The resurrection of Christ is a most pivotal part of the Christian religion. On the doctrine of the resurrection our entire faith stands or falls. If Christ is not raised from the dead we have faith only in a dead Messiah and failed prophecies. Faith in failure is the quintessential expression of vanity.
The Apostle Paul makes this inference in his first letter to the Corinthians, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)
A defense of the resurrection is critical to the faith. For our faith to be sure we must have a sure argument for the resurrection. To the degree our evidence is weak, so is our faith.
Faith is not a blind hope in the improbable (e.g., I have faith the Red Sox will win the World Series this year). Faith is trusting assent to a proposition. If the proposition is found to be false you have no reason to have faith. You may have faith in your bank that they will keep your money safe (a foolish faith, but now is not the time to ramble about fractional reserve banking). You have faith in the proposition, “The money I have earned is safer in the bank than in my possession.” But if the bank is robbed, your faith in that proposition is weak at best. This is to demonstrate you have reasons for your faith. If those reasons are fallacious or unreliable, so is your faith.
What we need then for a defense of the resurrection is an infallible defense. Therefore, when we argue for the resurrection we should not be content to spout off arguments to no profit. Far too often have we heard the arguments from silence (e.g., no body was produced) and appeals to empirical eyewitness accounts in an attempt to defend the resurrection. How definite are these arguments? Are they worth putting your faith in? Remember, faith does not bridge the gap where empirical evidence is insufficient. If your faith is based on empirical eyewitness accounts, your faith is only as strong as the human senses are reliable.
Are the senses infallible? There are optical illusions, mirages, hallucinations, waking dreams, varying sensation of color, taste, and touch. How many accidents have been the result of someone’s false perception of the situation? At best what can be said of the human sensory organs is that they are “generally” reliable. Which is only to say they are “probably” reliable. Which is only to say Jesus Christ was probably raised from the dead, so our faith is probably not in vain, and we are probably not false witnesses of God, and we are probably not still in our sins. When we preach, the most convicting thing we can say is, “You should probably repent and believe in Christ.”
This type of uncertainty is not necessary. It may be objected that Paul appeals to empirical eye witness accounts earlier in 1 Corinthians 15 where he says:
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” (3-8)
At first glance it may appear as though Paul is saying that the eye witness accounts are the reason for believing the resurrection. But let’s look closely at the text. Paul is delivering to the Corinthians that which was delivered to him — the Gospel message. Within this Gospel message are the eye witness accounts. Paul says, “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” The Gospel is not confirmed by eyewitness accounts, but the eye witness accounts are part of the Gospel message, the message Paul received, and also preached. Paul does not place his confidence in the sense organs of the disciples.
It may even be argued that Paul is not speaking of a literal seeing, as in images of color perceived through the retina. Paul adds his vision of Christ to the list of those that saw Christ, but Paul never actually saw Him with the physical eye. The accounts of Paul’s encounter with Christ in Acts 9 and 22 tell us that Paul never saw Christ’s resurrected body. Paul expressed this when he said, “I could not see for the glory of that light.” When Paul says that Christ was “seen of him” in 1 Corinthians, he is not speaking of an eye witness account of Christ. Because Paul says, “he was seen of me also” all of the “seeing” must be figurative, as the word “also“ identifies the “seeing” as the same. If it was a figurative seeing for Paul (and it seems from the two Acts accounts that it is) it must also be for all the other witnesses. “Seeing” seems to be referring to conversion, not to eyewitness testimony.
This becomes more evident in examining the two appearances of Christ in Luke 24; the appearing of Christ to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus (13-32) and the appearing of Christ to the Eleven and those that were with them in Jerusalem (33-49).
When Christ approached the two on their way to Emmaus the Scripture says, “their eyes were holden that they should not know him.” No doubt, they physically saw the resurrected Christ who was speaking to them but they did not see Him for who He was. At His inquiry they told Christ of all the events that took place. It is obvious from their words they did not believe as of yet the resurrection. They did not believe because of an empty tomb or even the testimony of the women who saw the vision of angels.
Christ rebukes them, not for disbelieving the women or doubting the implications of the empty tomb, but for disbelieving the prophets recorded in Scripture, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” Then, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” It was after Christ expounded Scripture and after He blessed the bread that “their eyes were opened, and they knew him.”
The appearing of Christ to the disciples in Jerusalem is even more clear. Christ appears to them and they don’t recognize Him as the risen Christ; they think he must be a spirit. Like the two on the way to Emmaus their eyes did not behold Him for who He was. Christ shows them that He is not a spirit and allows them to touch him. Yet even after this they did not believe: “And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered….” They didn’t believe until He supped with them, “and he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.”
What is the infallible evidence for the resurrection? The same evidence Christ delivered unto the disciples, the same evidence that Paul received and preach –the Scripture. Because the Bible is the infallible Word of God, its testimony of the resurrection is an infallible testimony. “But that’s not convincing to most people,” one may object. To which I answer: It wasn’t convincing to those staring the resurrected Christ in the face until he opened their eyes to see. Without God enabling a sinner to believe His Word he cannot believe even if Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, put to death and resurrected the third day, was the one delivering the message.
But God by His grace does enable some to believe and what He enables them to believe is not a probability, but the sure Word of the Scriptures. May the same Scripture that Christ opened and explained to those He walked with be our source for every argument and our foundation for faith.