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?

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  • Guest
  • Guest

    Did Jesus rise Physically from the dead?

  • SimonAlipio

    This is what I believe about the physical resurrection

  • Justin Philip Cheng

    I suppose we could say that Jesus Christ is more alive than we are. He shares the divine life of God now. I think our inability to understand it reflects the fact that we see it only from our limited, mortal eyes.

  • Gary in FL

    Friend, I’ve never heard any argument advanced anywhere that WWII was “largely,” or even partially, “a religious war.” Can you tell me how/why you see it that way, or who’s historical analysis has led to this conclusion. I must admit, I’m profoundly skeptical, but willing to consider whatever evidence you can offer.

    That said, in recent wars there’s been no death of religious motivations, and not just by Muslims–our US foreign policy is regularly driven by Christian and Jewish Zionists. But that’s another matter.

    • Pofarmer

      I’m surprised the Thesis is that shocking. Antisemitism was rife in Europe before WWII. In some cases, the Germans were shocked at the zeal with which the Poles exterminated their Jews. As the base of the beliefs of the Third Reich, how does this not, and where it came from, factor in? In Japan, the emperor was seen as divine. “During pre-World War II and World War II Shōwa Japan, bushido was pressed into use for militarism,[14] to present war as purifying, and death a duty.[15] This was presented as revitalizing traditional values and “transcending the modern.”[16] Bushido would provide a spiritual shield to let soldiers fight to the end.[” Thus, like I said, although the actual aims of the war may not have been religious, the fighting of it was certainly religious for many of the participants. If you read accounts of the battle for the Phillipine Islands, you’ll find plenty of accounts of Japanese soldiers committing suicide rather than surrendering because they felt that they had failed the emperor, and thus their deity.

  • Gene Stecher

    For Paul the resurrection created a new space. His life went from flesh-law-works to spirit-faith-fruits, against which there is no law. Resurrection means living in that new space. Spiritual body means living in that new space. What’s at stake? Well, I’m not sure that a material resurrection can support this transforming life truth.

  • R Vogel

    Why does Jesus have to conform to 2nd Temple Jewish Worldview? Didn’t 2nd Temple Jewish Worldview largely reject the claims of Jesus and his followers?

    • John Walker

      Well, because Jesus was a 2nd Temple Jew. Of course, you can regress back to the “New Quest” if you want, however, I wouldn’t recommend it.

      • R Vogel

        I am tring to understand your position, seeting aside that I don’t believe every 2nd Temple Jew believed in a physical resurrection, hence Matthew 22:23 – Are you saying that because Jesus was a 2nd Temple Jew he had to be resurrected because that was the worldview of 2nd Temple Jews? Is Jesus someone bound by 1st Century Jewish thought? Why didn’t he conform to a number of other woldviews they had, such as messiah who would re-establish a Jewish ruling order?

        • John Walker

          Certainly the Sadducees denied resurrection, however, being that this is what distinguished them from other Jews of the period, and being that they were a rather small group, we have good cause to believe the majority of Jews thought this way. Likewise, Jesus affirms resurrection, and seems to show continuity in that regard to the dominant 2nd Temple worldview.

          I do not wish to suggest that Jesus conformed to EVERY 2nd Temple concept, obviously, in the case of a militant Messiah he did not. However, where there is no evidence of discontinuity, it is most responsible historically then to propose that Jesus would have fallen in the mainline. Especially if the internal evidence supports that.

          John Walker |

          • R Vogel

            Doesn’t that take you into some murky water, though? I mean, who gets to decide which 2nd Temple worldview Jesus has to emulate which ones he doesn’t? Someone like Reza Aslan would say he also has to conform to the militant messiah, citing plenty of examples from the time, and finds evidence of that being the case. You may not find his evidence compelling, but it seems to me that he is arguing from a very similar position.

          • John Walker

            Personally, I let the gospels guide my conception of Jesus. He appears to have looked forward to a concrete, bodily resurrection as his hope, which would fall in the mainline of Judaism. It is cogent generally (with the external evidence) and particularly (with the internal evidence). Aslan’s analysis is primarily external, which I’d say is his fault.

            What I don’t quite understand, is what the purpose of denying a bodily resurrection is. Is it too difficult for moderns to understand. Is there God too much of a deist to interact in the world? What is gained by denying the empty tomb?

  • “Does our disagreement matter?”
    Love it! This conversation between Marcus and Tony has been great. As as the conversation… I thought I’d offer my thoughts after a few days of discussion. I recall the phrase “we walk by faith.”

    The Resurrection is something that can’t be historically verified one way or another. Yet I have experienced it. I have seen resurrections both metaphorical and literal. Metaphorical being the addict in 12 steps going places, literal being the person on the death bed in the evening being found illness free in the morning.

    Because of Marcus Borg’s take on it, I was able to approach Christianity again in a way that made sense to me. There could be no bodily resurrection! Yet now… now I’m not so sure. Some days I totally get the bodily version, and other days I go back to another understanding. It’s something scripture isn’t clear on the details, only that it happened. And it continues to happen and reverberate in my life in many ways. I’m thankful for both Tony and Marcus articulating the Resurrection in various ways. So yes, I think the the disagreement does matter and we should be in no rush to find agreement. Because on this issue, the more metaphors and hypothesis we have, the better. And on this issue, I must walk by faith, not sight.

  • Neko

    I’m an atheist, too, and if I hear Dawkins and Harris invoked one more time I’m going to rend my garments.

    The early Christians’ conviction that they had encountered a resurrected Jesus changed history. So, yes, it’s interesting. Why did they think that? What do the strange descriptions in the gospels of the risen Christ convey? What did Paul see that compelled him to spend the rest of his life slogging all over the Mediterranean trying to save the world?

    The motive of the NT writers appears to have been that they believed Jesus was the Messiah and wished to communicate the good news. They may have fantastically wrong, but I do not think they were being deceitful. If you have a shred of evidence that the NT authors had an agenda comparable to that of Kim Jong Il, please share.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Thank you Neko. Although I’m a Christian (albeit one that would be deemed heretical by many if not most established Churches), I have no problem with someone not believing in God and respectfully articulating their position. Militant atheism though rides the same horse as Christian fundamentalism but just under a different name . . where there is reactionary anger (be it against religion, government etc.) there is turning off of one’s brain.

    • ortcutt

      I don’t know where you think that Pofarmer claimed that the NT authors were being deceitful. They may have legitimately believed that what they were writing was true, but they may have been wrong. They may have spoken metaphorically or in parables when we take them to be speaking literally. These texts are also the work of many hands. Can we say with any certainty where changes have or haven’t been made. It’s an interesting literary question, but people devoting their lives to a religious endeavor based on the basis of NT being factual is simply bizarre. We’re entering a more fruitful period in history where people can enjoy fantasy worlds like Literature, or even X-Men, Star Trek or Harry Potter, without thinking that they are real. Even the most fanatical Star Wars fan realizes that Darth Vader isn’t real, but theists believe that gods are real. That’s a problem. The ability to disentangle reality from fantasy is something that religious people somehow never learned to do.

  • Josh Magda

    “But it happens conclusively at the resurrection, when God inaugurates a new ontology — an ontology in which death is overcome, and hence unknown.” – Tony Jones, in a blog post shortly after the interchange with Marcus.

    I would like to suggest that what is at stake in the discussion about physical resurrection is the anxiety that we will not get our preferred afterlife scenario if  physical resurrection is not factual. And the afterlife is no small thing, mind you. Yet the fact that Tony remains skeptical about metaphysics, even as every worldview except the modern one has affirmed the multidimensionality of Being, is telling. 

    First, my preferences. There are two things I really, really want in life and beyond life. The first is global civilizations or other societal arrangement(s) based on justice and Love in partnership with the rest of Earth community, or God’s dream. The second is, after a brief recognition that I am Home, to fully dissolve into the Godhead, or at least go as far as creatures can go (which, truth in advertising, in good heretical fashion, I think is all the way in). 

    Getting lost in the temple and staying lost is not everyone’s cup of tea, it seems, throughout religious history. And as Huston Smith has said, Western traditions “pull out all the stops” on the personal God. If God stops for you at the personal level, and your afterlife preference is to be an eternal ego or personality alongside a super personal God, the kinds of things that we are talking about could be deeply disturbing. 

    The fulfillment of the promise of the personal God for me would be the aforementioned World Based on Love. There remains then only the small matter of what happens to “my” little spark of consciousness and qualia in God’s great and marvelous House. So I say, wherever the Reality that I have Known in this life as the Sacred, the God I love so deeply, is, that is where I want to be, fully and completely. And I would be lying if I thought that, in the end, there were any chance of this being denied me.

    I am secure in my afterlife beliefs and hopes. And if the Reality that I have been loving this whole time is the hyperlocal Jesus, and the literal streets of gold are my destiny, so long as Beloved is there, that is OK too. 

  • Maxximiliann

    Prove it’s folklore. Prove your claims of Mythicism.

  • Maxximiliann

    “Those who don’t learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.”