Gospel Disproof #38: The guards at the tomb »« Who said it?

Follow-up on Lazarus

This is way overdue, but I hate to leave a loose end dangling. I wanted to go back and spend a little more time with Jayman’s comment on the Gospel Disproof about Jesus and Lazarus. There were a couple of points where I think he misunderstood me, plus a few difficulties he doesn’t really resolve, so if you’ll forgive me for digging this up again (groan), I’ll go into detail below the fold.

Jayman writes:

The Gospels are full of stories [about Jesus' resurrection] that are plainly ghost stories…

If it was so plain then why did everyone misinterpret the accounts? Seems more likely that 21st century atheists are misreading the stories. [The gospel writers] explicitly deny that Jesus’ appearances were the appearances of a ghost.

I agree completely: by the time the post-Markan gospels were written, believers had indeed decided that the resurrection had to be physical, and so they wrote the gospels specifically to counter the belief that Jesus was raised in a mere “spiritual” body. Notice that there would be no need to make such an explicit correction if the resurrection story had been about a physical resurrection all along. The Lazarus story, for example, includes no such language to prove that Lazarus was physically real. It’s taken for granted. But at the time Matthew, Luke, and John wrote their gospels, the issue of physical body vs. spiritual body was still one that needed to be addressed, and corrected in favor of a physical resurrection. (There is no physical resurrection in Mark, the earliest gospel. Go figure.)

In the earliest epistles, the Apostle Paul explains that this is because Jesus was raised in a spiritual body, and goes on to argue, at some length, that the body you bury is not the body that gets resurrected. “Flesh and blood,” he tells us, “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”

If Jewish belief at the time was that a resurrected body was a physical body then why does Paul use that terminology to describe Jesus’ resurrection? Why does he refer to a body at all?

Jayman seems to recognize that the physical vs spiritual discrepancy is a problem, but for some reason he seems to think it’s my problem. The question he should be asking is why, if Jesus were raised physically, would Paul insist that Jesus was raised in a spiritual body as explicitly opposed to a physical one. The answer, clearly, is that Paul did not believe that the body that was raised was a physical body, and furthermore that the resurrection body specifically was not the physical body that was buried. It’s the whole point of the passage!

As to why he refers to a body at all, you have to read the passage in context. Paul is having an argument with somebody, an argument about resurrection. The problem is that a bodiless resurrection is like an unmarried spouse: you have to have a body in order to have a resurrection, otherwise the term is meaningless. What if there is no physical body though? Can you still have a genuine resurrection? And thus, we come to the question Paul addresses in I Cor. 15:35: “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” And notice, his answer is not that resurrection brings the physical body back to life. If he’d argued that, then there’s nobody to contradict him: Paul’s doctrine would agree with what the Jews (and Greeks) already believed about the resurrected body.

Instead, though, he tries to make a case that we ought to expect resurrection to produce an entirely different kind of body from the physical body that is buried. He doesn’t agree that resurrection ought to reanimate the body that died (with or without supernatural powers), he emphatically opposes the idea. Each point of his argument emphasizes contrast: the seed you plant is not the plant that grows, the flesh of man is not the flesh of beasts, the raised body has traits that are the exact opposite of the buried body, i.e. imperishable vs. perishable, earthly vs. heavenly, etc.

In other words, Paul is trying to overcome the idea that you need a physical body in order to have a real resurrection. And it’s hard work. He can’t just say, “You know how at the Last Judgment all the dead are going to be raised in non-physical bodies? Jesus’ resurrection was like that.” If the Jews, or even the earliest Christians, had had a tradition like that, Corinthians could have been a lot shorter. Unfortunately, most of what Jesus said about the Last Judgment tended to emphasize the physical sufferings of the damned. If your body isn’t physical, then worms can’t eat you, and flames can’t burn you.

So Paul has to build a new doctrine from scratch, and he tries to argue for a “spiritual” resurrection body. But his attempt fails. People just won’t buy the idea that a spiritual body is a genuine resurrection. Even Paul’s own arguments are ultimately turned on their heads, and when Christians today read “spiritual body” they think “physical body with supernatural powers.” For example, Jayman says:

Both a resuscitation and a resurrection involve a physical body being raised from the dead. A resuscitated person will die again. A resurrected person will not die again. In the first-century Jewish context, a resurrection was (nearly?) always conceived as the raising of a physical body.

Notice, what Jayman is arguing here is the same thing he objected to in the first comment quoted above: that first-century Jews conceived of resurrection as the raising of a physical body. The difference is that Jayman is thinking of resurrection as being the raising of a physical body with supernatural powers. That’s what Christians believe now, because Paul failed to sell the idea that you could genuinely resurrect a spiritual body. But if Paul had believed what Jayman believes, and if the Jews had also believed it, then there would have been no such debate for Paul to address in I Cor. 15:35-57. The whole reason there’s a debate is because Paul is trying to sell a new definition of resurrection that conflicts with how everyone else is using the term.

(As an aside, can you imagine how pointless it would be to consign someone to the flames of Hell if they’d been resurrected in a “spiritual” body like Jesus allegedly had? “Ouch, I’m outa here” *poof*)

It isn’t splitting hairs to note that Lazarus was raised only to die again while Christ was raised to eternal life. This difference is relevant for the differences between the account of Lazarus and the account of Jesus. Merely noting the difference is not sufficient to conclude that Jesus’ body was not physical.

The “splitting hairs” we’re talking about here refers to the semantic difference between the synonyms “resurrection” and “resuscitation,” which Jayman tries to use as technical terms referring to different types of reanimation. But as I noted, this is pure misdirection. There’s nothing about living forever that implies you should have the ability to walk through walls, or spontaneously change your appearance so that your closest friends don’t recognize you, or vanish like a ghost. These are the traits that spiritual/ghostly bodies have that physical bodies do not, and they’re also the traits that Jesus’ resurrection body allegedly had that Lazarus’ body allegedly did not. The distinction between “die again” and “live forever” is entirely beside the point.

