Licona, Michael R. (2010) The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic. (Buy from IVPress.com here)
Now that we have just celebrated Easter (i.e. “Resurrection Sunday) it is time to continue the journey through Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. In chapter three he introduces the sources he will be using for his investigation. Today we will focus upon those that eventually because official Christian literature (i.e. canonized). In our next post we will take a look at those sources that are not Christian, those that we considered to be fringe works (i.e. non-canonical), and some works from the era of the “apostolic fathers” (e.g. Clement, Polycarp).
In order to rate the value of each document as a solid source for historical resource Licona put together the following ratings: unlikely, possible-minus, possible, possible-plus, highly probable, indeterminate, and not useful (p. 201).
The investigation begins with the canonical gospels. Licona explores how scholarship has shifted from seeing them as sui generis (unique genre) to a subset of bioi (or ancient biographies/lives). Ig gospels are a form of bioi then it would seem the authors saw themselves as doing serious historical work. In other words the gospels are not hagiography that can be easily dismissed let alone mythos.
As Licona examines how the resurrection narrative relates to the Synoptic Problem as well as the Fourth Gospel he concludes that they are probable resources for accurate historical reconstruction. There are many valuable elements that lend themselves to solid historiography, but there are also obvious theological and literary arrangements. Also, although two gospels are claimed to be written by disciples of Jesus (Matthew and John) we have n0 way of verifying this. We can be sure of at least two gospels (Mark and Luke) that they are second-hand testimonies (pp. 201-208).
Licona ranks the Pauline Epistles as highly probable. I would agree. In fact, it is the letters of Paul and the “antedated” materials found especially in Paul’s writing that I find the most convincing as early, early sources for Christian belief. Other antedated sources like the hypothetical Q document (ranked unlikely) and the so-called “Pre-Markan” tradition (ranked possible) are not found to be very useful because there is not much in support of their existence (pp. 210-220)!
Oral formulas like Rom. 1.3b-4a (possible-plus); Lk. 23.33-34 (possible); and especially (!) 1 Cor. 15.3-8 (highly probable) are given the most weigh (pp. 220-235).
It has long been my conviction that the testimony of 1 Cor. 15.3-8 is the the most sound historical evidence for my belief in the resurrection. I have never been able to shake Paul’s own conversion. It is not like Joseph Smith who was seeking these types of mystical experiences or Muhammad. Paul hated Christians. He recalls a life in Pharisaic Judaism that wasn’t all that bad (e.g Phil. 3.1-11). I can’t see a motivation for converting other than that he really saw the resurrected Jesus.
The same can be said of James the Just whom the evangelist depict as not believing that his brother was the Messiah during his earthly ministry. Why did he change his mind when his brother was crucified? Why did the defeated disciples come to find new life in proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection? Why would Paul claim that five hundred people saw him at one time if he knew that this meant his readers could check these claims?
I know the objections, but they don’t make as much sense as the straightforward reality that these people had no motivation to invent a resurrection, yet they willingly died in proclaiming one. I am in agreement with Licona that these should be considered valuable historical pointers toward a real event in space-time history where God raised Jesus from the dead.