By Spencer D Gear PhD
1. The surplus of views on Jesus’ resurrection
Jesus has caused lots of unorthodox and orthodox views of his resurrection to be promoted. Let’s look at some of these views:
1.1 Unorthodox verdicts
Immediately below are examples of different views of the resurrection that are unorthodox.
“Tillich’s own theory: the resurrection really is a statement that the existential Jesus has become, for those who have faith, the essential Christ in whom Godhead and manhood are so united that existential human possibility has become essential manhood or humanity. This is the ‘restitution’ theory, as Tillich calls it” (source).
Bultmann’s view on the resurrection was:
It is also possible for something to have profound historic (geschichtlich) meaning and significance but remain unverifiable as a historical (historisch) fact: e.g., the resurrection of Jesus.
The distinction becomes especially critical in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus, because the two terms overlap in this case. The crucifixion and death of Jesus are both historical (historisch)—they actually happened in history and can be verified by historical research—and historic (geschichtlich)—they have lasting significance and meaning for history. The resurrection of Jesus, however, is not a historical (historisch) event—it cannot be verified by historical research, and thus cannot be proven to have actually occurred in history—but it is a historic (geschichtlich) event—it has lasting effects and significance for history (source, pp. 54-55).
After Carl Henry identified himself as the editor of Christianity Today, he asked Barth:
“The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.” I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors. . . . If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility? “Was it news,” I asked, “in the sense that the man in the street understands news?”
Barth became angry. Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked “Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?” The audience—largely nonevangelical professors and clergy—roared with delight. When encountered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse. So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, “Yesterday, today and forever.” 1
Indeed! The historically verifiable, bodily resurrection of Jesus the Lord must be defended in every generation—a perennial responsibility with great privilege as part of Gospel proclamation. Christian leaders have done so from antiquity, and the Church now enjoys a wealth of resources for the challenge (source).
It is certainly true that Pannenberg repeatedly uses the word metaphor in connection with the resurrection. He does so, for example, in his Systematic Theology: ‘The language of the resurrection of Jesus is that of metaphor’. As such, it rests on the underlying metaphor which speaks of death as sleep. This is part of the reason that Pannenberg prefers Paul’s account of the resurrection appearances (1 Cor. 15:5–7) to the Synoptists: the latter have a tendency ‘to underscore the corporeality of the encounters’ and therefore offer no firm basis for historical considerations’ (source).
But scholars — who included Burton Mack, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan — also concluded that the religious significance of Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on historical fact (Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2005).
“Professor MARCUS BORG (Oregon State University): I do believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I’m just skeptical that it involved anything happening to his corpse. . . .
“Note that Jones does not simply believe that the resurrection was material, physical, and bodily, but insists that it must have been so. Though I disagree I am happy to say to him and others who hold this view, “Believe whatever you want about whether the resurrection of Jesus was in material physical bodily form” – which I understand to mean that it was an event that could have been recorded by a news crew if they had been there. Believe whatever you want about that. Now let’s talk about what the resurrection of Jesus means (source).
John Dominic Crossan
All great religions offer humanity parables bigger than themselves. So also here. When Christ, rising from the dead after having been executed for nonviolent resistance against violent imperial justice, grasps the hands of Adam and Eve, he creates a parable of possibility and a metaphor of hope for all of humanity’s redemption. Even though Christ is crucified for his nonviolent resistance, this Crucifixion and Resurrection imagery challenges our species to redeem our world and save our earth by transcending the escalatory violence we create as civilization’s normal trajectory. And the universal resurrection imagery makes it clear that we are all involved in this process” (source).
One of the most outspoken detractors of Jesus’ deity and the truthfulness of Christianity, Bart Ehrman, writes, “But then something else happened. Some of [Jesus’ followers] began to say that God had intervened and brought [Jesus] back from the dead. The story caught on, and some (or all – we don’t know) of his closest followers came to think that in fact he had been raised” (Did Jesus Exist?, 233). So did the early Christians invent the resurrection of Jesus? For his part, Ehrman disputes that Jesus’ tomb was empty. This is in part because neither Joseph of Arimathea—the man who put Jesus in the tomb according to the Gospels—nor the tomb itself are mentioned in the earliest creed (1 Cor 15:3b-5a; How Jesus Became God, 129-69). Yet 1 Cor 15:4 does say, “He was buried,” and proceeds to affirm, “He was raised.” The obvious historical conclusion is that whatever Jesus was buried in, presumably a tomb, was now empty! (source)
2. Orthodox perspectives
Dr. Gary Habermas has coined a method to show the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus called “The Minimal Facts” approach to the resurrection.
