The point to be made is that the report in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff. of the earliest eyewitnesses who themselves attested the appearances of the risen Jesus predates the Gnostic material. Further, it must be remembered that the Gnostic texts do not deny these facts; in reality, they affirm the resurrection of Jesus.^41 But Raymond Brown still reminds us that the earliest interest relative to the resurrection of Jesus is “an identifiable chain of witnesses,” not Gnostic theology.^42 Farmer contends that any Gnostic scenario which implies that the death and resurrection of Jesus were unimportant for the earliest apostolic community “is like children making castles in a sandbox” in the sense that it is a “fanciful reconstruction” of the data.^43 Summary and Conclusion
So what do those who appear to champion the Gnostic thesis think about the death and resurrection of Jesus? Perhaps surprisingly, there is apparently no attempt by Robinson or Koester to deny either historical event. Robinson, in fact, reminds us of a crucially important logical point: even if the death and resurrection of Jesus were absent from Q, it does not follow that the Q community was not aware of these occurrences.
Further, Robinson argues elsewhere that the earliest accounts of the resurrection appearances depicted nonphysical visions of the radiant, spiritual body of Jesus. However, he argues that the mainstream Gnostic view preferred only the radiance apart from the body itself.^45 Although we wish to register disagreement over Robinson’s disdain for physical appearances, we also need to point out that even a
39 Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, pp. 104–105.
40 For some examples, see Luke 24:34; Rom. 1:3–4; 4:25; 10:9–10; Phil. 2:6–11; 1 Tim. 2:6; 6:13; 2 Tim. 2:8; 1 Pet. 3:18; cf. 1 Tim. 3:16.
41 For some early Gnostic works that affirm the resurrection of Jesus, see The Gospel of Truth20:25–34; 30:23, 27–33; The Treatise on Resurrection45:14–28; 46:14–20; 48:4–19. We should note, however, the frequent Gnostic denial of the resurrection of Jesus’ body. In the texts above, such an idea is most evident in The Treatise on Resurrection45:17–21.
42 Brown, “The Christians Who Lost Out,” p. 3.
43 Farmer, “Church’s Stake,” p. 14.
44 James M. Robinson, “The Sayings of Jesus: Q,” Drew Gateway, Fall, 1983, p. 32.
45 James M. Robinson, “Jesus from Easter to Valentinus,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 101, 1982, pp. 6–17.
commitment to the Q and Thomastraditions do not at all necessitate a denial of Jesus’ literal death and later appearances.
Koester clearly states the certainty of Jesus’ death on the cross and then asserts that “We are on much firmer ground with respect to the appearances of the risen Jesus and their effect.” And while he is not concerned to attempt to ascertain the nature of these experiences, Koester holds that their occurrence “cannot be questioned.” He then explains that it was these appearances that account for the disciples’ interest in missionary activity, in that: the resurrection changed sorrow and grief, or even hate and rejection, into joy, creativity, and faith. Though the resurrection revealed nothing new, it nonetheless made everything new for the first Christian believers.^46