Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Resurrection

Within the 1st Century, Jewish belief in what happened after death was varied and there does not seem to be a common and clear understanding. 1st Century Judaism offered a wide range of beliefs about life after death, with some believing in ‘resurrection’. Those that believed in resurrection however, saw this not as an immediate state after death, as if the moment you die you find yourself resurrected and alive in heaven, but a final work of God, when death would be reversed. Furthermore, this final resurrection would not be a disembodied sate whereby your ‘soul’ would be in eternal bliss, finally free from the constraints of the body, as in Platonic thought, but a resurrection of your body. The Maccabean martyrs, for instance, while being tortured and mutilated, declare a hope that God will raise them up ‘to an everlasting renewal of life’ and that those who are inflicting the torture can be sure that they will not experience ‘resurrection to life’. It seems that they were sure of God restoring to them a body, although what this body looked like and how this would take place was open to various interpretations within Jewish thought. It is into this context of Jewish thinking on resurrection that the Christian church emerged, yet it’s views and teaching on resurrection are much more defined and clear than anything found within Jewish thought.

Although early Christian consideration on resurrection has links within Jewish reflection, its clarity and focus goes way beyond that which had been taught within the Jewish school of thought. Early Christians believed in a bodily resurrection, yet not to the body that had been left behind, but to a new body, a glorified body. Within early Christian thought there was not a spectrum of ideas about the resurrection as in Jewish thought, but a common held belief in the bodily resurrection. Paul, who refuted any who claimed that the resurrection had already happened and any who thought the resurrection would not happen at all , taught a bodily resurrection. Yet where does such a clear and focussed view on the resurrection spring? Why did the early Christians believe in a bodily resurrection?

The answer lies the in early Christian belief that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead, and because he was bodily raised form the dead, we will also, one day, bear his image. Great debate has arisen over whether the resurrection accounts of Jesus should be viewed as bodily and literal or if they should be seen in a more ‘spiritual’ sense. Sallie McFague argues that the resurrection accounts should not be seen as literal, with Jesus actually being delivered from death, but more in terms of understanding that the divine presence in Jesus is ‘a permanent presence in our midst’. Gerd Ludemann argues that a vision of the risen Christ, rather than an encounter with a bodily raised Christ, is the origins of the belief in the resurrection. His argument is that at the heart of Christian religion lies a vision, as described by Paul as seeing the Lord, and thus argues that a vision, rather than a bodily encounter, is the origin of belief in the resurrection. He goes on to say that many have seen visions of the Virgin Mary, although her body has decayed, and that these visions are the same as dreams, dreams we have every night to enable our subconscious to deal with reality. These visions are the same as what the early followers of Christ had, ‘reinforced by enthusiasm’ which then became contagious, ‘until we have an “appearance” to more than five hundred people.’ The arguments given here by McFague and Ludemann are typical of those given to denounce a bodily resurrection of Jesus. McFague argues that the disciples were simply saying, by using the word ‘resurrection’, that Jesus was now in heaven and that we can know a ‘sense’ of his presence with us, not that he had been bodily raised from the dead. However, Jewish thoughts on ‘resurrection’ as stated earlier, were not along this line of thinking. Jewish belief was that one day there would be a bodily resurrection that would happen for all the righteous at the same time, not at the moment when you died. Resurrection, in 1st Century Jewish thought, did not mean going to heaven when you die, so if the early followers of Christ wanted to speak of Jesus somehow being exalted in his death to a place of honour with God, then they would not have used resurrection as a way of describing this. Again, when accounting for Ludemann’s arguments that the disciples had visions of the risen Christ, rather than bodily encounters with him, does not fit with the Jewish school of thought. If the disciples had had visions of Jesus, again they would not have used the language of resurrection to describe their experience. Certainly followers of Jewish martyrs believed that one day their hero’s would be raised from the dead at the final resurrection, yet not that they actually had been raised. Therefore visions of Christ would have seen him in ‘paradise’ with God, in a place of honour, a martyrs place, not eating and drinking here on earth. Moreover, a vision of Christ would not stop those who were mourning from continuing to mourn, for a vision did not constitute being raised from the dead. Furthermore, all of the above has not even taken into account the gospel writers accounts of the resurrection. Luke’s description of the resurrection speaks of Jesus breaking bread , John’s gospel of the disciples placing their hands in the wounds inflicted upon Jesus at his crucifixion, and Matthew’s gospel speaks of the women who went to the tomb meeting Jesus and clasping his feet. All these point to a bodily encounter with the risen Christ, not merely a spiritual experience. However, some have argued that the evangelists invented the ‘flesh and bone’ accounts of the Jesus’ resurrection for apologetic purposes and indeed ‘contradict the understanding of resurrection proposed by Jesus and Paul.’ The focus has been on Paul’s use of the term ‘spiritual body’ in 1 Corinthians 15 to argue and affirm that Paul believed in a spiritual resurrection rather than a physical one. However, we must not be misled, when Paul uses ‘spiritual body’, into thinking that Paul believes in a spiritual rather than bodily resurrection. When accounting for the whole argument in 1 Corinthians 15 it seems that Paul uses the term spiritual body to describe a body that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit, a ‘body adapted to the eschatological existence that is under the ultimate domination of the Spirit.’ It appears to this writer that Mc Fague, Ludemann and others who oppose a bodily resurrection of Jesus do not handle succinctly the context and language of 1st Century thinking on resurrection, take seriously the gospel story of the resurrection or approach Pauline theology suitably when forwarding their arguments on a purely spiritual resurrection of Jesus. If then, Jesus was seen by his early disciples, not just in a vision, but physically seen, could it be that he was merely resuscitated rather than resurrected?

