Theology in 3D

The Intentional Historical Vulnerability of Christianity

Layton Talbert | March 28, 2024

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the doctrinal, theological, and historical hinge-pin of Christianity. The ramifications of no resurrection are of the profoundest possible magnitude.

If the resurrection is false, then (1) Jesus and his followers were pathetically mistaken, certifiably deranged, or cunningly deceptive; (2) Christianity is a worldwide religion built upon a world-class lie; and (3) your faith (as Paul told the Corinthian church) is an empty delusion.

But if the resurrection is true, then (1) Jesus is God come in the flesh and all that he claimed is authenticated; (2) Christianity is the one true religion of the one true God; and (3) faith in Christ and in his revelation throughout the NT is fully validated. Why? Because his otherwise impossible prediction of his resurrection in three days was the one and ultimate sign he gave to the Jews to authenticate his identity, his mission, and his message.

In other words, there’s a lot riding on this.

If we really believe God raised Jesus from the grave, we have no reason to balk at any other recorded miracle. Resurrection from the dead is as impossible as it gets; but “with God nothing (lit., no word, no saying) shall be impossible.”

The resurrection of Christ is a miracle that no infidel can explain away. Men may carp and cavil at Balaam’s ass, and Jonah in the whale’s belly, if they please, but till they can prove that Christ did not rise again we need not be moved.

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, on 21:1-14

Anyone can claim anything, especially in the invisible and subjective and unverifiable spiritual realm. That’s why it’s so significant that no other religion makes itself so intentionally vulnerable by grounding itself in historical events. The Bible repeatedly anchors its credibility in verifiable historical events–purposeful references to specific places, people, reigns, and incidents still verifiable by historical records even outside the Bible. The ability to accurately predict future events (prophecy) is a major proof that God himself offered as proof of his unique deity (Isa 41:21–29; 46:8–11). The Bible is unparalleled in the magnitude and accuracy of its prophecies. One of those prophecies, uttered repeatedly in both the OT and NT, is the resurrection of God’s Messiah from the dead—an event so utterly unique in human history and experience that it is, itself, offered as definitive proof.

Anyone can claim anything, especially in the spiritual realm. But Jesus repeatedly made his spiritual claims testable in tangible, objective, and verifiable ways. Jesus issued audaciously authoritative teachings and ultimatums in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5–7)—so authoritative and audacious that people, we are told, were stunned (Mt 7:28–29). Matthew follows up those claims with a cluster of ten miracles (Matt 8–9) that demonstrated his authority over disease and demons, death and creation, and even sin itself. In one of those miracles, when Jesus pronounced the sins of the palsied man “forgiven” (prompting charges of blasphemy in the thoughts of his detractors, Mt 9:1–3), he verified his authority to make that pronouncement with a tangible demonstration: “But that you may know the Son of Man hath authority on earth to forgive sins . . .” (he then said to the sick of the palsy), “Rise up, take up thy bed, and go to thine house”—and he did (Mt 9:6–7).

Anyone can claim anything. That is why it is so significant, then, that Jesus made the validity of all his claims vulnerable to a uniquely tangible, historically verifiable test. He pinned his claims and credibility on the most unlikely, historically unprecedented, and yet historically verifiable test in the history of the world: his own resurrection three days after his death.

The death of Jesus Christ marks his unity with the rest of humanity. The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks his uniqueness from every other religious leader. The tombs of Confucius, Buddha, and Muhammad are all visited because they hold the bones of famous religious leaders. The tomb of Jesus is visited because it doesn’t.

Liberal theologian Rudolf Bultmann’s historical skepticism ultimately led him to a bottom-line conclusion that is as absurd as it is famous:

We can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources [at least those parts that Bultmann has determined to be “authentic”] show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary; and other sources about Jesus do not exist.

Jesus and the Word, 14

Donald Macleod analyzes Bultmann’s reasoning. (On a personal note, this is my favorite paragraph in the entire book.)

The first response to be made to this is that Bultmann appears to assume that the people of the first century were credulous to the point of universal stupidity. This is not the impression we receive from the New Testament. The . . . miracles [which Bultmann dismisses as fantasies dreamed up by gullible, superstitious, sympathetic followers of Christ] filled the onlookers with wonder precisely because they did not fit into the prevailing worldview [of the first century]. It was no more common in the first century than in the twentieth for a mere word to still a storm or a mixture of clay and spittle to restore sight to the blind; and when Paul preached the resurrection at the University of Athens, the result was exactly the same as it would have been at Marburg in 1930 [where Bultmann taught]. The dead stayed dead with the same monotonous regularity as they do in the twentieth. Early Christian belief in the resurrection cannot be explained as due to the mere ignorance of the facts of death.

The Person of Christ, 111

According to Acts 17:3, Paul’s ministry among the Athenians involved “explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead.” Next time, we’ll look a little more closely at the Bible’s fuller presentation of the data.

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