Why the Resurrection Doesn’t Necessarily Show Jesus as Divine

I am writing this post particularly as a reevaluation of a previous thesis, and not so much a development of a new one. In my post A Simple Argument for the Resurrection [1], I had outlined the basic deductive argument showing that if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, then he is God. Or,

  • (1) If Jesus resurrected from the dead, then Jesus is God.
  • (2) Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • (3) Therefore, Jesus is God.

In my post, I had first explained that it is important to note that if premise (2) were true, then all claims contrary to that of Jesus’ (even claims of divinity) would be considered false. For example, if the resurrection is a historical event – which relies on New Testament reliability, historical evidences, and etc. –  and the event as recorded in the Bible is true, then (say) the Q’uran’s denial of the resurrection is rendered false since it’s denial functions as an opposite of (2).

These are simple points of logic. Namely, that truths and their opposites cannot both be true at the same time (p & ~p). So, logically speaking, the opposite (or contradictory) of (2) would be false. However, my problem in addressing this argument was not particularly p(2), showing that Jesus resurrected from the dead, but rather p(1), that if Jesus resurrected from the dead then he is God. In the post, I had simply said that “generally, unbelievers will concede to the first premise.”

The unbelievers that I have talked to have conceded to this premise as true. However, it would be safe to say that the populous opinion doesn’t determine the validity of a given premise in an argument. In this post, I just simply wish to deal with the matter pertaining to p(1): If Jesus did rise from the dead, why would it follow that he was God? Do resurrected men show themselves to be more than mere men?

The Resurrection and the Character of Jesus

When I had initially presented the argument, I had falsely assumed that most opponents to the argument would object to p(2), and not p(1); thus I would only need to address very preliminary points as to why I believe we are coherent in suggesting that in light of the available evidence Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. However, one comment in particular addressed p(1):

I would object to the first part of the initial syllogism, the claim that any sort of coming back from the dead means one is God. Numerous people have done this, having been dead and been brought back, so by this logic all of these people are God. You may have refuted this earlier so I am sorry if you did. But what is the basis for this initial line of logic?

The interlocutor goes on to address some irrelevant points in respect to critiquing my argument, but he nonetheless raises a point of consideration. How does it exactly follow that Jesus is divine from his resurrection, if at all? N.T. Wright in his volume The Resurrection of the Son of God [2] has written:

Theologians often speak of the resurrection as if it directly and necessarily connotes Jesus’ divinity, and indeed as thought it connotes little else besides. The objection to a historical investigation of the resurrection is then obvious… You cannot mount a historical argument and end up proving ‘god’, or proving that Jesus was the incarnation of the One True God. (Wright 2003, 25)

Wright goes on to concede (along with Schlosser 2001, 159) that “one cannot pronounce on the reality of the resurrection, because that would be to pronounce on the reality of the transcendent, which is beyond historical inquiry” (Wright, 25). More over, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 even contends that all Christians will be raised just as Jesus himself was raised. Should you take my argument full force, p(1) seems to suggest that all Christians will one day become gods. Now, upon reading Wright up to this point, I was quite interested in the extent of this subject. Though I had not read Wright’s analysis that much further just yet, I asked myself the question, “If Jesus resurrected from the dead, then what does that mean in implications of who he is if not God?”

However, reading on, I think there is a response available. My suggestion (as well as the over all Christian suggestion) is that the early Christian understanding of Easter was not that this sort of thing was always likely to happen sooner or later and then finally it did. However,

If Jesus was raised… with a ‘transphysical’ body, both the same and yet in some mysterious way transformed, the two key pieces of evidence, the empty tomb and the ‘meetings’, are explained (Wright, 711).

Therefore, the interesting fashion of this sort of vindication associated with Jesus’ resurrection is namely that dead people not ordinarily rising is itself part of the early Christian belief. Thus, the more existential aspect of this phenomenon is that if any person (or historian in particular) when faced with the question regarding the rise of Christianity simply approaches Jesus’ resurrection as “no problem” (where miracles or the supernatural are not in question), then they have surely made a mistake in that supposition. Since, the question regarding the resurrection of Jesus deals with

the [ … ] question of death and life, of the world and of space, time and matter and its relation to whatever being there may be for whom the word ‘god’, or even ‘God’, might be appropriate. Here there is, of course, no neutrality. (Wright, 712).

Thus, I think the character and events associated with Jesus (such as the crucifixion, the empty tomb, the miracles, testimonies, etc.), if they are taken collectively, can not leave one in merely saying that Jesus is simply a man. A developed thesis shows that Jesus’ resurrection follows to a revolutionary shift in overall philosophic, political and economic thinking. To quote Wright in full on this matter:

What if the resurrection, instead of [ … ] legitimating a cosy, comfortable, socially and culturally conservative form of Christianity, should turn out to be, in the twenty-first century as in the first, the most socially, culturally and politically explosive force imaginable, blasting its way through the sealed tombs and locked doors of modernist epistemology and the (now) deeply conservative social and political structure which it sustains? [ … ]  Indeed, the holding apart of the mental and spiritual on the one hand form the social, cultural and political on the other, one of the most important planks in the Enlightenment platform, is itself challenged by the question of Jesus’ resurrection. (Wright, 713)

Thus, I think Wright exposes something monumental for all Christians (theologians, philosophers, etc.) to consider. That, to conclude, (1) the resurrection as such does not follow that Jesus is God, since historical inquiry would then be supposedly commenting on matters on the reality of transcendence. And that (2) merely leaving the question at “resurrection-as-such” with no collective considerations, would be a mistake in the extent of the Christological character in question.

To conclude then, I will be honest in saying that my original argument could be augmented and shouldn’t be taken face value as such. This isn’t to say that there is a defect in p(1) necessarily, but clarity in using that argument would of course be in line in order to avoid confusion.

________________________

Notes:

  • The post can be found here, (May 2013)
  • N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, vol. 3 (2003)
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