Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Paul and Resurrection

Continuing my report of God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now by John Dominic Crossan leads us to Paul and the Resurrection. Crossan writes:

Three historical questions guide this section. What did pre-Christian Jews mean by the general bodily resurrection? What did Christian Jews mean by Jesus's bodily resurrection? And how did any Jew ever comeup with so anti-intuitive a concept as bodily resurrection? In what follows, the term "resurrection" always means "bodily resurrection." (p. 183)

Crossan writes that in the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the Wisdom literature there is no belief in an afterlife. This idea didn't come until late in the construction of what Christians call "The Old Testament." In Crossan's words:

"...after death, all individuals, good and bad alike, went down to Sheol, which was, quite simply, the Grave writ large, the End with emphasis. It was neither hell nor heaven; it was simply never-no-more." (p. 184)

Where did the idea of resurrection (bodily resurrection) come from and how did it start? It comes from the Maccabean martyrs. I quote at length from Crossan:

"In the 160s BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes launched a program to integrate Jerusalem and the Jewish homeland politically and economically into his Greco-Syrian Empire. Finding that opposition to his plans by some Jews was founded on and fueled by their faith, he turned to religious persecution and decreed that those who refused to deny God and negate Torah by eating pork would die under torture, while those who did so would be spared. Even though military resistance by the Maccabees had defeated Antiochus and led to the founding of the Jewish dynasty of the Hasmoneas, the question of those martyrs still haunted the religious faith of many Jews." (p. 184)

Where is the justice for those who have died? Enter Resurrection as a solution for injustice.

"Where, some Jewish writers asked, was God's justice when martyrs were being brutalized, tortured, and murdered?...There would have to be, some Jewish writers answered, a day of global reckoning, a tribunal of cosmic justiece, a general bodily resurrection in which those who had suffered in the flesh could be openly, publicly, officially vindicated by the just God for whom they had died. In other words, the general bodily resurrection was not about the survival of the individual but about the justice of God. The chant was this: God will overcome someday. And soon!" (p. 184-5)

But this just couldn't be justice for those in the present. There is a "backlog" of injustice. Since martyrdom happened to bodies, not just souls, the bodies needed to be resurrected
"as the first order of divine business at the eschatological transfiguration of the earth." (p. 185)

Here is a text from 2 Maccabees (In the Roman Catholic but not the Protestant Bible):

And when he was at his last breath, he said, "You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws."...[The third victim] quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched for his hands, and said nobly, "I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again." (7:9-11)

That is how the idea of bodily resurrection started. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees
"demanded a general bodily resurrection in which the just, especially the martyrs, would be vindicated and the unjust, especially the persecutors, would be punished." (p. 186)

What about Jesus and resurrection? From Crossan:

"Those who proclaimed Jesus's resurrection were not simply proclaiming his exaltation to the right hand of God. That would have been a stunning enough climax to Jesus's destiny as Messiah, Son of God, and Lord, based, for example, on Psalm 110. Going much further than that, however, they proclaimed that the general bodily resurrection had already begun with Jesus's bodily resurrection, and that of course was why "resurrection" was the only proper and adequate word for what happened to Jesus. Not assumption, not exaltation, but precisely resurrection. That meant that Jesus's resurrection was not just an individual privilege but a communal process--and a communal process for past, present, and future, with Jesus's resurrection as the heart of that process. Similarly, the general bodily resurection was not a future and instantaneous flash of divine time, but an event with a past beginning, a present continuation, and a future consummation in human time. Of course, they thought that future conclusion was still rather imminent." (p. 187)
Those who proclaimed the bodily resurrection of Jesus were claiming that the great transfiguration had begun. It was not about living forever. It was about restoring divine justice for those who suffered injustice--bodily injustice becomes bodily justice. What about now? If the end had already begun, what are Christians to do in the present? Crossan writes:

"...the present was an in-between period in which Christian believers were called to a resurrected life with, in, and through the resurrected Jesus. It was not as if there is a start (the Christ resurrection), a yawning gap, and then an end (the general resurrection)--like two bookends but with no books in between. We Christians are the books in between. The challenge for Christian believers was and is to live lives of bodily resurrection in that in-between period--which at first, by the way, was thought to be but a very short period of time." (p. 187)

Yes. Now is when we live it. It has begun, we are part of it. How do we live it? We live for God's justice now, here on Earth, boldly and bodily confronting injustice and bearing witness to the Risen Christ. What does Paul do with the idea of Resurrection?

"For Paul, such lives could only be lived in the Body of Christ or in the Spirit of Christ, expressions we should take as organically and corporately as possible. In Galatians 6:15, Paul claims that "a new creation is everything." In 2 Corinthians 5:17, he claims that, "if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, he claims that "the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." To understand Paul's theology, we must never take these sentences as rhetorical hyperbole but as precise description." (p. 187)

For Crossan, Paul and Jesus were about the same thing.

  • For the historical Jesus, the Kingdom of God is already here.
  • For the Pauline traditin, the general resurrection is already begun.
  • For the Synoptic Gospels, the Son of Man is already present.
  • For John's gospel, the Logos of God is already incarnate. (p. 188)

What living
in the Body of Christ means for us next time as we consider Paul and Empire.


  1. "Yes. Now is when we live it. It has begun, we are part of it. How do we live it? We live for God's justice now, here on Earth, boldly and bodily confronting injustice and bearing witness to the Risen Christ." (John)

    You know from my basic understanding of the texts (form my simple reads) I have come to this same conclusion - it's a here and now thing.

    I think this point about the resurrection is one the best points I have heard in the last 7 years. It's such a timely message that the church (in general) has put on the side in their agenda's. But my faith (and writings) teach me this is such a here and now endeavor and it means a lot.

    Who is going to promote peace in the Middle East and call these gov'ts on their politics? Who is going to call big business on their mis-treatement of the environment and humans in other countries? Who is going to challenge the mis-justices of the law system in regards to minorities? I find it rather odd most churches will overlook these 'evils' and say 'that's not our arena'. BS...that is more our arena (justice and equality) than persecuting a gay moevement (which really does not hurt anyone).

    I guess I see the same thing you see as far as the gospel being a part of every aspect of society - since it is within us now - and we are all over society. I really dig the resurrection point - how this moves out faith to 'here and now' and not just 'there and then'.

  2. Thanks Society,

    I appreciate that and affirm what you said. I wrote more about that in my latest post.

  3. John, I think both you and Society are touching on an important point. If someone truly desires heaven/God's Kingdom/Paradise/Call it what you will, and truly wants to eradicate sin in all forms, then it should be obvious here in actions. People should rush to fight against injustice, inequality and essentially everything that goes against God's Kingdom. After all, 'actions speak louder than words,' so if we truly desire to follow God in all paths of life, shouldn't our actions be screaming of just that? Otherwise, how can we claim to want to be near/with God?

  4. Thanks Heather,

    I think that what both Jesus and Paul did was to live the resurrection and they lived it so much, that they had little concern for what happened to their bodies. What I mean is that they lived so much for justice and peace that they gave their lives to it. I wish I had that faith.