Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dial-up modem nightmares and the physical resurrection of Christ

Thank you for those who have e-mailed me. Yes, I’m still in England, and will be till next Monday - my sister is getting married this weekend. I hope, however, that my dear sister realises that I’m giving up Pannenberg’s lecture in Tübingen to attend the ceremony ...

As much as I love England, the analogue dial-up modem I’m forced to use is driving me NUTS. I deplore and despise this loathsome waste of computer power. It not only sometimes refuse to log on line, but when it does often only manages a 28k transfer. It crashes downloading even simple e-mails, and leaves blog pages hanging half loaded! If there are computers in hell for use, they all have dial-up modems. All this means that my access to blogdom has been a little less convenient as originally hoped.

Actually, for the last couple of days I haven’t even seen a blog, so turning on today, I see that I’ve been missing a fascinating discussion about the physical resurrection of Jesus.

My position, stated briefly (if you’re interested)

1. I firmly believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, and I believe it is the teaching of Scripture - but I don’t claim to understand how his body is continuous and discontinuous with the type of body we all have, just that it is physicality, albeit transformed . I realise that there is some disagreement on the interpretation of 1 Cor 15, but, for me, among other reasons, it would make little sense for Paul in 15:4 to insist that Christ was ‘buried, and that he was raised on the third day’ were this simply ‘spiritual’. Beyond 1 Cor 15, there should be little dispute about the NT teaching of the physicality of the resurrection, cf. the risen Lord’s conversation with Thomas.

2. However, I do not affirm that one must believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian. For starters, to do so is to impose a disputed interpretation of at least 1 Cor 15 on those who out of exegetical honesty cannot see this as Paul’s teaching. They will point out that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’, and note Paul assertion that ‘“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” and God will destroy both one and the other.’ (1 Cor 6:13). I think these exegetes would be wrong to infer from such passages that the resurrection, as understood by Paul, is not physical, but their reservations demonstrate that affirmations of the resurrection of Jesus do not necessarily connote physicality. A belief in the resurrection of Jesus is, I think, essential to Christianity; but how one is to understand this is disputed within Christendom.

However, healthy Christian theology, I suggest, includes an affirmation of Christ’s resurrection as physical, albeit transformed, for the simple reason that it promises that God has always had the physical in his saving intentions, and in this age of ecological crisis and Left Behind novels, this is highly significant.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23)


At 4/26/2006 10:12 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

I've already left a comment on Michael Bird's blog, but I'll repeat myself a little here. You make reference to a couple of texts which suggest, by inference, that Jesus may not have been raised bodily. But I think the following texts address the issue more directly:

(1) In Acts, the appearance of the risen Lord to Paul is described as non-material in nature: i.e., Christ appeared as a glorious light.
(2) In 1Co. 15:45, Paul says "the last Adam became a life-giving spirit."
(3) Again, in 2Co. 3:17-18, Paul says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit" and continues, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."

The point is, for many interpreters Paul is describing the risen Lord as a being of pure Spirit, which is consistent with the Acts account of the appearance to Paul. (In particular, being transformed into his glory is reminiscent of the Acts account.)

Otherwise, as far as I am aware, the NT is quite consistent in teaching a bodily resurrection. Of particular relevance is the tradition of the empty tomb, which goes back at least to Mark's sources.

Nonetheless, I accept that there are some NT grounds for believing in a non-bodily resurrection, and (like you) I wouldn't say that anyone who goes down that path is a non-Christian.

At 4/26/2006 10:49 PM, Anonymous Michael F. Bird said...

Chris (and Mr. Q), is there a difference between: (a) I do not know what kind of body was raised up (flesh, blood, imperishable, light, spirit, etc); and (b) Jesus' body was not raised but there was spiritual resurrection in the presence of Jesus in the Christian community. Are both of these views equally kosher? This is my point. I'm starting to think that a better question to ask is "was the tomb empty?".

At 4/27/2006 12:57 AM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...

