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Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives?

Well after ETB's insane gibbering 5 comment flame of my earlier post I thought maybe it was not so obvious to some people why the differing Resurrection accounts in the Gospels do nothing to suggest that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth couldn't have happened, and so I should do a post on the subject. It is important to point out that this is not an argument why any one must believe it did happen, only that the differing accounts are evidence in favour rather than against it. Another blogger, Michael Bird, writes in How Did Christianity Begin?,
According to Paul, again in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, the risen Jesus was seen by individuals and groups . . . This early tradition interlocks with the multiple accounts in the Gospels that narrate persons seeing, hearing and touching the resurrected Jesus. There are clear divergences in the details provided by the Evangelists that do not appear to add up; indeed, we can speak of an excited bewilderment as to exactly where, when and who saw the risen Jesus and in what order, but this only adds to the realism. In the words of E.P Sanders: 'Calculated deception should have produced greater unanimity. Instead there seems to have been competitors: "I saw him first!" "No! I did."' [The Historical Figure of Jesus, 1993, p280] As we investigate the various stories of the appearances at the tomb, in a locked room, on a road out of Jerusalem, in Galilee and by the Lake of Tiberius we are led to the conclusion that several individuals and groups believed that they had genuinely seen Jesus alive in a physical mode of existence after his death.

There is often the idea in people's heads, it seems to me, of a monolithic early Christian group agreeing on a fiction or delusion on which will rest the substance of their faith and then producing or selecting only those documents that seemed to substantiate those claims. But what is evidenced by the narrative in Acts and the composition of the NT itself is that from an early stage the church as a whole was scattered to different localities and although there would have been contact between the different groups (especially through relationships to significant figures) to some extent they evolved independently of each other. This is seen most clearly in the Gospel of John which relates a very different tradition to the other three gospels.

Instead the NT is something of an "ecumenical" document representing a number of different strands of early Christianity (e.g. Matthean, Johanine, Pauline, Petrine, etc). This is why each gospel shows evidence of having access to different sources than the others, although Mathew and Luke both seem to have had access to both Mark and a sayings tradition, "Q". The scattering that took place near the start of Church history meant that no harmonized authoritative version of events could be established. Instead, different communities independently recorded their best version of events. And this is exactly what the "contradictions" in the Resurrection narratives display, competing versions of an event that these different communities are nonetheless absolutely convinced took place. A convincing that was probably the result of hearing eye witness testimony and having it verified in their own personal religious experience. The fact that the gospel Resurrection accounts contradict each other in the details does not stop them all confirming the same event in its essentials.

To conclude: I couldn't give a tinker's fart how many angels were present or who saw him first, but if Jesus of Nazareth really was raised from the dead then that is something worth knowing about!

Comments

  1. Another thing which contributes to the authenticity is that a couple of the gospels state that women were the first to receive the news. If the record had been embellished to include a bodily resurrection, then the women would most certainly not have been given this honour.

    Tinker's fart?!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The fact that all the resurrection accounts differ markedly does indeed mean that they were not written by a single authoritative source. In other words, since the accounts cannot be reconciled, we cannot believe them all nor can we determine which parts are true and which are false, if any. Certainly we can conclude that God himself could not be the author of such contradiction and confusion and outright error.

    So, the irreconcilable differences tell us that God is not the author of the accounts -- and we cannot conclude that any details are true.

    ReplyDelete
  3. what extraordinary sequence of non sequiturs you give us, and without even sharing your name. Mind you if I went round leaving such time wasting comments, I wouldn't want anyone to know my name either!

    ReplyDelete

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