Resurrection in the New Testament

  Index

These notes were originally prepared in 1973 and revised in 1979.  They are (1) drawn from C. F. Evans, Resurrection and the New Testament (SBT 2nd Series, No. 12, SCM, London, 1970), (2) drawn from C. F. D. Moule's review of Evan's book in Theology, Vol. LXXVIII No. 604, October, 1970, pp. 475-9, and (3) drawn from Gibbs' work.  (N.B.: Unless otherwise specified all page numbers are from Evans' superb monograph.)

I.  RESURRECTION EXPECTATION IN JUDAISM: neither universal nor apparently widespread.
OT:   "...a doctrine of resurrection does not appear to have been one of the tenets long established in Judaism by NT times, but rather a comparative newcomer to it. ... Throughout the period covered by the OT itself, the Jews seem to have remained content with the traditional idea of Sheol as the abode of 'the shades' of all the departed, where life is hardly worth living.  There is in the OT only one unambiguous reference to resurrection, and that in its latest book (Dan 12.2, c. 165 BCE):
        'And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
        some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.'
There is another possible reference, also late, in Isa 26.29, but this is disputed [Gibbs: OT & NT regard any physical/spiritual peril as a 'dying' or an entering into 'dying']:
        'Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.
            O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
        For thy dew is a dew of light,
            and on the land of the shades thou shalt let it fall.'" (p. 11)
Intertestamental literature:  It is only from the more immediate background of the NT that a doctrine of resurrection becomes perceptible and intelligible in, e.g.:
    Apocrypha: II Esdras, II Maccabees (7.14-38; 14.46) & Wisdom of Solomon.
    Pseudepigrapha: I & II Enoch, II Baruch (50-51), Jubilees,, Assumption of Moses, Apocalypse of Moses, Psalms of Solomon, IV Maccabees, & (if they are pre-Christian) the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs. -- These show intertestamental Judaism to be very diverse (a greater uniformity was not reached until post-200 CE).  Much of this literature is apocalyptic (as is Isa 25-28, late addition to Isaiah mentioned above).
        Main variations of resurrection expectation:
            (a) resurrection of the righteous (Israelites) only (so Psalms of Solomon, I Enoch 83-90);
            (b) resurrection of the truly righteous and truly unrighteous in Israel for judgement
                (so Dan 12.2; I Enoch 6-36; II Baruch);
            (c) resurrection of all men for judgement (so Sybilline Oracles; II Esdras, Testaments of the XII Patriarchs).
There are differences about place (resurrection to earth, to a renewed earth, to Paradise), time (to a messianic period belonging to this age, to eternal life in perpetuity), and form (a reconstituted body, a transformed body, without body).  These variations, some of them found within a single work, reflect a considerable fluidity of thought, which was probably brought about by the impact upon Israel of new modes of belief, especially the Iranian, to which resurrection and the final judgement were by this time indigenous.  (pp. 16-17)
`    [Evans then examines the Dead Sea Qumran Community, and shows that, even if they believed in and expected a resurrection for their dead members at the End, there is no unambiguous evidence for it in their documents.  Thus it appears to have been at most peripheral to them, and not central to their thought.]
    Mark 9.9f.  (post-Transfiguration):  the disciples discussed what rising from the dead should mean.  "For Mark, at least, it would appear that resurrection itself was still in Judaism a doctrine which could not simply be taken for granted." (p. 31)
    [Note also that some Jewish writings were talking in terms of immortality of the soul or spirit: Jubilees (23.31); Assumption of Moses (10.9f.); in some parts of I Enoch, and especially in the Wisdom of Solomon and IV Maccabees.  In almost all of these we find inconsistencies and a somewhat oil-and-water mixture of OT-Jewish and Greek ideas.]
    Although resurrection is central to the NT, and explicitly mentioned except in II Thessalonians, Titus, Philemon, III John, II Peter, Jude and James, there is a "notable scarcity in the recorded teaching of Jesus of reference to Resurrection, or of any distinctive contribution to the doctrine, [and this] presents a problem both in relation to the supposed currency of the doctrine in Judaism and to its dominant place in early Christianity."  (p. 33)

Conclusion re 'background':  "... if the doctrine of resurrection was not firmly fixed in Judaism, and if it is largely absent from the teaching of Jesus, then particular attention is focused on the actual resurrection of Jesus.  It may have be suggested that only this event, whatever it may have been, could have brought it about that there emerged in Christianity a precise, confident and articulate faith in which resurrection has moved from the circumference to the centre."  (pp. 40f.)

