An Apologetic Look at Easter: How do we know whether Jesus’ resurrection actually happened?

CONTENT

  1. Doubting Thomas

1.1. What Actually Happened 2000 Years Ago Matters

  1. What Exactly Does Resurrection Mean?

2.1. Death is a Temporary Situation ‘Fallen Asleep’

2.1.1. Our Citizenship is in Heaven

2.2. Resurrection is a Permanent Situation in a Transformed Body

2.2.1. The Butterfly Metaphor

2.3. Our Resurrection Depends on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

  1. The Evidence of the Corinthian Creed

3.1. The Corinthian Creed Itself

3.2. The Galatian Context

3.3. The First Christians Believed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

  1. The Evidence of the Female Eyewitnesses

4.1. The Corinthian Creed Ignores the Female Eyewitnesses

4.2. Why do the Gospels Focus on the Female Eyewitnesses?

4.3. Differences in the Testimonies of the Female Eyewitnesses

4.4. Some Significant Examples of Male Testimonies

4.5. Eyewitness Testimony is Important

  1. The Evidence of the Empty Tomb

5.1. The First Polemic Presupposes the Empty Tomb

5.2. Did the Disciples Steal Jesus’ Body?

5.3. Did the Jewish Leadership Steal Jesus’ Body?

5.3.1. Blasphemy or High Treason?

5.4. Did the Romans Steal Jesus’ Body?

5.5. The Empty Tomb Confirms Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection

5.6. The Myth That Jesus Didn’t Actually Die on the Cross

5.6.1. It’s Psychologically Highly Unlikely

5.6.2. The Brutal Efficiency of Roman Crucifixions

5.6.3. A Roman Soldier Knew a Dead Body When He Saw One

5.6.4. Details of Jesus’ Death

5.6.5. Some Additional Evidence That Confirms Jesus’ Death

5.6.6. Why Are Myths About Jesus So Tenacious?

  1. The Evidence of Radically Changed Lives After Meeting the Risen Christ

6.1. The Apostle Peter

6.2. The Apostle Paul

6.3. James, the Brother of Jesus

6.3.1. Some Additional Information on James, the Brother of Jesus

  1. The Evidence of the Rise of the Christian Church

7.1. Scepticism About the Resurrection of the Dead

7.2. An Interesting Argument of an Adversary

7.3. Plenty of Disagreement, But Not About Jesus’ Resurrection

  1. The Evidence of the Rituals of the Christian Church

8.1. A Special Day (Sunday)

8.2. A Special Initiation Rite (Baptism)

8.3. A Special Meal (Holy Communion or Eucharist)

9. The Evidence of Personal Experiences of Meeting the Risen Christ

10. Conclusion

11. Why is it So Hard To Accept That Christ Actually Rose From The Dead?

  1. DOUBTING THOMAS

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24–29)

Recently, the New Testament scholar Tom Wright, former bishop of Durham in England, said about Doubting Thomas: “He demands evidence. He wants to see, to touch. Thomas stands for so many in our culture who still ask … ‘But is it true?’ He doesn’t want to live in the imagined fantasy-world of someone else’s story. Reality or nothing for him … And Jesus meets Thomas fair and square. He doesn’t say, as some theologians today would say, ‘No, Thomas, you’re coming at it the wrong way; we don’t do scientific evidence here, you need a different epistemology [way to know about reality].’ Yes, there is a gentle but firm rebuke: Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe. But this only comes after Jesus has first offered Thomas his hands and his side. Evidence you want? Evidence you shall have. We are not told, however, that Thomas did actually reach out his hand to touch. Instead, he takes a flying leap past anything the others had yet said. Sometimes it is the doubters who, when convinced, become the most insightful. ‘My Lord and my God!’ It is the climax of the gospel; and I invite you to reflect on the fact that it might not have happened this way had Thomas not asked his question.”

http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Italian_Bishops_Christ_Risen_First_Fruits.htm

1.1. What Actually Happened 2000 Years Ago Matters

Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas and I really like Tom Wright’s comment, because it encourages doubters. When it comes to doubting, I have a lot in common with Thomas. I am aware of the enormous implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and I long for all the evidence I can get. In the end the Christian faith is not about the evidence, but about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, I am also convinced that the historical underpinning of the death and resurrection is vitally important. The Apostle Paul is crystal clear about that.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12–14,17–19)

  1. WHAT EXACTLY DOES RESURRECTION MEAN?

This paper is about the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To begin with it may be a good idea to look at the descriptions of death and resurrection in the Bible.

2.1. Death is a Temporary Situation ‘Fallen Asleep’

Death is typically described as ‘fallen asleep’ in the New Testament. Two examples are:

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead … ” (John 11:11–14)

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1 Thessalonians 4:13,14)

Why is death described as fallen asleep? Is the subject too sensitive to use blunt words like dead and death? That’s not the case. The Bible doesn’t hold back when it comes to addressing sensitive, but important issues in a direct way. It uses words like fallen asleep, because death is not the end, but a temporary situation, which is better described as ‘fallen asleep’.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul suggests that … we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23b). With the ‘redemption of our bodies’ Paul describes the transformation of the bodies of those who believe in Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Philippians he refers to our present-day bodies and our resurrection bodies, and clearly suggests a temporary stage between the two. According to Tom Wright “… the early Christians hold firmly to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 52, 53)[1]

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. … our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 1:21–24, 3:20,21)

2.1.1. Our Citizenship is in Heaven

It’s only a side path, but with the remark … our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20a) Paul doesn’t mean that we actually live in heaven. It only means that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ have a heavenly passport in the same way that most of us have a foreign passport, even though we live in Basel. Paul was a Roman citizen, although he didn’t live in Rome (except for the last few years of his life).

2.2. Resurrection is a Permanent Situation in a Transformed Body

The transformation of our bodies depends on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The word for resurrection in the original Greek text, anastasis, refers to new life given to a human body that has been dead. In a more readable offshoot of one of the most comprehensive books on the resurrection of Jesus Christ ever written (namely The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003) by N.T. Wright), Tom Wright gives an illuminating description of the concept of resurrection: “… the word ‘resurrection’ … was never used to mean ‘life after death’. ‘Resurrection’ was used to denote new bodily life after whatever sort of ‘life after death’ there might be. When the ancients spoke of resurrection, whether to deny it (as all pagans did) or to affirm it (as some Jews did), they were referring to a two-step narrative in which resurrection, meaning new bodily life, would be preceded by an interim period of bodily death. ‘Resurrection’ wasn’t, then, a dramatic or vivid way of talking about the state people went into immediately after death. It denoted something that might happen (though almost everyone thought it wouldn’t) some time after that. This meaning is constant throughout the ancient world until the post-Christian coinages of second-century gnosticism. Most of the ancients believed in life after death; some of them developed complex and fascinating beliefs about it, … but, outside Judaism and Christianity (and perhaps Zoroastrianism, though the dating of that is controversial), they did not believe in resurrection. … Everybody knew about ghosts, spirits, visions, hallucinations and so on. Most people in the ancient world believed in some such things. They were quite clear that that wasn’t what they meant by ‘resurrection’. … Resurrection meant bodies. We cannot emphasize this too strongly, not least because much modern writing continues, most misleadingly, to use the word ‘resurrection’ as a virtual synonym for ‘life after death’ in the popular sense. … When the early Christians said that Jesus had risen from the dead they knew that they were saying that something had happened to him which had happened to nobody else, and which nobody had expected to happen. They were not talking about Jesus’ soul going into heavenly bliss. Nor were they saying, confusedly, that Jesus had now become divine. That is simply not what the words meant; there was no implicit connection for either Jews or pagans between resurrection and divinization. When the ancient Romans declared that the recently departed emperor had gone to heaven and become divine, nobody dreamed of saying that he had been raised from the dead. … Some Jews agreed with those pagans who denied any kind of future life, especially a re-embodied one. The Sadducees are famous for taking this position. Others agreed with those pagans who thought in terms of a glorious though disembodied future for the soul. Here the obvious example is the philosopher Philo. But most Jews of the day believed in an eventual resurrection: that is, that God would look after the soul after death until, at the last day, God would give his people new bodies at the time when he judged and remade the whole world. That is what Martha assumed Jesus was talking about in their conversation beside the tomb of Lazarus: ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day’ [John 11:24]. That is what ‘resurrection’ meant.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 47–49)[2]

Resurrection is not, as is sometimes suggested, a mere resuscitation, a return to exactly the same sort of bodily life as before. Paul’s remark … we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him (Romans 6:9) tells us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was radically different than what happened to the people who were raised from the dead in the gospels (Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son from Nain). They were resuscitated corpses. They could (and did) die again. What happened to Jesus Christ was something radically new. It had never happened before. This is also clear from 1 Corinthians 15:20–23, where Jesus Christ is described as ‘the firstfruits’ (see below).

Nor does anastasis mean a spiritual or non-bodily survival of death. So the temporary stage ‘fallen asleep’ we just talked about is not the same thing as the resurrection. In both letters to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul describes the resurrection body. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that after our perishable body (‘the earthly tent we live in’) is destroyed, we eagerly await our resurrection body (‘longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling’), ‘because we do not wish to be unclothed’.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:1–5)

Paul doesn’t leave us in the dark what the resurrection body exactly is. In a wonderful passage in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the resurrection body.

But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ … Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. … So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. … And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ (1 Corinthians 15:35,39,40,42–47,49–52,54)[3]

Tom Wright clarifies: “… in 1 Corinthians 15 … [Paul] speaks of two sorts of body, the present one and the future one. He uses two key objectives to describe these bodies. Unfortunately, many translations have got him radically wrong at this point, leading to the widespread supposition that for Paul the new body would be a ‘spiritual’ body in the sense of a ‘non-material’ body, a body which in Jesus’ case wouldn’t have left an empty tomb behind it. It can be demonstrated in great detail, philologically and exegetically, that this is precisely not what Paul meant. The contrast he is making is not between what we would mean by a present ‘physical’ body and what we would mean by a future ‘spiritual’ one, but between a present body animated by the normal human soul and a future body animated by God’s spirit. And the point about the future body is that it will be incorruptible. The present flesh and blood is corruptible, doomed to decay and die. … The new body will be incorruptible.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 55).[4]

We shall live in a literal body just as real as the one we have now, but without death and decay. It will be the same body in that it will be recognizable, but wonderfully transformed by Jesus Christ.

