The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
According to the New Testament, God raised Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. This event is referred to in Christian terminology as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and is commemorated and celebrated by most Christians each year at Easter.
Most Christians accept the New Testament story as an historical account of an actual event central to their faith. According to them, hope in the Resurrection distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian: the belief that Jesus Christ died for the sins of humanity and was resurrected to live with God the Father is regarded by many as the cornerstone of Christianity. Paul said that if the resurrection did not really happen, then Christians were to be pitied above all men (1 Corinthians 15:19). Christians have lived and died the death of martyrs in the hope both of Christ's resurrection in the past and of their own in the future.
However, there is significant dissent. Non-Christians generally view the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus as fictional to varying degrees. Under the influence of modernity, many self-described Christians consider the historicity of the resurrection to be irrelevant to its significance as a religious symbol of hope, and accept it as a richly symbolic and spiritually nourishing myth. According to them, the fundamental difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is a subjective one, centered upon how a person responds to the myth: making the resurrection a matter not of history, but of religious attitude. This rejection of the essentially historical nature of the resurrection of Jesus is one of the issues that have divided orthodox Pauline Christians on the one side from Modernist Christianity, which denies that belief in historical factuality is defensible, but accepts that belief in the resurrection is nevertheless essential to Christian faith. Those who believe that the resurrection must be accepted as a fact of history, and in those terms essential to Christianity, often cannot regard as genuine Christians those who view the resurrection as an unhistorical myth. It must be stressed that the orthodox view dominates among the adherents of the Catholic Church, of Eastern Orthodox Churches and mainline Protestant denominations, with the possible exception of Anglicans.
In support of this view, the defenders of the historical view have all Church history on their side. It is for them, as it has been in all eras of the Church, the bridge between the beginning and the end of human destiny as represented in the Fall and the Consummation: the very essence of faith. People reared in Christian culture (as well as non-Christians) may consider the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ to be powerful myths (for instance, Carl Jung suggests in his essay "The Answer to Job" that the crucifixion-resurrection story was the forceful spiritual symbol of, literally, God-as-Yahweh becoming God-as-Job). But these opinions rather represent personal approaches to spirituality, and are at odds with an historical view of the Christian religion. Nevertheless, this allowance for a subjective understanding of the importance of the resurrection has gained a vast representation among the mainline Protestant churches since the middle of the 20th century.
The Biblical Account
The primary accounts of the resurrection are in the Gospels: the last chapter of Matthew, of Mark, and of Luke, as well as the last two chapters of John.
Some other New Testament references to this event are:
Acts 4:10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
1 Cor 6:14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
Gal 1:1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)
1 Pet 1:21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God
Other Christian Records
Some of the earliest records of the resurrection outside the New Testament are found in the writings of Ignatius (50 - 115), Polycarp (69 - 155) Justin Martyr (100 - 165), and Tertullian (160 - 220).
The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians -- 1:2 - 2:1, 12:2
The Letters of Ignatius...
... to the Ephesians -- 20:1
... to the Magnesians -- 11:1
... to the Trallians -- 9:1-2 (one of the more detailed mentions of the historical events)
... to the Romans -- 6:1
... to the Philadelphians -- 8:2 - 9:2
... to the Smyrnaeans -- 1:1 - 3:3 (another passage with slightly more historical details than the others)
The letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, probably written by Pope Clement I, also speaks of the resurrection at length.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus is reputed to have written in 93 that Jesus "appeared to [the disciples] alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold". However, this is a highly controversial passage.
The Historicity of the Resurrection
As with all historical events before the past few hundred years, the issue of historicity is an important aspect of any person's belief in the actual occurrence of the resurrection. In contrast with scientific phenomena for which reproducibility and falsifiability are essential, historical phenomena depend on different criteria, such as uniqueness of occurrence, plausibility of circumstances, and testimony of witnesses.
Christians who defend the resurrection's historicity claim the following:
Multiple eyewitness accounts - different people, different times, different situations, all seeing the resurrected Jesus, eating with him, talking with him.
Eyewitnesses who were willing to suffer and die for their testimonies, which ends any chance of false motives for their testimonies.
