Archive for the 'Resurrection' Category

Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection?

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

Garden Tomb

Todd Bolen, “Garden Tomb

By Spencer D Gear

The apostle Paul was awaiting execution in a Roman prison when he wrote his final letter to Timothy in about AD 64-68 (intro in ESV).   What do you think would be the last words from one of the greatest church leaders of all time – just before he was killed as a martyr for the faith?  Listen carefully to 2 Tim. 4:1-4:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when [people] [1a] will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (NIV).

A.    What happened in the years immediately after the death of the apostles?

Was Paul’s warning to Timothy fulfilled?   Was sound doctrine compromised?  Were there listeners with “itching ears” who “turn[ed] their ears away from the truth and turn[ed] aside to myths”?  Yes, there were and here we will describe some of the teachings.

We need to understand that these church leaders were defending the faith against one of the most destructive heresies concerning Christ that developed towards the end of the first century.  A similar kind of heresy is with us today.  Back in the first and second centuries, this false teaching was called Docetism (a form of Gnosticism).

Docetism is based on the Greek verb, dokew, which means, “I seem.”  This heresy taught that:

designQuilt Jesus only seemed to be human; he was not really human;
designQuiltHis human body was a ghost;
designQuiltChrist’s suffering and death were only appearances of suffering & death;
designQuiltThey denied his humanity, so there was no bodily resurrection of Christ.  But they affirmed Christ’s deity.
designQuiltWe see possibly an early stage of  Docetism being addressed in I John 4:2, when John wrote, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”  In 2 John 7, we read, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

This is why early church theologians and writers after the death of the apostles had to preach against this heresy.  I’ll mention a few examples of this correction, particularly as it applies to the resurrection of Christ.

1. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 35-107) [2]

He taught: “For I know and believe that [Jesus] was in the flesh even after the resurrection. And when He came to Peter and those who were with him, He said to them, ‘Take, handle me and see that I am not a spirit without body’” (written about the year AD 110) [Ignatius n.d., 6.3].

2.    Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)

Justin wrote:

“Why did He rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh? And wishing to confirm this, when His disciples did not know whether to believe He had truly risen in the body, and were looking upon Him and doubting, He said to them, ‘Ye have not yet faith, see that it is I;’ and He let them handle Him, and showed them the prints of the nails in His hands. And when they were by every kind of proof persuaded that it was Himself, and in the body, they asked Him to eat with them, that they might thus still more accurately ascertain that He had in verity risen bodily” (Martyr, J., n.d., ch. 9).

This letter was written about AD 110.  Why did he have to teach that Jesus rose from the dead in a body of flesh?  Because there was false doctrine around in the early second century.  He went straight to the Bible to get the proof.  We have to do the same with new challenges to Christ’s bodily resurrection.

3.    Tertullian (ca. 160-225)

Tertullian wrote a book titled, “On the Resurrection of the Flesh,” in which he asked and responded:

How then did Christ rise again? In the flesh, or not? No doubt, since you are told that He ‘died according to the Scriptures,’ and ‘that He was buried according to the Scriptures,’ no otherwise than in the flesh, you will also allow that it was in the flesh that He was raised from the dead.

For the very same body which fell in death, and which lay in the sepulchre, did also rise again (Tertullian n.d., ch. 48).

4.    Irenaeus (ca. 130-200)

Saint Irenaeus.jpg

(This image courtesy of Wikipedia)

This church father wrote a book titled, Against Heresies, in which he stated:

“In the same manner, therefore, as Christ did rise in the substance of flesh, and pointed out to His disciples the mark of the nails and the opening in His side (now these are the tokens of that flesh which rose from the dead)” (Irenaeus n.d., 5.7.1).

5.  Origen (ca. 185-254)

In Contra Celsus, Origen refuted Celsus’s charge that the resurrection appearances of Jesus were those of a ghost.  He asked:

“How is it possible that a phantom which, as he describes it, flew past to deceive the beholders, could produce such effects after it had passed away, and could so turn the hearts of men as to lead them to regulate their actions according to the will of God” (Origen n.d., 7.35).

Docetism was one of the major destructive heresies of the church in the first-to-third centuries and these defenders and teachers of the faith had to teach against the false doctrine of a spiritual or phantom resurrection of Christ.  Paul warned that “destructive heresies” would come and that people would have “itching ears” to receive and promote such false teaching.

B. What do we have today?

I hope you don’t get angry with me for mentioning names of people who teach false doctrine.  I am following the example of the apostle Paul who, in Galatians 2:11ff, condemned the apostle Peter — and named him.  Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, but when certain Jews came from James, Peter drew back and separated from the Gentiles.  Paul named Peter as a hypocrite and we have had it in writing for 2000 years.  

Paul said in 2 Tim. 4:14, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.”  We have had this also on record for 2,000 years.

When people are preaching false doctrine in the church or anywhere, when people are harming the church and God’s people, we need to name them, correct them, and proclaim the accurate biblical message.

In regard to the bodily resurrection of Christ, what false teaching do we have today?

1.    New Zealand Presbyterian minister, Lloyd Geering

Lloyd Geering, 2011.jpg

(Sir Lloyd Geering, image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

He defended what “Gregor Smith had said in [a book called] Secular Christianity . . . that the Christian is free to say that the bones of Jesus lie somewhere in Palestine, and until the Christian feels free to say that, he hasn’t understood what the Resurrection is about” (in Kohn 2001).

Geering continues, “The Resurrection was not a resuscitation, it was not a return to this life of a physical body. It was in fact something quite different. It was in fact the rise of Easter faith in the disciples, more or less as Bultmann had been explaining for some time” (in Kohn 2001).

In other words, the resurrection of Jesus was not a risen body in the flesh, but it was a spiritual experience for Christ’s disciples.

You possibly won’t read Lloyd Geering and some of these other false teachers today, but do you know the people who do read them?  Those in the mass media who want to create doubt or a controversial perspective, readily seek comments from these doubters.  When it comes to Easter and Christmas times, they won’t call on you and me, but these false teachings and their heretical teachers will hit the headlines.

2.    Edward Schillebeeckx

A Dutch Roman Catholic, he wrote, “Jesus’ resurrection is not a return to life as in the story of Lazarus… it is certainly not a miracle of intervention in natural laws to raise a corpse to heavenly life” (from Schillebeeckx, God Among Us, p. 134, cited in Mann 1993).

3.    The German Protestant Lutheran, Rudolph Bultmann

Bultmann wrote that “the resurrection itself is not an event of past history” (from Kerygma and Myth, p.39, cited in Mann 1993).

4.    Protestant theologian Karl Barth

“Christians do not believe in the empty tomb but in the living Christ. Is the empty tomb just a legend? What matter? It cannot but demand assent, even as legend.” (from Church Dogmatics III, 2, p.454).

5.   Former Episcopalian bishop of Newark, NJ, John Shelby Spong:

“The probable fate of the crucified Jesus was to be thrown with other victims into a common, unmarked grave. The general consensus of New Testament scholars is that whatever the Easter experience was, it dawned first in the minds of the disciples who had fled to Galilee for safety, driving us to the conclusion that the burial story in the gospels is both legendary and was developed directly from the words of II Isaiah” (Spong 2004).

6. John Dominic Crossan, a Roman Catholic, of the Jesus Seminar

Crossan speaks of “the apparitions of the risen Jesus.”  What’s an apparition?  A phantom, a ghost.  Jesus’ resurrected body was not real flesh.   He says that “the resurrection is a matter of Christian faith” (1995, p. 189).  So, for him, the resurrection of Christ is really a spiritual resurrection among believers – whatever that means.

So, what happened to the body of Jesus?  Crossan wrote: “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” (Crossan 1994, p. 160).

Let’s come closer to my home in Queensland – in my hometown of Bundaberg, Qld., Australia.

7.    Rev. David Kidd, Bundaberg Uniting Church

At Easter time 1999, David Kidd wrote an article in The Bugle, a local freebie newspaper that was titled, “The Resurrection of Jesus” (Kidd 1999, p. 19). I lived in Bundaberg at the time.  In it, he stated: “The resurrection of Jesus.[3] It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible.’”[4]

 

C. What does the Bible say?

It is very easy to show from the Scriptures that Christ rose from the dead in a physical body.  Let’s look at the evidence (based on Geisler 1999, pp. 667-668):

1. People touched him with their hands.

Jesus’ challenge to Thomas in John 20:27 was: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  How did Thomas respond, “My Lord and My God” (20:28).

Jesus said to Mary as she grasped him, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”  Matthew 28:9 tells us that the women “clasped his feet and worshiped him.”

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, what did Jesus say?  Luke 24:39, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a [spirit ] {5} does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Do we need any further evidence that Jesus had real human flesh after his resurrection?

2. Jesus’ resurrection body had real flesh and bones.

The verse that we have just looked at gives some of the most powerful evidence of his bodily resurrection: “Touch me and see; a [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Lk. 24:39) and to prove that he really did have a real body of flesh and bones, what did he do?  According to Luke 24:41-42, Jesus “asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’  They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”  Folks, spirits or spiritual bodies do not eat fish.

Third piece of evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Christ:

3. Jesus ate real tucker (Aussie for “food”).

As we’ve just seen, they gave him “broiled fish” to eat.  He ate real food on at least 3 occasions, eating both bread and fish, (Luke 24:30, 41-43; John 21:12-13).  Acts 10:41 states that Jesus met with witnesses “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

That sounds clear to me.  Jesus ate food after his resurrection.  People in real bodies eat real food.

A fourth proof that Jesus was raised in his physical body:

4. Take a look at the wounds in his body.

This is proof beyond reasonable doubt.  He still had the wounds in his body from when he was killed.  John 20:27, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’”

When Jesus ascended, after his resurrection, the Bible records, “This same Jesus [ie this divine-human Jesus], who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
There’s a fifth confirmation of his bodily resurrection:

5. Jesus could be seen and heard.

Yes, Jesus’ body could be touched and handled.  But there is more! 

Matthew 28:17 says that “when they saw [horaw] him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” On the road to Emmaus, of the disciples who were eating together, Luke 24:31 states, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”  The Greek term “to recognize” [epiginoskw] means “to know, to understand, or to recognize”  These are the normal Greek words “for ‘seeing’ (horaw, theorew) and ‘recognizing’ (epiginoskw) physical objects” (Geisler 1999, pp 667-668).

Because Jesus could be seen and heard as one sees and recognises physical objects, we have further proof that Jesus rose bodily.

6. The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.

When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament.  There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament.  Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor. 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body” (Geisler 1999, p. 668).

In that magnificent passage in I Cor. 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body?  It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999, p. 668).  We’ll get to that in a moment.

There’s a 7th piece of evidence in support of bodily resurrection:

7. Jesus’ body came out from among the dead

There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12).  That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, “from the dead.” Not so in the Greek.

This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30).  These same words are used to describe Lazarus’s being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1).  In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried.  Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999, p. 668). 

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

8. He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.

Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ

appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul]also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).

You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers.  Christ “appeared” to whom?  Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul “as to one abnormally born.”

The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an “appearance” or was it actually “seeing” his physical being?  These are the objective facts: Christ became flesh, he died in the flesh, he was raised in the flesh and he appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.

The resurrection of  Jesus from the dead was not a form of “spiritual” existence.  Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987, p. 728).

No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

D. We need to look briefly at a few objections to bodily resurrection

One of the objections sometimes raised is that Christ’s body after the resurrection had some unusual supernatural features and that this means it was not a real physical body.  One objection is that

1. Christ would just appear and disappear

Take a verse like Luke 24:34, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”  Then go to Acts 9:17, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”

In these two examples the word “appeared” is used.  One of Jesus and the other of Jesus appearing to Paul, many years after Christ’s ascension.  Both of these are in the passive voice (Greek) , so it means that Christ “let himself be seen. . .  Jesus took the initiative to make himself visible at his resurrection appearances” (Geisler 1999, p. 659).  “Appeared” means that “he could be seen by human eyes, the appearances were not just visions” (Rienecker in Geisler 1999, p. 659).

The NT speaks of sudden appearances by Jesus, like to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  It is stated: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:31).  This could have been a miraculous act of power, a sign that he was both human and divine.  We must get this one correct, as Norman Geisler puts it:

The text nowhere states that Jesus became nonphysical when the disciples could no longer see him.  Just because he was out of their sight does not mean he was out of his physical body.  God has the power to miraculously transport persons in their pre-resurrection physical bodies from one place to another (1999, p. 659).

Remember when Philip the evangelist was with the Ethiopian eunuch, “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).    Here was Philip, a real human being, whisked away by the Spirit of God.

So for both Jesus and Philip, the text does not say that either one became non-physical beings.

A second objection:

2.    Jesus didn’t die but swooned in the grave

H. J. Schonfield made this popular in his book, The Passover Plot (1965).  But this view is as old as Celsus in the 2nd century.  The view was that Mary Magdalene nursed Jesus back to health.  “Forty days later his wounds bot the better of him, and he died and was buried secretly” (Green 1990, p. 186).

This is fairy story stuff.  There is not one bit of evidence to support it and it doesn’t understand “the brutal Roman method of execution” (Green 1990, p. 186).  I found Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” terribly brutal but it did give a realistic picture of how final Roman execution really was.

3.    The disciples stole the body

If the Jews and Romans wanted to silence the facts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus, all they would have had to do was to produce the body of Jesus.  They didn’t.

Get this.  It does not make sense to claim that the disciples stole the body of Jesus, went forth proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then

They were willing to be imprisoned for this faith, torn limb from limb, thrown to the lions, or turned into human torches in the Emperor Nero’s gardens for this conviction that Jesus was alive.  Would they have endured all that for a claim they knew was [a fake] (Green 1990, p. 190)

Why did some of the Bible teachers after the death of the apostles teach Docetism,  that Jesus did not have a physical body and could not have risen with a physical body?  They could be the same reasons for such teaching today:

6pointColored-small  They don’t believe the authoritative Bible is the infallible Word of God.  OR

6pointColored-smallThey don’t believe in the supernatural.  They are naturalists who believe that “the ‘natural’ universe, the universe of matter and energy, is all that there really is.  This rules out God, so naturalism is atheistic” (MacDonald 1984, p. 750).  This is like David Kidd, formerly of the Bundaberg Uniting Church, who said that the resurrection of Christ is “impossible.  Even our brain dies after a few minutes of death.  It’s just not possible” (Kidd 1999, p. 19).  That’s naturalism.

Naturalism is the belief that everything in nature originates from natural causes. There cannot be any supernatural or spiritual explanations. They are either excluded for relegated to some discounted position.
6pointColored-smallEven though deniers of Christ’s bodily resurrection may be in the church, according to Rom. 1:18, they still “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”  They are rebels against God and don’t want to understand the resurrection of Jesus as God told us.  They are engaged in ungodly activities and can’t see the light of the Gospel.  In reality, they are atheistic concerning the supernatural God of the Bible.

6pointColored-smallPaul warned that these false teachers would attract people “to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:4 ESV). 

6pointColored-smallSatan, the enemy of our souls, loves to dress up false doctrine to make it look like the real thing.

E. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important?

We must understand how serious it is to deny the resurrection. Paul told the Corinthians: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Cor. 15:13-14).

The updated World Christian Encyclopedia … by Oxford University Press, says that by midcentury there will be 3 billion Christians, constituting 34.3% of the world’s population, up from the current 33%.

Christians now number 2 billion and are divided into 33,820 denominations and churches, in 238 countries, and use 7,100 languages, the encyclopedia says (Zenit 2001).

If there is no bodily resurrection, we might as well announce it to the world and tell all Christians they are living a lie and ought to go practise some other religion.

British evangelist, Michael Green, summarises the main issues about the bodily resurrection of Christ:

The supreme miracle of Christianity is the resurrection. . . [In the New Testament] assurance of the resurrection shines out from every page.  It is the crux of Christianity, the heart of the matter.  If it is true, then there is a future for mankind; and death and suffering have to be viewed in a totally new light.  If it is not true, Christianity collapses into mythology.  In that case we are, as Saul of Tarsus conceded, of all men most to be pitied (Green 1990, p. 184).

The bodily resurrection is absolutely essential for these reasons:

1. Belief in the resurrection of Christ is necessary for salvation

Rom. 10:9 states: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Salvation means that you are saved from God’s wrath because of the resurrection of Christ.  You are saved from hell.

Your new birth (regeneration) is guaranteed by the resurrection.  First Peter 1:3 states that “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

The spiritual power within every Christian happens because of the resurrection.  Paul assured the Ephesians of Christ’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:19-20).  You can’t have spiritual power in your life without the resurrected Christ.

In one passage, Paul links your justification through faith to the resurrection – he associates directly your being declared righteous, your being not guilty before God, with Christ’s resurrection.  Rom. 4:25 states that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

Your salvation, your being born again, your justification, your having spiritual power in the Christian life depends on your faith in the raising of Jesus from the dead.  Not any old resurrection will do.  Jesus’ body after the resurrection was not a spirit or phantom.  It was a real, physical body.  If  you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, on the basis of this verse, you can’t be saved.
Second:

2. Christ’s resurrection proves that Jesus is God

From very early in his ministry, Jesus’ predicted his resurrection.  The Jews asked him for a sign.  According to John 2:19-21, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days’ . . . But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”  Did you get that?  Jesus predicted that he, being God, would have his body destroyed and three days later, He would raise this body.

