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I'm dreaming. Even though I’m fast asleep, I know this is a dream. But the sensation that I'm spinning out of control feels so real, and it's so overwhelming, that I'm jolted awake. As I open my eyes, I find myself reaching to grab ahold of something...anything. Unable to focus on what's in front of me, I'm now living an extension of my dream as the room, quite literally, is spinning in circles. I feel like I'm riding a souped-up tilt-a-whirl with no end in sight.

It takes every bit of my energy just to force myself to sit up and put my feet on the floor. Having done so, I'm now sitting on the side of my bed, looking straight ahead and trying to focus on the dresser across the room. There's just enough light from the street light through the window that I can barely see it. With my feet on the floor and my eyes focused forward, I'm now riding the storm out, literally trying to convince my mind into believing what I know to be true but can’t feel…that I really am just sitting still. “Ride this out man, just ride whatever this is out! You're gonna be fine. Father God, please make this stop.”

Our body's ability to maintain balance is an amazing system. Three things work together to do this. Our eyes, feet, and inner ears. The inner ear is its own amazing system in itself, with crystals floating in a small pool of liquid. As they move around in the liquid, they contact tiny hairs that send signals to our brain about where we are in relation to the world around us...whether we're sitting, walking, laying down, etc. Our feet and eyes then confirm for our brains the information being received from the inner ear, and thus we're able to maintain balance.

Sometimes, the crystals in the inner ear can become dislodged or clustered together in such a way that they don't work as designed. When this happens, incorrect signals are sent to the brain. We may be laying down, but our inner ear is telling our brain we're walking. The mixed information confuses the brain as it tries to process conflicting information from our eyes, feet and inner ears. The result is called vertigo, characterized by a sensation of spinning and dizziness, and often associated with nausea. The sensation is magnified when you remove another of the three. Close your eyes, and it gets worse. Lay down, and it worsens again. Lay down and close your eyes, and...well, just hold on for the ride, cuz it's fixin' to get crazy up in here!

There's no specific reason this condition affects any particular person. When I asked my doctor why—at the age of 41—is this now all of a sudden happening, he replies with a shrug of his shoulders, "bad luck." Really?! Here we are in the 21st century, and with all our billions of dollars poured into technological advancements in medicine and science...and that's all you got? Bad luck?

Turns out that while it can be brought on by an injury, it also just happens sometimes. No rhyme or reason. Young and old. Overweight and skinny. Unhealthy and healthy. Men and women. All are equally susceptible to just be walking through the course of any normal day and BAM! Here you go...let's try this vertigo thing out for a while and see how you fare not being able to balance or focus.

I’ve discovered that our walk of faith is very similar. We can be walking along, seemingly doing everything right. Growing in our understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus; studying the word daily; discipling others in the truth; leading our families spiritually; leading or serving in successful ministries; witnessing and sharing the Gospel with the lost. And then BAM! Something happens that sends our life into a tailspin. The death of a loved one; a misstep in our judgement or decision making; marital infidelity or divorce; a job layoff; a car accident; or a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness like cancer.

Maybe we didn't do anything to cause the tailspin we've found ourselves in, but we're still in it nonetheless. With all the strength we can muster to stabilize the chaos, we try to keep our focus on what's important, rather than the distractions all around us. But it's hard, isn't it? To overcome the tailspin, we have to open our eyes and find something that’s not moving to direct our focus. For me back on that early morning in 2014, waking up with vertigo for the first time, it was the dresser.

But in life, that “something” is God. He is immovable, unshakable, unwavering, and always there. We have to find Him and focus on Him. “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” Psalm 18:2. When we find Him in the storm and keep our focus on Him to avoid the distractions and waves crashing all around us, we can re-center ourselves and regain our focus and balance. When we come out on the other side, our faith will have grown stronger, and we’ll be better equipped for the next storm.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne" Hebrews 12:1-2 (emphasis added by me).

In these crazy busy seasons of life when life just gets to spinning out of control, it helps me to picture a house. God is the roof, covering and protecting us. His Word, the four walls that hold it all together. The Holy Spirit, the air within it…filling every part of it…present in every room. And Christ? Well, Christ is the cornerstone upon which it’s all built… “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord” Ephesians 2:20-21.

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For Part 1, please click here.

In Part II we will examine sources germane to the aforementioned historical facts that Jesus was raised.

Category 1, Source 1 In first century Palestine, pen and paper were scarce. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is the quintessential text among critical scholars for citing the church’s earliest oral tradition. According to Dr. Habermas, most scholars place the origin of this pre-Pauline creed within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Paul says, 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 (NIV). The words “received” and “passed” are Greek terms for passing on tradition. Paul is not the originator of the biblical text, nor did he receive it from the Lord. Paul’s source was other Christians, and he is passing it on.[7]

Category 1, Source 2 is the oral tradition notable in the Book of Acts and reflected in the kerygma (i.e. act of preaching). All contain references to the resurrection of Christ. The most popular candidates for these condensed confessional segments are located within the sermon material in Acts: Acts 1:21-22, 2:22-36, 3:13-16, 4:8-10, 5:29-32, 10:39-43, 13:28-31, 17:1-3, and 17:30-31. Habermas points out the majority of critical scholars dates some of these kerygmatic snippets back to the thirties. Anyone asserting the resurrection claim is a legendary development occurring decades after Christ must bear the burden of proof; ironically their debate would be with critical and conservative scholars alike.

