Shuck and Jive

Monday, August 07, 2006

What if we found the body of Jesus?

I am reading "Another Roadside Attraction" by Tom Robbins. This is his first novel that he wrote in the late 60's. In the story, one of the characters finds the body of Jesus in the basement of the Vatican. The character believes that if this becomes known it will destroy Christendom. That is all I will say about the novel so I won't spoil it for you.

I wonder if it would make that much difference if, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we found the body of Jesus or we determined that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead? What if we were certain that he died like the rest of us will some day. Would that shatter your faith? What would your faith be about?

I don't think we need to find the body. Critical study of the Bible and the study of comparative religions have combined to shatter the historicity of the resurrection. I would guess that many who call themselves Christian regard the resurrection symbolically. For many of us, the resurrection is a myth or a metaphor. We may understand the meaning of this metaphor differently. Perhaps it means that what Jesus lived for lives on in his followers. Perhaps it means that justice will have the final word. Or perhaps it is a reminder in fable that what we see isn't all there is and that mystery surrounds us.

Regardless how we interpret it, many Christians do not believe or think they should believe that the resurrection was an historical event. On the other hand, many Christians think that the resurrection was an historical event. As far as I am concerned, both types of Christians can co-exist and celebrate life together in worship.

What do you think? What does resurrection mean to you? Or to put it plainly, if we found the body of Jesus, would it make a difference?


  1. John,

    As a scientist, one of the interesting things I find is religious people who get all excited about some scientific finding that might, in some way, support their deeply held religious beliefs. For example, the bone box of Jesus' brother, or archeology that supports Jericho's walls. Both on shaky ground, by the way. Usually these same people do not give science the time of day and actually question any science that is not supported by their pre-Newton worldview.

    People with faith do not need proof, one way or the other. What is the need of faith if there is incontrovertible proof?

    This message come from one of little faith.

    By the way, Bob Funk would continue to be proud of you and your new way to communicate ideas.

    Peace, Mike Short

  2. We ae blessed to have you here in the buckle of the Bible Belt to encourage, challenge, and spur us on in our spiritual journeys. Thank you.

  3. I believe that most mainstream to progressive Christians believe either only the soul or spirit is resurrected and that Jesus's post-crucifixion appearances were visions or else that all the appearances were symbolic. The fundamentalists would dismiss the bones as a conspiracy and then emphasize that we get new bodies and that Jesus did too. Not sure the two paths can coexist - the historical Jesus was spiritual and inclusive, like the founders of the Easternn religions. The fundamentalists are tribal and exclusivist, ultimately not spiritual at all. A lot of hate there. Keep on bloggin'!

  4. Hello Fellow Travelers and a hearty thank you to our dear fearless leader,

    Well, why not start right at the very heart of things: Is there actual life after death? As a former Catholic, I hope not. Neither the gold and harps of heaven nor the fires of hell ever appealed to me very much. When I was little, I was told that the resurrection of Christ was central to "our" faith, because it guaranteed for you and me that we, too, could overcome death, go to heaven with Jesus, and at the end of time, we could even have our bodies rejoin our souls--not that I really wanted my body back. At the time, I was rather large and clumsy. I was hoping for someone else's body, maybe Cary Grant's body.

    The problems for me with focusing on life after death (getting to heaven and avoiding hell) were two-fold: (1) I allowed myself to be controlled by other people who claimed to speak for God; and (2) I all but missed the valuable lessons and amazing stories of Jesus on earth. I am still re-claiming for myself much of what I missed in Jesus' life when I was young.

    Do I think Jesus rose from the dead? I like to think that he does every time any of us choose to meditate upon his life, his words, or his deeds. I think Shakespeare rises from the dead every time we read or experience one of his plays. In both cases, what is really meaningful extends way beyond the person's death, and we, in acknowledging their presence in our lives, extend their eternity a little longer.

