The Reality of the Resurrection (RJS)

The Reality of the Resurrection (RJS) April 9, 2013

One of the biggest hurdles to orthodox Christian belief in our world today is affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus as historical reality. After all we know better than this. Isn’t it a much more reasonable and enlightened approach to realize that the empty tomb is a myth – and the resurrection appearances hallucination, or even theologically true metaphor? Acknowledgment of the existence of God and the power of the Christian story does not necessitate belief in bodily resurrection from the dead. — Or does it?

The reality of the resurrection is the topic of the penultimate chapter of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. The resurrection is not important because it it is proof of  Jesus’s divinity or of God’s power, something we must believe because it is in the bible – with gritted teeth against all reason. Resurrection is the the key reality and the hope for a future.

Keller bases his arguments for the reality of The Resurrection of the Son of God on NT Wright’s book of this name. For those who are interested in condensed versions (Wright’s book after all is 740 rather dense pages), the arguments are outlined in a lecture “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection” available in audio, video, or text form here or here. Another lecture by Wright at Emory University in 2008 “Why Does Jesus’ Resurrection Matter?” can be found here with Q&A here.

A couple of short clips of Wright, first from the Emory University lecture:

Another clip from Wright on the Resurrection:

So what are the principal arguments for the reality of the resurrection as advanced by Wright and Keller?

1. The resurrection is attested to early in Christian literature – 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 6 are excellent examples of this, written within a few decades of the crucifixion. In addition Paul refers to multiple witnesses, still alive at the time of his writing, to make his case on the reality of the resurrection. It is difficult to defend the premise that resurrection was a late addition – only refined when distance in time and place made credulity feasible.

2. The gospel variation and presence of women as earliest witness attest to true testimony provided in these accounts. Scripted story and collusion would provide better uniformity of detail.

3. The bodily resurrection was a foreign concept in Greek, Roman, and Jewish thought – thus the claim was without precedent, a powerful argument for historicity. Consider in particular the Jewish context. As Keller points out: It was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human should be worshipped. Yet hundreds of Jews began worshipping Jesus literally overnight. The hymn to Christ as God that Paul quotes in Philippians 2 is generally recognized to have been written just a few years after the crucifixion. What enormous event broke through all Jewish resistance? p.209-210. The testimony of early devotion to Jesus as divine or bordering on divine is overwhelming – something powerful happened to the disciples of Jesus and changed their world view. The hymn in Philippians 2 is a compelling passage:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

4. The explosion of Christianity on the scene and the rapid, unstoppable growth despite persecution over the first several centuries. These people believed what they said and put their lives on the line because of it. Virtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax. p. 210

5. The resurrection is the victory in the Christian story; it is the linchpin. — The resurrection tells us that what we do here today matters. We die with Christ and are raised with Christ to new life and a new ethic. The battle is won, the kingdom will come. It matters that we care deeply about justice for the poor, alleviate hunger and disease, care for the environment — because the world is not an accident that will eventually die in the passing of the sun.

Without the victory – without the resurrection – don’t we ultimately, if we are honest with ourselves, stand with Nietzche?

Once upon a time, on a little star in a distant corner of the universe, clever little animals invented for themselves proud words, like truth and goodness. But soon enough the little star cooled, and the little animals had to die and with them their proud words. But the universe, never missing a step, drew another breath and moved on, dancing its cosmic dance across endless skies (as quoted by Sparks in God’s Word in Human Words)

OK, so much for Keller and Wright, with a bit of my own editorializing thrown in for good measure.

What do you think? Is the affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus as historical reality essential to Christian orthodoxy?

Why? Or alternatively is orthodoxy as historically defined an idea whose time has passed?

What do you find to be the most convincing evidence for the resurrection of the Son of God?

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  • It seems to me that the apostles believed in a bodily resurrection and that their relationships with Christ were, at least on some level, unique throughout all of Christianity. I would be very, very slow to distance myself from the understanding that they had on this. Especially in light of verses that essentially call our faith pointless without there having been a resurrection.

  • Norman

    I’m reading a book now “Paul and Jesus” by James Tabor that takes a different tack on the view of resurrection. I’m only about a third of the way through the book so I have to qualify my observations within that limited framework. I would classify Tabor as a critical biblical scholar who has developed his own view on how the resurrection came about in early Christianity. His concept is that Paul overly influenced the early Christian movement that had originally been established as just another Jewish Sect by James and the Apostles who really did not teach Christ bodily resurrection. He attempts to make his case that the letter of James is indicative of the earliest Jewish church before Paul’s influence and it doesn’t dwell upon Jesus resurrection but upon His teachings.

    Tabor believes that Paul’s vision of Christ and his instructions from that vision is Paul’s own developed synthesis about Christ and it is not in tune with the Jewish James approach. He then says that Paul’s teaching pushed aside eventually the James established version of Christianity and indeed all the writings such as the Gospels and Paul’s pseudo writings were influenced by Pauline understandings and not the earliest Jewish church. Even the letters to Peter he considers manipulations by Pauline followers. Tabor says that Paul’s own legitimate writings show him to be in strict conflict with James and Peter and the Jerusalem church and that Paul’s version won the day while James style of Christianity was declared heretical by the third century.