These comments and responses are so much more rational than what is going around elsewhere in blogdom.

I am to the left of Wright here I guess. It is somewhat funny to see all the hand-wringing of his "followers" on his support of Borg. Fundamentalism dies hard, I guess.

Adding to what Chris says on the nature of the resurrection, Paul also equates the appearances to the apostles with the one to himself. If that means the scenes in Acts (doubtful) than it certainly doesn't seem to necessitate a body. It more probably is connected to the 2 Cor 12 vision which is obviously mystical even non-earthly.

Mark's tradition of the empty tomb is questionable coming at a much later date AD 70 and receiving no mention by Paul. Why did the early church not venerate the empty tomb? I think it is because the tomb tradition is a later historicizing of a spiritual appearance/experience. I believe Crossan is correct that the tomb for the crucified victim is so unlikely.

The elaborations and additions of resurrection appearances in Matthew and Luke (then John) can hardly be used historically with their heavy overlaid theology, contradictions etc. Plus they seem so historically implausible. They create problems like the Ascension/enthronement which early tradition attaches to his resurrection. He didn't need to fly there.

Interestingly in Luke 24:36ff Luke emphasizes Jesus was not a spirit and that he was flesh and bone. This is just the opposite of Paul who says he is a spirit and "flesh and blood" can not inherit the kingdom. Luke is historicizing Paul's spiritual resurrection.

Michael Bird hones in on the relevant question "was the tomb empty?" not the nature of the new body. (No one thinks it was simply a revivification of the same body. It is either spiritual or trans-physical. It is not in some corner of our universe now, but perhaps in the future). I think Paul would not care about the bones of Jesus. Jesus was "raised" i.e. alive.

Similarly in Mark 6 when Herod Antipas thinks John the Baptist has been "raised from the dead" I don't think he means if you dig up John's grave his body will be gone, but rather that John is "working miracles in Him [Jesus]". So John is supposedly present somehow now in this person, in the same way Jesus is present in the Spirit and in us.

None of this is docetic or gnostic. I believe God is committed to the creation, but I believe there is a inexpressible (surprise) discontinuity between this world and the new heavenly-world.

At 4/27/2006 3:32 AM, Anonymous john mcbryde said...

David wrote:

" I believe Crossan is correct that the tomb for the crucified victim is so unlikely."

Hello David,

Interestingly, the only known archaeological evidence we have for a victim of crucifixion, are the bones of a man - Yehohanan Ben Hagkol - found in a tomb near Jerusalem.

So whatever speculations we may have concerning the nature of crucifixion and the disposal of the victim's body. The only evidence we have, refutes Crossan.


At 4/27/2006 12:17 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

I think your distinction is valid. The belief in a purely spiritual resurrection is less orthodox / kosher. But does "less kosher" equate with "no longer a Christian"?

In general, I think it is exceedingly difficult to maintain the orthodoxy of the early creeds in contemporary Western society. The existence of a creator God has been called into question. Our ability to know anything objectively has been called into question. The trustworthiness of the Gospels has been seriously undermined.

In consequence, I admire anyone who persists in professing Christ in such an inhospitable climate; particularly anyone who can study the academic literature and yet persist in faith. (It has certainly been a struggle for me!)

I understand that the question of a bodily resurrection is fundamental. But people can only profess what they sincerely believe. If the notion of a bodily resurrection seems absurd to them, and yet they persist in affirming some kind of Christian faith, rooted in biblical texts (as I've outlined above), who am I to deny that that person is a Christian?

That's why I think Wright is right to take a stand for inclusiveness.

At 4/28/2006 8:58 PM, Anonymous Petra said...

I do not affirm that one must believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian

Then what remains of Christianity? If Jesus was not raised, then He was only a rabbi who was executed. He may have said good things, He may have been nice, but that was it. His apostles then could have gone back to their fisher's nets (as they did in fact) and stay there.

Why didn't they? Something must have happened. What?