Stephen Davis writes in ‘The Resurrection’ that ‘those scholars who set out to argue that the resurrection of Jesus did not genuinely occur…begin with a robust attack on resuscitation.’ One such attack comes from Gerd Ludemann when he writes,

‘Anybody who says that he rose from the dead is faced with another problem…namely, if you say that Jesus rose from the dead biologically, you would have to presuppose that a decaying corpse…could be made alive again. I think that is nonsense.’

Clearly there seems to be a belief from those who oppose a bodily resurrection of Jesus that its supporters believe that resuscitation and resurrection to be one and the same thing. If we define resuscitation as someone who either was clinically dead or nearly dead, to be restored to their previous existence, then resuscitation is not what the early followers of Christ understood the resurrection to mean, and is not what the early church understood the resurrection to mean. Nevertheless, some suggest that Jesus was drugged on the cross, causing him to merely appear to have died, and, when his body had been taken down from the cross, he was revived and cared for by his disciples. Such theories go to great lengths to ‘trap’ the disciples and incriminate them in this chain of events, seeing them as masters of a great plot to free Jesus and continue following him and his teachings. Certainly, if this were what the disciples understood as ‘resurrection’ then Gerd Lundemann’s assertion that this is ‘nonsense’ would not be ill founded. However, without a doubt the Roman soldiers knew how to crucify and kill people, with crucifixion being widely used within the Roman Empire up until the mid 4th Century. The methods of flagellation and the subsequent crucifixion would have caused considerable blood loss and mutilation, such that would deem survival slim if not implausible. Furthermore, the disciples would have recognised a difference to survival and resurrection. The disciples had seen for themselves resuscitations during Jesus’ earthly ministry with people such as Lazarus and Jarius’ daughter, yet presumably these people would die again. As argued above, resurrection brought with it many images and thoughts within the Jewish 1st Century context, one of which was a transformed body. If Jesus had merely survived the crucifixion, the term resurrection would have never been used; therefore they would not have used it to describe resuscitation. When the early church used the term resurrection to describe what happened to Jesus on that first Easter morning, they did not mean survival or resuscitation, but a transformation of his previous body. It had characteristics of his previous body, able to touch, eat and walk. It was recognizable to his previous body, bearing the marks of the crucifixion and certainly seen as human by those whom he encountered. Yet it had been transformed so that at times Jesus was not recognised, and at other times he was able to appear and materialize within a room when the doors were locked. Indeed, the Gospel writers are in no doubt that Jesus has not been resuscitated but resurrected from death to life. This certainty of the resurrection of Jesus leads us to then consider the fearlessness of the early church in proclaiming the gospel.

