Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, May 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Dictionaries
Resurrection of Christ

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Resurrection of Christ (2)
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

I. The place of the Resurrection of Christ in the Apostolic Church.

II. The apostolic evidence for the fact.

i. The primary evidence.

ii. The documentary evidence.

1. The witness of St. Paul.

(a) The empty grave.

(b) The appearings of the Risen Christ.

2. The witness of the Gospels.

(a) The empty grave.

(b) The appearings.

III. The nature of Christ’s Resurrection-Body.

i. The Gospel witness.

ii. The witness of St. Paul.

IV. The significance of the Resurrection of Christ for Apostolic Christianity.

i. Evidential significance-in respect of

1. The Person of Christ.

2. His work.

3. The Christian hope.

ii. Essential or constitutive significance-for

1. Christ Himself.

2. Christian life and experience in all its forms.

(a) Justification.

(b) Sanctification.

(c) Bodily resurrection.

3. The consummation of the Kingdom of God.

V. Attempted naturalistic or semi-naturalistic explanations of the apostolic belief.

i. Older forms.

1. The swoon theory.

2. The theft or fraud theory.

3. The subjective vision or mental hallucination theory.

4. The objective vision or telegram theory.

ii. More recent forms.

1. The psychological or psychical research theory.

2. The mythological theory.

3. The spiritual significance theory.

4. The ‘supernatural-without-miracle’ theory.

I. The Place of the Resurrection of Christ in the Apostolic Church.-The fundamental fact on which the Apostolic Church rests is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What lies at the basis of everything else determining the whole round of apostolic thought and life is the conviction that the Jesus who was crucified was raised from the grave by the power of God and is now the Exalted and Sovereign Lord. Apart from this the very existence of Apostolic Christianity as exhibited in the NT is unintelligible and inexplicable. Three aspects of this fundamental significance of the Resurrection may here be indicated.

(a) It is the fontal source or spring of the apostolic faith, that which brought the Church into existence and set it moving with that wonderful vitality and power which lie before us in the NT. Much of modern historical criticism attempts to find the impulse which constitutes Christianity in the impression of the life and teaching of Jesus on His disciples. But so far as that went, and if that were all, there would have been no such thing as the Christianity of the apostles. There might have been memoirs of Him, there might have been a school of thought founded on His teaching, but there would have been no living faith, no Christian gospel, no Apostolic Church. He had spoken as no man had ever spoken; He had done many mighty works, ‘works which none other man did’ (John 15:24). And more than what He said and did was what He was-the unique impression of His life and personality, whereby He made men feel that in Him they were face to face with one who was none other than the great Promised One of God, ‘the Christ’ (Mark 8:29, Matthew 16:16, Luke 9:20), ‘the Holy One of God’ (John 6:69; cf. Acts 3:14, ‘the Holy and Righteous One’).

Yet the faith called forth by the life of Christ was a faith which broke into fragments under the crash of the Cross. The creative force or dynamic of Christianity has, as a matter of history, to be found in an event that carries us beyond the limits of the earthly life. It was the Resurrection, viewed as a great declaratory act of God, the fact that God ‘raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand’ (Ephesians 1:20), that re-interpreted and re-established the faith evoked by the Life, and for the first time gave Him His true place as Lord and Christ in their lives. This is best seen by reference to the reports of St. Peter’s speeches in the Acts, in which, by general consent, we have a true representation of the earliest Christian preaching. In these speeches St. Peter starts indeed from the historical Person of Jesus and front facts well known to his hearers regarding His life on earth: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man accredited to you by God through miracles and wonders and signs which God performed by him among you, as you yourselves know’ (Acts 2:22); ‘anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him’ (Acts 10:38).

This Divine approval of Jesus on earth, as certified by His works, was, however, apparently contradicted and denied by His death on the Cross, which to the Jew was the symbol of Divine rejection (Acts 5:30, Acts 10:39; cf. Deuteronomy 21:23). But the difficulty thus presented to faith by His death was removed or annulled by the Resurrection on ‘the third day’ (Acts 10:40), which is represented as a great historical act on the part of God, who thereby reversed Israel’s act of rejection and vindicated the claim of Jesus to be the Christ, ‘whom ye crucified, whom God raised’ (Acts 4:10; cf. Acts 2:24; Acts 2:32; Acts 2:36, Acts 3:15).

Thus through the Resurrection Jesus is proclaimed not only as ‘Messiah’ (Acts 3:18-20; Acts 4:25-28), but as ‘Lord’ (Acts 1:21, Acts 2:21; Acts 2:33; Acts 2:36, Acts 3:13; Acts 3:21, Acts 5:31, Acts 10:36), ‘Saviour’ (Acts 5:31, Acts 4:12, ‘In none other is there salvation’), ‘Prince of life’ (Acts 3:15, Acts 5:31), and ‘Judge of quick and dead’ (Acts 10:42, represented as in accordance with the teaching of Jesus Himself). So men are called to repentance and to be baptized in the name of Christ for the remission of sins and receiving of the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, Acts 10:43).