Merely claiming that Jesus would never die is not enough to account for the distinctly non-physical characteristics he allegedly manifests in so many of the stories (notwithstanding later embellishments that attribute physical substance to him). To call Jesus’ resurrection “physical” is to deprive ourselves of the vocabulary we need to even discuss the difference between a physical resurrection and a spiritual one. It makes you wonder whether that, after all, might not have been the original goal.

I realize I’m not going to convince Jayman. The apostle Paul couldn’t do it, even by explicitly declaring that the resurrection body was spiritual and was not the “earthly” body that gets buried. Still, it’s an interesting peek behind the scenes, as it were, of the evolution of the Gospel.

Comments

  1. says

    Unfortunately, most of what Jesus said about the Last Judgment tended to emphasize the physical sufferings of the damned. If your body isn’t physical, then worms can’t eat you, and flames can’t burn you.

    This was always a conundrum for me, back in my days as a believer.

    If hell were physical, if those flames were real fire, hot but miraculously non-consuming, then the body must be physical, too. But if so, having lived with pain since early childhood, hell held no terrors for me. Pain, carried to an extreme, causes the physical body to opt out; either the patient loses consciousness or dies. And up to that point, the mind can be trained to ignore the pain, or at least override it and go on about its business.

    In my experience, the worst things about pain are hope and fear; hope that (some day!) it will lessen or even go away, which subtracts from the will to resist. And fear that it’s just going to get worse, or that it signals something that will kill you. In hell, there would be neither hope nor fear. Nothing will kill you, and it won’t stop. So get on with your life.

    But if hell were spiritual, whether the unbeliever were in a spiritual body or a physical one, it has nothing to offer but mental torment. And there are ways to deal with that, too. Hallucinations? Recognize them for what they are and live with it. Regret for missed opportunities, misdeeds, outright evil? Regrets are fruitless; put them behind you and get on with your “life”. And so on.

    More: if hell were physical, heaven would have to be, too. A gated city, foursquare, streets of gold, one river, no sea? (NO SEA?!) No change, crowds of people all doing the same thing? Choir practice every single day? Horrible thought! May as well opt for hell.

    And a spiritual heaven, knowing that my friends and family were in hell? That’s torment. Remove that knowledge, or make it that I no longer care, and you’ve removed me. I’m a robot. Hell is better.

    So, hell? Pffft. Eternity, now, that is another matter. I don’t think any human would find that tolerable, in heaven or in hell.

    • Len says

      If hell were physical, if those flames were real fire, hot but miraculously non-consuming, then the body must be physical, too.

      Interesting thought: if our resurrection (for judgement day) is physical, and we are consigned to hell, then we should be burned up in the flames. Unless *someone* miraculously makes the flames non-consuming.

      Who would or could do that? God.

      So not only does he punish us, he actively ensures that the punishment never ends. No mercy, ever. No way out. Just him showing us his wonderful love.

  2. says

    It’s pretty obvious you are starting with the spiritual resurrection hypothesis and then shoe-horning the primary documents to fit your hypothesis. Note the almost complete lack of positive evidence for the alleged evolution of the gospel.

    I agree completely: by the time the post-Markan gospels were written, believers had indeed decided that the resurrection had to be physical, and so they wrote the gospels specifically to counter the belief that Jesus was raised in a mere “spiritual” body. . . . (There is no physical resurrection in Mark, the earliest gospel. Go figure.)

    The Gospel of Mark notes that the tomb was empty. An empty tomb is expected for a physical resurrection, but not for a spiritual resurrection. It is not the case that Mark narrates a spiritual resurrection while Matthew, Luke, and John narrate a physical resurrection. All four Gospels narrate a physical resurrection.

    You also fail to provide any evidence that Matthew, Luke, or John wrote to counter the belief that Jesus rose spiritually. You’re just reading something into the texts that isn’t there.

    Notice that there would be no need to make such an explicit correction if the resurrection story had been about a physical resurrection all along. The Lazarus story, for example, includes no such language to prove that Lazarus was physically real. It’s taken for granted. But at the time Matthew, Luke, and John wrote their gospels, the issue of physical body vs. spiritual body was still one that needed to be addressed, and corrected in favor of a physical resurrection.

    That Matthew, Luke, and John were correcting a false belief is not evident in the Gospels themselves. Moreover, if we let our imaginations run wild, one could assert that John was trying to prove that Lazarus physically resuscitated. Note that John uses the term anistemi to refer to the raising of Lazarus. The same term is used to refer to Jesus’ resurrection. In the Judaism of the time the term referred to physical resurrection. It is special pleading on the atheist’s part to think Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual when the normal meaning of the term suggests otherwise. Note that Lazarus left behind an empty tomb, just like Jesus. In John 11:44 Jesus instructs the bystanders to remove the burial clothes, perhaps to prove that Lazarus was physically raised.

    Jayman seems to recognize that the physical vs spiritual discrepancy is a problem, but for some reason he seems to think it’s my problem. The question he should be asking is why, if Jesus were raised physically, would Paul insist that Jesus was raised in a spiritual body as explicitly opposed to a physical one.

    Due to space and time constraints I can’t exegete 1 Cor 15. In The Resurrection of the Son of God N. T. Wright devotes about 200 pages to Paul’s view of the resurrection, demonstrating a physical resurrection is in view. The distinction between physical and spiritual in 1 Cor 15 is a distinction between corruptibility and non-corruptibility.

    The answer, clearly, is that Paul did not believe that the body that was raised was a physical body, and furthermore that the resurrection body specifically was not the physical body that was buried.

    It’s not as if 1 Cor 15 is the only place Paul discusses the resurrection. For example, Romans 8:11 makes it quite clear that Paul thought of the resurrection in physical terms.

    And notice, his answer is not that resurrection brings the physical body back to life. If he’d argued that, then there’s nobody to contradict him: Paul’s doctrine would agree with what the Jews (and Greeks) already believed about the resurrected body.

