Chapter 2: Can the ‘bodily resurrection’ be defended?

Resurrection: A Symbol of Hope
by Lloyd Geering

Chapter 2: Can the ‘bodily resurrection’ be defended?

It is common for people to say that there is much about the resurrection of Jesus that they do not profess to understand, but that the evidence makes it clear that something of a unique and miraculous order occurred, which had the effect of leaving the tomb of Jesus empty, and of convincing the disciples that Jesus was alive in some real sense. However unexpected, strange and bizarre a reported event may appear to us to be, the evidence for it must be given a fair hearing and examination before it can be dismissed as unhistorical.

For those who have defended the traditional interpretation of the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event involving the raising and removal of a physical body, that which has carried most weight is simply the fact that, on a plain reading of the New Testament, the Bible itself seems to give unqualified support to such a view, in some places if not in all. During the long period when the Bible was regarded as being historically accurate at all points and literally inerrant, this argument so clinched the matter that there was nothing more to be said. It was only when this rigid view of scripture came to be questioned, and eventually abandoned by most, that men were free to examine the historicity of the many biblical narratives with the tools of historical method. From this point onwards, it was no longer sufficient simply to say, ‘The Bible says . . .’ in order to win assent.

Nowadays even the most conservative defenders of the ‘bodily resurrection’ of Jesus do not hesitate to support their case by arguments resting on an historical or literary basis. The debate among Christians about the meaning and nature of the resurrection of Jesus has moved from the appeal to inerrant scripture, which was regarded by most until a century ago as being quite sufficient, to the arena where the tools of historical and literary criticism are regarded as legitimate.

The next important line of defense consists in the claim that the New Testament has preserved records of such historical value that their testimony to the ‘bodily resurrection’ establishes it beyond all reasonable doubt as an historical event. Thus E. M. Blaiklock, a classical scholar, claims, ‘The trial and death of Jesus are better documented than most other events in ancient history. The events which follow the trial and death can similarly be submitted to the historian’s scrutiny.’1

When an historian is trying to uncover the facts about some past event, he looks for written material contemporary with the event, especially, if possible, for material which has been written by eye-witnesses of the event. Even an eye-witness may not be wholly reliable, but other things being equal, his word will always carry more conviction than that of a person who is reporting second-hand something which he has been told by others, concerning an event which happened at another place or at an earlier time.

To what extent do the four Gospels meet these requirements, for it is largely upon them that the historical case for the ‘bodily resurrection’ depends? Until last century it was commonly thought that the first and last Gospels were written by the apostles Matthew and John, respectively, and that the second Gospel had been written on the basis of personal recollections which Mark had received from the apostle Peter. This meant that three of the Gospels were written by (or directly dependent upon) men who were eye-witnesses of what they recorded. No historical evidence could be stronger than that, and if these traditions of authorship could be upheld today, they would undoubtedly constitute a very strong case for the traditional view. Those who maintain that the historical evidence for the ‘bodily resurrection’ is strong, usually rely heavily on the traditional view of Gospel authorship.

But these traditions of authorship can be traced no further back than the second century AD. A large number of leading New Testament scholars have now rejected these traditions as unhistorical, leaving us with two conclusions: the first, that none of the Gospels was written by an eye-witness of the events described in it, and the second, that the earliest Gospel, that of Mark, was written thirty-five years or more after the death of Jesus, and the other three Gospels were written nearly sixty years or more after the same point.

Many have been ready to accept this consensus of scholarly opinion on the date and authorship of the four Gospels, but have not realized the shattering implications of this concerning the status of the empty tomb story as historical evidence. C. F. Evans writes, ‘when also it was shown that Mark was the earliest of the Gospels, and that Matthew and Luke had written theirs by reference to his, then the situation was vastly changed. At the heart of the resurrection tradition appeared a vacuum, the nature and meaning of which scholars continue to debate.’2