These facts are used by Habermas for three main reasons:
1. The vast majority of scholars accept these facts as historical.
2. They are well established by the historical method.
3. The only explanation that can account for the existence of all these facts is the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Actually, Habermas uses about 11 or 12 minimal facts but the resurrection can be demonstrated using only about 3 or 4. Here we will include the 6 facts that fulfill the requirement of being accepted by most scholars. These facts are:
1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2. The disciples had experiences that they thought were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
3. The disciples were thoroughly transformed, even being willing to die for this belief.
4. The apostolic proclamation of the resurrection began very early, when the church was in its infancy.
5. James, the brother of Jesus and a former skeptic, became a Christian due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
6. Saul (Paul), the church persecutor, became a Christian due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
Habermas knows this because he has traced about 3400 sources including atheist, agnostic, and other critical scholars in French, English and German (source).
However, there are many good reasons to reject this “dehistoricizing” of the text:
1. This passage is part of a historical narrative in a historical record—the Gospel of Matthew. Both the larger setting (the Gospel of Matthew) and the specific context (the crucifixion and resurrection narrative) demand the presumption of historicity, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary in the text, its context, or in other Scripture—which there is not.
2. This text manifests no literary signs of being poetic or legendary, such as those found in parables, poems, or symbolic presentations.* Hence, it should be taken in the sense in which it presents itself, namely, as factual history.
3. This passage gives no indication of being a legendary embellishment, but it is a short, simple, straight-forward account in the exact style one expects in a brief historical narrative.
4. This event occurs in the context of other important historical events—the death and resurrection of Christ—and there is no indication that it is an insertion foreign to the text. To the contrary, the repeated use of “and” shows its integral connection to the other historical events surrounding the report.
5. The resurrection of these saints is presented as the result of the physical historical resurrection of Christ. For these saints were resurrected only “after” Jesus was resurrected and as a result of it (Matt 27:53) since Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the dead (1Cor 15:20). It makes no sense to claim that a legend emerged as the immediate result of Jesus’ physical resurrection. Nor would it have been helpful to the cause of early Christians in defending the literal resurrection of Christ for them to incorporate legends, myths, or apocalyptic events alongside His actual resurrection in the inspired text of Scripture.
6. Early Fathers of the Christian Church, who were closer to this event, took it as historical, sometimes even including it as an apologetic argument for the resurrection of Christ (e.g., Irenaeus, Fragments, XXVIII; Origen,Against Celsus, Book II, Article XXXIII; Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chap. XIII).
7. The record has the same pattern as the historical records of Jesus’ physical and historical resurrection: (a) there were dead bodies; (b) they were buried in a tomb; (c) they were raised to life again; (d) they came out of the tomb and left it empty; (e) they appeared to many witnesses.
8. An overwhelming consensus of the great orthodox teachers of the Church for the past nearly two thousand years supports the view that this account should be read as a historical record, and, consequently, as reporting historical truth.
9. Modern objections to a straight-forward acceptance of this passage as a true historical narrative are based on a faulty hermeneutic, violating sound principles of interpretation. For example, they (a) make a presumptive identification of its genre, based on extra-biblical sources, rather than analyzing the text for its style, grammar, and content in its context; or, (b) they use events reported outside of the Bible to pass judgment on whether or not the biblical event is historical.
10. The faulty hermeneutic principles used in point 9 could be used, without any further justification, to deny other events in the gospels as historical. Since there is no hermeneutical criterion of “magnitude,” the same principles could also be used to relegate events such as the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Christ to the realm of legend (source).
