‘Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus,’ edited by W. David Beck and Michael R. Licona – A Brief Review

If it happened, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth would have been one of the most important (if not the most important) event in human history. It is little wonder that apologists spend so much time and treasure defending it. One of the premier defenders of Jesus’s resurrection in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been Gary Habermas, professor of philosophy and apologetics at Liberty University, and a recent volume edited by W. David Beck and Michael Licona entitled Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lexham Press, 2020) aims to honor Habermas who has not only influenced Beck and Licona but countless other apologists. In the course of roughly 392 pages and a dozen and a half chapters, various authors offer their thoughts on subjects which Habermas has engaged in his nearly half-century career. Contributors include J.P. Moreland on substance-dualism (ch. 2), William Lane Craig on the connection between Jesus’s “atoning death” and the resurrection (ch. 6), Dale Allison on near death experiences and their relationship to Christian theology (ch. 10), and more. In some ways, Raised on the Third Day is a Who’s Who? of Christian apologists and thinkers.[1]

Though subtitled “Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus,” some of the essays in the volume seemed irrelevant to this lofty goal. For example, in ch. 5 we read Francis Beckwith’s engagement with political philosopher John Rawls. Specifically, Beckwith attempts to take Rawls’s “neutralist liberalism” on subjects like abortion and see how it could be applied to issues like whether Christian bakers should be required to make cakes for same-sex weddings. It’s a piece better suited for a volume on contemporary issues in Christian political philosophy than one on the resurrection of Jesus. The same could be said of David Baggett’s piece on a “minimal facts” moral argument (ch. 7) as well as W. David Beck’s on the underlying structure of moral arguments (ch. 8). These too would be more appropriate for a work on philosophy of religion rather than one on the historicity of the resurrection of God’s son.

In addition to these seemingly misplaced essays, Raised on the Third Day features not one but two separate chapters on the Shroud of Turin. Whatever the value of the shroud and no matter its authenticity, it generally plays a very minor role in evangelical apologetics and, to my knowledge, has no direct bearing on the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Mark Foreman offers a variety of “naturalistic” hypotheses to explain the image on the shroud, including the idea that the shroud was at some point irradiated. This, he writes, “is currently the best explanation for how the image was formed on the Shroud” (p. 55). But while some might think that it was the resurrection itself that was the radiating event, Foreman cautions against such a conclusion writing, “The fact is, we simply do not know what a resurrection event would look like, nor what residual effects it might leave behind. To make any such claims is to go beyond the evidence, even if the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus. I am open to the radiation hypothesis as being in line with the resurrection, but I would not claim it is evidence of it” (p. 58). In which case, what good is the shroud? To prove Jesus died? We already knew that. 

Two essays do stand out. The first is Beth Sheppard’s contribution entitled “Racing Toward the Tomb: Purity and Sacrifice in the Fourth Gospel” (pp. 225-255). Sheppard is a professor at Ingram Library at the University of West Georgia and has a variety of works including one on how biblical scholars and historians make use of the New Testament documents to reconstruct the past entitled The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament (SBL, 2013).[2] Prior to reading her contribution to Raised on the Third Day, I was unaware of Sheppard’s work. Now that I’ve been introduced to it, I can say that her writing is as delightful as it is informative. Whether it’s disputing Habermas’s claim that the scene in John 19:34-35 is “evidence that the type of wound Jesus received was lethal” (see pp. 226-230), or alerting readers to the Fourth Evangelist’s desire to “portray Jesus as possessing a constant state of purity” (p. 248), Sheppard writes methodically and thoroughly. If there is any essay worth rereading in Raised on the Third Day, it is Sheppard’s. 

The second essay that stands out does so for reasons opposite of Sheppard’s. It is Frank Turek’s closing chapter entitled “What Everyone Should Learn from Gary Habermas” (pp. 325-338). The only redeeming quality of the piece is its brevity; it is one of the shortest in the volume. Turek, taking his cues from Habermas and Michael Licona, trots out many of the same, tired arguments for the reliability of the Gospels that when looked at closely simply do not hold water. For example, he spends considerable space on the criterion of embarrassment, making such asinine claims as Jesus’s genealogy is unlikely to be an invention because it includes “two prostitutes… (Tamar and Rahab), an adulterer (Bathsheba), and a king (David) who lies, cheats, and murders to cover up his sins. That’s certainly not an invented royal bloodline!” (p. 329). Setting aside the fleeting utility of the criterion of embarrassment, Turek’s lack of imagination and general unacquaintance with any scholarship that doesn’t have the word “apologetics” in the description makes Raised on the Third Day seem amateurish. (And I should know – I am an amateur.) 

Raised on the Third Day is not the best book on the resurrection of Jesus I’ve ever read, nor is it the worst. But apart from Sheppard’s contribution and perhaps that of Dale Allison on NDEs, it is not a very useful volume. Readers would do better to pick up Allison’s recent work on the resurrection or even Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010). Or save your money and perhaps one day Habermas himself will publish that “magnum opus” everyone keeps talking about.[3] 

[1] Sometimes these categories overlap!

[2] See http://bethmsheppard.com/biography/.

[3] Sometimes I make myself laugh.

1 thought on “‘Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus,’ edited by W. David Beck and Michael R. Licona – A Brief Review

  1. This has to be the single, most futile (and some would say, ridiculous) argument from Christian apologists. Try as they might; jumping through hoops of hollow, specious logic, they are still left with an account of a man, scourged beyond recognition and at least CLOSE to death if not actually dead, then NAILED to a cross until dead (at least their pseudo-accounts claim him to have died), then returning to life after three days in a tomb. And all this happened without an actual EYEWITNESS! Not a single account comes from the eye of a person that was there or even claims to have KNOWN someone that was there. All taking place in the middle of NOWHERE 2,000 years ago in a civilization rife with outlandish spiritual and religious beliefs. I can’t think of a more ridiculous notion outside of Scientology. It had never happened before, it has never happened since, and it DIDN’T happen then either!

    Pilate would have ordered Jesus crucified as if he were ordering his breakfast, i.e., without a thought or concern. There would have been no trial, no discussions, no back and forth between him and the Jews. He would have been dispensed with summarily and his claims of messianism forgotten in a matter of days. He would have stayed suspended on the cross until his flesh rotted, his bones literally dried up and fell off the cross when they would have been gathered up, tossed in a hole, and the cross used again.

    There is simply no more ridiculous claim of Christianity than this one which, unfortunately for Christianity, renders it to the realm of mythology.


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