The Son Rises | Notes & Review

William Lane Craig. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Wipf and Stock, 1981. (156 pages)

the son rises


The Christian faith is based on the event of the resurrection. It is not based on the evidence for the resurrection. (7)

1. Death and Resurrection

Modern man is the Cosmic Orphan because he has killed God. And, by doing so, he has reduced himself to an accident of nature. … Thus, in killing God, modern man has killed himself as well. (11)

If there is no immortality, then the life that man does have becomes absurd. To make the situation worse, life is itself only a mixed blessing, for at least four reasons. (12)

First, there is the evil in the heart of man, which expresses itself in man’s terrible inhumanity to man. (12) Second, there is the problem of disease. (13) Third, all of us confront the specter of aging. (13) Fourth, there is death itself, the great and cruel Joker who cuts down all men, often unexpectedly in the prime of life. (14)

The point is that man’s being the Cosmic Orphan is not an exhilarating adventure. It is the final tragedy. It means that man is the purposeless outcome of matter, time, and chance. He is no more significant than any other animal, and is destined only to die. Therefore we weep for him. | What makes his predicament doubly tragic is that man is in a certain sense naturally oriented toward God and immortality. For man alone possesses what anthropologists call “openness to the world.” (15)

…man hopes for the future, yet at the same time he knows that the future brings death one step closer. (16)


  1. Commit suicide
  2. Ignore the whole thing.
  3. Affirm the absurdity of life and live nobly.
  4. Challenge the world view of modern man

We need to define this notion of resurrection more closely. (20)

First, resurrection is not the immortality of the soul alone. (20) Second, resurrection is not reincarnation. (20) Third, resurrection is not resuscitation. (21) Finally, resurrection is not translation. (21)

If it is true, then the Cosmic Orphan has found his home; for the resurrection of Jesus gives him both God and immortality at once. (22)

2. Some Blind Alleys


Eusebius argues that it would be inconsistent to hold that the disciples were on one hand followers of Jesus with His high moral teaching and yet on the other hand such base liars as to invent all these miraculous stories about Jesus. (24)

Let us band together to invent all the miracles and resurrection appearances which we never saw and let us carry the sham even to death! Why not die for nothing? Why dislike torture and whipping inflicted for no good reason? Let us go out to all nations and overthrow their institutions and denounce their gods! And even i we don’t convince anybody, at least we’ll have the satisfaction of drawing down on ourselves the punishment for our own deceit. – satirical account by Eusebius

…if we distrust these men, then we must distrust all writers of history and records. If we accept the testimony of secular historians, then we must by the same standard also accept the reliability o the disciples’ testimony to the resurrection. (25)

Let us summarize some of the main arguments used by Christians in refuting this theory:

  1. The obvious sincerity of the disciples is evident in their suffering and dying for what they believed.
  2. The disciples’ moral character proves that they were not liars.
  3. The idea of a conspiracy is ridiculous
  4. The gospels were written soon after the events and in the same place where the events happened.
  5. The disciples could not have stolen the body from the tomb, had they wanted to.
  6. The change in the disciples shows they had not invented the resurrection.
  7. The disciples became convinced of the resurrection despite every skeptical doubt and every predisposition to the contrary.

William Paley’s positive case for the Christian faith [in A Few of the Evidences of Christianity (1794)] consists in his defense of two statements: (1) that the original witnesses of Christian miracles voluntarily passed their lives in labor and suffering for the truth of what they proclaimed and that they also for the same reason adopted a new way of life, and (2) that no similar case exists in history. In support of the first point, Paley argues that (a) Jesus and the disciples did what the statement says, and (b) they did it because of the miraculous story found in the gospels. (28)

The testimonies of the Roman authors Seutonius [sic] and Juvenal confirm that within thirty-one years after Jesus’ death, Christians were dying for their faith. From the writings of Pliny the Younger, Martial, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, it is clear that the believers voluntarily submitted to torture and death rather than renounce their faith. (29)

