Culture at the Crossroads
In Accordance with the Scriptures
Belief in Christ's resurrection on the third day is, in the Nicene Creed, "in accordance with the scriptures." In this installment, let's take up the question of which scriptures the Church Fathers were referring to, and what this article of faith suggests for contemporary believers.
Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the matter:
Christ's Resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises both of the Old Testament and of Jesus himself during his earthly life. The phrase "in accordance with the Scriptures" indicates that Christ's Resurrection fulfilled these predictions. (CCC 652)
The Catechism cites several texts that point to Jesus' promise to show up again.
"He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said" (Mt. 28:6).
"Go and tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you'" (Mk. 16:7).
"He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day" (Lk. 24:6-7).
"Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures (Lk. 24: 26-27).
He said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Lk 24: 44-48).
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
These texts point to the early Christian belief that Christ's resurrection was foretold by Jesus himself and hinted at in the Old Testament, the Tanakh. I'll set aside the claim that Jesus predicted his resurrection, taking the gospels and Paul at face value. The question of Jesus' use of the Old Testament is more compelling.
To be sure, there is no clear consensus among first-century Jews that the Messiah would suffer, die, and be raised on the third day, a point explored by contemporary Jewish scholars in the highly recommended text The Jewish Annotated New Testament (see Ben Witherington's review here). Martha Himmelfarb observes, for example, that belief in the resurrection of the dead was in flux by the first century, but that some Jews did hold to the idea that God would raise the righteous to new life (see her essay "Afterlife and Resurrection," pp. 549-551). See, for example, Psalm 16:
I keep the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16: 8-11)
Tim Muldoon holds a Ph.D. in Catholic systematic theology and is an award-winning author and Catholic theologian of the new evangelization.