The Case for the Resurrection

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To begin, we must be entirely clear on what the case for the Resurrection is not. No one is arguing that some historically reliable documents report a resurrection, and that we should therefore believe that a resurrection occurred. Rather, the historical method is used to establish certain facts, and a miracle is inferred as the best explanation of those facts. In this article we focus on three:

(1) Jesus’ closest followers believed that they had seen Jesus alive after the Crucifixion;

(2) these same witnesses believed that Jesus had been resurrected;


(3) the first Christians confirmed that Jesus’ tomb was empty.

Some explanation of these facts is sought; and it seems that the only adequate explanation is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Some sceptics, like the philosopher Michael Martin[1], make great play of the fact that the Gospels were written some thirty to fifty years after the events that they describe. Furthermore, the Gospels were not written by the primary witnesses themselves – Mary of Magdala, the other women at the tomb, Thomas, Clopas or Peter.[2]. If Christians argue that the apostles John and Matthew are responsible for the Gospels that bear their names, the sceptic merely points out that this is highly controversial. The argument is that the Gospels are secondary and not primary sources. Therefore, we should not count the evidence from the Gospels when considering the resurrection.

Historians, on this view, should just go through primary sources, stroke out what seems unreliable and what is left is history. This is ill-informed nonsense. The sceptic is advocating what Roger Collingwood called a “scissors and paste” approach to history; an approach that historians reject. Philosopher of history Mark Day makes this clear:

The key to critical history is not so much that one excludes testimony, as that one reasons from the evidence to produced statements about the past that are in addition to anything testified. The historian includes in their account passages which cannot be found in any source.[3]

Historian John Tosh explains what differentiates history from source criticism.

…the procedure is rather to amass as many pieces of evidence as possible from a wide range of sources – preferably from all the sources that have a bearing on the problem in hand. In this way inaccuracies and distortions of particular sources are more likely to be revealed, and the inferences drawn by the historian can be corroborated.[4]

If we were to follow the sceptic’s methodology, most of ancient history would find its way to the wastepaper basket.[5] Luke Pitcher points out ancient historians did not use modern scholarly apparatus like footnotes. We often do not know the exact source that an Ancient Historian like Arrian or Thucydides is using to reconstruct the past. Pitcher calls this the “action of the swan”.

Modern writers of history …usually let the reader see the processes by which their narrative of events progesses. Ancient historians often do not. Like a swan, the narrative of the work of ancient history glides ever forwards. But the processes which sustain its momentum remain submerged and invisible[6]

However, while we must read ancient history critically, Pitcher reminds us that ancient historians had access to good sources. Arrian, who wrote his history of Alexander the Great’s campaigns (The Anabasis) centuries after the great man’s death, relied on the works eyewitnesses like Aristobulus and Ptolemy. Tacitus could rely on sources like the Acta Senata when writing about events that occurred long before his birth. Perhaps the Gospels were written 30 years after the events that they describe. This misses the point. We need to ask if the Gospel writers accessed earlier material; and the presence of memorable oral traditions, anachronisms, embarrassing material, and a general verisimilitude suggests that they had.

As it happens, we do have the eyewitness testimony of at least one person – the Apostle Paul. When we read what Paul actually says we can see that his testimony provides important evidence for the resurrection. But, frankly, this skeptical demand for a note signed by an eyewitness is more than a little puzzling.  Famously, we do not have an eyewitness account in which Hitler sets out to eliminate the Jews of Europe; yet only the very wicked, or very foolish, would suggest that this is evidence of Hitler’s innocence. We simply cannot explain the events of the Holocaust unless Hitler was its driving force. There are no eyewitnesses to Marilyn Monroe’s suicide; but this is not evidence that she was murdered!

Julius Caesar does not narrate his crossing of the Rubicon; he merely says that he “set out with his legions to Ariminum” suppressing his illegal crossing of the river.[7] We do not have an eyewitness to Caesar’s decision to break the laws of Rome and to plunge the Roman Republic into civil war. We have no eyewitness account of the crossing; yet Appian, Plutarch and Suetonius attach great import to it. Given their access to accounts no longer available to us, it would be foolish to suggest that the event never occurred! We do not have an eyewitness account of Hannibal’s journey over the Alps, or the Roman defeat at Cannae. The list goes on and on.

Though there is much more to the historian’s task, he asks “what occurred in the past so that our sources carried this particular testimony?” What caused the testimony that I have before me?” For example, it is unthinkable that the Romans would invent the story of their defeat at Cannae. So we will set the sceptics High School approach to history to one side, and contend that we have good historical reasons for believing facts 1-3.


(1) Some of Jesus’ closest followers believed that they had seen Jesus several days after the Crucifixion; soon afterwards, other people, including enemies of Jesus’ movement, reported “appearances”.

The Crucifixion of Jesus is attested outside the New Testament by historians like Tacitus. In fact, in ancient culture, Crucifixion was such a shameful and humiliating way to die that it is absurd to suppose that any group would pretend that they had a leader who died that way! In an “honour/shame” culture, the shame of Jesus crucifixion also attached to his followers; more dangerously, the followers of a man executed for treason or rebellion could face the same punishment.

We know of “messianic” figures who tried to found movements in Palestine during this period.  Theudas, who claimed that he could part the waters of the Jordan; an Egyptian who said that he would cause the walls of Jerusalem to come tumbling down; would be kings like the shepherd Athronges  or John of Giscala. In each case Rome executed the leader; in each case the movement died. Naturally the question arises “what was so different about Jesus’ movement?”

The simplest answer is the answer provided by Paul (in 1 Corinthians) and the Gospels. Jesus’ followers, on the basis of eyewitness reports, believed that their leader had returned from the dead. There is no reason to doubt the claim that some of Jesus’ followers believed that they had seen him. Sceptics enthusiastically point out that people can have all kinds of visions and hallucinations. We need some event to explain the survival of Jesus’ movement. An impressive variety of sources report these experiences. So there is a strong consensus that (i) is true. As Maurice Casey puts it “I conclude that the evidence for early appearances, from the women to St Paul, is unimpeachable, but we should not believe in the literal truth of the resurrection stories”.

Paula Fredriksen concurs: “The Disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ, their relocation to Jerusalem, their principled inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles – all these are historical bedrock, facts known past doubting about the earliest community after Jesus’ death.” [8] Another reason scholars are so confident that Jesus followers believed they had seen Jesus after the crucifixion is the testimony of the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul cites Peter and the Twelve as witnesses to this resurrection.

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 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

This is an extremely important piece of evidence. As NT Wright observes “The whole thrust of the paragraph is about evidence, about eyewitnesses being called, about something that actually happened for which eyewitnesses could and would vouch.”[9] Furthermore, when Paul talks about “receiving” and “passing on” this message, he is using technical language for memorizing and passing on oral traditions. The Corinthian Church was founded about 49/50AD; and we know from the book of Galatians that Paul’s message had the approval of the mother Church in Jerusalem. Paul learned this tradition from the apostles in Jerusalem soon after the events of Easter. Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz explain why historians place so much weight on this passage:

The analysis of the formula tradition about the resurrection of Jesus allows the following conclusion: a tradition in 1 Cor 15v3b-5, which goes back to the events themselves, attests appearances to both individuals and groups. The credibility of this tradition is enhanced, because it is in part confirmed by the narrative tradition, which is independent, and because in the case of Paul we have the personal testimony of an eyewitness who knew many of the other witnesses…There is no doubt about the subjective authenticity of these testimonies; i.e they come from people who attest an overwhelming experience in good faith. The appearances to individuals are particularly illuminating. Peter had denied Jesus. Paul had persecuted his followers. James (possibly) shared the scepticism of other members of his family towards Jesus.[10]


(2)  these same witnesses believed that Jesus had been resurrected

The Gospels and Paul clearly teach that Jesus was “resurrected”. The word “resurrection” could only mean one thing in Jewish thought. It meant bodily rising from the grave to be vindicated by God.[11] You could no more have an “immaterial” resurrection than a “square triangle” or a “married bachelor”. In 1 Corinthians 15 we have Paul, writing about the message he preached, with the other Apostles and disciples, from the Church’s inception. And that message was that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave, had been vindicated by his Father, and that he was now at the Father’s right hand.

