Friday, 8 February 2008

John Twisleton - March 27

It’s Easter Wednesday and our debate rolls on.

Joined by millions - thanks to the BBC Passion series which I was pleased to see presented in favour of the empty tomb. No millions on our blog, Steven, as yet but thank you James, Kevin, Tom, Duckphup and all who’ve been amused watching the fur fly.

The resurrection of Christ is more than a corpse rising but it is certainly not less in mine or the church’s book otherwise Christianity should close shop.

Steven is skilled as a polemicist in going for that historical claim and the earliest Christian documentation in St. Paul and its reticence about the physical resurrection that we claim emptied the tomb of Jesus.

It’s not fair to say I’ve not addressed this question. I will admit though to a main thrust of circumstantial argumentation 'there's no smoke without fire'. Like everyone I am well aware that the explosion that caused the fire is long past – but not altogether past as I see it. The God who brought being out of nothing and Jesus from the tomb is still in that sort of business.

Sorry, in my pulpit again, Steven – ever had that feeling? I must do my best once more to engage with your presenting question. Even if I regard your focus on Paul as making the resurrection debate less than it is existentially, philosophically, scientifically and ethically I can’t add historically without being ready to argue the valid case from the historic documents for Paul’s acceptance of the physical resurrection of Jesus.

At the heart of Paul’s gospel is the desire to safeguard the facts of the matter he and we see as Christianity: “I hand it on to you as of first importance what I in turn have received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

This core gospel statement has four parts. It might be logical to have three parts and see his burial as part of his death so to speak. Paul’s emphasis though hints strongly at the resuscitation of Christ’s buried corpse and the emptying of his tomb. It does not seem that including mention of his burial was anything other than a linguistic tool to emphasise the raising of Christ’s dead corpse ‘on the third day’.

Mention of ‘on the third day’ is an explicit reference to the process of entombment that preceded the death defeating (“corpse-raising”) gospel miracle Paul’s writings thrill with: Romans 4:24f, 6:4, 6:9, 7:4, 8:11, 29, 34, 10:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:4, 12-17, 20, 29, 32, 35, 42-44, 52; 2 Corinthians 1:9, 4:14, 5:15; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

The same deliberate mention of Christ’s ‘being laid in a tomb’ is on the lips of Paul recorded by Luke in Acts 13:29-31 which, though from what Steven would see as a biased source, may be further indication of how important the entombment was to Paul historically.

Steven quotes Paul’s arguments with those who see the resurrection of the Christian dead as plain resuscitation without transformation. ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 15:50). This is where my widening of argument with Steven is justified because his sort of resurrection debate is as I have said so narrow it loses the baby with the bath water and takes stuff out of what I would see as true context.

If Paul does not write more explicitly of the physical resurrection of Christ that is probably because this was nothing that needed defending in his letters which have defence of faith and order as their major preoccupation. These have been preserved for us mainly on account of controversies Paul helped settle in the first decades of church history and the one Steven is raising was not a controversy but the very basis of things as he and they saw it.

I would add that early as the Pauline corpus is – and it gains a degree of authority for this - it does imply links with the other oral traditions such as Mark and Q (another argument I feel coming on) as when we read in one of the earliest Pauline texts in Galatians 1:18-24 that Paul engaged with supposed witnesses of the resurrection like Peter and James when he visited Jerusalem for 15 days.

Enough for now – I must go and celebrate an Easter Eucharist…

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