Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Can we prove the resurrection?

Can we ever “prove” the resurrection of Jesus, either historically (e.g. Pannenberg, N. T. Wright) or probabilistically (e.g. Richard Swinburne) or scientifically (e.g. various nutty apologists)? In my view, such “proof” is neither possible nor desirable. For resurrection is not a natural or historical possibility, but it is precisely a contradiction of the whole order of the possible. It is not one event alongside other events within world-history, but it is the end and boundary of history as such.

I’m not talking here, of course, about a Newtonian notion that the world is a closed causal system (so that “divine intervention” is impossible by definition). Instead, my point is simply that the resurrection must be understood theologically, as the eschatological act of God in which the existing structures of the world are torn open and something wholly new is brought into being.

Since the resurrection contradicts the very structures of reality, it could be called an impossible event – impossible in the strictest sense of the word! It is not a “historical” event, since it punctures the linearity of history and confronts history with its own shattering “end.” In short, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is both the dissolution of the world and the startling creation (ex nihilo?) of a new cosmos. It is the end and the beginning, the last and the first.

All this means that the concept of “resurrection” can never be introduced as the most likely explanation for any historical data. To introduce the resurrection in this way is simply to forget the very meaning of “resurrection”. All such apologetic strategies aim to reduce the resurrection to one particular possibility within the structures of being and history – so that the resurrection is “proved” only by first being rendered innocuous.

We might seek to prove historically that the tomb of Jesus was found empty, and that the disciples had certain experiences after Jesus’ death. Such historical proofs have their own significance – but they are in no sense proofs of the resurrection. Similarly, it’s worth remembering that the early Christians narrated stories of the empty tomb and of the appearances without once attempting to narrate the event of resurrection itself. (Contrast this to the final scene of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, where the camera gives us direct “objective” access to the event – and in this very “objectivity,” the event is rendered meaningless, absurd, and godless. At precisely this point of the film, it becomes clear that Gibson’s Christ is in fact a pagan figure, and that this figure is encountered in the objectivity of voyeurism rather than in the subjectivity of faith.)

When the early Christians wanted to speak of the resurrection, they realised that the event can be named only by speaking (or stammering) of God – after all, as Karl Barth has put it, the word “resurrection” is really just a paraphrase of the word “God.”

39 Comments:

John Meunier said...

Thank you for the contrast between the Bible and Gibson's movie. I had not thought of that before.

Luke Timothy Johnson wrote in a book criticizing the historical Jesus movement that the important fact about Jesus is that he is alive today. We can have an encounter and relationship with him.

This is all the proof of the resurrection that we can ever expect.

michael jensen said...

Well, it certainly seems that Bultmann lives on... ;-)

It seems to me that the problem should be expressed from the other direction: would Christianity survive the discovery of the bones of Jesus (assuming we could positively identify them)? I say: no. So, you could certainly DISprove the resurrection, and all the 'he lives within my heart' stuff could be treated with suspicion.

So, it certainly matters not to concede the field of history to Spong and Dawkins (and cleverer than they) by saying that this was an event somehow parked in a driveway away from the dangerous traffic of historical inquiry... I think it should be out on the road. Maybe it'll take a few dings, but that's the price you pay for having a car you can actually drive.

Anonymous said...

I think I understand the reasons for emphasizing the theological implications of the resurrection, but I still feel (and please forgive me for being slightly Gibsonian about this) that the historical resurrection is a necessary prerequisite for any such eschatological considerations.

Admittely, without at least some rudimentary theological framework the historical event would mean very little to anybody, and, crucially, this would remain true even in the unlikely case that it could be scientifically proven beyond reasonable doubt that the resurrection did in fact occur. It would certainly be extraordinary from a biological perspective but carry no further meaning whatsoever outside of a distinctly religious interpretation.

That said, I still can't see how any theological narrative could ever get off the ground without at the same time being founded on the conclusion that it is reasonable - from a fairly objective point of view - to assume that the resurrection as a historical event is true. Would the resurrection really be any less miraculous and radically transformative if it could (at least in principle) be proven to be historical?

Not being able to prove once and for all that what the disciples experienced was in fact a resurrected Jesus (and not, say, the hallucinatory effects of some kind of mass psychosis induced by an emotionally exhaustive period of anxiety and grief) is one thing. Not being particularly interested in the question at all, however, is something different, which it is far more difficult for me to relate to...

