The resurrection of Jesus, along with his exaltation and his giving of the Spirit constituted an eschatological event—the beginning of the end time. No one knows when the resurrection took place, for the New Testament writers can do no more than imply that it happened between the burial of Jesus and the discovery of the empty tomb. No one of them tries to describe it. While the risen Jesus stood outside the bounds of space and time, by his appearances he touched the lives of men who were in space and time, men who were in history. The interaction of the eschatological and the historical should not be lost sight of.
It is reasonably certain that either the tomb was unknown, or that, if known, it was empty. The tradition that the tomb was known and was empty was considerably older than the Gospel narratives that have been built around the discovery of the empty tomb. It [the tradition of an empty, known tomb] deserves preference to the poorly supported hypothesis that the place of Jesus’ burial was unknown. The idea that the body had been stolen may have been the first thought that occurred to Jesus’ followers when they encountered the empty tomb.
Modern fundamentalist statements such as “Our faith depends on the empty tomb” or “We believe in the empty tomb” are not only open to ridicule about the emptiness of one’s faith, but also misplace the emphasis in resurrection faith. Christians believe in Jesus, not in a tomb.
In the genesis of resurrection faith it was the appearance of the glorified Lord that first brought his disciples to believe; and this belief, in turn, interpreted the empty tomb. Ultimately the insight of faith shaped the narratives of the discovery of the tomb.
And so from a critical study of the biblical evidence I would judge that Christians can and indeed should continue to speak of a bodily resurrection of Jesus. Our earliest ancestors in the faith proclaimed a bodily resurrection in the sense that they did not think that Jesus’ body had corrupted in the tomb. However, and this is equally important, Jesus’ risen body was no longer a body as we know bodies, bound by the dimensions of space and time. It is best to follow Paul’s description of risen bodies as spiritual, not natural or physical (psychikos); he can even imply that these bodies are no longer flesh and blood. Small wonder that he speaks of a mystery!
In our fidelity to proclaiming the bodily resurrection of Jesus, we should never become so defensively governed by apologetics that we do not do justice to this element of transformation and mystery [faith].
Gary: What have I learned from my reading of scholar Raymond Brown?
-I now believe in the historicity of the Joseph of Arimathea burial of Jesus (as described in Mark).
-I believe in the historicity of an empty tomb.
-the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels are theological/literary invention. They cannot be used as evidence for the sighting of a resurrected flesh and blood body by individuals and groups of early Christians.
-I believe that the earliest Christians sincerely believed that the risen Jesus, in some form or fashion, appeared to them. The big question is: What exactly did these people see? I believe the answer is: We cannot know because we have no confirmed eyewitness testimony of anyone describing exactly what he or she saw during an alleged appearance of Jesus. Not even Paul tells us in his own words what he allegedly saw.
Did they see a body…or did they all see a bright light???