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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Mark Eastman :: The Search for the Messiah

Mark Eastman :: Chapter Ten: Who Moved The Stone?

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"Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb, and behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead!'" (Matthew 28:1-7a)

"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain, and our faith is also in vain." (I Corinthians 15:13-14)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ, recorded in the New Testament gospel accounts and validated here by Paul the Apostle, is either the greatest event in the history of the universe or it is the greatest hoax perpetrated in the history of mankind. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an issue that has divided Christianity and Judaism since the day it occurred, the seventeenth of Nisan, around the year 32 C.E.

From the onset the Sanhedrin began to attack and deny the truthfulness of the event. We are told in the gospels that the Pharisees first told the guards assigned to secure the tomb to report that the disciples had stolen the body. During the last nineteen centuries skeptics and scholars have been trying to explain away the empty tomb. Since the initial "stolen body" theory was put forth, a number of "natural explanations" for the empty tomb have been proposed.

I believe, like Paul, that the truth of Christianity absolutely stands or falls, on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Paul said:

"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen, and if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also in vain." (I Corinthians 15:13-14)

In this chapter we will examine the evidence for the resurrection as well as several of the alternative explanations for the empty tomb. The hope is that this will stimulate the reader to further study in this area.

Can You Prove it Scientifically?

One of the first questions about the resurrection we need to deal with is the question of "scientific proof." Many people, when confronted with the resurrection of Jesus will ask, "Can you prove the resurrection happened scientifically?"

Many people believe that if something can't be proven scientifically, then it must not be true. This is the great twentieth-century cop-out. Our modern generation has been so influenced by modern scientific and technological discoveries that we have collectively come to believe that the scientific method is the ultimate crucible of inquiry! As we saw earlier in our discussion of miracles, the scientific method involves the observation of repeatable events and the formulation of a hypothesis based on those observations. History, however, is not something that is repeatable! No one can study history in the laboratory.

The disciples claimed that Jesus rose. The Pharisees claimed that he didn't. The question of the resurrection is more correctly a problem for the courtroom, with the use of the legal historical method, rather than the laboratory. Because of its inherent limitations we cannot even use the scientific method to "prove" that George Washington was the first president of the United States. However, using the legal historical method, one could easily establish this fact. Therefore, it is the legal historical method we will use to evaluate the evidence.

The first link in the chain of events we will examine is the trial of Jesus.

The Trial of Jesus

During the last week of his life, Jesus had been teaching openly in Jerusalem. He had stirred the wrath of the Sanhedrin because he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds yelled "Hosanna, hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" In doing this he was openly proclaiming himself as the Messiah in the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. Jesus had openly criticized the leaders for being dishonest, prideful, materialistic, selfish and spiritually blind. He accused them of making a profit from the marketing of animals for sacrifice in the temple. Jesus had become a tremendous threat to their personal finances as well as their political status. Finally, Jesus declared equality with God. Consequently, the Sanhedrin decided that Jesus had to die.

The Sanhedrin had obtained a promise from Judas Iscariot that he would bring them to the place where Jesus and his disciples would stay on the eve of the Passover. Every night that week Jesus and the disciples left Jerusalem and spent the night in Bethany. However, on the night of the Passover, Jesus took his disciples up to the Garden of Gethsemane. Most scholars believe that the arrest of Jesus occurred sometime around midnight that night.

There are many aspects of the trial of Jesus that are, to say the least, provocative. According to Jewish law it was illegal to try a capital case after dark.[2] It was also forbidden to try a case after the testimony of the initial witnesses was found to be conflicting.[3] Yet, when we examine the witnesses who testified against Jesus, we see that even the Sanhedrin recognized that their testimony disagreed.[4]

The charges against Jesus were also very unusual. He was not being brought up on charges for something he did, but for something that he claimed! He claimed to be the Messiah and he claimed to be the Son of God. Usually, when someone makes an unprovable assertion he is simply dismissed as a lunatic. Many people claim to be God, the Messiah, the King or Queen of England or even aliens from outer space. However, these claims are usually ignored. But, Jesus of Nazareth is one of the very rare people in history to be tried, in a capital case, for simply making a claim about himself.

As we saw previously, the Jews had lost their ability to carry out capital punishment around the year 6-7 C.E. When Caponius was placed as procurator of Judea.[5]

As a result of their inability to institute capital punishment, they had to go to the Roman procurator to arrange for the death penalty. They clearly wanted Jesus dead. If they simply wanted Jesus just to be locked away they could have done that on their authority. So the Sanhedrin did the only thing they could, they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate.