But maybe it's just my atheistic belief and/or lack of insight into the complexities of contemporary theology that's getting in the way here?

James F. McGrath said...

I think you are absolutely right (rather than Wright) that the resurrection cannot be proven historically or even considered 'probable' because by definition it is 'improbable' and thus alternate explanations are always going to seem more likely to a historian.

I've often found the contrast ironic between Josh McDowell's claim to have proven the resurrection "beyond doubt" on the one hand, and the Gospel of Matthew's statement near the very end of the Gospel that, when the disciples had their experience of seeing Jesus, "some doubted". To claim that the earliest disciples who had the earliest Easter experiences could have doubts, and yet we today can be without doubts, makes little sense.

I think that the burial of Jesus is a topic insufficiently discussed by those investigating the resurrection. (I've incorporated a couple of links from the web page from my Historical Jesus course on those subjects).

Andy said...

Bultmann does NOT live on. He surely would have remembered that resurrection was already a category of Jewish thought (so to speak) WELL BEFORE Jesus's time. If we want to play the exegetical game we must confront this problem.

Resurrection as a category was no radical novum for the early Christians. While actual instances of resurrection may have been lacking, the expectation [i.e., the category] was there. And not simply for God, but for any of God's faithful martyrs (originally influential, by most readings, during the Maccabean revolt--a good and brave soldier who died in the revolt would be resurrected). My point is, any faithful Jewish person could have consented to Jesus's resurrection without the event being a paraphrase for God. Only the power of God could resurrect, but any faithful human could in theory be resurrected. (This point is emphasized by the late Jewish NT scholar Pinchas Lapide, who affirmed Jesus's resurrection, but also insisted it meant nothing about his status as Messiah or God.)

Of course, I'm not saying the resurrection can or should be or need be "proved." I'm saying that the character of Jesus's resurrection was not simply bound to it being a resurrection. Resurrection WAS NOT a category of such a radical novum, but a sign of God's "yes," of God's favor. Jesus's resurrection could have indicated simply that he was an outstanding prophet, maybe even the emissary of God. That Jesus was understood as God in light of the resurrection has more to do with the character of his resurrection (including the content of his earthly teaching and the revelation of God in Jesus in his earthly life) that makes Jesus's resurrection unique and not one among others.

So, that the early Christians should stammer "God" in the wake of the resurrection is not simply due to the event being a resurrection, but because it was part of the revelation of God in the entire drama of the Christ event, from incarnation to ascension.

As I have said before, exegesis cannot bear the burden you ask it to.

Halden said...

This is a great post, Ben. However, I wonder about what we mean when we say that "the existing structures of the world are torn open and something wholly new is brought into being"?

I agree with that statement, but I also agree that "grace does not destroy, but perfects nature."

Also I am left wondering where your affection for Bultmann informs this. I guess while I by no means want to try to "fit" the resurrection into reality, I do think that the empty tomb is pretty essential to confession of the resurrection faith. I don't think we disagree here, but I'm just wanting to make sure I've got clarity about the issue you're addressing.

Ben Myers said...

Halden, perhaps I should point out that I'm not trying to sketch a whole theology of resurrection here, just to point out why apologetic "proofs" of the resurrection are misguided.

So I agree with you that "the empty tomb is essential to confession of the resurrection faith" — and I'd also add that the empty tomb is essential precisely because it witnesses to the event itself. To quote the early Barth again, the empty tomb is a (historical) "crater" left by the (non-historical) event. The point here isn't that the resurrection is somehow "less real" than an ordinary historical event, but that it is more real — and a basic challenge for theology is to speak of this event without effacing its distinctiveness or reducing it to just one more event alongside others.

So anyway, I was only really trying to make one point in this post: the problem with apologetic "proofs of resurrection" is that they end up with all "proof" and no "resurrection"!

Halden said...

Then I am 100% on board with you!

Michael said...

it is precisely a contradiction of the whole order of the possible. It is not one event alongside other events within world-history, but it is the end and boundary of history as such.

It isn't clear what you mean here. You say it isn't the Newtonian notion of a contradiction - so the resurrection does not contradict some uniform law of nature, and presumably it isn't a logical contradiction otherwise it would be impossible in the sense that it is impossible for a ball that is red all over to be blue all over at the same time. So what exactly do you mean by contradiction?

One could mean contradiction in the Kierkegaardian sense, but he doesn't use that terminology. He calls it a paradox, and it is not strictly "impossible." Rather it presents a dilemma for speculative reason alone.

