In order to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus, we need to confirm that: 1) Jesus was crucified. 2) Jesus died. 3) Jesus was buried and the tomb was found empty. 4) The disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus. 5) The disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed.

After looking at the fact that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, we then need to make sure Jesus died by crucifixion. Michael Licona, a New Testament scholar, gives four reasons why we can know that Jesus died by crucifixion. The first reason Licona gives is that “Jesus’ death by crucifixion is multiply attested by a fair number of ancient sources, Christian and non-Christian alike.”[1] These Christian and non-Christian sources show that many people were talking about Jesus’ death and that gives it historical credibility. Second, the reports are early. “Paul mentions Jesus’ death by crucifixion no later than A.D. 55 (1 Corinthians, Galatians) and said he preached the same to those in Corinth in A.D. 51, or within twenty-one years of Jesus’ crucifixion.”[2] Early sources are great for historians because it allows for less time for the story to be changed. If the sources were written while the eyewitnesses were still alive then they become that much more reliable.

The third evidence Licona states for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is that the “Passion Narratives appear largely credible given their satisfying of the criterion of embarrassment and the plausibility of certain peripheral details.”[3] The Gospels list a few details that would be embarrassing. They mention things like the women finding the tomb first and that the men were hiding in fear. These are things people generally don’t make up and the only reason they would be included is if they are true. The last piece of evidence for Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “the very low probability of surviving crucifixion.” Licona says that, “Even if Jesus had been removed from his cross prematurely and medically assisted, his chances of survival were quite bleak. In addition, no evidence exists that Jesus was removed while alive or that he was provided any medical care whatsoever, much less Rome’s best.”[4] These four reasons leaves Licona concluding that “the historical evidence is very strong that Jesus died by crucifixion.”[5] Even the atheist New Testament scholar, Gerd Ludemann, who rejects the resurrection, agrees on this point. Ludemann wrote, “The fact of Jesus’ death as the consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”[6]

However, there are some who are not convinced by the evidence that Jesus died by crucifixion. One group that holds to this belief is Ahmadi Muslims. They believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion, recovered from his injuries, and then traveled India where he finally died.[7] This is referred to as the swoon theory. According to Gary Habermas, a New Testament scholar and historian, “such an occurrence seems highly unlikely given the nature of scourging and crucifixion.”[8] The Roman soldiers scourged Jesus before he was put on the cross. The Journal of the American Medical Association did studies on Jesus scourging and crucifixion. Their studies conclude:

Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.[9]

With what we now know from modern science, it has become very difficult to continue belief in the swoon theory. The Roman guards didn’t even break Jesus’ legs when they got to him because they recognized that he was already dead.

One might still claim that it is possible that if the spear didn’t pierce Jesus’ heart then he could have survived. This will be addressed in depth later, but we have to recognize that the disciples were convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. If Jesus merely survived the crucifixion it is unlikely for the disciples to believe Jesus had conquered death. “Upon seeing a swooned Jesus who was limping, bleeding, pale, and stooped over in pain, Peter would not have responded, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to have a resurrection body just like that!”[10] The sight of a limping, bleeding Jesus would have caused the disciples to panic and search for medical attention, not claim that he had risen. Based on what we know from modern medicine and history, it is very reasonable to conclude that Jesus really did die by Roman crucifixion.

[1] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 304.

[2] Ibid. 305.

[3] Ibid. 306.

[4] Ibid. 311.

[5] Ibid. 312.

[6] Gerd Ludemann, The Resurrection of Jesus (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 1994), 39.

[7] Al Islam, “Jesus: a humble prophet of God,” The Official Website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, accessed May 16th, 2015, http://www.alislam.org/topics/jesus/

[8] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 100.

[9] William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 255.11, (21 March 1986): 1463

[10] Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 103.

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