    I think about my own eternity some times. Who will remember me? What meaning will I leave behind. I think part of having children is the hope that we will extend our own eternity at least into their breathing lives. Having children is an act of hope. Maybe they will remember us fondly (heaven) and tell their children's children about us--the way I try to tell my children about the grandparents and great grandparents they will never know first hand. Some of us will have students who will remember us. Many of us will have friends who do. A few may even write books or be remembered in film and video. Eternity beckons! What kind of life do we want to be remembered for? I think Jesus had some important ideas about that.

    Okay, so I don't believe in a literal afterlife or a re-incarnation or a movement to another realm--although I think these are fun ideas with which to play. I am an optimistic kind of pessimist. If there is nothing, I will have "known" it all along. If there is something, I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

    So I don't think Jesus rose from actual death in an actual place, but I can see how his friends, who must have missed him dearly, found comfort in hearing his voice in their hearts, or even in seeing the visions that grief and love can manufacture. I also don't believe that Jesus later ascended body and soul into heaven. As John Spong has pointed out, this latter report in the Gospels is proof that they are not to be taken literally, since Jesus is said to have ascended at three different times. The stories of the ascention speak again, I think, to that part of our desire to have meaning and life beyond this world. Parenthetically, Spong notes that even if Jesus had ascended upwards from anywhere on earth, traveling at the speed of light, which is all a physical body can go, he still would not have cleared the Milky Way Galaxy. It turns out that it takes a long time to get to heaven.

    If they found the actual body of Jesus (would DNA testing work), would it make a difference. It might: Because then we would have to decide if the life of Jesus was worth following even if he is the son of man rather than the son of God. I, for one, would still be a Christian in the same way that in my professional and personal life I am also an Adlerian. I believe both Jesus and Alfred Adler had very important things to teach me about life and living, but I also suspect that neither of them is God incarnate.

    This is like a real conversation. This is cool. Thanks for letting me be part of our community.

  5. One time I thought I found the body of Jesus in the back of my refrigerator. I was less worried about the impact on the church than on the smell in my kitchen. However, it turned out to be 3 month old lasagna, so Christianity was safe for the time being.

    I believe in the resurrection of the body, but I do not understand it, nor do I need to. Energy and matter are expressions of the same. Spirit and flesh are expression of same - in this case the life force of the universe. The workings of such are probably part of the shady world of quantum mechanics. Our reality is constructed upon that which we cannot fully understand. But we do understand the life of Jesus and we understand he taught that there are worse things in life than dying. Many who breathe are actually dead, and the great cloud of witnesses who no longer breathe surround us with life.

    The body of Jesus has been found in the body of every individual and community that died to the injustice and oppressive cultures of world and strived to live into justice. May we find more of the body of Christ. And may I clean out my refrigerator more often.

    Thanks for the topic John.
    Paul Peterson

  6. It wouldn’t change anything for me if the body of Jesus were found. My primary interest in Jesus is to try and understand what he was trying to say about how we can live and co-exist together here on earth and interpret that message for life in the 21st century. John, many of your wonderful sermons are in this arena. People get too hung up on Jesus’ status of omnipotence and let his message fall by the wayside. Whether or not someone believes he was resurrected seems irrelevant to me; it’s how we live our lives that counts. Good luck with the new blog!

