In writing this post, I have one purpose, to show a practical way in which to respond to someone who claims that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection arose decades after his death. Of course, an opposition such as this has major implications for the Christian faith. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then the Christian faith has no foundation on which to stand.
First I would like to lay out the opposition. Opponents of the resurrection, like to point out the 35 year period in between the death of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels. They like to note, in this time, many legends about Jesus developed, including his resurrection. Meaning, that the early disciples and witnesses of Jesus’, did not believe in his resurrection, instead, this idea did not develop until decades after Jesus’ death. The Gospel writers added this miracle to their accounts to make a theological point. Of course, you may conclude, that even though a 35 year gap between Jesus’ death and the first written account of his ministry exists, these accounts come from eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry and death, therefore, of course the disciples believed in Jesus’ resurrection. However, a skeptic would surely tell you that the canonical gospels did not have signatures on them. In essence, we do not know if Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, wrote these four gospels (because they did not claim too). Although, I could try to establish an argument for the validity of the gospels, a much simpler approach exists when attempting to show the early belief of Jesus’ resurrection.
Our argument starts with the Apostle Paul, a Christian convert, who wrote many letters concerning early Christian beliefs. I would now like to proceed in showing a very helpful stream of logic. Note the following passage:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, 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 at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 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, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not 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. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
(1 Corinthians 15:3-11 ESV)
Notice here that Paul believes in the Resurrection of Jesus. Although, this alone has big implications, the skeptic may also state that Paul did not write the letter to the Corinthians until around 54 A.D.. Therefore, time still existed between the death of Jesus and Paul’s account for the resurrection, and enough time existed for legend to work its way into the story. However, note in 1 Cor 15 what Paul says: “I deliver to as of first importance what I also received.” Where did Paul receive his information about Christ’s Resurrection, did he hear it through the grapevine or did he have a more reliable account? Well to answer this lets turn to Galatians 2:
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
(Galatians 2:1-2 ESV)
According to this passage, Paul went to visit the disciples themselves 14 years after his conversion (Its important to note that Paul met with Peter 3 years after his conversion as well Gal 1.). Moreover, Paul went to meet the disciples for the soul purpose of making sure the gospel he preached “had not run in vain.” In essence, Paul wanted to confirm his teachings with the disciples. Taken the fact, that Paul preached Christ’s resurrection as essential for the Christian faith, we can assume that if the disciples did not believe this, they would have told Paul. However, as seen in Galatians 2 the disciples did not:
and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
(Galatians 2:9 ESV)
In conclusion, Paul confirms his teachings with the disciples in Galatians 2, Paul taught that Jesus rose from the dead, therefore, the disciples also believed that Jesus rose from the dead.