11 Questions about the resurrection of Jesus from Bruce Hennigan with Mark Riser

1. Give us a little of your background and how you became interested in apologetics.

I became interested in apologetics not too long after I became a Christian, even before I knew that it was called apologetics. Even though I have participated in many ministries in the church, apologetics always remained with me. At this point, teaching, writing, and speaking about apologetics is my primary ministry.

2. Why is the resurrection of Jesus such an important event?

We are making the claim that Christianity is based on an historical event with good evidence to back it up: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17, HCSB). If the Jesus’s resurrection did not happen, then we have no basis to say that Christianity is true.

3. What facts do we know that validate the truthfulness of the resurrection of Jesus?

There are at least three facts to which we can point that any explanation about the resurrection of Jesus should account. First, the death of Jesus on the cross. Second, the discovery of the empty tomb. Third, the conversion of skeptics and enemies to Christianity after claiming to have seen the resurrected Jesus.

4. Why is the testimony of the women who saw the resurrected Jesus such an important fact?

Usually, in our presentations, at this point I say that I’m reporting the news and not commenting on it. Because, we may not be as familiar with first-century culture, we may not expect that women in that society were second-class citizens. Their testimony in any proceeding would not have been accepted as evidence. The fact that their testimony was reported and recorded in the Gospel accounts lends credibility to those accounts. I think it is a great thing to know that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. The first skeptics to that testimony were the disciples themselves.

5. What are some reasonable explanations for the empty tomb?

Either Jesus’s body was in the tomb that morning or it wasn’t. That’s a pretty cut-and-dried statement. Some skeptics assert that someone stole the body of Jesus. There are three groups of suspects: the Romans, the Jewish leaders, or the disciples. I think we can eliminate the Romans and the Jewish leadership because they had no real motive to steal the body at that point. It would have suited their purposes if Jesus’s body stayed in that borrowed tomb. The Romans wanted peace and order. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus and His teaching to be forgotten. What better way would either group have to achieve both goals than to point a tomb that was occupied.

6. How do we know the disciples did not steal the body of Christ?

If there was any group that could possibly have a motive to steal the body, it would be the disciples. But, where were they? They had deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and were in hiding for fear of the Jewish leadership. Could they have mustered the intestinal fortitude to plan and execute an operation to defeat the guards, open the tomb, and hide the body? The picture that we have in the accounts is of disciples who were defeated by the death of Jesus. After the resurrection, we see an emboldened group of people who were willing to face death for their proclamation of the resurrection. None of them ever recanted their testimony of seeing the risen Jesus. It would only take one of them to go back on their story to call the resurrection account into question.

7. Is it possible Jesus did not die on the cross and only passed out and recovered in the tomb?

If I can pay you a compliment, Bruce, you have done great work over the years with your presentation on the death of Jesus. Starting with the Garden of Gethsemane, you stress that at each point into the early morning, Jesus might have recovered. However, after the flogging and crucifixion, Jesus was, literally a “dead man walking.” Each element of crucifixion, from the nails to the unique position of His body on the cross itself, ensured that Jesus would die from blood loss, asphyxiation, rhabdomyolysis, and, finally, the Roman spear. Anyone who tries to say that Jesus did not die on the cross really does not understand what when on during those six hours on that Friday.

8. Could the disciples have hallucinated the post-resurrected Christ?

Many skeptics give this idea credence. But, we have to look at one of the earliest creeds of the church in I Corinthians 15 to show that, according to Paul, Jesus appeared bodily to over 500 people. He also indicated that many of those witnesses could be consulted about their experiences. There is a curious thing about hallucinations: they are most certainly not group experiences. Each person experiences their own type of hallucination. Five hundred people will not experience the same vision. But, they can report meeting the same person face-to-face. Also, a mass hallucination cannot explain how Jesus’s brother James and Saul of Tarsus encountered the risen Jesus and were changed by the experience into believers.

9. Could there have been a “substitute” for Jesus or a twin brother that claimed to be the resurrected Christ?

Muslims do claim that their god, Allah, substituted someone else for Jesus on the cross. But, the Qur’an was written much later than the Gospel accounts. A scholar named Greg Cavin asserted a few years ago that Jesus had a secret twin brother who stole the body of Jesus and took advantage of the disciple’s confusion. Neither of those ideas are backed with any evidence. Jesus was recognized by His disciples after the resurrection and it was noted in the account of “Doubting Thomas” that Jesus displayed the wounds that He received from the crucifixion to that disciple.

10. Could the women have gone to the wrong tomb?

They say that men are the ones who won’t ask for directions. Three of the four Gospel accounts say that the women followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb and observed the men place the body of Jesus there. If the women had done that, then surely they would have been able to return to the same place. Even so, if the women had made a mistake, the Jewish leadership only needed to go to the correct tomb site to show that it was occupied. There is no record of that happening.

11. What are the minimal facts that even skeptics and believers accept about the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Christianity stands or falls on the truthfulness of the resurrection of Jesus. The truthfulness of that event stands on several facts. First, Jesus died on a Roman cross. Second, the tomb was found to be empty by several of His female followers. Third, the disciples, skeptics, and enemies were transformed into bold proclaimers of Christianity after encounters with risen Jesus. As you said, skeptics and believers accept that these three facts, along with several others, are historical in nature. Any theory which seeks to explain the resurrection of Jesus must account for these three facts in a satisfactory way. The only explanation that works and explains the evidence that we have is what Peter said in Acts: God raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:32).

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