So what do you mean by contradiction is my first question?

Instead, my point is simply that the resurrection must be understood theologically, as the eschatological act of God in which the existing structures of the world are torn open and something wholly new is brought into being.

Presumably you mean that it can only be understood theologically in this way. Otherwise one could understand it theologically in this way and historically, and you would have no argument against someone who did so. But the Apostle's proclaimed the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. It wasn't just theology, they thought of it as an actual historical occurrence. I'll refrain from referencing passages here, but I'd be happy to point out a few if need be.

Furthermore, I'm simply not sure what you mean by "tearing open the structure of the world."


Since the resurrection contradicts the very structures of reality, it could be called an impossible event – impossible in the strictest sense of the word!

I don't understand where the "since" comes from. You have asserted that the resurrection contradicts the structures of reality (whatever that is), but you have not show it to be the case. You'd need an argument to justify this claim.

I simply don't follow your point at all. There are a number of ambiguous assertions here that for some reason preclude the resurrection from being considered both as a significant theological event as well as a historical reality.

Matt Jenson said...

Ben, can you describe a more real event? Back to Halden's cautions about grace and nature, I take it that a more real event like the resurrection (already noting that saying anything is 'like' resurrection gets me in trouble and threatens to forget that resurrection is to a great extent sui generis) is not for that greater reality non-temporal or non-spatial. So, with all the precautions assumed (including the gospels' own nervousness about saying much here), can you describe what the resurrection would 'look' like on a phenomenological level?

andrewE said...

Ben, forgive me if I'm being silly, but I feel like your protestations that we cannot "prove" the resurrection, not just in the sense of scientific certainty, but, it seems, also in the sense of having any kind of historical purchase on what happened, simply begs the question.

I worry that your objection to the resurrection's being introduced to explain historical data risks, in fact, removing the resurrection from the realm of reality. I realise that "reality" is probably precisely the category you would like to dispute here; but I can't help feeling like the disciples did all that they did because they thought something had really happened.

Also, if Mel Gibson can't show us a picture of the risen Christ, why can icons?

Weekend Fisher said...

There's the question of what historians accept as proof, and then there's the separate question about whether we as Christians believe the witnesses; there's a question of the appropriateness of the academic filters and biases being applied by historians.

Speaking for myself, when I talk about being sure of the resurrection and the resurrection having historical reality, I mean something much simpler than when the academic historians get involved: I mean that I think it really happened, and that what the witnesses said is enough to convince me of that. The academic historians have no contrary "witnesses", so to speak; they just pick at the ones we have, which are 100% on the side of the resurrection.

Granted that the resurrection is the beginning of a new creation (though we probably can't say ex nihilo, otherwise it wouldn't be a redemption of the creation that exists). Granted that it shocks us and it should. But there is also a retrospect that says "I should have known." It follows from God's justice, from God's love, from God's faithfulness.

dan said...

A bit of a tangent, perhaps, but I'm not convinced that Wright is attempting to "prove" the resurrection, in the way in which proofs of the faith are usually posited. I think that Wright is more concerned with what the texts have to say and he argues (convincingly, IMHO) that when the texts talk about resurrection, they are, in fact, talking about a bodily resurrection of a dead person into a (transformed) living person (contra a great deal of "liberal" scholarship that posits other theories). Thus, Wright hasn't developed an argument that leads him to venture forth into the world (or the academy, or wherever) and say: "Look, everyone, I've proved the resurrection!" Rather, he is simply bringing clarity to our reading of the texts (of course, some within Evangelicalism may want to hold up Wright's book as some sort of "proof" but, when they do so, I think they are using Wright to do something he did not intend to do).

Ben, perhaps you disagree?

Jonathan Keith said...

Hi Ben,

I'm uncomfortable with the way the word 'proof' is sometimes used to describe the judgements of scientists and historians, as here. I don't want to ban the word, just emphasize that it needs to be understood in a personal and/or communal sense. But I'd rather see the words 'judgement' and 'decision' used more often to describe scientific and historical reasoning. The key point is that observation - evidence - merely influences our truth judgements about reality; it does not determine them. It is not as though we have a universally accepted procedure for processing evidence and turning it into statements of fact. There is an aspect of reasoning that is personal, unconscious, indescribable, unjustifiable and heuristic, and it comes into play in almost all scientific and historical judgements, often in response to a question such as 'Is there enough evidence to justify this claim?'

