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UNIT 3 CHAPTER 7<br />

Evidence for<br />

Jesus’ Divinity<br />


Chapter 7 Overview<br />

In the last chapter you reflected on how you would answer six questions with significant implications for your<br />

life of faith and your relationship with Jesus Christ, who is Emmanuel — God with us in the flesh. In this chapter,<br />

we will turn our attention to the bountiful evidence that supports this claim. We will begin with evidence<br />

from outside the Bible, and then turn to the evidence we can find from the Gospels and the rest of the New<br />

Testament.<br />

In this chapter you will learn that …<br />

■ A preponderance of evidence exists both in Scripture, specifically the Gospels, and in non-scriptural sources that<br />

support Jesus’ claim to be divine.<br />

■ The preaching of the Apostolic Church is remarkably consistent in its central claims about Jesus contained in the<br />

kerygmas.<br />

■ The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life are trustworthy and persuasive.<br />

■ Most scholars conclude from the evidence that something happened to Jesus’ body after His death that is<br />

attributable to a supernatural cause.<br />

■ Accounts of near-death experiences correlate with certain details of Jesus’ Resurrection.<br />

Bible Basics<br />

For I delivered to you as of first importance<br />

what I also received, that Christ died for our<br />

sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he<br />

was buried, that he was raised on the third day<br />

in accordance with the scriptures, and that he<br />

appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then<br />

he appeared to more than five hundred brethren<br />

at one time most of whom are still alive,<br />

though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared<br />

to James, then to all the apostles. Last<br />

of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared<br />

also to me.<br />

—1 Corinthians 15:3–8<br />

[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our<br />

preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We<br />

are even found to be misrepresenting God,<br />

because we testified of God that he raised<br />

Christ ... If Christ has not been raised, your faith<br />

is futile and you are still in your sins.<br />

— 1 Corinthians 15:14–17<br />

Connections to the Catechism<br />

■ CCC 445<br />

■ CCC 464–478<br />

■ CCC 638–655<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />


Chapter 7<br />

Follow the Evidence<br />

Thus far in this unit we have considered six questions whose answers<br />

have significant implications not only for our own lives of faith, but also<br />

the way we interact with the central and most foundational truth of our<br />

Faith: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God become man — Emmanuel<br />

(“God with us”). Now we turn our attention to the preponderance of<br />

evidence that exists supporting this claim. Since evidence from the<br />

Bible may be least likely to convince skeptics of Christianity, we will begin<br />

this chapter with what we know about Jesus from outside the New<br />

Testament.<br />

Historical Works<br />

Outside of the Gospels, there are three notable sources from the<br />

period — sources that were not interested in Christ as the Messiah, and<br />

even hostile to Him, but which mention Him in their own historical works.<br />

The Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus<br />

In his Annals (ca. AD 105–120), while recounting how Nero blamed the<br />

Christians for the burning of Rome, Tacitus provides a non-Christian<br />

historical reference to Jesus. It states that Christus was executed by<br />

crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate during the reign of the Roman<br />

Emperor Tiberius.<br />

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus<br />

Flavius Josephus (a Jewish historian writing a history of the Jewish<br />

people for a Roman audience in approximately AD 93) provides the<br />

most impressive and detailed evidence for the historical Jesus outside<br />

Christian scripture. Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jewish People cites<br />

Jesus’ Crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, and refers to Jesus as wise,<br />

having authority, a teacher and a wonder-worker (miracle-worker). This<br />

reference to miracles is rare in Josephus’ history. John the Baptist, for<br />

example, receives a long description but without any mention of miracles.<br />

The fact that a Jewish historian writing for the Romans would<br />

mention not only Jesus’ execution by crucifixion, but also the positive<br />

attributes of His wisdom, authority, teaching, and miracle-working indicates<br />

how well-known Jesus’ reputation was for these attributes.<br />

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Jewish historian Flavius<br />

Josephus described Jesus’<br />

Crucifixion under Pontius<br />

Pilate and Jesus as a wise<br />

teacher and wonder-worker<br />

in his work Antiquities of the<br />

Jewish People.<br />

Aa<br />


Babylonian Talmud:<br />

Compilation of Jewish oral law<br />

and other rabbinical material<br />

completed around AD 400.<br />

Portrait of Flavius Josephus, by Jan Caspar Philipsnaar.<br />

The Babylonian Talmud<br />

This Jewish source compiled Jewish oral law and other rabbinical material<br />

from prior centuries, was mostly written between AD 50–300 and<br />

completed around AD 400. It contains several references to Jesus, including<br />

