Tag Archives: Messiah

N.T. Wright lectures on the resurrection of Jesus: did Jesus rise from the dead?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

Here’s a lecture from N.T. Wright, whose multi-volume case for the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus seems to be getting a lot of respect from the other side, (although I strongly disagree with his economic and political views, which are naive at best). Wright has taught at Cambridge University, Oxford University, Duke University, McGill University, and lectured on dozens of prestigious campuses around the world. He’s published 40 books.

Here’s a video of his case for the resurrection:

N.T. Wright’s historical case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus

Wright basically argues that the resurrection cannot have been a myth invented by the early Christian community, because the idea of the Messiah dying and being bodily resurrected to eternal life was completely unexpected in Jewish theology, and therefore would not have been fabricated.

In Judaism, when people die, they stay dead. At the most, they might re-appear as apparitions, or be resuscitated to life for a while, but then die again later. There was no concept of the bodily resurrection to eternal life of a single person, especially of the Messiah, prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous dead on judgment day.

Wright’s case for the resurrection has 3 parts:

  • The Jewish theological beliefs of the early Christian community underwent 7 mutations that are inexplicable apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • The empty tomb
  • The post-mortem appearances of Jesus to individuals and groups, friends and foes

Here’s the outline of Wright’s case:

…the foundation of my argument for what happened at Easter is the reflection that this Jewish hope has undergone remarkable modifications or mutations within early Christianity, which can be plotted consistently right across the first two centuries. And these mutations are so striking, in an area of human experience where societies tend to be very conservative, that they force the historian… to ask, Why did they occur?

The mutations occur within a strictly Jewish context. The early Christians held firmly, like most of their Jewish contemporaries, to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. ‘Resurrection’ is not a fancy word for ‘life after death’; it denotes life after ‘life after death’.

And here are the 7 mutations:

  1. Christian theology of the afterlife mutates from multiples views (Judaism) to a single view: resurrection (Christianity). When you die, your soul goes off to wait in Sheol. On judgment day, the righteous dead get new resurrection bodies, identical to Jesus’ resurrection body.
  2. The relative importance of the doctrine of resurrection changes from being peripheral (Judaism) to central (Christianity).
  3. The idea of what the resurrection would be like goes from multiple views (Judaism) to a single view: an incorruptible, spiritually-oriented body composed of the material of the previous corruptible body (Christianity).
  4. The timing of the resurrection changes from judgment day (Judaism) to a split between the resurrection of the Messiah right now and the resurrection of the rest of the righteous on judgment day (Christianity).
  5. There is a new view of eschatology as collaboration with God to transform the world.
  6. There is a new metaphorical concept of resurrection, referred to as being “born-again”.
  7. There is a new association of the concept of resurrection to the Messiah. (The Messiah was not even supposed to die, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to rise again from the dead in a resurrected body!)

There are also other historical puzzles that are solved by postulating a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Jewish people thought that the Messiah was not supposed to die. Although there were lots of (warrior) Messiahs running around at the time, whenever they got killed, their followers would abandon them. Why didn’t Jesus’ followers abandon him when he died?
  2. If the early Christian church wanted to communicate that Jesus was special, despite his shameful death on the cross, they would have made up a story using the existing Jewish concept of exaltation. Applying the concept of bodily resurrection to a dead Messiah would be a radical departure from Jewish theology, when an invented exaltation was already available to do the job.
  3. The early church became extremely reckless about sickness and death, taking care of people with communicable diseases and testifying about their faith in the face of torture and execution. Why did they scorn sickness and death?
  4. The gospels, especially Mark, do not contain any embellishments and “theology historicized”. If they were made-up, there would have been events that had some connection to theological concepts. But the narratives are instead bare-bones: “Guy dies public death. People encounter same guy alive later.” Plain vanilla narrative.
  5. The story of the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb cannot have been invented, because the testimony of women was inadmissible under almost all circumstances at that time. If the story were invented, they would have invented male discoverers of the tomb. Female discovers would have hampered conversion efforts.
  6. There are almost no legendary embellishments in the gospels, while there are plenty in the later gnostic forgeries. No crowds of singing angels, no talking crosses, and no booming voices from the clouds.
  7. There is no mention of the future hope of the general resurrection, which I guess they thought was imminent anyway.

