"The whole existence of the early church was based on the belief that Jesus was no longer dead, but was alive and active through the work of the Spirit in the lives of his followers", writes John Drane in the 3rd edition of his very popular New Testament Introduction, which arrived here at Tyndale House, Cambridge this week.
But what exactly caused this "resurrection faith"? Apart from the claim that Jesus' actual physical body rose from the tomb, Drane discusses and critiques three alternative explanations. Here are a few bits and pieces:
1) The "resurrection fact" was a subjective experience
Drane: "The disciples ... were prepared to stake their lives on the fact that Jesus was alive. Many of them were brutally murdered for their faith, including Peter and other members of Jesus' inner circle, who would be prime suspects for having removed the body. It is highly improbable, if not impossible, to imagine that they would willingly have suffered in this way if all the time they knew where they themselves had hidden his corpse".
2. The "resurrection fact" was a theological creation
Drane: "There is no evidence from any source at all to suggest that the Messiah was to die, let alone rise from the dead. On the contrary, the Messiah was popularly expected to kill other people, and if he suffered and died himself, then by definition he was not going to be the real Messiah".
3. The "resurrection fact" was a later belief
Drane: "... there are the statements made by Paul in 1 Corinthians, written at least ten years before AD 66. By that time, one gospel had certainly been written, and furthermore, the gospel accounts were undoubtedly based on stories that went right back into the earliest days of the church. It makes no sense at all to suppose that belief in the resurrection was a late development".
Drane concludes the discussion saying that many other fanciful suggestions have been made from time to time to account for the "resurrection fact". "But", says Drane, "the overwhelming weight of all the evidence suggests that, however it might be described in cognitive abstractions, the 'resurrection fact' was a real, historically-located event. No other hypothesis gives an adequate account of so much of the evidence".
Revd Dr David Wenham, Vice-Principal and Tutor in New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, has this to say on the back of the book: "This book has arguably been the most useful non-technical introduction to the New Testament available... A best buy for the student or lay person wanting a readable and reliable first handbook on the New Testament".
I was delighted to find a reference to Mark S. Goodacre's The Synoptic Problem at the resources section at the back of the book. Hopefully we can put the alleged plagiarism issue raised by Goodacre behind us. Peter Head, Sir Kirby Laing Senior lecturer in New Testament from Cambridge's response to the issue on Goodacre's blog might help in this regard....