In addition to showing that the Gospels are historically reliable as a whole, New Testament scholars also use six “Indications of Authenticity” to determine the historicity of specific sayings or events in Jesus’ life.

Using William Lane Craig’s definitions of these six criteria, let’s apply them to the biggest event surrounding the person of Jesus: his resurrection.

(1) “Historical congruence: S fits in with known historical facts concerning the context in which S is said to have occurred.”

If details of an event line up with what we know about the culture at that time, then that event is more likely to be historical. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial align perfectly with the burial practices in the first century, such as his body being wrapped in linen and his body being prepared with various oils and spices.

(2) “Independent, early attestation: S appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which S is alleged to have occurred and which depend neither upon each other nor a common source.”

The more early, independent sources you have for an event the more likely it is to be historical. If you agree with the scholarly majority today, Mark was written first and was used as a source by Matthew and Luke. So Mark and John are independent sources. Content found in Matthew’s account (M) or Luke’s account (L) but not in Mark’s account is considered to be from a separate source (obviously if you don’t think the Gospels copied from one another then they are all separate sources). Finally, Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is also independent. All five sources were written in the first century. At worst we have three independent sources (Mark, John, and Paul) and at best we have five (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul).

(3) “Embarrassment: S is awkward or counter-productive for the persons who serve as the source of information for S.”

Accounts that include embarrassing details are more likely to be historical since they are less likely to be made up. One of the more obvious examples is that no one actually witnessed the resurrection take place; people only witnessed Jesus alive afterwards. Also, not all of the disciples first believed in the resurrection (Matthew 28:17).

(4) “Dissimilarity: S is unlike antecedent Jewish thought-forms and/or unlike subsequent Christian thought-forms.”

If a saying or event is completely different from Jewish beliefs during Jesus’ life or Christian beliefs after Jesus’ life, then it’s less likely to be copied from other beliefs. Jesus’ resurrection itself was something that was radically dissimilar to the beliefs of Judaism. The Jewish people believed that the resurrection included all people at the end of time (Isaiah 26:9; Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:2). This perhaps explains why the disciples were so lost when Jesus predicted his individual resurrection (Mark 8:32).

(5) “Semitisms: traces in the narrative of Aramaic or Hebrew linguistic forms.”

Traces of Aramaic point towards historicity since they go back to the original words that Jesus spoke. Interestingly enough, there is one semitism in John’s resurrection account where Mary calls Jesus “Rabboni,” which is “Teacher” in Aramaic (John 20:16).

(6) “Coherence: S is consistent with already established facts about Jesus.”

If a saying or event coheres with facts that we know about Jesus, then it’s more likely to be historical. Details like Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for the body and Roman soldiers guarding the tomb coheres with the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion. Other small details include that Jesus came from Nazareth (Mark 16:6) and was a rabbi (John 20:16).

Sharing the Evidence

In summary, all six indications of authenticity are abundantly present in the resurrection accounts, thus pointing to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. So how do we share this information with others?

These criteria can be shared with those who don’t think that the Gospels are historically reliable in the slightest. When discussing them with a skeptic, there are two things you should mention. First, New Testament scholars use these criteria regardless of their religious background. Second, when using these criteria, you aren’t presupposing the inspiration or reliability of the Gospels. Instead, you are treating the Gospels like any other ancient document.

This kind of evidence can go a long way when discussing the Resurrection with others.


  1. I think I would add more:
    Uncontested evidence with contested cause: When there is undeniable evidence of an event to be accounted for and it is only the event that produced the evidence that is being contested and not the existence of evidence itself.
    This speaks to the factual existence of the evidence (something is there that needs accounting for) and the need of an event that created that evidence even though the event itself may be in dispute.
    In this case the event of the Resurrection left evidence of an empty tomb.
    That the tomb was empty has never been contested but early on the authorities had to come up with reasons it was empty to counter the claims of the Resurrection and over the years other theories have arisen as to how it became empty but never contesting the fact that it was empty.

    Thank you for your encouraging article.

    Your Brother in Christ,

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