II.  A SUGGESTED SEQUENCE OF EVENTS (GIBBS): 

1) Passion, death and entombment.
2) Conviction in the community that:
a) Jesus was 'alive' to them, 'in communion' with them, perhaps as they gathered for a 'memorial'
fellowship meal (cf. Luke 24.30f.: Emmaus 'breaking of the Bread'; 24.40-3, Jesus eats before them; John 21.13: the meal with Jesus; Matt 26.29, at Last Supper: 'I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.');
b) they knew the End-time Spirit of God in their midst empowering them to live in the Jesus-style
(cf. 1 John 1.1-4; cf. John 1.14: 'And the Word became spirit and dwelt among us' as probably the earlier tradition, then anti-docetically redacted to 'and the Word became flesh' -- cf. John C. Meagher, "John 1.14 and the New Temple", Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXVIII/1 [March, 1969], pp. 57-68);
c) i.e. they knew Jesus to have been vindicated by the Father, namely, 'raised'.
3) Subsequent to the conviction of Jesus' resurrection came the resurrection appearances within the
Church.  John Knox suggests that they may have been subsequently suppressed (like speaking in tongues was suppressed) for the sake of order in the church, and perhaps also to cut off supposedly 'new teaching' given in and through these appearances (on this see Acts 1.3, which  limits the appearances to 40 days, seals them with a visible ascension, 1.9, and and says he will come again the same way he went, 1.11).
4) The empty tomb tradition is later.
a) It is probably in part an answer to Judaism's denials of Jesus' resurrection/vindication by God.
b) It is likely also in part an anti-docetic apologetic.
5) The figures in the empty tomb are 'theological' , and probably a further embellishment of the story.
Mark: young man, neaniskos, is baptismal candidate (see Mk 16.1-8 in Mark and the Triennial
Lectionary) Seated, clothed, proclaiming resurrection, he reverses the (baptismal candidate) young man who runs away naked at arrest; cf. Amos 2.16: 'And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the LORD' (Haftarah to stripping Joseph of his coat in Gen 37) -- i.e. loss of courage/strength in disciples restored at resurrection.
Matt 28: 'Angel of the LORD': angel of God's/Jesus' presence.
Luke 24.4:'Behold, two men' -- same phrase at Transfiguration for Moses and Elijah, 9.30, and at
Ascension, Acts 1.10 -- representing witness of Law (Moses) and Prophets (Elijah) that this is God's doing and his will.
John 20.12: two angels at head and foot where body had lain: related to 
(1) cherubim at ends of Tabernacle (i.e., where Logos has tabernacled among us), and
(2) cherubim guarding entrance to Eden, Gen 3.24 - cf. John 18-20 as basically inverting Genesis 1-3
6) The guard for tomb demanded by Pharisees (Matt 27.62-66) and the false story spread by chief priests 
    of grave-robbing (Matt 28.11-15) are even later.
7)  The stories of Jesus eating broiled fish (Luke 24.42f.) and of Thomas needing to handle Jesus' wounds 
    (John 20.24-29) are likely to be late anti-docetic additions.
         
