A Lawyer's Case for the Resurrection Part 1
This episode explains the differences between “circumstantial evidence” and “direct evidence." It includes Abdu's “CASE” acronym setting out four key facts about the historical Jesus that the vast majority of scholars agree on. Abdu argues that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead best explains the facts.
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Speaker 2: Councilor, your statement, sir.
Speaker 3: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. January 4th of this year, my client did indeed visit the SAC-O-Suds convenience store but he didn't kill anyone. We intend to prove that the prosecution's case is circumstantial and coincidental. Thank you.
Speaker 4: That's it?
Speaker 3: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Speaker 4: What about everything we talked about?
Speaker 3: I get a little nervous.
Speaker 4: A little nervous?
Speaker 3: But I'm getting better.
Abdu Murray: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, welcome back to another episode of The Defense Rests. I'm Abdu Murray, your host and The Defense Rests is a podcast about the Christian faith. Taking a look at the claims for and the objections against the Christian faith from a legal perspective. In other words, applying the rules of evidence, courtroom procedures, how juries and judges and lawyers think and seeing if from that perspective the claims for the Christian faith hold water. And conversely, what are the objections against the Christian faith, actually hold water. Now you heard some voices in the beginning of this episode and that is a clip from the movie, My Cousin Vinny, which is one of my favorites. It's a comedy but it's a legal comedy. And interesting aside, by the way, there are quite a few lawyers I've talked to who have mentally enjoyed the comedic aspect of My Cousin Vinny, but also some of the realism there, in terms of how public defenders work and even how evidence actually work is presented to a jury.
Now, the clip you heard was from the opening statement of not Vinny himself because the story is about a lawyer who's a slick talker, but a very inexperienced lawyer from New York who comes to Alabama to defend his nephew. I think it's his nephew or his cousin or something who is being accused of murder. And hilarity ensues as the New York culture clashes with the Alabama slow and deliberate culture as well. But the voice you heard was from the opening statement, not of Vinny, but of the public defender who is defending Vinny's cousin, Fred. And he stumbles through his words obviously because he gets nervous. But the reason I selected that clip was because it plays on a popular trope and you notice what he says, he says, "We intend to show that the prosecution's case is entirely circumstantial." And that's supposed to be a dig as if the prosecution's case is somehow less persuasive because it's based on entirely circumstantial evidence.
And most people think of circumstantial evidence as weak evidence or flimsy evidence. The reality is, this isn't the way evidence actually works. Circumstantial evidence is just as powerful and just as persuasive and sometimes can be even more persuasive than direct evidence. Now, why do I bring all this up? Well, in our first episode we talked about burdens of proof. It was important to understand when a person making the claim has the burden of proof and what levels they have to reach in order to establish their case. And is it reasonable doubt? Is that preponderance of the evidence? Is it clear and convincing evidence, these kinds of things. But it's important in that aspect because if you're talking with somebody about whether or not God exists or if Jesus rose from the dead or whatever it might be, you have to establish, who has the burden.
Now, typically, as I said before, the person bearing the burden is the one who makes the claim, but sometimes burdens do in fact shifts. So if I, for example, want to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, as I'm going to try to do during the course of this episode and episodes to come, I bear the burden of proof to give my case up front. But the burden then does shift at some point. If I provide enough evidence where someone can say either there's a preponderance of the evidence in favor of their resurrection on a reasonable mind could actually determine from the evidence presented that he did in fact rise. Then the burden shifts to somebody else. Maybe the objector, the atheist or the Muslim or the Jehovah's Witness from a bodily resurrection standpoint or whoever it is to say, "Well no, hold on a second. That stuff doesn't hold water." Or, "Here's some counter explanations."
So the burden in one sense does in fact shift. So legal principles do matter in our conversations about God. And so does the idea of circumstantial and direct evidence because the Christian faith is based on one historical fact among many, but the central historical fact of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus. Did he in fact bodily rise from the dead in confirmation of his claim to be the divine son of God who takes away the sins of the world by his death on the cross? And if he rose from the dead, then he is right. In fact, the apostle Paul says in 1st Corinthians chapter 15 that, "If this is not a fact, then in Christianity is not worth believing." So obviously getting to the heart of this historical fact, whether it is a factor or not, is terribly important and the kinds of evidence we're going to run into when we see this, when we look at this issue is circumstantial and direct.