At the arrest and death of Jesus the gospel writers lead us to believe that the disciples were not filled with fearlessness and boldness, but quite the opposite, with Peter denying that he even knew Jesus and John’s gospel recording that ‘the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews’ Yet these same disciples, just 40 days later, boldly stand on the streets of Jerusalem preaching that ‘God has raised this Jesus to life’ . Furthermore they go on to say that they ‘are all witnesses of the fact’ . The subsequent boldness that they have means that they no longer fear the Jews but now openly preach to the Jews about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Their boldness and courage hold even when faced with death, so much so that Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus, as legend has it, demanded to be crucified upside down for he did not feel worthy enough to die in the same way Jesus had. Indeed Stephen, the first Christian martyr, faced death with a fearlessness and courage that seemed to be common among Christians in the early church. Furthermore, despite the persecutions and hatred faced, the early church continued to grow and strengthen, indeed, as Tertullian puts it, ‘The oftener we are mown down by you, the more we increase.’ The question has to be asked; where did such courage and boldness come from if these disciples did not believe without any doubt that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead, and not only that, but that he was the Messiah Israel had been waiting for? NT Wright, when speaking on the disciples unshakeable faith that Jesus, the crucified one, was indeed the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for, puts it like this,

‘Nobody said that about Judas the Galilean after his revolt ended in failure in AD 6. Nobody said it of Simon bar-Giora after his death at the end of Titus’s triumph in AD 70. Nobody said it about bar-Kochbar after his defeat and death in 135…the fact that the early Christians did not do that, but continued, against all precedent, to regard Jesus himself as Messiah…is evidence that demands an explanation.

What can the explanation be? Having looked at the evidence and examined the objections, the only conclusion that we are left with is that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead resulting in the phenomenal growth of the Christian Church. The certainty of Jesus’ death by those first followers of Christ, their understanding of resurrection and all that it meant, and then their subsequent fearlessness of preaching the gospel, even when faced with death themselves, lead us to only one conclusion, that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead and was subsequently seen by his disciples.


Sam Norton said...


Steven Carr said...

The early church fathers regarded what happened to Lazarus as a prime example of the sort of thing that happened to Jesus.

Wright's hair-splitting between resuscitation and resurrection is pure sophistry.

The early church made no such distinction.

And was Moses resurrected or resuscitated when he rose from the grave to appear at the Transfiguration, never to die again?

But what is a resurrected body?

Even when trying to talk about the nature of a resurrected body, Paul never draws on any alleged personal experience anybody ever had.

The Gospels give a wealth of alleged facts about the nature of a resurrected body, but Paul never uses any, even when trying to refute the claims of people he calls 'idiots'.

Why doesn't Paul simply rub their noses in the fact that their own Lord and Saviour, the very person they worship, had allegedly claimed that a resurrected body was made out of 'flesh and bones', and yet they still were asking with what sort of body a corpse comes back with?

Of course, Paul couldn't tell these Jesus-worshippers what their own Lord and Saviour had allegedly said, because neither he nor they had ever heard of any such stories.

From Paul's letter to the Corinthians , we learn that converts to Jesus-worship simply scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse. As Christians , they believed that Jesus was still alive, but they were baffled by the idea of corpses returning to life. From this we know that these converts were not converted by stories of corpses rising and eating fish. Converts believe what converted them. That is what conversion means.

But these people did not believe in corpses rising. So they had not been converted by stories of a corpse rising and being touched.

