"What's your best evidence for the resurrection? And what about Jesus's divinity?" Some questions from a professor friend of mine.
Hey David. I'm asking different people I know (who I know have thought carefully about this) this question. What do you find to be the top two or three most compelling reasons to believe Jesus was raised from the dead? I'd appreciate any thoughts you have along these lines. Thanks.
I hope you and your family are well! It feels like it was yesterday that I was walking down in that swamp-like, muggy-smelling corridor to the student lounge at Baylor. At the same time, it feels like a lifetime ago.
It's difficult for me to decide what the top compelling reasons are, so I might have to list more than that. Here's my best attempt to triage:
1. Saul/Paul was an adamant opponent of Jewish Messianists and had the job of arresting them. He almost certainly never met Jesus, and was certainly no friend to His followers! Then he absolutely changed sides (on the issue of Jesus, of course, not on the issue of being an ethnic Jew) and went around, in the face of profound persecution on all sides, telling everyone that Jesus was resurrected and the living Lord. I think the resurrection best explains his "conversion experience," theology, mission, message, and hope.
2. From within decades (at the latest; I like the works of Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, and Tommy Wright on this issue), the earliest Jews were writing songs to Jesus as living Lord, praying to Him, healing people in His "name," baptizing in His "name," celebrating His death at atoning, and preaching "boldly" in His "name." Jews didn't do things like that. Ever. They didn't even do that with the other major messiah-figures and prophets near His life/death ("Messiah figures: = Judas of Sepphoris (4 BC), Simon of Perea (4 BC), Athronges (4-2 BC), Menahem (AD 66), John of Gischala (AD 67-70), Simon bar Giora of Gerasa (AD 68-70), Lukuas of Cyrene (AD 115), Simon ben Kosiba/Bar Kochba (AD 132-135); “Prophets”: John the Baptizer (AD 20s), The “Samaritan” (AD 26-36), Theudas (AD 45), The “Egyptian” Jew (AD 56), An anonymous “imposter” (AD 61), Jesus son of Ananias (AD 62-69), Jonathan the Weaver, refugee of Cyrene (AD 71).) So, not one movement of which we know claimed that God had vindicated the main follower by giving Him a new, transformed, Spirit-infused body after he died. Either the group disbanded or followed the main leaders' next-in-line brother. Why didn't the earliest disciples just follow James? I think the resurrection best explains why the earliest Jewish Christians talked, acted, and thought as if Jesus were alive and well, present with them, and governing the events of history as Ruler with God the Father.
3. Related to #2 is the fact that doing all those things in the "name" of Jesus implied profound theological facts about Jesus. As Bauckham says, they put Jesus within the "identity of God." (and very early on!) Whether hymns written to Jesus as God/Lord (spread throughout NT) or rewriting the Shema (1 Cor 8:6), these Jews deliberately included Jesus into the divine identity--and this kind of thing had never been done before (again those authors I mentioned above give enormous evidence for this). I think the resurrection best explains why they would include Jesus in the divine identity.
I think these are my top three reasons for believing the resurrection actually happened. I guess it comes down to: a profound, unheard-of change in theology and praxis for multiple Jews (even His enemies!), within years of the event.
I would also add:
4. Every text which speaks of Jesus appearing to His disciples demonstrates that not one single disciple believed He (a) would be raised and/or that He (b) was actually raised. It's amazing to me that not one disciple was looking for it. So, in addition to Paul/Saul (though I think this category is different because they knew Jesus), they, too, must be convinced. I think the resurrection best explains why they all changed their minds.
5. Like I said in my response a few years ago, at least some of the them died because of their belief (e.g., Paul, Stephen, James, at minimum, not to mention 2nd cent. people like Ignatius). I think the resurrection best explains why people would be able to tolerate torture and/or death (rather than kinda' believing it or making it up altogether).
