Thursday, October 09, 2008

Believing the Resurrection

From N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope" (pg. 53)...

"Surface discrepancies do not mean that nothing happened. Indeed, they are a remarkable indication that something remarkable happened, so remarkable that the first witnesses were bewildered into telling different stories about it."

Critics often come to Scripture asking historical accuracy questions -- finding minute discrepancies in the account of the Resurrection: well was Christ raised on the 2nd day or the 3rd day? Did Mary go to the tomb alone, or was she with someone? Etc.

I like the way N.T. Wright puts it -- comparing it to the way we think about the flood. There are so many myths, or stories, that exist from antiquity that chronicle the idea that there was at one time a great flood. These accounts diverge in perspective. But scholars often take this as evidence, not that a flood didn't happen, but that something big actually DID happen. We may not have the ability to know PRECISELY how it all went down, but there was almost certainly a great flood that had a massive impact on the cradle of civilization. Likewise, the Gospel stories are close enough in substance that it would be foolish to discount them all based on variant details...

SOMETHING happened.


David Johnson said...

I'm delighted to see that you WERE, at least, reading that book. I'm reading it now---I was working on it for a WHILE at Hastings before I was able to buy it---and I have to say that I am a fan of ALMOST everything he writes.

Gary said...

When did Mary Magdalene learn of a resurrection?

Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions guards at the tomb. John's Gospel says nothing about guards. If John was an eyewitness, as Christians claim, isn't that a pretty important detail to leave out of your story? The missing Roman guards in the Book of John raises an important issue. Christians often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly arisen from the dead. A stolen body hypothesis is impossible.

This argument completely collapses in John’s account, however, because according to the fourth Gospel, this is precisely what Mary thought had occurred! Mary clearly didn’t feel as though the scenario of Jesus’ body being removed was unlikely. In fact, according to John, that was her only logical conclusion. Clearly, Matthew’s guards didn’t dissuade John’s Mary from concluding that someone had taken Jesus’ body because Roman guards do not exist in John’s story. To further compound the problem of the conflicting resurrection accounts, John’s Gospel continues to unfold with Mary returning to the tomb a second time, only to find two angels sitting inside the tomb. Mary is still unaware of any resurrection as she complains to the angels that someone had removed Jesus’ corpse. As far as John’s Mary is concerned, the only explanation for the missing body was that someone must have removed it, and she was determined to locate it.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying12 , one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:11-13)

Although in Matthew’s account the angel emphatically tells Mary about the resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7), in John’s Gospel the angels do not mention that anyone rose from the dead. The angels only ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responds by inquiring whether the angels removed Jesus’ body. Then, Mary turns and sees Jesus standing before her, but mistakes him for the gardener. Mary is still completely unaware of any resurrection, and therefore asks the “gardener” if he was the one who carried away Jesus’ body. It is only then that Mary realizes that she was speaking to the resurrected Jesus.

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher. (John 20:14-16)

It is at this final juncture of the narrative that the accounts of Matthew and John become hopelessly irreconcilable. The question every Christian must answer is the following: When Mary met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, had the angel(s) already informed her that Jesus had arisen from the dead? According to Matthew, the angels did inform Mary of the resurrection, but in John’s account they did not. As we survey the divergent New Testament accounts of the resurrection, we see that we are not just looking at contradictory versions, we are reading two entirely different stories!