Continuing the Resurrection Conversation

I am pleased to see that my response to Tony Jones has generated a thoughtful response from him and many thought-filled replies from others. At the risk of continuing the conversation too long, I offer the following.

I begin with a few additional and hopefully clarifying comments. Tony correctly reports what I said at an event that he attended. I am quite sure it was at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, a lecture event that also featured Brian McLaren and Diana Butler Bass. I did say that if I had to bet (a dollar or my life) on whether Jesus’s tomb was empty, I would bet that it wasn’t. What I object to is his reporting of what I said.

First, he didn’t report the rest of what I said on that occasion. Namely, I affirmed that Jesus was experienced after his death by many of his followers and by at least one adversary (Paul), and experienced as “Lord,” as vindicated by God. Thus, in the context of a question about the empty tomb, I affirmed that the resurrection was real, even as I am inclined to see the story of the empty tomb as a parable of the resurrection. Second, I object to his reduction of my view to “Jesus’ resurrection only happens in the believer’s heart” (italics added).

On the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus – that Jesus continues to be known and experienced and that he is Lord – we may agree, though I do not want to presume that.

I appreciate the replies that emphasized that Paul’s use of “body” (soma in Greek) means something different from the common modern meaning of “body.”
In I Corinthians 15 in which Paul not only affirms that the resurrection of Jesus as essential (……..), he also says near the end of the chapter that the resurrected body is not physical but spiritual – a glorified body. What that means I do not know – but Paul contrasts it to a body of flesh and blood. I think it is doubtful that Paul can be cited as an authority for a material physical bodily resurrection.

So also I do not think that the gospel stories of Easter require us to think of the resurrection in material physical terms. I see them as parables of the resurrection. Parables are about meaning. They are truth-filled and truthful stories, even as they may not be literally factual. Consider the parables that Jesus told. Their purpose is not to report something that happened. And yet we hear truth and meaning in his parables. So also in the Easter stories: whether they happened that way or not, they proclaim that Jesus is still with us, and not just as a ghost but as Lord, vindicated by God, at God’s right hand, one with God.

Tony and I will almost certainly continue to disagree about whether the tomb was empty and whether Jesus was raised in material physical bodily form. And once again, I press the question: does our disagreement matter? What’s at stake in also affirming that something spectacular happened to Jesus’s physical body after his death?

Responding to a Critic: Misunderstanding or Misrepresentation?
Remembering Our Death: What May Be at Stake
What Would It Have Been Like to Be A Companion of Jesus?
Has Christmas Been Swallowed by the Miraculous?
  • Bob MacDonald

    Thanks for the posts. I always hesitate to respond to posts that require such a definitive answer. Yet I believe because I have tested – like any good scientist – that “if you put to death the deeds of the body (σῶμα) you will live.”

    I did not expect to live in that sense. It seems to me that this instruction reflects the Psalm, כִּי־טֹוב חַסְדְּךָ מֵֽחַיִּים 63:3 for it is good – your loving-kindness – even over life.

    I see this gift from the vindication of Jesus as an astonishing change. Still I will decay and die, as I do – but not without some secure hope that goes by the name resurrection, and that redemption that is before the foundation of the world. I agree with you that the presence or absence of particles is not relevant – but equally in my study of science, I come across frightening complexity in Feynman diagrams that have recently been completely simplified by a geometric trick in multiple dimensions that negates the rationale for our limited views of space-time. Life is much more than we know as is death and the universe – and 42 is a good answer. :)

    In the meanwhile we are given power to become children of God – fulfilling the mandate to pursue peace (Mt 5:9, Psalm 34:15). As the beni elohim, perhaps we can sit in the council (Psalm 82, Job 1) and give good judgment instead of accusing each other and playing the part of that particular snake – a part we are all to good at. Psalm 34:9 with its slight madness (compare verse 1) appeals to me also as a scientist – taste and see that HaShem is good. Not better, but good in a sense of completeness that cannot be fully described, but is summed up in the life of Jesus.

