New Testament accounts of The Resurrection
The aim of this page is to examine the New Testament accounts of the Resurrection.
Prove I’m wrong!
Christians are on safe ground when it comes to discussing the Resurrection of Jesus. However, it is ground of their choosing. The challenge they lay down has always been ‘Prove the Resurrection never happened.’ They also lay down one or two conditions.
- The only acceptable documents are the New Testament accounts, which were written by Christians striving to persuade others that the Resurrection happened.
- Each and every detail in those accounts must be taken as literally true, right down to the Roman guard on the tomb.
- To disprove the Resurrection, Jesus’s body must be produced, or at least a complete itinerary of Jesus’s body must be given. This is an impossibility, as there are no non-Christian records of Jesus’s burial.
These conditions are quite absurd. There simply is not enough information to prove that one particular corpse of 2,000 years did not get up and start to walk around. However, if Christians want people to believe that something incredible happened, something that they themselves say has never happened before or since, then they will need a credible source.
Prove I’m right!
What could count as a credible source for a Resurrection? After all, we are not just talking about a corpse which could get up and walk around. We are talking about a body which could do things after death that it could never do while it was alive. It could go through walls and enter locked rooms, but still had to eat, although imperishable.
Sometimes people would fail to recognise Jesus, although his body still carried the wounds of what killed him. Even though we are told that the resurrected body was as physical as you or I, the disciples could still look at Jesus and think that they saw a spirit. (Luke 24:36).
What could count as a credible source that such a being could exist at all, let alone that Jesus of Nazareth became such a being after his death?
We could draw up a wish list of evidences.
- Perhaps a doctor’s certificate of death.
- Contemporary interviews with people who saw such a body.
- Videos of the body entering a locked room.
- Documentary evidence that the room was actually locked.
- Appearances of this body in public places, say theTemple, or Pilate’s Palace.
The New Testament Evidence
While I, personally, would be convinced by those evidences, plenty of people would demand even more proof of such an astonishing event as a resurrection. However, the only evidence we have are the 5 New Testament accounts. These evidences contradict each other so much, that even if it were possible to patch together some way of harmonizing them, the question would remain – Why would an omnipotent, omniscient God arrange that the only evidence of the Resurrection of His Only Son is so poor, that huge effort has to be put in to try to hold the evidence together? As evidence for a Resurrection, it is woefully inadequate.
Not one of these accounts is contemporary to the Easter Sunday in question. The earliest is by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. I aim to show that Paul’s understanding of the Resurrection is totally different from the Gospel accounts.
1 Corinthians 15:3-9 ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.’
These famous words are the earliest words we have describing the Resurrection. Let me pick this apart into tiny pieces. Notice that this evidence never mentions the time or place of any of these appearances. The most basic documentation is missing.
The Gospels are adamant that Jesus was buried in a tomb near or in Jerusalem , that there was a guard at a tomb, that women visited the tomb early, that there were earthquakes, angels, burial shrouds left behind , that Jesus was touched and ate bread etc etc.
Paul, in a letter saying what was of first importance to people who doubted that the resurrection had happened, could not be bothered to mention any of the proofs that the Gospels , 20 or 30 years later, would give. Perhaps he didn’t know of them. Perhaps he didn’t think that the Gospel stories were important.
In turn the Gospel writers leave out such convincing evidences as an appearance to 500 brethren or an appearance to James, the leader of the Christian Church inJerusalem. The appearances described by Paul clash head-on with the appearances in the Gospels. Remember that Jesus could not have appeared to the ‘twelve’ as Paul said, as Judas was dead.
‘that he was buried’ Paul uses the word ‘etaphe’. This is just the normal word for burial. It is used in the Gospels in such phrases as ‘Let the dead bury the dead’, or ‘The rich man died and was also buried’ (Luke 16:23). There is no meaning of ‘entombed’ in the word Paul uses. There is a word for ‘entombed’, and it is used in the Gospels, but not by Paul.
‘that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’. Which scriptures? Hosea 6:2 is probably what Paul had in mind, but it is not about a Messiah. In context, it is aboutIsrael repenting and being restored. Note that Paul never states that Jesus was ‘raised on the third day in accordance with eye-witness testimony’. He gives no hint that any of these appearances took place on the third day.
‘according to the Scriptures’ (kata tas graphas) can be read quite naturally to mean what we mean by saying that something happened ‘according to the BBC’ or ‘according to a White House spokesman’. It could be that Paul learned of the death and resurrection of Jesus on the third day by reading the Old Testament. To see how natural it is to translate ‘kata tas graphas’ this way, remember that the Gospels are titled ‘kata Matthew’, ‘kata Mark’ etc.