Jesus continued to predict his resurrection: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).  See also Mark 8:31; 14:59; Matt. 27:63.

The third reason Christ’s bodily resurrection is core Christianity is:

3. Life after death is guaranteed!

Remember what Jesus taught his disciples in John 14:19, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”  If you truly have saving faith in Christ, his resurrection makes life after death a certainty.

There a fourth reason:

 

4. Christ’s bodily resurrection guarantees that believers will receive perfect resurrection bodies as well.

After you die and Christ comes again, the New Testament connects Christ’s resurrection with our final bodily resurrection.  I Cor. 6:14, “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.”

In the most extensive discussion on the connection between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, Paul states that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20).  What are “firstfruits”?  It’s an agricultural metaphor indicating the first taste of the ripening crop, showing that the full harvest is coming.  This shows what believers’ resurrection bodies, the full harvest, will be like.

Do you see how critically important it is to have a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s resurrection – his bodily resurrection.

In spite of so many in the liberal church establishment denying the bodily resurrection of Christ or dismissing it totally, there are those who stand firm on the bodily resurrection.

F. Those supporting the bodily resurrection

Eminent British New Testament Scholar and former Anglican Bishop of Durham, Dr. N. T. Wright, said:

I simply cannot explain why Christianity began without it [i.e. without the resurrection of Christ]…. If Jesus had died and stayed dead, [his disciples] would either have given up the movement or they would have found another messiah.  Something extraordinary happened which convinced them that Jesus was the Messiah (Jennings 2000, p. 51).

N. T. Wright has since written these 817 pages to support the bodily resurrection and refute those throughout church history, including current scholars who deny the literal resurrection of Jesus.  Wright concludes: “The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivalled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity” (Wright 2003, p. 718).

G. What’s the remedy for this church and every church today when the bodily resurrection of Christ is denied?

It is the same for us as Paul’s last words to Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). I have great concern that the churches in Australia today are becoming suckers to rampant false teaching.  Why?

6pointColored-small We don’t take seriously Paul’s command to “preach the Word.”  Preaching about the Word, preaching my own ideas, is NOT preaching the Word.  I do not know how to preach the Word other than to systematically preach through the Bible, or to focus on certain biblical topics as I am doing today.
6pointColored-small   When should we do this?  When it’s appropriate and when it seems inappropriate.  Paul’s words were: “Be prepared in season and out of season.”

6pointColored-small  This preaching of the Word must include correction, rebuking and encouragement.  My task today has been to correct false doctrine, based on the Scriptures.  I don’t believe we take seriously the command: “Preach the Word.”
6pointColored-small  It is not too late to make a change.  False doctrine will increase and the need for correction, rebuking and encouragement will be urgently needed.  Paul says that we must do this “with great patience and careful instruction.”  But I’m not sure that we care about false teaching.

6pointColored-small  Will this church take seriously this command from Paul, so that we will not become a victim of false teachings?  All of us must be vigilant.  We cannot know what is false without knowing the truth of the Word.  We must preach the Word.

Appendix:

1.    Theologian and apologist, Norman Geisler, wrote: “Those who try to get around the resurrection walk against the gale-force winds of the full evidence.  The facts are that Jesus of Nazareth really died . . . and actually came back from the dead in the same physical body” (1999, p. 656).
2.    Wayne Grudem wrote, concerning Jesus’ resurrection body, that “the texts . . . show that Jesus clearly had a physical body with ‘flesh and bones’ (Luke 24:39), which could eat and drink, break bread, prepare breakfast and be touched. . .  These texts are not capable of an alternative explanation that denies Jesus’ physical body. . . Jesus was clearly teaching  them that his resurrection body was a physical body” (1994, p. 612).

See my other articles on the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Notes:

1a. The original read, “Men,” but the ESV translates as “people.”
2.  Earle E. Cairns considers that his “seven letters must have been written about 110” (1981, p. 74).
3. “The Resurrection of Jesus” was the title of the article and the first sentence began with, “It’s impossible.  Even our brain dies . .
. ,” so I am left to conclude that the article’s title was the introduction to the first sentence.
4. The original article had closing inverted commas here, but there were no introductory inverted commas.
5. The NIV reads, “ghost,” but the ESV translates as “spirit.”  The Greek is pneuma = spirit.

References:

Cairns, E. E. 1981, Christianity through the Centuries, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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

Crossan, J. D. 1995, Who Killed Jesus? HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.

Fee, G. D. 1987, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (gen. ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Geisler, N. L. 1999, ‘Resurrection, Evidence for’, in Norman L. Geisler 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of  Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapid, Michigan.

Green, M. 1990, Evangelism through the local Church, Hodder & Stoughton, London.

Grudem, W. 1994, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

Ignatius n.d., ‘The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans’, Early Church Writings, available from:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/smyrnaeans.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Irenaeus n.d., ‘Against Heresies’, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, available from:
http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-63.htm#P8967_2580595 [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Jennings P. 2000, ‘Peter Jennings Reporting’, ABC television (USA), aired on Monday, June 26 2000. This quote is from Christian Research Institute 2000, “Point-by-point Response to ‘Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus,’ available from: http://www.equip.org/free/DJ036.pdf [Accessed 31 May 2005].

Kidd, D. 1999, Bundaberg Uniting Church, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” The Bugle (Bundaberg), March 19, 1999, p. 19.

Kohn, R. 2001, The Spirit of Things (radio program), ‘Tomorrow’s God, with Lloyd Geering’,  Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 4 March 2001, available from: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/spirit/stories/s253975.htm [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Mann, J. 1993, ‘Justification’, available from: http://www.fountain.btinternet.co.uk/theology/justific.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

MacDonald, M. H. 1984, ‘Naturalism’, in W. A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 750-751.

Martyr, J. n.d., ‘Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection’, Early Church Writings, available from:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-resurrection.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Origen n.d., ‘Contra Celsus’, Early Christian Writings, available from: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/origen167.html [19 July 2005].

Schonfield, H. J. 1965, The Passover Plot, Bantam Books, New York.

Spong, J. S. 2004, Review, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ — Mel Gibson’s Film and Biblical Scholarship – Part 4, available from Arianna Online Forum at: http://www.ariannaonline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1025 [Accessed19 July 2005].

Tertullian n.d., ‘On the Resurrection of the Flesh’, Early Church Writings, available from:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian16.html [Accessed 19 July 2005].

Wright, N. T. 2003, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.

Zenit 2001. World Christianity on the rise in 21st century (online. Available at: https://zenit.org/articles/christianity-on-the-rise-in-21st-century/ Accessed 29 March 2016.)

 

Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date:20 February 2017.

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Junk you hear at Easter about Jesus’ resurrection

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Simon Dewey, He Lives, painting

(Simon Dewey, ‘He Lives’, copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher)

Easter has come and gone! As expected, there were articles in the popular press about the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, it’s also the time when junk about Jesus passion-resurrection is dished up. I do not use the term ‘junk’ to disparage any person. I am using ‘junk’ to refer to the content of the writing, based on one of the Oxford dictionary’s definitions: ‘Worthless writing, talk, or ideas: I can’t write this kind of junk’ (Oxford dictionaries 1.1, 2016. s v junk, emphasis in original).

1. Can you doubt the resurrection and be Christian?

Kimberly Winston (2014) wrote a provocative and sceptical article about the resurrection of Jesus for the National Catholic Reporter (‘Can you question the Resurrection and still be Christian?’). Here are a few points Winston makes in the article:

  1. From the Nicene Creed, the words, ‘On the third day he rose again’, is ‘the foundational statement of Christian belief’. It gives a ‘glimmer’ of eternal life promised to believers and is ‘the heart of the Easter story’ in 7 words.
  2. Interpretation of the 7-word statement has caused ‘deepest rifts in Christianity’ and ‘a stumbling block’ for some Christians and sceptics.
  3. Was Jesus’ resurrection literal and bodily, according to traditionalist and conservative Christians? Or was the rising symbolic, indicating ‘a restoration of his spirit of love and compassion to the world’? This latter view is that promoted by ‘some more liberal brands of Christianity?
  4. Many Christians struggle with the literal versus metaphorical understanding of the resurrection. ‘How literally must one take the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumph to be called a Christian?’ Is it possible to understand the resurrection as metaphor (or perhaps reject that it happened at all) and still claim to follow Christ?
  5. He quoted the Barna research from 2010 in which it found that ‘only 42 percent of Americans said the meaning of Easter was Jesus’ resurrection; just 2 percent identified it as the most important holiday of their faith’.
  6. Fr. James Martin, in his book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage [2014. HarperOne, New York Times bestseller], stated, ‘But believing in the Resurrection is essential. It shows that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, Easter without the Resurrection is utterly meaningless. And the Christian faith without Easter is no faith at all’.
  7. For an opposite view, Winston obtained a comment from Professor Scott Korb of New York University, aged 37 at the time, a non-practicing Catholic, who moved from a literal to a symbolic resurrection. His concept of the resurrection is, ‘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’. Korb rejects ‘the miracle of a bodily resurrection’. For Korb, this change from literal to metaphorical resurrection ‘has given the story more power’. For him the metaphorical view allows people to return to the story year after year and find new meaning in it.
  8. By contrast, Reg Rivett, aged 37, and a youth minister in an evangelical house church, Edmonton, Canada, said that he believed Jesus literally rose from the dead and this is central to Christian identity. But he has conflicting feelings about how the resurrection is used in some circles, especially when it is tacked on the end of Christian events and turns the sacred into the very common. This saturation makes it ordinary. Instead, Rivett believes the church should ‘build’ towards the resurrection event throughout the year in the biblical storyline (which he called saga).
  9. Winston turned to retired Episcopal, unorthodox, liberal bishop, John Shelby Spong and his ‘famously liberal interpretation of Christianity in his 1995 book, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? that ‘caused a dust-up’ with his question, ‘Does Christianity fall unless a supernatural miracle can be established?’ Spong’s answer is, ‘No’ when he rejected the physical resuscitation interpretation in favour of, ‘I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence’ (not his physical body) was manifested to certain witnesses’.
  10. He agrees with Rivett that the resurrection needs to be placed in context to be understood. In Spong’s Bible studies that included 300 people, he ‘tried to help people get out of that literalism’ through laying the groundwork, people asking questions, and building on this framework.
  11. Spong said. ‘They [the people at his Bible studies] could not believe the superstitious stuff and they were brainwashed to believe that if they could not believe it literally they could not be a Christian’.
  12. So, according to Spong, a Christian ‘is one who accepts the reality of God without the requirement of a literal belief in miracles’. The resurrection says ‘Jesus breaks every human limit, including the limit of death, and by walking in his path you can catch a glimpse of that’. For Spong, ‘I think that’s a pretty good message’.

2. Issues with Winston’s article

Now to some of the main points of critique, based on the above 12 points:

2.1 The one-sided agenda of this journalist.

It seemed to be balanced because Winston cited two people supporting each of the two sides: (a) In support of the literal and bodily resurrection of Jesus was Father James Martin, an author, and youth pastor of a house church, Reg Rivett; (b) To promote the symbolic/metaphorical resurrection there were two scholars in the field, Professor Scott Korb and controversial retired Episcopalian bishop, John Shelby Spong.

From this article, it is evident Winston (2014) was pushing an anti-literal resurrection agenda. How do I know? He dealt with the content of the metaphorical or symbolic resurrection by two scholars in the field, Professor Scott Korb and John Shelby Spong, retired bishop. He mentioned 2 supporters of a literal and bodily resurrection, Fr James Martin and a house church youth pastor, but an exposition of the main points by anyone supporting a bodily resurrection was not given. What Reg Rivett said was reasonable, but it did not contain statements of why the literal, bodily resurrection is the interpretation given in the four NT Gospels.

There was not one scholar interviewed or reference made to their publications in support of a literal, bodily resurrection. I’m thinking of George Eldon Ladd (1975), Gary Habermas & Antony Flew (Miethe 1987), Wolfhart Pannenberg (1996), Davis et al (1997), Norman Geisler (1989), and the massive volume of 817 pages on the resurrection of the Son of God by N T Wright (2003). We’ll get to some issues surrounding this perspective below. Some of these scholars are no longer alive (e.g. Ladd, Flew, Pannenberg) but their publications are available. Others mentioned are alive and able to be interviewed (Habermas, Geisler, Davis et al, and Wright). Instead, what was given? There was an interview with Korb and consultation made with Spong’s publication. These are two prominent liberals who support a symbolic metaphorical resurrection and reject Jesus’ miraculous resuscitation after his death (Korb and Spong).

2.2 Resurrection details are invented

What was Korb’s interpretation of the 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’. What has this change from literal to metaphorical understanding done? It has ‘given the story more power’, says Korb.

Where does this meaning of resurrection related to the low parts of our lives and finding a way out come from? Howe do we know Easter is expressed in community and in compassion to others? Who determines that this metaphorical meaning gives the story more power?

According to Spong, the resurrection says ‘Jesus breaks every human limit, including the limit of death, and by walking in his path you can catch a glimpse of that’ (Winston 2014).

I have read the Gospel stories over and over, including the passion-resurrection of Jesus for about 50 years. Not once have I read these details in the Gospel accounts in Matthew 27 and 28; Mark 15 and 16; Luke 23 and 24, and John 19 and 20. Not a word is found in these chapters, along with the resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 to provide anything that looks like Korb’s and Spong’s interpretations of the resurrection. I’ll examine biblical details below.

2.3 Out of a postmodern mind

From where have Korb’s and Spong’s interpretations come? They are inventions out of postmodern minds and creative, free play interpretations. The postmodernists often use the term reader-response as the means of determining the meaning of a text. Thus, the writer of the text does not provide the meaning, according to this view. Instead, as Lois Tyson explains,

Reader-response theorists share two beliefs: 1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and 2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature (Tyson 2015:162).

What is a postmodernist interpretation? It’s a slippery term and the mere task of defining postmodernism violates its own principles. This is my brief definition: Postmodernism is an outlook or perspective that is sceptical about society’s metanarratives and, therefore, attempts to deconstruct them. A metanarrative is an overall, broad view that attempts to explain the meaning of individual or local narratives. A metanarrative or grand narrative (a term used by postmodern developer, Jean-Francois Lyotard), meant an overarching theory that tried ‘to give a totalizing, comprehensive account to various historical events, experiences, and social, cultural phenomena based upon the appeal to universal truth or universal values’ (New World Encyclopedia 2014. s v metanarrative).

Thus if Judaism, Christianity or Islam attempts to offer a “grand” narrative of God’s dealings with the world which provides a frame of reference for understanding “local” (e.g. personal or community) stories of guilt, suffering, redemption, love, joy, folly or whatever, this falls under suspicion as an imperializing instrument for power that is in actuality no less “local” but purports to be the story of the world, an ontology[1] or an epistemology (Thiselton 2002:234).

Postmodernism, a movement since the 1960s-70s, developed amongst challenges to beliefs systems and structures in art, literature, science and other disciplines. It is antagonistic to any fixed interpretation and so promotes freedom which it defines as ‘the freedom to create one’s own values set against submission to an absolute truth, the autonomy of human beings set against obedience to a transcendent God, and the free play of interpretation set against belief in any final, authoritative meaning’ (Ingraffia 1995:6).

Postmodernism deals with stretching the boundaries on interpretations, as seen with the examples by Korb and Spong. A postmodern view is that ‘since interpretation can never be more than my interpretation or our interpretation, no purely objective stance is possible. Granted this conviction about the nature of the interpretive enterprise, philosophical pluralism infers that objective truth in most realms is impossible, and that therefore the only proper stance is that which disallows all claims to objective truth’ (Carson 1996:57).

John Dominic Crossan, a postmodern, historical Jesus scholar associated with the Jesus Seminar, defines postmodernism as an interactive approach: ‘The past and the present must interact with one another, each changing and challenging the other, and the ideal is an absolutely fair and equal reaction between one another’ (Crossan 1998:42). How does that work when applied to Jesus? Crossan’s interpretation of Jesus’ resurrection is parallel with that of Korb and Spong: ‘Bodily resurrection means that the embodied life and death of the historical Jesus continues to be experienced, by believers, as powerfully efficacious and salvifically present in this world. That life continued, as it always had, to form communities of like lives’ (Crossan 1998:xxxi).

Korb and Spong could not have said it better than Crossan’s metaphorical-symbolic view of the resurrection.

2.4 It is deconstructing the biblical text

Korb, Spong and Crossan have deconstructed the biblical text to make it say what it does not say, but what they want it to mean. They have engaged in a core aspect of postmodernism – deconstruction – in which the reader determines the meaning and the writer does not establish the meaning of a text. The intent of the writer’s meaning is not affirmed. Crossan uses the term ‘reconstruction’ for deconstruction, by which he means that ‘something must be done over and over again in different times and different places, by different groups and different communities, and by ever generation again and again and again. The reason, of course, is that historical reconstruction is always interactive of present and past. Even our best theories and methods are still our best ones. They are all dated and doomed not just when they are wrong but especially when they are right’ (Crossan 1999:5, emphasis in original).

