By David P. Diaz, Ed.D.
Who was Jesus of Nazareth? Was he an ordinary man, a deceiver, a prophet, a charlatan, or God incarnate? No matter what one may think, Jesus is likely the single most important figure the world has ever known. It has been said:
Had Jesus never been born, this world would be far more miserable than it is. In fact, many of man’s noblest and kindest deeds find their motivation in love for Jesus Christ; and some of our greatest accomplishments also have their origin in service rendered to the humble Carpenter of Nazareth…. Jesus Christ, the greatest man who ever lived, changed virtually every aspect of human life—and most people don’t know it.”
While he was alive, Jesus told people that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mk. 1:15; Mt. 4:17). He predicted that he must suffer and die but would be raised from the dead (Mk. 8:31; 9:12, 31; Mt. 16:21). He told his followers to proclaim his Kingdom to the ends of the earth (Mk. 16:15; Mt. 28:19; Acts 1:8) so that all could share in eternal life (Jn. 3:14–16; 17:3).
In the following paper, I will be making a case for the resurrection of Jesus. This singular event represents the core message of the Christian gospel or “good news.” If Jesus was not raised, the Christian message should be rejected. The apostle Paul put it bluntly when he said, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…. If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:14, 32 [NIV]).
As you read this paper, please understand this: I am not asking you to believe in God. I’m not asking you to believe in miracles. I’m not even asking that you believe the Bible contains truth or venerable lessons on life. I’m simply asking that you not deny such claims out of hand. In other words, I’m calling on you to be open-minded to the possibility of supernatural causation by God. I also ask that you choose what you consider to be the most probable explanation for the facts that are presented and that you do so without preconceived bias.
God and Miracles
Any discussion of the resurrection must, at least briefly, address the subjects of God and miracles. The resurrection of Jesus, if it happened as he predicted, would doubtless be a miracle of God. Though I have no intention of making a case for the existence of God or the existence of miracles in this work, I do want to point out some crucial considerations about each.
The very possibility of miracles hinges on the existence of God. If there is no God, then there would be no miracles. Natural laws would govern the universe, and any talk of supernatural causes would be irrelevant. However, if God exists and created the universe, including the laws of nature, it is not a stretch to believe that He can intervene in those laws as He chooses.
Someone may say, “Well, you are only recommending that we be open-minded about the existence of God and miracles because it supports your theory.” That’s a fair point. However, to remain open-minded about the existence of God makes good sense. Why?
From a Christian perspective, the only way to prove that miracles are impossible is to prove that God’s existence is impossible. However, it is unreasonable to claim that God does not exist because, for finite humans, reality perpetually remains an open field of discourse. No one knows the limits of what can and cannot exist because no one knows all there is to know. The possibility of the existence of God is grounded in the insight that human knowledge is finite. There are many things we don’t know. Thus, within reason, we should be willing to submit every belief and theory to rigorous critical examination and should remain essentially open-minded.
Regardless of what you may think about God and the supernatural, let me make one plea to all who read this: Unless you think you can prove the impossibility of God’s existence, I encourage you to remain open-minded and consider the following essay without personal bias regarding supernatural causes. If you can do that, you will have accomplished something that many others have not—you will have established a genuinely objective platform for discerning the truth.
The Reliability, Accuracy, and Truth of the New Testament
Most of what we know of the events surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is found in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, much more about Jesus and the resurrection can also be found in other portions of the New Testament. Thus, when talking about the resurrection of Christ, it is natural to want to know if these documents are trustworthy. If we are going to rely on the words of the New Testament, what makes us think that those words convey the truth? Maybe they aren’t, or can’t be shown to be, true. Perhaps there is good reason to doubt the veracity of the New Testament. But before you draw any hard and fast conclusions, let me take a moment to explain three terms that are often repeated, often confused, and often misunderstood. They are: “reliability,” “accuracy,” and “truth.”
What is Reliability? With respect to ancient documents, reliability refers to the consistency of the text, especially across multiple manuscripts and over time. An ancient document can be considered “reliable” if the text we possess today accurately represents the authors’ original words. In other words, reliability has to do with how faithfully the original manuscripts have been transmitted and whether our current texts and the translations based upon them represent the original writings.