‘that he appeared to Cephas’ The word for ‘appeared’ is ‘ophthe’. This is used a few times in the New Testament and it is used for other ‘appearances’ to Paul and Peter. If we look at those other appearances to Paul and Peter, we can see what Paul meant by ‘appeared’, which he uses so many times in 1 Cor. 15.
- Matthew 17:3 . Moses and Elijah ‘appeared’ to Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration. Were Moses and Elijah bodily resurrected when they ‘appeared’ to Peter? If they were, what happened to their bodies? Did they die again? If they were not bodily resurrected when they ‘appeared’ to Peter, why is it beyond all doubt that Jesus was bodily resurrected when he ‘appeared’ to Peter?
- Acts 2:3. Tongues of fire ‘appeared’ to Peter and rested on each one of them. Did real , physical fire come down from Heaven and rest on Peter, when it ‘appeared’ on Peter? Were the apostles heads physically on fire? If not why did Jesus physically appear to Peter when he ‘appeared’ to Peter?
- Acts 6:2. The God of glory ‘appeared’ to our father Abraham. It seems that God was in the habit of making bodily appearances. Either that or ‘appeared’ in 1 Cor. 15 does not mean a bodily appearance.
- Acts 16:9. And a vision ‘appeared’ to Paul in the night. This says straight out that Paul and ‘ophthe’ mean a vision. Did the man fromMacedoniaphysically travel to Paul when he ‘appeared’ to Paul?
- Revelation 11:19 The Ark of the Covenant ‘appeared’ within hisTemple. The whole of Revelation is a vision, and we have another use of ‘ophthe’ to mean vision.
- Revelation 12:1. A great portent ‘appeared’ in heaven. Still more visions.
- Revelation 12:3. And another portent ‘appeared’ in heaven. Still more visions.
One thing the New Testament insists upon is that Peter and Paul were precisely the sort of people to have dreams and visions and to act upon those dreams and visions as though they were real. (Acts 10, Acts 16 etc.)
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-7, Paul boasts of the revelations he has received. He went up to the third heaven (Where’s that?) and heard and saw all manner of things. In fact, nowhere in Paul’s letters or in the 3 accounts of his conversion in Acts, does Paul or Luke ever state that Paul saw a bodily Jesus. He saw a bright light and heard a voice. A vision – not a physical body – exactly as the use of ‘ophthe’ in 1 Corinthians 15 demands.
In Acts 26:19, it is clearly stated that what Paul saw when he met the resurrected Jesus on the road toDamascuswas a vision.
In 1 Corinthians 15:50, Paul says outright that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit thekingdomofGod’. How could he state more clearly that he did not consider the resurrected Jesus to have a physical body?
It is often claimed that Paul could not have been teaching about a vision as Jews could not even have conceived of a non-physical resurrection. This is refuted by 1 Samuel 28 where Samuel is brought back up. Paul would have been quite familiar with this story and would have been aware that only the witch and not Saul could see Samuel, impossible if Jews could not even conceive of a non-physical vision.
Even 2,000 years later, people still have visions of Jesus. Do these visions count as sightings of the physically resurrected Jesus? If not, why do Paul’s visions count as sightings of the physically resurrected Jesus?
The transformed lives of the disciples
Were the lives of the disciples transformed by the Resurrection?
Many sceptics deny this, but they would be wrong.
Before he met Jesus, Peter was a fisherman on theSea of Galilee. This was a dangerous, low paid job.
According to 1 Corinthians 9:4, after he met Jesus and preached about the resurrection, Peter and his wife and the other apostles and their wives were supported by the early Christians. Paul says that this was only right, and that he himself could have had that privilege, but he chose not to. In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul complains about people who peddle the Word of God for money. He could only have been talking about his fellow Christian preachers. After all, he agrees that it is the word of God that is being peddled.
Acts makes clear that the early Christians sold their land and houses and gave the money to the apostles for them to do with as they wished. Indeed , Acts 5 makes clear that it was very sinful to deceive the early Church about how much money you had made from the sales. Peter would have had more money than a Galilean fisherman could count, never mind earn. It would have given the apostles enormous powers of patronage.
The evidence of the New Testament itself is that money and authority were involved in claims to have seen the risen Jesus. Money and authority can be very corrupting, even in small doses, and mean that , even according to the New Testament itself, there were other motives for claiming to have seen the risen Jesus, apart from the motive Christians say the apsotles had.