That's why it's important for us to understand that if someone says, "Well, all you're building up is a circumstantial case." That's fine because it doesn't actually mean that the evidence itself, if circumstantial, is somehow weak, it can be just as powerful and in fact, possibly even more powerful than direct evidence. Now, most cases in a courtroom are based on circumstantial evidence. Most criminal cases, most civil cases are built on circumstantial evidence. They don't include only circumstantial evidence. Sometimes we're fortunate enough to have direct evidence, but usually they're based on circumstantial evidence. In fact, cold case, homicides are almost always decided by the majority of times, mostly circumstantial evidence, sometimes entirely circumstantial evidence of a murder. For example, sometimes there is no body at all, and so you can't prove through direct evidence that someone's actually dead. But you can prove through circumstantial evidence that the person is dead and that the defendant actually killed that person.
So we need to disabuse ourselves to this idea that circumstantial evidence isn't very good because most cases are built on this all the time. We convict people or we find them liable in civil cases based on circumstantial evidence. But I want to pause because it's important that we get some definitions down before we continue to see if this actually matters in the case of the resurrection of Jesus. So what is circumstantial evidence? Well, the first thing you have to do is to determine what is direct evidence in contrast to it. So standard jury instructions, for example, I don't have somebody right in my hand say this kind of thing, facts could be proved by direct evidence from a witness or an exhibit, like a document or a tangible exhibit like a garden or a footprint or something like that.
It goes on to say this, "Direct evidence is evidence about what we actually see or hear." For example, if you look and see rain falling, that is direct evidence that it is raining. You can see with your own eyes that it is raining. That's direct evidence. But to expand it a little further, if a witness were to claim, if you were sitting in a room and someone were to walk into the room and say, "Hey, it's raining outside." That's direct evidence that it's raining outside. It doesn't mean that it's absolutely certain that it's raining outside. The person could be wrong or they could be lying. But that is evidence. It's testimony. It's direct testimony about what the witness actually saw. So that's direct evidence. But there's also circumstantial evidence. The jury instructions go on to say something like this. "Facts can also be proved by indirect or circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is evidence that normally or reasonably leads to other facts."
And it gives this classic example in the jury instructions. So, for example, if you see a person coming from outside wearing a raincoat covered with small drops of water, that would be circumstantial evidence that it's raining. Even paint a different picture. You could have evidence that is circumstantial that works together. So let's say a person walked in the room and had a rain coat on and it was covered in little drops of water and they were holding an umbrella and they say something like, "It's coming down like cats and dogs." They didn't actually say it's raining, but you could reasonably infer from the drops of water on their rain coat from the fact that they're holding an umbrella and that they said “It's coming down like cats and dogs,” that's accumulative circumstantial case that is actually raining outside. So you can draw that from a reasonable inference.
And we do this all the time in our lives and in courts of law. Now, what's interesting is there are plenty of times where there are jury instructions to the jury from the judge where the judge says this, he describes circumstantial evidence, he describes direct evidence and says you can consider both in your decision making and then in some jury instructions it's important because they say something like this, "And neither one is superior to the other." In fact, one jury instruction from one state says, "Both direct and circumstantial evidence are acceptable types of evidence to prove or disprove the elements of a charge or in a civil case, a claim." And then this quote, "And neither is more reliable than the other. Neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other."
Now, that's important because if you're looking at a historical case like the resurrection of Jesus or even a scientific historical case, like “how did human beings come about,” was evolution the process? Was it special creation that was the process? How did the universe itself come about? We have no direct evidence of that because there are no witnesses that bear witness to it. No one saw the creation of the universe. No one saw human beings evolved from simple organisms or any of these kinds of things. Now we might have indirect evidence, whether it's the fossil record or other things that we can challenge or propagate, but we can't say that we have specifically direct evidence. Now, sometimes there's scientific things that can look like direct evidence or even be direct evidence, but most of it's based on circumstantial. And so we base entire theories on this because circumstantial evidence is powerful.