What complicates the situation is that the original manuscripts no longer exist. Current accepted Greek texts are based on copies of the originals, which have also been copied and recopied, numerous times throughout history. Nevertheless, by assembling and comparing the text of all existing manuscripts, scholars can get a good idea of how reliably the words have been transmitted and can even correct obvious errors (e.g., misspellings, word order, etc.). Such work is the job of textual critics, who carefully examine the number and types of variants and compare the copyists’ writing styles and word usages. These methods and many others help scholars determine what the original authors wrote.
Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, creating a virtually pure text is an essential condition for the reliable translation of the Greek New Testament into other languages. This process involves using the best available manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. Fortunately, we have thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament on which we have built the Greek text. And, if certain manuscripts are not consistent with others, then textual critics attempt to figure out why and correct the variations so that our current Greek text more reliably represents the originals.
All this to say that, based on the definition of “reliability,” one can confidently claim that the current text of the New Testament is generally reliable. As Anglican New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has put it: “One cannot hope to prove the accuracy of every detail on purely historical grounds alone; there are simply not enough data available for that. But we may certainly speak of ‘general reliability.’” And while it is true that there are a great number of variants across Greek manuscripts, agnostic New Testament historian Bart Ehrman dispels our greatest fears: “the first thing to say about these 300,000 or 400,000 [variants] is that most of them don’t matter for anything. They are absolutely irrelevant, immaterial, unimportant.” He concludes: “As it turns out, the majority of mistakes you find in manuscripts show us nothing more than that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than my students can today.” Textual critic Dan Wallace concurs: “Of the hundreds of thousands of textual variants in New Testament manuscripts, the great majority are spelling differences that have no bearing on the meaning of the text” (Ibid.).
The takeaway from this discussion is that if one wants to discuss the New Testament, even for the sake of argument, he or she must assume some level of textual reliability. If the text is not at all reliable, then nothing one says about it can be demonstrated to be accurate or true, not to mention inaccurate or false.
What is Accuracy? A reliable document isn’t necessarily an “accurate” one. If I step on a scale 20 times over two or three consecutive days and get the exact same weight, that scale is reliable (assuming one’s true weight hasn’t changed between measurements). Reliability means consistent results from one measurement to the next. However, if someone changes the calibration of that scale, it may be reliable but not accurate. In like manner, even if the New Testament is a reliable text, this does not mean it has accurately recorded historical events. It is only “accurate” to the extent that it correctly presents the facts.
Demonstrating the accuracy of the New Testament involves corroborating factual claims by comparing them with independent biblical sources, non-biblical (neutral) texts, and archaeological artifacts. These comparisons can sometimes verify the accuracy of a text. However, in many cases, the evidence is equivocal. Thus, one should not expect to confirm the accuracy of all, or even most, of the facts expressed in ancient documents. The accuracy of any purported fact or narrative detail must be examined individually, and any decisions about accuracy must be made on a case-by-case basis.
What is Truth? Assessing “truth” in a historical document involves attempting to answer specific claims about the text. Truth is a product of propositions. For example, the propositions “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” and “Jesus claimed to be equal with God” are examples of historical propositions that are either true or false and are legitimate subjects for historical verification. For a proposition to be true, it must correspond to reality.
As with accuracy, the truth of some propositions cannot be determined through historical methods. For example, any historical claim that rests solely on an individual’s subjective experience will be difficult, if not impossible, to validate. So, the proposition “Plato had severe pain in his right side yesterday” cannot be demonstrated as true using solely historical methods. Internal pain is a first-person, subjective experience that can only be known by the person experiencing the pain. The best we can do to learn more about the incident is to simply take one’s word for it. Or not. For example, let’s say that Circulus wrote an ancient document and stated the following proposition: “Solipsis had a stomachache on the first day of the festival of Panathenaia.” If Solipsis’s character and words were typically trustworthy, then most people would have read or heard the claim and considered it to be credible. But, based on historical methods alone, we still wouldn’t be able to prove the truth of the proposition.