The long gap between the death of Jesus and the writing of our present records means that we have to reckon with the probability that the traditions about Jesus and his resurrection developed and expanded during the period of oral tradition. Goguel points out that ‘Among the stories to be found in the gospel tradition those concerning the resurrection show the greatest diversity in form and it may therefore be assumed that they have changed the most in the course of development.’3

The inconsistencies and contradictions which exist within the Gospel resurrection narratives have long been known. But so long as the Bible was thought to be inerrant, it was assumed that these contradictions were only apparent. They were usually treated as pieces of a jig-saw puzzle which must be ingeniously fitted together to form one full and more complete narrative. It is now frankly recognized that ‘it is not simply difficult to harmonize these traditions, but quite impossible’.4 Each of the resurrection stories as presently told is complete in itself and is not intended to be added to, or compared with another. Goguel writes, ‘The stories as we have them compel us to admit that they were diverse and incapable of being reduced to a uniform pattern from a very early time.’5

In spite of the diversity in the resurrection narratives there is one important common theme which C. F. Evans draws to our attention when he says, ‘The one element which the traditions, in all their variety, have in common is that the appearance of the risen Lord issued in an explicit command to evangelize the world, yet the early decades of the history of the church, in so far as they are known to us, make it difficult to suppose that the apostles were aware of any such command.’6 Since Paul believed he was pioneering a new missionary policy when he decided to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, it seems either that the conviction that the church’s mission was to the whole world was read back into the resurrection narratives7 or, more likely, that some at least of the resurrection narratives originated and were developed in the post-Pauline period.

When at last it became fashionable to admit that there are irreconcilable contradictions in the four versions of the empty tomb story, this fact was used by many as a popular argument in favor of their essential reliability. The argument goes something like this:

If four people who have witnessed an accident are placed in the witness-box to describe independently what they have seen, they will often vary in their accounts, sometimes with striking inconsistencies, especially if the accident has caused emotional stress. It is only to be expected that, in an event so unexpected and bewildering as the Resurrection, four independent witnesses would certainly tell their story in different ways which could not be reconciled in detail. The very contradictions which now exist among the Gospel versions therefore point to the essential reliability of the witnesses.

It is sometimes added, almost with a note of triumph, that if the four Gospels had said exactly the same, then we would have had real reason to suspect that there had been collusion.

This argument has quite an appeal at first until it is realized that the parallel is a false one. In the first place, as we have seen, the four evangelists were not themselves eye-witnesses, but writers depending upon the traditions received from others. But what is even more striking in this particular case is that, unlike the four witnesses giving their independent testimony, the four Evangelists were not independent. It is generally agreed now that both Matthew and Luke had access to a copy of Mark’s Gospel as they wrote, and that they copied various sections almost unchanged from Mark and adapted others. In the case of the empty tomb story, it can be shown with some degree of probability that Matthew and Luke have used Mark’s story as the basis of their own, and have elaborated it at different points in their own way. Certainly there is more difference between these three and John’s account (and this incidentally greatly increases the degree of contradiction) but it is possible, and perhaps even likely, that John was familiar with one or more of the earlier Gospels, or at least with oral tradition which had been initiated or influenced by them.8

The argument, as outlined above, therefore collapses and we are left with the striking fact that the later the Gospel the more elaborate becomes the story of the empty tomb,9 a phenomenon which is perfectly consistent with a developing and expanding tradition, but one which is inconsistent with eye-witness accounts, where one expects more detail and more reliability the nearer one is in time to the event being described. We may well conclude with C. F. Evans that ‘It is not natural confusion but rather the lack of it, and the influence of rational reflection and apologetic, which have given rise to the contradictions.’10

Arising out of the Gospel traditions there is another common and important argument which runs like this. Jewish authorities tried to stamp out the rapidly growing Christian movement from the beginning. Since Christians were proclaiming that Jesus was risen from the dead, what better way of confounding them could there be than to open the tomb of Jesus, produce the dead body and show with convincing evidence that he had not risen? Why did they not do so? It is unthinkable that the disciples stole the dead body of Jesus and hid it before making their proclamation, for their subsequent behavior, leading sometimes to martyrdom, was simply inconsistent with a faith founded on a known deception. Since it was in the interests neither of the Jews nor of the Christians to have been responsible for removing the dead body of Jesus illicitly, the conclusion to be drawn is that the Jews were unable to produce the body of Jesus simply because they, too, knew the tomb of Jesus to be empty. And the tomb was empty for no other reason than that Jesus had risen bodily to new life and departed.

