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Was The Resurrection Natural?

Neon Genesis

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I always heard it said growing up in a biblical literalist church that it takes more faith to believe Jesus didn't die on the cross than it did to believe he rose again, but I looked up Wikipedia's article on crucifixion, and according to the historian, Josephus, it is actually possible to survive crucifixion without dying. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion#Survival

Since death does not follow immediately on crucifixion, survival after a short period of crucifixion is possible, as in the case of those who choose each year as a devotional practice to be non-lethally crucified.


There is an ancient record of one person who survived a crucifixion that was intended to be lethal, but that was interrupted. Josephus recounts: "I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician's hands, while the third recovered."[35] Josephus gives no details of the method or duration of the crucifixion of his three friends before their reprieve.

I don't think Jesus pretended to die and it was all a setup with the Roman authorities or something to fake his death because I don't think Jesus ever intended to die. I think it's more likely Jesus was crucified on the cross and was tortured enough to pass out without dying and Jesus was given to the care of Mary Magadelene and the apostles. Maybe Jesus died after he was returned to their care but the apostles couldn't believe their messiah had died. In their deseperation to believe their mission hadn't failed, they came to believe they saw a vision of Jesus and this lead them to believe Jesus had raised again.


One of the arguments my former church always used to defend their literal belief in the resurrection of Jesus was quoting Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 to argue that if there is no supernatural resurrection, then Christianity is meaningless. It's interesting to note though that nowhere in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 does Paul say the resurrection he is speaking of is a literal resurrection. Later in that same chapter he in fact makes a clear distinction between the physical body and the spiritual body and argues that it's impossible for a physical body to enter the kingdom of heaven, which makes me question how could Jesus' body enter heaven if he was physically raised from the dead and physically returned to heaven. Paul never references the empty tomb as far as I'm aware and he never gives any details about what Jesus' resurrection was like expect that in all of Jesus' resurrection appearances, it was exactly like when Jesus appeared in a vision to him, which leads me to think Paul thought the resurrection was a spiritual one. An alternative explanation I've heard is what Paul means is that unless Christians die to sin and the church is raised again, then Christianity is meaningless rather than being an argument for a literal resurrection. Do you think the resurrection of Jesus was a spiritual or physical one? Do you think Christianity is still a meaningful religion if Jesus survived on the cross and never actually died?

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G'Day Neon Genesis,


I have spoken to this topic in other posts and again, this is all merely a personal response and is not meant to negate anyone's journey with Jesus.


On a personal level I need the resurrection. I have said why before now too. For me the resurrection was a gigantic YES, from the limitless divine, letting us all know that what Jesus lived and died for, what his teachings stood for, and how he walked this earth was right. And to prove that it was right, the limitless divine performed something extraordinary, something NOT natural, something beyond normal human paramters. Indeed, that is another reason why I personally hold to a bodily resurrection. I believe Jesus to be the fullest revelation of the Divine. I believe the Divine to be limitless. To believe that the Divine can vanquish death is not a stretch then, for if the Divine was to be subject to normal human mortality, and not beyond it, that would necessarily limit the Divine. So the resurrection, for me, was possible for a limitless divine, and reality for the giant YES it represented.


Having said all of that, to answer your question, it doesn't bother me if one believes in a bodily or spiritual (what I call Spongian) resurrection. For me, whatever type you choose is okay if, and this is the crux, if it allows you to have an ongoing immanent and real communicative relationship with Jesus. So a kind a 'metaphorical' resurrection may not cut it, (Though I do, like Borg and Crossan, see much of the NT as true in a parabolic sense and not a literal one) as it is that communication which needs to be the key. Because, to be frank, that, and absolute love and compassion for the total sum of our brothers and sisters, is what this faith should be all about! And, to echo Paul, if you don't believe in an ongoing communicative relationship with Jesus, why continue to be a part of the 'faith' of Christianity, for removing all metaphysical aspects and just adhering to Jesus' earthly human messages of altruistic compassion and love, as worthy and important as that is, does not require any kind of 'faith' choices. In short, and I have made this point before, as I say, so some of of you will probably be thinking 'here we go again', in short the equation is this: Believe in a resurrection, either spiritual or bodily, and have a communicative relationship with Jesus, and be a member of the 'faith' of Christianity. Reject the notion of resurrection and any kind of communicative relationship and be a member of the 'philosophy' of Jesus. The former is not better than the latter, nor vice versa, but I really do believe that it is in the question of the resurrection, and other metaphysical aspects of Jesus, that we can see a clear and easily dinstinguishable line between the faith and the philosophy of Jesus. (I can see many of right now itching to talk about creating more divisions in what is already a fractured and denominational etc faith. 'It shouldn't be about labels' I can see you writing. But this is one division that I personally believe needs to brought out into the open, for any kind of 'progressing' on a larger macro level to take place.)