The Gospel Accounts
The earliest Gospel account is by Mark. The ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) was added later. The account of the resurrection in verses 1-8 does not mention any appearances by Jesus. We can see that the appearances of Jesus were literally ‘firmed up’ as each Gospel was written, until by John’s Gospel we have a totally physical Jesus, in great contrast to the appearances in 1 Corinthians 15.
It became more and more dogmatic as time went on that the resurrected Jesus was a physical body. If, in the opinions of the scribes, the Gospels were not clear enough that Jesus’s body was physical, then they would alter the Gospels to make certain that was the case. Take Luke’s account. There are 5 clear instances in Luke’s Gospel.
In Luke 23:53, it says that Jesus was placed in a tomb “where no-one had ever yet been laid”. Just to make sure that nobody could argue that people stole Jesus’s body, some scribes added the words “and he rolled a great stone before the door of the tomb”. No less a manuscript than Codex Bezae was altered to add “and having placed him there he positioned before the tomb a stone that scarcely twenty people could roll.”
Luke 24:12 reads “But Peter, rising up, ran to the tomb; and stooping down he saw the linen cloths alone, and he returned home marvelling at what had happened.”. This was just after Luke writes that the disciples did not believe the women , whose words seemed nonsense to them. This verse is missing from Codex Bezae and some other manuscripts. The text varies in other manuscripts. Why would this verse be dropped from Codex Bezae by a scribe, especially given the reluctance of scribes to delete anything from the text? There are far more than insertions than deletions, especially in the Codex Bezae, which is notorious for adding stuff.
Was this verse added by a scribe so that it could be shown that somebody found the witnesses to the resurrection to be credible? If it was not added, then some scribes must have chosen to delete it. Why on earth would they do that?
The verse is very similar to Peter’s rushing to the tomb in John 20:3-10. The word for the linen cloths in Luke 24:12 (othonia) is not the word that Luke has just used in Luke 23:53. (sindoni)
This one verse (Luke 24:12) has 3 words or phrases used nowhere else in Luke or Acts. It also uses an “historic present”, which Luke shuns elsewhere, – for example of the 93 historic presents in the Markan verses that Luke used, no less than 92 were changed by him.
By this, I mean that Luke uses ‘he sees’, when everything else in Chapter 24 is in the past tense. Notice that the NIV translates that as ‘he saw’. Even they recognise that writers do not suddenly change tense for no good reason.
Luke 24:12 uses words for ‘stooping down’, ‘the linen clothes’, ‘went away home’ , which are never used elsewhere in Luke or Acts.
Exactly those words in Luke 24:12 which are not otherwise in Luke-Acts are in John 20, with John 20:5, being very close indeed.
There is an Illustrations page available for readers to double check my claims.
Clearly, a scribe has added in the verse. It is missing from important manuscripts, it has many non-Lukan features, but features which resemble John’s Gospel and it is impossible to see why a scribe would ever have wanted to delete the verse.
Codex Bezae does not include Luke 24:40 – “having said this, he showed them his hands and feet”. Either some scribe added this verse, or some scribe dropped it. It is hard to see why any scribe would drop the verse. It is easy to see why a scribe would add the verse, basing it on John 20:20. He would have had to alter it as John 20:20 mentions ‘hands and side’ and there was no spear-thrust in Luke’s Gospel, but that would only be a small change. It would all help to show that the Gospels “recorded” a physical resurrection.
In Luke 24:3,Codex Bezae and most of the Old Latin texts do not have the phrase “the Lord Jesus” in “they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Clearly, the phrase “the Lord Jesus” was added by a scribe to make sure that the Gospels recorded that the women went to the right tomb. The phrase “the Lord Jesus” only occurs in the Gospels here and in Mark 16:19 (another addition by a scribe!) and it is hard to see why the phrase would have been dropped if it were original to Luke’s Gospel.
In Luke 24:6,Codex Bezae and most of the Old Latin texts do not have the phrase “He is not here, but has been raised”. Clearly, this phrase was added by a scribe to make sure that the women knew that Jesus had been raised It is hard to see why the phrase would have been dropped if it were original to Luke’s Gospel.
We have clear evidence that Christians tampered with the text of the Gospels to make them better evidence for the Resurrection. How much tampering went on that we don’t have evidence of?
The Resurrection Maze by Farrell Till (offsite)
The Empty Tomb by Peter Kirby (offsite)