Criswell Theological Review 4.2 (1990) 373-385

                           Copyright © 1990 by The Criswell College. Cited with permission.    




                      JESUS' RESURRECTION AND

                    CONTEMPORARY CRITICISM:

                      AN APOLOGETIC (PART II)*



                                                       GARY R. HABERMAS

                                                           Liberty University

                                                        Lynchburg, V A 24506



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

arbitrary one:


* This is the second of two lectures read at the Criswell Lecture Series, Criswell

College, January, 1989.

1 R. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York: Macmillan,

1971) 169. Cf. J. A. T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1976) 124-25.

2 Fuller, 170.



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

on that.3


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

rather minimal.4

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

the Scriptures.5


3 J. Macquarrie, An Existentialist Theology (New York: Harper & Row, 1965)


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

York: Paulist, 1973) 96; G. O'Collins, What Are They Saying about the Resurrection?

(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)



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

this material during his visit in Jerusalem with Peter and James) who

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 (New York: Scribner's, 1951,

1955) 296; cf. W. Marxsen, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1970) 80; G. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper & Row, 1960)

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.; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1962) 96; O. Cullmann,

The Early Church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology (ed. A. J. B.

Higgins; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) 65-66; L. Goppelt, "The Eastern Kerygma in

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 Developments (Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1980) 16; A. M. Hunter, Jesus: Lord and Saviour (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1976) 100; Brown, 81; T. Sheehan, First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became

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

form (36). For those who generally favor the Jerusalem scenario, see the list of scholars

in n. 8. However, Grass prefers Damascus as the locale, necessitating an even earlier

date (96), whereas Kung, Perrin, and Sheehan do not appear to answer the question in

their immediate contexts.



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

pursued here.

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 Jerusalem, see the intriguing

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 Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) 44; as cited by Ladd,


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 (Rome: Biblical Institute

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;

Sheffield: JSOT, 1981) 2.173-200. For a succinct account, see R. H. Stein, "Was the

Tomb Really Empty?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 20 (1977) 23-29.

            15 M. Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels (New York: Scribners,

1977) 176.

16 C. Braaten, History and Hermeneutics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) 78.

17 R. H. Fuller, The Foundations of the New Testament Christology (New York:

Scribners, 1965) 142.

18 W. Pannenberg, "The Historicity of the Resurrection: The Identity of Christ"

The Intellectuals Speak Out about God (ed. R. A. Varghese; Chicago: Regnery Gate-

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.

Bromiley and T. F. Torrance; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956) 4.1.340; R. E. Brown,



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 Damascus. Yet, some

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.



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

other religions, see N. Anderson, Christianity and World Religions: The Challenge of

Pluralism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984); S. Neill, Christian Faith and Other

Faiths (London: Oxford University Press, 1970; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984);

S. Neill, The Supremacy of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984).

26 G. R. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic (Grand Rapids, MI:

Baker, 1980; Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984), esp. chaps. 2-5 and

appendices 1-3.

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

R. Hodgson, Jr., eds., Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (Peabody:

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-

42, 62-72.



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

of Early Christianity; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982) 2.84, 86.

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

(1989) 148-70; N. L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection (Nashville: Thomas

Nelson, 1989).

33 For example, the rather radical nature of T. Sheehan's thesis is set forth in his

volume First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity. This and other

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

esp. 58-65; D. Tracy, "Levels of Liberal Consensus,'" Commonweal (1984) 426-31;

D. Tracy, "To Trust or Suspect," Commonweal (1984) 532-34; A. Greeley, "The Ways

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

New York Review (1986) 23-27. Cf. book reviews by P. Maier in The Christian

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

the subject, Jesus' central teaching was the Kingdom of God and its


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.



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

life. This cannot be said of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, 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

critical scholars agree that the Kingdom of God was, indeed, Jesus' central message.

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-

able to study, say, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea rather than 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.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College;  4010 Gaston Ave.  Dallas, TX   75246


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