Ready to Answer - Lesson 12

By Jim Baird

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?

Part I

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. Students will be able to explain why, even though it is the case that Christians have many reasons based on experience and faith to trust in the Bible’s account of the resurrection, when we argue with unbelievers, we have to start from what they already believe and work from there.
  2. Students will be able to state and explain the nine facts which even unbelieving scholars would normally admit about the resurrection.
  3. Students will be able to recognize and explain the reasons behind each of the nine facts.


  1. For this lesson, students will need the study sheet listing the nine facts that make the case for the resurrection, with room for them to take notes. The underlined portions of this outline appear on the students study sheets.
  2. It is important not just to read these notes to the class.The teacher should be very familiar with the outline and choose how to present the material, making notes in the margins as needed. Practicing the lesson a few times will allow the teacher to look at the students’ eyes while making the presentation.
  3. Some find it helpful to underline the key words that will spark their memory of what to say and do next.
  4. A teacher who is new to this subject would be wise to get copies of the resources listed at the bottom of this outline and study them as well.
  5. Blackboard should be provided, clean, with chalk and erasers.
  6. Students should have access to Bibles, or have overheads of all scriptures.


The evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is strong enough to stand up to the most skeptical standards of modern scholarship.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 8 minutes)

  1. The task of making our case for Christianity to unbelievers is made harder because we have to learn what they believe and build on that.
  2. Most of us who are Christians already have lots of experience that shows us we can trust the Bible. We have seen how living according to the Bible’s commands make us happier, better people.We have had a taste of some of the deeper truths that are in scripture, truths that casual acquaintance usually misses. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and when we have been Christians for a while, the Spirit gives us confidence in the Word through the Word.
  3. But how do we give an answer to those who reject the authority of the Bible.
  4. One strategy is to give evidence for the Bible, and then use the Bible to prove the other specific beliefs of Christianity.
  5. Another strategy is to build faith in Jesus, and then use faith in Jesus to help build faith in the Bible.
  6. In the previous three weeks [if you have followed the standard schedule] we have looked at lots of evidence which would make a thinking person realize that Jesus is more than just a great moral teacher, or local faith healer.
  7. In this week and the next, we will give the greatest evidence of all, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
  8. Of course, Christians all know that the Bible teaches that Jesus rose from the dead. But how do we convince those that reject the authority of the Bible?
  9. It turns out that the evidence for the resurrection is plentiful enough that we can build a very strong case for the resurrection using only facts which are commonly acknowledged by even skeptical Biblical scholars.
  10. The following is a case built on nine such facts. In each case, the majority of Biblical scholars would agree that the evidence favors the fact presented.
  11. Notice, that is not the same thing as saying that most Biblical scholars would agree with all nine facts taken together, because agreeing with all nine facts makes it very hard to deny the resurrection. It just means that skeptical scholars cannot agree among themselves about which of these facts should be rejected to avoid believing in the resurrection.

Learning Experiences: (about 45 minutes)

Nine Facts That Even Most Skeptics Admit {Adapted from Gary Habermas and Antony Flew, Did Jesus risefrom the Dead? The Resurrection Debate (Harper & Row,Publishers, San Francisco, 1987)}

