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On the third day he rose again

empty tombOn the third day he rose again

Those of you following this series on the Creed will notice echoes from the post on Conceived by the Holy Spirit.

There I said – the Bible is a mixture of history and metaphor and if you study the mentions of Jesus’ conception (and there’s really only a couple of them) – I said, firstly, it is a perfectly acceptable Christian position to hold that Jesus’ conception was miraculous. Secondly, it is a perfectly acceptable Christian position to hold that Jesus’ conception happened in exactly the same way as every other conception. Thirdly, it is a perfectly acceptable Christian position to hold no opinion whether or not Jesus’ conception was miraculous. My fourth point was that it is not acceptable to think that half of Jesus’ chromosomes are human and half of Jesus’ chromosomes are something else – divine, goddy chromosomes.

You can make a similar four points about the physical resurrection of Jesus – the story of the tomb being empty, the body gone, transformed. Please note, this is a blog post, not a doctoral thesis. If it were the latter, we would need to spend dozens of pages first discussing what is meant by “history” and so forth.

The empty tomb is history

Raymond Brown, a Roman Catholic priest, was a scholar who did a lot of work on the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection. Eg. The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

He concluded the weight is not so strong on the virgin birth, but I think he is quite correct that the weight on the bodily resurrection, the empty tomb, is much, much stronger. I know an atheist historian who examined the evidence and concluded a freak event had happened. He had no scientific explanation for it, but he understood Jesus’ tomb was empty – but it didn’t change his belief that there is no God – for him it was just a freak event. There is no other explanation for the origin of Christianity from a frightened small band of followers of an executed criminal.

Raymond Brown concludes: “From a critical study of the biblical evidence I would judge that Christians can and indeed should continue to speak of a bodily resurrection. Our earliest ancestors in the faith proclaimed a bodily resurrection in the sense that they did not believe that Jesus’ body had corrupted in the tomb. However, and this is equally important, Jesus’ risen body was no longer a body as we know bodies, bound by the dimensions of space and time.” So that’s the majority Christian position.

The Resurrection is metaphor/spiritual

It is a position held by many Christians that Jesus’ resurrection is solely a spiritual event.

No opinion on the details/meaning of the Resurrection

There are many Christians who hold no opinion whether or not Jesus’ resurrection/empty-tomb was history or metaphor.

Jesus was not resuscitated

The point Raymond Brown makes is important: whatever happened – Jesus was not resuscitated. Jesus’ risen body was no longer a body as we know bodies, bound by the dimensions of space and time.

So what?

Once you finish all this debating you are still left with the most important task. What real, concrete difference does it make in your life and in mine?

Raymond Brown again: the Gospels “are not simply factual reporting of what happened in Jesus’ ministry but are documents of faith written to show the significance of those events as seen with hindsight.”

If you say you believe Jesus rose physically on the third day but it makes no difference to the way you treat others, or yourself, or the way you care for the physical environment, or recycle, or food, or the health and needs of others – then the way you live denies the words you say.

And those who do care for people’s health, and exercise, and food, and recycle, and care for the environment, and so on – are living the bodily resurrection whether they proclaim those words or not.

This is the seventeenth post in a series on the Creed.

The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.
The fourth is I believe in the Father.
The fifth is Handing over the Creed.
The sixth is I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son
The seventh is Don’t use the creed in worship
They eighth is Truly God truly human
The ninth is Conceived by the Holy Spirit
The tenth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 2)
The eleventh is Born of the Virgin Mary
The twelfth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 3)
The thirteenth is Crucified under Pontius Pilate
The fourteenth is crucified
The fifteenth is Holy Saturday
This sixteenth is He descended to the dead

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3 Responses to On the third day he rose again

  1. This is a timely post for me as I just finished John Shelby Spong’s latest book, in which he covers the fourth gospel of John as a part of the Jewish mystical tradition. Over and over he writes “Jesus never spoke these words” and “these exact events did not happen.” It was radical for me to read that, but comforting too. In the end, I tend towards the “hold no position” on the matter, neither denying the possibility of resurrection or believing it 100% impossible. It was nice to know that I don’t have to stop considering myself a Christian, just because I don’t adhere to those ancient doctrines.

  2. I understand that what you imply is the reason or purpose of believing that Jesus rose again. It was an act of love to show us how to live. Especially for his followers at that time who were obviously devasted and needed that hope of a better life after death. The supernatural event that was witnessed by His most faithful friends and apostles is recorded as fact so we can accept the possibility of this occurring in our own lives. Those who are devoted to there loved ones and take their care and concerns seriously may have a better conception of what really happened that day. I choose to think it was teach us the best path to take.

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