Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Theology

First Advisor

Hills, Julian V.

Second Advisor

Osborne, Grant R.

Third Advisor

Barnes, Michel R.

Abstract

Among the diverse reports of Jesus’s resurrection in the New Testament gospels one theme recurs more frequently than any other: the apostles doubt. According to Luke 24 and John 20, the risen Lord responds by inviting them to touch his body. Though modern assessments of the historical reliability of these accounts vary considerably, a broad range of commentators—conservative, liberal, and skeptical—agree that the evangelists include the doubt and touch motifs for apologetic reasons. On the basis of second-century parallels, many of these scholars argue further that Luke and/or John are attempting to refute docetists who claimed that Christ was not truly human but only appeared to be so. The present study seeks to challenge these widely accepted views and to shed new light on the original purposes of Luke 24:36-49 and John 20:24-29 by means of a redaction-critical investigation of the reception of these stories in the second and early third centuries. In the main chapters, I examine a variety of receptions, ranging from the proto-orthodox accounts of Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian to docetic accounts from Nag Hammadi, the Acts of John, the Ophites, and Marcion. The results indicate not that Luke and John were responding to docetism, but that docetic and proto-orthodox views of resurrection derive from competing hermeneutical responses to Luke’s and John’s narratives. Docetists accept one or both of these accounts—including their physical depictions of the risen Jesus— as authoritative apostolic tradition, and even appeal to the doubt and other narrative details as support for their principal claim that Christ’s human actions were performed “in appearance only.” Proto-orthodox writers insist on literal interpretation, yet regularly modify and sometimes directly contradict the biblical stories to meet the needs of apologetic and/or antidocetic argumentation. In the final chapters, I reread Luke 24 and John 20 in light of their early reception and conclude (i) that the redactional emphases of the evangelists differ consistently from those of expressly antidocetic writers, and (ii) that the apologetic concerns of both evangelists lie in the fulfillment of OT prophecy rather than in physical proofs of the resurrection.

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