His Crucifixion and His reputation for supernatural power. The<br />

Babylonian Talmud is especially notable as evidence since the passages<br />

indicate a rabbinical hostility toward Jesus, and their negative tone<br />

precludes any suspicion of Christian influence.<br />

In sum, Tacitus speaks to the historicity of Jesus’ trial and<br />

Crucifixion — naming both Pontius Pilate as procurator and Tiberius<br />

as Caesar. Josephus also speaks to Jesus’ Crucifixion under Pontius<br />

Pilate, explicitly mentioning Jesus as wise, authoritative, and as teacher<br />

and miracle worker. The Babylonian Talmud affirms Jesus’ Crucifixion<br />

and miracle working.<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


St. Paul and the Apostles<br />

faced alienation, persecution,<br />

torture, and execution for<br />

claiming Jesus was divine.<br />

Kerygmas: Brief Christian<br />

texts that express simple<br />

credal teachings. These were<br />

the first proclamations of the<br />

Early Church, written within a<br />

decade of Jesus’ Death and<br />

Resurrection, and preserved in<br />

the New Testament within the<br />

Acts of the Apostles and the<br />

Letters of St. Paul.<br />

St. Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raphael.<br />

The Preaching of the Apostolic Church<br />

The earliest information we have about Jesus is found in the<br />

kerygmas — brief texts that proclaim in a relatively simple way the basic<br />

core teachings of the Gospel message (kerygma is Greek for “proclamation”).<br />

These were the first proclamations of the Early Church, written<br />

within a mere decade of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. They have<br />

been preserved in the New Testament within the Acts of the Apostles<br />

and the Letters of St. Paul. (See: Acts 2:14–39; 3:13–26; 4:10–12; 5:30–<br />

32; 10:36–43; 13:17–41; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:1–7; and<br />

Romans 8:34.)<br />

These proclamations have eight repeated themes:<br />

1. Jesus was a descendant of David.<br />

2. Jesus was predicted by the Prophets.<br />

3. Jesus worked miracles.<br />

4. Jesus was crucified and buried for our sins (in all major kerygmas).<br />

5. Jesus rose in glory (in all major kerygmas).<br />

6. Jesus gave His disciples the Holy Spirit.<br />

7. Jesus is now exalted in God.<br />

8. Jesus is therefore, Messiah and Lord.<br />

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Since these themes form the foundation of Christian creeds today,<br />

they might strike us as routine and familiar. But these are radical claims<br />

that Christians were making about Jesus right at the beginning. Calling<br />

a man the Lord (the term in New Testament Greek — ho Kurios — is a<br />

translation of the Divine name Yahweh) would have been blasphemous<br />

in the eyes of other Jews, and calling a crucified man God would have<br />

been repulsive to virtually everyone. Furthermore, the early Christians<br />

suffered terribly for their claim of Jesus’ divinity — they lost their social<br />

and financial status, were religiously ostracized and ultimately expelled<br />

from the synagogue, and were persecuted to the point of death. Why<br />

would anyone risk alienating their audience, getting expelled from the<br />

synagogues, losing social status, and facing persecution and death for<br />

claiming Jesus was divine if they were not sure it was true? All of this<br />

suffering could have been avoided by simply calling Jesus a holy man,<br />

or a martyr-prophet who lost His life for the truth. Something must have<br />

impressed the early Christians to make such specific, radical claims in<br />

the face of such strong disincentives. Three possible reasons why the<br />

Church would have believed in Jesus’ divinity so strongly in the face of<br />

such sacrifices would seem to be His Resurrection and glory, His gift of<br />

the Holy Spirit, and the miracles He worked by His own authority during<br />

His ministry. We will first consider in this chapter the evidence for Jesus’<br />

Resurrection and glory. In Chapter 8 we will take a look at the evidence<br />

for Jesus’ miracles and the sending of the Holy Spirit.<br />

Gnostic Gospels: Ancient<br />

books about the life of Christ<br />

that are infused with false<br />

theology that reflects the<br />

Gnostic heresy rampant at the<br />

time. Two are falsely attributed<br />

to St. Thomas the Apostle and<br />

St. Mary Magdalene.<br />

The Evidence of the Heart<br />

Before we proceed, we must first reflect on the fact that, even though<br />

we are looking at a lot of hard evidence in this unit, anytime we are genuinely<br />

being persuaded of something — rather than just scoring points<br />

in an argument — there are usually additional factors besides the evidence<br />

itself. One of these factors is the trustworthiness and general<br />

feel we get of the person giving the evidence. In the case of the New<br />

Testament, there are several striking patterns that can inspire confidence<br />

in its authors:<br />

1. Restraint: Miracles are reported in simple factual prose, like<br />

a news report, without the dramatic embellishment we find<br />

in any other ancient story of miracles (such as the so-called<br />

Gnostic Gospels).<br />

2. Initital Doubt: All three Gospel accounts of Jesus’ risen<br />

appearance to the Apostles report the initial doubts of the<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