It is interesting that after interrogating and flogging Jesus, Pontius Pilate found him innocent. John records the remarkable declaration of Pontius Pilate:

"Then Jesus came out wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe, and Pilate said to him, 'Behold the Man.' Therefore when the chief priests and officers saw him they cried out, 'Crucify him! Crucify him!' And Pilate said to them, 'You take him and crucify him, for I find no fault in him.'" (John 19:5-6)

In telling them to crucify Jesus themselves, Pilate was either being sarcastic or he had forgotten that the Jews could not carry out capital punishment. Clearly Pilate did not want to crucify Jesus, so he gave the assembled crowd an alternative. According to custom, Pilate would release one prisoner on the Passover. He was no doubt certain that the crowd would prefer their king to a convicted murderer named Barabbas. But at the urging of the religious leaders, the crowd called for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified.

The crucifixion occurred at nine in the morning. The gospels claim that the sky went black from noon until three o'clock p.m. This episode of total mid-day darkness is supported by several extra biblical historical sources![6] Jesus died on the cross at approximately three in the afternoon on Passover.

Where were the disciples at that time? After the arrest of Jesus, the gospel records tell us that John and Peter were following "a far off" as Jesus was taken into the residence of the High Priest where his trial occurred. Later, at the foot of the cross, we find a handful of women and John, the lone disciple of Jesus still present to the bitter end.

The disciples clearly believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah. Yet, when faced with death they fled, probably to the city to Bethany. Certainly, they were a dejected, scared, shattered group of men. They had seen their hope of the Messianic kingdom murdered on a Roman cross, a form of death usually reserved for only the worst criminals. Their Messiah had been despised, rejected, beaten with many stripes and had poured out his soul unto death!

If anyone doubts the fact that Jesus of Nazareth really did die on a cross, we know from extra biblical sources that his death on the cross is an historical fact. First century historian Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud both affirm and validate the historicity of the crucifixion and death of Jesus of Nazareth.[7] Therefore, those who would argue that Jesus and his death on the cross are myths, they do so in the face of unsympathetic, therefore, reliable historical evidence. To find the historical existence and death of Jesus recorded in these sources clearly unsympathetic to Christianity, is powerful evidence for the historical facts. When the evidence is weighed, the truth of the death of Jesus by crucifixion can be established beyond doubt as an historical fact.

When one reads the account of the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus, nothing is present apart from the nuts and bolts of a true story. There is nothing that appears contrived like a myth or fairy tale. The frightened disciples, the reluctance of Pilate, the urgency of the Sanhedrin to get Jesus quickly tried, condemned and crucified early in the morning before most of the supporters of Jesus had come to town for their business, all seems very believable.

The facts speak for themselves. Jesus of Nazareth was tried, crucified on a Roman cross and died.

Early Sunday Morning

The New Testament records that early Sunday morning a small contingent of women who followed Jesus were on their way to the tomb, and that it was very early. These women had spent a tremendous amount of time with Christ. They had ministered to him for three years and had seen the most amazing miracles performed by him. They believed in their hearts and minds that Jesus was not just a prophet, but also the very Son of God. But, they had also seen him murdered three days earlier.

The pain and the sorrow these women were experiencing is unimaginable. Certainly they weren't expecting anything other than a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers. We read in the gospels, that the women were discussing among themselves, "Who will we get to roll away the stone for us?" Consequently, an empty tomb was the farthest thing from their minds. When they arrived at the tomb and found the stone rolled away, they looked inside and found no body. What a shock that must have been! They must have thought, "Great! They've killed him, and now they've taken the body."

When we read the gospel accounts of the women at the tomb, we don't find anything in their character or their actions that was unusual. They were probably hysterical when they found the tomb empty. However, at some point they met what they claimed was a risen Jesus of Nazareth. The women then go to the disciples and report that the tomb was empty and Jesus is risen!

What happened to the body?

One thing is certain, the women did not and could not have removed it.

The Stolen Body Theory

From the very first day of the resurrection of Jesus, the "stolen body theory" was put forth by the Sanhedrin as the cause for the empty tomb.

"Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, 'Tell them, "His disciples came at night and stole him away while we slept." And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will appease him and make you secure.' So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day."(Matthew 28:12-15)

For many years I was comfortable with the stolen body theory. Like many skeptics I had comfortably explained away the resurrection as a hoax, executed by a clever band of zealots in the first century. However, when I undertook a more detailed examination of the evidence that comfort level quickly dissipated.

