Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Resurrection Appearances 4

continued from yesterday.
The gospels give us several traditions about Jesus' appearances to various individuals after he rose from the dead. Because we do not likely have the original ending of Mark, Mark as we have it does not go on to tell us about any of the resurrection appearances. However, like Matthew, Mark implies that the eleven remaining disciples saw Jesus in Galilee (Mark 16:7; Matt. 28:16-17).

However, in Luke and John, we also hear of an appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem. In Luke, Jesus appears to the eleven the evening of his resurrection (Luke 24:36). In John similarly, Jesus appears to most of the disciples on the evening of his resurrection (John 20:19). Then he appears again a week later, when Thomas is with them (20:26). Then later in John 21 Jesus appears to Peter and several key disciples--including the mysterious "Beloved Disciple"--around the Sea of Galilee.

In Matthew and John, we also hear of Jesus appearing to some of the women who came to the tomb. John 20 tells us of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene by herself (John 20:11-18). Meanwhile, Matthew 28:8-10 tells of Jesus appearing to all the women who came to his tomb before they tell the disciples to go to Galilee.

Any attempt to fit these accounts together is inevitably speculative and creates a narrative that gives a different impression from the gospels themselves in some respect. For whatever reason, Luke seems to compress the time after the resurrection, and he omits any appearances in Galilee.  Matthew and Mark tell of no appearances to the disciples in Jerusalem, while John has a little of both.

Two general scenarios emerge. The one is that Jesus made an initial appearance to the disciples, women, and the men on the way to Emmaus in and around Jerusalem. Then the disciples would have gone to Galilee, received the Great Commission, seen Jesus around the Sea of Galilee, and then returned to Jerusalem before Jesus finally ascended to heaven. This scenario harmonizes all the accounts but is a little strange as a sequence of events. What was the point of going to Galilee if Jesus was already in Jerusalem? Was not Jerusalem where they expected Jesus to become king and thus where they expected the kingdom of God to arrive in full force (e.g., Acts 1:6; cf. Luke 2:25, 36-38)? [1]

The alternative is that the initial resurrection appearances were in Galilee and that the disciples then rushed back to Jerusalem in expectation of the full arrival of the kingdom of God and Jesus' full return as king. Jesus would then have appeared to them further before finally ascending to heaven. While this scenario makes more sense as a sequence of events, it does not fit nearly as well with the way Luke and John present the chronology. And of course the more one deviates from the chronology in the gospels, the more speculative any reconstruction becomes.

So we return to the bedrock of the tradition, what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul does not mention the appearances to the women explicitly but mentions Peter as the first crucial appearance, as Luke 24:34 implies. Then Paul says Jesus appeared to the Twelve, whether this refers to an appearance the night of Easter in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36; John 20:19) or to an appearance in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-17).

He appears to a group of over five hundred at once and to James, the brother of Jesus. James would become the leader of the Jerusalem church. We unfortunately do not know how Jesus appeared to James, but it must have been a very convincing appearance, for Jesus' brothers apparently did not believe in him while he was on earth (e.g., John 7:3-5). It is tempting to think that the appearance to over five hundred was the Great Commission of Matthew 28 or the ascension of Acts 1, but those appearances seem restricted to the eleven. Any further attempt to connect it with the gospels or Acts is quite speculative. [2]

Jesus then appeared to the apostles and lastly to Paul. We do not know many of the names of these apostles but we do likely know a few. Barnabas is one (e.g., Acts 14:14).  Romans 16:7 may give us the names of two more, perhaps a husband and a wife: Andronicus and Junia. An apostle was someone to whom Jesus appeared and whom Jesus commissioned to go as a witness to the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1). We thus have evidence of at least one woman who was an apostle.

[1] Of course the most obvious answer is that Jesus and the angels told them to go to Galilee.

[2] E.g., to try to connect it with the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

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