So Korb’s statement that Jesus’ resurrection means 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’ is none other than postmodern junk created by Korb himself and it has no relationship to the biblical text. He has invented it out of his own mind. It is a postmodern deconstruction, as is his statement that the Resurrection ‘is expressed in community, and at its best through the compassion of others’. His addition, that the metaphorical resurrection ‘has given the story more power’ is a Korb creative, free play that is in no way related to what is stated in the Gospel texts.

The same applies to Spong’s statements, ‘I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence’ (not his physical body) was manifested to certain witnesses’. The key to Spong’s postmodern reconstruction perspective is in the statement, ‘I think it means….’ Of course he thinks that. It is his postmodern reconstruction and he did not get that meaning from the text of the NT Gospels.

I will be accused of being a literalist in my understanding, but that is what I am. I am a literalist in reading Scripture because that is the only way to obtain meaning for any document read. Imagine reading this statement from the Brisbane Times of 28 March 2016 in a postmodern, reader-response way. The story online states:

A light aircraft has crashed off the runway at Redcliffe Airport at Rothwell.

Emergency services were called at about 12.30pm to reports the two-seater plane had gone off into a ditch off the runway.

A plane lies to the side of a runway at Redcliffe Airport at Rothwell.

Police, fire and ambulance all attended the scene to find everyone had safely gotten out of the aircraft.

It is believed there were only two people on board and that neither passenger received any serious injuries (Brisbane Times 2016).

This means that in spite of apparent affliction, there is hope beyond the difficulties. The salvation received is designed to encourage all who are depressed and feeling down at this Easter time. Rescue the perishing is the theme and meaning of this crash.

If I gave that meaning to this story of a plane crash, only about 10km from where I live, you should take me to the nearest mental health facility for an assessment. However, that’s the type of interpretation that postmodernists like Korb, Spong, Crossan and others do with the biblical text. They deconstruct the metanarrative (failures of mechanical devices) and make them mean whatever they want in a reader-response free play. For Korb and others to interpret the biblical narratives metaphorically as they have, invites other readers like me to deconstruct Korb’s, Spong’s and Crossan’s words in the same way. To do this makes nonsense out of what a person writes. Imagine doing it to Shakespeare’s writings!

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3. The resurrection in the New Testament refutes postmodernism

How do we know that the metaphorical/symbolical resurrection of Jesus is the incorrect one? We go to the Gospel texts and find in his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus:

  • Jesus met his disciples in Galilee with ‘Greetings’ (Matt 28:9);
  • They ‘took hold of his feet’ and Jesus spoke to them (Matt 28:10);
  • ‘They saw him’ and ‘worshiped him’ (Matt 28:17);
  • Two people going to the village of Emmaus urged Jesus to stay with them. ‘He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them’ and their eyes were opened concerning who he was (Luke 24:28-35).
  • Jesus stood among his disciples and said, ‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’ (Luke 24:39).
  • ‘He showed them [the disciples] his hands and his feet’. While they still disbelieved, Jesus asked: “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them’ (Luke 24: 42-43).
  • Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’ and told them that ‘you are witnesses of these things’ – Jesus suffering and rising from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:45-48).
  • Jesus said to Mary [Magdalene], ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”’ (John 20:17);
  • Jesus’ stood among his disciples (the doors were locked) and said to them, ‘”Peace be with you.” When he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord’ (John 20:19-20) and then Jesus breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).
  • Doubting Thomas was told by the other disciples that ‘we have seen the Lord’ but he said, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe’ (John 20:25). Eight days later, Thomas was with the disciples again and Jesus stood among them and said to Thomas, ‘”Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”’ (John 20:27-29).

This string of references from the Gospels (and we haven’t included the plethora of information in 1 Corinthians 15) demonstrates that in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, he demonstrated to his disciples that ‘a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’ (Luke 24:39). There is an abundance of witness here that Jesus’ resurrection was that of a bodily resurrection. His post-resurrection was a body was one that spoke, ate food and could be touched. It was a resuscitated physical body and not some metaphorical/symbolic event.

What Korb and Spong promote is a postmodern, reader-response free play invention, according to the creative imaginations of Korb and Spong. It does not relate to the truth of what is stated in the Gospels of the New Testament.

4. My postmodern reconstruction of Korb & Spong

Since both Korb and Spong rewrite the resurrection of Jesus to replace the bodily resurrection with a metaphorical perspective, what would happen if I read Korb and Spong as they read the resurrection accounts?

Let’s try my free play deconstruction of Korb. According to Winston, Korb said 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’. Korb rejects ‘the miracle of a bodily resurrection’ but this metaphorical resurrection ‘has given the story more power’.

What he means is that when people reach the end of the drought declared outback field, they are about to receive cash from the government as a handout to relieve this sheep-rearing family from the death throws of drought. The resurrection is into new hope for the family and the community of that outback town in Queensland. At Easter, the compassion from the government has reached that community and family. This metaphorical, postmodern, deconstructed story of what Korb said is powerful in giving that town hope for a resurrected future.

That is the meaning of what Easter means to me, as told by Scott Korb. Why should my reconstruction not be acceptable as Korb’s? Mine is my reader-response to Korb’s statement as much as his was of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.

My reader-response is destructive to Korb’s intent in what he said. The truth is that what Korb stated needs to be accepted literally as from him and not distorted like I made his statements. Using the same standards, Korb’s deconstruction of the Gospel resurrection accounts destroys literal meaning. He and I would not read the local newspaper or any book that way. Neither should we approach the Gospel accounts of the resurrection in such a fashion.

Therefore, the biblical evidence confirms that Jesus’ resurrection involved the resuscitation of a dead physical body to a revived physical body.

See my articles that affirm Jesus’ bodily resurrection:

clip_image005 Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection?

clip_image005[1] Can we prove and defend Jesus’ resurrection?

clip_image005[2]Christ’s resurrection: Latter-day wishful thinking

clip_image005[3] The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: The Comeback to Beat Them All

clip_image005[4] Jesus’ resurrection appearances only to believers

 

5. Is belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus necessary for salvation?

 

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(Jesus’ bodily resurrection best explains the data: factsandfaith.com )

Since I have demonstrated from the Gospels that Jesus’ resurrection appearances involved a bodily resurrection, we know this because,

5.1 People touched him with their hands.

5.2 Jesus’ resurrection body had real flesh and bones.

5.3 Jesus ate real tucker (Aussie for ‘food’).

5.4 Take a look at the wounds in his body.

5.5 Jesus could be seen and heard.

There are three added factors that reinforce Jesus’ bodily resurrection. They are:

5.6 The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.

When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament.  There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament.  Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor. 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body (Geisler 1999:668).

In that magnificent passage of I Corinthians 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body?  It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999:668).

5.7 Jesus’ body came out from among the dead

There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12). That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, ‘from the dead’. Not so in the Greek.

This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30).  These same words are used to describe Lazarus being raised ‘from (ek) the dead’ (John 12:1). In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried. Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999:668).

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

5.8 He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.

Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ

appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).

You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers.  Christ ‘appeared’ to whom?  Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul ‘as to one abnormally born’.

The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an ‘appearance or was it actually ‘seeing’ his physical being? These are the objective facts: Christ became flesh; he died in the flesh; he was raised in the flesh and he appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not a form of ‘spiritual’ existence. Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987:728).

No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: ‘After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3).

6. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important?

We must understand how serious it is to deny the resurrection, the bodily resurrection, of Jesus.  Paul told the Corinthians: ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised , our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (I Cor. 15:13-14).

The updated World Christian Encyclopedia, just published by Oxford University Press, says that by midcentury there will be 3 billion Christians, constituting 34.3% of the world´s population, up from the current 33%.

Christians now number 2 billion and are divided into 33,820 denominations and churches, in 238 countries, and use 7,100 languages, the encyclopedia says (Zenit 2001).

If there is no bodily resurrection, we might as well announce it to the world and tell all Christians they are living a lie and ought to go practise some other religion or whoop it up in a carefree way of eating, drinking and being merry.

British evangelist and apologist, Michael Green (b. 1930), summarised the main issues about the bodily resurrection of Christ:

The supreme miracle of Christianity is the resurrection…. [In the New Testament] assurance of the resurrection shines out from every page.  It is the crux of Christianity, the heart of the matter.  If it is true, then there is a future for mankind; and death and suffering have to be viewed in a totally new light.  If it is not true, Christianity collapses into mythology.  In that case we are, as Saul of Tarsus conceded, of all men most to be pitied (Green 1990:184).

7. The bodily resurrection is absolutely essential for these reasons:

7.1 Belief in the resurrection of Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation

Romans 10:9 states: ‘If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’. Salvation means that you are saved from God’s wrath because of the resurrection of Christ. You are saved from hell.

Your new birth, regeneration is guaranteed by the resurrection. First Peter 1:3 states that ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’.

The spiritual power within every Christian happens because of the resurrection. Paul assured the Ephesians of Christ’s ‘incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (Eph 1:19-20).  You can’t have spiritual power in your life without the resurrected Christ.

In one passage, Paul links your justification through faith to the resurrection; he associates directly your being declared righteous, your being not guilty before God, with Christ’s resurrection.  Romans 4:25 states that Jesus ‘was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’.

Your salvation, being born again, justification, having spiritual power in the Christian life depends on your faith in the raising of Jesus from the dead.  Not any old resurrection will do. Jesus’ body after the resurrection was not a spirit or phantom. It was a real, physical body. If you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, on the basis of this verse, you can’t be saved.

Also,

7.2 Christ’s resurrection proves that he is God

From very early in his ministry, Jesus’ predicted his resurrection.  The Jews asked him for a sign. According to John 2:19-21, ‘Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”… But the temple he had spoken of was his body’.  Did you get that?  Jesus predicted that he, being God, would have his body – of the man Jesus – destroyed and three days later, he would raise this body.

Jesus continued to predict his resurrection: ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matt. 12:40).  See also Mark 8:31; 14:59; and Matt. 27:63.

The third reason Christ’s bodily resurrection is core Christianity is:

7.3 Life after death is guaranteed!

Remember what Jesus taught his disciples in John 14:19, ‘Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live’. If you truly have saving faith in Christ, his resurrection makes life after death a certainty.

Another piece of evidence to support the resurrection as a central part of Christianity is:

7.4 Christ’s bodily resurrection guarantees that    believers will receive perfect resurrection bodies as well.

After you die and Christ comes again, the New Testament connects Christ’s resurrection with our final bodily resurrection. First Cor. 6:14 states, ‘By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also’.

In the most extensive discussion on the connection between Christ’s resurrection and the Christian’s own bodily resurrection, Paul states that Christ is ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Cor. 15:20).  What are ‘firstfruits’? It’s an agricultural metaphor indicating the first taste of the ripening crop, showing that the full harvest is coming.  This shows what believers’ resurrection bodies, the full harvest, will be like. The New Living Translation provides this translation of 1 Cor. 15:20 to explain it in down to earth terms, ‘But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died’.

Do you see how critically important it is to have a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s resurrection – his bodily resurrection?

In spite of so many in the liberal church establishment denying the bodily resurrection of Christ or dismissing it totally, there are those who stand firm on the bodily resurrection. Among those is Dr Albert Mohler who provides a summary of 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].

Yet, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been under persistent attacks since the Apostolic age. Why? Because it is the central confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God, and the ultimate sign of Christ’s completed work of atonement, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. Those who oppose Christ, whether first century religious leaders or twentieth century secularists, recognize the Resurrection as the vindication of Christ against His enemies (Mohler 2016).

See my article: What is the connection between Christ’s atonement and his resurrection?

8. Junk from the laity online

About the resurrection, one fellow on a Christian forum wrote:

Personally I believe there needs to be some Biblical criteria and guidelines on this subject before it can be discussed intelligently,… otherwise it is all just personal opinions and we all know in the Greek the word for opinion is heresy.
Before we can discuss resurrection, life needs to be addressed, when we understand the Biblical signification of life and how God intended us to understand it, then the meaning of resurrection can be understood, without the correct understanding of life and its principles resurrection will never be understood.[2]

My response was: ‘Why don’t you start us off with some of the biblical criteria and guidelines that you had in mind? You stated: ‘we all know in the Greek the word for opinion is heresy’. How is it that ‘we all know’? I read and have taught NT Greek and that’s not my understanding of ‘heresy’.[3] This was his reply:

The reason I say, from my rudiment (sic) understanding of Greek, the signification (sic) of heresy is opinion is taken from what Paul says to the Corinthians,
For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. 1 Cor 11:18, 19
Thayer gives the definition of heresy as, choosing, choice, that which is chosen, a body of men following their own tenets (sect or party) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims
Doesn’t that mean heresy can mean, is (sic) an opinion?
Who do we find in the NT that were sects or parties with their different opinions, was it not the Pharisees and the Sadducees?
Is not Paul saying these heresies cause divisions in the Body of Christ?
Since he says there will be heresies, how will we know which to believe, heresy or Truth, how will we know what the Truth is if we don’t examine it under the Light of the Word? Isa 8:20
Since I have tried to explain where I’m coming from in my bumbling way, may I please ask you what is your understanding of heresy?[4]

The ESV translation of 1 Cor 11:18-19 is, ‘For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions [schismata] among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions [haeresis] among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized’. The ESV rightly translates the word ‘heresies’ (KJV) as ‘factions’, which is consistent with the usage given by the Greek lexicons and the context of what was happening in the Corinthian church.

This was my understanding of this issue and I stated it this way:[5] The most authoritative NT Greek lexicon is Arndt & Gingrich and its definition of hairesis (heresy) is ‘sect, party, school (of philosophy)’; it refers to that of the Sadducees (Acts 5:17); later of an ‘heretical sect’; ‘dissension, a faction’ (1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20); ‘opinion, dogma, destructive opinions (2 Pt 2:1)’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:23). Therefore, heresies in the NT refer to sects that promote doctrines and dissension attacking foundational faith of the Christian community, along with destructive opinions. General opinions by human beings in normal conversation are not regarded as heresies. The Greek word, haeresis, is referring to destructive opinions that lead to dissension, with teachings that are contrary to biblical orthodoxy.

A heresy is a teaching that attacks one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith. Harold O J Brown (1984) in his extensive study on Heresies assessed that

“heresy” came to be used to mean a separation or split resulting from a false faith (1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20). It designated either a doctrine or the party holding the doctrine, a doctrine that was sufficiently intolerable to destroy the unity of the Christian church. In the early church, heresy did not refer to simply any doctrinal disagreement, but to something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence. Practically speaking, heresy involved the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Christ – later called “special theology” and “Christology” (Brown 1984:2-3).

So some kind of skirmish or division (schismata), whether that be over baptism, the nature of the Lord’s supper, eschatological differences, or women in ministry would not be regarded as heresy in the early church.

9. Resurrection heresies

Which heresies of the resurrection have been taught historically and on the contemporary scene? Here are a few:

9.1 The Sadducees’ heresy was that this group did not believe in any resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18-27; Acts 23:8);
9.2 David Strauss (1808-1874), a German, liberal Protestant theologian, wrote: ‘We may summarily reject all miracles, prophecies, narratives of angels and demons, and the like, as simply impossible and irreconcilable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events’ (1848, Introduction to The Life of Jesus Critically Examined). Thus, according to Strauss, Jesus’ resurrection would be considered an impossible miracle which could not be harmonised with universal laws.

9.3 Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976), German liberal Lutheran scholar, claimed the resurrection ‘is not an event of past history…. An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable’ (Bultmann, et al:1961,1.8, 39). His anti-supernatural presuppositions prevent his accepting the miraculous bodily resurrection of Jesus.

9.4 It is certain that people in the first century believed in the resurrection, but ‘we can no longer take the statements about the resurrection of Jesus literally…. The tomb of Jesus was not empty, but full, and his body did not disappear, but rotted away’. These authors called this an ‘inevitable conclusion’ because of ‘the revolution in the scientific view of the world’. Thus, all statements about Jesus’ resurrection ‘have lost their literal meaning’ (Lüdemann & ?zen 1995:134-135, emphasis in original). Who said so? This is Lüdemann & ?zen’s imposition of their naturalistic, scientific worldview on the text. It does not relate to what the texts themselves state when interpreted according to normal principles of hermeneutics for reading any document.

9.5 The rejection of Jesus’ bodily resurrection continues to the present. John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar claims that Jesus’ resurrection ‘has nothing to do with a resuscitated body coming out of the tomb’. It was not human flesh that was resuscitated, but ‘bodily resurrection means that the embodied life and death of the historical Jesus continues to be experienced, by believers, as powerfully efficacious and salvifically present in this world’. ‘That life continues, as it has done for two millennia, to form communities of like lives’ (Crossan 1999:46; 1998:xxxi). Thus, there is no physical resurrection in the flesh, but it is a metaphorical understanding of

(a) the presence of salvation in the world that
(b) is powerfully effective, in and through
(c) the community of Christian believers.

There’s plenty of controversy/heresy there to keep us discussing, debating and proclaiming our differences until kingdom come.