    1. Fact #1: Belief in the resurrection of Jesus was well developed within a few years of the beginning of the church inJerusalem. In the letters of Paul, there are several passages where Paul quotes from earlier traditions about Jesus. Some of the most notable are I Corinthians 15:3-7, Philippians 2:6-11and Colossians 1:15-20, and each of these makes direct or in direct reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus.Since the common theory is that these were sayings the churches knew before Paul wrote to them, they show how early the belief in the resurrection actually is.I Corinthians 15:3-7 is the best of these, because it is specifically about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.It provides very good evidence that the belief in the resurrection is early and from Jerusalem.1 Corinthians is undisputed by scholars as written byPaul no later than 55 A.D.Paul taught this formula to the Corinthians in 50 AD,when he was there (or else his citing of it would do no good.) This alone takes the resurrection doctrine to within 2 decades of the event itself.Most scholars agree that I Cor. 15:3-7 is not somethingPaul composed, but is an easily memorized oral teaching tool designed to capture the gist of the gospel and a list of resurrection witnesses. It was passed on to Paul and he then passed on to the Corinthians.It has a natural rhythm which was common for work meant to be memorized.It seems obvious that Paul didn’t compose it, since it contains two phrases which would be very troublesome for him ? “the twelve” [vs. 5] and “all the apostles” [vs. 7].“The twelve” is a phrase of special respect for the original apostles of Jesus, and Paul never uses it except here. This is natural, given that there were many who used the fact that he was not one of the original twelve apostles to cast doubt on his status. [See I Cor. 9:1-5; II Cor. 11:5; 12:11-12]The same reason makes it even harder to imaginePaul himself making up the phrase “all the apostles” in a context that clearly does not include him [see vs. 8 where he has to add an explanation of how he fits in, and is nevertheless worthy.]In addition, I Cor. 15:3-7 contains several other phrases that are not characteristic of Paul ? “for our sins,” “the third day,” “he was seen,” “he was raised.”So Paul was probably using an easily memorized saying to help his converts remember the primary witnesses to the resurrection event.Many scholars think that this saying must have come toPaul from the Jerusalem church or at least from the are a surrounding Jerusalem.[No need to use all of the following if time is short.Just whatever you think is interesting and will establish the point.]The saying uses parallelism, which is more characteristic of Hebrew literature (see the Psalms for instance) than of Greek literature.“Delivered” and “received,” in vs. 3 is the language used to describe the way the Jewish Rabbis taught.-through oral transmission of memorized sayings.The saying uses the name Cephas rather than Peter? Cephas is the Aramaic name of Peter, and when it is used, it is usually in some connection with theJerusalem church.Again, the phrase “the twelve” is powerful evidence on this point, since it is characteristic of the writers who were most influenced by Peter and theJerusalem church ? Mark most of all.The fact that the list leaves out any women as witnesses may also indicate an early Jerusalem origin. It looks like a list of witnesses which would establish the resurrection in a Jewish court, and women were not allowed by the Rabbis to serve as legal witnesses to anything.So Paul could have learned this on one of his few visits to Jerusalem before 50 AD, if not earlier from someone like Barnabus who came from the Jerusalem church.This means that this saying was being used to teach the new disciples in Jerusalem or surrounding churches at the very latest before A. D. 44.[NOTE: No need to bring this up unless they do, but if you have really bright kids, they may object thatGal. 1 & 2 indicate that when Paul visited Jerusalem,the leaders there did not add anything to his message. This is part of an old problem ? the relation of Gal. 1 & 2 to passages like I Cor. 11:23-26 and I Cor. 15:3-7 which indicate Paul was taught certain things by others. The typical solution is that since in Galatians, Paul is defending his gospel to theGentiles, he means that the Jerusalem leaders did not add anything to his doctrine of justification by faith in Christ rather than by obeying the Law ofMoses. The leaders obviously talked to him about something, and it would be very odd indeed if they didn’t discuss some of the particular facts that Paul would not be familiar with. But this does not change the fact that the gospel of justification by faith inJesus came to Paul directly from Christ.]The last phrase, “all the apostles” seems to point to a time before the conversion of Paul. Craig Blomberg, amore conservative scholar, suggests that this takes us back before the martyrdom of Stephen, to within two years of the crucifixion itself. [See Jesus under Fire, p.43 & the note on p. 50.] This early timing would also fit with the view that Paul learned this from Barnabus or someone else from the original Jerusalem community.So it is very reasonable to claim that the saying in ICorinthians 15:3-7 was being used as a teaching tool forChristians in or around Jerusalem very early - most likely no later than fourteen years, and quite probably earlier than two years after the death of Jesus. For these reasons and others, there are fewer and fewer scholars who will deny that belief in the resurrection of Jesus was a very early element of Christianity in Jerusalem. This is important because many scholars in the past had relied on a long period of time for the resurrection belief to grow and gain acceptance. This shows that there was no time for the core of the resurrection belief to grow.
