A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jesus' Resurrection and Why This World Matters

With the wonderful discussion taking place over at the Methoblog on whether or not the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a necessary article of faith, I am motivated to share some thoughts on the subject.

I take the position, along with the historic church, that Jesus' bodily resurrection is necessary for salvation. If Jesus was not physically raised, then the Christian faith is false and not worth salvaging.

Please consider the following:

The New Testament writers would not have known the concept of resurrection without the body. To be sure, there was the concept of the immaterial soul in Platonic philosophy, but the language of the New Testament is not Platonic in this respect. A superficial reading of the New Testament demonstrates this. The Gospels claim that the tomb was empty, which meant that Jesus' body was not there. Now this claim in and of itself does not demonstrate that Jesus rose physically, but it does show that resurrection meant to the Gospel writers and their readers, that something had indeed physically happened to Jesus' body. Years ago, the Jewish scholar, Geza Vermes stated that the evidence of the empty tomb of Jesus was incontrovertible. It is outside of the bounds of historical competence to imagine that the disciples knew Jesus was dead, but somehow started proclaiming his "resurrection" because his life and ministry changed their hearts. The Jewish leadership would have seen as no serious threat, Christians running around Jerusalem proclaiming that a still dead Jesus had been spiritually raised within them.

By the way, such individuals as Bishop Spong, who proclaim belief in miracles, including the resurrection of corpses, as somehow out of date, are themselves not espousing new, enlightened ideas in their rejection of such things. Such disbelief has been around for centuries, and their divorce of body from spirit is more primitive and older than the claim of bodily resurrection.

Moreover, the Apostle Paul bears witness to the necessity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, not only in 1 Corinthians, but also as he, prior to his conversion, persecuted the first Christians. Ellis Rivkin, another Jewish scholar, asks what would have set Paul (Saul) off against those early believers? He concludes that it had to be the claim of a bodily raised Jesus. As a Pharisee, Paul would have believed that only the righteous were raised. The claim of Jesus' resurrection meant, therefore, that this Jesus was indeed God's man and God's favor rested upon him. The implications for Paul (Saul) were clear. Once he became convinced of Jesus' resurrection, he had no option but to accept him as God's Anointed.

If indeed the first Christians had non-corporeal visions of Jesus, they would not have used the language of resurrection. In Jewish literature we read of such visions. The Jews had language to describe such visions; it was not the language of resurrection.

I could go on and on, but just one last point: It mystifies me that those whose theology tends to be more "liberal" (sorry about the label; I hate labels) reject the necessity of a bodily raised Jesus, yet they place so much importance on social justice in this world, caring for poor in this world and being good stewards of the environment in this world. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is God's affirmation that this world matters, that God intends to save this world and so it is critically important to seek justice in this life, to feed the poor in this life, and to care for the enironment in this life. An early christological argument for the full humanity of Jesus was "that which he has not become he has not saved." In like fashion, that which Jesus has not overcome he has not defeated. If Jesus body remained dead, death is still in control and stalks us with no hope for victory. If Jesus' resurrection is simply a metaphor for his spirit rising to be with God, then salvation is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky in the sweet by-and-by. Such faith becomes other-worldly, divorced from the real problems of human existence that God desires to eliminate. When faith is divorced from history, it is divorced from the reality of this world; and when it is divorced from the reality of this world, all that matters is going to heaven when we die. We do not need to be concerned that the poor are fed; after all they will die soon enough and go to be with God. Those who care so much about justice in this world need to embrace the bodily raised Jesus; it is the most powerful affirmation that the work of social justice matters.

In conclusion, allow me to quote Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham:

Jesus' resurrection is the beginning of God's new project, not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about.

When Paul wrote his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, he didn't end by saying, "So let's celebrate the great future life that awaits us." He ended by saying, "So get on with your work, because you know that in the Lord it won't go to waste." When the final resurrection occurs, as the centrepiece of God's new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus' own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed.

We sing during Easter, "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart." Well, that is nice, but it is not good enough. The Jesus who "lives" within my heart is not sufficient to renew all of creation. More is necessary.

A reductionist faith that minimizes Jesus' resurrection to nothing more than spiritual niceties, cannot meet the challenges of a world in desperate need of resurrection.

He has risen indeed!


Anonymous said...

This was really interesting to read..thanks for sharing this with us...and well as Easter is also coming up in a while i'd like you to visit mt blog on Easter Wishes and Greetings sometime and check out all that i've posted there...i'm sure you'll enjoy your visit!!!

Anonymous said...

Great post Allen! And great points. A few years ago I used to be a 'Full Preterist' which meant that I believed all of the Bible was fulfilled by the time of the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. My take on the 'resurrection' (and pretty much all FPs hold to this view) was that of a 'spiritual body' meaning it was non-caporal -- it had no connection to the present life. It got to the point that anything 'physical' was seen as only a 'type and shadow' of the true reality, the spiritual world.

After I started reading some of Bishop Wright's work, especially his book The Resurrection of the Son of God I saw the error of my view. In a biblical world view, or better yet, in a Judaic world view, 'resurrection' always meant some type of embodiment now, in this natural world. Once that was firmly established there was no going back to a 'full' preterist view. Furthermore, that view is very Gnostic in that it is very dualistic -- the natural is only a 'picture' of the 'real', the 'spiritual' world. I'm telling you, Plato would have been proud!

So, I love the post and wanted to thank you for continuing the push for a true Biblical worldview.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

Anonymous said...

Nice Post. Couldn't agree more. It is very obvious from the plain text of scriptures that the writers believed there was a physical bodily resurrection. Those who reject the authority of scripture can make claims that there was no bodily resurrection, but those who claim that scripture has authority can't make such a statement without doing damage to the text of scripture.

Allan R. Bevere said...




Thanks for your comments. Paul's reference to spiritual bodies is not meant to conjure up some kind of Platonic dualism. Paul does not use "spiritual" as a synonym for "immaterial." Spiritual is that which is in harmony with God as opposed to flesh which is opposed to God. Paul belived that there will indeed be a corporeal aspect of our eternal existence, that will, in reference to our current existence, will have a continuity and discontinuity. The nature of Jesus' resurrected body gives us a glimpse of what our resurrection bodies will be like.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments.

While I do agree that the authority of Scripture must override all other considerations, I would prefer to nuance the argument somewhat. I do not want to suggest that those who believe that Jesus was not bodily raised from the dead also deny the authority of Scripture. Nowhere in my post do I suggest this. What I am suggesting is that those who deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus are reading the New Testament incorrectly, and if Scripture is to be taken authoritatively, that must be taken into account. It will not do to reinterpret the text in order to massage the ego of so-called "modern sensibilities."

There are certainly places where I have misinterpreted Scripture. That does not mean I am denying its authority; it means I am reading it incorrectly; and God help me when I interpret the wisdom of God in an unsuitable way.

Thanks again!

Theresa Coleman said...

I agree, Allen as well. There MUST be a bodily resurrection for this whole thing to make sense.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Rev. Mom:

Thanks for your comment.

And thanks for your post that sparked such a great discussion!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Allan, Great post! Just recently I heard a professor explain the "liberal" reticence to accept resurrection as (probably, I think he intimated) related to this Platonic infection that inflicted the church early on and even with no less than Augustine himself.

I love how you tie this into our work in this world. Wonderful and great point.


Rachel Starr Thomson said...


I found you through a bit of creative internet surfing. Recently I've read a lot (on blog posts and in comments) talking about how Christ's teaching is all that matters, and miracles and resurrection and all that nonsense isn't important anyway. What matters is that we see the beauty of His teachings and try to live them out.

And I wonder how people who believe that can go on being Christians? If you take away the resurrection you kick the props out from underneath my faith. I see this more and more clearly as I study Scripture.

All of this to say that I loved this post: it was articulate, refreshing, right on. Thanks.

Rachel Starr Thomson
Author of "Heart to Heart: Meeting With God in the Lord's Prayer"

Matt said...

Thanks Allan, I appreciate you pointing to N.T. Wright, who I really tend to lean toward during these discussions (even though I've been challenged by Robert Jenson too). I especially like The Resurrection of the Son of God. In a recent speech, Wright said he father called him and said, "I got really interested after pg. 600!" Nice compliment, eh?

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks! Yes. The reticence you speak of is not new and enlightened as often portrayed. We see it all the way back in the Book of Acts when the Athenians laugh at the notion of resurrection.

Allan R. Bevere said...


You are correct. If Jesus has not been bodily raised, we do kick the legs out from under the faith.


Allan R. Bevere said...


Ha! What a great story about Wright's father. Thanks for sharing that.