Thanks for the great question.



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I think of the resurrection as mythical. As such, its significance is found in what it says to us about the identity of God and what we are meant to become.


The messiah (or messiah-like figure) was effectively the incarnation of God's justice on earth. When a messiah said, "this is the way it's gonna be," then that became the way it was to be. I liken the messianic role as akin to that of Joseph and Pharaoh in Genesis. When Joseph spoke, he spoke with the authority of Pharaoh's name. If the messiah were to die and another were to come along, then the new messiah got to make the rules.


But what if a messiah were to arrive, declare a new law to override all others ("love one another"), and then...not die? As long as the messiah lived, the law remained in tact. No one would ever be able to overturn it, for only a messiah could do so and there would never be another one until the current one died.


Thus, the significance of the myth of the resurrection seems to be that God is Love, that we are meant to love one another, and that the mark of God upon creation is that of an all-consuming grace.


Given all that, whether Jesus went *poof* from a tomb or became worm food seems irrelevant.

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Along with XA I would throw in my vote that the resurrection is 'myth'.


From my limited knowledge of history, it seems to make just as good sense as any to assume (or conclude) that the early church really did have a genuine encounter with what they perceived to be the risen Jesus (whether or not this encounter was real is a matter of personal faith).


Christian apologists often make the point that the accounts we have in the gospels point to an authentic disillusionment of the disciples after Jesus' death. And while I think their claims are made to stretch beyond their epistemological stature, I think there is a point. Nothing in the gospel accounts indicate sheer delusion - that the disciples knew that Jesus somehow survived the cross and died later or whatever - and then made up a story and somehow convinced themselves to believe it. That seems psychologically questionable to me.


Who knows, of the disciples, how many witnesses there were to Christ's death? How close they were to his burial? How close were these people to the actual events surrounding the crucifixion? I don't know - but it seems like an important question when trying to assess the historical nature of the claims. But I do know that the vast majority of all the disciples of that era had never even met Jesus let alone witnessed the events surrounding his death. The resurrection for them was something learned about, and more importantly, it was an encounter with the Spirit, taken on faith.


As far as the spiritual vs bodily resurrection, I'm not sure. 'Spiritual' certainly makes it easier because it is more vague (not that that is a bad thing). But bodily resurrection is clearly the import of at least three of the gospels (unless you include Mark's tacked-on ending, then it's all four). Paul, while never mentioning the bodily resurrection, nevertheless probably can be understood that way, constantly affirming the reality that Jesus of Nazareth was raised by God. But perhaps not, there are good arguments both ways. In all likelihood there are many points of view woven throughout the new testament and certainly throughout early Christianity.


Would Christianity be meaningful had Jesus not died on the cross but survived and died later on? It's kind of a difficult question because the claim that Christianity makes is that Jesus rose from the dead - in other words, that Jesus is a living reality right here and now. Any other theory is not something Christianity takes into account. Ephesians says 'he ascended to heaven to fill all things.'


For the author of Ephesians, the meaning of Jesus' resurrection is that we are now free to encounter a living, personal and supra-personal Reality in him. Christ, if he rose bodily, is now regardless something much, much more. He is Spirit.


'When he ascended on high,

he led captives in his train

and gave gifts to men'


'He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe'


'Wake up, O sleeper,

rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you'

(Ephesians 4:8,10, 5:14)


So perhaps in the grand scheme of things, this particular historical question is not particularly important, or perhaps not even desirable to answer in historical/factual terms. The resurrection is to me shorthand for a teaching that leads into the living reality of the supra-personal Christ who - when we ourselves rise from the dead - shines on us with his own self. We encounter his very own life and identity when we 'wake up'. For the light makes 'all things visible' (v14) including, most importantly, the truth of our own self. We die to an old reality, and rise in the newness of life, but it is his life, his identity, we wake up to as members of his one body (ch. 4). This mystic union means that we are the bodily resurrection of Jesus as much as anything else we might speak of.