Jews were not expecting anyone to be resurrected until judgment day when all the righteous would be resurrected together. At that stage God would bring the world to an end, and create the New Heavens and New Earth. No-one was expecting one person to be resurrected on his own before the end of the world! So why on earth did the first Christians conclude that Jesus had been resurrected? A hallucination would not be sufficient. A mere vision of Jesus might have led the disciples to believe that Jesus’ “angel” was visiting them[12], or that Jesus soul was waiting with God. They might even have convinced themselves that God had transformed Jesus into a star, or had translated him into the heavenly realm. But something led Jesus’ Jewish followers to believe that he had been raised bodily from the dead. This is very difficult to explain – unless it had actually happened. [13]

But doesn’t 1 Corinthians 15 teach that Resurrection bodies are physical rather than spiritual?

 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body(soma psychikon), it is raised a spiritual body(soma pneumatikon). If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Anyone studying this text in any depth begins to feel a great deal of sympathy for Bible translators. Paul contrasts “a spiritual body” (soma pneumatikon)[14] with “a soulish (psychikon)[15]  body,” not with a “physical body.” Which leaves the modern reader in something of a muddle; what on earth is the difference between a “soulish body” and a “spiritual body”? How can bodies, “sown” into graves be made out of “soul”? The short answer is that they can’t; Paul was not comparing what our bodies are now made of to what resurrection bodies will be made of. So what did Paul mean?

Thankfully 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 clarifies. There Paul contrasts natural (or “soulish”) men with spiritual men.

The natural (psychikos) man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual (pneumatikos) man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one

Paul can hardly be arguing that people outside the Church don’t believe God’s word because their bodies are made out of soul (whatever that could mean!), but Christians are fine because their bodies are made out of spiritual stuff!  Paul’s point is that Christians are under the power of the Holy Spirit, and non-Christians are not! Now this illuminates what Paul means by a spiritual body. In Romans 8 v 11 Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit gave life to Jesus body, and that the same Holy Spirit will also give life to our mortal bodies. So when Paul calls the resurrection body a spiritual body he means a body brought to life and powered by the Holy Spirit.

But doesn’t the book of Acts teach that Paul merely had a vision of a heavenly figure, as opposed to a physically embodied person? NT Wright urges caution:

“…a surprising number of people with only limited biblical knowledge have a clear mental picture of what they think happened on the road to Damascus. Paul was riding on horseback when a blinding light suddenly appeared, knocking him off the horse and onto the ground.” [16]

This image owes much to paintings by Michelangelo and Caravaggio; it owes little to the book of Acts, which does not mention a horse, and does mention an appearance by Jesus (who is notably missing from both paintings). The book of Acts tells the story of the Damascus road three times (Acts 9, 22&26)[17]. The book of Acts testifies that Paul saw  Jesus on the road to Damascus.  A blinding light stopped Paul in his tracks; the source of the light was heaven, however, not Jesus. And we must be absolutely clear – Acts does not portray the resurrected Jesus as an ethereal being of light.

The text is clear that Jesus appeared to Paul alone; yet Paul’s companions saw  the light. The light functions to stop Paul in his tracks; it is a sign of divine judgment. It might prevent Paul’s fellow travelers from witnessing Jesus. Then it is gone. This was not a private experience. The others saw the light (22v9, 26v13); they heard the voice (9v7), although they did not understand who was speaking or why(22v9). Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians and Galatians 1 – testimony that precedes the book of Acts by some decades – that he witnessed the same Jesus as the other Apostles. Acts gives us no reason to doubt him. [18]


(3) the first Christians confirmed that Jesus’ tomb was empty.

