Paul’s View | Jesus
as Spirit | Gospels
| Tomb of Jesus
Arianism vs Nicaea | Early Arian History | Arian Catholic Lore
1 Peter 3:18
The Gabriel’s Tablet
19-21 & 80 (found near the Dead Sea - Jordanian side) - late first century B.C.
The Resurrection - What happened on Easter morning?
First of all the Arian Catholic Church believes that the Resurrection was a spiritual event, not a physical returning to life of Christ’s body, but a resurrection of his soul which ascended into Heaven. Claims that the tomb stone had been moved and of Christ’s appearance to his followers must be read and interpreted with caution. Arians do believe that Jesus “Suffered under Pontius Pilate,” that he “was crucified, died, and was buried”, “On the third day His Spirit was resurrected,” and “He ascended into Heaven” as the Arian Catholic Creed states. The Resurrection was not simply resuscitation, as if Jesus somehow simply recovered from the crucifixion. Moreover it is highly unlikely that the Resurrection involved Jesus taking up his old body in any sense. The Resurrection was the release of his soul from his deceased body into Heaven, and is an example to all.
A literal reading of the Gospels does not come to the conclusion that the Resurrection was a physical event. Luke makes that abundantly clear in his gospel (24:39), and Matthew and John give a similar impression (Matt. 28:9; John 20:24-29, 21:9-14). But whether these passages should be interpreted literally is still an open question and the Arian Catholic Church always advocates caution and we should look for multiple instances of substantiating evidence. Given a few features of the text, and a number of scientific facts, these passages probably shouldn’t be interpreted literally. We shall approach the text from a chronological stand-point; i.e. take each text in order, from the earliest to the latest, based on when each text was written. The first person we begin with, then, is St Paul.
View of the Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15 is the central text for St Paul on this topic. He mentions
Jesus’ resurrection, but in a matter-of-fact way
that tells us only that Jesus “appeared” to various followers after he
was “raised on the third day” (15:4-7). He includes in this list his
own experience of the risen Christ (15:8), making no distinction between Jesus’
appearance on the road to Damascus and Jesus’ earlier appearances to the
apostles (cf. 9:1). This is telling since St Paul’s own experience of the
resurrected Christ was that of a vision, complete with photism and audition, but
wholly without an engagement with a physical form (Acts 9:3-6, 22:6-10,
26:13-18). While this does not mean that St Paul’s experience was necessarily
identical with that of the apostles, it does raise the question of whether these
“appearances” to the other followers were visions as well. Some
scholars think that the appearance to “over five hundred brothers and
sisters at one time” (1 Cor. 15:6) is a reference to Pentecost, which may
be highly revealing of Christology in the early Church (cf. 2 Cor. 3:17).
“. . . St Paul’s own experience of the resurrected Christ was that of a vision, complete with photism and audition, but wholly without an engagement with a physical form.”
While St Paul leaves no definitive statement
on Jesus’ resurrected form, he does give us some idea of how he views the future
resurrected bodies of all people, and therefore by extension Jesus’ resurrected
body as well (cf. 1Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21). Here we must begin with St Paul’s
conclusion: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1Cor.
15:50). For St Paul, our current bodies are not the appropriate vehicles one needs
for a life with God. A different body is needed, one that is not of “flesh
and blood.” “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual
body” (15:42) is ultimately the answer to St Paul’s question “with what
kind of body do they come?” (15:35) It is a paradoxical term, since “spirit” and
“body” are opposites of each other. However, it
may be that what St Paul means here is that the resurrected life is radically
different from that which we currently experience, and can only be described as
being dominated by “spirit.”
The new body is not simply the old body
made immortal: “you do not sow the body that is to be” (1Cor. 15:37).
Rather, the new spirit-body is as different from the physical body as a
full-grown plant is different from a seed (15:37-38). While St Paul must see some
continuation between the old and the new bodies, the discontinuity of the two is
underscored even further by St Paul’s statement that, “if the earthly tent we
live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands,
eternal in the heavens” (2Cor. 5:1). It seems that St Paul conceives of this
spirit-body as a separate creation in heaven, which will be created and
inhabited when the time comes.
|Together with St Paul’s experience of Christ
as a non-physical entity, these passages seem to indicate that St Paul thinks of
the resurrected life -- whether that of Jesus now, or of our future existence at
the end of time -- as a spiritual existence apart from the old physical body. In
addition, he mentions specifically that Jesus “became a life-giving
spirit” (15:45). So too, Peter, our next author chronologically, mentions
that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the
spirit” (1Pet. 3:18). Notice the dichotomy presented: death is the opposite
of life, as flesh is the opposite of spirit. The NIV renders the text as “made alive in the Spirit” (i.e., the Holy Spirit), but this breaks up the intended dichotomy
of the two phrases, and, at least for St Paul, might mean virtually the same thing
(2Cor. 3:17). For Peter, it was necessary for Christ to become a spirit in order
to “make a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (1Pet. 3:19). And,
like St Paul, Jesus is spirit because he has “gone into heaven” (3:22) to “live in the spirit as God does” (4:6).
