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
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."
What are the possible explanations?
IS THE ACCOUNT TO BE INTERPRETED FIGURATIVELY?
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.
reasonable is figurative interpretation?
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.
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.
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
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.
-- THE AUTHORS' INTENT DETERMINES
THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION
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.
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."
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
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.
belief that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are purposefully figurative is
not reasonable in light of historical facts. Those facts are chiefly
1.) the commitment
of the apostles and New Testament authors,
2.) the simple reading
of the texts,
God's purpose for Scripture, and...
4.) the study of ancient
-- WHY THE ACCOUNT IS PROPERLY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
it possible that Paul's literal sense was just another element of the tale
to make it more enticing?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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NEXT: Was Jesus resurrected from
the dead? - part five
What do we know about Jesus from
Do miracles really happen?