Can Historians Even Talk About the Resurrection?

ResurrectionWhen it comes to studies of the historical Jesus, many historians end their inquiry at the crucifixion and burial. It is argued that the resurrection of Jesus is the topic for theologians and not historians. Studying the resurrection of Jesus is outside the expertise and responsibility of historians.

Is this true?

I wrote an article for the journal Studies in Religion that touched on this subject. I argue that there is a place for historians to talk about the resurrection without stepping on the feet of theologians.

What historians can do is talk about the crucifixion of Jesus and determine that he indeed died on the cross. Historians can also talk about the fact that there were numerous witnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after the third day. This is historical inquiry.

The Apostle Paul passed on this early tradition with his own comments:

For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Here Paul lists eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus. He states that there are hundreds of witnesses and basically challenges the Corinthians to go to Jerusalem and ask around. This is an invitation for historical inquiry.

What historians cannot do is to make theological conclusions. Historians cannot determine that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity or that he was Israel’s Messiah. All the historian can say is that one day Jesus was dead and that there is evidence that a couple of days later he was alive.

So yes, historians can speak about the resurrection, as long as they don’t make any theological conclusions about the event.

Two books I would recommend on this topic are:

Top Five Episodes of 2017

Top FiveI have really enjoyed producing episodes of the History of Christianity podcast. Thank you for listening and supporting this project. I look forward to bigger and better things in 2018.

Here are the top five episodes of the podcast as downloaded in 2017. What was your favourite episode?

  1. Episode 1 – John the Baptist
  2. Episode 14 – Second Temple Judaism
  3. Episode 2 – Sources for Jesus
  4. Episode 13 – Interview With A Historian: Mark Steinacher
  5. Episode 3 – Jesus Before the Early Years

Is This Podcast About History or Christian Apologetics?

History of ChristianityI recently had a comment from listener who was disappointed in the podcast. The heart of the complaint was that the podcast was more about Christian apologetics than about history. He felt I wasn’t completely honest about the nature of the podcast.

His concern deserves to be addressed.

My intent is that this podcast be truly about the history of Christianity and not about Christian apologetics. What I mean is that my goal for this podcast is not to convince people that Christianity is true.

That is not to say that I’m against Christian apologetics. I have written extensively in the area of Christian apologetics. I am a Christian and a pastor and I believe that Christianity is true. I am also aware that my bias toward the truth of Christianity affects the podcast.

But that doesn’t mean that unbelievers are unbiased. Atheists and people of other faiths have their own bias. I would encourage you to listen to those perspectives as well.

My aim for this podcast is to present the history of Christianity. I intend to demonstrate where and how the church has made mistakes. I also hope to show that many of the important figures had their faults. I won’t gloss over the problems just for the sake of making Christianity look more attractive.

I understand that this podcast will not be for everyone. There will be those who will want a non-confessional take on the history of Christianity. That is fine.

But I hope that you will find something of value in this podcast and that will give you another perspective on church history.


You might find this post on the relationship between history and apologetics interesting.

The Ancient History Blog

Ancient HistoryI love history. I love it a lot. I could read about history all day long. How about you?

I blog and podcast about Christian history on this website and I enjoy doing it. But there are other areas of history that I find interesting as well. Many of them have only a small connection, if any, to what I do here.

As a result, I have started a new blog called The Ancient History Blog. There are a few posts there now and I will be continually adding to it. You will quickly discover the eras of history I’m most interested. Feel free to join me there.