2.2.1. The Butterfly Metaphor

There is a classic way to remember this concept of death and resurrection. Think of the butterfly metamorphosis. An ordinary caterpillar is transformed into a gorgeous butterfly. In this metaphor the caterpillar stands for Jesus’ life on earth before his death on the cross, the cocoon (or chrysalis) stands for the tomb in which Jesus was buried for three days and the butterfly stands for the risen Christ. Applied to those who believe in Jesus Christ, the caterpillar stands for our present-day bodies, the cocoon stands for the temporary death (the ‘fallen asleep’ stage between this life and the future resurrection) and the butterfly stands for our resurrection when Jesus Christ transforms us at his second coming.

 

2.3. Our Resurrection Depends on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The whole concept of our salvation and resurrection depends on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the first of those who are raised from the dead (‘the firstfruits’) and, at his second coming, he will give those who belong to him a resurrection body.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:20–23)

So after this long introduction, it’s finally time to look at the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Part of the evidence depends on the scriptures, but I will only look at those Bible passages that are convincing for sceptics as well. In the following it will become clear what that means.

  1. THE EVIDENCE OF THE CORINTHIAN CREED

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 Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters 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. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8)

Why does this Bible passage deserve special attention compared to many others that testify to Jesus’ resurrection? Because the specific formulation and the Galatian context strongly suggest that this passage is an ancient Christian creed quoted by the Apostle Paul.

3.1. The Corinthian Creed Itself

The Corinthian creed was formulated with the explicit purpose to be passed on to new believers. Paul did adjust this creed a bit, but his adjustments enhance instead of diminish its credibility.

For what I received I passed on to you … This is a technical description used for the transmission of oral tradition. So Paul is actually saying: these are not my own words, but this is what I have been told and in turn I told you about it. (Earlier in this same letter, when Paul refers to the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23–26), he uses very similar words to emphasize that he is passing on sacred tradition.)

… as of first importance … Paul makes clear that the creed is crucial. The credibility of the gospel message relies on it. If it’s not true, then the Christian faith falls apart.

… 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 … This describes the Christian message in a very condensed form. These are not Paul’s words, but this is what he has been told.

… and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time … Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles … This refers to the eyewitness testimony that supports the Christian message. The grammatical structure ‘and that’ (in the original Greek text kai hoti) strongly suggests that these words were part of the original creed that was passed on to Paul.

… most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep … and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. These are Paul’s own additions to the original creed. However, these additions do not diminish the credibility of the creed. Paul quoted this creed almost two decades after he received it (see below). It makes perfect sense that a few of those 500 eyewitnesses had died by then and could no longer be questioned about their testimony. The ‘abnormally born’ remark in Paul’s own eyewitness addition is probably a self-deprecating remark echoing his past as a persecutor of Christians.

3.2. The Galatian Context

The question is: from whom received Paul this creed? From Christians who preceded him. Who are they? Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives us a clue.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. (Galatians 1:18–20)

Paul’s visit to Jerusalem wasn’t a social visit, but an investigative inquiry. That can be concluded from the use of the word historeo (to get aquainted) in the original Greek text, which actually means ‘to learn by inquiry’. 2000 years ago history was predominantly passed on through eyewitness testimony, so Paul visited Jerusalem with the explicit purpose to find out what the Apostle Peter (Cephas is his Aramaic name) could tell him about Jesus. Quite likely it’s no coincidence that the two identified persons in the Corinthian creed are precisely the same two persons that Paul met during his two–week–stay in Jerusalem. As we will learn from the next chapter, The Evidence of the Female Eyewitnesses, specific witnesses were identified by name. Both Peter and James were very important eyewitnesses. Peter followed Jesus during his public ministry and saw him several times after the resurrection. James, the brother of Jesus, didn’t believe in Jesus during his public ministry, but he knew Jesus all of his life and he changed radically after meeting the risen Christ.

The fact that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem took place three years after his conversion on the road to Damascus is very significant. The first Corinthians letter was written in the early or mid-50s, which is over two decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but the Corinthian creed dates from no later than the mid-30s, which is only a few years after the actual events. This proves that within a few years there was already a clear confession of faith testifying to Jesus’ resurrection that was passed on to new believers.

3.3. The First Christians Believed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Why is all this important? Because it proves that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection was evident immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion and at the launch of the Christian church. The belief in Jesus’ resurrection was at the heart of the gospel message that was preached to Jews and Gentiles alike.

It’s significant that quite a few non-believing New Testament scholars accept this analysis of the Corinthian creed and the Galatian context. That doesn’t mean that they actually believe that Jesus rose from the dead (that would make them believers instead of non-believers), but it does mean that many scholars nowadays accept the conclusion that the first Christians believed in Jesus’ resurrection. This is a remarkable contrast with the dominant view among New Testament scholars in the 20th century, when it was generally assumed that Jesus’ resurrection was an invention by second– or third–generation Christians, decades after the start of the Christian church.

So if you doubt whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, do realize that the first Christians believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (and that many New Testament scholars accept this conclusion).

  1. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FEMALE EYEWITNESSES

In the second century a critic of the Christian faith, called Celsus, mocked the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection: … after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced with nails. But who saw this? A hysterical woman, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery … (‘Contra Celsum’ (2.55), Origin, ca. 177 AD). Celsus’ dismissal of Mary Magdalene’s testimony makes perfect sense, because female testimony was widely regarded as unreliable and untrustworthy in the ancient world, especially in the Holy Land. As a general rule women could not witness in Jewish courts, because they were considered too emotional and not rational and steadfast enough.

Paradoxically, this ancient lack of credibility is precisely the reason for its present believability.

4.1. The Corinthian Creed Ignores the Female Eyewitnesses

The Corinthian creed we just discussed refers to male testimony only and ignores the female eyewitnesses. 2000 years ago female testimony carried so little weight that it was considered of little use to be included in the earliest Christian creed. That doesn’t mean that the apostles themselves didn’t believe the women, but it does suggest that the apostles considered the female testimony unconvincing for outsiders. So when they passed on the earliest Christian creed to new believers, they probably consciously ignored the female eyewitnesses and only highlighted the male testimony.

Remarkably, the Corinthian creed dates from within a few years of the actual death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and ignores the female eyewitnesses, while the gospels date from at least a few decades after the actual events and highlight the female testimonies. Regarding the ancient contempt for female testimony, it seems puzzling why the gospel writers included the female testimonies in their accounts. After all, the gospel writers selected only part of all the information available when they wrote the gospels, as the final remark in the Gospel of John clearly suggests (John 21:25).[5] At first sight, it seems much more attractive to ignore the female testimonies and concentrate on the male testimonies that would not have been scorned so easily.

4.2. Why do the Gospels Focus on the Female Eyewitnesses?

So why did the gospel writers not only include female eyewitnesses in their gospels, but even gave women pride of place at the most significant moments of salvation history, namely the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Because the gospels tell us exactly what happened, despite the common prejudice against female testimony. The women were the last ones at the cross, the first ones at the empty tomb and the first to meet the risen Christ.

The gospel writers didn’t try to ‘sell’ their story by brushing up the less palatable episodes of the gospel. They definitely wanted their readers to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (John 20:30,31), but they didn’t compromise the truth to achieve that goal. The fact that all gospels focus on the women as the primary eyewitnesses of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection actually enhances their historical reliability in our day and age. The female eyewitnesses testify to the historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts.

The New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham said about the eyewitness testimony in the gospels: “there are good reasons to think that the Gospels as we have them are close to the way the eyewitnesses testified to what they had seen and participated in. There are no longer good reasons for supposing that Gospel traditions passed through a lengthy process of oral transmission in the early Christian communities, independently of the eyewitnesses, before reaching the Gospel writers. On the contrary, it is most plausible to think of the eyewitnesses as living and active, well known throughout the Christian movement, down to the time when the Gospels were written. They functioned as constantly accessible sources and authoritative guarantors of the traditions they themselves had formulated at the beginning of the movement. We need not think of the Gospels as far removed from their testimony, but rather as closely based on their testimony.”

http://richardbauckham.co.uk/uploads/Sermons/Canonicity%20of%20the%20Gospels.pdf

The women were the primary eyewitnesses at the crucifixion, the burial and the empty tomb and could therefore vouch for the fact that the empty tomb really was the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid three days before. The women were also the first to meet the risen Christ.

4.3. Differences in the Testimonies of the Female Eyewitnesses

A short overview of the gospel accounts shows that they differ from each other.

The Gospel of Matthew:

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. … Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. … After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. … The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 27:55,56,59–61, 28:1–3,5–10)

The Gospel of Mark:

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. … So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. … When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 15:40,41,46,47, 16:1–8)

The Gospel of Luke:

But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. … Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. … The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. … On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.(Luke 23:49,53,55, 24:1–11)

The Gospel of John:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. … Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” … Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means ‘Teacher’). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 19:25, 20:1,2,11–18)

In the Gospel of John the women set out for the tomb while it is still dark, but in Mark it is just after sunrise. The appearance of the angel in the Gospel of Matthew is quite different from the appearance of the young man (Mark), the two men (Luke) or the two angels (John) in the other gospels. What the angel said is similar in Matthew and Mark, but quite different in Luke.

So how do we solve these differences between the four gospel accounts? The classic apologetic approach is to harmonize the details as much as possible. A typical example would be: it was still dark when the women set out for the tomb early Sunday morning (John 20:1), but it was already after sunrise when they reached the tomb (Mark 16:2). However, there is another approach, which may be more fruitful.