To conclude, Wright makes the argument that the best explanation of all of these changes in theology and practice is that God raised Jesus (bodily) from the dead. There is simply no way that this community would have made up the single resurrection of the Messiah – who wasn’t even supposed to die – and then put themselves on the line for that belief.

And remember, the belief in a resurrected Jesus was something that the earliest witnesses could really assess, because they were the ones who saw him killed and then walking around again after his death. They were able to confirm or deny their belief in the resurrection of Jesus based on their own personal experiences with the object of those beliefs.

What does the concept of resurrection mean to Jewish theologians?

Here’s a helpful post from Eric Chabot talks about this and other interesting topics related to the resurrection.

Excerpt:

Where do we see resurrection in the Hebrew Bible?

As just stated, belief in a resurrection of persons from the dead are seen in eight passages: (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13). The resurrection terminology is seen in two places (Ezek. 37:1-14; Hos. 6:2) to show a national and spiritual restoration brought about by the return from the exile. As far as the nature of the future bodily resurrection, it may involve a corpse or the receipt of a material body comparable to the present physical body (Job 19:26; Is. 26:19), or it may be a matter of transformation (Dn. 12:2-3 and perhaps 12:13); or glorification after reanimation, in the case of the righteous.

As far as the function of the resurrection, it may be personal vindication (Is. 26:16; 53:10-12). Resurrection may also have a function in relation to reward or punishment (Dn. 12:2; 12:13), an assumption to heaven and enriched fellowship with God (Ps. 49:15; 73:24,26), or preface to the beatific vision of God (Ps. 17:15 and possibly Job 19:26). (1)

The Greek word for resurrection is “anatasis” which means “a raising up” or “rising.” There are resuscitations in the Tanakh such as the example of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). While these figures may have been raised in a resurrection sense, they were not raised immortal in the same way Jesus was.

Extra-Biblical Passages on Resurrection

There are also extra-biblical passages that speak about the resurrection (Enoch 92:2; 4 Ezra 7:32; Enoch 91:10; 2 Maccabees 7:9; 14; 28-29). Even the The Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions resurrection: “He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (2)

In the Rabbinical literature there are explicit teachings on the resurrection. It says in the Mishnah 10.1, it says, “All Israelites have a share in the world to come; … and these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law.” Moses Maimonides, a Jewish rabbi and a medieval Jewish philosopher who has forever influenced the Jewish and non-Jewish world said:

” The resurrection of the dead is one of the cardinal principles established by Moses our teacher. A person who does not believe this principle has no real religion, certainly not Judaism. However, resurrection is for the righteous. This is the earning of the statement in Breshit Rabbah, which declares: “the creative power of rain is both for the righteous and the wicked, but the resurrection of the dead is only for the righteous.” Our sages taught the wicked are called dead even when they are still alive; the righteous are alive even when they are dead” (Bab. Talmud Brakhot 18 b).

3 points are made here: 1. Resurrection is a cardinal principle taught in the Torah which all Jews must believe 2. It is for the righteous alone 3. All men must die and their bodies decompose. (3)

It’s important to understand that the concept of resurrection had a meaning before Christianity ever started. And it’s interesting to ask why the early Christians applied the notion of resurrection to Jesus. What is the best explanation for their decision to do such a strange thing? Why not just give up on him and deny that he was the Messiah when he was killed by the Romans?

What is the meaning and significance of Christmas for Christians?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

N.T. Wright lectures on the seven mutations caused by resurrection of Jesus

I was reading an excellent post on the high Christology of the early church on Eric Chabot’s blog. He was explaining all the earliest sources for the view that Jesus was seen as divine very early on, and he said this about the famous British historian Larry Hurtado:

This past weekend, I got to hang out and watch Derek Lehman lecture on the his book Divine Messiah. This material was something I was fairly familiar with. I have read most of Larry Hurtado, James Dunn, and Richard Bauckham’s work on the subject. And being that I have had a lot of experience with Jewish people, I know their views on the issue of our claim that Jesus is divine.  Anyone who studies historical method is familiar with what is called historical causation. Historians seek out the causes of a certain events. For example, there is no doubt that historians can observe the effect- the birth of Christianity pre-70 AD. What must be asked is what has better explanatory power for the birth of early Christianity- pre 70 AD and a very high Christology in a very short time period after Jesus’ resurrection?