The fallacy in this argument stems from two hidden premises which have become so much part and parcel of Christian tradition that they are usually assumed at the outset, and remain unexamined even by those who are, in other ways, trying to examine the Gospel evidence on historical grounds. If they can be substantiated, this argument is a very important one, but if not, the argument is rendered invalid. The two premises are that it was common knowledge to both Jew and Christian where the body of Jesus had been buried, and that the resurrection of Jesus was being publicly proclaimed in Jerusalem within a few days after the crucifixion.

We shall look at the latter first. There was certainly an interval between the death of Jesus and the public proclamation that Jesus was risen from the dead. We do not know how long it was. Even the Acts of the Apostles, probably written more than sixty years later, recognizes the gap to have been seven weeks, placing the first public proclamation of the resurrection on the day of Pentecost. Since this Lucan chronology is not confirmed elsewhere in the New Testament, it is by no means certain, and the interval of time may well have been longer, for it is unlikely that later tradition would lengthen the gap rather than shorten it. This means that even if the whereabouts of the tomb of Jesus has been known to the Jews, the gap of seven weeks, and perhaps even longer, was such that there would have been little point in trying to disprove the resurrection claim by this method, for the corpse, if there, would no longer have been in an identifiable state. By the weakness in this premise alone, the argument loses most of its forcefulness. 11

Goguel concludes, ‘If no one thought of making an enquiry about the empty tomb, it can only have been because discussions were raised at such time and place as made enquiry impossible. Either those who affirmed that the tomb was empty lived so far away from Jerusalem or such a long time after the burial of Jesus that their statement could not be verified or else no verification was ever possible because the tomb of Jesus could not be identified. This last seems to be the hypothesis which must be retained.’12

This brings us back to the first and more important premise stated above. Was it common knowledge to both Jew and Christian where the body of Jesus had been buried? Christian tradition has long thought so. It is just here that it is all too easy to beg the question by assuming the historicity of the burial story in order to prove the historicity of the empty tomb. But the burial story is simply the first half of the empty tomb story, for there cannot be an empty tomb of any significance until there is first of all a full one. The question of origin and historicity of this whole story is so important that we must devote the following chapter to it. We shall here take up one or two preliminary points about the historicity of the burial story.

It is interesting to note that Hans von Campenhausen, one of today’s important defenders of the historicity of the empty tomb, twice emphatically affirms the historicity of the burial story but without much supporting evidence. ‘Of course’, he says, ‘it is possible . . . to hold the account of Jesus’s burial to be unhistorical. This, however, in view of the mention of Joseph by name, is quite unwarranted.’13 Later he writes, ‘The name of Joseph of Arimathea and, with it, the account of the burial of Jesus must be historical; they cannot be simply discarded.’14

It is not at all obvious why the mention of a proper name makes the story historical. Stories such as those in the books of Ruth, Esther, Judith, which are nowadays taken as fictional rather than historical, use not only plenty of proper names, but often supply unnecessarily exact details. The very facts that Joseph of Arimathea is never referred to elsewhere, and played no part that we know of in the early church, and that Arimathea is not known from any other source as a place name, actually point to fiction rather than to history.

D. E. Nineham points out that ‘most commentators accept at any rate the basic facts of the story, arguing that Christians would have been unlikely to invent a tradition in which Jesus receives hurried burial from a pious Jew, and his own followers have no part in the proceedings’15 and then goes on to add that ‘scholarly opinion has perhaps been a little inclined to overlook the possible influence of the Old Testament on the story’.16

Once we take into account the capacity of the ancient Jewish mind to create a story as a way of expounding and showing the relevance of a Biblical text (this practice will be described in Chapter 9), it is not at all difficult to see how the story of Joseph of Arimathea could have been partly shaped by Isaiah 53:9, ‘And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death,’ found in the famous chapter on the suffering servant, which was certainly interpreted by the early Christians as a prophecy of the death of Jesus. This verse probably did not originate the story, however, for it is more likely that the origin of the story was a little more complex, as the next chapter will show.

