Sunday, November 27, 2005

Resurrection, part 1

We’re going to start a new series today. It should be jolly good fun. Resurrection is my favourite topic alongside the Trinity. I did a two or three week Sunday school thing on it a few years ago with an outline and everything. I’m going to be using that outline to write this series.

There’s only two problems with it. First, I have read N.T. Wright’s book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, and it has caused me to want to update my study. I’m too lazy to go back through it, though. Second, it’s been a long time since I studied up on this subject, and I’m a bit rusty. But you’ll bear with me, right?

There are really two main points I meant to make in this study. The study is meant to explain the meaning and nature of the general resurrection of the dead and its significance for Christianity, and it is meant to defend the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I did this study with Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind. In another study on another day, I may defend the historicity of the resurrection, but not in this study.

First, I want to say a little something about various views of “resurrection.” First, I want to talk about ancient non-Jewish religions. In the original outline, I wrote, “Ancient religions (e.g. Egyptian, Syrian, Babylonian, Greek, mystery cults, etc.): Resurrections were novel events that happened to individuals (usually gods) with no particular religious significance. Resurrections usually became symbols of the crop cycle (dying in winter, and rising or being reborn in the spring).” In light of N.T. Wright’s book, that seriously needs revising. I’m not going to go through the details, but I want to give Wright’s conclusion. Wright showed that everybody, whether Jew or not, all meant the same thing by “resurrection.” They took it to refer to a physical body coming back to life. Also, the only time most of these other people talked about resurrection was to deny it. Nobody other than Jews actually believed resurrections happened. The resurrection stories were strictly symbolic. You have to keep in mind, though, that I read Wright’s book when it first came out a couple of years ago, so don’t quote me or anything.

Next, there’s the liberal Christian understanding. I’m painting liberals with a broad brush here, you understand. Some people (e.g. Marcus Borg) think that Jesus did not literally rise from the dead. “Resurrection” is a metaphor indicating Jesus’ continued presence or indicating that “Jesus is Lord,” (whatever that means). In their view, there is no continuity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The Jesus of history is the real guy who walked the earth and was crucified. The Christ of faith is the myth developed by the church later on.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead. In their view, he was recreated as a spirit creature (Michael the Archangel), and Jehovah disposed of the body somehow. Each appearance of the risen Jesus involved a temporarily manifested body for the sake of display which was then destroyed when the appearance was over. They divide the general resurrection into two categories—the heavenly class and the earthly class. The resurrection of the heavenly class began in 1914. Since that time, whenever a member of the heavenly class dies, they are immediately transformed into spirits. This view differs from survival of the soul after death. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe we have an immaterial soul that survives the death of the body. The heavenly class are transformed into spirits after they die, and this transformation is what they call “resurrection.” The earthly class will receive a physical resurrection when Jesus begins his 1000 year rule on earth. The body they receive at the resurrection is not the same body they had when they died, so resurrection has nothing to do with anybody’s grave. A completely new body is constructed leaving the old body alone.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about the Jewish understanding of resurrection in and around the time of Jesus.

to be continued... Part 2


At 11/28/2005 6:18 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Oh, I thought you meant you would talk about the historicity of the resurrection (and Jesus). I guess I can wait for that for a later time. :)

How do you know whether to trust NT scholars... they may have an invested interest in coming up with conclusions that fit their worldview.

On a more curious note, how does one determine if a person will get into the Heavenly class or the Earthly class?

At 11/28/2005 6:28 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


Usually when there's an overwhelming concensus among NT scholars, I assume they're right unless I have some specific reason to disagree with them. Otherwise, I take their views on the merits of their arguments.

Most Jehovah's Witnesses have an earthly hope. They say if you're one of the heavenly class, then you just know. They believe most of the heavenly class were already chosen by 1935. Since the beginning of the church, there will only be 144,000 of them, and they will rule with Christ for 1000 years over everybody else. They celebrate the Lord Supper once a year, and only those who think they are members of the heavenly class participate. Their numbers get smaller every year because they're dying off. They also call them "the faithful and discreet slave" appointed by God to "feed" the rest of the Jehovah's Witnesses with spiritual food, which is supposedly done through the literature published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (see Matt 24:45).


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