Resurrected Jesus Christ with Thomas the Apostle, by Sebastiano Santi.<br />

All the Gospels show the<br />

Apostles as initially doubtful<br />

that Jesus had risen from the<br />

dead.<br />

Apostles, a notably honest admission for an account intending to<br />

inspire belief.<br />

3. Humility: Other unflattering details like the insults the religious<br />

authorities leveled at Jesus or the failings and weaknesses of the<br />

Apostles (e.g. Peter’s betrayal) are also included, indicating that<br />

reporting the whole truth was more important than making the<br />

early Church leaders look good.<br />

4. Challenging tone: The restrained reporting, honest inclusion<br />

of unpleasant details, and refusal to explain away challenging<br />

teachings all convey a tone of authors who are convinced of the<br />

truth of what they are reporting but who are not trying to soften<br />

the difficulty of that truth to win people over with a flattering<br />

presentation. There is a bracing earnestness in their writing.<br />

5. Inspiring appeal: Paradoxically, laying out the mission of the<br />

Gospel without trying to soften it or downplay its challenges can<br />

be inspiring, inviting us to aspire to its high calling.<br />

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Jesus’ Resurrection in Glory<br />

While belief in Jesus as Emmanuel (“God with us”) requires a movement<br />

of the heart to recognize our need for love and to be open to receiving<br />

that love, it also requires evidence for the mind that Jesus is divine.<br />

It is for this reason that Jesus’ Resurrection, as a demonstration of his<br />

divine power, is so central to Christianity. St. Paul even remarks that if<br />

Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christians are essentially wasting their<br />

time (1 Corinthians 15). Is there any historical way of verifying whether<br />

the Resurrection happened? The answer to this question is undeniably<br />

yes. Let us now consider the evidence.<br />

Recent Scholarship on the Resurrection<br />

A 2005 survey of exegetes (scholars who analyze the Scriptures) by<br />

Gary Habermas indicates that most agree the early disciples at least<br />

had experiences they perceived as the Risen Christ. A few exegetes<br />

propose natural causes for these experiences (e.g. subjective visions<br />

caused by religious intoxication and enthusiasm). But most seem to<br />

conclude that there was a supernatural cause — that something happened<br />

to Jesus after His Death. The consensus is that Jesus’ body was<br />

transformed; in other words, Jesus did not just appear to the Apostles<br />

as a vision or ghost (a luminous appearance) but fully came back to life<br />

as Himself, with a risen and transformed body (a transformed corporeal<br />

appearance). What evidence has led them to this consensus?<br />

There exist four main areas of evidence:<br />

1. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ risen appearances to the<br />

Apostles;<br />

2. St. Paul’s testimony to the Resurrection of Jesus;<br />

3. N.T. Wright’s historical analysis of the Resurrection; and<br />

4. The empty tomb.<br />

1. The Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Risen Appearances to the<br />

Apostles<br />

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s risen appearances to the Apostles<br />

share many common elements, and one of the most telling of these is<br />

that the Apostles were not expecting what they saw. The general pattern<br />

of the Resurrection narratives is as follows: Jesus’ appearance as a<br />

spiritually and gloriously transformed body, the Apostles’ initial doubts<br />

about this being Jesus, and Jesus’ proof that it is really He.<br />

All the Gospels show the Apostles as initially doubtful of the<br />

Resurrection. They are so overwhelmed by His transformation that<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


Soma Pneumatikon: Phrase<br />

coined by St. Paul to describe<br />

Christ’s glorified body,<br />

meaning literally “spiritual<br />

body.”<br />

they seem to think they are witnessing a divine vision — not the Jesus<br />

they had worked with during His ministry. Jesus had to reassure them<br />

that — however wondrously transformed — it was really He and really<br />

His actual body. Far from something the Apostles were expecting, let<br />

alone planning, this transformed Christ that appeared to them was so<br />

radically unfamiliar that St. Paul would have to coin a new phrase to describe<br />

it: a Soma Pneumatikon or “Spiritual Body” (1 Corinthians 15:44).<br />

As we continue, we will see just how radical the consequences were for<br />

Christianity in receiving and adopting this new concept.<br />

2. St. Paul’s Testimony to the Resurrection of Jesus<br />

One of the earliest kerygmas is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8. It contains<br />

