Dear Marcus Borg: Please Reconsider the Resurrection

Marcus Borg has joined Patheos as a blogger, which I think is great. He has put out some of the most solid biblical scholarship around over the past few decades. His more popular work I’m less fond of, in which I think he tries too hard to disabuse people of some important aspects of Christianity. Nevertheless, I consider him a very important voice, and I heartily recommend his work to people.

Last week, in my QTH answer, I referred to Borg in passing, writing,

When I read Marcus Borg arguing that Jesus’ resurrection only happens in the believer’s heart or Reza Aslan saying that it’s shocking to discover that Jesus didn’t really grow up in Nazareth or Bart Ehrman revealing that Jesus didn’t think that he was God, I honestly yawn.

I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I was just honestly stating that those who take the historical Jesus to be significantly less than the Gospels portray him to be are not interesting to me. But Borg took exception to what I wrote, stating that I have thrice misrepresented his views:

I have never said or written anything remotely like that…

…I do not understand why Jones misrepresents my understanding of the resurrection. Perhaps it’s because the only two options he has considered are that it either happened in a physical bodily way or else it happened only “in the believer’s heart.”

Borg writes that I have also misrepresented him in a book. Here’s what I wrote about Borg in The New Christians:

Marcus Borg

To the left, there is also talk of “truth.” Our liberal brothers and sisters care about truth too, though they sometimes seem squeamish about the truth of the biblical narrative. I had the pleasure of hearing the biblical scholar Marcus Borg speak recently, and in the question-and-answer session after his address, he was asked a question he’s surely been asked hundreds of times: “Professor Borg, what about the empty tomb on Easter morning?” After a bit of theological hemming and hawing, Borg responded, “If I were a betting man, I’d bet—my life or one dollar—that the tomb was not empty. Or that there was no tomb.”

Why would the resurrection seem unbelievable to Borg? It’s because he is beholden to a certain framework for historical truth: if it violates physical laws, it’s probably not “true” (at least not in a factual, historical sense; he still considers it “true” in a literary, metaphorical, even spiritual sense). He is unwilling to entertain two mutually contradictory ideas simultaneously: (1) that the physical laws by which the universe operates hold unremittingly and (2) that events that break those laws—such as resurrection, miraculous healings, and transfigurations—really did happen. In his talk, Borg referred to those who hold the latter as “fideists,” people who allow faith to trump reason.

I can tell you that my direct quote of him is not a misrepresentation. I was there, I wrote it down, and there are many others who can corroborate it. My interpretation of his position may be off, however, and if so, I’d like to apologize and correct it.

Borg makes two points about the resurrection in his post:

1) “I have consistently affirmed that Jesus was experienced after his death. According to the New Testament, those experiencing him included Mary Magdalene, Peter, the rest of the disciples, James, two travelers on the Emmaus Road, Paul, the author of Revelation, and more. Indeed, Paul refers to “five hundred” who saw Jesus.”

2) “Jesus lives: he is a figure of the present who continues to be known, not just a beloved figure of the past. Jesus is Lord: God has vindicated Jesus and made him both Lord and Christ.”

So in his post, Borg makes two positive statements about Jesus’ resurrection — that his followers experienced him, and that he lives and reigns today — and I agree with both of those. So maybe I have been misrepresenting Borg all these years.

But he’s a bit coy about what he doesn’t believe. He simply says that he doesn’t agree with me that Jesus was actually, historically, materially raised. And he misrepresents me at least once, saying that I “insist” that this must be the case. Au contraire, Professor. I don’t insist, I believe. I think Jesus actually came back from the dead, and I believe it to be so. But I surely don’t insist that is the case, and I entertain the possibility that it may not have been.

Borg ends his post with a question:

I end with a question: what is added to the meaning of the resurrection by believing, as Jones does, that it happened in a material physical bodily way? In short, what’s at stake in the difference between my view (as described by me and not by him) and his view? Do our differences matter? And if so, how?

Here’s what’s at stake, in my opinion, and what is “added to the meaning of the resurrection” to think that it really happened as it’s portrayed in the Bible:

1) Continuity with the historic church. Billions of Christians have walked this planet, and 2.2 billion are walking it right now. The vast, vast majority of them have believed that Jesus materially rose from the grave. I’d guess that about 99.5% of the Christians who ever lived have believed, like me, that Jesus physically rose. Indeed, to ask them if Jesus’ resurrection was something other than physical and historical would seem a nonsensical question to them.

The break with the historic church is not out-of-bounds for me. I’ve done it on the issue of gay marriage, for instance. But when one breaks with the historic church on an issue, the burden of proof lies heavily upon the one who is doing the breaking. I realize that, and I have tried to make my case for breaking with the historic church on the issues surrounding homosexuality. 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.

2) Faithfulness to the Gospels. The Gospels are not of one mind on the resurrection. Mark, the earliest, has nothing but an empty tomb, and John, the latest, has a much more embellished, almost flowery account. But I think that any commonsense reading of the Gospels shows that even the empty tomb of Mark indicates that something material happened to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Other Gospel accounts of Jesus cooking fish on the beach or confronting Thomas with his wounds make it clear that the very earliest church proclaimed a material, bodily resurrection.

3) Accord with Paul. As Borg himself notes in his post, Paul clearly experienced the risen Jesus. And Paul also clearly believed in a material, bodily resurrection of Jesus (and, eventually, of each of us as well). To read Paul otherwise — to say, for instance, that he was preaching a purely spiritual or visionary resurrection of Jesus — requires, I must say, a very tortured hermeneutic. Paul writes a lot about the difference between the body and the spirit — too much for my taste. He is a dichotomist in that way. He is “absent in body but present in spirit” to the Corinthians. He “disciplines” his body and makes it his “slave” for the sake of the gospel. And he constantly exhorts his readers to avoid bodily lusts.

In other words, Paul has lots of opinions about the body (soma), and he’s unafraid to differentiate between the body and the soul/spirit. If he had considered Jesus’ resurrection to be purely spiritual, he would have had no problem writing that. But when he does write what is the crowning passage on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, he makes it abundantly and repeatedly clear that Jesus’ soma was raised. Indeed, it seems likely that chapter was written because Hellenists in the Corinthian congregation, who already believed in the immortality of the soul, were questioning the physical resurrection. If one if going to deny the physical resurrection, I think one must break entirely with Paul, and that’s something I’m not willing to do, in spite of my discomfort with some of Paul’s writings.

4) It doesn’t seem to work. Finally, this: as a practical theologian, I look around; I try to keep my ear to the ground. For the last 200 years, from the quest for the historical Jesus to the demythologizing of Bultmann to the Jesus Seminar (of which Borg was a prominent member), some scholars have been trying to convince people that Jesus’ resurrection was something other than material. The “vision hypothesis” — that Jesus’ resurrection came by way of visions given to the apostles — is what Borg holds (I think), and that was first posited by David Friedrich Strauss in 1835. It’s had 178 years, and it just hasn’t caught on.

My point is this: Since the prominence of the Jesus Seminar in the 1980s and 1990s, most Western Christians have been well aware of the option Borg presents: you can be a Christian and reject the majority belief in the physical resurrection. And the vast majority of Christians have not embraced that position. Call us fideists or naive, but this idea simply has not captured the imagination of very many Christians. And I listen to that evidence, like a judge listens to a jury. The verdict is in: Jesus rose from the dead.

How this happened, especially holding a weak metaphysic, as I do, is tricky. I’m working that out, and I’ll continue to this week on QTH. And I don’t want to dichotomize between spiritual and physical resurrection — that’s why I tend to refer to it as a “material” resurrection. A materialist Christianity recognizes that what we experience as the “laws of physics” are actually a lot more plastic than previously assumed. In fact, I think that as quantum theory develops, a materialist resurrection will seem more and more compelling.

So I will, in turn, end with a question: What does one gain by rejecting the material resurrection of Jesus, and embracing, as Borg does, a more “spiritual” or “visionary” version? Does it make Christianity more palatable to a modern, empiricist, scientific populace? And if it does — a fact of which I am dubious — what do we in turn lose as a result?

(Let me reiterate my respect for Professor Borg’s scholarship. I do hope that my post will be received in the spirit that it’s intended, as fellow Christians working out important ideas in a public forum. And I really, really hope that lots of others will join in this conversation on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If you do, please leave the link in the comments.)

UPDATE: Marcus Borg has briefly responded to me here. Unfortunately, he only took up one of my four points, and he did not respond to my closing question. He did, however, refer to the empty tomb as “a parable.” I don’t know about you, but I can imagine the biblical writers knowing that Adam and Eve was a parable, or that Noah and the Flood was a parable, but I’ve read the Gospels myriad times and I cannot see any fair reading of them in which the empty tomb is a parable.

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  • Juan Carlos Torres

    I think the main benefit we reap from believing and confessing the physical resurrection is hope. Our resurrection is tied to His. We will rise because He rose. If He didn’t rise, then we really have no hope to look forward to. No resurrection, No New Creation. All of orthodox Christian theology/liturgy should be done away with as well.

    • andrew

      Though I affirm the physical resurrection by faith, I don’t see how hopelessness follows. I think an afterlife being physical sounds good but I don’t think a non physical afterlife necessarily leads to hopelessness or lack of care for the planet….. Though it has in some cases. I like your sentiment but I don’t see that it follows that we are without hope without it

      • Juan Carlos Torres

        I meant hope to look forward to [beyond death].
        As long as there is love in our world there will always be hope.
        Even if there is no god/afterlife we can still live (most of us anyways) happy,, meaningful lives. I agree with you. Thanks for making me clarify myself.

  • nathanjhill

    What I have enjoyed about Borg and other theologians is that the Gospels are actually mostly clear too that what happened in the resurrection wasn’t purely physical. I think sometimes even using the word “physical” or “bodily” or whatever can actually hinder us from reading the text without some preconceived notions.

    Take John – Jesus appears in locked rooms all of a sudden. What’s with that? Did he pick the lock and walk in? Yes, the disciples can reach out and touch him. Yes, he eats fish. But then he disappears again. There is some aspect to that which is physical but a lot that just isn’t.

    And what’s with Jesus’ master of disguise business? Why can’t the disciples recognize him? Are they dumb? Was he wearing funny hat? And how can he disappear just as the bread is broken and their eyes are opened?

    In essence, the Gospels point to something that is not purely physical or cannot alone be described on physical terms. It defied their description. And it should defy our description as well.

    So when I tell a person about the resurrection, I tell them that it was this wondrous event that happened – that the disciples experienced – and we experience. It was physical, but it was also more than physical. It is mystery – it points to something wondrous and life-giving in the midst of life for which there are no words.

  • BrotherRog

    Borg isn’t opposed to the resurrection of Jesus, he merely favors a
    spiritual resurrection over a physical one. The apostle Paul’s encounter
    on the Damascus Road was a spiritual one. Good enough for him, good
    enough for me.
    Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

    • Tony Jones

      When I heard him, he was opposed to it.

      • BrotherRog

        He’s allowed to have his opinions. I’m not opposed to the notion that Jesus was physically resurrected, but I don’t preach it. It would seem that for you his being overtly opposed to a belief matters.

    • Phil Miller

      Spiritual doesn’t imply non-physical… I think that’s the biggest error Borg is partaking in. It’s implying the the physical and spiritual worlds are separate realms. That’s not the world Scripture inhabits, to put it simply.

      • BrotherRog

        and likewise, bodily/physical doesn’t imply not spiritual. seems many also error that way too.

  • dburkum

    Thanks, Tony. Your four points about “what’s at stake” make sense to me.

