Does Circumstantial Evidence Confirm It?

Timothy McVeigh, the man behind the Oklahoma City bombing, has a date with death. He’ll receive a lethal injection for killing 168 innocent people, even though no one saw him commit this heinous crime. All the evidence against McVeigh was circumstantial. Indirect testimony: That’s what circumstantial evidence is. It’s an accumulation of facts from which one can draw intelligent conclusions.

As a newspaper reporter covering the courts, former journalist Lee Strobel saw how circumstantial evidence is used to expose what really happened during a crime. So, in the midst of a spiritual quest, Strobel began to wonder: Could circumstantial evidence verify that the resurrection of Christ really happened?

Well, he took his question to philosopher J. P. Moreland. In a challenging voice, Strobel asked Moreland: “Can you give me five pieces of solid circumstantial evidence that convince you Jesus rose from the dead?” Certainly, Moreland responded. First, there’s the evidence of the skeptics. Some of those who were most hostile to Jesus prior to his death became his most ardent supporters afterwards.

Second, the ancient Jews had a number of immensely important religious rituals. These included the offering of animal sacrifices, obeying the Mosaic law, and keeping the Sabbath. But within five weeks of Jesus’ death, more than 10,000 Jews had suddenly altered or abandoned these rituals. Moreland asked: Why would they relinquish rites that had long given them their national identity? The implication is that something enormously significant had occurred.

Third, we see the emergence of new rituals: the sacraments of Communion and Baptism. The early Jews baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, “which,” Moreland said, “meant they had elevated Jesus to the full status of God.”

Fourth, we see the rapid rise of a new church, beginning shortly after the death of Jesus. Within twenty years this new church (begun by the companions of a dead carpenter) had reached Caesar’s palace in Rome, and eventually spread throughout the Roman empire.

And fifth, Moreland said, there’s the most convincing circumstantial evidence of all: the fact that every one of Jesus’ disciples was willing to suffer and die for his beliefs. These men spent the rest of their lives witnessing about Christ. They frequently went without food; they were mocked, beaten, and thrown into prison. In the end, all but one died a painful martyr’s death. Would they have done this for a lie? Of course not. They did it because they were convinced beyond a doubt that they had seen the risen Christ.

Even if we doubted 2,000-year-old evidence, we have all the circumstantial evidence we could possibly want—right in front of us. It is, Moreland said, “the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world, in every culture, to people from all kinds of back-grounds and personalities. They all will testify that more than any single thing in their lives, Jesus Christ has changed them.”

Circumstantial evidence earned Timothy McVeigh a death sentence. But sacred circumstantial evidence about the resurrection of Jesus Christ can lead all of us, including McVeigh, to a much better verdict: everlasting life in the presence of God.

"Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ true?"

Scripture presents conclusive evidence that Jesus Christ was in fact resurrected from the dead. Christ’s resurrection is recorded in Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; and John 20:1-21:25. The resurrected Christ also appeared in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1-11). From these passages you can gain several "proofs" of Christ’s resurrection. First, look at the dramatic change in the disciples. They went from scared and hiding in a room, to courageous and sharing the Gospel throughout the world. What else could explain this dramatic change other than the risen Christ appearing to them?

Second, look at the life of the Apostle Paul. What changed him from being a persecutor of the church into an apostle for the church? It was when the risen Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-6). Third, another convincing "proof" is the empty tomb. If Christ were not raised, then where is His body? The disciples and others saw the tomb where He was buried. When they returned, His body was not there. Angels declared that He had been raised from the dead as He had promised (Matthew 28:5-7). Fourth, additional evidence of His resurrection is the many people He appeared to (Matthew 28:5,9,16-17; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:19,24,26-29; 21:1-14; Acts 1:6-8; 1 Corinthians 15:5-7).

Another key truth to why the resurrection of Jesus must be true is the great amount of weight the Apostles gave to Jesus' resurrection. A key passage on Christ’s resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15. In this chapter, the Apostle Paul explains why it is crucial to understand and believe in Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection is important for the following reasons: (1) If Christ was not raised from the dead, believers will not be either (1 Corinthians 15:12-15). (2) If Christ was not raised from the dead, His sacrifice for sin was not sufficient (1 Corinthians 15:16-19). Jesus’ resurrection proved that His death was accepted by God as the atonement for our sins. If He had simply died and stayed dead, that would indicate His sacrifice was not sufficient. As a result, believers would not be forgiven for their sins, and they would still remain dead after they die (1 Corinthians 15:16-19) – there would be no such thing as eternal life (John 3:16). "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20 NAS). Christ has been raised from the dead – He is the first fruits of our resurrection.

(3) All those who believe in Him will be raised to eternal life just as He was (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). 1 Corinthians 15 goes on to describe how Christ’s resurrection proves His victory over sin, and provides us the power to live victoriously over sin (1 Corinthians 15:24-34). (4) It describes the glorious nature of the resurrection body we will receive (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). (5) It proclaims that as a result of Christ’s resurrection, all who believe in Him have ultimate victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). What a glorious truth the resurrection of Christ is! "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). According to the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is most definitely true. The Bible records Christ's resurrection, records that it was eye-witnessed by over 400 people, and proceeds to build crucial Christian doctrine on the historical fact of Jesus' resurrection.

"There are contradictions in the resurrection accounts. Did Christ appear first to the women or to His disciples?"

Both Matthew and Mark list women as the first to see the resurrected Christ. Mark says, "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene" (16:9). But Paul lists Peter (Cephas) as the first one to see Christ after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5). Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, then to the other women, and then to Peter. Paul was not giving a complete list, but only the important one for his purpose. Since only men’s testimony was considered legal or official in the first century, it is understandable that the apostle would not list the women as witnesses in his defense of the resurrection here. The order of the appearances of Christ is as follows:



1. Mary John 20:10–18

2. Mary and women Matthew 28:1–10

3. Peter 1 Corinthians 15:5

4. Two disciples Luke 24:13–35

5. Ten apostles Luke 24:36–49; John 20:19–23

6. Eleven apostles John 20:24–31

7. Seven apostles John 21

8. All apostles Matthew 28:16–20; Mark 16:14–18

9. 500 brethren 1 Corinthians 15:6

10. James 1 Corinthians 15:7

11. All apostles Acts 1:4–8

12. Paul Acts 9:1–9; 1 Corinthians 15:8