One of the arguments against the belief that on the first Easter Jesus actually did rise from the dead is that the records of that alleged event (the New Testament gospels) were written much later, perhaps a hundred years or so after the event was supposed to have happened. The greater the temporal distance between the event and when it was written down, the thinking goes, the less reliable the written testimony is considered to be.
There are lots of reasons for rejecting this argument, but I came across one recently while reading Anglican theologian N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope that I don't remember ever hearing before, although I'm sure others have.
Wright points out that throughout the gospel narratives the authors constantly cite Old Testament precedents and prophecies and tie them to the life of Jesus. This indicates that some time had elapsed after Jesus' death during which the community of believers was able to reflect on the events of his life before those events were written down. This reading back into the Old Testament runs right up through the crucifixion narratives. Thus we may surmise that these stories about Jesus were put into the form we have them in today some time after Jesus' death.
But then a striking thing happens. Once the accounts move on to the events surrounding Jesus' resurrection there are no references to Old Testament sources, prophecies and fulfillments. Their absence strongly suggests, Wright maintains, that the accounts of the resurrection were written down or otherwise fixed even before the accounts of the rest of Jesus' life. It suggests, too, that the resurrection narratives were established soon after the event and before the community of disciples had the opportunity to search the texts for prophetic allusions and echoes.
Here is what Wright says:
This is all the more remarkable when we note that from as early as Paul, the common creedal formula declared that the resurrection, too, was "according to the scriptures," and Paul himself joins the rest of the early church in ransacking the psalms and prophets to find texts to explain what just happened and set it within, and as the climax to, the long story of God and Israel. Why do the gospel resurrection narratives not do the same? It would be easy for Matthew to refer to one or two scriptural prophecies that were being fulfilled, but he doesn't. John tells us that the disciples did not yet know the scriptural teaching that the Messiah would rise again, but he doesn't quote the texts he has in mind.
These accounts were fixed very early, it appears, and then later, when the gospels were being written, attached to those narratives in order to form a more complete picture of who Jesus was. If this is so, they should be granted a much greater reliability than some critics have been willing to give them.
Have a wonderful Resurrection Day.RLC