"To explain this, it is necessary now to confess that my attitude with respect to religion had been one of absolute indifference...It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results---first, the book "Ben Hur," and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ."

- General Lew Wallace, author of "Ben Hur: A tale of the Christ" (full title)

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

- 1 John 4:2-3

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

- 2 John 1:7



Was Jesus resurrected from the dead?
4) literal or figurative?

Jesus came and took the bread, and gave them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.

- John 21:13-14 NASB

"Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I am to rise again.' "Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last deception will be worse than the first."

- Matthew 27:63-64 NASB


5.4 What are the possible explanations?


Some people choose to believe that the resurrection accounts are figurative. Jesus' resurrection, by such reasoning, is understood to be the revival and continuation of his values and practices; not his bodily return from death. In this manner, his eternal reign is said to take place in those who adhere to and pass on his teachings.

How reasonable is figurative interpretation?

Surveying the history of interpretation, one finds that just about any modern idea concerning Scripture's portrayal of Jesus has had its early advocates. Just as there have always been believers as well as unbelievers (even in the presence of Christ), so there have been advocates of different ways of looking at truth with respect to literature.

On the conservative side, interpretation which grants Scripture to consist mostly of literal truth, as well as some analogical truth, was advocated by men such as Dorotheus and Lucius in the third century. It was also endorsed by John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Meanwhile in Alexandria, perhaps the dominant seat of Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism, the more liberal view was popularized that Scripture could be read as predominantly allegorical. Its early proponents included Philo and Clement of Alexandria.

While all of this exemplifies that there has always been more than one way of interpreting the written word, simply acknowledging that different methods of interpretation exist does not validate every method in every situation, nor does it invalidate either of the above methods concerning the Bible. What validates the correct method of interpretation is the successful determination of what the authors intended.


What would you say if I asked you if there was any truth in The Little Red Hen? You would probably give me a qualified answer along the lines of, "Well it's clearly not a true story, but it truthfully illustrates certain personalities and advocates good moral and social principles." That would be an excellent interpretation.

The interpretation is correct because we know of the author, of the context of the book, and of its intended audience and purpose. Now what if I asked if there was any truth in Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species? If a person used the identical method of interpretation that was used for The Little Red Hen, allegorical interpretation, he or she might say: "Well it's clearly not a true story, but it truthfully illustrates the axiom that travel broadens the mind."

By purposefully not taking into account the author and his intentions, Darwin's extensive observations of animal types, characteristics, and behavior are all discarded as an imaginary vehicle used to deliver a vague generality about travel. Is this a good interpretation of Darwin? It's a terrible interpretation because we know of the author, purpose, and context of what was written. Here allegorical interpretation here yields far less than what the author intended.

Chances are that if we interpreted Darwin's book allegorically, and cheerfully told him how much we agreed with him that travel broadens the mind, he would probably wave his arms in the air and shout that we had gotten nothing out of his book. This slap in the face that our errant interpretation would render Darwin is just the sort of insult that we want to avoid rendering to God concerning the Bible.

The belief that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are purposefully figurative is not reasonable in light of historical facts. Those facts are chiefly evidenced in:

1.) the commitment of the apostles and New Testament authors,

2.) the simple reading of the texts,

3.) understanding God's purpose for Scripture, and...

4.) the study of ancient writing form.


1.) We know that all but one of Christ's apostles were killed for their faith. Some of these men had also authored books in the New Testament. The major New Testament author, Paul, similarly chose to accept his own beheading rather than agree to stop preaching of Christ's bodily resurrection.

The preference of these men to be tortured or killed is evidence of the literal truth of the resurrection account. For if their preaching was intended to only symbolically continue Christ's teachings, there is no reason for anyone to have chosen martyrdom. Paul and the apostles could have simply conceded the point that Christ's physical body was dead. That would have satisfied both Jewish and Roman authorities, and in no way hindered the allegorical interpretation of the resurrection if that is indeed what they had been trying to promote.

If they had intended that Christ was alive only to the extent to which his teachings were being lived out, then their own willful deaths would actually have been antithetical to that so-called continuation. The apostles' and Gospel authors' belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus is the most rational explanation for them to have been unanimous in accepting the harsh consequences that they received.

Most of them were repeatedly warned and given ample opportunity to cease from preaching Christ's return. It appears that no apostle was executed without having received many such chances to clarify his teachings and to recant from any literal misinterpretations of what each may have been saying. Yet not one recanted nor restated his beliefs to save himself from exile, arrest, beatings, torture, or death.

As has often been stated, "Who would knowingly die for a lie?" It might be conjectured that some of Jim Jones followers knowingly died for the lie of Jone's messiahship. But their deaths came about quickly by poison. Almost all of them died at the same place, at the same time, and by their own hand. This is nothing like the individual and isolated martyrdoms of each of the apostles at the torturous hands of authorities who were trying to force them to recant.