Regarding (2) and (3) above: Note that the motif of Jesus' being raised (by the Father) always precedes
  the mention of any appearances:
    Earliest tradition: 
      1 Cor 15.4: raised on third day according to the Scriptures
        ('Scriptures': probably Gen 22, Binding of Isaac, plus Hosea 6.2; cf. Gen 22.4: third day.)
      1 Cor 1.5: and that he appeared to Cephas ...
    Mark 16.6: He is risen
  16.7: He goes before you into Galilee; there shall you see him
        (Evans rightly takes this as referring to the Church knowing Jesus as she goes in mission to all men in 'Galilee', i.e., 'the land of the Gentiles'.)
    Matt 28.45-7: angel's announcement that he has been raised
      28.9: Jesus met them
    Luke 24.34: "The Lord has risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon."
    John 20.8: empty tomb, beloved disciple 'believed'
      20.9: "the scripture that he must rise from the dead"
      20.14-17: Mary meets Jesus (as gardener of Gen 2 -- i.e., the true End-time Adam)
I.e., the appearances are not used to prove the resurrection.
  If they were the basis for the conviction, we would expect to find them so used.
    The accounts of Luke 24.36-43 (showing hands, feet; handling and eating) and John 20.24-29 ('Doubting' Thomas offered chance to handle Jesus' hands and side) are indeed used to 'prove' the bodily resurrection, but they are so strongly anti-docetic that they suggest that this is a late use of the resurrection appearances.  (But see the end of these notes also.)

III.  'IMPORTANCE' AND/OR 'MEANING' OF THE RESURRECTION IN THE NT

A.. The "Re-active" notion  ("You killed Jesus, but God raised him.")
Something of this is traceable in Luke-Acts (says Gibbs): 
Acts 2.23-24 (Peter's speech): "... him ... you ... did crucify, whom God raised up ..."
Note stress in Luke on it being the righteous (Luke 14.40) and worthy (Luke 20.35) who are to be
raised, i.e., resurrection = vindication.  This explains why the centurion calls Jesus righteous (Luke 23.47) and perhaps is part of the reason that Luke-Acts has separate narrative about exaltation/ascension and separate narrative about church being empowered with Spirit (but on this last point see sermon for Pentecost [Luke the Missioner] in Sermons).
Contrast the following three passages to the fourth (was Luke written after Acts?):
Luke 14.14: "thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just."
Luke 20.35: "they that are accounted worthy to attain to that age, and the resurrection from the
dead ...."
Luke 20.36: "they are equal unto the angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the 
resurrection."
Acts 24.15 (Paul speaking before Felix the governor, at Caesarea):
"... so served I the God of our fathers ... having hope toward God, which these [i.e. Jews] also themselves look for, that there shall be a resurrection both of the just and unjust."
B. The relation between resurrection and exaltation:
While "exaltation" is the more inclusive idea, safeguarding the understanding of resurrection as a final eschatological event, "resurrection", on the other hand, "as the more concrete and cruder term, directs attention not only forwards but backwards also"; "in opening into what is new", it "brings with it that which is old and otherwise past".  (p. 142 in Moule's re-write)
C. "Was the Resurrection creative or was it merely probative?"   (p. 147)
Answer: As the NT narratives stand, it is the latter: the resurrection confirms that Jesus all along was 
Messiah  and Son of God.  Perhaps at an earlier stage behind our writings it may have been felt that Jesus became Messiah at the resurrection.  Cf.. motif of 'raising' of 'scion of David' in D. C. Duling, "The Promises to David and their entrance into Christianity -- Nailing down a likely hypothesis", N.T.S. 20/1 1973, pp. 55-77, dealing with 2 Sam 7.11ff. and other OT passages.
But even in Romans the resurrection is probative, not creative, as far as Jesus' status is concerned, although 
 by resurrection he enters into power:
Rom 1.1-4:  "the gospel of God ... concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead."  [Gibbs: caveat: Paul may not have written this, or at least in the form in which it stands. Since 1.1-6 corresponds in the overall chiasm of Romans to 16.25-27, and the latter is widely reckoned not to be by Paul, it is questionable whether 1.1-6 is purely from Paul's hand.]
In Paul  thought about the resurrection takes two forms (what follows is Evans substantially modified by Gibbs, who takes only Rom, 1 & 2 Cor, Gal & Philemon to be by Paul. See Pauline Authorship):
1) The resurrection of the Christians: 1 Cor 15
This is a future event at the End, when God clothes the Christians with incorruptibility/immortality, and Death as the last enemy is overcome; then it is that Jesus completes his reign by placing all things in the Father's hands (15.28).  Cf. Rom 8 on the revealing of the sons of God (8.19) in their somatic perfection (8.23) as the perfected image of God, perfected by being conformed to the image of his Son (8.29), so that the glory that is to be revealed in/through/to (eis) us (8.18) will set the creation free from bondage to decay for the glorious liberty of the sons of God -- i.e., for God's peace, good order, his shalóm (8.21).
2) The resurrection of JesusThis is past event with present efficacy in the Church:
This looks to the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church as constituting the newness of the resurrection in action.  'Last Adam became life-making Spirit' (1 Cor 15.45).
"This life of spirit has three particular characteristics:
(i) it is characterized by 'newness' (cf. Rom 7.6: 'to serve in the newness of spirit') as opposed to the oldness of the letter (law), "and elements of this may be seen in Rom 8.  Cf. Rom 8.11: 'If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.'
(ii) "the spirit imparts life and makes alive in contrast to both the letter (law) which kills and the flesh (natural life) which has the mind of death.  The dynamic and moral content of this life is righteousness, in contrast with the flesh's total absence of righteousness (Rom 7.6ff.; 2 Cor 3.6ff.; Rom 8.6-11; Gal 3.21).
(iii) "the spirit is called a 'first instalment' (arrabón, 2 Cor 1.22; 5.5) and 'first-fruit' (aparché, Rom 8.23, ... [i.e.] it is a foretaste and promise of something further, which is the full life of 'glory', an eschatological term which comes nearest to denoting the divine life itself (Rom 8.21ff.; 2 Cor 3.27f.; 5.5ff.)."   (p. 160)
Gibbs: In Paul 'glory' (doxa), which is to be revealed in the 'body' (sóma), is almost interchangeable  
with  'image' (eikón); related terms: 'temple' (naos), and 'peace' (eiréné).  (See "5.  Equivalent End-time terms in Paul" in Pauline Theology - Some Notes)  Thus in Rom 8 the 'glorified' person is the one who (corporately, i.e. as mankind in Christ) at last functions perfectly as God's image', the asymbol of his sovereign ownership and hence the symbol of his shalóm, his peace and good order.)
Note that in some Deutero-Pauline letters, i.e., Colossians and Ephesians, the resurrection of 
the Christians is a present experience (Col 2.12; Eph 2.6).  This appears to be part of their eschatological scheme, which is more fully inaugurated than is Paul's (which is quite inaugurated as it is).

