The Resurrection

15 April 2018

The resurrection - unbelievable? True? Let’s look at a few books, briefly.

First: The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? By FF Bruce. In this book we learn that there are literally thousands of virtually contemporary manuscripts of the Gospels and the other New Testament documents extant; many of them dating way back to almost the moment that the original was composed. The Gospel according to Mark going back to about 30 years after the Passion, while St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians dating back to just 18 years after it. Bruce compares this fact with other great works of classical antiquity written around the same time – and taken as authentic and reliable by scholars. For example Caesar’s Gallic Wars, of which only around ten are considered to be ‘good’ and the oldest example dates back only to around 900 years after it was originally composed. Then there’s Livy’s Roman History; 35 examples - only one of which goes back as far as the fourth century.

Then, there’s Dunn’s A New Perspective on Jesus. This explores thoroughly the oral culture of first century Palestine and makes it clear that it was so robust – more robust than the written word, where reliability is concerned – that it could perfectly well have borne Jesus’ actions and sayings – many of them absolutely verbatim – well across the 30 years until Mark set them down in writing. After all, someone who was twenty at the time of the resurrection, would only have been fifty by the time Mark put stylus to parchment. Can you remember significant events from thirty years ago? Perhaps not every detail. But the key facts. The truth of what actually happened.

An older book, now, and parts of it overtaken by contemporary biblical scholarship but nonetheless eye-opening: Morison’s Who Moved the Stone? This painstakingly reconstructs the events of Holy Week and the Passion… placing these disciples here, those disciples there… and these women there… It also analyses the Jewish and Roman legal processes and finds them authentically reflected in the Gospel record of the trial of Jesus. And, with Bruce, Morison comes to the conclusion that the events recorded in the Gospels are authentic and reliable. One of Morison’s most telling points is that no contemporary document – not a single one from any source – Christian, Roman, Jewish, Greek at any point disputes the fact that the tomb was empty. Morison goes on to explore the options as to what happened to the body – was it stolen, removed by anyone? Roman, Jewish, the Disciples?  No.

Meanwhile, any major suggestion that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, only comes with the Gnostic writings some 100, 150 years later. For a whole lot of different – essentially non-Christian - reasons.

Trocme’s The Passion of Liturgy also looks in detail at the evidence. He argues convincingly that following the events on that First Easter, people in Jerusalem, stupefied and amazed, would have started to visit the key locations of the Passion.

They would reconstruct the events amongst themselves; clarifying a point here – restating a fact there. The Upper Room, Gethsemane, Golgotha, the Tomb. Possibly even that same evening, or the next day. The Passion Narrative was put together and then repeated and repeated perhaps on a daily, weekly monthly basis. Re-lived. Preserved. Preserved in a robust oral culture. Preserved until the Gospel writers came along. And then preserved for us in near enough the same form as we now have it in our present-day Passion Narratives; and in the Eucharist we celebrate with the very words Jesus used all those years ago.

But there’s just one more book I need to mention here… You see, we can examine, analyse and perhaps ultimately intellectually assent to the astonishing truth of that First Easter, and these books are a fantastic aid. But CS Lewis points out that this book ‘gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling with the beliefs and doctrines. It is: Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.’ For ‘…it is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The book, of course, is the Holy Bible. All those wonderful, scholarly, patient and painstaking authors can give us great insight, confidence and hope. But we need, actually, only to turn to this book - with the intention of finding the Risen Christ within its pages - and Christ’s Spirit will bring us to that point. The point at which we can say with absolute faith and thanksgiving: Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.