  7. I remember in college, years ago, after studying Transcendentalism, telling all who would hear, "It would not matter if they found the body of Jesus! I would still believe!" I was wrong.... woefully immature.... and so are somany who strike that pose today. The Apostle Paul, a lot smarter than most of us, writes "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." He also says "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died." Of course the whole 15th chapter of First Corinthians has a lot to say -- some academics point to it as the heart of Paul's faith. But we are too smart to accept the apostolic witness..... In fact Biblical criticism, i.e. the methods of historical criticism applied to the biblical documents as historical documents, does NOT destroy the credibility of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus or the promise of our own. The erosion of faithfulness among a certain set of scholars, however, is a BIG problem, especially in our mainline seminaries -- AND the substitution of worldviews common in New Testament times (like gnosticism, stoicism) for the unique Truth of the Gospel. This truth is INCLUSIVE, by the way, for what was only a pipe dream now is a reality that potentially includes more than we can judge now! The growth in numbers of believing Christians around the globe at a time of population growth that is unique in history, including numbers of former Muslims (one reason why the Islamicist fanatics hate freedom of religion), including all populations EXCEPT rich know-it-all Westerners....
    I have served in theological education overseas for 20 years as a PCUSA missionary. I have learned so more from my students than from the 'shaky faith' 'sophisticates' here at home, talking and blogging away 'swayed by every wind of doctrine.' But I am especially upset that some of the above keep saying that true believers in Christ's dying and being raised from the dead for our salvation are 'hate-mongers.' Sigh. The real 'hate' I see is from those who make cracks, believing they are in the know, chiding the rubes etc. but are really hiding the tragedy of their own ability to believe. Paul says in Corinthians we will be transformed. That is enough. Jesus was Jesus when raised -- but also transformed. So will we be. That is enough. To believe in God is miracle enough to 'cover' any other.... Some 'miracle stories' may not pass the historical-critical test. The Resurrection does. It does not prove it, of course! How could it? There is no intention of basing faith on 'proof' in the sense we know it anywhere in the New Testament! It is our false and phoney -- and weak and immature -- ways of looking at reality that are the problem, not the Resurrection's credibility in the true faith sense (God's gift, which also accords with our ability to think and to reason etc.) Please, all of you, who have responded to this blog, and, yes, you, dear brother, who wrote and runs it, think rightly, believe, and be at peace.

  8. For me, the issue of how much one believes in an allegedly historical event places what should be a matter of faith into the realm of works, as if the depth of my inteellectual grasp of what is so obviously an ungraspable assertion is the tenuous thread by which I remain in the loving care of God. The good news of the christian story is that God loves us irrespective of what we think at any given moment--while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, as Dan quoted, although we are completely at odds on this.

  9. John,
    I'm glad that you have found another contemporary means of sharing your views and opinions. I am certainly very proud that you
    continue to be true to your particular interpretation, without regard for some of the extremely judgemental comments that have been posted. Isn't it wonderful to live in the USA, where we can all do so. While I have disagreed with your interpretation in the past, I have also appreciated your encouragement for ALL of us to look at what we believe, why we believe it, and then to act on and live our lives according to our values and vision. Party on, and Godspeed, Brother John. MYBST2U

  10. Rev John,
    Would you please give a concrete example of how Biblical criticism and comparative religion study have "shattered the historicity of [Jesus'] resurrection"? I can see how finding Jesus' body would do that, but you seem to be saying that you already have such proof through scholarship.
    One of your respondents (Dan McMillan) pointed out that if the resurrection is only a metaphor in the way you interpret it, then the disciples who proclaimed that resurrection were either con artists or fools. Do you think of the disciples as con artists or fools? Are you reinterpreting their gospel message for a modern/scientifically sophisticated audience? Or are you saying that the "metaphor" interpretation of the resurrection is what the disciples were originally proclaiming?
    In Peter's Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:29-32, he contrasts Jesus' body with David's. Peter seems to say that the resurrection of Jesus means that if anyone were to find Jesus decaying bones, then Peter's message would be untrue and meaningless: "...I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses."
    Can you really use scholarship and knowledge of other religions to disprove this message of Christ's resurrection being the opposite of bodily decay? Or do you just prefer to believe a different interpretation? An interpretation that still has to be measured against the gospel message the disciples and 3000 converts at Pentecost and millions of Christians throughout history believe, i.e., a literal bodily resurrection that proves Jesus is really Lord and Messiah (2:36)?

    Rev John W. Potter
    Formosan Presbyterian Church
    Houston, Texas

  11. Thank you for all the great comments! I am pleased that so many of you chose to respond. I would love to comment on your comments individually, but alas, I need to go to bed. Please do not feel slighted if you don't get a response from your comment. It is a running conversation between you all as much as with me.

