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Sunday, April 30, 2006 

Pannenberg on the Delay of the Parousia

"The delay of the end events which now amounts to almost two thousand years, is not a refutation of the Christian hope and of the Christian perception of revelation as long as the unity between what happened in Jesus and the eschatological future is maintained...When we speak today of God's revelation in Jesus and of his exaltation accomplished in the resurrection from the dead, our statements always contain a proleptic element. The fulfillment, which had begun for the disciples, which was almost in their grasp, in the appearance of the resurrected Lord, has become promise once again for us." Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man, p. 108.

Chris, you must read Bauckham's 1978 Tyndale article about how the problem of delay (for Christians of the parousia) was inherited from Judaism that also wrestled with the problem of delay. Bockmuehl's book This Jesus, also deals with it well.

Michael, thanks for pointing these out I will most certainly read them. Bauckham's suggestion that the problem of the delay of the parousia was inherited from Judaism is an interesting one.

I just found your interesting blog, but I hope someone might respond to this late post anyways. I am asking these questions/thought experiments as an interested non-expert. Does anyone believe that if the disciples had been informed (by whatever means) that it would be certain that Jesus would not return within at least 2000 years of his appearance(s) to them (and there would be no general resurrection during that time as well), would they still have chosen the term "resurrection" for those appearances? Similarly, if Paul believed that there would be no general resurrection in at least the next 2000 years or so, would he still have conceptualised and articulated his own spiritual experience/vision of Jesus as a "resurrection" appearance (and Jesus being the "first-fruits" of the general resurrection)? If someone does respond to this, it may be helpful to know that I am currently agnostic (i.e. I may not hold certain assumptions that the person who answers might have, but I do not apriori reject any of those assumptions just because I currently do not hold them myself). Thanks for considering my questions.


Thanks for the comments and questions. You ask if the disciples and Paul had known that a couple of millenia was going to pass between Jesus' resurrection and the general resurrection of the dead if they would still have utilized resurrection language in reference to the appearances of Jesus.

This is where the question of the empty tomb is key. The appearances by themselves in my opinion could not have caused the use of "resurrection" language if the disciples and later Paul did not believe that there was an empty tomb. Note, I am not necessarily advocating the existence of an empty tomb tradition known to the early believers. But I sumbit that in order for those followers to use resurrection language, given its normative definition in Second-Temple Judaism, they would have had to believe that there was an empty tomb even if they were not witnesses to it themselves. This has to be the case otherwise their use of "resurrection" is inexplicable. If the disciples had experienced visions of Jesus but did not believe his tomb was empty then it is very improbable that they would have used "resurrection" to describe what happened to Jesus.

So then to answer your question:

"Does anyone believe that if the disciples had been informed (by whatever means) that it would be certain that Jesus would not return within at least 2000 years of his appearance(s) to them (and there would be no general resurrection during that time as well), would they still have chosen the term "resurrection" for those appearances?"

if the early believers believed that the tomb was empty then yes I think they still would have declared that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.

Thank you for your helpful response to my questions. I want to explore your thinking a little more if you permit. (I apologize if this is somewhat elementary for you, and if it is, maybe you can just refer me to some books that may be helpful in answering my questions.) If I may paraphrase your response: the disciples and Paul would have still used the concept of resurrection because that still would have been the most fitting term (to explain the two phenomena of the empty tomb together with the appearances) based on their 1st century Jewish worldview.

1) To clarify, do you think that the empty tomb and any type of subsequent appearances would have been adequate to result in the use of “resurrection.” (i.e. did the appearances also have to have the impression of physicality?) And if you think they had to have the impression of physicality, do you think that this would not be sufficient to account for the use of ‘resurrection’ without the empty tomb? (Not that both could not have occurred for double confirmation).

2) How big of a role do you think Jesus’ more apocalyptic teachings and actions had on the disciples and their subsequent use of “resurrection” for the post-crucifixion appearances? I assume you do not think that Jesus’ message was sufficient to account for terming the appearances “resurrection.”

3) Do you think the disciples’ use of resurrection was similar or the same as Paul’s use of the concept “first fruits of the resurrection”? With this phrase it seems to me that Paul is expanding the concept of resurrection from the view of normative second Temple Judaism. And it’s my impression that he felt comfortable doing this because of the soon to come general resurrection. Doesn’t “first fruits” have a temporal connotation? Wouldn’t he have been less comfortable using this phrase if he knew no general resurrection would occur for the next two millennia?

4) The term resurrection has several connotations for 2nd Temple Judaism. I tend to agree with you and others who say one connotation was something happening to the actual bodies of individuals. How much was the temporal aspect connected and a part of the concept of the general resurrection for 2nd Temple Judaism (i.e. that the resurrection would occur at The End, or right before God’s rule, etc.)?


In my haste to follow up on your response, I failed to review some of your other insightful posts. These helped me to see what your view was of the connection between Jesus’ resurrection, the general resurrection, and coming eschaton. This paragraph from your April 20 post was particularly useful for my questions:

“In reality these two results of Jesus' resurrection should probably be integrated since the belief that the end had come (or was nigh) cannot be seperated from the belief that the general resurrection of the dead had begun. The former is a direct result of the latter. Thus the initial implication of Jesus resurrection as understood by the earliest followers would have been that since the general resurrection had started the end had either occured or was very soon about to take place. At any rate the transition between this age and the age to come began via Jesus' resurrection from the dead.”

It sounds plausible to me that the appearances of Jesus (and interpreted as resurrection) increased the disciples’ belief in the coming general resurrection and the coming end of this age. But it also seems plausible to me that the disciples already believed that the end was near and that is one reason that they interpreted the appearances of Jesus (and also possibly the empty tomb, if this is historical as well) in terms of resurrection language.

Unfortunately I do not have the books you have by Dale C Allison, but I found this article of his, “A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology,” JBL, 1994, which states:

“But why associate a man’s post-mortem vindication with language traditioinally reserved for the consummation, language implying the onset of the end?....One very good answer is that several influential individuals came to their post-Easter experiences with certain categories and expectations antecedently fixed, that they already envisaged the general resurrection to be imminent. This would explain why Jesus’ vindication was interpreted not as an isolated event but as the onset of the consummation.”

To sum up my point: the disciples’ belief in the end helped framed the appearances of Jesus in terms of ‘resurrection’ and the resurrection helped confirm their beliefs about the fact of the end was nigh. (If that makes any sense).


Thanks for the excellent questions and comments once again. I do not have time yet to answer all of the questions. I am about to go to class and do not have Allison's "End of the Ages" at hand which I want to quote from to you. Since you have asked several questions I may respond to them in a post by Friday (I have a paper due Thursday that I'm working on.) So stay tuned.


I can definitely appreciate your time constraints (I'm a student in medschool right now--and actually I should currently be studying for a couple exams as we speak). So feel free to answer even past Friday (i.e. whenever most convenient). Good luck with the paper and I will definitely stay tuned.

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