Was the Resurrection of Jesus a Late Church Invention?

by Sean McDowell

To be a Christian today is to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But what about the first Christians? Could belief in the resurrection have been a late church invention? If so, then Easter celebration is deeply misguided and Christians ought to reject the evidence for faith.

Critics often claim that there were a variety of “Christian” beliefs in the first and second centuries—some that embraced the resurrection of Jesus and others that rejected it. The resurrection party happened to “win,” and so contemporary Christians accept it.

The problem with this claim is that there is no early Christianity apart from belief in the resurrection. Let me say it again—The earliest records we have all indicate that belief in the resurrection of Jesus was at the heart of the Christian faith. Consider four points.

1. Early Christian Creeds: Creeds are verbal proclamations that circulated before their inclusion in the New Testament (e.g., Romans 1:3-4, 1 Peter 3:18). They give us a glimpse into the earliest Christian beliefs. Perhaps the oldest creed comes from 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

Notice two things. First, Paul passes on a tradition that he had previously been given. Given the formulaic structure of this passage, most scholars agree that Paul is passing on material he received. Second, the resurrection is of “first importance” for the faith…

Was the Resurrection of Jesus a Late Church Invention?