Luke recorded in Acts 17:32 that when Paul spoke to those gathered at the Areopagus in Athens about Jesus being raised from the dead, many of those present “sneered” in unbelief. This is not surprising, considering the number of miracle stories involving gods or goddesses that were known at the time. To them it seemed like just one more story about another god.

Even the apostles themselves, who had been with Jesus, were unable initially to accept the news that He had been raised from the dead. Again, it was Luke who tells us that when they received the first report of Jesus’ resurrection, it “seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11).

The disciples knew that the lifeless body of Jesus had been taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb. To say that Jesus was no longer dead but now alive, however, was to them just nonsense.

In his book, The Contemporary Christian, John Stott wrote: “The most fantastic of all Christian claims is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” When you think about it, you just have to agree with Stott that it is fantastic.

That a person might return from the dead is contrary to all that we as humans have experienced. Everything that we know points to death, destruction, and decay. How then can anyone believe in the resurrection?

This question was evidently on the minds of some of the Christians in Corinth. In response to this, Paul wrote what is probably the most detailed discussion of the resurrection in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15). In verses 3–8 in particular, Paul discussed the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
In these verses, Paul provides evidence of the resurrection of Jesus from two sources. The first of these is from the Old Testament: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Although he was not specific, Paul was likely referring to various Old Testament prophecies, in particular the Suffering Servant passages such as Isaiah 53 as well as others (Psalm 16:8–11; Hosea 6:2; Jonah 1:17).

From there Paul moves to the second and most important evidence for the resurrection of Jesus—the eyewitnesses. He begins with a very interesting phrase: “for what I received I passed on to you.” In reference to this phrase, New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg commented: “The verbs ‘received’ and ‘passed on’ are technical terms in both Greek and Hebrew for the oral transmission of basic religious teachings.”1

Today we place the greatest emphasis on written information, but in the ancient world information was primarily stored and transmitted orally, from person to person. Various practices for accurate transmission of this information were used routinely and this is what Paul is referring to here. These were not casual observations, but rather carefully worded and memorized statements.

It is also important to note the proximity of Paul’s writing to the actual events. First Corinthians is thought to have been one of the earliest written New Testament documents and is dated around A.D. 55, which would be about 25 years after the death of Jesus. More importantly, the timing of Paul’s receiving of this information is much closer to the actual events. Blomberg further notes: “What Paul goes on to describe was probably taught to him shortly after his conversion in A. D. 32. In other words, the list of witnesses to Christ’s resurrection from the dead is not the legendary invention of a generation or two after the foundation of Christianity but a fundamental conviction of Jesus’ first followers within two years or less after his death.”2

Paul provided a specific list of these witnesses, many of which he noted were still living at the time that he was writing to the Christians in Corinth. Thus, as one commentator noted, the “resurrection was confirmed by the appearances to trustworthy witnesses. These were no vague appearances that formed part of a folklore or mythology about Jesus; at the time of writing, Peter and the other disciples could have been pressed about what they had seen and witnessed.”3

Thus, Paul wrote to those early Christians in Corinth, whose faith was wavering, confirming the resurrection of Jesus and reminding them of the strong, eyewitness evidence supporting this event. This same evidence, when understood in its context, can also give us today confidence in our hope of the resurrection.

Individuals may deny the resurrection of Jesus, considering it to be just another myth or legend. As we have noted here, however, unlike the miracles attributed to various gods and goddesses, the resurrection of Jesus can be substantiated by verifiable evidence consisting of eyewitness accounts that can be traced back to the time of the witnesses themselves. Additional evidence for the resurrection of Jesus comes from the empty tomb, the transformed lives of believers, and the conviction of Christians down through history to maintain their faith, even to the point of death. These, along with the eyewitness accounts mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, provide strong evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and later resurrection of the dead.4

    1.    Craig L. Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts Through Revelation (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2006), 196.
    2.    Ibid.
    3.    David W. J. Gill, “1 Corinthians” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 3, Clinton E. Arnold, editor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 175.
    4.    If you would like more detailed information on the resurrection see the following: Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) and Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004).

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