There are very few if any words of the resurrected Jesus in the earliest New Testament writings. Reports of the number of words attributed to the resurrected Jesus appear to have grown over time.
Even conservative scholars agree that the first letter by Paul to the Corinthians was composed earlier than the Gospels. That letter only informs us that “Jesus appeared,” without further description. Neither does the order and numbers of the people to whom “Jesus appeared” match later descriptions found in the Gospels.
The next earliest writing is the Gospel of Mark. Like 1 Cor. it contains no words of the resurrected Jesus. Most scholars agree that Mark breaks off with “the women” being “afraid” and adds that they fled and “told no one” about what they had seen at Jesusʼ tomb. Some suggest that the Gospel of Mark originally did not stop at that point, but had verses about meeting the resurrected Jesus that were somehow lost (God couldnʼt stop it from being lost? God wanted it lost?), while others point out that Mark was most probably written on a scroll and it is unlikely that a scroll would have its ending lost since the ending is the most protected part when a scroll is rolled up. Whichever happened, early Christians do not appear to have been satisfied with Mark ending with women fleeing in fear from an empty tomb and “telling no one,” because scholars have discovered early copies of Mark featuring both a long and short added ending, along with variants of both. It wasnʼt until the fifth century CE that the long ending of Mark attained dominance both in early texts and in the works of early Christian theologians. But up till the fourth century, the long ending remained in dispute, and theologians noted that they had seen both the long ending and the ending with the women leaving the tomb and “telling no one.”
The long ending of Mark features commands and promises from the resurrected Jesus that include, “Ye shall take up serpents and drink poison and they shall not harm you,” and, “He who believes not shall be damned.” Such words may have been invented by early Christians. Even a few Christians today continue to take such commands/promises so seriously as to “pick up serpents” and “drink poison” at their services.
Therefore, looking at the earliest surviving church writings on the resurrection, Paul in 1st Cor., and the Gospel of Mark, they both lack words spoken by the risen Jesus. (Though some claim that the long ending of Mark contained some words of the risen Jesus, it should also be pointed out that they are not many, 84. And disputed by the majority of scholarly experts.)
The Gospel of Matthew (chapter 28) contains 79 words of the resurrected Jesus. So we have gone from zero to a textually disputed 84, to a far less textually disputed 79. Scholarly consensus places Matthew after Mark chronologically, and before Luke-Acts. Matthewʼs crucifixion and resurrection stories parallel even the exact wording in Mark more closely than Matthew parallels Luke. Matthew, unlike Luke, also copies Markʼs message at the tomb that “He has gone before you unto Galilee, THERE you shall see him.” Here are Matthewʼs words of the resurrected Jesus, 79 English words in translation:
“Greetings. Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Reading those 79 words, one can see how they mirror what the early church had already begun to teach new converts, a sort of catechism in brief, but placed, perhaps by the church, into the mouth of the resurrected Jesus. Not a very convincing example of post-resurrection speech. Matthewʼs Gospel also ends with a very brief tale about people claiming to see the raised Jesus on a mountain in Galilee, “but some doubted.”
The Gospel of Luke (chapter 24) contains 191 words (in English translation) of the resurrected Jesus, more than double the number found in Matthew. And besides those 191, Luke adds a story about the raised Jesus (traveling incognito) and speaking an untold number of words during a walk to Emmaus, words that allegedly explained where “the Christ” was mentioned in “all the Scriptures.” Therefore Luke alludes to the raised Jesus being so talky that he gave a peripatetic seminar, “…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) Unfortunately not one word is preserved today of that seminar. But here are all the alleged words of the resurrected Jesus that appear in Luke:
“What are you discussing together as you walk along?… What things?… How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
“Peace be with you. Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. Do you have anything here to eat? This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Those are all the words of the resurrected Jesus in the third Gospel.
However, the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts are a combined work and together they feature even more alleged words of the resurrected Jesus. (There is debate as to the authorship of the Book of Acts, i.e., whether a later writer edited notes/work and finished it in Lukeʼs name. Some verses in Acts suggest the latter view may be nearer the truth. See the latest edition of Bart Ehrmanʼs textbook on The New Testament for a discussion of which verses in Acts raise such questions, and how scholars respond to each othersʼ questions on this issue. See also Gary Willsʼs work, What Paul Meant, that features a brief summary of such questions.)