William Lane Craig
Jesus’ resurrection – The doctrine should be understood as an historical event
Liberal theology could not survive World War I, but its demise brought no renewed interest in the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, for the two schools that succeeded it were united in their devaluation of the historical with regard to Jesus. Thus, dialectical theology, propounded by Karl Barth, championed the doctrine of the resurrection, but would have nothing to do with the resurrection as an event of history. In his commentary on the book of Romans (1919), the early Barth declared, “The resurrection touches history as a tangent touches a circle-that is, without really touching it.” Existential theology, exemplified by Rudolf Bultmann, was even more antithetical to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.
Though Bultmann acknowledged that the earliest disciples believed in the literal resurrection of Jesus and that Paul in I Corinthians 15 even attempts to prove the resurrection, he nevertheless pronounces such a procedure as “fatal.” It reduces Christ’s resurrection to a nature miracle akin to the resurrection of a corpse. And modern man cannot be reasonably asked to believe in nature miracles before becoming a Christian. Therefore, the miraculous elements of the gospel must be demythologized to reveal the true Christian message: the call to authentic existence in the face of death, symbolized by the cross. The resurrection is merely a symbolic re-statement of the message of the cross and essentially adds nothing to it. To appeal to the resurrection as historical evidence, as did Paul, is doubly wrong-headed, for it is of the very nature of existential faith that it is a leap without evidence. Thus, to argue historically for the resurrection is contrary to faith. Clearly then, the antipathy of liberal theology to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection remained unrelieved by either dialectical or existential theology.
But a remarkable change has come about during the second half of the 20th century. The first glimmerings of change began to appear in 1953. In that year Ernst Käsemann, a pupil of Bultmann, argued at a Colloquy at the University of Marburg that Bultmann’s historical skepticism toward Jesus was unwarranted and counterproductive and suggested re-opening the question of where the historical about Jesus was to be found. A new quest of the historical Jesus had begun. Three years later in 1956 the Marburg theologian Hans Grass subjected the resurrection itself to historical inquiry and concluded that the resurrection appearances cannot be dismissed as mere subjective visions on the part of the disciples, but were objective visionary events.
Meanwhile the church historian Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen in an equally epochal essay defended the historical credibility of Jesus’ empty tomb. During the ensuing years a stream of works on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection flowed forth from German, French and English presses. By 1968 the old skepticism was a spent force and began dramatically to recede. So complete has been the turn-about during the second half of this century concerning the resurrection of Jesus that it is no exaggeration to speak of a reversal of scholarship on this issue, such that those who deny the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection now seem to be the ones on the defensive.
Perhaps one of the most significant theological developments in this connection is the theological system of Wolfhart Pannenberg, who bases his entire Christology on the historical evidence for Jesus’ ministry and especially the resurrection. This is a development undreamed of in German theology prior to 1950. Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapid, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Lapide twits New Testament critics like Bultmann and Marxsen for their unjustified skepticism and concludes that he believes on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead.
What are the facts that underlie this remarkable reversal of opinion concerning the credibility of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection? It seems to me that they can be conveniently grouped under three heads: the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith. Let’s look briefly at each.
Jesus’ resurrection – The resurrection appearances (source)
N T Wright
The Question of Jesus’ resurrection lies at the heart of the Christian faith. There is no form of early Christianity known to us that does not affirm that after Jesus’ shameful death God raised him to life again. That affirmation is, in particular, the constant response of earlier Christianity to one of the four key questions about Jesus that must be raised by all serious historians of the first century. I have elsewhere addressed the first three such questions, namely what was Jesus’ relation to Judaism? What were his aims? Why did he die?1 The fourth question is this: Granted the foregoing, why did Christianity arise and take the shape it did? To this question, virtually all early Christians known to us give the same answer, “He was raised from the dead.” The historian must therefore investigate what they meant by this and what can be said by way of historical comment (source).
Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospels contain abundant evidence to demonstrate Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-53 and John 20:1-21:25. In addition, the rest of the New Testament depends on Jesus rising from the dead.
