There is no shortage of opinions about how the New Testament was put together and the sequence of events. I have just read one pundit who claims that Paul’s letters were written in the years 50 to 60, and while they included a “raised” Jesus, they did not speak of an empty tomb, which allegedly came much later. Paul’s letters teach one thing, while the documents written much later, the gospels, supposedly teach something else. The idea is that the teachings morphed and developed over time, a type of literary evolution or embellishing of the story as time went on. Such ideas are popular in liberal circles.
A careful reading of the New Testament tells a different story. First, as Gary Habermas has so often pointed out, 1 Corinthians 15 opens up with “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day . . .”(v.3-4). These verses indicate an important sequence. Paul is saying that on a previous trip, he taught the Corinthian church what he had previously been taught, namely, that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised. Since even the liberal scholars date 1 Corinthians at 55 to 57 AD, the previous trip had to be some time before this, and Paul’s being taught the message some time prior to that. With 55 to 57 AD being about 25 years after Jesus, the dating of Paul’s having received the message can be placed to less than a dozen years of Christ dying and being raised. So even using the liberal critic’s dating, we have an extremely early first-hand witness to the events of Jesus.
Second, 1 Corinthians 15 says Jesus was “buried, and was raised.” The greek word translated ‘raised’ is hegeiro, which is defined by the lexicons (BDAG) as rouse from sleep, to cause to stand up, to move to a standing position, or to cause to return to life. Thus the earliest New Testament books, even by the liberals’ own admission, teach the resurrection of Jesus in the fullest sense. Third, 1 Corinthians 15 goes on to say 11 times directly and three times indirectly that the physical body dies, but is raised again. So the passage clearly repeats over and over the teaching of the physical resurrection of Jesus.
Fourth, those who take 1 Corinthians 15 to mean some sort of non-physical, spiritual resurrection are incorrect. While 1 Cor. 15:44 says “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” this does not indicate non-physical. As support, the same author in the same book (1 Cor. 10:3-4) says that the manna and water in Moses day were “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink.” The manna and water in Moses day are physical, and the body mentioned in 1 Cor. 15 is physically raised. Again, the bodily resurrection was fully taught from the very beginning in the earliest books in the New Testament.
The liberals also suggest that the Gospel accounts were written late, and embellished about Jesus’ life and teachings. The New Testament again refutes this. In one of Paul’s letters, by the liberals’ accounts written earlier than the gospels, Paul quotes Matthew. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Matthew 10:10 / Luke 10:7. Either Paul did a pretty neat trick in quoting a book that had not been written yet, or both Paul and Matthew were quoting Jesus’ words. Further, Paul knew that Matthew and Luke were writing inspired words, for he refers to them as scripture, referring to them the same as Deuteronomy.
The liberals’ often have 1 Thessalonians as one of the earliest books. Even by the their own dating, this book is said to have been written by 50 AD, 20 years or shorter from the time of Jesus death. The liberals go on to try to say that teachings about Jesus’ miracles and end-times teachings developed much more slowly over the next 50 years or so, gradually being embellished and developed. But the liberals own statements destroy their position, for the central doctrines of the Christian faith are fully developed even in 1 Thessalonians.
The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians speaks at length of a previous trip to the church at Thessolonica, how Paul found the church, and what was taught in this earlier trip. 1:9-10 says ” For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” So even the earliest book, dated by the liberal critics, Paul’s previous trip would have had to have been 15 years or less from Jesus’ death. By this date Paul has a fully developed teaching on the bodily resurrection, the wrath coming at the end of the age, and Jesus returning to rescue us from this wrath.
Even by the most liberal dating of the New Testament documents, the Bible teaches a consistent doctrine from the very first. Those who try to suggest that humans took years to develop the central doctrines of Christianity are ignoring or torturing the text to fit their own preconceived biases. The Bible again shows itself to be what it says it is: eyewitness accounts of Jesus.