    2. Fact # 2: Jesus died on the cross. Some scholars used to put forward the idea that Jesus went into a coma on the cross, and revived later, and in this way started the resurrection stories. It is hard to find scholars who will seriously defend this view now, for several reasons.First, there is no account from the ancient world of anyone surviving crucifixion by falling into a coma and reviving later.Second, the whole point of crucifixion was that it was normally a long lingering death, usually lasting days - during which time shorter and longer periods of unconsciousness would be expected. The Romans had ample opportunity to know the difference.Third, none of the critics of Christianity who lived during the time crucifixion was practiced ever suggested that theRomans would have been so incompetent as to let Jesus off the cross unless they were sure he was dead. The coma theory is entirely a product of the modern age.We will talk more about the coma hypothesis in the next lesson, but these are some of the main reasons why most scholars will not dispute that Jesus really died on the cross.
    3. Fact # 3 Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope. All four of the gospels portray the fear of the apostles during the arrest, trial and crucifixion.They also all bear some kind of witness to this fear and loss of hope after the death of Jesus.Matt. 28:17 some doubted at Galilee appearance.Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11 Apostles didn’t believe the women Mark 16:14 Jesus rebukes the eleven for lack of faith. Luke 24:38&9 “Why do doubts rise in your mind?”John 20:19 The apostles are locked in an upper room for fear of the JewsIt is a common tactic of skeptics to claim that the stories of the gospels are not reliable because they were largely made up by the early church. But scholars have found it impossible to come to agreement about why the early church would make up stories which show their most respected leaders in such a ridiculous, faithless condition? Consequently, it is widely accepted that the disciples really did lose hope after the crucifixion. 
    4. Fact #4 Jesus was buried in a tomb discovered to be empty within a few days. There is at least one famous scholar who disputes the burial of Jesus, and quite a few who dispute the empty tomb. But the majority do not dispute either of these facts, for the following reasons.All the gospels, even the undisputed portion of the ending of Mark, mention the burial and empty tomb. I Cor. 15:3-8 specifically includes the burial before the resurrection, which naturally makes the reader conclude the tomb was empty.The Jewish doctrine of the resurrection was of graves opening and the dead rising from them.If the tomb was not empty, it becomes inexplicable why the early opponents of Christianity would not have gone to the tomb and produced the body.In Acts, we find several strong defenses of the resurrection, but no defense of the empty tomb, which indicates that this fact was not in dispute.The standard skeptical explanation for the story inMatthew 28:11-15 is that the writer of Matthew made it up to counter the claim being made by Jewish opponents in his own time that the disciples had stolen the body.But even if this theory were true, it shows that theJewish opponents of Christianity fully believed that the tomb was empty - which ironically becomes more evidence that it actually was.For all these reasons, the majority view, (though hotly disputed by some, like most things in scholarship) would be that the tomb truly was found empty.
    5. Fact #5 The disciples had experiences that they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. The findings above about 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 are sufficient to show this, because it is so hard to imagine this list of witnesses being used in or around Jerusalem so close to the events unless the apostles and other witnesses testified that they had seen Jesus.Furthermore, by far the simplest explanation for the accounts we have in the gospels is that the disciples really did think they had seen Jesus. No alternative theory has been able to gain sufficient consensus among scholars to displace this. 