    By the way, if you disagree with me, I don't mind. You are all brothers and sisters to me in the household of Earth.

    One final thought on resurrection. While I believe the gospel accounts of the resurrection are more in the realm of fiction rather than history, I find the risen Christ a valuable symbol or perhaps archetype.

    As that old hymn of my childhood goes: "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart."

    In other words, the risen Jesus
    is the archetype of life laughing at death, hope over despair, the phoenix that rises from the ashes. It is the hope that humanity may yet live in love and peace.

    As another song, popular a few years ago, confidently asserts, "I get knocked down. But I get up again."

    That happens each day if we let it.

    I don't think the resurrection ever happened. always happens.

    Peace and good night!

  12. John and others,

    Normally, I would find it best to just let the attacks go unchallenged, but the number and animosity of the ad homonym attacks are amazing. And all of this before, John, you actually took a difinitive position. Life isn't worth living if you aren't disturbing the establishment at least a little--Jesus also taught us that. Dear pastor, you must be doing an awful lot right to have engendered such responses from a group of pastors, who, I can only surmise from their responses, are so insecure in their own ideas and positions that they would rather attack you than merely propose an alternative point of view.

    Well, I, for one, would not be willing to call myself a Christian at all if it were not for you, and writers like John Spong, and caring ministers like Paul Peterson, and the community of humans in which we find a spiritual and pragmatic home.

    There was a time when pastors called all of us to a higher moral ground, like you did last Sunday when you talked about Jesus calling upon us to join the poor, make company with the homeless and the helpless, and find a way to make life better for all people on this earth. There was a time when pastors stood up to the government and called a President's private war evil. There was a time when pastors reminded us to feed the hungry, clothes the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. These are the days when some pastors of some large churches suggest that the wealth of the congregation is already God's reward for them on this earth--as reflected in the Crystal Cathedrals and religious universities and other monuments to power and money. In our area, alone, where we have more than our share of homeless and working poor, if there is a huge new building going up, we can count on it being either a bank or a church.

    I am proud to belong to a small and modest congregation, although I would be pleased to see it grow. I love being a part of a community where acceptance is at the heart of our faith, where love and civility are more important that self-righteousness, and where difference is treated as a blessing rather than a reason for fear followed by condemnation.

    You are a brave man, John Shuck, and you do not stand alone. I, many of us who are "we," stand proudly with you.

    I am Jim Bitter

  13. Well, I’m with the eloquent Jim Bitter in this matter; very well said, sir. As for the matter of Tom Robbins; very good author; makes me want to read another of his books. I noticed John lists Jitterbug Perfume as a favorite; I read that one way back when; really made me rethink my whole position on eating beets. Another Tom Robbins book I enjoyed is “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” A very fun read as I recall.

    “There is not a truth existing which I fear... or would wish unknown to the whole world.” –Thomas Jefferson

  14. One of the issues regarding biblical interpretation and theological reflection is the relationship between history and faith.

    Historians of religious texts seek to determine what is historically probable regarding their composition.

    If resurrection simply referred to the resuscitation of the corpse of Jesus as a matter of history, then the resurrection would not be a matter of faith. I don't "believe" that Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. It is a fact of history that be documented by evidence.

    The real task for theology is to interpret and communicate what the resurrection means.


  15. One more thing,

    I took the liberty of deleting some of the comments on this post. The comments I deleted were those that did not meet the criteria in my "Lightheartedness" post.

    I welcome intelligent discussion. I reject name-calling and veiled threats.


  16. I think it's interesting that you label all calls to live up to your vow of adopting the essentials of the Reformed faith as articulated in the BoC as mean-spirited attacks.

    It appears, however, that Jesus as a smelly piece of detritus in the back of someone's refrigerator passes your criteria for "welcome intelligent discussion." However, those who question your assent to the basics of historic Christian doctrine get the boot.

    That may fly with Westar - but not with Westminster.

  17. Hi Chris,

    Glad you keep hanging in there with me. You mentioned that you are connected with Holston Presbytery. You know who I am. Who are you?


  18. I just finished up at LPTS. I've been to LizFirst a few times. One of my wifes mentors in art school worships there. We had interesting conversations and think of him fondly, though we haven't had contact in a while. I'm sure you know your congregation well enough to know of whom I speak.

    And thanks for being bold about highlighting differences in interpretive stances. I think its important that we speak clearly and definitively about where we stand while trying to understand (not necessarily affirm) the other's position. Many are afraid to do that. I especially appreciated your analysis of PUP on Witherspoon Society's page. A lot of folks up here liked it, but I don't think they understand how mealy-mouthed that paper is.

  19. Thanks, Chris.

    Congratulations on completing seminary! So do you have a last name? Are you pastoring a church? Are you a member of Holston Presbytery? You can e-mail me privately if you wish.

    Thanks for your thoughts on my Witherspoon article. Curious though, did you like the report because it disagreed with PUP or because you agree with me that our church laws should change so that lgbt folks should be ordained?


  20. John,
    I will simply refer to one other post to remind us of 1st Cor. 15. Particularly verse 14 "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain". I will pray for you and the others with same view, Ephesians 1:17-23. What is your hope anchored on? Does it agree with scripture to have any true confidence in it? Just curious and concerned. This may be deleted because it does not agree with you. Seek the real relationship with Jesus instead of the religion of Jesus. Religion disappoints eventually.

    Phil. 1:9-11

  21. I detect some mild bigotry here.No offence, but classifying "FUndamentalists" and depictign them in a certain, cretanous way, and aluding to only two options, tisself is preposterous.

    And isn't it also unsupportable when you say that the historacity of the resureciton was discredited by combined studies in comparative rleigion and history? This isnt true at all.

    It seems you simply wan tot attack "The fundamentalists" who are seen as unadvanced,mentlaly challenged fools who don't understand sicnece.

    Their are Sceintstss, after all, who adhere tot h basic tenets of the Christain faith, beelive in the Bodily ressurection, and are not mentlaly infirior.

    Just as no real evidence exists to discredit the ressureciton.

    It's just so much rhetoric here. What makes this different htan what Pat RObertson does?

  22. St. Paul promoted the lie that Jesus' body rose from the dead. Paul was a persecutor of the Christians until he decided to become their leader. It was important to the Jews then, as now, to destroy Christ's message that "God is Love" because that message would destroy the main business of the money changers which is war. Jesus was so hated by the Jews that they made him into a blood sacrifice for the Jews, The in line with their long history of human and animal sacrifice. With the internet, people have been waking up to the truth and so, to cover up once again, the Jews are promoting this false story about finding Jesus' body and the body of his son. The truth is, Jesus could not have had a son because he knew he was in danger of being killed and men in that region then, as now, were not allowed to start a family unti they knew they would be able to care for them.

  23. Paul Peterson -

    I adore your post so much from Aug. 7th of last year (the one about possibly finding Jesus' body in the fridge) that I printed it out and posted it in my cubicle.

    I especially enjoyed the statement: "Many who breathe are actually dead, and the great cloud of witnesses who no longer breathe surround us with life."

    I needed this encouragement today - so thank you.

  24. I love how the liberal Christians cherry pick the nice stories about Jesus and conveniently overlook the less appealing stories like when he's talking about who's going to be roasting in hell. I'll pass on your "cafeteria theology", thank you very much.

  25. I just wanted to post what Paul says about the whole question in 1 Corinthians 15:14, "And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty."

    I think that about sums up what a Christian should think about the importance of the resurrection as being a verifiable fact and not allegorical.

  26. But how would we ever know if we found his body?

    A. It will be all in one piece as flesh and bones
    B. it will have holes in his hands and feet.
    C. It will have torn flesh around the head and over his back.
    D. He will be missing a rib - surgically removed by those who loved him and prepared him for buriel.