The Resurrection and Genesis
Earth © iStockphoto/enot-poloskun
On Easter, many Christians around the world celebrate the Resurrection of our “great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). For them, this is the most important holiday of the Christian calendar.1 The doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ is one of the most important doctrines of Christianity; without the Resurrection, we have no hope of salvation from our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12–18).
The earliest evidence
The Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, while the most well-known, are neither the only nor the earliest evidence we have of Christian writing about the Resurrection. That honour goes to 1 Thessalonians; one of the earliest of Paul’s letters, which was written around AD 50.2 So about two decades after Christ’s death, there was a group of people who insisted He was raised from the dead, and had built a decent portion of their theology around that fact; and such theologizing does not happen overnight. But the Gospel accounts, while penned decades after the events they describe (circa AD 30–33), go back to early oral tradition and/or personal recollection.3 And this tradition lacks much of the theologizing that’s a major part of Paul’s letters, which is why we can tell that it goes back to very early accounts which were reliably recorded.4
The Gospel accounts
The Resurrection accounts in the four canonical Gospels (penned from AD 67–855) are often criticized for being contradictory, but many of the alleged contradictions are no more than we would expect from any four different accounts of an event several decades after the fact. They include things such as who precisely made up the group of women who went to the tomb, whether there was one angel or two, and so on. Most of these are not even contradictory, since they are not mutually exclusive; for instance, one account may mention only the angel who spoke, while the other account mentioned both angels. It would be a contradiction if one account specified only one angel.
It makes sense that the men who wrote the accounts might recall different details, even seemingly conflicting details, in their retelling of the event. It does not make sense to say that since different women are included in the lists, the Resurrection obviously did not occur.6
The Early Church
One of the strongest evidences for the historicity of the Resurrection is indirect: the Resurrection is the only explanation for historical events which otherwise make no sense. First, the disciples of Jesus went from cowering in an upper room to proclaiming in the streets a little over a month later that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and had risen from the dead. Most of the apostles were martyred in various ways when they could have simply recanted. One could argue that many Christians were deluded, but to say that the apostles would die for what they knew to be a lie stretches credulity.7
Also, a bodily resurrection was about the most unlikely way a first-century Jew would have explained an empty tomb. First-century Jews had diverse beliefs about the afterlife; some believed in the Resurrection, others did not (e.g. the Sadducees [Matthew 22:23]), and some believed that only some would be resurrected. But no type of Judaism believed that one person was going to be resurrected before everyone else; this is likely why the disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about when He predicted His death and resurrection.
Implications of Christ’s Resurrection for His Followers
There is evidence that, almost from the beginning of the Christian movement, Christ’s resurrection was used to explain what His believers would experience in the Resurrection. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, Paul gives the earliest example of Resurrection theology: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” So the Resurrection of Jesus becomes the basis for the Christian’s resurrection when He returns. In Philippians 3:20–21, we find the explicit statement that our resurrection bodies will be just like that of Jesus.
Christ as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection and the Last Adam
The most important developments of Paul’s theology regarding the resurrection of believers are his statements in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5:12–21 (penned in AD 53–548 and AD 57–58,9 respectively). In the former, we find for the first time the reason why Christians can expect to be resurrected because of Jesus’ resurrection; Jesus is “the firstfruits” of the Resurrection, a guarantee that those who are under Him will also be raised when He returns (1 Corinthians 15:23).
Paul essentially makes the argument that there are two ultimate ‘heads’ of two types of humanity; Adam and Christ.10 Adam’s sin makes us all sinners by nature, but Jesus’ sacrifice enabled our sin to be credited to Him (Isaiah 53:6), and His perfect life enabled His righteousness to be credited to believers in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). All people are under either one or the other, and the action of one’s “head” determines their standing before God.
“Paul is insisting that people were really ‘made’ sinners through Adam’s act of disobedience just as they were really ‘made righteous’ through Christ’s obedience. … To be righteous does not mean to be morally upright, but to be judged acquitted, cleared of all charges, in the heavenly judgment. Through Christ’s obedient act, people became really righteous; but ‘righteousness’ itself is a legal, not a moral, term in this context.”11
Paul calls Jesus the “Last Adam”, because humanity’s relationship to Adam is the only one that remotely resembles the relationship of Christians to Christ. Even so, most of the time Paul talks about them in terms of contrasting the two; the only similarity he ever brings out between the two is that both were heads of humanity whose actions had far-reaching consequences for those under them.12 This similarity is the foundation for the contrasts he goes on to point out: Christ’s action is infinitely better than Adam’s, and Christ Himself is infinitely better than Adam.13
The first man, Adam: a historical figure
This comparison between Adam and Christ requires that both Adam and Christ be historical figures who both have a kind of headship over the humanity that is under them, whose actions had widespread consequences for those under them. More specifically, it requires that Adam be the literal ancestor of all humans, and that it was his sin that really caused the introduction of death and the estrangement of humanity from God, just as Christ is a historical human being whose life of obedience to God and sacrificial death reconcile us to God and pay the sin-debt in a way that no one else could.