    Pagans denied the resurrection of the dead. Paul is addressing those who denied the resurrection of the dead outright (1 Cor 15:12), not merely those who denied a physical or spiritual resurrection. This misunderstanding on your part makes much of the rest of your argument untenable.

    There’s nothing about living forever that implies you should have the ability to walk through walls, or spontaneously change your appearance so that your closest friends don’t recognize you, or vanish like a ghost.

    The attributes noted may not be a logically necessary implication of the resurrected body but they are consistent with it. On the other hand, a purely spiritual body is not consistent with all the accounts.

    To call Jesus’ resurrection “physical” is to deprive ourselves of the vocabulary we need to even discuss the difference between a physical resurrection and a spiritual one.

    You could refer to the immortality of the soul, apotheosis, or other things.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      The Gospel of Mark notes that the tomb was empty. An empty tomb is expected for a physical resurrection, but not for a spiritual resurrection. It is not the case that Mark narrates a spiritual resurrection while Matthew, Luke, and John narrate a physical resurrection. All four Gospels narrate a physical resurrection.

      You’ve got it backwards: I’m not saying that the spiritual resurrection (Phase 2) produced the empty tomb story (Phase 1), it’s the empty tomb story that inspired the disciples to interpret their post-bereavement hallucinations as true resurrection appearances.

      Also you’re giving me the Phase 3 interpretation of Mark’s Gospel. The original text of Mark includes only the Phase 1 details of the empty tomb. There is no mention of any appearance of Jesus, physical OR spiritual, at the end of the original text.

      And did you notice? The later manuscripts add verses 9-20 to Mark 16, in which Jesus does make post-burial “appearances.” You say there’s no positive evidence of the Gospel evolving, and yet there is, because somebody came along after the Gospel of Mark was originally written, and they added to it the Phase 3 details that were missing from the original.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      You also fail to provide any evidence that Matthew, Luke, or John wrote to counter the belief that Jesus rose spiritually. You’re just reading something into the texts that isn’t there.

      And yet when I say that Jesus rose spiritually, what verses do you quote to refute me?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      That Matthew, Luke, and John were correcting a false belief is not evident in the Gospels themselves.

      Nor am I saying it is. But I am saying that this kind of correction is consistent with Phase 3. I would also draw your attention to the fact that many of the early resurrection stories are stories with distinctly non-physical attributes. It would be rather negligent to tell stories about dead people appearing, disappearing, and walking through stone doors and locked doors, without addressing the question of physical vs. spiritual bodies, would it not? Even apart from the 3-Phase theory, I would think you’d want to agree that the gospel writers took some thought over the matter, and intentionally addressed it.

      Moreover, if we let our imaginations run wild, one could assert that John was trying to prove that Lazarus physically resuscitated. Note that John uses the term anistemi to refer to the raising of Lazarus. The same term is used to refer to Jesus’ resurrection. In the Judaism of the time the term referred to physical resurrection.

      My point exactly, which is why it’s significant to note the many ways in which Jesus’ resurrection body was distinctly lacking in physical attributes.

      It is special pleading on the atheist’s part to think Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual when the normal meaning of the term suggests otherwise. Note that Lazarus left behind an empty tomb, just like Jesus. In John 11:44 Jesus instructs the bystanders to remove the burial clothes, perhaps to prove that Lazarus was physically raised.

      No, you’re thinking anachronistically again. By the time John wrote his gospel, Christians were well into Phase 3. That has nothing to do with whether or not Christians like Paul, around the time 1 Corinthians was written, were believing and preaching the resurrection of an explicitly spiritual body.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Due to space and time constraints I can’t exegete 1 Cor 15. In The Resurrection of the Son of God N. T. Wright devotes about 200 pages to Paul’s view of the resurrection, demonstrating a physical resurrection is in view. The distinction between physical and spiritual in 1 Cor 15 is a distinction between corruptibility and non-corruptibility.

      I once saw a book whose thesis was that the South actually won the Civil War, and it too was a somewhat lengthier work than the subject really required. It’s always less work to tell the truth. ;)

      I’m sure if you work hard enough and long enough you can find some way to rationalize your modern-day Christian beliefs with what Paul actually wrote. But to simply summarize what he wrote, as opposed to interpreting it and reinterpreting it until you get it to say what you want, you could simply say that Paul addresses the question of what kind of body the resurrection body is by rejecting the idea that it’s the “earthly” body that was buried, and proposing that we should expect God to raise a different kind of “spiritual” body instead.

      Corruptible vs incorruptible is part of that difference, but this overlooks the fact that for Paul (and Jesus), corruptible vs. incorruptible is like earthly vs heavenly, or material vs. spiritual. See Matthew 6: 19-21, Luke 12:33, Rom. 1:23 and so on.

      Also it’s a complete red herring. The factors that contradict physicality are not that Jesus’ “resurrection” body allegedly died again. What makes Jesus’ original resurrection body spiritual rather than physical is not that it “corrupted” or “perished,” but simply that it manifestly demonstrated non-physical attributes, including non-continuity, non-solidity, and lack of any particular location.

      Plus it also ascended into heaven above the Mount of Olives, but if you look there now, guess what—not only is the physical body of Jesus not there, heaven isn’t there either. You can say Jesus went to a spiritual heaven, but then his physical body should still be in some physical place because it’s supposedly not a spiritual body (even though Paul says it is).

      Oy.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      It’s not as if 1 Cor 15 is the only place Paul discusses the resurrection. For example, Romans 8:11 makes it quite clear that Paul thought of the resurrection in physical terms.

      That’s odd, because Rom. 8:11 says, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Your original objection to my post was that the resurrection of Lazarus was not a resurrection, because all God (allegedly) did was to give life to Lazarus’ mortal body instead of raising him in an immortal one. Have you changed your mind about that?