IV.  THREE LAST QUOTES FROM EVANS CULLED BY MOULE ON SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESURRECTION:

    "... the resurrection is responsible for that characteristic of Christianity which has been called 'the scandal of particularity', since it predicates of a particular historical event a kind of continuity and permanence which otherwise history does not know."  (p. 150)

    "... it has to be explained why the Church did not develop into a sect within or outside Judaism like the Qumran sect , in this case a Jewish sect with resurrection leanings.  From the somewhat meagre evidence available we may perhaps conclude that with the apprehension, through the resurrection, of Jesus as Israel's Messiah, the Church was conscious of itself as being not a pious reforming group, but the Messiah's people, and therefore the true Israel, with an urgent mission to the rest of Israel, and ultimately, since this was Israel's vocation, with a mission to the world."  (p. 152, with punctuation slightly modified)
   
    "Behind and within all the traditions ... is the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth continues to be and to operate, and that in him past, present and future are somehow related ..."  (p. 128)

    [Gibbs shall have the last word:  Since we have noted that the Lucan and Johannine emphasis upon Jesus' hands and feet (Luke) and hands and side (John) plus the eating in both gospels are anti-docetic, we need to note also that the emphasis on the abiding character of the wounds is also a stress on the the abiding character of the results of the passion: it is the one who has been crucified who appears, i.e. it is precisely the crucified one who is vindicated, and the abiding marks of the passion show that the way of the cross is not simply past but is now open for others to follow in Christ.  It is as the crucified one that Jesus is raised, not simply as the one who was crucified but now is no longer so.]