Doctrine of Christ (part 14)

December 06, 2011     Time: 00:36:00

We have been talking about the work of Christ on the cross. But, of course, that is only one side of the coin. The other side of that same coin is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The message that the early apostles believed and preached was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was “put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification,” says Paul in Romans 1:4. So we now want to turn to a closer examination of that other side of the coin: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

The Work of Christ – His Resurrection

Scriptural Data

For our Scriptural data on this subject, I want to turn to just two central passages in the New Testament.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is the first Scripture that we want to turn to. In these verses, Paul is passing on a prior tradition that he himself received and in turn mediated to the church in Corinth. We know this from the vocabulary that he uses, for one thing. In verse 3, the words “delivered to you what I also received” are the typical rabbinical terms for the transmission of tradition. This passage, then, in verses 3 to 5 is filled with all sorts of non-Pauline characteristics – traces of primitive Aramaic, for example, the language of the New Testament church in Jerusalem.1 So what this suggests is that Paul is, as he says explicitly, passing on here to the Corinthians the tradition about Christ that he also received. This tradition has been dated by New Testament scholars to within five years after the crucifixion of Jesus. So we are dealing here with some of the earliest, most primitive, materials in the New Testament.

What does Paul say? He says in verse 3, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,” and now comes this four line formula: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,” or Peter, that is the Aramaic word for “Peter,” the name for him, “then to the Twelve.” So notice here that Paul lists as part of the four essentials of the Gospel the death of Christ for our sins, his burial, his resurrection on the third day, and then his postmortem appearances to various individuals and groups.

The other passage that I wanted to read is also from some of the earliest material that is found in the New Testament. This is Mark’s story in chapter 16.1-8 of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. Now Mark’s Gospel is generally agreed to be the earliest of the four Gospels. Matthew and probably Luke used Mark in writing their own Gospels, and so Mark is the earliest of the four. But Mark didn’t just sit down at his desk one day and write the Gospel. He, too, is using prior traditions about Jesus that he received and then incorporated into his Gospel. One of these prior traditions seems to have been what’s called the Passion Story, that is to say, the story of the final week of Jesus’ life. Up until that point in Mark’s Gospel, you find little vignettes or anecdotes about Jesus that are not always chronologically connected. They are rather like pearls strung on a necklace – individual little units or stories about Jesus that Mark passes on. But when you come to the story of Jesus’ passion, here you do have one continuous running narrative that goes all the way through the last week of Jesus’ life and ends with the discovery of the empty tomb. So this is material, again, that is even earlier than the Gospel of Mark, is extremely primitive and goes back to the New Testament church in Jerusalem. Let’s read this passage together:

And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back – it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’ And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

In this story of the empty tomb, we discover something that you don’t have explicitly mentioned in Paul (though I think it is presupposed), and that is that on the first day of the week, following Jesus’ crucifixion, his tomb was found empty by this group of women followers of Jesus. So in Paul we have a list of these eyewitnesses of appearances of Jesus after his death – a list of witnesses to these postmortem appearances of Jesus. And here in the Gospel we have reference not only to the postmortem appearances in Galilee (he says, “There you will see him”), but you also have the story of the discovery of his empty tomb.


Question : Why didn’t you keep reading on into Mark?

Answer : OK! The longer ending to the Gospel of Mark that you find in your King James Bible does not belong to the best family of manuscripts. It comes from the so-called Byzantine family of manuscripts, which has a lot of corruption to the text. It has additional verses that are thrown in that did not belong to the original text. So in almost every modern translation, you will find the longer ending in a footnote or somehow bracketed because what happens after verse 8 isn’t part of the original Gospel of Mark.

Now the real question then is: did the Gospel of Mark end with verse 8 or was the original ending lost? Certainly Mark foreshadows more events to come. You would think they go on to Galilee, just as you have in the Gospel of Matthew. There they would see Jesus, perhaps on the mountaintop, as Matthew relates. But maybe Mark was content to simply foreshadow these events rather than to narrate them. So whether or not the original ending was lost or whether this is the original ending with verse 8, this is the authentic material that we have to work with, and what follows in verse 9 and following is a later corruption of the text.

Question : In Mark 16:8 it says “trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb; they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” Then in Matthew it says the women ran and told the disciples. How do we reconcile that?

Answer : I think it is very clear that Mark did not mean that the women remained silent for the rest of their lives2 and went to their graves never telling anybody about this! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have this story, right? So I think Mark’s clear meaning is that they fled from the tomb, they were terrified, they ran to the disciples, and didn’t stop along the way to tell anybody about what had happened until they got to the disciples. Then they told them, and we know from the other Gospels that then Peter and the Beloved Disciple came back to the tomb to inspect it, to see if what the women had said was true or not. So I think that that is pretty clearly Mark’s intention – not to think that this was a permanent silence that they kept for the rest of their lives.