This in itself is enough to refute the idea that the corpse of Jesus rose from the dead. Because these converts to Christianity had no idea that any such thing was supposed to have happened.

It can't have been a core doctrine of Christianity that the corpse of Jesus rose from the grave, because converts believe the core doctrines of what they convert to, and these converts to Jesus-worship scoffed at the very idea of a corpse rising.

Of course, these people believed Jesus was a god, so they had no problem with the idea of a god living after the body he inhabited on earth had died, just as other people had no problem with the idea of Zeus turning into a swan and back.

In fact, there is nothing in Paul's letters to suggest that any Christian believed in a corpse rising. Paul contrasts the scoffers at resurrection with people who took part in baptisms for the dead. This seems to suggest that the baptisers believed the dead were already alive, but whatever the truth of that, there is nothing in Paul to suggest that these other Christians believed in a corpse rising.

Or else why would Paul not contrast their correct beliefs with the allegedly false beliefs of the Christian scoffers?

Paul attacks them on quite a different front. He regards them as idiots for having a model of a resurrection that involved a corpse rising. Paul writes 'You do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed.' Just as a farmer sees dead seeds even after the wheat has risen, so Christians should expect to see corpses, even after the resurrection.

For Paul, what rose from the dead was a new body, made of heavenly material. Paul trashes the idea that resurrected beings are made out of the dust that a corpse becomes - 'The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God...'

Paul regarded heavenly things like a resurrected being as being as different to earthly things as a fish is different to the moon.

Paul gives a whole host of categories of different things - man, animals, birds, fish, the sun, the moon - none of which turn into each other, to stress to the Corinthians how wrong they were to think that a resurrection involved a corpse turning into a resurrected being.

None of this makes any sense if all Paul had to do to persuade the Corinthians of a resurrection was to persuade them that a corpse rose from the grave.

But it makes perfect sense on Paul's view that the body was destroyed, and that we get new bodies. Paul is clear on this in 2 Corinthians 5 'Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.'

Paul uses metaphors for resurrection like changing clothes and moving to a new building, because he believed that Jesus left his earthly body behind at the resurrection and moved to a new body.

Jesus had changed bodies in the way that we change clothes.

This is why Paul never refers to a corpse rising or the resurrection of the flesh. He did not believe in it.

Misleading English translations often add the word 'body' to passages in Paul which lack the word 'body'.

Wright does the same, although he sometimes puts 'body' in brackets , to show that it is not in the Greek.

Credit to him for that.

Steven Carr said...

' Yet it had been transformed so that at times Jesus was not recognised, and at other times he was able to appear and materialize within a room when the doors were locked. '

I see you have been reading too much Wright, and not enough Bible.

This had nothing to do with the nature of the body.

Luke 2 says 'they were kept from recognising him' and 'their eyes were opened'

A miracle was worked on the observers, not on the observed.

As for appearing and disappearing, Philip in Acts 8 disappeared from one place and appeared at the other.

Nobody suggests he had a transformed body to do that.

Has NT Wright , the Bishop of Durham, ever been to a magic show?
I have been to a magic show.

You know how some of these tricks go.

The magician makes something solid go through the wall of a box, and then he at once invites the audience to see that what went through the wall of the box was made of perfectly solid material that they are quite familiar with.

What does the magician hope to prove to the audience by that examination of the material? That a magic trick had occurred of course!

Jesus does the same thing in the Gospels. He enters a locked room and at once invites the disicples to see that what went through the wall of the room was made of perfectly solid material that they are quite familiar with.

What does Jesus hope to prove to the disciples by that examination of the material? That a miracle had occurred of course!

So far, so obvious.

But remember Jesus denies being a spirit when he does that in Luke's Gospel, and Paul says Jesus did become a spirit in 1 Corinthians 15.

So Christians like NT Wright are forced to conclude that when Jesus showed the disicples that the material that had passed through a wall was the same solid material they were familiar with, he was not proving that he was really Jesus by showing that a miracle had occurred.