But Jesus resurrection was not a mere resuscitation. Unlike what happened to Lazarus (John 11:1-44), Jesus rose from the dead with a new kind of life. For instance, Jesus was not immediately recognized by his disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-22). And Mary Magdalene failed to recognize Jesus at first at the tomb on Sunday morning (John 20:1).
On the other hand, there was continuity between Jesus’ resurrected body and his other body. Though they may have been initially startled at meeting Jesus again, they were convinced he had risen from the dead (Luke 24:33, 37). There are some important aspects of Jesus’ resurrected body:
- Jesus had a physical body (Matthew 28:9).
- Jesus ate food (John 20:15; Acts 10:41).
- Jesus said he was not a spirit, but flesh and bones (Luke 24:39).
The Significance of Jesus’ Resurrection
There are several doctrinal implications to Jesus’ resurrection. For one, Christians are born again through Jesus’ resurrection: “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). In another place, Paul tells us God “raised us up with him” (Ephesians 2:6). So the resurrection ensured our spiritual regeneration.
In addition, the resurrection ensured our justification. Paul wrote to the Romans, Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). That means our approval before God is contingent upon Jesus rising from the dead. All the penalties we deserved were counted toward Jesus because of his resurrection, at least partially.
Finally, Jesus’ resurrection points to our eventual resurrection. Paul tells us, “and God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14). In another place, Paul calls the resurrection of Jesus the “firstfruits” or first taste of a ripening crop. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so also Christians will be raised from the dead according to the Scripture (source).
George Eldon Ladd
Our modern world has a very different view of the supernatural and miracles than was the case in the time of Jesus. Accounts of alleged miracles were common at that time. There are a variety of interpretations of the historicity of the resurrection. Some believe it was an historical event and subject to public verification, while others believe faith is necessary for properly interpreting the historical facts. Others maintain that it was a historical event but it transcends historical verification and historical meaning (i.e. it is an eschatological, meta-historical event). Bultmann denies that the resurrection was an event in history and asserts that its meaning is found in the kerygma and encounter with Jesus through preaching.
This book will argue that the historical facts do not coerce faith, but faith is supported by these facts. For many, the resurrection is denied on an a priori basis, following Enlightenment presuppositions about naturalistic causes and effects in a closed system. In this model, supernatural intervention in history is ruled out in principle. The biblical world is one where people believed in supernatural acts. It is not properly scientific to reach conclusions before the evidence is studied inductively. Naturalism is not open to certain possibilities, and as a result misses the best explanation of the data (source).
2.1 Critique of metaphorical / symbolical resurrection
How do we know that the metaphorical/symbolical resurrection of Jesus is the incorrect one? When we go to the Gospel texts, we find these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus that were not apparitions:
- He met his disciples in Galilee and gave them ‘greetings’ (Matt 28:9);
- They ‘took hold of his feet’ and Jesus spoke to them (Matt 28:10);
- ‘They saw him’ and ‘worshiped him’ (Matt 28:17);
- Two people going to the village of Emmaus urged Jesus to stay with them. ‘He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them’ and their eyes were opened concerning who he was (Luke 24:28-35).
- Jesus stood among his disciples and said, ‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’ (Luke 24:39).
- ‘He showed them [the disciples] his hands and his feet’. While they still disbelieved, Jesus asked: “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them’ (Luke 24: 42-43).
- Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’ and told them that ‘you are witnesses of these things’ – Jesus suffering and rising from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:45-48).
- Jesus said to Mary [Magdalene], ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”’ (John 20:17);
- Jesus’ stood among his disciples (the doors were locked) and said to them, ‘”Peace be with you.” When he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord’ (John 20:19-20) and then Jesus breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).
- Doubting Thomas was told by the other disciples that ‘we have seen the Lord’ but he said, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe’ (John 20:25). Eight days later, Thomas was with the disciples again and Jesus stood among them and said to Thomas, ‘”Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”’ (John 20:27-29).
- The metaphorical resurrection is an extra added to the biblical texts.
This string of references from the Gospels (and I haven’t included the glut of information in 1 Corinthians 15) reveals that in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, he demonstrated to his disciples that ‘a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’ (Luke 24:39).
