Wednesday, April 2, 2014

4. How do we know the resurrection isn't a legend based on the crucifixion?

The gospels were written too soon for a legend to appear.  Legends take many years to develop, because the first & secondhand eyewitnesses have to die off before the truth can be distorted.  Otherwise the eyewitnesses say that's not what happened.

Decided to postpone the question about how we know there is any truth in the gospels to my next post to keep this one shorter.

I dealt with the idea that the resurrection might be a borrowed myth before, so you might be wondering what's the difference between a myth & a legend. Yeah, me too. I thought they were the same thing. Dictionaries didn't seem to know either. I was tempted to say christian theologians call their stories the stuff of legends & everyone else's stories are a bunch of myths.  It makes for a good joke.  Well, for skeptics. Christian theologians might be forming a lynch mob to help me understand the distinction.  It appears a myth is a story that has no verifiable basis in facts.  It cannot be shown to be true or false at all.  A legend, though, may have a kernel of truth to it that can be verified.  To decide if the resurrection stories could be legends, we need to know when the stories appeared relative to the crucifixion.

Nero started persecuting christians after Rome burned around 64 A.D. According to Tacitus, Nero wanted to distract the citizens from the rumor that he had caused the fire or at least did little to stop the fire.  Peter & Paul were executed in Rome along with many other christians during the mid to late 60's.  Luke was Paul's doctor while Mark was a companion of Peter.  It is surprising that Mark & Luke do not mention the deaths of Peter & Paul unless Peter & Paul hadn't died yet when the books were written.  Well, I could conclude that Mark & Luke died with Peter & Paul before Mark & Luke were able to write their books, right? Okay, okay, my reasoning is not always 100% before my 2nd cup pot of coffee.  The deaths of Peter & Paul do give us an idea of how late those the gospels of Mark & Luke were written.  Compare that with the crucifixion which is thought to occur in 30-33 A.D.  The gospels are 20-30 years later, but Peter & Paul could still have just said no, no, you knuckleheads it was like this...

Some of the earliest writings in the New Testament are actually in the letters of Paul. His letters are thought to have been written in the late 40's & the 50's.  In some there are passages that appear to be creeds or even hymns from the early church. The passage in 1Corinthians 15:3-7 is particularly interesting for dating the idea the early christians believed in the resurrection:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
In verse 3 Paul says for what I received I passed on to you. Someone else told him this information.  The Book of Acts describes Paul meeting with disciples in Damascus (Acts 9:19) and later with the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-27) just after Saul/Paul's conversion to Christianity which puts it within about 2-5 years of the crucifixion.  Notice how 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 mentions Christ's death & resurrection, how his death is for our sins & gives a list of eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Christ.  In verse 8 Paul includes his own testimony.  Doesn't prove the resurrection is true, but it is does show the early christians believed in it & it is too early for a legend based on a distorted crucifixion story.

Next time I'll look into why we think there is any truth to the resurrection stories in the gospels.

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