The Resurrection of Jesus: Explanation or Interpretation? -- By: C. Behan McCullagh

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 03:1 (Summer 2012)
Article: The Resurrection of Jesus: Explanation or Interpretation?
Author: C. Behan McCullagh

The Resurrection of Jesus:
Explanation or Interpretation?

C. Behan McCullagh

LaTrobe University (Australia)


Licona’s book, The Resurrection of Jesus, is, in effect, one very long elaborate argument. The argument has clearly defined stages. The first is that, given available documents that mention Jesus’ resurrection, it is possible to infer what he calls “bedrock” facts:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.
  3. Within a few years after Jesus’ death, Paul converted after experiencing what he interpreted as a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.1

In addition Licona draws attention to what he calls “second-order facts” namely that Jesus appeared to his brother James (as reported in 1 Cor. 15:7), and that on Easter Day the tomb in which Jesus had been interred was empty.2 These are second-order facts because they are not accepted by all scholars, only by a majority.

The second stage of Licona’s argument is that the best explanation of the experiences of the risen Jesus by the disciples, Paul and perhaps James and others is that Jesus himself had appeared to them. He is sometimes reluctant to say that Jesus appeared in physical form, though he allows this as a possibility. The other possibility is that he appeared to them in “an objective vision,” i.e. not as a product of their own minds. Licona states his theory thus:

Following a supernatural event of an indeterminate nature and cause, Jesus appeared to a number of people, in individual and group settings and to friends and foes, in no less than an objective vision and perhaps within ordinary vision in his bodily raised corpse.3

Eventually, however, he comes down in favour of a physical resurrection as “in accord with the plain sense of the resurrection narratives in the canonical Gospels and with Paul’s concept of the resurrection body,” and because the vision hypothesis cannot explain why the tomb was empty.4

The third and final stage of Licona’s argument is that the best explanation of Jesus’ resurrection is that it was an act of God. He admits that this claim “is incapable of verification,” which is why he writes instead of “a s...

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