Furthermore, metaphysical or theological truth claims are impervious to historical verification. Jesus’ proposition (Jn. 14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” is a metaphysical and theological claim. Such claims are resistant to purely historical proof.
For this essay, I will assume that the text of the New Testament is generally reliable. By that, I mean that our modern English translations of the New Testament (e.g., NIV, NASB, NEV, etc.) contain the essential words and meanings that the original authors intended. In other words, the current New Testament substantially says what the authors originally wrote. On the other hand, the accuracy and truth of different claims about the New Testament will not be assumed. We will consider each assertion on a case-by-case basis. I only ask that you keep an open mind about such claims to see for yourself if they ring true and if there is any good reason to believe them.
Four Purported Facts about the Resurrection
Just the Facts
In the following sections, we will be looking at four historical propositions or purported facts. Fortunately, the facts I am asking you to consider are those that have robust evidential support and widespread acceptance among New Testament scholars. We will examine each proposition to determine whether it accurately represents one of the beliefs of the earliest Christians. These four facts are: (1) the followers of Jesus believed he died by crucifixion and was buried, (2) key individuals had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and appeared to them, (3) key groups of people were believed to have seen a risen Jesus, and (4) the apostles of Jesus believed that the risen Jesus appeared in bodily form.
You may notice that these four proposed facts are about what people believed to be the case. I’m not assuming, nor am I asking you to assume, that the content of each fact is accurate or that the propositions are true. However, as I see it, our task is two-fold: We must determine if these facts are historically credible and, if so, determine which of several hypotheses best explains these purported facts.
A Key Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:3–8
Before we look more closely at the proposed facts, I want to examine a passage in the New Testament that will provide the preponderance of evidence for the accuracy of our facts. This passage of Scripture was penned by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Corinth:
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
The importance of this passage cannot be underestimated. Paul’s epistles are the earliest written sources that mention the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It is of fundamental importance to note that these epistles most likely predate the gospels. One criterion often used to determine the historical reliability and accuracy of a text is that early writings (i.e., those written closer to the time of Jesus) are considered better sources. This is because they are nearer to the reported events. Therefore, it is worth noting that the epistle of 1 Corinthians was written no later than 55 A.D., just 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Even more impressive is that Paul claims to be passing on a tradition from an even earlier source than the epistle: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…” Many scholars interpret this to mean that 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 is likely a set of beliefs, or creed, that predated Paul’s writing and may even have predated Paul’s conversion. If so, Paul may have learned this creed as early as two to five years after Jesus’s crucifixion.
A creed is a brief statement of belief, formatted in such a way as to make it easier to remember, recite, and even sing (i.e., as a hymn). As we examine the facts found in the creed, we will also look at a few biblical and non-biblical texts that serve to corroborate the creed.
There are a few reasons why scholars believe that 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 contains a pre-Pauline creed. First, Paul uses two Greek terms that imply he is imparting a tradition: “delivered” and “received” (παραδίδωμι and παραλαμβάνω, respectively). By using such terminology, “Paul asserts that he is about to impart content he received from another; in other words, [a] tradition handed down to him.”
A second reason for believing that this passage is an early creed is because several non-Pauline traits appear in the text. For example, the expression “for our sins” (v. 3) is otherwise absent in Paul’s writings (with one exception: Gal. 1:4). Also, the phrase “according to the Scriptures” (v. 3) is not found elsewhere in Paul’s writings but is used twice in this passage. And the term “the Twelve” (v. 5) is used nowhere else by Paul but in this passage.
A third reason to recognize this passage as a creed is that the text displays parallelism. The excerpt starts with an introduction: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received….” This opening is then followed by a short sentence that leads with the Greek ὅτι (“that”) and repeats itself: “that Christ died for our sins… and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day… and that He appeared to Cephas….” Creedal statements were typically formatted in a way that facilitated memorization and recitation. In this sense, 1 Corinthians 15:3–7, which is dated early and includes parallelism and significant non-Pauline wording, is almost certainly an early Christian creed.