There is an abundance of witness here to the fact that Jesus’ resurrection was bodily. His post-resurrection body was one that spoke, ate food and could be touched. It was a resuscitated physical body and not some metaphorical / symbolic event.
What Korb and Spong promote is a postmodern, reader-response free play invention, according to the creative imaginations of Korb and Spong. It does not relate to the truth of what is stated in the Gospels of the New Testament.
John Shelby Spong stated, “I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation,” he said. “I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence” — not his body — “was manifested to certain witnesses” (source).
Winston obtained a comment from Professor Scott Korb of New York University, aged 37 at the time, a non-practicing Catholic, who moved from a literal to a symbolic resurrection. His concept of the resurrection is, ‘What I mean is that we can reach the lowest points of our lives, of going deep into a place that feels like death, and then find our way out again — that’s the story the Resurrection now tells me. And at Easter, this is expressed in community, and at its best, through the compassion of others’. Korb rejects ‘the miracle of a bodily resurrection’. For Korb, this change from literal to metaphorical resurrection ‘has given the story more power’. For him the metaphorical view allows people to return to the story year after year and find new meaning in it (source).
3. My postmodern reconstruction of Korb and Spong’s writings
Since both Korb and Spong rewrite the resurrection of Jesus to replace the bodily resurrection with a metaphorical perspective, what would happen if I read Korb and Spong as they read the resurrection accounts?
Let’s try my free play deconstruction of Korb. According to Winston, Korb said of Jesus’ resurrection, ‘What I mean is that we can reach the lowest points of our lives, of going deep into a place that feels like death, and then find our way out again — that’s the story the Resurrection now tells me. And at Easter, this is expressed in community, and at its best, through the compassion of others’. Korb rejects ‘the miracle of a bodily resurrection’ but this metaphorical resurrection ‘has given the story more power’.
What he means is that when people reach the end of the drought declared in the outback country of Australia, they are about to receive cash from the government as a handout to relieve this sheep-rearing family from the death throws of drought. The resurrection is into new hope for the family and the community of that outback town in Queensland. At Easter, the compassion from the government has reached that community and family. This metaphorical, postmodern, deconstructed story of what Korb said is powerful in giving that town hope for a resurrected future.
That is the meaning of what Easter means to me, as told by Scott Korb. Why should my reconstruction not be as acceptable as Korb’s? Mine is a reader-response to Korb’s statement as much as his was a personal reader-response of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.
My reader-response is destructive of Korb’s intent in what he said. The truth is that what Korb stated needs to be accepted literally as from him and not distorted like I made his statements. Using the same standards, Korb’s deconstruction of the Gospel resurrection accounts destroys literal meaning. He and I would not read the local newspaper or any book that way. Neither should we approach the Gospel accounts of the resurrection in such a fashion.
Therefore, the biblical evidence confirms that Jesus’ resurrection involved the resuscitation of a dead physical body to a revived physical body.
4. The facts point to Jesus’ bodily resurrection
(Jesus’ bodily resurrection best explains the data: factsandfaith.com )
Since I have demonstrated from the Gospels that Jesus’ resurrection appearances involved a bodily resurrection, we know this because,
5.1 People touched him with their hands.
5.2 Jesus’ resurrection body had real flesh and bones.
5.3 Jesus ate real tucker (Aussie for ‘food’).
5.4 Take a look at the wounds in his body.
5.5 Jesus could be seen and heard.
There are three added factors that reinforce Jesus’ bodily resurrection. They are:
5.6 The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.
When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament. Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor. 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body (Geisler 1999 668).
In that magnificent passage of I Corinthians 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body? It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999:668)
In his magisterial publication, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N T Wright (2003) spent approximately 500 of 817 pages demonstrating that soma meant ‘body’ and so when applied to Jesus’ resurrection, it meant bodily resurrection and not an apparition or some other kind of resurrection. Wright’s assessment of the 1 Corinthian letter is that …
The resurrection would not only be bodily (the idea of a non-bodily resurrection would have been as much an oxymoron to him as it would to both Jews and pagans of his day; whether you believed in resurrection or not, the word meant bodies), but it would also involve transformation (Wright 2003:372)
5.7 Jesus’ body came out from among the dead
There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12). That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, ‘from the dead’. Not so in the Greek.
