The Resurrection as Hoax?

I read this book last year and really appreciated it: Jesus and the Logic of History by Paul Barnett.  Recently, as I was skimming through it again, I found the following section where Barnett helpfully talks about the resurrection of Christ and the various theories of it (e.g. the disciples stole the body, Jesus wasn’t really dead but revived in the tomb, or that they crucified the wrong person by mistake):

The view held by many contemporary scholars, that the disciples were subject to some kind of visionary experiences, is hard to accept.  Two people sharing one bed seldom have the same dream.  The proposal that between five and six hundred people on twelve or so separate occasions over forty days had the same visionary experience is extremely unlikely.

In any case ‘resurrection from the dead’, a Jewish concept, literally means, ‘standing up in the midst of corpses’ (anastasis nekron).  A resurrection which was not bodily is self-contradictory and has ben likened to a circle which is square.  The various subjective or visionary theories of the resurrection are culturally contradictory.

Here’s how Barnett ends this section:

There is only one serious alternative explanation.  It is that the disciples stole the body and proclaimed Jesus to have been raised from the dead.  In other words, it was a deception, a hoax.  A number of objections may be raised against this hypothesis.  Apart from the unlikelihood that the perpetrators would call a gospel based on deceit the ‘word of truth’ and repeatedly call for truthful behavior among believers, such a theory is difficult to reconcile with subsequent apostolic history.

Through the pages of the New Testament we are able to trace the ministries of Peter, James and Paul, the leaders of various mission groups, from the time of the resurrection to their martyr-deaths.  This is a period of about three decades.  It is implausible that all three would have maintained the deception throughout those years and then gone to their deaths without exposing a hoax.  Moreover, there was more than a little friction between these men.  Had the resurrection not been true, it is likely that one or other of these strong personalities would have broken ranks to expose the others.

Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History, p. 130-131.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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The Battle Belongs to God! (Wright)

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative I mentioned this book a few years ago: The Mission of God by Christopher Wright.  Since it is an excellent resource, I’ve used it again from time to time in my studies.  This morning while studying the “nations” theme in Luke 24:47 (…repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations… NIV), I ran across this great reminder:

“God’s battle with the gods is an essential part of God’s mission.  God’s mission is the blessing of the nations.  And the blessing of the nations must ultimately include ridding them of gods that masquerade as protectors and saviors, but are actually devouring, destroying, disappointing deceptions…..”

“The battle and the victory belong to God. …By putting our emphasis again on the mission of God, not on human mission, we preserve the right biblical perspective on this matter.  For we need to be clear that in the Bible the conflict with the gods is a conflict waged by God for us, not a conflict waged by us for God.”

“To be sure, the people of God are involved in spiritual warfare, as countless texts in both testaments testify.  However, it is assuredly not the case that God is waiting anxiously for the day when we finally win the battle for him and the heavens can applaud our great victory.  Such blasphemous nonsense, however, is not far removed from the rhetoric and practice of some forms of alleged mission that place great store on all kinds of methods and techniques of warfare by which we are urged to identify and defeat our spiritual enemies.”

“No, the overwhelming emphasis of the Bible is that we are the ones who wait in hope for the day when God defeats all the enemies of God and his people, and then we will celebrate God’s victory along with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.  Indeed, in the company of heaven we already celebrate the victory of the cross  and resurrection of Christ, the Easter victory that anticipates the final destruction of all God’s enemies.”

“God fights for us, not we for him.  We are called to witness, to struggle, to resist, to suffer.  But the battle is the Lord’s, as is the final victory.”

C. J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 178.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Jesus’ Resurrection and Our Justification (Hodge)

Jesus’ death on the cross is at the center of the Christian faith and at the center of the Christian’s faith.  But when we talk about Christ’s death on the cross, of course we also talk about how he was raised from the dead.  The cross and empty tomb go together; they are inseparable.  Paul says as much about Christ’s humiliation and exultation in Philippians 2:6-11.  Romans 4:25 is also clear on this: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (NIV).  I appreciate how Charles Hodge explained this verse:

His death and his resurrection were both necessary. His death was a satisfaction of divine justice: he “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (see 1 Peter 2:24); that is, he bore the punishment of our sins.

His resurrection was no less necessary. First, it was a proof that his death had been accepted as an expiation for our sins. Had he not risen, it would have been evident that he was not what he claimed to be. We would still be in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17) and therefore still under condemnation. In that case our ransom, instead of being publicly accepted, would have been rejected.

And, secondly, in order to secure the continued benefits of the merits of his sacrifice, he rose from the dead and ascended on high, where he appeared before God for us. He stands at the right hand of God, always making intercession for his people and so securing for them the benefits of his redemption. With a dead Savior, a Savior over whom death had triumphed and held captive, our justification would have remained an impossibility. Since the high priest, under the old economy, not only slayed the victim at the altar but carried the blood into the most holy place and sprinkled it on the mercy-seat, so it was necessary not only that our great High Priest should suffer in the outer court, but that he should pass into heaven to present his righteousness before God for our justification.