      Also, I think if you read all of Rom. 7-8 in context, you’ll find that Paul is using life and death as metaphors for overcoming sin versus giving in to sin. He’s not even asking whether or not some future resurrection will occur in physical bodies, he’s discussing the Christian walk here and now. The indwelling Spirit giving life to your mortal body so you don’t have to sin, and the resurrection of the dead in immortal bodies, are two entirely different subjects.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Pagans denied the resurrection of the dead. Paul is addressing those who denied the resurrection of the dead outright (1 Cor 15:12), not merely those who denied a physical or spiritual resurrection. This misunderstanding on your part makes much of the rest of your argument untenable.

      That would be a good argument if I were talking about 1 Cor. 15:12, but I’m not. I’m talking about verses 35-55, in which Paul introduces a new topic, and spends 20 full verses discussing it. He even says so right there in verse 35.

      “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?'” That, you will notice, is a different question from, “Are the dead raised?” And the answers Paul gives to this question are not answers that fit the question “Are the dead raised?” It’s foolish to ask what kind of body the dead are raised in if the dead are not raised at all! Yes, he was talking about whether or not the dead are raised—23 verses ago! But he’s moved on, and you need to catch up. This is a new topic, and it’s all about whether the body that is raised is the same kind of body as the earthly body that was buried.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      There’s nothing about living forever that implies you should have the ability to walk through walls, or spontaneously change your appearance so that your closest friends don’t recognize you, or vanish like a ghost.

      The attributes noted may not be a logically necessary implication of the resurrected body but they are consistent with it. On the other hand, a purely spiritual body is not consistent with all the accounts.

      They’re inconsistent with being physical. Resurrected or not is completely irrelevant, except that a resurrected body that can walk through solid walls is inconsistent with being a physical body.

      As for being inconsistent with a spiritual body, the Bible says that God wrestled with Jacob. Is that inconsistent with God being a spirit, like the Bible says?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      To call Jesus’ resurrection “physical” is to deprive ourselves of the vocabulary we need to even discuss the difference between a physical resurrection and a spiritual one.

      You could refer to the immortality of the soul, apotheosis, or other things.

      Ok, and how would you use those terms to describe a spiritual resurrection that was different from a physical resurrection, while still remaining consistent both with Paul’s description of the resurrection body as “spiritual,” and your own description of how Jesus’ resurrection was physical?

  3. Deacon Duncan says

    It’s pretty obvious you are starting with the spiritual resurrection hypothesis and then shoe-horning the primary documents to fit your hypothesis. Note the almost complete lack of positive evidence for the alleged evolution of the gospel.

    I bet you can’t define what would constitute “positive evidence” for the evolution of the Gospel. So how could you know whether or not it’s missing? ;)

    Let’s recap. My theory is that the Gospel went thru 3 stages. In the first stage, a few minor and unknown disciples have removed the body without the knowledge or consent of the others, leaving them with an empty tomb and a lot of grief and confusion. Phase 1 lasts for a few days to a few weeks.

    In the second phase, some of the disciples begin to experience hallucinations of the deceased—as is common even among otherwise normal people—and in the context of the empty tomb, have begun to interpret these hallucinations as real (albeit spiritual) encounters with a real (though spiritual) resurrected savior. This phase lasts from the end of phase 1 through several years or even decades, ending some time between the writing of Mark/1 Corinthians and the writing of the later Gospels.

    In the third phase, having convinced themselves that the resurrection is true but not being satisfied with a spiritual resurrection, they subconsciously reinvent it as an actual, physical event, and embellish their memories/histories with details designed to make it sound physical, yet without compromising or rejecting the original legends as already accepted among the Christian community. This phase, naturally, continues through the present day.

    This is a scenario that would have some easily discerned, real-world consequences whose presence or absence we could use as positive evidence for or against the theory. Now, consider the alternatives. Let’s suppose that God physically raises Jesus’ physical body from the dead, and that Jesus walks around the earth physically for 40 days until he physically ascends into heaven. This, too, is a scenario with some easily discerned consequences. We know the characteristics of a physical body: it has physical continuity (i.e. it does not just spontaneously pop into and out of existence), it has objective visibility, audibility and tangibility, it has solidity, and it has other physical attributes such as location.

    The consequences we should see if the 3-Phase theory is true include the following: (1) the Empty Tomb would become a prominent part of the story, during Phase 1. Disappearing corpses are prime fodder for rumors and speculation, and thus the story of the Empty Tomb would immediately begin to spread and become a dominant element in the story of the death of Jesus. It would also become dominant due to the lack of competition—a genuine physical resurrection would completely overwhelm any fascination with the tomb, but according to the 3-Phase Theory, no such story has arisen yet, and therefore there’s time for the Empty Tomb to become entrenched as part of the legend.

    Another consequence of the 3-Phase theory would be explicit references to the resurrection as a spiritual resurrection, and the absence, or even rejection, of references to a physical raising of the dead. The dominant theology of the time expected a physical resurrection, and consequently the Phase 2 belief in a spiritual resurrection would provoke disputes that Christians would need to address in order to maintain their belief in a valid spiritual resurrection body.

    The third phase would result in a certain incoherence in Christian theology regarding the resurrection. The unfortunate combination of retaining the original stories plus incorporating physical details that contradicted the original stories would leave Christians with a resurrection body that both affirmed and contradicted the nature of a physical body, while simultaneously calling it a spiritual body and yet insisting that it was physical even though it was spiritual. This confusion would be irresolvable and would persist even to this present day.

    On the other hand, the consequences of a physical resurrection would be fairly unmistakable. Jesus, being raised in a physical body, would remain in the tomb because physical bodies are solid and possess both physical continuity and physical location. As a physical body, therefore, Jesus would have to be somewhere, and since he couldn’t walk through solid stone anyway, he might as well be at the tomb, especially since he wants people to see that he’s alive and since he knows the tomb is the most likely place they’ll come looking for him.