This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30). These same words are used to describe Lazarus being raised ‘from (ek) the dead’ (John 12:1). In this case there was no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried. Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999:668).
This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.
5.8 He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.
Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ
appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers 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 [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).
You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers. Christ ‘appeared’ to whom? Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul ‘as to one abnormally born’.
The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an ‘appearance’ or was it actually ‘seeing’ his physical being. These are the objective facts: Christ became flesh; he died in the flesh; he was raised in the flesh and he appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not a form of ‘spiritual’ existence. Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987:728).
No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: ‘After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3).
6. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important?
We must understand how serious it is to deny the resurrection, the bodily resurrection, of Jesus. Paul told the Corinthians: ‘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’ (I Cor. 15:13-14).
The updated World Christian Encyclopedia, published by Oxford University Press, states that by mid-century there will be 3 billion Christians, constituting 34.3% of the world´s population, up from the current 33%.
Christians now number 2 billion and are divided into 33,820 denominations and churches, in 238 countries, and use 7,100 languages, the encyclopedia says (Zenit 2001).
If there is no bodily resurrection, we might as well announce it to the world and tell all Christians they are living a lie and ought to go practise some other religion or whoop it up in a carefree way of eating, drinking and being merry.
British evangelist and apologist, Michael Green (b. 1930), summarised the main issues about the bodily resurrection of Christ:
The supreme miracle of Christianity is the resurrection. . . . [In the New Testament] assurance of the resurrection shines out from every page. It is the crux of Christianity, the heart of the matter. If it is true, then there is a future for mankind; and death and suffering have to be viewed in a totally new light. If it is not true, Christianity collapses into mythology. In that case we are, as Saul of Tarsus conceded, of all men most to be pitied (Green 1990:184).
7. BELIEF IN THE BODILY RESURRECTION IS ESSENTIAL FOR CHRISTIANS
7.1 Belief in the resurrection of Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation
Romans 10:9 states: ‘If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’. Salvation means that you are saved from God’s wrath because of the resurrection of Christ. You are saved from hell.
Your new birth, regeneration is guaranteed by the resurrection. First Peter 1:3 states that ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’.
The spiritual power within every Christian happens because of the resurrection. Paul assured the Ephesians of Christ’s ‘incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (Eph 1:19-20). You can’t have spiritual power in your life without the resurrected Christ.
In one passage, Paul links your justification through faith to the resurrection; he associates directly your being declared righteous, your being not guilty before God, with Christ’s resurrection. Romans 4:25 states that Jesus ‘was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’.
Your salvation, being born again, justification, having spiritual power in the Christian life depends on your faith in the raising of Jesus from the dead. Not any old resurrection will do. Jesus’ body after the resurrection was not a spirit or phantom. It was a real, physical body. If you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, on the basis of this verse, you can’t be saved.
7.2 Christ’s resurrection proves that he is God
From very early in his ministry, Jesus’ predicted his resurrection. The Jews asked him for a sign. According to John 2:19-21, ‘Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”… But the temple he had spoken of was his body’. Did you get that? Jesus predicted that he, being God, would have his body – of the man Jesus – destroyed and three days later, he would raise this body.
Jesus continued to predict his resurrection: ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matt. 12:40). See also Mark 8:31; 14:59; and Matt. 27:63.
The third reason Christ’s bodily resurrection is core Christianity is:
7.3 Life after death is guaranteed!
Remember what Jesus taught his disciples in John 14:19, ‘Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live’. If you truly have saving faith in Christ, his resurrection makes life after death a certainty.
Another piece of evidence to support the resurrection as a central part of Christianity is:
7.4 Christ’s bodily resurrection guarantees that believers will receive perfect resurrection bodies as well.
After you die and Christ comes again, the New Testament connects Christ’s resurrection with our final bodily resurrection. First Cor. 6:14 states, ‘By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also’.
