The Resurrection of Jesus: A Methodological Survey and Introduction to the Present Volume -- By: Robert B. Stewart

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 03:1 (Summer 2012)
Article: The Resurrection of Jesus: A Methodological Survey and Introduction to the Present Volume
Author: Robert B. Stewart

The Resurrection of Jesus:
A Methodological Survey and Introduction
to the Present Volume

Robert B. Stewart


Heath A. Thomas

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary


The resurrection of Jesus is a central tenet of historic Christian belief, and, for that reason alone, a matter of great historical significance. Virtually no biblical scholar, early church historian, or theologian disputes this point. However, a great deal of disagreement follows from that initial agreement.

A divergence of opinion has existed in serious historical study of Jesus for over 200 years concerning the historical reliability of the four canonical gospels. During much of this time most scholars have leaned to the skeptical side of the ledger concerning this question. No gospel stories, save, perhaps, the virgin birth narratives, have been as critically scrutinized as those concerning the resurrection. As a result, in the minds of many, the resurrection of Jesus, which undoubtedly lay at the heart of the earliest Christian confession of Jesus as Lord, is often either removed from the picture altogether or moved to one margin or another.

Such skepticism is largely the result of methodological presuppositions founded upon enlightenment thinking. Although many of those whose work was responsible for this sea change were not outright enemies of Christian faith or practice, the law of unintended consequences applies to historians as much as it does to those in other professions, and their skepticism had the effect of either reducing the importance of resurrection in Christian theology or redefining the meaning of resurrection. In what follows we shall attempt to paint a backdrop of roughly 200 years of historical scholarship concerning Jesus and his resurrection.

A Brief Survey of Resurrection Scholarship

In 1778 G. E. Lessing’s edition of Hermann Samuel Reimarus’s essay, “On the Aims of Jesus and His Disciples” was published.1 Prior to Reimarus

there were many harmonies of the gospels,2 but there had been no scholarly attempt to study the gospels as historical documents. All that changed with G. E. Lessing’s posthumous publication of Reimarus’s work in a series Lessing named Fragmente eines Ungenannten (Fragments from an Unnamed Author), commonly referred to today as the Wolfenbüttel Fragments.3 The influence of Deism upon Reim...

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