Three of the four gospels make clear that the women they mention are but a few of the women who were there. Matthew says ‘many women were there’ and he specifically names a few ‘among them’. Mark also names a few ‘among them’ and reports ‘many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there’. Luke talks about ‘the others with them’ when he mentions his female eyewitnesses.

Another significant aspect is the unique set of specifically named female eyewitnesses in each gospel. Apparently, each of the gospel writers obtained information from different sources and didn’t base their reports of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection on the same female testimonies. This makes perfect sense when realizing that the Gospels were written at least a few decades after the actual events, so not all female eyewitnesses could be contacted anymore.

Matthew mentions the mother of Zebedee’s sons as a unique female eyewitness. She is known only from the Matthew gospel.[6] She is present at the cross, but conspicuously absent from the burial and from the empty tomb. Apparently, Matthew knew exactly when the mother of Zebedee’s sons was an eyewitness and when she was not, and he took care to point that out.

Similarly, Mark mentions Salome as a unique female eyewitness. She is known only from the Mark gospel.[7] She is present at the cross and at the empty tomb, but conspicuously absent from the burial. Apparently, Mark knew exactly when Salome was an eyewitness and when she was not, and he took care to point that out.

Matthew’s and Mark’s report of what the angel said is very similar, but Luke’s report is quite different. Luke mentions Joanna as a unique female eyewitness. She is known only from the Luke gospel,[8] so a likely explanation of the dissimilarity is Joanna’s unique testimony as the basis for Luke’s report of what the angel said. The absence of Susanna in Luke’s resurrection account is also remarkable. Luke apparently knew Susanna. Luke 8:3 refers both to Joanna and Susanna and, just like Joanna, Susanna is known only from the Luke gospel. Susanna’s absence in the resurrection account suggests that she was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Only two of the four gospels, Matthew and John, have detailed accounts of women meeting the risen Christ. Especially John’s account of Mary Magdalene meeting the risen Lord is very detailed and touching and derives, no doubt, from Mary Magdalene’s own eyewitness testimony. It has all the elements of an authentic, personal experience. From an apostle’s point of view she was an unlikely candidate to be the first to meet the risen Christ (not only was she a woman, but seven demons had come out of her – Luke 8:2), so a made up story would not have revolved around her. Mary Magdalene feared that Jesus’ body had been stolen and she mistook Jesus for a gardener. Those are elements of an honest eyewitness account and not of a made up story trying to ‘sell’ Jesus’ resurrection. And most of all, a made up story would never have commissioned a former demon-possessed woman to be the first to proclaim the Easter message (especially not to the leaders of the early church!). Don’t forget, the earliest Christian creed, the Corinthian creed (see above), ignored the female eyewitnesses.

These examples suggest that the differences between the gospels regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection are the result of different eyewitness testimonies. Respecting their specific eyewitnesses, the gospel writers didn’t try to harmonize the different testimonies. This underlines the reliability of the gospel accounts, because they didn’t adjust the eyewitness testimonies to smooth out the contradictions. They honestly reported what their specific female eyewitnesses had seen, regardless of any contradictions between the testimonies. As everybody knows the eyewitnesses of an event are never in complete agreement. There are always contradictions. The (apparent) contradictions of the resurrection accounts vouch for the honesty of the gospel writers. Did the women see one angel or two? We do not need to answer such questions in order to find their stories credible.

The New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham highlights the fact that the women are presented as eyewitnesses of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection: “In the Synoptic Gospels [the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke] the role of the women as eyewitnesses is crucial: they see Jesus die, they see his body being laid in the tomb, they find the tomb empty. The fact that some of the women were at all three events means that they can testify that Jesus was dead when laid in the tomb and that it was the tomb in which he was buried that they subsequently found empty. All three Synoptic Gospels repeatedly make the women subjects of verbs of seeing: they ‘saw’ the events as Jesus died (Matthew 27:55, Mark 15:40, Luke 23:49), they ‘saw’ where he was laid in the tomb (Mark 15:47, Luke 23:55), they went on the first day of the week to ‘see’ the tomb (Matthew 28:1), they ‘saw’ the stone rolled away (Mark 16:4), they ‘saw’ the young man sitting on the right side (Mark 16:5), and the angel invited them to ‘see’ the empty place where Jesus’ body had lain (Matthew 28:6, Mark 16:6). It could hardly be clearer that the Gospels are appealing to their roles as eyewitnesses” (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2006), Richard Bauckham, p. 48).

4.4. Some Significant Examples of Male Testimonies

The female eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection are the most important testimonies, but they are not the only ones. There are some other significant examples of eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, burial and resurrection, that are attributed to specifically identified male eyewitnesses.

By mentioning Malchus (John 18:10) the Gospel of John seems to suggest that the high priest’s servant, whose right ear had been cut off by the Apostle Peter and miraculously healed by Jesus (Luke 22:51), had become a well-known member of the Christian church and could be questioned as an eyewitness of Jesus’ arrest (and of the miracle performed by Jesus).

Mark’s identification of Alexander and Rufus as Simon of Cyrene’s sons (Mark 15:21) seems to suggest that the Simon of Cyrene story (Simon had to carry Jesus’ cross when Jesus collapsed) could be verified by contacting his sons, who were probably well-known members of the Christian church (their father Simon had probably died already when Mark wrote his gospel).

By identifying Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as the ones who buried Jesus (John 19:38,39) the Gospel of John seems to suggest that they had become well-known members of the Christian church and could be questioned as eyewitnesses of Jesus’ burial. Remarkably, both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were members of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43 and John 3:1), the ruling Jewish council that pressured the Romans into crucifying Jesus. Nicodemus is known only from the Gospel of John.[9]

By mentioning Cleopas (Luke 24:18) Luke clearly suggests that he is the eyewitness source of the Emmaus story (two men met Jesus on the road to Emmaus on Resurrection Sunday) and, as a well-known member of the Christian church, could be questioned as an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection.

4.5. Eyewitness Testimony is Important

Eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection is important. Being an eyewitness even seems to define apostolicity. Mary Magdalene’s exclamation I have seen the Lord! (John 20:18) is echoed by the disciples (We have seen the Lord! – John 20:25). Even more clearly, Paul seems to defend his apostolicity by referring to his status as an eyewitness of the risen Christ (Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? – 1 Corinthians 9:1). On the other hand, Jesus’ rebuke of Thomas (Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. – John 20:29) seems to downplay the importance of being an eyewitness. However, this may refer specifically to the new believers who have to rely on eyewitness testimony instead of personal experiences of meeting the risen Christ in the flesh.

The first eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were women. Nowadays, that doesn’t strike us as particularly remarkable, but 2000 years ago it couldn’t have been more surprising. In those days female testimony wasn’t taken seriously. If the resurrection story in the gospels is an elaborate hoax, why on earth did it give pride of place to women as eyewitnesses? That would undermine the credibility of the account, unless, of course, the resurrection story in the Gospels describes accurately what actually happened.

Tom Wright explains that the actual portrait of the risen Christ that is painted by the resurrection story in the gospels confirms its authenticity: “…If, as many revisionists have tried to make out, the gospel stories developed either from people mulling over the scriptures or from an experience of inner subjective illumination, the one thing you would expect to find is the risen Jesus shining like a star. That’s what Daniel says will happen; that’s what an experience of inner illumination might have generated. We have such an account in the transfiguration. But none of the gospels say this about Jesus at Easter. Indeed, he appears as a human being with a body that in some ways is quite normal, and can be mistaken for a gardener, or a fellow-traveller on the road. Yet the stories also contain – and this marks them out as among the most mysterious stories ever written – definite signs that this body has been transformed. It is clearly physical: it uses up (so to speak) the matter of the crucified body; hence the empty tomb. But, equally, it comes and goes through locked doors; it is not always recognized; and in the end it disappears into God’s space, i.e., ‘heaven’, through the thin curtain which in much Jewish thought separates God’s space from human space. This kind of account is without precedent. No biblical texts predict that the resurrection will involve this kind of body. No speculative theology had laid this trail for the evangelists to follow. … this should put a stop to the old nonsense that Luke’s and John’s accounts, which are the most apparently ‘physical’, were written late in the first century in an attempt to combat docetism (the view that Jesus wasn’t a real human being but only ‘seemed’ to be so). Granted, if all you had was Jesus eating broiled fish (Luke [24:41–43]), and inviting Thomas to touch him (John [20:24–29]), such an account might have some initial plausibility. But if Luke and John were simply constructing narratives to combat docetism, they have surely shot themselves in the foot with both barrels when they speak of the risen Jesus appearing through locked doors, disappearing again, sometimes being recognized, sometimes not, and finally ascending into heaven. … Almost everywhere else in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus is spoken of in connection with the final hope that those who belong to Jesus will one day be raised as he has been, and with the note that this must be anticipated in the present in baptism and behaviour. … the resurrection narratives in the gospels never, ever say anything like ‘Jesus is raised, therefore there is life after death’, let alone ‘Jesus is raised, therefore we shall go to heaven when we die’. Nor even, in a more authentic first-century Christian way, do they say ‘Jesus is raised, therefore we shall be raised from the dead after the sleep of death’. … as early as Paul the resurrection of Jesus is firmly linked to the final resurrection of all God’s people. Had the stories been invented towards the end of the first century, they would certainly have included a mention of the final resurrection of all God’s people. They don’t, because they weren’t. … it is far, far easier to believe that the stories are essentially very early, pre-Pauline, and have not been substantially altered, except for light personal polishing, in subsequent transmission or editing. … when we ask why such stories, so different in many ways and yet so interestingly consistent in these and other features, could have come into existence so early, all the early Christians give the obvious answer: something like this is what happened, even though it was hard to describe at the time and remains mind-boggling thereafter. The stories, though lightly edited and written down later, are basically very, very early. They are not, as has so often been suggested, legends written up much later to give a pseudo-historical basis for what had essentially been a private, interior experience. … they tell the stories that they tell, not because of a new religious experience or insight but because of something that had happened; something that had happened to the crucified Jesus; something that they at once interpreted as meaning that he was after all the Messiah, that God’s new age had after all broken into the present time …” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 66–68).