Let me say this though, sometimes circumstantial evidence can be even more powerful or more persuasive, I should say, than direct evidence. So to give you an example of something, let's say someone comes into the room and says, "It's raining outside." Okay, so they think it's raining outside. Now they may be right or maybe wrong. It's usually people tend to be right about that kind of a thing. But they could be lying or they could be wrong about it. Maybe they walked under an awning and some drops fell on their head. And they adduced from that, that it's starting to rain. And then henceforth said, "It's raining outside." But it was cloudy out so they adduced that fact from their own experience. That could be wrong. But let's say someone walks in again with a raincoat with drops of water and an umbrella and says, "It's coming down like cats and dogs." Or they don't even say that.
You could infer reasonably that it's raining outside, more reliably than if someone said it was raining outside in that particular instance. Because people tend not to walk around with raincoats on covered in water and holding an umbrella unless it's actually raining outside. And if they're covered in water, it's far more likely that it's actually raining than if someone experienced some drops of water. So we can see that sometimes circumstantial evidence has tremendous weight in determining whether something actually happen. It's got a cumulative effect to it. Now, I remember having a discussion with somebody at a conference I was at, where I was speaking and speaking about the ideas of circumstantial and direct evidence. And there was an atheist, a young man, a very bright guy by the way, who challenged me on this. He says, "I don't agree with you that circumstantial evidence is as good as direct evidence."
And I said, "Oh, do tell. Because centuries of jurisprudence have been developed where we actually have tested this out and thought it through and said, "Yeah, it actually is as powerful." So I'm curious to know what new thing you bring." He said, "Well, come on, you're going to tell me that if I were to see it raining outside, that's less powerful or as powerful as someone else having a raincoat that says it is, or suggest that it's raining outside." I said, "No, you're misunderstanding the point. You seeing it directly is good evidence for you that you have a perception that it's raining outside, but direct evidence in a court of law and through history and all of these things is based on other people's testimony and sometimes circumstantial evidence. And so we are oftentimes have no witnesses available or we have a scanner records available or sometimes there's wrong about what they're saying is. So circumstantial evidence can corroborate or disconfirm someone's testimony."
And I asked him a question. I said, "Well, do you believe that we evolved from simpler life forms?" And he said, "Yeah." I said, "Did you see it? Do you know anybody who's seen it. Has anyone in the history of the world seen it?" I said, "In fact, by definition, no one could have seen it because they would have evolved into being human beings and not seeing their own evolutionary path. So no one actually saw it and witnessed evolution taking place of human beings. So what do we rely on?" And he began to say, "Well, we could test it with scientific theories. We can look at the fossil record, we can do all these things to see if it actually happened." I was said, "Ah, exactly. All of that is circumstantial evidence." And that's when he got the point.
So with that backdrop in mind, I want to go and see whether or not we can look at circumstantial evidence surrounding the central claim of Christianity over the next couple of episodes to see if there's a good circumstantial, sometimes even direct case for the resurrection of Jesus. So in the next few minutes and then I'll be continuing on to the next podcast as well. I'm going to give you my closing argument as it were summarizing the evidence in favor of the resurrection. So ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what I want to do is present the evidence and is simple to understand and actually quite easy to remember acronym. So I'm going to make the case for the resurrection of Jesus using an acronym case, C-A-S-E through which you'll actually be able to remember, I think the central points that I'm trying to make.
Now, what am I doing here with the C-A-S-E, I'm going to give each letter stands for a specific fact that all or nearly all of the scholars who study the subject agree actually happened to Jesus of Nazareth. Now any explanation has to account for all four of these facts. If it doesn't account for all four, then it's not a good explanation and the explanation has to account for them in a very compelling way or in a satisfactory way. The exploration can't be ad hoc or subsidiary based on no evidence or reasonable conclusions itself. By the way, I want to say that a good friend of mine, Mickey Battle, a mentee who I grew up with and came to faith about a year before I did, helped to come up with this.
In fact, he came up with the acronym and we've developed it over the course of time. But I think it's a great tool. So what I want to do is give you that CASE and when they go through the first two letters of it, the C and the A in the time we have remaining about how we can establish that the case for the resurrection of Jesus. So let's give him the first letter, the C. The C stands for crucifixion. That Jesus, in other words, died by crucifixion. Now, this is an important fact. I know it seems almost obvious, like for heaven sake, everyone knows that Jesus died by crucifixion. Well, the reality is, is that 1.5 billion people, they're called Muslims don't believe that Jesus died at all. They believe that Jesus was rescued from the torture of the cross in various theories.
