Is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ a historical fact?

We sometimes use the word “historical” to mean that something is a real act, that really happened,  but if we want to be more accurate, what do we mean when we say that some event of the past is historical? If something happens in front of us, we don’t need anything else to be sure that it is real, that it indeed happened. But if an act happened, for instance, before we were born, how can we know that it really occurred like that? Through the trustworthy testimony of people who saw it happen. Therefore, an historical fact is an act about which we have oral witnesses (transmitted from parents to children by direct speech) or written witnesses from persons who experienced the act and are trustworthy.

Thus, we know that Julius Caesar did exist from the documents where he is mentioned, from the works attributed to him and from the archaeological monuments in his honour. (Monuments or archaeological remains are also considered historical testimonies or pieces of evidence). 

Well, do such testimonies about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ exist?: We have almost 2000 year old written testimonies from people, some of them having lived in Jesus Christ’s times, having been direct eyewitnesses of the narrated events and having given their blood and their life in order to attest what they preached and wrote about, even to the furthest point of being martyrs for Jesus Christ. [We have, for instance, written testimonies, dated in the year 96 AD,  about the martyrdom suffered by Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Rome, during Nero’s persecution. (A letter written the year 96 by Saint Clemens Roman to the Church of Corinth).],  We also have several later written testimonies, as well as archaeological  monuments which represent Saint Peter preaching the gospels to the Romans (primitive grave of Saint Peter)].

These people sacrificed their lives in order to attest the truth of their testimony. They have left several works: the 4 Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul’s, Saint Peter’s, Saint John’s , Saint Jacob’s and Saint Jude Tadei’s Epistles and Saint John’s Apocalypse: what we know as the New Testament. (Further, we count on Tradition, which has been transmitted from generation to generation and sometimes also written years later after the oral transmission began).

The four gospel’s testimonies, Saint Mathew, Saint Marc, Saint Luke and Saint John, and Saint Paul who, according to Tradition, died martyrs, providing with their blood the finishing flourish to their testimony, narrate how Christ resurrected after His death [after finding the empty grave, the women hear the voices of two angels saying:“Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here but has risen”(Lc 24, 5)] and he appeared first to Mary Magdalene and to the holy women (cf. Mc 16; Lc 24). Then to Peter and to the Apostles (cf 1 Cor 15, 5).  To the Emmaus’s disciples (Lc 24, 13-35), to the Apostles again, this time with Thomas, the incredulous, to whom Jesus asks to put  his fingers in the wounds of His glorious body, demonstrating that, although it is a glorious body, it is the same body  that suffered the Passion].

And in order to state that it is an historical fact with a lot of eyewitnesses, after  asserting that  Christ suffered, died and resurrected, Saint Paul (1 Co, 15, 4-8) tells us:“ then he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at one time, many of whom are with us still, but some have fallen asleep”,(if an act is seen by more than five hundred people, there is  no doubt that we find us before an historical fact, with more than five hundred eyewitnesses).

Of course, that is supposing the Gospels and the Epistles are trustworthy testimonies:  therein we receive high teaching and it is forbidden to lie, and their authors died martyrs in order to defend what they were preaching, which means that  they followed the teachings they were preaching in their books at an heroic level that cannot be surpassed. Therefore, they are the most trustworthy witnesses of old times that we can find.

On the other hand, the Gospels have been faithfully preserved throughout the centuries, as it can be verified by reading the quotations made by ancient writers (of the fifteenth century  and older) from the mentioned gospels and  from other writings of the New Testament that match the gospels that have made it to the present. (Furthermore, some fragments of old papyrus that have been found on recent archaeological excavations have been identified as fragments of the New Testament).

( That the transcribers of the Holy Scriptures were conscious to copy a text inspired by God and that they knew the big responsibility they had before God in case they falsified it or didn’t work with neatness reinforce this verified fact ).

Another piece of evidence showing that there is no misrepresentation is that in the New Testament we find passages which are hard to interpret and others that, at first sight, are contradictory. If the different versions were written inaccurately on purpose, such controversial passages would have been suppressed, quite a long time ago, and such problems wouldn’t exist.

But some people could frown and argue that they find the miracles narrated on the New Testament unlikely: Well, against this we have as actual testimony of Christ’s Resurrection, the miracles that, in His name, in the name of Christ, and with faith on His resurrection and divinity are produced nowadays in souls and bodies, (God wouldn’t  answer with a miracle to those who have faith in the divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ if He had not really resurrected), as well as the examples of sanctity of people who have believed deep in their souls in the Gospels, a sanctity  that states that such a faith comes from God, because man by himself cannot reach it:

People like Saint Francis of Assisi or Saint Therese of Lisieux show to everybody with eyes in his soul that Christ really resurrected. Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in the  last century as those of Lourdes and Fatima, with their miraculous healings of souls and bodies, as well as other apparitions of the Blessed Virgin that are taking place nowadays, with prodigious acts in the firmament and in the hearts, are clearly saying that Jesus is God and that He really resurrected. Also, the examples of sanctity and martyrdom of actual people assert it.

That’s why it is not surprising that the Church teaches (Universal Catechism Nº 643) that: “In front such testimonies, it is impossible to interpret the Resurrection apart from the physical world and not see it asan historical fact(italics are ours). And on Nº 639 of the same Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church we can read: “The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event with historically verified manifestations, as attested in the New Testament”.

And in Nº 647, the same Catechism asserts that (being the Resurrection of our Lord  Jesus Christ an ) “historical event admitting demonstration by  the fact of the empty grave and by the meeting of the apostles with the resurrected Christ. It is also true that the Resurrection belongs to the core of the Mystery of the faith, in all things that transcend and are beyond History”.

Thus, the Church says that Jesus’ Resurrection is a demonstrable historical event, as well as the birth and life of Jesus among men, but, in some aspects, it belongs also to the Mystery of the Faith, in all that transcends and goes beyond History, the same as the same person of Jesus, true God and true man, transcends infinitely everything we know about Him through History or we know through our senses.

And according to Saint Paul (1 Cor 15, 14):“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ risen and if Christ has not risen, vain then is our preaching, vain too is your faith”.If Christ’s Resurrection were not a real and historical event, our faith would be deadly hurt. But as it is“Christ has risen from the dead. Hallelujah!”

[9]  Ludwig Ott, “Manual de Teología Dogmática”, Barcelona, 1986, Herder, Pg-221