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He Is Risen Indeed

Textual analysis of the gospels and an understanding of the first-century world point to the reality of Jesus' resurrection.

Continued from page 3

Nor was this faith of theirs something conjured up generations or even years later than the time of Jesus' life. Paul was in direct contact with various eyewitnesses of the life, death, and resurrection appearances of Jesus. It is striking that in Paul's letters, nowhere does he have to argue with other major Christian leaders about his views on the resurrection and the risen Lord. Indeed, he suggests in Romans 10, Philippians 2, and elsewhere that the common and earliest confession of all these first Christians was "Jesus is the risen Lord." Furthermore, he suggests in 1 Cor. 15:1-5 that the earliest Christians also held very particular beliefs about the end of Jesus' earthly life and the transition to his present heavenly state as risen and exalted Lord. Paul writes 1 Corinthians 15 within twenty-five years of Jesus' death, while various original eyewitnesses were still around to correct him. The silence of his Christian peers on this issue compared to their criticism of his views on the law (see Galatians) is deafening. It shows where the common ground truly lay.

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Thus, it will not do to suggest that the passion and resurrection narratives in the Gospels are largely constructed from the Old Testament. The outline of and some vignettes from these narratives can already be found in Paul's letters in places like 1 Corinthians 11 and 15. It was the startling things that happened to Jesus at the close of his earthly career--his shocking crucifixion and then his equally astonishing resurrection--that caused the earliest Christians to race back to their sacred Scriptures to help them interpret the significance of these events. They did not first find these events in the Old Testament prophecies and then create new narratives out of the old prophecies. This is shown most clearly by the fact that many of the texts used to interpret the key final events of Jesus' life, in their original contexts in the Hebrew Scriptures, would not have suggested such things to a reader who had not heard of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. I know of no evidence that non-Christian early Jews were looking for a resurrected messiah, and in fact, the evidence that they were looking for a crucified one is also very doubtful.

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C. H. Dodd once proposed that the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb was one of the most self-authenticating stories in all the Gospels. In his view, it had all the elements of the personal testimony of an eyewitness. First, knowing what the tradition said about Mary Magdalene's past (see Luke 8:2), it is hardly credible that the earliest Christians would have made up a story about Jesus appearing first to her. Second, it is not credible that a later Christian hagiographer would have had her suggest that perhaps Jesus' body had been stolen from the tomb. Third, it is not believable that later reverential Christians would have suggested that the first eyewitness mistook Jesus for a gardener. The portrait of Mary and her spiritual perceptiveness is hardly flattering here. Fourth, it is not believable that early Christians would have created the idea that Jesus commissioned Mary to proclaim the Easter message to the Twelve. On this last point we have the clear support of 1 Corinthians 15, when we see that the witness of the women to the risen Lord, if not totally eliminated from the official witness list is clearly sublimated.

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