CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Argument (2) Empty Tomb: Pre Marmkan Redaction.

The Gospel accounts of the resurrection were tramsmited faithfully from the very begining. How do we know this? The same way we know that any aspect of ancient world history is a probalbity: the documents are trustworthy. Now skepitics are probably spitting milk out their noses reading this, but its true.There are three areas of reiability, and two major misconceptions that have to be avoided. Let me start with the misconceptions:

(1) The idea that "reliable" means "realisitic."

I'm sure many skeptics reading this are saying, How can they be reliable when they speak of miracles?. But reliable doesnt' necessarily mean "realistic." This doesn't mean they aren't hard to believe, or that they don't require an assumption about metaphysics; reliable doesnt' mean true. What it does mean I'll get to in a minute.

big misconception number two:

(2) Faithful transmission of history would have to mean that we can prove that eye witnesses wrote the documents. Or worse, that the name sakes wrote the documents (John wrote John, Matthew wrote Matthew). None of that has to be the case.

faithful transmission means the content has been passed down from source to antoher for generations without significant alteration. Trustworthy doesn't mean "we can prove its ture," it means we can trust, within a reasonable estimation, that what we have recorded today is what we would find being transmitted in the earilest times. Here is how we know:

I. The evidence of the Manuscripts (Ms) and the stories themselves.

II. Early date of the Resurrection narrative.

III. Reliability of the Community.

I. The evidence of the Manuscripts (Ms) themselves.

I wont belabor the point about the documents, since that has been talked to death on message boards for years. See my pages on Bible: canonical Gospels for a lot of good info on this point. But, the often quoted statistic is that the NT MS are generally 98% reliable. What that means is, that to within 98% all the thousands of MS that we possess (24,000 of all types including fragments) say the same things. we don't find passages with wildly different events. There is no one secret passage somwhere that offers some totally different account of what happened. Such a Ms just doesnt' exist and there is no evidence that such a thing ever did exist. The closest we come to that is Secret Mark the fragment found by Martin Smith at Mar Saba; but even Secret Mark assumes the world of the Gospels, it assumes a particuar event recorded in Mark, it doesnt' change the basic facts of the story at all.

Now skeptics have been known to argue, "but they are just copying the same story." That's the point! If those events didn't happen, or at least if they were not been taught from the begining as "the truth," we should find other versions. NO program of erradication could take out all copies in the ancient world. Some fragment of a Gospel would have survived somewhere. If there was a version of the story in which Jesus didn't rise from the dead, or in which he rose on the 8th day, or whatever, we would have a copy of it. The fact that the manuscripts give a cooherent and unified testimony going all the way back as early as it can go (and not contradicted by 35 lost gospels we do possess) indcates that this is a good representation of what happened (see F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents,Are they Reliable?

Unified Narratival Framework

The Gospel of Luke is greatly substantiated by artifacts and history, what about the other Gospels, espeically the first Gospel Mark? In the totallity of the Synoptic tradition we have a unified framework which is kept intact. We do not see the growth and elabortaion of myth. As Stephen Neil points out, quoting Edwin Clement Hoskyns (1884-1937) in The Riddle of the New Testament (p.104) Neil begins by saying,

"We hold with some confidence that Mark is the earliest of the Gospels and that both Matthew and Luke use him in the Composition of their Gospels, if there is any tendency to heighten the drama...we shall certaly find it in those points at which Matthew and Luke differ from Mark. Do we in fact find that this is the process which has taken place? After a careful survey of the evidence Hoskyns answers in the negative. Matthew and Luke have far more material than Mark...but essentially the presentation of Jesus is the same, and if there is any tendency it is not toward heightening the majesty and mystery of Christ it is rather in the opposite direction--Jesus is a little tamed, a little softened and brought a little nearer to ordienary categories of human existance" (p. 216). He then quotes Hoskyns himself: "In this process of editing they nowhere heighten Marks tremendous picture of Jesus. No deifying of a prophet, or of a mere preacher of righteousness can be detected. They do not introduce Hellonistic supersition or submerge in the light of later Christian faith the lineaments of Mark's picutre of Jesus.They attempt to simplify Mark, he is more difficult to understand than they are...."

Rather than seeing a myth spreading and growing and moving toward a deified Christ what we actually see is a stable framework of assumed and testified fact and a relatively stable explaination of what the facts mean. This is in sharp contrast to the skeptic's idea that the simple facts grew out of propotion with re-telling until they culmenated in the fantasical notion that Jesus rose from the dead!

