once-and-future-bible‎ > ‎resources‎ > ‎easter‎ > ‎

08 early resurrection traditions

The earliest resurrection traditions

So far in this exploration of the traditions about the death of Jesus we have dealt with information relating to his death. In this next phase we need to explore the nature of the earliest traditions about the resurrection of Jesus.

This discussion will not address the question of the historicity of the resurrection traditions. Instead, I shall limit the discussion to a survey of the earliest surviving Christian traditions about the resurrection. Readers can form their own conclusions about the historical, religious and spiritual value of these traditions.

I find it helpful to use the distinctions proposed by Stephen Patterson [The God of Jesus (1998) ch. 7], between three different types of resurrection traditions:
  • Affirmations that God had raised Jesus from the dead
  • Appearances (Lists or Stories) by the risen Jesus to various people
  • Empty tomb traditions

See below for details of these three categories, together with links to the relevant pages in the Jesus Database.

See also the Passion Narrative page in the Jesus Database site.

Within these traditions it should be noted that we have the only surviving Christian text that attempts to narrate the resurrection moment itself:

Early, at first light on the sabbath, a crowd came from Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside to see the sealed tomb. But during the night before the Lord's day dawned, while the soldiers were on guard, two by two during each watch, a loud noise came from the sky, and they saw the skies open up and two men come down from there in a burst of light and approach the tomb. The stone that had been pushed against the entrance began to roll by itself and moved away to one side; then the tomb opened up and both young men went inside.

Now when these soldiers saw this, they roused the centurion from his sleep, along with the elders. (Remember, they were also there keeping watch.) While they were explaining what they had seen, again they see three men leaving the tomb, two supporting the third, and a cross was following them. The heads of the two reached up to the sky, while the head of the third, whom they led by the hand, reached beyond the skies. And they heard a voice from the skies that said, "Have you preached to those who sleep?" And an answer was heard from the cross: "Yes!" [GPeter 9:1-10:5 Complete Gospels]

 

Within these three streams of early Christian tradition, it is clear that the Pauline material is of primary importance for the history and development of the resurrection tradition, yet that material lacks the empty tomb traditions. The most extended exposition of the resurrection tradition is to be found in 1 Corinthians 15, while the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 is perhaps its classic expression:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:5–11 NRSV]



CATEGORY ONE: THE AFFIRMATION TRADITION

(Jesus has been raised from the dead by God)

These links will provide full texts for the examples cited below as well as for other early Christian sources.

From the 40s

the underlying source in the Gospel of Peter

  • GPet 5:5
  • cf. 1 Peter 3:18c

From the 50s

Authentic letters of Paul:

  • 1Thess 1:10
  • 1Thess 4:14
  • Gal 1:1
  • 1Cor 15:12-50
  • Rom 1:3
  • Rom 6:3-10
  • Phil 2:8-11
  • Phil 3:10-21

From the 70s
  • Gospel of Mark: Mark 16:6


From the 80s

  • Gospel of Matthew: Matt 28:1–6


From the 90s or early second century

  • Gospel of John: John 20:9, 29
  • Gospel of Luke: Luke 24:6

CATEGORY TWO: THE APPEARANCE TRADITION

(Lists of appearances and stories of appearances by the risen Jesus)

These links will provide full texts for the examples cited below as well as for other early Christian sources.

From the 40s

the underlying source in the Gospel of Peter

  • GPet 9:1-10:5 (Jewish elders and soldiers)

From the 50s

Authentic letters of Paul:

  • Gal 1:11-16 (Paul)
  • 1Cor 9:1 (Paul)
  • 1Cor 15:5 (Peter)
  • 1Cor 15:5 (The Twelve)
  • 1Cor 15:6 (more than 500 disciples at same time)
  • 1Cor 15:7 (James)
  • 1Cor 15:8 (Paul)
  • 2Cor 12:1-10 (Paul)


Gospel of the Hebrews (possibly dating to 50s?)

  • GHeb 9:1-4 (appearance to James)


From the 70s
  • Gospel of Mark: Mark 9:2-8 (Peter, James, John = Transfiguration)


From the 80s

Gospel of Matthew: 
  • Matt 28:9-10 (the women at the tomb)
  • Matt 28:16-20 (the Eleven on mountain in Galilee)


From the 90s or early second century

Gospel of John: 
  • John 20:14-18 (Mary Magdalene)
  • John 20:19-23 (disciples)
  • John 20:24-29 (Thomas)
  • John 21:-14 (lakeside in Galilee)
  • John 21:15-23 (Peter)

Gospel of Luke & Acts of the Apostles: 
  • Luke 24:13-35 (Cleopas & companion at Emmaus)
  • Luke 24:34 (Peter)
  • Luke 24:26-43 (disciples in Jerusalem)
  • Luke 24:50-51 = Acts 1:1-11 (Ascension)
  • Acts 7:55-56 (Stephen)
  • Acts 9:1-9 = 22:6-11 = 26:12-18 (Paul)
  • Acts 23:11 (Paul)

Mid-second century

Pseudo-Mark:
  • Mark 16:9-11 (Mary Magdalene)
  • Mark 16:12-13 (2 disciples in the countryside)
  • Mark 16:14-19 (the Eleven at table)



CATEGORY THREE: THE EMPTY TOMB TRADITION

(Legends about the discovery of an empty tomb)

These links will provide full texts for the examples cited below as well as for other early Christian sources.


From the 70s
  • Gospel of Mark: Mark 16:1-8 (women find tomb empty and stone rolled away)


From the 80s

Gospel of Matthew: 
  • Matt 28:1-8 (women find tomb empty and stone rolled away)

From the 90s or early second century

Gospel of John: 
  • John 20:1-2,11-13 (Mary Magdalene)
  • John 20:3-9 (Peter and another confirm tomb is empty)

Gospel of Luke & Acts of the Apostles: 
  • Luke 24:1-11 (women find tomb empty and stone rolled away)
  • Luke 24:12 (Peter confirms tomb is empty)

Mid-second century

Gospel of Peter:
  • GPet 11:1-13:3 (Mary Magdalene and friends find tomb empty)


Comments