(b) Not only is the resurrection of Christ the fontal source or spring of Apostolic Christianity, so that from it the apostolic gospel dates; it is itself the very centre and substance of His gospel. So far from being a mere accessory or appendage to the apostolic message, a detached event added on to the life and teaching of Jesus to assure the disciples of His survival of death and of the truth of His claim, in it lay germinally and as in a kernel the whole gospel they had to preach; so that the preaching of Christ is for the apostles the preaching of His resurrection, and their primary function is to be witnesses of the fact (Acts 1:8; Acts 1:22, etc.). St. Paul but represented the common apostolic mind when, writing to the Corinthians, he said: ‘If Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain’ (κενόν, there is nothing in it, it has no real content); and ‘your faith is vain (ματαία, it is futile, to no purpose, fruitless of effect); ye are vet in your sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:14; 1 Corinthians 15:17). If Christ died and in that ‘lorn Syrian town’ lies in His grave like other men, then the whole gospel of the apostles falls to the ground, for the good news they have to declare is that God hath raised up Jesus from the dead and made Him the Exalted Lord to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth. ‘This Jesus whom ye crucified God hath made both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36)-this is the concentrated essence of the gospel they proclaim. There is nothing else in it except what conies out of this, and belongs to this, and is illumined by this.

The resurrection of Christ, viewed not as a mere revivification of His earthly body but as His entrance on a state of exalted power and Lordship, is the key which unlocks the inner meaning and significance of His earthly life and ministry. The earthly life of Jesus, with its amazing memories, is seen to be a very incarnation of God, a ‘sending forth’ of His Son by the Father, the event to which all else in the world’s history had been moving (Galatians 4:4). The Death on the Cross, the very symbol of shame, which had seemed to wipe out for them the meaning of the Life, becomes in the light of the Resurrection full of Divine meaning and significance, the central disclosure of redeeming self-sacrificing Love.

But more than this; the revelation of the life and death of Christ attained its end and became an effective reality only through the Resurrection. For only through His being raised from the dead and His exaltation to supreme power and sovereignty with the redeeming virtue of His life and death in Him, did Christ enter fully on His career as Prince and Saviour (Acts 5:31), and become the life-giving principle of a new humanity (1 Corinthians 15:22), the second Adam (Romans 5:12 f., 1 Corinthians 15:45), inaugurating a new era in the process of Divine creative evolution. The religion of the apostles is communion with a Risen Lord. Only ‘in Him,’ ‘in Christ,’ in union with a living Saviour, have we redemption and renewal of life (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14; Colossians 2:13, Romans 3:24).

(c) As the entrance of the crucified and buried Jesus on a state of exalted power and glory in which He is Lord both in grace and in nature, the Resurrection is, further, the fundamental determinative principle of the whole apostolic view of the world and life. It pervaded and revolutionized their whole universe of thought, controlling and governing their interpretation of existence and creating a new intellectual perspective so that all things-God, the world, man-came to be viewed sub specie Resurrectionis. The characteristic apostolic title for God becomes ‘God the Father who raised Jesus Christ from the dead’ (e.g. Romans 4:24; Romans 6:4; Romans 8:11, Colossians 2:12, 1 Peter 1:21). The God in whom they believe is One whose character is once for all made manifest in that He raised up Jesus Christ. The Cross and the Burial had seemed to be the triumph of evil in the world, the final defeat of holy love. But by the Resurrection and Exaltation God had vindicated the holiness of Jesus, and by thus vindicating Jesus had vindicated and authenticated Himself. At the great crucial moment in the world’s moral history, in the case of a perfectly holy life, the omnipotence of God-in apostolic language the ‘working of the strength of his might’ (Ephesians 1:19)-was shown to be on the side of goodness and righteousness. Through the resurrection of Christ, too, as no merely spiritual resurrection-‘the survival of personality beyond death’-but a rising from the grave and from the power of death, God has convincingly manifested the supremacy of spirit over the strongest material forces.

The long struggle between nature and spirit was concentrated climactically in the body of Jesus, and by His bodily resurrection from death and the grave-and what other kind of resurrection from the grave could there be?-victory is shown to remain with spirit. Death itself, the crowning manifestation of the seeming victory of material forces over spirit, has been vanquished and overcome; and this supreme and crucial revelation of the power and character of God sheds its transfiguring light over all other revelation in nature and history, illuminating the mysteries of life here and of destiny hereafter. By the Resurrection assurance of personal immortality is given to men, and the present life in the fullness of its embodied existence is lifted above the vicissitudes of time and invested with infinite meaning and eternal value. ‘Wherefore’-such is the conclusion of St. Paul’s great argument in the Resurrection chapter in 1Cor.-‘be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 15:58). In a word, the resurrection of Christ was for the apostolic mind the one fact in which the world and history arrived at unity, consistency, coherence; the pledge and the guarantee of ‘the gathering together in one of all things in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:10). It was the breaking in upon human life of a new world of triumph and hope, in which were contained at once the pledge and the ground of the consummation of God’s purpose for the world. Hence the vitalizing and energizing optimism of the apostolic outlook on life-‘born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3).

