The FEAT-Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?

History and the Past

Note: I will not be dealing with the objections to miracles in this post. There are plenty of articles on this site that deal with this issue.

I have always said that my faith won’t change the past. The resurrection is an objective, historical event that either did or didn’t happen. One way to examine some of the evidence for the resurrection can best be remembered by the acronym FEAT because, if true, the resurrection is the greatest FEAT in all of history. (1)

Let’s look at the each letter in the FEAT:

F: Fatal Torment

Most historians agree that Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross and was buried in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. Most medical professionals agree that the torment Jesus faced was fatal. Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3). John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar even admits Jesus’ crucifixion is “as sure as anything historical can ever be.” (see Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, pg 145)

According to Martin Hengel, “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.” (1) Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.

In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God.

But the question remains as to whether Jesus’ first followers knew He was going to die. After all, within Judaism, had there even been any belief in a suffering, or atoning Messiah? There are several texts that speak to the possibility of a suffering Messiah (Zech 13:7; Dan 9:26;Tg.Isa.53;T.Benj.3:8;4Q521frgs.9, 24;4Q285 5.4;4 Ezra 7:29-30;2 Bar.30:1). But if it is so obvious that Jesus’ mission was to die, then we are left to ponder this comment by Michael Bird: “If there was a well-known tradition about a suffering or dying Messiah, how could the hopes of the disciples be shattered after Good Friday?”

E: Empty Tomb

Most scholars also agree that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was found to be empty. If not, Roman and Jewish authorities would have been able to produce the identifiable remains of Jesus, thus ending the early Christian movement. Given the importance of an author including self-damaging or embarrassing details in a historical account, Mark mentions Mary as the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus (Mk 16:9) while Matthew mentions the empty tomb being discovered by Mary Magdalene and another Mary (Matt. 28:1). Meanwhile, Luke cites the empty tomb as being found by Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and another women who is not specially named (Luke 24:10), while John records Mary Magdalene as the only witness (Jn. 20:1). So we see all four Gospel authors include the account of women discovering the empty tomb. Josephus discusses the credibility of a women’s testimony:

“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.” (Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15) (1)

Furthermore, not only did the Jews have a low view of women, but the Romans as well. The Roman historian Suetonius (C.A.D.115) writes of Caesar Augustus who was an emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth through A.D. 14:

“Whereas men and women had hitherto always sat together, Augustus confined women to the back rows even at gladiatorial shows: the only ones exempt from this rule being the Vestal Virgins, for whom separate accommodations was provided, facing the praetor’s tribunal. No women at all were allowed to witness the athletic contests; indeed, when the audience clamored at the Games for a special boxing match to celebrate his appointment as Chief Priest, Augustus postponed this until early next morning, and issued a proclamation to the effect that it was the Chief Priest’s desire that women should not attend the Theatre before ten o’clock.” (2)

The women being the first witnesses to the empty tomb also passes the principle of dissimilarity or discontinuity in the fact the woman witnesses appears to be out of place with what was common in Palestinian Judaism. Given the male authors of the Gospels wrote a story that has woman rather than men as the first witnesses to the empty tomb, this would no doubt cause a hindrance rather than a help to the spreading of the message of Jesus’ resurrection.

A: APPEARANCES

Remember, it is the appearances that caused the birth of our faith. An empty tomb without the actual appearances of Jesus would not have had much of an impact. As Norman Geisler says:

“The resurrection appearances were in most cases independent of one another. There were at least ten different appearances spaced over forty days (Acts 1:3). There was an initial disinclination to believe what they saw, which would eliminate the possibility of hallucination (cf. John 20:25 f.; Luke 24:15 f.; Matt. 28:17). Physical and tangible evidence was presented that he was indeed the bodily resurrected Christ. He ate fish, showed his hands and feet, asked them to handle his flesh and bones (Luke 24:39–43), and even challenged Thomas to put fingers and hands into his wounds (John 20:27). Furthermore, Christ spent much time with them doing “many other signs” (John 20:31), “speaking of the kingdom of God,” and showing “many proofs” of his resurrection (Acts 1:3). He even ate breakfast with seven of them and had a prolonged discussion with Peter (John 20:15f.). He also ate with two other disciples in Emmaus (Luke 24:28 f.)

Also, the accounts of the resurrection appearances are divergent enough to draw the allegation of contradiction. Although it is possible to reconcile the accounts, the divergence of perspective argues strongly for the independence and integrity of the witnesses. There is certainly no collusion among them for all to tell the same story. If there were collusion, they could have easily ironed out some problems, such as the report in Luke that there were two men (angels) by the tomb whereas Matthew speaks of only one.”(4)

Bart Ehrman’s Comments
In relation to the appearances, even skeptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman says “We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University,1999), 230.

So we see Ehrman falls into the category that is pointed out as the five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion
2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead
3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection
4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James
5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a committed follower of Jesus the Messiah

But when it comes to examining the cause of the appearances, the reason Ehrman rejects the bodily resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation is because of his naturalistic presuppositions.

T: TRANSFORMATION

There is no doubt that historians can observe the effect- the birth of Christianity pre 70 A.D. And given the issues in our previous post, the historical question at hand is the cause for the birth of this new religious movement. As Luke Timothy Johnson says, “The resurrection faith is the birth of Christianity.” (5) What must be asked is what has better explanatory power for the birth of early Christianity- pre 70 A.D and a very high Christology in a very short time period after Jesus’ resurrection? Skeptics have offered a wide range of natural explanations throughout history such as the stolen body explanation, the wrong tomb theory, the conspiracy explanation, the swoon theory (which says Jesus did not actually die), or the hallucination hypothesis.

For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity. Furthermore, it would have been no problem to confess Jesus as prophet, priest, or king since these offices already existed in the Hebrew Bible. After all, these titles were used for a human being. There was nothing divine about them. But what we see in the New Testament is thousands of Jewish people not only proclaiming Jesus as not just the Messiah, but Lord as well. Furthermore, what can be seen in the early devotion to Jesus is what Larry Hurtado calls a “mutation” (See his book One Lord, One God: Early Christian Devotion And Ancient Jewish Montheism. Philadelphia, PA. Fortress Press. 1988).

One of the primary factors that Hurtado presents for the cause of this “mutation” in the context of Jewish monotheism is the resurrection itself and the post-resurrection appearances. Some of the features in the early Jesus devotion are as follows: First, there are hymns to Jesus (John 1:1-18; Col 1:15-20; Phil.2:5-11; Rev. 4:8,11; 5:9-10;15:14) . Second, there are prayers to Jesus: we see prayer to Jesus in prayer-like expressions such as “grace and peace” greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters and in the benedictions at the end. Also, the early followers of Jesus are seen “calling upon” the name of Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16;1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 10:13), which is the same pattern that is used in the Hebrew Bible where it refers to “calling upon the Lord” (Gen. 12:8;13:4 ;21:23 ; 26:25; Psalms 99:6;105:1; Joel 2:32).

Sources:

1. The FEAT acronym comes from Hanegraaff, H. (2003). The Third Day. Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group. I have expanded on each point with my own ideas.
2. Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 72.
3. Gaius Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Augustus 44, Robert Graves, trans (New York: Penguin, 1989), 80; cited in Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 73.
4. Geisler, N. L. Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 314.
5. Johnson, L.T., The Writings Of The New Testament: An Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 101.

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One thought on “The FEAT-Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?

  1. K. Mapson October 28, 2010 / 4:48 am

    Have you ever heard of an egrigor?

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