The Case for the Christ: Resurrection and Jewish Transformation

520114756_22c40b5eba_oWhile it is well known that people question the divinity of Jesus,1 it may surprise some to find out that there have long been those who question whether Jesus is a historical person.2

A very helpful new book on the historicity of Jesus is The Case for the Christ of the New Testament: An Adversarial Dialogue Concerning the Existence of Jesus Christ, published by the Warren Christian Apologetics Center.3 The dialogue includes three participants: Roy Abraham Varghese, Dr. Robert M. Price, and Dr. Ralph Gilmore. Price argues for the position hat Jesus never existed, and Varghese and Gilmore argue that Jesus did exist.

Dr. Gilmore, Professor of Bible and of Philosophy at Freed-Hardeman University, makes outstanding contributions to the discussion, showing that history abundantly attests to the life of Jesus on Earth. Gilmore also goes beyond this point to argue for Jesus’ divinity. Here I would like to notice just one section, which Gilmore titles “The Transformation of the Jewish Monotheists.”4 From the evidence Gilmore provides, one may make the following argument:

  1. History shows that in the first Christian centuries, a large number of Jews rapidly changed from being “exclusivist” monotheists (i.e., with no belief in multiple divine persons) to having at least a “binitarian” monotheism, characterized devotion to both the Father and to Jesus.
  2. This rapid change is explicable only if Jesus really lived, died, and rose from the dead.
  3. Therefore, Jesus really lived, died, and rose from the dead.

In support premises like this, Gilmore cites a recent work by Dr. Larry W. Hurtado, a scholar of the New Testament and Christian origins, recently retired as Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland).5 Hurtado wrote a book called Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity.6 Hurtado argues in this book, based on his examination of early Christian literature, that the early Christians (ca. 70-170 A.D.) had “a high regard for traditions coupled with a critical suspicion of radical innovations, an exclusivist monotheistic commitment to the Old Testament and its deity [and] a readiness to accommodate a certain critical diversity.”7 These were not folks who were prone to take up just any religious doctrine. They were committed to the one God of the Old Testament,8 and yet within this critical context they quickly adopted a widespread devotion to Jesus and to the study of His life.9 This was not a slow-developing commitment to Christ, of the sort the Jews might have adopted piecemeal from other cultural influences. Rather, the early Christians promptly began reading the Old Testament with apologetic and Christological purposes.10 Martyred Christians saw their suffering as linked to Christ’s suffering.11

Gilmore summarizes why the second premise is true: “Since the Jews had no belief in a dying a rising Messiah, the resurrection would be antithetical to their horizons. Suffering the death of a common criminal would indicate that the victim was under a curse from God (Deuteronomy 21:23) … Yet, disciples changed their lives.”12

Especially in light of the fact that Jesus promised to rise from the dead, if He failed to do so, then it is unthinkable that a huge movement of Jews would have turned rapidly from their centuries-old tradition (itself founded in historical events) to follow Him. This is just a sample of the valuable argument and evidence brought to bear in The Case for the Christ.


  1. E.g., “Jesus Seminar Phase 3: Profiles of Jesus,” http://www.westarinstitute.org/projects/the-jesus-seminar/jesus-seminar-phase-3-profiles-of-jesus/ (2013). 

  2. See Robert E. Van Voorst, “Nonexistence Hypothesis,” Jesus in History, Thought, and Culture, 2 vols., ed. Leslie Holden (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003), 2:658-660. 

  3. Vienna, 2013. The book and accompanying video are available here: http://www.warrenapologeticscenter.org/catalog/index.php. 

  4. The Case for the Christ, 120-122. 

  5. see “About me and this site,” Larry Hurtado’s Blog, http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/about/ (n.d.). 

  6. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. 

  7. Ibid., 563, bracketed item added. 

  8. E.g., Deuteronomy 6:4. 

  9. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 564-627. 

  10. Ibid., 564-565. 

  11. Ibid., 619-625. 

  12. The Case for the Christ, 120, parenthetical item in orig. 

  • jcchurch

    “This rapid change is explicable only if Jesus really lived, died, and rose from the dead.”

    That can’t be true.

    “Gilmore summarizes why the second premise is true: “Since the Jews had
    no belief in a dying a rising Messiah, the resurrection would be
    antithetical to their horizons. Suffering the death of a common criminal
    would indicate that the victim was under a curse from God (Deuteronomy 21:23) … Yet, disciples changed their lives.””

    So Gilmore summarizes why the second point is true by explaining why the point can’t be true.

    I’m sorry. How am I expected to buy this? “It’s true because it’s wacky” is not a valid logical argument.

    • gccolley

      Just to clarify: This is an example of a reductio ad absurdum, where I try to show that it would be unreasonable to explain the Jewish transformation apart from the resurrection. If it helps to phrase it less formally, then please do so.

      • jcchurch

        If you attempt to explain an event by the product of that event, by necessity, you must also explain that every potential other event that could have also resulted in the same product is less plausible than the one you are trying to explain.

        The Resurrection has two key problems with it that should be noted: (1) the event is impossible and (2) the event is unnecessary.

        There are numerous events in history which result in a sizable number of people experiencing a shift in religious thinking in a brief amount of time and in a narrow geographic region that are attributed to mystical events and can also be explained with rational events. Most often, the rational events which cause a religion are a combination of local political turmoil and the emergence of a unified voice from a small group of individuals. Christianity is not unique in this regard.

        There’s no need for mystical thinking to get what is needed out of Christianity.

        • gccolley

          The resurrection is evaluated as impossible only by one who takes the untenable position that the miraculous is impossible.

          And the resurrection is necessary. In this article I was pointing out (some of) the particular circumstances that do make Christianity unique in this regard. The resurrection is necessary because (at least): (1) In large measure, those who became Christians were predisposed not to be Christians; (2) Various other factors would have virtually guaranteed that Christianity fail. There was severe persecution. Christians were following someone who had promised to rise again (if he didn’t, they wouldn’t have), and the Christians were not forcing others to convert.

- 2017