How Do We Know Jesus Rose From the Dead? | Arguing for the Resurrection

Updated: Jun 4


The goal of this article is to build on Greg Bahnsen's famous article, 'The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection' and hopefully make it more understandable as to avoid any misunderstandings that might arise from those new to presuppositional apologetics and those seeking to understand it better.



All Christians agree that the resurrection stands central to the Christian worldview. If the resurrection did not happen, our faith becomes useless.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV


Before we start talking about the resurrection itself, we first need to discuss what it is that sets it apart from other resurrections. In the Bible we read of multiple people that were raised from the dead, the most popular being Lazarus.


Why Specifically the Resurrection of Jesus?

Paul answers the question in the next few verses of the same passage in 1 Corinthians:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

1 Corinthians 15:17, ESV

The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is significant because of the events surrounding it. It's not so much that Christ simply died like all of us die, but rather that he took on the full wrath of God the Father on the cross in atonement for the sins of all God's people. The subsequent resurrection of Jesus also matters because our justification hinges on it.

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Romans 4:25, ESV


A dead Saviour cannot save, but we have a living Saviour who justifies us and makes intercession for us. By rising from the dead, Christ defeated death. It is with this in mind that we can look forward to our resurrection in the future as well without having to fear death in this life. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, it means that he too succumbed to the effects of sin and was unable to overcome it and pay the full price for our sins.


Before we prove the resurrection

An important text to discuss before we set out to prove the resurrection is Luke 16.

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Luke 16:31, ESV

In this parable of Lazarus (a different Lazarus this time) and the rich man, the rich man (currently in hell) wants to return to warn his family so that they won't suffer the same fate as him. The implicit assumption in the man's request is that if his family simply had more information, they would surely repent and not end up like him. Abraham's answer is intriguing and difficult to reconcile with an evidential approach to apologetics. What Jesus was implicitly saying, is that even if we were able to prove the resurrection with 100% certainty at this very moment, it won't change a thing. The issue with the unbeliever is not that he or she doesn't have enough evidence, the issue lies with the unbeliever's moral inability to repent from their sin and serve their Creator.


So what exactly are Christian apologists trying to accomplish with proving the resurrection? One thing is for certain, like all forms of apologetics, it's not to convince the unbeliever of the truth of the Christian worldview. Apologetics mainly has two tasks:

  • To silence the unbelievers and point out the absurdity inherent in their worldviews

  • To strengthen the faith of Christians

Philosophy of Facts.

If you expected me to present you with some historical facts for the resurrection in this section, you are wrong. I first want to start with what is called the "philosophy of facts". A definition of a fact can be given as a thing that is known to be consistent with objective reality and can be proven to be true with evidence.


Before we can talk intelligibly about facts we first need to answer a few questions. How can we know something to be consistent with objective reality and how can we prove something to begin with? This is a common step that is skipped and sometimes even ceded to the unbelievers to take for granted.


It has been established and discussed in previous articles on this website that we first need to give an accounting for our ability to know things before we can go about proving things. Every person on Earth has what is called an epistemology (method by which we obtain knowledge). Some have posited rationalism (knowledge solely comes through the mind), other have attempted empiricism (knowledge solely comes through the senses). However, all secular epistemologies can be demonstrated to be arbitrary and self-refuting circles. So how then can unbelievers intelligibly talk about the facts of the resurrection without first having an epistemology that can give us that foundation?


For the Christian, the situation is different.

All facts are created facts which can be properly understood only when given the interpretation the Creator intends: as such, all facts demonstrate the truth of Christianity.

Greg Bahnsen, The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection


The Christian has a non-fallacious revelational epistemology that can account for facts and knowledge.

Another interesting point that Bahnsen highlights is that you cannot disconnect the epistemological consequences of the fall with the soteriological consequences. What does he mean by this? We already defined epistemology above, soteriology is the doctrine of salvation.