That the Resurrection holds this place of centrally determinative importance in the Apostolic Church is a fact which, if not always sufficiently realized by the friends of Christianity in subsequent centuries, is at all events acknowledged by her opponents. D. F. Strauss, e.g., the most trenchant and remorseless of her critics in dealing with the Resurrection, acknowledges that it is the ‘touchstone not of lives of Jesus only, but of Christianity itself,’ that it ‘touches all Christianity to the quick,’ and is ‘decisive for the whole view of Christianity’ (New Life of Jesus, Eng. translation , 2 vols., London, 1865, i. 41, 397). If this goes, all that is vital and essential in Christianity goes; if this remains, all else remains. And so through the centuries, from Celsus onwards, the Resurrection has been the storm centre of the attack upon the Christian faith. The character of this attack has varied from age to age. To-day it differs in important respects from what it was even fifteen or twenty years ago. The application of new and more stringent methods of criticism to the evidence, the rich store of new material provided through recent researches in comparative religion and mythology, the re-discovery of Judaistic apocalyptic literature, and the new interest in the psychology of religion-all this has given ‘a now face’ to the critical attack.

It is not, indeed, that the apostolic belief in the resurrection of Christ, or the centrality of this belief to Apostolic Christianity, is denied. These are admitted on all sides as incontestable. What is called in question is the validity of the belief, the historical reality of the fact or facts on which the belief was based. It is held that in the light of the new critical methods applied to the evidence, and the new knowledge made accessible to us to-day in the light of what is generally, though ambiguously, called ‘modern thought,’ it is no longer possible for us to believe in the Resurrection as the apostles believed in it. In particular, in much present-day discussion it is maintained that, in view of modern scientific-historical criticism of the evidence, it is impossible to believe in the resurrection of Christ in any other sense than that of a spiritual resurrection. The result is that to-day we are faced with this somewhat new situation, that not by the opponents of Christianity only, but by some of its most honoured supporters and advocates in their effort to recommend Christianity to the ‘modern mind,’ the bodily resurrection of Christ is denied, or minimized as forming no vital or essential part of the Christian faith.

We shall first of all examine the nature and extent of the historical evidence which is presented in the apostolic writings for the fact of the Resurrection, and thence educe the nature or character of the apostolic belief in the fact. Thereafter we shall consider the meaning or significance of the Resurrection for Apostolic Christianity-this in itself is part of the apostolic evidence for the fact, as the true nature of a cause becomes apparent only in its effects-and finally examine the main critical attempts to explain the belief without acknowledging the fact. In the course of the inquiry the conviction will be expressed and supported that the recorded evidence for the resurrection of Christ, though in many ways disappointingly meagre and when critically examined not devoid of ‘contradictions,’ or ‘discrepancies,’ is yet adequate and sufficient for the purpose in view, and that those critics who come to negative conclusions do so less because of difficulties connected with the evidence than because of presuppositions or praejudicia of a dogmatic or philosophical character with which they come to the examination of the subject. The evidence available for the resurrection of Christ, it is recognized, can appeal aright only to those to whom the fact has a significance altogether different from that which an ordinary fact of human history can ever possess. Mere historical evidence is of itself incompetent to generate true Christian faith in the Resurrection. This depends on anterior and prior considerations determining our religious attitude to the fact-upon our philosophy of life and, in the last resort, upon our estimate of Jesus Christ Himself.

II. The apostolic evidence for the fact

i. The primary evidence.-In proceeding to examine the evidence for the fact it should be remarked, to begin with, that this is much wider than is often represented. The historical evidence presented in the NT narratives-upon the examination of which the truth of the Resurrection is often decided-is after all but a small pan of the witness by which the fact is established. The primary evidence lies further back, in the transformation effected in the lives of the apostles, giving rise to the Christian Church; in the fullness of that energizing life and power of which the NT writings are themselves but the product. To realize the greatness of this transformation we have but to take the picture of the apostles after the event as given in the Acts, and compare it with that before as given in the Gospels. Sadness has given place to joy, weakness to Strength, cowardice to courage, despair to confidence. The men who, timorous and un-understanding, had forsaken their Master in His hour of utmost need, who counted all their hopes in Him lost when He was put to death, who, disillusioned and hopeless, had for fear of the Jews shut themselves up within closed doors, now face the rulers of the land proclaiming that He whom they had condemned and crucified was indeed the Christ, the Messiah, in whom alone there was salvation (Acts 4:12), and summoning them to repentance and to baptism in His name for the remission of their sins and the receiving of the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).