    I can see where Tabor is essentially saying that what we adhere to today regarding resurrection is an invention of Paul and originally true Christianity is not much different than Judaism as we know it except with Christ teaching as a point of emphasis. This is just one example I’m sure of how critical biblical scholars often rationalize their understanding of resurrection because so many of them just cannot find a miracle that they can hold to in scripture. It’s really been a challenge for me to wade through Tabors work so far as he attempts to dismantle critically the resurrection.

  • ScottW

    Norman, what does Tabor do with 1 Cor 15 and Paul’s claim that the Jesus’ resurrection and the attendant theology is paradosis (tradition, that is, what has been handed on from others before him)? While it is clear that Paul developed the theology of the cross beyond that of other strands in early Christianity, but the resurrection is that which all strands of earliest Christianity attest. Tabor’s analysis sounds like a form of the Baur thesis, which has some validity but the broader thesis of an an early Jewish Christolgy of Peter and James vs. a Pauline one just doesn’t represent the full reality of the evidence we see from the texts. He was much indebted to Hegelian philosophy and and the positing of the later Ebionite Jewish Christianity as being normative for earliest Christianity.

  • Phil Miller

    I have been reading The Jesus Legend by Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd recently, and they talk about this very thing. I actually think they do a good job at the beginning at handling the claim that resurrection simply can’t happen. Really, for anyone to say that, it comes down an a priori commitment that is circular in nature. The reasoning against Jesus’ resurrection goes that something like we know that Jesus couldn’t have been risen from the dead, therefore He didn’t. Well, how we know? It comes down to our epistemological commitments at that point. And those at their root all require a leap of faith on some level.

  • Tim Atwater

    thanks for this post RJS
    interesting that Keller goes to Wright on this core point of belief.
    Haven’t read his longer books but have read the articles on faith and science and some sermons and i agree he’s the go-to guy on resurrection. (and res and science esp)

    The other argument from life is the kajillions of people who have met the risen Christ somehow, somewhere in our life journeys.


  • Andrew

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a Christian to be believe in a spiritual Resurrection rather than a literal bodily “rose from the grave” Resurrection. In the earliest Resurrection accounts we have from the Pauline letters, Paul doesn’t speak of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus as a physical body; Paul uses the Greek “pneuma” to describe the “spiritual body” of the resurrected Jesus and those who will ascend at the Second Coming . . .this is the same word used to describe ghosts and spirits (and Paul does not differentiate his experience of the resurrected Jesus from that of any others, including Peter and the Apostles who knew Jesus). This corresponds with tons of Jewish martyrological /apocalyptic texts from the time period that promised Godly redemption and ascension of those unjustly killed. They didn’t speak of literal bodily resurrection of the martyrs but IMO Paul wasn’t speaking in that sense of Jesus either.

    Juliu Wellhausen first proposed, and many scholars concur, that the Transfiguration story in the Synoptics originally was a Resurrection appearance story, which showcases the more “spiritual, angelic” qualities of the early Jesus Resurrection tradition. One could easily argue that the Road to Emmaus story in Luke also comes from this more “spiritual” Resurrection tradition. The emphasis on a more physical Resurrection arose to dispel common Gentile notions that a resurrected spirit was an accursed soul, doomed to haunt men for eternity.

    A third argument against a literal bodily Resurrection is the brevity of the accounts in the Gospels; you have all of this detail on Jesus’s life, but you have 40 days of the most amazing physical event in human history and pretty much all that is recollected is a commissioning to evangelize, which strikes as an author’s way to wrap up the story and end up the story on the central them ie spread the Good News.

    So I believe that an incredibly majestic, transcendent, unique event occurred among the early Christian disciples. It very much affirms that evil does not prevail. But I don’t believe you had a literal “walking dead” Jesus walking around who you could’ve filmed and put up on Youtube.

  • Phil Miller

    Paul uses the Greek “pneuma” to describe the “spiritual body” of the resurrected Jesus and those who will ascend at the Second Coming . . .this is the same word used to describe ghosts and spirits (and Paul does not differentiate his experience of the resurrected Jesus from that of any others, including Peter and the Apostles who knew Jesus).

    Wright actually spends a good deal of time talking about this. It’s been a number of years since I read The Resurrection of the Son of God, but if I remember correctly, Wright does a pretty good job a taking this on. Essentially there is no evidence of the word pneuma being used to describe the substance of a something. There were words which the authors could have used to describe a phantasm or a ghost, but those aren’t what they used.

    In 1 Corinthians 15, the dichotomy between flesh and spirit isn’t between the stuff the bodies are made of. It’s between what empowers them. A rough parallel would be talking about the difference between a sailboat and a steamboat. In neither case would one think the boat is made of wind or steam. That is what powers the boats.

  • Adam

    Why would someone want to be christian and yet not believe in the resurrection? This line of conversation can only lead to silliness.

    1 Corinthians 15:12-15
    Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.

  • I would agree with Keller – bodily resurrection = a point upon which Christianity stands or falls.