    Because his body is a physical body, another consequence is that he will be visible to everyone, and not just to believers. That means the guards will see him too, and will tell the priests that Jesus is up and about, which means that the priests will have to invent a story that explains a resurrected savior—the “disciples stole the body” gambit ain’t gonna help if Jesus is physically there for anyone to see.

    Because Jesus’ body is physical, it will possess continuity, solidity, and location, which means that if he’s going to go see the disciples in the inner room, he’s going to have to walk there, out where everyone can see him, and he’s going to have to knock on the door when he gets there. That means people will be able to see him arrive, and when he leaves, they’ll be able to follow him. This, in turn, will have a profound effect on what sort of stories the disciples will tell about Jesus’ ministry after his resurrection—they should be pretty similar to “business as usual” prior to the crucifixion. Why, after all, would he leave his disciples behind, and where would he go that he would not want them to come along?

    Obviously I could go on, but you get the idea. Now it seems pretty clear to me that the positive evidence we do have is pretty much 100% consistent with the 3-Phase theory, and 0% consistent with the Physical Resurrection theory. The only way to save the Physical Resurrection theory is to propose some kind of incoherent definition of “physical” in which the allegedly physical body possesses the characteristics of a spiritual body, and is only rarely consistent with genuine physicality. Considering that there Bible stories in which spirits like God also manifest in bodies that can occasionally demonstrate physical abilities, that boils down to taking the classical concept of a spiritual body, and just arbitrarily declaring it to be physical in order to avoid confronting the contradictions in the story—which is precisely the outcome that would result during Phase 3. So even the Christian “out” is a fulfillment of 3-Phase predictions.

  4. says

    DD, I’ll be relatively brief:

    (1) Phase 1 of your hypothesis (Jesus’ corpse stolen by some disciples) is supported solely by the accusation of the Jews recounted in Matthew. The problem is that the Jews’ story doesn’t explain why Jesus’ disciples were willing to suffer and die for their religion. This willingness to undergo persecution shows that the disciples sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospels describe the disciples as entertaining doubt. It’s rather strange that the disciples who moved the body didn’t tell the other disciples of this fact.

    (2) Phase 2 of your hypothesis (hallucinations leading to belief in a spiritual resurrection) is unlikely since the Jews of the time conceived of the resurrection as physical, not spiritual. Talk of a “spiritual resurrection” makes little sense in that context. The only evidence you’ve presented for a belief in a spiritual resurrection is your mis-reading of 1 Corinthians 15. If we look a little closer we see that your hallucination hypothesis has problems. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul notes that the risen Christ was seen by 500 people at the same time. That is not how hallucinations work. Positive evidence for phase 2 would consist of sound exegesis and a plausible explanation for how 500 people at once could think they saw the risen Jesus. A physical resurrection explains 1 Corinthians 15:6 much better.

    (3) Phrase 3 (evolution from spiritual resurrection to physical resurrection) is merely a figment of your imagination. You can read your theory into the texts but you can’t read it out. There is no evidence that the evangelists stressed the physicality of Jesus’ resurrection in order to replace an earlier belief in a purely spiritual resurrection.

    (4) You state that a physical resurrection would overwhelm any fascination with the tomb. But this is what we see! While the tombs of other great men were often venerated the location of Jesus’ tomb is not known with absolute certainty because the first Christians were not as fascinated with it as you contend. While the resurrection is noted throughout the NT the empty tomb is only noted in the Gospel narratives.

    (5) You definition of a physical body is merely the definition of a mortal human body. The Christian belief is that Jesus rose in a glorified physical body. This is why he does not act exactly like the average human being. A purely spiritual body or a regular mortal body cannot explain the accounts.

    (6) You state that a consequence of the physical body would be that he is visible to everyone, not just believers. But he did appear to Paul and James, thus contradicting your “predictions.”

    (7) You assert that there is no mention of any appearances of the risen Jesus in Mark. While such an appearance is not narrated it is mentioned in Mark 16:7. Plus 1 Corinthians 15 also mentions appearances.

    (8) The Gospel of John claims to have been written by the beloved disciple. The external evidence is unanimous on this point and the internal evidence shows the author knew things about Jerusalem that only an eyewitness living prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70 could know. You’re assuming that John is phase 3 when, especially if he is an eyewitness, he could just as easily be transmitting very early traditions.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Phase 1 of your hypothesis (Jesus’ corpse stolen by some disciples) is supported solely by the accusation of the Jews recounted in Matthew. The problem is that the Jews’ story doesn’t explain why Jesus’ disciples were willing to suffer and die for their religion.

      Maybe not, but then why would Matthew want to accuse the Jews of telling a story that explained why the disciples would be willing to suffer and die for a body that was just stolen? That doesn’t really make any sense.

      Meanwhile, as I said, there’s no particular reason why the disciples that stole the body would have to be the same disciples as the ones who talked themselves into believing that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and even Matthew’s biased account doesn’t really eliminate that possibility. Thus we have a perfectly plausible possibility that’s 100% consistent with the sorts of behaviors and misunderstandings we commonly see in real life. The same cannot be said about any God or gods physically raising the dead.

      It’s rather strange that the disciples who moved the body didn’t tell the other disciples of this fact.

      Such a thing would not be as rare as a literal, physical resurrection of the dead, though. Maybe they were from out of town, and went their various ways after “rescuing” their erstwhile Messiah from the Sanhedrin’s tomb. Maybe they quit believing in Jesus after he died, and no longer associated with the other disciples. There’s all kinds of not unlikely reasons why a failed Messiah might have followers who would do him one last favor and then fall away and never be heard of again.

      Phase 2 of your hypothesis (hallucinations leading to belief in a spiritual resurrection) is unlikely since the Jews of the time conceived of the resurrection as physical, not spiritual.

      That would be a valid objection if we were talking about a bunch of Jews sitting around calmly inventing a resurrection based on their academic opinions about what the resurrection was supposed to be like. Give me an honest answer to one question: Did Jesus ever surprise anyone with his teachings? Did Jesus go around telling people that the Pharisees were never wrong about anything? Ok, that’s two questions, but still, the Christians weren’t exactly famous for their reluctance to challenge the teachings of the Pharisees. According to Acts 10, Peter changed his mind about the Gentiles just because he had a dream, even though the Jews conceived of Gentiles as being not God’s chosen people. How much more would the apostles be willing to change their minds about resurrection if they sincerely believed that a spiritually-resurrected Jesus was appearing to them and declaring himself to have risen from the dead? Especially when they were still traumatized and grieving over his violent death and the disappearance of his body?

      In 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul notes that the risen Christ was seen by 500 people at the same time. That is not how hallucinations work.

      Except in cases of mass hysteria of course. But who says Paul was right? There’s no other record of 500 people seeing Jesus at one time, as even William Lane Craig concedes. Paul is probably just reporting a rumor that he heard and that was greatly exaggerated. Which is not uncommon even today—and it’s certainly far more common than the literal, physical resurrection of the dead.

      Notice too that Paul says, “most of them are still alive,” as though the alleged resurrection was far enough in the past that it was remarkable there were still (supposedly) a large number of surviving witnesses. That puts Corinthians at a bit later date than conservative scholars usually give it, don’t you think?

      You can read your theory into the texts but you can’t read it out. There is no evidence that the evangelists stressed the physicality of Jesus’ resurrection in order to replace an earlier belief in a purely spiritual resurrection.

      Well, like I said, if you won’t believe the Apostle Paul, then I have little hope of convincing you. That doesn’t change the fact that in the earlier documents Paul explicitly rejected the idea that the body that was raised was the body that was buried, in favor of a resurrection that raised what he explicitly called a spiritual body. You yourself are a demonstration of the fact that belief in the resurrection of a spiritual body has been replaced by belief in the resurrection of a physical body—despite a number of Gospel stories in which the body of Jesus manifests unmistakable non-physical attributes, like the ability to disappear and walk through walls. I’m not just making that up and reading it into the texts. It’s written there.

      You state that a physical resurrection would overwhelm any fascination with the tomb. But this is what we see! While the tombs of other great men were often venerated the location of Jesus’ tomb is not known with absolute certainty because the first Christians were not as fascinated with it as you contend. While the resurrection is noted throughout the NT the empty tomb is only noted in the Gospel narratives.

      So in other words there’s no real proof the correct tomb is empty. You have an empty tomb, but it’s not necessarily the right one. Fascinating.

      Unfortunately that doesn’t really help your case any, because there’s still far more emphasis on the empty tomb than would have developed had Jesus risen physically from the dead. Think about it: suppose, at the Grammy awards, a big bus pulled up and Elvis Presley got out of it. Alive. How much press would be given to the fact that he was no longer in the bus once he came out of it, relative to the amount of press coverage of that would be given to Holy Heck, Elvis Is Alive!!!?

      If Jesus were physically alive again after his death, the story would be “Wow, look, it’s Jesus alive again,” not “the tomb he left no longer has him inside it.” You go up to someone who is standing there looking at a physically alive Jesus, and try to get him interested in whether or not his tomb is now empty, and he’s going to think you’re some kind of imbecile. In the presence of a physically resurrected Jesus outside the tomb, nobody is even going to care that the tomb is empty because duhhh of course Jesus isn’t there if he’s here.

      But that’s not the level of emphasis we find being given to the empty tomb—not by the Gospels, nor by apologetics, nor by the liturgy, nor by the hymns. Far from being an irrelevant triviality, as it would be if Jesus physically rose from the dead, the empty tomb is foundational to the doctrine of the resurrection, and is treated as such wherever the story of the resurrection is told. William Lane Craig, for example, devotes 11 whole pages in Chapter 9 of On Guard to proving that the tomb was really empty so that he can then use the empty tomb as proof that Jesus really rose from the dead. Had Jesus been physically raised from the dead, though, it would be the other way around: his physical presence “in the flesh” would be sufficient to prove that the tomb was really empty—not that anyone would care!

      You definition of a physical body is merely the definition of a mortal human body. The Christian belief is that Jesus rose in a glorified physical body. This is why he does not act exactly like the average human being. A purely spiritual body or a regular mortal body cannot explain the accounts.

      Mortality has nothing to do with it. “Physical” does not mean “capable of dying.” Rocks are physical too, but they can’t die, nor can they live. I’m using the definition of “physical” that means “physical.” You are using a definition that is remarkable chiefly for the many ways in which it contradicts the well-known physical attributes and characteristics of genuinely physical things.

      You state that a consequence of the physical body would be that he is visible to everyone, not just believers. But he did appear to Paul and James, thus contradicting your “predictions.

      Paul and James were both believers. You might assume that they were not believers until they saw a resurrected Jesus, but you don’t know that. When people are conflicted, they sometimes violently oppose the thing they’re attracted to before they give in and convert. Again, not particularly common, but it happens a heck of a lot more frequently than the literal, physical resurrection of the dead. Plus your counterexample raises some interesting inconsistencies, like the fact that the “appearance” to Paul happened 8 chapters after Jesus had departed from the earth, and the fact that those with Paul somehow failed to see Jesus appear when Paul did. Not that this stops Paul’s experience from being just as much an “appearance” as all the others of course—even though the Bible tells us Jesus was in heaven at the time.

      You assert that there is no mention of any appearances of the risen Jesus in Mark. While such an appearance is not narrated it is mentioned in Mark 16:7. Plus 1 Corinthians 15 also mentions appearances.

      And again, I have to point out the absence of any indication that any of these are physical appearances. You are reading physicality into the passages, but there’s nothing written there about Jesus having a physical body for any of them.

      The Gospel of John claims to have been written by the beloved disciple. The external evidence is unanimous on this point and the internal evidence shows the author knew things about Jerusalem that only an eyewitness living prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70 could know. You’re assuming that John is phase 3 when, especially if he is an eyewitness, he could just as easily be transmitting very early traditions.

