This sixth Sunday of Easter we continue looking into the resurrection. In the previous essay it was established that the Apostle Paul was a skeptic who changed his life because he claimed to have experienced the risen Jesus. This week we look at two facts: The skeptical James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed and the empty tomb.
In the book, The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story & Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus & His Family, Shanks and Witherington discuss the archaeological discovery of an ossuary (bone box) dating back to the first century with the following inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. James, a monumental figure in the first centuries of Christianity, was the first head of the church in Jerusalem and he was a faithful, Torah observing Jew.
The data we have for James is not as much as we have for Paul, but we have enough to come to some significant conclusions. First, in the Gospels it is reported that Jesus’ brothers including James were unbelievers (Mk 3:21, 31; 6:3-4; Jn 7:5). “Here it is quite plain that Jesus’ brothers did not fully believe in or follow him before his death.” (Witherington, 1621 Kindle)
Second, 1 Corinthians 15:7 reads “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” Listing more than likely in chronological order who Jesus appeared to, Paul recites a list that has been handed down (1 Cor. 15:3). Witherington takes interest that in this list, the only names given are Cephas and James. (Witherington, 1765 Kindle) Witherington suggests that this is because James was not part of the any group early on. James is then described by Paul as a “pillar of the church” in Galatians (Acts 15:12-21; Gal 1:19; 2:9). James’ death as a martyr is recorded by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria as preserved in the writings of Eusebius (Christian and non-Christian sources).
Witherington concludes, “Something dramatic must have happened to James after the death of Jesus to account for his being included in Acts among the disciples and later named as leader of the Jerusalem church. It seems clear that it was Jesus’ appearance to him that mainly accounts for his conversion to the movement and his rise to prominence.”
The other fact is the empty tomb. Habermas has discovered that roughly 75% of scholars on the subject accept that the tomb is empty. (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 70) There are three basic arguments for the empty tomb. First, the Jerusalem factor. Jesus had a public execution in Jerusalem. His resurrection appearances were claimed to have happened in Jerusalem. To refute the claim authorities would only need to show the corpse. Second, enemy attestation. Early critics accused the disciples of stealing the body. They admit the empty tomb. Third, testimony of women. Women were not credible sources of testimony in the first century. To invoke women would weaken the story. The empty tomb, together with the appearances and skeptic conversions is loud. An answer to account for all these facts is the resurrection of the Jesus of Nazareth.