The Coldest Hot Take or the Hottest Cold Take- Resurrection of Jesus in Paul’s Letters

Resurrection painting, West Tofts church by Charles Greenhough is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Have you ever heard the objection that the Resurrection account in the Gospels was fabricated long after the life of Jesus by his followers to justify the legend that had grown up around him? Did you know that the earliest mentions of the Resurrection occur in Paul’s writings many of which predate the 4 Gospels? Below are a few (necessarily selective) references to the Resurrection of Jesus outside of the Gospels.

The amount of time between the writing of these books and the possible dates for the Resurrection is less than 25 years. You may be tempted to overlook their significance because these references are almost passing references but in fact, the reality testified by them serves as the condition and context for everything else in the letters. Their cursory character demonstrates their assumed nature in the New Testament Community of Faith. Only as time has passed does it become necessary to explain in greater depth the reality and significance of the Resurrection event.

The underlying message is simply, “the only reason Jesus can give you hope today is because he didn’t stay dead, he is Risen!” Everything stands or falls on that point right there.

Galatians 1:1— 48AD1 (only 15 years removed from the Resurrection)

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 — 50 AD (17 years removed)

For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. 

1 Corinthians 15: 1:1-19 — 53 AD (20 years removed)

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.d Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. 

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have diede in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

Romans 6:1-14 — 56/7 AD (23/4 years removed)

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 

Post Tenebras Lux,

Eric

[1] All Dates are from N.T. Wright and Michael Bird, the New Testament in Its World, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019. All Scripture Quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.

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