The Resurrection. Many liberal Protestants seem slightly embarrassed about the resurrection, as if it were part of the magical mystery world of the New Testament. Or at least this is what Wikipedia says. For most Christians, however, resurrection remains the central doctrine of Christianity (Evans, p 29). Believing in the resurrection is tantamount to being a Christian. I suppose I come closer to being a liberal Protestant, but the resurrection is more complicated than reflected by these two categories.
Resurrection in the time of Jesus
Among the elite at the time of Jesus, physical resurrection was abhorrent. The elite, mostly Sadducees, were Hellenistic (Greek) in their attitude toward the body: that it was the prison of the soul. Death meant the liberation of the soul from the body, as Socrates and Plato taught.
Among the less cultured Greeks, as well as the Philistines, belief in the resurrection of the body, today’s official belief among most Christians, was more common (Vermes, loc 612). During the years (forty of them) during which I taught Plato, I thought the Platonists were right. If there is an afterlife, the soul would be free of the burden, demands, and desires of the body. Physical resurrection seemed weird. But the more Christian theology I read, the more sense physical resurrection makes to me. Not as a statement of fact (I don’t know what the facts are), but as a statement about how humans are fundamentally embodied creatures. Life without the body would be less, not more, than it is on earth. Jürgen Moltmann’s argument is particularly persuasive.
Paul states the theological significance of resurrection
It is in Paul that the central theological significance of the resurrection was laid out. Many readers of the New Testament will be familiar with this passage.
If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)
Evidence for the resurrection
The search for historical evidence of the resurrection seems misguided. The historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion is sound. However, it puzzles me that such a brilliant scholar as N. T. Wright could conclude that the evidence for the resurrection provided by two far from certain facts, the empty tomb, and the posthumous appearances of the risen Jesus, make the resurrection as historically certain as the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, or the death of Augustus in 14 AD (p 710).