There are twelve points that virtually all New Testament scholars agree on. These points are agreed on not only by Evangelical Christian historians, but by skeptics of Christianity. These points (collected by Dr. Gary Habermas) are as follows:
(1) Jesus died when He was crucified by the Romans.
(2) After He died, He was buried.
(3) After He died, the disciples were discouraged and lost hope that their rabbi was the promised Messiah.
(4) After Jesus was buried, His tomb was discovered empty.
(5) Jesus’s disciples had experiences they believed were appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
(6) These experiences tranformed them from doubting disciples to apostles affirming Christ’s resurrection. They believed in their experiences so strongly that they were willing to endure violent opposition and even death for their beliefs.
(7) The proclamation of the resurrection took place soon after they experienced the events they recorded, as opposed to generations or even centuries later.
(8) The proclamation of the resurrection began in Jerusalem, the same city where Jesus had been crucified and buried.
(9) The message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was central to the gospel message.
(10) Sunday became the primary day of Christian worship.
(11) Jesus’s skeptical brother, James, became a Christian after he believed he saw his brother risen from the dead.
(12) A few years later, Saul of Tarsus, a violent persecutor of Christians, became a Christian after he believed he saw the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus.
I want to reiterate at this point that virtually all New Testament scholars, believers and skeptics alike, agree on these twelve points. The common thread is that they are all New Testament scholars. These are people who have been trained to investigate the reliability of ancient documents, and have personally studied the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. Even the skeptics agree that Jesus was an historical, rather than a legendary or mythological, figure.
They agree that He was executed by the Roman government by the method of crucifixion.
They agree that Jesus’s body was laid in a tomb, and the disciples lost hope.
They agree that the tomb was later found empty.
They agree that Jesus’s followers, and even non-believers like James and Saul, believed they saw Him alive again.
They were transformed by these experiences. They had previously doubted Jesus, but after their experiences they boldly proclaimed His resurrection. They were even willing to die for their testimony.
As far as New Testament scholars are concerned, the chief point of disagreement between Christian believers and skeptics is that the Christian scholars say the disciples had experiences of the risen Jesus, but skeptics say the disciples believed they experienced the risen Jesus. The sincerity of the gospel account is never questioned, but the reality of what happened is questioned by skeptics.
We have examined several theories proposed by skeptics to explain what really happened if Jesus did not raise from the dead. These theories include hallucination, going to the wrong tomb, apparent death, and tomb robbing. When closely examined, none of these theories are adequately supported by evidence or reason. There are other theories we have not examined. We will not examine those theories at this time. I will only say that none of these alternate theories adds up to me. Examine them for yourselves and decide.
In light of what the vast majority of New Testament scholars agree on, I believe the best explanation of the evidence is that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. The alternate explanations given to support the notion that the disciples were decieved are not sound. The evidence does not suggest that the New Testament account is a lie, a legend, or a myth, as some suggest.
There are other scholars with other opinions, such as the members of the controversial Jesus Seminar. However, as Dr. William Lane Craig pointed out in a debate with retired Bishop John Shelby Spong, these scholars are now considered “the lunatic fringe” of New Testament scholarship.
The fact of the matter is, the New Testament manuscripts are by far the most reliable documents we have from the ancient world.
In the New Testament we have early testimony. Even the most liberal biblical scholars place the latest New Testament documents within the first century. I think the evidence is good that most (if not all) New Testament books were written prior to 70 A.D. The reason for this is that the New Testament does not mention the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 A.D. If any New Testament books were written after that year it would be odd for such an important event not to be mentioned. All the New Testament authors, except Luke, were Jews, and the temple was the center of Jewish religious life, even for early Jewish Christians. Also, Jesus actually predicted the destruction of the temple in the gospels (for example, in Matthew chapter 24). The New Testament writers were quick to point out Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament, so if they were writing after 70 A.D. it would be strange if they failed to point out the fulfillment of prophecies given by Jesus. Many biographies of the Caesars and other important Greek and Roman historians were not written down until centuries after they lived, and are not seriously questioned. I find it comical that some critics dismiss the gospels because they may not have been written down until 30-60 years after Jesus was crucified. I suppose in that case, we should dismiss the eyewitness accounts of WWII and Vietnam veterans as well. As a means of comparison with the sacred writings of another popular religion, the teachings of Buddha were not written down until about 400 years after he died.