Scholars like Maurice Casey believe that Jesus “appeared” to his followers; so why does Casey believe that the Resurrection didn’t happen? Casey defends what we could call a “legendary development hypothesis”.  Initially the first Christians, including Paul, believed that Jesus’ spirit had survived crucifixion.  They had religious visions that convinced them that Jesus’ Spirit was alive and well with God in heaven. But over time the stories became exaggerated. As Christianity spread into the Gentile world, Christians began to tell taller and taller tales about their Lord, until they came to believe that God had actually saved Jesus’ body from death. Pious legends developed about the discovery of an Empty Tomb and the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection was born.

This is a great theory; the only problem with it is that it can’t explain the important facts. The legendary-development hypothesis depends on the narratives of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances developing out of the preaching of the early Church. In the beginning, the first Christians preached something very like Paul’s summary message 1 Corinthians 15.  Then, over time, narratives were created to add colour. But there is at least one massive problem here: the wrong “legends” appear in the Gospels! Paul’s list of appearances in 1 Corinthians and the resurrection narratives in the Gospels do not match.  If the Church was in the business of inventing stories to “fill out the details”, we would have narratives for the appearance to Peter[19], or for the appearance to James. What we actually have is appearances to a group of women, the twelve, and some man named Clopas![20]

In any case, Greek culture wasn’t happy with the idea of physical life after death. Greek philosophy tended to think that the body was an impediment to spiritual development[21]. Jews, on the other hand, believed that the body was good because it belonged to God, and looked forward to the resurrection of their bodies on Judgment day. But the legendary development hypothesis asks us to believe that Jewish Christians initially promoted an immaterial resurrection. Then as the Church’s spread into Greek culture, gentile Christians hijacked the original message to promote a physical resurrection. This is wildly implausible.

So is the “legendary development” hypothesis dead? Not quite. James Crossley accepts that the first Christians did believe that Jesus had been physically resurrected.  A former Pharisee like Paul could not conceive of a resurrection in any other way. But some legendary development did take place. Crossley argues that the first disciples based their belief on their visions of Jesus and nothing more. No one really checked to see if Jesus’ body was still in the ground[22]. The empty tomb was not proclaimed by the first Christians in Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ body might never have made it to a tomb – he might have been buried in a common grave.

Then, as Christianity grew, people wanted to know where and how Jesus had been buried, who discovered that the body was missing and so forth. So the early Church indulged in a bit of creative story telling. It claimed that Jesus had been buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, and then fabricated a story about a group of women discovering this tomb was empty. To explain to readers why the Empty Tomb tradition was not part of the earliest Christian message, Mark pretends that the women were so scared and confused that they did not mention their discovery of the empty tomb for several years[23]. Or so Crossley’s theory goes.

But this theory stretches credibility to breaking point[24]. The reader must assume that the women told someone about their discovery, as Mark knows about it. Luke and John clearly understand Mark to mean that the women passed their story on to the disciples, but failed to proclaim  Jesus’ resurrection publicly. That certainly seems to be a saner reading of Mark 16 v 1-8! And why would the Church invent this particular story? Granted, women were important to the first Churches[25]. But a woman’s testimony would not be taken seriously by outsiders; it had no value in court. It would have been tremendously embarrassing to admit that the first witnesses to the events of Easter were women!

If this story is an invention of an early apologist we have to ask why he was so extraordinarily incompetent. A child could have created a story that would have been easier to sell to the wider culture. Why not invent a story in which a male follower visited Jesus’ burial place, to be told by an angel not to mention this empty tomb to anyone? After all, the angel could argue that there was a danger of the Church worshipping at the tomb; because Jesus was no longer there such worship would have been inappropriate. We also have to ask why the Church would create a story in which Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb[26]. This man was a member of the Sanhedrin; the very group that had conspired to execute Jesus. It is difficult to believe that the Church would give credit to such a man unless he actually deserved it.

