The Doctrine of First Importance

Paul writes, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

I recently read an interesting article entitled, “Can You Question the Resurrection and Still Be a Christian?” Quite a provocative question. In it, retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, best known for his famously liberal interpretation of Christianity, said: “I don’t think the resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation. I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was his presence—not his body—which was manifested to certain witnesses.” This is a catastrophic interpretation of Jesus’ resurrection, according to the Scriptures.

The historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ is very good. A method commonly used today to determine the historicity of an event is “inference to the best explanation”. That is, historians begin with the evidence available to us and then infer what would, if true, provide the best explanation of that evidence. In other words, we ought to accept an event as historical if it gives the best explanation for the evidence surrounding it.

When we look at the evidence, the truth of the resurrection emerges very clearly as the best explanation. There is no other theory that even comes close to accounting for the evidence. Therefore, there is solid historical grounds for the truth that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

It is worth pointing out that in establishing the historicity of the resurrection, we do not need to assume that the New Testament is even trustworthy, because these truths are even admitted by critical scholars. In other words, these three truths are so strong that they are accepted by serious historians of all backgrounds.

What are three important historical evidences for the resurrection? (1) The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion, whose eyewitness testimonies were not considered credible, making it more likely that they were telling the truth. (2) Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ. (3) As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its center, the Christian church was established and grew. Christians of every generation are commissioned by Christ to share that message until he returns.