New Testament radical critics and fringe scholars are forever on a quest to formulate some other explanation for the resurrection than the one that permeates virtually all the early and late New Testament books and letters.[i]The letters continually speak of a risen Christ who dwells in the hearts and minds of every believer and transforms them from within. The Apostle Paul describes this in his letter to the Romans, declaring that God sent his son into the hearts of all true believers, who from then on, in times of joy and trial, cry out “Abba Father.”[ii]
These writers regularly speak of “Christ in them” and of all believers dwelling “in Christ”.[iii]Five of these writings report in considerable detail the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the regular visits and teaching sessions given by Jesus before ascending in the presence of angels forty days after his resurrection. Many of Jesus’ followers are recorded as present at His ascension. After all, it’s a final gathering of those to whom Jesus appeared. Is it likely that a significant number would be absent?[iv]A writing in the New Testament, which we will examine in part two of this blog, reports that Jesus appeared to five hundred of his followers at once. This being the case, it would be hard to imagine their not being there to hear the final instructions and farewell of their Lord and Savior.
Many of the letters and books of the New Testament contain many accounts of early persecutions of Jewish and non-Jewish Christians called Gentiles. The reality of persecutions and trials are regularly addressed in the letters. They are filled with comforting words as well as admonitions to remain strong and courageous even while enduring trials, including at times imprisonment or even death. Even while suffering these things, they are instructed to love their enemies and spread the good news of the death and resurrection of an ever living Savior.
In relating all of the above, there is one central question I would like to ask: if we omit the resurrection of Christ, his forty day appearances, and His ascension, then does any of the above make any sense at all? Do any of the twenty six writings that make up the New Testament? Does their witness, courage, endurance, and love in the face of suffering, let alone the astounding and massive early historical spread of the Christian faith across the western world and much of the eastern? I mean, why on earth would the early Christians write what they wrote, say what they said, do what they did, and love like they loved if Jesus their Lord was a rotting corpse in a tomb?
Of course, I am far from the first to ask this question; it is by implication asked by a great many excellent New Testament Scholars,[v]and serves as a formidable obstacle for radical critics who are attempting to find a different motivation for the nature of the New Testament writings than the zeal of those early Christians and the many to come who chose death, as many still do in our day, over the denial of their faith in a resurrected and living Savior.
Yet another obstacle for fringe scholarship, some who even go as far as denying that Jesus existed, is the record of some “about turns” that seem utterly unexplainable apart from the life of Christ, His resurrection, and His ascension. But this is reserved for part two of our series. Here, I have simply posed the central question facing the radical critic as well as scholarship on the fringe. As we deal with the “about turns,” we shall see that the difficulties facing the radical fringe are magnified even beyond the problems discussed here.
[i]There is not a single New Testament book or letter that does not pre-suppose the life, death, resurrection, and living presence of Jesus Christ. Choose any of the twenty six books and letters, whether the letters of Paul, Peter, and John, or any of the books themselves such as Luke, Acts, or Mark.
[ii]See the Greek “Abba Ho Pater” meaning “Abba Father” in Rom. 8:15.
[iii]See especially any of the letters of Paul or Peter or John.
[v]See, for example: N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, (London: SPCK; Minneapolis; Fortress, 1992). See also, a work very highly recommended by Oxford Scholar, N. T. Wright, Ben F Meyer The Aims of Jesus, (2nd ed. San Jose, C.A. Pickwick, 2002). Also, New Testament scholars such as Leon Morris, F.F. Bruce, Timothy Johnson, C.H. Dodd, and Herman Ridderbos (especially his Coming of the Kingdom and Paul and Jesus). See also Willhelm H. Wuellner, Craig Evans, and Edwin M. Yamauchi.