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Tuesday, May 16, 2006 

Some Answers

*The following is in response to some questions posed by a certain reader named agnosis00 on some earlier posts of mine. But everyone is welcome to comment. Sorry, agnosis00, that it took me a while to reply back to your questions. Thanks for these great questions and for commenting on my Et Resurrexit series.

1) 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).

I am inclined to believe that the appearances likely did give some kind of impression of "physicality." But I submit that this alone was more than likely not adequate to give rise to defining what had happened to Jesus as "resurrection." One thing about visions is that they can appear and even feel physical. After an interesting survey of modern day visions of apparitions Dale Allison makes this point:

"Most apparitions of the dead seen during bereavement are not, in the usual sense of the word, 'ghosts' (which is why the bereaved rarely use that word of their experiences). Apparitions instead commonly appear to be just like real human beings. It is accordingly often their odd arrival, or their sudden disappearnce, or their identification with a deceased individual that gives them away. Time and time again people not only hear and see apparitions: they even touch them. (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, p. 290.)

Though Allison's study was in the context of modern day visions, I think the same was true of late Antiquity. Visions could have seemed very real, and physical to many people, even to the disciples. On this score, then, it seems necessary for there to be more than just visions to betoken their language of "resurrection." Thus to answer your question, even granting the physicality of the visions I do not think this would have been sufficient to give rise to the belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

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?

Most likely, Jesus' apocalyptic teachings and actions did have an impact on his disciples. However, even granting this influence, since Jesus probably spoke of his vindication as occuring during the general resurrection of the dead it does not seem plausible that solitary visions taking place without an empty tomb would cause them to assert that Jesus had been raised. I suppose it may be a possibilty but it's certainly not probable. Yet if we allow for the visions and belief in an empty tomb then the context of an apocalyptic setting provided by their teacher would definitely have provided a strong impetus for believing that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

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?

I think that the disciples' and Paul's use of resurrection were very similar in that both believed that Jesus' resurrection had precipitated the end of this age. Thus the phrase "first fruits" is an adequate metaphor that conveys this understanding. But since the giving of the "first fruits" was understood to be shortly followed by the rest of the harvest (i.e. the rest of the general resurrection) I'm not sure that we can positively affirm that Paul's description of Jesus' resurrection as the first fruits was an expansion of the normative understanding of "resurrection" in Second Temple Judaism. This is because, given the normative definition, the resurrection of one man would almost certainly give rise to the belief that the end had begun. Paul's metaphor of "first fruits" still conveys this belief.

But you are surely right that the concept of "first fruits" contains a temporal connotation. If Paul were somehow able to know that the general resurrection would not occur for some millenia he probably would have been uncomfortable with the phrase and most likely would not have utilized it to describe Jesus' resurrection.

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.)?

That the resurrection would occur at the end of the (their?) present age permeates the literature. It is of course found in the book of Daniel, but it permeates the apocraphal, pseudepigraphical, Qumranic, and Rabbinic literature. Nowhere is there found the notion that resurrection will be divided into two chronological phases, with the resurrection of one (or many) first and then the rest at a later point. This is certainly a Christian innovation that eventually arose in light of the fact that the general resurrection of the dead was not immediately subsequent to Jesus' own resurrection from the dead.


Thanks again for your very helpful post. I am grateful for your insights in answering my questions. Hopefully, I can respond later today...no time at the moment.

Okay, now to respond...

1) You mentioned your opinion that Allison's description of modern day visions (often with physical appearance) was also true of late antiquity. I agree with you on this, but my question is did the disciples (or 2nd temple Judaism or late antiquity, etc.) have a category for this type of vision?

2) For example, if John the Baptist had appeared to his disciples (imagine 3 different scenarios: one where they knew where his body was still buried, one where they weren't sure where it was but they were sure he was killed, and one where the body is missing from its resting place), what would they have made of this type of vision in these different scenarios?

I gather from your previous responses that (from your perspective) the most likely articulation of the Baptist's appearance would be short of 'resurrection' except in the case where his disciples knew for sure where he was buried and now they were reasonably sure his body was gone. In this case, what would they have thought of the visions in the other scenarios, where the whereabouts of his body were less sure?

3) As a final question (and a brief response would be adequate for my purposes but definitely feel free to expand if you have time), what are the top 2 books which would you recommend for someone like me to better understand these issues?

Again, thanks for your responses thus far and I look forward to any subsequent comments...

Hello Agnosis,

1)Did they have a category for this type of vision? Probably not, at least not a specific category. Any type of visions that appeared to them they may have simply regarded as an apparition. However, as Allison also talks about in his book "Resurrecting Jesus" there was a belief, though certainly not widespread, that in the intermediate phase between death and resurrection the spirit of that person would take on an existence similar to that of the angels who were typically understood in some sense capable of becoming physical if they wished. So it is possible that if Jesus' vision had the characteristic of physicality the disciples could have viewed this as Jesus simply taking on the form of an angel in his intermediate state.

2.) If the disciples of John the Baptist knew his body was still buried, no matter how physical the appearances seemed to them, it would be very implausible that they would use resurrection language to describe what they were witnessing. However, you may have a point with the second scenario. If the visions seemed very physical and the disciples were unsure where the body was it could have possibly given rise to their believing that God had been raised from the dead. Yet, again, given the expectation that the resurrection would occur for everyone at the same time, this still seems an unlikely possibility that they would adopt this language unless the third scenario occured, where the body was missing.

So even though I grant to you the possibility that if the disciples did not know precisely where or what had happened to Jesus' body but when confronted with a very physical vision may have produced "resurrection" language, I still see this as rather unlikely.

One possibility that I have never seen articulated is a scenario in which the vision of Jesus tells them he has been resurrected. If the vision told his disciples this, and the vision also had a strong appearance of being physical would this have been sufficient to give rise to the disciples belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead? This scenario has troubled me more than any of the others. However, I think it unlikely that out of the eleven disciples, none would be curious to go to the tomb and check for themselves if the body was there. On the other hand, if the disciples did not know where Jesus' body was, and thus could not do a follow up on what the vision informed them of, would this be sufficient to give rise to talk of "resurrection."? Here is where the apocalyptic setting you mentioned previously comes into play. Given these four elements, the vision informed the disciples he was risen, the vision was very physical in mode, the disciples did not know where the body was, and the historical Jesus had been expecting the soon end which would have brought about the general resurrection of the dead, this last scenario seems more probable than any of the others to have been able to cause the disciples to use language concerning what happened to Jesus as resurrection without the necessity of an empty tomb.

This then is where the tradition concerning an empty tomb and Jesus' burial become so important. I for one think that these two traditions have a solid footing in history. But that is a discussion for another time.

3.) The top two books I would recommend? I know for sure that one would be Dale C. Allison's "End of the Ages Has Come." This was actually Allison's dissertation but most people do not know about this work. Strange, because it is my favorite of his so far. So I would definitely recommend this one. It is kind of hard to find though, but last I saw Amazon was selling a used copy for cheap.

As for the second choice, though I think his apologetics go a bit far in the book, N.T. Wright's "Resurrection of the Son of God" is a must. The value of this work is that it displays what the people during the time of Second-Temple Judaism would have meant when they used "resurrection" language and the expectations arising from this belief.

For a perspective from a theologian, you must read Wolfart Pannenberg's "Jesus: God and Man." His section on the resurrection is simply marvelous.

Thanks agnosis00 for taking an interest in these issues. You have raised some excellent questions and I hope to continue to dialogue with you in the future, hopefully on a future blog of yours.

Chris Petersen


These last comments of yours have facilitated my understanding greatly. Your answers have pointed me in a more focused direction for future study, and the book recommendations will be highly useful in this regard. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

No problem, agnosis00. I look forward to future dialogues with you.

Chris Petersen

Since I haven't read Allison's book, and don't know that I'll have time to anytime soon maybe you can help me out with something. From what I know of modern day apparitions of the dead they might have some aspect of physicality, but the gospel accounts go one step further don't they? I don't know how much Allison accepts of Luke's account of Jesus' post-Ressurrection appearances, or the Gospel of John's, as historical, but both of those go a bit far for apparitions. Jesus tells the disciples to handle him, and that a ghost has not flesh and bones as he has (which in so many words is telling them he is ressurrected isn't it? This is the very "possibility," it seems to me, that you mention in your 8:45 AM post on this thread). He prepares meals for them, he eats fish in front of them. Are there any precedent, ancient or modern for what are commonly referred to as apparitions and ghosts having that level of interaction with the physical world that aren't obvious fabrications? Unless you dismiss all that the gospels record of Jesus doing after his purported Ressurrection as a later elaboration of something much more ambiguous at the time they go a lot farther than I've known any account of apparitional appearances of the already and still dead to go.

A follow up point:

"Most apparitions of the dead seen during bereavement are not, in the usual sense of the word, 'ghosts' (which is why the bereaved rarely use that word of their experiences). Apparitions instead commonly appear to be just like real human beings. It is accordingly often their odd arrival, or their sudden disappearnce, or their identification with a deceased individual that gives them away. Time and time again people not only hear and see apparitions: they even touch them. (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, p. 290.)

I'm also wondering how Allison and yourself deal with the Gospel accounts of Jesus appearing to all eleven remaining disciples at the same time. You also have to do business (to use an NT Wright phrase) with the selection of Judas's replacement in Acts. There were 120 potential candidates and one of the criteria was being a witness of Jesus' ressurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Then, of course, there's the appearing to five-hundred at once passage in 1 Corinthians 15. Whatever one thinks of their historicity the point is the NT accounts allege these appearances were not only physical, but corporately witnessed with (in the case of at least some of the gospel accounts) corporate physical interaction. Post-death bereavement apparitions generally are individual and idiosyncratic. Apparitions that are corporately witnessed (various modern day accounts of the Virgin Mary) don't seem to have bereavement as their context, and aren't, to my knowledge, alleged to be physical in the ways the NT records Jesus' ressurrection appearances to be. I realize what I'm saying is a common apologetic argument, but it's one that should be dealt with especially when we're concerned not only with what happened to Jesus after he died, but what everyone else thought had happened to him after He died (which is where the center of debate seems to be these days).

Thanks, Jay, for the many comments!

For starters, Allison, as do myself, do not take everything in the gospel accounts as entirely historical. This doesn't necessarily mean that we do not take the appearances as historical. You are certainly correct in your assertions with the problems asociated with visions occuring to various peoples at simultaenous times. I'm not at all disputing this, nor does Allison. I myself am a believer in the resurrection of Jesus (as is Allison who confirmed this to me in an e-mail correspondance). I hope I didn't give you the idea that I did not hold to this foundational belief. It may have seemed that way considering that I was responding to some questions from a purely historical direction, trying not to use the gospel accounts as pure history.

Chris Petersen

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your response. I didn't mean to give the impression that I thought you didn't believe in the (bodily) ressurrection. I know from visiting your blog, which I enjoy and learn from, you do. I was just trying to get my questions written out clearly but quickly. Alas but rhetorical imprecision, for both bloggers and their commenters, is the cost of the blogging format and the modern busy life in which it is embedded.

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