In this post, I want to address two arguments that Steven Carr makes in the Resurrection Debate.
First, Carr points out that Paul does not appeal to the Gospel traditions about Jesus’ resurrection, which indicates to him that they must not have existed yet. This argument allows Carr to distinguish what Paul says about the resurrection from the Gospels’ presentation. Not only would this demonstrate a contradiction within the New Testament on the subject (something fundamentalists cannot stand), but it also opens the door for Carr to dismiss the empty tomb as evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. For Carr, Paul did not conceive of an empty tomb, for he believed that Jesus’ soul left his corpse to go to a heavenly body. As far as Carr is concerned, Jesus’ tomb could’ve been full, and Paul would have still proclaimed that Christ rose from the dead. Consequently, according to Carr, the empty tomb stories do not represent the earliest Christian interpretations of Jesus’ resurrection, so they are not historically accurate.
Second, Carr argues that the earliest Christians did not believe that the corpse of Jesus rose from the dead, which means to him that it must not have happened. If it had occurred, then it would have been a part of the earliest Christian kerygma. Carr explains:
“From Paul’s letter to the Corinthians , we learn that converts to Jesus-worship simply scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse. As Christians, they believed that Jesus was still alive, but they were baffled by the idea of corpses returning to life. From this we know that these converts were not converted by stories of corpses rising and eating fish. Converts believe what converted them. That is what conversion means. But these people did not believe in corpses rising. So they had not been converted by stories of a corpse rising and being touched. This in itself is enough to refute the idea that the corpse of Jesus rose from the dead. Because these converts to Christianity had no idea that any such thing was supposed to have happened. It can’t have been a core doctrine of Christianity that the corpse of Jesus rose from the grave, because converts believe the core doctrines of what they convert to, and these converts to Jesus-worship scoffed at the very idea of a corpse rising.”
Here are a few points:
1. Carr’s first argument is from silence: Paul does not mention the stories about the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection body, and so they must not have existed when he wrote I Corinthians 15.
The argument from silence is popular within scholarly and lay circles, on both the right and the left. When the Da Vinci Code was proclaiming that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, conservatives went in an uproar. One of them on the Bible Answer Man contended that Christ was not married through an appeal to I Corinthians 9:5: “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (NRSV). “If Christ had been married, then Paul would have mentioned it, since that could have helped his argument,” the conservative affirmed. The conservative concluded that Jesus was unmarried because Paul did not mention a wife of Jesus, in a time when that could’ve helped his case.
On the left, the argument from silence is used to ascribe a late date to various biblical writings. “Moses must be a late exilic or post-exilic invention, since his name does not appear in the prophets,” some have argued.
My problem with the argument from silence is that there is no way to determine what the biblical authors “would have” done. Can we base that much on a hypothetical? In addition, the biblical authors may have had a reason not to include a particular detail. Maybe it didn’t cross their minds while they were writing! That happens to me a lot. As I’ve said before, I’m a person, not a walking computer.
Let’s now look at I Corinthians 15. Carr states:
“Even when trying to talk about the nature of a resurrected body, Paul never draws on any alleged personal experience anybody ever had. The Gospels give a wealth of alleged facts about the nature of a resurrected body, but Paul never uses any, even when trying to refute the claims of people he calls ‘idiots’. Why doesn’t Paul simply rub their noses in the fact that their own Lord and Saviour, the very person they worship, had allegedly claimed that a resurrected body was made out of ‘flesh and bones’, and yet they still were asking with what sort of body a corpse comes back with?” (emphasis mine).
But Paul reports that he and others did have an experience of the risen Lord. I Corinthians 15:5-8 says: “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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Carr doesn’t see these appearances as evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, for he says that “[a]ll the resurrected Jesus does is ‘appear’ in an unspecified manner to various people.” But notice something: Paul says that he and others have actually seen the risen Jesus, including (presumably) his resurrected body. Yet, Paul does not refer to what he saw when he addresses the Corinthians’ questions: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” He doesn’t say, “Well, we all saw Jesus with such-and-such a body, so there’s your answer.” Why not? Maybe he wanted to defend the resurrection on the basis of reason, not just personal experience. He did appeal to experience when he cited the people who witnessed the risen Christ. But he also wanted to demonstrate that resurrection was logically possible, since nature has an example of life emerging from death (plants grow from dead seeds). Paul did not defend the resurrection as many of us would, even though that option was available to him. Instead, he chose another way.
2. The Corinthians’ rejection of the resurrection does not indicate its absence from the earliest Christian kerygma. Why not? Because Paul explicitly tells them that they are rejecting the kerygma by not believing in the resurrection! Paul says in I Corinthians 15:12-16:
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 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.”
The Corinthians are not the best source for the earliest Christian kerygma, especially when Paul tells them that they’re not following what he handed down to them.
They may have believed that Christ rose from the dead, but they were unwilling to carry that doctrine to its logical conclusion: that the dead in general will be raised. Their Gentile bias against the resurrection inhibited them from taking that step.
Tomorrow, I’ll look a little more at I Corinthians 15. Specifically, we will ask why Paul calls the Corinthians fools. Stay tuned!