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….
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