For this reason, I don't think that my own belief in the ressurrection came about via a fundamentally different process than other beliefs that I hold. I'm conscious of a higher level of risk involved here than in many other judgements, but what of that?

On another matter, let me ask a bit more about your non-competitive understanding of the relationship between God and the world. I think that you regard the resurrection as an exception. You don't use that word, but that's what I'm hearing in expressions such as: 'the existing structures of the world are torn open and something wholly new is brought into being'. To me, acknowledging an exception radically changes our understanding of the relationship. It means, I think, that we have to factor the possibility of rare divine interventions into our thinking about the world - of events without natural cause, of miracles.

Anonymous said...

Is Acts 26:8 not relevant here. Paul here does not seem to feel that anyone should think that resurrection should be seen as an impossible event! A God capable of creating this world and giving life to its creatures, capable of passings a judgment of death, is certainly also capable of removing that judgment and raising us from the dead. Resurrection is not, I don't believe, a denial or rejection of the first creation, or an ex nihilo creation of a totally new cosmos. Is it not rather God's ultimate "YES" to a creation that has fallen under the curse because of sin?

Tim

Weekend Fisher said...

Dan said ... << I think that Wright is more concerned with what the texts have to say and he argues (convincingly, IMHO) that when the texts talk about resurrection, they are, in fact, talking about a bodily resurrection of a dead person into a (transformed) living person >>

And that was my objection to Mel Gibson's brief resurrection scene at the end of _The Passion_. Not that it was "voyeuristic" -- to me the gospels suggest a peek inside the tomb and imagination can hardly help envisioning -- but the brief glimpse of Christ risen at the end did not look like the solid sort who coud pass as human on the road to Emmaus without being outed as a spirit-being, did not look like the sort who would ask for broiled fish, or would pull open his clothing to reveal a fleshy body complete with a wounded side. He looked like he'd been raised to the type of "spiritual life" that managed to be less than the physical ... IMO that scene didn't really do justice to the resurrection of the body, and that was my main disappointment with the last scene.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a theologian but I'm beginning to think more about my faith theologically. And maybe I'm being way too simplistic but I am deeply troubled by this post. This is because I absolutely believe that Jesus really was crucified and that he really resurrected.

Therefore, to sincerely believe this happened (as I do) and then to suggest it didn't really happen in history seems strange to me. Sure, it is impossible, but it happened so doesn't that now make it historical much like the giving of the Torah at Sinai?

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not trying to be an apologist, I'm simply trying to understand my faith better and to think about my faith without a real resurrection seems disappointing. Why would God break into history as Jesus, die on a Roman cross, but then not resurrected historically. This thought seems heretical. But again, I'm just beginning to look at my faith more theologically, so maybe I've missed your point.

Apolonio said...

I understand that the resurrection is beyond reason, beyond any concept really. Fine. But to say that it is impossible *in the strictest* sense of the word is evidence that a person is interested more in rhetoric rather than mystery. Maybe an english department is a much better bet than a theology department? Possibility in the strictest sense of the word, the way it is used, means logical possibility. So to say that the resurrection is a logical impossibility just means it cannot happen. For God to do a logical impossibility is to make him into one's image, to an idiot. Better to be at awe and silent in front of a mystery than say something that would offend the Logos of God.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for all these interesting comments. I'm sure those of you who've raised an eyebrow at "ex nihilo" are right — I don't mean to suggest that there is no continuity between the cosmos and the new creation, but only that this continuity is established contingently and retroactively by the resurrection itself (i.e. the world as such has no inherent "fittingness" for resurrection: that's what I mean, Apolonio, by the word "impossibility").

Matt, you ask if I could "describe what the resurrection would 'look' like on a phenomenological level" — and I guess my point is that the nature of the event makes this kind of questioning illegitimate. This is like asking what the act of "creation" would look like phenomenologically. The only answer is that it would look like God, which also means: the creation (and also the new creation) is not the kind of event that can be observed by an objective onlooker. But to answer your question more specifically, I'd also add that this event would not look like the resuscitation of a corpse – this is not resuscitation, but "new creation" (of the same body)!

Thanks also for your comment, Anonymous, where you say that you "absolutely believe that Jesus really was resurrected". I certainly wasn't trying to undermine this belief — on the contrary, I agree with you absolutely! God really did raise Jesus from the dead; the tomb was really empty; the disciples really saw him and touched him. My point is just that the resurrection-event itself doesn't fall under the category of "historical events". Again, it might be helpful to think of the parallel to creation: God really did create the world, but this wasn't the kind of event that someone could have observed objectively, and it can't be proved or described as a "historical" event. But everything depends on the fact that this event really happened!