However, a serious difficulty arises when the epistemological significance of the resurrection is separated from its soteriological [salvific] function. It is correct to hold that God’s raising of Jesus from the dead saves us both from sin and agnosticism, but it would be mistaken to understand by this that the epistemological problem could be handled independently of the (broader) moral problem which is at its base. It is with regret that one notices neo-evangelicals severing the justifying efficacy of Christ’s resurrection from its truth-accrediting function. In reality, the latter is dependent upon the former. Only as Christ’s resurrection (with its ensuing regeneration by the Holy Spirit of Christ) saves a sinner from his rebellion against God and God’s Word, can it properly function to exhibit evidence for God’s truthfulness.

Greg Bahnsen, The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection


Only if Christ paid for our sins with the ensuing regeneration of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every believer will we be able to see the facts for what they are. The unbeliever won't interpret the facts of the resurrection for what they are, all facts will be interpreted according to their presuppositions which exclude the possibility of the resurrection. Moreover, the presuppositions of the unbeliever can be shown to be arbitrary and inconsistent so the unbeliever doesn't have a foundation to meaningfully look at the facts to begin with.


The work of Christ and the regeneration of the heart allows us to ground our knowledge in God's revelation, and working from this presupposition we can objectively analyse the facts surrounding the resurrection which can the serve to strengthen our position as Christians.

Presuppositions

Having discussed the concept of facts and arriving at the presuppositions of the unbelievers, we now turn to analyse the way presuppositions affect the way we see Scripture and the events recorded therein.


Allow me to state the issues upfront. Christians believe that an axehead floated, a donkey talked and that a man rose from the dead. If you were to make any of these claims today you would be laughing stock. Yet we firmly and rightfully believe that these things happened in the past. Why? The answer of course is that we believe it on authority of the One who revealed it to us.


Balaam and the Talking Donkey, Numbers 22

Starting with the presupposition of the Triune God revealed in Scripture, we can do no other but to believe what He tells us.


Starting with the presupposition of methodological naturalism, we can do no other but reject these Biblical claims: Axeheads don't float. We can test this repeatably every single second of every single day. Donkeys don't talk and dead people don't come back to life. I'll soon take a look at the issues the unbelievers runs into by rejecting Scriptural authority, but for the time being let's continue down this train of thought.


Dead people stay dead. This is the logical conclusion of our experience. Operating under this presupposition, sceptics will try to explain the evidence surrounding the resurrection reaching conclusions consistent with this assumption. We've seen different attempts of them doing so:

  • The body of Jesus was stolen

  • The disciples lied

  • The swoon theory (Jesus survived the crucifixion and convinced his disciples he was resurrected)

I would wholeheartedly agree with my classical and evidential brothers that the above theories can be shown to be false with a high probability, (and I'll speak on probability later), but even if the unbelievers cannot account for the evidence surrounding the resurrection, they would be fully within their rights to concede the "something strange happened surrounding the death of Jesus of Nazareth that we might never be able to explain." And that's the end of it. Appealing to mystery for the unbelievers is much more logical than stating that which is contradictory to their presuppositions - dead people stay dead!


Sye Ten Bruggencate has this great illustration to demonstrate the effect of presuppositions on our thinking. I can't find the exact quote so I'm paraphrasing here:


There once was a man who believed he was dead. No on could convince him that he was in fact alive. One day his family took him to the doctor. The doctor thought long and hard, and then asked the man "Do dead men bleed?". The man answered "No. Dead men don't bleed". The doctor then took 'n pin and lightly pinched the man on his finger, and viola he started bleeding! The man was perplexed as he watched the blood flow from his finger. After a few seconds he exclaimed, "What do you know! Dead men do bleed!".


People will always make conclusions that are consistent with their presuppositions, and if the unbelievers excludes the supernatural in an a priori fashion, we won't be able to convince them of anything supernatural.


So how do we get around the problem? The same way any presuppositionalist would.

  1. Internal critique of the non-Christian presuppositions

  2. Presentation of the Christians worldview as the only viable alternative to make sense of reality

  3. Use of the evidence in its Christian context to show how Christianity can make sense of the concept of facts, and of the facts themselves.

The Internal Critique

Why doesn't the unbeliever believe the Bible when it mentions talking donkeys, floating axeheads and the resurrection of the dead? As alluded to earlier because we simply don't see these things happening today.


