Theology in 3D

The Intentional Historical Vulnerability of Christianity (Part 3)

Layton Talbert | April 5, 2024

Luke’s historical veracity and reliability has been repeatedly corroborated by archaeology. He records that Jesus “showed himself alive” to his disciples “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). That expression (tekmērion) is a technical medical term for “demonstrative evidence”—physical evidence that conclusively demonstrates a diagnosis. These are the words of a trained physician, a man of letters, and a man of science.

Gospels: The Resurrection Is Grounded in Physical Evidence

What “infallible proofs”? What constitutes demonstrative proof that someone bodily rose from the dead? (1) One of the disciples embraced and dialogued with him (John 20:14–17). Objection: Perhaps this was a hallucination born out of a desperate desire to see him. (2) Two of them walked and dialogued with him (Luke 24:13–35). Objection: Perhaps this was a hallucination. Both of them simultaneously have the same, extended hallucination? But, okay, what about this? (3) Several of them at once saw him (Luke 24:36–37). Objection: But sometimes people think they see something that isn’t really there. (4) Several of them at once heard him (Luke 24:38ff.; Matt 28:9). Objection: But you can also “hear” things that aren’t there. (5) Several of them at once touched him (Matt 28:9). Objection: But was this actually the same person? (6) Jesus invited them to observe and handle his wounds (Luke 24:39–40; cf. John 20:25, 27). The nail prints were visible, tangible, and identifiable—ultimate, demonstrative, conclusive, proof. Even so, some still doubted that this was the living, physical Jesus. So, (7) Jesus asked them for some food, and the disciples watched him eat in front of them (Luke 24:41–42).

The definitive diagnosis? The same Jesus of Nazareth who had died by crucifixion was alive again in the flesh. This was no trick of the mind, no series of individual or corporate hallucinations, no dream, no vision, no spirit. It was the same physical Jesus they had come to know so well over the past 3 ½ years, risen from the dead in the same tangible body in which he lived and died—though glorified and capable of supra-corporeal actions. Liberal theologians were not the first to question Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples themselves harbored stubborn skepticism and persistent doubts about the resurrection. Thomas (clearly from the Middle Eastern equivalent of Missouri) flatly refuses to believe any and all reports, until he sees Jesus for himself. These are not wild-eyed, credulous, gullible dupes ready to believe any odd thing they wish were true. The first to voice doubts about the resurrection were not enlightened critics, but Jesus’ own followers.

Acts: The Resurrection Is Central to Gospel Proclamation

The apostles preached the resurrection immediately, repeatedly, and boldly despite personal risk and cost. The record of Acts makes it immediately apparent that the capstone of the life, ministry, and death of Christ was his resurrection from the dead. The resurrection was preached as predicted by the OT, predicted by Jesus himself, and witnessed by the apostles, and it was proof of God’s approval, acceptance, and exaltation of Jesus as Messiah. Beginning at Pentecost, 10 days after Jesus’ final appearance and visible ascension, the apostles begin preaching the resurrection as a necessary and conclusive reality. Rather than recount the approximately 20 references to Jesus’ resurrection throughout Acts, I encourage you to find them with a concordance or online search, and mark them in your Bible.

Epistles: The Resurrection Is the Basis for Christian Doctrine and Living

The epistles, particularly Paul’s, are permeated with references to the resurrection and its intimate and necessary connection to the most basic elements of Christian faith and life.