It is thought that Paul may have received this creed directly from the Jerusalem apostles—Peter, James, and John. New Testament scholar Mike Licona states, “it is most reasonable to conclude that the tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 was formed in Jerusalem. Paul either received it directly from the Jerusalem apostles or from someone he deemed very credible.” It is also possible that he received it from Ananias within days of his conversion (Acts 9:19–22). We don’t know for sure, but whatever the case, the early dating, formatting, unique wording, and possible apostolic origin of the source suggest that the creed is most likely an accurate reflection of the beliefs of the early Church.
In the following few sections, I will propose four facts established by the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3–7, some of which are corroborated by independent texts.
Fact #1: The Earliest Christians Believed that Jesus Died by Crucifixion and was Buried
The creed (as verified by the rest of Paul’s writings) tells us that Jesus died on the cross (1 Cor. 15:3; cf. 1:23, 2:2, 8) and was buried (1 Cor. 15:4). This means that Jesus’s death and burial were likely a part of the earliest set of beliefs of the Christian Church. Furthermore, each of the four canonical gospels corroborates the message that Jesus died by crucifixion (Mt. 27:45–54; Mk. 15:33–39; Lk. 23:44–48; Jn. 19:28–30). The crucifixion of Jesus was also attested to by non-Christian authors, including Josephus (Ant. 18:3), Tacitus, Lucian (The Death of Peregrine, 11), and Mara bar Serapion (Letter at British Museum). Together, these references represent early, multiple, and independent attestations of Jesus’s crucifixion, death, and burial. Thus, Fact #1 seems to be a credible historical belief held by the early Christians.
Fact #2: Key Individuals Experienced what they Believed to be the Risen Jesus
Peter was apparently the first of the Twelve to claim to see the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:5; cf. Lk. 24:34). Jesus was also believed to have appeared to his half-brother James (v. 7) and, ultimately, appeared to Paul (v. 8). Some of these individuals were sincere followers who were very willing to believe in the resurrection appearances (e.g., Peter). However, others were doubters (e.g., Thomas), disbelievers (e.g., James the brother of Jesus), and even enemies of the Christian Church (i.e., the Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus). And yet, each of these came to believe and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. The early dating of the creed and the diversity of those who purportedly believed they saw a risen Jesus suggests that Fact #2 is a credible historical fact.
Fact #3: Key Groups were Believed to have Seen the Risen Jesus
The creed, as recorded by Paul, tells us that Jesus appeared to “the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5), to more than five hundred brethren at once (v. 6), and then to another group, “all the apostles” (v. 7). These appearances took place at different times and locations and included many people. Early dating and the great number of purported witnesses to these appearances suggest this is a credible historical fact.
Fact #4: The Apostles of Jesus Believed he Appeared in a Physical Body
As Robert Gundry has pointed out, the Greek word soma (σω̂μα = body) is never used in the New Testament in isolation from the physical body. It is most often used to denote the physical body itself or the man (as a whole), with particular emphasis on the physical body. In most contexts, the Greek word soma indicates a physical body. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:35, Paul poses two questions: “‘How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body [soma] do they come?’” Paul explains that our resurrection bodies will be imperishable:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; For the trumpet will sound and the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible and we will be changed. For, it is necessary that this corruptible will put on incorruption and this mortal will put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51–53).
Paul indicates that our resurrected bodies will be modeled after Jesus’s own resurrected body: “[Jesus Christ] will transform the body [i.e., soma] of our humble state into conformity with the body [soma] of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:21). Thus, Paul believed that people would be raised with the same kind of transformed physical body as Jesus himself.
While the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 doesn’t mention Christ’s body, it seems clear from the rest of Paul’s teachings that he believed in a physical resurrection and that the “appearances” mentioned in the creed were meant to be understood as a physical presence. Thus, the early dating of the creed and the corroboration of Jesus’s bodily appearances by the gospels (Mt. 28:16–20; Lk. 24:13–49; Jn. 20:19–24, 27–29) suggest that Fact #4 is a credible historical fact.
About the Author
David P. Diaz, Ed.D. is an author, retired college professor, and the publisher and owner of, Things I Believe Project. His writings have spanned the gamut from peer-reviewed technical articles to his memoir, which won the 2006 American Book Award. Dr. Diaz holds Bachelor’s and Master of Science degrees from California Polytechnic State University and a doctoral degree in education from Nova Southeastern University.
