Sunday, July 15, 2007

The resurrection: A story no one would make up, part 1

If someone asked you why you believe Jesus rose from the dead, could you give them a coherent, well thought out answer?

In 1 Peter 3:15 that we are commanded to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” This is especially important today when there are so many people, like the Jesus Seminar, running around who are just delighted to tell people how the resurrection is just a myth, a story made up generations after the death of Jesus. But Peter tells us in his second book, “we did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2Pet 1:16). Not only was the gospel not invented, it was a story no one would have made up. Why not? Let’s look at
1Cor 15:3-8:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

This is a great passage to memorize; if you can’t memorize it, try to memorize the address. It makes an excellent outline for sharing the evidence for the resurrection.

Background: Bible scholars believe that this passage is from a creed of the early church. First Corinthians was written in the mid-50s AD. Paul says he gave them this creed when he was there, which was in about 51AD. That means this creed is less than 20 years from the resurrection at most – far too short for any real legendary embellishment. More than that, many scholars say that the language of this passage suggests that this is something Paul learned when he first became a Christian and was probably in use within 2-5 years after the resurrection. This is far, far too short for legendary development as this is well within the lifetime and memory of the witnesses. (Strobel, p230)

In chapter 15, Paul is arguing that there is a resurrection of the dead. He bases that argument on the fact that Christ was resurrected, and this passage is his proof. So let’s look at it in detail. Today we will examine the first section.

Died, buried and raised: The creed starts with the statement that Christ died, was buried, and then was raised from the dead. First let’s consider His death. The cross has become something of a romantic symbol for us. It held none of that romance then. Jesus’ death was the most shameful death available in that era. For a modern parallel, consider these modes of death: car accident, gun shot wound, electric chair. The first is emotionally neutral; the second may in some cases actually raise a person’s status; the third is reserved for criminals – only those convicted of vile crimes. No one would make up a story where the religious leader dies in the electric chair because such a death would taint the leader and the whole movement. Crucifixion was the same way. Unless it was true, the apostles would not have taught that Jesus died on a Roman cross. (This may relate especially to the "Jesus never existed" crowd.)

Regarding the burial, some today will claim that there was no tomb – that Jesus, like all crucified criminals, would have been buried in a mass grave if at all. This can be dismissed by the fact that history shows us that the Jewish response to “the tomb is empty” was not “what tomb?” but “the disciples stole the body" (seen in Matthew 28:11-15 and in Justin's
Dialogue with Trypho).

Regarding the resurrection, no one questions that the Christian church started in Jerusalem, where Jesus was killed and buried. If there was still a body in his tomb, the Jewish leaders would have been all to happy to drag it out for all to see. The fact that they never did this as they persecuted the Church is evidence that the tomb was in fact empty. Peter's earliest sermon proclaims an empty tomb (Acts 2:29-32), something that could not have been done unless it were demonstrably true.

We can also dismiss modern claims that the resurrection the disciples claimed occurred was a spiritual or metaphorical resurrection simply because that was a nonsense in Jewish thought of that day. William Lane Craig says that the Jews had no concept of a nonphysical resurrection; they preserved their bones because they believed they would one day have life in them again (Strobel, p211).

We can see that the very nature of the claim they made – of a crucified and risen Christ – is something that they would not have made up. Next time we’ll look at some of the appearances and what they tell us about the veracity of the story.

Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).


Steven Carr said...

Why did people in Corinth convert to Jesus-worship and still scoff at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse?

Why does Paul assure them that Jesus became a life-giving spirit?

Why does Paul trash the idea that resurrected beings were made from the dust that corpses dissolve into?

'The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God...'

Why does Paul plead in Romans 7:24 to be rescued from his body?

Easy questions.

People were not converted to Jesus-worship by tales of corpses rising.

Paul knew what happened to corpses, which is why he wanted out of there.

ChrisB said...

Good questions. I'll have to wait until I get home to address most of this, but the first one is simple. The Corinthians, like so many in the Grecoroman world, had accepted the idea that spirit was good and physical was bad and then read it back into their new religion. This is, incidentally, probably how the gnostics got a foothold in Christianity.

I'll address the rest this evening. Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Dead on Chris.
I'm looking forward to the rest of this series.

ChrisB said...


I've already addressed your first question. Rather than addressing the rest individually, I'm going to offer a different way to approach the question of what Paul taught about Jesus' (and our) resurrected body.

1) Paul was a Pharisee; they taught a physical resurrection as derived from the Hebrew scriptures (Job 19:25-26, Isaiah 26:19). We shouldn't assume he's changed his ideas without good reason. If his statements can be taken in a way that makes them consistent with a bodily resurrection, they should be.

2) The gospels clearly teach that Jesus' body was physical (e.g., Mark 16:6; Luke 24:12, 39, 41-43; John 20:6-7; Acts 2:29-32). We shouldn't say that Paul's contradicting the Christian teaching without a very good reason. Again, if we can harmonize his statements with this notion, we should.

3) On at least one occasion (Romans 8:11) Paul says something that is hard to take in any other sense than a physical resurrection of our bodies.

4) Paul's statement that Jesus became a life-giving spirit does not necessarily mean that He had no physical body. In contrasting Adam and Christ, Paul is talking about the affect of their actions. If this is to be taken woodenly literal, we would have to say that Jesus never had a physical body (which is a heresy addressed in 1 John).

5) Paul's desire to be liberated from his body seems to be a cry to be liberated from his sinful nature. I don't think we can assume he's talking about the nature of the resurrected body in that passage. In that part of Romans Paul uses life and death to talk about the sin nature and the regenerated conscience/mind.

6) The resurrection of our bodies is always taken as a reason for hope. The NT says in a number of places that we are with the Lord when we die and then turns around and teaches a final resurrection of the dead. Unless a physical resurrection is intended, those comforting notions of a resurrection at the end of days make no sense.