You might also find it helpful to look at Kim's excellent post on the resurrection: ten propositions on the resurrection.

Anonymous said...

Ben,

You say, "My point is just that the resurrection-event itself doesn't fall under the category of "historical events". "

Surely a central tenet of Christianity is the the life, death and resurrection of Jesus lies within history and IS a historical event. There are many improbable things in history that have only happened once - in fact all of history has only happened once. Because the resurrection lies outside our society's rationalistic worldview, why does it suddenly lie outside history?

Now "proving" it - that's different!

Cheers

Jon

Dave Belcher said...

Jon (Anonymous),

I take it that Ben is saying that the Resurrection is an historical event, but precisely because it is an event (and I take it that Ben would mean this in Barth's sense, contrary to the usage you quoted)--and I think we should also then add here, an event of the Trinitarian God's action within history--it is not for that reason circumscribable or rationally verifiable. It is precisely its eventness that eludes our grasp.

An interesting aside, when Robert Jenson was here in Kansas City, he mentioned that he didn't at all care for Pannenberg's rationalist method to "prove" the truth of the resurrection--although he did find his particular arguments convinving. I think that is all one can say, at this point: some folks have made decent convincing arguments to prove the verifiability of the resurrection, even if those arguments are ultimately the wrong way to go about viewing this Trinitarian event.

Dave Belcher said...

"convincing," sorry.

Pastor David said...

Ben,

I feel like, in this post, I have re-read what Jenson said about the empty tomb in his Systematic Theology, and I am 100% on board. The "proof" of the resurrection, as such, is the risen body - which is the church. As such, "proof" in the sense which most people speak of it is only available to the eyes of faith.

The lack of "proof" does not mean that the event of the resurrection is not historically and theologically important, or any less real. Indeed, for those who are the risen body of Christ, it doesn't mean a thing. For those who have experienced the resurrection, that is enough.

Pastor David said...

And, certainly you are not alone in pointing to the resurrection as the day when God brings all things to life, even ex nihilo, as Hauerwaus poitns out in his commentary on Matthew.

Dave Belcher said...

Pastor David,

I think you are right, so long as "The 'proof' of the resurrection, as such, is the risen body - which is the church," does not mean that Christ is resurrected into the Church, a la Hegel. Just a clarification I know you'd want to make also, but some people might get confused.

T&T said...

Ben,
It seems to me that your comments are as much about defining the nature of the "historical" and the nature of "non-historical" actual events as they are about the resurrection.

Time and Tea

Matt Jenson said...

"The only answer is that it would look like God, which also means: the creation (and also the new creation) is not the kind of event that can be observed by an objective onlooker. But to answer your question more specifically, I'd also add that this event would not look like the resuscitation of a corpse – this is not resuscitation, but "new creation" (of the same body)!"

Granted that we couldn't afford a full phenomenological description of the resurrection, insofar as God is there and acting. But if this is still a new creation OF THE SAME BODY, couldn't we in theory be able to describe something happening between the lying dead and buried on a shelf and the up-and-at-'em resurrected Jesus? Something empirical (though clearly far more than just empirical) happens to that body, right?

Quixie said...

I completely agree with the premise of your original post.

As I read the comments section I'm struck by the ease with wich some of us accept metaphors such as "the proof" being the risen-body in the form of the Church. Fantastic metaphor. Love it.
But I find myself wondering how we miss (or even avoid) other metaphors along the way.

If it's true that our attempts to talk about "resurrection" are but mere stammerings (I agree), What if even the choice of "resurrection" as a metaphor is part of that stammering process?

Not only do I think that to insist on a literal reading is to miss the point of these stories, but I also think that the fact that these stories are empirically indefensible (rationally, logically, and—our focus here—historically) essentially turns apologists into fideists who keep insisting that they are not so.

I also think their arguments are usually very easily dismantled, but that's moot for now.

I have a problem with envisaging a biblical god who would see doubt as reason for offense. My recent re-reading of Ecclesiastes is enough to convince me of that.
Hell, even Abraham doubted!

More relevant to the apologetics of resurrection though, as Prof McGrath points out, is the fact that even while Jesus is standing right in front of them, . . . "some of them doubted". This strange ending of GMatthew has always fascinated me.

anyway . . .