How does the unbeliever know donkeys don't talk, axes don't float and people don't rise from the dead? They can't. In order to know this, the unbeliever is taking the uniformity of nature for granted. The uniformity of nature cannot be accounted far apart from God's revelation.


This leads us to an interesting conclusion - the Christian worldview is the only worldview that can actually account for axes not floating, donkeys not talking and people not rising from the dead! But the same revelation that provides us with this foundation that leads us to expect uniformity in nature and experience, also reveals that the God that created can use creation as He wishes. This includes His ability to suspend the uniformity and work a miracle! There's a reason it's called a miracle: because it out of the ordinary. It's the unbeliever that should have no issues with talking donkeys and co.


It is therefore on the unbeliever to actually provide an accounting for why NOT to expect people to rise from the dead.


The Christian Worldview

Standing on the authority of God's revelation, we can account for the resurrection of Jesus and we can account for why people don't rise from the dead today. We alluded to the uniformity of nature earlier which is justified in God's revelation

He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.

Psalm 104:19, ESV

Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth...

Jeremiah 33:25, ESV


God is Lord over all creation and sustains the universe in a consistent and logical way. God does not change, and so He upholds the universe in a consistent, uniform way throughout time.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:3, ESV


While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.

Genesis 8:22, ESV


Restating the point, only the Christian worldview can provide the foundation from which to launch an attack against the Christian claims to begin with, but doing so would refute the objection itself - like cutting down the branch of the tree you're sitting on.


Rather, starting with Christian presuppositions we can echo the apostle Paul in saying:

Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

Acts 26:8, ESV


The above should provide the Christian with a sure knowledge that the claims of Scripture regarding the resurrection of Jesus is sure and irrefutable. With this in mind, let's take a look at some of the facts surrounding the resurrection.


Looking at the Actual Facts

Evangelicals are often prone to generate inductive arguments for the veracity of Christianity based on the historical resurrection of Christ, and such arguments occupy central importance in this apologetic. It is felt that if a man would simply consider the “facts” presented and use his common reasoning sense he would be rationally compelled to believe the truth of Scripture. In such a case the evidences for Christ’s resurrection are foundational to apologetical witnessing, whereas their only proper place is confirmatory of the believer’s presupposed faith.

Greg Bahnsen, The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection

We've already expanded upon Bahnsen's comment above. Evidentially we'll never be able to prove the resurrection without first accepting the authority of God's Word, but that does not mean that the facts surrounding the resurrection are without use. They can be greatly used to confirm that which we already believe.


Remember we don't believe the Bible because we have evidence for every single verse. Rather we believe the Bible on its own authority, and then we expect the evidence to confirm that which we already know. The order is important and a practical example is that of the Hittites.

There was a time when critics of the Old Testament ridiculed it for mentioning a tribe of people, the Hittites, which were (as yet) unknown outside the Bible; such presumed flaws in the Biblical record were taken as rendering it worthless as a historical document -- until Hittite artifacts and monuments began to be uncovered around Carchemish by archaeologists, beginning in 1871. The Hittite civilization is today one of best known cultures of the ancient world!

Greg Bahnsen, Tools of Apologetics


The parallel with the Hittites is important. We don't believe in the Scriptural witness about them because of the archeological evidence, but rather we know they existed based on the authority of Scripture and hence would expect archeological findings to confirm Scripture rather than grant it its truthfulness.


So with this in mind, let's take a look at the facts, with special reference to Dr Gary Habermas' minimal facts argument:

My Minimal Facts Argument in favor of Jesus’ resurrection was developed many years ago while writing my PhD dissertation.  It has two requirements for the historical facts that are used: each must be confirmed by several strong and independent arguments, plus the vast majority of even critical scholars must recognize the occurrence’s historical nature.

Gary Habermas, The Minimal Facts Argument


Habermas continues to write that his minimals facts argument consists of 6 facts:

  1. That Jesus died by crucifixion

  2. That very soon afterwards, his followers had real experiences that they thought were actual appearances of the risen Jesus

  3. That their lives were transformed as a result, even to the point of being willing to die specifically for their faith in the resurrection message

  4. That these things were taught very early, soon after the crucifixion

  5. That James, Jesus’ unbelieving brother, became a Christian due to his own experience that he thought was the resurrected Christ; and

  6. That the Christian persecutor Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) also became a believer after a similar experience.

