Monday, April 10, 2006

Resurrection defined

One of the best works on the resurrection is Tom Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (SPCK, 2003). N.T. Wright has surveyed the Classical views of life after death and resurrection, and found that:
The great majority of the ancients believed in life after death…but, other than within Judaism and Christianity, they did not believe in resurrection. ‘Resurrection’ denoted a new embodied life which would follow whatever ‘life after death’ might be. (Wright, Resurrection p. 82-83.)

Wright quotes Aeschylus to the effect that, “Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection.” (Wright, Resurrection p. 32.)
Judaism understood ‘resurrection’ not as a synonym for spiritual life after death, but following the Old Testament held that God would finally raise up the bodies of the dead. A particularly literalistic understanding of this view is exemplified by the actions of Razis as described in 2 Maccabees. Rather than succumb to the threats of his Greek persecutors in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, Razis disembowelled himself. He flung his bowels at the watching crowds and died “calling upon Him who is the lord of life and spirit to restore them to him again” (2 Macabees 14:46.)
According to Wright, it was only toward the end of the second century AD that resurrection is given a generalised meaning of “life after death”. In Gnostic writings Wright detects a radical shift in meaning of resurrection language (see Wright Resurrection p. 534-552 for full survey). The Gnostics denied the value of the physical world and from very early on in their thinking had problems with the incarnation let alone the resurrection of Christ. Modern-day Liberals have more in common with 2nd Century Gnostics that 1st Century New Testament Christianity. Wright concludes that:
It is impossible to conceive that talk about a ‘resurrection’, in the sense used by Rheginos [a Nag Hammadi text] and the others, should be anything other than a late and drastic modification of Christian language. (Wright Resurrection p. 550.)
Yet this is exactly what Marcus Borg does when he says,
Thus, as a Christian, I am very comfortable not knowing whether or not the tomb [of Jesus] was empty. Indeed, the discovery of Jesus’ skeletal remains would not be a problem.
According to Borg, .
resurrection could involve something happening to a corpse, namely the transformation of a corpse; but it need not. (Wright & Borg, The Meaning of Jesus, SPCK 1999, p.131)

On this Basis, borg writes,

For me, the historical ground of Easter is very simple: the followers of Jesus, both then and now, continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after death. In the early Christian community, these experiences included visions or apparitions of Jesus. (Wright & Borg, Meaning , p. 135.)

Borg's notion that resurrection need not mean the raising to life of a body does not appear until after the New Testament era in 2nd Century Gnostic texts. Even then it was a decidedly minority view. Speaking of Paul, Wright sums up the point well when he says that:
It is vital to grasp that for a Pharisee of Paul’s background and training resurrection meant, inalienably, and incontestably, the bodily resurrection…If you had suggested to him that ‘the resurrection’ might have occurred while the tomb of Jesus was still occupied, he wouldn’t just have disagreed; he would have suggested you didn’t understand what the relevant words meant. (Wright, What St. Paul Really Said, Lion 1977, p. 50.)
Resurrection in the New Testament means the raising of the body to new life and the transformation of bodily existence. To suggest otherwise is to resort to an irresponsible anachronism in order to justify modern-day scepticism.


Abranches said...

To understand resurrection we must understand what is memory. Not all the thoughts in the memory are laid to rest after death. Written words are the example. Don’t we read the words written by a person long after his death? Okay, we might think only human can broadcast their thoughts into the future even after death but what about animals or plants. What about the primitive man? Did his thinking or what he experienced died with him? The answer is no. The thoughts in form of fear, anxiety and desires continue to live on well into the future. These thoughts have the power to resurrect (personify in flesh) ages after the generations are extinct. Jesus spoke about such a resurrection. Jesus’s bodily presence was the manifestation of fear, anxity and desire of his ancestors they had experienced during their state of captivity and their exile in the desert. The generation years later hoped for a redeemer and Jesus was born. John in his Gospel correctly interpreted it. He said, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and word became flesh.” It simply means in the beginning God gave a word, God kept His word, and that word was personified in Jesus.

Exiled Preacher said...

Jesus' early followers did not expect him to rise from the dead. His death filled them with despair (Luke 24:13-24). The resurrection appearances of Jesus were not the product of his disciples' wish fulfilment or some kind of false memory syndrome.

Jesus' followers were only convinced that he rose from the dead when they witnesed his empty tomb and saw him alive from the dead.

Theway2k said...

If there is a skeletal remains of Christ, our faith is in vain. Might as well be an atheist or a Buddhist (Never a Muslim).

However I am certain the tomb is empty and the Son is at the right hand of the Father awaiting the time of the Parousia.

Steven Carr said...

What does 'anastasis' in Hebrews 11:35 mean?

Was Moses resurrected at the Transfiguration or did he die again after he returned to Earth?

Steven Carr said...

'Jesus' early followers did not expect him to rise from the dead.'

Why not? he had told them often enough, in plain enough words, and would certainly have explained it to them again and again.

The disciples had seen Moses and Elijah return from heaven. Why then did they not believe Jesus?

In Mark 4, they hae been given the secret of the Kingdom of God. Why then did they not believe Jesus?

In Matthew 10:7, the disciples had been given the power to raise the dead. Why then did they not think Jesus would rise? Why did they not try to raise Jesus themselves?

Why did the thief on the cross expect Jesus to have a kingdom? Perhaps if the thief had spent the time with Jesus that the disciples had, he too would have expected the cross to be the end of the matter.

Why did the opponents of Jesus think that people would steal the body and claim Jesus had risen from the dead? Did they not know that no Jew would think of believing a story of somebody rising from the dead before the general resurrection?

Steven Carr said...

'Jesus' followers were only convinced that he rose from the dead when they witnesed his empty tomb and saw him alive from the dead.'


Matthew 28:17 says 'they' doubted.

Modern English translations like to add the word 'some' to the Greek, but there is no 'some' in the Greek.

Why were they not convinced, when Christians of today are convinced, even without any evidence?

Exiled Preacher said...

Steven Carr,

I address some of the questions you raise in an earlier article:

Guy Davies

Anonymous said...