Such a change, such a moral and spiritual transformation, with the results following, demands a sufficient cause. What the apostles’ own explanation was we know-the Resurrection ‘whereof we are witnesses’ [Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15; Acts 5:32; Acts 10:39, etc.). They believed that the Crucified Jesus was now the Risen and Exalted Lord, raised from the dead on the third day by the power of the Father-a belief which early found institutional expression in the observance of the first day of the week as in ‘the Lord’s Day.’ Whether they were deceived or not, is not now the question. It is sufficient at present to note that this is the primary evidence in relation to which all other evidence must he seen. ‘It is not this or that in the New Testament-it is not the story of the empty tomb, or of the appearing of Jesus in Jerusalem or in Galilee-which is the primary evidence for the resurrection; it is … the existence of the Church in that extraordinary spiritual vitality which confronts us in the New Testament’ (Denney, Jesus and the Gospel, p. 111f.). This is where the apostles themselves placed the emphasis. ‘He hath poured forth this which ye both see and hear’ (Acts 2:23), says St. peter in his first sermon, referring to the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost as proof of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ; and in his second sermon or address the healing of the cripple is adduced as further proof (3:16). In his view the evidence of the Resurrection was not merely a past event ‘on the third day,’ but present religious experience. ‘The Resurrection was not an isolated event.… It was the beginning of a new and living relation between the Lord and His people.… The idea may be expressed by saying that the apostolic conception of the Resurrection is rather “the Lord lives” than “the Lord was raised” … Christ lives, for He works still’ (Westcott, The Gospel of the Resurrection, p. 294 f.). Thus it is that the continued existence of the Church, and of the moral miracle in which the Church consists, is a vital part of the evidence for the Resurrection. If the Resurrection were not a fact continued into the present, the historical incidents recorded would soon have faded, like all merely historical facts, into a past significance.

The remembrance of this primary evidence for the Resurrection has important consequences. (1) The Apostolic Church, the Christian society, existed before any of the NT narratives were written, and essentially is independent of them. Therefore even if the narratives were, as alleged, ‘conflicting and confused’-nay, even if it could be shown that there are features in them whose historical value is doubtful, this would not of itself disprove the fact of the Resurrection. We should in that case know less than we thought we did about the mode of the Resurrection life of Christ, but our faith in the Resurrection itself, of which the existence or the Church is the primary evidence, would not be disturbed. (2) It is only in relation to this primary evidence that the ‘historical evidence’ presented in the narratives can be estimated aright. The narratives were written form within the Church, they were the product of the faith created by the Resurrection. Further, they relate to a fact which is no mere event of the past, but continues as a living power in the present, and so must be viewed in the context of living history and experience. Historical criticism, therefore, which isolates the narratives from this living context, and analyzes them out of relation on the one hand to the experience of which they are the outcome, and on the other to the experience in which they result, is in its nature abstract, and can give only a limited or partial view or the facts.

ii. The documentary evidence.-With this fundamental and primary evidence for the Resurrection before us, we pass to consider what is commonly called ‘the historical evidence,’ that presented in the NT documents or narratives.

1. The witness of St. Paul.-The earliest documentary evidence to the fact of the resurrection of Christ is that presented in the writings of St. Paul.

(a) The empty grave.-St. Paul is sometimes appealed to in support of a purely spiritual Resurrection, as teaching that it was the spirit of Christ which rose into new life, and his view is contrasted with the ‘more materialized’ representation of the Gospels. The empty tomb and the resurrection of the Body were, it is alleged, no part of St. Paul’s teaching, but a later development. Schmiedel, e.g., supports his contention of the unhistorical character of the evidence for the empty tomb by reference to ‘the silence of Paul …-a silence which would be wholly inexplicable were the story true’ (Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4066). Weizsäcker urges that St. Paul says nothing of what happened at the grave because he knew nothing of it (Apost. Age2, London, 1897-99, i. 5). And Harnack, while thinking it ‘probable’ that the Apostle know of the message about the empty grave, holds that ‘we cannot be quite certain about it.’ In any case, ‘certain it in that what he and the disciples regarded as all-important was not the state in which the grave was found, but Christ’s appearances’ (What is Christianity?, Eng. translation 3, London, 1904, p. 164 f.). What are the facts? In the first Epistle of his which has come down to us, which is also the first extant NT writing-1Thess.-written from Corinth about a.d. 51, St. Paul simply asserts the fact of the Resurrection without defining its nature. He recalls how the Thessalonians ‘turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, oven Jesus’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9 f.); ‘if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so,’ etc, (1 Thessalonians 4:14). The fact is referred to incidentally as if it were a matter unquestioned in the Church. This is St. Paul’s general attitude in his Epistles, and it is an attitude even more significant as an attestation of the Resurrection than any more direct evidence.

But St. Paul’s conception of the nature of the fact is plainly indicated by the more explicit reference in 1 Corinthians 15, written about the year a.d. 55 (see Sanday, in Encyclopaedia Biblica i. 904), i.e., about twenty-five years after the Resurrection. Here St. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the fundamental facts of his preaching and of their faith-‘the gospel which I preached unto you … by which also ye are saved’ (1 Corinthians 15:1 f.). In this earliest extant narrative of the facts, which is therefore the primary document in regard to the Resurrection, St. Paul’s words are: ‘For I delivered unto you first of all (ἐν πρώτοις, ‘first and foremost’ [Moffatt]) that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas,’ etc. (1 Corinthians 15:3 ff.). In this outline statement of the substance of his preaching in Corinth the following points of importance are to be noted:

