Enigmas about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Biblical clues that enable us to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the most important event in the history of Christianity
(Editor's Note: This article is the abstract of chapter 10 of the book [in progress] by Alfonso Baeza-Parra titled The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Biblical and Extra-biblical Clues that Bring Us Closer to the Real Dimension of the Miracles of the New Testament.)
Mysteries posed by the resurrection of Jesus
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the prime claim on which the building of Christian faith is established. However, the data we have about it and, in general, regarding what transpired in the days following the crucifixion (they all come from the only extant source: the New Testament) pose a considerable number of riddles for which we do not find convincing answers in the framework of traditional, fundamentalist biblical interpretation. A different interpretive perspective is proposed in this article from which it is certainly possible to give an answer to many of those enigmas:
Providing convincing answers to questions such as the above is difficult from a biblical fundamentalist viewpoint, but things are easier from a more open and realistic interpretive perspective, a perspective that can bring us closer to what actually happened in the days following the crucifixion.
The Gospels were written after the great national catastrophe that the Jewish-Roman war represented for the Jews. This war eliminated nearly every vestige of the sojourn of Jesus of Nazareth upon this Earth. The evangelists were nameless second- and third-generation Christians who had not personally met Jesus. To carry out their task, they availed themselves of preexistent fragmentary writings and traditions that, by then, no doubt already contained some bogus data, some of which they approved of and included in their narratives.
Now, how can we identify the bogus data, if it exists, in order to isolate a kernel of truth that reflects what actually happened, what the genuinely primitive accounts told? On the one hand, the meticulous comparison of the narratives by the various evangelists allows us to detect some pieces of information that are untenable. On the other hand, we achieve that same goal by contrasting the Gospel narratives with what the first-generation Christians believed about Jesus' resurrection. However, how can we know what the Christians who had met Jesus believed? The answer is straightforward:
Reading Paul's letters—the oldest documents of the New Testament—written much earlier than the Gospels, approximately in the fifties of the 1st century—we find that Paul does not provide details regarding the resurrection of Jesus, but he does present it as a model (1 Cor. 15:16-23) of the final resurrection of the righteous, about which he states:
But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow ... is not the body which is to be ... It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. ... flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God ... (1 Cor. 15:35-50, Revised Standard Version, 2nd edition, 1971)
Here we are presented with a fundamental datum: Paul states that the resurrection takes place with a body different from the one that was buried. A physical body is buried, but a spiritual body is risen. The author of 1 Peter concurs: 'For Christ also died ... being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Pet. 3:18, RSV). Jesus, therefore, was risen with a spiritual body, not a physical one, which leads us to question the truthfulness of the passages that present a risen Jesus that is flesh and blood.
Reading the narratives of the resurrection in the chronological order in which they were composed (Mark, approximately AD 70; Matthew, AD 70-80; Luke, AD 70-80; John, AD 90-100) allows us to verify the development of ideas that was taking place among Christians as a result of understandably dynamic traditions. For instance, Luke and John, the latest Gospels, explicitly mention a flesh-and-blood risen Jesus, contrary to what occurs with the first two ones (Mark and Matthew). Luke, who wrote in the eighties, states that the risen Jesus remained on earth for forty days, after which he physically ascended to heaven in the presence of the apostles (Acts 1:1-11). But Paul, who wrote three decades earlier (fifties), does not seem to know anything about such earthly stay of Jesus after his resurrection. For Paul, the resurrection and the ascension were the same thing. Christ was simultaneously risen and enthroned in heaven, wherefrom he manifested himself to his followers by means of revelations or visions, as was the case with Paul himself. Paul lists a number of people to whom the risen Jesus had appeared, among whom he was included (1 Cor. 15:3-8), but he makes no difference whatsoever between his own experience and those of the people who saw him in the days following the crucifixion.
Let us remember that Jesus manifested himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, but that "apparition" did not take place on the physical plane: Paul's companions did not see what he saw, and they did not hear what he heard. The experience was entirely real for Paul (in fact, the brightness of the apparition left him temporarily blind), but the others were not affected at all (Acts 9:1-8; 22:6-11). The same thing happened to Stephen during his trial before the Sanhedrin: he lifted up his eyes to heaven and saw Jesus at the right hand of God. Yet, much as those present might have looked in the direction of Stephen's gaze, they would have never seen what he saw through revelation (Acts 7:55-56). Jesus' apparitions to the apostles after the crucifixion had that very nature. Jesus' enemies or those indifferent did not see him risen simply because, as Professor A. Piñeiro points out, "Paul emphasizes that the risen Jesus is visible only—except in his own case—to those who have faith in him.
Therefore, the Gospel passages that speak of a flesh-and-blood risen Jesus must be the result of a reworking of the primitive account, which must have presented the apparitions of Jesus exclusively as visions. In the fifties, Paul preached a "living" Christ, but he never mentioned an empty tomb.
The spiritual nature of Jesus' resurrection must have prompted the criticism of the enemies of the new religion. In his book The True Word, Celsus, a second-century Neoplatonist philosopher, accused Christians of basing their faith in the resurrection of Jesus on the testimonies of some who claimed to have seen Him in dreams and visions. Evidently, Celsus did not invent that "accusation"; he was merely quoting what the enemies of Christianity had been saying since the days of the apostles. It is likely that the pressure of these "materialistic" arguments, coming from people incapable of believing in what cannot be touched, seen, etc., had an influence in having second-generation and later Christians to transform the resurrection into a physical event by elaborating the narratives that mention the encounters between the apostles and a flesh-and-blood risen Jesus.
The spiritual nature of the resurrection dispels most of the mysteries surrounding this paramount event
However, in spite of the discrepancies established among the various narratives, the existence of one datum wherein all four Gospels present a striking coincidence is highly significant: it was Mary Magdalene and other women that initially spread the news about the resurrection of Jesus. No doubt, the personal history of those women gives us the key to understand the disciples' reaction of unbelief: Jesus had expelled seven demons out of Mary Magdalene and had also cured the other women of 'evil spirits' (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 16:9). According to the information provided by the Gospels, demon possession could be manifested in various ways: epileptic-like seizures (Luke 9:39), various psychic disorders (Matt. 8:28) and even conditions such as blindness (Matt. 12:22), deafness (Mark 9:25), deaf-dumbness (Mark 9:25), etc. In the case of Mary Magdalene and the other women, it is very likely the visible manifestation of the possession they suffered consisted in certain psychic disorders. Therefore, it is not strange that, knowing their past history and hearing them speak about visions, the apostles should think the women's former malady was relapsing, possibly as a result of the terrible experience they had undergone contemplating the Teacher's crucifixion.
Thereafter, however, the apostles themselves, or some of them, went through similar experiences or partook in them, and came to believe that Jesus was really alive, no longer subject to the limitations imposed by a physical body, but possessing a spiritual body, from which he could assure them of his guidance for the mission he was giving them:
Jesus ... said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ... And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:18-20, NIV)
Most of the serious difficulties which surround the gospel narratives about Jesus' resurrection, such as those listed at the beginning of this essay, disappear when we admit that:
 For Mark, Luke and John, the resurrection occurred without witnesses. Matthew, on the other hand, states that Jesus' sepulchre was being watched by Roman soldiers who may have witnessed the event. That account of Matthew's, however, is not authentic. (For the relevant explanation, the reader is referred to the book mentioned in the Editor's Note.)
Interested in publishing on the Secular Web? See the Submission Guidelines & Instructions.
|Top of Page|