So if you doubt whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, do realize that the gospels contain authentic and honest testimonies of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Authentic, because the gospels focus on the primary eyewitnesses, who happened to be women, despite the common contempt for female testimony. Honest, because the gospels respect their unique eyewitnesses and do not polish away any apparent contradictions between the testimonies.

  1. THE EVIDENCE OF THE EMPTY TOMB

Jesus was put publicly in the tomb on Friday afternoon, but on Sunday morning the body was missing. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then someone took the body. If the tomb had not been empty, it would have been virtually impossible for the disciples to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the disciples began to preach the gospel message in Jerusalem and people responded, the tomb must have been empty. Otherwise, the Jewish leadership and Roman authorities could have, and would have, just marched to the tomb and produced Jesus’ body.

5.1. The First Polemic Presupposes the Empty Tomb

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the Jewish opponents of the Christians did not deny that the tomb was empty, but that they claimed the disciples stole the body.

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. … some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. (Matthew 27:62–66, 28:11–15)

5.2. Did the Disciples Steal Jesus’ Body?

At first sight the disciples did have a reason to steal Jesus’ body from the tomb, just as the polemic in the Matthew gospel suggests. That’s how they could come up with a resurrection story and restore faith in Jesus Christ.[10] But on further consideration this is highly unlikely. Most of the disciples were persecuted and eventually murdered for their faith in Jesus Christ. It is difficult to stick to the truth when you are persecuted, but it is impossible to stick to a hoax when you are tortured and killed for it.[11]

 

 

5.3. Did the Jewish Leadership Steal Jesus’ Body?

The Jewish leadership didn’t steal Jesus’ body either. They wanted Jesus dead because of his alleged blasphemy. They had pressured the Romans to execute Jesus and wanted to keep him dead, buried and forgotten as quickly as possible. The Jewish leaders were concerned about their position. The Romans (and their client kings) could (and quite often did) make leadership changes. The murder of James, the brother of Jesus, led to the removal of high priest Ananus (see above). Not because King Agrippa was so concerned about the judicial murder per se, but because of the unrest it stirred up. The emergence of a resurrection story could (and did) cause such disturbance and the Jewish leadership certainly did not want that. The Jewish leaders would have shown Jesus’ body to the people if they were able to, but they were not.

5.3.1. Blasphemy or High Treason?

Regarding the alleged blasphemy, it wasn’t Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, but his claim to be equal to God that convinced the Jewish leadership that Jesus was blasphemous and deserved to die. Messianic claims were quite common in Jesus’ days (see note 18 below) and the Jewish leaders did not pressure the Romans to put the claimants to death. Jesus was the exception because of his claim to be equal to God.

… the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. (Mark 14:61b–64)

Before Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders didn’t accuse Jesus of blasphemy, but of high treason. Blasphemy was a concern for the Jews, but irrelevant to the Romans. So, opportunistically, Jesus was accused of high treason: claiming to be a king in a realm where there could be no political king but Caesar. Apparently, Pilate did not believe that Jesus was guilty of high treason. So why did Pilate give in to the Jewish leaders?

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” … Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him” (Luke 23:1–3a,13–16).

… Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” … they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified (John 19:12,15,16).

The potential fall out with Caesar was Pilate’s weak spot: Pilate was appointed by Caesar and he could not afford falling from grace with Caesar. The public handwashing was a fig leaf cover to deflect responsibility in condemning Jesus to the cross.

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24)

5.4. Did the Romans Steal Jesus’ Body?

The Romans didn’t want to disturb the peace in Israel. That didn’t serve their purpose at all. Disturbing the peace was bad for business (as it still is). Taking away the body of Jesus would cause such a disturbance and consequently the necessary and costly deployment of soldiers to restore the peace again. The Romans didn’t want that, so it is highly unlikely that they took away Jesus’ body. The Romans would have shown Jesus’ body to the people if they were able to, but they were not.

5.5. The Empty Tomb Confirms Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the Jewish leaders and the Romans put soldiers next to Jesus’ tomb to guard it against grave robbers, so no-one could come up with a resurrection story and disturb the peace in Israel. If the tomb hadn’t been empty, they would have shown Jesus’ body to the public as soon as the disciples were proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and thus put an end to the Christian movement once and forever. The fact is that they couldn’t, because the tomb was empty. It’s a mystery that Jesus’ dead body was missing and the mystery is solved by Jesus’ resurrection.

An important aspect of the empty tomb is the confirmation that the disciples witnessed Jesus’ bodily resurrection instead of a purely spiritual resurrection.[12] The risen Christ was not a soul who had left his body behind in the tomb (see also chapter 2). Circumstantial evidence for the empty tomb (and therefore for Jesus’ bodily resurrection) is the fact that “… Jewish tombs, especially those of martyrs, were venerated and often became shrines. There is no sign whatever of that having happened with Jesus’ grave.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 73)

5.6. The Myth that Jesus Didn’t Actually Die on the Cross

This myth suggests that Jesus somehow survived the crucifixion and persuaded his gullible disciples that he rose from the dead. This myth is nonsense for the following reasons: it’s psychologically highly unlikely, the brutal efficiency of Roman crucifixions made it very unlikely that victims could survive a crucifixion and a Roman soldier knew a dead body when he saw one.

5.6.1. It’s Psychologically Highly Unlikely

How could a severely battered and bruised crucifixion victim convince anyone that he had actually died and rose again from the dead? Everyone would have assumed that Jesus somehow survived the crucifixion, but that would have brought relief to his disciples, nothing else. The disciples would have tried to get Jesus to a doctor as quickly as possible, but they would not have started to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ without fear and with such passion.

5.6.2. The Brutal Efficiency of Roman Crucifixions

The famous extra-biblical testimony about Jesus, the Testimonium Flavianum or Flavius Josephus testimony, has been criticized by scholars for sounding ‘too Christian’ for a non-believer such as the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. On the other hand, the way it is written  is typical of Josephus’ style of writing and appears to be genuine. One possible explanation for the Christian content of Josephus’ testimony is that Josephus used a Christian document as source material. Another possibility is that Christian copyists added the specific Christian content to the original text of Josephus. But even if you ‘clean up’ Josephus’ testimony (taking out the suspect Christian content), it still confirms an important aspect of Jesus’ death: he was crucified by Pilate on the instigation of the Jewish leadership.

The actual version of Josephus’ testimony, which may or may not be the same as the original version written by Josephus (underlined is the suspect Christian content possibly added by later Christian copyists):

About this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out (‘Antiquities’ (18.3.3), Flavius Josephus, 93 AD).

The ‘cleaned up’ version of Josephus’ testimony without the suspect Christian content (underlined is the extra-biblical confirmation of Jesus’ crucifixion):

About this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. … For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. … And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. … And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.

In 1857 a mocking depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion was found on the Palatine Hill in Rome (see below). It is known as the ‘Alexamenos graffito’ and shows a crucified figure with a donkey head and the subscript alexamenos cebete theon (Alexamenos worships his God). It dates probably from the second century (no earlier than the late first and no later than the third century). This is one of the earliest known representations of Jesus’ crucifixion and it illustrates the amazement (and amusement) about someone worshipping a crucifixion victim.

Not only was crucifixion seen as a shameful and degrading death, it was also one of the cruellest and most painful ways to kill someone. Josephus called crucifixion ‘the most wretched of deaths’ and the Roman politician Cicero called it ‘the most cruel and disgusting penalty’.

Roman crucifixions were brutally efficient. Historically, there is only one example of a victim who survived a Roman crucifixion: … as I came back, I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered (‘Life’ (75), Flavius Josephus, 100 AD).

The normal Roman procedure was to flog the victim who was sentenced to the cross. The flogging could kill the victim. The whip had hooks (pieces of bone or metal inserted in the leather) to rip out flesh. In Roman law there was no maximum number of lashes (no forty-minus-one lashes as in Jewish law). The severity of the flogging depended on the Roman soldier handling the whip and on the supervising centurion (an officer in the Roman army). Victims were sometimes flogged until the bones showed or the entrails were visible. If you want an impression of how brutal a Roman flogging could have been, watch the movie The Passion of the Christ (2004) by Mel Gibson. Be warned: the images are shocking.

After being flogged, the victim had to carry the crossbar of the cross to the execution site. The fact that Jesus wasn’t able to carry the crossbar testifies to the fact that he was severely weakened.

As the soldiers led him [Jesus] away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus (Luke 23:26).

At the execution site, the victim was nailed through the hands or wrists and through the feet. Evidence for a crucifixion victim was excavated in 1968–1970 in Giv’at ha-Mitvar near Jerusalem. It’s a heel bone with a nail driven through it from the side (belonging to a person called ‘Jehohanan, son of Hagkol’). The tip of the nail was bent, probably to prevent it from being extracted from the foot.

 

5.6.3. A Roman Soldier Knew a Dead Body When He Saw One

Crucifixions were common in the first century and the centurion’s career and possibly even life depended on the fact that he did his job properly. This is why one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear (John 19:34). He pierced through Jesus’ heart to make absolutely sure that Jesus was dead.

 

 

5.6.4. Details of Jesus’ Death

Jesus died unusually quick (six or seven hours after being nailed to the cross). When Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’ body…

Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph (Mark 15:44,45).

As said, flogging a victim who was sentenced to the cross was normal Roman procedure, so the two criminals who were crucified together with Jesus were probably flogged as well. So why did Jesus die before they did? The most likely explanation is that Jesus was flogged earlier on during the trial as Pilate attempted to have Jesus flogged and then released. Flogging caused considerable blood loss. So Jesus may have become weaker and weaker as the trial went on.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe (John 19:31-35).

There is no single cause of death by crucifixion. The victims could die from suffocation, traumatic shock, heart failure, or a combination of these. Most experts think that suffocation played an important part in Jesus’ death. Jesus struggled on the cross to keep breathing, which may explain Jesus’ cry at the end, grasping for breath (Mark 15:37).