If the burial story were historical, and it consequently showed that the tomb from which Jesus rose was identifiable, we would expect some further interest to have been taken in it by the early church. On the contrary, there is no hint that a particular tomb received any special attention during the years when Jerusalem was the headquarters for the young Christian church. The earliest known search for the particular tomb takes us no further back than the beginning of the fourth century. G. W. Lampe notes, ‘Even assuming that Jesus’ grave was known, which is by no means certain, it seems very possible that neither party was interested in it, or regarded the truth of Easter as dependent on it, until long after the event.’17 We shall now leave further discussion of the historicity of the tomb story until the next chapter. We have opened up the question sufficiently to show that there is a very real possibility that the whereabouts of the burial place of Jesus was not known when his resurrection first began to be proclaimed, and that unless this can be established as an historical fact, that argument for the ‘bodily resurrection’ which we have been considering remains invalid.

We must now turn to the arguments based on the testimony of the apostle Paul. Here we are on much firmer ground than in the case of the Gospel narratives, for not only is it the earliest written testimony to the resurrection (written about twenty to twenty-five years after the death of Jesus), but it is first-hand testimony, and most probably the ‘only written testimony to come from one who could claim to be himself an "eye-witness" of the resurrection’.18 Admittedly Paul, on his own admission, was in a very unusual category. He had not been one of the twelve disciples and, so far as we know, he had never met Jesus during the days of his public ministry. But he was a first-hand witness to the resurrection of Jesus in that it was his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus which brought about his conversion. Moreover, he testifies that he went ‘up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas’ and ‘stayed with him for a fortnight’ and also saw James the Lord’s brother (Gal. I :16-19). Consequently he was well acquainted with the earliest witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, and constitutes our chief historical link with them.

But while Paul’s testimony is, historically speaking, of first-class value, when it comes to the question of the story of the empty tomb and the physical nature of the resurrection, his words, far from bringing firm confirmation of the ‘bodily resurrection’, are open to a variety of interpretations, and, on the whole, point to quite a different view of resurrection. We shall look first at the important passage in Corinthians 15:3-8.

First and foremost, I handed on to you the facts which had been imparted to me: that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised to life on the third day, according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, and afterwards to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred of our brothers at once, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, and afterwards to all the apostles. In the end he appeared even to me.

It is commonly recognized that Paul is here quoting a credal formula, which consequently antedates his letter by some years. Many have seen in the phrases ‘that he was buried’ and ‘that he was raised to life on the third day’ clear confirmation that Paul knew the whole of the tomb story, even though he did not appeal to the discovery of the empty tomb as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. But such an interpretation is by no means the only one.

Marxsen and Wilckens are both adamant that the phrase ‘that he was buried’ ‘belongs in the context of the statement concerning his death: Jesus died and was buried, the fact of his dying is final’.19 This still leaves open the possibility that those who produced the original formula may have known certain traditions about the grave of Jesus. But if Wilckens is right in saying that ‘Paul himself obviously has no concrete knowledge about Jesus’ grave, nor of the finding of the empty tomb’,20 then any such traditions could hardly have been historical, for if so, Paul would certainly have learned of them when he conferred with Peter. Hans von Campenhausen also agrees that ‘this expression may simply be used to underline the reality and apparent finality of the death itself, and say nothing beyond this’.21 We may take the reference to the burial in this early formula to mean simply that there was no doubt about the death of Jesus, a necessary fact to establish if the wonder of the resurrection was to be fully appreciated.

Now we come to the phrase ‘on the third day’. It is often argued very strongly that this can be nothing else than a specific reference to the empty tomb story. There is a fundamental weakness in this claim. The formula ‘on the third day’ refers neither to the time of the discovery of the empty tomb by the women, nor to the time of the first appearances, but to the resurrection itself. This is the very event which no New Testament narrative even attempts either to describe or to date.

