Ed. Note: This article has been excerpted from our series, “Evidence for the Historical Jesus,” and has been slightly edited for publication.
What do you think is the central belief of the Christian faith? What do you think the early Christians told their friends and family about Jesus before the Bible was even written? Well, they told them about the historical facts that people saw Jesus alive with their own eyes after He had been crucified and buried. After three days they found the tomb empty, and then Jesus started appearing in person to friends and individuals, to groups, to groups of women, to His own brother, to over 500 people at one time.
And these people realized that all the claims that Jesus made about Himself—that He was the Son of God, that He was dying for every man and woman’s sins while on the cross, that He could forgive them, and if they believed in Him and surrendered their life to Him, He would come into their life and empower them to live for Him, and when they died He would take them to heaven and give them eternal life.
Now, this is the gospel that Jesus commanded all Christians to go into all the world and preach. Dr. Habermas calls this the foundation or the center of Christianity. He explains.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Now, I’m talking about the center of Christianity: the death, the burial, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we can get into a time frame that Paul is talking about this back about 35 AD with two of the central figures: Peter, the head apostle, James the brother of Jesus, the pastor of the church of Jerusalem. This is a strong basis. And this is the sort of thing that makes me surprised when I hear people saying, “Hey, there’s no evidence here and there.” And I just want to assure the person who is listening who has said, “Well, do we have to listen to these guys who say there’s no historical basis so we can barely find anything?” Let them, you know, deal with this sort of data right here of 1 Corinthians 15 / Galatians 1 and 2, is a strong basis for the gospel.
And, you know, let me remind you here again, we’re not talking with periphery things here. We’re talking with the very center of the faith. Paul says he has met the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus. He’s going up to talk to Peter and James. He comes back 14 years later. He wants to see if he was running or had run in vain. And they said, “No, no, no. You’re not.” So, they’re checking him in Galatians 2; they said, “You’re fine.” In 1 Corinthians 15:11 he says, “Whether it is I or they, so we preach and so you believe.” In other words, he was watching them, too. He’s got his approval on their message, and they’re approving him. The point is, the gospel they preached is the same, and that includes the deity of Christ, His death, His resurrection. We’re on very important grounds here and very solid grounds.