Therefore, both as the evidence of the acceptance of his satisfaction on our behalf and as a necessary step to secure the application of the merits of his sacrifice, the resurrection of Christ was absolutely essential, even for our justification [Charles Hodge, Romans, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), Ro 4:25].

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Death as a Dead Thing (Athanasius)

In one section of On the Incarnation by Athanasius (b. 297) he talks about the victory we have in Christ over death.  This is a nice meditation that reminds us of the truth that death cannot separate us from Christ.

For of the destruction of death, and of the cross having become the victory over it, and of its no longer having any power but being truly dead, this is no slight proof but a very certain index; namely, that by all the disciples of Christ it is contemned, and they all make an attack against it, and no longer fear it, but by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample upon it as a dead thing.

For formerly, before the Divine sojourn of the Savior, even to saints themselves death was terrible, and all mourned those who died as perishing (Cf. Job 18:14; Ps. 55:4, 88:10 ff., 89:47 f.; Isa. 38:18). But now that the Savior has raised His body, no longer is death terrible, but all who believe in Christ trample on it as naught, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ. For they know full well that when they die they do not perish, but indeed live, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.

For as, when a tyrant has been utterly vanquished by a true emperor, and is bound hand and foot, all who pass by jeer at him, smiting and abusing him, no longer fearing his rage and cruelty, because of the victorious emperor; so also death having been conquered and branded as infamous by the Savior on the cross, and bound hand and foot, all in Christ who pass through trample on it, and as witnesses to Christ deride death, scoffing at it, and saying the words written against it above: ‘Where, Death, is thy victory? where, Hades, thy sting?’ (Hos. 13:14).

Athanasius of Alexandria, Athanasius: On the Incarnation of the Word of God, trans. T. Herbert Bindley, Second Edition Revised (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1903), 91–93.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Significance of the Resurrection

In volume 3 of his Reformed Dogmatics Herman Bavinck spent some time talking about various (false) views of Christ’s resurrection.  For example, some say Jesus only appeared to be dead.  Others say it doesn’t matter if Jesus was physically raised from the dead – all that matters is that he lives in my heart.  Bavinck does a nice job rejecting these false views and affirming the historical, physical resurrection of Jesus.  He ends the section with these great words:

For Scripture… everything depends on the physical resurrection of Christ. The that is integral to the how: if Christ did not arise physically, then death, then sin, then he who had the power of death has not been defeated. In that case, actually, not Christ but Satan came out the victor. According to Scripture, therefore, the significance of the physical resurrection of Christ is inexhaustibly rich. Briefly summarized, that resurrection is:
(1) proof of Jesus’ messiahship, the coronation of the Servant of the Lord to be Christ and Lord, the Prince of life and Judge (Acts 2:36; 3:13–15; 5:31; 10:42; etc.);
(2) a seal of his eternal divine sonship (Acts 13:33; Rom. 1:3);
(3) a divine endorsement of his mediatorial work, a declaration of the power and value of his death, the “Amen!” of the Father upon the “It is finished!” of the Son (Acts 2:23–24; 4:11; 5:31; Rom. 6:4, 10; etc.);
(4) the inauguration of the exaltation he accomplished by his suffering (Luke 24:26; Acts 2:33; Rom. 6:4; Phil. 2:9; etc.);
(5) the guarantee of our forgiveness and justification (Acts 5:31; Rom. 4:25);
(6) the fountain of numerous spiritual blessings: the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33), repentance (Acts 5:31), spiritual eternal life (Rom. 6:4f.), salvation in its totality (Acts 4:12);
(7) the principle and pledge of our blessed and glorious resurrection (Acts 4:2; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:14; etc.);
(8) the foundation of apostolic Christianity (1 Cor. 15:12ff.).

Since Christ has been raised, those who believe in him have a strong hope and sure foundation of salvation.  Sing praises to the risen Christ!  Alleluia, he is risen!

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 442.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Sabbath: The First Day of the Week

The Marrow of Theology Why has the Christian church historically called Sunday “the Lord’s Day” or “The Christian Sabbath?”  Why do we meet for worship on the first day of the week, and rest on it?  William Ames explains this well in his Marrow of Theology (II.XV.27-29):

“Divine not human authority has now changed the last day of the week to the first day – only he can change the day of the Sabbath who is the Lord of the sabbath, namely, Christ (Mt. 12:8).  Therefore, the first day… is properly called the Lord’s Day.  Even though the Lord’s Day is granted to have been of apostolic institution, yet the authority on which it rests is nonetheless divine, for the apostles were guided by the Spirit in holy practices just as they were in propounding the doctrine of the gospel by word of mouth and writing.”