II. Early Date of Resurrection Narrative.

A.Myth Takes Centuries to Develop

The importance of early claims is this. Myth takes time to develop. Legends might spring up over night, but they take time to assume a consistent form. William Lane Craig quotes prof. Sherwin-Whtite ("Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Rsurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth 1 (1985): 89-95)

"For in order for these stories to be in the main legendary, a very considerable length of time must be available for the evolution and development of the traditions until the historical elements have been supplanted by unhistorical. This factor is typically neglected in New Testament scholarship, as A. N. Sherwin-White points out in Roman Law and Roman Society tn the New Testament. Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is an eminent historian of Roman and Greek times, roughly contemporaneous with the NT. According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states for these to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be 'unbelievable'; more generations are needed. All NT scholars agree that the gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses."

B.Ressurection Claims Made Early

(1) Markon Account Very Early

The early date of the transmissions are borne out by the Texts themselves. They are clean and free of myth. The Markon version is especially pure. Consider the use of the phrase "on the third day" which we find in Paul's statement above about the 500 witnesses. Throughout the NT that phrase is used of the Resurrection. Even in Gospels latter than Mark's it is used. But not in Mark. In Mark we are receiving something from the purest strata of the early days. William Lane Craig, (The History of the empty Tomb ofJesus" New Testament Studies 21 (1985):39-67)

Gerd Theissen in The Gospels in Context, (pp. 166-167):

In my opinion, in Mark we can discern behind the text as we now have it a connected narrative that presupposes a certain chronology. According to Mark, Jesus died on the day of Passover, but the tradition supposes it was the preparation day before Passover: in 14:1-2 the Sanhedrin decided to kill Jesus before the feast in order to prevent unrest among the people on the day of the feast. This fits with the circumstance that in 15:21 Simon of Cyrene is coming in from the fields, which can be understood to mean he was coming from his work. It would be hard to imagine any author's using a formulation so subject to misunderstanding in an account that describes events on the day of Passover, since no work was done on that day. Moreover, in 15:42 Jesus' burial is said to be on the "preparation day," but a relative clause is added to make it the preparation day for the Sabbath. Originally, it was probably the preparation day for the Passover (cf. Jn 19:42). The motive for removing Jesus from the cross and burying him before sundown would probably have been to have this work done before the beginning of the feast day, which would not make sense if it were already the day of Passover. Finally, the "trial" before the Sanhedrin presupposes that this was not a feast day, since no judicial proceedings could be held on that day. It would have been a breach of the legal code that the narrator could scarcely have ignored, because the point of the narrative is to represent the proceeding against Jesus as an unfair trial with contradictory witnesses and a verdict decided in advance by the high priests.

(2)Gospel Phraseology implies early telling

"The use of 'the first day of the week' instead of 'on the third day' points to the primitiveness of the tradition. The tradition of the discovery of the empty tomb must be very old and very primitive because it lacks altogether the third day motif prominent in the kerygma, which is itself extremely old, as evident by its appearance in I Cor 15. 4. If the empty tomb narrative were a late and legendary account, then it could hardly have avoided being cast in the prominent, ancient, and accepted third day motif.{81} This can only mean that the empty tomb tradition ante-dates the third day motif itself. Again, the proximity of the tradition to the events themselves makes it idle to regard the empty tomb as a legend. It makes it highly probable that on the first day of the week the tomb was indeed found empty." (Caraig)

(3) Pauline Tesimony Earlier than written Gospels

Paul's statment about the 500 and the credal confession were written prior to any of the Gospels. This places the teaching about 20 years after the fact. That pushes the pre-Markon material in Mark back even fruther, to near the date of the events (because it took time to form into a credal statement).

"Undoubtedly the major impetus for the reassessment of the appearance tradition was the demonstration by Joachim Jeremias that in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5 Paul is quoting an old Christian formula which he received and in turn passed on to his converts According to Galatians 1:18 Paul was in Jerusalem three years after his conversion on a fact-finding mission, during which he conferred with Peter and James over a two week period, and he probably received the formula at this time, if not before. Since Paul was converted in AD 33, this means that the list of witnesses goes back to within the first five years after Jesus' death. Thus, it is idle to dismiss these appearances as legendary. We can try to explain them away as hallucinations if we wish, but we cannot deny they occurred. Paul's information makes it certain that on separate occasions various individuals and groups saw Jesus alive from the dead. According to Norman Perrin, the late NT critic of the University of Chicago: "The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based." This conclusion is virtually indisputable."

[William Lane Craig,

Leadership University (Webstie) original "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth 1 (1985): 89-95]

We can also include in along with this Pauline testimony Hebrews and 1 Peter. Accounts of points that corrospond to Gospels circulating by AD 70 (see Luke Timothy Johnson quotation under point I).

C. Pre Markan Redaction Pushes Date of original Writting to mid Century>

However the material upon which the Gospels are based dates back to an earlier period, and in a form which is essentially the same as that which is found in the Synopitics. This actually pushes the date of the Gospel story, including the death, burial and resurrection (including the empty tomb) to A.D. 50.

"Studies of the passion narrative have showen that the Gospel accounts are dependent upon one and the same basic account of the suffering, crucifixtion, death and burial of Jesus. But this accounted ended with the discovery of the empty tomb." Hemut Koster Ancient Chrsitian Gospels p. 231

(1) Diatessaron

The Diatessaron ..of Titian is the oldest known attempted harmony of the Gospels. It probably dates to about 172 AD and contains almost the entire text of the four canonicals plus other material, probably from other Gospels and perhaps oral traditions. It is attested to in many works and is probably the first presentation of the Gospel in syriac.

In an article published in the Back of Helmut Koester's Ancient Christian Gospels, William L. Petersen states:

"Sometimes we stumble across readings which are arguably earlier than the present canonical text. One is Matthew 8:4 (and Parallels) where the canonical text runs "go show yourself to the priests and offer the gift which Moses commanded as a testimony to them" No fewer than 6 Diatessaronic witnesses...give the following (with minor variants) "Go show yourself to the priests and fulfill the law." With eastern and western support and no other known sources from which these Diatessaranic witnesses might have acquired the reading we must conclude that it is the reading of Tatian...The Diatessaronic reading is certainly more congielian to Judaic Christianity than than to the group which latter came to dominate the church and which edited its texts, Gentile Christians. We must hold open the possible the possibility that the present canonical reading might be a revision of an earlier, stricter , more explicit and more Judeo-Christian text, here preserved only in the Diatessaron. [From "Titian's Diatessaron" by William L. Petersen, in Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990, p. 424]

While textual critics find it more significant that the early implications are for Jewish Christianity, I find it significant that the pre-Markan material in the Diatesseran includes a miracle story. Those miracles just never really fall out of the story. They are in there from the beginning. But for our purposes the most important point to make is that here we have traces of pre-Markan material. That is, Mark as we know Mark was not the earliest Christian Gospel written, it is merely the earliest of which we have a full copy. The date assigned to the composition of Mark is not the date assigned to the sources used to redact that composition. This pushes the written record of the Jesus story before A.D. 60 and makes it at least contemporaneous with Paul's writings. In other words it is clear that written Gospels with Jesus in an historical setting, and with Mary and Joseph the Cross and the empty tomb existed and circulated before the version of Mark that we know, and at the same time or before Paul was writing his first epistle (150'sAD).

(2) Papyrus Egerton 2

The Unknown Gospel (Egerton 2) preserves a tradition of Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1:40-44. (Note: The independent tradition in the Diatessaran was also of the healing of the leper). There is also a version of the statement about rendering unto Caesar. Space does not permit a detailed examination of the passages to really prove Koster's point here. But just to get a taste of the differences we are talking about:

Koster says:

"There are two solutions that are equally improbable. It is unlikely that the pericope in Egerton 2 is an independent older tradition. It is equally hard to imagine that anyone would have deliberately composed this apophthegma by selecting sentences from three different Gospel writings. There are no analogies to this kind of Gospel composition because this pericope is neither a harmony of parallels from different Gospels, nor is it a florogelium. If one wants to uphold the hypothesis of dependence upon written Gospels one would have to assume that the pericope was written form memory....What is decisive is that there is nothing in the pericope that reveals redactional features of any of the Gospels that parallels appear. The author of Papyrus Egerton 2 uses independent building blocks of sayings for the composition of this dialogue none of the blocks have been formed by the literary activity of any previous Gospel writer. If Papyrus Egerton 2 is not dependent upon the Fourth Gospel it is an important witness to an earlier stage of development of the dialogues of the fourth Gospel....[Koester , 3.2 p.215]

Koseter shows that the Gospels are based upon pre-markan material which dates from A.D. 50 and ends witht he empty tomb, the resurrection appearnces of Jesus he believes were added from other sources. In this theory is partially in agreement with Crossen who also believes that the pre-Markan material can be traced to A.D. 50 and includes the empty tomb. Koester also uses the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Peter and several other works to demonstrate the same point.[please see Jesus Puzzell 2 for more on this point] This puts the actual writting of the Gospel tradition just 20 years after the original events. There still many eye-witnesses living, the communities which had witnessed the events of Jesus' ministry would have still basically been intact. The events would be somewhat fresh, and plenty of oportunity for witnesses to correct mistakes.

