If Christ Has Not Been Raised

Here’s a little piece I did a few years back on why I think it obvious the Resurrection really happened.  Exalted Felicitations of the Day!

I‘m told the latest trend among professional atheists, who read each other but not actual New Testament scholarship except from the hothouse of court prophets for atheism like Bob Price and Bart Ehrman, is that Jesus is a “composite”.  It’s unclear what this means, but I take it that they think the authors of the New Testament dug through the Old Testament for random verses and then invented incidents in the life of Jesus in order make him fit the Old Testament prophecies.  How they know this is anybody’s guess.  Myself, I would say that what is gratuitously asserted can be gratuitously denied.  Just the other day, somebody was here offering his expert opinions on the trial of Jesus and the alleged “fact” that the Romans only crucified people in large batches, so that it’s impossible Jesus was only crucified with two thieves.  How on earth he is supposed to know this and know that all the eyewitnesses are wrong I have no knowledge, but it read like one of those agreed upon “facts” that one picks up from one’s peer group and gets repeated in order to reinforce group cohesion.

Here’s the deal: if you want to *really* understand the gospels realize two things:

First, they are (as one German scripture scholar aptly put it) “passion narratives with long introductions”.  The focus of all the gospels–the thing they each spend a quarter of their ink on–is a 72 hour period in the life of their hero.  All the other stuff in the gospels is leading up to that and it’s all focused on that like the spokes on a wheel focus on the hub.  If you don’t get that white hot focus on the events of that weekend and the fact that *this* is what the community exists to remember, you have no idea what you are talking about in discussing the gospels.  This means that confident declarations that the community is radically misremembering these events have a lot to overcome and that casual declarations that “It couldn’t have happened that way” require more than gratuitous assertions as evidence.  Particularly since…

Second, as Richard Bauckham has amply demonstrated in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, the gospels read, quite obviously, as multiply-attested eyewitness testimony, not as ingenious fabrications of a “literary composite” who never existed.  “Jesus never existed” rubbish is the 9/11 Trutherism of biblical studies.  Atheists who embrace it only demonstrate that their contempt for their subject has the inevitable effect of doing what all sin does: making you stupid.  The gospels are written as accounts by, or drawn from, eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’s life. They obey all the literary conventions, not of myth, but of ancient historiography. And their entire point and the only reason the eyewitnesses think it worth telling that story–in four accounts that closely corroborate each other–is that this particular life ends with a death and resurrection that they themselves saw (and went on to die for).

It’s not just the big things like the corrobrations of the four evangelists who obviously believe the story they are telling.  It’s also the little things. The gospels, for instance, periodically name characters in the story who are of no particular importance to the overall tale, such as Bartimaeus the blind beggar, or Malchus, or Jairus, or Simon of Cyrene (father of Alexander and Rufus), or (as we heard at the Easter Vigil) “Mary, the mother of James”.  Why do they do this?  Because ancient word processors have no footnote function, so the convention in ancient historiography is to name the person who is the source of the tradition in the text.  In other words, Simon of Cyrene (and his sons) become members of the Christian community and they are the source of that story about the  carrying of the cross–and they are known to the Church at Rome to whom Mark is writing (you can see Paul saying “howdy” to Rufus at the end of Romans).  Likewise, “Mary, the mother of James” (that would be “James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, aka the “brother” (really cousin) of the Lord” is also named as “Mary, the wife of Clopas” (aka “Cleopas”, the disciple who meets the Risen Jesus on the Emmaus Road). In short, James of Jerusalem’s mother was an eyewitness of the Crucifixion, was present at the tomb on Easter morning, and his father Clopas had gotten the report from her before heading off to Emmaus and his own strange encounters.  These are figures who play no central role in the rest of the gospel accounts, but here they are giving us their testimony through Luke.  The whole thing reads exactly like eyewitness interviews, not like myth (though, of course, the story of Christ fulfills the deepest mythic yearnings of our race, as you would expect a real God to do.

Anyway, all that is to say, the Good News about the Good News is that it is News, not fiction.

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred 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. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;  if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. – 1 Cor 15:1-20

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