I think that Wright's argument (as put forward in Resurrection of the Son of God) is watertight in this respect. Resurrection does not equal apparitions, ghosts (as also Luke makes clear) and the like. If there is no empty tomb, the apparitions are mere fancy, if there is an empty tomb, but nothing else happens, the only thing everyone would think of is grave robbery, not resurrection.

And another point: The first people who ever used resurrection in a non-physical sense (and what on earth would that mean??? how's that different from apparitions and ghosts?), were the Gnostics, who saw the body as evil. No surprise there.

At 5/01/2006 5:58 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Q,
Thanks for your comments.

The point is, for many interpreters Paul is describing the risen Lord as a being of pure Spirit, which is consistent with the Acts account of the appearance to Paul.

I first heard of this debate as I read Fatehi’s ‘The Spirit’s Relation to the Risen Lord in Paul’, a book that I will keep insisting is an absolute treasure – one of my favourites. He would side with you on this. However, his supervisor (and mine) and eminent pneumatlogists, Max Turner, would interpret matters differently in Paul. But you’ve hit the nail on the head: Some defer a bodily resurrection in Paul on exegetical grounds, even if I think they are wrong.

Hi Mike,

I really do understand your distinction, but I suppose my sympathies lie with Q in his second post.

At 5/01/2006 6:00 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi David,

Great comments. You are giving me pause for thought yet again. Sadly I haven’t had the time to get into the details as I have been away from the computer, but I’ve very much enjoyed reading your words.

And, I think, you excellently show why some prefer to give priority to Paul. And if Paul’s understanding of resurrection is simply ‘spiritual’, then there is good reason for maintaining this position – as does Ward in his little book I recently reviewed here ‘What the Bible Really Teaches’. This is why bodily resurrection is an interpretation of the resurrection teaching of the NT and not the Christian one.

I know you are left of Wright, but is it really possible that Paul wouldn’t care about Jesus bones? I wonder if that is imputing a dualism on Paul that he would find alien.

I have heard and seen many evangelicals tell me they would not follow Jesus if there was no hell. "What's the use" they say.

Good grief.

Hi Petra,

Then what remains of Christianity? If Jesus was not raised, then He was only a rabbi who was executed.

It is not that Jesus was raised, but whether he was raised physically. Resurrection is crucial, but how it is understood is the question. I affirm that a physical resurrection of Christ is the correct interpretation of the NT evidence, and the healthiest Christian confession, but I don’t want to turn to those who affirm resurrection in a ‘spiritual sense’ and say ‘NOT Christian’. I happen to agree with Wright on his interpretation of the resurrection – and really I find the general argument compelling, but I also sympathise with his recent comments that have generated all of this discussion.

At 5/02/2006 6:24 AM, Anonymous Petra said...

It is not that Jesus was raised, but whether he was raised physically. Resurrection is crucial, but how it is understood is the question.

The point of the whole Wright book is exactly that there is no other 1st century understanding of Resurrection than what Christianity has always taught: that involving actual, physical bodies of people.

I don't really see what other meaning "resurrection" could have. There are of course those neo-Gnostics going around today who say that is only means glorification. But in Scripture, glorification only happens after the Resurrection and Ascension - as also Wright points out. Then what's the point of all this talking about Resurrection, empty tombs, touching Jesus body, and else, if they could be talking about glorification instead?

I don’t want to turn to those who affirm resurrection in a ‘spiritual sense’ and say ‘NOT Christian’

Then what do you mean by being Christian? How do you define Christianity?

The Christian Creeds were formulated for a reason: to define what Christianity meant vs. what it did not mean. Of course, nowadays people go about calling themselves "Christians" for the only reason because they happen to be born in a Christian country, but otherwise believing all kinds of stuff about reincarnation, energies, and Jesus being a good teacher and nothing else. Well, that's definitely not Christianty. (But I'm just being a dogmatic Catholic, I know... ;-))


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