Jesus’ followers would have had to have taken note of his burial place so that they could mourn him properly. Furthermore, according to Jewish custom, they would have had to return to the primary burial site one year later to collect their masters bones for an honorable burial. There would have been little mystery about Jesus burial place. Unless it was known that there was an empty tomb where Jesus’ dead body was meant to lie, it is very unlikely that the claims of the first disciples would have cut much ice in Jerusalem. If the first Christians believed that Jesus had been resurrected, there would have been some curiosity about the place where he had been buried. And if the Jerusalem authorities were prepared to endorse Paul’s zealous persecution of the Church, it is likely that they were prepared to check on Joseph’s tomb to see if it was occupied!

And, above all, if you’re trying to “bend the truth” a little, you don’t create facts that are easy to check. And it would have been easy for the residents of Jerusalem to check if Joseph had used a family tomb for Jesus’ burial. He could confirm, or deny, that the tomb was empty. If the Church had “lost track” of Jesus body, it could simply have spread the story that Jesus had been buried in a pauper’s grave. The poor were buried in unmarked patches of land. Losing track of Jesus’ burial place would have been understandable in such circumstances.  Jesus had suffered the most shameful death imaginable, so there was little to be lost by saying that he had been buried with the poor. In fact, there seems to be very good sermon material in that sort of story!

Finally, Matthew’s[27] Gospel has to respond to the charge that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. Now grave robbing was associated with witchcraft, so this was a serious accusation. Matthew would not have included it in his Gospel lightly. This seems to have been the standard Jewish response to the Easter message, and Matthew could not ignore it. So it is interesting to see what Jew and Christian were agreed on. Both parties agreed that Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. They agreed that disciples were at the tomb on Easter morning. And they agreed that this tomb was empty. We would expect Jesus’ friends and enemies to check on the status of his body. And, by itself, there is nothing miraculous about a missing body. This is not a claim that requires extraordinary evidence.  So the classical scholar Michael Grant, who did not believe in the resurrection, argued that:

..the historian … cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels – as critical pagans early pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the Tomb was empty.[28]

The Jewish historian Geza Vermes, who like Grant does not believe in the resurrection, also believes that: “the women who set out to pay their last respects to Jesus found to their consternation, not a body, but an empty tomb”.[29]Both Grant and Vermes find the reports of the women’s testimony to the empty tomb to be particularly persuasive. It just seems wildly implausible that the Church would invent a story about women discovering the empty tomb; especially when one of those women, Mary of Magdala, was once believed to be demon possessed.

If we can safely conclude that Jesus’ followers had experiences of his presence after his death, we can also safely conclude that Jesus’ tomb was inspected and found to be empty. We also know that those who witnessed the risen Christ were convinced that he had been “resurrected”. If the Church was in the habit of inventing stories it had a wide range of concepts to draw on; and the Church could have invented a story that was impossible to falsify. They could have preached that Jesus’ spirit was yet alive at the Father’s right hand, and that he would be reunited with his body on the last day, when God would proclaim him Messiah. It would have been impossible for Jesus’ enemies to prove such a message was wrong.

The Jesus Conspiracy?

So we have to explain three inconvenient truths. Jesus “appeared” to some of his followers after his crucifixion; he appeared in such a way as to convince them that he had been “resurrected”; and the tomb that Jesus was buried in was now empty. The sceptic must explain these three facts, and he must do so without recourse to conspiracy theories. Historians threw such theories out of New Testament studies centuries ago. These abounded in the 17th and 18th Centuries. One scholar explained the Feeding of the 5000 as an elaborate magic trick; Jesus conspired with Essenes, who hid in caves, handing out loaves as Jesus required them. Jesus’ simulated walking on water by placing planks just below the surface. Jesus didn’t mean to say “be calm” to the storm; he was addressing the disciples. As luck would have it, at that very moment, the storm calmed down.

