We cannot pause here in order to provide a detailed
definition, except to say that, to the extent to which this is a common
movement at all, it might be characterized as a conglomeration of
differentiated views which appear chiefly to combine elements of
Eastern philosophy with certain Western, often scientific, perspectives.
Of interest here are the regular sorts of charges made from this or
another syncretistic viewpoint. Typically, queries can perhaps be said
to come from two primary directions. Fairly frequently, the resurrec-
tion is even admitted, with the questioner centering on the uniqueness
of Jesus. In other words, the historical event is allowed, presumably
because great religious personages are believed to be attended by
spectacular signs, while, for this very reason, Jesus is believed to be
one of a number of God's messengers.
On the other hand, a less frequent move is to question the
resurrection itself. While one of the older naturalistic theories might
still be utilized, another option, especially given the background of an
alternative religious perspective, is to charge that other religious per-
sonages were also raised from the dead.
Each of these and similar challenges needs to be met on its own
grounds. If the resurrection is granted as an actual historical event but
Jesus' uniqueness is questioned, the Christian believer ought to con-
Gary R. Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION AND CRITICISM 381
centrate on the latter. Indeed, Jesus made numerous unique claims in
comparison to those of other religious persuasions,25 but it seems that
such are too seldom defended in any great detail by evangelicals. And
if the resurrection is an historical fact and if Jesus made unique
claims, then it may be argued that the former further confirms the
truthfulness of the latter.26
However, if a critic is comparing Jesus' resurrection to lesser
phenomena on the part of other teachers, this provides another place
to start. If naturalistic theories are proposed, it is probably an indica-
tion that the individual is not aware of the teachers' historical fates.
Lastly, those who claim that others have also been raised from the
dead ought to be thoroughly challenged. It is one thing to claim such
a resurrection; it is quite another to demonstrate it in historical terms.27
A second tendency which appears to be regaining popularity in
certain quarters is to argue that gnostic sources generally either down-
play the death and resurrection of Jesus or present a spiritual resurrec-
tion instead of a bodily one. It is claimed that these texts should be
given some consideration along with the more traditional sources.28
Again, such charges warrant a serious critique. Contrary to the
claims of the proponents of this thesis, the gnostic writings are much
later than canonical texts; they do not demonstrate pre-Gospel tradi-
tions that are relevant to our discussion; they lack eyewitness testi-
mony; and they are opposed to Jesus' own teachings.29 Further, there
is no necessary denial of Jesus' death and resurrection here at all. H.
Koester, a chief supporter, still affirms both Jesus' death by crucifixion
and the reality of his appearances, although the latter are not defined.30
25 For some important studies on the uniqueness of Jesus' claims vis-a-vis those in
Pluralism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity,
Faiths (London: Oxford University Press, 1970; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984);
S. Neill, The Supremacy of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984).
R. Habermas, The
Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic (
27 Besides our earlier arguments, on the last point in particular, see G. R. Haber-
mas, "Resurrection Claims in Non-Christian Religions," Religious Studies, 25. 167-77.
28 For some contemporary background to this debate, see C. W. Hedrick and
Jr., eds., Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early
Hendrickson, 1986); and C. Tuckett, Nag Hammadi and the Gospel Tradition (Edin-
burgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986).
29 For a technical discussion, see Tuckett's work above. For an overview of some
of the problems involved in such claims, see G. R. Habermas, The Verdict of History:
Conclusive Evidence for the Life of Jesus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988), esp. 36-
382 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Interestingly in terms of our earlier study, W. Farmer notes in a brief
critique of some of these trends that Bultmann's influence is still
A third development to be briefly addressed is the predominant
tendency in much of contemporary theological thought to divorce
literal appearances of Jesus from a physical resurrection body. Thus it
is more typically believed that Jesus was actually raised from the
dead, but not corporeally. We have already discussed in part 1 of this
article how the latter is a minority view among critical scholars,
largely due to a mistrust of the Gospel accounts. It has been suggested
that evangelicals need to counter this tendency by bolstering the
credibility of the Gospels in general, and the resurrection accounts in
particular. We cannot stop after doing only the first, which is more
frequently the practice. But for critical scholars, the individual texts
need to be ascertained before they can be utilized to argue to the
nature of the resurrection body of Jesus. And here the goal is actually
twofold-both to argue the case against critical scholars and to keep
these views from making any further penetration into the evangelical
camp itself.32 To be sure, other challenges to the biblical teaching of
Jesus' resurrection might also be mentioned.33 But these three are per-
haps more potentially threatening because of their current influence.