 For this presentation, I will assume that the person of Jesus of Nazareth existed in first-century Palestine and that he is the same person referred to in the New Testament.
 D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?: The Positive Impact of Christianity in History (Nelson Publishers, 2001), Kindle location 81, 95.
 Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).
 Any reference to God in this presentation will assume the God of Christian theism, with all corresponding traditional attributes and powers as described in the Bible. In other words, when the reader comes across the noun “God” in the paper, he or she can assume that I am referring to the God of Christian theism and not some other “God.” Given the context of the God of Christian theism, the views that I present on the subject of miracles will be consistent with Christian doctrine, which has been inferred from the Christian Scriptures. None of this means that I am assuming the existence of God or miracles or that I am asking the reader to assume either.
 One might ask, “What would be the difference between one who says that God exists and one who suggests that purple polka-dotted geese are responsible for all of the unexplained phenomena on Earth?” The biggest difference is that over 80% of the world’s population believes in God, and nearly 60% believe in a monotheistic God. On the other hand, nobody that I am aware of believes that purple polka-dotted geese are responsible for unexplained phenomena. Beyond that, there is abundant evidence for the existence of God. Indeed, as philosopher William Lane Craig has pointed out: “Christian philosophy is experiencing a veritable renaissance, reinvigorating natural theology, at a time when science is more open to the existence of a transcendent Creator and Designer of the cosmos.” William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 18.
 Disclaimer: my definitions may not be shared by others who study and write on this topic.
 For a discussion about textual variants in the New Testament, see Peter J. Gurry and Elijah Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).
 For an excellent discussion of how the New Testament text was brought together, I recommend Daniel B. Wallace, ed., Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011).
 I don’t expect you to take my word for it. There is enough disagreement on this point to warrant your own search. Therefore, I would like to recommend a book whose authors defend two opposing viewpoints: Bart D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace, The Reliability of the New Testament, ed. Robert B. Stewart (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011). Be sure to note how each author uses the terms “reliability,” “accuracy,” and “truth.” If you follow the definitions provided here, you should be able to wade through several of the conflicts between the two authors.
 Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), Kindle location 5322.
 Ehrman and Wallace, The Reliability of the New Testament, 21.
 Within the current discussion, a proposition is the meaning of a statement that expresses something that can be either true or false: “My grass is green” is a proposition about the true color of my grass.
 The reader should be aware of a few points about this alleged creed. First, verse 8 is not considered a part of the creed. Second, the parenthetical phrase in the latter half of verse 6 (i.e., “most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep”) is also likely not a part of the creed. Third, there are some who believe that the creed extends only from verses 3–5a.
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Nottingham: Apollos, 2010), 305.
 Many scholars date Paul’s conversion to between A.D. 31 and 33 (assuming the death of Jesus in c. A.D. 30). See Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 260n25.
 To be fair, since 1 Corinthians was written no later than 55 A.D., it is technically possible that Paul didn’t learn the creed until just before writing this letter. However, Paul had already been preaching and teaching for many years. He visited Peter and James just three years after his conversion (c. 34–37 A.D.) and later met them again to confirm the content of his teachings (c. A.D. 50). Thus, Paul had plenty of opportunities to have learned the creed earlier.
 Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 224.
 Ibid., 226.
 Other examples of early Christian creeds are found in Acts 13:26–31,32–33; Rom. 1:2–4; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; and Phil. 2:6-11, to name just a few.
 Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 227.
 Ibid., 229.
 Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, trans., The Annals of Tacitus Including the Histories: Illustrated (Digireads.com, 2009), 362.
 Lucian of Samosata, “The Death of Peregrine,” The Works of Lucian of Samosata, Translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1905). http://lucianofsamosata.info/wiki/doku.php?id=home:texts_and_library:essays:peregrine.
 Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 221.
 It should be noted that though the reference of Jesus’s appearance to Paul is not in the creed proper, Paul is writing in the first person and is linking his experience with those in the creed. Also, although I have only mentioned three individuals, there are reasons to think that Jesus appeared to other individuals (Jn. 20:11–18; Mk. 16:9).
 As cited in William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Edwin Mellin Press, 1989), 87.