Must a Christian believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead?

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“On the third day, he rose again.”

Must one believe that Jesus literally rose from the tomb to be a good Christian, or can one believe there was an “Easter event” that his disciples interpreted as a resurrection? Kimberly Winston explores this question in an article for Religion News Weekly.


She notes that in a 2010 Barna poll, only 42 percent of respondents “said the meaning of Easter was Jesus’ resurrection.” She writes:

“More people have problems with Easter because it requires believing that Jesus rose from the dead,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of the new book, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.”

“But believing in the Resurrection is essential. It shows that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, Easter without the Resurrection is utterly meaningless. And the Christian faith without Easter is no faith at all.”

Scott Korb, 37, has a different take. Though he now describes himself as a non-practicing Catholic, he once wanted to become a priest. At that time, he believed Jesus literally rose from the dead, but now finds himself accepting the story only symbolically.

“The miracle of a bodily resurrection is something I rejected without moving away from its basic idea,” Korb, a New York University professor, said. “What I mean is that we can reach the lowest points of our lives, of going deep into a place that feels like death, and then find our way out again — that’s the story the Resurrection now tells me. And at Easter, this is expressed in community, and at its best, through the compassion of others.”

What do you think?

This, is what I think.

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Clint Davis
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Clint Davis

One of the most interesting traditional stories about dying Lamas in Tibet is that some of them, when they die, physically disappear gradually over a number of days in a documented phenomenon known as the Rainbow Body. They wrap them up in a burial cloth while still barely alive, and keep vigil as the body disappears with mysterious lights and other signs seen around the area. After a set period, the cloths are unwound and all that's left are the fingernails and hair.

I don't know if this has anything to do with the Lord's resurrection or at least the missing body, but there are stranger connections than this.

I do believe the Lord is risen indeed, but what does that mean in this day and age, when Heaven isn't literally in the Heavens anymore, and Hades isn't literally under our feet, in the earth? Still working that out.

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tgflux
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tgflux

As I commented on Wounded Bird (the cited link), I probably don't need to do so again ("I frankly disagree").

I always get a bad case of inflamed "hermeneutic of suspicion" regarding ANY assertion made w/ certitude: "He bodily rose, dammit!" "His body rotted away, dammit!" Maybe it's my Jewish ancestry, but I just want to respond w/ a shrug: "Eh. On the one hand...on the other..."

When I was in seminary, I was impressed w/ the NT professor (was it Robin Scroggs? This was Union Theological, in the 90s) who spoke of the witness of Stephen, Proto-Martyr's testimony, as the earliest witness: "“Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”" [Acts 7:56] (Note, *not* "I saw him eating fish on the beach!")

But OCICBW. Please, let's just not SPLIT over this, 'kay?

JC Fisher

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tobias haller
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tobias haller

Nick Knisely and I clearly thing along similar lines. I put forward a similar notion in a sermon from 2006. Reality is about patterns, after all, for that is where meaning lies.

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Just a follow up, Mark's empty tomb account (16:1-8), I have long been intrigued by a position expressed by the late Rev. Dr. R. Rhys Williams, (a view he published).

Rhys' advanced the view that the direction given to the women at the tomb in Mark 16:7, "But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee;there you will see him as he told you.", that this is really a reference to the parousia.

One might further speculate that this, the oldest of the empty tomb stories, was perhaps intended to shift the story away from the empty tomb as a segue to resurrection appearances as the later Gospels depict them, and point instead toward the parousia. It does offer an interesting theory which accounts for both the abrupt ending of the Gospel and the lack of an appearance in Mark.

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Derek Olsen
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Church tradition tells us that all of the apostles suffered martyrdom with the exception of John--who died in exile.

I find it very hard to believe that they would persist in such folly because of a fuzzy good feeling.

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Bill Ghrist
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Bill Ghrist

Nick Knisely has some interesting observations on the idea of bodily resurrection in his book of Lenten meditations Lent Is Not Rocket Science. In the meditation for Thursday of the first week of Lent: "We Are the Pattern" he points out that our bodies are not identifiably ours by virtue of their physical substance, but rather by virtue of the patterns in which the substance exists. The atoms and molecules of our bodies are replaced over time, so that my body now contains completely different physical constituents than it did a decade ago, yet it is still the body of the same person. "Our bodies are not permanent, but our patterns are" he writes. "It's not the body that's at the core of our sense of corporality. It's the pattern."

"Thinking of my body as a pattern, as a series of plans, makes it much easier for me to imagine bodily resurrection and life after death" Nick writes.

With apologies to Bishop Knisely for taking this one step further than he perhaps intended, I would say this implies that the bodily appearances of the resurrected Jesus do not require the disappearance of his dead, physical body, rather that Jesus' resurrected body is a translation on the spiritual plane of the pattern of his physical body. The empty tomb may or may not be a possibility, but it need not be regarded as a necessity in order to affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

As Rod Gillis alludes to in his comment above, St. Paul did not seem to accept that Christ being raised from the dead meant the raising of his physical body. while Paul was not an eyewitness to the events recorded in the Gospels, he definitely consulted with and learned from some of the most important of those eyewitnesses. This is addressed in greater detail in Donald Harman Akenson's book Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus. See in particular Chapter 8: "Saul and Four Basic Facts About the Historical Yeshua."

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Maplewood
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Maplewood

Personally, I believe in Jesus' resurrection; that he rose from the dead after three days, etc. But I've met some Christians who do not, and I respect them for their position.

For whatever reason, they cannot accept the notion that Jesus actually walked out of the tomb, *but* their belief in Jesus is not predicated on that. It is based on what Jesus taught and experienced. There are a goodly number of people whose brains simply will not let them go to the place that I am, yet they have found a "way to believe". I do not condemn their faith but rather honor their integrity, and find my conversations with them very enlightening relative to my own faith.

I would caution others not to dismiss their faith so quickly. Aren't we all suppose to be one in Christ Jesus?

Kevin McGrane

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

It must be holy week, all the annual traditions are on schedule, including the question about whether or not there was a "bodily resurrection".

James Martin SJ is correct in his view that Easter without the resurrection is meaningless. Shelby Spong's view speaks with some degree of effectiveness to the implications of a resurrection faith, but in the end, his view is not well grounded in the central proclamation of the church. He tends to crumble under the weight of his own logical conclusions.

However, there remains lots of room for mystery. The kind of bodily resurrection that folks have difficulty with probably stems from giving too much weight to the empty tomb stories, and especially the legendary accretions attached to them. Interesting that Mark, while it has the oldest empty tomb story, has no bodily resurrected Christ actually on the scene.

One cannot rationalize the resurrection of the body away by making it a purely symbolic or interior experience. The NT writers, taken as a whole, seem to provide good evidence that the event is eschatalogical.

St. Paul, in I Corinthians, is still the guy to beat on this subject. In 58 verses he affirms core doctrine while leaving lots of room for mystery, questions, and plurality of interpretation.

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