Some argue that it is not necessary for Adam to be historical. But this reasoning fails because it requires sinfulness and mortality to be the original state of humanity. The whole point is that sin and death intruded on human history when Adam disobeyed God’s command. This is the reason why Christ’s obedience and sacrificial death were needed to overturn the rule of sin and death.14 If Jesus has to be a historical person, then so does Adam. The historicity of the Person of Jesus and His sacrifice means that we will be free from sin and death in the Resurrection. But without the historicity of Adam, we do not know why the world was under the rule of sin and death in the first place. If death had always been a part of the created order, part of what God called “very good” (Genesis 1:31), then there is no way that death could be called “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).15 Even those who do not believe Adam was a historical figure have to admit that Paul treats Adam as a historical figure.16
Conclusion: without a historical Adam and Fall, the Gospel dangles rootlessly
It is possible to be a Christian while not believing that the first chapters of Genesis relate historical events. However, it leaves such Christians with little foundation to resist the attacks and ridicule of non-Christians, because those few chapters set the stage for everything to come, both in the Old and New Testament. Genesis is the foundation of the Gospel; without that we are left without an explanation for the origin of everything Christ came to remedy. The Resurrection of Christ marks the dawning of what can quite literally be called a “new humanity” under Christ. But if our sinfulness does not come from being under a sinful head of humanity, the first Adam, then we cannot be made righteous under a new head of humanity, the Last Adam, Jesus Christ. They logically stand or fall together, as Paul realized.17
How do we date the New Testament documents?
Some might wonder how scholars date the New Testament documents; after all, they do not come with dates attached to them! We can say little with absolute certainty; some would date the Gospels earlier than this article has, others would date them much later, and the same goes for some of Paul’s letters. The testimony of the Church Fathers is of some help; while it is not infallible, it can be a good starting point. There are also clues within the text itself which can help us date it.
For instance, when Matthew records Jesus’ prediction that the Temple will be destroyed (Matthew 24: 1–2), and does not include a note about its fulfillment, we can take it as a sign that the Gospel was penned before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. It would be like a guidebook on New York that mentions the Twin Towers as still standing, with no mention that terrorists had destroyed them—this would be evidence that the book was written before 11 September 2001.
Similarly, we know that Paul was martyred in AD 64, so when Luke ends Acts with no mention of what happened to Paul, we can conclude that Luke wrote Acts before Paul was martyred. Acts is the sequel to Luke, so this forces an even earlier date for Luke, and Luke likely used Mark as a source, so this pushes the date for Mark back.
Even knowing that the Gospels were penned decades after the events they describe, we can trust them as reliable accounts because they were either penned by eyewitnesses (in the case of Matthew and John), or by people who used the testimony of eyewitnesses (in the case of Mark and Luke).1 At the time they were written, other eyewitnesses would have been alive who could authenticate the stories in the Gospels, and the inclusion of less than flattering information about the early Church leaders shows that their concern for accuracy kept them from whitewashing the accounts.
References and notes
- See also Sarfati, J., Does Easter have a pagan derivation? Was Jesus really crucified on a Friday?, April 2008; creation.com/easter. Return to text.
- Bruce, F., 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary, p. xxi, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1982. Return to text.
- This does not exclude inspiration by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 16:13; 2 Timothy 3:15–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21); see also Sarfati, J., The Authority of Scripture, Apologia 3(2):12–16, 1994; creation.com/authority. Return to text.
- Wright, N., Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, p. 56, HarperOne, New York, 2008. Return to text.
- See Guelich, R., Mark 1–8:26, Word Biblical Commentary, p. xxxi, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1989, and Carson, D., The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, p. 86, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1991. Return to text.
- See Holding, J., Can’t We All Just Get Along?, Tekton Apologetics Ministries, tektonics.org. Return to text.
- See Holding, J., The Resurrection narratives harmonized contextually, Tekton Apologetics Ministries, tektonics.org. Return to text.
- Witherington, B., Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 73, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1995. Return to text.
- Osborne, G., Romans, p. 14, IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2004. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of a literal Adam, J. Creation 22(2):105–107, 2008; Christ as the Last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation Narrative in 1 Corinthians 15, J. Creation 23(3):70–75, 2009. Return to text.
- Moo, D., The Epistle to the Romans, p. 345, New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT), Eerdmans, 1996. Return to text.
- Witherington, B., Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, pp. 146–147, Eerdmans, 2004. Return to text.
- Murray, J., The Epistle to the Romans: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes 1:192, Eerdmans, 1965. Return to text.
- Fee, G., The first epistle to the Corinthians, p. 752, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1987. Return to text.
- This is a major problem with all evolution/long age ideas: placing death before sin. See Gurney, R., The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals, J. Creation 18(3):70–75, 2004; creation.com/carniv. Return to text.
- Barrett, C., The first epistle to the Corinthians, Black’s New Testament Commentary, p. 352, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, 1968. Return to text.
- A longer, more detailed version of the main article is available on our website at creation.com/the-resurrection-and-genesis; while an expanded version of the box is at creation.com/gospel-dates-and-reliability. Return to text.
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Yes, and who is to say that the apostles & other eyewitnesses in the early church, weren't already compiling a raft of disjointed written notes & vignettes which were then rounded up & used to organise & compile into the final document. That is to say, the process might not have been 100% reliant on oral tradition alone.