Justin Bass’s thorough yet accessible exposition of the facts surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus has provided an excellent new resource for students of theology and apologetics alike.
In The Bedrock of Christianity, Justin Bass examines the historical case for the death and resurrection of Jesus. His approach is centred around what he calls ‘bedrock facts,’ historical facts that are agreed upon by virtually all scholars regardless of their faith position.
The strength of this approach is that it allows him to shift the discussion from quibbling over the more minor historical details to contemplating the most significant question, “what can adequately account for the circumstances around Jesus’ death, resurrection appearances, and the against-all-odds growth and endurance of Christianity?” following a similar line of thinking to N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.
Bass establishes these facts and explores their implications through the lens of the earliest source for Jesus’ death and resurrection available to us, a tradition recorded in 1 Corinthians 15 by the Apostle Paul.
After a thoughtful and thought-provoking prologue and introduction, Bass spends the first few chapters laying the foundations for this historical study. He first discusses that which is involved in the historical method to give us real and trustworthy knowledge of the past. Then, using this historical method, he establishes Paul and the creedal tradition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 as early and reliable witnesses to this past.
I believe that New Testament scholar James Dunn has the best estimate, namely, that only “months” after Jesus’ death this creedal formula was already being memorized and taught to new converts, possible during the planting of churches by many of the apostles.
In the following chapters, Bass takes the creedal tradition line by line and draws out the ‘bedrock facts’ which it establishes, namely that Jesus died on a Roman cross, that shortly after his death his followers begin proclaiming that he had been raised from the dead, and that they were convinced of this because (at least) Peter, James and the Twelve had seen something that they claimed was the risen Jesus.
By drawing in discussion of contemporaneous Jewish resurrection hopes and messianic expectations as well as Dale Allison’s survey of scientific literature on hallucinatory experiences, Bass deftly rules out the two most common alternatives to the resurrection, that the disciples made it all up and that they were hallucinating in their grief.
The final chapter turns from the creedal tradition itself to a wider question of significance: ‘What can adequately account for the inception, growth and unlikely endurance of Christianity?’ With helpful comparisons made to other messianic movements of the time and to the origins of other major world religions, Bass points to the rise of Christianity as further evidence in favour of the resurrection.
Bass concludes that the only historically plausible alternative to affirming the resurrection is to throw your hands up in the air and conclude “I don’t know what they saw.” Nevertheless, he pushes the agnostic to follow the evidence all the way through to its conclusion and have the courage to embrace the ‘wonderous strange’ miracle of God raising Jesus from the dead.
There may not seem a shortage of books making a case for the resurrection, but Bass’s approach makes this a worthy contribution to the genre and especially worth the attention of theology students. He is careful not to overstate his case even as he confidently presents his view of the historical resurrection of Jesus, interacting positively with scholars across the spectrum.
This is a well worked through case for the resurrection, grounded in academic consensus, that is nevertheless easy to read and understand. It would make for a great resource for the student facing challenges in studying the historical Jesus and it forms a great basis for discussion with believers and those exploring the faith alike.
The Bedrock of Christianity can be bought here.