As for subpoint (b), it is equally clear that those early Christians were suffering for a miraculous story. … No trace of a nonmiraculous story exists. (30)

Thus, it is clear that the miraculous story in the gospels was the story which the Christian believers had from the beginning. This means that the resurrection of Jesus was always a part of that story. 930)

But the strongest argument that the gospels are genuine writings of their authors is ancient testimony to that fact. Here Paley expounds an elaborate eleven-point argument:

  1. The gospels and Acts are quoted as genuine by ancient writers, beginning with those from the time of the apostles themselves an continuing thereafter.
  2. The books of the New Testament were always quoted as authoritative and as one of a kind.
  3. The books of the New Testament were collected as one volume at a very early date.
  4. These writings were given titles of respect.
  5. These writings were publically [sic] read and preached upon.
  6. Copies, commentaries, and harmonies of the gospels were written.
  7. The New Testament books were accepted by all heretical groups as well as by orthodox Christians.
  8. The gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1 John, and 1 Peter were recognized as authentic writings even by those who doubted the authenticity of certain other New Testament epistles.
  9. The early enemies of Christianity recognized that the gospels contained the story on which the faith was founded.
  10. Lists of authentic Scriptures were published, which always included the gospels and Acts.
  11. The apocryphal books were never treated in the above manner. It is a simple historical fact that during the first three hundred years, with one exception, no apocryphal gospel was ever even quoted by any known writer.

Therefore, Paley concludes, the gospels must be the authentic writings of the apostles. Even if it were the case that the names of the gospel authors were wrong, it still cannot be denied in light of the above arguments that the gospels do contain the story that the original apostles told and for which they labored and suffered. (34)

In the second volume of his masterful work, Paley discusses confirmatory evidence for the truth of the Christian faith, such as fulfilled prophecy, the historical accuracy of the gospels, the excellence of Jesus’ moral character, and so on. (35)

He begins by observing that the whole of the New Testament testifies to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. That leaves us with only two alternatives: the apostles were either deceivers are deceived. (35)

The second alternative, that the disciples were deceived, implies that the belief in the resurrection is due to religious hysteria and hallucinations. But this alternative fails on several grounds: (1) Not just one person saw Jesus appear after His resurrection, but many. (2) Not just lone individuals saw Him, but groups of people. (3) They did not see Him only once, but many times. (4) They did not merely see Him, but touched Him, conversed with Him, and ate with Him. (5) Jesus’ body was not to be found. (35)

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that no modern biblical scholar would for a moment entertain the theory that the disciples conspired together to steal the corpse and then lie about the resurrection appearances. It is utterly out of the question. … The theory has been dead for nearly two hundred years. (36


  1. The theory failed to take seriously the extent of Jesus’ physical injury.
  2. The apparent-death theory makes Jesus into a deceiver.
  3. A weak and half-dead Jesus could never have convinced his disciples that He was the Lord of life and Conqueror of death.


  1. According to the gospel accounts, the women noted precisely where Jesus was laid (Luke 23:55) because they intended to return Sunday morning to visit the grave.
  2. [Critics] select arbitrarily the facts [they] want to believe.
  3. The decisive consideration against the wrong tomb theory, however, is that a later check would have revealed the error at once.


Once the skeptic granted the basic historical reliability of the gospel accounts, his case was lost. (42)

In summary, then, we have seen that the history of the debate over the resurrection of Jesus has produced several dead ends in the attempt to explain away the evidence of the resurrection.

3. The Empty Tomb

The historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus consists primarily in the evidence supporting three main facts: the empty tomb of Jesus, the appearances of Jesus to his disciples, and the origin of the Christian faith. If it can be shown that the tomb of Jesus was found empty, that He did appear to His disciples and others after His death, and that the origin of the Christian faith cannot be explained adequately apart from His historical resurrection, then if there is no plausible natural explanation for these facts, one is amply justified in concluding that Jesus really did rise from the dead. (45)