6. Something I've alluded to a few times, but to make it a different category: it's shocking to me that such widespread belief in the resurrection occurred so early. If this were a later legend, shouldn't it take some decades or whatever? In any case, several DIFFERENT authors of the NT speak of or assume the resurrection within a few years (especially when they speak of Jesus as "living Lord" or "Lord,"--that certainly assumes that Jesus is alive and ruling...they never said things like this for Moses or Abraham or whomever because they weren't alive and weren't ruling). I think the resurrection best explains why the changes happen so fast and are so widespread.
7. Of course, we have early traditions that it occurred. 1 Cor 15:3ff speaks of the "tradition handed down" in language that was technical with Jewish circles (we know this because of how the language was used within rabbinic literature). I the resurrection best explains where this very early tradition comes from.
8. I think Tommy Wright is very helpful on this final point: When Jews spoke of resurrection, it was (a) a periphery topic, not central to any Jewish belief, praxis, or literature; (b) would occur to a group of people (all Jews or faithful Jews or whatever); and (c) would occur at the shift of the ages, when the Yom Adonai would happen. (A fourth commonality might include the typical belief that resurrection would be include the FORMER body of the person.) The earliest Jewish Christians (a) made resurrection central to their belief and praxis; (b) constantly and consistently said it happened only to one person (at this point in history) and; (c) happened in this era, not (only) at the shift of the ages/Day of YHWH. (And of course, the NT presents Jesus as having a new body of the new age). I think the resurrection best explains these changes in belief.
9. Other anecdotal things like the fact that priests and Pharisees are even converted (in Acts 15 it mentions them in passing). I think the resurrection best explains why the very people who helped kill Jesus are now part of the community of people praying to Jesus, singing to Jesus, preaching about a resurrected Jesus, etc.
I think that's all. Maybe I ought to add one more to make an even 10...
Love you brother! DP
Let me ask you one more thing, especially about the first few sentences of your #2. I've long been dumbfounded (and grow only more so) that we don't see more tension about just these things. The issue of Jew/Gentile sucks up all the oxygen in the NT documents, but we don't see overt wrestling with the strikingly new Jewish behavior of praying to Jesus, worshipping him as Lord, etc., especially as it relates to their unflinching claim that there is one God. I'm not sure the pre-Jewish explorations of things like a personification of Wisdom help alleviate this shocking silence. Not sure what to make of it.
Yeah, I'm also amazed by those additions in the identity of God.
For me, I really do find it compelling that the reason why we don't see more "tension" is because it was simply assumed as fact that Jesus was resurrected and ruling as living Lord. I get the feeling of "of course He shares the identity of God!" throughout the NT.
Of course, there are texts which suggest that "tension" to unbelievers (e.g., 1 Cor 1:23 and Rom 11:11). But, overall, isn't the silence of how UNbelievers wrestled with Jesus's divine identity due to the fact that the documents were written to people who already held such views? It sure is easier to see how unbelievers wrestled with Jesus's divine identity in 2nd cent.+ documents (via the apologists).
Again, this sure demonstrates that a very high Christology was extremely early. Surely there would have been more NT-era documents attempting to convince people that Jesus should be held alongside the Father if it were developed later. I always think of 1 and 2 John, of how there were people "from among us" (1 John 2:19; 4:2) who don't even believe Jesus was human! That's amazing to me, especially when I consider what it would take for me to think that a person wasn't really human, but merely a soulish being who appeared among us.
And I think you meant, "pre-Christian" explorations of Wisdom, and not "pre-Jewish"? If so, I think those explorations actually help us make sense of the relative silence. Right? If there were a clear precedent for holding to a creative Agent alongside the Father, wouldn't that make it much easier to conceptualize the Son/Jesus/Logos/whatever? (Bauckham and Hurtado make a similar claim.) I think it helped "the medicine go down" easier and faster. This, mixed with the resurrection, I think, makes the most sense of such an early acceptance of such a high Christology.
That's my view, at least.
Ok, I think I miscommunicated. Was writing quickly and using that stupid ipad onscreen keyboard so wasn't expressing myself well. Yes, no doubt it is the fact of the resurrection that so easily allows them to make the claims they were making about Jesus. But think about what you wrote, "Of course, he shares the identity of God." My Lord! What could a first century Jew have understood in that claim??? The only possible way they had to process that would be something like the pre-Xian (yes, you're right, that was a mistake) explorations of Wisdom. What I find still puzzling, even still, is that you've got a clearer "duality" here between the Father and the Son (nevermind the Spirit) and we don't see more theological wrestling among early Jewish Christians about how this doesn't overstrain the continued claim of monotheism.
Seems like this very logical question (certainly logical to me) doesn't really start heating up until the 2nd century, as best we can tell. And by the end of the fourth century, Nyssa is still having to write to other claimants to the Xian faith a piece entitled "Why Not Three Gods?"
Bauckham demonstrates that Jews thought only God (a) created all things and thus, (b) ruled over the creation He made, and thus, (c) was worthy of worship (e.g., see Rev. 4:11). All other beings, including supernatural creatures of all types, were never to be worshiped because they did not create and did not rule.
But the OT and other Jewish literature makes the distinction in the aspects of God's creating and ruling, where Wisdom is the AGENCY of creation. So, I wonder if putting Jesus/Word into that schema allowed them the distinction of which you speak (e.g., Heb 1:2). That is, you can still be in the identity of "God" (create, rule, be worshiped) and have different functions.
I think the reason why the nothing really "heats up" until the 2nd cent. onward is because of the audience: Greeks/Romans.
So, I guess I still don't find it shocking that the first several decades of JEWS could adapt to these additions since they had clear precedence. Greeks/Romans didn't. Thus, with THEIR gods all being ontologically distinct with different wills, etc., Christians had to explain it in ways Gentiles did. (Of course, I think that's where things got screwy, like all that "generation" and "begetting" language which smacks of subordinationism. Earliest Jews didn't use that language to explain Jesus's divine identity.)
To say it this way: it seems to me (especially after reading those scholars) that Jews had no problem being Christological monotheists because they had the parameters or matrix or model to do so in their history.
Greeks/Romans did not.
(What I find so fascinating is the fact that early Christian apologists didn't constantly appeal to the resurrection as evidence that Jesus wasn't just a dude or whatever. I would expect much more about the resurrection. Instead, we get a whole lot of stuff about being older than their beliefs because of Moses, or the fact that Christians are moral, etc.)
Furthermore (forgive my rambling questions), even with a firm conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead, what do you think most accounts for their conclusion that they needed to worship him as God, rather than simply seeing him as a vindicated Messiah through whom God worked powerfully?
Good question. I don't think we should see a direct causal relationship between the resurrection and Jesus within the divine identity (though of course they're related!). Instead, it was His ascension, His receiving a "name above all names" (God/YHWH), His being given full authority to rule over all creation, His eventual judgment over all creation, etc. that caused them to worship Jesus. It seems to me that resurrection is the only and necessary way to get to those other things.
Larry Hurtado often says something like this in his books and interviews: "Not only did the earliest Jewish Christians worship Jesus, they believed that they were compelled by God to do so. They worshiped Jesus 'to the glory of God the Father,' as if God demanded they worship Jesus."
So, to list them out, I imagine some reasons would include:
(1) the firm, historical association of Jesus with the Son of Man figure who rules over all kingdoms (Dan 7:14; throughout Gospels, including Matt 28:18; cf. Eph 1:20-23), and since He rules over creation, he is to be worshiped--since only God rules over creation;
(2) the historical association of healing, exorcising of demons, raising the dead, etc., in "Jesus's name" demonstrates his authority over supernatural reality--and only God does such things, and thus, should be worshiped;
(3) Jesus's forgives sins in His ministry and via the Spirit's authority in His "name" within the Church -- and thus, should be worshiped because only God forgives sins;
(4) The very early belief that Jesus was the agent of creation (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-16), and since only God creates, Jesus should be worshiped.
(5) And, it sure seems to me very likely that Jesus said things during His actual, historical ministry that gave people the impression that He should be worshiped (too many to quote here!; but texts where He forgives, and judges, and gives commandments to follow, and creates, etc.). Thus, the earliest Christians were just being naturally obedient--as if they said, "Yep. He was resurrected. He was right all along. He wasn't just a dude. We should associate Him completely within the divine identity since He did things that only God can do."
