The Disciples "Coming Out" Party
I just finished reading an article about my least favorite group of academics, the Jesus Seminar, entitled "The Jesus Seminar and Its Critics: Another Take". In the article, Dr. Darrell L. Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary makes a note that is too often ignored by most agnostics: the disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
"Most scholars in fact do hold that the disciples believed that Jesus was raised from the dead and that their behavior changed radically as a result. The key question is what caused them to form that belief, including a belief in a doctrine that had no real precedent in Judaism or pagan religion, an immediate, bodily resurrection outside of the time of the judgment at the end."
The disciples' decision to come out in favor of their hope in the risen Jesus is a very interesting (and largely incontrovertible) historical fact. Why would a group of Jewish men, who have been raised in a highly monotheistic world, come out in favor of claiming that Jesus rose from the dead and was God? J.P. Moreland raises this same question with respect to James in his book Scaling the Secular City.
"Consider James the brother of Jesus. Josephus, the first Century Jewish historian tells us that he died a martyr's death for his faith in his brother. Yet the Gospels tell us that during his life he was anunbelieversr and opposed to Jesus. Why did he change? What could cause a Jew to believe that his own brother was the very Son of God and to be willing to die for such a belief? It certainly was not a set of lovely teachings from a carpenter from Nazareth. Only the appearance of Jesus to James (1 Cor. 15:7) can explain his transformation." Moreland, J.P. Scaling the Secular City, p. 178-179.
In the all-too-liberal television special "The Search for Jesus" with Peter Jennings, the show closed with a mention of the fact that the disciples certainly believed in the resurrected Jesus. Unfortunately, the show did not spend much time discussing the ramification of this belief. You see, the belief in a bodily resurrection of a man prior to the end times was not a part of Jewish belief. Nor was it a part of Hellenized belief:
"It cannot be emphasized enough [Hellenized, Gnostic or mystery religion] influences are seen by current New Testament scholars to have little or no role in shaping the New Testament picture of Jesus in general or the resurrection narratives in particular. Both the general milleu of the Gospels and specific features of the resurrection narratives give overwhelming evidence that the early church was rooted in Judaism. Jesus, the early church, and its writings, were born in Jewish soil and Gentile influence was minimal." Id., p. 181.
So, how did the disciples become transformed from a group of people who had witnessed the death of their teacher on a Jewish cross to a group who had come out in favor of his bodily resurrection and his identification as the Son of God? Any explanation of Christianity that does not identify Jesus as God but tries to explain it away must have a cogent, reasonable explanation for the transformation of the disciples to a view contrary to their Jewish upbringing or the explanation must necessarily fail.