  1. The historical reliability of the account of Jesus’ burial supports the empty tomb. …the disciples themselves could never have believed in the resurrection of Jesus when faced with a tomb containing His corpse. … no one would have believed them, even if they had claimed that He was risen, since it would have been stupid (in fact, impossible) for anyone to believe a man had been raised from the dead when His body was still in the grave. … the disciples’ opponents would have exposed the whole affair as a sham by displaying the body of Jesus, perhaps even parading it through the streets of Jerusalem, thus bringing the Christian heresy to a sudden and grisly end.
    • Paul’s testimony provides early evidence for the historicity of Jesus’ burial.
    • The burial account was part of the source material used by Mark in his description of Jesus’ sufferings and death and is therefore very early.
    • The story itself is simple and lacks signs of significant legendary development.
    • The burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea is probably historical. Arimathea is likely to be the town of Ramathaion-zophim, just north of Jerusalem.
    • Jesus’ burial in a tomb is probably historical. …three different types of rock tombs used in Jesus’ time. (1) Kokim tombs, …tunnels (2) acrosolia tombs, …semicircular niches in the walls … (3) bench tombs
    • Jesus was probably buried late on the day of preparation.
    • The observation of the burial by the women is historically probable.
    • No other burial story exists. *
    • The graves of Jewish holy men were always carefully remembered and honored.
    • The Shroud of Turin confirms Jesus’ burial.
      • The Shroud has marks of being authentic.
      • A forger would probably not have produced such a shroud.
      • There are no known means of producing the image on the Shroud.
  2. Paul’s testimony guarantees the fact of the empty tomb. **
  3. The account of the empty tomb was part of the source material used by Mark in his description of Jesus’ sufferings and death and is therefore very old.
  4. The expression “the first day of the week” instead of “on the third day” proves that the empty tomb account is extremely old.
  5. The story itself is simple and lacks signs of significant legendary development.
  6. The discovery of the empty tomb by women is highly probable. (77)
  7. The investigation of the empty tomb by Peter and John is historically probable.
  8. It would have been impossible for the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty.
  9. The earliest Jewish propaganda against the Christian believers presupposes the empty tomb. (Matthew 28:11-15)
  10. The fact that Jesus’ tomb was not venerated as a shrine indicates that the tomb was empty.

*Thus no other burial story exists. If the story of Joseph’s burial of Jesus in the tomb is legendary, then it is very strange indeed that we nowhere find other conflicting stories, not even in the Jewish attacks on Christianity. That no remnant of the true story or even a conflicting false one should remain is very strange unless the gospel account is in fact the true story. If one denies this, then one is reduced to denying the historicity of one of the most straightforward and unadorned narratives about Jesus and giving credence to imaginary alternative stories that do not exist. (63)

** Two verbs for “resurrect” are used in the New Testament: egeiren and anistanai. (67)

It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, ‘grave-emptying’ resurrection. To them an anastasis (resurrection) without an empty grave would have been about as meaningful as a square circle. – E. E. Ellis

…contrary to popular opinion, the Christian hope is not that our souls will live forever, but rather that our bodies will be raised up to eternal life. But in order for that to be possible, the present, mortal body must be transformed. (69)

If the tomb was not empty, then one cannot explain how the earliest Christians could believe that it was or why Paul’s teaching took the direction that it did. (70)


Was the body stolen?

  1. There was no motive for stealing the body.
  2. …no one other than Joseph and his companions and the women even knew where Jesus was buried.
  3. The time was insufficient for such a conspiracy.
  4. The fact that the graveclothes were found in the tomb precludes theft of the body.
  5. Conspiracies of this sort almost always come to light either by disclosure or discovery or at least by rumor.
  6. Most important, however, the theory seeks to explain only part of the evidence.