9.6 At Easter (25-27 March) 2016, we got this junk from journalist, Nathaneal Cooper of the Brisbane Times: ‘Churches around the region were filled to capacity as the pious mourned the death of Jesus Christ before, according to popular belief, he got up and walked out of his tomb a few days later’ (Cooper 2016).

I call it junk, not to ridicule the person of the journalist, but because it is biased reporting relating to Cooper’s statement, ‘according to popular belief, he [Jesus] got up and walked out of his tomb a few days later’. This is junky theology because,

  • when we compare it with the record of what actually happened according to the record in the Gospels;
  • it amounts to Cooper imposing his presuppositional bias against the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection in his writing for the Brisbane Times;
  • This is not an objective journalist reporting what happened in churches on Good Friday 2016 in Brisbane, Qld., Australia.

10. Is it true that Jesus got up and walked out of the tomb?

Let’s examine the Gospel evidence to consider whether Cooper is accurate in his statement that Jesus ‘got up and walked out of his tomb a few days later’ than his death. Do the Gospels support his claim?

flamin-arrow ‘Now after the Sabbath, towards the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it’ (Matt 28:1-2 ESV). Here the evidence is that of a great earthquake and an angel of the Lord rolling back the stone. It was a supernatural action that removed the stone to Jesus’ tomb.

flamin-arrow This supernatural event was of such trouble to the guard of soldiers and elders in Jerusalem that they invented this story:

‘And when they [some of the guard of soldiers] had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day (Matt 28:12-15 ESV).

flamin-arrow When Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to Jesus’ tomb when the Sabbath had finished (after Christ’s crucifixion), they found the large stone at the entrance of the tomb had been rolled away (Mark 16:1-4). On entering the tomb, a young man dressed in a white robe was sitting in the tomb. His message to the women was, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him’ (Mark 16:5-6). Information from Mark 16:9-20 is not used here as it is not considered to be part of the earliest manuscripts of the NT.[6]

flamin-arrow Luke 24 contains a similar emphasis where the women went to the tomb on the Sunday morning (the day after the Sabbath) and they didn’t find the body of Jesus.

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest (Luke 24:5-9 ESV).

Here is evidence that supernatural events were happening at the time of Jesus’ resurrection, but a journalist dares to state that ‘he [Jesus] got up and walked out of his tomb’. Was this some natural event of Jesus, the dead one, ‘getting up and walking out of the tomb’? Was he not dead? What was really happening on that Easter Sunday in the first century? Acts 1:3 (ESV) records that Jesus ‘presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God’. The infallible proofs included Jesus’ bodily post-resurrection appearances recorded at the end of each of the 4 Gospels.

10.1 Who raised Jesus from the dead?

In the resurrection accounts at the end of each of the four Gospels, this is not stated clearly. However, there is evidence in other portions of Scripture that provide this information.

10.1.1 Remember what Jesus said when he was on earth concerning his own body? According to John 2:19 (NIV), ‘Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”’. So Jesus was prophesying that he would raise his own body. So Cooper is correct in attributing Jesus’ resurrection to Jesus himself, but Cooper left out further information.

10.1.2 Then there is evidence that God raised Jesus’ body. See Romans 10:9 (NIV), ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’. This is further confirmed in 1 Peter 1:21 (NIV), ‘Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God’. So here we have God (often understood as the Trinitarian God) raising Jesus from the dead.

10.1.3 There is evidence that God, the Father, resurrected Jesus. Galatians 1:1 (NIV) states, ‘Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead’. See also Ephesians 1:17-20 (NIV) where Paul speaks of God the Father who had incomparably great power for those who believe, the power ‘he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’.

10.1.4 The third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead according to Rom 8:11 (NIV), ‘And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you’.

Therefore, the Trinitarian God raised Jesus from the dead. All three members of the Trinity were involved. Huston (n d) rightly states that ‘the act of raising Jesus from the dead was not the operation merely of one person within the Trinity but was a cooperative act done by the power of the divine substance. The fact that the Bible teaches that God raised Jesus from the dead and that Jesus raised Himself is yet another testament to Christ’s divinity’.[7]

11. Cooper continues his blunders

Cooper continued his inaccuracies by quoting Catholic Archbishop Coleridge, ‘All the tears of the world are gathered up on Cavalry (sic) and then when Jesus is raised form (sic) the dead we are saying there is something more. That is the genuine hope that satisfies the human heart, not the cosmetic hope that is a dime a dozen.’ (Cooper 2016).

The correct spelling for the hill on which Jesus died is Calvary and NOT Cavalry. A cavalry is ‘the part of an army that in the past had soldiers who rode horses and that now has soldiers who ride in vehicles or helicopters’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary. S v cavalry).

This misspelling is a demonstration of a journalist’s ignorance of the Christian information about Jesus’ death on the most important day of the Christian calendar. Or, it is careless spell checking and a typographical error was included. The latter is a definite possibility as the journalist also wrongly spelled ‘from’ in the statement, ‘… raised form (sic) the dead’.

Cooper’s blunders demonstrate his wanting to rewrite the content of the Gospel narratives on Jesus’ resurrection. He seeks out others like Archbishop Coleridge to confirm his inaccuracies concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Yes, an Archbishop has diverted attention away from the real meaning of the resurrection with his saying that ‘when Jesus is raised form (sic) the dead we are saying there is something more. That is the genuine hope that satisfies the human heart, not the cosmetic hope that is a dime a dozen.’ (Cooper 2016).

12. Genuine hope

What is the ‘genuine hope’ of Jesus’ resurrection? Nothing could be clearer than what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17 (NLT), ‘If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins’. The hope that relates to Christ’s resurrection was not expressed by Archbishop Coleridge in what was cited by Cooper, ‘genuine hope that satisfies the human heart’ and not the cheap cosmetic hope. The latter was not defined. Was it a hope so? The fact is that if there is no bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Christian faith is futile, worthless or useless and all human beings are still in their sins. This means there is no forgiveness and cleansing for sins and so no hope of eternal life with God. It is serious business to deny or reconstruct the resurrection. It is redefining Christianity to make it something that it is not.

First Corinthians 15 (NLT) gives at least 8 reasons why Jesus’ bodily resurrection is more than that expressed in Cooper’s (2016) article:

a. Christ’s resurrection is tied to the resurrection of believers who have died (15:12);

b. If Christ has not been raised, preaching is useless (15:14);

c. If no resurrection, faith is useless (15:14);

d. If Jesus was not resurrected, those who have preached the resurrection are lying about God and the resurrection (15:15);

e. No resurrection of Jesus means faith in Jesus is useless and all unbelievers are still guilty in their sins (meaning there is no forgiveness for sins) (15:17).

f. If Jesus was not raised, those who have already died are lost/have perished and there is no future resurrection for them (15:18).

g. If we have hope in this life only with no hope of future resurrection, Christians are more to be pitied than anyone in the world (15:19).

h. BUT, the truth is that Christ has been raised from the dead (not metaphorically, but bodily), and He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died (15:20).

13. Golgotha or Calvary

clip_image009

(courtesy biblesnet.com, public domain)

The New Testament uses the term Golgotha (see Matt 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17) for the place where Jesus died. Golgotha is the Greek, golgotha, and is based on the Aramaic, gulgata (see Num. 1:2; 1 Chr. 23:3, 24; 2 Kings 9:35), ‘which implies a bald, round, skull-like mound or hillock’.

How did the term, Calvary, come to be identified with Golgotha? Calvary is the Latin name, Calvarius, for Golgotha and it translates the Greek word, kranion (only found in Luke 23:33). Kranion is used to interpret the Hebrew, gulgoleth, ‘the place of a skull’. The Latin name of Calvary, based on the Latin Vulgate translation, which means ‘bald skull’ enters the picture in Luke 23:33. Modern Bible versions use the translation, ‘the Skull’ (ESV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NLT, NAB, NJB, HCSB, NET, ISV, CEB, Darby, WEB). The Wycliffe, Tyndale, King James, and Douay-Rheims versions used ‘Calvary’. However, Golgotha and Calvary refer to the same place. There are two main explanations for the identification of the place of the Skull where Jesus was crucified:

(a) It was a place where regular executions took place and there were many skulls to be seen;

(b) It was a place that looked like a skull and could be viewed from the city (Dingman1967:317).

Where was Golgotha located? The post-apostolic tradition does not agree with the information in the Gospels. Matt 27:33 and Mark 15:22 locate it not far from the city as it required Simon of Cyrene to take the cross (he was compelled) to the place of the Skull, suggesting it was close to the city of Jerusalem. John 19:20 confirms it was close to the city. Dingman stated that it was located outside the city ‘on the public highway, which was the type of location usually chosen by the Romans for executions. Tradition locates it within the present city’ of Jerusalem (Dingman 1967:317). Hebrews 13:11-13 confirms that Jesus died ‘outside the camp’, indicating outside Jerusalem.

The exact site of Calvary is a matter of dispute. Two sites contend for acceptance, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is within the walls of the modern city; and the Green Hill, or Gordon’s Calvary, in which is Jeremiah’s Grotto, a few hundred feet NE of the Damascus Gate. The first is supported by ancient tradition, while the second was suggested for the first time in 1849, although much is to be said in its favor (Tenney, ‘Calvary’, 1967:142).

clip_image011

(Gordon’s Calvary & the garden tomb, courtesy Patheos)

If one is to accept the authority of the Scripture, as I do, then the first suggestion of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the hill of Calgary is rejected because it is within the present city. However, is the present city of Jerusalem located on the same site as that of ancient Jerusalem? The evidence is that this city is

different from most cities that have witnessed great historical events over many successive centuries, Jerusalem has always remained on the same site. Specifically it is located at 31º 46’ 45” N lat., and 35º 13’ 25” long. E of Greenwich. It is situated 33 miles E. of the Mediterranean, and 14 miles W of the Dead Sea, at an elevation of 2,550 feet above sea level (Smith 1967:418).

Therefore, the biblical evidence points to a hill location outside of the city of Jerusalem, known as the Skull (Golgotha, Calvary), as the location of Jesus’ crucifixion near Jerusalem.

Golgotha and Calvary are used as synonymous terms for ‘the place of the skull’, the hill on which Jesus was crucified.

14. Evidence is compelling for Jesus’ supernatural resurrection

Andrina Hanson has summarised the evidence:

The claim by Christian apologists that belief in Jesus’ resurrection is a rational belief can be summed up as follows:

  • There is good reason to believe God exists (source);
  • If God exists, then God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead;
  • The following seven (7) lines of historical evidence demonstrate to a reasonable degree that God did, in fact, raise Jesus from the dead:

I4.1 The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul) (source)

14.2 The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus’ tomb being found empty (source)

I4.3 The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of the transformation in the lives of Jesus’ disciples from fearful fleers to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (source)

I4.4 The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection

I4.5 The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice in that day to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders

I4.6 The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like the resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings

I4.7 The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though Jesus had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders

Over the last 2,000 years, skeptics have proffered various alternative theories to attempt to explain away the historical evidence of Jesus’ supernatural resurrection. However, as discussed in the above-linked articles, Christian apologists maintain none of the proposed naturalistic theories adequately explain the totality of the historical evidence and none of the theories are rationally compelling. Since there is a rational basis for believing God exists (source) and since Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is the one explanation that adequately explains the totality of the historical evidence, Christian apologists maintain there is a reasonable basis for believing God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead as reported by multiple independent sources in the New Testament (Hanson 2014).

15. Conclusion

In §5, §6 and §7 above, the bodily resurrection of Jesus was defended, in opposition to the metaphorical/symbolic view. Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus defended in Scripture is his bodily resurrection. Any other view is an invention – a heresy.

Can you doubt the resurrection and still be Christian? There have been those (as pointed out in this article) who have redefined (deconstructed) the resurrection to make it metaphorical or symbolic. Korb, Spong, Coleridge and Crossan have done that as Christian representatives. Thus they have doubted and denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. Their reconstructions have caused them to engage in a reader-response invention of their own making. They have invented what the resurrection means. It is a meaning out of their own minds and worldview. It is not a perspective based on a historical, grammatical, cultural interpretation of Scripture.

Reasons have been given in this article to demonstrate that a person must believe in the bodily resurrection to receive eternal life. Otherwise faith and preaching are useless; people do not have their sins forgiven, and hope is hopeless (see §7 and §12).

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is our faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God…  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (I Cor. 15:13-15, 17, 19).

The conclusion is that if Jesus has not been bodily resurrected, faith is faithlessness because it is a useless faith. Now to answer the question of this article: Can you doubt the resurrection and still be Christian? No! Your faith is useless or vain if you doubt or reconstruct the bodily resurrection. You may not like my conclusion, but I’ve provided the evidence above that leads to that biblical conclusion.

See my articles on the heresies promoted by retired USA Episcopalian bishop, John Shelby Spong:

clip_image013 Spong promotes salvation viruses called ‘offensive’ and ‘anathema’

clip_image013[1] Spong’s deadly Christianity

clip_image013[2]John Shelby Spong and the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

clip_image013[3] The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong [1]

clip_image013[4] Spong’s swan song — at last! [1]

Bishop John Shelby Spong portrait 2006.png

(John Shelby Spong, photograph courtesy Wikipedia)

16. Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[8] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Brisbane Times 2016. Two-seater aircraft crashes off the runway at Redcliffe (online), 28 March. Available at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/twoseater-aircraft-crashes-off-the-runway-at-redcliffe-20160328-gns9e0.html (Accessed 28 March 2016).

Brown, H O J 1984. Heresies: The image of Christ in the mirror of heresy and orthodoxy from the apostles to the present. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Bultmann, R and five critics 1961. Kerygma and myth. New York: Harper & Row.

Carson, D A 1996. The gagging of God: Christianity confronts pluralism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Cooper, N 2016. Brisbane churches packed for Good Friday services. Brisbane Times (online), 25 March. Available at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/brisbane-churches-packed-for-good-friday-services-20160325-gnr55d.html (Accessed 25 March 2016).

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1999. Historical Jesus as risen Lord, in Crossan, J D, Johnson, L T & Kelber, W H, The Jesus controversy : Perspectives in conflict, 1-47. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

Davis, S; Kendall D; & O’Collins, G (eds) 1997. The resurrection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dingman, B P 1967. Golgotha. In M C Tenney, gen ed, The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 317. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Fee, G. D. 1987, The first epistle to the Corinthians (gen. ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Geisler, N L 1989. The battle for the resurrection. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Geisler, N. L. 1999. Resurrection, Evidence for, in N L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Green, M. 1990. Evangelism through the local Church. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Hanson, A 2014. Is Belief in Jesus’ Supernatural Resurrection Rational? Introduction & Summary of the Evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection. Facts & Faith: The Blog (online), February 27. Available at: http://factsandfaith.com/is-it-rational-to-believe-in-jesus-supernatural-resurrection/ (Accessed 28 March 2016).

Huson, B n d. Did Jesus raise Himself from the grave or did God do it? CARM (online). Available at: https://carm.org/jesus-raise-himself (Accessed 5 February 2017).

Ingraffia, B D 1996. Postmodern theory and biblical theology: Vanquishing God’s shadow. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ladd, G E 1975. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lüdemann, G & ?zen, A 1995. What really happened to Jesus? A historical approach to the resurrection. Tr by J Bowden. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Miethe, T L (ed) 1987. Did Jesus rise from the dead? The resurrection debate: Gary R Habermas & Antony G N Flew. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Mohler, A 2016. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the reality of the Gospel (online), March 25. Available at: http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/03/25/the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ-and-the-reality-of-the-gospel/ (Accessed 28 March 2016).

Pannenberg, W 1996. History and the reality of the resurrection. In G D’Costa (ed), Resurrection reconsidered, 62-72. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications.

Smith, W S 1967. Jerusalem. In M C G Tenney (gen ed), The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 417-427. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Tenney, M C (gen ed) 1967. Calvary. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 142. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Thiselton, A C 2002. A concise encyclopedia of the philosophy of religion. Oxford: Oneworld.

Tyson, L 2015. Critical theory today: A user-friendly guide, 3rd ed. Abingdon, Oxford/New York, NY: Routledge.

Winston, K 2014. Can you question the resurrection and still be a Christian? National Catholic Reporter (from Religion News Service), April 17. Available at: http://ncronline.org/news/theology/can-you-question-resurrection-and-still-be-christian (Accessed 26 March 2016).

Wright, N T 2003. The resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Zenit 2001. World Christianity on the rise in 21st century (online. Available at: https://zenit.org/articles/christianity-on-the-rise-in-21st-century/ Accessed 29 March 2016.)

17. Notes


[1] ‘Ontology denotes the study of being, or of what is’. It is the study of things that exist. So, it appears alongside epistemology which ‘embraces a variety of theories of knowledge…. It includes issues concerning the sources, limits and nature of knowledge, and modes of knowing’ (Thiselton 2002:217-218, 76).

[2] Christian Forums.net 2015. ‘What do we believe about the resurrection?’ Karl#18. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/what-do-we-believe-about-the-resurrection.58279/ (Accessed 19 February 2015). Please excuse the way this poster expressed his views online. Grammar and manner of expression are somewhat informal and idiosyncratic.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[4] Ibid., Karl#22.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#26.

