Reading Contemporary Responses to the Resurrection: Metaphorical, Historical, and Naturalistic
For the contemporary Christian, as it was for the early believer, the Resurrection of Christ is foundational for religious belief. Paul states the centrality of the Resurrection to the Christian faith in 1 Corinthians 15:14-17: “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty too your faith…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” The doctrine of the Resurrection remains central to Christian faith.
For many centuries, the resurrection was either believed literally or not at all. Beginning with the Enlightenment, however, different sets of questions arose as some were skeptical about the actual possibility of an occurrence of Resurrection; while others, accepting its possibility, questioned whether the Resurrection should be understood as a spiritual or miraculous event. By the nineteenth century, controversy developed over whether there was a historical basis for belief in the Resurrection. Over the last forty years, there has been a revived interest in the historical Jesus along with significant attention directed to the subject of the historical evidence for his Resurrection. One survey reported that since 1975, there have been more than 1400 scholarly publications on the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus. This literature provides the basis for this paper, which will examine several trends in contemporary scholarship on the Resurrection. I will begin with an identification of some of the traditional approaches to the subject of the Resurrection which have largely been put aside. This earlier commentary either did not consider the Resurrection a possible event in history, or otherwise dismissed the historical aspectsof the Resurrection as largely irrelevant to the matter of Christian faith. I will follow this with a brief survey of the range of contemporary writings on the subject of the Resurrection. A key concern of this paper is to suggest that these contemporary discussions treat the Resurrection in either a metaphorical, historical or naturalistic manner. Finally, I conclude with evaluations of the persuasiveness of and critical reactions to these understandings of the Resurrection.
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