Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Cumulative Case For The Resurrection Account In Matthew 28:9-10

I've written some posts over the years about some of the reasons we have for believing in the historicity of the resurrection account referred to in Matthew 28:9-10. See here, here, and here. To summarize:

- The appearance was to women, whose testimony was considered less credible than the testimony of men.

- Jesus is portrayed as appearing to those women before appearing to any men, which means not only that women are involved, but also that they're given priority over the men, including the foremost leaders of Christianity.

- The location of the appearance is difficult from a Christian perspective, since it's unexpected and distracting, raises complications with regard to what verse 7 reports concerning what Jesus is doing and where he'll be seen, and diminishes the significance of Galilee in the context of Jesus' resurrection. For reasons I've discussed at length in many other posts, Jesus seems to have largely framed his public ministry around his role as the figure of Isaiah 9:1-7. His comments on the role of Galilee in the context of his resurrection (and the similar comments of the angel at the tomb) are best explained by a desire to highlight Galilee in alignment with Isaiah 9:1. Jesus' appearing in Jerusalem first diminishes that significance of Galilee.

- As I discussed in another post, Matthew agrees with the other gospels in suggesting that the risen Jesus initially had a body with an ordinary appearance, contrary to ancient Jewish expectations and contrary to what his body was like after the ascension, as his encounter with Paul on the road to Damascus illustrates. The Matthew 28 passage under consideration here is part of the evidence that Matthew agreed with the other gospels on this point. There's a lack of any reference to a glorious appearance to his body in verses 9-10, in contrast to the description of the glorious appearance of the angel in verse 3, the glorious appearance of the resurrected Jesus later in history in 24:30, his glorious appearance at the Mount of Transfiguration in 17:2, and the glorious appearance of the resurrected saints in 13:43. Not only is there a lack of corresponding description of a glorious appearance of the resurrected Jesus in chapter 28, but there's also the fact that the women's willingness to approach Jesus in verse 9 and the doubts of others in verse 17 are better explained if Jesus had an ordinary appearance than if he had a glorious one. So, the resurrection appearances in Matthew 28, including the one I'm focusing on here, seem to agree with the appearances in the other gospels in going against ancient expectations of what resurrected people would look like and against what the resurrected Jesus was thought to later look like.

- The reference to the women's touching Jesus' feet is so brief, unemphasized, and said in passing that it's easy to overlook. That isn't just my assessment as a conservative Christian. People who aren't conservatives, and sometimes people who aren't even professing Christians, demonstrate my point by overlooking that touching of Jesus' feet. See here for an example of a New Testament scholar who isn't a conservative overlooking it.

- Jesus' use of the "brothers" language is highly unusual, but agrees with John's account of Jesus' use of that language in a very similar context. See here for further details and a potential explanation for why Jesus used that terminology that way. So, the appearance in Matthew 28:9-10 includes an uncharacteristic use of language by Jesus that's corroborated by another source as language that Jesus used in a particular subcategory within the larger category of the resurrection appearances (Matthew and John both have Jesus using the language shortly after the resurrection when telling somebody to bring a message to his disciples).

It seems more likely than not that if the early Christians thought some of them saw Jesus risen from the dead, as is reported as early as the creed cited in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, they would have preserved one or more of those accounts over time. As the points I've made above illustrate, the brevity of the account in Matthew 28:9-10 and several other characteristics of it make it a good candidate for one of the accounts the early Christians preserved. And it includes evidence of the physicality of the appearance (the polymodal seeing, hearing, and touching).

Anybody who wants to remove one or more of those details from the account, dismissing the details as unhistorical additions to a historical core, has to provide justification for doing so, since we don't remove details from such an otherwise credible account without having warrant for removing the details in question. And, as I've explained above, one of the details under consideration here (the touching) is so brief, unemphasized, and said in passing that those characteristics make an argument for the detail's fabrication more difficult accordingly. Furthermore, as I've argued elsewhere, we have reason to think behavior like touching Jesus and carrying on discussions with him in such a manner would be common. It's so common, in fact, that skeptical suggestions that no such attempts at contact or other behaviors that would verify physicality took place among so many people involved in so many resurrection appearances is absurd.

If a skeptic is just appealing to the alleged high prior improbability that the resurrection would occur, then that objection has been addressed many times by many people, including at this blog. Repeating the objection doesn't give it more weight. Moreover, objecting that the resurrection would be highly improbable is more about what we make of what the witnesses mentioned in Matthew 28 reported than what we make of whether they reported it. Similarly, the women would have to have existed in order to have experienced a resurrection appearance, but we don't use an alleged high prior improbability of the resurrection to dismiss the women's existence (or Paul's existence, Peter's, etc.). Many atheists and other non-Christians consider it highly probable that Paul reported seeing the resurrected Jesus, yet they think Paul didn't actually see the risen Jesus. They don't conclude that the supposed high prior improbability of the resurrection justifies concluding that Paul didn't report seeing the risen Christ. Similarly, the alleged high prior improbability of the resurrection isn't enough justification for dismissing the likelihood (with whatever difference in the degree of probability involved) that the women mentioned in Matthew 28 reported the account there.

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