Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why Believe in the Resurrection?

In my opinion, whether you believe in the resurrection of Jesus boils down to one thing: do you believe resurrections can happen?  If you do not believe resurrections can happen, then of course you will find some alternative explanation for what happened that Sunday so long ago.  But if you do believe resurrections can happen, then I believe you will conclude that Jesus rose from the dead.

There are two reasons.  The first is the fact that no one seems to have been able to account for the body of Jesus from Sunday on.  The second is the multiple eyewitness accounts to having seen him alive after his death.

1. I believe that even an objective atheist should conclude that individuals like Peter, James, Paul, and John were convinced they had seen Jesus alive after he was dead.  Paul knew these individuals (e.g., Gal. 2) and passed on their common testimony to Jesus' resurrection (e.g., 1 Cor. 15).  Paul himself gives clear testimony to seeing Jesus alive as well (e.g., 1 Cor. 9).

We can debate what they thought they saw.  But we have every reason to believe Paul's account that multiple people on multiple occasions were convinced that they had seen Jesus alive after he had died.  And they were  convinced enough to undergo quite a bit of hardship and ultimately to face death.  If they had any significant doubt, why would they have persisted?

And surely either the Corinthians or the Jerusalem church would have jumped on the opportunity to correct Paul if his story about Peter, James, and himself was not commonly accepted.  His multiple writings leave no trace of such counter rhetoric.

Some point to difficulties in reconciling the resurrection accounts as a reason to doubt them.  But consider, if oral traditions go in various directions, it points to some big splash at their root.  In other words, we are not talking about a single story that changed over time.  We are talking about waves that went out in multiple directions.

And what was the splash likely to be?  What is the common ground behind the variations?  It is sightings of Jesus alive after he died.

2. Certainly the canonical gospels indicate that a group of women were unable to find the body of Jesus on Sunday.  I don't suppose you would invent women as the ones to find the empty tomb, if the story were made up.  It would be much more believable to have some man, maybe even someone important find it empty. The specifics of the names point most likely to people who continued to talk about the story of the empty tomb and were remembered for telling the story for decades.

The idea of a Joseph of Arimathea--an otherwise completely unknown character--taking the body of Jesus and putting it in a tomb also is exactly the sort of oral tradition we would expect. Matthew further tells of a rumor that the disciples had stolen the body.  Notice what is being disputed--not that there is no body, only why there was no body.  In other words, we have evidence that at least some of those who disputed the resurrection accepted that the tomb where Jesus had been laid was later found empty.

So we have an empty tomb and a number of eyewitnesses.  A final thing to mention is that it does not seem likely at all to me that the disciples were expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.  If Peter denies Jesus, if Judas betrays Jesus--these are not the sorts of things that happen in a climate of expectation.  Peter was thus firmly convinced over and against his likely expectations.

So if you believe resurrections can happen, you should certainly believe in this one.

May all have a blessed day celebrating Christ's victory over death!


FrGregACCA said...

"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"


If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefor. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages

Martin LaBar said...

I believe. Help my unbelief.

phil_style said...

Resurrection is easier to believe in than ascension is.

Anscension of a physical body, to some place out side of the physical universe, with the "mid" of that person somehow maintaining continuity...? That's MUCH more wierd than resurrection.

phil_style said...

in my last comment: "mid" should be "mind"

FrGregACCA said...

Well Phil, given that the glorified and risen body of Jesus passes through walls and appears and disappears out of and into thin air, it is obvious that this body transcends the normal limitations of space.

Scott F said...

Indeed Greg, Jesus' body has so many unexpected properties that one might hesitate to call it "physical" at all.

Scott F said...

Hi Ken. Great post. I would agree that #1 one is the best historical reason to believe though, as you point out, if you don't believe in resurrections you aren't going to believe this one! :)

The second set of reasons strike me as a bit late and interdependent. For instance, when Mathew tries to deal with accusations that the disciples stole the body, he is countering the reaction to the Christian claim that Jesus' body was raised, not the fact. With Peter, etc, going around saying that the tomb was empty, the local authorities would just say, "You guys probably just got rid of the body!" Kinda like modern skeptics throwing out counter-theories. What this does show, however, is that the disciples were making that claim early enough to generate a reaction in 70+ CE.

Perhaps you meant The women as witnesses as secondary evidence. We only need Mark or his source, to place the women at the tomb for whatever purpose the author had in mind and it will have entered the story-space of the movement. The Criterion of Embarrassment does not require the pericope in question go back to an actual event, only that it be embedded in the folklore of the group to the extent that later authors not question it. Luke and Mathew (and John?) who treated Mark as authoritative, would have been forced to include it even if Mark created this story for theological or literary reasons that he did not explicitly state. I think we denigrate the authors of the gospels when we assume that they were incapable of inserting three women at the tomb or Joseph of Arimathea. These were clever guys and knew what they wanted to do with their writing. Look how Mathew and Luke each arrange the Sermon on the Mount/Plain material to suit his style.

Keep on truckin'