  • Henry Imler

    Good post and I agree with much of it. I’d like to ask smarter people than I about Paul and sōma. Doesn’t sōma refer to “container” more than “the human body”, especially as we talk about Sarx sōmas, Psyche sōmas, and Pneuma sōmas?

    In grad school, I read Martin’s The Corinthian Body. For Martin reading of Paul’s “science”, animals, females, males, and the supernatural beings all have different grades of bodies. Humans stand at the junction of the heavenly and the earthly. Human forms are composed of three substances, σάρξ (sarx), ψυχή/, (psyche), and πνεῦμα (pneuma). Sarx refers to the fleshy component of a human, psyche to the corruptible mind, and pneuma to the incorruptible spirit. For Paul, σῶμα refers not to a physical body, but to the forms that the various substances take; thus, there is the fleshy form (sarx sōma), the mental form (psyche sōma), and the spiritual form (pneuma sōma).

    So while I think that Paul certainly thought Jesus rose from the dead physically, I think it might be misleading to quote Paul’s use of sōma and call it a day.

    BUT, it’s been a few years and I’d love to be corrected.

  • Larry Barber

    Another point is that a merely spiritual resurrection denies the “very goodness” of creation. If the resurrection is only spiritual, then the Gnostics were right, matter doesn’t matter. The material is inferior and will be discarded, but this is not the message of historic Christianity. Especially in these times the church needs to be affirming the importance and goodness of the material, of nature, of physical life.

    • CurtisMSP

      What if all matter is infused with spirit? And what if the the spirit does not exist unless and until it is embodied in matter? The Gnostics did not believe that, yet that is exactly what Jesus taught.

      Once we acknowledge that matter and spirit are intertwined with each other, we realize that the distinction between spiritual and physical resurrection is a rather pointless distinction to make.

      • Christopher Cleveland

        This is very interesting and compelling to me.

      • Rolland

        Hate to break it to you but God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the angels are all spirits without matter.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Oh well I’m glad that’s settled! :)

        • CurtisMSP

          Trinitarians believe that the spirit and the body are the same, one, single, God. God is both spirit and body at the same time.

        • Lars

          Wait, didn’t Moses get to see God’s backside through the rocks? Angels have appeared materially throughout both testaments and we may have even entertained them unaware. Is it possible Jesus was an apparition the whole time, moving easily between a spiritual and (apparent) material existence?

        • Justin Philip Cheng

          Technically, God is beyond things like flesh and blood, spirit and matter, because those qualities are qualities of created beings, and God is not created. It seems equally problematic to suggest that the Ground of Being is a spirit as it is to suggest that the Ground of Being is a physical body.

    • Guest

      Borg does not simply talk about Spiritual Resurrection.

    • David Pickett

      This, like many of the points made in this excellent conversation, makes sense if one already believes in a physical resurrection. But while an affirmation of the goodness of creation flows naturally from a belief in Jesus’ material resurrection, logic does not demand that denial of a physical resurrection necessarily denies the goodness of creation, especially considering that we have much more explicit affirmations of the goodness of creation, like in Genesis 1.

      Likewise, “If the resurrection is only spiritual, then the Gnostics were right, matter doesn’t matter.” While material resurrection certainly affirms the inherent value of the physical, affirmation of spiritual resurrection does not necessarily affirm gnosticism or negate the value of the material creation.

      I’m not so much trying to argue for spiritual resurrection over material as I am trying to sort out all the points made on either side. Sometimes when we’ve held views for a long time and have extrapolated meaning from those views, we can feel that a negation of a particular view equals a negation of the meaning we attach to it, and that’s not necessarily the case.

  • Tom McCool

    I think what we lose is the resurrection of us all. I do like to read Borg. He has opened up the historical side of the Bible in a way that has greatly enriched the text for me. I’m not one who rejects all of an author’s points because I disagree with one or two of them. Borg’s views on the resurrection is one where I disagree. I’m going on memory here, but I believe it was N.T. Wright who connected the resurrection of Jesus as the first resurrection and somewhat of a glimpse of what our own resurrected bodies will be like. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead ala Lazarus. Jesus’ resurrected body could apparently appear in a locked room and disappear at will. Sometimes he could be recognized; sometimes not. But his new body carried the wounds of his crucifixion. So it seemed to be a new body, but still carried something of the old with it. Of this world but not of this world. Maybe those who have trouble with the resurrected Christ are thinking more along the lines of reanimated flesh, when maybe what Jesus had was an entirely new (yet old) body. Even in death, Jesus remained a paradox!

  • shawnsmucker

    Excellent post, Tony.

  • Paul J. Lebens-Englund

    Good conversation — glad you’re pushing it. In ‘mainline’ and RC academic circles, we’ve generally contented ourselves with the physiological ambiguity of the resurrection, just as we have with the Incarnation. Rather than spending more time than is helpful on the physical/material nature of Jesus’ resurrected body, we often leave it sufficiently captured by the term ‘glorified’ — that is, perceptible by all our senses, but different — in continuity w/ the historical Jesus, but in some significant ways ‘unrecognizable’ (Mary in the garden, etc.), except through conversation and participation in shared actions (Emmaus).

    Borg (and Dom Crossan, in particular) has named too many historical/archaeological holes (not to mention rhetorical motives) in the accounts of the canonical Gospels to allow them to continue to function as any sort of ‘factual’ account. Still, Borg and the rest are clear that their fundamental conviction that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is strengthened, rather than diminished, by their historical Jesus studies. I have found the same to be true for me, as well.

    I appreciate your four essential points above, but have also seen them sufficiently deconstructed and reconstructed that they really can be addressed w/o the kind of epistemological rigidity you’re aiming for. For example: 1. your sense of ‘continuity’ with the ‘historic church’ seems not to honor the legacy of the early diversity of the ‘Jesus followers’ that evolved into the Christological controversies and eventual Creeds of the ‘official’ church; 2. their is no ‘commonsense reading of the Gospels’ and, if there were, they would take into account the ‘commonsense’ explanations for the presence or absence of content in any of the four canonical ‘accounts’; 3. Henry Imler (below) has just wonderfully explained the problem w/ taking Paul’s account too narrowly; and 4. not a strong argument here, even global warming is having a hard time ‘catching on.’

    Lastly, Larry Barber makes an interesting point — we DO need ‘a Body’ to reinforce the ‘very goodness of creation,’ for the reasons he mentions — God DOES need ‘a Body,’ which is why it may be helpful to see the Acts 2 ‘new creation’ narrative for ‘the Body of Christ’ as a redux of the Genesis 2 ‘creation’ narrative.

    What we CAN agree on as ‘essential’ is that there is an ‘eternal’ life and that we can participate in it both before and after physical death, despite our physiological discontinuity. That’s good news — and probably a much bigger challenge to get on board w/ than any of these scholarly debates.

    Either way, thanks, Tony, for the forum! Keep up the good work! (and I’ll be looking for you the next time you’re in Spokane, WA!)

    • KentonS

      I’ll say this, as one who affirms the bodily resurrection (“empty tomb”): it would seem to me that the physical nature of the resurrected body would in some sense be different from the physical nature of the body “sowed in mortality”. The physical world that we know is running down. (It’s prone to entropy.) If death is conquered, and the tomb was empty Jesus’ post-resurrection body wouldn’t be prone to entropy in the same way. That means the *physics* must be different. In that sense, you could say I don’t believe in the “physical” resurrection. Calling it “glorified” is fine, but the question remains was the tomb empty?

      • Paul J. Lebens-Englund

        Borg, Crossan, and most of the Jesus Seminar folks would affirm ‘the empty tomb,’ though for very different reasons. Some would say there was no literal tomb, factually speaking. Others would say the tomb was ‘empty’ b/c there was no body to put in the tomb in the first place, i.e. no Joseph of Arimathea. Others would say the tomb was ‘empty’ b/c the authorities ‘fed it to the dogs’ out of contempt. Others would say the tomb was ‘empty’ b/c the believers ‘hid it’ in order to induce faith in the resurrection. B/c of this diversity of historical debate (much of which is very reasonable), the ‘empty tomb’ isn’t really the key, so much as the ‘experience of the risen Lord,’ which is where Borg rightly puts his time and energy.

        • KentonS

          That’s a semantic game. Affirming an empty tomb b/c the authorities fed it to the dogs or b/c the believers hid it, is for all real purposes denying the empty tomb. Denying it is fine, but talking out of both sides of one’s mouth is weaselly.

          • Paul J. Lebens-Englund

            Not really. They’re just more focused on the body than on the tomb.

            • KentonS

              Yes, you do focus on the body when you reject out of hand the premise that it rose up. If you can question the premise, the emptiness of the tomb becomes the subject of focus. That’s why the idea that the JS folks affirm the empty tomb is a semantic game. Affirming the “empty tomb” and then saying the body was moved or destroyed is a classic bait-and-switch.

  • David R. Henson

    Tradition, common sense readings of Scripture, and agreeing with Paul. I remember these three criteria from my days as a conservative evangelical, particularly that second one since its most rooted in Scottish Common Sense Realism and the literalism it helped to spawn.

    Interestingly, Borg asks a primary question about the difference in meaning, and your primary question is one of gain or loss. You also imply the answer in your question in your follow-up query rather than leave it open-ended. That is substantial. It implies a posture closed to dialogue.

    • tanyam

      I came here because you posted Jone’s article, along with the word “yawn.” There are all sorts of ways to shut down dialogue –maybe that’s not what either of you intended?

      • David R. Henson

        With respect, it seems not to have shut down dialogue here or there.

  • Drew Sumrall

    Tony, my god. ‘I believe it because the Church does’?

    • Craig

      That, and that it’s a catchy idea with the public.

      Or, as he recently claimed, it’s “an article of faith to me — it’s something I believe, and I believe it because I think it’s beautiful and revolutionary.”

      Make of it what you will.

    • Tony Jones

      Drew, I am still a part of the church. The church’s witness is still valuable to me, and I don’t toss it aside lightly.

      • Nick Gotts

        So you believe it not because there’s any good reason to do so, but because lots of other people do, and some of them do so wearing robes and funny hats.

    • Ben Hammond

      What he said regarding that seemed to be a bit more complex.

  • tsgIII

    I am going to comment about Schleiermacher, but I think it applies. In his chief theological work, Der christliche Glaube nach den Grundsatzen der evangelischen Kirche, the fundamental principle is that religious feeling is the source and basis of theology. The sense of absolute dependence on God as communicated by Jesus, and not the creeds or scripture. The work is a description of the inner life of the soul in its relation to God. Its aim was acknowledged as to put an end to the superficiality of religion as to supernaturalism and faith(as the regalia of the Godhead, as his father said to him). It presents the ideas that religion assumes a desire to lose oneself in the infinite, rather than to preserve one’s own finite self. It’s in the sense of Jesus as being unique, that ultimately everyone will be compared to him, that the implications of the resurrection are consciously and unconsciously objectionable to one that seeks to preserve their own finite self.

  • Muzi Cindi

    “Billions of Christians have walked this planet, and 2.2 billion are walking it right now. The vast, vast majority of them have believed IN THE LITERAL ADAM & EVE (that Jesus materially rose from the grave). I’d guess that about 99.5% of the Christians who ever lived have believed, like me, that THERE WAS A LITERAL ADAM & EVE (Jesus physically rose). Indeed, to ask them if ADAM & EVE (Jesus’ resurrection) was something other than physical and historical would seem a nonsensical question to them”.

    I have deep compassion for the part of your Psychology that requires a physical & historical resurrection, in order to feel safe and secure. Please understand that some of us would be militant atheists today had it not been for the likes of Professor Marcus Borg and The Jesus Seminar Fellows.

    • Ric Shewell

      Tony clearly says that those breaking from tradition carry the burden of proof. People in the faith that reject a literal reading of the Creation narratives do so with evidence in biology and biblical studies, in such a way that it becomes clear that we cannot hold to a literal interpretation (even using the words “literal interpretation” here is wrong, but thats another thing).

      Those that want to break away from the tradition view of a bodily resurrection carry the burden to prove that Christ did not bodily rise. No one has done that in such a way that it becomes clear that we cannot hold on to a belief that Christ rose from the dead. What is the argument or proof that Jesus did not rise? The fact that dead people don’t rise? As if that is some new discovery? For the entire run of the Church, Christians have been believing that Christ rose from the dead exactly in defiance of the known natural law that dead people don’t rise. What new evidence do we have that requires Christians to give up the resurrection? The burden is on those who want to breakaway, and their arguments are left wanting.

      • Lynn

        Hi Ric. What would suffice as proof that Jesus didn’t physically resurrect? How do we prove a negative? I am honestly asking, not trying to bait, really would like to know what people who do believe in a physical resurrection might find compelling.

        • Ric Shewell

          That is a fantastic question. Belief in the resurrection is a belief that the natural law has been interrupted, so merely demonstrating the natural law will never be enough to refute the belief in the resurrection. So what needs to be proven is not “dead people don’t rise,” what needs to be proven is that “Jesus did not rise.” Finding Jesus’ dead body would be pretty good evidence of that. I’m not sure what else. Maybe an undoctored 1st century testimony by disciples that confess its all a lie. Both those things we don’t have access to.

      • Andrew Dowling

        As I state in my post above, I think a critical reading of the Resurrection accounts themselves leaves the argument that a literal bodily Resurrection occurred “wanting” . .

      • NateW

        To play devil’s advocate, I’d say that there is far more biological evidence against being raised from the dead than there is for evolution.

        • Ric Shewell

          I agree, but the earliest believers also observed that the dead cannot be raised to life. That’s knowledge that they had. But they believed in spite of that fact. The fact that dead people don’t come back alive is nothing new.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Jesus’s resurrection is also not the only Resurrection in the NT. Lazarus gets raised; the young girl in the Synoptics gets raised, many ‘saints’ get raised in conjunction with Jesus’s death in Matthew, and in Acts the Apostles raise an unnumbered people from the dead. So were these stories meant to convey literal bodily resuscitations? Did the natural law just happen to be interrupted all the time in the Apostolic Age, and then stopped? Or are these stories more metaphorical.

            One answer is much more highly likely than the other.

            • Ric Shewell

              Yep. I don’t know what else to say. When we take the biblical narrative, miraculous things are not happening everywhere throughout the story, mostly only in really 3 specific spots: The Exodus, Elijah/Elisha, and Jesus/Apostles. Right? The story witnesses these specific times where the natural law was interrupted. It’s not happening all the time everywhere. It’s Modernity’s hubris to say that the way we perceive things must be the way they are, have always been, and will always be.

              The result of the testimony of the Apostolic Age makes me think, against modern sensibilities, that it is likely that Christ rose from the dead. News of Christ’s bodily resurrection was not refuted in the time when it would have been easiest to do so by presenting the dead body. There were multiple witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. Against their own well-being, the Apostles and disciples actively proclaimed the resurrection. And the church grew like wild fire. All for a metaphor? That seems unlikely to me.

              • Andrew Dowling

                Genesis? Pretty much whenever the Bible is telling a narrative, miraculous things are happening. Of course that wouldn’t be a part of the Prophets because they aren’t describing past events.
                And you didn’t answer my question . .were all of the non-Jesus resurrections in the NT literal physical resurrections? In 1st century Judea, were there several occurrences of a radical breaking of scientific/natural law that has never occurred before or since anywhere else on Earth? If you say yes, that’s fine. We simply disagree. If not, I don’t get how you align that with what you’ve stated previously.

                • Ric Shewell

                  The first 11 chapters of Genesis are different for obvious reasons. They are pre-historic by their own admission. When the narrative of Israel starts with Abraham, we have a pretty sudden stop of miraculous shit until the Exodus. Visions and dreams of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph might be seen as miraculous, but I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about.

                  My point is that Scripture testifies that “miraculous” events surround particular moments in history. They are not normative. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Gideon, Ruth, Samuel, David, Solomon, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, etc, never did a miracle.

                  There are always a few exception.

                  I don’t know if the other resurrections in the NT were literal physical resurrections, but I don’t really have any reason to think they weren’t. The NT presents them like they were, knowing full-well that this defies nature, and are thus miraculous and a reason for the public and the reader to sit up and pay attention. The miracles of Jesus’ time actually point us to the other times: the Exodus and Elijah. The gospels make these connections pretty explicitly. Nowhere more bluntly than in the Transfiguration.

                  The resurrection of Jesus is something different than these other resurrections. The NT treats Jesus’ resurrection as the beginning of the New Creation for all things.

                  I got no problem saying that miraculous things happen at some times and not at other times. Like right now, I’m pretty skeptical that miracles happen today. I don’t know where I’m inconsistent in my thoughts here. I’m happy to hear where you think I might be inconsistent with myself.

                  • R Vogel

                    Didn’t G*d destroy Sodom & Gemmorah during Abraham? Didn’t Sarah have a baby when she was like 1000 yrs old? (hyperbole) Didn’t Abraham have lunch with G*d in bodily form? Didn’t Jacob wrestle with an angel? Didn’t Samson kill 1000 people with the jawbone of an ass and pull down a temple all by himself? These weren’t miracles?

              • ortcutt

                In the present age, claims of miracles are abundant. It’s actual miracles which are non-existent. Why should we think that it was any different in antiquity when people knew next to nothing?

                • Ric Shewell

                  This is the exact modern hubris I mentioned. I’ll concede this point: it is perfectly reasonable for a person to think that Jesus did not rise from the dead. I get it, I understand that. I understand why people can’t believe in the resurrection. I don’t think they are dumb or somehow unenlightened.

                  When it comes to Jesus, I think we have to agree on a few things to even begin a conversation: 1) Jesus actually existed. 2) The event/the person of Jesus is important. And 3) the event is not so easily explained.

                  For me, a bodily resurrection best explains the events surrounding Jesus and the subsequent rise of Christianity. Resurrection is obviously not an easy explanation since it requires a suspension of modern sensibilities. However, in my opinion, other explanations don’t seem to add up. NT Wright works with the classic alternatives to bodily resurrection in the last chapter or so of Resurrection of the Son of God, and demonstrates why they fall short. I recommend that reading for a more robust conversation of what I’ve said here.

                  • ortcutt

                    The explanandum isn’t “the event”. The explanandum is the texts that were written decades later. My point is simply that claims of miracles are easy to produce. Miracles are much harder to produce. It’s certainly ridiculous for Tony Jones to summarily dismiss the vision hypothesis on the grounds that a majority of Christians disagree. We don’t do history by taking surveys.

                    • Ric Shewell

                      Belief in visions and spirits is just as fantastical as belief in miracles and resurrection. What we have is witness testimony handed down through generations, and even though our earliest written testimonies are 20 years after the event, Paul quotes liturgy that demonstrates a particularly developed christology that was in place before he wrote his letters. Although our surviving documents are decades later, there was clearly a community and a christology in place almost immediately after the crucifixion. As members of this community, I don’t see a reason to give up this belief for a belief in immaterial spirits and visions that are just as ascientific and unverifiable as bodily resurrection.

            • Matt

              I think there are a lot of metaphorical accounts in the bible but I believe the central event of the Bible ie. Christ’s resurrection was not metaphorical although I keep a very open mind as to what exactly the reality if the resurrection is

      • Muzi Cindi

        I do not place God behind the Bible. I place fallible human beings who spoke in line with the science of their time (a three-tiered Universe). They understood God to be Holy and above. They interpreted THEIR experiences as Jesus going to a place above. We know, today, in line with modern science that there is no God above this expanding Universe. THEY WERE WRONG! — What is happening in the Universe; globally; is THE RESURRECTION!

        • Tony Jones

          Muzi, you can put your faith in science. That’s fine. I like science, too. But in the end, science is a faith system. “We know, today…” you confidently asset. I, on the other hand, am not quite so chronocentric as you. And I’m not so sure that we know as much as we think we know…

          • Craig

            Yes, we can say that science and mathematics are, like Tony’s religion, just “faith systems.” And evolution by natural selection is, like the Birther conspiracy, just a “theory.”

            But beware of assimilations. And beware of overgeneralizing your own discipline’s lack of progress, especially if you are, like Tony, a theologian. In biochemistry, linguistics, medicine, and in many other fields, we make progress.

            • Tony Jones

              There’s been plenty of progress in theology, philosophy, linguistics, literary theory, and other fields in the humanities. To suggest otherwise is scientific arrogance, but I realize that’s common today.

              • Craig

                Tony, in your assimilations you fail to note the significant contrasts. Chemists have ample reason not to spend their time studying the theories of the ancients. Why do you suppose that is?

                Take care, moreover, not to assimilate theology with “the other humanities”. Divinity schools typically have very different standards than philosophy programs, even if nominally belonging to the same institution, as at Princeton and Harvard.

                • Ben Hammond

                  Craig — Are you referring ThDs, or saying that PhD in a religious field is essentially the same?

                  “Divinity schools typically have very different standards than philosophy programs, even if nominally belonging to the same institution, as at Princeton and Harvard.”

                  Can you be more specific? In that comment it’s not clear if you are just saying that the degrees are different, or if you are saying a PhD in a religious field is inferior to a PhD in Philosophy.

                  If the latter, can you provide peer reviewed sources for that assertion?

                  • Craig

                    At these two institutions, the standards of rigor in their respective divinity schools are lower, as are, on average, the critical thinking abilities of the students at the divinity schools. In these respects, a PhD in religious studies will tend to mean less than a PhD in Philosophy. This is not to deny that there are also respects in which PhDs in Philosophy are inferior to PhDs in religious studies.

                    That’s my claim. I can’t recall any peer reviewed papers on it, but it’s the sort of claim that is regularly acknowledged at these schools, even by the divinity school students themselves (though, presumably, not by all such students).

                    • Ben Hammond

                      Thanks. It would be really interesting if someone did conduct some official research in regards to that, since it is something that is thrown around so much. To be clear, I’m not asserting that something being thrown around means that it’s untrue by any means. Only saying it would indicate that it deserves more attention.

                      The reasons behind the idea make a lot of sense — as I’ve heard more times than I can count that “religious degrees have at their base the motivation to preserve ideas that others have already arrived at rather than purely seeking what is…”. That’s not the way I pursued my education (though I did start as a philosophy major, which definitely influenced the way I did my work once I switched), but I am familiar with many that fit that stereotype all too well.

                    • Craig

                      If you are casually interested in this question, I bet you could find some suggestive anecdotal evidence by putting the question to divinity school students who have taken (not just audited) philosophy department courses. There is a kind of argumentative rigor that’s expected in contemporary philosophy (especially at a department like Princeton’s) that’s not nearly as prominent in theological training, or even in many other humanities departments. That kind of rigor isn’t everything, but it does count for something. I think it helps to account for the modicum of progress that contemporary academic philosophy can point to (which still isn’t like the progress made in certain other fields).

                    • Craig

                      The motivation point is interesting. It would seem to put the goal of religious studies somewhere between the prototypical goals of studying the history of ideas (seeking to understand what people used to think, and why) and Philosophy. Maybe religious students more often assume that the truth was already known, or most clearly understood, by (certain of) the ancients. That assumption isn’t so dominant in philosophy; it has no currency at all in fields like chemistry or linguistics.

          • Muzi Cindi

            You’ve staked your faith in primitive Bible science and pretty certain about it, to even defend it. I’ve staked my faith on modern science and am pretty certain about it; until of course, there’s new discoveries in science. I’m okay with approaching God through modern science.

            • Tony Jones

              “Primitive Bible science”? Hardly. More like literary theory. But good luck with your faith in science.

              • MichaelL65

                Good luck with that belief in shit written by bronze age goat herders.

              • jeffstraka

                Let’s see how literary theory helps you when you need end up in a hospital needing surgery. I’m pretty sure science is gonna be involved and that the surgeon uses what they know what they think they know.

          • MichaelL65

            You have no clue as to how science works.

        • Cynthia Brown Christ

          I would love to hear more about what you mean by the resurrection happening in the universe globally!

          • Muzi Cindi

            There’s an AWAKENING touching millions of lives today. This emergence of Spirituality is far beyond our Christian religion. Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, and even Atheists are awakening from their fundamentalist hard cored dogmas and beliefs. Many atheists are re-thinking their core dogmas; just like many religious people are re-thinking their core dogmas. Dr. Diana Butler-Bass said a lot about this in her book; CHRISTIANITY AFTER RELIGION; subtitled: The End of Church and The Birth of A New Spiritual Awakening. — You are welcome to browse it’s reviews on the net.

      • jeffstraka

        Do you have proof that there is no flying spaghetti monster or flying unicorns? The burden is on you to prove they are not real.

        • Ric Shewell

          Oh, so you don’t really read things. That’s cool.

          • jeffstraka

            I’m not sure why it got posted in this position. I was responding to your request of “proof” of something that didn’t happen (the bodily resurrection). How can one prove a non-existence? That was my point. And the reason a tomb/grave with Jesus’ unresurrected body has not been discovered? Likely because the Messiah mythology was constructed longer after his death (and so his body would not have been buried in a well-marked location) or (gasp!) he was completely a myth.

    • ChuckQueen101

      Maybe Tony should be writing on the evangelical portal at Patheos

      • Ben Hammond

        Holding to physical resurrection means you are evangelical?

        • ChuckQueen101

          No, not at all. But being dogmatic about it and putting such weight on it and being so dismissive of other views (such as Marcus Borg’s view) as Tony does in his blog and in some of his comments are approaches that reflect and correspond to how evangelicals would respond. My point is that Tony responds to Dr. Borg the way a typical evangelical might respond.

          • Barnaby Perkins

            If dogmatism and being dismissive of the views of other people is what makes someone an evangelical, Marcus Borg could probably also write on the Patheos evangelical portal. It ain’t just evangelicals who get all dogmatic.

            • ChuckQueen101

              I have read just about everything Borg has written and I am unaware of any passage where he is dismissive or dogmatic. Could you give an example? Borg likes to say that if you are comfortable being a literalist and don’t beat anyone up with it, and it helps you become a better person, then he is all for you being a literalist.

          • MainlineP

            I think you are a little harsh with the judgmental charge. Tony made the kind of points one makes in any full throated debate, and I found his responses to Prof. Borg quite respectful (That doesn’t mean I agree with all of them. I’m mulling this over myself). There was nothing of the curled lip, dismissive,and harsh response one gets with a certain kind of closed mind evangelical. Moreover, belief in a bodily resurrection is hardly limited to evangelicals as our RC and Orthodox friends, and mainline Protestants of a centrist bent like me are hardly biblical literalists of the fundamentalist school.

    • Cynthia Brown Christ

      Awesome post! Cindi. My sentiments exactly!

    • Justin Philip Cheng

      “I have deep compassion for the part of your Psychology that requires a
      physical & historical resurrection, in order to feel safe and

      Christian kindness is not a form of passive aggressiveness cloaked in teary sentiment.

    • Whit Johnstone

      Many of the Church Fathers, including Origen and St. Augustine, regarded the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 as metaphorical. None of the Fathers or Mothers regarded the Resurrection as metaphorical.

  • Richard Jones

    Really liked the article. Well done. But in this quote

    ["Why would the resurrection seem unbelievable to Borg? It’s because he is beholden to a certain framework for historical truth: if it violates physical laws, it’s probably not “true” (at least not in a factual, historical sense; he still considers it “true” in a literary, metaphorical, even spiritual sense). He is unwilling to entertain two mutually contradictory ideas simultaneously: (1) that the physical laws by which the universe operates hold unremittingly and (2) that events that break those laws—such as resurrection, miraculous healings, and transfigurations—really did happen."],

    you seem to contradict a position you stated in the QTH discussion on demons:

    “I’ve come to the conclusion that at this point in my theological career, I can best be described as a “Christian materialist.”

    It seems to me that Borg is asserting a Christian materialist position and you are arguing against it. Am I missing something?

    • danhauge

      I like this point. Overall, Tony, I liked and agreed with most of what you wrote about the resurrection, but I couldn’t help but think it was a little ironic, since you generally take the opposite position on your first three points when dealing with questions of angels and demons, or the efficacy of prayer in healing, or most other things ‘supernatural’, on the ground that you are a “materialist”, who “rejects metaphysics”. But in a sense, what could be more “metaphysical” than an actual God who could actually raise Jesus from the dead?

  • andrew

    Tony- it may help if you lay out your perceived consequences for not believing in a physical resurrection. For many it is that you will go straight to hell. I don’t think that’s what you mean, but since these issues have been so wrapped up in abusive heresy hunting for those of us who have questions, clarifying the consequences you see may help people better understand opposing positions.

  • Curt Weaver

    Tony, I don’t have an answer but I wish to ask a question… If one takes the life of Jesus…His teachings, death and resurrection …and then removes any certainty about the resurrection part…do you still follow Him? Are you still able to see him as a manifestation of the Divine? My struggle with certainty about the resurrection is that Christian History has loaded that part of the story with the hope of our own eternal life…or said another way our fear of death (nonexistence). Belief attached to the resurrection becomes co-mingled with our own selfish desire to exist… to win the game. (a very non-Jesus kind of desire) There is something about allowing the resurrection to remain mystery for me that offers an important check to my motivations…it clears up the answer to why I follow Jesus.

    Thanks for making me think Tony!

    • Tony Jones

      Yes, I think one can still be a follower of Jesus without assenting to a material resurrection. Definitely. But I think that it denudes Christianity of much of its beauty, puts you in opposition to the historic church, and puts you in serious danger of gnosticism.

  • CurtisMSP

    This body / spirit dualism did not exist at the time of Jesus’ resurrection. People either existed, or they didn’t. Body and spirit were totally intertwined. The physical was spirit, and the spirit was physical.

    Plato usually gets credit for first stating the idea of body / spirit dualism, at least in Western culture, a couple hundred years before Jesus’ birth. But the separation of body from spirit did not enter popular consciousness until the work of Descartes, around 1600 years later.

    Since Paul and his contemporaries did not make a distinction between body and spirit, we can’t really use their writings to inform us on the topic of body vs. spirit — they did not write from a dualistic frame of reference.

    If the people of Jesus’ time did not make a distinction between body and spirit, then why do we make such a fuss over it now?

    • andrew

      Do you mean to imply that the people of Jesus’s time were correct and so there is no point in inquiring into anything that might point to some sort of less or unmaterial reality? Or simply that to read it out of their context is an error of interpretation?

      • CurtisMSP

        Some New Testament accounts speak of a physical resurrection, some speak only to a spiritual resurrection. Both types of accounts are correct, in the context in which they were written, because the writers of the time did not make a distinction between spiritual and physical reality. The writers described their experience of the resurrection from their frame of references, that spiritual and physical are both inseparable parts of every human experience.

        Trying to force 300 AD texts into the framework of 1600 AD dualism is an error of interpretation.

    • Thursday1

      The distinction between body and spirit was there, but was understood in a different way.

      • CurtisMSP

        That’s sorta another way of saying what I am trying to say. The early Christians understood the world, and expressed their understanding, in a pre-modern framework. Our modern view that makes a clear distinction between body and spirit was not the worldview of the earliest followers of Christ.

    • mcbalz

      Curtis you’re just plain wrong about this. Read 1 Cor. 15 more carefully and see my comment above.

      • CurtisMSP

        It is clear that Paul personally experienced the risen Christ. Paul writes about it several times, and the most famous account of Paul’s experience is his conversion after meeting Christ on the road to Damascus. That is the point that Paul not only experiences the resurrected Christ, but Paul experiences his own, personal, physical, spiritual, resurrection.

        But it is also clear that Paul is trying to describe a resurrection that he does not fully understand, using language and knowledge that is limited and incomplete. Our language is trapped in its analogies to the natural world — flesh, seeds, bodies. So Paul is stuck trying to explain this indescribable resurrection using the only tool he has, our incomplete, limited, inaccurate human language.

        Paul does the best he can. But in the end, his exasperation shows. Like Nicodemus who can’t understand rebirth unless a person actually, physically re-enters the womb, Paul’s response to those who insist on asking “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”, to those who insist on understanding resurrection in purly physical, worldly terms, is the same response as mine: “How foolish!”

        • CurtisMSP

          Actually, Paul’s final response is not “How foolish!”, but rather:

          “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

          Hopefully we can all agree to disagree on this indescribable, unknowable, matter of resurrection, and come, together, to the same conclusion as Paul.

  • Kent Krabill

    Tony, I appreciate the article and your respectful tone. I have read several of Professor Borg’s books and agree with you that he pushes the resurrection argument a bit too far. But I think he has nicely handled 3 of your 4 points in his works (there really is no need to handle #1 specifically if #’s 1-3 are handled sufficiently). I have walked away from his works having a deeper understanding of the heart of Christianity and the importance of Jesus being alive today (spiritually) and being Lord today (spiritually). In the end, does it really matter whether you or I (or any other person, for that matter) believe that Jesus’ actual physical body was brought back to life? If so, why? Isn’t the important thing to believe that Jesus is alive (and therefore we will be, too), this new life is qualitatively different than his previous life (no more suffering, pain, injustice, etc.) and this new spiritual body, unlike the material body, will never decay or die? I simply do not understand why believing in a physical resurrection is in any way tied to our hope, as one of the comment suggests. With that said, I believe, as you do and for the reasons you have stated, that Jesus’ resurrection was both material and spiritual. The point that I am trying to make is that we may be hindering people from entering the Kingdom of God by demanding that they believe exactly as we do. And I trust that none of us want to do that. Cheers.

    • AlanCK

      Good comments, Kent. However, since Jesus Christ as testified to in the New Testament is written from the perspective of his bodily resurrection as a reality, there is considerable loss of meaning as to the content of the New Testament without it. To affirm life without body is to simply say something that the New Testament does not say. Is resurrection a hindrance to some? Well, they booed and jeered Paul on the aeropagus and so perhaps it is.

      • Kent Krabill

        Alan, thanks for the reply. You say “since Jesus Christ as testified to in the New Testament is written from the perspective of his bodily resurrection as a reality,” but in his books, Borg carefully explains why your statement may not be completely inaccurate. Indeed, he argues (at times) just the opposite. The people experienced Christ, but the bodily part is not magnified at all. I, like you, tend to disagree with his conclusions (and others like him), but to say, like you do, that “to affirm life without body is to simply say something that the New Testament does not say” is incorrect. Rather, it doesn’t fit with your interpretation of the New Testament, which is fine. Finally, the resurrection isn’t a hindrance to Borg or others who agree with him. Indeed, they celebrate it. They just see it differently than you and I. But again, at the end of the day, they embrace Jesus as Lord. And that is a beautiful thing.

    • Tony Jones

      If you read any “demands” in my post above, please tell me where they are.

      • Kent Krabill

        I think your writing here teeters on demanding that a follower of Jesus embrace your belief that Jesus came back from the dead in a material way. For example, you write that you think and
        believe “Jesus actually came back from the dead [presumably you mean in a material way]”. You then write “But I surely don’t insist that is the case, and I entertain the possibility that it may not have been.” So far, so good. But later on, while setting forth your four arguments about what is at stake if people don’t believe what you believe, you write “The verdict is in:
        Jesus rose from the dead [again, I assume you mean in a material way].” Thus, in your opinion, the historic church, the Gospels, Paul, and pragmatism all demand that we believe that Jesus came back from the dead in a material way. Put differently, you have set up your argument in such a way that, if I embrace Prof. Borg’s approach, I am rejecting the historic church, the Gospels, Paul, and pragmatism. Again, this approach is one that I fear may hinder people from entering the Kingdom of God.

        From my perspective, you would be far better served by simply admitting that Prof. Borg interprets the Gospels and Paul differently than you do, and thus the materiality of Jesus’ resurrection is not of the same import to him. At the end of the day, it seems to me (and please correct me if I am wrong) that you really don’t give much weight to #1 and #4 when it comes to a whole host of other issues (please don’t think I am saying you don’t feel church history and pragmatism are important; what I mean is that if you feel you have a correct interpretation of the Scriptures, then you are fine standing against those who make arguments based on the historical church and pragmatism). So what you are really arguing is that Prof. Borg’s explanation of the Gospels and Paul are not
        satisfying to you. I agree (although, as I explained previously, they have helped me immensely in my understanding and
        respect for Jesus), but at the same time I recognize that whether or not I agree with Prof. Borg’s approach, it affords people the opportunity to embrace Jesus as Lord and enter his Kingdom. And for this, I am thankful.

  • Bill

    When I heard Marcus Borg speak on this issue he affirmed the resurrection, but argued that it shouldn’t (or need not) be understood in a physical sense. While I favor the idea of a physical bodily resurrection (probably for some of the same reasons Tony does, although the fact that it has been traditionally believed in the past is not one of them), Borg’s analysis is thoughtful, based on his own careful exegegis and of course proceeds from a passionate believer, rather than a skeptic. If I recall correctly he himself has had a powerful conversion experience. Like billions of other Christians he has experieced the living Christ, without having had to perceive an actual physical resurrected body.

    While I don’t come to the same conclusion as him, there is certainly Scriptural evidence to support his conclusion. The first written account of the resurrection that we still have is not found in the gospels, but rather in Paul’s letters. In 1Corinthians 15 he says the resurrected body is a “spiritual body” (soma pneumatikon) rather than a “natural body” (soma physikon). And he says that Christ appeared to him in the same way he appeared to the other witnesses of the resurrection, yet the appearance to Paul seems to have been in a vision, rather than in person. The resurrection accounts in the gospels suggest physical resurrection of course, but they also leave room to question that, as those who saw the resurrected Christ are reported to have had trouble recognizing him and to continue doubting even after seeing him. And of course if Jesus rose in the same way Lazarus did, then there is the issue of what happened to his physical body. Is he still a human man somewhere, perhaps sitting on a throne in heaven? That raises plenty of interesting questions and I’m looking forward to how Tony answers the question.

    I don’t think any of us needs to “reconsider” our beliefs (in the sense that we are being instructed to do so by someone in possession of superior knowledge or piety) so much as we need to constantly test and wrestle with them. Bottom line for me is that Marcus Borg makes valuable and important contributions to this discussion. I value what he has to say and give him props and credit for doing so.

  • Greg Gorham

    I haven’t heard anything from Marcus Borg that I took as opposing the resurrection. Even the quote above doesn’t mean he opposes the resurrection. He just doesn’t think the resurrection of Jesus involves reanimating his corpse.

    Look at what people say at funerals. They talk about their loved ones having gone to a better place, that they’re watching over the family now, that they’ll see them again. None of that involves reanimating a corpse. It means their soul lives on, really lives, but now without a physical body. Or look at all the people who have had near-death experiences. The experience takes place outside the body.

    • 1PeterW

      Most of what people say about the dead at funerals are based on popular belief, and, if in any way Christian, are mediated (distorted) through Neo-Platonism and Dante into immortality of the soul, not a hebraic view of the self (which cannot live apart from a body), the resurrection of the dead, and the new creation of Revelation.

      • Greg Gorham

        That assumes that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament held to a Hebraic view of the self and were not themselves influenced by Plato. I’d suggest they were highly influenced by Plato and that the early church had diverse views about the resurrection and whether it was physical or spiritual.

        • 1PeterW

          What evidence do you have for your view that Jesus and the NT writers were “highly influenced by Plato?” There is no reason to believe Jesus had any exposure to Plato, and Paul, although he was conversant with some Greek philosophy and wrote in Greek (inadequately translated in the KJV by scholars influenced by the rediscovery of Greek philosophy,) was shown by W.D. Davies and others to have been thoroughly rabbinic and Hebraic. The Gospel of John might be seen to have been influenced by Platonism, although it is also, in its philosophical reflective style, a counter argument to at least proto-Gnosticism.

          • Greg Gorham

            Even some of the forms of Judaism that were practiced at the time were influenced heavily by Plato and other religious traditions. Philo is a great example of this and he was contempora neous with Jesus. I’d suggest Greg Riley’s book The River of God as a possible resource. For just one example, all of the references to the soul in the NT can’t be derived from the Hebrew Bible. The ancient Hebrews had a very different anthropology.

            • 1PeterW

              Please explain why all of the references to the “soul” in the NT can’t be derived from the Hebrew scriptures. For example, there is nothing inherent in Paul’s use of psyche to translate nephesh that contradicts Hebraic anthropology. It’s the lenses through which we read, our frame of reference, not the language, that determines our interpretation.

              There is no evidence that Jesus himself would have been influenced by or particularly conversant with Greek philosophy. On the contrary, coming from a contract labor class, and apparently not having traveled far from Galilee or Jerusalem, he might have been aware of the ferment of competing beliefs in the first century world but little more. And even Paul’s use of Greek language or the rudiments of philosophical ideas in argument doesn’t imply acceptance.

            • 1PeterW

              Others besides Greg Riley have taken the truth that there were multiple versions of early Christianity as evidence that Christianity’s essence can be traced to the Essenes, or Gnostic Judaism, or other influences. While it’s true that many have read second century rabbinic Judaism back into the New Testament world, that doesn’t mean that we can discount the role of the Judaism of the Hebrew scriptures in the spiritual formation and self-understanding of Jesus of Nazareth, to use the Greek designation.

    • Whit Johnstone

      This is why we need to start preaching the Resurrection of the Body in a really agressive way.

  • ChuckQueen101

    Tony, you sound like a “conservative” – continuity with the church, faithfulness to the Gospels, accord with Paul. The Gospel writers and Paul and the church for much of its history has believed in a interventionist, literal Second Coming as well. Does that mean it is compelling or likely? Not in my judgment. Who knows what really happened? Isn’t it enough that Jesus as the Christ is our archetypal image of true humanity (a life lived immersed in the Spirit and divine love) and that whatever else the resurrection of Jesus was, it was primarily vindication of his nonviolent commitment to God’s cause (the kingdom of God) and obedience to God’s will. Resurrection itself was an apocalyptic idea that emerged out of a environment immersed in dualistic, apocalyptic thought. The need for vindication gave rise to it. I certainly believe in life after death, but who knows what form or expression that will take. The resurrection of Jesus (whatever we make of it) is vindication of what true humanity looks like and what God is about.

  • tanyam

    I’m with Tony in believing in an actual resurrection, though I really don’t care what other people think. What has bothered me in the presentations I’ve heard Borg give, ( half a dozen times at least) is the conflation of “fundamentalism” with those of us who take the bodily resurrection of Christ seriously. It would be big news to most of the faculty at Yale Divinity School going back a few generations, to think that because they believe in the resurrection, they stand beside all those people who think humans rode dinosaurs or that animals marched on a boat, 2 by 2.

    Every time I’ve heard Borg speak, he draws a line down the middle of a chalkboard (literally or figuratively) and says you’re on one side or the other. You’re a fundamentalist or you’re enlightened, you’re a biblical literalist or you aren’t.(He uses other words, but the meaning is the same, you’re one or the other.) Seems to me it sells well, its nice and simple, it just doesn’t correspond to the truth. I think it appeals to so many people who’ve never been to seminary — if they have to pick a side, they’re clearly not with the snake handlers.

    Tony offers up an example of a perspective that takes historical criticism seriously — but hasn’t felt the need to jettison the resurrection. There are plenty of us around.

    • Tony Jones

      That’s right. He is a dichotomist. And it seems, according to Borg, that you and I are in the same camp as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

      • mike l.

        Yes, Tony, you are in that camp with Falwell and Robertson on this one issue. That doesn’t mean you are always in their camp on every issue, but definitely on this issue. The reason is that you’ve chosen to make an emphatic declaration based solely on religious superstition and ignore the magnitude of the hard evidence to the contrary.

        Instead, I would hope you might consider a “proper confidence”, which would mean the level of confidence in your claim never exceeds the strength of the evidence for that claim. We’d all have more civil conversations if everyone did this. That is exactly what the framework of science provides. It demands that we temper our confidence in light of the amount of evidence. Science demands, as Leslie Newbigin said, “A proper confidence.”

  • Ann

    Apparently you aren’t the only one who has heard Borg utter this response to the question of whether the tomb was empty or not “If I had to bet a dollar or my life, I’d bet there was no tomb. And if there was a tomb then it was not empty….Of course there was no physical, literal resurrection. That’s impossible.”

    • Tony Jones

      I didn’t know Jason back then. I bet we were sitting close to one another, cuz I was also in the back.

  • Gregory

    Out beyond the ideas of Borg and Jones there is a field. I will meet you there.

    • Agni Ashwin

      There is the field, and the knower of the field.

    • KentonS

      I found a treasure in that field. I have sold everything I own to purchase it.

  • ChuckQueen101

    Tony, when you say “those who take the historical Jesus to be significantly less than the Gospels portray him to be are not interesting to me” sounds like a conservative dismissive of historical-critical scholarship. You believe Jesus walked on water and actually multiplied the bread and fish? Really?

    When Borg says that he would bet that the tomb was not empty or there was no tomb he is expressing what many progressive Christians think. Hans Kung has argued brilliantly, I think, in “On Being a Christian” that the empty tomb story was necessary to show the continuity between Jesus and the Christ. It’s Jesus who is resurrected. In that apocalyptic environment the idea of resurrection emerged as vindication of God’s faithful. God vindicated Jesus’ life and message, his nonviolent commitment to God’s cause in the world. The Christ emerges as the archetype of what it means to be “truly human” and as a revelation of what God is like. What else really matters? But to love God and love one’s neighbor and to be committed to the restorative justice and peacemaking embodied in Jesus as he is portrayed in the Gospels. Jesus doesn’t need to be worshiped; he needs to be followed.