(1) St. Paul explicitly refers to a rising ‘on the third day,’ which was distinct from and preparatory to the appearances. This even ton the third day, as concrete an event as the death of Jesus, is set over against the burial, and is presented as the reversal of it, thus making clear what is meant by the fact. If St. Paul meant simply a spiritual resurrection, a manifestation of the spirit of Jesus from heaven, he need have said no more than that Jesus died and on the third day appeared to the disciples. The clause ‘and that he was buried’ not merely emphasizes the full reality of His death, but points to the grave as the state from which the Resurrection took place. ‘Why mention His burial unless it was His bodily resurrection he [Paul] had in view?’ (Dods, in Supernatural Christianity, p. 103). Who ever heard of a spirit being buried? Even Schmiedel somewhat inconsistently admits this: ‘That Jesus was buried and that “he has been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:4) cannot be affirmed by any one who has not the reanimation of the body in mind’ (Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4059). So in the other two passages in St. Paul’s writings where reference is made to the burial of our Lord (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12), In both, the Resurrection is presented as relative to the burial and as the reversal of it, showing that even if St. Paul does not explicitly mention the empty grave it was the bodily resurrection he had in view. This is borne out by the whole line of the Apostle’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul is replying to those in Corinth who denied, not the continued spiritual existence of the Christian after death, but the possibility of his bodily resurrection, on the ground that they could not conceive how the body could rise; and he does so by setting the resurrection of Christian believers, the quickening of their mortal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42 ff.), in closest and organic connexion with the resurrection of Christ as ‘the firstfruits of them that are asleep’ [1 Corinthians 15:20). Here, obviously, only a reference to the bodily resurrection of our Lord would have been relevant. This is the conception of the Resurrection which permeates his Epistles (e.g., Romans 6:4 ff; Romans 8:11, 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, Philippians 3:21), and it is reflected in the speeches of St. Paul reported in the Acts (Acts 13:29 f., Acts 17:31; Acts 26:23). Such a conception of the Resurrection, indeed, was required by the whole context of Pauline thought on the matter. For St. Paul, as for the entire Jewish Christian community, sin and physical death stood in organic connexion with each other. Hence Christ’s triumph over sin involved for them His final and complete victory over the death not only of the soul but of the body as well.

(2) The significance of the term used in reference to the resurrection of Christ has to be noted as setting forth St. Paul’s conception of the nature of the event. He does not say simply, ‘He rose on the third day,’ but, ‘He hath been raised (ἐγήγερται) on the third day.’ The use of the perfect tense signifies that the event was of such a character as had an abiding effect on the condition of the Lord. His resurrection was not like other raisings from the dead recorded in the Scriptures, where the raising meant simply restoration to the old life and the old conditions, with the prospect of meeting death again in the future. Christ rose, St. Paul says, and remains in the risen state; He has triumphed over death: ‘Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him’ (Romans 6:9). As risen He belongs to a new and higher mode of being. St. Paul’s conception of the nature of Christ’s risen body is more fully elucidated by his teaching as regards the ‘spiritual’ body (see more fully below, III. ii. and IV. ii. 2 (c)).

(3) This gospel which he had preached in Corinth, including as one of its great affirmations the fact that Christ was raised on the third day, was not, he says, peculiar or original to him. He had but ‘delivered’ (παρέδωκα, ‘passed on’ [Moffatt]) what he had himself ‘received’ (παρέλαβον)-received not by direct revelation from Christ, but through tradition from those who were in Christ before him (see Lake, The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, p. 38 ff.). The channel through which he received the tradition he does not here indicate. In the Epistle to the Galatians, however, an Epistle accepted with practical unanimity by NT scholars though it is difficult to date it definitely, he tells us that three years after his conversion he went up to Jerusalem expressly ‘to visit Cephas’ (Galatians 1:18, ἰστορῆσαι Κηφᾶν), that he stayed there for a fortnight, and that he saw St. James also. The term ἱστορῆσαι ‘implies a careful and searching inquiry on his [Paul’s] part’ (A. Edersheim, LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Edersheim).] , London, 1887, ii. 625; cf. Knowling, Testimony of St. Paul to Christ, p. 222, and A. Sabatier, The Apostle Paul, Eng. translation , London, 1891, p. 81). That his knowledge of the details of the common Christian tradition may be traced to this visit and prolonged interview with two of the primary witnesses of the Resurrection is, therefore, altogether probable. As Schmiedel acknowledges, ‘during his fifteen days’ visit to Peter and James (Galatians 1:18 f.), he had the best opportunity to perfect his knowledge on the subject in the most authentic manner’ (Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4057).

