Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How to show and know that Jesus raised from the dead

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Matthew 28:6 "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying."


What happened on that first Easter morning? In this post, I aim to present the historical case for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Many people may not realize that the resurrection of Jesus Christ occupies a place in historical investigation. Think of what follows as more of an outline than a comprehensive treatment. It is hoped that this post aids those wanting to go further in their understanding of the events surrounding Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Some good resources to consider

Before we get underway, let me point the reader to reputable websites that specialize in the subject of Christ's resurrection from the dead. The websites feature key defenders of the Christian faith to whom I'm indebted in gathering together a working outline for presenting the case that presents the proposal: "God raised Jesus from the dead":




In addition to the above websites, some amazing recent computer-animated videos illustrate a great argument for Christ's resurrection with regards to the facts, here: and the explanations of the empty tomb, here:

Great books are available that can help readers begin their journey in studying this subject. Other topics related to defending the Christian faith are also included in the following resources:

1. “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?”, a booklet by William Lane Craig 

2. “On Guard”, an introductory apologetics text book by William Lane Craig

3. “Case For Easter”, by Lee Strobel

4. "The Baker Handbook of Apologetics", edited by Norm Geisler

Knowing and showing that Jesus raised from the dead. 

When I say “knowing”, I mean in the words of the hymn: 

“You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart”. 

This first way of understanding what occurred on that first Easter is reliable and is how all people arrive at a certainty of what took place. When I say "certainty", the definition of theologian Herman Bavinck comes to mind: "certainty is a state of mind settled upon the object of one's perception." When faith or "trust" occurs, the heart and mind come to have a settled state with regards to Jesus' life, death and resurrection on their behalf. 

This way of “knowing” the risen Christ is obtained with or without “showing” the event to be the case. Philosophers refer to such knowledge as "properly basic beliefs". Examples of properly basic beliefs include knowledge of the external world, other minds and memories of the past - all of which is rational to hold to without evidence. Some thinkers would include the innate knowledge of God as a properly basic belief. Such an observation ought to comfort readers, since most people in the world don’t have time nor access to the resources that one would utilize in historical research. 

Whenever we engage in presenting a case like the one outlined below, it can be viewed as a "second-line of defense". The New Testament heartily supports this experiential understanding of the risen Christ for the believer. Phil. 3:10-11 

“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” 

The above covers "knowing God" on a personal level. So what about "showing" the resurrection of Jesus to be the case? When I say “showing”, I mean presenting the historical case that demonstrates that the premise: “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of the empty tomb. 

How we can show that Christ’s resurrection from the dead was a historical event. 

To do this, we need to:

a. First express the facts surrounding the resurrection. 

b. Secondly, list the criteria used in judging which explanation of the facts best explains “what happened”. 

c. Thirdly, the typical explanations of those facts (naturalistic explanations and the one supernatural proposal: “God raised Jesus from the dead”). 

d. Then lastly, why the proposal: “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of the facts. 

The Christian can readily affirm that "dead men don't rise naturally from the dead". However, in proposing that God raised Jesus from the dead, we are stating that the only way a resurrection could be brought about is by a supernatural, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God as referenced by Jesus Himself. 

When skeptics refuse to allow the possibility of the miraculous, the objection raised is not historical, but rather philosophical in nature. Including a supernatural explanation (i.e. "God raised Jesus from the dead") in the survey of explanations for what happened on that first Easter morning is part of the historical investigative process. 

What are the facts surrounding the resurrection event?

a. What do we mean by “fact”? An event of the past that is multiply attested in several sources and which is viewed as such by most historians living today. Gary Habermas did a landmark study, surveying over 2,000 publications by scholars of all stripes written from 1975 to present. (Gary Habermas, “Experience of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the early proclamation of the resurrection,” Dialogue 25 (2006): 292.). 

Wherever there were at least 75% agreements, that counted as a “fact”. The facts we will look at today are shared among 90% (per Habermas’ reckoning).

b. What are the primary sources for Easter? When it comes to multiple attestation (i.e. multiple, independent sources), we possess several primary sources for these facts: Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; the materials particular to Matthew /Luke and 1 Corinthians 15:1-6. 

It must be noted that people must not dismiss these sources due to their being “in the Bible”. Before there was a gathering together of such sources into the bundle we call the “New Testament”, they were independently written. Although it is right for the Christian to rightly see these documents as inerrant scripture, historians approach them as reliable sources for the historical events surrounding the historical Jesus of the 1st century. For the purposes of the foregoing argument, we will approach the New Testament documents as reliable sources about Jesus (even though this author holds to Biblical inerrancy, which is another topic, for another post). 

