The fact that Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected from the dead is indispensable truth to Christian knowledge, faith, witness and practice. But it is not merely a “religious fact” and nor is it received on “blind faith.” It is a publicly known fact. If someone is willing, they can go discover whether it is true or not, and literally billions from around the world -- and for more than a couple millennia now -- have done just that; they have discovered, believed and banked their life on the credibility of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Three Biola University professors, J.P. Moreland, Craig J. Hazen, and Clay Jones, recently took some time to share their expertise regarding this theological, historical and existentially important topic.
If Jesus was bodily raised from the dead, what difference does that make for Christianity as a knowledge tradition?
Moreland: This is an important question. If the resurrection of Jesus is a publicly known event, and the Bible testifies to that reality, then that means that the Bible gives us more than just a basis to believe that reality but a reason to actually have knowledge of that reality. If it speaks truthfully about that momentous reality, how much more so should it be trusted as a source of knowledge on other matters? On the other hand, if the resurrection of Jesus did not happen, then the Bible’s account of it has no greater authority than a creative piece of religious fiction. You might get a nice “warm fuzzy” feeling from it and even be inspired Oprah-style, but scripture would hardly be a worthwhile source of knowledge to guide action, if Jesus did not rise from the dead.
So, what do you find to be the top compelling reasons to show that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead?
Hazen: It really shocks most people to find that virtually all scholars in the field—whether believers or unbelievers, skeptics or supporters—consider some very important aspects of the Easter story to be true beyond a reasonable historical doubt. Even the toughest critics of the resurrection hold that 1) Jesus died by crucifixion, 2) His tomb was discovered to be empty a few days later, 3) Jesus’ disciples believed they had experiences of the risen Jesus, 4) the disciples were transformed from doubters to bold witnesses of the risen Jesus, 5) James and Paul had independent experiences that they believed were real encounters with the risen Lord.
If both critics and believers agree to a set of facts, that should be considered knowable history. The question then is, how do you account for these facts? When you line up various theories to try to account for these (such as, Jesus had a twin brother, it was an hallucination, the whole thing is a legend) none of them capture the known data. Jesus coming back from the dead on the third day as the Scriptures declare is the only compelling answer based on the known historical facts
How is Christian hope rooted in the resurrection of Jesus?
Jones: The resurrection evidence sets Christianity apart from all other major world religions because the others offer no objective reason to believe their religion’s founders. Thus the adherents of other religions typically offer either a subjective test leading to bliss or enlightenment or they chant “Just believe!” But the Christian’s hope is founded on the eyewitness testimony of those who suffered and gave their lives because they were convinced they’d seen Jesus rise bodily from the grave!
How is hope related to faith?
Moreland: Faith is confidence or trust. It is rooted in knowledge of what is real, whether we are talking the reality of God or trusting my chair to hold me. Faith produces, nurtures and empowers hope. Hope is far more enriching than mere “wishful thinking.” It is often an expectation for change, for wellness to be ours. People change because they have hope. Hope needs faith. Faith in God creates a sustainable, dynamic and prosperous hope.
How and why is the resurrection of Jesus unique compared to other "divine power" claims in other world religions?
Hazen: In my view, one thing that sets Christianity apart from the other great religious traditions is that Christianity is “testable.” That is, you can offer evidence for it and against it, and the evidence means something. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote that if Jesus did not come back from the dead, our faith is worthless and empty. Hence if the resurrection did not happen, Christianity is simply not true. This unique feature puts Christianity in a class of its own among the world religions. Christianity can be objectively tested.
If heaven is a hopeful existence, what's so hopeful about playing harps 24/7?
Jones: Some of Satan’s best work is to constantly portray heaven as an eternal bore—an all-white, snooze-fest full of strange faces where we’ll sport flightless wings and strum harps. Actually, the Bible teaches that we’ll know our loved ones and that heaven is jewel-toned. The Bible doesn’t teach that we’ll be feathered or strum harps! Rather, we’ll have a different occupation—amazing!—we’ve been called to reign with Christ! Consider that in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, the first thing we learn about humankind is in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule.” Notice how humans were made to be like God? They were made to rule! And then in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible—in fact the last verse before the epilogue, Revelation 22:5—we read “and they shall reign forever and ever.” Let’s rejoice that our eternal occupation is to reign over God’s Kingdom with Jesus forever!
What is the difference between hopelessness and hope?
Moreland: Hopelessness is a leukemia of the spirit. It stagnates life. Clearly, hopelessness has to be treated. But it can’t be changed by simply willing it. Curiously, we will not change unless we have hope to change. For people change when they expect that change can happen. That’s why the mere desire to change is not sufficient to bring about change.
Clay, you "fought cancer." What difference did hope in God make for your everyday life?
Jones: Sadly, for many Christians, the promise of eternal life has become the P.S. to the Christian life instead of what it should be—our main focus. And I can tell you firsthand that when fighting cancer the hope of eternal life makes all the difference! Nothing better enables a Christian to endure suffering, and even the prospect of losing one’s life, than knowing that through absolutely every hardship, every pain, and every sorrow that God is working them all out for our eternal blessing! After all, that’s what we read in 2 Corinthians 4:17 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Jesus’ resurrection proclaimed for Christians an awesome opportunity—we will live with Him forever!
How can someone learn to a deal with their hopelessness?
Moreland: As I said in a recent talk at my church, you can’t deal with hopelessness by merely willing it away or by having some ardent desire to stop being hopeless. That’s silly and frustrating! If I am right about the relationship between faith and hope, then I think there are two basic ways that we can learn to address hopelessness: 1) We need to re-kindle faith; and 2) We need to re-frame our difficulties. Hope will be a by-product of this endeavor. But how do you re-kindle faith? I suggest that there are two basic ways to do this: a) Be exposed to testimony about what God is doing around the world, indeed, in our own world. How is God at work? How might that strengthen our faith? b) Be actively remembering what God has done in our lives and in the lives of those that we know who have experienced God’s work. Finally, we can learn to re-frame our difficulties in light of a re-kindled faith. First, be learning to relabel our hardships in such a way that we are not preoccupied with “worst-case scenario” thinking. Second, we can learn how to refocus our attention on God and learn to discipline our distracted and often worrying hearts. Hopelessness can be beat.
In what way is God alive today?
Hazen: For those who have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see” God is very much alive and active in the world. He speaks through His Word guiding us, training us, and transforming us into the image of His Son. He impacts us by His Spirit. He continues to heal physically and emotionally in a direct fashion. He touches us through the agency of fellow believers—His primary method of ministering to us. We are carried along through grave difficulties by the love, the caring, and the encouragement of fellow disciples of the living God. He’s alive and He brings hope that does not disappoint!
J.P. Moreland is Distinguished Professor Philosophy at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology.
Craig J. Hazen is the Founder and Director of the graduate program in Christian Apologetics and Professor of Comparative Religion and Apologetics at Biola University.
Clay Jones is Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University.
Interview by Joseph Gorra, Christian Apologetics Program. For media inquiries, please contact Jenna Bartlo, Biola media relations coordinator. She can be reached at (562) 777-4061 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.