We must further note that the phrase ‘on the third day’ is qualified by the words ‘according to the scriptures’, which thus specifically direct our attention back to the Old Testament, rather than to any apostolic tradition about an empty grave. We do not know for certain what Old Testament passage was here intended, but there are some grounds for supposing that it was Hosea 6:2, ‘after two days he will revive us, on the third day he will restore us, that in his presence we may live.’ We shall show in later chapters the role this verse may have played in the developing tradition of the resurrection.

In this chapter we are simply showing that the use of the term ‘on the third day’ does not necessarily mean that Paul was familiar with the account of the empty tomb, and that some scholars feel quite certain that he was not. G. W. H. Lampe says of this important passage, ‘Had he known that the tomb was found empty it seems inconceivable that he should not have adduced this here as a telling piece of objective evidence.’22

It is probable that the term ‘on the third day’ had an origin that was both older and more complex than the empty tomb story, and later chapters will attempt to throw some light on this. In the earliest Christian traditions, ‘on the third day’ seems to have been used synonymously with ‘after three days’, as the use of them both in Matthew 27:63-4 seems to illustrate. But whereas the first form could be held to be consistent with the empty tomb story, the second cannot. It is significant that the earliest Gospel, Mark, uses the term ‘after three days’ consistently in the prediction passages, but where these are quoted in Matthew or Luke the phrase has been changed to ‘on the third day’.23 The change can be explained by saying that between the writing of the first and the later Gospels the story of the empty tomb had become more widely known, and the phrase ‘after three days’, as a dating of the resurrection event, fell out of use.

Because the term ‘on the third day’ qualified when ‘he was raised to life’, and is in turn qualified by ‘according to the scriptures’, we are justified in looking elsewhere than the discovery of the empty tomb for its meaning. C. F. Evans concludes, ‘But, since the resurrection is represented as the hidden act of God himself, no date could be assigned to it, and no one could tell "when" it took place, as opposed to "when" the tomb was found empty or the Lord appeared to men. It would appear, therefore, that "on the third day" is not intended as a chronological but as a theological statement.’24

What then did Paul believe he was affirming when he testified that Jesus had been raised from the dead? Some maintain that even if it cannot be shown conclusively that Paul knew of the empty tomb, his conviction that Jesus was risen would in any case have caused him to assume that the tomb was empty. Neville Clark writes, ‘It is a bodily resurrection that is in question. Any other kind of resurrection would indeed have been almost inconceivable for the Jew.’25 Similarly, D. W. B. Robinson says of the early Christians, ‘it is scarcely conceivable that they concluded he had been raised from the dead without supposing that it was His body in the tomb which had been raised. There simply was no other concept of "resurrection" so far as we know. Modern writers who say they believe in the resurrection, while denying the empty tomb, are using the term "resurrection" in a novel sense of their own. The only kind of resurrection known to the apostolic faith was "the resurrection of the flesh". 26

In later chapters we shall show, with extracts from ancient writings, that far from there being only one view of resurrection, there was in fact a remarkable diversity in the way in which this concept was understood. Further, it will be shown, this diversity continued to some degree among the early Christians and is present in the New Testament, and in spite of the fact that the more materialistic interpretation became dominant by the end of the first century, some diversity of thought continued into the following centuries.

But at this point it is sufficient only to point out that in the chapter of I Corinthians 15 itself, Paul actually discusses the nature of the general resurrection and attempts to answer the question, ‘With what kind of body do they come?’ When he draws such a very clear distinction between the physical body (of the here and now) and the spiritual body (of the resurrection) he is showing quite clearly that in his view resurrection is emphatically not ‘the resurrection of the flesh’. Indeed he goes so far as to say that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’.