The Gospels state that the early witnesses to the Empty Tomb and the Risen Christ were women, whose testimony was not regarded as credible in the patriarchal Judaism of that period. If the resurrection stories were invented, one would not expect this: a hoax or conspiracy would have used men as these early witnesses. An honest account, on the other hand, would have described what was true, however inconvenient it was.
Who could find a whole group of people willing to concoct a wild lie, be tortured and killed for it, and not have one of them tell the truth to escape death?
The morality of Jesus and his disciples.
The radical change of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul.
The birth and rapid spread of the early church, all from people who were originally hiding in fear.
The Bible openly declared that the resurrection had over 500 witnesses, many still alive at the time. This open declaration was in the face of non-Christians who could respond to the charge.
The Jewish Scriptures contain many statements that Christians have interpreted as saying that God would take a body, die for sins and rise again
The early dates for most of the New Testament.
Jesus fulfilled many Jewish prophecies. The probability of the fulfilment of all of them by chance is extremely small and best accounted for as a miracle. This ought to prompt us to take more seriously the possibility of a second miracle, the resurrection.
The experiences of millions of Christians worldwide today, who claim to have met Jesus personally.
Those who reject or question the resurrection make the following points, among others:
The Gospels state that Christ was not recognized at first by those who allegedly met him after the resurrection, even though the contact was sometimes prolonged and intimate. This makes it less clear that the resurrection was a literal rather than psychological phenomenon or a piece of religious symbolism.
Human beings have suffered and died throughout history for a huge variety of contradictory religious and non-religious beliefs. Willingness to die for a belief is not direct evidence of the truth of a belief, merely of the strength of the believer's faith in that belief, and human beings have an enormous capacity for self-deception and wishful thinking.
The Gospel accounts of the resurrection are allegedly incoherent and inconsistent, and there appears to be evidence of a progressive supernaturalization involving the appearance of angels at the Empty tomb.
There is evidence in Mark, generally recognized as the earliest Gospel, that the resurrection account has been added by a later hand.
If the resurrection is so clearly prophesied in Jewish scripture and the contemporary historical evidence for its actual occurrence so strong, we require another miracle to account for its rejection not only by the vast majority of Jews in the first century A.D. but also by the vast majority of Jews ever since, despite the persistent efforts of Christians to persuade them of the error of their ways. For many centuries Christians explained this rejection as evidence of a special Jewish stubbornness and even wickedness (anti-Semitism).
Some historians have questioned the historicity of the events related by the New Testament. One of the first to do so was Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794), in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, arguing about the fact that no Roman Historian quotes any darkness of three hours at the time of Christ's death; other historians have explained this darkness as not a true solar eclipse but as being caused by very dark clouds, local to the Jerusalem area.
Comparisons with other Resurrection Stories
While the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity, accounts of other resurrections also appear in religion, myth, and fable. This leads some to suggest that the founding Christians invented the story of Jesus' resurrection based on other pagan traditions. However, since resurrection stories in these "mystery religions" almost always center around agricultural cycles (i.e. seedtime and harvest) and involve their god dying and being resurrected every year any resemblance to the resurrection of Jesus is strictly superficial. We also do not have good records of what the "mystery religions" believed before c. AD 200, but given their propensity of borrowing from one another and the growth of Christianity at that time, most argue that it is highly likely they borrowed from these pagan traditions.
Another observation is that while many believers in the various "mystery religions" in the first and second centuries of the Roman Empire freely borrowed from each other, Christianity was not an offshoot of any of these, but of Judaism. Paul the Apostle, who wrote much of the New Testament, was himself a Jew, a Pharisee, until his conversion on the road to Damascus, and had been trained by Gamaliel, one of the leading Jewish theologians of the time. In each town that Paul visited, he preached in the Jewish synagogues before preaching to the Gentiles or non-Jews. Therefore, Christians argue that it is unlikely that the resurrection story would be invented or borrowed in order to appeal to Gentiles. Skeptics, however, point out that it was Gentiles, not Jews, who embraced and eventually dominated Christianity, which suggests that Gentiles were much readier to believe in stories like the resurrection.
Justin Martyr argued in the second century that Jesus' virgin birth, death and resurrection were prophesied by the Hebrew scriptures, and that similar stories in other religions were loosely based on the same Hebrew prophecies.
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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