There's a theory that one of his disciples decided to take his place. There's a theory that Simon of Cyrene or Judas Iscariot was made to look like Jesus and they were put on the cross in his place. But Jesus was rescued, he was assumed up to heaven bodily, and therefore escaped the torture of that. So it's important to establish this because well, a prima facie case for the resurrection from the dead means that the guy first died. And if a person didn't die, then they can't be resurrected. It's a requirement. So we have to establish this C, that Jesus died, the crucifixion of Jesus which led to his death.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it because it's such a well attested fact about the historical Jesus. In fact, John Dominic Crossan, a non-Christian, someone who doesn't believe that Jesus bodily rose from the dead, who has a very, very different view from a conservative position, says this in his book of Jesus Revolutionary Biography. I'm presenting expert testimony as it were. John Dominic Crossan says this, "That he,” meaning Jesus, “was crucified, is as sure as anything historical can ever be." That's a pretty strong statement about the reality of Jesus crucifixion.
And in fact, Barton Herman, that noted, and whether you call it notorious or famous or whatever it is, skeptic of the new Testament says basically this, "We know that Jesus died by crucifixion." In fact, Gerd Lüdemann, also not a Christian, an atheist who denies the resurrection of Jesus, he says that, "Jesus' death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable." Now, what are they basing that on? It's one thing for these guys who are authorities to say it, but what are they actually basing it on? And they're basing it on a lot of the ancient contemporary testimony about what happened to Jesus. So what you have is Josephus, a Jewish historian who's writing to the Romans. And he writes, "When Pilate upon hearing him accused of, by men of the highest standard among us had condemned him to be crucified."
What that means is Pontius Pilate, who was the head, a Roman honcho as it were in Judea, when he heard Jesus was accused by men with the highest standing among the Jews, he condemned Jesus to be crucified. So we know this. Tacitus, Cornelius, Tacitus, second century Roman historian says that, "Nero fastened the guilt of the burning of Rome and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class called Christians by the populous Christos from whom the name had its origin suffered the extreme penalty, meaning crucifixion during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators Pontius Pilate." So we see two non-Christian sources outside of the New Testament already discussing and describing the crucifixion of Jesus.
Now that doesn't even include the primary source documents, which are the New Testament itself. The gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and of course Acts and the letters of Paul, all of which are the earliest and most reliable sources for what happened to the early Jesus. But what I'm pointing out in quoting John Dominic Crossan, Gerd Lüdemann, Barton Herman, Cornelius Tacitus, Josephus and there's plenty others, is that we don't have to rely only on the new Testament record, but we can rely on non-Christian sources, people who are actually hostile to Christianity to establish that Jesus died by crucifixion.
So that's the C in the case. That's relatively fairly established. Now, I wouldn't even say it's relatively established. I think it's conclusively established. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you don't need any more discussion on this, I think other than all this wonderful testimony we have. But moving on there is the A and the A in the case is one of the most important sticking points here. One of the most important parts we need to hover our focus over or keep our microscope lingering for a little bit longer. What does the A stand for in the CASE, C for crucifixion. A stands for appearance claims of the disciples and Paul. The appearances, Jesus appeared to his disciples as the risen Jesus and of course to Paul as well as, the risen Jesus.
Now, the claim I'm making here is this, that there is evidence, historical evidence, and skeptics will agree with this, that the disciples of Jesus, those who worked in ministry and saw things and did things with Jesus for three years, claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead, not surviving the crucifixion, not escaping the crucifixion, but living after dying by crucifixion. That's an important point because they believed they had some experience that convinced them Jesus rose from the dead. Now we take this from the primary sources, the gospels and Paul, and someone will say, "Well, hold on. Wait a minute. Hold on. Wait a minute. You're using the Bible to prove the Bible." No, I'm not doing that. What I'm doing is saying what most scholars say about the gospels and Paul, they are the earliest, most complete account of the early church and what happened to Jesus of Nazareth.
So just taking it not as a divinely inspired book. Just based on that, we can deduce that the disciples did believe that they saw the risen Jesus or something that convinced them of that. So all the gospels record his death and all the gospels record his resurrection. Now, they are important sources. So some might say, "Well they're not really eye witness accounts. They're not direct testimony." And I beg to differ, I think that they are. Some say they're really second, third hand, from later centuries and they were written later and all these kind of things. We'll get into a separate episode altogether. We can talk about the timeline of when I think, and I think we can establish a convincing case of when the gospels were actually written, but be that as it may, the majority of scholars, Christian and non-Christian alike will tell you the following facts; that Mark's gospel, Luke's gospel and John's gospel were based significantly, if not in some sense entirely on eye witness testimony.
