Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact #1

There are five undisputable facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection that almost all New Testament historians agree on, although there are other historical facts which are accepted by a good number of New Testament historians even though they are not as accepted as the other five.

Fact #1: Jesus’ death by crucifixion

Jesus’ death by crucifixion is as sure a fact as any other, and there are many historical sources to prove this fact. Before we look at these sources, let’s acknowledge the criterion for a good historical source. For a historical source to be considered trustworthy it has to be early, multiple attested, not biased, and having the potential to be embarrassing to the author or his cause. For the purposes of establishing facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection, it’s important that we use historical sources that meet this criterion. As such Jesus’ death by crucifixion is attested by early sources like Paul who quoted the Apostle Creed in his letter to the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 15:3). Historians date this creed to within 3 years of Jesus’ resurrection, so there is no doubt that this creed is very early. Of course an objection will be raised that 3 years after the fact is still not early enough, but in antiquity three years is very very early. For instance, the earliest historical source we have about Alexander is 400 years after the fact, yet we do not doubt the fact that Alexander existed. Paul’s own testimony of Jesus’ death by crucifixion (see 1 Corinthians 1:13, 23, 2:2) is multiply attested by Mark (see Mark 15:21-41), who wrote within 35 years of Jesus’ death.  Bart Ehrman said: “for New Testament we have much earlier attestation than for any other book of antiquity”.

Although Mark and Paul are early and multiply attest each other, it is not difficult to realise that they are biblical writers as such people would view their testimony as biased. It is important to note that there are non-biblical historians who also attested to Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Josephus, a Jewish historian who also happened to be a Pharisee, testified to Jesus’ death by crucifixion. In his work, Testimonium Flavianum, said “About this time there lived Jesus………When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified…..”. Tacitus also attested Jesus’ death by crucifixion, he said “Christus…….suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of our procurators, Pontius Pilate…….”. It is no doubt that the extreme penalty referred to by Tacitus is the crucifixion. Skeptic New Testament historian, Bart D. Ehrman, said “Tacitus’s report confirms what we know from other sources, that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, sometime during Tiberius’s reign”. Lucian of Samosata, writing in the second century AD, said: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account”.

Even though we can say with reasonable certainty that Jesus died by crucifixion, there are still those who dispute this fact. For instance, the Quran seem to dispute Jesus’ death by crucifixion, it says: “That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise” (Sura 4:157-158 Yusufali translation). The Quran makes it clear that Jesus was not crucified nor was he killed during the crucifixion instead he was exalted to God. Muslim scholars, in their embarrassment, have tried to explain this text in many ways. Some have said Jesus’ crucifixion didn’t last long enough for Him to die. But remember that the Quran specifically said “nor crucified him”, which exclude any crucifixion at all, so any explanation should not include crucifixion, as such saying Jesus was not crucified for long doesn’t make sense because crucifixion is crucifixion even it happens for a few minutes. Other scholars have explained the text as saying God had given someone else the same appearance of Jesus causing everybody to believe that Jesus was crucified when he wasn’t. The problem with this explanation is the fact that God is being associated with deceit, the very thing the Quran says God is not. Another explanation offered by Muslim scholars is that Jesus’ body was immortal, so even though he was crucified He couldn’t die, or He wasn’t crucified to death as such we can’t say He was crucified. This explanation only denies Jesus’ death, and then tries to use metaphors to explain the crucifixion but it fails.

Except for Muslims, there are those scholars who don’t deny Jesus’ crucifixion. They claim that even though He was crucified, He didn’t die. This is known as the “swoon theory”. The “swoon theory” tries to explain what happened on that day as follows: Jesus wasn’t yet dead He was just unconscious, yet Roman soldiers thought He was dead, so they put him down from the cross. After Jesus had been taken off the cross, it is said that He recuperated and showed His nail-scourged hands and feet to His disciples so they can believe that He was resurrected from the dead. The reason this arguments has been given credence is because it wasn’t rare those days for people to hang on the cross for at least 2 days, or even for up to 9 days in rare cases before they die. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus only lasted for only 6 hours on the cross before He died, which makes skeptics believe that He was still very much alive.

Even though Jesus didn’t last long on the cross, it doesn’t mean He wasn’t dead by the time He was taken down. What the “swoon theory” doesn’t take into account is the torture that Jesus went through before crucifixion, and the impact that would have had on his quick death on the cross. Alexander Metherell said the following of the impact of the tortures that Jesus went through: “Roman floggings were known to be terribly brutal. The soldier would use a whip of braided leather thongs with mental balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, the balls would cause deep bruises or contusions, which would break open with further blows. And the whip had pieces of sharp bone as well, which would cut the flesh severely. The back would be so shredded that part of the spine was sometime exposed by the deep, deep cuts.”

Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) carried an article on the crucifixion of Jesus, which said “The scourging produced deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion, his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and, after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes), his feet were nailed to the stipes. The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus’ death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier’s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.”

If Jesus was tortured so much, to the point where His very life was at risk before the crucifixion, then we have no reason to believe that He could have survived the crucifixion, let alone being speared to His side, possibly through the lung and into His heart. So it is unreasonable for anybody to claim that Jesus could have survived the cross, and make a triumphal appearance to His disciples. It would have been impossible for Him to recuperate in three short days so He can be seen alive by His disciples. As such we can conclude that Jesus’ death on the cross is an undisputed fact. Bart D Ehrman said “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate”. John Dominic Crossan, a highly skeptic Jesus Seminar co-founder said “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be”.

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