A story told by William Lane Craig captures the essence of the topic at hand:
“There ain’t gonna be no Easter this year,” a high school friend once remarked to me.
“Why not?” I asked incredulously.
“They found the body.”[i]
What happens to our faith if the body of Christ would be found in the near future? Would that do anything at all? Why is the bodily resurrection of Christ so crucial? Did it really happen that way? A couple of these questions will be addressed throughout this series of posts. Yet the most crucial answer which is to be answered is this: “What about the empty tomb?” or asked differently “What happened to the body of Christ?” In this series I want to address the major objections[ii]to the resurrection of Christ as an inference of the empty tomb. This is mainly an object of negative/defensive apologetics.
Before we will enter the discussion some preliminary remarks have to be stated. I am not trying to convince the audience by sheer rationality and historical evidences; what I want to accomplish is to show the historical evidence and by inference come to the best conclusion of such data. Inference to the best explanation is the methodology I will choose. Out of a pool of evidence we infer the best “reasonable” explanation.
Yet this actually creates a dilemma which goes further than the scope of this paper allows. Because one might object ‘What is “reasonable”?’ And here we would enter into the discussion of Weltanschauung. Again Craig makes a crucial observation “For the naturalistic New Testament critic confronted with the evidence concerning the empty tomb, the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead would not even be a live option.”[iii] Thus one has to be open to any explanation without throwing some of them on an a priori rejection. Further “within the NT the empty tomb is never adduced as proof of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead;”[iv]thus my remark of inference to the best explanation (i.e., this is not a proof for the resurrection).
This series will be divided into several sub points, according to the objections raised. Most of these objections stem from a naturalistic Weltanschauung; one objection against a literal bodily resurrection however is exegetical in nature. With such we will start.
Objection # 1: Paul Never Talks about the Empty Tomb; and 1 Cor. 15:44 Indicates a “Spiritual” Body
This view of a “spiritual” resurrection is hold for example by Uta Ranke-Heinemann. She writes, “The empty tomb on Easter morning is a legend. This is shown by the simple fact that the apostle Paul, the most crucial preacher of Christ’s resurrection, […] says nothing about it.”[v]This is an interesting observation. Yet the conclusion of such does not necessitate. There may be other reasons why Paul never mentions the empty tomb. Further I want to restate, that “[…] the empty tomb by itself did not lead to faith in the resurrection (cf. Luke 24:21-24; John 20:13).”[vi]
But let us examine what Paul was teaching in his missionary endeavor of the first century. First, Luke in the book of Acts summarizes “Paul’s preaching as ‘the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.’”[vii]This however does not prove the belief in an empty tomb, nor the bodily resurrection. So we have to look further for some indications for such. Let us briefly examine Acts 13:28-37. Here Paul speaks of Psalm 16:10as a fulfillment in Christ, since “David…fell asleep…and saw corruption” (Acts 13:36). Yet the promise in Psalm 16 was that the “Holy One” would not see any corruption (i.e. decay); Paul thus can say “but he whom God raised up did not see corruption [i.e. decay]” (Acts 13:37). Mánek states hereto, “According to this speech Paul believed in the empty tomb.” Nonetheless Mánek also observes that “[t]o say on the basis of the Acts of the Apostles that Paul believed in the empty tomb would not be theologically responsible.” [viii]
Thus a further look into the main passage – i.e., 1 Corinthians 15 – is of necessity. See also my earlier posts:
Here the objection is that Paul speaks of a “spiritual body” and thus a physical one is not in view. The issue and solution are found in the Greek terms σῶμα ψυχικόν (sōma psychikon) and σῶμα πνευματικόν (sōma pneumatikon), and in the context in which they are used. Paul here distinguishes between psychikon and pneumatikon, yet the sōma is the same essence. The emphasis is in the difference between the “perishable” and the “imperishable;” between “dishonor” and “glory;” between “weakness” and “power;” and “spiritual” and “natural.” Ladd points out:
The ‘spiritual body’ of 1 Cor 15:44is not a body made of spirit any more than the ‘natural’ (literally, psychical) body is a body made of psyche. However, it is a literal, real body, even though it has been adapted to the new order of existence which shall be inaugurated at the resurrection (Ladd, 139).[ix]
Mánek further points out the New Testament the verb ἐγείρειν (egeirein) – which is used by Paul in this passage – normally describes bodily movement, thus “[p]hilological evidence […] shows, that in Paul’s conception the body participates in the resurrection.”[x]Paul’s language hence indicates that he believed in an empty tomb.[xi]
One last comment on Objection # 1 is that Paul probably never mentions the empty tomb explicitly because of apologetic reasons. As Stein mentions, “When it came to the resurrection appearances, the apostle could argue on equal terms with the other disciples. He, too, had seen the Lord! He could not, however, say the same about the empty tomb.”[xii]
In conclusion to this section then “the legend of Easter morning” is not a legend at all, at least not from the standpoint of the Apostle Paul.
[i] William Lane Craig. “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” Jesus Under Fire. (Ed. Michael J. Wilkins, and James Porter Moreland. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1995), 165.
[ii] These major objections are mainly taken from Norman L. Geisler “Resurrection, Alternate Theories of.” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. (Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1999), 644-647.
[iii] Ibid., 144.
[iv] Larry J.Kreitzer. “Ressurrection.“ Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. (Ed. Hawthorne, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 811.
[v] Uta Ranke-Heinemann. Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith. (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 131.
[vi] Robert H. Stein. “Was the Tomb Really Empty.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. (20.1 Mr 1977), 25. [emphasis mine]
[vii]Frank Thielman. Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 123.
[viii] Jindrich Mánek. “The Apostle Paul and the Empty Tomb.” Novum Testamentum. (2.3-4; O 1958): 276-277.
[ix] Ladd is quoted in Larry J.Kreitzer. “Ressurrection.,” 73. [emphasis original]
[x] Mánek. “The Apostle Paul and the Empty Tomb,” 277.
[xi] Ibid., 279.
[xii] Stein. “Was the Tomb Really Empty,” 29.