Let's take Mark's gospel as an example. Mark's gospel, which records Jesus' crucifixion and his resurrection is based on Peter's account. It was written by Mark, but it's basically Mark who was a scribe or someone who wrote down, took dictation from Peter and he records Peter's account. That's why you can see the easy markers within the text. It's so immediate and punchy and urgent-sounding, as well. And you can see that Peter was an eye witness to most of these facts. If you think about it as an eye witness testimony, you can readily see how it looks like someone's telling you the story of what they saw and what they heard. Now, I have a friend and many of you, if you're listening to this podcast based on the legal perspective and evidence, you'll actually be familiar with the name of J. Warner Wallace.
Well, Jim is a good friend of mine and he's a cold case homicide detective. He applied a technique that a lot of detectives are actually trained in called, “forensic statement analysis.” And he applied this technique, which by the way is a technique by which you determine if someone who's telling you a story, or giving you an account of what happened is doing so based on their own eyewitness testimony. And there's little indicia, little indications of whether they're making it up, whether they heard it second hand or third hand and these kinds of things. So he applied this technique to the gospel of Mark when he was an adult, when he was at a detective and when he was an atheist. And you apply this technique on Mark. And he came to the conclusion that Mark was based on the eyewitness testimony of Peter.
Eventually Jim came to Christ through that and other means as well. But that's powerful because someone who had no agenda to say that Mark's gospel is based on eyewitness accounts applied a time-tested technique to determine if it was based on eye witness accounts. And came to that conclusion. So that Mark recorded Peter's eye witness testimony, that Jesus rose from the dead, or as he appeared to Jesus as risen from the dead is pretty powerful. The gospel of Luke as well. We can see this now. Luke had, as his source, the apostle Paul and other things. In fact, he begins his gospel by saying he took an orderly account of things. He investigated things quite thoroughly and also took from Paul, as well because, Luke wrote the book of Acts, which is basically a Luke, part two, as it were. And that accounts for Paul's conversion and the testimony of the early church as well.
Now his sources were Paul also a thing called Q, which is a theoretical source, an early, early few medical source that some scholars believe that Matthew and Luke who also wrote gospels drew on, they drew from that in addition to Mark. So they drew from Mark, they drew from Q, and then Luke drew from Q as well as Paul. And of course Mark himself and other disciples of Jesus. So Luke says that he took an orderly account and he investigated things thoroughly. And you can see an example of this in Luke chapter 24 where he's describing these two guys who are going after Jesus' crucifixion. They're on the road to a place called Emmaus.
This is in Luke chapter 24 and these two men are talking and Jesus walks up beside them, but his appearance is hidden from them. They don't know who it is exactly just yet, but they come to find out who it actually is. What's interesting is, is that Luke mentions a man named Cleopas and not the other guy just Cleopas in this particular episode. Now, why does he mention his name? Cleopas is not important to the entirety of the story. In fact, he's mentioned here and here alone. No other place. Why? Well, the reason why is because Cleopas told Luke this story. In other words, Cleopas was recounting to Luke his firsthand eye witness testimony of seeing the risen Jesus come alongside him on this road to Emmaus explain exactly why Jesus had to die and then rise from the dead, and then they suddenly realized this was the risen Jesus.
Now, go back with this idea that may be Cleopas is telling Luke the story firsthand. Go back and look at it. And with that in mind, ask yourself, does this look like eye witness testimony? I think you'll find that it does. And then there's the gospel of John. Most scholars agree that John’s source was at least one of the disciples, if not the apostle John himself. In other words, John's gospel is based on at least one of the disciples eyewitness accounts, if not the apostle John himself. So we have three gospels, Mark, Luke, and John, which most scholars will tell you was based on eyewitness accounts of the fact that the disciples believed they saw Jesus risen from the dead. Then you'll, of course, you have Paul's testimony. Now, Paul wasn't an original disciple of Jesus. He was an enemy of the Christian faith, but became a Christian after he saw the risen Jesus.
