Monday, April 6, 2015

Raymond Brown on the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

Raymond Brown was one of the great biblical scholars of the last third of the 20th century. Brown was a 'critical' scholar who was not afraid to ask hard questions about the scriptures. He was also a faithful Roman Catholic. This is from his historical-critical examination of the resurrection narratives of the gospels:

From a critical study of the biblical evidence I would judge that Christians can and indeed should continue to speak of a bodily resurrection. Our earliest ancestors in the faith proclaimed a bodily resurrection in the sense that they did not believe that Jesus’ body had corrupted in the tomb. However, and this is equally important, Jesus’ risen body was no longer a body as we know bodies, bound by the dimensions of space and time. It is best to follow Paul’s description [in 1 Corinthians 15] of risen bodies as spiritual, not natural or physical (psychos); he can even imply that these bodies are no longer flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15:50). Small wonder he speaks of a mystery! In our fidelity to proclaiming the bodily resurrection of Jesus, we should never become so defensively governed by apologetics that we do not do justice to this element of transformation and mystery. Christian truth is best served when equal justice is done to the element of continuity implied in bodily resurrection and to the element of eschatological transformation.

The understanding that the resurrection was bodily in the sense that Jesus’ body did not corrupt in the tomb has important theological implications. The resurrection of Jesus was remembered with such emphasis in the church because it explained what God had done for men. Through the resurrection men came to believe in God in a new way; man’s relationship to God was changed; a whole new vision of God and His intention for men was made possible; the whole flow of time and history was redirected. Nevertheless, a stress on the bodily resurrection keeps us from defining this resurrection solely in terms of what God has done for men. The resurrection was and remains, first of all, what God has done for Jesus. It was not an evolution in human consciousness, nor was it the disciples’ brilliant insight into the meaning of the crucifixion–it was the sovereign action of God glorifying Jesus of Nazareth. Only because God has done this for His Son are new possibilities opened for His many children who have come to believe in what He has done.

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