    I also see this particular completeness in circumcision, as a miniature of the same death that is signified in obedience to the death of Jesus as noted by Paul. More than a comment will stand…

    • John

      Not sure I get the above point about the resurrection being a parable since parables are presented very clearly in the gospels and the resurrection event shows none of those similarities. From beginning to end, it is conveyed as a factual story with interactions involving real people and historical events, nothing less. Also, wasn’t the whole point of Jesus being touched by others, eating with the disciples on the beach, walking on the road to Emmaus, etc. meant to convey the reality of physical bodily resurrection? Seems like a classic case of forcing an analysis into an issue that is simple enough at face value and intended to be just that.

      • Bob MacDonald

        I think you are not replying to me since I did not use the word parable. Neither did Marcus Borg use the word as you have used it. I might ask though, what if metaphor became enfleshed? The healings are real. I don’t see any denial here. I only see a question on the empty tomb. And I have not mentioned that. My own escape is _like_ being translated to another realm – so why not have the particles that comprise the body of Jesus so translated?

        • John

          Yea, I though I was just posting an overall response to the article. Blog rookie…sorry.

  • debodykes

    Thank you, Marcus. Conversations such as this one between you, a world renowned scholar, author, and theologian, and Tony, are provocative and inviting. I am in full agreement that you press the question with not only Tony, but those in agreement with Tony regarding the resurrection, “does our disagreement matter?”

    Thus, I responded to Tony with the following: Ah … But you see … Here lies yet another “great” question! You, Tony, say, “But
    gay marriage and ordination is a minor issue compared with the event
    that lies at the very center of the Christian faith and proclamation.
    To break from the church on the issue of the resurrection is, I think,
    about as big a fight as one could pick.” The question is … What
    really lies at the “very center of the Christian faith and
    proclamation?” So, Tony, we could ask the question another way: What is
    the endgame for Christianity? Is it my obsession with what happens to
    me when I die that I will go to some “heavenly place” in some other
    world? Or, is the endgame for Christians our collaboration with God to
    bring about a God’s kingdom of justice and compassion on this earth?

    I am learning that “belief” is a tricky pastime.

  • Lothar Lorraine

    Dear Dr. Borg,

    I think that there are normal, decent evidence for concluding that some
    disciples discovered a empty tomb and that many people experienced
    visions of the risen Jesus.

    However this is a far cry from saying that this shows the bodily resurrection to be true, for the tomb might have been stolen or the body misidentified and the first disciples might have dreamed or hallucinated.

    To my mind, the discovery of an empty tomb would give a good natural explanation for the easter faith in a resurrection which was not present in other messianic movements whose heroes had been shamefully killed.

    Whether or not Jesus bodily rose from the dead is going to heavily hinge on one’s epistemology and worldview

    Would you say that the natural explanations I have presented at the beginning are implausible?

    “So also in the Easter stories: whether they happened that way or not, they proclaim that Jesus is still with us, and not just as a ghost but as Lord, vindicated by God, at God’s right hand, one with God.”

    Here I would be tempted we could think the same about every holy man (like Ghandi) who died but this gives us no assurance. But that the grave was empty shows us that God can clearly defeat death.
    The problem is that this answer would be, if true, only valid for the early church.

    We are now so far away from the event and the data are so scarce that we have no way to know if it happened like this.


  • Adriene Buffington

    I think that what’s at stake is the hope that WE will also be raised in material physical bodily form.

    If the corpses of all Christ’s followers were re-animated after a few days in the grave, that would sufficiently prove that it happened to Jesus.Of course, that is not what happens.
    So we can say that resurrections are not material – neither Jesus’ nor anyone else’s, but are still real happenings.
    Or we can say that resurrections don’t exist at all.
    Or that Jesus’ resurrection was bodily and then he ascended, whereas ours will not be bodily, but just spiritual.
    Or that our resurrection happens in two phases, a spiritual one right after death, and a bodily one at some future event.

    What difference it makes is how we view the physical world, our bodies, and the sacred value of them. Believing one thing or another about resurrection won’t necessarily lead to a high value of the material world, but it might help.

  • Ivan Schoen

    Thank you…I’m not yawning.

  • John Walker

    I am interested what the point of denying the empty tomb is? Is it too difficult for modern sensibilities to swallow? Is it that the text seems too questionable?

    It doesn’t make much sense to me why you would affirm the resurrection reality, yet deny it’s physical nature–that is unless your bound by some metaphysical dogma or a particular historical reconstruction.

    If Jesus was vindicated by God, then why should the tomb not be empty?

    John Walker |

    • Agni Ashwin

      If Jesus is vindicated by God, then why should the tomb be empty?

      • John Walker

        In the 2nd Temple Jewish worldview, supreme vindication was found in resurrection. Jewish martyrs did not expect vindication until their resurrections. Jesus could not be rightly considered vindicated with his body laying in a grace–they weren’t Platonists who denied the good of the body. Thus, vindication must include the whole being, not just the spirit.

        John Walker |

  • EdwardTBabinski


    It’s obvious God wants us to have physical bodies that can fly back and forth from a “new earth” to heaven and back again. After all, we are going to be raised physically and “meet Jesus in the air.” AND we are going to live on a “new earth”–as Paul and Revelation state. So, there will be at least a little flying and landing with our new resurrection bodies.

    But I have trouble with whether we will be able to conceive babies on the “new earth,” because if we live forever it will get crowded. Look at the earth now, with death. Now imagine a deathless population eternally begetting babies.

    Also, if babies are born on a “new earth” they will have an unfair advantage over the those born on a fallen earth who risked eternal damnation, because on the “new earth” there probably won’t be any chance of THAT happening.

    So let’s say “no” to babies on the new earth.

    But if we have physical bodies with genitalia that can’t conceive, can we still have sexual intercourse? On a “new earth” that would be without risk of conception or disease. Sounds like a Penthouse editor’s wet dream. Sex without consequences. Of course if it’s just sex with one other person for eternity, might be boring, but what about people who were married more than once on earth and divorced each time, or who never married at all? Can those folks date other folks on the “new earth” and have sex on their first date?

    If parts of the Bible are right, God isn’t that big a fan of sexual intercourse, aside from it being needed to fill the earth. But the earth is overfilled now, and we still can’t stop rutting long enough to get this “food, air, garbage” thing worked out. So I imagine the urge to have sex with other perfectly healthy physical bodes on a new earth will be just as great if not greater than the urge today.

    So here’s the options, we’ll either be having sex without risk of pregnancy or disease, or we’ll be conceiving perfectly saved babies that will live eternally with us in infinitely extended families on an infinitely expanding earth. OR… God will delete all sexual urges such that our physically resurrected bodies with their genitalia (with its extra-sensitive nerve endings packed tightly together), and all those baby-making parts, will simply be hanging there “for show” for eternity. Funny. Very Funny, God.

    • Bob MacDonald

      raining on the party ’cause you choose not to rein in your need to reign. Did you never read – they neither marry nor are given in marriage. You are even less fun than the Sadducees.

  • Sam Hawkins

    While I’m firmly on the parabolic (Dr. Borg’s) side in this debate, I can’t deny that the disagreement does matter. I perhaps wish it didn’t, but I know from experience that there is some existential vigor that results from the materialist view. If I could, I would probably switch sides, but for many reasons that’s not an option.

    The question I would press is what a historically-verified empty tomb would mean for the full spectrum of Trinitarian and Christological claims? I would argue that the first does not necessitate the remainder. It would provide support, but in the end, this would remain – like most things – a matter of faith. We may have different entry points, but we all wind up in that realm eventually.

  • Josh Magda

    Thanks Marcus. It is one thing to believe in a physical resurrection. It is another thing entirely to bully those of us like Borg who, for very good reasons, including reasons coming directly out of the tradition, do not affirm it. Do we or do we all not believe that God is the author of life and death, and that living or dying, we are totally safe within Her? And if we must continually insist and reinsist that one particular exegesis of the resurection stories, the hyper-literal version, must be true order in order for God to be really real, especially when all religious traditions including the Jewish and Christian ones affirm that Reality is much deeper and richer than the surface world of physical appearance, do we really and truly know the that we are safe? There is now, and has always been various interpretations of the Jesus event. Perhaps the Scriptures themselves record different modalities for the Resurrection because people are different and need different things, Many of these interpretations have been suppressed by so-called orthodoxy in the past out of fear. The obsession with correct belief is a part of Christian history that is not worthy of being brought forward into God’s future. Why can’t theological plurality, the true state of affairs anyhow, and faith in God be enough for us?

  • Pofarmer

    I was a Christian my entire life, I’m 43. I’m currently an Atheist. Did ya’ll eve consider that from the outside looking in you look and sound completely INSANE! You are arguing over passages in a 2000 year old book, with no real support outside the pages of that book, about the veracity of details that, at the very best, were cataloged 30(being very, very generous) to 100 years after the events took place. A book written by people with a motive. You might notice that Kim Jong Il’s biography includes him being divine. You might also notice that this book was written in a time of widespread and almost complete superstition. An almost fundamental lack of understanding of the way things in the physical world worked. You are taking, to be generous, Iron age folklore at face value, and attributing to it the same strength of evidence as say, modern physics. It’s quite disconcerting. Sorry to be a downer.

    • Bob MacDonald

      At least you are a serious downer. So who knows how the world works? A recent theory on particle interaction (google amplituhedron) suggests that time and space are a construct and not required for explaining the interaction of elementary particles. Why should I not pay attention to these ancient voices? What privileges my understanding of science with respect to the way things work in the physical world? I don’t find the label of superstition helpful. The psalms are anything but superstitious. They are radically real. A close reading of them will reveal their teaching (Torah).

      • Pofarmer

        Pay attention at your peril. Society evolves, morality evolves, that should be obvious from the timeline of the bible, and then the timeline of society after that. It seems an awful lot of folks now want to stop that progress, or, in some cases, reverse it. Does this meant that ancient voices have no value? No. But does a Laurence Kraus have value? A Richard Dawkins? Someone like Sam Harris? There are voices arguing morality issues right now. Real people, real voices, not the voices of a 2000 year old fable that we sit around and debate what degree of “true” it is. We should be past this silliness.

        • Bob MacDonald

          These are good questions – I chose not to read the authors you name. I don’t know if you value them. I valued Bertrand Russel for his good questions when I was young. And many others – he still reads true to me where many others fail. I don’t know fellow Canadian Kraus – but I am no fan of ID either. I am a scientist. I don’t think that debating the degree of “true” of many Biblical statements is useful. I certainly would not bother with the degrees of “true” for many moderns in the new atheist camp or the conservative camps. Lots of these are somewhat windy.

          Now as to the evolution of morality – here I would be careful. Our century past has killed and impoverished more than have ever lived in the prior years. I doubt there are many moral now or then. Just look around. And those who seek to be right even among the religious often seek it for base gain or power. On the edge between faith and futility (Qoheleth) – what would you chose?

          • Pofarmer

            “On the edge between faith and futility (Qoheleth) – what would you chose?”. I chose to look for truth. Too often, faith is futility.

          • Pofarmer

            “Our century past has killed and impoverished more than have ever lived in the prior years.”

            But, make no doubt about it, WWII was largely a religious war. Can we do better? Undoubtedly, and experts tell is we ARE.

  • Josh Magda

    And to those who would require a physical resurrection in order to affirm the dignity of flesh and this world- the totality of Jesus’ life and ministry was a vindication of this. And what is his church if not his body now? To top it off, the panentheist Knows that God is present with/to/in the whole of Creation, past, present, and future. What would She be doing hanging out here for all this time if She had a problem with bodies? The whole of Creation participates in the paschal mystery!

    On one side of the evidentiary ledger we have Creation in its entirety, to which Christ is and always will be totally present, to convince us of the goodness of the body. On the other side we have whether or not one individual walked around in a resuscitated cadaver for just over a month 2000 years ago. It’s fine to believe this in addition to the former if you believe it to be true. It is not OK to negate the faith of those of us for whom the former is and always will be quite enough.