1 Corinthians 15: Jesus is Alive!

Jesus is Alive!

The fourth part of Paul’s testimony deals with the fact that Jesus appeared to people. Remember that the tomb was empty. Even Jewish Polemic did not deny this fact. Did Jesus’ disciples steal his body and then come up with a fabrication concerning his appearance? The reality is that there is no evidence that his body was stolen. The importance of this argument is felt when you realize that the exact opposite is true. There is evidence that Jesus’ body was not stolen. While there are a few details that support this evidence the most important aspect is the issue of time. Between the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and the empty tomb’s discovery less then 48 hours after his death there is not time for a party to plan a conspiracy.

  1. They would need a reason to even want a conspiracy. The disciples were scared and hidden behind closed doors. They were in the midst of shock saturated grief. To think they were cogent enough to devise a plan that included stealing Jesus’ body and then develop the story of his appearance in such a short time doesn’t add up. Add on top of all these details that Passover is occurring heaves extra weight on top of a story stretched too thin already.
  2. Jesus’ burial clothes argue against such a claim. No one would have unwrapped his body and left his burial shroud. It doesn’t make sense in our culture and we don’t have any of the laws Jews dealt with concerning uncleanliness from touching a dead body.
  3. If it wasn’t Jesus’ disciples who stole his body, but a contrary party attempting to prevent the disciples from doing likewise then they would have spoken up as soon as the disciples began preaching that Jesus was alive.
  4. The explanation of Jesus’ body being stolen doesn’t deal with the most nagging of all the evidence for it doesn’t explain all the legally accepted testimonies that Jesus appeared to people after his tomb was found empty.[1]

Jesus appeared to people: Paul is obviously concerned with this point. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 “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. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” He is challenging his contemporaries who are reading his letter to go and investigate the validity of his claims themselves. We need to remember that what the disciples preached could have been easily disproven in Paul’s day if there weren’t so many witnesses that would have stood the scrutiny of a legal courtroom. With all these events discussed we must ask “What is the best explanation for the evidence?”

The Best Explanation: As Jon Meacham notes, “Without the Resurrection, it is virtually impossible to imagine that the Jesus movement of the first decades of the first century would have long endured.”[2] Still, some other explanations have been offered other than that which is testified by the Christian Church – albeit much later than the church’s testimony.

There have been those who offer naturalistic explanations (devoid of supernatural influence). This argument usually comes in two forms. They are mass hallucination or Jesus being an apparition. Both arguments at least acknowledge the fact that Jesus did appear to people. What they deny is that Jesus was alive and had a material body in these appearances. But both arguments fail to satisfy the evidence. Let’s consider why each does not satisfy the testimony.

Mass Hallucinations as a theory fails because:

  1. Hallucinations are private events, but in this theory the hallucination of Jesus’ appearance is witnessed by groups (to total somewhere around five hundred). This hallucination is shared by all in the group in that they see and experience the same thing.
  2. Hallucinations are rooted in hopeful expectation, but this requirement is not found after Jesus is murdered. The disciples are not jumping for glee with the expectation that the Messiah is to bodily resurrect. Instead they are frightened, grieving and full of despair behind a locked door. It is a depressing scene lacking in hope.
  3. James and Paul as witnesses to the hallucination add an additional problem to the equation. While others who witnessed Jesus’ appearances were disciples of Jesus before his death these two men were not. Both were antagonists to the Jesus movement. Paul’s hatred was so intense that it was saturated in murderous intent. Mass hallucinations, as a theory, falls flat on its face when it requires such an extreme change in these men’s hearts in order to participate in group hallucinations.
  4. Does not account for the empty tomb.

Jesus as an apparition/ghost fails as a theory because:

  1. Jesus’ appearance to the five hundred plus includes a physical body. He catches, cooks and eats fish. He confronts Thomas’ doubt by challenging him to believe by touching him. Jesus knew that Thomas’ senses would not fail him. But Thomas doesn’t even need to touch him because it is abundantly clear when Thomas is confronted with Jesus after the resurrection that Jesus is alive – body too!
  2. Does not account for the empty tomb.[3]
  3. In the context of Second Temple Judaism apparitions were associated with the dead. So, if the disciples understood Jesus’ appearances as just an apparition they would have understood this event as confirmation of Jesus’ death.[4] Acts 12.11-15 reflects this aspect.