Category 2, Source 3 The evidence for authorship of Paul’s epistles is supported by a consistent writing style and unified content that in turn makes Paul the critic’s darling. Virtually all critical scholars accept 7 of his 13 epistles as trustworthy historical data: Romans, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, 1&2 Corinthians, and 1 Thessalonians. In addition, Paul’s authorship is multiply attested: 2 Peter 3:15-16, Ignatius in his Letter to the Ephesians, Clement of Rome in 1 Clement , and Polycarp in his Letter to the Philippians claim Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.[8] Paul not only claims to be an eyewitness of the resurrection, but to personally know other eyewitnesses who preached the same message. Paul’s authorship establishes numerous resurrection claims that are a vital link in this debate.

Category 3, Sources 4-7 are the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of these independent sources claims resurrection appearances, or implies the tomb was empty because Christ had been raised: the sources are Matthew 28:9, Matthew 28:13, Mark 16:6, Luke 24:5-6, Luke 24:36-43, John 2:18-22, John 20:1-15, John 20:24-28, and John 21:19-30. While authorship of the gospels is highly disputed, “it is well accepted that all four gospels plus Acts, the sequel to Luke, were written during the first century, within seventy years of Jesus’ resurrection.”[9]

Habermas adds that use of the gospels as a source for resurrection claims is not dependent on the gospel authorship debate. Rather, the larger point hinges on numerous, independent, early, multiply-attested, even non-biblically attested sources making claims to the resurrection. In other words, even if we took the most critical approach possible, and assumed unknown gospel authorship, and that the majority of gospel content is legendary, the fact remains: the gospels are first century documents having almost unanimous consensus among scholars claiming the disciples “AT A MINIMUM” believed Christ appeared to them.[10]

Category 4, Sources 8-9 come from the next generation leaders, Clement of Rome and Polycarp being in the forefront. Their testimony is significant, because like Paul, they are only one step removed from the eyewitnesses. In both cases, there is solid historical evidence for their apostolic association.

In AD 95, Clement wrote in 1 Clement that the apostles were so certain of the resurrection they proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Around AD 185 Irenaeus in Against Heresies states: “Clement had been conversant with the apostles, and received instructions from them.” Around AD 200, Tertullian writes in Prescription for Heretics, that Clement had been ordained a bishop by Peter.

Polycarp, in his Letter to the Philippians (AD 110 - AD140), mentions Christ’s resurrection five times. Around AD 180, Irenaeus says of Polycarp in Against Heresies, that he was instructed and ordained a bishop by the apostles. In addition, Irenaeus reports that Polycarp received his instruction directly from the eyewitnesses, and had familiar interaction with John, and the other disciples who had seen Christ.[11]

Additionally, we have good historical evidence the apostles and disciples not only “claimed” to see the risen Christ, but “believed” it. The evidence for this claim rests on the assertion that people do not usually suffer and die for something they know to be false. This is contrasted with those who die for a sincere belief, which happens often. The eyewitnesses, not their successors, were in the unique position to know if Christ had been resurrected, making their death all the more improbable if they were purposely lying.[12] These sufferings and deaths and their connection to the risen Christ rests on multiple sources: Clement (AD 95), Polycarp (AD 100), Ignatius (AD 110), Tacitus (AD 64-67), Dionysius (AD 170), Hegesippus (AD 170), Tertullian (AD 200), Origen (AD 200), Clement of Alexandria (AD 200), and Eusebius (AD 230s). Even if all these accounts were riddled with embellishments, the weight of historical evidence points toward the disciple’s suffering, and in some cases dying, for their “sincere belief” that Christ was raised from the dead.[13]

In conclusion, evidence for Jesus’ resurrection has been presented using the minimal facts approach, which considers only data so strongly attested historically that even the majority of non-believing scholars find them acceptable. We considered a quintet of facts: C.A.P.S. plus the Empty Tomb.

Using the acronym O.P.E.N. we have examined nine independent early sources spanning four categories of historical evidence with the focus on Christ’s postmortem appearances. Dr. Habermas summarizes the critical response to this data: “I recently completed an overview of more than 1,400 sources on the resurrection of Jesus published since 1975. I’ve studied and catalogued about 650 of these texts in English, German, and French. No fact is more widely recognized than that early Christian believers had real experiences they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus. A critic may claim they saw hallucinations or visions, but he does not deny that they actually experienced something.”[14]

The academic work of William Lane Craig justifies him as conceivably the premier Christian apologist in the last half century. In Craig’s view, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus rests upon three independently established facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith. If these facts can be established, then one is justified in inferring Jesus’ resurrection as the most plausible explanation.[15]

Attempts claiming the resurrection has little or no historical support comes from understudied laymen, not critical scholarship. The wealth of historical data does not prove the resurrection, but is the first step in advancing the probabilistic historical argument that multiple, independent, early, and some cases eyewitness claims about the resurrection are more than myths. Christians can safely base their faith on strong historical data, and if they are current on New Testament criticism, can easily repudiate a skeptic’s claim to the contrary. When the truth of Christ’s resurrection is attacked, it is incumbent upon us to take a stand: 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people Jude 3 (NIV).

If you are interested in pursuing additional depth in defense of the historical claim of the physical resurrection of Jesus and being able to share those truths, a recommended resource is The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus authored by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.

 

Footnote References [1] Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 665. [2] Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004), 47. [3] Ibid, 36-40. [4] Ibid, 48-68. [5] Ibid, 69-74. [6] Ibid, 48-77. [7] Ibid, 51-53. [8] Ibid, 280. [9] Ibid, 53. [10] Ibid, 50-51. [11] Ibid, 54-55. [12] Ibid, 56-57. [13] Ibid, 57-59. [14] Ibid, 60. [15] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 361.

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