He Is Risen Indeed

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

BY: Ben Witherington


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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.

It is not believable that early Christians made up stories about women, and particularly Mary Magdalene, as the first and foremost validating witnesses of the risen Lord. This is not credible especially because the writers of these Gospels, like other early Christians, were hoping for more converts. "These things are written in order that you might believe," says the Fourth Evangelist at the end of John 20. A more serious reckoning with these narratives, especially John 20, but also Mark 16, Matthew 28, and to a lesser degree Luke 24, is necessary if we really want to get at the heart of the earliest forms of the stories about that first Easter, and get to the bottom of what happened on that first Easter Sunday morning. I submit that these stories cannot be ignored. It is not convincing to appeal to Mark 16:8 as the proposed ending for such stories, as that is an argument from silence not substance. In fact, even if we stop at Mark 16:8, the empty tomb and resurrection are clearly proclaimed (cf. 16:7), and the "going before you into Galilee" motif suggests appearances not only in Jerusalem but also in Galilee. Thus a consistent witness to Jesus' resurrection runs throughout our sources, and this provides prima facie evidence that Jesus' resurrection and appearances provide the key historical middle terms between the life and death of Jesus and the birth of the early church.

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