Paul does not hesitate to affirm the common Old Testament belief that man’s present body of flesh, being made from the dust of the earth, is destined to return to the earth, for in this life ‘we have worn the likeness of the man made of dust’. For Paul the spiritual resurrection body is related to the body of dust which perishes, but is not to be identified with it, and this is well illustrated by his simile of the seed, which is placed in the ground to die in order that the new life may shoot forth. There is thus in Paul’s thought never any possibility of confusing resurrection with resuscitation, as there is in the Gospel narrative of the empty tomb.

While Paul’s thought is by no means always clear, and perhaps from letter to letter not always exactly the same, it is nevertheless certain that his concept of resurrection can be clearly distinguished from that of the traditional ‘bodily resurrection’.27 Paul does not speak in terms of the ‘same body’ but rather in terms of a new body, whether it be a ‘spiritual body’,28 ‘the likeness of the heavenly man’,29 ‘a house not made by human hands, eternal and in heaven’,30 or, a ‘new body put on’ over the old.31 In using various figures of speech to distinguish between the present body of flesh and blood and the future resurrection body, he seems to be thinking of both bodies as the externals which clothe the spirit and without which we should ‘find ourselves naked’.32 But he freely confesses that the ‘earthly frame that houses us today’33 may, like the seed, and man of dust, be destroyed, but the ‘heavenly habitation’, which the believer longs to put on, is already waiting in the heavenly realm, for it is eternal by nature.

Was Paul thinking in terms of this view of resurrection when he affirmed that Jesus was raised from the dead? We have no good reason to think that he was not, for in I Corinthians 15 he draws no distinction between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the believer. On the contrary he speaks of the resurrection of Jesus as being ‘the first fruits’ of the resurrection to come. On the basis of what Paul writes in this chapter we are justified in saying that if someone had offered to show Paul where the decayed corpse of Jesus could be found, Paul would have shown no interest, for the dead body would have been to him no more than the dead seed, the man of dust, the earthly frame, and Paul himself had seen the risen Jesus in his glorified form, and that was all that mattered.

We may go further and say that if the resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection hoped for by the Christian, are two different things, then Christian faith itself becomes vulnerable at quite another point. So G. W. H. Lampe writes: ‘if his body was raised physically from the grave and did not see corruption, or if his body was transformed after death into something different, in such a way that in itself it was annihilated, then he did not experience the whole of our human destiny. . . . For it is demonstrable that our bodies of flesh and blood will be dissolved, and that in whatever mode of existence we may be raised from death it will not be by either the resuscitation of this mortal body or its transformation.’34

We have now looked at the arguments for ‘bodily resurrection’ based on appeal to the Gospel narratives and have shown that while they certainly support this view of resurrection, some to a lesser, some to a greater degree, the historicity of the narratives is seriously open to question. We have looked at the testimony of Paul, whose first-hand witness meets the historical tests, but we have found a view of resurrection which points away from the raising of a physical body to that of a spiritual body.

We shall now deal with one final argument. It has to do with the integrity of the first Christians. Defenders of the traditional view too often draw the conclusion that if the Gospel narratives of the resurrection are not historically true, then it makes the apostles and early Christians to be liars. All would agree that there is something faulty with any line of reasoning which has this as its necessary conclusion, because on all other grounds the witness recorded in the New Testament leaves us with an impression of men whom we have every reason to trust for their honesty and integrity.

New Testament scholarship presents us today with the probable conclusion that none of the New Testament was actually written by those who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus, except Paul, and we are not here concerned with his letters, but with the Gospel narratives. There was a long gap between the death of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels as we now have them, and the process by which the Gospel resurrection narratives came into their present form is a very complex one, which we shall discuss in Chapter 11.

We need to appreciate the way in which a story grows and develops in the course of being frequently passed on. Unless a story is learned by heart and word by word, and most are not, it will contain some new incidental elements, new interpretations or emphases, each time it is personally recounted. This is no reflection at all on the integrity of the narrator.