Of course, the above is my own
interpretation of the passages presented, and one that is not shared by
all commentators. The passages are not 100% clear on the issue. But what
is clear is that there has been nothing conclusive thus far (dated roughly
from 50 A.D to 70 A.D.) to indicate that the earliest Christian writers
thought of Christ’s resurrection as physical -- at least nothing like that
found in the Gospels. In fact, much of the evidence thus far lends itself
better to a non-physical Resurrection. From 70 A.D. on, however, we are
confronted with the Gospels (Mark being the first), and here the argument
for a physical Resurrection takes a dramatic turn.
The earliest version of Mark (ending with
verse 16:8) does not make any mention of post-mortem appearances. Instead, Mark
presents us with the story of the empty tomb. While this account does not
explicitly make the claim that Christ’s resurrection was physical, it does imply
such a belief.
The tradition of the empty tomb is a
controversial one. Conservative scholars have pointed out several facets of the
story that they feel favour its historicity. However, there are elements of the
burial tradition that suggest it was of late composition. First of all, Mark is
the first to mention the empty tomb. St Paul simply tells us that Jesus “was
buried, and that he was raised on the third day” (1Cor. 15:4). Some
consider this to be evidence that the tradition of the empty tomb was not known
to St Paul -- of course, arguments from silence are hard to prove. However, the
fact that St Paul tells us that Jesus first appeared to Peter (1Cor. 15:5; cf. Luke
rather than the women, suggests
unfamiliarity with Mark’s burial tradition. As well, many scholars feel that
Mark’s statement that the women “said nothing to anyone for they were
afraid” (Mark 16:8; cf. short ending; 16:10) reveals the late development
of the tradition. In essence, Mark is attempting to explain why the tradition of
an empty tomb was not known earlier: the women had not told anyone about it.
“. . . the resurrected life is radically different from that which we currently experience, and can only be described as being dominated by ‘spirit.’”
On a more speculative note, Mark’s account
may not be the only tradition concerning Jesus’ burial. Some liberal scholars
think that they have discovered a different tradition, one in which Jesus’
enemies (the Jewish authorities) bury Jesus. A Coptic text from the second
century, known as the Epistula Apostolorum, may include the entire tradition,
while John 19:31 is thought to be a remnant. A fourth century text written by a
man named Lactinius and Acts 13:27-29 both give a similar impression.
A Ghost Has Not Flesh and Bones
This brings us to the physical appearances
of Christ in the other gospels (Luke 24:39; Matt. 28:9; John 20:24-29, 21:9-14).
Taken literally they speak of a physical resurrection. However, the stories also
give the impression that we are dealing with what Marcus Borg describes as “non-ordinary reality and non-ordinary perception.” While those
portions of the Gospels that speak of Jesus’ earthly ministry relate a
continuous, harmonious account, and show a great deal of agreement and overlap,
the Resurrection accounts are isolated, disconnected, and different in all four
gospels. Jesus appears suddenly to people, as in a vision (Matt. 28:9). He
passes through walls, or otherwise materializes and dematerializes (John 20:19,
26; Luke 24:31, 36). He takes on “another form” in one appearance
(Mark 16:12), and those who encounter him do not always recognize him (Matt.
28:17; Luke 24:13-35). This last example I find especially telling. If Jesus
took up his old body again, why is it that people do not recognize him?
Like the empty tomb, I think that these
passages are meant to be metaphors of the Resurrection. As such, they help
explain an event that is otherwise unexplainable: at no time before or since
this event has anyone experienced the resurrection of an individual. I don’t
believe any words can adequately describe it. The message of these passages is
that Jesus was really and truly present among his followers after his death.
Since our perception of what is real is primarily grounded in the physical, it
would be a natural metaphor. They also reveal “non-ordinary
perception.” Christ can be “touched” and “felt,” but
only in a mystical sense.
What is the Body of Christ?
An important thing to keep in mind is that
there are other ways in which Christ’s body is real to us. Throughout his
letters, St Paul develops the idea that it is the Christian community that is the
“Body of Christ” (Rom. 12:15; 1Cor. 12:12-31; Col. 1:18, 2:19; Eph.
1:23, 4:15, 5:23). The Eucharistic bread as the body of Christ (Luke 22:19), and
Luke’s statement that it is in the “breaking of the bread” (Luke
24:35) that the risen Christ is known, is also revealing. How far St Paul saw the
Church as the physical extension of Christ’s spiritual body, and Luke likewise
in the sacrament, is hard to tell. But they do represent physical realities that
can be experienced as Christ’s body.
Ultimately my belief that Christ’s
resurrection was spiritual rather than physical is grounded in my view that God
does not override the physical mechanics of the universe in order to act in
history. That is perhaps a modern “anti-supernatural” world-view, but
so be it. It seems illogical to me to say that God created the universe and its
physical laws, and then to say that God is constantly overturning those laws in
order to perform the miraculous. Certainly we do not know all of what the
universe contains. But I find it possible, and even probable, that a spiritual
dimension to the universe exists. Therefore it is primarily in those terms
(i.e., a spiritual resurrection) that I look to give an explanation for Jesus’
continued presence with us today.
There is enough in the Gospels that challenge the idea of a physical resurrection. In addition, like most liberal theologians, I am eager to align myself with what I perceive to be St Paul’s position: Jesus’ resurrection involved a spirit-body rather than a physical body. His metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ, and the Gospel authors’ view of the Eucharist as the Body of Christ, I think also suggests this idea.
Written by the Liberal
Proof Jesus Died Just Before the Passover Feast in 33 A.D.
Rediscovery of the Tomb of Jesus and the Messianic Family in Jerusalem
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