According to the Gospel of Luke, the resurrected Jesus appears first to two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus, mentioned above, then later that same day to the apostles, all of them at once, and eats some fish to prove heʼs “not a spirit” but has “flesh and bone,” and then “led them as far as Bethany” to a mount near Jerusalem, and rose into the sky. But the Book of Acts expands the time that the physically resurrected Jesus remained on earth making it “40 days” before Jesusʼ bodily ascension/disappearance into heaven. That means that the Book of Acts implied that resurrected Jesus spoke lots more than even Luke was able to record, and over a period of forty days, during which he spoken and ate with the disciples. So the story of the number of words allegedly spoken by the resurrected Jesus continued to grow, even from Lukeʼs Gospel to the Book of Acts.
And, neither the “seminar on prophecy” allegedly delivered “on the road to Emmaus” nor many words of the “40 days” of preaching exist, except for the very last ones with which Acts 1:3 begins, “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Once when he [the resurrected Jesus] was eating with them, he commanded them … Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Is anyone supposed to believe that the disciples failed to report, or failed to record (or God failed to preserve) many post-resurrection sayings and sermons by Jesus, which Luke says Jesus taught over a period of forty days? No scraps of table conversation while eating with the resurrected Jesus, just the final goodbye speech? Thatʼs it? I tend to think that speeches by a dead man risen from the grave would have been taken greater note of, moreso than speeches Jesus spoke while alive.
(Furthermore, in the case of the “prophecy seminar” that Jesus allegedly delivered “on the road to Emmaus,” the Scriptures do not state in unequivocal fashion that “the Christ must die and then after three day arise.” So the question remains as to what clear Scriptural proofs Jesus could have even cited concerning a Christ who “must die and then must rise after three days.” That simply raises a red flag as to the story in Luke about the whole Road to Emmaus story.)
Furthermore, how is anyone supposed to believe that it was only in later Gospels that stories first arose concerning the raised Jesus speaking wordy dialogues? And as I asked already, why arenʼt those dialogues preserved?
Note that these same Gospel authors cribbed from one another, relying mostly on Markʼs and Qʼs collection of sayings and stories to form the Gospels, Matthew and Luke. And the latter two Gospels differ most in the very sections where they could not follow Mark, i.e., in their infancy and resurrection stories. But what the latter two Gospels lacked in originality (reproducing over 90% of everything in the earliest Gospel, Mark, including incidental connecting phrases), they apparently tried to made up for via imaginative allusions to so-called previously unrecorded conversations with the raised Jesus that mouthed creeds already believed and provided a “40 day” period during which the raised Jesus, still on earth per Acts, allegedly continued to teach his disciples. Though no one knows what if anything the raised Jesus actually said since thereʼs only allusions to such speeches in Luke-Acts.
Contra Luke-Acts, I suspect that the words of anyone who was dead and came back, and whom I got to spend several weeks with, would stick with me a bit more. Same thing goes for all the lost words of others who allegedly returned from the dead, like the Gospel of Matthewʼs “many raised saints who entered the holy city and appeared to many,” or Lazarus in the Fourth Gospel who allegedly returned from the dead.
Also keep in mind that there are no first person stories in the N.T. concerning meeting the raised Jesus or meeting those whom he allegedly raised from the dead. The only first person story in the N.T. comes from Paul in 1 Cor., who wrote that “Jesus … appeared to me.” No further description given by Paul himself in any of his letters. Everything else (such as the story of the appearance of Jesus to Paul in Acts) is a second, third, or fourth hand story.