There are several problems with the stolen body theory.

When we read of the lives of the disciples we find them to be simple men, whose faults are demonstrated throughout the text of the New Testament. They are at times portrayed as prideful, fearful and foolish. They display the same simple desires for prestige and personal comfort that any normal person would seek. If they did steal the body, then they did so at tremendous personal cost. There is no evidence from the New Testament or history that these men acquired any worldly personal gain from becoming Christians. In fact, history shows that the first century Christians, were willing to give up their worldly possessions, suffer severe hardship, and die by the most horrible methods ever invented by men. Why? For the belief that Jesus of Nazareth did rise from the dead! Finally, the disciples allowed their faults and failures to be portrayed in parchments that they knew were being copied and spread all over the known world. Would men like this make such sacrifices to prop up a known and personally very dangerous lie? But even to concede the possibility that the disciples stole the body creates more difficulties than it solves.

In order to steal the body the disciples would have to find a tomb in pitch dark, the location of which, by all accounts, the disciples had not yet seen. Next, they would have to get past the Roman guard which was usually a group of sixteen men. The Roman guards typically slept in shifts of four hours. Twelve were awake and four were sleeping at all times.

Next, they would have to move a stone weighing approximately one and a half to two tons, without disturbing or being noticed by four sleeping and twelve fully awake soldiers. It was also a capital crime to break the Roman seal that was certainly placed on the tomb. Who broke this seal? The guards? Not at the risk of death. The disciples? Impossible. This seal was guarded with the utmost care. To propose that all the guards were sleeping is also unreasonable. It was a death penalty offense to sleep when you were on guard as a Roman soldier. In fact, a Roman soldier would lose his life if an object he was guarding was stolen or removed. Consequently, they took their work very seriously. They did not sleep on duty.

Next, the disciples had to carry the corpse and dispose of it, again going unnoticed. Finally, they had to be back into the house in time to act surprised when the women returned from the tomb, make sure that their stories were straight, and then they had to live anywhere between six and sixty-eight years with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people were dying for the belief in the resurrection, a story that they had made up!

Now it's obvious that this explanation just doesn't fit with what we know about the church. We know that after the arrest of Jesus at least nine of the disciples fled for their lives. We know that Peter, although he didn't flee, had denied Jesus three times. However, after living for about thirty years as a leader in the church, Peter was himself crucified for his faith in Jesus.

We know that fifty days after the resurrection, on the day of Pentecost, those same cowardly disciples were in the middle of Jerusalem proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead! They announced this in the most dangerous place to make such a claim, in Jerusalem.

Obviously, these men had been radically changed. The witness of the early church is totally unexplainable if the body had been stolen. If the body had been stolen, one cannot account for the growth of the church or the persecution that they were willing to suffer. Human nature drives us toward the goal of personal survival. How then can we explain the willingness to die such horrible deaths? Something radical, something incredible, something life changing had to happen to these early Christians to cause them to willingly suffer in the manner so well recorded by history.

"Who Would Die For a Lie?"

When confronted with the question of the martyrdom of the disciples, some would argue that perhaps they were willing to die for the lie that they had created. Perhaps after people started dying for this false hope they were afraid of the consequences of coming forth with the truth. Some skeptics argue that many people have willingly died for a lie, so why not the disciples? The kamikaze pilots of World War II willingly flew their planes into the American Pacific fleet ships for the promise of great glory in the after life. Why was this any different?

Again, this argument runs headlong into some insurmountable problems. Certainly many people have died for causes that were in fact lies. The Jonestown massacre and the Branch Davidian compound burning are recent examples. However, the Kamikazes, Branch Davidians and the people of Jonestown all had something in common. They all believed that they were dying for a true and noble cause!

The early Christian church, within less than a decade of its inception, suffered some of the most horrible persecution ever recorded by history. Within a generation of the discovery of the empty tomb, tens of thousands of Christians were burned at the stake, crucified, stoned, eaten by wild beasts, beheaded, boiled in oil and even cooked alive in large metal pans.[8] All this for the belief that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead.

However, there was usually an out available for the people facing martyrdom by the Romans. If the person under inquiry would simply renounce their faith in Jesus (and therefore their belief in the resurrection) they would be spared the horrible death that awaited. This option was certainly offered to the disciples as well. If just one of them would recant the story of the resurrection, then this fledgling religion would have folded immediately and registered barely a blip on the screen of history.