Question : I had a question about the creed in 1 Corinthians. I’ve heard a lot about how scholars date this to within the first few years of the early church, but I’ve never really understood how exactly they know that. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little on that.

Answer : Good! In 1 Corinthians 15, we have this four line formula. I don’t like to call it a creed. Sometimes it is called that, but Paul doesn’t introduce it in a creedal way by saying, “This is what we believe.” He actually introduces it as a summary of the early apostolic preaching. Verse 11: “Whether then it was I or they, so we preached and so you believed.” So he presents this as a summary of the message that he and all the other apostles preached. Now the question then is: when did Paul get this tradition? Well, we know that Paul began to preach the Gospel already when he was in Damascus, right? Three years after Jesus’ death, Paul is converted around AD 33. Three years after the event on the Damascus road, in AD 36 he goes back to Jerusalem and spends two weeks with Peter and James. Certainly at that time, if not earlier, he would have received the formula. That is why scholars say it had to be within the first five years after Jesus’ death because by AD 36 Paul is already back in Jerusalem talking first hand with Peter and James – interestingly enough, the very two individuals that are named in this passage. I think that gives good reason for thinking it went back at least to that.

But as I say, Paul was already preaching in Damascus. He didn’t just go off to Arabia and stay there for three years. He says, “I went off to Arabia and then returned to Damascus.” He was involved in preaching the Gospel in Damascus. So Paul was already aware of the content of the Gospel. If this tradition comes out of the mother church in Jerusalem, as seems probable, given the semitisms that characterize it, I think that it is not at all unlikely that Paul already knew this tradition before he visited Peter and James in AD 36. He got it soon after his conversion in AD 33. In either case, this represents extremely early material that is much earlier than the letter itself, which was written around AD 55.

Question : I guess I’ll just give a comment . . . objection – why should we consider this historical in the first place? I know it is ancient biography, we know it is early, we know there is lots of manuscripts, but on what grounding do we have to say this passion story is real history and therefore it has to be addressed? I think some people like, maybe, a Richard Carrier would try to argue against such a view.

Answer : We will talk about that later when we look at what evidence there is to think that these are reliable accounts. So hang on to that question until later! Right now, I just wanted to share what the New Testament affirmation about the resurrection of Jesus is, and then we will see different ways to interpret it or explain it. I will defend its historicity later on.

Question : I have a question about the 1 Corinthians creed. You say that Paul is presupposing an empty tomb for that. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit more on that. As some critics like to point out, why doesn’t Paul specifically mention the empty tomb, and couldn’t maybe he have believed in spiritual resurrection?

Answer : OK! Notice in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul does not mention the empty tomb. But I think the reason for that is obvious – namely, the subject of all four clauses is “Christ.” The empty tomb isn’t something that Christ did. He wants to say Christ died, was buried, was raised, and appeared. So the mention of the empty tomb wouldn’t fit in very well with this. But saying, “he was buried and was raised,” in the mind of a first century Jew, meant the grave was empty. Nobody would have said, “Well, he was buried and was raised; but was the body still in the grave?” The idea of resurrection for a first century Jew was a physical event that primarily concerned the bones in the grave.3 It was the bones that were the primary object of the resurrection. That is why the bones were always carefully preserved in ossuaries for the resurrection at the end of world history. It would be the bones that God would raise and clothe with flesh and give new life to. The Jewish concept of resurrection was universally, without exception, the idea of a bodily, physical event. So when Paul says, “he was buried and he was raised,” I think he clearly had in mind, and the formula had in mind, the idea of a physical resurrection and an empty grave.

Let me point out one other very, very interesting feature, though, that connects nicely with Acts 13 that we heard about. That is this: notice this formula has four lines:

1. Christ died,

2. He was buried,

3. He was raised, and

4. He appeared.

Those are the four lines of this formula. Now I would invite you to compare on the one hand the sequence of events that is found in the Gospels and the sequence of events that is found in the preaching of the apostles, such as you have in Acts 13. What you find is a line-for-line correspondence between the Gospels, Acts, and this summary in 1 Corinthians 15. This is a summary in outline form of the preaching of the early church and the narrative in the Gospels. What corresponds to line 1 is the story of the crucifixion. What corresponds to line 2 is the story of the burial by Joseph of Arimathea. What corresponds to line 3 is the discovery of the empty tomb. And then line 4 will be the postmortem appearances4. I think this correspondence is not accidental. It cannot be accidental. This is a summary in outline form of this fuller narrative. And line 3 of this formula is a summary of the story of the empty tomb. That is why Paul says in Acts 13, “David was buried and his tomb is with us to this day; but this Jesus God raised up.” So for that reason, I think that it is very, very probable that the early formula here quoted by Paul envisions the empty tomb.

