Monday, April 30, 2018

Countdown to General Synod/te Hinota Whanui 2018

On Thursday night this week representatives from the thirteen episcopal units of our church, that is, three tikanga (7, 5, 1 respectively) gather in New Plymouth. We meet through to Thursday 10th May and travel home on Friday 11th May. The draft timetable is this - you may need to enlarge your screens to read it:

For those interested in the progress of Motion 29, you can see that we are considering it over three mornings.

This post is also a way of saying that I am going to be busy over the next few days sorting out all the things that need sorting out before leaving my desk. Also the not insignificant matter of the last two days of Bishop Victoria's episcopal ministry here in the Diocese.

So, no more posts this week. I will try to post briefly on Monday next week (which is when the legislative meat and bones of the Synod begin) including a hashtag for Twitter posts. I do not anticipate blogging through General Synod itself. I cannot see where the timetable allows for that :).

Your prayers for the Synod are most welcome. We had a good Diocese of Christchurch team meeting yesterday and an interesting meeting following that with a dozen or so from the Diocese to run over General Synod business.

In practice that second meeting focused on Motion 29.

Believe it or not, Motion 29 is not the only item of interesting business.

Bosco Peters, for instance, draws our attention to some liturgical matters the Synod will be considering.

The papers for General Synod are located here.

Any final thoughts from you about any matter of Synod business are welcome here. I continue to listen and to reflect as I move around the Diocese and engage with emails and phone calls. I am unlikely to respond to your comments because of the weight of busyness over the next few days. But I will read them.

Monday, April 23, 2018

How any of them persist post-Darwin I have no idea.

Recently Bosco Peters via Twitter drew my attention to two posts referencing evolution. On Liturgy itself and in a Joe Bennett column on Stuff.

Bosco's post focuses on the non-necessity of conflict between science and faith, but he raises this challenging point:

"What I think we also need to see more of is not simply a dialogue between science and faith within the beginning-of-the-universe-and-life framework, but also in the framework of redemption. In Romans 5, as just one example, St Paul writes:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned…For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
If Adam, and Adam’s sin is not historical, how does this affect our understanding of Christ’s redemption? If death is not the result of sin, but simply a part of nature present billions of years before humans (in fact a required driver of evolution), how does that affect our theology?
These early chapters of Genesis form the foundations, and often the unexamined presuppositions, of so much of our culture and civilisation. All these are opened up to re-examination: attitudes to gender, work, death, the environment and nature, sexuality, marriage, and so on and so forth…"

Joe Bennett provokes with a line which I am using as the title of this post:

"How any of them persist post-Darwin I have no idea."

"them" equals religious organisations, whether cults or established faiths.

His argument is that if we understand the full implications of "Darwin" (a catch all theme which includes the role of continental drift and earthquakes in shaping life on earth) then we would understand the simple truth: there is no God, there is only the natural world, and we understand everything in that world by science.

So, between the two posts Christians confront two Darwinian-shaped conclusions:

A. We need to rethink our understanding of God as creator AND as redeemer.

B. We should cease to believe in God because all evidence apparently pointing towards God existing can be explained without recourse to proposing that God exists.

I have been doing a bit of reading about Darwin lately. Something that has struck me is that, in a very loose engagement with Darwin and his theory until now, I have managed, through my life, to avoid asking hard questions about the full potential of the Darwinian revolution in scientific knowledge.

That is, I am beginning to reckon with something I think many of us Christians manage to avoid, that it is possible that if we manage to kick B for touch then we really, really ought to tackle A and rethink pretty much everything in our understanding of God and the gospel.

Conversely, if we tackle A before B and think that there is nothing we can do to rethink our theology, then we really, really ought to consider whether that unrevised theology is trumped by Darwin, that Joe Bennett is correct and Sunday mornings would be better spent surfing.

It is that bleak ... or exciting, if we allow ourselves to feel the full force of the Darwinian revolution in knowledge! (And, just before certain critiques are launched in the comments, let's ask how many people have either wandered away from Christianity or never thought it worth bothering about because the Christianity of their experience has seemed utterly inadequate in the face of Darwin's impact on human understanding?)

I think it is exciting to confront challenges in the pursuit of truth.