Through this visit, therefore, if not indeed already at his conversion, he came into possession of the facts which he had handed on to the Corinthians as the common Christian tradition. Some hold (e.g., W. Bousset, Kyrios Christos, Göttingen, 1913, p. 90 ff.,) that the tradition which St. Paul here repeats, though indirectly derived from the older apostles, was mediated for him by the Hellenistic Christianity of Damascus and Antioch, and suffered modification accordingly. But St. Paul distinctly asserts (Galatians 1:11) that the substance of his preaching in Corinth was identical with that of the other apostles. This is a fact of the first importance. St. Paul’s conversion took place not long after the death of Christ. Lightfoot dated it six or seven years after the Crucifixion, but the trend of more recent criticism is to place it much earlier, within a year or two of this event. Harnack places it in the year following the Death, as do also McGiffert and Moffatt, while Ramsay makes it three or four and Weizsäcker five years after (see article ‘Chronology of the NT’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) i. 424). St. Paul’s visit to Jerusalem, therefore, and his interview with St. Peter and St. James fall possibly within five years, but certainly well within ten years, of the Resurrection. We have, accordingly, in documents which all reasonable critics admit, the clearest evidence as to what the fundamental facts of Christianity were, as taught in the primitive community, within the first decade of the event, those who were primary witnesses of the Resurrection. These were that ‘Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures,’ that ‘he was buried,’ that ‘on the third day he was raised from the dead according to the scriptures,’ and that ‘he appeared’ to His disciples. If St. Paul’s testimony, therefore, proves anything, it proves that the earliest apostolic witness included not only the fact of appearances of the Risen Christ, but the empty grave and the Resurrection on the third day.

(4) One other point in St. Paul’s summary statement is to be noted. The atoning death of Christ (‘for our sins’), and His resurrection on the third day are represented as being ‘according to the scriptures’ (κατὰ τὰς γραφάς, Galatians 1:3 f.). St. Paul’s belief in the Resurrection on the third day has been represented as a deduction or inference from OT prophetic Scripture, based ‘on theological rather than historical grounds’ (Lake, Resurrection of Jesus Christ, p. 264), or as due to a ‘Messianic dogmatic,’ a pre-Christian sketch of the Christ-portrait derived from widespread non-Jewish myths (chiefly Babylonian in origin) and embodied in Jewish writings (see. e.g., T. K. Cheyne, Bible Problems, London, 1904, p. 113). In answer to this it is sufficient here to note that St. Paul claims to stand in this matter precisely on the same ground as the earlier apostles. The gospel be had preached to the Corinthians in its two great affirmations-the atoning significance of the Death and the reality of the Resurrection on the third day-was not, he claims, original to him; he had but ‘handed on’ the tradition which he had himself ‘received.’ The attempt to explain the primitive apostolic belief in the Resurrection on the third day as an inference from Scripture will be considered later (below, IV. ii. 3).

(b) The appearings of the Risen Christ.-St. Paul’s witness to the Resurrection includes, however, not only the rising on the third day but the fact of subsequent appearings of the Risen Lord. In his outline statement in 1 Corinthians 15 the following list of appearances is given: ‘He appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; after that he appeared to over five hundred brethren at once, the majority of whom survive to this day though some have died; after that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also-this so-called “abortion” of an apostle’ (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

The purpose for which St. Paul adduced this list has to be noted, for the consideration of this at once removes certain objections which have been urged against it. There were some members of the Corinthian Church (τινές, 1 Corinthians 15:12) who denied the fact of the resurrection of the dead-not the resurrection of Jesus in particular, but the resurrection of the dead generally. They said, ‘There is no such thing as a resurrection of dead persons’ (ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν 1 Corinthians 15:12; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:29, ‘dead men are not raised at all’ [ὅλως]), asserting a universal negative. Who these τινές were St. Paul does not say, but we know that in his missionary labours among the Greeks the subject of teaching which proved the chief stumbling-block was the resurrection of the dead. In Athens, e.g., we are told that, when he began to speak of the resurrection of dead men (ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν), they derided the very idea, and their manifest impatience and ridicule forced him to terminate his speech abruptly (Acts 17:32; cf. Acts 26:8). These τινές in Corinth shared the prejudice of Greek culture against the idea of a bodily resurrection. They denied the possibility of the fact. They repeated the dogma ‘Dead men do not rise’ as the last word of philosophy, much as in modern times the similar dogma ‘Miracles do not happen’ has been repeated as the last word of science.

To deny the resurrection of the dead is by implication to deny Christ’s resurrection, and to do this is to contravene the Gospel witness, and, further, as St. Paul shows by the reductio ad absurdum argument, to render the whole saving worth of the gospel ineffective (Acts 26:14-18), and to show that they believed the gospel heedlessly or at haphazard (εἰκῇ Acts 26:2) without seriously realizing the facts involved. So, before advancing to the doctrinal discussion which was the real purpose of his argument in this great chapter, St. Paul felt called to rehearse the historical evidence for Christ’s bodily resurrection which he had ‘received,’ and which he had already ‘delivered’ to them by word of mouth when he was among them. In this rehearsal he recalled not only the Burial and the fact of the Resurrection on the third day, but a summary of the chief appearings of the Lord after His resurrection. Whether St. Paul is here giving his own summarized statement of the principal witnesses to the Resurrection or, as some maintain, a stereotyped or formulated summary list which he bad himself received and had handed on to the Corinthians (‘a selection made for purposes of preaching’ [Sanday, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 640a] does not affect the argument. In either case the list given is a summary statement of evidence already received.

