Category Archives: Bodily Resurrection

Using Jesus’ resurrection to promote liberal theology

Professor Dr N T Wright vs Retired Archbishop Dr Peter Carnley on Jesus’ resurrection

By Spencer D Gear PhD

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N T Wright Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St. Andrews; photo courtesy Regent College, Vancouver, Canada

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Former Anglican Archbishop of Perth and Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Dr Peter Carnley. Image courtesy Wayback Machine, Alia 2002 speaker biographies.

This article responds to parts of Peter Sellick’s[1] article: Two scholars battle it out over the resurrection (On Line Opinion, 26 July 2019).[2] Sellick’s article pits Wright’s conclusions against Carnley’s and sides with Carnley.

I’ve done battle with him on other occasions on On Line Opinion. I’ll use a dialogue format for this interaction, even though the material was covered over several Comments by Peter and me:

Spencer: You object to Wright’s taking ‘the physical view’ of Jesus’ as an historical event to be investigated ‘without the eyes of faith’.
Firstly, Wright took a large portion of his 817pp tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God (RSG), to demonstrate from the biblical text that Jesus’ resurrection was soma, in a physical body.
He concluded:

‘The historian, of whatever persuasion, has no option but to affirm both the empty tomb and the “meetings” with Jesus as “historical events” in all the senses we sketched…. They took place as real events: they were significant events; they are, in the normal sense required by historians, provable events; historians can and should write about them. We cannot account for early Christianity without them’ (Wright 2003:709).

If Jesus’ Resurrection must be perceived through ‘the eyes of faith’ (Peter’s statement), is this a leap of faith or faith founded on the facts of the Resurrection?
Your claim is that Wright,
[3]

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Peter: ‘effectively excludes the activity of the “Spirit as a datum of Easter Faith”’.[4]

Spencer: This is not true. Wright cites a post-biblical passage from the Mishna where it states that ‘saintliness leads to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit leads to the resurrection of the dead’ (RSG 193). He supports ‘all those who are given new, resurrection life by the Spirit’ (RSG 258).[5]

Peter: ‘Wright takes this physical view from the traditions of Israel’.[6]

Spencer: That’s partially true. Wright demonstrates from the NT that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection because of the use of soma (physical body) to refer to it and the characteristics of a physical being.

Of the Holy Spirit he stated: ‘Paul not only believed that Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead; he believed he knew how it was done, both in the sense of where the power came from (the Spirit of the creator God), and in the sense he knew what the difference was (corruptibility and non-corruptibility) between the body which died on the cross and the body which rose’ (RSG 360).
I have yet to read Carnley.
[7]

You complain about the apparent biblical contradiction re Jesus’ resurrection:

Peter: ‘The maze of biblical texts that deal with the Resurrection, many of which are at cross purposes, even to themselves as to the nature of Jesus’ risen body. For example, the appearance of Jesus in the locked room in John 20:19-28 both affirms the bodily reality of the risen Christ as the one bearing the wounds of crucifixion and, in contradiction, one who can appear and disappear at will.[8]

Spencer: That’s not contradiction unless you have a presupposition that Jesus’ resurrected body had to be the same as the body he had before the crucifixion. N T Wright explains this well, using the term ‘transphysicality’ to describe the nature of the resurrected body – many qualities that were physical (Jesus talked, could be touched, and he ate food) and other qualities in the 2 examples you gave of something beyond the physical, i.e. transphysical.

The same applies on the Emmaus’ Rd with the transphysicality of the resurrected Lord.

It’s not a matter of the two texts wanting it ‘both ways’ – Jesus physical and non-physical. That’s what the biblical texts state. Why can’t you accept that instead of hypothesising your contradiction? It doesn’t exist, except in your presuppositions.[9]

Peter: I feel like I am repeating myself here. How does a physical body that is “more than physical” because it has been made immortal appear and disappear at will and be unrecognised by the disciples on the Emmaus road and to May[10] (sic) in John? And I repeat, how does this physical body ascend to heaven to sit at the right hand of God? One can only believe that the resurrection was physical by ignoring the things that make it unthinkable and thus untransmissible (sic). Certainly, it is important for all the NY[11] (sic) writers to portray the resurrection as physical because the risen Jesus would have to be the crucified one, complete with the wounds of crucifixion of Jesus’ death for any idea of him taking our place can be credited. This lies at the base of our understanding of the incarnation as the kenotic hymn found in Philippians bears witness.