[…]Larry Hurtado  describes the early devotion to Jesus as a “mutation.” (4) One of the primary factors that Hurtado presents for the cause of this “mutation” in the context of Jewish monotheism is the resurrection itself and the post-resurrection appearances. Some of the features in the early Jesus devotion are as follows:

First, there are hymns to Jesus ( Col 1:15-20; Phil.2:5-11) which are exalted things about him done in song.

Second, there are prayers to Jesus: we see prayer to Jesus in prayer-like expressions such as “grace and peace” greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters and in the benedictions at the end. Also, the early followers of Jesus are seen “calling upon” the name of Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16;1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 10:13), which is the same pattern that is used in the Hebrew Bible where it refers to “calling upon the Lord” (Gen. 12:8;13:4 ;21:23 ; 26:25; Psalms 99:6;105:1; Joel 2:32). (5)  Allow me to expand on this:

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, Paul says, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  So here is Paul, a staunch Pharisee who was raised to call nobody ‘Lord’ expect the God of Israel asking Jesus the Lord to help him.

So since Eric reminded me of “mutations”, I’ve posted this lecture featuring historian N.T. Wright on seven mutations in the thinking of Jewish converts to Christianity that followed the life of Jesus. Wright has taught at Cambridge University, Oxford University, Duke University, McGill University, and lectured on dozens of prestigious campuses around the world. He’s published 40 books.

Here’s a video of his case for the resurrection:

You can read the lecture online here at the Cambridge University web site.

N.T. Wright’s historical case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus

Wright basically argues that the resurrection cannot have been a myth invented by the early Christian community, because the idea of the Messiah dying and being bodily resurrected to eternal life was completely unexpected in Jewish theology, and therefore would not have been fabricated.

In Judaism, when people die, they stay dead. At the most, they might re-appear as apparitions, or be resuscitated to life for a while, but then die again later. There was no concept of the bodily resurrection to eternal life of a single person, especially of the Messiah, prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous dead on judgment day.

Wright’s case for the resurrection has 3 parts:

  • The Jewish theological beliefs of the early Christian community underwent 7 mutations that are inexplicable apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • The empty tomb
  • The post-mortem appearances of Jesus to individuals and groups, friends and foes

Here’s the outline of Wright’s case:

…the foundation of my argument for what happened at Easter is the reflection that this Jewish hope has undergone remarkable modifications or mutations within early Christianity, which can be plotted consistently right across the first two centuries. And these mutations are so striking, in an area of human experience where societies tend to be very conservative, that they force the historian… to ask, Why did they occur?

The mutations occur within a strictly Jewish context. The early Christians held firmly, like most of their Jewish contemporaries, to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. ‘Resurrection’ is not a fancy word for ‘life after death’; it denotes life after ‘life after death’.

And here are the 7 mutations:

  1. Christian theology of the afterlife mutates from multiples views (Judaism) to a single view: resurrection (Christianity). When you die, your soul goes off to wait in Sheol. On judgment day, the righteous dead get new resurrection bodies, identical to Jesus’ resurrection body.
  2. The relative importance of the doctrine of resurrection changes from being peripheral (Judaism) to central (Christianity).
  3. The idea of what the resurrection would be like goes from multiple views (Judaism) to a single view: an incorruptible, spiritually-oriented body composed of the material of the previous corruptible body (Christianity).
  4. The timing of the resurrection changes from judgment day (Judaism) to a split between the resurrection of the Messiah right now and the resurrection of the rest of the righteous on judgment day (Christianity).
  5. There is a new view of eschatology as collaboration with God to transform the world.
  6. There is a new metaphorical concept of resurrection, referred to as being “born-again”.
  7. There is a new association of the concept of resurrection to the Messiah. (The Messiah was not even supposed to die, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to rise again from the dead in a resurrected body!)

