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Essay donated by a Jose Davis

"What's up Jesus?"

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Jesus resurrection and ascension:

Every true Christian is familiar with the proclamation allegedly brought by Jesus, which is best understood in John 3:16, from the New Testament,

"For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (New King James Version)

Surprisingly, many Christians and non-Christians alike seem to overlook the fact that without the actual ascension of Jesus into heaven, Christianity itself would have become a dead religion.

"No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up…" John 3:13-14

Grasping this concept is crucial to understanding how Christianity developed western civilization. To think that Jesus never rose to heaven is not only "blasphemy", but a shocking revelation to any Christian in the modern world. History would have dramatically changed its course. If the Resurrection did not happen, Christianity would have disappeared in its early ages. The third century Roman emperor, Constantine, would have never converted to Christianity, which probably would have hastened the decline of the Roman Empire. Even after the Roman Empire, it’s apparent that without Christianity, the Christian Crusades to the "Promised Land", Jerusalem, would not have taken place, leading to the Muslims overrunning Europe in the early medieval ages. History would have been extremely interesting if the human notion in the 1st century A.D. was that Jesus of Nazareth actually never conquered death. These differences between life with and life without Christianity in the first century A.D. would be extremely interesting.

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Historians' rejection of the resurrection and ascension:

Yet humanity may be faced with a second chance to uncover the factuality of this doctrine. For the past two hundred years, New Testament scholars and historians have been challenging the accepted belief that enough historical evidence is available to support the resurrection. If the common public was to be convinced that there is not enough evidence to support the Resurrection, what then? How would this alter Christianity? Is their enough historical evidence to support the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Contrary to many historians, I believe there is.

The majority of historians decline the fact that the historical evidence is present to support the Man-God’s rise into heaven. With the advancement of technology and better knowledge of culture context, scholars have developed a better understanding of early Christianity. Artifacts from antiquity and further studies in Jewish and Roman history have become more apparent. Some of these findings seem to contradict certain accounts in the New Testament. Also, continued research by New Testament scholars has raised questions of increasing significance, such as the authorship of the Gospels. The Gospels were written by Greek-speaking, intellectual Christians who seemed to be the complete opposites of the type of supposed followers of Jesus. The Apostles were uneducated peasants who spoke Aramaic, not Greek. The original New Testament was written in Greek. Not only were the Gospels possibly falsely credited to others, but there is evidence to support that they were finished sometime in between 65 to 125 A.D., about thirty-five to ninety-five years after the supposed death of Jesus around 30 A.D. So, if the Gospels are not first hand accounts, how valid or reliable are they? Stories passed down orally tend to change over time, and since the Gospels weren’t written until decades after Jesus’ proclaimed death, there is a probability that some tinkering has been done to the original story. It has long been known that certain discrepancies have been found throughout the Gospels on the story of the Resurrection. But as New Testament scholars analyze the content of the Gospels more intensely, more and more things are being found that do not make sense. For example, no historians of Jesus’ time make a mention of Him. The first explicit reference of Jesus outside of the Bible is made in 93 A.D. by a Jewish historian name Josephus. This was long after the crucifixion of Jesus. Even this historical reference of Jesus is believed to have its problems. Some scholars believe that the references by Josephus were tampered with by the early Church fathers in the third century A.D. The inconsistency the passages have with Josephus’s literary style brings certain doubt. Furthermore, some evidence has pointed in the tampering of the Gospel of Mark. From Mark 16:19-20, scholars believe that those two last verses were added on later by others to compensate for the account on Christ’s ascension into heaven that is so evidently described in the other three Gospels. These are only a few of the arguments scholars raise against the validity of the accounts on Jesus. Obviously much concentration has been placed on the New Testament Gospels. The Gospels give us our primary knowledge on Jesus Christ’s resurrection and for that reason the Gospels give us our primary knowledge on his death. The Gospels, in fact, are the only sources with detailed accounts of Jesus physically ascending into heaven. The argument of many Historians is rather simple: Although we have accounts that talk about a Man-God forgiving sins and bringing salvation through his death, how sure are we that these accounts are valid?

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Why we can believe in Jesus' resurrection and ascension:

These arguments put forth by some historians and New Testament scholars are very compelling. It is true that the New Testament has its problems. The contradictions between some of the books in the New Testament are there, even though other Christians like to deny this fact. The historical realization is correct: There is not much, besides the Gospels, that can testify that Jesus was tried, persecuted, crucified, and essentially, resurrected and ascended into heaven. Putting the historical reality aside, to think that a man physically came back from the dead and spoke to people again is highly improbable. If we saw Leonardo DiCaprio rise out of the water after he had apparently froze and drowned of exhaustion after the sinking of the Titanic, we would truly want to make sure the dead stayed dead. Atheist author Simon Blackburn best illustrates the historical human conception of death in his book Being Good.