I am working my way through A.N. Wilson's The Victorians (London: Arrow, 2003) and he has a pertinent paragraph at the end of a chapter which discusses, variously, Charles Kingsley and his famous book The Water Babies, John Newman's conversions from evangelicalism to Anglo-Catholicism to Roman Catholicism and his famous book Apologia Pro Vita Sua, with mention of theologian F.D. Maurice, scientist Charles Darwin and others relevant to that period of the Victorian era.

Wilson writes (with my paragraphing of his single paragraph),

"The Apologia made many readers think more kindly of the Oxford converts to Rome. Within a year of the publication of The Water Babies, Parliament had banned pushing little boys up chimneys. But Kingsley's is more than a social gospel. Newman came to believe that there were but two alternatives, the way to Rome and the way to Atheism. Not only does Kingsley's religion seem altogether more humane: he would seem to be thinking about larger issues.*
The journey of little Tom the sweep to his watery paradise engages mind as well as heart rather more than the crotchety Oxford don's - Newman's - journey from the Oriel Common Room to the Birmingham Oratory. Speaking of Huxley, Darwin and the others, Kingsley wrote to Maurice, 
'They find that now they have got rid of an interfering God - a master-magician, as I call it - they have to choose between the absolute empire of accident, and a living, immanent, ever-working God.' " [p. 304]

In other words, Kingsley is charting a direction in theology which - in my experience - is underdone by both Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism. These two great forces in global Christianity place great store on the transcendence of God. Oh, yes, God is also immanent: orthodoxy is at work in both forces! But when emphasis is placed, by both, on interventionist miracles, dramatic conversions through direct encounters with the risen Christ, and direct disclosure of God's will through inspired text, the lean is towards a Christianity which is difficult to wean off ideas of "an interfering God" or "a master-magician" and thus one which is susceptible to Darwin's persuasions that nature is an "absolute empire of accident."

Is it time to re-look at the immanence of God? To look at what it means that God (according to our time) does nothing about creating life as we know it on Earth, for billions of years, and then creates it but presides over a development which is (again, by our time) very slow, according to a process of adaptation and thus of experimentation (some species survive, some do not). Is God - for example - more associated with the being of the universe and its unfolding life than we seem to give credit for when we are biased towards the transcendance of God?

This photo captures something of the issue, though it is not a reliable depiction of theism!

Who is God? I find for myself that often the actual God I worship and pray to is a super-duper version of the best human being imaginable: amazing; very, very intelligent; also hard to fathom on matters of suffering; but worth trusting because he has a masterplan. Of course it is easy to be angry with that "God", even to walk away from that "God" because much of life is disappointing relative to what I think that "God" ought to be doing in the church and in the world.

Conversely, we would not be having this discussion if the unfolding life of the universe were not punctuated by God speaking into the world (the Old Testament) and the God who speaks into the world entering the world in human flesh (the New Testament).

Thoughts? (Mainly because I am at the edge of my ability to think theo-logically and about to fall off the edge without help!)

*Nothing in particular to do with this post but Wilson on Newman, in words which precede the paragraph above, is worth reading - at least if one enjoys demolition jobs on revered figures!

"Never once in the whole book [Apologia] do we get a sense of the world outside Newman's college walls - or come to that outside his own head. It is something of a shock at the end to be told, 'I have never seen Oxford since, excepting its spires as they are seen by the railway. The reader is jolted into recognition that the debates [between High Church and Low Church divines in the 1830s leading to the Tractarian movement] happened not in the time of St. Augustine, but in the Railway Age. Never once does Newman's quest for a perfect orthodoxy, a pure belief in the Incarnate God, appear to prompt him to consider that if God tool flesh, then this has social implications, that the Church should be engaged with the lives and plight of the poor." [pp. 303-04]

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans New Zealand Conference Talks Available

The talks from the Saturday 7 April conference here in Christchurch are now available via Soundcloud: here.

Jay Behan's talk is particularly worth listening to, right to the end!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The cost of being a Bible teacher in Aotearoa

It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry about our politicians here in Aotearoa NZ.

They are trying so hard to do the right thing environmentally while jetting around the world to preach peace and make trade deals. Those trade deals essentially mean we value all that our farms produce and recognise their value to us as we import cars, cellphones and other First World necessities.