He claims to be an eyewitness of the risen Jesus. And we see that in 1st Corinthians chapter fifteen and in other places. And 1st Corinthians is a very early document, probably in 8055 or so where Paul writes a letter describing the theology but also the history of the Christian faith. Specifically, he mentioned that he was a witness to the risen Jesus. He specifically says that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified. He appeared to James and Peter and he appeared to the other disciples. And he appeared to 500 different people and then he appeared to Paul as well. Now this is interesting because Paul makes this claim and someone could say, "Well, Paul could be lying." And we have to figure out what motive he has for lying. But let's just say this. Paul says in his own letters that in the book of Galatians, Paul says that three years after his conversion, he meets with Peter and James.
So Peter, the original disciple of Jesus and James, Jesus's brother, his half-brother. He meets with them in Jerusalem. The very heart of where all these things took place and he met with them for fifteen days. Now, my guess is over the course of fifteen days sitting with Peter and with James that Jesus must've come up once in a while and if he did, they would have discussed whether they had disputes about what they believed or what actually happened to Jesus. But here's the interesting thing. Paul records, they didn't change one thing about Paul's gospel message that Jesus died to save us from our sins and rose again bodily from the dead. Then after fourteen years, Paul went to the pillars of the church again later. He did twice then and brought to them the gospel he was preaching. Again this gospel that Jesus died as a payment for our sins and rose from the dead to make sure it was still what they were teaching based on their experiences of Jesus and they certified his message.
Once again, they certified Paul's message as saying, "This is true and accurate." So we have two instances. One Paul says he met with Peter and James three years after his conversion and they certified his message and then fourteen years later that the pillars of the Christian faith certify his message once again. Now, how do we know Paul wasn't lying? Maybe he was making this whole thing up. Maybe he was making up the resurrection and then he wanted to credential himself so to speak, so he said, "Oh yeah, Peter and James, they agree with me and all the other disciples, they agree with me too, so just buy in at the fact that I'm an apostle, someone who is sent by Jesus to tell the world about him."
Now, as a trial lawyer, I'd like to know if that was the case. I'd like to have some corroborating evidence, please. Some other witnesses who might say that Paul wasn't lying, that yes, in fact, Peter and James and the pillars of the Christian community did confirm Paul's message. Where we have that, we have two such witnesses. We've a man named Clement of Rome who was likely a disciple of Peter. Most scholars agree with that, that he was a disciple of Peter. We've a man named Polycarp. Polycarp was a disciple of John. Now, both of these men wrote their works after Paul's death. So if they thought Paul was a liar or botched what their teachers were saying, they would have written something down that said that they'd have no reason to be afraid of Paul or anything like that. They could have said, "We oppose Paul." And there's no backlash, but we don't see anything like that.
In fact, they do the exact opposite, they affirm Paul. Clement of Rome, Peter's disciple calls Paul's authority and Paul's teachings to have the kind of authority on par with Peter himself. And Polycarp specifically says, Limber Polycarp is the disciple of John, Polycarp specifically says that Paul's letters are sacred scriptures. They hold the same authority as the scriptures themselves. So we have Paul who claimed to be an eye witness confirming his sightings of the risen Christ with two other eyewitnesses. And then two further people corroborate that Paul was certified as true by those two other witnesses. That's pretty strong evidence. It's circumstantial, but it's also direct at the same time. We have circumstances that prove that Paul is being accurate and true.
In other words, we have the disciples of the disciples who say, "Yes, he is in line with what our teachers taught." And then we have the facts of the eyewitnesses of Peter, James and John themselves. And so all of this meshes together to show us that there is a great reasons to believe that the disciples and Paul believed that they saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes and we're making that message clear in the earliest days of the church. And this was based on not only this evidence, but something even earlier than Paul and possibly even earlier than the gospels themselves. In 1st Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul includes in his written works an oral tradition. It's almost like a song, like a poem or a creed of the early church that talks about how Jesus died according to the scriptures, he was raised to get according to the scriptures, he was seen by Peter and the disciples, he was seen by all the disciples, he was seen by 500 different people.