Question : The end of the fourth line, was that part of the early narrative which says, “most of which are still alive today” – were they given evidence that, hey, when the narrative was established they were already given evidence and to go ask them?

Answer : What you are referring to in 1 Corinthians 15 is the comment, the parenthetical comment, that Paul introduces in verse 6 with respect to the appearance to the 500 brethren. Paul interjects here, “most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” – some of them are dead; but most of these people are still alive. I think New Testament scholars would agree that the reason he interjects this parenthetical comment is to say the witnesses are there to be questioned. So Paul is piling up here the witnesses to these postmortem appearances of Christ, and he is saying most of these witnesses are still around. You can talk to them if you want to. This was the technique that ancient historians would use for establishing events that have occurred in the recent past. They would appeal to eyewitnesses whom they have interviewed with respect to those events.

Now what is more disputed is whether or not those appearances were part of this formula. You noticed I quit reading in verse 5. Verse 5 seems to bring it to a close with the appearance to Cephas, then to the twelve disciples. The additional appearances to the 500, to James, to the other apostles, and certainly the one to Paul himself appear to be additions that Paul is making to the list. He is trying to pile up even more witnesses that he is aware of to these postmortem appearances. We don’t know for sure whether or not the appearance to the 500 was part of the original formula. I am assuming, to be conservative, that it wasn’t, that the original formula probably ended with the appearance to the Twelve. But we don’t know that for sure.

Question : In Mark’s passage, it says, “he has risen, he is not here, see the place where they laid him.” Is that to guide our focus, not on his physical body, but on his spiritual resurrection? Because in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15:44, it says, “it is sown a natural body but it is raised a spiritual body.” So I really wanted to find out whether we should focus on the physical resurrection or the Christ-in-us as the hope of glory – that’s the spiritual resurrection.

Answer : OK, you have opened a Pandora’s box here! As to the question of what Paul meant by a spiritual body, let me put that question to the side for the moment, and let’s talk about Mark. When it says, “He has risen, he is not here, see the place where they laid him,” I don’t think that’s meant to be a kind of gesture toward seeing a deeper, spiritual meaning in the resurrection. That doesn’t seem to be what Mark is thinking of here at all. Mark is talking about the absence of the body. And what this suggests, I think, is a little archaeological tidbit about the kind of tomb that Joseph of Arimathea owned and in which Jesus was interred. Now most of the tombs at that time were what are called “kokim” tombs. These would consist of a room having walls in which there were sort of niches into which a body could be inserted headfirst so that the body would be perpendicular to the wall rather than parallel with the wall. It would be rather like putting something into a deep oven, if you will. The body would be inserted into these holes in the side of the tomb. But that is evidently not the kind of tomb in which Jesus was interred because you could hardly say, “See the place where they laid him,” and the angel or the young man couldn’t be sitting on the right side. What this suggests is that the kind of tomb that Jesus was interred in and that Joseph owned was either what’s called a bench tomb or an “acrosolia” tomb. What were these? Well, a bench tomb had a kind of low bench that would run along the wall around the three sides of the tomb, and the body then could be laid on this bench. So the young man can be sitting where the body would have lain. Or in an acrosolia tomb, you have a kind of arch-like niche that is cut into the wall of the tomb. The body could be laid parallel into this arch-like niche. And the young man is apparently sitting on the right side of this sort of bench or niche where the body lay. So when he says, “See the place where they laid him,” I think that he is simply referring to this empty bench or niche that would be part of the tomb where the body would lie. So he gestures and says, “He is not here, see the place where they laid him.”

Now what is interesting is, these kinds of tombs were relatively rare in the first century. They were only owned by people who were very wealthy and could afford them. Isn’t it interesting that Joseph is described in the Gospels as “a rich man,” a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court at that time?5 – just the kind of person who might be able to own a bench tomb or an acrosolia tomb! So I don’t think Mark is trying to hint at anything spiritual here. I think he is talking about the absence of the body and pointing this out to the women.

Now when we get over to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, the question here will be, what does Paul mean when he says that we will have “spiritual” bodies in the resurrection? Well, notice the contrast that he draws in verses 42-44. He says,

What is sown [this present, earthly body that dies] is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

Now what does Paul mean here by these terms “natural” and “spiritual”? The word for “natural” is the Greek word psychikos. It comes from the word psyche, which is “soul.” Psyche is “soul.” So to say that the body is psychikos would literally mean to say it is soul-ish. Now, obviously, Paul doesn’t think that the present body is made out of soul! Rather, what he means is that this is a natural, animated human body such as we have today. It is dominated by the human soul or life principle. He is not talking about its material constitution, what it’s made out of. When he says that the resurrection body is pneumatikos, or spiritual, this comes from the word pneuma, which means spirit. And again, as the opposite of psychikos, he doesn’t mean a body which is made out of spirit, anymore than he means a body which is made out of soul. He is talking about the orientation of these bodies, not their material constitution. So it is spiritual in the same sense that I might say that “Bryant Wright is a spiritual man.” I don’t mean that he is an immaterial, invisible, intangible, unextended man – I mean his orientation is toward the Spirit of God. So just as our natural body is dominated by the human soul or life principle, our resurrection body will be dominated by the Holy Spirit and oriented toward the Spirit.