"The self-sustaining processes of life are reasonably understood. They are easily disrupted, and have finite duration. When the time comes, they cease, and what was once alive, be it a leaf or a rose or a person, dies. There is no mystery about that, beyond unraveling the chemistry and biology of it" (Being Good. 66) 1

When one looks at historical figures, like Alexander the Great and Adolf Hitler, an admirer or onlooker has no metaphysical or spiritual interpretation on their deaths. As far as any person is concerned, these historical figures are dead people who did something significant sometime during the course of human existence, causing other people to write it down. The modern historian grabs the evidence available and makes a conclusion based on it; that’s true, if all a historian wants to do is seek physical evidence and a worldly rational conclusion. Modern historians are correct: to attain evidence that is unnatural is unreliable because it is outside the realm of materialistic, historical evidence. Miracles in themselves are beyond human grasp. To quote agnostic historian Bart D. Ehrman, a professor at North Carolina University who studies early Christianity,

"Because historians can only establish what probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is highly improbable, the historian cannot say it probably occurred."

This is plausible to a certain extent. People who believe that Jesus never rose from the dead have credible reason to have that opinion. The only way to truly believe in Jesus Christ is to disregard the actual materialistic historical knowledge that we have because the evidence that is known, isn’t enough to prove or disprove the existence of Jesus and his Resurrection. Historians can claim that they "can only establish what probably happened," but since a historian can only do so much, does that mean he cannot say it probably occurred? This is the point where Dr. Ehrman and I depart in our opinions.

To truly understand what a historian does, one must define the terms, "Historical" and "Evidence."

"Historical- adj 1: of or relating to the study of history; "historical scholars"; "a historical perspective" 2: having once lived or existed or taken place in the real world as distinct from being legendary; "the historical Jesus"; "doubt that a historical Camelot every existed"; "actual historical events" 3: belonging to the past" (www.dictionary.com)

"ev·i·dence- n. 1: A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment: The broken window was evidence that a burglary had taken place. Scientists weigh the evidence for and against a hypothesis. 2: Something indicative; an outward sign: evidence of grief on a mourner's face. 3: Law. The documentary or oral statements and the material objects admissible as testimony in a court of law." (www.dictionary.com)

According to the definitions of both terms, it is clear that there is no hint of excluding words that are outside the natural materialistic world, such as miracle or supernatural. Definition two of historical: "having once lived or existed or taken place in the real world as distinct from being legendary; ‘the historical Jesus,’" sounds like it is excluding unnatural phenomena, but all it really does is exclude things that are considered stories with no support of actual events in history, for example, the legend of Britain’s King Arthur.

"The historicity of the Arthur of legend has long been debated by scholars. One school of thought believes that Arthur had no historical existence… Though some theories suggest he was a Roman Britain or pre-Roman character, by most theories, and in line with the traditional cycle of legends, he was a Romano-British leader fighting against the invading Anglo-Saxon sometime in the late 5th century to early 6th century" (www.wikipedia.com)

According to wikipedia.com, King Arthur can only be identified in history by theories because of almost no actual consistent evidence. The references of King Arthur are obtained from early Welsh literature that is so inconsistent that historians don’t know if he was pre-Roman legion or an actual son of a king.

"Another early reference to Arthur is in the Historia Britonum, attributed to the Welsh monk Nennius, who is said to have written this compilation of early Welsh history around the year 830. In this work, Arthur is referred to as a "leader of battles" rather than as a king." (www.wikipedia.com)

We have historical scholars debating that King Arthur was a Roman to a Celtic deity because there is no consistency in the accounts of King Arthur, thus making him a Legend.

The information we have on the historical Jesus, on the other hand, are obviously the opposite of what historians have on King Arthur. Jesus is not a legend because all the accounts of Jesus are historically consistent.

Some specific details may be different throughout the Bible; for example: consider when Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem then leave down to Egypt to run from King Herod.

bulletLuke 2:1-21 states that they moved to Bethlehem because of a census but never mentions that they leave Bethlehem to escape King Herod.
bulletUnlike Luke’s testimony, Mark 2:1-15 gives another account that they must leave Bethlehem after Jesus’ death to escape from King Herod, but never mentions why Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem in the first place.

Although specific details are either missed or explained differently in the two Gospels, the big picture remains the same; Jesus Christ, the savior of all mankind, was born in Bethlehem. The same can be said with the resurrection of Jesus. While Jesus’ birth is explained in two of the four Gospels, Jesus’ resurrection is explained in all four of the Gospels. The specific details may be different among the Gospels, but the big picture remains consistent: Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews and the Christ of the Gentiles, was crucified unjustly for acts that supposedly conspired against Jewish theology. Soon afterwards, he physically resurrected and ascended into the heavens to be one with the Father.

"Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments… And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many." Matthew 27

"And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him… And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen!" Mark 15 and 16

"And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him… Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!" Luke 23 and 24

"Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, ‘I am the king of the Jews’’’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’ Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments and made four parts… Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, I will take Him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ she turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’’ (John 19 and 20)

The consistency of the Gospels is evident. King Arthur may be a Celtic deity or a pre-Roman legion, but Jesus Christ is claimed to be only one thing: Lord and Savior. Some historians like to claim that there is not enough historical evidence to support the Resurrection of Jesus, but these historians want to disclaim religion instead of finding history. Yes, the Bible has its problems, but it doesn’t make any logical sense to claim the New Testament to be a complete concoction of the human imagination, for if Jesus and his Resurrection were just all a concoction, we would see countless different stories of Jesus, like the ones seen for proving King Arthur’s existence. Jesus is a constant. One Gospel doesn’t claim him to be a superhero, while another Gospel claims him to be an alien from planet Omicron Persi I Eight. The New Testament and all four Gospels claim him to be one thing, savior and Lord.

The modern world emphasizes too much on religion, and not enough on historical validity. We have more historical evidence that Jesus rose than we do on the outcomes of the Greco-Persian Wars. Even if one wants to omit the Christian works as historical evidence, there is still enough evidence to support Jesus existed and resurrected. Evidence is "a thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment." No where in the definition does it state that that "thing" has to be materialistic or physical. If artifacts that hint of a new civilization that lived thousands of years ago are found in the middle of an ancient temple, one must logically conclude that their once was a civilization that lived thousands of years ago. But when there is no material or physical evidence present to explain the artifacts (e.g a temple) we must rely on logical evidence. Material or physical evidence should always overshadow logical evidence, but when material evidence is not available, one has to make the best human logical conclusion. Since no real strong physical evidence has been found on the Resurrection of Jesus, and if one decides to disregard the teachings of the New Testament, it still boils down to a puzzling question: Why would different individuals, who had no knowledge of one another, write texts, which are almost exactly the same, on an event that can never realistically happen? One can find different answers to the question, other than a resurrection, but in the end those answers come to an inconclusive end. For example, one can claim that Jesus’ body was taken by his family to get a proper burial and the Apostles just had visions they saw a resurrected Jesus. But then that leaves the question, what about the guards that were protecting Jesus’ tomb? If the guards were not killed, and they allowed people to take Jesus’ body to be buried properly, wouldn’t they be the first ones to speak out against a resurrected human being? The only logically sound explanations to the question are that the New Testament’s accounts on Jesus’ resurrection are true or that one of the greatest historical flops ever seen by man has fooled thousands of historians, scholars, philosophers, theologians, etc who have spent their lives believing that the basic premises of Jesus must be true. I tend to choose the former for I know that man is not to any extent that ignorant and blind.

Christian theology has gone through countless tribulations through the centuries. Yet, those beliefs still have kept one constant tradition and that’s that Jesus resurrected. Devout Catholic William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review, makes a bold statement in his memoir, "Nearer, My God", that continues to perpetuate my personal faith and strengthen my resolve.

"What keeps Christians afloat is the buoyant knowledge that no devastating damage has in fact been done to Christian doctrine." Nearer My God 2

While it is understandable to question the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, furthermore Christianity as a whole, one still has no right to refute the actual event based on no physical or materialistic evidence. If historians did such refutation with all matters of history, humanity would end up with inconclusive evidence on everything historical, which would nullify any event or figure in the past. Just because Christianity is a "religion", that doesn’t mean that one should claim it to be something made up.

"Yet, Christianity differed from the majority of mystery cults in two fundamental ways. First, its founder and savior was an actual historical personage who had lived and died during the Roman Empire…" Spiritual Metamorphosis 3

In the end, the belief of the resurrection is all based on an individual’s faith. To have faith in God is to have your own personal truth in your heart.

"God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:24

And whatever that truth is depends on the heart of the individual, which varies due to the diversity of the human personage.

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See also an essay giving a liberal/progressive Christian viewpoint on the resurrection by R.C. Symes

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Reference used:

  1. Simon Blackburn, "Being good: A short introduction to ethics," Oxford University Press, (Revised 2003). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

  2. William F. Buckley, "Nearer My God: An autobiography of faith," Harvest Books, (1998) Review/order this book
  3. Roberta Sonsaray White, "Spiritual Metamorphosis," Xlibris Corp, (2005). Review / order this book

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Originally posted: 2007-SEP-08
Latest update: 2011-APR-03
Author: Jose Davis

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