However, this is not what happened. The church spread rapidly in the face of unimaginable persecution. According to Foxe's Book of Martyrs eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred. For the disciples to give up their worldly possessions and whatever status and security they had attained, and to willingly die for a story they knew was false, defies the natural human drive for personal survival as well as all logic. Additionally, such a death bears no resemblance to the deaths of the Kamikazes, Branch Davidians and the people of Jonestown. These groups died for something they thought was true. The disciples would have died for something they knew was a lie! No sane person would do this.

When the spikes were about to be nailed into the hands and feet of a disciple or when the sword was about to be laid to the neck, they could have simply recanted the story, gone home and relocated to avoid the ire of the believers who had lost loved ones to "the lie."

Frank Morison, a non-believing journalist, decided to disprove the resurrection. However, instead of refuting the resurrection, he became a strong believer in its historicity. He then wrote a classic book called, Who Moved the Stone? Which demonstrates the powerful evidence for the resurrection. Regarding the stolen body theory, Morison declares:

"I do not propose to devote any considerable amount of space to testing the historical accuracy of this charge, because the verdict has been anticipated by the most universal sense and feeling of mankind. So far as I know, there is not a single writer whose work is of critical value today who holds that there is even a case for discussion. We know these eleven men (the apostles) by their subsequent actions and writings. There is no trace of the daring sort of ring leader who would have the imagination to plan a coup like that and to carry it through without detection. Even if it had been possible and the disciples were the men who could do it, the subsequent history of Christianity would have been completely different. Sooner or later, someone who knew the facts would have been unable to keep them hidden. Further, no great moral structure like the early church, characterized as it was by life-long persecution and personal suffering, could have reared it's head on a statement that every one of the disciples knew to be a lie. Whatever the explanation for the empty tomb, we may be certain that it was not the disciples who stole the body."[9]

Did Joseph of Arimathea Move the Body?

"Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus." (Mark 15:43)

Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, a member of the council of the Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.[10] After the crucifixion, Joseph obtained the body by permission of Pontius Pilate, and buried Jesus in his new family tomb. According to some scholars, Joseph came to the tomb sometime between midnight and sunrise on Sunday, broke the Roman seal then moved the stone and took the body to a more permanent resting place.

A close examination of this theory, however, reveals a number of inconsistencies.

Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin and therefore, could have obtained permission from the Jewish ruling council and the Romans to legitimately move the body at any hour he wished. So it is quite illogical to propose that a member of the Jewish government would secretly, in the middle of the night, try to move a body when he could have more easily accomplished this during the light of day.

What motivation would Joseph of Arimathea have for moving the body? If Joseph was a disciple, then all the arguments that we apply to the disciples stealing the body would apply to him. On the other hand, if he was a loyal Pharisee, why would a member of a group that despised Jesus, be willing to risk ruination of his career by making such a stupid move?

Furthermore, if Joseph of Arimathea was a loyal Pharisee, once the rumor of the resurrection came out, he could have easily produced the body and Christianity would have died on the spot.

On the other hand, if Joseph of Arimathea had made a perfectly legitimate removal of the body (say to avoid a popular uprising) then we know that other people had to assist him. In order to move a one to two ton stone and carry the body to another location, he would need at least three or four helpers, all of whom would have known the location of the body. These individuals could have provided the information and engendered great favor in the eyes of the council. For these reasons, the theory carries little weight and leaves the skeptic in want of a better scheme.

Did the Authorities Move the Body?

The first century church was a thorn in the side of the Sanhedrin as well as the Roman empire. Consequently, the early Christians were initially persecuted by the Sanhedrin and eventually by the Romans themselves. Despite this fact, some have actually proposed that the authorities of either Jerusalem or Rome moved the body of Jesus.

We know from the gospels that the Temple priests wanted the tomb protected because of the rumor that Jesus was going to rise on the third day.[11] The members of the Sanhedrin recognized that a rumor of a risen Jesus would be even more harmful than a living Jesus. Therefore, they had a strong incentive to assure that the story of the resurrection did not get started.

The Romans also found Christianity disruptive to the empire. The spread of Christianity was harmful to the trade of idol production and the practice of Caesar worship. Consequently, they too had a strong incentive to prevent the spread of the resurrection story.

