From the very beginning, however, objections were raised to the resurrection of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel will go out of its way to insist that the disciples could not have stolen the body of Jesus due to the presence of a Roman guard (Mt 27:62-66). Perhaps Matthew emphasizes this point in answer to an early objection that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus. Celsus, a second-century critic of Christianity, would sneeringly attribute the resurrection to the delusion of “hysterical women.” There are, of course, many other theories that make their way into twenty-first-century critiques. Even among Christians there would be re-evaluations of the Doctrine of the Resurrection. The mid-twentieth century biblical critic Rudolf Bultmann is credited with a theory that the disciples’ experience of faith allowed them to see the crucifixion, not as a tragic ending to the life of Jesus, but instead as God’s act of salvation. From Bultmann’s perspective, the resurrection was not the bodily rising of Jesus, but was the disciples’ experience of a “rising” faith.
More recently you can find Christian writers such as N.T Wright defending a more orthodox perspective or Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, and others seeking to re-evaluate the doctrine of the resurrection. If you have a few hours, I recommend this recorded debate between N.T. Wright and Dominic Crossan.
If you don’t have time for that, or prefer to read, you might consider reading an early version of N.T. Wright’s lecture in three parts: (The text for this appears to have been optically scanned and has numerous spelling errors)
Belief in the resurrection would bolster early Christian martyrs like Polycarp and Perpetua. Faith in the resurrection resided deeply in their convictions. In the account given in The Martyrdom of Polycarp he would offer the following prayer from atop the wood stacked for his burning:
I bless thee, that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I may share, among the number of the martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, for the Resurrection to everlasting life, both of soul and body in the immortality of the Holy Spirit.
The two links below are for accounts of Polycarp and Perpetua.
For the “cliff note” versions:
While having a definitive idea of the Doctrine of the Resurrection is not necessary for a strong Christian faith, I believe we should constructively wrestle with it. The resurrection stands at the heart of Christian hope and gives new meaning to our lives. And while culture and modernity may deny the possibility of resurrection, I believe that the effects and the resulting hope inform and lie beneath so many of the worlds artistic and cultural expressions.
For something on the lighter (and shorter) side you can watch this:
Some questions to consider:
What does resurrection mean to you?
- Does it make any difference to you if there was a bodily resurrection of Jesus or not? Why or why not? For more information regarding this question go here: Can You Question the Resurrection and Still be a Christian
- Early Christian Martyrs gave their lives in the hope of the Resurrection. These stories, as indicated in Polycarp’s prayer above indicates, place the experience of martyrdom in the context of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. How might you face these circumstances? Does hope in the resurrection play a role?
- In the baptismal service, we are told that “In [the water of Baptism] we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection.” How might the experience of Baptism change you and allow you to share in his resurrection?