The Resurrection Explained

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The earliest reference to Jesus being raised from the dead appears in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: 

Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers (Corinthians 15.3-6).

Scholars are generally agreed that Paul is quoting from a very early creed, created within a few years of Jesus’ death. Ftbond, a commenter on Escaping Christian Fundamentalism, asks that if this creed was in existence

within a year or two or three after Jesus crucifixion (and, obviously, claimed resurrection), then one must ask: What was so important, so astounding, so amazing, so desirable, so attractive, so encaptivating (sic) and charismatic about that person that anyone would think him to be a “candidate” for resurrection in the first place?

It seems to me all of these questions and attendant adjectives are irrelevant and that ftbond is looking at the resurrection claims the wrong way round.

First, the creed doesn’t refer to ‘resurrection’. ‘He was raised’ is the term favoured by these earliest of Christians, one that doesn’t suggest they could only have had a reanimated corpse in mind.

There is no justification for supposing that ‘he was raised’ meant the same, either in Paul’s mind or that of the creed writers, as ‘bodily resurrection’. To assume they’re the same is to impose all the later accretions of the latter term onto the much simpler earlier one. We know Paul’s ‘risen Christ’ was a ‘revelation’ in his own head (let’s call it an hallucination) and nowhere does he suggest that Jesus was brought back to life in his old body. Paul talks only of Jesus being raised as ‘a life giving spirit’, not a ‘corrupt’ body of flesh at all (1 Corinthians 15.46).

Hallucinations of a ‘raised’ Jesus, then, long preceded the idea that he had returned in the same physical body that two days earlier had died on the cross. The notion that he was alive again resulted from the ‘visions’ – quite possibly dreams – that two or three of his early followers had. They took these visions to mean that Jesus had returned spiritually from beyond the grave.

Others came to believe in the risen Jesus, not because they personally experienced a vision or dream about him (though Paul insists there were some who did), but because of the reports of others experiencing them. Still more became believers as a result of reports of reports (of reports.) These experiences were then incorporated into creeds like the one quoted by Paul, and ultimately into the gospels when they were written 40-100 years later. By that time the original hallucinations were being worked up into real encounters with a Jesus physically resurrected in the flesh.

No-one needed to find Jesus ‘captivating’, ‘astounding’ and all those other adjectives ftbond applies to him; most converts, like Paul, would never even have met him. It is all a matter of interpretation; either a few early believers convinced themselves they’d experienced their late charismatic companion alive again, or, if he didn’t actually exist (and he is so mythic this is a possibility), they concocted a back story for their mystical experiences. The result was the creation of stories about Jesus, largely cobbled together from the ‘Scriptures’ (as Paul all but admits.)

This seems to me to be the most likely explanation of the ‘resurrection’. There is so much special pleading in the gospel accounts, so much that is clearly invented and designed to fulfil prophecy, so many inconsistencies and anomalies, that the entire enterprise smacks of imaginative invention, designed to lend credence to a few people’s innervisions.

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6 thoughts on “The Resurrection Explained

  1. I still find it somewhat ridiculous that so many Christians use the example of “500 witnesses saw the raised Jesus” to show it was true. “How could 500 eyewitness accounts all be wrong?” Well, it wasn’t 500 eyewitness accounts. It was one author of that particular verse of the Bible who claimed there was 500. So it was 1 person claiming of 500 not 500 separate eyewitness accounts. I could say 1 million people saw it. That’s still just my word claiming a million, not 1 million separate claims. Funny how so many people just ignore that fact to push a certain agenda….and people like me used to believe it.

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    • Me too, Ben. I was taken in by verses like this one too.

      In addition to your point, if Paul is quoting from an early creed here, then he’s merely repeating second (third, fourth) hand hearsay. He has no experience of these ‘500’ himself.

      To me the figure is suspicious for other reasons too. It’s rather like we might say today, ‘hundreds of people turned up for the event’ when we’ve really no idea and simply mean ‘quite a lot’.

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  2. Another amazing point, or perhaps not is the fact that there are no verses to be found in the OT about a Christ dying for our sins” according to the scriptures” though Isaiah 53 can be made to fit this bill. But more importantly the next line-he was buried,and raised from the dead on the third day” according to the scriptures”. These “scriptures” have never been found anywhere in the OT or other writings of the time. I can find no good explanation for this and any Christians that I know of who are aware of it have none either.” Imaginative invention” is right on, just imagine these scriptures exist to go along with the story.

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    • You’re right – there are no such scriptures. Matthew does his best to force parts of Hebrew scripture into his Jesus story, none of which was a prophecy in the first place and none of which was about a Messiah sacrificed for sin.

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