Strange resurrection stories

With Easter Sunday approaching my mind is turning to Christ’s resurrection which turned my attention to a book I haven’t picked up for a while–N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God. It’s a massive book (700+ pages not counting bibliography & index!) and a great comprehensive defense of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection according to the biblical stories.

One sub-section that caught my attention on the first read was “The Surprise of the Resurrection Narratives”. In it Wright cites four features of the gospel stories that don’t fit the critical template that the Easter story was manufactured by Christians as a way to prop up a failed Messiah. Here then are four surprises in the Easter stories:

1)The strange silence of the Bible in the stories. The gospel authors recounted the events of Jesus’ life & ministry with frequent scriptural quotation, allusion, etc. But the resurrection accounts don’t give us any OT proof texts which is what one would expect if the story was a manufactured conclusion to Jesus’ life story. In other words, the authors would have sought to give the conclusion as much biblical support as they could to make it see more convincing.

2)The strange absence of personal hope in the stories. The resurrection stories never mention a future hope for the Christian. No mention of the Christian’s life after death or of a future resurrection for all of God’s people. One would expect the gospel authors to explain the larger significance of the (concocted) story to the audience they attempted to convince.

3)The strange portrait of Jesus in the stories. One of the most important OT passages concerning resurrection for the Jewish people was Daniel 12:2-3 where God’s resurrected people are said to “shine like the stars.” But Jesus’ resurrected body was nothing like one might expect. On the one hand he was recognizable, lacked a heavenly glow, bore touchable scars from the crucifixion, and ate fish. On the other hand Jesus’ appeared and disappeared at will, passed through locked doors, was sometimes unrecognized, and in the end ascended into heaven. Jesus was the same yet not the same in His resurrection appearances.

4)The strange presence of the women in the stories.
If a 1st-century writer attempted to convince his readers of an empty tomb he wouldn’t do it by having women be the first to find it. Women weren’t acceptable as legal witnesses and would be the last people you would want to build a movement on. The fact that women, not men, found the empty tomb & were the first witnesses to the resurrection strongly suggests that this was the way it actually happened.

In the end, Wright concludes that these elements give the Easter story the puzzled air of someone saying ‘I didn’t understand it at the time, and I’m not sure I do now, but this is more or less how it was.’

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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