The Secular Outpost
Follow Patheos Atheist:
I’m planning to write many posts that are focused on criticism of Christianity, and especially on the alleged resurrection of Jesus. The first in a series called “Resuscitation of the Swoon Theory” has just been posted on my blog :
I’d be interested on a critical examination of the Ascension, and specially, what do modern christians believe about this. In my opinion, it’s one of the places in the Gospel where it’s clear that the writers resorted to making up stories. Robert Ingersoll said it very well:
“I cannot believe in the miracle of the ascension, in the bodily ascension of Jesus Christ. Where was he going? In the light shed upon this question by the telescope, I again ask, where was he going? The New Jerusalem is not above us. The abode of the gods is not there.”
Here is some info on the Ascension:
1. The Gospel of Matthew says nothing about Jesus ascending into the sky. If the author of Matthew knew about the Ascension, why leave this amazing event out of his Gospel?2. The Gospel of John says nothing about Jesus ascending into the sky. If the author of the Gospel of John knew about the Ascension, why leave this amazing event out of his Gospel?3. Mark 16:19 states that Jesus “was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” Since the sitting down at the right hand of God is presumably metaphorical and theological, and not something that the disciples saw happen, it seems reasonable to interpret the phrase “taken up into heaven” literally, as something that the disciples saw happen. 4. Even if we take Mark 16:19 literally, as refering to Jesus rising upwards into the sky, this verse is part of the “longer ending” to Mark that was probably not part of the original gospel. Both the shorter and longer endings of Mark are in brackets in the New Revised Standard version, and here is the comment on the longer ending from The HarperCollins Study Bible: “Though known as early as the late second century C.E., the longer ending is missing from the earliest, most reliable Greek manuscripts and seems to mix motifs from the other Gospels.” 4. So, basically the only Gospel with an account of the Ascension is Luke, but Luke is part of a two-volume work Luke/Acts, and in Acts, the account of the Ascension appears to contradict the account in Luke. In Luke the Ascension seems to happen on Easter Sunday, but in Acts the Ascension happens 40 days after the resurrection. Luke seems to be more concerned with symbolism than with facutal accuracy and logic, at least concerning this story.5. Luke was not a disciple or eyewitness of the events of Jesus’ life, and Luke does not tell us who his sources of information are. It is not clear whether Luke knew or talked directly to eyewitnesses of the events of Jesus’ life.6. The Gospel of Luke was probably written about 80 AD, aprox. 50 years after the death of Jesus.7. We do not know who the author of Luke/Acts was, other than what can be inferred from a close reading of these texts.
In conclusion, we have the contradictory and uncorroborated testimony of one unknown person who was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life, and who may or may not have spoken with alleged eye-witnesses of the events of the life of Jesus.
Not exactly a solid foundation for belief in an event that contradicts the laws of physics.
correction to point 3:
it seems UNreasonable to interpret the phrase “taken up into heaven” literally, as something that the disciples saw happen.
One more point…
8. Not only does Matthew, Mark, and John fail to corroborate Luke’s story about the Ascension, Matthew and Mark contradict Luke’s accounts of the resurrection appearances in general.
Matthew and Mark both imply that the first appearances of the risen Jesus occurred in Galilee. Since Galilee is several days journey by foot from Jerusalem, these two Gospels imply that the first appearances of the risen Jesus took place a week or more after the crucifixion, NOT on Easter Sunday (two days after the crucifixion) as in the gospels of Luke and John.
Since Mark is the earliest of the four Gospels, and since Luke has a strong geographical theme that would influence the placing of the resurrection appearances in Jerusalem, and since John’s Gospel is the latest Gospel (written about 90 CE) and is strongly shaped by theological and dramatic concerns, it is reasonable to prefer Mark’s account over Luke’s and John’s.
The first appearances of the risen Jesus probably were in Galilee a week or more after the crucifixion, so the ending of Luke’s Gospel is either fiction or is (at best) highly inaccurate on basic details (of time and place).
