Is there any proof that Christ resurrected? I have heard this question many times from unbelievers throughout the quarter-century of my being at Church. A recent publication in Foma, a leading Orthodox magazine, raised a similar question. The underlying logic is as simple as it is legitimate. Christianity asserts that Christ was not just a living person, but also that He was executed, died and resurrected after three days. Some hard evidence is indeed in order to support such an extraordinary and forthright claim.
The question about proof, therefore, appears legitimate. Yet before we begin to address it, it would be sensible to decide on some criteria. To do so, we might turn to the science of history for guidance on what counts as scientific proof of a historical fact. Eyewitness accounts could certainly constitute such proof. Ignore these, and the reality of any event in world history can be put in doubt.
Yet this is exactly the route that some historians followed who asserted Christianity’s origin from a myth, denied the identity of Christ as a historical figure and declared Him to be a myth. They were sure to receive some clever and witty responses – pamphlets that ridiculed the assumptions and methods of the advocates of this view. For example, in 1827 Jean Batiste Peres, a professor of the University of Lyons, published a funny brochure. In it, he asserted that Napoleon Bonaparte never existed, his history is fully fictional, that the figure of Napoleon was a legend and a mythologised representation of the Son. His arguments were strictly scientific, from the perspective of the ‘mythical school’ of history. In the identity of Napoleon, he selected nine primary characteristics, notably, his name, place of birth, mother’s name, number of siblings, suppression of the French revolution, number of marshals and number of years in office. He analysed all these and concluded that Napoleon never existed and that he was a mythical image of the sun, In the same way as the members of the ‘mythical school’ questioned the reality of Christ, he questioned the reality of Napoleon. The professor from Lyons was only exercising his irony.
Personal account or testimony constitutes valid historical proof of an event, especially if there is more than one witness. For example, we know about the identity of Socrates from two men, Plato and Xenophontes, who knew him personally. Yet their accounts are contradictory. Other testimonies belong to people who never met Socrates. Nevertheless, no serious historian over millennia has even challenged the reality of Socrates’ existence.
For the resurrection of Christ, the evidence is even more solid than for the existence of Socrates. We have numerous written testimonies from people who knew Christ in person. They were His disciples Matthew, John, Peter and James, and also Apostle Paul. This evidence has great weight. To question it would lead us also to declare as myths the identities of Socrates, Plato and many other famous people in human history – simply because the number of witnesses to their existence is much lower than that of witnesses to Christ’s resurrection.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds