Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Changed Is Not Victorious...

First, a parable:

A 12-yr-old girl had a golden retriever puppy name Jack. One day Jack was sniffing too close to the road and was hit by a car and killed instantly. The girl, who did not see the accident, was unaware that Jack had died, so the girl's father went and found the girl a new pit bull puppy. When the girl came home from school to play with Jack she was greeted by Bud, the pit bull. Despite the girl's confusion, the father was immovable: Bud was Jack. The father's lie escalated and he explained to the girl that Jack was hit by a car and killed but was then revived in the form of Bud the pit bull. The girl eventually acquiesced and rumors of Bud the resurrected dog began to spread...

This parable serves to demonstrate the flaw in one of the most common interpretations of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In this fallacious opinion, Jesus was put to death in the body but raised in a disembodied spiritual state of sorts. Again, this mistaken view supposes that, despite being crucified on a Roman cross and buried in a tomb, early followers of Jesus encountered a 'spiritual' Jesus of sorts.

The flaw is this: Jesus cannot have defeated the death of the human body if Jesus was merely changed.

The crux of New Testament theology is that human death, the consequence of sin, has been conquered. The crux is not that something incredible happened to a controversial Jewish man, which therefore made him special. The heart of it all is that death has been defeated.

To hold a view that Jesus was not raised in bodily form fails to take seriously any claim that Jesus was victorious. Changed is not victorious. The resolution has nothing to do with the problem. Bud the pit bull does not make up for the loss of Jack the golden retriever.

We all know that Bud the pit bull is not Jack the golden retriever. We all therefore know that the father is a liar.

The same applies to the historical claims of the early Jesus movement. Either we wrestle with their testimony and take seriously their claim that Jesus defeated death by being raised to new life in the resurrected human body. Or, we declare them all liars and quit pretending to be followers of a dead dude by making up allegorized versions of the gospel.

Mysterious Conversion: The Resurrection from James' Perspective

Scholars agree that Jesus had brothers (all younger we hope!). In the gospels of Matthew and Mark we find a list of Jesus’ brothers: James, Joseph, Simon and Jude (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3). None of these siblings, however, are cited as being followers of Jesus – before his crucifixion. The two James in the group of disciples were, of course, James son of Zebedee and James son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:2-4).

In fact, Mark gives the impression that most of Jesus’ family thought he was crazy: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind,’ (Mark 3:20-21; see also John 7:3-5).

Other than this, we have no indication of Jesus’ brother James being a follower of Jesus during his ministry. This argument from silence is strong because all four gospels refer to those closest to Jesus by name, including his family. So, we can be fairly certain the James the brother of Jesus was not a follower of Jesus during his ministry.

This is interesting. Why? Because after Jesus’ crucifixion, James became a follower of Jesus! The brother who did not follow the crazed messiah-wanna-be who was put to death later became a servant of Jesus. Indeed, very interesting.

Not only did he follow his brother, he became a leader in the early Jesus movement as bishop of the Jerusalem church: Late in the Second Century, Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Peter, James and John, after the Saviors ascension, though preeminently honored by the Lord, did not contend for glory, but made James the Just Bishop of Jerusalem.” That Clement refers to the James the disciple distinguishes James the Just (Jesus’ brother).

Scholars also believe that James the brother of Jesus authored the The Letter of James. In the beginning of this letter James refers to himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Further evidence is found in Acts 15 when the apostles gather in Jerusalem with the “elders” and James speaks. This could not be James the disciple since he was put to death earlier (Acts 12:2). Most probable is that it is indeed James the brother of Jesus, the bishop of Jerusalem (see Acts 21:18)!

Paul also witnesses to Jesus’ brother as an early apostle: “I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie,” (Gal. 1:18-20). That James was residing in Jerusalem fits the historical evidence.

So what happened? Why did a non-follower of Jesus become a leader of the early church and refer to himself as a “servant of the Lord Jesus Christ” (as opposed to a scoffer of his crazy brother!)?

Allow me to pause for a moment to gather the reader’s attention: something happened. We cannot be honest historians without surmising that something had to motivate James to become a leader of the early Jesus movement.

Can we speculate further? I believe we can. Evidence provides further clues.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that Jesus appeared to James after he had risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:7). This could not have been the James of the disciples because Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to the disciples first, then to James.

Now, let’s ask some logical questions.

(1) Would a non-follower of Jesus experience an illusory vision (for a man he likely did not grieve or miss)?

(2) Would a non-follower of Jesus discern some kind of ‘disembodied spiritual presence’ of the man who was crucified?

(3) Would a non-follower of Jesus suddenly associate himself with the followers of a crucified, would-be messiah? (“would-be” because he was proven to be false by crucifixion)

(4) Would a non-follower of Jesus attempt to experience some kind of spiritualized connection with the crucified Jesus?

(5) Would a non-follower of Jesus refer to the crucified Jesus as “Lord” and “Christ”?

These questions suffice, I believe, to point out how absurd it is to think that a devout Jewish man, who did not follow Jesus, would suddenly become part of a movement whose primary claim was that Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead (Lk 24:7; Jn 21:14; Acts 2:24; 4:1-2; 10:34-43; 13:30-41; Rom. 6:4-9; 1 Cor. 15).

The most logical and supportable explanation is that the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth appeared to his brother James in bodily form. Only this could counteract the fact of Jesus’ bodily death on the cross.

What would James have made of this? As the post below suggests, Judean Jews expected a resurrection of the dead in the new age. For James, then, Jesus' bodily resurrection likely confirmed both God's vindication of his Messiah (Acts 2:22-28) and the in-breaking of the new age.

Is there any evidence that James did, in fact, interpret the resurrection of Jesus in this way? Yes.

Following his Jewish worldview (and all of the surrounding evidence), James considered himself and others to be living in the new age because Jesus had been raised. In his letter James refers to followers of Jesus as "first fruits" (James 1:18; cf. 1 Cor. 15:23). James refers to his contemporary audience as "heirs of the kingdom," (2:5). He also exhorts his sisters and brothers to wait for the "coming of the Lord" (parousia, 5:7), the common expectation of Jesus' literal return. All of this evidence within James' letter suggest that he believed that Jesus was the One whom the Lord had anointed to be Israel's savior.

I began this post by noting that scholars agree that Jesus had brothers, James being one of them. Once this is accepted, however, one is forced to wrestle with a whole lot of strange happenings. Why did James the brother of Jesus decide to follow the man he previously thought to be a lunatic? Why the 180? Where does the evidence point?

Think James may have been an anomaly? Jesus' brother Jude also became a follower!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Made Alive in the Spirit: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18

Was Jesus raised in the body or in the spirit? Could Jesus have died in the flesh and then been raised as a disembodied spirit? Well, the post below would suggest that this kind of dualism between body and spirit that we take as normative today may not have necessarily been the the norm for Judean Jews like Jesus and the disciples. In fact, in Jewish thinking, speech about the "spirit" did not necessarily denote the non-physical world as much as it suggested the right way of being in which a person lived in and by God's Spirit.

I recently studied 1 Peter 3:18-22 in which Peter refers to the resurrection of Jesus in such terms. The following is a portion of that study that demonstrates why Peter's wording of Jesus being "made alive in the spirit" refers to bodily resurrection.

Verse 18 continues θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι (“being put to death in the flesh on the one hand but on the other hand being made alive in the spirit”). The Greek μὲν and δὲ provide a formulation for contrast: “on one hand… on the other.” This antithetical structure contrasts Christ’s “being put to death” and “being made alive,” as well as “in the flesh” and “in the spirit.” While it is agreed that “being put to death in the flesh” refers to the crucifixion of Christ, there is less accord about the meaning of “being made alive in spirit.” As I have noted above, some interpret this phrase to mean an intermediate state of Christ’s soul during the triduum mortis. Worse, others may believe that Peter here intimates a spiritualized resurrection. The grammatical and contextual evidence suggest otherwise. Because this is the crux of the entire passage it deserves ample attention.

As Bandstra observes, the verb, “to make a live” (ζῳοποιηθεὶς), “is virtually synonymous with ‘to raise from the dead,’”[42] and is used throughout the New Testament to describe the resurrection.[43] In Romans 8:11 especially this verb is used interchangeably with ἐγείρω (“to awaken, arouse”), also used to describe the action of bodily resurrection.[44] It is therefore most likely that Peter here speaks of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.[45] If one wishes to argue that Christ was “made alive” as a disembodied soul, s/he must evaluate the meaning of ζῳοποιηθεὶς. Not only this, but such interpretation must explain why the immortal soul (as in Greek thinking) would require being “made alive.”

The meaning of πνεύματι [46] (“in the spirit”) is also related to Christ’s resurrection. The Spirit of God is closely associated with the resurrection of Christ throughout the New Testament (Rom. 1:4, 8:11).[47] That Christ is raised “in the spirit” does not imply a kind of ‘spiritual resurrection’, but rather the kind of resurrected life only possible by God. The interpretation of an exact antithesis between sarki (“flesh”) and πνεύματι (“spirit”) is a presupposition read into the text. More likely, the antithesis is an example of a common death/life contrast found elsewhere (Rom. 8:34).[48] Moreover, the contrast between flesh/spirit in the New Testament[49] never once indicates a division of body and soul.[50] Dalton affirms the biblical view: “It refers to two orders of being, the flesh representing human nature in its weakness… the spirit representing the consequence of God’s salvation, the presence and activity among us of the Spirit of God.”[51] Indeed, it would seem odd, given the antithetical structure, if Peter contrasted the death of Christ with some intermediate soul state.

