Skip to main content

Isn't The Resurrection A Late Mythological Development?

Q: Isn't the resurrection of Jesus just a myth that developed several decades after the crucifixion?

A: The short answer to this question is, no. To understand why, we need to turn to the work of New Testament textual criticism. Before we do this, it may be helpful to understand something about the dating of the books of the New Testament. The Gospels were not the first written accounts that the early church had. The majority of Paul's letters were written prior to the creation of the first written gospel, the Gospel According to Mark. For reasons I will go into in a future post, I would date the Gospel According to Mark to the late-50's AD. However, several of Paul's letters pre-date even Mark's account. Since Paul's letters also contain references to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, these references would constitute our earliest sources. One of these references in particular should be mentioned.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around 55 AD. However, 1 Corinthians contains an extraordinarily early creed in 15:3-8. This is almost universally accepted by scholars today. In fact, it is almost universally accepted that this creed dates back to no more than 5 years after the crucifixion. Paul here uses technical language here equivalent to what a rabbi used when passing along sacred truth. This is thus something that Paul received, not something that Paul created. Most scholars hold that Paul received this creed when he went to visit Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion on the Damascus road. Thus, the latest possible date for this creed is AD 35, which is incredibly early. Many sources, including  atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann, give it an earlier date than this. Lüdemann writes, "We can assume that all the elements in the tradition are be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…..the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.”[1] Thus we have an incredibly early source in this creed.

The next question to be answered is what the creed itself says about the resurrection, if anything. I will summarize for the purposes of this post, but for a more detailed analysis, see my exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, found here. When this creed declares that Christ was raised, it uses the Greek word "egeiro" (ἐγείρω). This word carries a connotation of a body going from a prone position to a standing position. It did not carry a connotation of a spiritual exaltation, as some have suggested. Furthermore, there appears to be a connection between the phrase "on the third day" in this creed and the Jewish belief regarding decomposition of the body beginning on the fourth day. Jews in the first century had a belief that bodily composition beginning on the fourth day, with the bodily fluids that leaked from the body, was divine recompense for an individual's sins. Thus, this connection necessarily implies the bodily nature of the resurrection. Finally, the textual clues from Paul's epistle suggests that he at least understood the resurrection of Jesus as a bodily resurrection. To the first-century Jew, a non-bodily resurrection was not a possibility. This was certainly true for Paul, as well as for the formulators of this creed.

As if this were not enough, there is also another, more detailed early source that should be noted. Many scholars believe that when Mark began writing his gospel, he used an incredibly early passion narrative. While scholars differ on the reconstruction of this passion narrative, it is generally agreed that such a passion narrative existed. This pre-Markan passion narrative appears to have a terminus ante quem of around 37 AD. This means that a full passion narrative, including the earliest story about the empty tomb, existed no later than 7 years after the crucifixion. It was likely earlier than this.

In conclusion, we can safely say that the belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus goes back to the earliest days of the church, and was not a mythological development that occurred after several decades. Those who claim otherwise really do not have a leg to stand on.



[1] Lüdemann, Gerd. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994. 38.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

5 Things That Are Best Explained By Theism

When discussing my faith with non-believers, I find that the average person is oblivious to the explanatory scope of theism. That is, God's existence explains several things that would be difficult to explain in any other way. In this post, I am not presenting any formal arguments, but am just pointing out what these things are. Arguments will be addressed in subsequent posts.

1. The Origin of the Universe

Neither atheism, nor alternative views of God can adequately explain the origin of the universe. Modern science has lead us to the conclusion that the space-time universe that we inhabit had a definite beginning some 14 billion years ago (give or take a little). The problem for the atheist comes when we realize that any contingent thing has an explanation for its existence that is not found within itself, and that if something had a beginning or could have failed to exist (which describes the universe), it is by its very nature contingent. Neither do other views of God adequatel…

7 Problems With "Lack-Theism" Atheism

In recent years, atheists have increasingly attempted to redefine the words "atheism" and "atheist". Now, rather than being the negative position on the question of God's existence, many atheists have redefined atheism to be a mere "lack of belief" in God. They do not seem to care that there was already a term for this position ("non-theism"). This is often done in an attempt to avoid the burden of proof that comes from taking the negative position on God's existence. Yet, in attempting to eliminate this burden of proof, the one who redefines atheism in this manner has jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Here are 7 reasons why this definition of atheism is problematic for those who use this definition:

1. It Is Rooted In The Etymological Fallacy

In order to justify this redefinition, many atheists will appeal to the etymology of the word "atheist." The term "atheist" comes from two Greek roots, "a-" me…

Why Does God Condemn Homosexuality?

Q: Why would God create someone as a homosexual and then condemn them to hell for all eternity for it?

A: This is a question that I have heard more than one person ask. I suspect that there are more who want to ask this question, but have not had the courage to ask me. I think it is important that we clarify a few points before we go any further. Let me begin this post by making a distinction between a person's sexual orientation and their actions. A person's sexual orientation is the individual's preference. A person can engage in actions contrary to their preference. Thus, we must draw a distinction between the two.

It is also vital that we understand what the Bible actually condemns. The reason that I drew the distinction above is so that I can make this point: the Bible does not condemn a person's orientation. My challenge to anyone on either side of this debate is to find a passage of Scripture that clearly condemns a person's orientation. Such a passage does n…