More on the Tim O’Neill Theory That the Resurrection Story “Evolved”

My first post on Tim’s theory can be found here.  I want now to elaborate.

First, some more background:  Tim’s theory can be found in his Quora article, “A Story That Grew in the Telling,” which is his answer to the question, “What evidence exists for the resurrection of Jesus?”  Tim also makes reference to his theory in the comment exchange following Vitali Zagorodnov’s (much shorter) answer to the same question.  My own answer to this question can be found here.

As stated in my previous post, the dating Tim variously ascribes to the New Testament documents is by no means a settled issue. While there is widespread agreement that seven letters of Paul (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon) are probably the earliest New Testament documents and can be confidently dated to roughly 50-60 AD, there is no such broad consensus on the dating of the remainder of the New Testament documents.  There are a significant number of scholars who believe Mark was written before Matthew and Luke, and that those three gospels were written before John – but that’s not to say that those same people would agree with the dating that Tim gives for each.  Moreover, it’s not as though the rest of the New Testament documents have nothing to say about Jesus’ resurrection.  Thus Tim’s argument is based upon a dating scheme which is tenuous.  Nonetheless, I do not believe his argument is sound even if his dating scheme turned out to be valid.  Therefore, for discussion’s sake, I want in this post to proceed on the basis of accepting Tim’s dating of the documents and show that his thesis still will not hold.

Tim’s thesis is that Jesus’ resurrection is an idea that “most likely developed and evolved over time.”  More specifically, he believes that “this idea developed from an abstract one into one of a more concrete, physical revivification.”  Tim begins by trying to demonstrate that Paul’s view (circa 50’s AD) of Jesus’ resurrection was contradictory to later views found in the gospels (circa 70 AD and later).  He attempts to draw a sharp distinction between Paul’s description of “a spiritual body” with what he calls the “revivified corpse” of Jesus presented in the gospels.  Tim wants to claim that Paul’s perspective would allow no physical encounters such as the gospel writers depict.  However, this dichotomy is of Tim’s construction.  The text doesn’t convey it.

Paul does not describe the sort of encounter that the gospels do because he wasn’t around during that forty-day period between resurrection and ascension that the original disciples were.  Paul came to faith a few years later – and everyone knew that.  Thus the details provided by gospel writers were just that – details about their own experience with the risen Lord.  Having been with Jesus during the days of His flesh, and in the forty-day period between His resurrection, they could well be expected to have a different experience from Paul.  However, the gospels in no way contradict the key points that Paul was proclaiming.  On the contrary, they reaffirmed those key points: that Jesus was raised from the dead to the right hand of God and from there was conducting His operations until He would come again in judgment.  It was perfectly reasonable therefore that Paul’s interaction with the risen Lord would be of a different nature than those of His earthly disciples.  It was, however, the same Lord, risen to the same place, exercising the same authority.

The most frequently quoted Old Testament verse in the Bible is Psalm 110:1.

Psalm 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

This verse, or some recognizable portion thereof, appears in the following New Testament locations:

Matthew – 22:44; 26:64
Mark – 12:36; 14:62; 16:19
Luke – 20:42; 22:69
Acts – 2:33, 34; 5:31; 7:55, 56; 
Romans – 8:34
1 Corinthians – 15:25
Ephesians – 1:20
Colossians – 3:1
Hebrews – 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2
1 Peter – 3:22

Note that Romans and 1 Corinthians are dated to the 50’s AD, and are testifying this point consistent with the rest.  Thus the New Testament documents clearly declare that Jesus was raised to the right hand of God.  This was the central point.  That is, Jesus’ resurrection was all the way to heaven, and all the way to the right hand of its throne.  If Jesus had only been raised to earth, His resurrection would have been an interesting novelty.  It is that He was raised to be “Lord” that was significant…and there is no variation among New Testament writers as to this fact or its importance.

Sure, if the seven uncontested letters of Paul proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection, the rest of the  New Testaments books can be said to have added details.  However, the addition of details doesn’t change the main point that Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 15 (circa 53-55 AD):

1 Cor 15:1-11 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.  For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit 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 did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.  Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

See that Paul’s testimony is completely consistent with that of the apostles, right down to the fact that Jesus appeared to Peter and the twelve well before He appeared to Paul.

Note again the last sentence of the 1 Corinthians 15 passage above.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the bold and unwavering declaration of the New Testament.  To suggest this  idea evolved from an abstract state to a concrete state is a theory without evidence.

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