[6] After Mark 16:8, the English Standard Version states, ‘Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20’. Most modern Bible versions contain a similar statement.

[7] These four points are based on the Scriptures provided in a brief article by Brad Huston (n d).

[8] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’, 4th rev and aug ed, 1952 (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 February 2017.

 

 

Jesus’ resurrection appearances only to believers

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

 Free Jesus Clipart

(image courtesy ClipartPal)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Who were those who interacted with the resurrected Christ in his resurrection appearances? Were there any unbelievers among them?

In the Bible study I led on 18 November 2015 here in Brisbane, Qld, a thoughtful believer asked me about Acts 10:41. His question was: Did Jesus only appear to believers between his resurrection and ascension? He mentioned Acts 10:41 as affirming this and he would appreciate my exegetical conclusions about the verse. Acts 10:40-41 states,

‘but God raised him on the third day and caused him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead’ (ESV).

That seems to be a straightforward understanding that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were to ‘us’ who were witnesses chosen by God. These witnesses were those who ate and drank with Jesus, the resurrected One. The ‘us’ includes Peter, the apostle, according to the context in Acts 10:34.

Who saw Jesus after his resurrection?

If we go to the evidence in the Gospels, we find that these are the witnesses who saw Jesus. Troy Brooks summarised the biblical evidence:

Jesus appeared 12 times to different group sizes ranging from just one person to 500 people.

1) Mary Magdalene (Mark 16.9-11; John 20.11-18), Peter in Jerusalem (Luke 24.34; 1 Cor. 15.5), Jesus’ brother (insider skeptic) James (1 Cor. 15.7). “And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any [man]; for they were afraid” (Mark 16.8). Some of the New Testament authors explicitly claimed to be eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (and transfiguration). Peter said, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 2.16). John also said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched…we proclaim to you what we have seen and heard” (1 John 1.1,3).

2) The other women at the tomb (Matthew 28.8-10).

3) The two travelers on the road (Mark 16.12,13; Luke 24.13-34).

4) Ten disciples behind closed doors (Mark 16.14; Luke 24.35-43; John 20.19-25).

5) All the disciples, with Thomas, excluding Judas Iscariot (John 20.26-31; 1 Cor. 15.5).

6) Seven disciples while fishing (John 21.1-14).

7) Eleven disciples on the mountain (Matthew 28.16-20).

8) A crowd of 500 “most of whom are still alive” at the time of Paul writing (1 Cor. 15.6). This may have been the same group as in Matt. 28.16: the rendezvous was to “to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Unlike the other accounts which were unexpected and by surprise, and to gather such a large number of people, this meeting was held outdoors. The women were told to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee as well. “And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted” (Matt. 28.17) may be a reference to many present, both believers and non-believers. Paul had firsthand contact with them. So it was not a legend. He knew some of the people had died in the interim, but most were still alive. He is saying in effect they are still around to be questioned. You can talk to some of the witnesses. He never could have made this challenge if this event had not occurred.

9) “Then to all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15.7) which includes the Twelve plus all the other apostles.

10) Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24.44-49).

11) Those who watched Jesus ascend to heaven (Mark 16.19-20; Luke 24.50-53; Acts 1.3-8).

12) Least of all Paul (outsider skeptic) with others present and as though he was not living in the proper time (1 Cor. 15.8-9; Gal. 1.13-16; Acts 9.1-8, 22.9, read all of chapters 22 and 26; 13.30-37; 1 Cor. 15.10-20; Gal. 2.1-10).[1]

Who could see, touch or eat with the resurrected Jesus?

Let’s work our way through the Gospel verses applicable to this issue:

  •  Matthew 28:9, ‘And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him’ (ESV).
  •  Luke 24:36-43,

‘As they [the 11 disciples and those with them, Lk 24, 33] were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,[2] 43 and he took it and ate before them’ (ESV).

So, Jesus,

  • Stood among the disciples and spoke to them (Lk 24:36). These were believers in Jesus.
  • The disciples thought they saw a spirit (Lk 24:37) but Jesus refuted this idea by appealing to them to ‘see my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see’ (Lk 24:39). His hands and feet would have had the marks of crucifixion in them. Again, we are dealing with disciples.
  • A spirit does not have flesh and bones (Lk 24:39) which Jesus had and was showing them. Again, he was speaking to his disciples.
  • Then he ‘showed them his hands and feet’ (Lk 24:40). Again, they would have the scars of crucifixion on them. Jesus showed his physical features to disciples.
  • Jesus asked for something to eat and they game him broiled fish and perhaps honeycomb (Lk 24:42). The evidence is that ‘he took it and ate’ it in their presence (Lk 24:43). The disciples again were the ‘they’, but they were in disbelieving mode ‘for joy and were marveling’ (Lk 24:41).

Evidence from John’s Gospel includes:

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin,[3] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (ESV)

From this passage in John’s Gospel, who saw the resurrected Jesus?

  • Thomas, the Twin (Didymus), wanted to see the physical evidence of crucifixion in Jesus’ hands and side (Jn 20:24-25).
  • The disciples, including Thomas, were inside when Jesus came and stood among them and spoke to them, ‘Peace be with you’ (Jn 20:26).
  • Jesus said to Thomas to put his finger and hands onto Jesus’ hands and side (Jn 20:28). Thomas’ response was, ‘My Lord and my God!’
  • Jesus told Thomas that he believed because he had physically seen Jesus but people would be blessed if they had not seen the physical Jesus and yet believed (Jn 20:29).

But there is more! John 20:30 says that ‘Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book [of John]’. ‘Signs’, in the Greek, refers to miraculous signs for John and the other Gospel writers. But they ‘selected only a small portion of the miracles’ they knew to record in their Gospels (Carson 1991:661).

R C H Lenski considers that the ‘signs’ of John 20:30 include more than the miraculous and I consider his point is valid. He wrote:

It would be misleading to regard [signs] as in any sense being in contrast with “the words” of Jesus…. The ethical term “signs” always points to what lies back of these signs, what these signs manifest and display to men’s minds and hearts…. It is John’s Gospel in particular which connects the signs with the discourses of Jesus…. “signs,” of course, embraces all the miracles but extends beyond them to every significant action which revealed Jesus. Jesus did these signs “in the presence of his disciples”; the preposition [presence of] is weighty…. John has in mind: in their very presence so that the disciples were able to see them in the most perfect manner…. Jesus had selected the disciples as his chosen witnesses, and his purpose was to have them see his signs so fully as to be able to function as his witnesses indeed (1 John 1:1)….

The term [signs], too, is hardly the one to use if only the appearances are referred to. It fits admirably if John is speaking of the entire Gospel. Furthermore, the phrase “in this book” certainly has in mind the entire “book” not merely its small closing section (Lenski 1943:1394-1395).

Yes, Jesus appeared only to believing witnesses

Concerning the interpretation of Acts 10:41, part of Richard (R C H) Lenski’s commentary is available online HERE. Lenski takes the view that Acts 10:41 teaches that

people, who in spite of all that they had seen and heard of Jesus had, nevertheless, refused to have faith in him, were unfit to be witnesses of his resurrection, and appearance of Jesus to them would have increased their unbelief by that much. God thus chose his own witnesses. The participle states that he selected them with his own hand, for they had to be prepared and qualified properly to attest the resurrection (Lenski 1934:426).

I find Lenski to be a very helpful commentator (you need to know Greek to understand some of his explanations). He was a conservative Lutheran.

What about the witnesses from 1 Corinthians 15?

Take a read of the list of people that Jesus appeared to after his resurrection from 1 Cor 15:4-8 (ESV) and you will find that they were all Christian believers:

  • Cephas (who was one of the 12 disciples) (15:5);
  • The twelve (i.e. 12 disciples) – all believers (15:5);
  • More than 500 brothers and sisters (in Christ), at the same time, and most of these were still alive – so anyone could check with them, the eyewitnesses (15:6);
  • James (15:7), who is probably ‘one of “the brethren of the Lord” (cousins, as we may take it, of the Lord, sons of Clopas and the Virgin’s sister), 9:5, the later permanent head of the congregation at Jerusalem. We have no other record of Christ’s appearance to him. His prominence in the church accounts for the fact that Paul mentions him in this list of witnesses. He ranks next to the apostles themselves, Gal. 1:19’ (Lenski 1937:637). Gordon Fee agrees that ‘this James is the Lord’s brother, who, along with other brothers, “did not believe in him” during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 7:2-9) but who appear with the disciples after the Resurrection. At some early stage he became a leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul’s first contact with him occurred on his first brief visit to Jerusalem as a Christian (Gal. 1:19), in which passage he also refers to James as an “apostle”’ (Fee 1987:731). So here we have James, the Christian believer.
  • ‘To all the apostles’ (15:7), obviously refers to apostles who are believers, but it is perplexing to know which group this refers to. See Fee (1987: 731-732) for an attempt to unravel possible solutions. Fee concludes that these ‘apostles’ included the Twelve but it was a larger group that Paul understood had seen the risen Lord and were commissioned by the risen Lord to proclaim the Gospel and found churches (see 1 Cor 9:1-2) (Fee 1987:732). The facts remain that this larger group of apostles were believers.
  • Then there was the unusual appearance to Paul, as of ‘one untimely born’, ‘least of the apostles’ and ‘unworthy to be called an apostle’ (1 Cor 15:9).

So, all of the people in this list who saw the risen Christ were Christian believers.

Other support for only believers witnessing the risen Jesus

The other verses given to me by the person in the Bible study group were John 14:19, 22, which also point to this understanding. John 14:19 reads, ‘Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live’ (ESV) and John 14:22 states, ‘Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”’ (ESV).

I am blessed to be in a seniors’ Bible study group where people study and think about the Scripture.

Conclusion

In my brief investigations so far, I have concluded that those who witnessed the risen Christ were all Christian believers. They did not see apparitions (i.e. ghostly figures)[4] of the risen Jesus as John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar tries to demonstrate.[5] He explained resurrection as apparition, ‘which involves trance, that altered state of consciousness’ (Crossan 1994:160-161). He used ‘vision and apparition interchangeably’ (Crossan 1999:6).

But, as demonstrated above, these eye-witnesses were exposed to the bodily, resurrected Jesus on earth who could be seen, touched, spoken with, and food could be eaten with him.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1999. Historical Jesus as risen Lord, in Crossan, J D, Johnson, L T & Kelber, W H, The Jesus Controversy : Perspectives in Conflict, 1-47. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

Fee, G D 1987. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The new international commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lenski, R C H 1934. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Lenski, R C H 1937. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1937 and 1963 by Augsburg Publishing House).

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St John’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Notes


[1] Troy Brooks n d. 12 groups saw Jesus resurrected (online). Available at: http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/12groups.htm (Accessed 19 November 2015).

[2] A footnote in the ESV at this point stated, ‘Some manuscripts add and some honeycomb’.

[3] The ESV footnote read, ‘Greek Didymus’.

[4] For a definition of ‘apparition’, see the Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2015. S v apparition. Available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apparition (Accessed 19 November 2015).

[5] My PhD dissertation with the University of Pretoria, South Africa (graduation in 2015) investigated the presuppositions of Crossan around his conclusions concerning Jesus’ resurrection.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 April 2016.

Easter and the end of death

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Vacancy

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

Funerals are generally not our favourite occasions. However, they have a startling way of bringing us face to face with the facts. I attended one following the sudden death of a friend who died at age 50.

I was shocked by my friend’s unexpected departure from this life. At the time I was reading Philip Yancey’s, Where is God when it hurts (1990). Yancey reminded me of therapist,, psychologist and non-Christian, Rollo May’s, observation.

Rollo May visited a monastery at Mt. Athos on a peninsula in Greece. It was there that he visited an all-night Easter celebration in a Greek Orthodox Church. There was a strong smell of incense; the only light was from candles. Then at the climax of the service, the priest gave the familiar Easter proclamation, Christos anesti (which means, ‘Christ is risen’) and the congregation gave the Greek response, ‘Christ is risen indeed!’ Rollo May wrote after this event, ‘I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality: what would it mean for our world if he (Jesus) had truly risen?’ (May 1985:60, cited in Yancey 1990:252).

This is what the women were told when they arrived at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, ‘He is not here; he has risen!’ (Matthew 28:6 NIV).

Easter holds the promise that death is not final. Death is reversible. But there are conditions.

The first Christians were overcome by the impact of Christ’s resurrection. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, ‘If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (1 Corinthians 15:14 ).

When he was Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said that ‘belief in the resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith. It is the Christian faith’ (1992).[1] However the citation seems to have come from Oxford University theologian and Congregationalist minister, John S Whale, who stated: ‘The Gospels do not explain the resurrection; the resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith’.[2]

However, by contrast, another Anglican (Episcopalian) and former Bishop, John S. Spong, gives a contrary view: ‘A deceased man did not walk out of his grave physically alive three days after his execution by crucifixion’ (Spong n d:2).

But how can we know for sure that Christ’s resurrection really happened? There are a number of convincing proofs.

One is that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. This is hardly a story that a conspirator would invent among the Jews of first century A.D.  Besides, the women were ‘afraid yet filled with joy’ (Matthew 28:8).

Like many other things in Jesus’ life, his resurrection drew two responses. Firstly, those who believed were remade and went out to change the world with courage. Secondly, others rejected the powerful evidence.

Jesus predicted this: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

On that first Easter Sunday there was no spectacle like angels singing “The Hallelujah Chorus[3] or kings from foreign lands bringing extravagant gifts.
The circumstances were very ordinary. There was a private, personal meal. Two men were walking along the road to Emmaus. A woman was weeping in the garden and some fishermen were doing their work with nets at the lake. This was unspectacular stuff!

Most remarkable of all was what happened to that timid band of unpredictable followers of Jesus. Of those 11 who deserted Jesus just before his death (one other betrayed him), they were turned into fearless evangelists who became ancient equivalents of Graham Staines.

Staines, born in Palmwoods, Qld. was an Aussie missionary who was burnt to death while he was sleeping with his two sons Timothy (aged 9) and Philip (aged 7) in his station wagon in Orissa, India, in January 1999. Staines went to a martyr’s grave faithfully proclaiming the resurrected Christ.

This is hardly evidence for a fake or myth! But their message was more than just faith in Christ’s great personal comeback, but a hope of reversal of death for all who trust in Christ.

‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor 15:26) was how the apostle Paul put it. Christ’s great comeback guarantees the resurrection for ‘those who belong to him’ (1 Cor 15:23).

Therefore, the Christian believer can have guaranteed hope at death.

Jesus was at the grave of his friend Lazarus before he raised him from the dead. Jesus’ own words are: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26).

British agnostic journalist, Frank Morison, set out to show that the resurrection was a gigantic myth – falsehood. The evidence for Christ’s return from death so overwhelmed him that he wrote a very different conclusion that has become a classic, Who Moved the Stone?

Risen Indeed

ChristArt

Works consulted

Carey, G 1992. London Times, April 19.

May, R 1985. My quest for beauty. Dallas, TX: Saybrook Publishing Co Inc.

Spong, J S n d. Resurrection – Myth or reality? Beliefnet (online). Available at: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2001/04/Resurrection-Myth-Or-Reality.aspx?p=2 (Accessed 18 December 2013).

Yancey, P 1990. Where is God when it hurts? Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Notes:


[1] This article claims that the George Carey quote came from The London Times, April 19, 1992: http://www.riversoflife.co.uk/index.php/teachings/22-resurrection-evidence/113-resurrection-evidence-index. However, I have not been able to locate the quote in The London Times.

[2] This quote is located in many places on the Internet but I have not been able to find its exact location from John S. Whale’s writings. See the article, ‘John S. Whale, 100, Theologian And Congregational Historian’ at: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/22/nyregion/john-s-whale-100-theologian-and-congregational-historian.html (Accessed 18 December 2013). Whale died in 1997 in Scotland. This brief article stated: ‘Dr. Whale studied history and also trained for the ministry at Oxford University. He became Mackennal Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford, was awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity from Glasgow University and held other educational and religious posts in Britain’.

[3] This is The Royal Choral Society: ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah.

 
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Can we prove and defend Jesus’ resurrection?