  • Rom 1:4—The resurrection was a powerful declaration of Christ’s deity.
  • Rom 4:24—Our justification before God depends on our faith in Jesus’ resurrection.
  • Rom 6:4; Col 2:12—Our model for walking in a new life as believers is rooted in our union with his resurrection.
  • Rom 7:4—Our union is not with a dead Christ but a living one.
  • Rom 8:11—Our spiritual life comes from the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.
  • Rom 8:34—Our security is linked to the intercession of the resurrected Christ.
  • Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 15:1–5—Our salvation is linked to our confession of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14—Our future resurrection is linked to Christ’s resurrection.
  • 1 Cor 15:12–21—Our message, our faith, and our forgiveness of sin is interwoven with the resurrection of Christ.
  • Eph 1:19–20; Phil 3:10—The power of God is especially demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ.
  • 1 Thess 1:10; 4:14—The resurrection is the guarantee of the return of Christ and our participation in it.
  • 2 Tim 2:8—The resurrection is an essential element of the gospel.
  • 1 Pet 1:3, 21—Our future hope is linked to the resurrection (other side of the coin from I Cor 15 above).
  • Rev 1:17–18—Our confidence in the authority of Christ is rooted in his resurrection. (Cf. Matt 28:18).


Part 1 of this series included a sliver of Donald Macleod’s critique of Rudolf Bultmann’s skepticism regarding Jesus’ resurrection. That critique is worth revisiting and completing. Macleod writes,

              . . . Bultmann’s historical skepticism is incoherent . . . . The fact that we today cannot be absolutely certain than an event occurred does not mean that another historian in another time and place could not be certain. St. Luke, having checked the earliest written accounts and spoken to eye-witnesses was absolutely certain that the transfiguration had occurred. Bultmann was certain that it is a legend. But his skepticism rested on two slender foundations: first, he was not prepared to take Luke’s word for it [perhaps more accurately, Bultmann was prepared not to take Luke’s word for it]; and secondly, he was not in a position (as Luke was) to check it out himself.

The effect of such skepticism is to make all historical scholarship impossible. Indeed, as Carnley points out, “if the conception of truth is dissolved the conception of falsity dissolves with it. Thus Bultmann is unable to say that it is certainly true that any of the statements in [the gospels are] false!” In practice, Bultmann is totally inconsistent. On the one hand, although we can know nothing of the life and personality of Jesus, on the other we can know [according to Bultmann] that he did not regard himself as Messiah or accept the designations “Lord” or “Son of God.” . . . Without impugning the great scholar’s motives, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that … he knew a good deal about the life and personality of Jesus. He was certain about what he wanted to be certain about.

But, not only does [this] kind of skepticism . . . make historical scholarship impossible, it would make it impossible to verify any scientific law. [Indeed, it makes certain knowledge of anything and everything impossible.] Lessing stated his famous principle thus: ‘If no historical truth can be demonstrated, then nothing can be demonstrated by means of historical truth . . . . This poses as serious a threat to physics as it does to Christology . . . .

The basic difficulty is that Bultmann is guilty of “fallibilism”: every witness is fallible and every compiler of every account is fallible and consequently all the records are unreliable. To put it otherwise: since we cannot secure complete verification we cannot be certain of anything. If this criterion were applied to everyday life, human society would collapse. The world’s stock markets would crash, news agencies would go bankrupt, and football* fans would go mad because news of their teams’ victories would always be “unconfirmed.”

The Person of Christ

Thomas believed when he saw (John 20:29a). But there were multitudes in Jesus’ day, throughout the first century and beyond, who did not see for themselves—because they couldn’t—and yet believed (John 20:29b). They believed the credible and multiple testimony of reliable witnesses. “Perhaps,” someone objects, “but they could at least get the testimony of those men who had seen Jesus.” So can you. And you do not even have to rely on word of mouth; you have their own written testimony that you can reread and ponder and compare with other testimony. The resurrection event is not only theologically crucial to the validity of Christianity, it is historically central to the message and propagation of Christianity. The resurrection is not the totality of the message, but it is the necessary completion of the story of Jesus—which the apostles are repeatedly careful to emphasize—that divinely validates his identity and authority. A gospel without a literal, historical, physical resurrection is not the gospel of the New Testament.

*Macleod, a Scot, means soccer fans.

About Theology in 3D


Theology in 3D Categories
Theology in 3D Authors
Theology in 3D RSS Feed

RSS Feed for Theology in 3D