It is hard to exaggerate the importance of Jesus’s resurrection to Christianity, for Christ’s resurrection truly stands at the very center of the Christian faith. It serves both as a crucial Christian doctrine and as the faith’s most potent argument: If Jesus actually conquered death, then there is no more important news for all human beings to hear and to reflect upon. Easter really matters.
8. Plentiful Early References to Jesus’s Resurrection in the Apostle Paul’s Letters
Some critics of Christianity have asserted that the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) appear too long after the events of Jesus’s life to carry credible testimony. There is also the concern that there are too few claims to Jesus’s resurrection made by the early eyewitnesses.
While I addressed the short time span between the events of Jesus’s life and the eyewitnesses claims back in my post on evidence #3, a little more explanation is helpful here. First, the four gospels are much closer in time to Jesus’s life than are other ancient testimonies to both religious figures (Gautama, Confucius) and secular figures (Socrates, Caesar).
Second, not only are Paul’s references to the resurrection early (considerably earlier than the four gospel accounts), but they are abundant in nature. Paul’s epistles contain numerous references and descriptions of Jesus’s resurrection.
Third, some of Paul’s statements about the resurrection reflect primitive Christian creeds and hymns (see Philippians 2; Colossians 1) that date much earlier than even his earliest written letters. For example, Paul’s earliest epistles were written about 20 years after Jesus’s resurrection. But the creeds and hymns that he weaved into his writings were being recited and sung by Jewish Christians back to within a few months or years of Jesus’s resurrection.
9. The New Testament Accounts of Jesus’s Resurrection Do Not Resemble Later Apocryphal Stories
The accounts of Jesus’s resurrection came from eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses. The recollections of these witnesses involve descriptions of historical, factual events. And the narrative of Jesus’s resurrection involves his physical body being raised and empirically examined, not merely rising as a spirit as in later apocryphal stories of subjective religious visions.
The apostolic reports of Jesus’s resurrection are early, plentiful, and very different than other so-called resurrection accounts.
Reflections: Your Turn
Why is it important that the sources that stand behind Jesus’s resurrection be early, plentiful, and distinct from other religious accounts?
- I address the resurrection of Jesus in two of my books, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (see chapter 10) and 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas (see chapters 1 and 2).
- I also recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona and Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb by William Lane Craig.
- A further recommended source is N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.