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Vacancy

(image courtesy ChristArt )

By Spencer D Gear

A person on a Christian forum asked: ‘Can we prove the Resurrection? Should we stop trying to prove Christianity?’[1] Here are a couple responses:

  • ‘Prove it through your faith more so than in word or doctrines’.[2]
  • ‘What is the significance of Paul not talking about the empty tomb?’[3]
  • ‘Do you realize that the word resurrection literally (anastasis neckron) means “a standing up of the corpse”? Paul and every gospel writer uses this very specific term. There was no doubt that this was not the result of an evolution but the testimony held to since the beginning.’[4]
  • ‘Actually, without testimony, evidence is meaningless. You either believe the witnesses or you don’t. Those who wrote about Jesus are credible’.[5]

Defending the resurrection as history

My response was as follows:[6]

Have you read the chapter, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ in William Lane Craig’s book on apologetics (Craig 1994:255-298)? After finishing his PhD in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, UK, Craig studied the resurrection of Christ under one of the leading defenders of the bodily resurrection of Christ in Europe, Wolfhart Pannenberg, in Germany. He completed a ThD under Pannenberg at the University of Munich, with the major topic being the resurrection of Jesus.

clip_image002

(Image courtesy Crossway Books)

He does not follow the traditional approach to the defense of the resurrection because of the advance of biblical criticism and the tide of subjectivism that is invading the culture and the church. The traditional approach is the historical apologetic for the resurrection. The outline is (from Craig 1994:256-265):

A. The Gospels Are Authentic

  1. Internal evidence;
  2. External evidence;

B. The Text of the Gospels Is Pure

C. The Gospels Are Reliable

1. Apostles neither deceivers nor deceived;

2. The origin of Christianity proves the resurrection

Three resurrection facts: A response with more impact

His view is that the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus seems to rest on ‘three great, independently established facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith (1994:272). Here is the broad outline that he defends in this chapter (you will be doing yourself a favour if you read the entire chapter). See Craig (1994:272-298) for the following outline:

William Lane Craig, (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

A. The Fact of the Empty Tomb

  1. The historical reliability of the story of Jesus’ burial supports the empty tomb;
  2. Paul’s testimony implies the fact of the empty tomb;
  3. The empty tomb story is part of Mark’s source material and is therefore very old;
  4. The phrase “The First Day of the Week” is very ancient;
  5. The story is simple and lacks legendary development;
  6. The tomb was probably discovered empty by women;
  7. The disciples could not have preached the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty;
  8. The earliest Jewish propaganda against the Christians presupposes the empty tomb;

B. Explaining the Empty Tomb

  1. Conspiracy theory;
  2. Apparent death theory;
  3. Wrong tomb theory;

C. The Fact of the Resurrection Appearances

  1. Paul’s testimony proves the disciples saw appearances of Jesus;
  2. The Gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances are historically reliable;
  3. The resurrection appearances were physical, bodily appearances.

D. Explaining the Resurrection Appearances

‘If one denies that Jesus actually rose from the dead, then he must try to explain away the resurrection appearances psychologically. It has been asserted that the appearances were merely hallucinations on the part of the disciples. But the hallucination theory faces formidable difficulties’ (Craig 1994:287).

  1. The theory cannot account for the physicality of the appearances;
  2. The theory cannot plausibly account for the number and various circumstances of the appearances;
  3. The theory cannot account for the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection;
  4. The theory fails to explain the full scope of the evidence.

E. The Fact of the Origin of the Christian Faith
F. Explaining the Origin of the Disciples’ Belief in Jesus’ Resurrection

  1. Not from Christian influences;
  2. Not from pagan influences;
  3. Not from Jewish influences;
  4. Translation versus resurrection.

Craig uses the same historical criteria of other historians to establish his case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus:

  1. Multiple attestation;
  2. Dissimilarity;
  3. Embarrassment;
  4. Context and expectation;
  5. Effect;
  6. Principles of embellishment;
  7. Coherence.

Bill Craig is here using C Behan McCullagh’s (1984) seven criteria for testing an historical hypothesis and applies them to the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.

  1. The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data.
  2. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses.
  3. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power than rival hypotheses.
  4. The hypothesis must be more plausible than rival hypotheses.
  5. The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than rival hypotheses.
  6. The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than rival hypotheses.
  7. The hypothesis must so exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2) – (6) that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis exceeding it in meeting these problems.

One of Craig’s concluding statements to the chapter is from his mentor Wolfhart Pannenberg:

clip_image004

(photo of Wolfhart Pannenberg, courtesy Wikipedia)

The resurrection of Jesus acquires such decisive meaning, not merely because someone or anyone has been raised from the dead, but because it is Jesus of Nazareth, whose execution was instigated by the Jews because he had blasphemed against God. If this man was raised from the dead, then that plainly means that the God whom he had supposedly blasphemed has committed himself to him…. The resurrection can only be understood as the divine vindication of the man whom the Jews had rejected as a blasphemer (in Craig 1994:298).

I know that this has been a somewhat heavy outline to defend the historical resurrection of Jesus, but I found William Lane Craig’s argument convincing for the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

If you want a simpler version of this material, there is a chapter on the resurrection of Jesus in William Lane Craig’s 2012 book for the laity, On Guard: Defending your faith with reason and precision. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

I hope I haven’t given too much information about how a Christian can defend the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus.

‘If one denies that Jesus actually rose from the dead, then he must try to explain away the resurrection appearances psychologically. It has been asserted that the appearances were merely hallucinations on the part of the disciples. But the hallucination theory faces formidable difficulties’ (Craig 1994:287).

An online chapter dealing with Christ’s resurrection, by William Lane Craig, is available as, ‘Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?’ (in Wilkins & Moreland 1995:141-176).

References

Craig, W L 1994. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

McCullagh, C B 1984. Justifying Historical Descriptions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilkins, M J & Moreland, J P (eds) 1995. Jesus Under Fire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums.com, Christian Apologetics, ‘The resurrection of the Christ’, Denmark#1, 28 October 2012. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7697436/ (Accessed 28 October 2012).

[2] Ibid., Forge2#7.

[3] Ibid., Clare73#8.

[4] Ibid., pshun240#9.

[5] Ibid., jdbear#10.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 February 2017.

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Can Jesus Christ’s resurrection be investigated as history?

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Vacancy

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon for some to say that Jesus’ resurrection cannot be investigated as history because nobody was there to see the actual resurrection.

Please follow this discussion I had on Christian Forums with Armistead14. I’m OzSpen. Armistead14 wrote, ‘I like theology, I believe in it, but I know it’s not science or history’.[1] My response was, ‘So was Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in history or not? Can the discipline of historiography be used to investigate the actions of Jesus or not?’[2] His reply was:

Certainly historiography {I assume you mean the bible} can be used in reference to his life, possibly death, but not the resurrection. The question remains what are the historical sources. The Gospels were written 35 to 65 years after Jesus’ death, not by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, not by people who were eyewitnesses, but by people living later. The Gospels were written by highly literate, trained, Greek-speaking Christians of the second and third generation. They’re not written by Jesus’ Aramaic-speaking followers. Also, the Gospels terribly contradict the death and ressurection (sic) process. Now, this may not be a problem with theology, but it certainly raises historic issues. Yes, we have other later secular sources and beliefs, but none prove historically that Jesus was in fact dead or his resurrection.
Certainly, you can’t use historical sources to prove the resurrection, that is theology, it is an act of God, one we accept based on faith.[3]

My response was, ‘Your statements are loaded with your presuppositions. I don’t have the time to challenge them at this point. Richard Bauckham has challenged your view on eyewitnesses in his magisterial publication, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans 2006)’.[4]

He came back: ‘I’ve actually read it, but I still find it based on theology and it’s historical aspects lacking authority. We have several “saviors” in history that had followers claim they rose from the dead. Apillonius (sic) appeared to his followers after his death, do you believe their historical accounts? Anyway, take care until later’.[5]

I also stated:

Don’t you understand how dishonest this is? Luke’s Gospel directly contradicts your view on eyewitnesses as Luke tells us from where he obtained his information in Luke 1:1-4 and that incorporates

‘those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word’ (Luke 1:2 ESV). What causes you to create your own information when the Gospel of Luke directly contradicts you?

In addition, John makes it very clear who wrote his Gospel. John the apostle is identified in John 21:20-23 and then John, the writer of the Gospel states, ‘This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true’ (John 21:24 ESV).

I find your explanations to be as misleading as some of the theological liberals I am currently reading with regard to the content of the Gospels (Crossan, Borg, Mack, Funk and the Jesus Seminar).

Why are you pumping this scepticism out on this Forum? Your assertions, without proof, amount to nothing more than your opinion.[6]

I asked him at another point, ‘So are you trying to convince me that Apollonius of Tyana is on the same level as Jesus Christ as Saviour and provided eternal salvation for you and me? Or are you yodelling?’[7] His reply was that ‘No, I’m saying how can you prove or disprove the claim of his followers that he rose from the dead. The question is one of historical claim, not based on faith’.[8] I replied:

So have you used the criteria of historicity to examine the claims of the historicity of the resurrection of Apollonius of Tyana to determine that they are equal to or superior to the claims for the historicity of the Gospel records?

We use the criteria of historicity to determine the reliability of a historical claim. Down through the years, a number of researchers have used these criteria to demonstrate the reliability of the Gospels. One example is Craig Blomberg, a solid historian and NT researcher, in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (1987, IVP).

You are sounding more and more like a cynic towards the historicity of the NT Gospels. The facts are that Jesus was crucified, buried in a tomb, the tomb was empty on the Sunday morning, and then Jesus appeared alive and talking to people. Are you doubting this sequence?[9]

Armistead14’s response was:

I don’t doubt it based on theology and faith. I can accept the historical validation that Christ existed and died, but the resurrection is theology, not historical fact. God raising Christ is a miracle, they’re are no historical validation test to prove miracles.[10]

How does one reply to the claim that the resurrection is theology, not history, and there is not a historical way to test if miracles happened? This was my response:

You are providing your positivist bias that has been followed by some historians who have attempted to investigate Christ’s resurrection historically. You say that Christ’s resurrection is theology and you reject the resurrection as “historical fact” (your language).

Tom (N T) Wright in his massive historical investigation of the resurrection (2003) has refuted your kind of positivistic thinking . Wright, writing of a positivist historian (Marxen), stated:

‘In standard positivist fashion, it appears to suggest that we can only regard as “historical” that to which we have direct access (in the sense of “first-hand witness accounts” or near equivalent). But, as all real historians know, that is not in fact how history works. Positivism, is, if anything, even less appropriate in historiography than in other areas. Again and again the historian has to conclude, even if only to avoid total silence, that certain events took place to which we have no direct access but which are the necessary postulates of that to which we do have access. Scientists, not least physicists, make this sort of move all the time; indeed, this is precisely how scientific advances happen [he cited Polkinghorne 1994; Alden Smith]. Ruling out as historical that to which we do not have direct access is actually a way of not doing history at all’ (Wright 2003:15-16).

Wright cites Via (2002:82), saying that Via

is right to say that history moves from fragmentary evidence to full-blown reconstruction, but wrong to imply that this takes place in a kind of neutral zone free from all theological or religious presuppositions (Wright 2003:16, n. 30).

Are you telling me that an examination of historicity of an incident does not include interpretation, including theological? It is common in historical assessment to know that a record of an historical incident also includes interpretation of that incident.

As to the resurrection of Christ, while nobody was there to see the actual resurrection, there is enough evidence from the historicity of Christ’s death and being placed in the tomb, an empty tomb on the first day of the week, and the resurrection appearances of Christ to people, to conclude that he was raised from the dead.
Your view that there is “no historical validation test to prove miracles” is a positivistic statement for which there is the above rebuttal.[11]

Prior to this last post, he wrote:

For instance, all the differing stories about the women at the tomb. The woman at the tomb purchased spices in anticipation of annointing (sic) a dead body, not finding a resurrected man, but this is obvious foolish, why would they expect they could put spices on a body in a tomb whose covering stone they couldn’t remove? This makes no sense to me. The visit of the women looks like literary invention designed to create witnesses to the Empty Tomb. Maybe this is why we have so much confusion between the gospels regarding which women, number of women, what time of day, numerous issues.

The problem is all these issues make possible eyewittnesses (sic) impossible to historically validate with any probability.[12]

Here he is on his positivist bandwagon again. If we required eyewitnesses to every historical event, we would give up writing history as Tom Wright has clearly stated. This was his response:

Wright is a NT conservative scholar, not an historian, although I would imagine he has some training in the field, but like Craig he wants to insert theology as proof, that is worse than Positivism.

Positivism states that the only authentic knowledge is that which allows positive verification. It is more a belief that a model. I think you misunderstand how modern historians work. Historians for the most part

NEVER claim absolute knowledge or verification, they work based on probabilities. Historians can deem what probably happened. Sure, the more authentic info you have, the higher the probability an event happened. Compare Julius Caesar, we have a mass of real information from a mass of unbiased sources. Historians can pretty much positively agree Caesar existed. Compare that to Socrates, historians can’t say with high probability he existed.

Science and history validation use different methods for validation, not sure what your point is. Science can test over and over, history cannot. Historians can only study the people and their beliefs. Historians will use all info, including the bible, but they look for consistency to a story, if the story is full of contradictions, then they often conclude a story was made up, so the event may not have happened. For instance, the example I gave of the women coming to prepare Christ body with spices, but the tomb was sealed. It would take many men, tools and animals to unseal the tomb. The story makes no sense, so historians would dismiss these women as witnesses.

Certainly historians consider theology of the people, but to study the actual people. Again, numerous beliefs have the same claim as Christianity, risen saviors, miracles, etc. The most history can do is prove that the people existed and believed what they did. Just because a group believes something, that doesn’t make it true. If that were the case all religions could be claimed truth.

Do you know of one scientific or historic validation test you could use to prove a past miracle such as the resurrection?[13]

I replied:

N T Wright, as a NT scholar, has to deal with history. He provided historical information that refutes your positivistic view.

Nowhere have I ever stated that historians seek absolute knowledge. NEVER. Please do not try to put words in my mouth. That is a false accusation against me.

His words were, “Do you know of one scientific or historic validation test you could use to prove a past miracle such as the resurrection?” That’s your positivism again! You can’t get around the fact that historians have done this for years and years but reporting things for which there have been no direct eyewitnesses, but the evidence surrounding the situation leads to historical probability.

You are on your one-way track and you do not want to apply what Wright has stated about historicity and verification when there are no eyewitnesses.

This is an example of your bias when you state: “Compare Julius Caesar, we have a mass of real information from a mass of unbiased sources”.

ZERO historical sources are unbiased. You are living in unhistorical fairyland if you want unbiased sources.[14]

Australian historian and exegete, Dr. Paul Barnett[15], in his publication, Jesus & the rise of early Christianity, after doing the research for his book, stated:

I express my surprise at the degree to which the story of the New Testament can be recovered by standard methods of research and analysis even though the whole narrative, of course, is lost to us forever because of the unbridgeable distance of time and culture that separates us from those critical decades of the first century that witnessed the rise of Christianity (Barnett 1999:10).

An ancient historian deals with Jesus’ resurrection and miracles

At the time he wrote the following, Dr. Paul Barnett was a visiting fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Barnett was also the evangelical former Anglican bishop of North Sydney, Australia. Barnett (1999:22-23) wrote about ‘history and myth’ as he examined the New Testament:

book cover

InterVarsity Press

Are miraculous events within the New Testament to be understood as historical or as mythological? If it is understood as historical, are such miraculous events to be given the same factual weight as are the nonmiraculous events in the New Testament? For example, are we to regard as equally factual Jesus’ journey to the lakeside and the feeding of the five thousand after he arrived there?

Were all miracles in the Gospels, the book of Acts and the letters (Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12) to be regarded as mythological, whether in line with Jewish or Greco-Roman myths? Alternatively, was there a small core of miracle-events to which many others have been added in embellishment? Or did Jesus perform acts that at that time were genuinely regarded as miracles but that people today would explain in more naturalistic ways?

First, any inquiry into this subject must begin as a historical investigation. Pannenberg’s remark about the resurrection of Jesus applies also to miracles. ‘Whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead is a historical question insofar as it is an inquiry into what did or did not happen at a certain time’ [Pannenberg 1967:128].

This inquiry in turn depends on a number of factors. How many and of what quality are our historical sources and how uncorrupted have they remained through the intervening years? What is their character? Are they intentionally written as history, or, to be preferred, is their information incidental and gratuitous to other authorial intent? How extensive is the accompanying detail of person, time and place? Can the sources reliability be crosschecked at other points? In short, the same investigative methodology ought to be applied to Jesus and the rise of early Christianity as to Alexander the Great and the eastward spread of Hellenism.

Next, miraculous events should be reflected upon in terms of stereotypicality or originality. If the details are similar to the stock-in-trade descriptions within existing contemporary mythological genres of that culture, serious questions will arise. On the other hand, if the accounts are atypical, the possibility of historicity is enhanced. Thus, for example, if the miracles of Jesus were described in the same terms as the miracles of Jewish “holy men” like Hanina ben Dosa and Honi “the circle-drawer,” there would be some cause for critical caution regarding the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ miracles. In our view, however, this is not the case. The Jewish hasids Hanina and Honi are portrayed as merely devout individuals within the Judaism of their repective (sic) times. By contrast, Jesus is presented as the intensely intentional fulfiller of the end-time purposes of God.

Only when the question of historical probability is determined does it become a philosophical issue.[16] Do I believe in a supernatural being who is capable of intruding his will into the otherwise “natural” appearance of the course of events? If my answer is negative, then I will dismiss the miracles in the New Testament as unhistorical and account for them in terms of myth. On the other hand, if my response is positive, then I may well conclude that the strength of historical evidence demands acceptance of the historicity of the events.

The view taken by this author is that the miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed. Those authors were convinced of the truth of the miracles and wrote their accounts out of that conviction. Those accounts, when subjected to the tests of rigorous historical inquiry, stubbornly resist our efforts to discredit and remove them.

‘For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (2 Pet. 1:16).

For a useful discussion on ‘Jesus and the practice of history’, see Barnett (1997:15-28).

Note the emphasis by Dr. Paul Barnett, an ancient historian, when he stated that

the view taken by this author is that the miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed. Those authors were convinced of the truth of the miracles and wrote their accounts out of that conviction. Those accounts, when subjected to the tests of rigorous historical inquiry, stubbornly resist our efforts to discredit and remove them (1999:23).

Professor of history, Dr. Earle E. Cairns, wrote:

Rationalists and empiricists have denied their possibility [the miracles of Christ] and have sought to explain them by natural law or to explain them away as myths. The latter necessarily involves a denial of the records as historical. Miracles may be defined as phenomena not explicable by known natural law but wrought by a special intervention of Deity for moral purposes.

The possibility and probability of miracles is demonstrated by the supernatural, creative Christ and by the existence of historical records that give accounts of such miracles as historical facts. The person and work of Christ received authentication in the eyes of many in His day because of the miracles He wrought (Cairns 1981:52)

Eminent professor of church history, Philip Schaff, has assessed the historical understanding of the resurrection of Christ:

The Historical view, presented by the Gospels and believed in the Christian church of every denomination and sect. The resurrection of Christ was an actual though miraculous event, in harmony with His previous history and character, and in fulfilment of His own prediction. It was a re-animation of the dead body of Jesus by a return of His soul from the spirit-world, and a rising of body and soul from the grave to a new life, which after repeated manifestations to believers during a short period of forty days entered into glory by ascension to heaven….

Truth compels us to admit that there are serious difficulties in harmonizing the accounts of the evangelists, and in forming a consistent conception of the nature of Christ’s resurrection body…. But these difficulties are not so great as those which are created by a denial of the fact itself. The former can be measurably solved, the latter cannot (Schaff 1882:109-110).

These historians affirm the historicity of Christ’s resurrection and miracles. They can be examined with the normal means of historical investigation. We can say, as an extension of Pannenberg’s understanding, that whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead, whether or not Jesus and others performed miracles, with these matters we are dealing with a historical question if we are examining what did or did not happen at a certain time in human history.

This is not to say that there may not be some difficulties in examining this historical data, but, as Paul Barnett has stated above, ‘Miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed’ (Barnett 1999:23).

References

Barnett, P W 1997. Jesus and the logic of history. Leicester, England: Apollos (Inter-Varsity Press).

Barnett, P 1999. Jesus & the rise of early Christianity. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Pannenberg, W 1967. The revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, in J M Robinson & J B Cobb (eds), New frontiers in theology, vol 3, 101–33. New York: Harper and Row.

Schaff, P 1882. History of the Christian church (online), vol 1, CCEL. Available at: http://www.whitehorsemedia.com/docs/HISTORY_OF_THE_CHRISTIAN_CHURCH_01.pdf (Accessed 20 July 2012).

Via, D O 2002. What is New Testament theology? Minneapolis: Fortress.

Wright, N T 2003. The resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘William Laine Criag (sic)’, Armistead14 #49, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7685885-5/ (Accessed 22 September 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #50.

[3] Ibid., Armistead14 #51.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #52.

[5] Ibid., Armistead14 #53.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen #62.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen #57.

[8] Ibid., Armistead14 #58.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen #61.

[10] Ibid., Armistead14 #75.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen #98.

[12] Ibid., Armistead14 #97.

[13] Ibid., Amistead14 #99.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen #103.

[15] The rear cover of this publication states that at the time of its writing, ‘Paul Barnett is Anglican bishop of North Sydney, Australia, visiting fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and research professor at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia’.

[16] At this point Barnett’s footnote states, ‘For useful discussion on miracles and history, with particular but not exclusive interest in the resurrection of Jesus, see Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans 1993), pp. 1-42’ (Barnett 1999:26, n. 41).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 March 2017.

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What is the connection between Christ’s atonement and his resurrection?

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

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ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

Is it too much to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is closely linked to his atonement for sin to provide salvation for Christians and that the resurrection of Jesus is critical to our understanding of Christ’s passion?

Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, wrote:

Peter says that “we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).  Here he explicitly connects Jesus’ resurrection with our regeneration or new birth.  When Jesus rose from the dead he had a new quality of life, a “resurrection life” in a human body and human spirit that were perfectly suited for fellowship and obedience to God forever.  In his resurrection, Jesus earned for us a new life just like his.  We do not receive all of that new “resurrection life” when we become Christians, for our bodies remain as they were, still subject to weakness, aging, and death.  But in our spirits we are made alive with new resurrection power.  Thus it is through his resurrection that Christ earned for us the new kind of life we receive when we are “born again.”  This is why Paul can say that God “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him” (Eph 2:5-6; Col 3:1). When God raised Christ from the dead he thought of us as somehow being raised “with Christ” and therefore deserving of the merits of Christ’s resurrection. Paul says his goal in life is “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection….” (Phil. 3:10). Paul knew that even in this life the resurrection of Christ gave new power for Christian ministry and obedience to God (Grudem 1994:614).

Isn’t that a delightful summary of how the Christian’s atonement is associated with Christ’s death and resurrection?

A false view of Jesus’ resurrection

But does the nature of Jesus’ resurrection matter? Will John Dominic Crossan’s view (he’s a member of the Jesus Seminar) of the resurrection be adequate for the biblical understanding of Christ’s resurrection? Here are a few samples of Crossan’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection:

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John Dominic Crossan: Wikipedia

  1. ‘Mark created the empty tomb story, just as he created the sleeping disciples in Gethsemane’ (1995:184).
  2. ‘The authorities know and quote Jesus’ own prophecy that he would rise on the third day. That prophecy is mate to the disciples [Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33;  Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19]…. The authorities do not necessarily believe Jesus’ prophecy, but they fear the disciples my fake a resurrection. Therefore, no guard is necessary because Jesus will have been proved wrong (1995:180).
  3. ‘The risen apparitions in the gospels [i.e. the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection] have nothing whatsoever to do with ecstatic experiences or entranced revelations. Those are found in all the world’s religions, and there may well have been many of them in earliest Christianity…. I do not find anything historical in the finding of the empty tomb, which was most likely created by Mark himself…. The risen apparitions are not historical events in the sense of trances or ecstasies, except in the case of Paul’ (1995:208).
  4. ‘It never occurs to Paul [1 Cor. 15] that Jesus’ resurrection might be a special or unique privilege given to him because he is Messiah, Lord, and Son of God. It never occurs to Paul that Jesus’ case might be like the case of Elijah….. Risen apparitions are, for Paul, not about the vision of a dead man but about the vision of a dead man who begins the general resurrection. It is, in other words, an apparition with cosmically apocalyptic consequences…. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul begins by enumerating all the apparitions of the risen Jesus…. The Corinthians know all about visions and apparitions and would not dream of denying their validity’ (1998:xix, xxviii)

Instead, it is Crossan’s view that is the mythical one. To counter such a view, see, ‘The myth of the metaphorical resurrection: A critical examination of John Dominic Crossan’s methodology, presuppositions and conclusions’ (Anderson 2011).

What really happened at the resurrection of Jesus?

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ChristArt

It is very easy to show from the Scriptures that Christ rose from the dead in a physical body.  Let’s look at the evidence (based on Geisler 1999, pp. 667-668):

1. People touched him with their hands.

Jesus’ challenge to Thomas in John 20:27 was: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  How did Thomas respond, “My Lord and My God” (20:28).

Jesus said to Mary as she grasped him, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”  Matthew 28:9 tells us that the women “clasped his feet and worshiped him.”

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, what did Jesus say?  Luke 24:39, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (ESV). does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Do we need any further evidence that Jesus had real human flesh after his resurrection?

2. Jesus’ resurrection body had real flesh and bones.

The verse that we have just looked at gives some of the most powerful evidence of his bodily resurrection: “Touch me and see; a [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Lk. 24:39) and to prove that he really did have a real body of flesh and bones, what did he do?  According to Luke 24:41-42, Jesus “asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’  They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”  Folks, spirits or spiritual bodies do not eat fish.

Third piece of evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Christ:

3. Jesus ate real tucker (Aussie for “food”).

As we’ve just seen, they gave him “broiled fish” to eat.  He ate real food on at least 3 occasions, eating both bread and fish, (Luke 24:30, 41-43; John 21:12-13).  Acts 10:41 states that Jesus met with witnesses “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

That sounds clear to me.  Jesus ate food after his resurrection.  People in real bodies eat real food.

A fourth proof that Jesus was raised in his physical body:

4. Take a look at the wounds in his body.

This is proof beyond reasonable doubt.  He still had the wounds in his body from when he was killed.  John 20:27, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’”

When Jesus ascended, after his resurrection, the Bible records, “This same Jesus [ie this divine-human Jesus], who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
There’s a fifth confirmation of his bodily resurrection:

5. Jesus could be seen and heard.

Yes, Jesus’ body could be touched and handled.  But there is more!

Matthew 28:17 says that “when they saw [horao] him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” On the road to Emmaus, of the disciples who were eating together, Luke 24:31 states, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”  The Greek term “to recognize” [epiginosko] means “to know, to understand, or to recognize”  These are the normal Greek words “for ‘seeing’ (horao, theoreo) and ‘recognizing’ (epiginosko) physical objects” (Geisler 1999, pp 667-668).

Because Jesus could be seen and heard as one sees and recognises physical objects, we have further proof that Jesus rose bodily.

Sixth:

6. The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.

When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament.  There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament.  Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor. 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body” (Geisler 1999, p. 668).

In that magnificent passage in I Cor. 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body?  It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999, p. 668).  We’ll get to that in a moment.

There’s a 7th piece of evidence in support of bodily resurrection:

7. Jesus’ body came out from among the dead

There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12).  That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, “from the dead.” Not so in the Greek.

This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30).  These same words are used to describe Lazarus’s being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1).  In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried.  Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999, p. 668).

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

8. He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.

Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ

appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul]also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).

You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers.  Christ “appeared” to whom?  Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul “as to one abnormally born.”

The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an “appearance” or was it actually “seeing” his physical being?  These are the objective facts: Christ became flesh, he died in the flesh, he was raised in the flesh and he appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.

The resurrection of  Jesus from the dead was not a form of “spiritual” existence.  Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987, p. 728).

No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

See also my articles on Christ’s resurrection:

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(Courtesy ChristArt)

References

Anderson, T J 2011. The myth of the metaphorical resurrection: A critical examination of John Dominic Crossan’s methodology, presuppositions and conclusions, PhD dissertation, May. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, available at: http://digital.library.sbts.edu/bitstream/handle/10392/2847/Anderson_sbts_0207D_10031.pdf?sequence=1 (Accessed 9 May 2012).

Crossan, J D 1995. Who killed Jesus? New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G. D. 1987, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (gen. ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Geisler, N. L. 1999, ‘Resurrection, Evidence for’, in Norman L. Geisler 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of  Christian Apologetics, Baker
Books, Grand Rapid, Michigan.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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Whytehouse Designs

 

Christ’s resurrection: Latter-day wishful thinking

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Worm and Lace

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

“Pastor, I don’t know what to believe about Christ anymore. I’ve just read a leading magazine and I now believe that you and my Christian parents have not been telling the truth about what happened to Jesus at the cross.” These words from a disillusioned 23-year-old in your church might knock the spiritual wind out of your theological sails. They did for me when a bright young Christian openly confessed this.

He had been reading Time magazine which stated that what happened to Jesus, as told in the Bible, is wishful thinking. He gave sceptical details that could have come from a science fiction movie.[1]

What did he learn from Time?

Jesus – a peasant nobody – was never buried, never taken by his friends to a rich man’s sepulcher. Rather, says Crossan, the tales of entombment and resurrection were latter-day wishful thinking. Instead, Jesus’ corpse went the way of all abandoned criminals’ bodies: it was probably barely covered with dirt, vulnerable to the wild dogs that roamed the wasteland of the execution grounds.[2]

What will you do pastor, Christian leader, or parent with this kind of news through the mass media? John D. Crossan goes even further. In speaking of the resurrection of Christ, he wrote that “in I Corinthians 15 Paul begins by enumerating all the apparitions of the risen Jesus.”[3] While now retired, Crossan, a fellow of the radical Jesus Seminar, taught biblical studies for 26 years at the Roman Catholic DePaul University in Chicago.[4]

What’s an apparition? It’s a phantom, a ghost. Jesus’ resurrected body was not real flesh but he claims that “the resurrection is a matter of Christian faith.”[5] Jesus “was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals.”[6]

For him, the resurrection of Christ is really a spiritual resurrection among believers – whatever that means!

If that person were listening to ABC radio’s, “Sunday night with John Cleary,” he would have heard an interview with a leading church figure who stated:

I live on the other side of Albert Einstein, and I know what relativity means in all of life, and so I can no longer claim that I possess objective and revealed truth and it’s infallible, or it’s inherent, those become claims out of the past that are no longer relevant for 21st century people.[7]

The interview was with John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopalian [i.e. Anglican] Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, whose diocese lost 40% of its parishioners while he was its bishop.[8]

Spong believes that

God is very real. I believe that I live my life every day inside the reality of this God. I call this God by different words. I describe God as the source of life and the source of love and the ground of being. I engage God when I live fully and love wastefully and have the courage to be who I am. That’s the God I see in Jesus of Nazareth.[9]

Yet Borg & Crossan are so provocative as to state “that probably more people have left the church because of biblical literalism than for any other reasons.”[10] The contrary is true with Spong. His liberal views seem to be associated with people leaving his diocese in droves.

With the freely available blogs on the www, Christian people are likely to encounter more doubting religious statements like those.

What evidence will you give to those who are questioning?

When it comes to Christmas or Easter times and the mass media want a controversial or alternate view of the birth, death, or resurrection of Christ, to whom will they turn? Billy Graham, John MacArthur, Peter Jensen, Bill Newman, or your pastor? Hardly!

If they want to rattle the cages of Bible-believing Christians, they turn to scholars or prominent religious people with a very different outlook. People like John Dominic Crossan, a co-founder of the unorthodox Jesus Seminar, will be in their sights. Marcus Borg & Crossan co-authored a book last year that gives a daily account of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem.[11]

Without Easter, they admit, we could not know about Jesus. “Easter is utterly central. But what was it?”[12] It is true that God raised Jesus, but does that mean that a miracle happened? Not at all!

When you read Luke 24:13-53 (the road to Emmaus event), you discover that this is one “case that Easter stories are parabolic narratives”[13] and

it is difficult to imagine that this story is speaking about events that could have been videotaped. . . This story is the metaphoric condensation of several years of early Christian thought into one parabolic afternoon. Whether the story happened or not, Emmaus always happens Emmaus happens again and again—this is its truth as parabolic narrative.[14]

According to these expert scholars, Jesus’ appearing, after his resurrection, to two people on the road to Emmaus was not an actual event. It was metaphor of Christian thought! We could be tempted to respond, “What nonsense!” and leave it there. Where does that leave questioning young believers and older Christians who are shattered by such comments?

Compulsory ministry of apologetics

Following the death of the apostles, early leaders of the churches were people who were converted from paganism and needed to defend the faith (apologists) and correct false doctrine (polemicists). They included Justin Martyr (born ca. 100), Irenaeus (b. 120) , Tertullian (b. 160) and Clement of Alexandria (b. after 150).

Why was it necessary for the early church to defend the Christian faith and correct false teachings? The New Testament exhorted us that this would be the case. When the apostle Paul was in Athens, he “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace ever day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). Why did he need to do this? The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who engaged with him, accused him of being a “babbler” and “a preacher of foreign divinities” (v. 18). Why? “Because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (v. 18). Then he debated the philosophers on the Areopagus (Acts 17:22ff).

Why was this necessary? First Peter taught that all Christians should be “always prepared to make a defense (Gk. apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (I Pt. 3:15 ESV).[15]

Paul warned that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound [or healthy] teaching” and “will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (1 Tim 4:3-4).

I am convinced that Christians will be shaken by the heresy of people like Crossan, Borg, and the doubters who are reported in our mass media, if the church does not prepare them as apologists who “make a defence” of their faith. Since the ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), church leaders have an obligation to equip believers as apologists in our hostile world.

Our topic is one of the challenges of the first and twenty-first centuries: How do we respond to people like Crossan, Borg and others who deny the bodily resurrection of Christ and want to write it off as a “metaphoric condensation of several years of early Christian thought”?[16]

I thank God for the ministry gift of Christ to the church in Richard Bauckham, who challenges the historical Jesus’ critics of the twenty-first century who are “attempting to reconstruct the historical figure of Jesus in a way that is allegedly purely historical, free of the concerns of faith and dogma”[17] and not according to the Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. Bauckham considers that this enterprise “has been highly problematic for Christian faith and theology.”[18]

What is happening here?

For some historians’ judgements today, such as Crossan, Borg, the late Robert Funk, and other Jesus’ seminar fellows, there is “a Jesus reconstructed by the historian, a Jesus attained by the attempt to go back behind the Gospels and, in effect, to provide an alternative to the Gospels’ construction of Jesus.”[19]

Crossan claims that the “Cross Gospel attempts to write, from prophetic allusions, a first ‘historical narrative about the passion of Jesus. Hide the prophecy, tell the narrative, and invent the history.’”[20] Do you understand the magnitude of what he is saying? The Cross Gospel is the Gospel material that applies to the cross of Christ and he describes it as hiding prophecy and inventing history.