4. The Appearances of Jesus


  1. The testimony of Paul demonstrates that the disciples saw appearances of Jesus.
    • The appearance to Peter.
    • The appearance to the twelve.
    • The appearance to the five hundred. *
    • The appearance to James. **
    • The appearance to all the apostles.
    • The appearance to Paul.
  2. The gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances are fundamentally reliable historically.
    • There was insufficient time for legend to arise. §
    • The controlling presence of living eyewitnesses would prevent significant accrual of legend. Legends do not arise significantly until the generation of eyewitnesses dies off. (107)
    • The authoritative control of the apostles would have kept legendary tendencies in check.
  3. The resurrection appearances were physical, bodily appearances.
    • Paul implies that the appearances were physical. ∑
    • The gospels prove that the appearances were physical and bodily. δ
      • Every resurrection appearance narrated int he gospels is a physical, bodily appearance.
      • The really decisive consideration in favor of the physical, bodily appearances of Jesus as narrated in the gospels is that, as we have seen, the gospel accounts are fundamentally reliable historically. (117)
  4. Specific considerations make individual gospel appearance stories historically provable.
    • The appearance to the women is historical.
    • The appearance to Peter is historical.
    • The appearance to the Twelve is historical.
    • The appearance by the Lake of Galilee is historical.
    • The appearance in Galilee mentioned by Mark is historical.

* There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that most of the five hundred are still alive, unless Paul is saying, in effect, ‘the witnesses are there to be questioned.’ Paul could never have said that if the event had not actually occurred. – C.H. Dodd

** … Josephus records that the Jews illegally and brutally stoned James to death for his faith in Jesus Christ sometime around A.D. 60. (96) … one of the surest proofs of Jesus’ resurrection is that His own brothers came to believe in Him. (97)

§ …several lines of solid evidence point to a date for Luke-Acts before A.D. 64

  1. There is no mention of events that happened between A.D. 60 and 70.
  2. There is no mention of the death of the apostle Paul.
  3. The subject matter of Acts deals with concerns important to Christianity before the destruction of Jerusalem.
  4. Acts uses expressions that faded from use early in the history of Christianity. For example, Jesus is called “the Son of Man” and “the Servant of God,” titles that soon faded into obscurity.
  5. The attitude of the Romans toward Christianity is positive in Acts.
  6. There is no real acquaintance with Paul’s letters in the book of Acts.

…everyone agrees that Paul did not teach immortality of the soul alone, but the resurrection of the body. (112)

  1. Paul (and indeed all of the New Testament) makes a sharp distinction between an appearance of Jesus and a vision of Jesus. Visions, even ones caused by God, were exclusively in the mind of the beholder, whereas an appearance involved the actual appearance of something “out there” in the real world. (113)

δ Some critics say that the physical nature of the resurrection appearances was invented to counteract Docetism by emphasizing that Jesus rose physically. That objection, however, cannot be sustained:

  1. Docetism was the reaction to the physicalism of the gospels, not the other way around.
  2. Docetism denied the physical incarnation, not the physical resurrection.
  3. The gospels’ sources existed before the rise of Docetism.
  4. The appearances stories themselves do not have the rigorousness of a defense against Docetism.
  5. If visionary “appearances” had been original, then physical appearances would never have developed.



  1. The hypothesis shatters on points 2, 3, and 4, just discussed.
  2. The number and various circumstances of the appearances make hallucinations an improbable explanation.
  3. The disciples were not psychologically disposed to produce hallucinations. The great weakness of the hallucination hypothesis is that it does not take seriously either Jesus’ death nor the crisis it caused for the disciples. (121)
  4. Hallucinations would never have led to the conclusion that Jesus had been raised from the dead. …in a hallucination, a person experiences nothing new. That is because the hallucination is a projection of his own mind. (121)
  5. The hallucination hypothesis fails to account for the full scope of the evidence.

Veridical visions of the dead Jesus?

  1. There is no comparable case to Jesus’ resurrection appearances. … no single case is fully analagous [sic] to a resurrection appearance, and even the similarities are not identical.
  2. The number of occasions on which Jesus was seen over so long a time is unparalleled in the casebooks.
  3. Veridical visions cannot explain the physical, bodily nature of Jesus’ appearances.
  4. Veridical visions of dead persons only occur to individuals who are unaware of the person’s death.
  5. The hypothesis fails to account for all the evidence.

