The Social Factor: The Ethical Association

How does the humility of Jesus play a role in our investigation of His resurrection? Why should we consider it an exemplary piece of evidence?

Many of us know the Gospel accounts inside and out. At the very least, all of us are familiar with the accounts of the miracles of Jesus. In today’s post-enlightenment environment these miracle accounts are stumbling blocks, obstacles that illuminate the Biblical texts as a slice of ancient fiction or legend. Either the ancients believed them or we’ve misunderstood them all this time. The skeptics, well, they know better than anyone. But this is a naive observation of the ancient world and its reaction to the Christian movement, assuming that the miracle accounts, especially Jesus’ Resurrection, were nothing more than a ruse or a glorified eulogy.

What about the aspects of Jesus’ human identity we don’t often think about? His place of birth, His profession, His ethnicity and religion. We take these for granted and miss the sheer significance and weight these aspects possess in regards to the plausibility of the Resurrection. The Resurrection cannot be explained as a ruse or a glorified eulogy if, on the same page, the authors note that Jesus was a Jew and a carpenter from Galilee. This would be akin to writing a tribute to your best friend only to mention that he was also a drunkard, a flat-earther, and a bum to an audience who were strongly opposed to tolerating all of those things!

The fact that Jesus was a Jew was something that could not have been denied by the early Christians, however, it was a major impediment to spreading the Gospel to anyone but the Jews themselves. Judaism was regarded by the Romans and Gentiles as superstition and Roman writers such as Tacitus often took it upon themselves to report all kinds of calumnies against them, in addition to shaming them with names and accusations. Bringing a Jew to the door of the Romans would not have been too dissimilar to bringing a Jehovah’s Witness to the door of Christopher Hitchens and expecting him to convert then and there. The existence of Jews and their religion were tolerated in the ancient world but hardly celebrated or endorsed, as is made clear by Judaism’s own incursion in terms of Gentile converts. Thus a major reason Judaism was tolerated in the Roman world was that it wasn’t much of an evangelistic religion. There was no going out and reaching converts outside of their own ingroup.

The Romans naturally considered their beliefs superior to all others and believed that superstitions (i.e. anything outside their own religions, which most definitely included Judaism and Christianity) undermined the social system of their religion. And they would be right. If a Gentile or Roman converted to Christianity they would have had to turn from pagan deities to worship the one true God and as Larry Hurtado notes,

This total withdrawal from the worship of the many deities was a move without precedent, and it would have seemed inexplicable and deeply worrying to many of the general populace….. It would have seemed to the general public a kind of religious and social apostasy, an antisocial stance.

Hurtado, Larry W.. Destroyer of the gods (Kindle Location 991). Baylor University Press. Kindle Edition.

If anyone chose to follow one of these superstitions they would have been classed a social outcast and a traitor charged with treason, rebelling against the social establishment of the Roman empire. There wasn’t an equal playing field between Romans and Jews like there are with Christians and atheists today. One side had the whole state behind them carrying a bloodied sword. That side was most definitely not the Christians.

Have you ever thought about the significance of Jesus’ Jewishness? Jesus was more than a friend to the lowly, abused, mocked and downtrodden. He was a distinct part of them, framing His life within theirs. He empathized with them and turned them from a people who were despised and laughed at to a people who revolutionized the world. This could only be possible if there was undeniable evidence that Jesus really was who He said He was and that His victory over death was indisputably apparent