a list of the witnesses to the Resurrection:<br />

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I<br />

also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance<br />

with the scriptures, that he was buried, that<br />

he was raised on the third day in accordance with the<br />

scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then<br />

to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five<br />

hundred brethren at one time most of whom are still<br />

alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared<br />

to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all,<br />

as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.<br />

Paul seems to be offering this list with an eye to its value as legal<br />

evidence. He mentions that, of the more than five hundred people who<br />

witnessed the Risen Christ, most “are still alive,” implying that his audience<br />

could have still consulted them to corroborate the story. The list<br />

also does not include the women at the tomb — the earliest witnesses<br />

mentioned in the Gospel narratives — as Jewish law of the time would<br />

not have held their witness legally admissible.<br />

Having offered the evidence of these witnesses to the Resurrected<br />

Christ, Paul probes the value of their evidence by laying out a dilemma<br />

in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19: either the witnesses believed in God, or they<br />

did not believe in God. In either case, Paul argues, they had everything<br />

to lose and nothing to gain by falsely claiming to have witnessed the<br />

Resurrection. For a believer to publicly lie that he had witnessed the<br />

Resurrected Christ, he would have put his own salvation in jeopardy<br />

by bearing false witness that undermined and caused apostasy to the<br />

Jewish faith. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:14–19:<br />

[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching<br />

is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even<br />

132 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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The Risen Christ appeared<br />

radically different to the<br />

Apostles.<br />

Apostasy: The abandonment<br />

or renunciation of one’s<br />

religious faith.<br />

The Ascension, by Benjamin West,<br />

found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified<br />

of God that he raised Christ ... If Christ has<br />

not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still<br />

in your sins.... If for this life only we have hoped in<br />

Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.<br />

For one who believed in God, lying about the Resurrection represented<br />

the worst possible crime in the eyes of St. Paul. The witnesses<br />

of the Risen Christ, if they were believers, had everything to lose<br />

and nothing to gain by publicly lying about the Resurrection (causing<br />

apostasy), for they were jeopardizing their eternal salvation.<br />

Those who did not believe in God would also have had to make great<br />

sacrifices to preach the Resurrection, which would have made lying<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


The unprecedented growth<br />

of the early Church gives<br />

evidence not only of the<br />

power of the Holy Spirit in the<br />

ministry of the Apostles, but<br />

also of the Resurrection of<br />

Jesus.<br />

about it senseless. Such a lie would have brought needless suffering<br />

onto oneself. The Resurrection doctrine set the early Christians at odds<br />

with the Jewish tradition they lived in, causing them to be expelled from<br />

their synagogues and ostracized by their communities. It quickly led to<br />

hounding by the Roman authorities as well. Ultimately, it meant active<br />

persecution, torture, and death. It would have been a huge leap of logic<br />

for an unbeliever to willingly associate himself with such persecution<br />

and danger to his own life for a lie he himself did not even believe.<br />

Indeed, Paul himself suffered repeatedly from these threats and<br />

would even die for the Faith. If the Resurrection were a lie, all that suffering<br />

would have been for nothing. As he himself indicated — “If the<br />

dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1<br />

Corinthians 15:32). Paul uses this dilemma to show (in a legal fashion)<br />

that he and the other witnesses — believers and unbelievers alike — had<br />

everything to lose and nothing to gain by bearing false witness to the<br />

Resurrection of Christ. Their testimony is more reliable since it goes<br />

against their own self-interest.<br />

Constantine’s Conversion, by Peter Paul Rubens<br />

134 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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3. N.T. Wright’s Historical Analysis of the Resurrection<br />

N.T. Wright, a contemporary Anglican New Testament scholar and<br />

Pauline theologian, offers two arguments for the historicity of Jesus’<br />

Resurrection: the remarkable success of Christian messianism and the<br />

Christian mutations of Second Temple Judaism. These two aspects of<br />

the early Church are difficult to account for without the Resurrection.<br />

Messianic Movements:<br />

Groups which formed around<br />

leaders who claimed to be<br />

God’s promised Messiah, and<br />

which inevitably died out after<br />

the leader’s death.<br />

The Remarkable Success of Christian Messianism<br />

The first historical anomaly central to N.T. Wright’s argument is that<br />

there were many messianic movements in the time of Christ, each<br />

separate and distinct from that of Jesus and His followers. Wright lists<br />

several of these: “Judas the Galilean, Simon, Athronges, Eleazar ben<br />

Deinaus and Alexander, Menahem, Simon bar Giora, and bar-Kochba.”<br />

In every case, a charismatic leader attracted an enthusiastic following,<br />

the leader died (usually at the hands of the authorities), his followers<br />

scattered, and the messianic movement soon died. One example of<br />

this pattern is even found in the Gospels with John the Baptist.<br />

Christianity is the one dramatic exception to this pattern. After the<br />

public humiliation and execution of their leader, the disciples did not<br />

fade away. Instead, they began preaching throughout the surrounding<br />

countries that their crucified leader is in fact the Messiah, has succeeded<br />