I enjoy reading the blog.

peace

Ó

Patrick said...

Ben,

I don’t understand what you’re getting at here. You want to say that the resurrection happened, but you deny that we ought to argue for this fact because arguing for it would “reduce” it to just one more event in history. But I don’t see how that follows. Historical arguments for the resurrection simply claim that the resurrection is the best (or at any rate a good) explanation for various (putative) historical facts, e.g. the disciples turning from dejected cowards to missionaries. How does arguing that the resurrection of Christ would serve as the best explanation of this fact “reduce” the resurrection?

patrick said...

Last, you say the resurrection “could be called an impossible event – impossible in the strictest sense of the word!” What could you really have in mind here? The strictest sense of impossibility is logical impossibility, and since you think the resurrection actually happened, you of course can’t think it is logically impossible. (It follows straightaway from something’s actually being the case that it is logically-possibly the case.) God’s raising Jesus from the dead isn’t (per Michael’s example) like God’s making a block that’s both red and blue all over. Or like his painting electricity time-colored with my left shoe. Or (more controversially) God’s determining what I’ll freely do.

I can’t help but saying that I don’t understand why we’d have to resort to saying things that are obviously false (like that the resurrection is – in the strictest sense – impossible) in order to emphasize the importance of things that are really important. It’s like we think “extraordinary”, “beyond what human beings could expect or do on their own”, etc. aren’t good enough, so feel like we’ve got to up the rhetorical ante by claiming that the thing in question was full stop impossible, but somehow God managed. The word ‘impossible’ has a perfectly good sense already, and we shouldn’t ruin it when we feel we can’t make do with predicates that *are* appropriately applied to the thing in question.

patrick said...

(Sorry! This should've been at the start of the last one...)

Also, to take up the point Michael raised above, what is for something to “contradict the very structures of reality”? I don’t know what this means. God’s will, for instance, is part of reality (is it a “structure” of reality?), and the resurrection doesn’t contradict God’s will. It also doesn’t contradict God’s nature, which is (I guess, since I have no idea what you mean) as good a candidate for a “structure” of reality as anything.

byron smith said...

If not ex nihilo, perhaps it was ex sepulchro? :-)

Anonymous said...

There are a few points worth making here.

The original post: it is precisely a contradiction of the whole order of the possible

First, there are various senses of the term 'possible' and the corresponding term 'impossible'. There are biological impossibilities, physical impossibilities, logical impossibilities, and so on. You are conflating these and assuming the worst case.

The original post: the resurrection contradicts the very structures of reality, it could be called an impossible event – impossible in the strictest sense of the word!

The way you are using 'impossible' here seems to imply that you mean the resurrection is a logical impossibility (since, that is the strongest sense of impossibility). But how can this to be the case? It is silly to claim that this is logically impossible, since clearly there is nothing strictly logically contradictory about God, who created all things, raising someone from the dead.

Now, if you grant that the resurrection does not (and BTW it does not) qualify as a strict contradiction, then you have at least granted it is possible. If you grant this, then you must run probability calculations on the likelihood that it happened. Although the resurrection was a miraculous event, there seems to be no principled reason for making the conditions for verifying it any different than any other event in history. This move by Barth and other is completely ad hoc and, again, there seems to be no principled reason to simply declare the resurrection is an "unverifiable event".

Finally, as a sort of closing comment, these sorts of discussions by theologians untrained in probability theory always seems silly to me since most involved seem to assume that events (non-barthian sense of the term) in history can be strictly proved or not proved...as if the historian ever provides certainty. This is not the goal of the historian or of the biblical historian. The goal, rather, is to provide an explanation of historical data. One explanation of the data at hand is that the resurrection actually occurred (gasp!). Obviously, this is not the only available explanation, but if it turns out to be the best explanation then, just like with scientific theories, we should take the theory that explains the data the best.

Marcus A.

Bob said...

Ben,


Love the post and particularly appreciate the point that viewing the ressurection through the category of "proof" inherently/reductively does damage to the nature of the thing itself.

Also appreciate that the ressurection eclipses the body of Jesus as the "first fruit" of an entire God enfused cosmos.

Your post raised two questions for me:

Is the scope of the ressurection part of the reason why Barth thought "God" was synonymous with ressurection? (Is it simply the distinct quality of the act itself as totally unique or is there a quantitative factor?)