The Best Explanation, in View of the Evidence, is that Jesus Really did Bodily Resurrect: We can confidently claim that our faith is a faith that has its reasons. When things such as options and possibilities are considered there is only one answer that satisfies all the evidence. Of course, this answer makes many uncomfortable because, in part, it is supernatural. God actually raised Jesus from death into the resurrection. Reasons why this theory succeeds:

  1. It accounts for both the empty tomb, as well as Jesus’ appearance.
  2. It accounts for the acceptance of the disciples that it wasn’t Jesus’ ghost, but Jesus himself.
  3. It also gives the most credible explanation of what N.T. Wright calls the seven mutations.[5] These mutations are macro mutations that occur at the very beginning of Christianity in contrast to Second Temple Judaism or the surrounding pagan culture. When considering these sudden beliefs that appear on the scene we must ask what best explains their development in such an incredibly short period of time. They are:
    a. Belief in resurrection moves form peripheral to center. Before Jesus’ resurrection, only some Jews believed in a resurrection. Also, it was a pheripheral issue. It did not make someone a Jew or not. With Jesus’ appearance, this belief moves to the center of Christianity and is foundational. It is clear reading the New Testament that you must believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus in order to be saved (hence 1 Corinthians 15). You cannot have more of a swing.
    b. The definition of resurrection becomes more precise. Not only does the resurrection come from peripheral to center, but it becomes a doctrine that is razor sharp. 1 Corinthians 15 is a prime example of this. By the time this Epistle is penned, there is an understanding of how the resurrection of Jesus is first fruits, of how it shows God’s satisfaction in Jesus’ sacrifice, in how the resurrection accomplishes Justification and in how the resurrection proves the dividends of Jesus’ sacrifice to name a few.
    c. There is no spectrum of belief in early Christianity concerning what happens after death. Unlike Judiasm at the same time, all Christians agree this belief is the only answer. Why the unity in belief and deep conviction when there is nothing around them to even spark such a view unless Jesus actually resurrected?
    d. The resurrection, as an event, moves from the raising of all at one single time to a single event taking place at two moments. In Judiasm, if you believed in a resurrection then you believed it would occur at one time for all. Now this belief has changed as quick as a snap of your fingers. Hard to account for this change if Jesus had not actually bodily resurrected.
    e. The resurrection functions in both a metaphoric and literal way.
    f. Nobody expected the Messiah to be resurrected. This statement is hard to overstate. There are many examples of other personalities claiming to be the messiah around the time of Jesus who died. None of their followers expected them to rise from the dead.
    g. Collaborative Eschatology.[6]
  4. Paul emphasizes the significance of the resurrection clear when he used the aorist in describing Jesus’ death, burial and appearances; yet, he used the perfect of Jesus’ resurrection to show that Jesus’ resurrection carries a continual result, namely, that he is still alive. The aorist is a Greek verb tense that in this context conveys the idea that the action occurred in the past and was done. It had no ongoing effects or progressions. It happened and then was no more. The perfect is a Greek verb tense that tells us the action occurred in the past, but continues on…and on….and on. In other words, Jesus was resurrected and still is resurrected.

    [1] William Lane Craig, “The Empty Tomb of Jesus”, in In Defense of Miracles, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 259-260.
    [2] Jon Meacham, 43-44.
    [3] Gary Habermas, “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus” in In Defense of Miracles, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 247-275.
    [4] N.T. Wright, “Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins”, accessed at http://www.ntwrightpage.com/ Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm#_edn26 on March 23, 2005.
    [5] I mention all seven, but elaborate on the five that I find most compelling.
    [6] N.T. Wright, Greer-Heard Point Counterpoint Forum held at NOBTS during March 2005.

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