St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Session Four: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions
By Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright
Sunday, February 1, 2004
Mike Kreutzer led off discussion of the fourth session, “God Raised Jesus from the Dead,” by passing out two handouts. The first was a synopsis of N.T. Wright’s latest work, “The Resurrection of the Son of God,” which summarized the 842-page book. The second was the verses from I Corinthians 15, which were pertinent to today’s discussion. One of the key discussion points highlighted by the two authors was whether our bodily resurrection makes a difference. Wright takes the interpretation more seriously as he highlights that the Kingdom of God is not a replacement for this world, but a transition of this world into the Kingdom including our physical bodies. Borg’s argument seems to indicate that it really doesn’t matter if this happens or not. Some of the Eastern “mystery” type of religions also had similar concepts. However, within the Greek culture, which was a significant portion of the Roman Empire at that time, the teachings of Plato emphasized the shedding of the physical body and the transition into the spiritual world. Paul’s noting that God raised Jesus from the dead, including his physical body, would not have found favor with the Greek philosophies of the time. In fact, the early Christians in Rome began as “burial societies,” which was how they became connected with the catacombs. It was also noted that within the Jewish religion during the time of Jesus, there were at least two mainstream ideas on afterlife. One was propagated by the conservative Sadducees, that espoused there was no afterlife whatsoever. The other concept, accepted by the more liberal Pharisees, was a belief in a spiritual afterlife. After the Romans killed most of the Sadducees in the First Revolt from 66-70, the Pharisees became the dominant Jewish belief.
Another point, which has been debated over the years is whether only the righteous will be raised up from the dead. The early Christians seemed to follow this belief, which would tend to downplay the idea of people burning in hell. Some of the more recent fundamentalist religions take the opposite approach of preaching “fire and brimstone.” Next the idea of resurrection itself was discussed. Resurrection is different than resuscitation. After one is resurrected, there is a distinct change in that individual once brought back to life. Whereas with resuscitation, one is brought back to life virtually unchanged. The Bible points out in a number of instances how Jesus was not recognized by his family and friends. Paul also notes that he met the risen Christ, which was a very intense experience. Borg points out that whatever it was that happened to Paul was some type of supernatural experience that may have no logical explanation. Next, the discussion moved to the “empty tomb” idea. The conspiracy theory was that the disciples stole his body to make it look like Jesus was resurrected. Borg’s contention is that even if we were to find the bones of Christ, that this is not a big deal. Wright also asks the other question as to why Christianity arose and why did it transform the lives of so many others. It was then pointed out that this same phenomenon took place with Mohammed as well. Trying to explain some of the phenomena that happen in the Bible is perhaps similar to scientists that try and describe sub-atomic particle concepts. They may compare them to billiard balls or vibrating springs, but that more or less metaphorically describes what is actually happening. It may be a similar situation in human beings trying to describe the resurrection and transformation of Jesus after his death.