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Interpreting the Resurrection

By Peter Sellick - posted Thursday, 7 April 2016


The Church owes the world a consistent and reasonable account of the faith to which it bears witness. For example, it cannot make propositions that lead to unsolvable problems.

While it is often the case that the Gospel was and is countercultural and stood apart from the mores of society, it also, particularly in our own time, must take into consideration substantial descriptions of the world.

For us, those descriptions have removed any thought of the existence of a supernatural realm. We live, in what the sociologist Max Weber described, in a disenchanted universe.

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While it would appear that this view leaves Christianity without a leg to stand on, a closer inspection demonstrates that rather than demolish it, it actually focuses it central aspects.

A case in point, highlighted by the closeness of Easter, is what the Church means when it talks about the resurrection of Jesus. It is imperative that the Church talks clearly about this because it is at the very centre of faith.

A useful place to begin is to compare the resurrection with the crucifixion. We understand the crucifixion. The man Jesus was crucified "under Pontius Pilate", as the creed states. It was an historical event open to observation by all people. Jesus was given a second name "Christ" that refers to him being crucified.

The passion narratives of all four gospels are dramatic constructions on an historical base loaded with irony, puzzlement, dread and exposure of the hidden thoughts of many. It may be argued that the passion narratives that tell of the arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion of Jesus lie at the centre of the Faith

The resurrection is much harder to understand because it is not open to historical inspection as is the crucifixion. Witnesses to the resurrection became believers; to witness the resurrection was to believe.

Thus the resurrection is a phenomenon that is held to have occurred by the Church and not by anyone else. By contrast to the passion narratives the narratives of the resurrection appearances are contradictory across the gospels. Mark, the earliest gospel relates no resurrection appearances. There is much to puzzle over, Jesus appears and disappears and is not recognised by his disciples.

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In other words, the resurrection appearances do not read like history but like legend.

The idea of resurrection came to Judaism late, during the Maccabean wars (beginning 166BCE) and took for granted that the only possibility of justice in the face of cruel persecution and in the absence of a conception of soul/body dualism would be the restoration of the body.

For Jews, there can be only the resurrection of the body. Since they had no idea that the soul could exist as a form of life apart from the body, any continuation after death had to be in the body. In other words, there is no life without the body.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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