Just one comment. I don’t think the Ascension can be interpreted metaphorically. It is told as something the apostles saw:
” 1:9 After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight. 1:10 As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them 1:11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”
therefore, it’s more like a tale that Luke made up (probably, not the only one), in order to explain why Jesus was no longer around. As Ingersoll said, “they had to dispose of the body”, once the body was no longer useful to them.
(BTW, there is a mention of some ascension in John 20:17, but clearly it is not the definitive Ascension).
R said: “I don’t think the Ascension can be interpreted metaphorically. It is told as something the apostles saw: …”
You quote a passage from the first chapter of Acts, but my comments against a literal interpretation were about a passage from the end of the Gospel of Mark.
I agree that the author of Acts is most plausibly interpreted as speaking about a literal rising into the sky, but that does not mean that the author of Mark had the same belief or understanding of the ascension.
A non-literal interp of the passage at the end of Mark is at least as plausible as a literal interp of that passage, so the gospel of Mark does not provide solid corroboration of the historical claim made by the the author of Luke/Acts.
“I agree that the author of Acts is most plausibly interpreted as speaking about a literal rising into the sky, but that does not mean that the author of Mark had the same belief or understanding of the ascension.
A non-literal interp of the passage at the end of Mark is at least as plausible as a literal interp of that passage, so the gospel of Mark does not provide solid corroboration of the historical claim made by the the author of Luke/Acts.”
I guess so. Then, if Mark is non-literal about the Ascension, that means that Luke made up the Ascension story in Acts.
However, there are other physical ascension stories in the Old Testament (Elijah). That is a point (slightly) in favour of a literal ascension in Mark.
I’m not so sure that Mark could be interpreted non-literally.
“So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” Mark 16:19(NRSV)
Jesus speaking to the disciples is obviously literal, so that is a point in favor of literal interpretation of this verse.
The problem comes with the final phrase “and sat down at the right hand of God.” Jesus had a body at that point (a glorified resurrection body, according to traditional Christian theology), so literal sitting would be possible for Jesus, but not literally “at the right hand of God”.
God, interpreted as God-the-Father by Christian theologians, does not have hands, and has no body whatsoever. God is spirit. So, God (the Father) does not have hands and cannot sit down in a chair or throne. Therefore, Jesus cannot literally sit down next to God, or near God’s right hand.
Sitting down at the right hand of God is best interpreted as a metaphorical expression that implies that God has given Jesus divine authority over all of creation.
If we did a careful examination of Mark’s theology, we might conclude that Mark believed that God had literal hands and a body and sat on a literal throne in the sky, but such beliefs are incompatible with traditional Christian theology, so a literal reading of the final phrase of Mark 16:19 would make this verse mistaken (false), and mistaken on a key point of theology to boot.
So, although you and I might be willing to entertain such an interp of Mark 16:19, this is not an interpretation that is open to a Christian who views the gospel of Mark as the inspired and error-free Word of God.
If the phrase “at the right hand of God” is to be taken metaphorically, then that is a point in favor of a metaphorical interp of the preceding phrase “was taken up into heaven”.
Since the opening part of this verse is clearly literal, I cannot rule out a literal interp of “was taken up into heaven”. But the phrase “at the right hand of God” seems best interpreted metaphorically, so I think it is plausible to read “was taken up into heaven” non-literally as well.
“Since the opening part of this verse is clearly literal, I cannot rule out a literal interp of “was taken up into heaven”. But the phrase “at the right hand of God” seems best interpreted metaphorically, so I think it is plausible to read “was taken up into heaven” non-literally as well.”
In religious matters, there is always wiggle room.
However, I don’t see why “taken up into heaven” should be interpreted metaphorically just because “sitting at the right hand” must be interpreted non-literally.
As I said, Elijah is clearly described in the OT as ascending into heaven (by means of a whirlwind). It’s people of the first century that we are talking about, who believed (like Luke) that Heaven and God are up there. But I might be wrong. Do you know if some jews at that time considered that ascensions could be non-physical or that spoke of ascensions in metaphorical terms?.
In any case, for Christians, Luke is just as canonical as Mark. If Luke’s Ascension must be interpreted non-literally, so must Mark’s.
Follow Patheos on
Copyright 2008-2014, Patheos. All rights reserved.