In the 19th Century David Strauss tore these theories to shreds.  Strauss did not believe that Jesus had performed any miracles. But to Strauss’s mind explanation by a conspiracy theory was no more plausible than an explanation by a miracle. The “just so” stories produced by rationalist theologians were so ridiculous that a miracle seemed no less probable. He insisted that the miracle stories were myths that developed over successive retellings of the life of Jesus. And serious scholarship has never again conjured up the nonsense that Strauss refuted so decisively.

We should be clear that the tomb was empty and that the disciples believed that Jesus had been resurrected. After Strauss, the sceptic cannot use conspiracy theories to explain the evidence. No ridiculous stories about women visiting the wrong tomb, and confusing a gardener for their Messiah. No tall tales about Jesus’ family removing his body to the family plot, and forgetting to mention this to his disciples. No fantasies in which Jesus’ disciples steal his body to start a world religion! These stories are more improbable than a simple miracle. And in the absence of old fashioned conspiracy theories, we are left with one explanation: Christianity is correct. Jesus rose from the dead.







[1] Different scholars have defended the historicity of the Gospels in different ways.  The approach here differs from that of David Glass in chapter 10 of Atheisms New Clothes.


[2]  As if the discovery of a 1st Century document in Palestine, saying “I, James, witnessed the Resurrected  Christ” would somehow improve the case for the Resurrection! This wouldn’t even tell us something we didn’t already know – that James believed that he had witnessed the Resurrected Christ.


[3] Philosophy of History (Continuum:2008),18

[4] The Pursuit of History (Longman:2010),134. In any case documents written 30 years after events can be described a Primary sources (ibid,92).

[5] Although we should note that a good case can be made for the presence of eyewitness material in the Gospels. See Richard Bauckham’s  online essay The Authenticity of Apostolic Eyewitness in the New

Testament; and his more detailed argument in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans:2008)


[6] .Writing Ancient History (I.B.Tauris:2009)p6

[7] (ibid p212.n42).

[8] Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (Knopf:1999)

[9] The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK: 2003), 325.

[10] The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Augsburg:1998), 490 (emphasis mine)

[11] 1 Enoch51; Daniel 12; 2 Maccabees 7:11, 2 Baruch 49-51; Josephus War 3.374f; Josephus Apion 2.218; Wisdom of Solomon3, 9v15; Syballine Oracles 4.179-92; The Apocalypse of Moses 41.2f, 43.2f;Isaiah 26 v19

[12] Acts 12 v 13

[13] Another argument forcefully made by NT Wright: If the disciples had merely had “visions” of Jesus in heaven then they could certainly have founded a movement that honoured Jesus teachings.  But Jesus had been executed under the titulus “the King of the Jews” – the Roman’s point being that this crucified man was no king.  Yet the first Christians believed, and preached, that Jesus was, well, Christ. That is, Jesus was the Messiah, the King. How can you believe and preach a dead messiah? The answer is you can’t. Yet “resurrection” meant more that restored life to the Jewish people. It also meant that God had judged you and vindicated you. If Jesus was resurrected it meant that God had accepted his claim to be Israel’s King (Romans 1 v3-4). A Messiah couldn’t be an apparition, a shining star, or a spiritual experience; the problem of a dead Messiah is only resolved if the dead Messiah is resurrected. Rising from the dead in any other way won’t do

[14] Ben Witherington notes that Greek adjectives or qualifiers ending in “ikon” normally carry an ethical or functional meaning, and are not used to describe what something is made out of. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Eerdmans 1995), 308

[15] To complicate matters further psyche does not mean “soul” in the sense that we mean today(an immaterial mind).  Witherington suggests the translation “physical life principle or force, which the creation story says that God breathed into human beings.” Ibid, 308 NT Wright offers “the sense of aliveness operating through breath and blood, energy and purpose, which is common to humankind.” Resurrection, 350

[16] The Resurrection of the Son of God p375


[17] Note that Paul’s experience of the Resurrected Christ in Acts is much more dramatic than the appearance to Cleopas and the disciples in the Gospel of Luke. The author of Luke wrote both this Gospel and the book of Acts. The fact that he did not attempt to harmonize the different accounts of the resurrection appearances strongly suggests that Luke was trying to stay faithful to his sources!