In the most extensive discussion on the connection between Christ’s resurrection and the Christian’s own bodily resurrection, Paul states that Christ is ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Cor. 15:20). What are ‘firstfruits’? It’s an agricultural metaphor indicating the first taste of the ripening crop, showing that the full harvest is coming. This shows what believers’ resurrection bodies, the full harvest, will be like. The New Living Translation provides this translation of 1 Cor. 15:20 to explain it in down to earth terms, ‘But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died’.
Do you see how critically important it is to have a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s resurrection – his bodily resurrection?
In spite of so many in the liberal church establishment denying the bodily resurrection of Christ or dismissing it totally, there are those who stand firm on the bodily resurrection. Among those is Dr Albert Mohler who provides a summary of the essential need for Jesus’ resurrection:
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead separates Christianity from all mere religion–whatever its form. Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. “And if Christ is not risen,” said the Apostle Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. Furthermore, “You are still in your sins!” [v. 17b]. Paul could not have chosen stronger language. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” [v. 19].
Yet, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been under persistent attacks since the Apostolic age. Why? Because it is the central confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God, and the ultimate sign of Christ’s completed work of atonement, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. Those who oppose Christ, whether first century religious leaders or twentieth century secularists, recognize the Resurrection as the vindication of Christ against His enemies (Mohler 2016).
8. Conclusion: Genuine hope
What is the ‘genuine hope’ of Jesus’ resurrection? Nothing could be clearer than what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17 (NLT), ‘If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins’.
The hope that relates to Christ’s resurrection was not expressed by Archbishop Coleridge in what was cited by Cooper, ‘genuine hope that satisfies the human heart’ and not the cheap cosmetic hope. The latter was not defined. Was it a hope so?
The fact is that if there is no bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Christian faith is futile, worthless or useless and all human beings are still in their sins. This means there is no forgiveness and cleansing for sins and so no hope of eternal life with God. It is serious business to deny or reconstruct the resurrection. It is redefining Christianity to make it something that it is not.
First Corinthians 15 (NLT) gives at least 8 reasons why Jesus’ bodily resurrection is more than that expressed in Cooper’s (2016) article:
a. Christ’s resurrection is tied to the resurrection of believers who have died (15:12);
b. If Christ has not been raised, preaching is useless (15:14);
c. If no resurrection, faith is useless (15:14);
d. If Jesus was not resurrected, those who have preached the resurrection are lying about God and the resurrection (15:15);
e. No resurrection of Jesus means faith in Jesus is useless and all unbelievers are still guilty in their sins (meaning there is no forgiveness for sins) (15:17).
f. If Jesus was not raised, those who have already died are lost/have perished and there is no future resurrection for them (15:18).
g. If we have hope in this life only with no hope of future resurrection, Christians are more to be pitied than anyone in the world (15:19).
h. BUT, the truth is that Christ has been raised from the dead (not metaphorically, but bodily), and He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died (15:20).
9. Can you doubt the resurrection and still be Christian?
There have been those (as pointed out in this article) who have redefined (deconstructed) the resurrection to make it metaphorical or symbolic. Korb, Borg, Funk, Spong, Coleridge and Crossan have done that as Christian representatives. Thus they have doubted and denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. Their reconstructions have caused them to engage in a reader-response innovation of their own making. They have invented what the resurrection means. It is a meaning out of their own minds and worldview. It is not a perspective based on a historical, grammatical, cultural interpretation of Scripture.
Reasons have been given in this article to demonstrate that a person must believe in the bodily resurrection to receive eternal life. Otherwise faith and preaching are useless; people do not have their sins forgiven, and hope is hopeless (see §7).
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 our faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God… If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (I Cor. 15:13-15, 17, 19).
The conclusion is that if Jesus has not been bodily resurrected, faith is faithlessness because it is a useless faith. Now to answer the question of this article: Can you doubt the resurrection and still be Christian? No! Your faith is useless or vain if you doubt or reconstruct the bodily resurrection. You may not like my conclusion, but I’ve provided the evidence above that leads to that biblical conclusion.
Much of this material has been adapted from my article: Junk you hear at Easter about Jesus’ resurrection.
10. Works consulted
Geisler, N L 1999. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
Wright, N T 2003, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 September 2021.