Thursday, April 28, 2011

The momentum of the resurrection

A final note from me this Eastertide about the resurrection (more or less picking up on some comments already made below).

Casey's presumption of "appearances" driving the NT belief in the resurrection of Jesus forward, including an increasing desire to narrate that resurrection in ever more physical terms (i.e. empty tomb, Jesus eating food), has a certain attraction to it. For instance, it gets around general post-Enlightenment objections to miracles (of the reversal or acceleration of nature kind) such that they just do not happen, while providing an explanation for how a very strong, core belief in a dynamic religious movement comes into existence. It also helps account for the apparent contradiction between 1 Corinthians 15 (no mention of empty tomb) and the set of narratives in the four gospels which show signs of evolutionary development in the direction of 'bodily' rather than 'appearance' resurrection experiences of Jesus. Nevertheless, as commenters here have pointed out, an "appearances" approach to the resurrection of Jesus raises a number of questions.

One question I am sitting with, especially in relation to accounting for the scriptural references to resurrection, is where the cumulative strength of belief in the resurrection of Jesus derives from? This strength is attested to in the NT via the narratives/traditions (gospels, various speeches in Acts, 1 Corinthians 15), the integration of the resurrection in theology, christology and eschatology (e.g. Romans 1: 4, Ephesians 1:19-20, Philippians 3:11, 1 Peter 1:3, to say nothing of the meta-narrative of the whole New Testament: the whole collection is driven forward by the burgeoning Christian movement which in turn is propelled forward as a mission outreach in the face of immense opposition (religiously from fellow Jews, socio-politically from Greeks and Romans), all generated by the conviction that the mission of Jesus himself did not end with his crucifixion.

I "get" the point made ad nauseam by Western questioners, both within the church and without, that (1) nothing here proves the empty tomb was empty, and (2) narratives of the empty tomb serve the doctrine of the resurrection, so are intrinsically open to suspicion.

But with many other Western affirmers of the belief that Jesus' body was raised to life (in a new resurrection body), I am left with the problem that if "appearances" do not provide sufficient explanation for the cumulative strength of the role the resurrection plays in the NT as a collection of writings as well as in the development of first century Christianity, what does?


Father Ron Smith said...

With all the 'talk' that's going on here; I suppose the real evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus can be found in one's personal experience. Therefore, Peter, I ask you: "Have you met the Risen Christ?" Many of us met Him quite recently at the Mass.

Peter Carrell said...


Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, this Eastertide I have been more and more confirmed in my agreement with the old scholarly commonplace that the resurrection is a presupposition for each gospel writer, rather than something to be evidenced by their writing. Agreement with this idea would give two significant results:-
1. At any and every point in the narratives of Jesus' career, he is presented as the one who will rise from the dead, and whose being and actions are already defined and empowered by that fact. Each miracle is a sign of his eventual victory over evil and death, and each teaching is the voice of risen Lord instructing his post-resurrection church. That this is the de facto common ground for the writers and their original audiences is the strongest evidence for the resurrection, and is in continuity with his ongoing presence in the worshipping community which you, Ron and I affirm. The strongest validation of the resurrection is in the life of the church, both then and now, vulnerable though that evidence may frequently be!
2. When the gospel writers narrate resurrection appearances, which they do rather sparingly if their purpose were evidential, it is to address specific issues of the early church: for example, in the gospel for next Sunday, whether Thomas should be claimed as an insider or left to the imaginative mercies of proto-gnostics.

Is this a useful slant on your current ruminations? Seems you are doing some interesting reading!

Warm regards, Howard

Peter Carrell said...

It is a useful slant. Thank you, Howard!

Bryden Black said...

Indeed Howard! The very title Peter uses, “The Momentum of the resurrection”, offers your own “slant” corroboration, I suggest. And although I did enjoy Ron’s delightful pun (intended/unintended?) re the “real” evidence, associated with the Eucharist/Mass, his apparent warrant of “personal experience” unfortunately does not cut it among Western cultures anymore. Which I guess is why you Peter bother to offer us all on the web your ruminations around the matter, prompting this discussion.

For what constitutes/counts at all at all as “due evidence” is itself a key part of the evidential trail. And while we may not deny either Ron’s or Howard’s helpful ingredients as being part(s) of the trail, from my own perspective (sic) something akin to Howard’s integrative and holistic function is nearing the real clue. For paradigms are themselves ‘affirmed’ (I will not here say ‘proven’) as and when they are both evidenced and act as presuppositions, when there is both individual and collective affirmation of initial beliefs that permit greater insight into ongoing experience-and-understanding (deliberately hyphened).

A powerful case study of this kind of thing is offered by the likes of Christ’s Body in Corinth: The Politics of a Metaphor by Yung Suk Kim (Fortress 2008). Here ethics, personal experiences, corporate experiences, realigned understandings, power-plays, knowledge, love, and truth - all these combine (one is tempted to say collide) into a necessary whole, where the omission of any part or the imbalance of any part proves a false “imitation of Christ Jesus”, crucified and risen, bodily.

One is tempted, finally, to say ONLY this kind of WHOLE offers any help at all to the ‘dismembered thing’ we used to call the Anglican Communion!

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks, Bryden!

At least the resurrection is always a sign of hope: nothing dead in Christ cannot be made alive again.

Which reminds of that old, and somewhat mischievous (depending on who is telling it) joke: 'Do you know why Anglicans will be the first to rise from the dead? Answer: St Paul says the dead in Christ will rise first.'

Bryden Black said...

Ah yes! Tho:
1. Some things belong properly with the grave clothes ... ;))
2. And thanks for the chuckle!! :))))

Steven Carr said...

'One question I am sitting with, especially in relation to accounting for the scriptural references to resurrection, is where the cumulative strength of belief in the resurrection of Jesus derives from?'

Why did Christian converts in Corinth scoff at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses, leading to Paul reminding them that 'the last Adam became a life-giving spirit'?

What had converted them to Christianity?

Why does Paul not produce a single piece of eyewitness detail when trying to explain what a resurrected body is like?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Steven,
I do not know the answer to your first two questions. What are your answers?

Your third question is a very good one. The answer may lie in the difference between the glory of heaven and the ordinariness of earth: here what was seen of Jesus needed to be in some way a semblance of what he once was in order for recognition to take place.

Father Ron Smith said...

"here what was seen of Jesus needed to be in some way a semblance of what he once was in order for recognition to take place." - Peter Carrell -

And your supposition here, Peter, is adequately backed up by the Scriptural evidence: Mary Magdalene recognises the resurrected Jesus by the way in which he speaks her name' "Mary".

The men on the road to Emmaus recognise him 'In the breaking of the bread'.

The disicples in the Upper room, by the way in which he addresses them: "Peace be unto you". He had addressed them thus during the storm on the lake.

The disciples on their fishing trip recognised Jesus by his voice of authority: "Cast the net on the other side of the boat" - and then the characteristic act of kindness in preparing breakfast on the shore.

All these 'words and deeds' of Jesus were ways in which he was recognised after his resurrection.

What more would a Believer need?