And Paul says, "Actually still exist, you can go talk to them. Well, some have died, but you can talk to a lot of them." And then he says that, "He appeared to me as one untimely born." Now most scholars will tell you this is an early creed and that it probably circulated in the early church within three to five years after Jesus' crucifixion. That's a blink of an eye because there's no time for legendary embellishment. There's no time for this story to be concocted. Everyone who was there would have seen if Jesus didn't die and rise from the dead, they could have said, "No, he didn't rise from the dead. And this whole story is bunk." We don't have anybody saying, “It's bunk.” So it's within three to five years after Jesus' crucifixion.
In fact, one scholar, James Dunn, believes that this oral tradition that Jesus died and rose again and appeared to all these people, it could have been circulating within the church within just 18 months after Jesus crucifixion. That is very, very early. In other words, it's within living memory of those who would have seen it and could have denied it but didn't. So we have great circumstantial evidence for us to conclude that the disciples had appearances or had experiences to which Jesus appeared to them, the disciples, and Peter and Paul as the risen Jesus. Now, we also have great evidence to show that they believed it.
They didn't just see something, but they believed that it had very serious impact. And again, I'm going to quote non-Christians on this now. So we have the highly critical New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, who agrees that the historical criticism techniques can establish the fact that the first disciples came to believe in the resurrection, then Gerd Lüdemann, who believes that the disciples hallucinated the whole thing, and we can get to that in a future podcast. But this is what Gerd Lüdemann says, this atheist critic of the Christian faith, he says, quote, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus's death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ." Not the surviving Christ, not the escaping Christ, but as the risen Christ, that's Gerd Lüdemann.
Then we have two really good quotes from Pauline Fredrickson. Also, not a Christian as far as I'm aware and a historian of the first rank. She says this, "The disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ are facts known past doubting." In other words, it goes beyond reasonable doubt that the disciples firmly believed they saw the risen Jesus. She goes on to say this, "I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That's what they say, and then all the historical evidence we have afterwards attests to their conviction that, that's what they saw." Now she qualifies it. She says, "I'm not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus, I wasn't there. I don't know what they saw, but I do know that as a historian, they must have seen something." That's powerful. They believed it. Now why do they say this? Why do they say that they believed it?
All the historical evidence we have about the early church, whether it's the disciples or Paul points to this fact, they believed, that they saw Jesus risen with their own eyes and all of them were willing to or did suffer persecution, death and exile over this particular fact. Now someone might say, "What big deal? So what? People willingly died for lies all the time." And that's true. Whether it's someone who straps a bomb to their chest and thinks they're going to go to heaven but they killed themselves, or it's the Jim Jones cult folks or the Hale–Bopp folks who killed themselves believing that there was an alien spaceship behind the Hale–Bopp comet, whatever it might be. But see, there's a key difference here. All of those folks were willing to die for something that they thought was true based on other people's statements.
They thought it was true based on other people's statements. In other words, someone convinced them that if they die, they'll go to heaven and have paradise or whatever it might be. But they didn't know with their own eyes. The disciples are different. The historical evidence shows that the disciples believed they saw Jesus with their own eyes and were willing to go to their deaths, proclaiming a fact that if it was false, they would have known it. They wouldn't have thought, maybe it's true. They would have to have known it was false if it was false. Remember they're saying, "I saw him." Now, if you say you saw someone and you didn't see them, you'd know that especially someone who rises from the dead, that kind of thing sticks in your mind a little bit.
So that's an interesting fact because if they believed it and they claim they saw it, all of them, then it tends to show that it's true. But if they didn't really see it, if they lied about it or they exaggerated something or whatever it might be, chances are at least one of them would have said, "Oh, we'll put the ax down." Or, "I don't want to be nailed on that cross." Or, "Don't exile me." They would've recanted. Not one of them recanted. Again, powerful evidence. So ladies and gentlemen of the jury, so far, what we have is a great circumstantial case with some direct testimony of eye witnesses being recorded and corroborated with great, powerful, circumstantial evidence. Two key facts. We'll get into the next two coming up, but the two key facts are this, that Jesus died by crucifixion and that he appeared to his disciples in such a manner that they were convinced they saw the raised Jesus.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in our next episode, we'll go over two more bits of evidence, the S and the E in our CASE for the resurrection of Jesus, and see if in fact this holds water and we can meet our burden of proof to show beyond the preponderance of the evidence that Jesus did in fact rise. Until then, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm Abdu Murray, and this has been The Defense Rests.
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