About the Spirit. You object that Wright takes the Spirit seriously but It is interesting that he has to quote the Mishna to do so. Carnley’s reading is that Wright was bound up so tightly with the Biblical Theology School, that has long been abandoned by most scholars, that he could not think that the Jews of Jesus’ time could think otherwise that in the tradition. Most of the NT undermines this approach.

Paul (and Matthew) may have believed that the resurrection was physical, but they were men groping towards the truth as we are and conditioned by their time as we are. The problem here is that you and other fundamentalist readers cannot cope with the fact the bible is an historical document compiled by men seeking the truth in their own lights. The world has changed! We no longer live in their time or see the world as they see it.

As for “transphysicality” that is just speculation. What is the biblical basis for it? It is just an argument invented by Wright to solve a central contradiction to his scheme.
Adam was the man of dust, Jesus became a life-giving spirit.
[12]

Spencer: You are repeating yourself.

How did Jesus’ resurrected physical body appear and disappear? That’s based on the fact it was more than physical. N T Wright’s word, ‘transphysicality’ (which he placed in inverted commas) was a created word that covered the reality of what happened.

Others now use ‘transphysical’, e.g. http://ericweiss.com/the-long-trajectory-10-transphysical-humans.[13]

Peter: ‘Carnley’s reading is that Wright was bound up so tightly with the Biblical Theology School, that has long been abandoned by most scholars’.[14]

Spencer: That seems to be Carnley’s presupposition. I’ll make my judgment after reading his book.

Peter: ‘Paul (and Matthew) may have believed that the resurrection was physical, but they were men groping towards the truth as we are and conditioned by their time as we are’.[15]

Spencer: This demonstrates your low view of biblical authority (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Paul and Matthew were writing God-breathed / inspired Scripture, which you reject by your statement that these 2 writers ‘may have believed’ in a physical resurrection. In his massive body of research, Wright has demonstrated it was a physical resurrection with extra-physical qualities that he called ‘transphysical’.
Peter regarded Paul’s writings as Scripture: Paul’s ‘letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction’ (2 Pet 3:16).
[16]

Peter: ‘The problem here is that you and other fundamentalist readers cannot cope with….’[17]

Spencer: There you go again with your pejorative Appeal to Ridicule Logical Fallacy, http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/42/Appeal-to-Ridicule.

We cannot have a rational dialogue when you resort to fallacious reasoning like this. I’m an evangelical, born again Christian, just like the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey. Would you call him a ‘fundamentalist’ and put him down like you’ve done to me? Would you call the evangelical Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, a ‘fundamentalist reader’?[18]

Peter: ‘Adam was the man of dust, Jesus became a life-giving spirit’.[19]

Spencer: Do you deny Jesus was a man of human flesh?[20]

Peter: ‘On the authority of the bible. My observation of fundamentalist attitudes to the bible is that they mistake the sign for the thing signified. The bible is the human witness (sign) to the Word (signified). Scripture does not record that the Word became a book, but became flesh in the body of Jesus’.[21]

Spencer: This is false again. You push your presuppositions. God-breathed Scripture is recorded in the Book of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). This is a fact.

For Paul who wrote this under the inspiration of the Spirit, he referred primarily to the Old Testament Scripture. Where was that contained in the first century? On papyri, parchment, ostraca, etc. God’s revelation was in written form. http://www.josh.org/materials-scribes-used-bible/

We know how the New Testament was transmitted in writing and now you give your opinion:[22]

Peter: ‘The bible is man’s attempt to bear witness to this object’.[23]

Spencer: The Gospel of Luke demolishes your thesis:

‘Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught’ (Luke 1:1-4).