    Who knows what actually happened? I believe in an afterlife, but it is not based on the resurrection of Jesus. And when Paul talks about resurrection in 1 Cor. 15 he really sounds confused. The writers/communities of the Gospels, Paul, and the church throughout history has for the most part believed in a literal Second Coming but do progressive Christians find that compelling or likely to happen? Most of us would say, No.

    • Tony Jones

      I honestly don’t have any trouble believing that Jesus did things that seem materially impossible. Do you?

      • ChuckQueen101

        Well, Tony, nothing is impossible I suppose. The question is: Is it likely? Anyone familiar with the historical-critical study of sacred history knows how stories get embellished (as you certainly know as well). Do you think the Jesus story is an exception? That’s what evangelicals think. You really sound like an evangelical here. Sure, it’s possible Jesus did these things. But it doesn’t seem likely. I find that the human Jesus offers humankind a more obtainable vision of a just world. It’s what changed my life. And I’m afraid your take on Jesus here is not going to do anything for breaking down barriers with other faith groups in looking for common ground. Hey, you could be right and I could be wrong. But as far as advancing the spiritual consciousness of society, I think you are stuck in an old paradigm that polarizes rather than unites.

        • Tony Jones

          With all due respect, I don’t base my faith on likelihoods. Also, I’m not interested in “advancing spiritual consciousness” in society. I’m interested in resurrections.

          • ChuckQueen101

            Wow, you really sound dogmatic. I’m interested in resurrections too. In fact, I could use one right now. And with every resurrection to new life, I grow in spiritual consciousness and moral character. Of course, it’s three steps forward and two steps back, sometimes three or four steps back. But I am growing, becoming more . . . Would you grant that other mystics, sages, prophets, etc may also be able to do the materially impossible?

            • Tony Jones

              Yes, I would grant that all sorts of impossibilities can actually happen.

              • ChuckQueen101

                I am glad. That opens the dialogue and the possibility of incarnation and revelation of the Divine through other mediators and through other means.

  • David

    I think a better question is: what happened to the physical post-resurrection body of Jesus in the ascension event? No one (human) was present to witness the resurrection but by all New Testament accounts several folks showed up to watch the fireworks of the Ascension and then Pentecost. Seems like a consistent metaphysic is needed to make sense (at least theological sense) of both the resurrection and the ascension of the physical body of Jesus. I’m curious to hear Tony’s response re: a physical and/or material ascension.

  • JC Mitchell

    I highly recommend, “The Trouble with Resurrection” By Bernard Brandon Scott. I don’t want to suggest changing what you believe, but one can understand how Borg can believe in the Resurrection in a different way than the material tradition you suggest. I don’t think you are attacking Borg, but I also think there is a communication break down, and I feel Christianity can handle different ideas. I must say talking with Professor Scott I was able to connect things about the Resurrection I simply had taped together through faith, and now I feel my faith is stronger and deeper. So here is an amazon link for those who are curious

  • JC Mitchell

    I highly recommend Professor Bernard Brandon Scott’s “The Trouble with Resurrection” as it helps those that believe in a traditional idea of “stand up” from the grave, and allows you to see how faithful the idea of a bodily/spiritual resurrection is not simply a spiritual one. I found Prof. Scott’s work to truly allow my faith to bloom.

  • Dave Brauer-Rieke

    What a joy to read a blog that hasn’t, after a half dozen posts, degenerated into a yelling match. Yahoo – way to be Sisters and Brothers!!

    I appreciate the post and feel Tony and Marcus are a hair’s breadth away from each other parsing terms such as “material” and “not physical.” Many, including me, have appreciated the fresh air let into Christian conversation by the Jesus Seminar. That said, I agree that this is an issue of limited interest to me. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t sing, it doesn’t motivate – at least not for long. For me new light on the historical Jesus and the question of his bodily resurrection have been a stepping stone, or pass, to a more personal and powerful faith. Historical events are difficult to prove – or disprove. I receive the witness and move on, but not without being deeply impacted. How one describes the impact – that’s the question. For me it – the proclaimed life, death and resurrection of Jesus – is continually processed and re-framed. I give thanks for those on the same journey. Maybe I’m a simpleton, but that’s enough for me.

  • Andrew Dowling

    1) Continuity: Again, you are being widely inconsistent, How can you extrapolate out a literal Adam and Eve, homosexuality, and role of women but then maintain continuity as a reason to affirm a bodily Resurrection?

    2) The way Mark ends is likely a literary device advising the reader that Jesus is coming back soon since Mark clearly thought the fall of Jerusalem signified the end times. Matthew barely adds to Mark except a Great Commission which clearly is the evangelist’s expression of the future mission of the Church community, not a historical proclamation (which also helps explain why the two commissions in Luke and Matthew have entirely different language)

    The only Gospels which make a point of any physicality of the risen Jesus are the two latest Gospels John and Luke. In both, the people who see and converse with Jesus don’t even recognize him at first (who also can appear/disappear and walk through locked doors, which last time I checked could not be done by material bodies) . . ., they don’t recognize who they followed for years and who has the nail marks on his body. In the road to Emmaus they even have an extended conversation with him and begin eating a meal together . . .WITHOUT recognizing the physical body of Jesus! And this is a physical resuscitation we’re talking about? Or a beautiful poetic story about finding the spirit of Jesus among other living people?

    3) So Paul’s experience at Damascus was not a visionary experience? Yes or no? If it was, why does he not differentiate from the others? And especially if it was, what standing does he have to place such an emphasis on physicality (I don’t agree this emphasis is there but I’ll concede for argument’s sake) anyway . . since he had no experience with a Jesus as resurrected corpse?

    4) An appeal to popular consumption is what happens when one has run out of ideas. Penal substitutionary atonement theory I would reckon is by far the most popular atonement theory in Christianity today . . does that mean it’s correct? At the global level, ditto with feelings about homosexuality’s compatibility with Christianity . . .so when does popularity confer truth and when does that stop? I understand why the vast majority of Christians prefer the idea of a literal physical Resurrection . .that doesn’t mean its correct.

    And as an aside, I don’t see why a literal bodily Resurrection is needed to believe in any sort of afterlife. Some comments have alluded to that and I don’t follow. When the parousia never occurred, the Church co-opted the idea of a general afterlife of heaven and hell people go to RIGHT AFTER THEY DIE (again, an idea 98-99% of Christians concur with). So while the creeds still express hope for a general physical Resurrection of the Dead, it has really rendered that idea unnecessary since it preaches that souls already have “somewhere to go” rather than waiting “in slumber” for the general Resurrection.

    • Tony Jones

      Clarifying question: You think that Mark was written after AD 70?

      • Andrew Dowling

        I think Mark was composed either during the siege or shortly after the fall. In either case the evangelist thought such events precluded the end.

        • Tony Jones

          Well, you’re in the minority there. Even Ehrman dates Mark pre-65.

          • Andrew Dowling

            ?? No he doesn’t. I’m not sure what alternate universe people who come from the evangelical universe inhabit (I’ve had similar debates with Scot McKnight). The scholarly consensus has been a date around 70AD for the composition of Mark for quite some time ( Erhman agrees with this consensus (see; he also states his agreement in “Jesus Interrupted”) Mark 13 is clear post-diction. The only scholars who disagree are almost all conservative apologists like Wallace.

  • Jon

    Tony, it appears to me that you offered no more evidence for your points than that you believe them, almost all other Christians do as well and the Bible says so. As you well know, those are not adequate grounds to prove anything. You can appeal to the Bible, but it will not win arguments about the historicity of a material Resurrection. Your beliefs are good for you, but do not prove anything about actual events. Just because a large group of people agree on something doesn’t mean that they are not all incorrect. We have many historical examples of that. If I have misinterpreted you please let me know. If I haven’t consider solidifying your arguments. To me they appear weak and reactionary.

    • Tony Jones

      Not trying to “prove” anything, Jon. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of theological rationale.

      • Jon

        I see your point, but I disagree. Are you or are you not arguing for a historical and physical resurrection? That kind of argument transcends theology and enters the world of history and requires evidence. It is fine to debate the tenants of Calvinism or homosexuality, or whatever theological thing is popular today, but for an historical event to be true it has to be proven with evidence.

  • Thursday1

    Materialist Christianity is a lot more accurate label for your theological project than Incarnational Christianity. The traditional view was that God incarnated himself into a thick cosmos filled with forms, purposes, essences and ideals capable of bearing the godhood. This ‘genial’ universe already had many thoroughly personal aspects to it, and this idea of reality being ultimately personal in an irreducible way is what separates a religious worldview from a secular worldview. (See this essay for a good explanation of the difference between a religious [supernatural] and a materialist view of the world.)

    I have always asserted that progressive religion, of whatever variety, is simple less religious religion, and thus always doomed to being marginal.

  • mike l.

    I’m glad Borg called you out on this, Tony. I’ve grown tired of doing it for him. Let’s hope in the end we can resolve to have a Christianity that is not dependent on superstition. Christianity has been the slave of superstitions like your “physical resurrection” for far too long. It’s time to move on and stop with the modernist fights over which superstitions to throw out and which superstitions to keep.

    Postmodern christianity is done fighting for superstition and supernatural theism. It’s over. Put a fork in it. Superstitions are the worst aspect of religion. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, which is exactly what will happen if we cling to superstitions.

    • Tony Jones

      Yeah, for sure. You and all .0005% of Americans have totally moved on.

  • mcbalz

    I like what you’ve written here but the only thing I am puzzled about in your reply is your reading of Paul’s passage on Resurrection. The word σωμα doesn’t appear in Paul’s famous discourse until 15:35, where Paul responds to the objections of those who question the resurrection. These questioners are skeptical because they wrongly imagine a physical resurrection of a physical body. You rightly say that Paul insisted on the idea that God raised Jesus, and that the resurrected Jesus had a σωμα. But read more closely. He insists that one must understand the concept of the resurrected physical body as a category mistake. In each reference to “body” here he speaks of kinds or sorts of bodies. He analogizes this to his idea that different species have different kinds or sorts of flesh. We don’t think Paul is right, scientifically, that there is a different flesh for Birds and for Humans. But Paul, the ancient Christian, thought so and so he thought there was an analogy to be made in the idea of “types of bodies” by speaking of “types of flesh.” The resurrected human being is as different a being from an earthly human being as a bird is from a man, in his view. There is a distinction in kinds, between a body that is heavenly and the physical body. That latter must die and be planted in the earth. For Paul, something very different rises. God gave the resurrected Jesus “a body just as he chose” (soma kathos ethelesen; 1 Cor 15: 38) and it isn’t a physical body, it’s a spiritual body. In other words, Paul’s famous discourse, while it does insist coherently on “resurrection” for Jesus, and on a “body” for the resurrected Jesus, seeks to make an important distinction between “kinds” of bodies. Jesus’ resurrected body doesn’t in fact, consist of a “natural body” (soma psychikon) but of a “spiritual body” (soma pneumatikon), appropriate to life in the transcendent world of heaven.

    For that reason, liberals who wish to creatively speak about Jesus’ resurrection in terms other than the supposed common sense universal catholic idea of a plain and simple resurrection of the body and an empty tomb can stand with Paul, and point out that Paul’s account of the resurrection—in which there is no mention of an empty tomb or of a bloody wounded Jesus hanging out and eating with disciples—precedes the gospel accounts by dozens of years.

    • Andrew Dowling

      You artfully described what I also consider to be Paul’s position much better than I could have. Well done.

    • Phil Miller

      When Paul is talking about the different types of bodies, He’s not talking about the stuff they’re made of. He’s contrasting what animates those bodies. A fleshy body is driven by the flesh, or more to the point, by carnality. A spiritual body is driven by the Spirit. A somewhat simplistic analogy would be a wind turbine. When we use the word “wind” in that manner, we’re not saying anything about what the turbine is made of. We’re saying what’s driving it. We would, in fact, not really ever think of ever using the word “wind” to describe the stuff something is made of.

  • David Fitch

    I do think Borg has a point Tony. What work does the resurrection do in your theology? For the apostle Paul for instance, one might argue the resurrection was the beginning of the new creation. It was cosmic in that in ushered in the eschatological age, by which through baptism all who are baptized into His death and resurrection also are caught up in. It is central to Paul’s eschatology and his soteriology, the death and resurrection is the means by which we too participate in the new life breaking in. The resurrection is what makes participation possible in being transformed and being raised from death to life. (Rom 6-8 for instance). So the resurrection does alot of important ‘work’ for Paul. What work does it do for you?

    Besides whether it happened historically or not, Borg seems to suggest that it does the same kind of work for both you and he theologically. Agree? If not? how are you different?

    • Tony Jones

      For one, I’m not gnostic. For another, the resurrection undergirds my doctrine of the incarnation, of the involvement of God in materiality, and my theologies of the body and sexuality.

      But thanks for your, as always, dubiousness.

      • David Fitch

        So, seriously, I suspect that you and I are close on alot of things. Like you’re take on American Christians naive acceptance of all thing ‘science.’ I would subscribe to your words written above to a tee. But you and I might carry them out differently. In same way, you and Borg would or would not. Borg says you would not. You say you would. So how? How does what you just said there differ from Borg in the way it’s carried out in your theology versus his? What different conclusions, whether theological, or practical, might you come up with different than Borg?

        Maybe this would focus even more. How is your doctrine of sanctification operably different? or even eschatology?

        You don’t have to answer, I just want you to know I’ve paid attention to your theology and I’m a legit dialogue partner. :)

        • Tony Jones

          I appreciate that, David. See my next post, in which I lay out four ways that my understanding of the resurrection implicates my theology.

  • Gary in FL

    Resurrection–it can mean a lot of things, and it seems clear to me that people experienced what they claimed was the resurrected Christ in different ways.

    For myself, the physicality is not the main issue (although still important). Here’s my main issue: Is Jesus–the same human being who was born of Mary–a living, thinking, active agent today, who has in some sense overcome death? Is he a conscious Person who is able to choose or feel anything? The Doctrine of Christ’s Ascension (more so than his resurrection) leads believers to confess he can actually do stuff that affects his people and/or the world today.

    If Jesus has simply been resurrected in our hearts, and his memory and message are all that is still affecting our world today, well and good. He will still be exercising influence, even across centuries. But is there more? Should we hang on to the hope that instead of only a living memory, Jesus himself is still alive? Is he somewhere else, and is there a continuity of consciousness between a peasant life lived in Israel and a glorified being? Most of all, is there any point in praying to him, other than the effect such prayer might have on one’s self? I’d like to hear both Borg and Tony answer these question.

    And btw, great post.

    • Tony Jones

      Physicality, per se, is not the issue for me. Materiality is. In Christianity, God is elbow-deep in materiality, both pre- and post-resurrection.

  • willhouk

    I think Borg is right here. You are making a false dichotomy.

    Christians may have believed this for years now but I think it’s time to reinterpret our faith in the modern context. The canon and the early doctrines were developed in the context of Platonic thought. It’s time we discuss our faith in the context of Postmodern thought in a serious way.

  • Jedediah Stern

    When it comes to the significance of Christ and his physical resurrection I tend to agree with TF Torrance when he says:

    ‘There is no point in playing down the staggering significance of the incarnation and resurrection. God the Creator of the universe, transcendent over all time and space, has himself become a creature within time and space, the man Jesus Christ, and precisely as such, ‘within the measures and limits’ of our human historical existence, he is at work in immeasurable love defeating the forces of darkness, irrationality and evil within creaturely being where they are despotically entrenched. The eternal Word-and-Reason of God has become human flesh, personally penetrating into and participating in the contingent intelligibilities of our existence, in such a way as to bring God himself to bear directly and intimately upon us within the subject-subject and subject-object relations in which we live our daily life, so that our personal contact with God and our personal knowledge of him may be objectively and durably grounded on the internal being and reality of God.

    *The fact that Jesus is risen from the dead, that he did not succumb to decay and corruption in the grave but rose again in the integrity of his human and somatic existence, having stripped away the despotic forces of darkness and evil that had entrenched themselves in our mortal being, means that the movement of God’s love in the reconciling and revealing activity of the incarnate Son, has been brought to a triumphant fulfilment; it means that the atoning sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world, that the vicarious passion of the love of God, that the union and communion between man and God established in the incarnate life of the Son, are finally actualised and remain valid beyond death, as eternally prevailing reality man as well as for God.*

    That God the transcendent Creator of the universe and the infinite Source of all it’s structure and order should thus become one of us and one with us in the birth, life, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in such a way as to effect a renewing of the creation and the setting of it on a new basis in which it is eternally bound up with the life of God himself, makes our minds reel with its immeasurable significance; but what is particularly staggering is the fact that it gives Jesus Christ a place of cosmic significance, making him, man of earth as he the incarnate Son of God is, the point of supreme focus for the whole universe of Space and Time, by reference to which all it’s meaning and destiny are finally to be discerned.”

    Space, Time and the Resurrection – TF Torrance

    Forgive the length of the quote, the key bit I’ve emphasised with the asterisks.

  • rob davis

    Hey there, it’s been awhile.

    I’m glad you mentioned fideism.

    The end.

  • John Matthew Allison

    Tony, your dismissal of Strauss is premature, and I actually think he would hold something like proto-quantum interpretation of resurrection that you hint at here.

    In fact, Strauss has a more sophisticated interpretation of miracles than most modern commentators. He rejected both a naturalistic, reductionistic account of the resurrection (i.e. reading things purely in terms of immanence), as well as a interventionary, supernaturalistic account of the resurrection (i.e. reading things purely in terms of transcendence).

    Strauss did not buy into the ideas of naturalism or supernaturalism, but something like (super)naturalism, arguing that the “natural” is “super” and the “super” is “natural.” That is, Strauss was attempting to understand miracles as genuine parapsychological/paranormal phenomena in which the resurrection–while real in some sense–is not a magically unique event, but an event comparable to other accounts of ghosts, communication with the dead, etc, etc.

    In short, Strauss’ interpretation of the resurrection deconstructs the distinction between “skeptical” psychological accounts of the resurrection and “faithful” physical accounts of the resurrection. He thought of the resurrection the same way he thought of telepathy, healing by touch, etc, i.e. as events that ARE the product of human consciousness, but that human consciousness is not reducible to materialistic matter. This is why I think Strauss is thinking proto-quantumly.

    • Tony Jones

      Dude, thanks. That’s a great clarifying comment. Seriously.

  • Ric Shewell

    I know this comment will get buried, but I don’t understand why someone would be skeptical of the resurrection and the miracles, but be all too willing to accept a spiritual reality, or that we have souls, or whatever.

    It’s weird to me that people who are allergic to the ideas of the New Testament miracles are okay with “spiritualizing” them. Spirits and souls are just as “mythical” as miracles and resurrection.

    • Tony Jones

      I know, right? Like, a bodily resurrection is IMPOSSIBLE! But medieval metaphysics of souls and spirits and visions are TOTALLY BELIEVABLE!

      • John Sobert Sylvest

        BINGO! Neither Borg’s nor Tony’s interpretations need necessarily entail either scientism or fideism. Fideism is arational, at worst, nonrational (pathocentric), at best, while faith is supra-rational, going beyond but not without reason. Rationalistic faith involves an unwarranted evidentialist approach, often shuffling through sterile metaphysical abstractions. Scientism considers faith an epistemic vice but that doesn’t pass philosophic muster for a number of reasons.

        Within the faith are process thinkers and panentheists who eschew the notion of divine intervention in the temporal realm because of theodicy, which is fine but unnecessary in my view.

        Anyone who a priori rules out divine intervention and miracles on probabilistic grounds seems to be missing the point that they wouldn’t lend themselves to probabilistic inquiry by definition, especially if there’s been a putative violation of physical causal closure, which is also why, btw, quantum physics shouldn’t be invoked. What we are grappling with at reality’s margins vis a vis our ultimate concerns are effects that are proper to no known causes, which invite plausibilistic not probabilistic musing. The physical resurrection inference is plausible, when properly reasoned toward, fideistic, when not. One reveals a scientistic bias who insist fideism must necessarily be involved in that inference, which defensibly gets coupled with an existential disjunction or living as if it is true, in hope.

  • Kurt Willems

    Loved this post @jonestony:disqus! Seriously. Nailed. It.

    • Tony Jones

      Thanks, Kurt.

    • zhoag

      agree, really appreciate this.

  • Shaun W.

    I disagree (respectfully, of course). I think human notions of the “physical” and “spiritual,” especially in regard to the Jesus’ resurrected body, are, at best approximations. While the traditional perspective does, I agree, espouse a physical resurrection, I’m not sure that the term itself is anything more than the word chosen by a people to explain the inexplicable. In much the same way, we use the word “Father” to describe God’s relationship to Jesus; however the term “Father” fails to fully or adequately describe the full extent of this relationship. In much the same way, I feel that both the words “physical” and “spiritual” fail to adequately describe the resurrected body of Jesus (as does the term “body”).

  • brian

    This is probably a stupid reason but I believe in the Resurrection because it gives me hope. That is an emotion and well, does not hold much weight in modern evangelical corporation. I will admit I want to see my loved ones again, I want them to have eternal life, and I even want to live with Christ forever. I find it comforting, granted most of that is emotionalism thus nonsense. I really want to hope in the Resurrection and I lean on that hope daily.

  • Paul

    God said one day, “You see that I can raise a spirit, but to show you that I am the God of the spirit and the body, I will raise my Son in the body as well” “I will show you that the wisdom of man is foolishness.” Better to be thought a fool in man’s estimation than God’s.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “You see that I can raise a spirit, but to show you that I am the God of
      the spirit and the body, I will raise my Son in the body as well”

      And what Scriptural quotation is that?

  • sanctusivo

    It is difficult to see that the Christ community would have survived a few years, yet nearly 2,000 of them, had witnesses lied or otherwise expressed obvious delusions to folks like Luke.

  • Dave Scherer

    What I appreciate about Borg’s “historical metaphorical” framework is that it allows for something to be “more than true”. In some ways, an empty tomb is small potatoes compared to the death and resurrection that happens daily in the lives of Cosmic Christ followers as well as in the beautiful cycles of nature.

    Broadening the notion of “resurrection” acknowledges the myriad ways that God is still forming and reforming Creation. If Paul is right in 1 Cor. 15 (our whole faith is basically null and void without forensic evidence of this one historical resurrection event) then our faith and the faith of people for the thousands and thousands of years before this event is pretty flimsy.

    Do we think losing this event (in a literal scientific way) will cause us to lose God’s redeeming, salvific love? People seem to think that’s the case. If so, I can see why people like Tony and others fight so hard for it. I also understand how important a “stomatic” resurrection is in communicating God’s enfleshed reality and avoiding funky dualism. But for me, this just isn’t the straw that’s going to break the back of my own faith. I’ve already seen too much evidence of God’s resurrecting power in the world.

    “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”
    -Martin Luther

  • tobity

    Dr. Borgs view of the bodily resurrection of Christ is simple unbelief.

  • Jim Martin

    I do not believe that it is a doubt of the miraculous that is at the heart of the bodily resurrection doubters. I am sure that that that is the case for some. I too believe in the miraculous.