At the same time, there are also new, positive prospects for
future study. Christians should always be willing to investigate areas
which potentially illuminate the glorious event of Jesus' resurrection.
Many (if not most) evangelical studies on the resurrection appear to
30 H. Koester, Introduction to the New Testament (2 vols.; History and Literature
31 For a brief but insightful critique, see W. R. Farmer, "The Church's Stake in the
Question of 'Q'," Perkins Journal of Theology, 39 (1986) 9-19.
32 For the importance of this doctrine and a statement of the classic orthodox
position, see N. L. Geisler, "The Significance of Christ's Physical Resurrection," BSac
148-70; N. L. Geisler, The
33 For example, the rather radical nature of T. Sheehan's thesis is set forth in his
Coming: How the
works of his were almost immediately greeted by what could only be described as a
barrage from many critics. See, for an example, A. Plantinga, "Sheehan's Shenanigans:
How Theology Becomes Tomfoolery," The Reformed Journal (April, 1987) 19-25;
R. E. Brown, Biblical Exegesis and Church Doctrine (New York: Paulist, 1985), chap. 3
of Knowing," Commonweal (1984) 431-33; A. Greeley, "The Provisional Path to Mys-
tery," Commonweal (1984) 503-32; J. M. Cameron, "A New, New Testament," The
Century (1987)28-30, and by W. M. Thompson in Commonweal (1986) 377-79.
Gary R. Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION AND CRITICISM 383
stress apologetic interests. As stated above, we need to continue such
endeavors, including solid spadework in the appropriate historical,
philosophical, theological, and exegetical areas. However, I would
suggest that evangelicals also need to explore other meaningful ave-
nues of study with regard to the resurrection of Jesus.
It appears to me, for example, that the interface between the
resurrection of Jesus and the practical Christian life needs to be
explored in much more detail. Does the truth of the resurrection
address major concerns such as doubt or the fear of death? Why did
this event contribute so singularly to the transformation of the lives of
the first Christians in the early chapters of Acts? What did Paul mean
in Phil 3:10 by the possibility of possessing the power of Christ's
resurrection? Or, how do Jesus' appearances provide believers with a
foretaste of heaven?
On the other hand, theoretical interests are still important. Further
critical research needs to be done in the philosophy of history. Another
major interest in some recent discussions concerns an infinite God
acting in finite space and time. A related issue is the relationship
between the resurrection and the laws of physics--how would a
miraculous act of God be understood in the world of post-Einsteinian
In a more apologetic vein, the NT thesis is that the resurrection is
the chief evidence for crucial areas of Christian theology. We are
repeatedly told that the resurrection ensures the truthfulness of great
doctrines such as the person and deity of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-24;
Rom 1:3-4), the gospel message (Acts 17:30-31), and the reality of
heaven (1 Pet 1:3-5). In particular, the resurrection of Jesus is the
pattern for the believer's resurrection, as well.35
In the NT, Jesus' resurrection was both at the center of the gospel
proclamation and was also the chief buttressing evidence. It is possible
(if not likely) that this event still does not occupy the central position
that it did in the early church.
Above, we made one possible suggestion how the resurrection
might be utilized along with the unique claims of Jesus. These two
subjects work together to answer critical queries. Another way to use
the resurrection may be most effective in proclaiming the gospel,
especially to skeptics. According to virtually all scholars who study
subject, Jesus' central teaching was the
34 On this last subject, see T. F. Torrance, Space, Time, and Resurrection (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans,1976); cf. O'Collins, 76-81.
35 See Rom 6:8-9; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:20; 2 Cor 4:14; Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2; 1 Thess 4:14.
See Jesus' own words in John 14:19.
