Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Resurrection

If we, just for a moment, allow Homer and Plato to divide the Greek world (at least as it pertains to flesh and spirit), as N.T. Wright does in his The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), we must confront a world, certainly the world that Paul traversed, that provided no precedent for a resurrection. Not only was there no precedent, the Greek world would have found the idea repulsive or simply false, so beautiful was Plato's soul fleeing the bondage of its fleshly prison. The Jewish world, while having an understanding and even a hope of a Resurrection on the last day (or some time in the distant future), was no less inhospitable to the idea of a man being resurrected into the here and now. A. Hendricksen has provided a brief and useful survey of the fields of responses, from Aeschylus to Celsus, to the notion of the Resurrection. How a message built upon the Resurrection of a Palestinian Jew, crucified and humiliated, could have survived at all, let alone thrive, is a study in the impossible.

The New Testament record captures the absolute radicality of the Resurrection. The disciples are incredulous, as are Paul's interlocutors, so scandalous was the idea; yet the growing faith itself was deemed in vain without the Resurrection of Jesus. The impossible discomfiture experienced by the first witnesses to the Resurrection as well as that experienced by the hearers of the gospel was nonetheless overcome by an impossible authenticity. Otherwise, there could be no ekklesia, then or now. Christianity should have died as quickly as its central figure, but instead it went on to transform a world predisposed to laugh it out of existence.

The historical impossibility of Christianity marks off posse ipsum, possibility itself. It is constitutive of the Resurrection to breed faith or ridicule, and the experience of the early Church witnesses precisely to this dichotomy. The Resurrection is disturbing, invasive, radical and transformative. Its radical reality is the only explanation for historical Christianity. It is also the only explanation for the continuance of the Church past the time when sheer novelty could explain a brief Christian appearance given countenance by the seekers of wisdom also seeking a little amusement.

If we put aside our prejudices against the quality of thinking in the ancient world, that somehow these ancient people walked in fear and superstition without any concept of knowledge or wisdom, we confront a people quite similar to ourselves, the difference perhaps akin to the difference between the quantum physics people we are today and the Newtonian physics people we were 200 years ago. As critical thinkers, we can no longer afford to think of the people of the early Church as our intellectual inferiors, a strategy that poorly serves the peoples of the past and present.

The Resurrection is just as impossible for us today as it was for those who witnessed it. Even as cogent a critic of the early church as Gerd Luedemann admits that the most difficult thing to explain about the church is Easter faith. It must come to us of the Higgs-Boson as quite a shock that the best explanation of Christianity is contained in 2000 year old texts.

And yet it moves...


  1. Please find an Illuminated Understanding of the various institutionally created myths associated with the presumed "resurrection". Which of course did not happen!
    1. + other essays
    On the Kingdom of Heaven + other essays
    Two more essays on "Jesus"
    Consciousness & the universal scapegoat "game" - of which Christianity is the biggest & most "sucessfull" player

  2. And yet, when we look at our lives and our world, the resurrected Jesus ain't in it. Funny that such a magnificent event would almost literally disappear, leaving us alone again to find our own way. Are we really any different than we were before the resurrection? I don't see it.

    You know, I think that if I am to become a disciple and follower of Jesus, then I am going to need what they needed to do so. Jesus, they say, appeared to them. This appearance was one of the reasons Christianity was born. Right? Saul became Paul through a direct encounter with the risen Christ. Right? That's what they needed to believe, that is what, apparently, they needed to not despair in Jesus' entire mission.

    Okay, why should we need any less to accept it? If the resurrection is as impossible today as it was then, then let it show itself as possible to us directly as it already did to a very select few. If the fate of my very existence depends on accepting it, then why would Jesus deny me, a person who never even knew him at all, a chance to believe in the way they came to believe? Huh? Why? If the experience of the resurrected Jesus was so powerful and overwhelming to overcome their alleged despair and any kind of skepticism or incredulity and continue their lord's work in his name, then why does he not appear to all of us with the same overwhelming force and power to convince us all of the truth?

    I guess what I mean is, I'm the disciples on Holy Saturday, a Holy Saturday that spans my entire life up to the present. I am open to the possibility of an Easter Sunday. But I am not going to take their word for it, no way. We are bamboozled constantly and this smells like one of the biggest bamboozles of all. But I am ready to be convinced, as they were—by Jesus himself

    In fact, I hope I meet Him someday; there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. And this time, it won't be like Job. Jesus can answer as a human being for what he has left undone in this world he supposedly died for. If I am still myself when I meet him, there will be many bones to be picked.

    We'll see. We will see.

  3. "The Resurrection is just as impossible for us today as it was for those who witnessed it."

    I am astounded that you would be so ready to believe them simply because you say the thing is impossible, so why would anyone believe it in the first place? Astounding! You're like Peppermint Patty and her reaction to Linus' Great Pumpkin theology: She believes it because it is ludicrous. What's the difference? Do you believe children when they tell you Santa Claus visits their house on Christmas? The idea of a man traveling the world in a single night to deliver toys to millions and millions of children on a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer is impossible. How could children ever come to believe such a thing?! Obviously, they wouldn't believe if it didn't really happen.

    Tell me the logical difference between that and your statement of belief in the disciples belief in the impossible resurrection?

    In fact, this could be multiplied indefinitely, as I am sure you can see. Has every impossible thing that people have believed true because they believed it and that would be unlikely if the impossible thing wasn't real?

    You're just trying to find the justifications that will help you keep believing what you want to believe. Nothing more or less. We all do it.

  4. "It must come to us of the Higgs-Boson as quite a shock that the best explanation of Christianity is contained in 2000 year old texts."

    Define "best."

  5. "The disciples are incredulous, as are Paul's interlocutors, so scandalous was the idea."

    And so am I. We should be. I see no good reason why we shouldn't. If there was something supernatural that convinced them, then they were convinced privately, because nothing remotely like that has touched me in my life. So, unless I encounter the risen Jesus in such a way as to reverse my skepticism, unless there is something analogous to Easter that has the same force and power, then my incredulity remains and so should yours. If it's truly as transcendent and unbelievable as you say, then unless we have an experience analogous to Easter, we have no obligation to accept the testimony of the gospels. We do not have that experience, we are not obliged and we have no intellectual responsibility to do so. It's not my responsibility that I do not accept what the gospel tells me is the most unlikely thing to ever happen.

    I do know this, though. Belief in unlikely things is not unlikely. This only distances myself further from sharing anything that the gospel offers. Add to it my other criticisms related to evil in a post-resurrection world, and I find Jesus' resurrection to have no relationship to human existence and human affairs, intellectual or otherwise.

    It all amounts to the same thing. There is no justification in the face of this uncertainty to have strong belief, reliance, hope or faith in anything the gospel asks you or me to believe.

  6. "The disciples are incredulous, as are Paul's interlocutors, so scandalous was the idea."

    Even this claim has some problems. Why are they incredulous of the resurrection of Jesus? Jesus said he would have to die—with, perhaps, his disciples to follow—but that God would raise him after his death.

    After everything the disciples did believe about Jesus, this seems arbitrary to draw the line there. If they were with Jesus during his ministry, participating it, witnessing what they called miracles and other signs, and if Jesus had prepared them for his death at the hands of a world whose days were numbered, why would the suddenly become a group of skeptics?

    The pain and suffering Jesus's disciples and family endured are unimaginable, but they do not imply the profound skepticism and despair in all of it that you and other Christians have used as evidence for the credibility of the Easter stories.

    This is one salient weakness in some of the most epic defenses of those attempt to construe resurrection belief a viable historical hypothesis. It's as if the moment Jesus died, these men and women instantly gave up something that had come to define their own identity!

    Belief and dedication to Jesus prior to the cross was not interrupted by a gap of hopeless abandonment about Jesus that was transformed into faith after Jesus's resurrection. There was probably a strong, consistent link between his death and their Easter faith.

    Far from being incredulous, I can't think of a group of people more likely to be open to resurrection than Jesus's friends on Holy Saturday. If anyone was more receptive, suggestible and primed to believe Jesus was risen, I can't think of any.

    Why would you think that they would have found it virtually impossible that Jesus would be risen by God? Though his torture and death were unspeakably horrific for them, things were still going the way Jesus predicted they must.

    It would have been far more shocking had the Romans or Jesus's religious rivals come to believe he was risen. But his disciples?