Why suffocation? Because hanging on the cross, it was difficult to expand the chest in order to breathe. Pulling and pushing oneself up greatly increased the pain in both hands and feet. Pushing oneself up in order to keep breathing was more or less possible until the legs were broken. So breaking the legs caused the crucified victim to suffocate, thereby accelerating his death. The fact that Jesus’ legs were not broken supports the fact that Jesus was already dead (John 19:33).

As said, one of the soldiers pierced through Jesus’ heart to make absolutely sure that Jesus was dead. But what does the ‘sudden flow of blood and water’ mean?

The blood came, most likely, directly from the heart, when the soldier’s spear pierced through Jesus’ heart. The ‘water’ is best interpreted as the liquid that accumulated in the chest. Why did it accumulate? A likely scenario is that the painful breathing led to shallow breathing. In turn, this caused a lack of oxygen in the body and heart stress (the heart tries to compensate for low oxygen levels by beating faster). Circulation problems resulted in accumulation of liquid in the chest, especially in the lungs. The accumulated liquid (‘water’) compressed heart and lungs, eventually leading to suffocation and heart failure. The pressure was suddenly released when the spear pierced through the lungs and pleural cavity, causing a sudden flow of ‘water’.

5.6.5. Some Additional Evidence That Confirms Jesus’ Death

Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them [Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus] wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:40–42)

Additional details mentioned in the gospels, such as the constricting grave clothes (Matthew 27:59, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:40), the used spices (John 19:39,40) and the sealed tomb (Matthew 27:66), confirm that Jesus really died on the cross.

Interestingly, John 19:42 clearly states that the tomb was nearby Calvary, which suggests that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem may well be built on the site of the tomb. Any suggestion that Jesus’ body was missing because the location of the tomb was unknown is nonsense. The gospels give detailed accounts from specified eyewitnesses (not only the earlier mentioned women, but also Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus) how and where Jesus was buried. Also, there has never been any suggestion by the opponents of the Christians that the location of the tomb was unknown, which clearly suggests the opposite: the Jewish leadership and the Romans knew exactly where the tomb was.

5.6.6. Why Are Myths About Jesus So Tenacious?

All these ‘explanations’ for Jesus’ resurrection are nonsense, but they never seem to go away. Another one of those tenacious myths is the suggestion that Jesus never existed (and if Jesus never existed, then there is no resurrection). The evidence for Jesus as an actual historical figure is stronger than for many other undisputed historical figures such as Alexander the Great, so why does the denial of Jesus’ existence keep popping up? The real reason must be the enormous implication of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If you don’t believe in Alexander the Great, it doesn’t make any difference in your life, so nobody cares. But if you don’t believe in Jesus, it makes all the difference in the world.

So if you doubt whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, do realize that the empty tomb fits perfectly with Jesus’ bodily resurrection, but remains a mystery if you take the resurrection out of the equation.

6.THE EVIDENCE OF RADICALLY CHANGED LIVES AFTER MEETING THE RISEN CHRIST

For a period of 40 days after the resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples (thereafter called apostles), partly to convince them that he was indeed alive.[13] The lives of the three most prominent leaders of the early Christian church, the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, radically changed after meeting the risen Christ. As said in the former chapter, meeting the risen Christ even seems to define apostolicity.

6.1. The Apostle Peter

All four gospels tell the story of Peter’s denial of Christ (Matthew 26:58,69–75, Mark 14:54,66–72, Luke 22:54–62, John 18:15–18,25–27). Less than two months later the Apostle Peter changed radically from the coward during Jesus’ mock trial into the fearless preacher who defied the Jewish leadership (Acts 2:14-41, Acts 3:11-26, Acts 4:1-22, Acts 5:17-42).

What happened? The only event that can explain this radical change is the fact … that he [Jesus] appeared to Cephas [Peter] (1 Corinthians 15:5). The risen Christ appeared at least six times to Peter: alone in Jerusalem on Resurrection Sunday (Luke 24:34), together with other disciples in Jerusalem on Resurrection Sunday (Luke 24:36–49), together with other disciples in Jerusalem a week later (John 20:26–29), together with six other disciples on the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1–23), together with other disciples on a Galilean mountain (Matthew 28:16–20) and together with other disciples on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem when Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after the resurrection (Luke 24:50–53).

6.2. The Apostle Paul

The apostle Paul (initially called Saul) was a zealous persecutor of the Christians. Acts mentions this no less than three times (see below and also Acts 22:4,5 and Acts 26:9–11) and it is also confirmed by Paul in his own letters (1 Corinthians 15:8, Galatians 1:13, 1 Timothy 1:13).

…Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. … Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 8:3, 9:1,2).

Paul went to Damascus to catch Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem, but when he arrived in Damascus, he suddenly changed into a zealous preacher of the gospel message. What happened? The only event that can explain this radical change is the fact that … he [Jesus] appeared to me [Paul] (1 Corinthians 15:8). Luke 9:3–9 tells the story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul was blinded by the experience

So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:8b,9) After Ananias put his hands on him, he could see again … Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:18–20).

6.3. James, the Brother of Jesus

James was the brother of Jesus and the author of the Letter of James in the New Testament. James was present during the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14) and became the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem for 30 years (Acts 15:13-21, Galatians 2:9-12).

That James became the leader of the church may come as a surprise as he didn’t believe in his older brother Jesus during his public ministry.

When his [Jesus’] family heard about this, they went to take charge of him [Jesus], for they said, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:1–5).

However, it’s clear from the beginning of his letter in the New Testament that he changed his mind: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ … (James 1:1). So what caused James to change his mind about his brother Jesus? Then he [Jesus] appeared to James… (1 Corinthians 15:7).

6.3.1. Some Additional Information on James, the Brother of Jesus

James was a well-respected citizen in Jerusalem (he earned the nickname ‘James the Righteous’ or ‘James the Just’ for his righteousness and piety). Even though he was a follower of Jesus (while keeping the law), his fellow citizens disapproved of his judicial murder by the high priest Ananus in 62 AD.

But this younger Ananus,[14] who … took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, … he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus[15] was now dead, and Albinus[16] was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others [or: some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified … King Agrippa[17] took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest (‘Antiquities’ (20.9.1), Flavius Josephus, 93 AD).

It’s only a side path, but there may be interesting archeological evidence for James, the brother of Jesus. In 2002 a fascinating ossuary came to light in Israel (see below). An ossuary is a limestone box to collect bones. Deceased people were entombed (like Jesus after his death on the cross and Lazarus as described in John 11), but after about a year when the flesh was gone and only the skeleton was left, the bones were collected in an ossuary for permanent storage in a grave. This ossuary has an Aramaic inscription that reads (in English translation) ‘James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus’ (Aramaic reads from right to left). Although the names James, Joseph and Jesus were very common in the Holy Land in the first century, it was very rare that the name of a brother was mentioned on an ossuary (the usual inscription would have been ‘James, son of Joseph’). There is only one other example of an ossuary where the name of a brother is mentioned as well. In that case the brother was a famous rabbi.

The James Ossuary came from the Silwan area in the Kidron Valley, southeast of the Temple Mount (Jerusalem), and may well have contained the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. However, the authenticity of the inscription is disputed. (The first-century origin of the ossuary itself is not in question, since the only time Jews buried this way was from 20 BC to 70 AD.) The Israel Geological Survey concluded that the patina (a coating or coloration produced by age) was consistent with being in a cave for many centuries and that the same type of patina covers both the inscription as the rest of the surface. This would not have been the case, if the inscription was a modern forgery. In contrast, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) did conclude that the inscription was a modern forgery, based on their analysis of the patina. Specifically, they claimed that the inscription was added in modern times and made to look old by addition of a chalk solution. However, the IAA conclusion was contested and the issue had to be settled in court. On March 14, 2012, Jerusalem Judge Aharon Farkash stated “that there is no evidence that any of the major artifacts [including the James Ossuary] were forged, and that the prosecution failed to prove their accusations beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judge was also particularly scathing about tests carried out by the Israel police forensics laboratory that had probably contaminated the ossuary, making it impossible to carry out further scientific tests on the inscription. But he also concluded that this “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2000 years ago”. So, unfortunately, we can’t be sure (and probably will never be) that this ossuary belonged to James, the brother of Jesus.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ossuary

Interestingly, two ossuaries of family members of the high priest Caiaphas, a major adversary of Jesus in the gospels, have been discovered in 1990 and 2011. These ossuaries are considered to be authentic. The 1990–ossuary has the inscription ‘Joseph, son of Caiaphas’ and the 2011–ossuary has the inscription ‘Miriam, daughter of Yeshua, son of Caiapha, priest of Ma’azya from Beit Imri’.

So if you doubt whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, do realize that the radical changes in the lives of the three most prominent leaders of the early Christian Church are best explained by the fact that they all met the risen Christ.

  1. THE EVIDENCE OF THE RISE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

During the passion week Jesus’ disciples became betrayers (Judas), deniers (Peter) and deserters (the rest of them) who hid behind closed doors. Less than two months after Jesus’ crucifixion the Christian church was launched at Pentecost. The disciples (now called apostles) had turned into bold witnesses of Jesus, prepared to die for the cause. The church grew rapidly (three thousand converts on the first day – Acts 2:41). This rapid growth shortly after the execution of the founder of the movement is not only recorded in the New Testament, but is reported by non-Christian writers as well.

In July 64 AD, a fire broke out in Rome that raged for six days. This so-called ‘Great Fire of Rome’ destroyed most of the city. Many Roman citizens suspected that the emperor Nero had started the fire. To divert attention from himself, Nero used the unpopular Christians as scapegoats.

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular (‘Annals’ (15.44), Tacitus, early 2nd century).

It’s only a side path, but why were Christians so unpopular? Mainly for two reasons: (1) Christians were considered ‘atheists’ and (2) Christians were ‘hated for their abominations’.  By worshipping the emperor, every Roman subject declared him– or herself loyal to the state, but Christians refused to sacrifice to the emperor. This was considered ‘atheism’ by the Romans and a new ‘superstition’ such as Christianity had no excuses for such a refusal. The hatred ‘for their abominations’ had to do with cannibalism (there were rumours that Christians ate the body and drank the blood of their God during a special meal).

