The resurrection of Christ is the foundation of Christianity. It is little wonder then that it has been the prime subject of attack by infidels and sceptics. The following two articles in our series, Faith or Fanaticism, show not only the scriptural certainty, but the absolute necessity for the resurrection.
Paul is in the courtroom again!
How did Paul receive his training as a lawyer? By the time he wrote the Corinthians, he had already been in a courtroom several times. In fact, his stay in Corinth included such a visit (Acts 18:1216). He returned to court several times before he wrote about his “first defense” (2 Tim 4:16 JND) in the imperial court. Whether gained through formal education or by observation, his legal expertise is evident to the reader of Romans 3. The same characterizes his writing on the primary subject of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
You would hardly expect the apostle to take his readers to a laboratory to prove resurrection. To the question, “How are the dead raised up?” (verse 35), Paul suggests parallels to natural events, but resurrection is not a natural event. Although death is natural with its law written across creation, reversing death is not. If it happens, it must be supernatural. Natural laws control the laboratory. The question of resurrection belongs in the courtroom. Did it happen?
As he holds court with the Corinthians, Paul questions why this session should be required. When they were saved through faith in the message of the gospel, had they believed it “without a just cause” (“unless ye have believed in vain,” vs 2)? Nevertheless, Paul begins his case. He calls the witnesses, pleads his case and leaves the verdict in the hands of a “jury of his peers,” the Corinthians.
The seemingly interminable hoopla of the legal proceedings involving 0. J. Simpson highlights a distinction the U. S. legal system maintains. Although the state tried Mr. Simpson on the charge of murder, a crime against the state, a civil trial has ensued because of personal damages the victims’ families have suffered. Since the U. S. system utilizes a jury for both criminal and civil trials, the burden of proof is carefully defined, although different in the two cases. For a civil trial, “the preponderance of evidence” is a sufficient basis for conviction. A criminal trial demands proof “beyond all reasonable doubt.” Defense lawyers were able to introduce enough doubt into the jurors’ minds in Mr. Simpson’s criminal trial to gain an acquittal. The plaintiff’s lawyers in the civil trial went to court to show that the evidence strongly indicates guilt and therefore that the bereaved are entitled to compensation.
Paul faces the charge that his preaching has deceived the Corinthians, because it is devoid of truth (vs 14). As a result, the Corinthians have been wronged. Their faith in Christ has produced nothing, and they remain in their sins (vs 17). This is a civil case. In verse 15, however, Paul raises another charge: “we are found false witness of God.” This is a criminal case. To win his case, Paul must show “beyond all reasonable doubt” that Christ rose from the dead.
The apostle calls his resurrection witnesses, many of whom must also affirm the certainty of the death of Christ. Proof of resurrection requires certainty that He died. The first witness is the Word of God. “Christ died … according to the Scriptures” (vs 3). Christ was raised “according to the Scriptures” (vs 4). The Old Testament stated clearly that He would die. Likewise, it taught by principle, picture, type and implication that He would rise. Shouldn’t that be proof enough? Yes, for a believer, this is proof enough. As in our day, the Corinthians must have been dealing with cynics to whom the Word of God is not sufficient proof. For that reason, Paul’s addi8on of other witnesses is significant. Since he paints his courtroom drama in the public forum of the assembly, Paul calls only male witnesses (14:34). Peter, the twelve, above 500 brethren, James and all the apostles form an impressive procession of witnesses. All these witnesses have relevant facts without the addition of opinions. Lest any should be concerned about hearsay testimony, Paul assures the Corinthians that at least 252 of the 500 – and almost all of the others are still alive and can be called to the witness stand. Cross examination of all these witnesses will only make their testimony more cogent. Before the resurrection, some of his witnesses had denied Christ (Peter), been discouraged (the twelve) some doubted (the five hundred), and others defected (all the apostles). In addition, one was presumably an unbeliever (John 7:5) until the resurrection. “All the apostles” (vs 7), which likely included those who had accompanied the Lord from the Jordan to Bethany (Acts 1:21, 22), knew all the steps of His journey, particularly between His resurrection and ascension. Their testimony was as complete as anyone’s could be.
As a seventh source of witness, the accused himself stepped to the stand. Benjamin’s ravening wolf (Gen 49:27) had persecuted Christians and pursued Jerusalem believers into foreign lands to put them to death. Saul of Tarsus had a vested interest in rejecting the resurrection of Christ. On seeing the glory and hearing the voice of Jesus, he immediately turned and began a life in which he was persecuted for Christ. The abundance of his labors, even exceeding other apostles’, only magnifies the weight of circumstantial evidence for the resurrection.
Having presented the witnesses, the lawyer turns to the jury with his closing argument. His approach assumes the opposite of what he wishes to prove and shows that such an assumption leads to a logical impossibility In effect, he says, “Suppose Christ were not risen, then…” this is a classic case of indirect reasoning, an acceptable and effective method in a court of law. First he focusses on the character of the gospel and its promises (vs 12-19). Is it reasonable to believe that all these witnesses are at the same time knowingly deceiving others while preaching a faith with such high ethical standards? Would such a deceptive message transform so many lives for good? Next he addresses the character of God and His program (vs 20-28). The faithfulness of God in carrying out His prophetic program, and His very character as holy, demand an ultimate eradication of sin from His own people and from the universe. If Christ actually died, could this possibly be fulfilled apart from His first being raised from death? Hadn’t God revealed that Christ would accomplish such a work? Could God be both holy and omnipotent, yet allow sin to persist in His creation? Finally, Paul points to the character of the lifestyle of the godly and their practices (vs 29-32). Paul faced persecution and tremendous difficulties, yet his life and the lives of all the believers had a belief in resurrection as their basis. Could such circumstantial evidence be reasonably dismissed?
With all the intensity of a lawyer making his closing appeal for the life of his client, Paul turns to the Corinthians and says in effect, “What possible pernicious influence could lead a person to question that the resurrection of Christ is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’?”
With good reason, Paul assumed a favorable finding on the jury’s part. The validity of the resurrection of Christ forms the basis of his argument for the resurrection of believers (verses 35-57).
Others follow the same logic as Paul’s defense of the resurrection of Christ. Simon Greenleaf was an outstanding professor of law at Harvard Law School and contributed greatly to that school’s high academic standing. His famous three-volume work, “A Treatise on the Law of Evidence” (1853) is still considered one of the leading authorities on the admissibility of evidence in a trial. Another of his works is entitled, “An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of justice.” In it, he concludes that, when judged by the standards of legal evidence used in court, the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection has more evidence than almost any other event in history.
One of England’s Lord Chief Justices, Lord Caldcote, wrote of the “overwhelming case” for the basic claim of Christ, that of resurrection. He affirmed that weighing the case “has led me as often as I have tried to examine the evidence to believe it as a fact beyond dispute.” Lord Darling, another Lord Chief Justice of England, said that “no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.” Lord Lyndhurst, who in one lifetime held the highest offices ever conferred upon a judge in Great Britain, wrote, “I know pretty well what evidence is; and I tell you, such evidence as that for the resurrection has never broken down yet.”
Christ’s showing Himself alive after His sufferings and death is the bedrock of Christian faith and practice. Doctor Luke knew that neither natural laws nor medical skill could accomplish this. How carefully he had investigated the facts (Luke 1:3)! How convincing is his statement that this foundational tenet rests on “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3)!