Re: Essay about errancy

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Feb 03 2004 - 18:02:56 EST

Gough, Joshua wrote:
> I guess my issue with this boils down to: physically, did many dead
> people come alive and walk around Jerusalem or did they not? It's either
> historically accurate or it is not. Just the same, either Jesus came
> back from the dead physically and literally, or he did not. Ravi
> Zacharias is right: It's either/or, not both/and.
> Does anyone know of any historical documentation about this incredible
> event? If not, I am left wondering why anything in these accounts should
> be taken as a physical fact, such as the resurrection of one man, if the
> resurrection of many men is not literal and physical.
> I find all this arguing about the purpose and interpretation of
> scripture interesting, but ultimately unproductive to the investigative
> question of: what evidence have historians found to corroborate the
> resurrection of many saints seen by many in Jerusalem? Furthermore, what
> is there to differentiate the miraculous accounts of Matthew and other
> gospels from miraculous tales found in other ancient literature?..........................
        There is a massive difference between the texts dealing with the resurrection of
Jesus and Mt.27:51-53. The resurrection of the crucified Jesus is clearly the
foundation & centerpiece of all of early Christianity. All the major NT writings assert
it & speak in various ways (some more figurative than others) of its significance. If
you remove all references & allusions to, & implications drawn from, the
cross and resurrection of Jesus, there's not much left of the NT.
        While the details about the finding of the empty tomb & the appearances of the
risen Christ do have many differences of detail, one can make a quite convincing case,
based on the literary & historical evidence, that Jesus' tomb was found empty & that he
appeared to people. If you want to look at this in detail, the best up to date
treatment is undoubtedly N.T. Wright, _The Resurrection of the Son of God_ (Fortress,
2003). It is a tremendously detailed treatment - 738 pp + bibliography & index. Wright
not only evaluates the evidence but studies in some detail the ideas that people of the
time had about life after death & what they would have meant by the resurrection. He
concludes that what they meant is indeed bodily resurrection - which does not mean
simply resuscitation. (Thus one needs to be careful tlking about Jesus "coming back
from the dead.)
        Another good treatment, not nearly as detailed but with reflections on the
significance of the resurrection for modern theology, is Gerald O'Collins, _Jesus Risen_
(Paulist, 1987).

        In contrast, the story of the OT saints coming out of the tombs is found only in
Mt. Taking place at the same time as the central event of the passion story, it seems
to serve as a symbolic statement that death is overcome by the death of Christ. For a
treatment of Mt's "special phenomena" at the death of Jesus see Raymond E. Brown, _The
Death of the Messiah_ (Doubleday, 1993), Vol.2, pp.1118-1140 & D.C. Allison, _The End of
the Ages has Come_ (Fortress, 1985), pp.40-50.

        Now you ask whether the empty tomb - i.e., the bodily resurrection of Jesus - of
any importance? If Jesus did not rise "the same though changed," if what happened was -
as some suggest - simply the "Easter faith" of the disciples - then in fact death
_hasn't_ been defeated. In that case all the symbolism, including the symbol of the
empty tomb itself, is a symbol of nothing. Because we don't have immaterial souls that
go off to heaven when we die. We are body-soul-spirit-mind unities, and if there is not
 any resurrection of the body then when you're dead you're dead, period. Of course this
by no means proves that Jesus _did_ rise from the dead, but let's not waste our time
pretending that there is some kind of Easter hope or faith if he didn't.
        I'm always amazed at the supposedly modern people who claim to be eager to
brings Christianity into accord with modern science, with its intense concentration on
the importance of matter, but then think that they have some Christianity worth talking
about without a resurrection that confers lasting value on matter (e.g., Spong).
George L. Murphy
Received on Tue Feb 3 18:06:02 2004

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