in fulfilling the ancient prophecies, rose from the dead, and is divine.<br />

Even more shockingly, their messianic movement grew exponentially.<br />

In a few generations, Christianity became the dominant religion of the<br />

Roman Empire. Where did this momentum come from? What inspired<br />

the Apostles with such conviction?<br />

Wright believes that the Apostles would have had no credibility with<br />

this message among the Jewish or Gentile people were it not for two<br />

extraordinary occurrences — (1) the Apostles’ ability to perform healings<br />

and miracles on a regular basis by the power of the Holy Spirit, and (2)<br />

the fact that they worked these miracles in the name of Jesus. As the<br />

Apostles explained, if Jesus was not risen from the dead as they had<br />

preached, then how could they work miracles through His Spirit in His<br />

name? Given that no other messianic movement worked regular miracles<br />

in the name of their messiah (including the movement of John<br />

the Baptist), it explains how Christianity’s preaching of the Resurrection<br />

was so credible and, therefore, how the early Church grew so rapidly.<br />

This historical perspective gives evidence not only of the power of the<br />

Holy Spirit in the ministry of the Apostles, but also of the Resurrection<br />

of Jesus.<br />

In a few<br />

generations,<br />

Christianity<br />

became the<br />

dominant<br />

religion of the<br />

Roman Empire.<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


From Judaism to Christianity<br />

The teaching of the Early Church also gives evidence for the<br />

Resurrection. Wherever possible, the early Christians tried to maintain<br />

continuity in teaching with the broader Jewish community of the time<br />

(whose teachings are referred to as Second Temple Judaism). There<br />

is one area, however, where Christians made several unprecedented<br />

changes in doctrine, changes dramatic enough to get them expelled<br />

from the synagogues: the Resurrection.<br />

Here are the changes:<br />

Second Temple Judaism<br />

Resurrection means return to<br />

the same kind of physical body.<br />

Christianity<br />

Resurrection means<br />

transformation into a spiritual<br />

and glorified body (the soma<br />

pneumatikon).<br />

No one will rise before the end<br />

times.<br />

Jesus has already risen.<br />

The Messiah is not associated<br />

with Resurrection.<br />

The hope for a Messiah and the<br />

hope of a Resurrection are both<br />

fulfilled in Jesus.<br />

The end times (parousia) are in<br />

the Future.<br />

The end times have begun with<br />

Jesus, and will be completed in<br />

the future.<br />

Resurrection is a minor<br />

doctrine.<br />

Resurrection is the central<br />

doctrine that justifies and<br />

connects the entire Faith.<br />

Historians have theorized about where these new ideas came<br />

from — perhaps from paganism, some have suggested, or the desire<br />

of Christians to come to terms with the death of their leader. The<br />

problem with these theories is that the ideas are unprecedented — no<br />

one had ever proposed them even outside of Judaism. It is difficult to<br />

find a plausible source for these ideas other than the one given in the<br />

Gospels — that Jesus really did rise from the dead and appeared to the<br />

disciples in a spiritual and glorified body. (Remember that St. Paul even<br />

136 Apologetics I: The Catholic Faith and Science<br />

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St. Peter Preaching in the Presence of St. Mark, by Fra Angelico.<br />

had to make up a new term to describe the idea of a spiritual and glorified<br />

body; they literally didn’t have a word for it!). Combine the novelty<br />

of the doctrine with how uniquely controversial it was — again, it was<br />

the only area where Christians opposed the prevailing Jewish doctrine,<br />

Christians knew that the negative consequences would be significant,<br />

and yet they fearlessly separated themselves from the doctrine and endured<br />

its consequences, including expulsion from the Synagogue. Thus,<br />

we are forced to ask, where did this conviction come from, if not from<br />

the gloriously resurrected Jesus witnessed by the early Christians?<br />

The early Church sought to<br />

maintain continuity with the<br />

broader Jewish community<br />

when possible, but the<br />

Resurrection necessitated<br />

radical new changes in<br />

doctrine.<br />

4. The Empty Tomb<br />

The empty tomb does not in and of itself give direct evidence of<br />

the Resurrection, of course, but does provide indirect corroboration.<br />

When the Apostles began gaining converts by preaching<br />

the Resurrection, it was in the interests of the Jewish authorities to<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