If the Roman or Jewish authorities did move the body for security reasons then they knew its location. Such an operation, if it did occur, would have been done specifically to prevent the disciples from moving the body and declaring that Jesus rose. Therefore, when the disciples found the empty tomb and began to declare that Jesus had risen, the authorities needed only to produce the body. The disciples would have simply gone home, their hopes destroyed and the last three years of their lives wasted.

The skeptic will need to do better than this if a natural explanation for the empty tomb is to prevail.

The Swoon Theory

In the nineteenth century a German rationalist named Venturini developed the idea that Jesus did not die on the cross. Venturini proposed that Jesus simply fainted, or swooned, and was taken down from the cross alive, only to revive in the cold dark tomb. After awakening he unwrapped himself, moved a one to two ton stone, slipped by the Roman soldiers, returned to his disciples and convinced them that he had been resurrected.

From a medical, as well as a logical point of view, this is the least rational of all. This theory virtually ignores the character of the wounds that a crucifixion victim received.

We know from Roman history that victims of crucifixion were routinely beaten with a Roman cat-o'-nine tails as many as forty times before the actual crucifixion. This device was a whip with long leather strips in which were imbedded glass, stone and lead chips. This whip had the effect of tearing off the skin and exposing the subcutaneous fat and muscle layers. Such a wound would result in large quantities of blood and fluid loss. If skin grafting and antibiotics are not immediately administered, such a wound would result in infection, dehydration and death within a 2-3 days. Obviously, no such treatment was available to Jesus. The New Testament account does not tell us how many stripes Jesus received from the Roman whip. However, there is no reason to expect that Jesus received anything less than a customary whipping. With the whipping injuries alone, Jesus would have been so weak that moving the stone would have been virtually impossible. The beating from a cat-o'-nine tails by itself caused many people to die.

The practice of crucifixion was commonplace in the Roman empire. The Romans had perfected this form of capital punishment and were experts at recognizing death. Archaeological discoveries have revealed that metal spikes as long as nine inches were driven through the wrists and mid foot areas of the victim. These spikes would most likely sever the main artery to the foot (the dorsal pedal artery) resulting in even more loss of blood than caused by the cat of nine tails. The hands of the individual would be paralyzed from the severing of the median nerve, the main nerve to the hand.

After six hours of hanging on the cross, Jesus would have experienced massive blood loss. Consequently, he would have been severely dehydrated and would have probably developed pulmonary edema, a condition in which the lungs become congested with excess fluid. This is a catastrophic combination. The dehydration coupled with pulmonary edema, rapidly sets into motion a cascade of multi-organ failure (that is, a total shut down of kidney, liver, intestinal and cardiac blood flow). This results in rapid development of respiratory failure, cardiac arrest and death.

Finally, at the end of the crucifixion, a Roman soldier thrust a spear into the side of Jesus, resulting in the drainage of blood and water. This is an indicator that Jesus had probably developed a pericardial effusion, a condition in which the pericardial sac around the heart fills with water, a condition which eventually results is heart failure and death.

If these very same injuries were to happen to a person on the front porch of a major university medical center, with a trauma team on standby, and even if surgery were initiated within six minutes, the victim would still almost certainly die. The sword wound through the side is so catastrophic that the loss of blood from this injury alone would result in brain death within minutes.

To propose and argue that a person who had suffered such wounds could revive, move a huge stone and get by the Roman guards, is incomprehensible to any thinking person.

Truly, the verdict of history and the facts of medical science affirm that Jesus died on a Roman cross.

The Women Went to the Wrong Tomb?

We know from the New Testament accounts that the first visitors to the tomb were a small band of women, disciples of Jesus. Some skeptics propose that after going to the wrong tomb and discovering it empty they returned to the men and declared that Jesus had risen. Proponents of this theory claim that the early morning darkness and the emotional state of the women were factors that contributed to the mistaken tomb.

Even a cursory review of this theory reveals a number of serious flaws. As we have seen, a typical Roman guard consisted of sixteen men, in full military uniform. If nothing else would tip off this group that they had found the tomb of Jesus, the presence of sixteen Roman soldiers in front of the tomb would have certainly been a clue! The women knew that there were soldiers at the tomb and would have known that an unguarded tomb was not the place that Jesus lay.

Secondly, once the rumor of the resurrection got started the Romans could have produced the body. Rumor over!

