I was not raised in any faith. My father was Jewish by background and agnostic by preference. My mother was a Christian, as were, as far as I know, all daughters of Jefferson County, Missouri, dairy farmers of that era. Neither practiced their faith, and neither thought it wise to inculcate their children in any tradition. So the only time I saw the inside of a church or a temple was when someone on Mom’s side of the family got married or buried, or someone on Dad’s side got married, buried, or bar mitvahed.
Yet neither made any attempt to prejudice their children against religion either. And when I was in my mid 20s, I decided to begin investigating the whole idea of Judeo-Christianity. I began reading a fair amount of secondary literature – primarily C.S. Lewis and Malcolm Muggeridge, whom I discovered by reading National Review. But I also thought, as a young lawyer, that I should take a look at the primary texts: the books of the Bible.
The more I got into the Bible, the more I thought it was, first and foremost, a story that purported to be a history, and that it was primarily a history of the relationship between God and mankind: how it started, where it went wrong, and how it was repaired. And I was drawn to the person who is central to the entire narrative arc of the story and certainly the focus of the New Testament: Jesus of Nazareth.
Here was a person who was literally unique. He was a man who claimed to be God — a man who, if the documents were to be believed, openly performed miraculous healings of all kinds, exercised power over the material world and diverse forces of nature, and predicted his own death and resurrection.
He purported to speak with authority about things no man who was only a man could know — a whole spiritual realm existing outside of and above the material world. In fact, Jesus was, if what he claimed was true, the entrance in power of that spiritual world into the physical, the representation of what could not be seen, by a man who could be seen and touched and heard.
He came into the world, by his account, as an ambassador of good will, to make God known, and to offer reconciliation with God to all who believed him — to “Jews and Greeks, male and female, slave and free.” Galatians 3: 28
Now, the thing about history is that it is an assertion of fact, open to proof or disproof. And it occurred to me that, even two millennia after the events in question, it would be possible to put on a good court case in support of what Jesus claimed about himself. The key was proving the one assertion on which all the other assertions depended.
Christianity is a faith, but it is a faith founded on fact, and most essentially on the claim that Jesus really was raised from the dead. If that actually happened, it validates everything he said and did. Everything else – all the other facts, all the other claims, and all the doctrine, depend for their truth on the truth of the resurrection. If that did not happen, then Jesus was a liar, or an oddball who got way in over his head; if it did happen, then he was what he claimed, and everything else he claimed is true.
In fact, the resurrection was about all the very early church knew, and most of what it preached. Before the New Testament was written, before the formal organizations were started, before the libraries were written that have been written about every facet of Christianity – the early followers of Jesus took their stand and staked their lives on the truth of the resurrection.
In one of his earliest letters, the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” 1 Corinthians 15: 14.
So how would a lawyer prove the resurrection? It begins by authenticating the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all of whom assert eyewitness accounts that Jesus was raised from the dead.
(“Authenticating” means proving that a text was written by the person who purported to write it, at the time it is purported to have been written.)
When an eyewitness claims to have seen something, he is either mistaken, or lying, or speaking the truth. There are no other possibilities. And which of the hypotheses is true is itself subject to proof by other facts, and fair inferences from facts.
I won’t go into the other evidence or argument. It’s been done, better than I could do it, many times, once by an atheist who set out to disprove the resurrection and ended up writing a book about why he believed it.
But this fact is what Christians celebrate on Easter, and have celebrated from the beginning. It’s the foundation of our confidence that Jesus is alive today, that he not only has the truth but is the Truth, and that he is still reaching out, in this broken and weary world, to all those who are heavy laden and seek rest for their souls.