Crossan’s presupposition is that “Jesus, as magician and miracle worker, was a very problematic and controversial phenomenon not only for his enemies but even for his friends.”[21] What about those whom Jesus resurrected such as Lazarus? “A story about a miraculous or physical raising from death could be used or created as a symbol for baptismal or spiritual raising from death,” according to Crossan.[22]

What are these liberal theological scholars doing with the biblical witness and evidence? Bauckham rightly believes that whenever historians consider that biblical texts are “hiding the real Jesus from us,” they at best give us a version of the historical Jesus “filtered through the spectacles of early Christian faith.”[23] At worst, they are developing “a Jesus constructed by the needs and interests of various groups in the early church.”[24] Also, I consider that they are inventing a Jesus who suits their own beliefs. They do not want the biblical texts to speak for themselves and be believed on face value. Crossan regards Christ’s empty tomb stories, not as an event that happened in past history, but as “parables of resurrection, not the Resurrection itself.”[25]

Surely it is reasonable to conclude that when people saw the risen Christ that this evidence should be enough to verify that this actually happened. That’s not how it is for those who attack Christ’s resurrection.

Crossan, for example, rejects the claim that the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection were visions because “they have no marks that you would expect—no blinding lights, no heavenly voice, nobody knocked to the ground.”[26] The stories in John 20 of the race by the two disciples to the empty tomb (Peter and the Beloved Disciple) in addition to that of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 28:8-10) “tell us absolutely nothing of historical value about the origins of Christian faith. But they tell us a great deal about the origins of Christian authority. . . They are dramatizations about where power and authority rest in the early Church.”[27]

This kind of conclusion causes me to question the integrity of the one who wrote it. What can we say to those who want to create a Jesus out of their own presuppositions and contrary to the Gospel content?

One of the keys to understanding the Gospels as being authentic and reliable is similar to, but not identical with, our standard for the law courts of Australia. The importance of eyewitnesses can not be over-stated in the courts and in the evidence for the credibility of the truthfulness of the Gospels.

Eyewitness testimony is best

How do we obtain reliable evidence of something that happened in the past such as the German Holocaust of World War 2, the Twin Towers catastrophe of 11th September 2001, the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, or the life and times of Jesus Christ and the early church? Samuel Byrskog’s assessment hits the mark:

The major Greek and Roman historians who comment on their own and/or others’ practice of inquiry and sources adhered to Heraclitus’ old dictum. Eyes were surer witnesses than ears. The ancient historians exercised autopsy [eyewitnesses] directly and/or indirectly, by being present themselves and/or by seeking out and interrogating other eyewitnesses; they related to the past visually.[28]

Instead of leaving history to be constructed according to the creative imagination of the scholar, it is better to go to the texts themselves (in this case the New Testament) to “see to what extent they provide a portrayal which identifies certain persons as capable of being eyewitnesses and informants in line of the emerging gospel tradition.”[29]

The Gospels & eyewitness evidence

Let’s check out the evidence. When we search the Gospels for eyewitness testimony to the events and interpretation of Jesus’ life, what do we find?

1. Women as witnesses of the Christ

One of the surprising pieces of eyewitness testimony for an empty tomb of Jesus is the women as witnesses. Rabbi Judah used to praise God daily that he was not created a woman.[30] In a Jewish culture which regarded the witness of a woman as insignificant, it is important to observe that some of the foremost witnesses of the resurrected Christ are women.

All four Gospels include women as witnesses but the males are given more prominence. In Luke, the women who had followed Jesus were there at the burial with spices (23:55-56) and on resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women reported the empty tomb to the apostles (24:10-12).

At Mark 15:40, particularly, he has women as eyewitnesses in focus at Christ’s crucifixion: “There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.” It is important to note that this “looking” by the women is more than a gaze at a distance. The verb, “looking on” is not some passing glimpse but means “to look at, observe, perceive.” Their purpose as eyewitnesses is accentuated by their being mentioned by name.

2. Luke’s Gospel & eyewitnesses

On the human level, Luke explains how he compiled his Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

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).[31]

While these verses have come in for a lot of scholarly discussion, the concept being communicated about evidence from “eyewitnesses” is not like that in the law courts of the land. Instead, the autoptai (eyewitnesses)

are simply firsthand observers of the events. (Loveday Alexander offers the translations: “those with personal/firsthand experience: those who know the facts at first hand.”) But the concept expressed in the words, “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” is clearly the same as in Acts 1:21-22 and John 15:27.[32]

Luke 24:33-34 confirms the importance of eyewitnesses after Christ’s resurrection: “And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ I Cor. 15:5 confirms that Christ “appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve.”

Peter, the apostle, was a reliable eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection and of other evidence (see Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15). He was a firsthand observer of the events. The Gospel reliability is confirmed by eyewitness accounts of participants in these unique events of the first century.

Since Luke was not one of the 12 apostles, it is important that one of the sources for his Gospel is that of those who had first hand knowledge of the events in Jesus’ life – the eyewitnesses.

However, let’s not overlook the fact that eyewitness testimony is only as good as the integrity of the eyewitness.

3. John’s Gospel & eyewitnesses

John’s Gospel provides special evidence for the importance of eyewitnesses through John the Baptist:

And John [the Baptist] bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34).

The first followers of Jesus, including the apostle John himself, were important eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry (see: John 15:27; 19:35; 21:24).

In one of the most detailed recent commentaries on the Gospel of John, Andreas Köstenberger has emphasized the importance of eyewitnesses in the Gospel records:

This role of eyewitness is both vital and humble. It is vital because eyewitnesses are required to establish the truthfulness of certain facts. Yet it is humble because the eyewitness is not the center of attention. Rather, eyewitnesses must testify truthfully to what they have seen and heart—no more and no less. The Baptist fulfilled this task with distinction. The last time he is mentioned in this Gospel, it is said of him that “all that John said about this man [Jesus] is true” ([John] 10:41).[33]

4. Papias & the importance of eyewitnesses

Reading the writings of Papias may not be one of your favourite bedtime stories, but in the writings of this early Christian leader is evidence for the importance of eyewitnesses testimony.

Papias was a bishop of Hierapolis in the Roman province of Asia, close to Laodicea and Colossae, in what is Turkey today. He wrote an important work in the early second century AD, Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, in five books. While a full copy of the works has not survived, fragments of it are preserved in one of the writings of the very earliest church historians, Eusebius of Caesarea’s, Ecclesiastical History. Notice carefully what Papias wrote:

But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you [singular] along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself.

If, then, any one came, who had been a follower [or, goes closely with, attends][34] of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders—[that is] what [according to the elders] Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.[35]

In order to understand what Papias is driving at, we need to note the four categories of people he mentions:

(1) those who “had been in attendance on the elders,” i.e. people who had been present at their teaching; (2) the elders themselves; (3) the Lord’s disciples, consisting of Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew, and others; (4) Aristion and John the Elder, who are also called “the Lord’s disciples.”[36]

Based on Papias’ two verbs used in categories (3) and (4), aorist tense (“said”) present tense (“say”), we know that those in category (3) were dead, while Aristion and John the Elder were still teaching. This means that “Papias could learn from their disciples what they were (still) saying. These two had been personal disciples of Jesus but at the time of which Papias speaks were prominent Christian teachers in the province of Asia.”[37] The Apostle John had died but, John the Elder, was alive and teaching in the churches of Asia.

I enthusiastically recommend a read of Richard Bauckham’s, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, to refute those who are suggesting that the Gospels include “creative fiction.”

Why this emphasis on eyewitness testimony?

Perhaps you are questioning why I am placing such emphasis on the record of eyewitness testimonies in the New Testament and particularly in the Gospels.

My point is simple. Some of today’s doubters about the integrity of the Gospels are claiming that the Gospels included creations by the Gospel writers. Crossan admits, “Sometimes people are shocked at the notion that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John might have elaborated upon actual events or even created stories and sayings about Jesus from scratch” by using “creative freedom.”[38]

However, the evidence from Scripture is that the Gospels contain eyewitness accounts of the death, empty tomb, and appearances of the resurrected Jesus.

The doubters are raising considerable questions that may unsettle those who are new in the faith or those whose faith is weak. There is an obligation on Christian leaders to equip God’s people to deal with the attacks on Jesus and the Gospels.

When it is stated by prominent scholars that “eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him, according to the Jesus Seminar,”[39] what are Christian leaders who are concerned about God’s people to do? If only 18% of Jesus’ words in the Gospels are authentic according to these researchers, how can church leaders respond?

At the time of the writing of the Gospels, eyewitness testimony was available that could have been checked with the original apostles, such as Peter and John, and with other eyewitnesses. Generally, people are less willing to question the authenticity of writing or oral tradition if there are witnesses available to verify what has been stated.

There is also an urgent call today for Christian leaders to be engaged in equipping Christians for the ministry of apologetics (see I Peter 3:15; Acts 17:22ff).

Which one will you choose?

(1) “Hide the prophecy, tell the narrative, and invent the history,” OR,

(2) “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

Notes:


[1] This information is based on a conversation that I had with a person who claimed to be an evangelical Christian believer.

[2] Ostling, R. N. 1994, ‘Jesus Christ: Plain and simple’, Time, 10 January, Available from: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,979938-3,00.html [cited 7 July 2007]

[3] Crossan J. D. 1998, The Birth of Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. xxviii.

[4] See Crossan’s autobiography, John D. Crossan 2000, A Long Way from Tipperary, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 95.

[5] Crossan J. D. 1995, Who Killed Jesus? HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 189.

[6] Crossan J. D. 1994, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 160.

[7] Bishop Shelby Spong, “Sunday Nights with John Cleary,” 17 June 2001, available from: http://www.abc.net.au/sundaynights/stories/s815368.htm [cited 7 July 2007].

[8] D. Marty Lasley 1999, “Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian”, Anglican Voice, 2 June, available from: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html [cited 31 July 2011].

[9] Spong in “Sunday Nights with John Cleary,” 17 June 2001, available from: http://www.abc.net.au/sundaynights/stories/s815368.htm [cited 7 July 2007].

[10] Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan 2006, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 218 n16.

[11] Borg & Crossan 2006 (details above).

[12] Ibid., p. 190.

[13] Ibid., p. 200.

[14] Ibid., p. 201.

[15] ESV – The English Standard Version of the Bible. Unless otherwise indicated, all biblical quotations are from the ESV.

[16] See note 14.

[17] Richard Bauckham 2006, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K., p. 2.

[18] Ibid., p. 2.

[19] Ibid., p. 3.

[20] J. D. Crossan 1991, The Historical Jesus, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 372.

[21] Ibid., p. 311.

[22] Ibid., p. 330.

[23] Bauckham 2006, p. 2.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Crossan 2000, A Long Way from Tipperary, p.166.

[26] J. D. Crossan with R. G. Watts 1996, Who Is Jesus? HarperPaperbacks, New York, NY, p. 162.

[27] Ibid., p. 163.

[28] Samuel Byrskog 2002, Story as History—History as Story, Brill Academic Publishers Inc., Boston / Leiden, p. 64, emphasis in original.

[29] Ibid., p. 67.

[30] Ibid., p. 74.

[31] Emphasis added.

[32] Bauckham, p. 117.

[33] Andreas J. Köstenberger 2004, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 33.

[34] Suggested by Bauckham, p. 15, n17.

[35] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, vol. 3, ch. 39, vs. 3-4, available from New Advent at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm [cited 15 July 2007].

[36] Bauckham, p. 16.

[37] Ibid., p. 17.

[38] Crossan with Watts 1996, Who Is Jesus?, pp. 7-8.

[39] Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar 1993, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, Macmillan Publishing Company (a Polebridge Press Book), New York, p. 5.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 April 2016.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: The Comeback to Beat Them All

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Risen Indeed

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Funerals are generally not our favourite occasions, but they have a startling way of bringing us face to face with the facts. I attended one recently following the sudden death of a youngish friend. Around 50 years is “youngish” when one is in that region.

I was shocked by my friend’s unexpected departure from this life. At that time I was reading Philip Yancey’s penetrating book, The Jesus I Never Knew. Yancey reminded me of therapist, Rollo May’s, observation: “I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality: what would it mean for our world if He (Jesus) had truly risen?”[1]

This is what the women were told when they arrived at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, “He has risen! He is not here” (Mark 16:6).

Easter holds the promise that death is not final. Death is reversible. But there are conditions.

The first Christians were overcome by the impact of Christ’s resurrection. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14).

But how can we know for sure that it really happened? There are a number of convincing proofs (cf. Acts 1:3):

  • Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. This is hardly a story that a conspirator would invent among the Jews of first century A.D.  Besides, the women were “afraid yet filled with joy”;
  • Like many other things in Jesus’ life, his resurrection drew two responses. Those who believed were remade and went forth to change the world with courage. Others rejected the powerful evidence. Jesus predicted this: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
  • On that first Easter Sunday there was no spectacle like angels singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” or kings from foreign lands bringing extravagant gifts.
  • The circumstances were very ordinary — a private, personal meal; two men walking along the road to Emmaus; a woman weeping in the garden and some fishermen doing their job with nets at the lake. Quite unspectacular stuff!

Most remarkable of all was what happened to that snivelling, timid band of unpredictable followers. Of those 11 who deserted Jesus just before his death (one other callously betrayed him), they were turned into fearless evangelists who became ancient equivalents of Graham Staines. They went to martyrs’ graves faithfully proclaiming the resurrected Christ. Hardly evidence for a fake or myth!

But their message was more than just faith in Christ’s great personal comeback, but a hope of reversal of death for all who trust in Christ.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:26) was how the apostle Paul put it. Christ’s great comeback guarantees the resurrection for “those who belong to him.” Therefore, I can have guaranteed hope at the death of a Christian believer. It is reversible when Christ comes again.

Jesus was at the grave of his friend Lazarus before he raised him from the dead. Jesus’ own words are: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Some want to object

It is not unusual to get these kinds of comments in Christian discussions on the Internet:

Paul did not meet the resurrected Christ–he only ‘saw him in visions and dreams’. That’s probably because Christ was in heaven sitting at the right hand of God.

As for Mark’s gospel—well, it it is the earliest of the four canonical gospels–but it doesn’t prove Christ rose from the dead. Chapter 16 actually ends with the women fleeing from the tomb. However–an additional longer ending was added to the gospel which have several women go to his tomb and find it empty. However–in Luke’s gospel, two Mary’s see Jesus. And in John’s gospel–Mary Magdalene sees what she at first thinks is a gardener–who actually happens to be Jesus. In other words–all of these accounts contradict each other. If evidence does not corroborate then it is inadmissible.[2]

This was my response:

I wouldn’t be so quick to wipe aside the evidence for Christ’s resurrection as “these accounts contradict each other”. Yes, they have some different details but I haven’t found the kinds of contradictions that you are indicating.

One of the most detailed examinations of Christ’s resurrection has been done in the recent research published as 817 pages by N. T. Wright. I have the book and have read large chunks of my own personal copy. Part of his conclusion towards the end of the book is:

The equivalent of the ‘mad scientist’ hypothesis in the resurrection debate would be the intricately designed hypotheses according to which anything and everything that pointed towards the resurrection (the gospel accounts, of course, in particular) is to be explained as the work of the early church expounding, legitimating and defending theological, exegetical and church-governmental conclusions reached on quite other grounds. The question which must be faced is whether the explanation of the data which the early Christians themselves gave, that Jesus really was risen from the dead, ‘explains the aggregate’ of the evidence better than these sophisticated scepticisms. My claim is that it does.

The claim can be stated once more in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. The actual bodily resurrection of Jesus (not a mere resuscitation, but a transforming revivification) clearly provides sufficient condition of the tomb being empty and the ‘meetings’ taking place. Nobody is likely to doubt that. Once grant that Jesus really was raised, and all the pieces of the historical jigsaw puzzle of early Christianity fall into place. My claim is stronger: that the bodily resurrection of Jesus provides a necessary condition for these things; in other words, that no other explanation could or would do. All the efforts to find alternative explanations fail, and they were bound to do so.[3]

British agnostic journalist, Frank Morison, set out to show that the resurrection was a gigantic myth. The evidence for Christ’s return from death overwhelmed him and he wrote a very different conclusion that has become a classic, Who Moved the Stone?[4]

One fellow, M. Lepeaux, once started a religion that he hoped would improve on Christianity. He went to the great French diplomat-statesman, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, and discussed the dismal situation with his friend, Talleyrand. “What would you suggest I do?” His friend was penetratingly perceptive: “I should recommend that you get yourself crucified, and then die, but be sure to rise again the third day”.[5]

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17, ESV).

Notes:


[1] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, p. 211.

[2] Christian Forums.com, The Historical Jesus, ‘The resurrection is a historical problem’, Kirkhaven #22, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7237420-3/#post59225867 (Accessed 9 December 2011)

[3] N. T. Wright 2003. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, pp. 716-717, emphasis in original.

[4] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? Bromley, Kent: STL Books, 1930/1983.

[5] Michael P. Green (Ed.), Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1982, No. 1138, p. 305.
Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 February 2017.