Of course it is not right that farmers have herds and flocks that fart and belch so we are setting up ways and means to tax them for their lack of gaseous discipline.

But the nadir for a person of the Word this week has been discovering that NZ First politicians are promoting a bill which will see each of us fined $2000 for describing ourselves as "Bible teachers." (Unless, perchance, we actually have a formal teaching qualification.)

Apparently "Bible mentors" or "Bible educators" or "Bible tutors" will be fine. But the gift of teaching from the Spirit, leading to appointment as pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11), which has been around just a little longer than teachers colleges, is now to be renamed.

Unless the congregations can up their giving to cover the fines their desire to have a Bible teacher address them will incur.

And church musicians will no longer be taught their trade by music teachers.

Mad, I tell you. Mad!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Kiwi episcopal yearnings: an internal or external solution? A follow up to Saturday 7 April 2018

Something which I think was common to both our Wellington IDC meeting and to the Christchurch FCANZ Conference, both held on Saturday 7th April 2018 was a particular episcopal yearning.

That yearning is for a stronger association between episcopal oversight and (conservative) theological conviction.

At IDC that yearning, as voiced by some members, was focused on the proposal under Motion 29 for freedom to establish Christian Communities which would have an episcopal visitor who was not the local diocesan bishop.

A stronger episcopal role for that visiting/protecting bishop was requested. That request is fuelled by a sense that when General Synod commissioned the working group to come up with structural change it is has yielded up something which is (at best) a soft structural change. Nothing so hard a structural change as (say) a concrete plan to ordain a "flying bishop," form a new diocese, establish a fourth tikanga, or propose to the Communion that we create an extra-provincial diocese.

Thus something stronger that the Motion 29 proposal envisages for the visitor bishop role for the Christian Communities is sought, although the precise degree of greater strength was not articulated at IDC.

A challenge implicit in what I heard at IDC is that the more robust one seeks an episcopal visitor for a Christian Community to be, the more it looks, quacks and walks like alternative episcopal oversight.

Imagine an episcopal visitor who is free to confirm within parishes of his or her Christian Community: let's call that a few steps away from alternative episcopal oversight. Now imagine the same visitor is able to ordain members of the episcopal community, first, in consultation with the local diocesan bishop; then, secondly, imagine the same episcopal visitor able to ordain without consultation. At the latter point, surely we are within a millimetre or so from alternative episcopal oversight. (So long as the confirmed or ordained person, along with local licensed leaders such as vicars and lay preachers are in allegiance to the local diocesan bishop then we are not quite at full alternative episcopal oversight.)

Thus a question to work on, for this particular episcopal yearning, is what precisely is being yearned for.


My understanding is that at the FCANZ Conferences (Christchurch, 7 April; Auckland, 14 April) some talk there re the future and how it might work out remained consistent with the publicly expressed view of FCANZ, as recently as 3 April 2018, that alternative episcopal oversight remains its wish and the formation of an extra-provincial diocese remains desirable.

Further, it is not rocket science to assume that if alternative episcopal oversight is not worked out within the present governance of our church, FCANZ (which is linked to GAFCON) has other options, including seeking a bishop to be ordained for service in these islands, as recently Andy Lines was ordained for service in the British Isles.

As I hear colleagues talking, this wish is for a "hard" structure with a bishop clearly aligned to a specific theology. That is (in my words) they and their congregations want to feel assured that the bishop who has oversight of them (including ordinations, licensing/appointments, confirmations) is a bishop who is committed to and who will unambiguously teach a traditional Christian understanding of marriage. (That is, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and sexual intercourse is reserved for marriage and is sinful outside of marriage.)

Also BUT

To date, the bishops of our church - as far as we understand - they do not normally publish their decisions! - are at best reluctant to work on providing a means of introducing alternative episcopal oversight and at worst (from FCANZ's perspective) refusing to entertain the possibility.

Thus ...

So, my sense of our situation on 16 April 2018 is this (and tell me in comments if I am wrong):
1. Our bishops are generally against alternative episcopal oversight and even more so against the formation of an extra-provincial diocese.
2. Some in our church are keen for a stronger form of visiting episcopal role via the Christian Community concept.
3.Others in our church are keen for a full alternative episcopal oversight, even for the formation of an extra-provincial diocese.
4. Those seeking (2) are likely not to seek episcopal support from outside of this church.
5. Those seeking (3) have options from outside of this church if this church does not respond to their request.
6. No one knows whether (5) might be put into effect. But it might be. And there are global Anglican precedents.
7. (Therefore) our bishops could reasonably consider whether they would prefer alternative episcopal oversight which they inaugurate or alternative episcopal oversight which they have no say in.