There are also other historical puzzles that are solved by postulating a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Jewish people thought that the Messiah was not supposed to die. Although there were lots of (warrior) Messiahs running around at the time, whenever they got killed, their followers would abandon them. Why didn’t Jesus’ followers abandon him when he died?
  2. If the early Christian church wanted to communicate that Jesus was special, despite his shameful death on the cross, they would have made up a story using the existing Jewish concept of exaltation. Applying the concept of bodily resurrection to a dead Messiah would be a radical departure from Jewish theology, when an invented exaltation was already available to do the job.
  3. The early church became extremely reckless about sickness and death, taking care of people with communicable diseases and testifying about their faith in the face of torture and execution. Why did they scorn sickness and death?
  4. The gospels, especially Mark, do not contain any embellishments and “theology historicized”. If they were made-up, there would have been events that had some connection to theological concepts. But the narratives are instead bare-bones: “Guy dies public death. People encounter same guy alive later.” Plain vanilla narrative.
  5. The story of the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb cannot have been invented, because the testimony of women was inadmissible under almost all circumstances at that time. If the story were invented, they would have invented male discoverers of the tomb. Female discovers would have hampered conversion efforts.
  6. There are almost no legendary embellishments in the gospels, while there are plenty in the later gnostic forgeries. No crowds of singing angels, no talking crosses, and no booming voices from the clouds.
  7. There is no mention of the future hope of the general resurrection, which I guess they thought was imminent anyway.

To conclude, Wright makes the argument that the best explanation of all of these changes in theology and practice is that God raised Jesus (bodily) from the dead. There is simply no way that this community would have made up the single resurrection of the Messiah – who wasn’t even supposed to die – and then put themselves on the line for that belief.

And remember, the belief in a resurrected Jesus was something that the earliest witnesses could really assess, because they were the ones who saw him killed and then walking around again after his death. They were able to confirm or deny their belief in the resurrection of Jesus based on their own personal experiences with the object of those beliefs.

What does the concept of resurrection mean to Jewish theologians?

Here’s a helpful post from Eric Chabot talks about this and other interesting topics related to the resurrection.

Excerpt:

Where do we see resurrection in the Hebrew Bible?

As just stated, belief in a resurrection of persons from the dead are seen in eight passages: (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13). The resurrection terminology is seen in two places (Ezek. 37:1-14; Hos. 6:2) to show a national and spiritual restoration brought about by the return from the exile. As far as the nature of the future bodily resurrection, it may involve a corpse or the receipt of a material body comparable to the present physical body (Job 19:26; Is. 26:19), or it may be a matter of transformation (Dn. 12:2-3 and perhaps 12:13); or glorification after reanimation, in the case of the righteous.

As far as the function of the resurrection, it may be personal vindication (Is. 26:16; 53:10-12). Resurrection may also have a function in relation to reward or punishment (Dn. 12:2; 12:13), an assumption to heaven and enriched fellowship with God (Ps. 49:15; 73:24,26), or preface to the beatific vision of God (Ps. 17:15 and possibly Job 19:26). (1)

The Greek word for resurrection is “anatasis” which means “a raising up” or “rising.” There are resuscitations in the Tanakh such as the example of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). While these figures may have been raised in a resurrection sense, they were not raised immortal in the same way Jesus was.

Extra-Biblical Passages on Resurrection

There are also extra-biblical passages that speak about the resurrection (Enoch 92:2; 4 Ezra 7:32; Enoch 91:10; 2 Maccabees 7:9; 14; 28-29). Even the The Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions resurrection: “He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (2)

In the Rabbinical literature there are explicit teachings on the resurrection. It says in the Mishnah 10.1, it says, “All Israelites have a share in the world to come; … and these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law.” Moses Maimonides, a Jewish rabbi and a medieval Jewish philosopher who has forever influenced the Jewish and non-Jewish world said:

” The resurrection of the dead is one of the cardinal principles established by Moses our teacher. A person who does not believe this principle has no real religion, certainly not Judaism. However, resurrection is for the righteous. This is the earning of the statement in Breshit Rabbah, which declares: “the creative power of rain is both for the righteous and the wicked, but the resurrection of the dead is only for the righteous.” Our sages taught the wicked are called dead even when they are still alive; the righteous are alive even when they are dead” (Bab. Talmud Brakhot 18 b).

3 points are made here: 1. Resurrection is a cardinal principle taught in the Torah which all Jews must believe 2. It is for the righteous alone 3. All men must die and their bodies decompose. (3)

It’s important to understand that the concept of resurrection had a meaning before Christianity ever started. And it’s interesting to ask why the early Christians applied the notion of resurrection to Jesus. What is the best explanation for their decision to do such a strange thing? Why not just give up on him and deny that he was the Messiah when he was killed by the Romans?