Ultimately, it proves effective to compare 3:18 to its immediate context in 1 Peter and also to the rest of the New Testament. Firstly, the consensus of the New Testament affirms that Christ was put to death in the flesh and raised in/by the Spirit of God in bodily form (John 20:27, 1 Cor. 15:20).[52] Secondly, Peter mentions the resurrection twice in his letter, including in this very context (1:3, 3:21). Thirdly, Peter’s encouragement in the preceding context is to endure suffering and to be “fearless” because of Christ’s triumph. I find it difficult to believe that such a message would hold any weight of persuasion if it merely meant that Christ’s soul was revived in the spirit world. Rather, these and the subsequent verses support that Christ’s bodily resurrection and ascension prove his vindication in the Spirit of God and cosmic lordship, which is the content of Christian hope amidst suffering.

[42] Andrew J. Bandstra, “‘Making Proclamation to the Spirits in Prison’: Another Look at 1 Peter 3:19,” Calvin Theological Journal, no. 38, (April, 2003): 121.

[43] John 5:21, 6:63; Rom. 4:17, 8:21; 1 Cor. 15:22,36,45; 1 Peter 3:18.

[44] Also explicit in Rom. 8:11 is the detail of the spirit giving life to mortal bodies.

[45] John S. Feinberg, “1 Peter 3:18-20, Ancient Mythology, and the Intermediate State,” Westminster Theological Journal, 48, no. 2 (Fall, 1986): 313. See also William Joseph Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18-4:6, 2nd ed. (Rome: Pontifical Institute, 1989). 135-142.

[46] For eight different interpretations of pneumati, see Feinberg, 314.

[47] John 6:63; 1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:6.

[48] “Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God.”

[49] Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38; John 3:6; 6:63; Rom. 1:4; 8:4,5,6,9; 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 7:1; Gal. 3:3.

[50] Dalton, 138.

[51] Dalton, 138.

[52] Matt. 27:53; Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:33; 17:18; Rom. 1:4; 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:21;Phil. 3:10-11.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wrestling with the Resurrection

Over the course of the next month I'd like to write a number of posts on the topic of the resurrection of Jesus. The posts will vary in content but I hope that it provides some food for thought about this difficult topic. The endeavor will no doubt provide helpful study for me as I wrestle with this strange and significant matter.

To begin, I have copied some of Craig Keener's research on Ancient Views on the Resurrection from his commentary on 1-2 Corinthians:

"Educated, elite Corinthians probably followed views held by many philosophers, such as immortality of the soul after the body's death [e.g. Plato Phaed. 64CE, 67C; Cicero De Re Publica 6.24.26; Seneca Dial. 11.9.3]. Many viewed the body as earthly, the soul as heavenly (Heraclitus Ep. 9; Seneca Dial. 12.11.6), including some Jews (Wis. 9:15-16; Sipre Deut. 306.28.2). Many philosophers viewed the immortal soul as the divine part of the person [Seneca Nat.Q.1.pref.14; Epictetus Diatr. 1.3.3]; some Hellenistic Jewish thinkers concurred (Philo Creation 135).

Contrary to the erroneous guesses of many NT scholars, most Jews in this period accepted the distinction between soul and body, and that the soul remained immortal after death. But most Judeans, and at least some Diaspora Jews, also accepted the doctrine of future bodily resurrection alongside the soul's immortality after death.

Some Greeks (like Epicureans and popular doubts on tombstones) denied even an afterlife. Yet even Greeks who expected an afterlife for the soul could not conceive of bodily resurrection (which they would view as the reanimation of the corpses) or glorified bodies. The closest analogies were old myths about deceased souls brought back from Hades; annually returning underworld deities; and (most common in novels) recovery from merely apparent death.

Most Palestinian Judaism, however, emphasized bodily resurrection, as the canonical status of Dan. 12:2 almost required [e.g. 2 Macc. 7:9, 14, 23, 29; 14:46; Pss. Sol. 3:12; 1 En. 22:13]. Later rabbis felt that the Sadducees' denial of the resurrection deprived them of sharing the afterlife (m. Sanh. 10:1; 'Abot R. Nat. 5A; 10). Some Diaspora Jews in this period also embraced the concept (e.g. Sib. Or. 4.179-82), although often accommodating it to Hellenistic understanding of immortality, as Josephus does.

It is thus possible that Paul's Judean conceptions created friction not only with Gentile but even with Jewish elements in the congregation. Paul seems to move as far in their direction as possible here ("spiritual," heavenly bodies of glory; even further in 2 Cor. 4:16-5:10) without compromising his insistence on the bodily character of future hope; rooted in the goodness of God's physical creation."