5. The Origin of the Christian Faith


Whatever they may think of the historical resurrection, even the most skeptical scholars admit that at least the belief that Jesus rose from the dead lay at the very heart of the earliest Christian faith. (127)

It is difficult to exaggerate how devastating the crucifixion must have been for the disciples. (127)

It is quite clear that without the belief in the resurrection the Christian faith could not have come into being. The disciples would have remained crushed and defeated men. Even had they continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, His crucifixion would have forever silenced any hopes of His being the Messiah. The cross would have remained the sad and shameful end to His career. The origin of Christianity therefore hinges on the belief of the early disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead. (128)


If one denies that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then he must explain the disciples’ belief that He did rise either in terms of Jewish influences or in terms of Christian influences. (129)

During the time between the Old testament and the New Testament, the belief in resurrection flowered and is often mentioned in the Jewish literature of that period. (129)

But the Jewish conception of resurrection differed in two important, fundamental respects from Jesus’ resurrection. In Jewish thought the resurrection always (1) occurred after the end of the world, not within history, and (2) concerned all the people, not just an isolated individual. In contradistinction to this, Jesus’ resurrection was both within history and of one person. (129)

6. Finding Resurrection Life

It is no use saying as some theologians do, “We believe in the risen Christ, not in the empty tomb!” For as has often been pointed out, one cannot really believe in the risen Christ without the empty tomb. So let us have no talk of the resurrection’s being false but having value as a symbol. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He was a tragedy and a failure, and no amount of theologizing or symbolizing could change the situation. (136)

In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all. – Gerald O’Collins

  1. The resurrection of Jesus was an act of God.
  2. The resurrection of Jesus confirms His personal claims.
  3. The resurrection of Jesus shows that He holds the key to eternal life.

Thus the resurrection of Jesus offers to man both God and immortality. (143)

But the question now becomes, How am I to appropriate the immortal life God offers?

  1. God loves you and created you to have a personal relationship with him.
  2. Man’s own evil has broken the personal relationship between God and man. If any biblical truth has been proved by the experience of mankind, it is certainly the fact of evil in man. (144)
  3. Through Jesus man’s personal relationship with God is restored. The resurrection broke the power of sin, death, and hell over man and is the victorious climax to Jesus’ life and ministry. (148)
  4. We may come to know God personally by receiving Christ as our Savior and Lord.

— VIA —

Two quibbles. The first is this quote:

Thus, there are really two avenues to a knowledge of the fact of the resurrection: the avenue of the Spirit and the avenue of historical inquiry. The former provides a spiritual certainty of the resurrection, whereas the latter provides a rational certainty of the resurrection. … If the evidence for the resurrection is inadequate, then we cannot prove the resurrection to be an event of history. But God’s Spirit still furnishes the unmistakable conviction that the resurrection occurred and that Jesus lives today. (8)

This opening line in the book feels completely contradictory to the main thrust of the book. I’m really not sure how to categorize this statement, or why it is even in here, except that, as an evangelical, Craig is consistently imbuing evangelistic messages into his apologetics. The last line simply reeks of “anti-evidentialist faith,” which seems so antithetical to Craig.

Second, the last chapter’s tone is overtly evangelistic. In other words, an attempt to proselytize. While I support Craig’s prerogative to do so, the content is, what I would call, “narrowly evangelical.” Conditional statements like “there are only two conditions for receiving God’s Spirit: repentance and faith,” and “If you sincerely come to God with such an attitude in your heart as is expressed in this prayer…” etc., etc., etc. I suppose my quibble is that this book on resurrection feels like it is summed up solely in personal salvation, as summarized in the last chapter. While personal salvation is important, and an extremely critical part of Jesus’ life and mission, it simply feels like the movement of Jesus to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on earth as it is in heaven is distilled down to a personal faith confession. I understand that this is not Craig’s full theology on the subject, I’m simply expressing my own personal reflections in light of the context of this short book.

Aside from all that, a fantastic summary and resource for the arguments for the resurrection.

About VIA

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