Thus the basic historical validity for the Gospels can be upheld, since they are based upon material which actually goes back to within a mere 20 years of the original events. This means that many of he eye witnesses would have been in the community and able to correct any mistakes or fabrications which were put into the text.

Almost all NT scholars put the writting of the Synoptic Gospels within the plausable life span of eye witnesses, Mark around 65, Matt. around 70 and Luke 80. In Ancient Christian Gospels, (1991) Helmutt Koster identifies a proto-Gospel which underlies the synoptics and John, and which has traces in the Gospel of Peter. (Koster is a major textual critic and is certainly placed in the Liberal camp).

(c) Peter not copy of Matt.

"The Gospel of Peter is dependent upon the traditions of interpriting old testament materials, for the description of Jesus' suffering and death; it shares such traditions wtih the canonical Gospels, but is not dependent upon the canonical writtings....[Dominic Crosson] argues that this activity [interpretation of scritpure as nuleous of passion narrative]...resulted in the composition of a litterary document at a very early date, i.e. in the middle of the first century." (Koster, 218).

"The Gospel of Peter as a whole is not dependent upon any of the canonical Gospels. It is a composition which is analogous to the Gospels of Mark and John. All three writtings, independently of each other use an older passion narrative which is based upon a exigetical tradition that was still alive when these Gospels were composed and to which the Gospel of Matthew also had access...However, framgements of the epiphany story of Jesus being raised from the Tomb, which the Gospel of Peter has preserved in its entirety, were employed in different litterary contexts in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew." (Koster, 240).

(b) Passion account developed early

"The account of the passasion of Jesus must have developed quite early becasue it is one and the same account used by Mark (and subsequently by Matthew and Luke) and John, and as will be argued below, by the Gospel of Peter. However, except for the story of the discovery of the empty tomb the different stories of the appearence of Jesus after his ressurection in the various gospels cannot derive from one single source....each of the authors of the extant Gospels and of their secondary endings drew these epephany stoires form their own particular tradition, not form a common source." (Ibid. 220).

(c) empty tomb part of original story

"Stories of the passion narrative were dependent upon one and the same basic account of the suffering cruscifiction, death and burrial of Jesus. But this account ended with the discovery of the empty tomb....for the story of Jesus' burial and the discovery of the empty tomb the Gospel of Peter used the source that also that underlys Mark and John, which ended with the discovery of the empty tomb." (ibid.231).

William Laine Craig tells us:

" The presence of the empty tomb pericope in the pre-Markan passion story supports its historicity. The empty tomb story was part of, perhaps the close of, the pre-Markan passion story. According to Pesch,{79} geographical references, personal names, and the use of Galilee as a horizon all point to Jerusalem as the fount of the pre-Markan passion story. As to its age, Paul's Last Supper tradition (I Cor 11. 23-25) presupposes the pre-Markan passion account; therefore, the latter must have originated in the first years of existence of the Jerusalem Urgemeinde. Confirmation of this is found in the fact that the pre-Markan passion story speaks of the 'high priest' without using his name (14. 53, 54, 60, 61, 63). This implies (nearly necessitates, according to Pesch) that Caiaphas was still the high priest when the pre-Markan passion story was being told, since then there would be no need to mention his name. Since Caiaphas was high priest from A.D. 18-37, the terminus ante quem for the origin of the tradition is A.D. 37. Now if this is the case, then any attempt to construe the empty tomb account as an unhistorical legend is doomed to failure." (The History of the empty Tomb ofJesus" New Testament Studies 21 (1985):39-67)

"Like the burial story, the account of the discovery of the empty tomb is remarkably restrained. Bultmann states, '. . . Mark's presentation is extremely reserved, in so far as the resurrection and the appearance of the risen Lord are not recounted.' {55} Nauck observes that many theological motifs that might be expected are lacking in the story: (1) the proof from prophecy, (2) the in-breaking of the new eon, (3) the ascension of Jesus' Spirit or his descent into hell, (4) the nature of the risen body, and (5) the use of Christological titles.{56} Although kerygmatic speech appears in the mouth of the angel, the fact of the discovery of the empty tomb is not kerygmatically colored. All these factors point to a very old tradition concerning the discovery of the empty tomb."

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at