The Bodily Resurrection
In a comment on a previous blog entry in this series, a reader of this blog wrote concerning John Dominic Crossan’s denial of the resurrection: “Perhaps Mr. [Crossan] has never read I Cor. 15:12-19. If there is no resurection, Christians are the stupidest people ever to grace the face of the earth…fortunately there is.”
Sad to note, however, John Dominic Crossan is well aware of First Corinthians 15. As he writes:
If you look at I Corinthians 15, you find Paul- and this is twenty to forty years before the gospels were written- defending the idea of bodily resurrection. But here’s a very interesting twist: He never argues that resurrection was a special miracle only for Jesus. Just the opposite: Jesus’ resurrection is for him one instance of a general resurrection…
Given his expectation of a general resurrection [as a Pharisee], his experience of Jesus would persuade him that it had in fact begun. Jesus isn’t the only one to be raised, just the first.
It is significant that Paul does not say, “If Christ’s tomb is not empty, vain is our faith,” but, “if Christ is not risen, vain is our faith.” He is not talking about the resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse but about the presence of Jesus in a wholly new mode of existence. It is, for Paul, the same Jesus who once was an earthly presence limited by time and place, who now is a transcendent presence unlimited by time and place.
[Who Is Jesus? by John Dominic Crossan. Westminster John Knox Press: 1996. 126.]
On the first half of the above quote it seems that we could easily agree with Crossan’s statements. After all, the quote from Crossan that “Jesus isn’t the only one to be raised, just the first” is apparently consistent with the words of Paul, “He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18 HCSB).
But, when read carefully in context, it is clear that Crossan is undermining the unique work of Christ in being raised from the dead. Crossan’s assertions would deny the apostle Paul’s teaching elsewhere that Jesus was, “raised for our justification” (cf. Rom. 4:25). The resurrection of Jesus was certainly a “special miracle.”
What of the second part of this quote? On the first read, it seems that Crossan is engaging in self-contradiction. For in the very first line of the entire quote, Crossan admits that Paul is “defending the idea of bodily resurrection,” but then Crossan writes, “[Paul] is not talking about the resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse.” But when read more closely, it seems that Crossan is not denying that Paul believed in bodily resurrection, but that he denies that it is the physical nature of the resurrection that Paul teaches is of primary importance.
So, why is it important to believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical resurrection?
First, the physical resurrection demonstrates the power and foreknowledge of Jesus Christ. As Jesus prophesies:
Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body, (John 2:19-21 KJV).
Also, though John Dominic Crossan has elsewhere says that he does not consider the question of whether there is an afterlife to be very important, the afterlife is of vital important to biblical teaching. And the Bible is clear that God has chosen to demonstrate His power over life and death by giving His people eternal life in physical bodies:
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?…All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. . .So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” (I Corinthians 15:35,39,42-44,53-54 KJV)
[This post was first published on 8/15/05. For more information on the bodily resurrection, visit the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website.]