Thursday, April 12, 2018


Rod Dreher draws our attention to a war on Christianity, signs of which are stronger in some places and at certain times.

He is highlighting the problem of (in)compatibilism between Christianity and the liberal West as a hegemony over society and culture.

Our Kiwi question might be: is this worse in the States than Down Under? (Is there a different situation in Aotearoa NZ compared to Australia?) Or, is the state of "war" in the States coming our way, where we feel it is mostly peaceful with the odd skirmish here and there?


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On the resurrection in 2018 (Part 2)

I finished part 1 of this mini-series with this:

Why are the scriptural accounts so at odds with each other?

Even if we can make some generalised sense of the five accounts, why are they so different to each other? Why couldn't, say, at least one of the gospels tell us of the encounter with more than five hundred men? How come one woman does not make it into the list Paul reproduces? (It is not as though his ministry was averse to naming, welcoming and commending leading women.) Why does Luke make such a crass subversion of Mark 16:7 in his 24:6, reversing Galilee as a destination to meet the risen Jesus to a place where Jesus predicted his resurrection? (Matthew is more subtle: he repeats Mark and then promptly tells us the risen Jesus met the women in Jerusalem.) Why do Matthew, Luke and John each have different commissionings by Jesus (respectively Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53; John 20:21-23)?

Funnily enough, this morning's sermon, preached by a colleague at an induction, provides an insight into story-telling which is at odds with itself. Some readers here will know the name Lester Pfankuch, a clergyman of this and the Nelson Dioceses.  Lester has gone to be with the Lord, but he was an extraordinarily funny story-teller and his stories enlivened many sermons and talks, to say nothing of hilarious conversations. To be frank, some of his stories seemed a little too good to be true and I think he took some poetic licence when he told some stories. Mostly fact-filled but perhaps some twirls and frills to lend colour and add humour to the yarn? Anyway, in this morning's sermon my colleague told a Pfankuch story about how he came to be called to be the vicar of a certain parish. But in my mind that story was at odds with a different Pfankuch story I had heard many years ago about his calling to the same parish! The only three facts common to the stories were (1) Lester himself, a real person; (2) the parish concerned; (3) the bishop concerned. Actually, there is a fourth fact: (4) Lester was the same story-teller of the (apparently) contradictory stories!

Variations across the scriptural accounts of the resurrection arguably also involved some similar kinds of common facts such as (1) Jesus himself, a real person; (2) an empty tomb discovered on the third day by women; (3) conviction on the part of many disciples that Jesus was alive; (4) description of the meaning of the empty tomb and the conviction that Jesus was alive in terms of "resurrection," "raised from the dead," etc; (5) an associated conviction that the risen Jesus wanted his followers to continue the mission.

But recognising that some common facts across most, if not all the scriptural accounts can be plausibly proposed may help our sense of solid history to the resurrection (the tomb was empty, Jesus did appear to many, and the many became convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead) but it does not change our bewilderment as readers of these accounts.

Why is there not a stronger trace of the (most likely) earliest written account of resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15) in the later accounts (likely, in order, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John)? Surely, if the risen Jesus spoke specific words of commissioning to his disciples there would be greater similarity in words at the ends of Matthew and Luke's gospels? How, in short, do we explain the variations across the scriptural accounts?

I confess, by the way, that I have not reminded myself of what Tom Wright has said in his bog book on the resurrection, Jesus and the Victory of God. Here is my suggestion ...

1. We recognise - in keeping with the list in 1 Corinthians 15 - that there were many appearances of the risen Jesus,thus many stories were told and each gospel writer had a range of testimonies to report, whether in fairly direct fashion (e.g. the startling discovery of the empty tomb) or in a creative manner, where "creative" means a bare story is told in order to make theological points (e.g. the road to Emmaus story (Luke 24: 13-35 and compare with Mark 16:12-13) or the Sea of Tiberias catch of fish (John 21).

