The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” 7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
I have a theory about the origin of the Resurrection of Jesus Belief. My theory isn’t entirely original with me. It isn’t based on thin air. It is based on scholarship, just not evangelical Christian scholarship. I will bet that many liberal NT scholars would agree with my theory. Let me run it by you.
What evidence do we have that the first people who claimed to have received an appearance of the “risen Jesus” immediately claimed to have seen the physically resurrected body of Jesus? Do we have any confirmed eyewitness statements of anyone claiming to have seen a physically resurrected body? Answer: No! In fact, the only confirmed eyewitness testimony we have is Paul’s, and Paul gives us ZERO details about what he allegedly saw.
Did the majority of Christians eventually come to believe that Jesus had been physically resurrected? Yes. But the majority of scholars believe that this consensus did not occur until either the late first or early second century. During the early years of Christianity, according to the majority of NT scholars, there were a wide variety of resurrection beliefs among Jewish Christians, just as there had been a wide variety of resurrection beliefs among traditional Jews in Jesus’ day.
So all we really know is that very soon after Jesus death, some of his followers sincerely believed that he had appeared to them in some fashion. Almost all scholars, conservative, moderate, and liberal agree on this point. But what exactly did they see and how did they interpret what they saw??? That is the big question.
The belief in ghosts in the first century Roman empire was widespread, according to historians. Not only did first century people believe in ghosts, many claimed to have seen one. The Gospels themselves record several instances in which the disciples believed that they had seen “a ghost”. In addition, the Hebrew Bible has the story of the spirit (ghost) of Samuel being called up from Sheol to talk to King Saul. So I suggest that if someone in the first century thought that they had just seen a dead person, they would have assumed that they had seen a ghost.
However, what if the body of the dead person in question was missing??? What would a first century Jew believe if a dead person “appeared” to him or her whose body for some reason had vanished “into thin air”? I would bet that they would still say that they had seen a “ghost”. But, what if this dead person whose body is missing had been telling everyone in Palestine that he was the promised Messiah, the divinely anointed “son of God”, and had performed some minor “healings”, which in the minds of his followers, proved his divine status? What would a devout Jewish follower of this man believe when he or she received an appearance from this (divine) man after his death???
I suggest that Jesus’ claim of being the Messiah, his claims of having some sort of divine status (which gave him the authority to forgive sins, or at least, pronounce the forgiveness of sins in the name of Yahweh), his alleged miracles, and the promise to his followers that they would reign with him in the soon to arrive New Kingdom, all led some of his followers to believe that something more was going on than just a “ghost sighting”. Something truly miraculous had happened to Jesus and that is why his body was missing!
So the missing body, their high expectations, and the (alleged) appearances (in vivid dreams, cases of mistaken identity, illusions, etc.) pushed these Jews to come to a new conclusion: They weren’t just seeing a ghost. Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. He had been resurrected as the first fruits of the general resurrection of the righteous dead!
But what did they mean by “resurrection”?
The earliest Christian statement on Jesus “rising from the dead”, the Early Creed, possibly formulated within three years of Jesus’ death, does not clearly include the world “resurrection”.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
The next evidence we have are Paul’s epistles. Paul very definitely talks about “resurrection”. But what did he mean by that term? I find it hard to believe that Paul believed in a resurrection of the original physical body as today’s Trinitarian Christians teach.
“What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” –I Cor. 15:50
I believe that Paul believed that Jesus had been resurrected in a new spiritual body. It was not a ghostly body, but a divine body that looked like a physical human body but its composition was very different. It was divine or heavenly in composition. Is it possible that Paul believed that Jesus resurrected body looked like and had the same properties as the divine body that Abraham saw in the Old Testament passage listed above???
Most conservative Christians believe that “the angel of the Lord” and, especially, “the Lord”, mentioned in the Old Testament, was Jesus, the second member of the Trinity. Are we really to believe that the Hebrews who wrote these stories believed that the body of “the Lord” who sat down with Abraham and ate food was a physical human body that would need to defecate and urinate a few hours after that meal? I don’t think so. So in Jewish thinking, a divine person could have a “body” that looked and behaved exactly like a physical human body, but it was definitely not a physical human body!
I suggest that this is what the early Christians first assumed when they decided that the “ghost” that they had seen was something more than a ghost. It was Jesus, resurrected by God in a divine spiritual body to fulfill his mission as the Messiah: to establish the New Kingdom of Israel and to bring worldwide peace by destroying the Romans. The body looked like Jesus’ physical body, but it was not his physical body. It was a body with supernatural properties and powers. I suggest that this is why the earliest account of Jesus bodily appearing to his disciples, in the Gospel of Matthew, on a mountain in Galilee, involves the statement that some of them doubted. Why would some of the disciples have doubted that what they were seeing in this “appearance” on the mountain in Galilee was Jesus, if they had just seen Jesus in Jerusalem a few days or weeks earlier when he allowed them to examine his body (the Gospel of Luke), and, poke their fingers in his wounds (the Gospel of John)??? In my view, the Jesus in Matthew looks more like a ghost.
Here is what the author of Luke (whose gospel was very possibly written after Matthew’s, and who was possibly aware of Matthew’s quasi-ghostly Galilean appearance claims) says about the appearance of Jesus:
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
I suspect that when “Luke” was writing his Gospel, skeptics were claiming that the followers of Jesus had only seen a ghost. “Just look at the Gospel of Matthew! This author tells us that even some of Jesus’ disciples didn’t recognize him! Obviously…it was a ghost! Jesus was not resurrected!” Luke’s story above is very blatantly a work of apologetics, written to refute the skeptics’ claim that the disciples had just seen a ghost. However, the problem for Luke was, in the minds of Greeks and Romans, ghosts could be touched and could eat food! In fact, in the minds of Greeks and Romans, ghosts could even have sex with humans!!!
So Luke’s attempt to dispel the rumor that the disciples of Jesus had only seen a ghost failed.
A few decades later, this criticism had intensified. The author of John decided he needed to make Jesus’ appearances even more physical to dispel these criticisms. So in John’s appearances, Jesus allows the disciples to poke their fingers in the holes in his hands and feet and in the sword wound in his side! Neither a ghost nor a spiritual body would have wounds! Problem solved!
But think about this: If Jesus’ new resurrected body was a heavenly body, a perfect body, why in the hell did it have holes???
And, if Paul is correct that Christians will be resurrected in the same manner as Jesus… will all believers who have been blown to bits in a bombing or car accidents show up in heaven with all their scars and wounds still intact???
It is a legend, folks. A tall tale!
Modern educated people should not believe this stuff.