The New Testament contains eyewitness testimony. Matthew and John were Jesus’s disciples. Luke travelled with the apostle Paul (Philemon 1:24). Luke’s gospel was based on eyewitness accounts from ministers of the word (Luke 1:2). Luke also wrote the book of Acts. Acts alludes to Luke’s gospel as “the first book” (Acts 1:1) so it is not unreasonable to deduce that much of Acts was also based on accounts Luke compiled from eyewitnesses, but it also includes first hand accounts from Luke’s journeys with Paul (Acts 16:10-13; 20:5-6). Traditionally, Mark is the translater and follower of Peter, but apparently at various times he was a companion of Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and Paul (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24). He received the accounts in his gospel directly from Peter.
The New Testament contains embarassing testimony. The New Testament is based on the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s disciples, and they portrayed themselves as stupid, lazy, cowardly, and unbelieving. Many passages in the gospels state that Jesus’s disciples did not understand what He was talking about. On the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus asked Peter, James, and John–His three closest disciples–to stay up with Him, watch, and pray for just one hour. Jesus had to wake them up not once, but twice. The first disciples to discover the empty tomb and meet the resurrected Jesus were women because Jesus’s male disciples are hiding for fear of the Jews. When the women told them they had seen Jesus, they thought it was just an idle tale. If they were making up their accounts, why would they portray themselves in such a way?
The New Testament contains excruciating testimony. If the disciples had just made up the accounts of what Jesus did, why were they willing to die for their testimony? All of the apostles, as well as all early followers of Jesus, were violently persecuted for their beliefs. All the apostles, except John, were martyred. They could have saved their lives by simply recanting their testimony. None of them ever did.
The New Testament accounts were confirmed by exta-biblical testimony. At least ten non-Christian sources, including the Jewish historian Josephus, Romans like Pliny the Younger and Tacitus, and the Jewish Talmud confirm the events recorded in the gospels. Not only were these sources not Christian, but many of them were biased against Christianity. Despite hatred for Jesus and His followers, their accounts of Jesus do not contradict the New Testament.
On top of all that, the New Testament contains over 140 historically confirmed details and events in the books of John and Acts alone. Historian Colin Hemer discovered 84 facts, in the last 16 chapters of Acts, confirmed by historians or archaeologists. These include such minor details as the fact that Lycaonian was the native tongue of Lystra (Acts 14:11) and the identification of Philippi as a Roman colony (Acts 16:12). These are the sort of things Luke would have to either witness personally, or heard from another eyewitness. Similarly, Craig Blomberg found 59 facts listed in John’s gospel that have been confirmed by historians and archaeologists. These include details such as the proper location and description of the five collonades at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2). Clearly, John is a bona fide eyewitness account.
Why would the apostles be so careful to accurately include these sort of minute details, and then lie about miraculous healings, exorcisms, and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?
The best explanation, after taking into account the evidence, is that Jesus literally and physically rose from the dead.
This means that the Christian gospel is true. Jesus Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose from the dead on the third day.
This means the amazing accounts in the gospels of all that Jesus did and taught are true.
This means that if we believe in our hearts that Jesus rose from the dead, and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, we will be saved (Romans 10:9-10).
This means that Jesus proclaimed the gospel–or good news– of the kingdom of God. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Salvation is not only about the world to come; it’s about this life, here and now.
This means that Jesus commanded His disciples to minister in the same way He did–proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead.
In fact, He taught that whoever believed in Him would not only do the same works He did; they would do even greater works! (John 14:12)
That is the gospel–THE GOOD NEWS.
He really did rise from the dead, and all of this really is true!