As stated earlier, not only the Gospel of Luke but also the companion volume, Acts, features additional alleged sayings of the resurrected Jesus. Iʼve mentioned a few of them above, but there are others I have not yet mentioned, namely words that the author of Acts says were spoken to Paul by Jesus. But Paul himself in his letters never mentions hearing so many words. Never mentions a single word spoken by the resurrected Jesus. And these words in Acts read like a late expansion or legendary elaboration that partisan religious believers of all sorts are prone to concocting after a story is repeated, perhaps they were invented to “spell it out” for the reader. One need only compare the endless words a conservative pastor can squeeze out of a single verb even today once he starts sermonizing upon it. Here is the preachy version of what Paul allegedly heard, not as recorded in Paulʼs own letters nor even in Paulʼs own words, but as told by the author of the book of Acts, chapter 26:
“‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (117 words)
Total number of alleged words spoken by the resurrected Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts combined? 397 words (depending of course on your particular English translation). But, minus the long didactic speech of Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus: 280.
The Gospel of John, the final Gospel written, contains 283 words of the resurrected Jesus. Thatʼs 92 more words of the resurrected Jesus than appeared in the Gospel of Luke, and 204 more words than appeared in Matthew.
Here are the alleged words of the resurrected Jesus per the Fourth Gospel:
“Woman, why are you crying?. Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?. Mary. Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
“Peace be with you!. Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” “Peace be with you! Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
“Friends, havenʼt you any fish?. Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some. Bring some of the fish you have just caught. Come and have breakfast. Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?. Feed my lambs. Simon son of John, do you truly love me?. Take care of my sheep. Simon son of John, do you love me?. Do you love me?. Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. Follow me!. If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
The Gospel of John ends with these words, not spoken by Jesus but by that Gospelʼs author(s):
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)
“I suppose that the world could not contain…” “I suppose?” Is that any way to end an inspired Gospel, with mere “supposition?” As for the supposition itself, that the “world itself could not contain the books,” the books we do have that tell of “things Jesus did,” consist of only four slim “Gospels,” not one of them over forty pages in length. Two of them, Matthew and Luke, even repeat over 90% of what appears in Mark including incidental phrases and passages in Greek. So the four Gospels that tell of “things Jesus did,” minus the overlapping portions would be even slimmer. (And speaking of the “world” being unable to “contain the books,” the Fourth Gospel writers were apparently not granted the psychic ability to foresee that one day we might be able to store whole libraries in a laptop computer).
Among those “many other things which Jesus did,” some of them can no doubt be found in the bevy of non-canonical Gospels and Acts that believers continued to write over time. It is apparent that by the time the fourth Gospel was composed such stories could have already been begun circulating in droves. Otherwise why would the author of the Fourth Gospel end his Gospel with such words? They certainly fit the idea that a plethora of stories abounded in the authorʼs day. One such non-canonical Gospel that we know about was The Gospel of Nicodemus, and itʼs author expanded on the tale in Matthew about “the many raised saints,” identifying some of them. Other non-canonical Gospels told about miracles Jesus allegedly performed in his infancy and youth. And the “Gospel of Peter” even describes Jesus stepping out of his opened tomb, something that neither Mark, Matthew, Luke, nor John, say that anyone “saw.”
Hereʼs the Word Count once again, in the order in which these works were most likely composed:
Paul 0 words
Mark 0 words (the disputed long ending of Mark, 84 words)
Matthew 79 words
Luke 191 words
Acts 208 words
John 283 words
Many of the words allegedly spoken by the raised Jesus also read like statements devout church leaders could and would have put into the resurrected Jesusʼ mouth to suit the early churchʼs belief in its own heavenly centrality and broadening missionary ideals. Like when Matthewʼs resurrected Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Or when Lukeʼs resurrected Jesus says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Or when Johnʼs resurrected Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Why are those blessed who believe without seeing? Because credulity pleases God Almighty? Then we should also believe the creation accounts too, as written, right? Because Jesus mentioned Adam and Eve and Noah like they were genuine folks and related to genuine events that God had a hand in, right? Where and when exactly does “not believing” or asking questions become a virtue?
“Religions promise a reward for excellence of the will or heart, but none for excellence of the head or understanding.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)
“I do not believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.” (Galileo)
“The silly fanatic repeats to me that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the divine Being. That His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh? How, you mad demoniac, shall we judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions we have of them? Do you want us to walk otherwise than with our feet, and speak otherwise than with our mouths?” (Voltaire)
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