Non-believing historians regard the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 15 as reliable sources, despite whatever their personal beliefs might be toward these documents. The only people that try to pass off the Gospels and Paul’s letters are internet skeptics or people not familiar with even a general sense of how historical research is done in New Testament studies.

c. Four main facts.  For the resurrection of Jesus, four facts emerge: 

i. honorable burial, 

ii. discovery of the empty tomb by women followers, 

iii. the sudden shift to faith by the disciples 

iv. Jesus’ post-mortem appearances.

What criteria are used when evaluating various explanations for the facts at hand?

a. It is one thing to list the facts, and have most everyone agree that these are the facts at hand. However, whenever it comes to how to explain “what happened”, the disagreements emerge. 

b. Historian C. Behan McCullagh, in his book: “Justifying Historical Descriptions” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), notes several criteria used by historians when investigating the best explanation for any event and its attendant facts. Just as a parent uses criteria to discern how to settle a recent set of events reported to them by their children, historians use standard criteria as well. I've listed the specific criteria in the end notes for interested readers.1 

Naturalistic Explanations of Easter morning

Naturalism is that worldview which asserts that physical matter is the ultimate and fundamental basis for all reality. Hence, naturalism denies miracles, God's existence and an immaterial reality outside our universe, since the universe is, according to the late naturalist Carl Sagan: "all there is, was and ever will be."

When it comes to surveying the pool of naturalistic explanations of what happened on Easter, we can assess what are called: "full-tomb hypotheses" and "empty-tomb hypotheses". Naturalism is a philosophical view point that asserts that physical objects, physical laws or material properties are the only things that exist. For sake of space, I will briefly list the most popular naturalistic hypotheses with a sample of their weaknesses in the end notes below for interested readers. 2  

Why the hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of the facts.

The explanation proclaimed by the disciples: "God raised Jesus from the dead" has consistently shown itself to best explain the above facts. Naturalistic theories fall short due to not adequately accounting for why the disciples switched from skepticism to faith. Furthermore, such explanations cannot provide plausibly consistent explanations of the empty tomb that doesn't conflict with known details of 1st century Jewish and Greco-Roman life. 

For the sake of space, I have included a more detailed explanation of why the resurrection explanation fulfills standards of historical investigation in the following end note for interested readers. 3

Final appeal to place your trust in the risen Jesus, so that you can “know” that He lives.

In this post I have given a sketch of how one may "show" that the proposal: "God raised Jesus from the dead" is the best explanation for answering the question: "what happened on that first Easter morning". However, just knowing "about" the resurrection is not enough to reconcile you to God. Christian salvation promises that one can personally know the risen Christ. John 17:3 reminds us: 

"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

As we close out this post, let me briefly make the appeal for any reader that has never trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord to do so. The scriptures below explain how one can know for certain, by faith, that Jesus raised from the dead and how He can become Savior and Lord of their life.

Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace are you saved through faith, this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, lest any man should boast." 

Romans 10:8-10 "But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

You can know the risen Christ! Not just as having probably raised from the dead (that’s as far as the above argument will get you), but having certainty of Him having died on the cross and risen for you. As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not seen."


1. The following derives from William L. Craig’s booklet: “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?”

i. Explanatory scope: How much of the evidence does the explanation or hypothesis explain better than its rivals.

ii. Explanatory power: Does the given explanation make the evidence more probable as having occurred than rival explanations

iii. Plausibility. How well does the given explanation fit with other known background beliefs of that time period.

iv. Least contrived. Whichever explanation of the facts adopts the fewest new beliefs apart from independent evidence is most likely the correct explanation.

v. Disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs. Whichever explanation can withstand the scrutiny of comparison with other well-established beliefs is the more probable explanation. 

vi. The best explanation meets the first five conditions so much better than its rival explanations, that there is little chance of the other rival explanations being the better candidate for telling “what happened”.