    6. Fact #6 The disciples who had been afraid became the first leaders of the church, and were willing to face persecution for their testimony to the resurrection. There have been a few vocal dissenters to Fact #6 among skeptical scholars, but only a few.It is currently more popular among skeptics to argue that the Jerusalem church led by the disciples was only one of several movements that arose after Jesus’ ministry. While there is probably some truth to this, (Acts 18:24-19:7 is one example) it has been stretched far beyond the evidence by some scholars.Even its more exaggerated versions usually allow that the original disciples suffered persecution for their testimony to the resurrection, so Fact #6 is not much disputed.This dramatic change from Fact #3 to Fact #6, from fear to courage, cries out for some explanation. Historians need some dramatic event to account for such a change. The resurrection would be such an event, and it is hard to imagine anything else which would account for such a powerful transformation.
    7. Fact #7 Sunday became the day of assembly for Christian congregations early in the history of Christianity. This is not to say that Jewish Christians stopped immediately their attendance at the Synagogues on the Sabbath. But that Sunday became the day of assembly for Christian worship is widely acknowledged by skeptical and conservative scholars alike.It is indicated both by the New Testament evidence and unanimously by the writings and evidence we have from second through fourth century Christians.I Corinthians 16:2; Acts. 20:7; and Revelation 1:10together make an indirect case from scripture that is stronger than can be brought forward in favor of any other hypothesis.Ignatius, a church leader writing letters to theMagnesian Christians around A. D. 115 said, “If therefore those who lived according to the old practice came to a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath but living according to the Lord’s day, in which also our life arose through him and his death ….”The Epistle of Barnabus, a Christian document written around A. D. 135, talks about Isaiah 1:13&14 and then says “Wherefore we keep the eighth day for joy, on which also Jesus arose from the dead and when he appeared ascended into heaven.”[Both of the quotes above are taken from EverettFerguson, Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in theFirst Three Centuries, Revised Edition, ACU Press, 1987,p. 67. The whole of Chapter 6 provides an excellent presentation of the early evidence on the Christian day of worship.]Some dramatic reason seems to be required to explain this shift in the day of assembly for worship.Given the Jewish origins of Christianity, the natural development would have been for Christians to continue the Jewish practice of assembling on the Sabbath.As the quotes above indicate, the earliest evidence is that Christians explained this shift as a result of the fact that Sunday was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead.
    8. Fact #8 James, the brother of Jesus was an unbeliever duringJesus’ lifetime, but a believer soon after Jesus’ death. He became an important leader in the church and wasa witness to a resurrection appearance.He is the James listed as a witness to the resurrection in I Cor. 15:7In Galatians and Acts, he is presented as key leader in theJerusalem church.Josephus describes James in some length as a respected leader of the Jerusalem church, who died for the faith.John 7:5 indicates that the brothers did not believe in Jesus during his ministry, but Acts 1:14 shows his mother and brothers among the believers soon after the resurrection appearances occurred.This creates a strong circumstantial case that James, likePaul below, was converted by his experience of the resurrected Jesus.
    9. Fact # 9 Paul, a fierce opponent of Christianity, was converted by his experience of the resurrected Jesus.
    His own testimony in Galatians and 1 Corinthians is that this is what converted him, supplemented by Luke’s three accounts in Acts (chs. 9, 22 and 26).His testimony is accepted by all scholars, however they explain it. Taken together, these nine facts create a very strong case for the resurrection. Nothing in history can be made completely certain to us limited humans. But we can say this. These nine facts can all be convincingly explained by the hypothesis that Jesus was raised from the dead, and no other hypothesis seems to be able to explain all nine. (We’ll discuss some famous failed attempts in the next lesson.) Therefore, these nine facts provide excellent reasons for accepting the resurrection of Jesus.

Application: (About five minutes)

  1. Let’s think about the practical significance of theresurrection for a minute. Ask: How do you think the fear of death affects people? [Probe for realizations that some people get depressed, some get anxious, some try to lose themselves in entertainment, and many dive into sin toavoid thinking about it.]
  2. The New Testament teaches that Jesus’ resurrection was not an isolated event, but that Jesus’ resurrection makes it possible for all of us to be raised as well (I Cor. 15:20-21;Heb. 2:14-15)
  3. Ask: How do you think faith in Jesus’ resurrection, and in our own, affects us?

Further Resources:

Gary Habermas and Antony Flew, Did Jesus rise from the Dead?The Resurrection Debate. Harper & Row, Publishers, SanFrancisco, 1987.

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