The remembrance of this supplies a complete answer to the objections drawn from St. Paul’s omitting to refer to certain appearances recorded in the Gospels. Weizsäcker, e.g., argues from St. Paul’s silence as to the appearance to the women at the grave, recorded in the Gospels, and from his placing the appearance to St. Peter first in his list of Christophanies, to his ignorance of the fact. ‘The only possible explanation is that the Apostle was ignorant of its existence’ (Apost. Age2, i. 5). And from this he proceeds to draw the inference that, since ‘Paul’s knowledge of these things must have come from the heads of the primitive Church, therefore it is the primitive Church itself that was ignorant of any such tradition,’ which is, therefore, a ‘later product’ (p. 6). Such is the conclusion to which Weizsäcker comes on the supposition on which he proceeds that St. Paul is here relating the appearances ‘in order to prove the fact’ of the Resurrection, ‘proof which he under-takes so earnestly and carries out with such precision’ (p. 5). To like effect Schmiedel: ‘By his careful enumeration with “then … next … next … then … lastly” (εἶταἔπειταἔπειταεἶταἔσχατον, Acts 15:5-8) he guarantees not only chronological order but also completeness’ (Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4058). On this ground he argues, like Weizsäcker, from St. Paul’s omission of reference to the appearance to the women to his ignorance of the fact, and hence to the supposition that the Jerusalem Church, from which St. Paul derived his facts, included in its testimony to the Resurrection no such stories of the appearing of Jesus to the women as are now found in the Gospels. It is doubtless a fair inference from St. Paul’s manner of expressing himself that he gives the appearances which he mentions in what he considers their chronological order. So much ‘then … after that …,’ etc., denotes or implies.

But there is nothing to show that he considers his enumeration exhaustive. Indeed, there is everything against it. The statement here given is almost as condensed as it could possibly be, and it is difficult to see how it could ever be mistaken for an exhaustive evidential account of the proofs of Christ’s resurrection. In this list nothing more than the names or numbers of the witnesses are given. No mention is made of locality or other detail of the appearances, not from lack of knowledge but because the Corinthians themselves would be able to fill in the details from memory. The passage is but a recapitulation of oral teaching, giving in a summary fashion what he had enlarged upon in all its circumstances and significance when he was among them. For this summary purpose St. Pant selects the appearances to the leaders of the Church whose names were well known to the Corinthians and would carry weight with them, and who were, like himself, specially chosen and commissioned to be witnesses of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:15; cf. Acts 1:22; Acts 4:33)-Cephas, the Twelve, St. James, all the apostle-mentioning, besides these, only the great crowning manifestation of the Risen Lord to ‘more than five hundred brethren at once.’ This in itself would explain the omission of the appearance to the women which had a more private significance and would not he of special interest to the Corinthians. It may have been on this ground too, as Sanday suggests (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 639b)-‘because the two disciples involved were not otherwise conspicuous as active preachers or prominent leaders’-that the appearing on the way to Emmaus is not mentioned. In any case, the mere omission to mention this appearing or that to the women cannot be held to argue St. Paul’s ignorance of the fact (though this was possible), much less warrant the conclusion that the manifestation of Jesus to the women had no place in the primitive Church tradition.

(2) Whether St. Paul means that that entire list of appearances here given (with the exception, of course, of that to himself) formed part of the original tradition which he had received has been disputed. The grammatical construction continues unbroken to the end of Acts 4:5 (‘that he hath been raised on the third day … and that he appeared to Cephas, then the twelve’) and then changes (‘then he appeared,’ etc.): and some hold that these later appearances were added to the list by St. Paul himself. But it is precarious to make the more grammatical structure of the sentence the basis of reasoning. Such a break is not unusual with St. Paul. Certainly the implied idea would seem to be that St. Paul is here summarizing the common tradition which he had received, and it is natural to suppose that the recapitulation extends to the end of the series. Chase interprets the break in construction, if intentional, as denoting that ‘the Apostle regards the appearances which he mentions as falling into two groups,’ and infers that ‘he places the appearance to Cephas and that to the Twelve among the events “of the third day” (Gospels in the Light of Hist, Criticism, p. 41).

A detailed examination of St. Paul’s summary list will show how far it is in line with the Gospel accounts and confirms the narratives there given.

(i.) ‘He appeared to Cephas.’ The source of St. Paul’s knowledge of this appearance is scarcely open to dispute. When he went up to Jerusalem to ‘visit Cephas,’ who can doubt that while St. Paul had much to say of his experiences on the Damascus road St. Peter told how the Master had appeared to himself on the very day of the Resurrection. Of the Evangelists, Luke alone mention this appearance and assigns to Peter the privilege of being the first apostle to whom the Risen Lore appeared (Luke 24:34). The source of Luke’s knowledge is not difficult to trace.