'Oh, loving Shepherd, You feed Your flock with Yourself, and You are really my daily bread'


'Draw me to Yourself, Oh my Divine Center, by the secret springs of my existence, and all my powers and senses will follow you.'

(Jeanne Guyon)


This religious treatment of this living reality as personal may go beyond logical scientific sense (logically, what sense is there in saying my self will follow my self, or in speaking of the whole of reality as if it is an object existing separately from and in relation to you?), but it constitutes a breaking-through of Reality to the individual. It is a discovery not merely of an object of worship, but of the Soul. The reality of Christ is both transcendent and immanent, apart from logical considerations.


So I find myself not entirely disaligned from Adi's point of view - that the resurrection seems to be one of the metaphysical tenets of Christianity as a practicing faith. It is not something that lends itself to a natural explanation without changing the content of what it is all about in the first place.Whatever one thinks about the resurrection is fine to me, because it is entirely a matter of personal belief and devotion. And I'm not actually saying there is not or cannot be a natural explanation for the resurrection story - I'm saying that the content of the story is not about a natural event. That is why it is 'myth'. But I must confess that there are times when I am, on some level, open to the possibility that Jesus really did walk out of that tomb. I think it may be healthy for the religious imagination to be open to that.


Peace to you,


Edited by Mike
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Was the resurrection natural?


I don't know. Perhaps it was. Perhaps it wasn't. To me it is surely possible, having personally witnessed miracles, yet in my view, it is irrelevant for me to conclude either way for something I have no witness of. In my experience, Truth does not require such a conclusion. Only humans have such a need or requirement to do so and when a conclusion is reached, it seems to me, one is just as uncertain as one was before it was made.


Just one view to consider,


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I agree with Adi’s post on this.


Neon’s question about “natural resurrection” seems to refer to the swoon theory, that Jesus fainted from torture on the cross but was later revived for some period of time. To me it’s extremely doubtful that anyone in that weakened, injured and gruesome condition, who finally did succumb, could have given his followers the impression of defeating death. Such a temporary resuscitation could only dilute the impression he had made in life. It could never have changed the disciples’ grief and fear into enthusiasm and courage. Eleven of the twelve were martyred for their conviction that Jesus rose from the dead--would they boldly give their lives for a fabrication, or myth?


Paul’s letters do make a distinction between the physical and the spiritual; but I believe he concluded there was a third possibility; that Jesus appeared to the disciples in a form of existence beyond the physical OR spiritual. The resurrection body is not the original one resuscitated, but transformed into a whole new mode of physicality, with new attributes— solid and concrete in the sense of being touchable, eating fish, but also able to pass through doors and walls, reappear in different locations, etc.


Though Paul speaks of a "spiritual" body and a "natural" body, both phrases are talking about the same thing, the soma -- Greek for the physical body, roughly synonymous with flesh. The difference is not between physical and nonphysical, but between corruptible and incorruptible. Like his seed / plant analogy, the body is sown (dies) as a soma pyschikon but is raised as a soma pneumatikon.


This is how it makes sense to me, though it’s not something I’d try to persuade others to believe. We each need our own version.

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I agree with Adi’s post on this.


Neon’s question about “natural resurrection” seems to refer to the swoon theory, that Jesus fainted from torture on the cross but was later revived for some period of time. To me it’s extremely doubtful that anyone in that weakened, injured and gruesome condition, who finally did succumb, could have given his followers the impression of defeating death. Such a temporary resuscitation could only dilute the impression he had made in life. It could never have changed the disciples’ grief and fear into enthusiasm and courage. Eleven of the twelve were martyred for their conviction that Jesus rose from the dead--would they boldly give their lives for a fabrication, or myth?




There was also a movie that was made that was based on this idea called The Passover Plot but I've never seen it and I don't think it's been released on DVD:
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