Jesus’ Resurrection shows<br />

us His divine power, and also<br />

reveals the new life we are<br />

destined for as His disciples.<br />

undermine this claim by producing the body of Jesus, which they<br />

were unable to do. This fact points to the likelihood that the body really<br />

was not in the tomb. Even more, in the Gospels, the Jewish authorities<br />

charge that the Apostles stole Jesus’ body (an accusation<br />

that would not be necessary unless there was an identifiable burial site<br />

that was now empty). We are quite sure about the historical reliability<br />

of this charge because it is unthinkable that the Christians would have<br />

reported such a damaging claim to their own credibility in the Gospel<br />

(Matthew 28:13) unless it were really true. The empty tomb also indicates<br />

continuity between Jesus’ original body and the glorified body<br />

of the Resurrection — i.e. His same body that was buried was later<br />

raised and left the tomb transformed in glory.<br />

Supper at Emmaus, by Matthias Stom.<br />

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Correlations Between the Resurrection of Jesus and<br />

Near-Death Experiences<br />

As we began to explore in Unit 1, we can also find some interesting parallels<br />

between Jesus’ Resurrection and the accounts of people who<br />

have had near death experiences (NDEs). Part of the significance of<br />

Jesus’ Resurrection, in addition to establishing His own divine power, is<br />

to show us the new life for which believers will be destined.<br />

What do we know of our own future after combining the evidence<br />

of Christian revelation and NDEs? There are a few recurring details in<br />

accounts of near-death experiences that correlate with details of Jesus’<br />

Resurrection:<br />

Theophany: A profound<br />

manifestation, or revelation,<br />

of God.<br />

1. Human beings are not limited to corporeal life or the physical<br />

world — we have a transphysical consciousness and spiritual embodiment<br />

that can survive bodily death. In NDEs, people experience<br />

continued conscious awareness after medical brain death<br />

has occurred. Furthermore, when patients encounter deceased<br />

relatives and friends, they report that they have a recognizable<br />

body (looking similar to the body they had as a young adult — and<br />

without physical imperfections). This continued spiritual embodiment<br />

and consciousness after death is also demonstrated by<br />

Jesus’ Resurrection appearance — though Jesus’ body is not just<br />

spiritualized, but glorified, appearing like a manifestation of God<br />

(a theophany).<br />

2. The transphysical dimension of human beings has continuity with<br />

embodiment but is not limited by physical laws or structures.<br />

Several near-death experience accounts report an ability to see<br />

and hear as well as an ability to move beyond the confines of the<br />

room they were in, often reporting on events and conversations<br />

in other parts of the hospital that they could not have otherwise<br />

witnessed. Gospel accounts also ascribe to Christ’s glorified<br />

body a similar freedom from physical laws and boundaries (e.g.<br />

passing through walls).<br />

3. The transcendent deity (and the so-called other side) are<br />

overwhelmingly loving (from both NDEs and Jesus’ revelation).<br />

One of the more well-known details of near-death experiences,<br />

perhaps, is the vision of a white light. Many people spontaneously<br />

use the adjective loving to describe this light, often portraying<br />

this love as not just obvious but even overwhelming. Not only is<br />

God’s unconditional love a central teaching of Jesus, but it is also<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


an unprecedented teaching not found in any religions prior to<br />

Christianity.<br />

The reports of near-death experiences, however, only provide partial<br />

corroboration of the Resurrection. The revelation of the Resurrected<br />

Jesus contains other truths about our final destiny that we would not<br />

otherwise know.<br />

For instance:<br />

1. Our transphysical embodiment will be transformed in power and<br />

glory — like Jesus’.<br />

2. Life after death is eternal.<br />

3. God’s and Jesus’ intention is to give eternal life to all who accept<br />

and seek it — still allowing for the possibility of some to freely<br />

reject love, a loving God, and loving people.<br />

Conclusion<br />

If Jesus was<br />

not who the<br />

Apostles said He<br />

was, why would<br />

God validate<br />

it by working<br />

miracles<br />

through the<br />

hands of the<br />

Apostles in<br />

Jesus’ name?<br />

Let us now review what we have gathered from surveying the historical<br />

evidence on the Resurrection.<br />

First, there is significant reason to believe that the Risen Jesus appeared<br />