    Re: the point about “spiritual body,” it is incorrect to understand this phrase to mean “nonphysical.” A better gloss would be something like “a body whose animating power draws not from the physical realm subject to decay but from the realm of spiritual power that is eternal”.

    Also, I am almost certain it is not accurate to say that “many scholars concur” that the Transfiguration was “originally a resurrection story.”

  • Andrew

    I think one can surely make the argument that Paul is referring to a completely different physicality/non-physical nature than simply bodily physicality “animated by the spirit.” Paul uses metaphorical, “spiritual” language like it’s going out of style! 🙂 Also, from the accounts we have Paul saw Jesus on Damascus in a “visionary experience” (flashes of light, others couldn’t see, illuminating presence etc.) Jesus “appeared” to Paul as he did the other Apostles, and this word used for appearance often in the Bible refers to visionary experiences. I think one must try to put the puzzle pieces together and Paul is speaking of something beyond material physicality.

  • norman


    Tabor as we all do at times picks and chooses his complementary scriptures upon which he builds his thesis. I think if you read Andrews@6 post you will get a glimpse of the reasoning that is similar to Tabors. I find their examination as fascinating examples of scholarship in which classical Pauline theology is being debunked. They may be right and surely their examinations and applications need to be seriously considered. However I also see a formulation that may be overly imaginative as is typical of critical scholarship IMHO. I believe that what we call classical orthodox resurrection theology does indeed need deeper examinations but I’m just not totally sold on critical scholarship’s contemporary ideas yet. The reason being is that critical scholars like everyone else pick and choose scriptures that they take literally and those that they feel comfortable discarding. The problem is that this is a very difficult endeavor so I want to see their work and see how their hermeneutic works consistently.

    There is a lot that should not be taken literally but that doesn’t mean that we need to throw out the resurrection baby with the bathwater yet as the jury is still out IMO. I believe there is a huge amount of misunderstanding going on for orthodox resurrection theology in 1 Cor 15 mostly because there is misapplication of the term “body” Greek “soma” and the implications and baggage it carries with it. The term is used by Paul collectively/corporately and not singularly and that changes the way we should read that whole chapter. The critical scholars also read it improperly except for a few who struggle mightly with these subjects so they chalk it up to bad or mistaken ideas that Paul and the early church had concerning resurrected life. Tabor actually starts discussing that issue but I think he falls short and reverts back to a literal application to Paul in 1 Cor 15.

    As a discussion note Tabor says that there was a messiah figure that predated Christ who was beheaded and then resurrected. He believes Paul is possibly copying that prior messianic supposed resurrection to make his application to Christ and resurrection. Historical issues like this do indeed need to be examined in context to the first century understanding of Christ by the early church.

  • Phil Miller

    Wright talks about all those things, Andrew. I think he gives a convincing response for all of them.

    I think the one thing to remember is that Paul didn’t necessarily differentiate between the physical as being real and the spiritual being somehow not-real. Also, in the Gospels Jesus’ body is described as being physical, but it is also described as having different properties. He could walk through a locked door, for instance. But He could also eat fish. So there was a continuity and a discontinuity. Saying Jesus’ resurrection was physical doesn’t mean His physical body was exactly the same as it was prior to His death. But the Gospels are also clear that the tomb was empty.

  • Andrew – I think you have misunderstood my point. I do not mean a “body” similar in all ways to yours or mine except for that which makes it move (natural physical processes vs. some supraphysical reality or something like that) – I mean that for Paul, the idea of “body” is not something “metaphorical” – the idea of “metaphor” is something you’re interpreting, not something obvious from the text, especially not when examined in context with other Pauline material, Gospel material, etc.

    I have to reiterate Phil Miller – both Andrew’s and norman’s comments are rehashing points that Wright (and others) have dealt with rather thoroughly; his Resurrection of the Son of God is simply the door through which talk about the resurrection and what Paul meant must pass.

  • Andrew

    I’ve read Wright on this subject; many here are talking like Wright “has closed the book on this topic” but his is one interpretation of the soma-pneuma meanings of Paul and many disagree with him. And why wouldn’t Paul use metaphor on this topic, since he does in most every other thing he discusses in his epistles. Did Paul really “die a thousand times?” No, that is metaphoric language. Did Resurrection mean a literal reanimated physical body . . .I will be the first to say there is no clear answer there but I think one can make a fair argument he intends a more metaphysical meaning. We can also look to other evidence beyond this debate over one Pauline word:
    -Use of “appearance” ie vision
    -Lack of detail in Gospel Resurrection accounts (so is someone here going to really argue that a reanimated person from the grave was seen by tons of people and preached for 40 days and we don’t have more stories of this? The bookend Gospel paragraphs are it?)
    -Earliest canonical Gospel doesn’t even have an appearance story; only empty tomb
    -Emmaus appearance as spiritual experience (if you can’t read into the Emmaus story as the Disciples seeing the spirit of Jesus in other people (human beings), then we are fairly far off).
    -Earliest non-Pauline Jewish-Christian church liturgy (Didache) doesn’t mention the Resurrection

    The Gospels themselves were never constructed as history as we think of history in the modern sense, and stories about dead men eating fish and then disappearing were maybe not intended to be taken literally.
    I have no problem with the idea of a literal, physical resurrection, but I just don’t think the evidence points to that.

  • Phil Miller

    Emmaus appearance as spiritual experience (if you can’t read into the Emmaus story as the Disciples seeing the spirit of Jesus in other people (human beings), then we are fairly far off).

    Then I guess we’re pretty far off. To me that seems like a stretch to spiritualize or make into a metaphor a rather straightforward physical encounter. Yes, Jesus appears and disappears, but I don’t think that makes Him any less physical. It seems that one issue is that we read the Gospels through Western eyes, and we assume that if something exists in the physical than it has to follow physical laws as we understand them. I don’t think the Gospel writers or Paul were under any such constraint.

  • Ray

    Enjoying the dialogue here. As other stated above, I too believe the Christian faith stands of falls on a bodily resurrection.

    @Andrew, et al., interpreting the Resurrection only as a “spiritual” event opens the door to some significant difficulties, both historically and theologically.

    First, if the resurrection was spiritual, and only ever meant to be understood as such, then what do we do with Jesus’ body? Where is it? Still in a grave? Of course, we could say that the physical body somehow “dematerialized”, rendering it fully spiritual, but that sure does open a huge can of (theological) worms, namely heading down a path of heavy platonic dualism. Of course, if that is the framework out of which one reads the Story of God, then it’s not as big of a deal. However, I would fall in line with those who see such a view as wanting, for it ultimately devalues the material creation of God and raises problems concerning the Biblical witness toward the Creation, the Incarnation, and the Eschaton.

    Thus, while Paul may speak of a spiritual body, I would concur with others above he does not necessarily mean nonmaterial, and maybe we are applying interpretive constructs on Paul’s thoughts that he did not intend. That’s why we have to read Paul here in light of the rest of the Biblical witness. For example: Luke. If Paul’s testimony of the resurrection were meant to be understood non-materially, then why does Luke (who was Paul’s travelling companion and, perhaps, convert) seem to be making a strong point for some kind of physicality of the risen Jesus? It is a different kind of physicality, to be sure. But it is real, tangible, and material, as Luke goes out of his way to make sure we understand (Luke 24).

    I will say though that whatever nature Jesus assumed, it seems to be far different than anything we have empirically experienced as human beings (just like the resurrection). We have limited categories by which to explain it. What does it look like for a body to be fully taken over by the Spirit of God, DNA and all? For that, we will just have to wait and see…

  • Pierre

    So let me get this straight; Greg Boyd doesn’t believe in the Resurrection or is he saying that there isn’t enough proof to conclude that a Resurrection actually happened, so belief in the Resurrection is a leap of faith?

  • norman


    If the resurrection (physical bodily rising of some kind) is not the hope and promise to Christians how would you define the purpose of Christ life, work and death? Would it mean that as Tabor appears to lay out that the Apostles and James version of Christ following is simply another version of Judaism similar to the Essenes model of the spiritual Teacher which is following strict wisdom teaching? (The Great commandments to love God and your neighbor) Is Christianity just another sect version of Judaism without all the trappings of Temple, Priest and animal sacrifices? That would tie in with Paul’s ideas of stripping away the extraneous parts of Judaism.

    By the way as a reminder to some, Christ walked on water before His crucifixion and resurrection, so he had similar powers before and after.

  • RJS


    Where does this question come from? Are you referring back to Phil Miller’s comment (#4)?

    I don’t think that is what Phil is taking from Boyd’s book – rather we should understand that arguments against resurrection are not conclusive.

  • Pierre

    Yes, Phil Miller’s comments. My apologies I misunderstood his point.

    If James disgreed with Paul on Christology of bodily resurrection how did the disciples make sense of John 2:19 “Destroy this Temple and 3 days I will raise it up again”

  • Phil Miller

    Boyd’s point in the book is not so much to put forth an airtight case for the resurrection (presenting an airtight case for any historic event thousands of years ago can be quite difficult), but, rather, he’s pointing out where some of the most typical arguments against the resurrection fall flat or overreach.

    As far as the “leap of faith” thing, Boyd and Eddy are just saying that on a epistemological level, taking a such a leap is unavoidable. It definitely does take a leap to believe in the resurrection. But it also takes a leap to say that the resurrection could not have happened.

  • norman


    Critical scholars will approach this idea from different fronts. Tabor whom I have been discussing simply says that the letter of James is essentially the only piece of NT literature that is not affected by Paul’s understanding/influence. He says that the Gospels were written under the influence of Paul’s adherents and thus reflect his construts. Because he dates the Gospels as late addtions after Paul then they do not reflect James and the Apostles approach which was losing out by the later half of the first century.

    This is where I come down contrary to Tabor and critical scholars because I believe they “want” everything written late in order to accomadate their machinations. They will not tolerate earlier dates for writing because that would upset their applecart that has been constructed.
    Now if they are right then perhaps we should listen to them, but as of now I can’t buy their synthesis.

  • Dana Ames

    Small point – in section 3 in the OP, bodily resurrection was not a foreign concept in Jewish thought. Wright discusses that there was a spectrum of ideas among most Jews (the Saducces, who did not believe in it, excepted) as to who would be worthy of it, etc. But by the time Jesus came on the scene, most Jews believed in some form of it – just not the form it happened to take with Christ, the Firstborn from the dead.

    As to the questions: Yes, it is essential, just as essential as understanding what the cross is really about. The two go together; they are one movement, with the Resurrection the upsweep.

    Why? Because they herald the new creation both now and yet to come, in the forgiveness of God, the deliverance from death and fear of death, and the opportunity for humans to once again head down the path God wants for his people: the ability to learn to cultivate true humanity. which is the image of Christ on the cross – and also the image of the Father: self-giving love, forgiveness, humility. That is what engenders life that is truly life.

    Most convincing evidence to me would have to be the lives and deaths of those who died believing in it, along with the testimony of those who encountered the resurrected Jesus (especially the women). Modern inquiry has confirmed that there is no such thing as mass hallucination, though as Wright has stated many times, we don’t need modern science to tell us that dead people stay dead; people have known that from the beginning. The Resurrection either happened according to the testimony, or it didn’t. (But just because people don’t believe it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.)


  • Andrew W

    In answer to RJS’s original question, I find #2 and #3 most convincing, but the skeptical side of me has always doubted reason #4. I wish people wouldn’t lean on it so much.

    Wait till I finish to judge this line of reasoning, but from my personal experience with a highly controlling religious group that had a narcissistic (NPD) leader, and from all that I’ve since read regarding cults, given the right circumstances people are altogether capable of willingly dying for something that at some level they know is not true. Thought reform (the psychological technical term for what most incorrectly call “brainwashing”) is powerful—often more powerful than the cognitive dissonance that cuts in the other direction. Under these circumstances, for a variety of reasons, that which we would typically assume is “rational thought”—e.g., “don’t die for something you know is a lie”—does not consistently apply.

    Now, I happen to believe Jesus, washer of feet, to be almost the antithesis of a narcissist—which is in fact why I continue to follow Him. Similarly I do not believe the early church to have been a “cult” (a loaded / generally unhelpful term, actually), despite it technically fitting the definition of a “New Religious Movement” (NRM) in its time. For these reasons, I don’t feel my comparison above holds water. Still, my internal skeptic objects every time someone trumpets #4 as a strong reason for belief in the bodily resurrection.

    Lastly, a question for fellow commenters: When you think about Jesus’s resurrected body *today*, where do you conceive of it as existing? Although Wright speaks of it as being “transphysical,” which partially relieves us of the burden of imagining it literally above the clouds out in space somewhere awaiting a return, I can’t help but wonder where it is. This sometimes nudges me ever-so-slightly in the direction of the other Andrew’s lines of thought.

    (P.S. I used to post on RJS’s posts as just “Andrew” but apparently there is now a more active commenter by the same name, so I’ll add a “W.” 🙂 The other day—for the Harrell intro—we both commented as “Andrew” on the same post, causing me much confusion. 🙂 )

  • norman

    I would like to add something to Andrews perspective concerning Paul’s use of biblical metaphor, especially relating to Paul’s understanding of the “Dead”. Paul’s usage of the “dead” is difficult for almost all students of the bible to discern the correct contextual usage at times. Let me provide an example.

    Eph 2:1 Also you — BEING DEAD in the trespasses and the sins, in which once ye did walk according to the age of this world, … 5 EVEN BEING DEAD IN THE TRESPASSES, did make us to live together with the Christ

    It’s seems pretty obvious even for a casual student of the bible that Paul is applying the condition of “dead” to a status of guilt under our trespasses; however we are MADE ALIVE through Christ. This being “dead” then is Paul using it as representation to illustrate separation from God via Adamic death in the Garden. You won’t catch this application though unless you really study Paul extensively in Romans 5-8 and 1 Cor 15 and even then you can’t appropriate a literal reading because Paul laces his work extensively in metaphor. If we ignore these metaphors and ignore their usage is when we get into trouble exegetically and we can go off on wild literal tangents without end.

    In conclusion then resurrection in Paul’s analogical method becomes the reality of our being “raised” out of that separation from God judicially. It’s called “spiritual death” which is the Death that Adam suffered when he was driven from Garden life. However “death” also has an eternal understanding in Paul’s Judaism which I believe also goes back to Genesis 3. Man instead of having a right relationship and standing with God also has lost the gift of eternal life. This idea is taken from the Jewish concept that when man died they were no better than the animals as they returned to dust if they were not in a right relationship with God. So being raised to right standing with God in the here and now; but also infers eternal life (but don’t ask me to explain the Jewish concept of eternal life as it is somewhat vague even though it is part of the promise).

    Gen 3: 22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and TAKE ALSO OF THE TREE OF LIFE AND EAT, AND LIVE FOREVER—”

    Our problem is often identifying scripture which is speaking of this raising to stand with God judicially through Christ and confusing it with physical resurrection language. By and large Paul was most interested in our being made right with God so that we could then grasp abundant life in the here and now; but we cannot also say that eternal life beyond our grave is not also in view. The problem is that the message is so intertwined that it’s like trying to untangle a ball of twine in explaining it to a casual audience. This is why pulpit ministers typically just stick to the overly simplistic in some form or fashion.

    One of the mistakes critical scholars assume is that they think Paul plays fast and loose with OT ideas concerning these issues. Paul applies them metaphorically but they will insist that the original author of say Genesis 2 & 3 meant it literally. This is their big mistake! OT and 2nd Temple literature was birthed using metaphor and analogy from the beginning but we tend to think that these ancient people just weren’t sophisticated enough to pull this kind of literature off under their ancient mentalities. Genesis was written in a polemic style reflecting typical 2nd Temple exilic ideas and is not much different in its polemic against corrupt priest and rulers than Genesis is. The flood story is not really about ancient people 3000 years before Christ but is about the corruptness that Judaism had fallen into in the eyes of many of the scribes and prophets at that time. (Likely around 600 to 400BC) It is very similar to Ezekiel’s polemic which uses Genesis icons to also advance this story. Then we have about 200 years later the Enoch writings and Jubilees Jewish writings using Genesis in a similar manner right on up until the time of Christ. Paul was essentially reflecting the dissatisfaction that many Jews had with Temple Religion of those days. Christ resurrection is indeed a complex biblical concept and we do well to keep our minds open as we learn.

  • Ray

    @Andrew W – I also see #4 as one of the weakest, for similar reasons you state. To your examples, I would give the example of Islam over the last 1200+ years. The sustainability and growth of a movement do not necessarily mean its historical foundations are irrefutable/true. To that I would add the Latter Day Saints, though I mean no disrespect to either Muslims or Mormons. My personal faith convictions along the lines of orthodox Christianity call into question the specific revelation on which those groups base their faith & practice. Yet both groups are very infuential and continue to grow.

    Perhaps what distinguishes the expansion of the early Christians is their growth in spite of persecution – growth through non militant ways rather than through power and control.

  • Andrew

    I had a suspicion this would provoke lively discussion.

    To answer a few points:

    Ray (16): Regarding what happened to Jesus’s body, I have to honestly say I don’t see why it matters. The Resurrection, to me, shows that his spirit in the manifestation of God were stronger than material death. What happens to his physical body, to me, is immaterial. I may need some clarification here.
    Norman (18): I’m not sure I understand why, if Jesus’s Resurrection manifested itself in some form of spiritual/visionary experience (and I’m not a hardcore materialist; I’m open to these experiences having elements of what could be described as the ‘supernatural’ or transcendent/mystical), how is it not still a hope and promise to people? I do think if the main reason one becomes/is a Christian is the hope of eternal salvation/literally “beating death” I personally believe they have their priorities slightly out of place.
    I haven’t read Tabor’s work but am familiar with the longstanding academic debate about Jewish and Pauline/Gentile Christianity in the 1st century. I personally find more power in the more ‘Wisdom’ sayings and parables of Jesus and the letter of James than the more “cosmological sermons” of Paul, but I seem to be in a minority there (and I don’t see Paul as being such a divergence from the Peter/James school as some do, although I do think the Gentile churches that followed Paul did make a divergence).

  • Phil Miller

    Regarding what happened to Jesus’s body, I have to honestly say I don’t see why it matters. The Resurrection, to me, shows that his spirit in the manifestation of God were stronger than material death. What happens to his physical body, to me, is immaterial. I may need some clarification here.

    The physicality of the resurrection is important because it has to with the doctrine of Creation as a whole. It comes down to the insistence in Genesis that Creation itself was good. Matter itself is imbued with a moral fabric. The material world isn’t something that we have to completely deny and escape from, but rather we need to see it as God’s good Creation which He is in the process of bringing renewal to. So Jesus’ resurrection is the first step in this process, if you will. That’s why it’s important.

  • Andrew

    “It comes down to the insistence in Genesis that Creation itself was good. Matter itself is imbued with a moral fabric. The material world isn’t something that we have to completely deny and escape from, but rather we need to see it as God’s good Creation.”

    I completely agree. But is that not manifested by the “bodies” of Jesus’s followers after death and those that spread his message? Christian love has sanctified life and through works has saved many a life. I still don’t see why the requirement of Jesus’s actual body being resurrected . . I’m guessing you are talking about a gradual “repair of the human-God relationship post-Fall?” If that’s correct, I suppose my head doesn’t wrap around that because I don’t believe in a literal “Fall” as an actual event in time/history.

  • Phil Miller

    Well, I don’t necessarily believe that “the Fall” was a literal event as described in Genesis, but I do believe that Creation is literally fallen. I believe it really is subject to forces that prevent it from being all the God intended it to be.

  • It would seem that humans, constrained in time and 3-D spatial dimensions, have had difficulty grasping a bodily resurrection with some sort of physical/spirit transition for 2000 years. The First Century Gnostics wanted to adapt Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection to their Greek philosophy of separation of flesh and spirit, and they were identified essentially as a cult in John’s epistles. Today, it seems to come down to a choice that has already been made as to what one will believe. People discuss Paul’s reshaping Christianity as if that is a mind changing argument, but perhaps it is a preconceived mind that is changing the argument of Paul.

    How much space would the gospel writers have to devote to the resurrection detail to make it valid?

    If there is no bodily resurrection, why isn’t the rest of the Jesus-story fabricated also? If there is a resurrection, there has to be a death. If there is a death, there has to be a life. If there is life there has to be a birth. Without a resurrection there is no ascension. Without an ascension, Acts 1:8 and 2:2 mean what?

    If there is no bodily resurrection, who did Stephen see standing at the right hand of God? How did he recognize Jesus? Was this a near death hallucination? Who reported to Luke what went on with the stoning of Stephen? How about Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul, later the author of a “spiritual resurrection?” Hmm.

    If this physical universe is indeed “running down” as the (classical) 2nd “Law” of thermodynamics says, then everything physical is under the law of entropy. The ultimate end of entropy is physical death. Return to dust. Lowest energy state. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ by the power of God is the only force that defeats the law of entropy, because that power is not subject to natural constraints. If Jesus didn’t rise bodily from the dead, there is no victory over sin and death, because those exist in the physical realm. This is the same power that transforms us into the likeness of God, which “overcomes” the world, which is the only thing in the physical realm that contradicts the law of entropy.

    There is too much attached to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ to compromise and negotiate it into something else. It introduces into the world the power for everything from creation to eternity. For me, it is more reasonable to have faith in that event, accepting that I will never completely understand it.

  • Norman @2: Thank you for the James Tabor book reference. Looking forward to reading it.

    Andrew W @24: Can you indicate one or two authors or books that you have found helpful on cognitive dissonance and thought reform?

  • Peter Bylen

    “God highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2.9) – precisely how is that a physical or bodily resurrection and not something different?

  • Andrew W

    Hi Mark Farmer,

    Thanks for asking; I hope others won’t mind my addressing your question though it takes me a bit far afield from proofs of the resurrection.

    The seminal work in thought reform is Robert Jay Lifton’s _Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism_; you can find an overview on Wikipedia (it has its own article), at least part of the book on Google Books, and the physical & Kindle books on Amazon (just be aware there are some pro-cult reviews of the book on Amazon). Lifton studied how the Chinese authorities broke down American servicemen (and indeed other Chinese) during the Korean war. The book is quite long, but rich. If you want to jump to the heart of it, chapter 22 delineates eight criteria of thought reform environments that are still widely cited today.

    For specific application to “cults,” an accessible intro would be Steve Hassan’s _Releasing the Bonds_. Steve is a well-known exit counselor and is himself an ex-Moonie. He draws from Lifton’s work but boils it down and adds from his own considerable experience. It was this popular book, not Lifton’s academic work, that my family read as a primer on the subject as they prepared for my intervention ten years ago.

    Other than these, to understand this phenomenon it can be most helpful (not to mention fascinating!) to read people’s actual stories / testimonials of thought reform environments. I personally enjoyed _From Dean’s List to Dumpsters: Why I Left Harvard to Join a Cult_ by Jim Guerra but scads of people have highly reviewed _Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple_ by Deborah Layton. (I haven’t got around to reading my copy yet.) A few good autobiographical accounts have also come from survivors of the “Children of God” group as well, among them _Heaven’s Harlots_ and _Not Without My Sister_.

    More than just from my readings, it’s my own personal experience and that of other cult survivors I’ve gotten to know over the years that tells me that the brain is never truly “washed.” Thought reform can powerfully shape how we perceive and interact with the world around us, even to the point of dying (think Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, David Koresh, etc.), but the authentic pre-cult self is often (always?) still there and still active at some level.

  • Marshall

    B.F. Meyer points out that the hinge of the matter is whether one accepts contra- or extra-rational explanations for historical events. If you do, the miraculous resurrection scores well for all the historical “indexes” mentioned in the post. So it’s a bit of a tail-chase: if you believe that God is active in the world, then assert that this is an example of God active in the world, which is to say this is proof that God is active in the world. Seems like a bad place to hang a hat; there are better ways we know that God is active in the world.

    Personally I follow Jesus because I believe in the incarnation. Among other features, it’s much easier to defend. The crucifixion and resurrection are important because that’s how the incarnation climaxed, when God came to dwell in the house that was built for him. Biggest poke in the eye since Moses broke the tablets.

  • Thanks, Andrew W.

  • phil_style

    As an aside, but related point,

    I’ve always had a much, much harder time accepting the ascension, rather than the resurrection. At least I can conceptualise a 48-hour deceased body being in a “reanimated” state… At least no new physical matter is created or destroyed, the energy remains within the universe, just as it does for all of us when we die. One could conceivably find all those bits of matter and re-assemble them back into a working body again…

    The ascension on the other hand is different. How the matter form that body reacts when passing into another realm (i.e. it left the universe?) is just mad…

  • Adam

    @phil_style #37

    Yep, it’s mad. I like to say Jesus died, rose again, and then flew away. I think it’s helpful to recognize the madness of the situation.

    For christianity to be meaningful, I think we have to have physical consequences. To say that Jesus was resurrected “spiritually” but not “physically” leaves us in a dualistic worldview. The physical is bad while the spiritual is good. This is a key component to escape theology. I don’t think christianity is about a spiritual afterlife, it’s about a physical now. The physical resurrection of Jesus is a clear statement that what happens with our bodies matters because it will be resurrected.

    The mad part of it is also important. It’s obviously mad because such a thing has never happened before. But that is the whole purpose of Jesus “Behold I am doing a new thing”. So, instead of abandoning the old and starting over, Jesus remakes the old. This is the heart of redemption. The old things become new things, not new things replace old things.

    Of course it looks mad when your only perspective is how things have always been. How many examples do we have of people saying things like “If people were meant to fly God would have given them wings”. Our airplanes are madness to people of 150 years ago. Our cars (and 70 mph speed limits) are madness to people with only horses. The internet itself is madness to the Pony Express. Madness itself is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Andrew W

    Phil_Style, for me that’s an important aside. I voiced the same discomfort in the question I posed at the end of my first post (#24). I’d still love to hear if anyone else has any thoughts on it.

  • Phil Miller

    Andrew #39, I’d say when you start looking more into things like quantum physics and n-dimensional string theory, it becomes less difficult to imagine (at least from me anyway) that Christ could have a physical body that transcends what we can observe from our limited perspective. It’s not that I’m saying I can fully comprehend how it all works. I’m just saying that the more we find out about the cosmos in general, the weirder it all seems to be.

  • The veracity of the risen Christ can be proved by countless incidents of people who have actually seen Jesus at one point in their lives. The apparitions and the miracles that happened after hundreds of years of Jesus’ ascension to heaven are solid roofs that indeed Jesus has risen. The belief that billions of Christians have on Him is not an accidental feat nor was it something that is purely based on a major historical event that others would call a hoax.

    If the resurrection was a big hoax, then Christianity including its believers are also hoaxes. Perhaps, the writings on the Old Testament that predicted the coming of Jesus Christ would also be a hoax. Everything in the Bible would be a hoax. But come to think of it? If all things pertaining to Christianity were hoaxes, particularly the resurrection, we could say that there is a grand conspiracy among the writers of the Bible – from the apostles to the linguists and scholars who interpreted the earliest manuscripts of the Old and New Testament. However, regardless of how we look at it – the resurrection of Jesus and all other aspects of Christianity continues to glitter with the many affirmations from people who have been changed by following Christ.

    Christ has resurrected. He is a living God and He will come to face us all.

  • Andrew W

    True that, Phil Miller. When science starts getting weirder than faith, it certainly helps take the edge off of our positivistic confidence that everything real should make immediate sense. Perhaps I can then rest in humble appreciation of the unfathomable mysteries of both realms.

  • Regarding your five reasons:

    1. I have no doubt that belief in the resurrection based on some sort of visionary experience was the originating event for Christianity. I am not familiar with anyone who claims that it was a later belief. However, I am familiar with many who think that the details of the stories developed over time.

    I went to a Catholic school in the 1960’s where the nuns told me about the thousands of people who witnessed appearances of the Virgin Mary at Fatima in 1917. No doubt many of those people were still alive at the time, but as far as I know, the nuns hadn’t met any of them. They were just passing along stories they believed to be true as I suspect Paul was doing.

    2. This is a false dilemma. Literal resurrection and scripted/conspiracy are not the only alternatives. Visionary experience to which details were added during oral transmission is another.

    3&4. In the 1800’s, most American Christians found blasphemous the idea that the canon could be expanded based on a barely literate bumpkin’s claim that an angel showed him golden plates buried in rural New York. Nevertheless, the idea appealed to enough people for the movement to take root and many people underwent hardships and persecution despite the absence of any empirical evidence for Joseph Smith’s claims. There are some 14 million Mormons in the world today. This does not prove Smith’s claims any more than the grown of Christianity proves the claims of the gospels.

    If one tried to write the story of Smith and the early years of the Mormon Church based solely on the writing of Smith’s most devoted followers from several decades after his death, it is unlikely that the account would be particularly close to what secular historians actually think happened. We might not even know that Smith had more than one wife since polygamy wasn’t openly practiced until the Mormons reached Utah. The only reason we know what happened is that we have the contemporaneous accounts of outsiders—non-Mormons who dealt with Latter Day Saints and ex-Mormons who left. By the same token, uncorroborated tales that “hundreds of Jews began worshipping Jesus literally overnight” and “[v]irtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith” must be taken with a substantial grain of salt.

    5. The resurrection is a source of meaning for many, many people. That doesn’t provide any evidence that it is historically true.

  • phil_style

    @Chris, #41 “The veracity of the risen Christ can be proved by countless incidents of people who have actually seen Jesus at one point in their lives. ”

    That is not proof. It might be evidence (albeit easily dismissed), but it is not proof.