When evangelists and apologists want to make their case for the resurrection, I've noticed one piece of "evidence" keeps getting used: No Jew expected a bodily resurrection in the middle of history. I'm not sure of the origin of this argument. Tom Wright certainly makes a big deal of it, maybe everyone else has just jumped on board?
The point seems to be that the resurrection was not wish fulfilment or a conspiracy to make the prophecies tally - it took everyone by surprise. Greeks certainly didn't believe in resurrection and Jews, it's claimed, exclusively thought of resurrection as an end-of-time phenomenon... Ergo, the resurrection wasn't a fantasy dreamt up by gullible Jews but a stubborn fact that foisted itself upon them. It's basically saying "you couldn't make this stuff up! Not if you were Kosher!"
What do we think?
Well I'm not going to go down the road you think I am... If you don't know my views on the expectant faith of believing Israel then perhaps have a look at this post where I challenge the myth that 'no-one expected the kind of Messiah Jesus turned out to be'. We won't discuss that here. In this post I want to ask a different question and it's this:
If we want to make the 'nobody saw it coming' argument, what are we assuming about the resurrection? More specifically, What story is the resurrection being fitted into? And why?
It seems to me telling people "No-one saw it coming" undermines the actual story which resurrection fulfils - the story of the Scriptures.
"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures... he was buried... he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Resurrection makes sense in terms of a prior story - and it doesn't really make sense without it. When Paul summarises the gospel again in Romans 1 and 2 Timothy 2 he insists that Christ's descent from David is the proper precursor to His resurrection. Unless we know He is the Davidic King (and all which that implies) we lose the gospel sense of the event.
My fear is that 'nobody saw it coming' tries to fit the resurrection into a different story. In this story, resurrection is a freak occurrence in the midst of history (in general) in order to prove to thorough-going sceptics (with a presumption of unbelief) that there is an abstract realm called 'the supernatural.'
Yet Jesus did not rise 'according to general history' but according to a very specific history - Israel's'. He did not appear to His enemies but to His friends. And His rising did not vindicate 'the supernatural' but His own unique identity as LORD and Messiah (Acts 2:36). When Jesus and the Apostles sought to explain the resurrection they didn't close off the alternative explanations (stolen body, mistaken tomb, group hallucination), they opened their Bibles.
Last month Stephen Law, an atheist philosopher, responded to William Lane Craig, a Christian philosopher, over Christ's resurrection. The heart of Law's argument is this:
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of extraordinary evidence there's excellent reason to be skeptical about the claims.
I might, for instance, have every reason to believe Jack whenever he reports to me his movements from the night before. But if, one day, Jack claims that he hosted the Queen for tea and was crowned King in a secret ceremony, the extraordinary claim bumps up the requirement for further proofs. Given the new claim, it's just not enough to say "Jack has always told the truth in the past" or "Jack has no motive to lie". We need extraordinary evidence to support the extraordinary claim.
Law says that extraordinary evidence for Christ's resurrection is lacking and therefore we have every right to disbelieve it (just as we would disbelieve the normally truth-telling Jack).
It seems to me a poor response to Law to say: 'No, the evidence is actually very plausible, let me list it again.' What we need to do is shift the paradigm into which resurrection is being placed. Resurrection is according to the Scriptures, not according to Supernaturalism. It's part of the story of God remaking the world from the inside through His Davidic King. Easter Sunday vindicates the God who fulfils His purposes for Israel and - through them - for the world. It doesn't vindicate some double-decker universe in which, occasionally, freaky stuff from upstairs intrudes. But so often the atheist and the Christian can end up arguing the resurrection on that footing.
Against this I think it's important to emphasize the non-surprising nature of the resurrection. What if the Queen was inclined to have tea with her subjects? What if ancient prophecies foretold the time she would visit her people? What if, Jack turned out to have a claim to the throne himself? What if, the more you thought about it, the more you realised how regal Jack had always been? (The illustration is stretching to breaking point I know, but stick with me for one more paragraph...)
Maybe you saw the coronation coming from a mile off or maybe you weren't brilliant at piecing together the evidence at the time - let's leave that to one side. But once Jack's claim is made, it now makes more sense of the story not less. Suddenly believing in the Queen's visit doesn't only 'explain' the raw data of the event - it vindicates a whole vision of reality. And that vision casts light on the event.
In this way the Old Testament and the resurrection are mutually reinforcing. The one gives us the vision, the other the event. So let's preach the resurrection "according to the Scriptures." As Abraham said to the Rich Man:
“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”’ (Luke 16:31)