The account of the Roman historian Tacitus reveals a few interesting facts about early Christianity. Apparently, in the 60s the Romans were able to distinguish between Christians and Jews. Christians were numerous enough to be labeled as scapegoats. But it also confirms that the Christian movement suddenly started to grow after the execution of the founder of the movement. The Alexamenos graffito (see above) illustrates the amazement (and amusement) about a new faith that focused on worshipping a crucifixion victim.

This was surprising indeed, because there were plenty of messianic movements just before and after Jesus and they routinely ended with the violent death of the founder.[18] When that happened, the followers faced a choice: give up the movement or find a new leader.[19] There is evidence for both. Going around saying your leader had been raised from the dead did not happen, except in the case of the followers of Jesus.[20] Nobody expected Jesus Christ to be raised from the dead, for the obvious reason that nobody expected the Messiah to be killed in the first place.[21] Crucifixion was a disgrace by Roman standards, but probably even more so by Jewish standards. Jews definitely didn’t expect a crucified Messiah 2000 years ago.[22]

If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. (Deuteronomy 21:22,23)

So it’s a good question to ask: What can explain the rise of the Christian church after the demise, in such a disgraceful manner, of Jesus? Sufficient explanation is needed for the psychological turnaround of Jesus’ disciples, who went from being betrayers, deniers, and deserters, to being bold witnesses of Jesus, prepared to die for their convictions about their master. Tom Wright said about this mystery: “… we cannot read the stories of the resurrection without realising that this is the great turning-point, when a bunch of frightened and muddled men and women stumbled despite themselves on the truth that world history had turned its greatest corner, that a new power was let loose in the world, that a door had been opened which no-one could shut. … we cannot understand the historical rise of the early Christian movement unless we take as basic their belief that Jesus really was raised in this bodily sense. Of course, one might say that they were mistaken, but … the best reason for the rise of that belief is that it really did happen. The other explanations – that the disciples were the victims of a delusion, that one or more of them saw a vision of Jesus such as has often been reported by people after someone they love has died, and so on – simply do not hold water historically.”

http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Italian_Bishops_Christ_Risen_First_Fruits.htm

Most New Testament scholars regard the rise of the Christian church as the best evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Nobody denies the rapid growth of the Christian church after Jesus’ crucifixion. This fact is difficult to explain if you dismiss the resurrection.

7.1. Scepticism About the Resurrection of the Dead

2000 years ago the people were just as sceptical about the resurrection of the dead as they are today. While preaching the gospel to the gentiles, the Apostle Paul was interrupted when he mentioned Jesus’ resurrection. In Acts 17 Paul debates the gospel with a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:18,22). In Acts 26 Paul defends the gospel before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa (see also notes 15 and 17).

“In the past God overlooked such ignorance [worshipping idols made of gold or silver or stone], but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” (Acts 17:30–32)

“… so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” (Acts 26:22–24)

7.2. An Interesting Argument of an Adversary

Acts 5 tells us that Peter and the other apostles were ordered by the Jewish leaders to stop preaching the gospel. Peter and the others flatly refused to do so (Acts 5:29–32), so the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, was outraged and wanted to kill them. Gamaliel, an important member of the Sanhedrin (see also note 9), protested by arguing that a movement based on fiction had no chance of survival and would disappear anyway. But he also cautioned that if the Jesus movement was the real thing, the Sanhedrin might find itself fighting against God.

Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. (Acts 5:35–39)

7.3. Plenty of Disagreement, But Not About Jesus’ Resurrection

There was plenty of disagreement among the first Christians. Bones of contention were table fellowship with gentiles, circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses.

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:1–3)

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “… why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:5–7a,10)

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:11–13)

Plenty of disagreement, but the silence on the issue of Jesus’ resurrection is deafening. Nowhere in his letters does Paul have to argue with other Christian leaders about his views on the resurrection and the risen Christ. It shows where the common ground among the first Christians truly lay.

So if you doubt whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, do realize that the rise of the Christian church shortly after the crucifixion makes perfect sense in the light of Jesus’ resurrection, but remains puzzling if you dismiss the resurrection. Most New Testament scholars regard the rise of the Christian church as the best evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

  1. THE EVIDENCE OF THE RITUALS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

In 111–113 AD Pliny the Younger was governor of Pontus and Bithynia (present-day Northern Turkey). He encountered Christians and didn’t know what to do with them. So he wrote to the Roman emperor Trajan.

I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. … they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food – but ordinary and innocent food. … I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition. … the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. (‘Letters’ (10.96–97), Pliny the Younger, early 2nd century)

Pliny the Younger mentions two rituals (or customs) that characterized the Christian church  from early onwards: ‘to meet on a fixed day’ and ‘to assemble to partake of food’. His remark that the food was ‘ordinary and innocent’ is, no doubt, an allusion to the rumours that Christians ate the body and drank the blood of their God during a special meal (see above). The third ritual not mentioned by Pliny was a special initiation rite: baptism. These rituals are of interest to the subject of this paper, because all three point to Jesus’ resurrection.

8.1. A Special Day (Sunday)

The New Testament mentions several times that Christians assembled on the first day of the week. Two examples are:

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (2 Corinthians 16:2)

The first Christians were Jews, whose special day is the Sabbath (Saturday). To change this special day (which is the fourth of the Ten Commandments!) into another one is only possible with strong arguments. Exodus tells us that the Sabbath was holy in honor of God for creating the world.

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:11)

From early onwards the Christians assembled not on the Sabbath, but on the first day of the week (Sunday): a special day in honor of God for saving the world through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On the first day of the weekthe womenwent to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.two men in clothes that gleamed like lightningsaid to them, … “He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:1–6)

8.2. A Special Initiation Rite (Baptism)

The New Testament mentions several times that new believers were baptized. Two examples are:

When they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12)

Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)

New believers were baptized into a symbolic union with Jesus in his death and resurrection. During a discussion with new believers in Ephesus the Apostle Paul made clear that the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ was not the same as the baptism of John the Baptist, which was a baptism of repentance. In his letter to the Romans Paul connected the baptism in the name of Christ explicitly to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:3-5)

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

8.3. A Special Meal (Holy Communion or Eucharist)

The New Testament mentions several times that Christians shared a special meal together.  Two examples are:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer … They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. (Acts 2:42,46,47)

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

The special meal (Holy Communion or Eucharist) is celebrated in remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

It is very unlikely that these three rituals (or customs) don’t relate to the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ, but were invented to appear that way.

So if you doubt whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, do realize that the rituals of the Christian church point to Jesus’ resurrection, but are incomprehensible if you ignore the resurrection.

  1. THE EVIDENCE OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF MEETING THE RISEN CHRIST

Most Christians have experienced Jesus’ power and presence in their lives. What does it prove?

Objectively not much, but I think it is fair to say that for most Christians the personal experience of a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ, becomes by far the most important evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

It may be impossible to prove such experiences, but for the outsider the changed lives of Christians do represent evidence for the living Jesus Christ. Therefore, personal contact with Christian believers may present the most powerful evidence for the risen Christ.

So if you doubt whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, do realize that the personal experiences of lifelong relationships with Jesus Christ present subjective, but nevertheless powerful evidence for the reality of the living Jesus Christ.

  1. CONCLUSION

The question was: Is there evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ? The answer is: Yes, there is good evidence. Nothing in Christianity makes sense except in the light of Jesus’ resurrection, so the most likely explanation is that Jesus’ resurrection actually did happen 2000 years ago. Put the resurrection in place, and everything is explained. Take it away, and everything remains puzzling and confused.[23]

This conclusion is based upon the conclusions mentioned earlier in this paper. The Corinthian creed proves that the first Christians believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The female eyewitnesses prove that the gospels contain authentic and honest testimonies of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. The radically changed lives of the three most prominent leaders of the early Christian church, the Apostles Peter, Paul and James, are best explained by the fact that they all met the risen Christ. The empty tomb fits perfectly with Jesus’ bodily resurrection, but remains a mystery if you take the resurrection out of the equation. The rise of the Christian church shortly after the crucifixion makes perfect sense in the light of  Jesus’ resurrection, but remains puzzling if you dismiss the resurrection. (Most New Testament scholars regard the rise of the Christian church as the best evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.) The rituals (customs) of the Christian church point to Jesus’ resurrection, but are incomprehensible if you ignore the resurrection. On a subjective, but powerful level, the personal experiences of lifelong relationships with Jesus Christ testify to the reality of the living Christ in the lives of Christian believers.

  1. WHY IS IT SO HARD TO ACCEPT THAT CHRIST ACTUALLY ROSE FROM THE DEAD?

Why is the conclusion that Jesus’ resurrection actually did happen so hard to accept?[24]

One of the reasons is the difficulty to accept miracles. Jesus’ resurrection is a miracle, no matter how you look at it. A lot of people, especially in the post–Enlightenment, Western world, find it difficult to accept that miracles actually can happen. The question whether miracles are possible in the context of a rational, scientific worldview demands a lengthy discussion outside the scope of this paper, but ultimately boils down to the limitations of the scientific method in probing reality. Tom Wright comments: “… at this point we are faced with worldview-level issues, there is no neutral ground, no island in the middle of the epistemological ocean [to find out about reality] as yet uncolonized by any of the warring continents. Historical argument alone cannot force anyone to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead; but historical argument is remarkably good at clearing away the undergrowth behind which scepticisms of various sorts have long been hiding. The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivalled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity. The obvious fact that this remains hugely challenging at the personal and corporate level ought not to put us off from taking it seriously.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 75)

Another reason is the difficulty to accept the guilt and helplessness of human beings. Jesus’ resurrection highlights the fact that all of us are sinners in need of salvation and that we cannot save ourselves. A lot of people get annoyed by this Christian concept of human guilt and helplessness.

