Frank in Hawaii: I'm a Christian agnostic. How do we know the resurrection is true besides the eyewitness accounts?
Hank: Let me add something to that, Frank, because the question you brought up is the same question that a young Jewish guy on the plane the other day asked me as well. You know, "Look, history is written by winners and therefore, oftentimes history is distorted. How can you really know that the history we have in the Gospels or the extrabiblical evidence is really reliable?"
Lee Strobel: That's a great question. As I investigated that as a skeptic I wanted facts, I wanted answers, I wanted to have a solid basis for this. I wasn't going to believe something unless it was logical and rational. As I looked at the evidence for the resurrection I looked at what I call the four "E"s, and it's a good way to remember how to summarize the evidence.
The first "E" stands for "Early Accounts." I used to believe that the idea that Jesus rose from the dead was a legend that developed many decades after Jesus' life and that through mythology and wishful thinking people sort of began to consider Him a god who returned from the dead many years later. However, we have preserved for us very early evidence that Jesus returned from the dead, and that is evidence that can be dated back very close to the actual event itself. And I say that because not only do we have the Gospels, which, themselves can be dated within 30 years of the life of Jesus and consequently were circulating in the times and life of eyewitnesses and skeptics who would have challenged them had they not been accurate. But we can go earlier than that because the apostle Paul has preserved for us a creed that was recited by the earliest Christians. A creed is a statement of belief that they would recite just as people recite creeds today in churches.
This one creed, which is found in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 3 and following, is a summary of the essence of Christianity. It says that Jesus died - why? - for our sins, He was buried and the third day He was resurrected from the dead. And then it mentions specific eyewitnesses, including skeptics who encountered the resurrected Christ whose lives were transformed. This creed has been dated back by scholars from a wide range of theological belief to as early as 2 to 8 years after the life of Jesus Christ, and the beliefs that made up that creed go right back to the cross itself. So we don't have some huge time gap during which legend grew up and distorted the historical record.
AN Sherwin-White, the great classical historian from Oxford University did a study of the rate at which legends grew up in the ancient world and he said that he discovered through his study that the passage of two generations of time is not even enough for legend to grow up and wipe out a solid core of historical truth. Well, here we don't have two generations of time passing. We have what is, in a sense, a newsflash from history that this has taken place. So that's the first thing - Early Accounts. That's the first "E."
Second "E," "Empty Tomb." The nice thing about the empty tomb is everybody admitted the tomb was empty in the First century. Even the skeptics and the critics of Jesus admitted that the tomb was empty and said "Well, maybe the disciples stole the body" even though they had no motive or opportunity or means to carry that out. Not only does everybody admit the tomb was empty, but the Gospels say that women discovered the empty tomb, and why that's important is that in the First Century in that Jewish culture the testimony of women was considered worthless. They were not even allowed to testify in a court of law. And so their account of what took place would be discounted by everybody as being unreliable, just gossip. And yet the Gospels say women discovered the empty tomb. Well, if they were going to make up this account of what happened they would never say that women discovered the tomb empty. That hurts their case among the audience they're trying to convince it's true. They would have said Peter discovered the empty tomb or somebody else did, James did, instead of women. Why did they say women discovered it? Because they were trying their best to record what actually took place, even if it hurt the credibility of their case with their First Century audience. They recorded what actually happened, and that gives credibility to the empty tomb.
The third "E" is "Eyewitnesses." Here we have Jesus appearing to over 550 eyewitnesses in a variety of ways - to tenderhearted people, to skeptical people, nighttime, daytime, people ate with Him, talked with Him, etc. So we have eyewitnesses.
Emergence of the Church. And then we have the Emergence of the Church. That's the fourth "E." Why the emergence of the church is important is: How do you explain the sudden explosion of the Christian church - right in the very city where Jesus was put to death and supposedly resurrected - just a few weeks later, if the disciples were going around saying false things about the resurrection or exaggerating what took place? I think of Peter who got up right in Jerusalem just a few weeks after Jesus was put to death and said "Men of Israel, listen to these words. Hey. Hello! You put Jesus to death, you know. You gotta problem here" - I'm paraphrasing - he said "You got a problem here, folks. You've killed the Messiah," but he said "God has raised Him from the dead, of which we're all witnesses." Now, what happened to that group. Did they say "Oh, Peter, you don't know what you're talking about. We know Jesus. We're right here. We know that this isn't true"? No. History shows that 3,000 people said "You're right, Peter. What do we do?" And he said "You can find forgiveness and eternal life through Christ" and the church was born in that very city.
So I use those four "E"s to kind of summarize I think a pretty good case for the resurrection being historical.
Hank: So, Frank, you had a question about the empty tomb?
Frank in Hawaii: I know you say the empty tomb is a case for the resurrection, but the evidence for the empty tomb doesn't necessitate a resurrection.
Lee Strobel: That's exactly right, and in and of itself it isn't enough. That's why we have the other "E"s.
Frank: Weren't the first disciples required to have faith?
Lee Strobel: Yes, but faith is not turning your back on reality and wishing and hoping something's true. Faith is taking a step in the same direction that the evidence is pointing, and that's what they did. They encountered the resurrected Christ and they put their faith in Him because they didn't just believe that He was the Son of God Who returned from the dead. They knew it was true because they personally encountered Him, and based on what they knew was true they put their trust in Him.
Hank: So the bottom line here, Frank, is that it was not blind faith. It was faith in evidence. And you are an agnostic, as you say, a Christian agnostic and I would say you are maybe in a similar situation that Thomas was in when Jesus Christ encountered him and said "Put your finger. See My hands. Reach out your hand and put it in My side. Stop doubting," or stop being an agnostic, "and believe," and then Thomas said to Him "My Lord and my God" and Jesus responded "Because you have seen Me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." We have evidence that is really interesting. Jesus Christ once said through the inspiration of Scripture in Luke 16 "They have Moses and the prophets. If you don't believe them you're not going to believe even if someone rises from the dead." We don't have to have the same kind of evidence that Thomas had - Jesus Christ standing in the flesh before him. We have Moses and the prophets, which is so compelling that if you can't believe that then you can't believe even is someone rose from the dead. So my challenge to you, Frank, is to move beyond doubt and agnosticism to true faith in Christ, and then experience Christ as being more real to you than the flesh on your bones, as real as He was to Thomas.
Lee Strobel: You know, Frank, one of my heroes when I was in law school was a guy named Sir Lionel Luckhoo, and the reason I thought this guy was just an amazing lawyer was if you went to the Guinness Book of World Records he is recorded as the most successful lawyer who ever lived. He won 248 murder trials in a row as a defense attorney. So, as you can imagine, he was a very skeptical person - maybe a bit like you. A guy who says "You gotta prove it to me or I'm not going to believe it." And he didn't believe in the resurrection either. But somebody challenged him and said "Why don't you investigate it yourself? Use your monumental legal skills and investigate the resurrection yourself." He spent years doing that and I'll recite for you one sentence that summarized his conclusion. He said "I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt!" So here we have the most successful attorney who's ever lived who knows what evidence is, who knows how to pick apart a case and find all the flaws in it, who comes to the conclusion that this is something that is reliable. He put his faith in Jesus Christ and in his words "My life was changed 180 degrees for the good."