I think the strongest proof of this fact is found just a few pages earlier in the second chapter of the same letter of 1 Corinthians – 1 Corinthians 2.14. Here he says, “The unspiritual man” (psychikos – the psychikos man) “does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man (pneumatikos) discerns all things but is himself to be judged by no one.” Now when Paul contrasts the natural man and the spiritual man in chapter 2, he is not contrasting physical, tangible, material man with invisible, unextended, immaterial man, is he? He is talking about people who are natural in the sense that they are unspiritual – they are dominated by the world, they are oriented toward the world – versus people who are spiritual, who are oriented towards the Holy Spirit. So the contrast between the natural man and the spiritual man is exactly the same contrast that is drawn in chapter 15 between the natural body and the spiritual body.6 Our body is to be rescued from its domination by sin, corruption, mortality, and death and liberated into a glorious, powerful, Spirit-dominated, physical body. So don’t be misled by the language in 1 Corinthians 15 of a “spiritual body”; Paul is not talking here about an immaterial, unextended, invisible, intangible body. He is talking about a real, powerful, glorious body that is dominated by the power of the Holy Spirit. So I just don’t see that it is making that connection with this sort of spiritual sense that you suggested.

Followup : In 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, that process is actually happening while a person is alive. The resurrection actually happened to us to change from a soul-based person into a spiritual person – not after we die and are resurrected do we become spiritual persons. It is actually happening when Christ is in us. So that is the resurrection that, I guess, is what Mark is trying to get us to focus on. Don’t look around for the physical evidence of the resurrection but know that transition of soul-person into a spiritual-person will happen if we embrace the Gospel. So our focus should be into this transition.

Answer : Well, I think that you are right in saying that, as Christians, we are already born anew in our spirits. Our spirits have been regenerated and quickened and made alive to Christ. Paul talks about this in various places – the new man that we have in Christ. But he emphasizes, for example in chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians, that we have this treasure in earthen vessels. Even though we are born again spiritually, our bodies are still mortal, weak, corrupt, sinful, psychikos-type bodies. So what we need is a physical resurrection of the physical body to make it an appropriate place for inhabiting eternity. So the resurrection in one sense has already begun, I think, in Christians in that our spirits are born again. But we still have these mortal bodies that need to be the subject of his mighty resurrection power.

I don’t see that that connects in any way with the Gospel of Mark. I mean, you can’t read Paul into Mark unless there is something in the Markan text that would suggest that. It seems to me that the emphasis in Mark’s story is on the emptiness of the tomb. What he wants to tell us is: this tomb in which the body of Jesus was laid is now empty and therefore he is risen from the dead. But I don’t see that Mark is drawing any sort of spiritual lesson out of that – nor do I think Paul is either, for that matter, because Paul isn’t trying to spiritualize the resurrection in any way. For Paul, it seems to me, this is a very physical, tangible event that occurs to the body.

Question : I just wanted to respond and say when we look in the Old Testament for the resurrection – is this purely spiritual or is it physical also? We see in Ezekiel 37 about the valley of dry bones – this isn’t just a restoration of the soul; this is the bones! Or if you look at Daniel 12:2: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” So we see the bodies and the bones, not just the souls, being awakened here.

Answer : Yeah, the image in Ezekiel is a powerful one – of these bones coming together, and then they are clothed with sinews, and then they become alive. This is a vivid picture of the idea of resurrection in Jewish thinking.7 What we can add to what you said is not only these Old Testament texts, but all of the Jewish intertestamental literature. The Jewish pseudepigrapha and apocrypha that aren’t part of our Bibles (but which we have and can read from that period in between the testaments) always speak of the resurrection at the end of the world as being a physical, tangible event that will take place to this physical body or its mortal remains, principally the bones.8

Allright! Well, that is a good emphasis to close on! The Jewish concept of resurrection is of a physical event and is of a physical nature. What we will do next time is look at various ways of interpreting this New Testament material and making sense of this claim that Jesus is risen from the dead.9


1 5:14

2 10:17

3 15:08

4 20:04

5 25:10

6 29:58

7 34:51

8 As one example, see 2 Maccabees 7:10-11 (NRSV) which recounts the torture and killing of the third brother, “After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, ‘I got these from heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.’”

9 Total Running Time: 36:00 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)