Discuss in ILovePhilosophy.com: RFG 13: The Reality of the Resurrection
Tim Keller’s The Reason for God Book Discussion – Part 2: The Reasons for Faith
THIRTEEN: The Reality of the Resurrection
I liked the Tolstoy quote which began the chapter: (excerpt) “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” (201). And I liked how Keller ended the chapter with “If the resurrection of Jesus happened, however, that means there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world,” (212). Because, if His resurrection happened, everything He taught is eternal truth we can discover and must accept, not just something He made up and can be easily dismissed.
Keller says to those who do not believe in the resurrection: “You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church,” (202). Keller provides one such scenario on pages 202-203, then he proceeds to take it apart:
1. The resurrection narratives of the gospels developed later, long after the events themselves.
Answer: “The first accounts of the empty tomb and eyewitnesses are not found in the gospels … but in the letters of Paul, which every historian agrees were written just fifteen to twenty years after the death of Jesus,” (203). Jesus’ bodily resurrection was proclaimed from the very beginning. See for example 1 Corinthians 15:3-6. Paul not only refers to the empty tomb and resurrection on the third day (historical account; details not permitted to be changed) – he also lists the eyewitnesses … individuals, small groups, five hundred people at once – most still alive to easily corroborate or kill (safe and easy travel during the pax Romana) the story that remained alive because it was true. The first eyewitnesses were women whose testimony in that culture was not admissible evidence in court—such details of the historical account were too well known to be changed, despite cultural pressure. Further, if there had been no empty tomb, no one would have believed the sightings were of the resurrected Jesus (as opposed to the ghost of Jesus).
2. The body was stolen out of the tomb and gullible ancients believed claims that Jesus had resurrected (“chronological snobbery” – C.S. Lewis).
Answer: In the Greco-Roman culture, resurrection was not only impossible, but totally undesirable. The Gnostic “gospels” appealed to that culture when they spoke of being rescued from the dark, evil material world by secret gnosis, whereas the canonical gospels offended the dominant views with a “positive view of material creation,” (106). Christians acknowledge our bodies as God’s sacred temple, His holy dwelling place—not something to escape, but something to be glorified in resurrection (Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods, Thomas Nelson, 2000). According to Jewish teaching, the resurrection doesn’t happen to one person in the middle of history – it happens to all believers at the end of history. Individual resurrections were not available to the Jewish imagination to write eyewitness testimony off as hallucination, or to write off the empty tomb as resulting from the disciples stealing Jesus’ body in hopes that others would believe He had been resurrected. In addition, “There were dozens of other messianic pretenders whose lives and careers ended the same way Jesus’ did. Why would the disciples of Jesus have come to the conclusion that his crucifixion had not been a defeat but a triumph—unless they had seen him risen from the dead?” (208). In addition, “it was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human being should be worshipped. Yet hundreds of Jews began worshipping Jesus literally overnight. The hymn to Christ as God that Paul quotes in Philippians 2 is generally recognized to have been written just a few years after the crucifixion,” (209-210).
“The Christian view of resurrection, absolutely unprecedented in history, sprang up full-blown immediately after the death of Jesus. There was no process of development. His followers said their beliefs did not come from debating and discussing. They were just telling others what they had seen themselves,” (209). “Why did Christianity emerge so rapidly, with such power? No other band of messianic followers in that era concluded their leader was raised from the dead—why did this group do so? No group of Jews ever worshipped a human being as God. What led them to do it? Jews did not believe in divine men or individual resurrections. What changed their worldview virtually overnight? How do you account for the hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrection who lived on for decades and publicly maintained their testimony, eventually giving their lives for their belief?” (210). To bail out by saying that miracle is impossible, is to leave such questions unanswered. (To discuss the possibility of miracles, go here: http://ichthus77.blogspot.com/2008/01/signs.html). People from the first century had just as much reason to be skeptical about an individual resurrecting, yet the church was born and grew because they let the evidence speak for itself.
This is not mentioned in the chapter, but compare John 20:19 and Acts 2:14, and answer this question: what explains the change in Jesus’ disciples, from being full of fear, to being full of boldness?