    IMO, it is more a question of seeking truth. The gospel narratives generally follow a line of virtually no detail pertaining to the resurrection (Mark) to being almost an apology (argument) for the literal bodily resurrection. Knowing how stories evolve over time and how the human works, it seems equally or even more plausible that these were accretions to the original narrative. The earliest testimony to the resurrection was Paul, not Mark, and there was no emphasis on a bodily resurrection. But there was a clear recognition of the reality of a living Jesus.

    Why is it so hard for us to give up that one fact and not focus on the reality of Jesus in our lives? That is what Borg is asking for– he is not even asking for others to adopt his point of view.

    The article by Tony Jones, IMO, was unnecessary and inappropriate. Why write an open letter to Borg and ask him to change his mind? Why should he have to? Last time I checked, Borg was not asking anybody to change their minds. Yes he clearly stated his point of view and gave cogent coherent reasons why he held that point of view, but he did not use it as some sort of litmus test or red line.

  • David Housholder

    Asked him the same thing in Port Angeles Washington in the early 90′s.

  • Eric


    This was fantastic. Thank you. Thank you.

  • Ivan Schoen

    Oh, look at that…I’m yawning.

  • David Pickett

    I’m thoroughly enjoying both the content and the civility of this conversation. Tony, I wonder whether all the stakes that you’ve mentioned here are necessarily tied to a material resurrection.

    Some have suggested that you’ve already made a break with the historic church on other points, and there is some validity in that argument. While I agree that resurrection is a weightier issue than sexuality and gender, there have been times in Christian history when your present views of atonement might have gotten you killed, or at least excommunicated (and I love your writing on atonement). The point here is that, all things considered, continuity or discontinuity with the historic church is more a spectrum than a boundary. Both you and Professor Borg fall somewhere on that spectrum, and although I would affirm that you fall closer to what many would call orthodoxy, there are many evangelicals more conservative than yourself who would argue that you’ve already made that break. Who gets to decide when that break occurs?

    On faithfulness to the Gospels, I think your statement that they are not of one mind on the resurrection suggests that faithfulness is not easy to measure. I also think it would be problematic to suggest, as your point would seem to necessitate, that Professor Borg is being less faithful, although through (faithful?) application of his scholarship and method, he ends up drawing conclusions that are very different from your own.

    Being in accord with Paul is again, not so much a boundary as a spectrum. Among other things, I think we would both break with Paul on how far he takes the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the instrumentality of blood in the whole transaction. I’m not sure what to think of 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul seems to equate his Damascus Road experience with the other post-resurrection appearances. Is he saying they were of the same nature? If so, that seems to create a problem. I could go on, but that illustrates the general idea.

    And finally, while I agree that Professor Borg’s position hasn’t seemed to work in terms of gaining a foothold among the larger church, I wonder if we can only say that it hasn’t seemed to work at this particular point in history. In another 50 years, or 500, his may be the dominant view, just as some other doctrines and practices have changed over time.

    Anyway, I appreciate your work, and the opportunity to engage in an important conversation. Blessings.

    • Whit Johnstone

      I would say that the Apostles and Nicene creeds, taken in a literal sense, decide when the break occurs. Of course, that’s an answer coming from a particular denominational tradition (Anglican).

  • MichaelL65

    Tony Jones, whenever I read the shit you post, I yawn.

  • Josh Magda

    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?

  • Guest

    Tony, I hope you are well! I remain unmoved by the concept of some future pie-in-sky salvation/afterlife. The promise of heaven, the threats of hell, and
    anthropomorphic ideas of deity seem comic booky. I remain hopeful but liminal on the NT miracle stories. But I also remain convinced of the supremacy and preeminence of love, whether or not Jesus “lived again” after his death (whatever that actually means physiologically). I hope the NT miracles are true, but real love does not fail because of MY faith or MY hope in 2000-year-old stories. The fact that a Roman-era rabbi was teaching others to “love their enemies” is truly miracle enough for me.

    I disagree with Paul that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” What Paul is really saying here is that “if you don’t believe in metaphysical miracles, you can’t truly love others.” I find that contrary to much of
    what is written about love in the NT itself, and in many other compassion-centric religious traditions. That we have the ability to love and bless and forgive not just our friends, but also our enemies — is that not the greatest “miracle” of creation ever conveyed? I suggest it is.

    Paul seems to contradict himself, reminding us that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love. So regardless of our faith or our hope (in miracles, etc.), love remains supreme and unmoved, not the other way around. Alas, I bless anyone’s “beliefs” if those beliefs propel them to greater works of selfless love in real life, in
    real time. But I don’t think non-belief in metaphysical miracles limits our access to the fullness of love.

  • 5DRW5

    But you’re beholden to a truth, biblical, that is specious to any investigator who isn’t already convinced it is true. And, the latter, is less and less convincing to folks who believe God doesn’t require us to make up doctrines when the evidence all around us (even within our churches, but without as well) for immanuel is so great.

  • Grotoff

    Blegh. I hate when the prophets of woo-woo nonsense get their mitts on quantum physics. A deeper understanding of matter and energy doesn’t magically justify Iron Age superstition.

  • ChuckQueen101

    This whole discussion has helped to clarify my own thinking on the subject. The idea of resurrection emerged within Judaism a couple of centuries before Christ as a response to the deaths of faithful Jews who suffered immensely for their faith (in contrast to the popular Deuteronomist theology of blessing and cursing for obedience and disobedience). I believe that such ideas like belief in resurrection emerge as we grow in spiritual and moral consciousness. Who knows what specific forms vindication and life after death will take? It could be bodily resurrection or could be something else. The form is not important. What is important is that in our spiritual and moral evolution we have come to a place where we believe that there is more to this life than this life and no work of compassion and justice in this world will be forgotten. The wrongs will be made right, justice will prevail (as King reminded us the moral arc of the universe bends toward it), and somehow and in someway our consciousness survives and thrives past death.

  • Nick Gotts

    In fact, I think that as quantum theory develops, a materialist resurrection will seem more and more compelling.

    Hilarious. Those ignorant of quantum theory are forever using it to prop up their favourite variant of woo.

  • Whit Johnstone

    All I can add to this discussion is to say that if I ever stop believing in a physical, bodily Resurrection I will stop calling myself a Christian and attending church. I will call myself a deist and leave it at that. I think doing otherwise, as Borg seems to have done, is fundamentally dishonest.

  • Emerald Twilights

    On the other hand, it’s not hard to see why more and more Christians and former Christians are more and more inclined to not take the Bible literally, including the “empty tomb” and the walking, talking corpse.

    Regardless of how many billions have.

    It’s not hard to see why evangelicals, like the Mormons, have significant missionary success in places where critical ignorance of the Bible is endemic.

    There’s a reason why the only way that virtually anybody ever enters into Christianity in the first place is either thru childhood brainwashing or else while still profoundly ignorant of the Bible itself.

    There’s a reason why virtually nobody enters into Christianity based on the conclusions of serious, honest, critical study of the Bible.

    Consider Tony Jones.

  • sharon

    The author of this article is to be commended for insisting that the Biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection is accurately speaking of a bodily, physical resurrection, just as Lazarus, and the widow’s son—these were actual events, and you’d better believe ‘faith trumps reason’. That’s what Christianity is ALL about! Without FAITH, it is impossible to please God. If we could ‘reason’ everything in the Bible out…we wouldn’t need God at all!! ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen….’ God begins His Word with, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ Ever notice He didn’t seek to explain or convince anyone…He just declared it. We either believe it or we don’t!

  • John Sobert Sylvest

    Some in process theology, in grappling with theodicy issues, seem to have a priori ruled out any “violations” of physical causal closure in order to make God immune from being implicated in evil. His omnipotence needn’t be physically constrained as such, however, merely circumscribed logically, such as by Griffin, who says the possessor of perfect power is a being having power “greater than which cannot be consistently thought.” And that often means consistent with optimal human freedom.

    Now, just because a great deal of human freedom might get co-opted by this or that divine intervention, that doesn’t mean that any or all human freedom would necessarily get co-opted by every possible divine interventions. Just because a weak, persuasive divine influence seems to be the general rule in my own panSEMIOentheism, doesn’t mean a strong, coercive divine intervention need be ruled out on occasion, as long as that intervention is consistent with optimal human freedom, such consistency being known to God, alone.

    Theodicy arguments don’t fail logically as often as they do existentially. The reason a process approach works better for me than a classic Augustinian apologetic is not because it is more evidentially satisfying but more existentially gratifying. There’s no reason to push the process solution to such limits, however, as would place all soteriologic and sophiologic efficacies or classically conceived divine prerogatives in doubt, making us all practical, if not theoretical, humeans. Even if divine omniscience doesn’t know the future, omni-speculatively, divine omnipresence knows it omni-pathically, feeling all which ever has or could or will ever be felt, knowing all human evaluative dispositions and trusting, from that perfect knowledge, that all may, can, will and shall be well, pursuant to that combination of persuasive divine influence and coercive divine intervention as would remain consistent with optimal human freedom.

    The Resurrection event can reasonably be interpreted several ways that are equiplausible. There’s not sufficient evidence to render anything but a scottish verdict of not proven on probabilistic grounds. Putative volations of physical causal closure tend to be like that, definitionally, analytically, tautologically, necessarily! Fideism leaps without having established equiplausibility (equiprobability, as far as is available) and evaluated the compelling reasons for competing accounts. One needn’t delve into highly speculative, theoretic physics or exceedingly tautological metaphysics, only a healthy, but vague, phenomenology to provisionally close with the belief that something
    happened after Jesus’ crucifixion and it was both wonderfully and physically experienced by many, from which one can reasonably infer the plausible belief that, unless there was some violation of physical causal closure in play, Jesus manifest some type of physical presence, whatever else may have been going on.

    Now, like Tony, I certainly don’t insist on one reasonable inference vs competing equiplausible beliefs. Neither do I narrowly delimit the soteriologic and sophiologic trajectories and efficacies of our great traditions. But I do know the meaning of the words fideism, rationalism, scientism and other varieties of epistemic virtue and vice and only in scientism would a belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus necessarily entail fideism.

  • Matt

    I like Borg’s work. Personally I am agnostic on the question of whether the Resurrected body was physical. I tend to agree with Borg that it doesn’t matter too much. The problem I have with Borg is that if he sees the resurrection as a real, spiritual event that was not hallucinatory etc then why is it any less feasible that the physical body was resurrected? Even Borg’s theory of the resurrection as far as I can tell transcends the usual physical laws so why the apparent objection to physical resurrection?
    This is why I think Borg’s notion of resurrection does border on flakey and can be interpreted/misinterpreted as a hallucination or metaphorical explanation.
    I am just questioning Borg’s logical consistency.

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  • Luke Breuer

    Thank you for this post. It is always curious to see how people are threatened by a physical resurrection of Jesus. I mean, Borg seems threatened, and not just skeptical. I’m reminded of the arrogant physicists at the end of the nineteenth century who cautioned students against studying physics, as all that was left was janitorial work. Then came the quantum revolution. A friend of mine wanted to go into physics in the 1970s and was told the same thing: don’t study this, we’ve pretty much figured it out. And then Caltech physicist Sean Carroll writes Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood in 2010. Again and again, the claim is made that we understand all we need for security. Sounds awfully close to idolatry, I’d say! Placing our true, greatest confidence in knowledge of facts over trust in a person? Yep, that’s idolatry.

    Adam and Eve chose knowledge over life, and we continue to do that to this day.

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