Easter is almost upon us!
There are many Christian scholars who contend that the resurrection of Christ is a historical event open to the process of historical investigation, with the outcome being that we can assign a very good probability that Jesus was in fact resurrected from the dead. For instance: The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Mike Licona; The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright; The Resurrection of God Incarnate by Richard Swinburne; and The Physics of Christianity by Frank Tipler. Amongst these authors there are some who would say the resurrection is historically probable (Wright), quite likely (Licona), and historically inevitable (Tipler).
This historical view of the resurrection is a quite popular attitude amongst the brethren and is found in some popular lay-level books. For instance, Timothy Keller wrote in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age for Skepticism, that “the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact much more fully attested to than most other events of ancient history we take for granted” (219). Is it true? I would say that such an assertion as Keller’s is blatantly false (and horrendous apologetics). But what about the less positive statement that the resurrection of Christian is historically verifiable? This ultimately views the resurrection as a question of obtainable knowledge (i.e. can I prove it happened) and I think this is a completely wrong way of looking at Christ’s resurrection, because the likelihood of a supernatural occurrence in antiquity will (and should) always be considered less likely than a natural explanation (e.g. mass psychosis) under the historical method.
But neither do I agree with a purely spiritual interpretation (see e.g. Bultmann and Schleiermacher) that views the resurrection of Christ as more of a spiritual happening in the bowels of the disciples rather than a (physical) event that actually occurred. In other words, in this view it is not so much the question of whether the resurrection actually occurred, the question is rather one of meaning. Tangent: I do think Bultmann was hitting the nail on the head by emphasizing that it is the resurrection of the crucified Lord (something which Moltmann definitely picks up and runs with), as well as his placing an accent on the eschatological nature of the resurrection. Though unlike Bultmann, who seemed to view the crucifixion and resurrection as a single event (i.e. the resurrection did not actually occur), I would want to stress the crucifixion as being temporally prior to the resurrection.
So what does that leave us with? The eschatological view of Christ’s resurrection. This understanding places an emphasis on how the event is without parallel and thus ‘historical’ is an inadequate way to speak of it, for Christ’s resurrection is a history-making event that redefines what history is. In the words of Moltmann, “[The resurrection of Christ] breaks the power of history and is itself the end of history.” This is not to say that it did not happen (for it was indeed a ‘historical’ event in the sense that it actually occurred), but since it was a unique breaking-in of God into this world – a history-making event that transcends history – the resurrection can not (and should not) be described as provable history; historical research (i.e. history) in and of itself cannot confirm Christ’s resurrection. Furthermore, I would say that judgments of faith cannot (and should not) be founded on historical judgments based on probability.