No, Jesus was proving that he was made of a material that *could* pass through walls. A 'transphysical' material....

Hasn't Wright ever been to a magic show? When the magician gets the audience to examine the material, it is not to prove that the material is one which can pass through walls. Otherwise there would be no trick!

Jesus proved he was Jesus by 'proving' that he was not made of a material that could pass through walls. It took a miracle to do that, and who could do miracles?

Only the real Jesus, of course.

To make the Bible non-contradictory, Wright is willing to contradict his Lord and Saviour by denying a miracle of Jesus, and by contradicting all common-sense readings of the scenes in the resurrection.

In reality, the Bible contradicts itself. Paul says Jesus became a spirit (pneuma). The Gospels deny that.

Tom Haward said...

Steven, you seem to missing the point of Joe's post a little(!). A crucified Messiah is no Messiah and yet the apostles shouted from the rooftops that Jesus of Nazareth was alive and is Lord of all. Something significant happened for them to declare this.

They saw Jesus, they ate with Jesus, they touched his hands and his side to see where the nails and spear pierced him. It is still a mystery though, as to what Jesus looked like from nuances in the Gospels and the fact that a crucified man doesn't raise from the dead everyday!

Your lengthy comments seem aimed more at a preconceived agenda that needed to be written and Joe's post appeared to be a perfect place for that...

Joe (and myself) admires Wright's work, but give Joe a little credit, he is studying more work than NT Wright in his exploration of resurrection theology.

No offence intended, as I can see you have been exploring this topic a lot. Where exactly do you stand with who Jesus is? :-)

Steven Carr said...

Why is a crucified Messiah no Messiah?

Where are the Biblical prophecies that teach that the Messiah will not be crucified?

The Gospels are anonymous secondary works.

When Paul tries to explain the nature of a resurrected body, he cannot do what clever modern Christians do.

They turn straight to the stories of the disciples touching Jesus.

Paul never does that.

Perhaps Paul is not as clever as you, or perhaps those stories did not exist at the time Paul was teaching the nature of the resurrected body to Christian converts who scoffed at the whole idea of God choosing to raise corpses.

Tom Haward said...

A crucified Messiah is no Messiah because he's dead! A dead Messiah can't do much in the way of saving Israel. Clearly the apostles found something significant happening to preach that Jesus is Lord even though he had been killed, i.e. that he was raised to life.

I'm not sure why referencing the Gospels is bad form. Why do skeptics scoff at the Gospels being referred to? Oh my, the Gospels weren't completely objective in their accounts of Jesus' life. Please tell me a single person in history who has noted down events of their time who hasn't had some kind of bias in what they have been writing. No-one does anything in an objective vacuum. If we decide to reject the Gospels because followers of Jesus wrote them, then we must reject a lot of history because of the people who wrote it.

Incidentally, so what if people scoffed at the idea of a corpse being raised to life. Your fixation on what the resurrected body was/is like misses the point of the resurrection and the Christian faith. Your arguments brings to mind the number of angels that can balance on a pin head.

The resurrection is about liberation from death and decay and evil - that is the beauty of it.

Joe said...

Your thoughts are interesting Steven!
The comments you make on the resurrection seem distinctly Platonic with a seasoning of Gnostic!

Furthermore, this common practice of truly making the Bible 'holy' by cutting bits out and clinging to that which suits your thoughts is not a good one.

The early church Fathers regarded what happened to Jesus, not Lazarus, as defining what resurrection would look like. There is a complete difference to resurrection and resuscitation, it is not hair splitting. If Jesus had merely been resuscitated his appearances and the reaction of those who saw him would have been starkly different. For Jesus to be who he said he was, and for his followers to preach fearlessly this message, something much more than resuscitation happened on that first Easter morning.

Another thing, why do you only regard the Gospels as secondary sources? For the Gospel writers to say that women were the first to see the Risen Lord is a huge gamble for credibility if they are merely fabricated accounts.