384 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
entrance requirements.36 Since the resurrection is an historical event, it
can be argued that this indicates God's approval of Jesus' teachings.37
As such, we have a strong, twofold reason for accepting Jesus' call to
First, if God approved of any of Jesus' teachings, such would
most assuredly pertain to his message concerning the Kingdom of
God and the essentials for the entrance to eternal life, since this was
his chief proclamation. In other words, as Jesus' central teaching and
the subject which he said he was most desirous to communicate,
God's approval through the event of the resurrection would extend
most of all to it.
Second, not to miss the forest for the trees, the resurrection is
unlike any other miracle in that its very occurrence involves eternal
This cannot be said of the Israelites crossing the
feeding of the 5,000, or the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Even in
the last case, although God showed that he could raise the dead,
eternal life was not a necessary result since Lazarus died again.
But uniquely in the case of Jesus, his resurrection was the mani-
festation of eternal life. He was raised in a physical body which was
transformed, especially in his appearance to Paul. Being in the best
position to explain this significance, Jesus indicated that he was im-
mortal; he would never die again. In a sense, then, when the disciples
witnessed the resurrection appearances of Jesus, they were actually
confronted with walking, talking, eternal life. Jesus further explained
that such existence was a reality for all of his followers.
Here, it would seem, is an example of utilizing the truth of Jesus'
resurrection to show that, in a twofold sense, eternal life is a reality. It
was both Jesus' central teaching and was actually illustrated by the
resurrection itself. As such, the resurrection evidences God's answer to
man's deepest needs.38
Therefore, at a number of crucial points, believers are confronted
with both challenges to belief and positive prospects for future study
of Jesus' resurrection. It is imperative that further work continue to be
done on this subject of central importance to the Christian faith.
36 This is frequently repeated as the central focus of Jesus' own message. See, for
instances, Mark 1:14-15; 2:11; 10:45; Luke 19:10; 22:29; John 3:3; 12:41-50. Virtually all
scholars agree that the
For details, see n. 38.
37 Further details concerning a couple of possible ways to reason this point are
found in Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic, chaps. 1-3.
38 For this argument in more complete form see Habermas, The Resurrection of
Jesus: An Apologetic, chaps. 4-5; appendix 3.
Gary R. Habermas: JESUS' RESURRECTION AND CRITICISM 385
In this two-part essay I initially endeavored to identify in an
introductory manner the current state of contemporary theological
thought with regard to the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Then,
after stating a more traditional defense of these occurrences, I made
some suggestions about a contemporary apologetic, dealing specifi-
cally with the early creedal material in I Cor 15:3ff. and the visual
nature of Jesus' appearances. But then it was pointed out that there
are also some recent challenges to belief in the resurrection which
must be dealt with by believers. We cannot either deny the impor-
tance of apologetic efforts or fail to respond to ongoing indictments.
Further, as important as apologetic efforts are, there are also
additional areas to be pursued in regard to resurrection studies. The
relation between this grand event and theology on the one hand, and
the practical Christian life on the other, are crucial examples.
One overall purpose of this study has been, in a small way, to
introduce the comprehensiveness of the resurrection. I like to use the
illustration of a multifaceted diamond to describe this event. Just as a
diamond may be turned at various angles to expose its brilliance, so
believers need a vision of the awesomeness of the resurrection event.
It, too, has various "faces" which can, alternately, confront and answer
critical objections, enjoy the spotlight of historical (and other) inves-
tigation, and at the same time address needs in the life of the believer
such as dealing with doubts, fear of death, and obtaining daily power.
Further, this event is also at the center of the Christian gospel and
ensures the believer's eternal life.
Seen from still a different angle, God's grace is manifest in the
resurrection. Is it simply a coincidence that this level of evidence is
available for this event? For example, what if such data were avail-
study, say, the Israelites crossing the
resurrection? While such would admittedly be important, I would
think that it is more than coincidence that all of this data converges at
just the point of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the central claim
in all of Scripture. Then, when it is remembered that the resurrection
also addresses the deepest practical fears and needs of Christians, as
well, we perhaps begin to understand its multifaceted nature. It was
the center of the early church's gospel proclamation, and we need a
vision of how it still occupies this position of importance in both
theoretical and practical aspects today. For the believer, it forms the
connection between Jesus and eternity itself.
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