Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Resurrection...

Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ there would be no Christian religion. It is a physical event that, if proved to have never occurred, would falsify Christianity. This is a point that many Christians don't seem to realize... the basis for our religion lies on a supernatural event that intersected with the natural realm in a manner that is open to historical investigation. J. P. Moreland, in Scaling the Secular City, outlines three broad areas of evidence for the resurrection: 1) the empty tomb, 2) the resurrection appearances, and 3) four key features of the early church.
Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Suddenly there was a severe earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were shaken and became like dead men because they were so afraid of him. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead. He is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you!” So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings!” They came to him, held on to his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.” - Matthew 28:1-10 (NET)
With regards to the empty tomb Moreland explains that there is no evidence that Jesus' tomb served as a site of religious worship and veneration. This is unusual in that at least fifty sites of prophets or other holy persons served this purpose at the time Jesus was in Palestine. Moreland also points out that the resurrection accounts use specifically named women as witnesses - first witnesses at that. This is highly unusual in that a woman's testimony was considered worthless at that time. Why would a writer making up the story of Jesus' resurrection choose to make certain women appear more brave than Jesus' own disciples? For the resurrection appearances Moreland highlights the fact that Jesus appeared to many individuals, sometimes to just one person while once to a group of five hundred, over a specific period of time. All accounts agree that Jesus had a physical body that also had spirit attributes; although he was able to eat with his followers, he was also able to appear and disappear from their midst. The features of his appearances do not coincide with the Jewish thought on resurrection at the time. The resurrection the Jews understood was to be one at the end of the age. That his followers may have been experiencing a vision was also problematic in that visions were understood to occur to individuals and not to groups. Lastly Moreland reviews the four key features of the early Church with regards to the transformation of the disciples, the change in key social structures in Judaism, the sacraments of the early Church, and the existence of the Church itself. The disciples, described as a scared lot after the Gethsemane incident, suddenly became courageous followers of Christ - even to the point of martyrdom. Consider that the early Church was first made up of Jews. Note that they not only left the practices of sacrificing animals for atonement, of keeping the law, of keeping the Sabbath, and of viewing God in a non-trinitarian manner, but they almost immediately took up the practices of observing the Eucharist and water baptism. Finally, what explanation can we posit for the fact that the early Church survived at all? From the beginning it was exclusivistic and remains so to this day.

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