The New Testament tells us that the Sanhedrin recognized the physical emptiness of the tomb and explained that the disciples had stolen the body. For the first several hundred years of the church, the fact of the physical emptiness of the tomb was not doubted. The stolen body theory was proposed because there was an empty tomb that had to be explained.

Finally, the proposal that the women never went to the tomb is incapable of explaining the behavior of the apostles and the martyrs of the early church.

As we look at the verdict of history, it is clear that there was no doubt in the minds of the disciples that Jesus died, that he was put in a tomb, and that three days later he rose from the dead.

This conclusion is inescapable. It was the belief in the resurrection that drove the early Christians to incredible commitment and prepared them for unbelievable persecution. Any natural explanation for the empty tomb that is to be seriously considered must explain the commitment to servanthood and suffering among the early church and especially the people who met Jesus face to face.

To propose and argue that the early church, especially the apostles, were no different than the martyrs of any religious, social or political cause is simply not a fair comparison. The very early Christians (especially the twelve) were in a position to know the truth. Any secret conspiracy, any hidden body, any fact that would refute the resurrection would have been known by those men. When we look at the character of the early church, its rapid spread and the price Christians paid to follow Jesus, we recognize that something incredible must have occurred to engender this degree of devotion and sacrifice. Surely, an unsubstantiated claim by the women, a stolen or misplaced body, or a critically injured, severely weakened anemic Jesus, would not result in such devotion. Finally, the idea that Jesus' life, miracles and resurrection were only legends is totally and absolutely incapable of explaining the sacrificial lives and deaths by martyrdom of the early believers in Jesus' resurrection.

A resurrected Jesus does explain it all.

The Verdict is in!

In the last few centuries a number of leading lawyers have been challenged by students, peers or friends to evaluate the historical evidence for the resurrection. Using the accepted methods of legal and historical investigation, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been declared by many to be an historical fact.

Sir Edward Clark, a former attorney for King's Court stated regarding the legal and historical evidence for the resurrection:

"As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter Day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling...the gospel evidence for the resurrection is of this class and, as a lawyer, I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate."[12]

Regarding the conspiracy theory, former White House counsel under Richard Nixon, Charles Colson states:

"Take it from one who was inside the Watergate web looking out, who saw firsthand how vulnerable a cover-up is: Nothing less than a witness as awesome as the resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and Lord." Charles Colson[13]

Charles Colson was one of the men in the Nixon administration who went to prison because of the Watergate cover-up of 1972. Colson saw firsthand how a conspiracy breaks down when personal safety or position is threatened. Within a day of its onset, the watergate cover-up began to unravel due to the mere threat of prison. Immediately, finger pointing began as the parties scrambled for position in order to get less prison time. Colson points out that with the threat of torture and death hanging over the heads of the disciples, no conspiracy could stand, especially when recanting meant freedom. After the Watergate scandal Colson examined the historical evidence for Jesus, the early church and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After applying the methods of legal-historical investigation, Charles Colson became convinced of the deity of Christ and his bodily resurrection.[14]

Simon Greenleaf, born in 1783, is one of the most respected attorneys in the history of the American legal system. His book A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, was a standard textbook for decades in law schools around the country. Later in his life he extensively examined historical evidence for the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He concludes in his book that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most documented event in the history of mankind.[15]

When the evidence is examined in a fair and impartial manner, with pre-conceived notions aside, the verdict of history, sifted through the crucible of the legal-historical method is conclusive. Something awesome, something radical, something life changing something supernatural happened in the lives of the twelve disciples of Jesus. That event was nothing less than the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead!


[1] The inspiration for this chapter and its title are borrowed from the classic book, Who Moved the Stone, by Frank Morison.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin.

[3] ibid.

[4] Matthew 26:59-61.

[5] See chapter, The Time of Messiah's Coming, pg. 95.

[6] See appendix II, Historical Evidence for Jesus of Nazareth.

[7] ibid.

[8] See Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

[9] Who Moved the Stone?,Frank Morison, pg. 89.

[10] Matthew 27:57.

[11] Matthew 27:63.

[12] Cited in Leading Lawyers, Look at the Resurrection, Clifford, Appendix I, Albatross Books, Claremont, CA, 1991.

[13] Loving God, Charles Colson, Marshalls, 1984, pg. 69.

[14] See Born Again, Charles Colson.

[15] The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, Simon Greeleaf, Baker, reprinted 1984.

Chapter Nine: Messiah—God the Son? ← Prior Section
Chapter Eleven: The Rejection of Jesus Christ Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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