A Request for Easter Thoughts

As Easter approaches there will of course be an innumerable amount of garbage proclaiming to be ‘fact’ about the death and resurrection of Jesus.   Over years past, I have largely ignored this time of year; but this year I’d like to do something different.  I want to hear from you, my readers, and also my fellow bibliobloggers about what they think or believe about the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There are some questions I’d liked to have answered:

1.) What is your overall belief concerning the resurrection?  Do you think it happened?  Don’t believe?  Why or why not?
2.) If you answered above that you believe in the resurrection, what type of resurrection do you think happened?  A bodily resurrection?  A spiritual one?  Purely a theological one?
3.) If you believe in a resurrection, what is your authority on it?  Do you adhere to a particular Gospel tradition?  Combine them all?  Ignore any?  Accept only the epistles about the tradition?  A non-canonical source?
4.) If you do not believe in a resurrection, what is your authority for it?  What would it take for you to be convinced of a resurrection?
5.) If you do not believe in a resurrection, from where do you think the narrative of the passion and Easter originated?
6.) Do you believe that you will one day be resurrected?  In what sense (spiritual, physical?) do you believe this will happen, or conversely do you think it has already happened?

If you would like to include anything else, please consider doing so.  Any caveats or preliminaries or definitions that you think will help clarify your position, I’d like to hear it.

Now you might ask why I’m requesting this.  Frankly, I don’t think we analyze our own belief structures as well as we think we do.  I also think that we can all bring a lot of interesting conversations to the table once we start analyzing our understanding of a particularly prominent religious belief that seems to have many heads.  In doing this, in examining our own interpretations of the Easter tradition, it might not just tell us something about what we believe or reject, but also might tell us a little bit about ourselves.


14 Responses

  1. Tom:

    Let me try to answer in order:

    (1) I do believe that the resurrection happened. As to “why” that is quite complex. I find the conversions of Saul and James the brother of Jesus to be quite interesting if there was nothing like a resurrection that occurred. I think it makes the best sense of the rise of Christianity. I find the stories unified and diverse enough to suggest that it isn’t pure myth, but that the early Christians (whether right or wrong) believed they had experiences that led them to believe in Jesus’ resurrection.

    (2) I believe it was a bodily resurrection.

    (3) I think it is a combination of the biblical narrative and the shared testimony of the church.

    (6) I do believe in a future, physical resurrection.

  2. Brian, could you be more specific about the authoritative texts (book, chapter, verse…etc…)?

  3. Mk 16.1-12 ; Mt 28.1-15; Lk 24.1-12; Jn 20.1-18 in the Gospels.

    1 Cor 15.1-11 and how this weaves throughout epistles like Romans in Paul.

    Acts 9.1-9; 22.6-11

    The Book of Hebrews seems to have a strong resurrection theme as recently argued by David Moffit.

    Those would be the most authoritative texts as impacts my thinking.

  4. 1.) What is your overall belief concerning the resurrection? Do you think it happened? Don’t believe? Why or why not?

    I believe Jesus’ resurrection from the dead happened historically. The motives for this are complicated and not easily systematized, but deal with the overall weight of the evidence we have. I think the biblical evidence and testimony retells events with elements such as embarrassment (as in the lack of fortitude of any of the apostles themselves during the Passion) that presents, overall, a credible picture of a historical resurrection both in the discovery of an empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Christ. The early Church, too, seemed to have convincing testimony to a bodily resurrection of Jesus, miracles that seemed to follow on this, and eyewitnesses (such as the apostles) who suffered a great deal to prove this belief in a physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. It seems too improbable to ascribe all of this to hallucination or lying/intentional fabrication; nor do “mythic” or “theologoumenon” interpretations seem to fit with the biblical data or the historical belief of the early Church witnessed in any parallel early writings, pagan, Christian, or Jewish. Overwhelmingly, Christians were thought to believe in a physical resurrection of Jesus, a historical figure, and many died in support of this when they could have easily avoided martyrdom by holding a purely “spiritual” resurrection. Finally, the persistence of the Church and the miracles that happen within it in every point in history seem to confirm the beliefs associated with the resurrection.

    2.) If you answered above that you believe in the resurrection, what type of resurrection do you think happened? A bodily resurrection? A spiritual one? Purely a theological one?

    It involved not merely resumption of physical biological life, but involved a change of Jesus’ body to a different kind of body which was not subject to death or disease. The body of Jesus physically resurrected, as the Apostles were able to see and touch it, but it was not bound to normal limits of space-time. I don’t think we can square the biblical evidence or the belief of the early Church with a “purely spiritual” or “theological” resurrection.

    3.) If you believe in a resurrection, what is your authority on it? Do you adhere to a particular Gospel tradition? Combine them all? Ignore any? Accept only the epistles about the tradition? A non-canonical source?

    I would “combine” them all as various perspectives on a unitary historical event. Some theological perspectives are present in the writings of the Gospels that explains variations, along with other variations caused by other factors. However, I think they are harmonious on the whole among themselves and with the epistles. To show how this is so would be a larger project that a combox allows.

    [4.) If you do not believe in a resurrection, what is your authority for it? What would it take for you to be convinced of a resurrection?
    5.) If you do not believe in a resurrection, from where do you think the narrative of the passion and Easter originated?]

    6.) Do you believe that you will one day be resurrected? In what sense (spiritual, physical?) do you believe this will happen, or conversely do you think it has already happened?

    I do believe that, after my death and at some time in the future, I will be physically resurrected into a new form of biological/physical life. Traditionally, the resurrected body has four properties such as agility, subtleness, etc., that I believe all the resurrected (both good and evil) will share. A judgment by God will ensue at the end of time and the just will be rewarded, while the evil will be punished. The just will have already begun to share in the vision of God’s essence before the resurrection (ie, now), which is the central element of beatitude, but the general judgment will manifest this to all. The entire universe, likewise, will share in the new properties of the resurrected bodies in some fashion.

  5. I suppose I was hoping for more of a commentary of sorts regarding ‘why’ you believe as you do. ;-) But that will do.

  6. Interesting post!

    1) I don’t believe in the resurrection. There are several reasons that are key for me. I believe if the Bible was divinely inspired, it would contain no errors at all. So I have problems with the differences in Jesus’ birth narratives, in his genealogy, in the gospels’ differences concerning the resurrection, etc. I also think problems with the virgin birth prophecy, the prophecy about Herod’s infanticide, Tyre’s destruction, etc create real problems for the idea of inspiration. The problem of Hell and the problem of evil are also major factors for me. There are a few other doctrinal issues that I find illogical, but most of them stem from the main points I just listed.

    4) Ironically, I view the Bible as my authority for why I don’t believe. I just don’t find it reliable. But I could be convinced that it’s true if I witnessed an actual miracle. Or if I (and several others simultaneously) were spoken to by God, that would convince me. I might even be persuaded without all of that, but it would take unassailable proof — like an actual prophecy, etc. For instance, if the Bible had given details about science or future events that would have been impossible to guess, then that might persuade me as well. I hope that’s clear enough… I’m trying to stay fairly brief!

    5) This one is a little trickier. I think there are lots of possibilities that could explain why the myth began. I think it’s unlikely that actual apostles wrote the gospels; I think they were written by later Christians who didn’t actually know Jesus. In fact, we already know that’s the case for Mark and Luke. I think the first rumors of the crucifixion were started by some of Jesus’ original followers. Perhaps they were just lying, but I kind of doubt it. I think one or two of them had a vision of him in a dream, or just during some severe episode of grief. And as they thought about that experience, it began to seem more real to them. They probably told someone they knew, who offered encouragement and consolation. I think we’ve all had the experience of finding out one of our “memories” was not as accurate as we had thought. In a similar way, I think some of them created some “memories” that they began to think were real. As time went on and these stories spread, they picked up more detail and substance until people began to flesh them out into actual narratives.

    I do think Jesus probably existed. I think he was crucified because he wound up on the wrong side of the Jews and some of the authorities. But beyond that, I think it’s hard to recreate a whole lot of what happened. I don’t know if there was actually an empty tomb. And if there were, I think there are some plausible explanations for how it could have become empty anyway.

    This was a cool idea — glad you posted about it!

  7. Hello Tom, good questions. My view is that the laws of physics describe the ultimate truth, so any Biblical text that conflicts with the laws of physics has its origin in allegory and symbol. The cross and resurrection symbolize the annual fertility cycle, the death of winter and the birth of spring. Over the millennia, this celebration was gradually reified in myth, and the various myths were syncretized in the Common Era in the fictional story of Jesus Christ.

  8. 1. I don’t believe in a resurrection. I don’t believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Superman. For the same reasons I don’t believe in those, I rule out the resurrection.

    4. I have no need of an authority for that belief. There is almost nothing that could convince me that a man rose from the dead 2000 years ago. Anything that could contain the requisite proof-data would be instantly suspected of being forged or otherwise fabricated by means beyond my comprehension. I suppose if the world suddenly became extremely different than it is (e.g. cows giving birth to chickens, men levitating by thought alone, demons and angels manifesting on earth etc.), it might make me question the doctrine of uniformity which then might give me greater reason to consider that belief again.

    5. I think it was originally a belief based on the Inanna cycle of myths with influence from the LXX, pagan mystery cults from Egypt, Greece and Persia along with astronomical observations of the annual path of the sun.

    6. Yes, it is a certainty that the molecules that make up my current body will almost immediately recycle into the earth and be taken up in many bodies. My conscious existence, however, will die with me (as it does pretty much every night currently).

  9. 1. No, I don’t think it happened in any conventional meaning of the term. That is, I don’t think Jesus died any differently than the rest of living world. My reasoning is that I haven’t seen any evidence concerning life beyond death that would lead me to think that people come back generally or occasionally so I would be more inclined to think that something else has occurred to account for the belief that Jesus did come back.

    4. My authority is the collection of empirical data we have regarding resurrections. Since there aren’t any convincing cases of this occurring and there is no known mechanism for this happening I would require more evidence than a man’s claim that this occurred to believe it so. Perhaps if Jesus showed himself in such a way that that it could not be accounted for by appealing to peoples subjective experiences then I would believe.

    5. I think the belief that Jesus was resurrected came from his follower’s believing this occurred. People still claim to encounter Jesus and Mary and a number of other persons beyond the grave (I’ve heard reports of people who claim to have seen the ghost of Abe Lincoln among others) so it isn’t a particularly unusual claim for people to make. There is a cult in my town founded by a couple that claimed to have communicated with all sorts of dead ascended masters. The particular notion of the Easter story we all know and love seem to be a result of the need to establish without ambiguity that Jesus was no mere shade, which were/is a common folk belief but was in fact returned to physical life, as was the expectation of a lot of early Jews. I’m not sure one could reconstruct with any certainty the days after Jesus death, whether any women went to any tomb, if there was a tomb, or what may have happened at any tombs that may or may not have been.

    6. Interesting question. I personally don’t know. I do know that my consciousness has never experienced anything since experiencing nothing is not consciousness. So I suppose that if death is being without consciousness forever, I will never experience that, but I have never been in a situation where I have not experienced anything (my unconscious body is not I but it), so how will that paradox work out? There seems to be a growing prospect thought that the universe may me vast on scale before unthinkable, possibly even an infinite thing. Also it seems, that there is nothing particular about my body that my since of being is attached to. I’m resurrected in a since every time I pass from unconsciousness to consciousness, maybe even moment to moment. If you made a an exact duplicate of my brain down to the last atom and replaced my current brain with it and then stuck my old brain in a robot, when I awoke, would I wake up lying in my bed in my old body or would I awake and wonder who turned me into a robot? Big world, who knows what may be.

  10. I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead just as the New Testament documents describe it, and because of the cumulative testimony of those documents along with Old Testament documents that preceded them. While these documents were not written to us, I find them historically compelling – so much so that I would be violating my own sense of intellectual integrity if I were to reject them on this point.

  11. 1) Yes I believe that God resurrected Jesus from the dead as Lord. I don’t have any solid evidence to accept the resurrection any moreso than I have evidence to accept any other supernatural event from antiquity like the Mi’raj of Muhammad, but I choose to accept the resurrection as I like what it says about God, the world, the future, the type of life that is pleasing to God, and the hope it brings in life.

    2) I would say physical, though I think a better word would be trans-physical.

    3) I wouldn’t say I accept one Gospel as more authoritative than the rest. I think that they all probably contain fictional elements that were introduced into the gospel traditions for various reasons.

    4) NA

    5) NA

    6) I would say that I do believe in a future resurrection.I find resurrection to be a much more holistic and meaningful belief to accept than the (Platonic-esque) belief in the disembodied survival of an immortal soul.

  12. “1.) What is your overall belief concerning the resurrection? Do you think it happened? Don’t believe? Why or why not?”

    I don’t believe a word of it.
    Why? To an exceptional degree of confidence, I think that the Jesus of the NT, as well as a putative historical Jesus are entirely without foundation, and therefore can be dismissed as wishful fabrications, pending decent evidence.

    “4.) If you do not believe in a resurrection, what is your authority for it?

    Precisely Zero extra-biblical evidence exists.
    What “evidence” there is in the NT, (and that is precious little), is entirely contradictory, and mixed in with impossibilities.
    What evidence *should* be in existence, and that would be vast, considering the mass zombie invasion, the blotting of the sun for hours during a full moon, and the earthquakes is non-existent.
    This lack of evidence clinches the case for any rational adult.

    “What would it take for you to be convinced of a resurrection?”

    The same as that for any other magical claims.
    Vis: original extant INDEPENDENT sources for the claims.
    Such as: reports from Chinese astronomers of the time as to the disappearance of the sun, etc.

    “5.) If you do not believe in a resurrection, from where do you think the narrative of the passion and Easter originated?”

    Other previous popular multiple “pagan” legends concerning this very thing.
    Horus, Mythras,Hercules etc.

    “6.) Do you believe that you will one day be resurrected?”

    I already *have* been. I died on the operating table and was resuscitated.

    ” In what sense (spiritual, physical?) do you believe this will happen, or conversely do you think it has already happened?”

    The word “spiritual”, if used outside of the original “breathing” sense, is quite absent of any sensible meaning.
    I guess that my “resurrection” was in a sense “spiritual”, in that the anæsthetist force-filled my lungs with gas containing oxygen.
    Inspired me, as it were.

  13. 1.) I don’t believe it happened as recorded.

    4.) It would take science. Incorporating the Resurrection (or any serious miracle) into our models of the universe would require us to substantially rewrite those models. We already have a standard of evidence for that: five sigma, under controlled conditions. The Resurrection story does not meet that standard, neither do any other alleged miracles I’m aware of.

    Basically, I see no reason why the God story should get an easier ride than the God particle.

    5.) Hard to say, given the lack of non-Biblical evidence on the subject. We know from looking at modern cults and paranormal beliefs that people can come to very strongly-held conclusions based on very scanty evidence; the only question is how that happened in this case.

    My personal best guess (based only on Wikipedia-level biblical knowledge) is that the story of Jesus’ resurrection arose in oral tradition, in the fashion of chinese whispers. The early Christians didn’t have a wikipedia; most of their information was guy-down-the-pub level. The most interesting stories would have travelled fastest and furthest.

    They would also have been retold until they got even more interesting. Heck, given a few more years, the story-tellers would probably have had post-resurrection Jesus marching through Jerusalem stark naked playing a trumpet. (If you think that’s daft… Matthew 27:51-53.)

    The only surprising thing is that the Disciples didn’t squish the stories. Presumably they either found this particular story convenient or simply couldn’t be bothered to crack down on it until it was too late.

    6.) Only by the “miracles” of modern medicine. (A friend of mine was clinically dead for ten minutes after a car crash; he has largely recovered.)

  14. oxymandias,

    You display no awareness of Second Temple Judaism and the sorts of mindsets that prevailed among Jews, in Roman Judea and in the Diaspora, during that time. Your scenario of how the resurrection story took root is not plausible in the light of that history.

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