Sunday, April 12, 2009

Resurrection Appearances - Oral Tradition

The earliest written account of the resurrection of Jesus is not from any of the four gospels. Rather, the first account comes from a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth around the year 54 of the Common Era (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). According to the oral tradition received and handed on by Paul, the resurrection appearances of Jesus were sequenced as follows:
  1. To Cephas (Peter)
  2. Then to the Twelve
  3. Then to 500 followers at one time
  4. Then to James
  5. Then to all of the apostles
  6. And finally to Paul himself
Our four gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) were written from 1 to 4 decades after Paul writes. These four gospels narrate that Jesus first appeared to female followers, though they do not agree on "who" and "how" it happened.

The appearance to Paul could have been as much as two years after the death of Jesus.

Paul's letter to the Corinthians was written approximately 24 years after Jesus' death.

1 comment:

Judy H. said...

John, you just love to push my buttons! It has always bugged the heck out of me that Paul doesn't mention "the women" in his list of Jesus' resurrection appearances. After all, all four gospels name Jesus' female disciples as the first witnesses, even though the details vary. One of my favorite stories in the whole Bible is John's account of Mary Magdalene in the garden outside the tomb, when she recognizes Jesus' voice. (I wonder how many people know that C. Austin Miles' beautiful hymn, "I Come to the Garden Alone," was inspired by that very scene.) Surely, Paul was aware of these stories from the other apostles and early followers. One would think that he might even have met Mary or some of the other women, either as persecutor or Christian convert. So why does he leave them out?

Some scholars suggest he did so because women weren't considered to be reliable witnesses, not even being allowed to testify in courts of law. (Interesting, isn't it, that God often chooses the very people the world rejects!) Some suggest that Paul was trying to protect the women by not naming them. (I think not.) Feminist scholars sometimes suggest that Peter (or his followers) wanted the story suppressed, so that Peter would have the enhanced status of being the first to see Jesus.

I find it interesting that the first known pagan written critique of Christianity was from a guy who discredits Christianity on the basis that its primary witness was "a hysterical female"! Writing in 175 A.D., Celsus builds on the Gospels' report of women as the first witnesses and proclaimers, citing his own source naming
"a hysterical female" as the primary witness. Since the predominate view of women was that of the "easily deceived, hysterical, and unreliable female," it seems unlikely that the early church would have named women as the first witnesses to the resurrection if it were not really so. Celsus' attack on Christianity shows how clearly and firmly the role of the women as the first witnesses was in the Gospel tradition of the early church.

So, where does that leave Paul? In his letter to the Romans, we see him praising women as deacon, patron, teacher, evangelist, missionary, even apostle! But in other places, he seems far too accommodating of cultural expectations of women. I guess the bottom line is, he was a Jewish man living in a primarily Greek, first century cultural milieu. Perhaps he had to "become all things to all men" in order for his mission to succeed, but I sometimes wish he had had a little more of Jesus' unorthodox, radical-kingdom-theology chutzpah.