to the Apostles (and other witnesses) after the women had discovered<br />

His empty tomb. He appeared spiritually transformed — not a<br />

vision or a ghost — but maintained continuity with His former embodiment,<br />

complete with the wounds of His Crucifixion. These post-Resurrection<br />

appearances account for all five of the changes Christians made<br />

to Second Temple Judaism’s teaching about resurrection.<br />

Second, after His Resurrection, He imparted the Holy Spirit upon<br />

His Apostles, and they could perform the same kinds of miracles Jesus<br />

performed in His name. If Jesus was not who the Apostles said he was,<br />

why would God validate it by working miracles through the hands of<br />

the Apostles in Jesus’ name? Doing so would not have been logical or<br />

in His best interests. The inspiration of the Resurrection and the capacity<br />

to work miracles in the name of Jesus gave the Apostles the<br />

momentum to grow in the midst of persecution after the death of their<br />

founder.<br />

This evidence for Resurrection is essential to the foundation of believing<br />

that Jesus is truly the unconditional love of Emmanuel (“God<br />

with us”). In the next chapter we will look in more depth at two other<br />

parts of the foundation of this belief: Jesus’ miracles and the gift of the<br />

Holy Spirit.<br />

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Focus and Reflection Questions<br />

1 What historical account of Jesus does Cornelius Tacitus provide? Flavius Josephus? The Babylonian<br />

Talmud?<br />

2 Why is this historical evidence important for skeptics?<br />

3 What is the kerygma and how does it figure into the life of the early Church? What theme is present<br />

in all major kerygmas?<br />

4 How were the claims of the kerygmas radical for the time?<br />

5 If the early Christians suffered so strongly, what are the three possible reasons why the Church<br />

would have believed in Jesus’ divinity so ardently?<br />

6 Why should we be confident in the trustworthiness of the authors of the New Testament?<br />

7 Why is Jesus’ Resurrection so central to Christianity?<br />

8 What historical evidence do the Gospels provide of the Resurrection?<br />

9 What does soma pneumatikon mean? Who used this phrase and why?<br />

10 What argument does St. Paul make as to why we should trust the witnesses he lists in 1 Corinthians<br />

15:3–8?<br />

11 What is N.T. Wright’s argument regarding Christian messianism? What accounts for the momentum<br />

and conviction of the Apostles?<br />

12 What is N.T. Wright’s argument regarding Second Temple Judaism and the Resurrection?<br />

13 How does the empty tomb corroborate the Resurrection?<br />

14 What corroborating evidence can near-death-experiences provide regarding Jesus’ Resurrection?<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


Straight to the Source<br />


Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter III, Flavius Josephus<br />

About this time lived Jesus, a man full of wisdom, if indeed one may call Him a man. For He was the<br />

doer of incredible things, and the teacher of such as gladly received the truth. He thus attracted to<br />

Himself many Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. On the accusation of the leading men<br />

of our people, Pilate condemned Him to death upon the cross; nevertheless those who had previously<br />

loved Him still remained faithful to Him. For on the third day He again appeared to them living, just as,<br />

in addition to a thousand other marvelous things, prophets sent by God had foretold. And to the present<br />

day the race of those who call themselves Christians after Him has not ceased.<br />

1 How does Flavius Josephus describe Jesus?<br />

2 Who do you think Josephus means by saying Christ was accused by “our people”? What does this tell<br />

us about Josephus?<br />

3 From the way Josephus writes, do you think he was a follower of Jesus? Why or why not?<br />

Redemptoris Missio 6, An Encyclical Letter of Pope St. John Paul II, December 7, 1990<br />

6. To introduce any sort of separation between the Word and Jesus Christ is contrary to the Christian<br />

faith. St. John clearly states that the Word, who “was in the beginning with God,” is the very one who<br />

“became flesh” (Jn 1:2, 14). Jesus is the Incarnate Word – a single and indivisible person. One cannot<br />

separate Jesus from the Christ or speak of a “Jesus of history” who would differ from the “Christ of<br />

faith.” The Church acknowledges and confesses Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt<br />

16:16): Christ is none other than Jesus of Nazareth: he is the Word of God made man for the salvation<br />

of all. In Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9) and “from his fullness have we all received”<br />

(Jn 1:16). The “only Son, who is the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1:18) is “the beloved Son, in whom<br />

we have redemption.... For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile<br />

to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his Cross” (Col<br />

1:13-14, 19-20). It is precisely this uniqueness of Christ which gives him an absolute and universal significance,<br />

whereby, while belonging to history, he remains history’s center and goal: “I am the Alpha and the<br />

Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rv 22:13).<br />

Thus, although it is legitimate and helpful to consider the various aspects of the mystery of Christ, we<br />

must never lose sight of its unity. In the process of discovering and appreciating the manifold gifts –<br />

especially the spiritual treasures – that God has bestowed on every people, we cannot separate those<br />

gifts from Jesus Christ, who is at the center of God’s plan of salvation. Just as “by his incarnation the<br />

Son of God united himself in some sense with every human being,” so too “we are obliged to hold that<br />

the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in the Paschal Mystery in a manner known to<br />

God.” God’s plan is “to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).<br />

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1 Why is it an error to speak of the “Jesus of history” as distinct from the “Christ of faith”?<br />

2 What must we never lose sight of when contemplating the various aspects of the mystery of Christ?<br />

3 Who did Christ mysteriously unite Himself to by His Incarnation?<br />

Homily 66, 1–3, St. Augustine, ca. AD 354–AD 430<br />

1. The Lord appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, as you have heard, and saluted them, saying,<br />

Peace be unto you. This is peace indeed, and the salutation of salvation: for the very word salutation has<br />

received its name from salvation. And what can be better than that Salvation Itself should salute man?<br />

For Christ is our Salvation. He is our Salvation, who was wounded for us, and fixed by nails to the tree,<br />

and being taken down from the tree, was laid in the sepulchre. And from the sepulchre He arose, with<br />

His wounds healed, His scars kept. For this He judged expedient for His disciples, that His scars should<br />

be kept, where by the wounds of their hearts might be healed. What wounds? The wounds of unbelief.<br />

For He appeared to their eyes, exhibiting real flesh, and they thought they saw a spirit. It is no light<br />

wound, this wound of the heart. Yea, they have made a malignant heresy who have abided in this wound.<br />

But do we suppose that the disciples had not been wounded, because they were so quickly healed?<br />

Only, Beloved, suppose, if they had continued in this wound, to think that the Body which had been buried,<br />

could not rise again, but that a spirit in the image of a body, deceived the eyes of men: if they had<br />

continued in this belief, yea, rather in this unbelief, not their wounds, but their death would have had to<br />

be bewailed.<br />

2. But what said the Lord Jesus? Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts ascend into your hearts? If<br />

thoughts ascend into your heart, the thoughts come from the earth. But it is good for a man, not that a<br />

thought should ascend into his heart, but that his heart should itself ascend upwards, where the Apostle<br />

would have believers place their hearts, to whom he said, If you be risen with Christ, mind those things<br />

which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Seek those things which are above, not<br />

the things which are upon the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ<br />

your life shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory. In what glory? The glory of the resurrection.<br />

In what glory? Hear the Apostle saying of this body, It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory.<br />

This glory the Apostles were unwilling to assign to their Master, their Christ, their Lord: they did not<br />

believe that His Body could rise from the sepulchre: they thought Him to be a Spirit, though they saw<br />

His flesh, and they believed not their very eyes. Yet we believe them who preach but do not show Him.<br />

Lo, they believed not Christ who showed Himself to them. Malignant wound! Let the remedies for these<br />

scars come forth. Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts ascend into your hearts? See My hands<br />

and My feet, where I was fixed with the nails. Handle and see. But ye see, and yet do not see. Handle and<br />

see. What? That a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have. When He had thus spoken, so it is<br />

written, He showed them His hands and His feet.<br />

3. And while they were yet in hesitation, and wondered for joy. Now there was joy already, and yet hesitation<br />

continued. For a thing incredible had taken place, yet taken place it had. Is it at this day a thing<br />

incredible, that the Body of the Lord rose again from the sepulchre? The whole cleansed world has believed<br />

it; whoever has not believed it, has remained in his uncleanness. Yet at that time it was incredible:<br />

© Sophia Institute for Teachers<br />

Unit 3, Chapter 7: Evidence for Jesus’ Divinity<br />


and persuasion was addressed not to the eyes only, but to the hands also, that by the bodily senses<br />

faith might descend into their heart, and that faith so descending into their heart might be preached<br />

throughout the world to them who neither saw nor touched, and yet without doubting believed. Have<br />

ye, says He, anything to eat? How much does the good Builder still to build up the edifice of faith? He did<br />

not hunger, yet He asked to eat. And He ate by an act of His power, not through necessity. So then let<br />

the disciples acknowledge the verity of His body, which the world has acknowledged at their preaching.<br />

1 According to St. Augustine, why did Christ keep His scars after the Resurrection?<br />

2 Based on what you read in the homily above, what do you think is the heresy of the Manicheans<br />

referenced by St. Augustine?<br />

3 According to St. Augustine, what was the reason Christ asked His Apostles for food?<br />

4 What struck you the most about this homily? Why?<br />

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