Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 13, 1968

"A Method For The Resurrection"

Lawson Wallace

In this author's judgment the most important and decisive argument for the Christian Religion is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is often pointed out by such men as J. W. McGarvey and Homer Hailey that if the resurrection is established all the other miracles are established as a matter of course. Mr. Hailey further contends that if all the miracles of Jesus can be established with the exception of the resurrection, nothing yet has really been proved. This author agrees. It is clear from Paul's teaching in I Cor. 15:1-19 that if the resurrection is disproved then the entire Christian Religion is false. The resurrection is THE MIRACLE of the New Testament. Therefore it is vital for a study of Christian evidences to become very familiar with this argument.

There have been many different approaches to the subject so that this author can only present what he considers to be a good one. Before argument is made on the evidences for the resurrection the author believes it is best to establish a framework or background in which such evidences can be considered. This background or framework is usually called antecedent probability. The antecedent probability is established in the following way. First, what arguments can be made for the existence of God should be presented. With some reservation this author would recommend the Cosmological, Design and Moral Arguments. To what extent these arguments can or cannot prove the existence of God will have to await another discussion. The point is that these arguments do have some logical weight whether they are completely conclusive or not. Next, the evidence student should endeavor to show that we live in an "open universe." That is, that the theory of Naturalism does not account for all reality and that therefore the Supernatural cannot be arbitrarily rejected prior to examination of evidence. Showing that Naturalism is not a correct explanation of all reality does not prove Supernaturalism, it merely shows that the Supernatural should be considered a possibility. The writings of A. E. Taylor, C. S. Lewis, and Bernard Ramm will prove a very stimulating study of the force of such philosophical arguments.

Antecedent probability not only includes these philosophical arguments but also a religious argument. Whatever point can be made for the Hebrew religion and the doctrinal necessity of the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament should be introduced here. Do not think that the resurrection is thus proved for it is not. Simply the atmosphere for the examination of the resurrection has been established. Thus the resurrection is not considered as an isolated event in history, but as an historical event in a philosophical and religious context. So note carefully this point: Whatever weight the above philosophical and religious arguments have will carry over as evidence to the resurrection.

Now the evidence for the resurrection is the New Testament. But an unbeliever will not accept the divine inspiration of the New Testament so that the Christian would be begging the question if he argued to the resurrection from inspiration. But history provides a common ground on which the believer can approach the unbeliever. So that the historical value of the New Testament becomes a common ground on which the believer and the unbeliever can meet. An intensive study of the New Testament needs to be done to determine two things: (1) The integrity, and (2) The credibility of the New Testament. By integrity the author means: Was the New Testament written during the first century by its alleged authors and is the copy we possess substantially the same as originally composed? By credibility the author means: Is the New Testament a generally reliable book when it deals with history and other known matters? The author's purpose forbids delving into these two involved questions, but he is firmly convinced that there is overwhelming evidence for both the integrity and the credibility of the New Testament. The author is not dealing now with the materials of these evidences but with a method by which the evidence should be handled. Thus the student should become well acquainted with the integrity and the credibility of the New Testament.

Now this document, the New Testament, claims that Jesus Christ miraculously arose from the dead. What is to be done with such a claim, especially in the light of the historicity of the New Testament? The unbeliever rejects this New Testament claim. Why? Because of history? No. Because he possesses a philosophical bias against such supernatural claims.

So the unbeliever proceeds to weed out all supernatural events in the New Testament and allows only events capable of a naturalistic explanation to be accepted as history. But this author holds this conviction: The unbeliever can weed out all supernatural events and keep only all natural events and still the natural events will historically establish the resurrection. Can this really be done? Read on to see.

Suppose the following purely "natural" events be conceded as facts of history: That Jesus lived, that Jesus claimed he would rise from the dead on the third day after his death, that Jesus died, that Jesus Was buried, that the tomb was placed under armed guard as an assurance against grave snatching, that on the third day the tomb was found empty, that for a period of 40 days there was a rash of reports of people claiming that they had seen Jesus alive, that these alleged appearances suddenly stopped, that the church of Jesus was established within two months of his death, that the central doctrine of the church was the resurrection, that the church of Christ underwent a booming growth as its main leaders affirmed that they were eye-witnesses to Christ's resurrection at pain of poverty, hate and finally death. Such concessions form a wealth of material from which the evidence student can attempt to establish the resurrection.

The first thing that must be done is to develop a satisfactory explanation to account for all the above facts. The Christian easily, simply says "Jesus rose from the dead" and all the maze of facts are beautifully tied together into a logical and coherent explanation. What can the unbeliever do? It is up to him to give a better explanation. Narrowing these facts down to the two most important, the unbeliever must under all circumstances develop a theory to account for the dual problem of the empty tomb and the reported appearances. Unbelievers have tried to do just that. At another time the alternate theories for the empty tomb and appearance will be examined. This author is firmly convinced that these theories can be shown to be highly improbably and therefore unsatisfactory.

If the evidence student can argue to this point with logical cogency and force, he will have established the resurrection. In the opinion of the author, the unbeliever will be forced to take back many of the previously conceded facts. What does this amount to? It amounts to this strange criterion: First, all supernatural events will be considered fiction; second, all natural events which lead one to a supernatural conclusion will be considered fiction. And why? Because of historical reasons? No. Because by ordinary historical norms the resurrection can be well established as a fact of history. Then why is such evidence to be rejected? Because of philosophical prejudice against miracles. In other words, the unbeliever will be forced to attack historical evidences because of his philosophy. This, if the evidence student can firmly present his case, pinpoints the issue. When the issue is thus pinpointed the argument from antecedent probability proves powerful. Antecedent probability gives extra weight to the historical evidence. And if the unbeliever wished to forsake history and argue philosophy the believer will gladly follow suit. But let it be made clear that the resurrection is not rejected because of history but because of metaphysics.

If you have time, re-read this article until you grasp the gist of the method it presents. It is, you understand, intended as a guide to a good method of arguing for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead which will thereby establish the truthfulness of Christianity.

From Evidence Quarterly