2. We set John's Gospel to one side. John through 19 chapters has already done his own thing with the stories and speeches of Jesus and he does that again in chapters 20-21. He connects with the synoptic tradition (empty tomb, encounters in Jerusalem [Luke, Matthew] and an encounter in Galilee [Matthew, Mark], consistent presence of Mary Magdalene and Peter as key figures in the synoptic tradition), includes a story about doubt (compare Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:38) and, like the Synoptics, does not follow Paul's Corinthian list re order of appearances. But the overall effect of John's narration is a very different testimony to the risen Jesus, including testimony to Jesus saying things in keeping with the theological themes of John 1-19.

3. We then ask what were the three situations the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke were likely responding to.

4. Mark, likely the earliest of the gospels, presents the drama of discovery of the empty tomb, a key material fact in the conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. By stopping there (i.e. I count 16:9-20 as a later supplied ending, not Mark's original ending) Mark complements the Corinthian list. Dare we say that he presumes his readers know of that list of appearances and expects them to remember that list as the "what happens next"?

4. Matthew and Luke both mention doubts among the disciples (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:38). Both include stories which appear to be intentionally apologetic, defending the claim that Jesus rose from the dead from alternative explanations. Matthew 28:11-15 defends the Christian claim against the (apparently continuing) explanation that the tomb was empty because the disciples spirited the body of Jesus away from the tomb.* Luke 24:36-43 defends the Christian claim against the explanation that the appearances of Jesus as one raised from the dead were simply appearances of the ghost of Jesus.

Thus each gospel seems to be shaping its resurrection narratives to deal with questions their respective communities (i.e. audiences) were grappling with. Perhaps this is a further sign that each gospel is written many decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus, at a point when the impressiveness of the Corinthian list was losing its lustre.

When Paul wrote about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 in the 50s AD, his readers, potentially at least, could have talked to Peter or James or other apostles. If, as many scholars suppose, Matthew and Luke are written down in the 80s AD, that is after most people in Paul's list have died (an exception being the author of John's Gospel, likely still alive in Ephesus), then we can imagine a community in which some sceptics are wondering what the "appearances" were all about: was it just the ghost of Jesus which was seen? No, says Luke. What, it was being said in a Matthean community close to Jerusalem, about the explanation our Jewish cousins and friends keep putting about, that the disciples stole Jesus' body? No, says Matthew. Not so.

In sum: is the best explanation for the variations across the scriptural accounts an explanation which makes some assumptions about varying situations for the communities within which and for which the gospels were written?

*Incidentally, we should not presume that the tomb of Jesus remained empty for long after the resurrection so that a sceptic in Jerusalem in (say) 50 AD (or in 2018 AD) could be taken along to it and shown the tomb in all its emptiness. The first Christians were not museum makers or maintainers. There is no reason to suppose that the tomb was not subsequently used to receive another burial and thus was resealed with a different body resposing in it.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Saturday 7th April 2018

It is no one's fault as far as I can tell - just one of those things when we set dates and all kinds of other dates squeeze possible alternatives - but this Saturday one piece of ACANZP will be in Wellington for a meeting of the Inter Diocesan Conference (i.e. General Synod reps of the NZ Dioceses also known as Tikanga Pakeha) and another piece of ACANZP will be in Christchurch at a one day conference of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans NZ. Both events are discussing You Know What.

I am going to Wellington. I would have been at the FCANZ Conference otherwise.

Three thoughts are especially in my mind as I prepare to go. Thoughts partly occasioned by my own thinking (influenced by this here blog and your comments on it). Partly by my listening to voices within our Diocese as we have conversations tinged by news that recently we voted as a synod 60:40 to support the Motion 29 proposal and now we have an electoral synod coming in the not too distant future.

In no particular order of priority.

A. What does God bless?

B. What may we do as Christians to live out our lives as fallen creatures?

C. What is the strength of our fellowship/koinonia: do we have enough in common to live with the differences that exist across the geographical and theological breadth of our church?

I will also be taking with me, in my mind, this thoughtful First Things article (which includes three great questions). Although focused on the situation of the RCC, it is not rocket science to translate it into the situation of Western churches generally, and our ACANZP situation in particular.

I am interested in comments on (a) my questions; (b) the First Things article; (c) the situation of our church as you perceive it, especially in the area of your expertise: your local ministry unit; your episcopal unit. 

