Question:    [editor’s note: this is a rather long question with an even longer answer, so be patient]

I came across a write up on the fact/fiction of the Resurrection of the Lord here

My questions to you won’t focus on street epistemology but on the last comments of this article from Bob. His line of argument has a primary focus on one thing: that the accounts of the Lord’s resurrection is consistent with “legendary development” rather than being reliable accounts of history. It means that the accounts from Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John have grown to be more dramatic than the earlier ones as time went by. If I may sum up his arguments, here is how it goes:

1. Paul to his letter to the Corinthians never explicitly mentioned an empty tomb. When he said in 1 Cor 15:5-8 that “Jesus appeared to them and appeared to me, too”, it implies that the nature of appearance of Jesus’ resurrection is the same between that of the early Apostles and disciples, and that of Paul. Since the Lord appeared to Paul spiritually through a vision, it is consistent to infer that Paul may think that the risen Christ appeared also only spiritually to the early Apostles and disciples. Note that the nature of His appearance (bodily vs only spiritually) will be used against the reliability of resurrection accounts later.

2. Paul only said the Lord was raised from the death on the 3rd day. He could have meant that He was raised/exalted to the heaven spiritually rather than revived to earth with a glorified body. (This is sort of similar to Muslim’s argument that the Lord didn’t die but only exalted after Jesus died at a later point in time.)

3. This person then concluded that in chronological order of when the accounts were created, here is what happened:

– Paul: only visions of Jesus and nothing physical
– Mark: the earliest manuscript only reported the empty tomb and nothing about bodily resurrection (your knowledge on manuscripts is very much appreciated)
– Matthew: first appearance in Galilee which some doubt ( Mt 28:17)
– Luke: appeared in Jerusalem, not in Galilee. (I recall your explanation that this happened at a different time). In this account, Jesus got inspected, ate fish, then ascended to heaven.
– John: Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of the apostles (this person put it in a more negative way) and Thomas story happened

He further mentioned that the argument that the Gospel of Mark was influenced by Peter is based on a poor evidence because aside that there is no internal evidence of this (Peter was never mentioned as being the influence in the Gospel of Mark), the reason why this is a common knowldge was because Papias in the 2nd century said so. Yet, his description doesnt match the canonical Mark (I am honestly lost here on what description this person meant. But I think what this person is trying to do is to remove the connection between Paul being Peter’s acquaintance and the Gospel of Mark, which is the earliest Gospel there is. So the two accounts didnt come from the same source so to say).

Thanks if you are still reading this, so the biggest questions I have in mind is:
1. How would you prove or explain the missing information throughout the Gospels and Paul’s accounts? I remember that you mentioned these are independent accounts so it only makes sense that the explanations differ. Yet there is no contradiction in them. What bugs me is whether the chronological issues he mentioned is founded by the evidence? Meaning, is this consistent with how legends usually develops?

2. I subtly remembers you did explain something about Papias in your book Reliability of the Bible. But since I only have the hard copy, I couldnt find the reference easily. Would appreciate it if you could provide info on how do we know that Peter is the influence of the Gospel of Mark?

Thank you so much for yur help and have a nice day!


Thank-you for considering my time.  Actually, right now I am very busy, as I am in Togo on a teaching trip, but I just so happen to have some time before my next appointment, so God has provided a chance for me to respond.

First of all, the chronology of this critic is most likely correct.  Scholars will most often (but without complete certainty) say that 1 Corinthians came first, then Mark, then Matthew or Luke, then John.  It is possible that Mark is before 1 Corinthians or that Matthew precedes Mark, but these are somewhat less likely scenarios.

I would say that this person’s proposal is not silly or ludicrous or simple-minded as are so many criticisms of Christianity and the Bible out there.  This person is a relatively more honest and careful commentator, although his bias that there is no miraculous intervention and that the Bible simply cannot be inspired just so happens to come from a worldview which is flat out wrong, but never mind that, his contentions deserve a reasoned response.  And I would say yes to the question of whether his proposal that if the physical resurrection was a myth, then it is logical that accounts of its physicality would evolve over time.  This part of his argument is logical.  The question is whether the evidence supports the conclusion.

The contention, then, is that Jesus did not bodily resurrect, or at least that the earliest belief of the church was that Jesus did not resurrect–that his bodily resurrection is a “myth,” created after something like AD 60 by the writers of the later gospels.