Yet another reason is the difficulty to accept the exclusivity of the Christian concept of salvation. Jesus’ resurrection highlights the fact that there is no other way to get saved. A lot of people get annoyed by this Christian claim of exclusivity. This claim must be embedded in humbleness and compassion, but, unfortunately, Christians tend to ignore the humbleness and compassion and focus exclusively on the exclusivity.

The most important reason is, probably, the difficulty to accept the enormous implication of Jesus’ resurrection. Based on his own resurrection as a new and incorruptible creation, Jesus Christ offers salvation to everyone (see chapter 2). However, accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior implies accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord (becoming a disciple, a follower of Christ). Although this is a call of love (not of duty), it’s still an obligation, not just an option. The goals of discipleship are to become like Christ (developing a Christ-like character) and to be a witness to the world. This is an ongoing, life-long process (becoming what you are in Christ). Rooted in the relationship with Jesus Christ believers should do the right thing motivated by a heart full of love (instead of giving in to external pressure). Accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord is a life-changing decision of the utmost magnitude. A lot of people shy away from such a momentous decision. Once more, Tom Wright has an interesting remark: “Of course, there is a cost. One cannot simply say, ‘Well, it looks as though Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead’ and carry on with business as usual. If it happened, it means that a new world has been born. That, ultimately, is the good news of Easter …”

http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Italian_Bishops_Christ_Risen_First_Fruits.htm

[1]   “When Jesus tells the brigand that he will join him in paradise that very day [Luke 23:43], ‘paradise’ clearly cannot be their ultimate destination, as Luke’s next chapter makes clear. ‘Paradise’ is, rather, the blissful garden where God’s people rest prior to the resurrection. When Jesus declares that there are many dwelling-places in his father’s house [John 14:2], the word for ‘dwelling-place’ is monai, which denotes a temporary lodging. When Paul says that his desire is ‘to depart and be with Christ, which is far better’ [Philippians 1:23], he is indeed thinking of a blissful life with his Lord immediately after death, but this is only the prelude to the resurrection itself.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 52)

[2]   “Resurrection … did not mean ‘going to heaven’ or ‘escaping death’ or ‘having a glorious and noble post-mortem existence’ but ‘coming to bodily life again after bodily death’.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 56, 57)

[3]   “In Judaism it is almost always left quite vague as to what sort of a body the resurrected will possess. The Maccabean martyrs assume it will be a body more or less exactly the same like the present one. … But from the start within early Christianity it was built in as part of the belief in resurrection that the new body, though it would certainly be a body in the sense of a physical object occupying space and time, will be a transformed body, a body whose material, created from the old material, will have new properties. There has been a dramatic sharpening-up of what ‘resurrection’ itself actually entailed.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 55)

[4]   “The first word, psychikos, does not in any case mean anything like ‘physical’ in our sense. For Greek-speakers of Paul’s day, the psyche, from which the word derives, means the soul, not the body. But the deeper, underlying point is that adjectives of this type, Greek adjectives ending in –ikos, do not describe the material out of which things are made, but the power or energy which animates them. It is the difference between asking on the one hand ‘is this a wooden ship or an iron ship?’ (the material from which it is made) and asking on the other hand ‘is this a steam ship or a sailing ship?’ (the energy which empowers it). Paul is talking about the present body, which is animated by the normal human psyche (the life-force we all possess here and now, which gets us through the present life but is ultimately powerless against illness, injury, decay and death), and the future body which is animated by God’s pneuma, God’s breath of new life, the energizing power of God’s new creation. This is why … Paul declares that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom’. He doesn’t mean that physicality will be abolished. ‘Flesh and blood’ is a technical term for that which is corruptible, transient, heading for death. The contrast, again, is not between what we call physical and what we call non-physical, but between corruptible physicality on the one hand and non-corruptible physicality on the other.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 168)

[5]   The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are roughly of similar length (18,345 words and 19,482 words, respectively – source: http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Four_Gospel_Chart.htm), which is the upper limit for what a single scroll could contain (New Testament History (2001), Ben Witherington III, p. 22). Because the gospels were meant to be distributed as widely as possible (which is easiest as single-scroll copies), the gospel writers had to choose carefully among the available information. The Gospels of Mark (11,304 words) and John (15,635 words) are somewhat shorter, but are still the fifth and fourth largest book in the New Testament.

[6]   Matthew 20:20 is the only other verse in the Bible that refers to the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

[7]   Mark 15:40 and Mark 16:1 are the only verses in the Bible that refer to Salome.

[8]   Luke 8:3 is the only other verse in the Bible that refers to Joanna.

[9]   Nicodemus is known from his nightly visit to Jesus (John 3:1–21), from defending Jesus (somewhat) before the Sanhedrin (John 7:45–52) and from Jesus’ burial (John 19:38–42). The Nicodemus of the Gospel of John was probably known as Naqdimon ben Gurion (Nicodemus, son of Gurion). John’s Nicodemus shares remarkable characteristics with the aristocratic Gurion family. There is, therefore, ‘a very high degree of probability’ that he belonged to the Gurion family. First of all, the name Nicodemus was a very unusual name among Jews. Out of several thousands of named individual Jews in the period 300 BC–400 AD (known from literature, papyri, and inscriptions), only five Jews named Nicodemus are known: two in the diaspora (Alexandria and Rome) and three in Israel (one in the Gospel of John and two in the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus). The two Jews named Nicodemus in Josephus’ writings belonged to the Gurion family. It was common practice among the Jewish aristocracy to maintain the family’s identity by repeating one or two very unusual names, distinctive to the family, across the generations. The very unusual names Naqdimon and Gurion (or Guria) were typical of the Gurion family. (Another example is the very unusual name Gamaliel which was typical of the Gamaliel family – Gamaliel ‘the elder’ was a member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34) and the teacher of the Apostle Paul (Acts 22:3).) Second, John’s Nicodemus was extremely wealthy (John 19:39). So was the Gurion family. It was one of the wealthiest and most powerful families of the Jerusalem aristocracy up to the destruction of the temple (70 AD). The Gurion family owned an estate in Galilee, in the area of Rumah. Since Rumah was in the vicinity of Nazareth and Cana, it is possible that John’s Nicodemus may have encountered or heard Jesus in Galilee as well as in Jerusalem. Third, John’s Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1), even though the Sanhedrin was dominated by the Sadducean aristocracy (such as the high priestly families of Annas and Caiaphas). However, the Gurion family and the Gamaliel family were Pharisees and had family members in the Sanhedrin. The Gospel of John suggests that Nicodemus became a Christian. At his last appearance in the gospel Nicodemus made his allegiance to Jesus highly public (John 19:38–42). He treats the body of a man condemned as a criminal with kingly honor. He does so in broad daylight, before the Sabbath, which began at sunset. This contrasts sharply with Nicodemus’ first appearance in the Gospel of John, the nightly visit to Jesus (John 3:1–21). There is a rabbinic tradition suggesting that Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus: ‘our Rabbis taught: Yeshu [Jesus] had five disciples, Mattai, Naqqai, Neser, Buni and Todah’ (according to rabbinic tradition, five was the convential number for the students of a teacher). Mattai is Hebrew for Matthew, Todah is a variant of Taddai (Thaddeus) and Neser is probably a variant of Nittai (Nathanael). These disciples of Jesus are known from the gospels. Naqqai is a variant of Naqdimon, but it is historically credible that Nicodemus also bore the Hebrew name Buni (Benaiah). The writer of this rabbinic tradition may not have known that Naqqai and Buni were the same person. As said, the Gurion family lost its wealth and power in the fall of Jerusalem (70 AD). In 66 AD Gurion ben Nicodemus was one of a group of leading citizens who negotiated the surrender of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. In late 66 AD Joseph ben Gurion (perhaps his uncle) was appointed, along with the ex-high priest Ananus (who killed James, the brother of Jesus – see note 14), to supreme military command in Jerusalem. In December 67 AD, Gurion ben Joseph (probably his son) tried, along with Simeon ben Gamaliel and the chief priests Ananus and Jesus ben Gamalas, to organize popular opposition to the Zealots and was killed by them in 68 AD. (The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple (2007), Richard Bauckham, p. 137-172 ‘Nicodemus and the Gurion Family’)

[10] Or was it self delusion? “If the disciples had simply seen, or thought they had seen, someone they took to be Jesus, that would not by itself have generated the stories we have. Everyone in the ancient world took it for granted that people sometimes had strange experiences involving encounters with the dead, particularly the recent dead. They knew at least as much as we do about such visions, about ghosts and dreams – and the fact that such things often occurred within the context of bereavement or grief. They had language for this, and it wasn’t ‘resurrection’. However many such visions they had had, they wouldn’t have said Jesus was raised from the dead; they weren’t expecting such a resurrection.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 69)