(6) Finally, I think, the spiritual experience of the presence of Jesus within the earliest community was all the "proof in the pudding" they needed.
Perhaps there are other reasons.
This is all very helpful. Thanks. To your point about Jews being able to relate to this apparent "duality" in God easier than Gentiles, think about the letters Paul (or "Paul") writes to Gentile audiences in which Jesus is presented as one to be worshipped as God and yet is distinct from the Father. If what you're saying is true, wouldn't he feel compelled to account for this somehow.
My Lord, I felt this strain mightily as I was talking to that Hindu girl. How can I get her to see I'm not talking about two gods here? I'd expect to see more of this in the NT documents. Second, when you say it was only in engagement with Gentiles that they introduced "screwy" language of generation and betting, I'd only say in response that those terms come out of one of the Jewish texts most obviously related to the personification of Wisdom (Proverbs 8.22ff). Those were the precise terms JEWS were given to think about Wisdom in (not Gentiles). And it does smack of subordinaionism. And THAT raises the force of my question again. Why worship him without qualification, as one would worship God??? And if he IS God, in the terms found in texts like Proverbs 8, how can we think of a God that is himself and also a bit less than himself. These questions just seem obvious to me. I would think that would have been the biggest issue to emerge in the NT documents, especially those arising from within the internal Jewish discussions of Jesus. But in fact, zip, nada.
One of your great gifts is your ability to synthesize lots of information and present it in a logical, concise manner. Not nearly everyone can do that. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk through all this with me. It's like having a virtual Jack in the Box to hang out in.
First, thank you so very much for your kind words! That was really encouraging to me! I laughed at the Jack in the Box comment! I forgot!
And, I appreciate what you're saying about Paul's letters to Gentiles (perhaps Ephesians and Colossians?), though I sure think there are some converted Jews in there too.
I wonder if the reason why there is no (apparent) struggle with understanding Jesus within the Godhead is because Paul (and the early church) were much more concerned with getting those pagans to stop their other religions. That is, like good Jews, they were simply more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy. Of course, that was done within a believing community, not to non-believing Gentiles with their philosophical backgrounds.
So, I still think Jews didn't have (too) much to struggle with it because they had the "milieu" ready for them. Concerning how these Jewish Christians spoke to new Gentile believers, they seem to just focus on them stop having sex with prostitutes (e.g., 1 Cor 6) or going to foreign temples, or whatever.
Perhaps later, when evangelization wasn't just taking place, but philosophical speculation/apologia, it was easier/more likely for them to speculate about the Godhead?
Concerning the "generating" and "begetting," I knew you'd think of Prov. 8. But, remember, what I said was specific to the earliest Christian community. I said, "Earliest Jews didn't use that language to explain Jesus's divine identity." And this is true. They relied upon Psalm 110:1 by far the most of all their scriptural allusions when explaining Christ's exalted/divine state in the NT. I don't think Prov. 8 was used once in the NT to describe Jesus's relationship with the Father (and if it's there, it would be very rare indeed).
So, yes, those terms are "Jewish." But, using those "Jewish" terms to argue for Jesus's identity was certainly a LATE development among a Greek-speaking, Gentile audience. And it was their late use of those texts that, in my humble view, got things so "screwy." I wish they wouldn't have used them that way.
Concerning explaining things to that Hindu girl, I get you! The model I appreciate the very most is William Lane Craig's. His social trinitarian model goes something like this:
Human souls have various faculties (e.g., feeling sensations, holding beliefs, being rational, etc.). Whereas human souls can only have rational capacities to constitute one person, God, as a soulish being, has the faculties to have three rational capacities. This means that God can rightly be called a tri-personal being. As a soul with those capacities, He is still one soul (being) but three persons (centers of consciousness).
He gives the analogy of Cerberus: the three headed dog. All heads are canine; all are one being. Yet, there are three different heads (centers of consciousness), and thus, three "persons" associated with the one being, Cerberus. (of course all analogies break down!)
Have you heard a better model? You can read what he believes here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-formulation-and-defense-of-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity