The bulk of this article is from a theology class research paper I wrote in 2010. It is longer and has a more formal style than you are used to from Lambchow.com. However, as we enter into Passion Week 2014 I thought it would be an appropriate reminder of the proofs and purpose of the resurrection of Jesus. Also note, that while I have included the bibliography the footnotes have been dropped. Contact me if you would like a copy of the paper as presented in 2010.
Jesus once asked his disciples a most important question – “who do you say that I am” (Matt 16:15). Peter responded with “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). The answer to Jesus’ question is still vitally relevant today. C. S. Lewis wrote, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be a lunatic … or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.” However, what is the proof that Jesus is who he claimed to be? Specifically, what historical event shows that Jesus is the Son of God? This paper proposes that the resurrection of Jesus is the defining historical event that confirms the deity of Christ. However, the resurrection is not the only evidence of Jesus’ claim, nor is the resurrection’s sole purpose to provide that evidence. Nevertheless, it can be forcibly argued that the resurrection is the greatest evidence for the deity of Christ.
Proofs of the Resurrection
In the NT there are many scriptures concerning the resurrection. Two stand out as being central to the topic, Jesus’ prediction in John 2:18-19, and Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:4. Prior to examining those verses, it is beneficial to explore briefly the event of the resurrection, and the historical proofs of the resurrection.
All four Gospels record the events of the resurrection. Luke records them this way.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? “He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. (Luke 24:1–9)
Although the Gospels vary in the amount of detail there is agreement that a group of women went to the tomb early Sunday morning and the tomb was empty. All of the Gospels and Acts also contain various reports of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. It should be noted however that the verses in Mark’s gospel which record the appearances (16:9-20) occur in a section that is not in the earliest manuscripts. Since the supposition of this paper is that the resurrection of Christ is a historical event the evidence for that assertion needs to be reviewed. There are two traditional “strands” of proof concerning the resurrection, the traditions about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and those about the discovery of the empty tomb. To the traditional proofs of the resurrection, this paper offers a third “strand” which consists of the continuing work of a risen Christ in the lives of believers.
The enemies of the early Jerusalem church are the best supporters for the fact that the tomb was empty as reported in the Gospels. Wolfgang Pannenberg writes in Jesus, God and Man, “Among the general historical arguments that speak for the trustworthiness of the report about the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb is, above all, the fact that the early Jewish polemic against the Christian message about Jesus resurrection…does not offer any suggestion that Jesus grave remained untouched.” In other words, if the grave was still occupied the Jewish leaders could simply refute the resurrection belief by marching the “wayward” souls to the cemetery and show them the proof that Jesus was still dead and buried. Instead, however, they concocted a story that Jesus’ body had been stolen from under the watchful eye of a Roman guard (Matt 28:11-15). In summary, the testimony of the women, the disciples and the enemies of the church of Jerusalem agree that the tomb is empty.
The second strand of proof for a historical resurrection is the many appearance reports in the New Testament. Some modern skeptics chalk these appearances up as hallucinations at best or inventions at worst. Pannenberg counters however that, “To maintain, first, that the appearances were produced by the enthusiastic excited imagination of the disciples does not hold, at least for the first and most fundamental appearances. The Easter appearances are not to be explained from the Easter faith of the disciples; rather, conversely, the Easter faith of the disciples is to be explained by the appearances.” Even liberal theologians such as Roger Haight believe that the Apostles were sincere in their belief that Jesus raised from the dead. However, Haight does not see this as proof of the resurrection. Pannenberg argues, “In view of the age of the formulated traditions used by Paul and the proximity of Paul to the events, the assumption that appearances of the resurrected Lord were really experienced by a number of members of the primitive Christian community… has good historical foundation.”
The third strand of proof for the historical resurrection of Jesus is the continuing work of the resurrected Lord in the lives of his people today. During the preparation for this paper, Pastor Glenn Middleton serendipitously provided this thought in a sermon. “The proof of the resurrection is through the continuing acts of God in the lives of people in the form of salvation, forgiveness, freedom over addictions, healings and other provisions for life.” Thomas Torrance described it as a “new kind of historical happening which instead of tumbling into the grave and oblivion rises out of the death of what is past into continuing being and reality.” For believers, the evidence is not only what is recorded but also in a changed life that confirms the scriptures. To quote an old hymn, “you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”
Obviously, a more detailed examination of the proofs concerning the resurrection could be offered. For this discussion, it is sufficient however to provide the basic evidence and move on to examine what the scriptures say about the resurrection in relation to the deity of Christ. Note however that the historical evidence that the resurrection did occur as written in the gospels is conclusive.
Deity of Christ
In the introduction of Romans, Paul provides the clearest statement of fact concerning the resurrection as proof of Christ’s deity.
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:1–4).
The key phrase being, “Jesus Christ was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection…” Although the English word “declare” can mean something earned or a new title as in “I declare you man and wife” the Greek language does not hold that meaning. According to Robert Jamieson in A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, “‘and declared’ is literally ‘marked off’, ‘defined’, ‘determined’ which connotes ‘shown’ or ‘proved'”. Jamieson also points out a language shift that emphasizes Christ’s deity, “Observe how studiously the language changes here. He ‘was made [says the apostle] of the seed of David, according to the flesh’ (Ro 1:3); but he was not made, He was only ‘declared [or proved] to BE the Son of God.'” Robert Mounce in his commentary on Romans writes, “It is the resurrection that sets him apart and authenticates his claim to deity. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, he would be remembered today only as a Jewish moralist who had some inflated ideas about his own relationship to God.” In writing these verses, Paul was careful to proclaim that the resurrection shows that Jesus was and is the Son of God.
One of those “inflated ideas” that Mounce could be referencing to is Jesus’ response when challenged about his authority to chase the merchants and moneychangers out of the temple.
The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken (John 2:18–22).
The challenge of the Jewish leaders to Jesus was for proof of his authority to act as he had done. Gerald Borchert in the New American Commentary writes, “the demand for such a sign was in effect the demand for Jesus to justify himself in their eyes.” In all of the instances recorded in the Gospels where someone demanded an immediate sign, Jesus refused. In this case, he provided what would be the “once and for all” proof of his authority, the resurrection. This statement also appears later at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin when at least two witnesses recounted it (Matt 26:60, 61). Was Jesus referring to his body as John records it or to the physical temple as the leaders supposed? Merrill Tenney writes that there is a distinction between the words translated temple in verse 14 and in 19-21. The word in verse 14 is “hieron” which refers to a shrine or holy building. The word in verses 10-21 is “nao” which signifies the “dwelling place” of deity. “In the NT it is used metaphorically of the bodies of believers (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19). So whereas the Jews were thinking in terms of a physical building, Jesus was referring to his body.” The only sign that Jesus offered as the sign of his authority, and therefore his deity, was the destruction of his body and his subsequent rising again in three days.
Comparison of Contemporary Theology
Sampling the current theological thought concerning the resurrection reveals that it remains central to contemporary systematic theology. Although interpretations vary over whether it should be considered a historic event or only a story meant to encourage faith. Thomas Torrance, a past professor of Christian Dogmatics at the University of Edinburgh, exemplifies the traditional side. He writes, “It is in the resurrection that we are to understand fully the fact that Jesus Christ is himself Truth – ‘I am the Truth.’ It is as the risen incarnate Son that Jesus Christ remains Truth.” In Torrance’s view, the resurrection of Christ occurred historically and declared Jesus as the Son of God. He writes that, “The resurrection was not just an event that happened to Christ, for it corresponded to the kind of Person he was in his own Being.” In this Torrance means that Jesus was the Son of God before the incarnation and not made Son of God by the resurrection.
Roger Haight, a Jesuit and Scholar in Residence at the Union Theological Seminary in New York exemplifies the liberal position. Paul Molnar notes in a 2003 journal article comparing Haight and Torrance. “While Haight admits that the early disciples did indeed believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, he also believes that ‘it is better to say the Jesus’ resurrection is not a historical fact’ since this thinking would undermine ‘the fundamental nature of the resurrection as a transcendent object of faith.'” In this liberal form of theology, symbolism replaces fact, which places the meaning of the resurrection into what Haight calls “faith-hope”. Haight contends that “faith-hope” is not rooted in the historic events but only in the experience of the believer. “It is our transcendental experience of faith-hope that confers meaning on Jesus himself and on his resurrection. Therefore, precisely because the affirmation that Christ is risen is an object of faith-hope it cannot be ‘a piece of objective information'” Haight’s presupposition seems to be that what is of faith cannot also be fact because it requires no faith to believe in fact. This has led him to the conclusion that “since Jesus is not actually risen from the dead and since the resurrection language expresses merely our faith-hope and that of his disciples, therefore incarnation cannot mean that Jesus is God incarnate. Rather it symbolizes the fact that Jesus reflects God’s love to a higher degree than others.” To refute Haight it is only necessary to turn to the Apostles. They did not have “faith-hope” in a non-fact but they lived the historical events upon which they based their faith. “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1) The message that they took to the known world was very precise. Hart writes, “It was the message of the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of our Lord (1 Cor 15:3-8). And for the apostle (Paul) there was no compromising the resurrection: ‘if Christ is not raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith is futile’ (15:14).” The resurrection was so central to Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel that when he presented it at Mars Hill it was thought at first that he was introducing two new deities: a male god called Jesus and the goddess Anastasis (Acts 17:18), which is the Greek word translated resurrection.
The conclusion, therefore, is that Jesus’ resurrection is a historical fact evidenced by the empty tomb, post-resurrection appearances, and his continuing work in the lives of believers. Christ’s resurrection, therefore, confirms that he is the Son of God in the fulfillment of his prediction in John 2:18-19 and as declared by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:4. It is evident through the examination of the theologies of Torrance and Haight that how someone views the resurrection affects the veracity of their faith. Only through believing the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection and that Jesus is who he claimed to be can we answer in full agreement with Peter. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Borchert, Gerald L. The New American Commentary vol. 25B, John 12-21, Electronic Edition, Logos Library System. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.
Hart, Larry. Truth Aflame: Theology for the Church in Renewal. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, A. R. Fausset et al. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1952.
Mounce, Robert. The New American Commentary vol. 27, Romans. Electronic edition Logos Library System. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001.
Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus: God and Man. Translated by Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968.
Tenney, Merrill C. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.
“Torrence, Thomas”. The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology. http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/WeirdWildWeb/courses/mwt/dictionary/mwt_themes_785_torrance.htm (26 April 2010).
Molnar, Paul D. 2003. “Incarnation, resurrection and the doctrine of the Trinity: a comparison of Thomas F Torrance and Roger Haight.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 5, no. 2: 147-167. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 8, 2010).
“Roger Haight”, Union Theological Seminary. http://www.utsnyc.edu/Page.aspx?pid=341 (Accessed April 21, 2010).
Ackley, Alfred. Hymn, “He Lives”. 1933.
Middleton, Glenn. Sermon delivered to New Life Community Church, Henry Ill. April 11, 2010.
Torrance, Thomas F. Space, Time and Resurrection. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998: 70-71. Quoted in Paul Molnar, “Incarnation, resurrection and the doctrine of the Trinity: a comparison of Thomas F Torrance and Roger Haight”, 20, n. 158. International Journal of Systematic Theology 5, no. 2.