Friday, April 22, 2011

Can we REALLY trust the Resurrection Story?



Basically the story of the resurrection of Jesus has some major flaws from our modern believability perspective and commercial appeal. The Gospel writers had the idea all wrong,  if they were going to make up this story about a resurrection it should have looked totally different if they wanted it to be easily accepted by everyone.
There are 7 basic points raised by New Testament Scholar and historian N.T. Wright as to the perspective of the Christian Resurrection story verses the Jewish traditions. Remember the people of the time of this situation were Jewish and this idea of Jesus as the Messiah was not only THE single most radical thing to happen in their history, this includes a burning bush, parting of the Red Sea, world-wide flood, plagues of  hemorrhoids (1 Samuel 5 look it up) but it was also challenging everything they had believed up to this point. Their heads must have been swimming at this new idea of a Resurrected Savior.
Here they are in short (I recommend reading the entire book noted at the end of this)
 The 7 points:

  1.  No first-century Jew, as far as we know, believed there would be one person raised ahead of everybody else. So this is a radical innovation that the Christians believed this.
  2. The early Christians believed that the Resurrection would involve the "transformation" of the physical body, but of within the Jewish perspectives some thought it would be the exact body we have now all over again others spoke of a luminous body like a star. But Paul tells us of a solid substantial yet transformed body that would never feel pain suffering or death. This was QUITE new. (not the Resurrection of Judaism)
  3.  The early Christians believed that the Messiah himself had been raised from the dead. The Jews never thought the Messiah was going to he killed.. So this was definitely different.
  4.  In Judaism the idea of "resurrection" was thought of as a return from exile (Ez. 37) Christian documents view it quite differently.
  5.  Early Christians thought of it as something that we could contribute to. So we can anticipate His new world. Clearly not a Jewish custom.
  6.  In Jewish custom the resurrection was not a "main" doctrine, but it is for sure in Christianity. So it's move to the focal point is of particular interest to historical scholars 
  7.  Early Christians had no variance on the belief of what happened after death, Jews had a few, pagans had many but Christians held only to the resurrection.

These specificities make the Christian claim unique. And in so doing put more validity to their authenticty.

So what do we say from here, if the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) wanted to make it easy to believe the resurrection they would have changed a few things.

  1.  They wouldn't have written their stories from such different angles. While they all tell the same story they present it from compellingly different perspectives. Different words are used but the heart of the story is still the same, so it is evident that they didn't simply copy each other. Their stories were genuinely seen from the perspectives of 4 different Writers. 
  2. There is almost no allusion to the Old Testament in the resurrection narrative, its common in other areas of the Gospels but not here. This would indicate that the story went back much further to a time when it was simply told without postulating or reflective glorification, basically  it stood on it's own.
  3.  The fascinating inclusion of women in the narratives.Hear me out I'm not being sexist (its history folks) If they were to have made this up, they would have NEVER used women to discover the empty tomb. At the time women were not allowed to even give testimony let alone the confirmation of such a great key piece of doctrinal truth. The writers would have had some other much more respected individuals find the tomb empty. Maybe Timothy or better yet James, his brother comes across the empty tomb as he goes to pay his respects to his brother. (see I could do this) ABSOLUTELY NOT a woman with such a scandalous  background as Mary Magdalene. But thats what happened and yet this is common in ALL four gospels. They would have been fools to make that part up!
  4. From a pastoral perspective, we want to draw in our audience and make it relevant to the listener so in all other resurrection thoughts it would have been logical to make this allegorical and refer to our own future resurrection,  that would have fit with the literary and poetic writings of the time. Yet when this was written it was simply put in all four gospel accounts that "Jesus is raised- therefore He really was The Messiah!!" 


So in all of this we see such apparent lack of a good publicist, and bad customer research to make this story more palatable, what can be said to defend why it has lasted as long as it has?
Beyond saying "well because Jesus is who He said He is." We see two very evident things that must have historically occurred:

  1. There MUST have been an empty tomb that had to be accurately identified for people say "yep thats where he was, those people are telling the truth", beyond what we simply read about in scripture many more people must have visited it for the story to continue to propagate, and think, this tomb wasn't hidden or far off so many must have come, towns folk, leaders of state, "doubting Thomas's" of all types must have seen it. this would have been "THE site to see". for that matter it really still is, people from all around the world visit the spot every year. 
  2. There MUST have been appearances of the risen Jesus. Though it says there was in scripture, many people had to be able to corroborate this fact otherwise it never would have taken off.  let me give you an example. If I said hundreds of people were at my house last night all you would have to do is ask my neighbors and they would tell you "no there was no one here last night" and you would know I was lying, but if hundreds of people said "ya, I was at his house" and not only that but they all could accurately describe specific events that took place then there is credibility to this story. 

The thought that it was mass hysteria or visions of a ghost was easily put to rest by simply visiting the empty tomb. Plus remember in Jewish culture they had NO REASON to believe that one would be raised from the dead so to see a risen Jesus would have to contradict their root system of belief and had to be so evidently factual and obviously really HIM for 1000's to believe it and change their lives and history forever.

Based on the evidence historians from both religious and secular backgrounds (how one still could be after this I'm not sure) agree that the evidentiary historicity of the Resurrection is accurate.

During this season, when so many people go to church to get their yearly Jesus fix, but remember that when He came here, He came not to just give us another day to do something special but he came to change the hearts of man for all time. This is a time to do what many of the Jews of that time did, think long and hard about the evidence before you, they were challenged they had questions, remember this was literaly the SINGLE GREATEST CHALLENGE to their faith they had EVER seen, Jesus was claiming to be THE Messiah, the one they had all been waiting for, if he was that would change everything FOREVER, and it really had,  there is clear evidence that this is true, and it can be backed up and verified by men much smarter than I, has to this date stood the test of time. If you still have questions or want to know more read your Bible, and to get the full historical textual evidence  read The Resurrection of the Son of God, by N.T. Wright.

Have a blessed Easter,
Randy Chase



Based on:
N.T.Wright's dialogue with Antony Flew.
   Flew, Antony, and Roy Abraham. Varghese. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: HarperOne, 2007. Print.