(ii.) ‘Then to the twelve.’ ‘The twelve’ is here used as the official title of the apostolic body-a technical phrase (cf. Godet, in loc.; Lake, Resurrection of Jesus Christ, p. 37)-without exact regard to number. It is probable that the incident to which St. Paul here refers was the appearance to the Ten in the Upper Chamber on the evening of the Resurrection (Luke 24:36, John 20:19), or the appearance to the Eleven (Thomas being present) a week later (John 20:26); or it may be that St. Paul’s reference would cover both these incidents. It is the fact of the manifestation of the Lord to the assembled company or His selected companions that in referred to, and the absence of Thomas on the day of the Resurrection is an accident. Accordingly, even if others were present on the first of these occasions, as Luke’s language seems to imply (‘the eleven and those that were with them,’ Luke 24:33), the significance the appearance would rest in the recognition of the Lord by His chosen friends.

(iii.) ‘Then he appeared to above five hundred brethren once for all’ (ἐφάπαξ)-rather than ‘at once or simultaneously’ (cf. Romans 6:10, Acts 7:27; Acts 9:12; Acts 10:10)-the implication of ἐφάπαξ being that not only did they see the Lord together but ‘the occasion in question was the only one on which thin large company of disciples had so wonderful an experience’ (CQR [Note: QR Church Quarterly Review.] lxi. [1906] 328). The identity of this appearance with that on a mountain in Galilee recorded in Matthew 28:16 f.-the appearance foretold in the promise of Matthew 28:7; Matthew 28:10 and anticipated in Mark 16:7 -has been maintained by many. And certainly this appearance would seem to require location in Galilee, not in Jerusalem. ‘An appearance to so large a body of disciples at one time could only have taken place on the Galilean hills’ (Swete, Appearances of our Lord after the Passion, p. 82). Matthew, indeed, speaks only of ‘the eleven disciples in connexion with this meeting in Galilee, but in the expression ‘some doubted’ (οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν, Matthew 28:17) there has been found an Indirect indication of the presence of a Larger body. ‘In the small body of the eleven there is hardly room for a “some” ‘(Orr, Resurrection of Jesus, p. 190). Further, as H. Latham (Risen Master, Cambridge, 1901, p. 290) urges, a meeting with the Eleven Only would not have necessitated an appointment in the hill country. It could have been held with perfect safety in a room at Capernaum. Matthew’s speaking only of ‘the eleven disciples’ in connexion with the meeting may be explained by the fact that his interest lay wholly in the commission of the Risen Lord to the apostles which was given at this meeting (cf. Chase, Gospels in the Light of Hist. Criticism, p. 42). The identification can never indeed he more than a probability. Weiss (in loc.) rejects it, and E. von Dobschütz (Ostern und Pfingsten, Leipzig, 1903, p. 34). followed by Harnack and Lake, attempts to identify the appearance with the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the assembled company on the Day of Pentecost. But in any case it is to noted that St. Paul, writing twenty-five years after the Resurrection, says that the majority of those ‘more than five hundred’ were still living and could be interrogated by his readers for themselves as he had doubtless interrogated them. Of this appearance the Apostle makes much, including it even in a summary list; as well indeed he might, for, even if the Eleven could be deceived deceivers, was it credible that their error or their fraud would be shared by so large a company? ‘Some there must have been among them who, as the days went on, would have exposed the imposture or betrayed their doubts. But if any doubts of this kind had arisen, it would have been dangerous for the Apostle to appeal to the survivors of the five hundred in a letter written to Corinth, where he had enemies who were in frequent communication with Jerusalem’ (Swete, Appearances, p. 83 f.).

(iv.) ‘Then ha appeared to James.’ Of this appearance we have no notice in the Gospels. An extra-canonical account of it is found in the fragment of the Gospel according to the Hebrews preserved by Jerome (de Vir. Ill 2), a Palestinian work of the end of the 1st or beginning of the 2nd century. The Lord … went to James and appeared to him; for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from the hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he saw Him raised from the dead.… Bring, the Lord said, a table and bread.… He brought bread, and (Jesus) blessed and brake it and gave it to James the Just and said to him, My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’ This cannot, however, ‘with any confidence be connected with the appearance to James the Lord’s brother of which S. Paul speaks’ (Swete, p. 89 f. cf. J. B. Mayor, Epistle of St. James 3, London, 1910, p. 27). Though not thus referred to elsewhere in the NT, corroboration of the fact may be derived from the light thrown by it on what we are told of the Lord’s brethren after the Resurrection. That they did not believe in Him during the days of His public ministry is recorded in the Fourth Gospel (John 7:5; cf Mark 3:21). After the Ascension, however, we find them included among the little company of believers (Acts 1:14); and within a short time we find St. James in particular president of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 15:13). The natural explanation of the change in contained in St. Paul’s assertion ‘He appeared to James.’ It seems impossible to doubt that St. Paul derived his information direct from St. James himself during his fortnight, visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18); and this appearance is included in the summary because of the special value attached to the testimony of St. James from the fact that he was the eldest brother of the Lord and head of the Jerusalem Mother Church, as well as from the fact of his previous unbelief.

(v.) ‘Then to all the apostles.’ The appearances in this list being set down in chronological order, the incident to which St. Paul here refers may with a reasonable degree of probability be identified with the one appearance

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Resurrection of Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​r/resurrection-of-christ.html. 1906-1918.
Ads FreeProfile