      Well, first of all, you’re not an eyewitness who lived in Jerusalem prior to 70AD, so how do you know whether John’s testimony is accurate or not? If you could find out in 2012 what conditions were like in Jerusalem prior to 70AD, don’t you suppose that someone else could have done so also, especially if they lived close enough to 70AD that there were still living ex-residents around? Luke’s whole claim to authenticity was not that he was an eyewitness himself, but merely that he had access to eyewitnesses. It’s no great stretch to suppose that the author of John could have known someone from pre-destruction Jerusalem, to use as a source for his stories.

      Regardless, though, John’s gospel was very likely to be the last of the Gospels to be written, so if Matthew and Luke are Phase 3, then John is even more so. Again, you might like to believe that he was “transmitting very early traditions,” but you don’t know for sure that he was. One thing we do know is that his testimony is openly and even proudly biased, because he tells us himself that his whole purpose in writing was to try and convince us that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah and so on.

  5. says

    DD:

    why would Matthew want to accuse the Jews of telling a story that explained why the disciples would be willing to suffer and die for a body that was just stolen?

    I’m not sure what you think the force of this question is. It seems wrong-headed because the story from the Jews does not explain why the disciples were willing to undergo persecution or death; it is an attempt to explain the empty tomb.

    There’s all kinds of not unlikely reasons why a failed Messiah might have followers who would do him one last favor and then fall away and never be heard of again.

    I’m not sure secretly reburying Jesus and not telling anyone else about it is a favor. Some might call it an insult or a dishonor. Plus, this is a just-so story without any ancient testimony in its favor.

    Did Jesus ever surprise anyone with his teachings?

    Yes, but the problem for your hypothesis is that Jesus’ teachings on the resurrection are consistent with the Judaism of the time. The surprise in Jesus’ resurrection was that it occurred before the general resurrection of the dead.

    Except in cases of mass hysteria of course.

    Mass hysteria generally involves a group of people believing they have a disease of some kind. Do you have an example of hundreds of people seeing the same thing where it was clearly a hallucination?

    But who says Paul was right? There’s no other record of 500 people seeing Jesus at one time . . .

    The Greek wording makes it clear that Paul was transmitting an earlier tradition. Arguments from silence are very unimpressive in ancient history. For the sake of argument though, let’s assume he was wrong. Nonetheless, he still believed that Jesus was raised in a body that could be seen by 500 people at once. He still believed that Jesus appeared to disciples.

    Notice too that Paul says, “most of them are still alive,” as though the alleged resurrection was far enough in the past that it was remarkable there were still (supposedly) a large number of surviving witnesses. That puts Corinthians at a bit later date than conservative scholars usually give it, don’t you think?

    That’s another reason to believe Paul was right. He informs his readers that they can check his account. I don’t think there’s much difference of opinion over the dating of 1 Corinthians between conservative and liberal scholars. A date between 53-55 seems to be generally agreed upon. I think you’re reading too much into the word “most.” That most people alive in 30 AD were alive in 53-55 AD is not overly surprising.

    Well, like I said, if you won’t believe the Apostle Paul, then I have little hope of convincing you.

    I’m not disagreeing with Paul since I believe he taught a physical resurrection.

    So in other words there’s no real proof the correct tomb is empty. You have an empty tomb, but it’s not necessarily the right one. Fascinating.

    The location of Jesus’ tomb was known to the eyewitnesses but its location was not passed down through the generations in a strong chain of transmission.

    Unfortunately that doesn’t really help your case any, because there’s still far more emphasis on the empty tomb than would have developed had Jesus risen physically from the dead.

    How many verses in the NT should have mentioned the empty tomb if Jesus physically rose from the dead? The mere fact that an ancient author does not act like you would is not evidence of anything.

    Had Jesus been physically raised from the dead, though, it would be the other way around: his physical presence “in the flesh” would be sufficient to prove that the tomb was really empty—not that anyone would care!

    I imagine then you would chide the disciples for just assuming the tomb was empty. Why didn’t they mention the empty tomb? Maybe they didn’t check and the risen Jesus was an imposter. And so on. Our subjective thoughts about what should or should not happen do not dictate what actually happened in history.

    Paul and James were both believers. You might assume that they were not believers until they saw a resurrected Jesus, but you don’t know that.

    You want evidence that an unbeliever saw the risen Jesus but then assume any alleged unbeliever was really a believer. You don’t allow your theory to be refined by the ancient documents.

    And again, I have to point out the absence of any indication that any of these are physical appearances. You are reading physicality into the passages, but there’s nothing written there about Jesus having a physical body for any of them.

    In the case of Mark I was merely showing your assertion to be incorrect. The three other Gospels all indicate a physicality to Jesus’ resurrection.

    Well, first of all, you’re not an eyewitness who lived in Jerusalem prior to 70AD, so how do you know whether John’s testimony is accurate or not?

    Archaeology.

    If you could find out in 2012 what conditions were like in Jerusalem prior to 70AD, don’t you suppose that someone else could have done so also, especially if they lived close enough to 70AD that there were still living ex-residents around?

    Yes. The mere fact that John was the last Gospel written does not mean it does not contain a tradition dating back to the beginning of the Jesus movement. The dates at which the Gospels were composed is not the same as the date at which their contents were first told. Your theory assumes, without argument, that John’s tradition does not go back to the beginning.

    Luke’s whole claim to authenticity was not that he was an eyewitness himself, but merely that he had access to eyewitnesses.

    Yes, he had access to eyewitnesses and apparently they convinced him that the resurrection was physical.

    Again, you might like to believe that he was “transmitting very early traditions,” but you don’t know for sure that he was.

    I may not have absolute certainty, but I do have the external and internal evidence on my side.

    One thing we do know is that his testimony is openly and even proudly biased, because he tells us himself that his whole purpose in writing was to try and convince us that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah and so on.