Secondly, while I agree that we dare not make the NT witnesses jump through the lenses of modern historiography I'm wondering if it is legitimate to assume the Gospel writers had their own historiographic assumptions and that these assumptions guided their understanding of the sense in which the ressurection "happened"? Assuming they did have these assumptions as they wrote how was their sense of historiography shaped via the ressurection? [Of is it too much to say they even thought of what they were writing as history?] This raises the problem that if the theological meaning of ressurection shatters the rules of genre how we ever find a way "into" the text.

That second question opens a whole philosophy of language can of worms and you may have moved on from this in which case I'll catch you at AAR.

-Bob

Quixie said...

" It is silly to claim that this is logically impossible, since clearly there is nothing strictly logically contradictory about God, who created all things, raising someone from the dead."

Now . . . that ^^^ is silly.

One little question:
How exactly did you "logically" conclude that god created all things, again?

(Oh, I see . . . you take that as a given . . .
well . . . What if someone doesn't take that as given?)

Establishing "omnipotence" is logically prior to positing probabilities for any one specific case of intervention.
And I may add, even if you could logically prove god's omnipotence (you can't), this would leave another problem, namely this: Just because god "could" do something, it does not logically follow that it DID in any reported case.

Before you start playing with the probabilities, you have to first logically establish god's omnipotence, and even before that, you have to establish that you even know what the nature of this thing you are attributing qualities to is.

It's just meaningless semantic sleight of hand. After that point (see quote above), the rest of your argument is just so much sound and fury. Sounding philosophically weighty is not the same as having a valid argument.

Anonymous said...

Quixie said "How exactly did you "logically" conclude that god created all things, again?

(Oh, I see . . . you take that as a given . . .
well . . . What if someone doesn't take that as given?)"

Hmmmmm, Quixie, I think you may be missing my point. My point was only to say that if (and that's a big if) one takes the orthodox view (broadly construed) that god created the world then there is nothing logically contradictory with that same god raising someone from the dead.

In no way was I trying to say I had (or anyone has) "logically established omnipotence." The point is just that the original post is making too strong a claim. If you want to argue against the resurrection don't try to do so making such a strong claim, i.e., that it is logically contradictory.

Trying to do so is analogous to atheists who attempt to argue that god's existence is a logical contradiction and therefore god cannot possibly exist. Not only is it a hugely difficult burden to bear, but it doesn't really seem that we can say it's a logical contradiction. All of this applies, mutatis mutandis, to the case of the resurrection. There is nothing strictly logically contradictory about this resurrection.

Quixie said: "even if you could logically prove god's omnipotence (you can't), this would leave another problem, namely this: Just because god "could" do something, it does not logically follow that it DID in any reported case."

Sure, I never said that I had "logically proved god did this." Stop strawmanning me. All I said is that IF god created all things, THEN there is nothing logically contradictory about god raising someone from the dead." How does any of that imply that god DID this?? Of course, it simply doesn't. Maybe you should just do a little reading on how hypothetical propositions have no existential import...your accusation of me claiming to have "logically established omnipotence" just doesn't hold up. All I have argued is that there is nothing strictly contradictory about the resurrection and, as a result, there is nothing logically impossible about it.

In addition, there is a huge literature in philosophy on conceivability. One view seems to be that if you can conceive of something then it is possible, at least minimally logically possible. I can conceive of flying pigs, so they are a logical possibility. They are not, however, a biological possibility (given the current conditions of the actual world). I cannot conceive of a square circle, though, so it seems that is logically impossible. So, the only reason I objected to the original post is because I think that one simply cannot claim that the resurrection is a logical contradiction.

The person wanting to deny the resurrection in a more sophisticated manner may object and claim it is physically impossible or something similar.

Marcus

Quixie said...

yup . . . HUGE "if".

Mennonite_Pacifist said...

I liked most of your post. I think your comments on Gibson's take on the resurrected Christ is dumb. You're just getting on board all the bashing against the movie. The clip doesn't capture the resurrection itself. Unless seeing the risen Christ's body is 'capturing the resurrection', in which case all Christians who gather at the table have looked upon this 'pagan Christ'.

Mennonite_Pacifist said...

I liked most of your post. I think your comments on Gibson's take on the resurrected Christ is dumb. You're just getting on board all the bashing against the movie. The clip doesn't capture the resurrection itself. Unless seeing the risen Christ's body is 'capturing the resurrection', in which case all Christians who gather at the table have looked upon this 'pagan Christ'.

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