[11] “Many have suggested that the early disciples were so overwhelmed with grief at Jesus’ death that they picked up the idea of resurrection from their surrounding culture and clung to it, persuading themselves that Jesus had been raised from the dead though of course they knew he hadn’t been. Some have suggested that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus, after his death, had been exalted to heaven; or that they had a strange sense that his mission, to bring in God’s kingdom, was now going ahead in a new way; and that this kind of belief led them to say he’d been raised from the dead. But would it make any sense? We can test it out with a little thought experiment. In 70 AD, the Romans conquered Jerusalem, and they led thousands of Jews captive back to Rome, including the man they regarded as the leader of the Jewish revolt, ‘the king of the Jews’, a man called Simon bar Giora. He was led into Rome at the back of the triumphal procession, and the end of the spectacle was Simon being flogged and then killed. Now: suppose we imagine a few Jewish revolutionaries, three days or three weeks later. The first one says, ‘You know, I think Simon really was the Messiah – and he still is!’ The others would be puzzled. Of course he isn’t; the Romans got him, as they always do. If you want a Messiah, you’d better find another one. ‘Ah,’ says the first, ‘but I believe he’s been raised from the dead.’ ‘What d’you mean?’ his friends ask. ‘He’s dead and buried.’ ‘Oh no,’ replies the first, ‘I believe he’s been exalted to heaven.’ The others look puzzled. All the righteous martyrs are with God, everybody knows that; their souls are in God’s hand; that doesn’t mean they’ve already been raised from the dead. Anyway, the resurrection will happen to us all at the end of time, not to one person in the middle of continuing history. ‘No,’ replies the first, ‘you don’t understand. I’ve had a strong sense of God’s love surrounding me. I have felt God forgiving me – forgiving us all. I’ve had my heart strangely warmed. What’s more, last night, I saw Simon; he was there with me ‘ The others interrupt, now angry. We can all have visions. Plenty of people dream about recently dead friends. Sometimes it’s very vivid. That doesn’t mean they’ve been raised from the dead. It certainly doesn’t mean that one of them is the Messiah. And if your heart has been warmed, then sing a psalm, don’t make wild claims about Simon. That is what they would have said to anyone offering the kind of statement which, according to the revisionists, someone must have come up with as the beginning of the idea of Jesus’ resurrection. But this solution isn’t just incredible; it’s impossible. Had anyone said what the revisionists suggest, some such conversation as the above would have ensued. A little bit of disciplined historical imagination is all it takes to blow away enormous piles of so-called historical criticism.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 60–62)

[12] “Jesus was buried according to a particular Jewish tradition, which was designed to occur in two stages. First, you carefully wrapped up the body with spices and linen and placed it on a shelf in a cave. Then, when the flesh had decomposed – hence the spices, because of the smell, since the cave would be used for more than one corpse – you would collect the bones, fold them up reverently, and store them in a bone-box (an ‘ossuary’). If Jesus had not been raised, then sooner or later someone would have had to go and collect his bones, fold them up and store them. Even if anyone had been suggesting that he had been raised from the dead, that would be enough to disprove the suggestion. Nobody in the Jewish world would have spoken of such a person being already raised from the dead. Thus, without the empty tomb, the disciples would have been as quick to say ‘hallucination’ as we would. Apparent ‘meetings’ with Jesus would have been dismissed: you’ve obviously seen a ghost.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 69, 70)

[13] The disciples “… really did see and talk with someone who gave every appearance of being a solidly physical Jesus, though a Jesus who was strangely changed, more strangely than they were able fully to describe.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 70)

[14] Ananus was high priest for three months in 62 AD. He is not mentioned in the Bible, but he was the brother–in–law of the high priest Caiaphas, who is mentioned in the gospels and in Acts, and son of the high priest Annas, who is also mentioned in the gospels and in Acts.

[15] Festus is one of three Roman governors of Judea and Samaria who are mentioned in the Bible. Pontius Pilate was the Roman Prefect from 26–36 AD and is mentioned in all four gospels, Acts and 1 Timothy. Antoninus Felix was the Roman Procurator from 53–60 AD and is mentioned in Acts 23–25. Porcius Festus was the Roman Procurator from 60–62 AD and is mentioned in Acts 24–26.

[16] Lucceius Albinus was the successor of Porcius Festus and the Roman Procurator from 62–64 AD, but he is not mentioned in the Bible.

[17] Agrippa II ruled as a client king of Rome from about 50 AD until the end of the first century. He was the great–grandson of the infamous King Herod the Great (the child murderer of Matthew 2:16–18). Agrippa II was the last of the Herodians (the seventh and last of the Herod kings) and is mentioned in Acts 25–26.

[18] Acts mentions three messianic claimants, Theudas (Acts 5:36), Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37) and ‘the Egyptian’ (Acts 21:38), who are mentioned by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus as well. Interestingly, Josephus tells us that Judas the Galilean was the founder of the Zealots. Judas … excited a fourth philosophic sect among us. … The Jews had for a great while three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves: the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees. (‘Antiquities’ (18.1.1,2), Flavius Josephus, 93 AD). The Pharisees and Sadducees are well-known from the gospels, while Simon the Zealot was one of the twelve disciples. The Essenes are not mentioned in the Bible, but they produced the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered between 1947 and 1956 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea (Qumran). Among the other messianic claimants mentioned by Josephus are Athronges the Shepherd, ‘the Samaritan’ and Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean. Josephus even suggests that John the Baptist was a messianic figure, or at least that Herod Antipas seemed to think so. His account of John the Baptist is more or less in accordance with the gospels. About this time Aretas (also mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:32), the king of the Arabian city Petra, and Herod Antipas had a quarrel. Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas … But when he was once in Rome, … he fell in love with Herodias, this other Herod’s wife … Antipas ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them; when she admitted, an agreement was made for her to change her habitation, and come to him as soon as he should return from Rome: one article of this marriage also was that he should divorce Aretas’ daughter. … But his wife [Aretas’ daughter] had discovered the agreement he had made before he had been able to tell her about it … Consequently, she soon arrived in Arabia … She met her father, and told him of Herod’s intentions. So Aretas made this the first occasion of the enmity between him and Herod, who had also some quarrel with him about their limits near Gamala. So both sides raised armies, prepared for war, and sent their generals to fight. When they joined battle, Herod’s army was completely destroyed … Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God as a just punishment of what Herod had done against John, who was called the Baptist. For Herod had killed this good man, who had commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, righteousness towards one another and piety towards God. For only thus, in John’s opinion, would the baptism he administered be acceptable to God, namely, if they used it to obtain not pardon for some sins but rather the cleansing of their bodies, inasmuch as it was taken for granted that their souls had already been purified by justice. Now many people came in crowds to him, for they were greatly moved by his words. Herod, who feared that the great influence John had over the masses might put them into his power and enable him to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best to put him to death. In this way, he might prevent any mischief John might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly, John was sent as a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I [Josephus] already mentioned, and was put to death. Now the Jews thought that the destruction of his army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure with him. (‘Antiquities’ (18.5.1,2), Flavius Josephus, 93 AD)

[19] “… it is [impossible] to account for the early Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah without the resurrection. We have evidence of several other Jewish movements, messianic movements, prophetic movements, during the one or two centuries either side of Jesus’ public career. Routinely they ended with the violent death of the central figure. Members of the movement … then faced a choice: either give up the struggle, or find a new Messiah. Had the early Christians wanted to go the latter route, they had an obvious candidate: James, the Lord’s brother, a great and devout teacher, the central figure in the early Jerusalem church. But nobody ever imagined that James might be the Messiah.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 60)

[20] “There were … other Jewish movements roughly contemporary with early Christianity which also held some kind of inaugurated eschatology (i.e. the belief that ‘the end’ had already, in some sense, begun). The Essenes, as represented in the [Dead Sea] Scrolls, believed that the covenant had been secretly re-established with them, in advance of the final denouement. But outside Christianity we never find that what becomes a central feature within it: the belief that the mode of this inauguration consisted in the resurrection itself happening to one person in the middle of history in advance of its great, final occurrence, anticipating and guaranteeing the final resurrection of God’s people at the end of history.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 57)

[21] “… the crucifixion of Jesus was the end of [the disciples’] hopes. Nobody dreamed of saying, ‘Oh, that’s all right – he’ll be back again in a few days’. Nor did anybody say, ‘Well, at least he’s now in heaven with God.’ They were not looking for that sort of ‘kingdom’. After all, Jesus himself had taught them to pray that God’s kingdom would come ‘on earth as in heaven’. What they said … was things like ‘We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel’ (Luke 24:21), with the implication, ‘but they crucified him, so he can’t have been’. … Crucifixion meant that the kingdom hadn’t come, not that it had. Crucifixion of a would-be Messiah meant that he wasn’t the Messiah, not that he was. When Jesus was crucified, every single disciple knew what it meant: we backed the wrong horse. The game is over. Whatever their expectations, and however Jesus had been trying to redefine those expectations, as far as they were concerned hope had crumbled to ashes.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 51)

[22] “… the Messiah was supposed to fight God’s victorious battle against the wicked pagans; to rebuild or cleanse the Temple; and to bring God’s justice to the world. Jesus, it appeared, had done none of these things. He had suffered the typical injustice of the world; he had mounted a strange and apparently ineffectual demonstration in the Temple; and he had died at the hands of the pagans, rather than defeating them gloriously in battle. No Jew with any idea of how the language of messiahship worked at the time could have possibly imagined, after his crucifixion, that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Lord’s annointed. But from very early on, as witnessed by what may be pre-Pauline fragments of early credal belief, the Christians affirmed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, precisely because of his resurrection.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 59, 60)

[23] “In second-Temple Judaism, resurrection is important but not that important. There are lots of lengthy works which never mention the question, let alone this answer. … Apart from occasional highlights like 2 Maccabees 7, resurrection is a peripheral topic. But in early Christianity resurrection has moved from the circumference to the centre. You can’t imagine Paul’s thought without it. You shouldn’t imagine John’s thought without it, though some have tried. It is enormously important in Clement and Ignatius, in Justin and Irenaeus. … Belief in bodily resurrection was one of the two central things that the pagan doctor Galen noted about the Christians (the other being their remarkable sexual constraint). Take away the stories of Jesus’ birth, and all you lose is two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection and you lose the entire New Testament, and most of the second-century fathers as well.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 54)

[24] “In any other historical enquiry, the answer would be so obvious that it would hardly need saying. Here, of course, this obvious answer (‘well, it actually happened’) is so shocking, so earth-shattering, that we rightly pause before leaping into the unknown. And here, indeed, as some sceptical friends have cheerfully pointed out to me, it is always possible for anyone to follow the argument so far and to say, simply, ‘I don’t have a good explanation for what happened to cause the empty tomb and the appearances, but I choose to maintain my belief that dead people don’t rise and therefore conclude that something else must have happened, even though we can’t tell what it was.’ That is fine; I respect that position; but I simply note that it is indeed then a matter of choice, not a matter of saying that something called ‘scientific historiography’ itself forces us to take that route.” (Surprised by Hope (2007), Tom Wright, p. 74)

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