Ames goes on to give nine points to defend the divine institution of the Lord’s Day as the first day of the week.  I’ll summarize the nine points here:

1) Christ was no less faithful than Moses in ordering his whole house (the church of God) in all things generally necessary and useful (Heb. 3:2, 6).  No Christian can reasonably deny that the observance of the day is useful and in some way necessary for the churches of Christ.

2) Christ himself often appeared upon this very day to the disciples gathered in one place after the resurrection (Jn. 20:19, 26).

3) The Holy Spirit came upon them this very day (Acts 2:4).

4) In the practice of the churches in the apostles’ time when mention is made of the observance of the first day (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2), it isn’t remembered as a recent ordinance but as something long accepted by the disciples of Christ.

5) All things the apostles delivered to the churches were from Christ (1 Cor. 11:23).

6) The placing of the holy sabbath of the Jews on the seventh day was abrogated by the death of Christ.

7) It does not make sense to say that there were several years between Christ’s death and the observance of the first day, because it would be like saying there were only nine commandments during this time.

8) The reason for the change by the consent of all is the resurrection of Christ which itself is a confirmation.  On this day the creation of anew world, or world to come (Heb 2:5), wherein all things are made new (2 Cor. 5:17) are completed, and God in Christ’s rising from the dead ceased and rested from his greatest work.  Just as it was in the beginning, so it is also right that the very day wherein Christ rested from his labors should be hallowed (cf Ps. 118:24 and Mt. 21:42).

9) It was also most appropriate that the day of worship in the NT should be ordained by him who ordained the worship itself and from whom all blessing and grace is to be expected in worship.

These are some helpful points!  Sometimes we may doubt the “first day sabbath” principle because there isn’t one or two clear texts that teach it.  However, when considering the Bible’s bigger picture and the flow of redemptive history centered around Christ, it does make biblical sense to call the first day of the week the Lord’s Day, the day of rest and worship.  After all, the people of God received a new calendar after God rescued them from Egypt (Ex. 12), so it surely makes sense that his people would get a new calendar after the New Exodus: rescue from sin and hell!

shane lems
hammond, wi

A Theology of the Body (Or: Zombies)

Though I don’t agree with it all, this is one interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful book: Incarnate: The Body of Christ and the Age of Disengagement by Michael Frost.  In it, Frost argues that humans are becoming less involved with one another in a personal, face to face way.  One of his main points is that because of certain technologies, it is possible for people to live disembodied lives, where one can interact online, go to church online, do one-click activism work online (called slacktivism), and generally avoid real and “embodied” relationships.  He contrasts excarnate or disembodied living with incarnate, embodied living, making excellent points against the former  and arguing in favor of the latter.

In one example, Frost uses the recent zombie craze to make his point.  He asks the question, “Why are [zombies] so popular and so enduring as a pop culture device?

“Some have suggested that zombie apocalypse is a more palatable end-of-the world scenario because it’s a truly secular one with no judgmental deities presiding over the fate of humankind.  Others have speculated that it’s a cracked, secular version of resurrection.  However, culture watcher Dan Birlew suggests the reasons for the popularity of zombie fiction lies somewhere more primal:”

‘There’s an entire world full of walking punching bags.  People are now zombies, and you have to kill them before they kill you.  So it doesn’t really matter what you do to them, because they’re not people anymore.  They’re former people that you can beat down and tear apart in the most gruesome ways you can think of.  …Take out all your frustrations in all the ways you ever dreamed, it doesn’t matter anymore.  No one’s going to stop you from killing a monster, even if it used to be a person.’

Frost then says that though mowing down zombies is at one level entertaining for some people,

“[It] is horrifying because it too represents our greatest fear: that we are dispensable.  While many people are happy to treat their own bodies and those of other people like zombies – casually and indiscriminately – deeper down there’s a sense of horror that our bodies could mean so little.”

Since action scenes where mobs of humans are mowed down (e.g. Rambo) are politically incorrect these days, Frost notes, “we’ve had to resort to killing unhuman objects like zombies for the same effect.  And all the while we are picking at the scab of our nagging anxiety of our own indispensability.”

Frost ends the chapter by stating a biblical understanding of the human body: “We are our bodies.  We don’t live in our bodies.  And therefore our bodies and the bodies of others are precious and worthy of respect (cf. Phil. 1:20-23).

“[Christ’s] bodily resurrection from the dead signaled the Christian hope for the ongoing identity of a person with his or her own body. The body is not a prison to be released from but is the person in a profound sense.”

Michael Frost: Incarnate (DownersGrove, IVP, 2014), chapter three.

shane lems