I won't publish comments that are critical of either IDC meeting tomorrow or FCANZ's conference. These events are what they are and I don't think we need comment on (e.g.) their helpfulness to the journey our church is on.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

On the resurrection in 2018 (1 of 2)

I have been doing some thinking about the resurrection of Jesus. That thinking was spurred forwards towards this mini-series of posts by an unsolicited paper from a friend. That paper, in summary, underlines our Christian conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead, while highlighting all the problematic aspects of the scriptural testimony to the resurrection across the four gospels and 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. These five testimonies are the "scriptural accounts" of the resurrection. We should also note that on some aspects of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus, Acts 1 is a sixth account.

In this first post I want to highlight some problems with the scriptural accounts which, frankly, have taken me a long time to recognise. (I could blame the lectionary: we read one gospel at a time and not all together! Some problems are only manifest when we compare the gospel accounts.) A little research shows that I did write something about these problems in 2016!

When we read the scriptural accounts synoptically (side by side, in one overview of them all) we likely will be struck by
(1) how few details are common to the accounts;
(2) how distinctive each of Matthew, Mark and Luke's accounts are, given that on some matters of Jesus' life before his death, Matthew, Mark and Luke are capable of common material (all three, or any two of the three);
(3) there is only one matter on which all scriptural accounts are agreed: that the disciples of Jesus were convinced that Jesus rose from the dead;
(4) Jesus never appeared to anyone who was not already a follower of Jesus, that is, the resurrection life of Jesus was not a public event in the way that his life prior to death and burial was;
(5) the one material or physical fact presented by the four gospels as a public fact is that the tomb in which Jesus was buried became an empty tomb "on the third day."
(By "public fact" I mean that the public of Jerusalem could have visited the tomb and seen for themselves that it was empty. Note that the empty tomb by itself as a public fact is not conclusive evidence for the resurrection of Jesus since it could have been explained by the disciples stealing his body and relocating it somewhere else, as Matthew 28:11-15 observes to us.)

It seems a bit messy and we are more than entitled to ask why the scriptural accounts do not have more in common. But there are some matters on which a little reflection may yield for us a stronger sense of consistency across the accounts. This reflection can begin by dealing with two critical questions.

(6) Who saw Jesus first?
(7) Was the tomb empty?

Who saw Jesus first?

The four gospels are consistent that the first people present to see that the tomb was empty and to hear that Jesus had been raised from the dead were women (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-13 [but in that account the angels do not declare that Jesus has been raised from the dead]. The one woman common to these four accounts is Mary Magdalene.

But these same gospels vary in terms of who was the first to experience an appearance of the risen Jesus:

Matthew: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:9-10).

Mark: indeterminate but it is implied that the Twelve will be the first to do so, in Galilee, with Peter getting a special mention. Intriguingly, when John tells the story of an appearance in Galilee, in John 21, Peter is the first to recognise who the stranger on the beach is.

Luke: Cleopas and an unnamed disciple (24:13-35) vie with Simon [Peter] (24:34).

John: Mary Magdalene (20:14-18).

Alongside these accounts we must then place the tradition Paul has received about "appearances" of the risen Jesus (presumably from the Jerusalem leadership, including apostles and James the brother of Jesus):

1 Corinthians: (in sequence) Cephas [Simon Peter], then the twelve, more than five hundred brothers, James, all the apostles, (after an interval) Paul (15:3-8).

In competitive terms we could (siding with Peter in Luke ahead of Cleopas and his companion) make this: Peter (two votes, Luke, 1 Corinthians) = Mary Magdalene (two votes, Matthew, John). Mark, somewhat indeterminate, cannot break the tie! Nevertheless, between Peter and Mary Magdalene we pretty much have  a contradiction as to who was the first to see the risen Jesus. Or is it?

Let's dig a bit deeper, bearing in mind that each of the gospel writers, as well as Paul, have an "angle" on this important but mysterious, if not confusing situation in which each writer is convinced that Jesus rose from the dead but none say quite the same thing.