    And Holocaust survivors often speak to make sure such an atrocity never happens again. I suppose I should assume they are lying and become a Holocaust denier. Or perhaps I could compare John’s Gospel to other written documents of the time and archaeological finds.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      why would Matthew want to accuse the Jews of telling a story that explained why the disciples would be willing to suffer and die for a body that was just stolen?

      I’m not sure what you think the force of this question is. It seems wrong-headed because the story from the Jews does not explain why the disciples were willing to undergo persecution or death; it is an attempt to explain the empty tomb.

      Careful, you’re appealing to evidence that does not exist. We do not have a story from the Jews, we have a story from Matthew that accuses the Jews of telling a story. That’s not the same thing at all. And Matthew’s accusation is not just unsubstantiated, it’s patently ridiculous and an obvious fraud. That’s worth a blog post in itself.

      So Matthew reports two stories: one about disciples stealing the body of Jesus, which is perfectly consistent with what we see in the real world (given that the disciples who believed the Gospel could have been different from and unaware of the body-snatching disciples)—and he also tells us another story which is patently absurd and unrealistic, about Jesus physically rising from the dead and the priests getting all upset about the hole being left empty and yet showing not the slightest qualm about the fact that the innocent man they just murdered has come back to life by the power of the Old Testament God. If we’re going to believe the story that’s most consistent with itself and with the real world, which story should we believe?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      There’s all kinds of not unlikely reasons why a failed Messiah might have followers who would do him one last favor and then fall away and never be heard of again.

      I’m not sure secretly reburying Jesus and not telling anyone else about it is a favor.

      Call it whatever you like then. But the fact remains that the story portrays Joseph of Arimathea as a man who was a member of the council that effectively murdered Jesus, and was only secretly a Christian. It’s entirely possible that there could have been disciples from villages farther away, in town for Passover, who would think he was an unbeliever, insulting Jesus by claiming his body the way a victorious hunter would take home a trophy of his kill. The obvious remedy would be to remove (rescue?) the body from the property of those who murdered him.

      Some might call it an insult or a dishonor.

      Which would give them a reason to rethink their actions after the immediate emotional reaction had passed. Lots of people do things in the heat of the moment that they regret the next morning, and try to keep secret.

      Plus, this is a just-so story without any ancient testimony in its favor.

      Which puts it on just about the same level as those ancient testimonies themselves, except for the fact that my story is consistent with what we actually observe in real life. ;)

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Mass hysteria generally involves a group of people believing they have a disease of some kind. Do you have an example of hundreds of people seeing the same thing where it was clearly a hallucination?

      (a) How do you know there were really hundreds of people? Paul was not there when it happened, and no one else seems to have heard of it, as far as ancient documentation is concerned.

      (b) I can tell you from personal experience that the right psychosocial context can cause people to perceive things that aren’t really there. I once attended a séance in which several people were doing “automatic writing,” in which the spirits allegedly speak through the mediums, not by controlling their voice, but by guiding their hand as they write out messages on a piece of paper. I was there as a Bible-believing Christian (on a secret mission, da-dum da-dum da-dum-dum), and I was talking with a lady who was “channeling” a spirit that allegedly knew me when we were both disciples of Jesus together.

      At one point a new “spirit” began speaking through her, and everybody remarked at once that this spirit was obviously a lady spirit, due to the feminine handwriting. The spirit was quite indignant and insisted that he was male, but we all could see the distinctive handwriting and how, in general, each spirit manifested his or her own unique individual handwriting style.

      I was quite excited at the time, because I was a strong evangelical Christian, and I “knew” that these weren’t real ghosts, they were demons masquerading as the spirits of the departed in order to deceive people. I asked the lady if I could keep the pages she was writing. She was glad to give them to me and I was glad to have them, because I planned to take them to church the following day and show my Sunday school class, by the remarkable handwriting changes, that demons were real.

      The next morning I got up and looked at that paper and every single line was written in exactly the same hand. I, and probably a dozen other people, very distinctly saw different handwriting styles on that paper—but they were not actually physically there. And there’s no particular reason why this sort of mass hallucination could not extend to an arbitrarily large number of people, especially where spirits are involved. Ever see a Pentecostal revival? Ever see an auditorium filled with people seeing Benny Hinn perform miracles that—somehow—never quite show up the same after the music and shouting and dancing around have stopped?

      Yes, this is not only very possible, it’s not really even uncommon.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      The Greek wording makes it clear that Paul was transmitting an earlier tradition.

      The phrase “passing on hearsay” is also an accurate description of what the Greek wording was making clear.

      Arguments from silence are very unimpressive in ancient history.

      Unless of course you’re accusing an unbeliever of telling a “just-so” story. ;)

      For the sake of argument though, let’s assume he was wrong. Nonetheless, he still believed that Jesus was raised in a body that could be seen by 500 people at once. He still believed that Jesus appeared to disciples.

      And he believed that God appeared to the entire nation of Israel in Exodus 20. Yet you’re not arguing that God had to be physically resurrected to do so, are you?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      That’s another reason to believe Paul was right. He informs his readers that they can check his account.

      Careful, you’re reading evangelical commentaries about I Cor. 15 into the text itself. There’s nowhere in the text that Paul claims skeptics can check out his story, nor does he offer any details about the alleged 500 witnesses that give us any clue as to where, when, or who.

      I don’t think there’s much difference of opinion over the dating of 1 Corinthians between conservative and liberal scholars. A date between 53-55 seems to be generally agreed upon. I think you’re reading too much into the word “most.” That most people alive in 30 AD were alive in 53-55 AD is not overly surprising.

      It is interesting, though, that the earliest versions of the Gospel that we have reference to are a good 20 years after the fact, according to conservative estimates. A lot can happen in 20 years. Look how the story of Saddam’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction has evolved just since 2003. (I’m still waiting for the Iraq War to become Obama’s fault, just like the subprime mortgage economic crisis did.)

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