Luke compiled a narrative and wrote an orderly account. He didn’t have an existential experience of faith. He received the messages from eyewitnesses.
Your replies constantly regurgitate your presuppositional bias against the God-breathed written Scripture. I don’t worship the Book of Scripture but God has revealed himself through this Book.
[24]

Peter: ‘My observation of fundamentalist attitudes to the bible’[25].

Spencer: There you go again with your Ad Hominem (Abusive) Logical Fallacy.

If you were to meet the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, now Lord George Carey (whose beliefs are similar to mine), would you label his ‘fundamentalist attitudes to the bible’? How about evangelical Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies? Will you resort to fallacious reasoning with these two evangelical Anglican leaders?[26]

Peter: Yes.[27]

Spencer: You resort to erroneous reasoning to evade dealing with the issues between Evangelicalism and your Liberalism. Therefore, to have a rational conversation with you is impossible. Trying to be rational with irrational reasoning is like jumping the electric fence without getting an electrical shock. It’s nigh impossible to reason with the unreasonable – those who use logical fallacies, like Peter.

You decided not to comment on any other portion of my post than the last question.

It’s unusual for you that you are short of words, especially when your world view is exposed for its weaknesses.[28]

Peter: ‘What you fail to understand is that Evangelicalism is a product of modernity. It is a way of thinking that is completely under the control of the current culture the insists on material evidence’.

Spencer: This is a false assessment. Evangelicalism is a product of the Evangel, the Good News, that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst’ (1 Timothy 1:15).

It is a direct result of Jesus’ command to his disciples:

‘Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

Evangelicalism is not a cultural creation but a biblical mandate from Jesus Himself.

Peter: ‘It does not represent mainstream theological thought i.e. the thought of the Church fathers or the doctors of the church’.

Spencer: This is false again. One of the leading Church Fathers, Irenaeus, refuted your statement:

Such, then, are the first principles of the Gospel: that there is one God, the Maker of this universe; He who was also announced by the prophets, and who by Moses set forth the dispensation of the law, — [principles] which proclaim the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and ignore any other God or Father except Him. So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavours to establish his own peculiar doctrine’ (Against Heresies, Bk 2, 11.7).

Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (fourth century) wrote: ‘God chose that man should seek salvation by faith rather than by works, lest anyone should glory in his deeds and thereby incur sin’ (In Ps. 43 Enarr. 14, Explanations of Twelve Psalms of David).

Evangelicalism is not a recent invention. ‘God chose that man should seek salvation by faith rather than by works’ (Ambrose).

Peter: ‘That Wright produces a book that has to resort to made-up concepts’.[29]

Spencer: You gave not one example while you berated N. T. Wright, an eminent historical Jesus’ scholar, with your Ad Hominem (Abusive) Logical Fallacy.[30]

Peter: [They are concepts] fraught with contradictions and as such is unthinkable, demonstrates the basic weakness of this methodology’.[31]

Spencer: Not one example again and it’s a Red Herring fallacy.[32]

Peter: ‘In other words, this is a prime example of the failure of the Evangelical mind. It is no wonder that our secular society would not be caught dead in a church that insists that our intellect be left at the door. This is why I give you a hard time, because you have mistaken belief for faith and have closed the door to anyone who asks the simplest questions’.[33]

Spencer: Some of the finest contemporary scholars are/were Evangelicals: William Lane Craig, D A Carson, R C H Lenski, Norman Geisler, Australian Anglican ancient historian Dr Paul Barnett, the late Anglican Dr Leon Morris, Alister McGrath, Oxford Professor John Lennox, F F Bruce, Carl F H Henry, Gleason Archer, Craig Blomberg, Anglican theologian Graeme Goldsworthy, Lord George Carey, Wayne Grudem, Kenneth Kitchen, Anglican J I Packer, Ravi Zacharias, etc.

