Sunday, 23 March 2008

He has risen!

Christ carrying His cross. El Greco, 1580. Image from Wikipedia

Joel Kontinen

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:1-6, NIV)

There is strong evidence for the historicity of Jesus. Of non-biblical writers, Josephus (37–100), Tacitus (55–117), Suestonius (69–140), Plinius the Younger (ca. 61–113) and Lukianos (125–190) either mention Him by name or refer to the crucifixion. Even those who were antagonistic towards Christianity were unable to deny that He was a real historical person.

Jesus’ resurrection is neither a myth nor a legend. A legend is story about what saints or holy people did. While it may be true, it might also be false. The legend of Peter and Christ meeting in Rome inspired the Polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz to create his world-famous novel Quo Vadis. However, the encounter of Christ and Peter at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21) is a historical event and it is thus included in the New Testament.

All legendary material has been excluded from the New Testament. Luke writes in the introduction to his gospel (1: 1-3): ”Therefore, since I myself carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

The objectivity of the Bible narratives is one of the strongest evidences of its historical reliability. Scriptures do not shy away from the failings of the great heroes of faith. The Bible tells us that Noah became drunk, David committed adultery, Peter denied knowing Christ and the disciples did not at first believe in His resurrection. Apart from the stories about Greek gods with their human foibles, legends do not usually tell us about the failures of great heroes.

The resurrection changed the disciples so completely that a week after it they began to meet on a Sunday, the resurrection day, instead of the Jewish Sabbath. This was a real miracle since the early Christians were all Jews who continued to observe the decrees and rules of their religion meticulously.

The idea of the mythic nature of Bible stories stems from the extremely subjective views of some skeptical Bible scholars, such as the documentary hypothesis advocated by Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918) and others and Rudolf Bultmann’s (1884–1976) view on the mythical worldview of the Bible writers. However, these are very controversial stances. Many of their claims were shown to be false several decades ago.

Other scholars have advocated strange hypotheses about the development of religion. E. B. Tylor (1832–1917), for instance, claimed that religion had evolved from polytheism (the worship of many gods) to monotheism (the worship of one God) but his views have been since been refuted and few cultural anthropologists would consider them valid today.

Some views about the origin of religion, such as the one suggested by Sigmund Freud (1856–1918) are so fanciful that serious scholars do not consider them to be credible.

The Bible includes profound mysteries, such as the Trinity of God, but that does not nullify its reliability.

We can thus with good reason trust the Bible when it says, “He is not here; he has rise.”