Saturday, 16 February 2008

Response by the Reverend James Hollingsworth

Dear Steven

How kind to reply so swiftly and with such detail. Thank you.

I should apologise and say that I think I meant to refer to String Theory rather than Strong theory.

I would find it helpful to understand a bit more about what would constitute proof for you.

The embarrassment of Female Testimony I think still holds given their standing in a court of law. So when trying to persuade distant people they might not accept it as proof that some women saw an empty tomb. On the other hand, meeting a woman who excitedly gives her story about how Jesus knew everything about her, would be a different situation.

You seem at one stage in your argument to prefer the proof from personal testimony – I saw and touched the resurrected body! (the sort of stuff that we see in John with Thomas for example, or the whole approach of Luke in both his gospel and sequel). And yet I have often found that people are not persuaded by other people’s stories – they need to know that can really trust you. Perhaps to see the difference that it makes to your life (pragmatic). Perhaps if they could experience something (though then we enter the problem of whether One experience is enough to get you going!).

And then curiously later in your response you downplay St Paul’s use of reason. Of course his style of reasoning would have been Rabbinic rather than Cartesian but nonetheless as clear a style of reasoning as you might get (and in 2 Corinthians he gets positively Greek, an impressive step I feel).

St Paul’s proof consists not just in Reason but also in an experience and clearly one that shook his paradigm upside down. Perhaps a wiser rabbi would have helped him come to terms with his blindness and would have helped him understand the voice he had heard and so on. However, Paul’s own experience mingled with his deep learning and reason leads him to another conclusion.

Your suggestion of Disciples Doubting (in Matthews Gospel) as a deliberate spin shows a helpful example of two people (you and I) seeing the same words and coming to quite radically different conclusions. Its not new: Jesus performs a miracle and the crowds say we must follow him and the religious leaders say we must stop him. I’m not quite sure how to respond to such an argument except to say That’s not how I see it. I can’t possibly see how its in the Gospel’s interest, in Matthews interest, how its going to help readers to take up this faith that Matthew has spent the last 27 chapters telling you about, it seems to me to undermine his very purpose. Likewise there’s other stuff that’s not helpful such as Matthew alone telling us about multiple resurrections. Really, Matthew, you should understand that this is not helpful to your readers, either it did or didn’t happen and frankly if it did happen (these others restored to life) then its not that helpful!

I do find most thought provoking this notion that these early Christians didn’t know about a bodily resurrection. Your use of 2 Corinthians is very clever in this respect. I remember from my studies of early church history something about how some people found the notion of Jesus as God as being really quite easy, the problem was explaining to them that he was fully human too. St John alludes to something like this in his epistles and in jargon we refer to it as the rise of Gnosticism. When preaching to people with this propensity then, you might want to emphasise that Jesus did come in the Flesh – an odd expression from St John given his negative use of the motif of the World, the Flesh [and the devil]. In this way, to see St Paul as dealing with diverse culture from Corinth who seem to have had a mix of extreme views that seem to be built on the idea that Its my body that does the sinning whilst my soul and leads to the conclusion – therefore Go Sin! Or therefore deny your body everything! In that setting, I’m not surprised to find Paul trying to help them receive the gospel by shaking up their world view.

This leads me to ask, if the Church had gotten by for so long without needing a physical resurrection that no one was expecting and they didn’t need anyway, Why invent it later? Its not as if it has done us any favours! People say to me: I love the teachings of Jesus but do I have to believe in the miracles? (as if belief is a tick list and if you can tick enough of them we’ll give you eternal life plus a free gift of some nice hand luggage.)

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