Your claim of Evangelicals kicking the intellect out the door commits a straw man fallacy. [34]

Peter: ‘BTW you still have not given me an answer to the question “where are the bones of Jesus”’.[35]

Spencer: Ever heard of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension?? In your worldview you want Jesus’ bones. In my worldview, I accept what the authoritative Scriptures state and you will never find Jesus’ bones on earth – NEVER. He did not rot in the grave.[36]

Peter: Archaeologists could dig up bones that are identified with Jesus. Your whole belief is vulnerable to a fact because it rests on a fact.[37]

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Spencer: If you believed the Scriptures you would not make those confusing statements. There is zero chance that archaeologists will dig up his body because of the biblical details surrounding his Ascension.
Luke recorded it as it happened for Jesus’ ascension:

6 Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’

7 He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-9 NIV).[38]

Peter: If the bones of Jesus will never be found on earth where are they to be found? The only answer is that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.[39]

Spencer: The answer is in the above text: ‘He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight’ (Acts 1:9).

It doesn’t state that the spiritual Jesus ascended. ‘He’, the one standing with his disciples, ascended. It was not his spirit that went up into the cloud. You regularly push for an understanding that is beyond what the text states. [40]

This is postmodern reader-response deconstruction where Peter deconstructs the biblical text and imposes his own meaning on it. He does not allow the writer’s intended meaning to shine forth.

Peter: Thus we have the usual problem of the mixture between material and spiritual. Which is it? Is heaven a material place?[41]

Spencer: You don’t like the language of N T Wright that the resurrected Jesus’ body was transphysical. Factually, it was more than physical. And this same Jesus ‘will come back … from heaven’.

We know heaven is a place, based on the testimony of Jesus: ‘My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?’ (John 14:2).

For you to even ask if heaven is a ‘material place’ demonstrates you refuse to believe what Jesus said about its being a ‘place’. The ‘rooms’ or ‘mansions’ in John 14:2 are from the transliterated Greek word, mone (pronounced monay) which has the sense of ‘assured residence’ or ‘assured home’.

As for it being a ‘material place’ composed of material from this current universe, we know this will not be a ‘material place’ with materials from this present world. ‘In keeping with his [God’s] promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells’ (2 Pet 3:13).

Eminent Australian Anglican commentator of the Gospel of John, the late Dr Leon Morris, stated:

“My Father’s house” clearly refers to heaven. The meaning of “mansions” is not so clear. It seems better understood as “permanent residences” than as “steps along the way of development”…. “Many” should not be misinterpreted as though it signified for all. “The phrase means that there is room and to spare for all the redeemed in heaven” (Morris 1971:638-639).[42]

Peter: This argument is becoming rather strange. If heaven is a material place then it must take up space in the universe. It is not on earth but must be extraterrestrial. Behind the moon is no good, we have looked. Likewise, anywhere else in the Solar system. Of course, it could be quite a few light-years away in another part of our galaxy. This is my last post on this thread.[43]

Spencer: It is strange because you make it that way. What did Jesus say about heaven? ‘In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’ (John 14:2 NRSV).
Jesus did not state it was ‘a material place’. Neither did I.

You are promoting your postmodern, deconstructionist, reader-response hermeneutic again.[44]

Peter decided to quit the conversation at this point.

Conclusion

For details of some of Dr Peter Carnley’s unorthodox theology (not discussed here), see: Peter Carnley.

This communication with the author of the article, Peter Sellick, demonstrates what happens when he rejects the authority of Scripture and invents his own meaning through postmodern, deconstructionist interpretation of the Bible. In this case he had two eminent scholars opposed to each other in regard to Jesus’ resurrection. Even though he compares the theology of Jesus’ resurrection between Carnley and Wright, he essentially defends his and Carnley’s non-bodily resurrection with Wright’s extensive research into the biblical text to support the soma/bodily resurrection.

To that he adds what is not in the text and gives his view of what the text states. It is known as reader-response interpretation that is similar to allegorical interpretation. He doesn’t interpret by gaining the meaning out of the text (exegesis) but imposes his meaning on the text. It also is similar to eisegesis.

