N.T. Wright lectures on the seven mutations caused by resurrection of Jesus

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

Here’s a lecture from N.T. Wright, whose multi-volume case for the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus seems to be getting a lot of respect from the other side, (although I strongly disagree with his economic and political views, which are naive at best). Wright has taught at Cambridge University, Oxford University, Duke University, McGill University, and lectured on dozens of prestigious campuses around the world. He’s published 40 books.

Here’s a video of his case for the resurrection:

You can read a written version of the lecture here.

N.T. Wright’s historical case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus

Wright basically argues that the resurrection cannot have been a myth invented by the early Christian community, because the idea of the Messiah dying and being bodily resurrected to eternal life was completely unexpected in Jewish theology, and therefore would not have been fabricated.

In Judaism, when people die, they stay dead. At the most, they might re-appear as apparitions, or be resuscitated to life for a while, but then die again later. There was no concept of the bodily resurrection to eternal life of a single person, especially of the Messiah, prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous dead on judgment day.

Wright’s case for the resurrection has 3 parts:

  • The Jewish theological beliefs of the early Christian community underwent 7 mutations that are inexplicable apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • The empty tomb
  • The post-mortem appearances of Jesus to individuals and groups, friends and foes

Here’s the outline of Wright’s case:

…the foundation of my argument for what happened at Easter is the reflection that this Jewish hope has undergone remarkable modifications or mutations within early Christianity, which can be plotted consistently right across the first two centuries. And these mutations are so striking, in an area of human experience where societies tend to be very conservative, that they force the historian… to ask, Why did they occur?

The mutations occur within a strictly Jewish context. The early Christians held firmly, like most of their Jewish contemporaries, to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. ‘Resurrection’ is not a fancy word for ‘life after death’; it denotes life after ‘life after death’.

And here are the 7 mutations:

  1. Christian theology of the afterlife mutates from multiples views (Judaism) to a single view: resurrection (Christianity). When you die, your soul goes off to wait in Sheol. On judgment day, the righteous dead get new resurrection bodies, identical to Jesus’ resurrection body.
  2. The relative importance of the doctrine of resurrection changes from being peripheral (Judaism) to central (Christianity).
  3. The idea of what the resurrection would be like goes from multiple views (Judaism) to a single view: an incorruptible, spiritually-oriented body composed of the material of the previous corruptible body (Christianity).
  4. The timing of the resurrection changes from judgment day (Judaism) to a split between the resurrection of the Messiah right now and the resurrection of the rest of the righteous on judgment day (Christianity).
  5. There is a new view of eschatology as collaboration with God to transform the world.
  6. There is a new metaphorical concept of resurrection, referred to as being “born-again”.
  7. There is a new association of the concept of resurrection to the Messiah. (The Messiah was not even supposed to die, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to rise again from the dead in a resurrected body!)

There are also other historical puzzles that are solved by postulating a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Jewish people thought that the Messiah was not supposed to die. Although there were lots of (warrior) Messiahs running around at the time, whenever they got killed, their followers would abandon them. Why didn’t Jesus’ followers abandon him when he died?
  2. If the early Christian church wanted to communicate that Jesus was special, despite his shameful death on the cross, they would have made up a story using the existing Jewish concept of exaltation. Applying the concept of bodily resurrection to a dead Messiah would be a radical departure from Jewish theology, when an invented exaltation was already available to do the job.
  3. The early church became extremely reckless about sickness and death, taking care of people with communicable diseases and testifying about their faith in the face of torture and execution. Why did they scorn sickness and death?
  4. The gospels, especially Mark, do not contain any embellishments and “theology historicized”. If they were made-up, there would have been events that had some connection to theological concepts. But the narratives are instead bare-bones: “Guy dies public death. People encounter same guy alive later.” Plain vanilla narrative.
  5. The story of the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb cannot have been invented, because the testimony of women was inadmissible under almost all circumstances at that time. If the story were invented, they would have invented male discoverers of the tomb. Female discovers would have hampered conversion efforts.
  6. There are almost no legendary embellishments in the gospels, while there are plenty in the later gnostic forgeries. No crowds of singing angels, no talking crosses, and no booming voices from the clouds.
  7. There is no mention of the future hope of the general resurrection, which I guess they thought was imminent anyway.

To conclude, Wright makes the argument that the best explanation of all of these changes in theology and practice is that God raised Jesus (bodily) from the dead. There is simply no way that this community would have made up the single resurrection of the Messiah – who wasn’t even supposed to die – and then put themselves on the line for that belief.

And remember, the belief in a resurrected Jesus was something that the earliest witnesses could really assess, because they were the ones who saw him killed and then walking around again after his death. They were able to confirm or deny their belief in the resurrection of Jesus based on their own personal experiences with the object of those beliefs.

5 thoughts on “N.T. Wright lectures on the seven mutations caused by resurrection of Jesus”

  1. So many historical ideas are reinterpretred by modern ideas.

    We always need to look at things with scholars to make sure we aren’t putting our social assumptions into the text.

    Yes we accept the idea of resurrection with a few thousand years of Christianity. But no group of faking Jews would think to create a resurrection account.

    Even historically there were many hoped messiah in that erq of Jesus. And when they were killed the group discolved. It is why it was an easy solution to a public uprising. It worked every other time to kill a group leader and the whole thing would fizzle out.

    The skeptic has no answer as to why this time was a resurrected messiah claim made and the group expanded far beyond the scope and reach of the original group based upon a mistaken belief or complete lie

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Never underestimate a skeptic’s ability to come up with some kind of answer. For example, I asked a skeptic in an online discussion what was the best explanation for the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to be the apostle Paul. His answer was a guilty conscience because of persecuting the church and heat stroke.
      Never mind Paul never cites his guilty feelings as the reason for his conversion and I highly doubt heat would be a sufficient catalyst for his long term commitment to planting churches and enduring such horrific persecution, but, there you have it.
      One of the crucial things you have to find out from a skeptic from the very outset of the discussion is whether or not THERE CAN BE ANY SUCH THING AS EVIDENCE FOR THE SUPERNATURAL and what gets to be counted as evidence.
      There is a huge difference between a healthy dose of skepticism so (in the words of Bugs Bunny) you aren’t a Gulla-bull and an iterative skeptic who just wants to see you try hard and it’s just really a game for them. Go check out some of the one-star reviews on Amazon for N.T. Wright’s work and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

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      1. This is why I always begin with the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning. Those are mainstream scientific evidence that are incompatible with naturalism. If naturalism is true, there is always some nonsense explanation that the secular leftist can come up with to account for historical evidence.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In his book The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright states the following:

    “The empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus to His disciples are as well-established historically as the death of Caesar Augustus in A.D. 14 and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.”

    That’s pretty good.

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  3. Thank you for sharing things like this. I used to be an atheist until I was confronted with God and had to decide (not if He exists but if i was going to continue to reject or accept Him) and my husband is still an atheist. I have shared some talks with him and he agreed to watch this with me. It was wonderful to be able to have this to share with him as I love to learn and study but often have concerns about where and what to delve into. I am praying that some of this stays with him and helps break past his inclination to reject. But you provide such great science and theology that it certainly helps me.

    I am also currently studying with Faith Bible Institute and that’s been life changing in instruction and information to share. If you have not heard or taken any classes I highly highly recommend. Its found on fbiclass.com and they work through local churches to organize the semesters. In 3 years you read the bible cover to cover and get a really full study of all it’s material and how it fits together. It’s fantastic all around.

    Liked by 1 person

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