The resurrection of Jesus speaks of the hope that all of us can step out of the darkness of the tomb where death and decay have its hold, and step into the light of Easter morning where new life and new hope beckon us.

Paul's writing in 1 Corinthians 15 of spiritual and earthly is not a separation of physical and spiritual, but about transformation. What we are now will be transformed to be something that may resemble this body, but something far greater than this body.

Of course the Corinthians scoffed at the thought of a corpse being raised! They came from a heavy Gnostic culture! You've not even mentioned the context into which Paul was writing. The Corinthain church was heavily influenced by a Gnostic culture that saw 'spirt' good and 'matter' bad. The Corinthian church would've battled with the notion that when Jesus was raised he had a body, for in their thinking a body was 'bad'. And it is into this context that 1 Corinthians is written. But Paul wants to set them straight! We will have a body, because Jesus had a body. He never says we will all be 'spirits', he says;

'we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

We are 'clothed with the imperishable' is not that we become spirits, no, it is that we will be transformed, as Jesus was transformed, with a new body, a better body.

Steven Carr said...

Of course the Christian converts scoffed at the idea of a corpse rising!

Who had ever heard of such a thing?

And apparently the corpse of Jesus was clothed in something.

What was underneath these clothes?

A corpse.

How does clothing a corpse in anything lead to the corpse being transformed?

And how can a corpse be clothed in something if the corpse has been burned to ash?

How would your interpretation of Paul satisifed the Jesus-worshippers questions about God choosing to raise corpses?

'Spirit' good , matter bad?

Where does Paul ever attack any such alleged belief in the Jesus-worshippers?

What Paul does attack is their belief that resurrection for themselves would have to involve a corpse rising? Idiocy, is what Paul calls such ideas.

Why does Paul say Jesus became a spirit?

And why on earth had these Jesus-worshippers converted to a religion which was allegedly spread by stories of a corpse rising from the grave?

Wright never even attempts to answer this question,as his whole world would be blown apart by claims that alleged heavily Gnostic people allegedly listened to stories of a corpse rising and told themselves 'That is so convincing I will convert to this religion.'

Steven Carr said...

A dead Messiah is no Messiah?

Where are the Biblical prophecies that the Messiah will not die?

Could Jews not understand the scriptures this alleged god had allegedly inpsired them to write?

Steven Carr said...

'The early church Fathers regarded what happened to Jesus, not Lazarus, as defining what resurrection would look like.'

Tertullian claimed that what happened to Lazarus was a superb example of what happened to Jesus.

I wonder why Wright never quotes early church fathers claiming that one resurrection was different to another, because the body had now become animated by spirit...

Joe said...

You keep talking about a corpse rising in ways which make me think you still see the resurrection as resusitation. Is that what you mean? Because I don't.

The body Jesus was raised with and in turn what we will be raised with will not be a corpse that has been resusitated, it will be a transformed body.

Gnosticism was a rising and strong 'religion' when the Early Church began. Much of the early church writings came against gnostic heresy, keen to establish orthodoxy. Paul is writing into this time and culture with 1 Corinthians an example of this. Those early Christians come to believe in Jesus not in a vacuum, but with the influence of their culture background and upbringing. Same as any Christians today! 1 Corinthians has Paul attacking the believers there not because of 'corpses rising' but because they believe the resurrection will not happen. Gnostic understanding is different to the Jewish understanding of resurrection. So when they came to believe in Jesus I'm sure they were not thinking in terms of 'corpses rising' but in the Good News that Jesus had reconciled us to God.

He calls them foolish not because they believe in corpses rising, but because they haven't understood how this body is a seed, a pointer to what we will become.
As Paul writes in Philippians, 'But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.'

When Paul talks about 'the last Adam, a life-giving spirit' he is not saying Jesus has not got a body and is now a spirit. Here is something of Paul's understanding of who God is as Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus gives us life by the Holy Spirit, new life as oppossed to death which came through sin, the first Adam.

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