It is impossible to reach a solid biblical conclusion with someone who does not deal with a plain, literal meaning of the text. See my article on what literal interpretation means: What is literal interpretation? Literal interpretation incorporates the use of figures of speech.

Works consulted

Morris, L 1971. The gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Image result for clipart He Is Risen public domain

(image courtesy Clipart Library)

Notes:


[1] Sellick is ‘an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences’. In one of his replies to me (OzSpen) in another article, he claimed to be a follower of Karl Barth but my understanding of contemporary theology places him in realm of liberal theology. You will note his aversion to Evangelical Christianity which, he claims, is for the uneducated.

[2] Occasionally in this interchange I have added material like the content of what Irenaeus stated. The additions are few and they were designed to clarify and amplify a little.

[3] Posted by OzSpen, Friday, 26 July 2019 1:09:42 PM.

[4] This is a claim in the article to which I respond.

[5] Posted by OzSpen, Friday, 26 July 2019 1:09:42 PM.

[6] From his article.

[7] Spencer’s comments prior to this were Posted by OzSpen, Friday, 26 July 2019 1:09:42 PM, http://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?article=20416 (Accessed 31 July 2019).

[8] From his article.

[9] Posted by OzSpen, Friday, 26 July 2019 4:59:36 PM

[10] Should be ‘many’.

[11] Should be NT as acronym for New Testament.

[12] Posted by Sells, Saturday, 27 July 2019 12:08:44 PM.

[13] Posted by OzSpen, Saturday, 27 July 2019 9:13:29 PM.

[14] Posted by OzSpen, Saturday, 27 July 2019 9:13:29 PM.

[15] Posted by Sells, Saturday, 27 July 2019 12:08:44 PM.

[16] Posted by OzSpen, Saturday, 27 July 2019 9:13:29 PM.

[17] Posted by Sells, Saturday, 27 July 2019 12:08:44 PM.

[18] Posted by OzSpen, Saturday, 27 July 2019 9:13:29 PM.

[19] Posted by Sells, Saturday, 27 July 2019 12:08:44 PM.

[20] Posted by OzSpen, Saturday, 27 July 2019 9:13:29 PM.

[21] Posted by Sells, Monday, 29 July 2019 3:12:58 PM.

[22] Posted by OzSpen, Monday, 29 July 2019 7:17:15 PM.

[23] Posted by Sells, Monday, 29 July 2019 3:12:58 PM.

[24] Posted by OzSpen, Monday, 29 July 2019 7:17:15 PM.

[25] Posted by Sells, Monday, 29 July 2019 3:12:58 PM.

[26] Posted by OzSpen, Monday, 29 July 2019 7:17:15 PM,

[27] This was Posted by Sells, Tuesday, 30 July 2019 12:26:43 PM.

[28] Posted by OzSpen, Tuesday, 30 July 2019 5:53:32 PM.

[29] Posted by Sells, Wednesday, 31 July 2019 11:09:12 AM.

[30] Posted by OzSpen, Wednesday, 31 July 2019 8:52:12 PM.

[31] Posted by Sells, Wednesday, 31 July 2019 11:09:12 AM.

[32] Posted by OzSpen, Wednesday, 31 July 2019 8:52:12 PM.

[33] Posted by Sells, Wednesday, 31 July 2019 11:09:12 AM.

[34] Posted by OzSpen, Wednesday, 31 July 2019 8:52:12 PM.

[35] Posted by Sells, Wednesday, 31 July 2019 11:09:12 AM.

[36] Posted by OzSpen, Wednesday, 31 July 2019 8:52:12 PM.

[37] Posted by Sells, Thursday, 1 August 2019 11:36:43 AM.

[38] Posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 1 August 2019 5:59:56 PM.

[39] Posted by Sells, Thursday, 1 August 2019 11:36:43 AM.

[40] Posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 1 August 2019 5:59:56 PM.