2. We can note the following naturalistic hypotheses under two headings:

a. Full Tomb Hypotheses: Explaining the events of Easter with a body in the tomb

i. Hallucination hypothesis = the disciples hallucinated the risen Christ. Doesn’t adequately explain post-mortem appearances. People that think they have seen a dead loved-one knows that the person is dead. The disciples' post-mortem visions of Jesus resulted in their message: "He is alive"! Hallucinations are individual experiences. The Gospel accounts and 1 Corinthians 15 record episodes where the post-resurrected Christ physically appeared to multiple people.

ii. Apparent death / mystery twin = Jesus switched with a look alike. Islam, Surah 4:157. Requires contrived beliefs (maybe a twin-brother, maybe they found a look-alike, they tricked guards, and so-forth). Doesn’t explain empty tomb nor post-mortem appearances.

iii. Visionary hypothesis = not a physical Jesus, but a “vision” only. Doesn’t explain how 500 people could see Him. Also, appearances are accompanied by physical phenomena. Doesn’t cover empty tomb.  

b. Empty Tomb Hypotheses: Explaining the events of Easter that include the empty tomb

i. Swoon Hypothesis = Jesus didn’t die, He fainted revived in the cool tomb. Doesn’t take seriously the brutality of crucifixion. Disconfirmed by what we know of crucifixion. 

ii. Conspiracy = disciples stole the body. Jewish leaders stole body. The Christian movement wouldn’t had gotten off the ground, disciples switch to faith is not explained. Jewish leaders could had ended movements by producing a body. They claim disciples stole body. 

iii. Hoax = Disciples lied. No one knowingly dies for a lie. Hoaxes fizzle out within a few years. 

iv. Wrong tomb.  The women followed. Joseph of Arimathea would not had been a Christian invention. The guards were situated at the tomb (Matthew 28:4). Pilate would had known where the tomb was, since he decreed for it to be sealed. These observations demonstrate, on historical grounds, that the location of the tomb was known by both followers and opponents of Jesus. 

3. So why does the hypothesis: "God raised Jesus from the dead" outperform its naturalistic rivals? The following criteria are fulfilled by it in contrast to its rivals.

i. Explanatory scope: How much of the evidence does the explanation or hypothesis explain better than its rivals. It alone explains four main facts.

ii. Explanatory power: Does the given explanation make the evidence more probable as having occurred than rival explanations. It best handles the facts. Furthermore, all other naturalistic theories break down here.

iii. Plausibility. How well does the given explanation fit with other known background beliefs of that time period. Jewish beliefs of resurrection as physical. Early church’s beginnings.

iv. Least contrived. Whichever explanation of the facts adopts the fewest new beliefs apart from independent evidence is most likely the correct explanation. Only one extra belief is need: God exists.

v. Disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs. Whichever explanation can withstand the scrutiny of comparison with other well-established beliefs is the more probable explanation. Nothing precludes this. To say: “miracles are impossible” is not a historical objection, but a philosophical one.

vi. The best explanation meets the first five conditions so much better than its rival explanations, that there is little chance of the other rival explanations being the better candidate for telling “what happened”. This hypothesis best fulfills the first five criteria.  

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Praying by way of God's attributes - prayer and Divine simplicity

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Romans 11:33-36 "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."


It wasn't to long ago that I found myself having one of those days that left me anxious about a whole host of areas in life. As I prayed, I asked God to help me arrive at a point of peace about the situations in question (Philippians 4:6-7). As I continued to pray and wrestle with the thoughts going through my mind, a sudden idea occurred: "why not select an attribute of God and pray about the situations through that attribute?" I don't doubt that at that very moment, the Holy Spirit was illuminating me to an insight. So, I focused on God's attribute of "Divine Impassibility", which refers to the way in which His emotional life, unlike my own, is not subject to sudden shifts due to the response to life's circumstances. Within that word "impassible" is the root-word "passion" which speaks of the particular way in which human emotions function out of response to things. The Apostle Paul had to remind his listeners in Acts 14:15 

"and saying, 'Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them."

Paul is saying in this passage that he and his fellow laborers were no different from them in the realm of possessing "like-passions". Paul urged this point upon his audience to stave off unsolicited worship of him as one of their deities. Paul's words about himself and his ministry partners contrast with the true and living God that doesn't have "up-and-down emotions" (i.e. an impassible God). 

God's emotional life is consistent, always in operation and unimpeded. The classical doctrine of Divine impassibility teaches us that God, in terms of His emotional-life, cannot be any worse or any better, since He is always at His best and thus, never varying. If for anything, this teaching shows us that God is far more emotional than we as human beings could ever hope to be!

So I sought the Lord at that moment as a God that I knew was always loving, always merciful, always opposed to sin, always happy with Himself, unchanging in His love for me and always loyal in knowing about my circumstance. Do you know that the instant I prayed that prayer, an enormous peace came over me! Since that day, I have pondered on what it would be like to base one's prayer-life on the attributes of God.  Thus, today's post on God’s attributes as a way of strengthening the Christian’s prayer-life. 

What are God's attributes?

