If you asked me why I am a Christian, my first response would involve the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is one of the most important and one of the most historically verifiable aspects of Christianity. To explain how it’s historically verifiable, I’ll go straight to the best evidence supporting the idea that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened.
This evidence involves a letter written by the apostle Paul (a Christian who had previously opposed Christianity) back around 50 AD. Paul wrote this letter to Christians in a church located in the Greek city Corinth, for the purpose of addressing falsehoods that had been spreading amongst people in the church. Towards the end of the book, Paul reminds the Christians of the basis behind their beliefs.
Here’s what he wrote (translated from his language – Greek):
“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.”
In the above paragraph, Paul summarizes the events that took place in the life of Jesus Christ – his death, his burial, and his rising from the dead (resurrection). He then lists individuals or groups of people who saw Jesus after this resurrection took place – as shown in the text I bolded above. All this information, according to Paul, had been passed down to him.
When was the information passed to him? To answer that question, we can go to another letter that Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia (located in modern-day Turkey). In the letter, Paul describes his conversion to Christianity, which happened within a few years of Jesus’ death. Then he describes what happened three years after his conversion:
“I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James.”
It is highly probable that during these fifteen days, Paul and Peter talked about the events laid out in the letter to the Corinthians – Jesus’ death, rising from the dead, and appearances to others. Thus, Paul likely received the information about these events somewhere between three to six years after they occurred. And the eyewitness testimony behind that information goes back further – likely to the events themselves.
In comparison to other writings of ancient events, this timeline is impressive. Historical works that are considered reliable today were often written using information received decades or even centuries after the events. Considering the information about key events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection was passed on within a few years of the events, we have good reason to rely upon this information.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians isn’t the only evidence supporting the claim that the resurrection happened, but it is the most significant because of how close it gets us to the actual events. No matter what objections are raised against Christianity, the fact that we have early eyewitness testimony of the events cannot be ignored. Thus to me this letter is foundational in my faith – it gives me more confidence in the truth of Christianity than any other piece of evidence available.
With that said, there is other evidence that supports the truth of Christianity – whether the evidence comes through historical documents, archeological findings, or philosophical arguments. Over time, I hope to expand on this series – “I’m a Christian Because of…” – and dig into this evidence piece-by-piece.