[41] Posted by Sells, Thursday, 1 August 2019 11:36:43 AM.

[42] Posted by OzSpen, Thursday, 1 August 2019 6:02:11 PM.

[43] Posted by Sells, Friday, 2 August 2019 6:46:02 PM.

[44] Posted by OzSpen, Friday, 2 August 2019 7:54:11 PM.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 August 2019.

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Any old resurrection will not do.


By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article was firse published as, ‘Any old resurrection will not do in On Line Opinion (23 April 2019).

As I began this article, I read the reporting of an ABC News Rural event, From drought to flooding rains as farmers celebrate drenching in Queensland’s west’ (4 February 2019). It showed a photo of

residents in Cloncurry jump[ing] for joy after flooding rains drench the once parched area (ABC News: Krystal Gordon).

Cloncurry mayor, Greg Campbell, said: “The dam is full, Lake Julius is flowing quite high — it’s been a godsend.” See a video of Julius Dam overflowing HERE.

Water gushing over the spillway of a dam. The tops of trees can be seen in the river below.

Photo: Julius Dam, which supplies Mt Isa’s water, is spilling. (Supplied: SunWater)

 

How should I interpret this event? Did it happen in time and space to be interpreted literally? Was there literal water or were the waters rising as a symbolic indication of moving from depression to elation?

Or should I interpret these flooding events allegorically? Are they speaking about the floods of spiritual blessings for farmers and others as an Easter blessing from God?

You’d have every reason to question my mental state if I interpreted the floods that way. The same applies to another event from history (floods are recent history) – Jesus’ resurrection (ancient history).

1. We all use literal interpretation.

 

Am I being too emphatic with, ‘we all’? This article is not about historical-critical methods some scholars use to deconstruct Jesus’ passion-resurrection events.

Scholars, journalists and laity have made some confronting attacks against evangelical or fundamentalist Christians who interpret the Bible literally. Are the challengers heading down the correct path or are the evangelicals so fixated on literal interpretation that they can’t throw away the mantle of rigidity?

From primary school to university, I learned that the way to interpret any document was literally. Berkeley Mickelsen’s text on Interpreting the Bible gave this understanding:

‘Literal’ here

“means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of “door” in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning” (Mickelsen 1963:33).

 

The Collins Dictionary (2019. s.v. literal) provides the adjectival meaning: ‘You use literal to describe someone who uses or understands words in a plain and simple way’.

Therefore, ‘by literal meaning the writer refers to the usual or customary sense conveyed by words or expressions‘. The contrasting meaning is that of figurative which means ‘the writer has in mind the representation of one concept in terms of another because the nature of the two things compared allows such an analogy to be drawn‘ (Mickelsen 1963:179).

So, reading the article on ABC News about the outback floods up north, Crossan’s book The Birth of Christianity, and Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible, should be read literally. It means that figures of speech are included in the literal meaning. This has been the case in reading any kind of literature down through the centuries.

Literal interpretation is not the bogeyman of fundamentalists but the tools used by all of us in reading any document when we want to understand the plain meaning of the writing.

I did it today in completing forms to renew my driver’s licence. What a joke it would be to fill in the documents as though I interpreted them symbolically.

From primary school to university, I learned there is one way to read any document – literally. If I find it is poetry, I interpret it as a poem, as I do with Homer’s epic, The Odyssey.

2. Making a meal of Jesus’ resurrection

 

These are come of the variations of resurrection meals served up in recent times:

(a) John Shelby Spong: ‘Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history’ (1998).

(b) John Dominic Crossan: ‘Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical.  He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals’ (1994:160) and Jesus’ resurrection was an apparition – a ghost (Crossan 1994:160).

(c) Rudolf Bultmann asked: “But what of the resurrection? Is it not a mythical event pure and simple? Obviously it is not an event of past history” (Bultmann 1984, Kerygma and Myth, online version).