I will say that his chronology argument is not completely a fraudulent one.  The question is whether it is a correct one.  Does the order of the accounts reveal a change in teaching?  This raises two questions.  First, was John, an eye witness to the events a false witness and, essentially a liar when he said that Thomas touched the side of Jesus?  And second, is what was said by Paul in fact evidence that he did not believe in the bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus?  It is my strong belief that the answer to the first question is straightforward and clear, but the answer to the second is difficult to establish with absolute certainty, at least based on the evidence we have at hand.

John was no liar and he was no inventor of tales in order to create a false belief in a false resurrection.  He tells us more than once that what he tells us is true and that these are the things he saw with his own eyes.  This is implied by John 20:30, John 19:35 demonstrate this.  If we are to charge someone with outright fabrication, then we must provide actual evidence that they are lying.  This is particularly true with a man of such well-known integrity as the apostle John.  We must give a presumption that John is not lying unless we have reason to believe that he is lying and this author presents no evidence to support his conclusion.  That the very early church believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is established by the fact that the resurrection was taught from the very birth of the church, which even the skeptics will agree was the case.  Bottom line, the tomb contained a real, physical body and that body was no longer there.  It physically left the tomb and hundreds at least believed they saw a physically resurrected person, as John certainly claims (also see 1 John 1:2 which would make the author of that letter a big fat liar if Jesus did not indeed resurrect physically).  In conclusion on the first question, unless this man can present real actual evidence to support his contention that John was an intentional liar, then his presumption is not well supported by evidence, and is therefore extremely likely to be false.

The harder question is whether we can “prove” that Paul, in his writings, made clear statement that Jesus resurrected physically.  The author of this article makes a good point when he tells us that Paul’s vision of Jesus may very well not have been of a physical being.  It may have been, but there is nothing in Acts 9 or 20 or 22 to prove that his vision was of a physically resurrected Christ.  Of course, even if Paul never actually said that Jesus was physically resurrected would not prove that he did not believe this.  As they say, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.  However, Acts 9, 20 and 22 aside, did Paul say something which proves that he believed in a bodily resurrection.  Aye, as they say, that is the question!  I believe the evidence from 1 Cor 15 very strongly supports the belief that Paul believed in a physical resurrection of US, and therefore, also of Jesus.  In 1 Cor 15:35-44 Paul describes a different kind of body, but a body nevertheless.  It is less “natural” and more “spiritual” but nevertheless it is a body and the Greek there implies something physical.  I will admit that my evidence about Paul’s belief in a physical resurrection of our bodies, and therefore also of Jesus’ body is not a slam dunk, but I believe it is the most reasonable interpretation of what he said.  Of course, I can, as a Christian, invoke my conviction that all scripture is inspired by God and that, therefore Luke and John cannot be wrong, but this will not be convincing to an atheist.

About Luke and Matthew, it is absolutely incontrovertible that both taught a physical resurrection.  I do not know what he is even trying to say there.  Luke has people touching Jesus (Luke 24:39).  What more evidence do we need?  Similarly, there is not the slightest doubt that Matthew believed in and claimed in his gospel a physical resurrection.  The question of Mark is lest certain.  Basically, he has a very truncated version of the resurrection appearances of Jesus for reasons chosen by Mark (although some believe that the actual ending which, presumably would include claims of bodily resurrection, but this is speculation).  He simply does not say anything either way about the nature of the resurrected Jesus.  However, what he does report is that the physical body of Jesus was no longer there in the physical tomb.  He also reports the resurrection.  Logically, the resurrection was a physical one, otherwise where was the body which was raised?  In any case, Mark’s gospel was published quite close in time to Matthew and Luke, so I will let the evidence of Matthew and Luke stand.  The apostles taught that Jesus was bodily resurrected in the 60s AD for sure.

So, all we are left with is the fact that the words of Paul do not absolutely smoking gun-style “prove” that Paul believed in the bodily resurrection.  But we know that Paul interacted in Jerusalem with apostles who certainly did teach the bodily resurrection, so the claim that he did not believe in or teach this is a huge stretch in my opinion and this person is basing his argument on speculation based on lack of information and it should be rejected outright in my opinion.

As for Papias, he certainly is the earliest reporter as to the relationship between Mark and Peter, but then again Origen and Tertullian and Augustine also mention this.  He is not the only one.  He is simply the first and there is no voice which contradicts this claim.  All I can say is that the Christians in the second century apparently believed that Mark wrote what he had heard from Peter directly and, in the absence of contravening evidence, this is a very likely but not proved claim.

This is all I have time for now, and I hope it is sufficient.

John Oakes

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