We should take Paul's recitation of the tradition he received as a solid record of appearances of the risen Jesus (because he would have received it just a few years after the resurrection) while also noting its obvious bias towards leaders of the Jesus movement experiencing these appearances. The exception is the appearance to more than five hundred brothers. Paul's recitation of this list is clearly favourable to his own difficulty with the Corinthian congregation: they doubt he is a notable Christian leader. This list underscores his claim that he is: he is on a par with Cephas, James, the twelve and all the apostles.

That is, the fact that no women are mentioned on this list does not mean that Mary Magdalene was not the first (or among the first) to receive an appearance of the risen Jesus.

Given the importance and authority of the tradition Paul receives, I suggest we must reckon with the gospel writers also receiving as strong a tradition that women were importance witnesses to the resurrection: to at least the empty tomb (all four gospels) and to seeing the risen Jesus (Matthew, John).

We could then refrain from thinking that the traditions are, in one sense or another, in competition with each other. Clearly a variety of people at a variety of times and places received appearances of the risen Jesus. It is understandable as reports of these many appearances were made, passed on orally, then, eventually written down, that some accounts were more treasured by one group of Christians than another. Presumably the gospel writers and Paul, between them, have access to one or two or more of these treasured traditions. What to us is a bit messy if not a lot messy if now downright contradictory likely to each writer is their doing their best to tell their readers three basic facts: Jesus rose from the dead, he was seen by more than one person, he commissioned his followers to take his message and mission beyond Judea and Galilee.

Was the tomb empty?

Just as Paul's 1 Corinthian 15 account is a puzzle in the light of the gospels because of its omission of Mary Magdalene, so it is disturbing - at least to various scholars and sceptics through the years - because it does not refer to the empty tomb.

This omission opens the way for various post-Enlightenment speculations that Jesus' body remained in the tomb even though the resurrection was, in some sense, a real, definite and definitive event.

However I do not see that what Paul says is consistent with the bones of Jesus remaining in the tomb (and thus, potentially, discoverable by us today).

Look carefully at what he says in 15:3-4:

"that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

and that he was buried,

and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures ...".

(The appearances then become a fourth "that" in the sequence: "that he appeared ...".)

The sequence here is of things which happen to the body of Jesus: killed, buried, raised. But what is Paul's reason for writing so confidently that the resurrection was an event which preceded appearances? Why not write something like, "... died ... buried ... appeared from the third day onwards ..."?

It is reasonable to assume that Paul understands that there was an event in which the body of Jesus was raised to new life and it is coherent with this event that the tomb was empty as a result. That is, Paul is not denying that the tomb was empty by not mentioning its emptiness. It is also reasonable to understand that Paul is saying that the resurrection as an event preceded the appearances which is what the four gospels also say.

To be clear: no one witnesses the raising of the body of Jesus to new life (all scriptural accounts agree); there are witnesses to the empty tomb (so four gospel accounts); Paul's received account of the resurrection is consistent with the tomb being empty; all scriptural accounts tell of appearances of the risen Jesus to multiple people.

So I conclude that the tomb was empty - an objective sign of the subjective reality of multiple witnesses experiencing the risen Jesus in a variety of ways.

But that leaves us with a question,

Why are the scriptural accounts so at odds with each other?

Even if we can make some generalised sense of the five accounts, why are they so different to each other? Why couldn't, say, at least one of the gospels tell us of the encounter with more than five hundred men? How come one woman does not make it into the list Paul reproduces? (It is not as though his ministry was averse to naming, welcoming and commending leading women.) Why does Luke make such a crass subversion of Mark 16:7 in his 24:6, reversing Galilee as a destination to meet the risen Jesus to a place where Jesus predicted his resurrection? (Matthew is more subtle: he repeats Mark and then promptly tells us the risen Jesus met the women in Jerusalem.) Why do Matthew, Luke and John each have different commissionings by Jesus (respectively Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53; John 20:21-23)?

I will come to these questions in a subsequent post ...

Monday, April 2, 2018

Two Archbishops Up Yonder

I am working - slowly - on a post on the resurrection but my perambulations around the net have yielded an interesting interview with ++Justin Welby and a here we go again, it's Easter, so there must be an Archbishop with doubts article, for which the Archbishop of Wales John Davies steps up, or is that down to the mark.

Natch the Anglican version of the apostolic succession means we always have Doubting Thomas bishops in our ranks :). I will come back to ++Davies when I finally post on the resurrection ...