The Easter Moment: What Really Happened?

Is the literal claim of Easter still believable? Can Christianity afford to debate its originating moment?

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Critics will argue: "Are not Adam and Eve, the Virgin Birth, and even themiracles peripheral to the Christian faith--while the resurrection ofJesus is not? Can Christianity afford to debate its originating moment?Does the possibility of saying 'no' to the physical resurrection ofJesus mean the end of Christianity?" I do not think so, but Ianticipate that some will think that is true.

I do admit that for Christians to enter this subject honestly is toinvite great anxiety. It is to walk the razor's edge, to run the riskof cutting the final cord still binding many to the faith of theirmothers and fathers. But the price for refusing to enter thisconsideration is for me even higher. The inability to question revealsthat one has no confidence that one's belief system will survive such aninquiry. That is a tacit recognition that on unconscious levels, one'sfaith has already died. If one seeks to protect God from truth or newinsights, then God has surely already died. So let me invite those whoare willing to join me in this analysis.

There are five portions of the New Testament that purport to give usknowledge of the events of Easter. The earliest one was written by Paulin the mid-50s of the first century of the common era. This biblicalsegment, found in 1 Corinthians 15, is noteworthy both in what it says andin what it does not say.


In Paul's recounting of Easter, there is no Joseph of Arimathea, noangelic messenger, no empty tomb, no women who visit the tomb, and nophysically resuscitated body. Paul does use the phrase "on the thirdday," and he qualifies it with the words "in accordance with thescriptures." He speaks of Jesus as "appearing" to chosen witnesses.But the best clue for understanding what Paul means by "appearing" seemsto be that he includes himself in this list of witnesses. He says hisexperience of resurrection was like all the rest, except that his waslast. I know of no one, certainly not Luke writing in the book of Acts,who believes that what Paul saw was the resuscitated physical body ofJesus. Indeed, most scholars place Paul's conversion somewhere betweenone and six years after the story of the crucifixion, well past thelegendary three days or even the expanded 40 days of appearancestories.

It is also noteworthy to observe that whenever Paul speaks about theresurrection of Jesus, he uses a passive verb. Jesus does not simplyrise in the writings of Paul--he is raised by God. That "raising"appears to lift Jesus from death to God's right hand, to use themetaphor of the day. The author of the letter to the Colossians wrote:"If you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are abovewhere Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."

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