An attribute is a quality or characteristic of God that describes Him. To be more exact, an attribute of God is a perfection that is an expression of His essence as God. To take but one example, we read in 1 John 4:8 that "God is love". For God, love is not just an attribute that God possesses as a feature, but rather, love is God's very essence expressing itself as the perfection of love. In other words - "God is love", incapable of being less or more in how that expression could ever be express from the standpoint of what He is as God. Another example is found in Psalm 99:5, were we read: "holy is He". God doesn't merely "have" holiness", He is Holy". Holiness is a perfection that is an expression of His very essence.  

As we think about God and His attributes, all of His attributes are rooted in His very essence. No one single attribute is better than the other. All of them, without exception, capture and grant to us all of who God is (as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and what God is (the One, undivided God). Concerning that latter statement of "what God is", we come to find that God is indeed the "undivided God" or what theologians refer to as "Divine simplicity". Thus, in the above examples, God is "lovingly-holy" and "holy-loving".

Divine simplicity and the believer's prayer-life

Divine simplicity means God is not composed of parts, whether we speak of attempting to separate God's attributes from His Divine being or presupposing some cause that brought about God. Put another way, Divine simplicity means every attribute equally grants us God, His eternal perfections and identity.  When we bring Divine simplicity down to the most practical level of prayer, we refer to how God is never at odds with Himself, and thus undivided when we come to Him in prayer. One writer has noted that due to God not being composed of parts, that means that when I'm falling apart, God can hold me together by virtue of His Divine simplicity.

Divine simplicity may very well be an attribute which is hardly discussed today, yet, it can help us in gaining confidence in God in prayer. How is it that we can pray to God according to His Divine simplicity?

1. Praying through Divine simplicity affirms we have God’s undivided attention. Romans 11:33-35

Sometimes Debi, my wife, will ask: "are you here?"; because my mind is thinking in different directions. We all have “divided-attention”. We all, like every other created thing, can never be all nor give all of ourselves to everything. God alone can because He is "Divinely-simple”. Wherever you see Biblical phrases like “God is” or “is He” or God acting out an attribute, that 
points us to God’s divine simplicity. Consider the following passages: 

1. Psalm 99:5 “Holy is He”. 

2. Malachi 3:6 “I the Lord do not change”. 
3. James 1:17 “…with whom there is no variation or shifting of shadow.” 

4. 1 John 4:8 “….God is love”.   

The Apostle Paul in Romans 11:33-36 indicates how God is undivided with respect to His abilities to give attention. Paul references God's Wisdom, Knowledge and ways as undivided and thus - unfading. My favorite passage in all the New Testament hints at God's Divine simplicity, namely Romans 11:36 - "for from Him, and to Him and through Him are all things". 

Therefore, no matter what I am praying for, I realize that to God, past, present and future are one-big eternal now with respect to His omniscience, and that particular attribute grants me access to all His other attributes which He steadily applies in bringing about His will in my life. God's Divinely simple nature as "the undivided God" means I have His undivided attention. But notice also how this attribute strengthens our faith in prayer...

2. Praying through Divine simplicity affirms we have God’s undivided ability at hand. Romans 11:36 

No one is good at everything. Even in our universe, we see varying levels of stars, things wearing out, things changing. God’s ability alone never diminishes. His attributes, or perfections, never fade. Such thoughts grant confidence in prayer. How?   Practically, as mentioned above, God won’t ever fall-apart because He has "no parts" as defined by the doctrine of Divine simplicity. In other words, God's essence or "what He is" and existence or "that He is" are not divided and are not separated from His perfections. 

As Divinely simple, God is incapable of improvement and without need of anything. When it comes to prayer, God is our all sufficiency in prayer because    He needs nothing to make Him better. We on the other hand need God, since without Him and His perfection of omnipotent, I can never have that endless source of strength needed to get through everyday life.

Again, certain passages imply to us God's Divine simplicity by the way they mention other attributes. For example, God's immutability or His inability to change, as stated in Numbers 23:19 

“God is not a man, that He should     lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? 

Or again, the prophet Malachi writes in Malachi 3:6 

“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."

One more example in the New Testament, James 1:17 

“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."

Since God's Divine simplicity grants me access to every attribute that He is as God, this means that at any given point, I have all of God's unending ability to bear on the things I pray about in everyday life. Put another way, Divine simplicity teaches that since every attribute equally grants us God, we have perfections and Personal identity involved with us every step of the way.

Closing thoughts

Today we emphasized praying by way of God's attributes. We focused upon God's Divine simplicity, which refers to God being "undivided", whether in terms of His attributes, being or existence. Such a God grants us all the confidence we need in prayer. As Divinely simple, God grants to us His undivided attention and undivided power by how we have accesses to all that He is and who He is in prayer.