Evidence of the Empty Tomb: Part 1: Written Accounts and Public Sightings

Christ’s rise from the dead seems both mysterious and magical. Eyewitnesses called it something else, a divine miracle. We know; we have their statements.

This is an event attached firmly to the historical record.

No, we cannot prove it happened.

But we can look at its alleged impact on witnesses and their colleagues or students, captured in ancient manuscripts.

We can look at how several aspects of these ancient accounts fit archaeological records.

And, we can look at the growth of the early church itself.

There indeed are some bizarre but implausible theories about how the tomb was emptied, but they cannot overrule the preponderance of accounts of his appearances.

Let’s explore seven categories of evidence supporting the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. We’ll begin by examining written accounts and public sightings.

Written accounts

We have early written evidence of witnesses claiming the resurrection to be true. The most prominent are accounts in the four first-century manuscripts (the “gospels”) written about Christ’s earthly ministry.

All written by different authors, and all with early surviving evidence. Somewhere between seven and a dozen pieces of these gospels have survived from either the second-century or the beginning of the third century.

We need to heed Brent Nongbri’s caution in God’s Library (Yale, 2018), and let these ancient manuscripts speak for themselves, not forcing them to earlier dates. Fortunately, we don’t need to buttress the core story of the gospels nor the early evidence we already have.

Public sightings

Besides historical (real) pieces of these Christian letters close to their first-century beginnings, the actual accounts within them attest to what Peter Williams calls an “overall variety of claimed appearances.”

From the range of historical locations in and around Jerusalem to the types of events and range of discussions, this warden (president) of Tyndale House Cambridge concludes: “It is hard to imagine this pattern of appearances in the Gospels and early Christian letters without there having been multiple individuals who claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead.” (Can We Trust the Gospels? Crossway, 2018)

Written by:

Jerry Pattengale, Author of dozens of books, including Inexplicable: How Christianity Spread to the Ends of the Earth—and co-author of the accompanying TBN docu-series. Also, the inaugural University Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University, and a founding scholar of the Museum of the Bible (DC).

Read the rest of the “Evidence of the Empty Tomb” series.