Editor’s Note: I am currently blogging through my book Easter: Fact or Fiction, 20 Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead. That book is available on Amazon by clicking the picture or link below. Please check it out! (Scroll down for links to the other parts to this post) (CLICK HERE FOR THE AMAZON LINK)
“Not only were the Gospels written too early to be mythical, but also they were connected to the reported events by a sturdy bridge of both oral and written sources. Some of the apostle Paul’s epistles were probably written as early as the late 40s…Source criticism indicates that oral and possibly written information predates the Greek Gospels, which would bridge the gap even more closely between the events of Jesus’ life and the written records. New Testament scholarship reveals ample reasons for believe that Matthew, Mark, and Luke used such sources.”
– Kenneth R. Samples
In terms of extant ancient documents, the Biblical texts were written quite early, within a few short years of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. This is historically very significant, especially when you consider that the earliest writings we have about major historical figures like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and other unquestioned figures of antiquity date from decades and sometimes centuries after their death. Consider Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
(1 Corinthians 15:3-7)
Most scholars agree – even critical scholars – that this statement predates the writing of 1 Corinthians by several years; perhaps going as far back as the mid-30s A.D, within a very short time after the claimed resurrection of Jesus. Eminent scholar James D.G. Dunn here lists several technical reasons that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 was not originally Pauline, but likely formulated by the Jerusalem church in the 30s A.D.:
- “The two relative clauses in antithetic parallelism” (τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ / τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει)
- “the parallel verbs as aorist participles” (τοῦ γενομένου / τοῦ ὁρισθέντος)
- “two sets of parallel phrases attached” (ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ / υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει and κατὰ σάρκα / κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης)
- “the untypical Pauline term” (ὁρίζω)
- “the Semitism” (πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης). Käsemann adds the typically Semitic placing of the verb (a participle in this case: τοῦ γενομένου / τοῦ ὁρισθέντος) first (e.g., 1 Tim 3:16). This is significant since Paul is mostly writing to Gentile readers in Rome. Semitic components tend to point to an origin in the Jerusalem Church, where it is likely to have been formed or approved by the leadership there: Peter, James and John.
- “and the primitive description of Christ’s resurrection as ‘the resurrection of the dead’”
- “the evidence of similar primitive balanced formulations (son of David, son of God) in 2 Tim 2:8; Ignatius Smyrna 1.1 and in the common tradition lying behind the birth narratives (Matt 1:18–25; Luke 1:32–35).”
I realize that is some highly technical information there, but the meaning is quite critically important. What Dunn and many other scholars are indicating is that the grammar and structure of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 are quite different from the rest of the book. The best explanation for that is that this section is something Paul is quoting, and therefore it is an older tradition than that which is found in 1 Corinthians 15. Similarly, if a person from 2017 were to write a book with the lyrics to Shakespeare contained within, and that book were to be found 2,000 years from now, it would likely be possible to tell, by analyzing Shakespeare’s English vs. common 2017 English, and discern that a slightly different dialect was being written. The same goes for a 2017 book that might quote from an ‘80s song.
Why is this significant? Because 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is a confession that Jesus died for people’s sins AND that He arose on the third day and literally appeared to over 512 people. If this passage is what it seems, and it was written in the 30s A.D., that leaves very, very little time for the disciples or anybody else to organize a resurrection conspiracy, and even less time for there to be mythical rumors rising up about Jesus. The bottom line is that it was apparently the confession of the Jerusalem church, less than five years after the death of Jesus, that He rose from the dead and obviously appeared to hundreds of people.
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 221.
 Kenneth R. Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, ©2004), 141.
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Links to the other 20 posts in this series (20 Reasons To Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead)