Friday, December 9, 2011

What was the event of the resurrection?

The united, unequivocal witness of the New Testament is that Jesus rose from the dead. That conviction permeates gospels and epistles, it drives the apostolic mission forward, and it underpins the looking forward to the End of all things in Revelation.

But what gave rise to that conviction? If we focus on Paul then we have an example of someone in our situation: he had not (as far as we know) met Jesus in his wanderings, but he had engaged with Christians who believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and he encountered the risen Jesus in an experience which, though more 'spectacular' than most of us testify to, was nevertheless an experience of Jesus after the point in time when any claims were being made that he was appearing routinely in the first days and weeks after his resurrection in earthbound ways (e.g. eating, drinking, meeting with people).

One question biblical scholars have asked, noting Paul's presence in the chain of appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:6-8, is whether there was a difference between Paul's experience at the (we could say) post-Ascension end of this chain and the pre-Ascension experiences of Cephas at the beginning of the chain. This is a tricky (if not, trick) question. Answer 'yes' and the next question follows: how is the difference to be described? Your answers in the comments would be welcomed ... but don't worry if you start and give up! Answer 'no' and some scholars pounce, "Ah, you see, there is no necessary link between the empty tomb narratives and the appearance narratives. In fact, could we not say that the empty tomb narratives are rather clever stories invented by the gospel writers to provide a semblance of an objective 'event' based support for the subjective events of experiencing the risen Jesus through his appearances?"

To go back to the beginning of this post: one difficulty with working through the many critical questions raised about aspects of the resurrection narratives is that a forest of trees grow up which prevent the wood being seen.

Whether the gospel narratives are recounted, or the epistles reread, the unmistakeable conviction of the New Testament writers is that Jesus rose from the dead.

This conviction, I suggest, goes beyond 'a few followers of Jesus saw appearances of Jesus and convinced others that he had risen from the dead' or 'after a period of despair and sorrow the disciples began to feel differently about things, hope sprang to life in their human hearts and they began to think this meant that Jesus was not dead but lived on in their midst.'

It was a conviction that Jesus as the person Jesus, not as a ghostly appearance resembling the pre-crucified Jesus and not as a feeling in their hearts that life was on the up, was no longer dead. He had risen from the dead, escaped the shackles of death, fought and beaten the last enemy death. Jesus was alive. "I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev. 1:18). This conviction was certainly consistent with the testimonies in the gospels to the empty tomb, to meetings with Jesus in everyday situations including a barbie on the beach (John 21), and to his ascending visibly to the Father (Acts 1). But the conviction goes beyond experiences of Jesus being alive after death (so that, for instance, his resurrection was on a par with Lazarus') to a conviction that he would be 'alive forevermore' and that he had power or 'the keys' over 'Death and Hades.'

So the tomb was empty and that helped with the conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead; but the conviction was driven along by other forces at work in the Christian community, and it continues to be driven along by those forces: the Holy Spirit and the Word of God expressed through reading and teaching the Scriptures.


Father Ron Smith said...

However he comprehended Christ's resurrection from the dead, it sure made a difference to Saul-become-Paul. I guess the Resurrection of Jesus has to actually be experienced in the life of a person for faith to follow.

Anonymous said...

"It was a conviction that Jesus as the person Jesus, not as a ghostly appearance resembling the pre-crucified Jesus"
Not sure what you mean by "person". Most Jews in first century believed in post-mortem survival of the soul. The issue was really to do with the *body. An empty tomb proves nothing of itself (a body could be stolen), but when it is coordinated with visions and the two lines of evidence are independent, then you are dealing with an event in history - as Pannenberg argued all those years ago.
It was the revisionist Anglican archbishop Peter Carnley who denied the bodily resurrection, arguing that the Gospel narratives just historicized the Pauline vision. Wrong on this, as in so much.

Father Ron Smith said...

The important question for you, Martin, might be: Have you, personally, experienced the power and witness of the resurrected Christ in your life? This is the testing point of faith in Jesus risen from the dead - not the written testimony of Pannenburg, Schmanneburg or anyone else. Have YOU met the Risen Christ?

He is as near as the nearest celebration of the Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. That may be as near as you will get to His risen, ascended glory on earth.

Andrew Reid said...

Is your question regarding Paul's experience of the resurrection about what the phrase "as to one abnormally born" means? Paul seems to acknowledge in this phrase that there is a difference between his vision of the resurrected Christ and those of the other witnesses. Is it more complicated than to say it was a post-ascension appearance rather than a pre-ascension appearance? There are plenty of questions about the pre-ascension Jesus (why did he still have marks from crucifixion, was he in heaven or not yet, was he reigning over God's kingdom?). But in the end all the witnesses, including Paul, had a life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus that convinced them he was alive, real and had commissioned them to declare that Good News.

It's interesting that the apostles don't ask the resurrected Jesus about why he has to leave (cf before his death), or ask him to stay with them. They know, possibly from the appearance of his resurrection body and his miracles (e.g. appearing in a locked room), that he doesn't belong on the earth anymore. His teaching about the sending of the Holy Spirit when he goes away probably has a role here, also.

Anonymous said...

It's Pannenberg, not PannenbUrg.
Have you ever read his work? Or heard of him? "Schmanneburg", I suppose, is a dismissive comment.
I find your fideism strange and decidedly un-Anglican.


Father Ron Smith said...

Your 'findings' on this site, Martin, I am not able to take too seriously. How long have you been an 'Anglican'?

Anonymous said...

I am not an "Anglican", Ron. I am an Anglican of more than 35 years standing and have ministered in numerous churches and colleges.

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, Martin, I've only been a baptized Anglican for 82 years, a Franciscan Brother for 3 years, and an Anglican priest for 30 years so maybe you will acknowledge the experience of all of that, in your assessment of my understanding of Christ of the Gospel. Enthusiasm is no match for experience.

Anonymous said...

Polycarp still had four years on you, Ron!

Ad multos annos.


Anonymous said...

Let me add that I feel no rancor toward Ron. Despite his constant and ill-informed barbs against evangelicals and catholics, I am sure he has a warm heart - although his ideas are woefully wrong and harmful in the long run. This is clear from the following excerpt from a forthcoming article in Touchstone (Jan/Feb 2012) by Douglas Farrow, erstwhile Anglican now a Roman Catholic, on the folly of "same sex marriage", which people like Tobias Haller would foist on the world:

"In Rerum Novarum Leo XIII rightly described the family as “a society very small ... but none the less a true society, and one older than any State,” with “rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.” This society, “founded more immediately in nature,” is what the Universal Declaration has in mind when it speaks in article 16 of the family. The family’s status as “natural” – that controversial adjective is deployed only in this one specific article – allows it a certain priority over civil society and the state. The latter share an obligation to protect the family, but the family is not at their disposal.

Same-sex marriage dispenses with all of that, however. By excising sexual difference, with its generative power, it deprives itself of any direct connection to nature. The unit it creates rests on human choice, as does that created by marriage. But whether monogamous, polygamous, or polyamorous, it is a closed unit that reduces to human choice, rather than engaging choice with nature; and its lack of a generative dimension means that it cannot be construed as a fundamental building block.

Institutionally, then, it is nothing more than a legal construct. It roots run no deeper than positive law. It therefore cannot present itself to the state as the bearer of independent rights and responsibilities, as older or more basic than the state itself. Indeed, it is a creature of the state, generated by the state’s assumption of the power of invention or re-definition. Which changes everything."

Ron's unreflective sentimentalism and his anti-historical approach to theology show why he so signally fails to reflect catholic thought.


Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Martin, for your muted concession for age and experience. However, your 'natural building blocks' of the propensity for heterosexual families to propagate even more children (without the inhibiting factor of contraception) will, sadly, bring the end of the world even more close. Simple study of the biological implications of unbridled heterosexual fecundity is rapidly becoming one of the most urgent and greatest threats to earth's ecological sustainability.

And yet, if we believe you, other forms of sexual expression of human love - which threaten no-one, except perhaps the horses - are outside of God's provision for those human beings whose natural function is just to 'be different'

Maybe, if the world runs out of food, water and other resources to sustain human life - because of the burgeoning population growth, God might allow us eunuchs to enjoy the 'natural' resources He has given us to stimulate the charism of human comfort we can give to one another - without robbing heterosexuals of their right to do the same.

'The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. New every morning, new every morning - great is your faithfulness, O Lord; great is your faithfulness".

Even so, Come Lord Jesus!

Bryden Black said...

Ah yes; Wolfhart Pannenberg’s great attempts to re-read history through the lense of the revelation of the Resurrection - where that event has itself direct correlates with history as we presently know it and yet also initiates the new creation. [I’m not sure we can slice this up as neatly as pre-Ascension/post-Ascension/reigning or not yet reigning, etc. The NT witnesses - Hebrews, the Fourth Gospel, Luke-Acts, Paul (e.g. 1 Cor 15, Colossians) - would seem to be all approaching this essential temporal enigma from various directions, even as there is considerable necessary overlap as well.]
The significance/upshot for me of all this line of thinking is just this: my experience of the Risen Jesus, who is in continuity-yet-discontinuity with the man who got dust in between his toes around the shores of Lake Galilee, transforms me (in this life, little by little, as the hope of glory within) ONLY BECAUSE he has already objectively transformed the cosmos, which transformation includes the very redemption of time’s elusive passing. Although not as some Platonic Eternal Ideal (pace Augustine), but rather as the one whose faithfulness (echoes here of Robert Jenson) now embraces past present and future, in the light of his being the triune God’s true and full embodiment.
Empty therefore the resurrection of any empirical correlates (as in many a modern existentialist manner or postmodern Gnosticism) and everything - quite literally, everything - gets lost!

Father Ron Smith said...

I'm sorry, Bryden, but reading your thesis on this thread, above, just gives me a blinding head-ache - not something I need during the Advent season of hope and expectation.

No doubt others can mine your comments for some meaningful content. My Franciscan simplicity, and sheer lack of time (tempus fugit!) bars me from unravelling your no-doubt stunning explication of the Easter miracle. All I know is that Jesus died, rose from the dead, ascended to God's right hand, and will one day come in glory to take with him all who have believed in Him. That's good enough for me.

Felice Navidad!

Bryden Black said...

Now; why am I not surprised, Ron, in your case ...? Yet some others ...?!