Watch Dr Habermas lay out these facts in greater detail:



For some more amazing facts, check out Evidence that Demands a Verdict.


Keep in mind, however, that these facts according to the presuppositional position can not be presented as a proof of the resurrection on which we base our faith. If the resurrection is not a sure fact as opposed to a mere probability (which is the best we can attain by looking at the above points), we run into a myriad of problems from an epistemological perspective as discussed previously.


A probable resurrection turns out to be no resurrection at all.


Moreover, no amount of evidence can convince the unbeliever. He needs a radical change of worldviews (remember Luke 16 as discussed above).


God’s Word is sufficient in giving the sinner the necessary witness which can lead him to conversion; if he will not hear the inspired Word of God, neither will he be moved by a human argument for the resurrection. A proof of the resurrection is certainly no more powerful than the living and bodily presence of the resurrected Savior before one’s own eyes; yet we learn from Matthew 28:17 that even some of the eleven disciples of Christ doubted while in His resurrected presence! When one is not ready to submit to God’s self-attesting Word, no amount of evidence can persuade him. - even compelling evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

Greg Bahnsen, The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection


A last point I'd like to make when talking about the facts of the resurrection, is that Christians should not allow the unbelievers to limit the evidence under consideration to extra-Biblical sources. According to whose standard are the Scriptures not evidence of the events themselves? No other historical document is handled in the way the Scriptures are handled when we look at ancient history. The statement that the Bible itself cannot be used as evidence for its own claims is called a prejudicial conjecture.


Prophecy and the Internal Witness of Scripture

We cannot end our discussion on the topic without also referencing the role prophecy plays in our analysis of the resurrection. Part of the reason we believe Scripture is because of its own internal testimony. Article 5 of the Belgic confession states:

And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them [Scriptures]— not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God. For even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in them do happen.

Article 5, Belgic Confession


The promises of a future resurrection in the Old Testament is not hard to find:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

Job 19: 25-27, ESV


And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Daniel 12:2, ESV


And more specifically to Jesus:

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Isaiah 53: 10, ESV

For more on the topic of prophecy, see the book 'All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible'. If you choose the purchase the book clicking the image below, Apologetics Central will also benefit.


Conclusion

The resurrection stands at the centre of the Christian worldview. The resurrection is the ultimate evidence of the person of Jesus, and indicates his completed work in the defeat of death. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we, together with Job who has already experienced this glory, can exclaim:


For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

Anticipated Objections

The only objection I've encountered to the article by Bahnsen is a quotation of Acts 26:26. The claim is that Paul argues for the resurrection by use of evidence.

For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.

Acts 26: 26, ESV


It's always interesting for me to see people quote this verse almost in isolation, because Paul does not qualify the king's belief in the resurrection by appealing to the evidence alone, but also explicitly mentions the prophets in the next verse.

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.

Acts 26: 27, ESV

Also note that early on in the address to Agrippa, Paul states his position upfront, and we quoted this verse earlier as well:

Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

Acts 26:8, ESV


Indeed, even before moving to the confirmatory power of the evidence, Paul makes it clear exactly what it is he is defending:

To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.

Acts 26: 22-23, ESV

Paul, therefore, bases his argument on Biblical authority and interprets the evidence of the resurrection (which is publicly available) through the a Biblical lens. This is consistent what Bahnsen advocated for in his article and what I tried to expand upon here.


Following Paul's line of argument in Acts 26 is quite intriguing. In verse 8 he opens with a question - "Why find it incredible that God raises the dead?". He then immediately moves on describe how mistaken he was, unable to see that which was before him in the Scriptures all along. Only after Christ appeared to Paul and converted him to Christianity, did he start preaching that which is nothing other than what Moses and the prophets said would come to pass. Echoing Bahnsen at the end of his article:

As Paul at Athens, we must demand a complete, change of world-outlook and presupposition (based on the authority of God’s Word) and not just a mere addition of a few facts.

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