[18] Paul says that he saw Jesus, and that remains our primary historical datum. Acts tells the story in such a way as to communicate particular interpretations to its own audience. That is the basis on which any historical account of Paul’s conversion must proceed.” NT Wright The Resurrection of the Son of God p393

[19] 1 Corinthian 15 indicates that Peter had a “private” experience of Jesus. It is extraordinary that we do not have an appearance story for James, the brother of the Lord, given his importance to the Early Church.

[20] It is significant that, while Mark knows of Resurrection appearances, he chooses to end his Gospel with an empty tomb. In First Corinthians Paul makes no mention of the discovery of the empty tomb, but he focuses instead on the subsequent appearances of Jesus. So it is very unlikely that the story of the Empty Tomb was developed to bolster the traditions about Jesus’ appearances, or vice versa.


[21] It must have been something of a shock to the Corinthians to learn that the most spiritual humans imaginable dwell in bodies that will never die! And because they had already committed themselves to a belief in Jesus’ resurrection, they were committed to a belief in a general resurrection.

[22] Some sceptics try to make hay out of the fact that Paul does not mention the empty tomb in 1 Corinthians. But Paul doesn’t mention Caiaphas or Pilate either. Does that mean that Paul didn’t know about them, or their involvement in Jesus’ death?

[23][23] Crossley advances this argument in How Did Christianity Begin? pp54-55. Like most critical scholars Crossley believes that Mark’s Gospel originally ended at 16v8, without a Resurrection appearance. Yet Mark clearly believed in a physical Resurrection, and knew of Resurrection appearances:   Mark 8 v 31-33; 9 v 9; 9 v 30 – 32; 10 v 32-34 & 16 v 6.

[24] There are further problems with the legendary development hypothesis. There is no apologetic force to Mark 16, as this theory requires. Instead there is a note of fear, which Mark normally uses to exhort his readers. If Mark 16 was written to quell the curiosity of Christians, we would expect a narrative of the Resurrection event itself; the discovery of an empty tomb seems anti-climactic by comparison. And if the first generation of Christians were able to thrive without an Empty Tomb narrative, why did the subsequent generation feel the need to invent one? It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the only reason for denying the Empty Tomb is that it supports the Resurrection!

[25] Could Mark have invented a story about women discovering an empty tomb because women had an important role in the Early Church? Perhaps; but he would not have made the women seem so confused, incompetent and unheroic. However we look at Mark 16, these women do not emerge as ideal eyewitnesses!

[26] The Sanhedrin would have been obligated to bury Jesus before sundown given Deuteronomy 21v22-23. (m.Sanh 6 5-6; Semahot 13.7; 11QTemple 64.7-13a=4Q524 frag.14 lines 2-4) They had sought Jesus execution; to have left his body on a tree would have “polluted” the very land they were trying to save. The honorable burial of Jesus by a member of the Sanhedrin is very plausible.

[27] Sometimes Matthew’s report that the dead left the tombs and that the Temple curtain split upon Jesus’ death is taken as evidence that subsequent generations embellished simpler accounts of the Resurrection. This ignores the fact that Luke and John’s accounts are less “extravagant” than Matthew’s. It also fails to compare Matthew’s Resurrection narrative to Josephus’ account of the signs that accompanied the fall of the Temple, or Dio Cassius’ account of Claudius’ death. Matthew is positively restrained by comparison! No-one doubts that the Temple fell to the Romans, even though Josephus feels compelled to use apocalyptic language in his history.

[28] Michael Grant, Jesus (London: Phoenix, 1999), 176.

[29] Ibid.

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