Taking Easter Seriously

Taking Easter Seriously April 20, 2014

From Jericho Brisance. HT Hemant Mehta. Brisance gives an account of how his views have changed on various subjects, including the following observation:

I consider that I may never have actually believed in Jesus. Perhaps no one for 19 centuries has. There is something in the way: he did not leave us any writings of his own. To be clear, we first believe the New Testament writers and the traditions of the church. Through that filter and conduit, we believe in Jesus. Before we can believe in Jesus, we have to believe the authors of the gospels. And very oddly, even they did not tell us who they were. So as bad as it is, the whole belief filter actually moves yet another step back: we believe the followers of an even later generation; who tell us who they think wrote the gospels; who then tell us what Jesus said and did. We routinely short circuit this rather mangled trail by simply saying that we “believe in Jesus”.But to be entirely thorough, there is yet another layer. I recognize now that what I actually believed in was the Jesus of church tradition. This Jesus is more robust than any of the four Gospel descriptions, amalgamated as the church portrait is from the sum, and enhanced by centuries of Christological debate. The Nicene portrait is more robust than the portraits of the synoptics, and it includes points from the synoptics missing from the later-written John. Development was occurring. And I now fully appreciate the complexities facing the Quest for the Historical Jesus…

Of related interest, see Matthew Ferguson's review of Kris Komarnitsky's book on the resurrection, and Jeff Carter's post about the inaccessibility of the resurrection.

Also note that April DeConick's blog has a new address.


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  • I really appreciated Jeff Carter’s blog. It was really wonderful. This graph has given me a slight crisis of faith. That can be a good thing.

    • It can be, but often whether one has conversations about the things one is wrestling with can make a big difference to whether such an experience is positive or negative. And that is one of the things this blog is here for! 🙂

      • The conversations are what are important. Jeff Carter and I were talking a little bit about this last night. I also sent it to a friend of mine who teaches at Booth University in Winnipeg. I keep on thinking, “There has to be a sixth solution.”

        • If you find a sixth, and perhaps still others, please do share them!

          • I shared this with some Salvation Army officer friends of mine. These are some of the points they made.

            From one: “I’m
            fairly happy with a combination of options 3 and 4. I don’t see the
            differences as contradictions because they are primarily making
            theological points for different communities rather than historical
            notes for the Jerusalem Times. I believe in a genuine
            historical kernel to the gospel stories but I also concede the natural
            development and adaptation of these stories from within the faith
            communities. This is only a bad thing if you’re looking for the gospels
            to transmit a modern interpretation of history rather than theological
            reflections rooted in the experience of the risen Christ.”

          • From the second officer: ”
            I read a couple of the older posts by Brisbance and noted that his
            default position is contra the trustworthiness of scripture. He gives
            more weight extra-biblical sources for which we have fewer examples and
            much more recent copies than we have for the NT documents. I think Jeff Carter
            noted in his blog that the Resurrection is impossible to prove, but
            that he (and you and I) accept it by faith. Having said that, there are perfectly acceptable explanations for the differences in the gospel
            accounts. One of the first issues I would raise with Brisbance is his
            textual critical position that Mark was the source document and that it
            was written 40 years after the event. This a priori assumption gives
            him time to allow for the development of his “myth” theory. There is no
            need to for us to accept this. In fact the gospel accounts show few of
            the characteristics of mythology. They read like eye witness accounts
            because they were. They vary in details according the the authors’
            purposes and intended audiences. The now old Josh McDowell book,
            Evidence that Demands a Verdict, deals with each of these supposed
            contradictions and gives a cogent response. Mark is apparently Peter’s
            point of view and recollections; John tells his own story; Matthew was
            an eyewitness; Luke was a compiler of the stories but had Paul’s
            investigation as a resource. Paul, who said if Christ had not been
            raised from the dead that our faith is in vain also declared in the Corinthian correspondence that over 400 witnessed the risen Christ and
            many were still alive to confirm it. Of course, as Jeff noted, it all
            falls back to the issue of faith. McDowell wrote a second book, MORE
            Evidence that Demands a Verdict, which would be entirely unnecessary
            were a “verdict” made imperative by the first collection of evidence.”

          • And finally the third response: “I
            think it is N.T. Wright who says that if the gospel writers were trying
            to make stuff up they would have done a much better job of it. They
            would not have had women be the first witnesses to the resurrection and
            they would have done a much better job of collaborating their stories.”

          • I’m not persuaded that we can view each of the Gospel authors as an eyewitness. But that doesn’t mean that they did not have good traditions at their disposal. The confusion related to the resurrection accounts seems to me to be intelligible in terms of there being a core of tradition that was passed on without narrative details, such as we see in 1 Corinthians 15. If someone received that tradition about appearances of Jesus, and they wanted to turn it into a full-fledged story, they might well produce the things that we find in the Gospels. Since no geographical setting is provided, the fact that Luke has the disciples remain in Jerusalem while Matthew has them go to Galilee reflects different authors making different assumptions about where those experiences could have occurred.

          • Really great discussion. I find it extremely valuable! I’m starting to come to grasps with it and the dimension of faith adds to this mystery.

            Just an aside: While I was stationed with the Salvation Army in Germany, one thing that was peculiar is that there is no difference between the terms “faith” and “belief.” Of course, if you look at the etymology of the two words, “faith” is derived via French and Latin and “belief” is derived from the Germanic.

            There is always something intangible involved in our religion, in our belief system. Does that mean I have all the answers? Heavens, no! But I do enjoy searching for them.

          • It is interesting, on the other hand, to look at how the notion of faith has developed, moving from being largely focused on trust to largely being about assent to propositions. There is some interesting treatment of this in Gary Eberle’s book Dangerous Words: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2007/10/dangerous-words.html

            Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith is also important on the question of how that term should be understood.

          • Onyango Makagutu

            James I agree with you, Luke doesn’t claim to be an eyewitness. In fact, he says he is recording history. Lk 1:1-4

            1Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us,

            2 even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning wer eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,

            3 it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus;

            4 that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.

          • MattB

            Speaking of the burial accounts of Jesus, where did Arimathea exist? Was it similar to Nazareth in terms of its size and population?

            I know that the apocryphal mention JoA, but I was just wondering if you might now Dr.McGrath.

          • I’m not aware that we have any information about Arimathea, other than the references in the New Testament Gospels.

          • MattB

            oh okay, thanks Dr.McGrath. Hey btw, do you plan on reviewing Carrier’s upcoming book? I heard it’s supposed to be released sometime this month(according to Carrier).

          • I do!

          • MattB


  • David Keneally

    I’m a fan of Matthew Ferguson’s Blog. Very glad he’s starting to write more again.

  • Just when I finally decided to click through to have a look at “Hemant Mehta”, I discover that the link does not work … (no harm done, now to do a google search lol)

    • Thanks for letting me know – I will fix it immediately. Wait just a minute or two and then click it again!

  • Gary

    I posted this on the Jericho website..”Maybe I missed it, but per “Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene”, Bart Ehrman, pg 218, “According to Mark’s account…Jesus was arrested after he had eaten the Passover meal with his disciples, and was crucified at nine o’clock the next morning (see Mark 14:12; 15:25); but according to John’s account Jesus was arrested the night before the Passover meal was to be eaten and was crucified just after noon on the day devoted to the meal’s preparation (John 19:14).” Thus Jesus was crucified before Passover (John), or after Passover (Mark). John theologically reflects Jesus as the Passover lamb (crucified/killed on the day of preparation before Passover). So Bart Ehrman talks extensively about “The Passion Narratives as Theological Retellings”, a section in his book. So #5, 3. Minimal Facts, should also add that regardless of historical accuracy, and lack of an abundance of facts, history (or stories) always gets retold, or spun politically by authors, to reflect their personal beliefs. OK, a non sequitur, but Truman is a hero, Tojo is a war criminal?

  • Andrew Dowling

    Can one not have a mixture of #3 and #4?

    • Certainly. And there are bound to be other possibilities, whether different from or merely nuanced in between the ones listed on the infographic.