Was Jesus a Myth, Misrepresentation, Man or the MASTER and MESSIAH? How the Female First Witnesses of the Resurrection Answered that Question! #71
Happy Tuesday, friends! Our Bible passages today are Exodus 22, Job 40, John 1 and 2nd Corinthians 10. Today we are still focused on the women witnesses of the wondrous resurrection of Jesus, but I would be remiss to not at least point us towards that magisterial passage in John 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Let’s turn it over to Spurgeon for a moment to point us in a great direction on this passage:
John is especially careful that we should know that Jesus is a real and true Person, and therefore he tells us that the Divine Word, of whose fullness we have received, is most assuredly God.C. H. Spurgeon, Christ’s Incarnation: The Foundation of Christianity (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 65–66. Slightly modernized
No language can be more distinct and explicit than that which John uses concerning Jesus. He ascribes to Him the eternity which belongs alone to God: “In the beginning was the Word.” He beyond all question claims Divinity for Him: “The Word was God.” He ascribes to Him creative power: “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” He ascribes to Him self-existence, which is the essential characteristic of God: “In Him was life.” He claims for Him a nature peculiar to God: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all;” and he says that the Word is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” No writer could be more definite in the expressions he uses; and beyond all question he sets forth the true and proper Deity of that Blessed One whom we all must receive if we would obtain eternal salvation.
Yet John does not fail to demonstrate that our Lord was also man. He saith, “the Word was made flesh,”—not merely assumed manhood, but was made flesh; made not merely man, as to His nobler part, His soul, but man as to His flesh, His lower element. Our Lord was not a phantom, but one who, as John declares in his first Epistle, could be seen, and heard, and touched, and handled.
“The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” He lived with the sons of men,—a carpenter’s shed His lowly refuge, and the caves and mountains of the earth His midnight resort in His after life. He dwelt among sinners and sufferers, among mourners and mortals, Himself completing His citizenship among us by becoming obedient unto death, “even the death of the cross.” Thus, while He is so august a person that Heaven and earth tremble at the majesty of His presence, yet is He so humble a person that He is not ashamed to call us “brethren.”
As promised yesterday, we continue discussing Luke 24 today – the resurrection is most certainly worth a two-part episode and much more! Our topic is all about the women who were the FIRST witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. (The below is taken from Easter: Fact or Fiction: 20 Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose From the Dead):
…According to Matthew 28, the first two witnesses to the risen Jesus were women, Mary Magdalene and “The other Mary.” Luke adds that Joanna was there, as well as “other women,” and seems to indicate that “the other” Mary, was Mary the mother of James. All four gospels, written down by different men, in different places and at different time periods ALL feature a female (Mary Magdalene) as the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus. That some gospels also mention the presence of other women is far from contradictory, but is the very essence of differing eyewitness testimony. Some details will be included by some authors, and omitted by others. The bottom line is this: women, several of them, were the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.
Additionally, Mary Magdalene, perhaps the foremost of these female witnesses, had what might be considered a sketchy past: Jesus had driven not one, but SEVEN demons out of her at one point. All of this leads to an incredibly important question: If, in the first century, the testimony of women was not considered as reliable by any culture, why does the Bible clearly, and in great detail, portray women as being the first and primary witnesses to the risen Jesus? That question also begets another important question: How is it, given the assumed unreliability of women, that so many thousands of people eagerly believed the account of the resurrection of Jesus – many at the cost of their own lives?
Though it is not part of the Bible, and not considered Scripture, there is an apocryphal document called the Epistula Apostolorum, which dates to roughly 120 A.D. It is supposedly an eyewitness account of the apostles, and covers issues like the resurrection of Jesus, some of His parables, and several prophecies. This document contains a depiction of the resurrection, and contains extended dialog between Jesus and the women at the tomb. It is interesting, for the purposes of our discussion here, because it depicts what would have likely been the attitude of men in the first century to the proclamation of women that Jesus rose from the dead; specifically, it portrays the 11 remaining disciples utterly refusing to believe the testimony of the women until they actually see Jesus.
I’m not posting this below because I am certain that this is a reliable record, written by the apostles, of what happened on the first Easter Sunday, but because it is a good example of how first century men would have viewed the testimony of women:
Concerning whom we testify that the Lord is he who was crucified by Pontius Pilate and Archelaus between the two thieves and was buried in a place which is called the place of a skull (Kranion). And thither went three women, Mary, she that was kin to Martha, and Mary Magdalene and took ointments to pour upon the body, weeping and mourning over that which was come to pass. And when they drew near to the sepulchre, they looked in and found not the body 10 And as they mourned and wept, the Lord showed himself unto them and said to them: For whom weep ye? weep no more. I am he whom ye seek. But let one of you go to your brethren and say: Come ye, the Master is risen from the dead. Martha came and told us. We said unto her: What have we to do with thee, woman? He that is dead and buried, is it possible that he should live? And we believed her not that the Saviour was risen from the dead.
Then she returned unto the Lord and said unto him: None of them hath believed me, that thou livest. He said: Let another of you go unto them and tell them again. Mary came and told us again, and we believed her not; and she returned unto the Lord and she also told him. 11 Then said the Lord unto Mary and her sisters: Let us go unto them. And he came and found us within and called us out; but we thought that it was a phantom and believed not that it was the Lord. Then said he unto us: Come, fear ye not. I am your master, even he, O Peter, whom thou didst deny thrice; and dost thou now deny again? And we came unto him, doubting in our hearts whether it were he.
Then said he unto us: Wherefore doubt ye still, and are unbelieving? I am he that spake unto you of my flesh and my death and my resurrection. But that ye may know that I am he, do thou, Peter, put thy finger into the print of the nails in mine hands, and thou also, Thomas, put thy finger into the wound of the spear in my side; but thou, Andrew, look on my feet and see whether they press the earth; for it is written in the prophet: A phantom of a devil maketh no footprint on the earth. 12 And we touched him, that we might learn of a truth whether he were risen in the flesh; and we fell on our faces (and worshipped him) confessing our sin, that we had been unbelieving.
What a fascinating passage, and almost humorous in its depictions of the disciples utterly refusing to listen to the female witnesses! The only possible rational reason that the Bible depicts women as the first witnesses
of the resurrection of Jesus (and prominent witnesses at His crucifixion) is that it factually happened. The depiction of these women as witnesses to what should be considered the most monumental event in the history of the world, makes no sense whatsoever if the biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are invented or even embellished.
Here’s why: There are perhaps five main theories about who Jesus was which can be summed up with the five “M’s” used by Southern Evangelical Seminary President Alex Mcfarland. Was Jesus merely a MYTH? That is, was he a legendary sort of character that was invented whole cloth by the lower class culture of Jerusalem who were seeking a hero to look up to? Or, was Jesus a MAN, simply a great teacher, who lived a great life and had a great influence on people, but nothing more than a special, and mortal, human being. In this view, either the followers of Jesus held Him in much higher esteem than they should have, or Jesus Himself had the most remarkable delusions of grandeur in history.
A third option is that Jesus was a MYSTIC, that is to say that perhaps He did possess some form of esoteric knowledge and power that elevated Him over the rest of humanity. Perhaps He was something more than merely a man, perhaps a first century alchemist of sorts, or even something like a mutant from comic book fame. Under this theory, Jesus wasn’t God, nor was He immortal; and He certainly wasn’t able to save humanity, but He was something more than an average person.
A fourth possibility is that Jesus was/is a MISREPRESENTATION. This theory, popularized by writers like Dan “Da Vinci Code” Brown, posits that the church (or some other body) deified Jesus long after His death, and magnified Him and His accomplishments, in some sort of bid to gain power and control people. In this view, Jesus was merely a teacher that got heavily promoted after His lifetime into something more.
MESSIAH or MASTER is the final possibility of who Jesus was and is. That isthat Jesus is everything the Bible claims Him to be He is the son of God, the King of Kings, and the savior of Israel and all of humanity. Really, aside from ridiculous theories (Jesus was an alien, etc.) those are the five options as to who Jesus was.
If He literally and historically rose from the dead, then several of those possibilities are eliminated outright. In light of those potential identities of Jesus, ponder this question: Why invent and insert women as the first witnesses on Easter morning if the resurrection was a myth, or intentional deception? There is no plausible reason for the women to be portrayed as witnesses of this event, except for the simplest reason of all: it really happened that way. If the early church was simply inventing the story of Jesus’ resurrection, wouldn’t it have made far more sense to utilize a prominent and well respected witness? Perhaps somebody like Joseph of Arimathea, or even Simon the Pharisee, or Nicodemus, a Pharisee AND member of the ruling council – any of these (and dozens of others) would make for more believable and impacting witnesses, if one wants to allege that the disciples, or some other group fabricated the story of Jesus resurrection.
In N.T. Wright’s epic book on the resurrection of Jesus, he states this case quite brilliantly. Consider well his questions, and the implications of their answers:
Even if we suppose that Mark made up most of his material, and did so some time in the late 60s at the earliest, it will not do to have him, or anyone else at that stage, making up a would-be apologetic legend about an empty tomb and having women be the ones who find it. The point has been repeated over and over in scholarship, but its full impact has not always been felt: women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses. We may regret it, but this is how the Jewish world (and most others) worked. The debate between Origen and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; were the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction? If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it. That they did not tells us either that everyone in the early church knew that the women, led by Mary Magdalene, were in fact the first on the scene, or that the early church was not so inventive as critics have routinely imagined, or both. Would the other evangelists have been so slavishly foolish as to copy the story unless they were convinced that, despite being an apologetic liability, it was historically trustworthy?N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 607–608.