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Christian beliefs about Jesus' bodily resurrection

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bullet"When this frightened band of apostles suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society... Then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation." Dr. Pinchas Lipide. 1
bullet"The most powerful sign of all that Jesus is who he claims to be, namely the Son of God, is his resurrection from the dead. This is a question with huge implications: Did it happen? Is the Resurrection story the great exception to the 'usual dreary end of human life?' Many now consider the Resurrection to be one of the most sure and certain events of history." 2  Rev. Gary W. Jensen.
bullet"...I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die...." Yeshua of Nazareth, a.k.a. Jesus Christ. 3

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Overview of Christian beliefs:

The writers of all four canonical Gospels described the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, as they understood it had happened. Paul also mentions these events in some of his Epistles. Liberal, mainline, and conservative Christians tend to differ greatly over the accounts of the resurrection in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

bulletFundamentalist, other Evangelical and some mainline theologians, clergy and laity generally believe that:
bulletMatthew, Mark, Luke and John were the names of the actual authors of the four canonical Gospels.
bulletAs a minimum, at least John was a disciple of Jesus who traveled with him throughout his ministry and was present as a witness at his crucifixion.
bulletThe Gospels record the authors' direct and indirect memories of real events, in some cases supplemented by memories of other followers of Yeshua.

Further, they believe that:

bulletThe Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Bible in their writing.
bulletThe text Bible is inerrant -- free of errors.
bulletBiblical passages are generally to be interpreted literally.

Thus, when the gospels describe how Jesus was executed, laid in a tomb, and was bodily resurrected on the third day, there is little or no room for further debate about the basic facts. Jesus' bodily resurrection must have happened in precisely that way. Internal biblical conflicts over the details of the events of Easter morning -- e.g. exactly who visited the tomb, who did they see there, when did they arrive, etc. -- are simply details to be harmonized  through intellectual effort.

Many mainline Christians and some liberal Christians do not accept the strict inerrancy or inspiration of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). However, they do believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected about a day and a half -- 36 hours -- after his execution by the Roman army.

Many liberal Christians believe that the resurrection story is a Christian myth: a story filled with spiritual significance, but unrelated to historical events. Some believe that the resurrection story and many other elements of Yeshua's life were copied from other real or mythical characters identified as saviors, god-men or heroes, such as Horus, Osiris, Dionysus, and Krishna. 

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Proofs that the resurrection happened:

As described above, those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible accept the resurrection of Jesus to be a fact of history. The biblical authors describe Jesus execution and his later appearance to his followers fully. They refer to it often. Paul, in particular, wrote that people are saved as a result of believing in the resurrection of Yeshua.


bulletOver 500 witnesses visited by Jesus after his execution.
bulletThe empty tomb with its burial cloths neatly folded were seen by the visitor(s) on Sunday morning, but no corpse remained. None has ever been found.
bulletThe gospel stories of the tomb ring true. If they were a hoax, then the authors would not have had women first discover the empty grave. They would have tried to improve the credibility of their story by having men make the discovery.
bulletThe early Christians, all Jews, abandoned their observance of the Sabbath and worshiped on Sunday -- the day of the resurrection.
bulletThe early Christians believed and taught that Jesus' resurrection was the first of many to follow. If we "are not going to resurrect after death, then this life on earth is meaningless, like a nightmare, without any sense… Hamlet would have been right, 'life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing'… but earthly life is filled with meaning, because there is an afterlife..." 4

There is evidence external to the Bible that it really happened:

bulletJust after Jesus' execution, the apostles were completely demoralized and hiding in fear. Yet shortly afterwards, they were filled with courage and aggressively started to spread the Gospel message. Eventually, according to legend, all died as martyrs. It is unreasonable to believe that they would die for a belief that they knew to be a lie.
bulletWith the resurrection at the core of the Gospel message, the church rose, took on the Roman Empire and eventually triumphed over it.

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Other arguments in favor of the resurrection:

bulletCreating a fictional account of the resurrection would have been counter-productive. Ben Witherington III argues in his book "New Testament History" that the concept of bodily resurrection "was not a regular part of the pagan lexicon of the afterlife at all, as even a cursory study of the relevant passages in the Greek and Latin classics shows." 5 Also, Pinchas Lipide, an Orthodox Jewish scholar argues in his book "The Resurrection of Jesus - A Jewish perspective" 1 that the concept of God resurrecting the dead has long been a part of Jewish belief.

Most liberal and mainline Christian theologians believe that the Gospels, and their accounts of the resurrection, were written after 70 CE, when the bulk of the Christian movement was mainly active among the Gentiles. The other main Christian group, the Jewish Christians had been largely decimated and scattered by the Roman Army during and after their attack on Jerusalem. Thus it makes no sense for the late 1st century church to have fabricated and documented a fictional account of Jesus' resurrection. To do so would have enhanced Christianity's chances of converting Jews, but would have inhibited their opportunity to find converts among the Gentiles. Thus, Witherington concludes that the resurrection story could not have been fiction.

Most conservative Christians believe that the Gospels were written much earlier, at a time when the Christian movement was largely Jewish. Thus, the above argument would not be convincing. This is a moot point, because most conservative Christians believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and thus accept the resurrection stories as literally true. No additional proof is needed.

bulletHaving women being the first to see Jesus would have been counter-productive: The four gospels say that Mary Magdelene (alone or with other women; the gospel accounts differ) were the first to visit the tomb and find it empty. Ben Witherington III writes: "Given the patriarchal world of the earliest Christians, it is not believable that a missionary-minded group would make up such a story....It is not believable that early Christians made up stories about women, and particularly Mary Magdalene, as the first and foremost validating witnesses of the risen Lord. This is not credible especially because the writers of these Gospels, like other early Christians, were hoping for more converts." 5 He concludes that the story must be true.

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  1. Pinchas Lipide, "The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective," Fortress Press, (1988), Page 125. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. Rev. Gary W. Jensen. "Jesus Christ: His identity, life, death & resurrection," ChristianAnswers.net, at: http://www.christiananswers.net/jesus/
  3. John 11:25-26, King James Version of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).
  4. Dr. Dominguez, "The 'Testament of Jesus' in His Resurrection," at: http://biblia.com/christ/
  5. Ben Witherington III, "New Testament History: A Narrative Account," Baker Book House, (2001) Read reviews or order this book

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Copyright © 1998 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Essay last updated: 2004-SEP-6
Written by. B.A. Robinson

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