Then we need to allow for the story-creating genius of the Jewish people, which included the first Christians. To put it baldly, a Jew told stories where a Greek might have philosophized in abstract words. Jesus told parables as the most effective way of describing the Kingdom of God. Those who read Esther and Judith, and those who heard the parables. were not as concerned to distinguish between history and fiction as we may be. Since this was the context in which stories of Jesus were being orally transmitted, we must allow for a good deal of remolding before they came into the possession of the Evangelists. We must even allow for the rise of wholly new stories, deliberately created as the most effective form of Christian proclamation and of describing Jesus as Lord and Messiah.

From the material available the Evangelists made their selection and each adapted it for the particular theme he wished to develop in his Gospel. Each Gospel was no doubt intended, and sincerely believed, by its author to be true in every real sense, but at the same time it could not help but bear the stamp of the limitations under which each author worked. The result is that, as C. F. Evans has noted about the reported words of the risen Christ, ‘Not only does the Lord not say the same things in any two gospels, but that it is hardly the same Lord who speaks. In Matthew it is evidently a Matthaean Lord who speaks, in Luke a Lukan Lord and in John a Johannine Lord.’35

Luke is generally recognized as the Evangelist who comes nearest to our form of history-writing. But the preamble to his Gospel ‘does not mean that we have in Luke historically more reliable information; it merely tells us something of his intentions. Luke was not like the modern secular historian, and therefore we should not think of him as such, nor should we tacitly assume that his writings were the outcome of modern methods.’36 Neither are we justified in charging Luke, or the other Evangelists, with fabricating falsehood. It is we who do them and the early Christians an injustice if we insist on reading back the concerns and methods of our own time into their setting, where they do not properly belong.

Apart from what may be claimed for the empty tomb story, to which we presently turn, we have now surveyed the chief arguments used to support the traditional view, known as ‘bodily resurrection’, and have shown why many scholars nowadays fail to find them convincing.



1. Layman’s Answer, p. 71.

2. Resurrection and the New Testament, p. 67.

3. The Birth of Christianity, p. 56.

4. C. F. Evans, op. Cit., p. 128.

5. op. cit., p. ~8.

6. Op. Cit., p. 130.

7. Thus C. F. Evans, op. cit., p. 152.

8. There is no evidence that John’s Gospel is directly dependent upon the Synoptic Gospels.

9. This conclusion is based on the following commonly accepted dating: Mark AD. 65-70, Matthew AD. 80-90, Luke AD. 85-90, John AD. 90-100.

10. Op. Cit., p. 129.

11. Some regard Matt. 27: 62-6, 28:11-15, as evidence that the Jews did in fact examine the tomb. But this tradition, found no earlier than Matthew’s Gospel, more than fifty years after the event, almost certainly stems from much later apologetic, suggesting, as it does, that the Jews, unlike the disciples, were ready for the Resurrection even before it happened.

12. op. cit., p. 36.

13. Tradition and Life in the Church, p. 57.

14. ibid., p. 76. So also Pierre Benoit, The Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, p. 229. ‘He [Joseph of Aramathea] is certainly historical; we know his position and his birthplace; he makes himself felt, in the gospel narratives, as a man of flesh and blood.’

15. The Gospel of St Mark, p. 433.

16. ibid.

17. op. cit., p. 53.

18. C. F. Evans, op. cit., p. 42.

19. The Significance of the message of the Resurrection for Faith in Jesus Christ, p. 57.

20. ibid., p. 58.

21. op. cit., p. 55.

22. op. cit., p. 43.

23. Mark 8:31 (Cf. Matt. 16:21, Luke 9:22), 9:31, 10:34.

24. op. cit., p. 48.

25. Interpreting the Resurrection, p. 82.

26. op. cit., p. 26.

27. See G. H. C. Macgregor, ‘The Growth of the Resurrection Faith’, Expos. Times, Vol. L, p. 217-20.

28. 1 Cor. 15:44.

29. 1 Cor. 15:49.

30. 2 Cor. 5:1.

31. 2 Cor. 5:4.

32. 2 Cor. 5:3.

33. 2 Cor. 5:1.

34. op. cit., p. 59.

35. op. cit., p. 67.

36. W. Marxsen, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 156.