(d) An antagonist: ‘If, as you say you believe, Jesus, resurrected with a physical body about 2,000 years ago, the probability that he is still alive and well is so infinitesimal that it may be considered non-existent’.

(e) Scott Korb, a non-practicing Roman Catholic of New York University, gave this view of Jesus’ resurrection: ‘What I mean is that we can reach the lowest points of our lives, of going deep into a place that feels like death, and then find our way out again — that’s the story the Resurrection now tells me. And at Easter, this is expressed in community, and at its best, through the compassion of others’.

(f) The laity again, ‘I believe the bible is a mythical book….’

If I interpreted the floods in north Qld that way, you would have every reason to question my integrity in dealing with any text. But it’s acceptable for these scholars to make such bizarre claims.

3. What are the facts about the resurrected Jesus?

… The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.

Wolfhart Pannenberg

His body had real flesh and blood. People touched him, ate food with him, saw the crucifixion wounds in his body, and he could be seen and heard.

There’s a key aspect that clinches the bodily resurrection of Jesus and that is the Greek, soma, to refer to his body.

Whenever the Greek speaks of an individual human being as having a soma, it always means a physical body in the New Testament (NT). When the Apostle Paul wrote of Christ’s resurrected body and the future resurrected bodies of people, he used soma in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This confirms that the early Christians understood Jesus’ being raised from the dead as a bodily resurrection.

Robert Gundry’s research concluded ‘the soma denotes the physical body, roughly synonymous with “flesh” in the neutral sense. It forms that part of man in and through which he lives, acts in the world’ (Gundry 1976:50)

There is another fact to demonstrate this point that could be a bit technical: A prepositional phrase is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (see. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12). This was not a ho-hum view for the Greeks.

In addition, they used a preposition, ek, concerning Jesus who was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies. Similar words were used to describe Lazarus being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1). There was no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried. 

The same happened with Jesus! Australian ancient historian and evangelical Anglican minister, Dr Paul Barnett, made this assessment of the start of Christianity:

“It was this twin conviction, that Jesus was the Christ and that God had raised him alive from the dead, that drove and energized the first disciples and that alone accounts for the rise of Christianity as we encounter it in the historical records” (Barnett 2005:186).

From those few disciples and belief in the bodily resurrected Christ, the church worldwide today has grown to approx 2.3 billion who identify as Christians.

3.1 Reliable documents or fiction?

 

It is a view expressed by both laity and scholars that ‘it is no longer possible in retrospect to think of that passion fiction as relatively benign propaganda’ (Crossan 1995:XII). A lay antagonistic version was, ‘Many things in our modern bible are clearly invention, created to conform to a particular narrative. Rather than the plain unvarnished truth.’

Is that the truth? How does anyone determine if an historical writing, like the Bible, is a compilation (66 books) of reliable information? We use the same criteria that ancient historians use to determine the legitimacy of any document from history, whether that be the life of Aristotle, the first fleet’s coming to Australia, the Nazi Holocaust, or the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

These tests do not attempt to demonstrate that Scripture is the Word of God or that the Bible is infallible. The criteria discern if the Bible’s narrative of the major events in the life of Jesus and the young church were accurate.

These criteria include: early testimony, eyewitness testimony, multiple independent eyewitnesses; are the eyewitnesses trustworthy? Is there supporting evidence from archaeology or other writers? Is there verification from enemies? Does the evidence contain details that are embarrassing to the authors (e.g. lowly Jewish women at the empty tomb on resurrection morning) [Geisler & Turek 2004:230-31]?

The hard work of research into the trustworthiness of the NT already has been done by Blomberg (1987), F F Bruce (1960); Geisler & Turek (2004:221-93); and N T Wright (2003). See also Blomberg on The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (2016).

Blomberg’s assessment of the Gospels was: ‘Other conclusions, widespread though they are, seem not to stem from even-handed historical analysis but from religious or philosophical prejudice’. However, he gave ‘a radiant endorsement of the historical reliability of the four gospels’ (1987:254).

From these trustworthy documents, we discover the resurrected Jesus had a

4. Fleshly body with a difference

 

The risen body of Jesus did some things ordinary bodies did and other actions that were extraordinary. Examples of the latter included meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus and John’s cooking breakfast by the seashore. N T Wright described this other dimension as ‘transphysicality’ (2003:477-78). Others call it a ‘transformed’ body. It did not diminish Jesus’ bodily characteristics with his wounds still visible but there were human and divine dimensions to Jesus’ post-resurrection reality.

The modern, scientific, Western world finds it hard to process the supernatural at any time, including history. However, honest historians who have access to the data report what the eyewitnesses saw and processed the historical data.

Nobody physically saw Jesus resurrected, but the data about him is based on three females (Mark 16) finding the tomb empty on Easter Sunday and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (multiple attestation in the four Gospels).

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb and found it empty (Mark 16:1-8). They were the first witnesses of Jesus’ empty tomb. In Jewish culture, female witnesses were taboo as reliable witnesses (see Josephus: Women unacceptable witnesses). This is further evidence of the embarrassment criterion of historicity used to support the integrity of the Gospel narratives.

4.1 Not any old body will do

Where will you be one minute after your last breath? The answer depends on the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.

Two fundamentals of life and death ought to clinch it for us when we take Jesus’ resurrection seriously. The resurrection matters because …

(a) Salvation and resurrection go together

The NT makes commitment to the resurrection essential to gain eternal life. ‘Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us a new birth and a living hope. This hope is living because Jesus Christ rose from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3).

That is a fundamental of the Christian life. Without Jesus’ bodily resurrection – yes, bodily – there is no eternal life in Christ. Secondly,

(b) Jesus’ resurrection guarantees what happens after death

People will be raised from death in the future at Jesus’ second coming. How are the dead raised and what kind of body will they have? Paul said ‘these are stupid questions’ because when we plant something like wheat, it has to die in the ground before it comes alive and grows (1 Cor 15:35-38).

The new plant does not have the same ‘body’ it had before. The seed of wheat, as with a stalk of sugar cane, becomes something else. So with the resurrected body, ‘God gives it the body that he has planned for it, and he gives each kind of seed its own body’ (1 Cor 15:38).

There will be a future resurrection of both the saved and the lost; believers to the resurrection of eternal life and non-believers to the resurrection of eternal punishment (1 Cor 15:51-57).

Much is stated in the Bible about the bodies of Christians after death but I’ve found nothing about the resurrected bodies of unbelievers. We know there will be a resurrection and judgment (Heb 9:27), but Scripture does not address the nature of the bodies of the resurrection of the ungodly.

5. Conclusion

Paul was charged before governor Felix of being a troublemaker. He told Felix: ‘I believe that both the godly and the ungodly will rise from the dead’ (Acts 24:15).

As hot cross buns remind us of Easter approaching, what are we to make of Christ’s resurrection? Like any other document, from Centrelink forms to scholarly tomes, On Line Opinion articles and the Bible, all writings must be read literally to obtain accurate meaning. A literal interpretation includes the use of figures of speech.

In spite of others who reinvent, deconstruct or fictionalise the biblical events, the interpretation of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances revealed he was a real human being but with a transphysical or transformed dimension of supernatural abilities.

The NT documents are reliable historically and the bodily resurrection is important because: (1) Salvation and resurrection are a compulsory combination, and (2) The future resurrection of both believers and unbelievers depends on the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.

Dr Albert Mohler Jr summarised the essential need for Jesus’ resurrection:

‘The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead separates Christianity from all mere religion–whatever its form. Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. “And if Christ is not risen,” said the Apostle Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. Furthermore, “You are still in your sins!” [v. 17b]. Paul could not have chosen stronger language. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” [v. 19]’.

6.  Works consulted

Barnett, P W 2005. The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco.

Geisler, N L & Turek, F 2004. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Gundry, R H 1976. Soma in biblical theology: With emphasis on Pauline anthropology. Society for New Testament Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 April 2019.

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