2.) The simple reading of the texts.
The scriptural writings themselves give evidence of the largely literal intent behind the resurrection. As was basically outlined in the section which asked if the Bible claims to be true, the New Testament authors make every effort to present Christ to their readers as a real person having undergone a real resurrection.

The authors testify that what they are writing is true and that their work comes from God, not just themselves. They often provide an historical context with which their writings might be verified, such as names, places, and events. They also frequently appeal to their reader's own knowledge and own observations that the events in question had indeed occurred.

One of the best examples of their appeal to living witnesses is from 1 Corinthians 15:6 (NIV); "After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep [died]." Clearly by identifying a percentage of eyewitnesses who could verify his claim, Paul intended to convey Jesus' literal return.

Is it possible that Paul's literal sense was just another element of the tale to make it more enticing?

Once again, if we seek any explanation other than the apostles were fully convinced a physical resurrection had occurred, then the testimony of their unanimous, individual martyrdoms have been omitted from consideration. In that case, a non-literal resurrection conclusion is being drawn at the expense of willfully omitting critical facts.

3.) The essential purpose of Scripture.
The purpose of Scripture as provided by God is to reveal his will and way of salvation in order that he might be glorified. God reveals himself to be a God of truth and of order. Therefore it is an irrational assumption that he would purposefully provide vague or misleading revelations on the central matter of Christ which confound the very purpose for which he has provided them.

In God's revelations, figurative language is used only selectively and mostly in the context of poetical writings and future prophecies. Figurative language should not be mistaken as the general form.

As is the case for most communication, there is one sense in which Scripture is to be primarily understood. Proper interpretation should seek this primary sense first, then the details which accompany it will be properly understood.

4.) The study of ancient writing form.
Last, we come to the form of the texts. One particular claim by which some skeptics doubt a literal interpretation is the narrative form in which portions of Scripture appear. Relative to modern culture, most readers may regard a narrative format as one typical of fiction, not of fact. Though narrative form is one of the less common formats used to transmit historical data today, it is typical and expected of Eastern writing in ancient times.

American audiences are more accustomed to receiving news and history in the dry journalistic prose of the latter twentieth-century like "He stated this..." or "She added that...". Many parts of the Bible do read in this wire-service style, but the narrative portions should be accepted as equating to modern documentary form, and not be rejected for failing to sound like top-of-the-hour soundbites.

Narrative form presents the facts behind a story in an arrangement that allows the reader to really know and understand the event; not just know one or two facts about it. The depth this gives the message is consistent with both the authors' stated intentions of wanting to motivate their readers, and with their claims that these writings are true.

Narrative form also allows for a more free use of adjectives than certain other forms. However, this no more invalidates a literal interpretation of the resurrection than do eyewitness accounts invalidate the Hindenburg disaster, President Kennedy's assassination, or the Apollo moon landings. All were literal occurrences and were of such importance as to affect valid and telling emotion in the reports of their respective observers. The intense, descriptive reports that resulted in each case ended up becoming part of history itself. Those reports conveyed ever so much more than simply "they landed" or "he died".

An example of narrative reporting being used today is the television networks' presentation of life stories and events that lead up to key performances in Olympic events. Narrative form is not chosen because it detracts from the facts or is an inferior way of relating literal truths. It's used to deliver facts PLUS appreciation. Narrative form helps convey the whole story and explain who won, how they won, and the years of struggle and opposition that got them to the top. This is especially useful in communicating the accomplishments of people with whom the audience may be otherwise unfamiliar.

Narrative form is a valid, practiced, and effective method of communicating literal, historical facts. Therefore, neither the form in which the resurrection is presented, nor the content of those accounts, nor the actions of those who were present give any indication but that Jesus' bodily resurrection was both real and literal. Nothing in the New Testament denies he was resurrected to life, and nearly every New Testament book and letter affirms that he was bodily resurrected and ascended into heaven. This is how the accounts were worded and that is how they were and are to be received.

Christ's literal, bodily resurrection is the major theme of the New Testament and it continues to be the foundation of the Church. Of this there is little doubt.


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NEXT: Was Jesus resurrected from the dead? - part five

See also:

What do we know about Jesus from non-biblical sources?

Do miracles really happen?

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There are well-mannered people and churches who regard Scripture as primarily symbolic of general principles. Some do not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead in any actual physical way.

First, it is important is to discern what the Bible's authors were trying to communicate. What did they believe on the matter?

Second, because churchgoing anti-resurrectionists have a form of godliness, but deny that God miraculously exercises his power, it is important to know if one is saved by believing in a solely figurative resurrection.