In probably the most popular explanation today, many say that nothing extraordinary happened immediately after his death, but years later a resurrection legend was added the accounts of Jesus.
This is probably the most popular because it allows a person to seemingly avoid any of the pitfalls of the other explanations. But the questions still remain – what about the empty tomb and what changed the disciples.
Even if the resurrection developed as a legend, there would still be people who would know that despite what these Christians are saying Jesus’ body was still in the tomb. The Jewish and Roman leaders of the day would have established the fact that Jesus did indeed die.
If it was merely a legend, how did Christianity get started? Why did the disciples give their life for something that they would have known to be false? Why did Roman and Jewish leaders not point to the still sealed and occupied tomb of Jesus and end Christianity before it started?
Look at the time frame we are dealing with in this case. Even the most liberal scholars place the Gospels being written sometime in the first century. Placing the oldest Gospel (John) within 70 years of Jesus’ death. Paul’s writings all have to be dated within 30 years of Jesus’ death. I will grant that it could be plausible for some type of legendary material to find its way into John after 70 years (although I don’t think it is probable or accurate to say so, but just for arguments sake I am allowing it here).
70 years later everyone will have totally forgotten about Jesus and if they actually had a body or not? You could attribute some things, if you had to, to legend, but it is impossible to say that everyone forget about the body of Jesus still being in the tomb 70 years later. If you look at the other three Gospels you are talking about a even smaller period of time – at the most 40 years with Mark.
Some how in 40 years a myth developed that Jesus rose from the dead and no one bothered to refute it or challenge it? The Jewish and Roman leaders would have simply walked down to the tomb and showed everyone the body – Christianity over.
No other historical document from the time period is subject to the legend claim so soon after the facts, generally the first 100 years are accepted as factual. After that, stories tend to become more fanciful and farther removed from the truth.
With the Gospels we are looking at 40 years – max, but with Paul’s writings we are getting even closer to the time of the supposed resurrection. Paul wrote all of his letters within 30 years of Jesus death. Why, because he died within 30 years of Jesus’ death. So unless you are claiming that Paul rose from the dead (and there is no evidence or accounts that he did), we have to place all of his writings in that timeframe.
Paul’s writings are just as blatant about the resurrection of Jesus (try 1 Corinthians 15) and even more specific about the deity of Christ. So Paul’s writings in general push the date back farther.
Within Paul’s writings we can move the first mention of Jesus’ resurrection back even farther. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul repeats a creed that he says he “received.” This creed affirms the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and lists individuals that Jesus appeared to after his resurrection.
Most scholars (even liberal ones) believe this is a creed that Paul was taught in Jerusalem when he visited Peter and James three years after his conversion. If he was taught this, it had to have been in circulation before then. The time period given for the origination of this creed by virtually every scholar is eight years to eighteen months from the resurrection. Some say even earlier.
If historians general except what is written about an individual within the first 100 years, how can you not accept what is taught in less than a decade? There is no time for legend to have materialized. Even if it could have been fabricated, it could not have lasted 2,000 years.
Legend could explain why we today believe Jesus was resurrected, but it can’t explain why people who were alive during that time believed it. It can’t explain why the Roman government or the Jewish religious leaders didn’t crush the fledgling movement by parading the body through the streets. The empty tomb and the actions of the disciples must be explained.