Well, this clears up a few things…

…about the resurrection.

You’d think they would have told me this in Bible college.  I must have taken the wrong courses.  I was leafing through some books on the shelf tonight, instead of doing my homework.  One of those books was John Stott’s Basic Christianity.  I happened to notice a heading which read, “The graveclothes were undisturbed”, and was intrigued enough to keep reading.  This is the lightbulb moment:

Now supposing we had been present in the sepulchre when resurrection of Jesus actually took place.  What should we have seen?  Should we have seen Jesus begin to move, and then yawn and stretch and get up?  No.  We do not believe that he returned to this life.  His was a resurrection, not a resuscitation.  We believe that he passed miraculously from death into an altogether new sphere of existence.  What then should we have seen, has we been there?  We should have noticed that the body has disappeared.  It would have ‘vaporized’, being transmuted into something new and different and wonderful.  (p. 52-3)

I’m a bit reluctant to admit this, given the fact that I grew up the son of a preacher-man, in a Christian school system, 2 years of Bible college, lots of theological reading and writing, and now in the employ of a church, including in the capacity as occasional preacher, and future seminarian, but my idea of the bodily resurrection of Christ (the orthodox position) has always been precisely what Dr. Stott initially describes: Jesus beginning “to move, and then yawn and stretch and get up”.  The pictures I saw in film adaptations of the Gospels, in which the cloth wrapping of Jesus’ body just deflated, seemed to me at the time (years ago) to be too reminiscent of a belief in a spiritual resurrection, rather than a bodily resurrection, and didn’t really give me any clues in this direction.  I suspect most Christians had the same idea as I did.

The unhappy result has been misunderstanding the difference between resurrection and resuscitation, which has come up in discussions on this very blog (I had always imagined resuscitation being what happens to someone who has passed out); wondering how on earth a bodily resurrected person could pass through doors (as in when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room) but also be physically touched by Thomas (the doubter), and some related difficulty in understanding the difference between N.T. Wright’s view of the resurrection and Marcus Borg’s in Jesus: Two Visions; and, later, questions about what Paul is getting at with this talk of “transformed” bodies; etc.

So, a toast to John Stott, for clearing things up a little.  This was probably a “fullness of time” moment—all my previous experience and reading (including much N.T. Wright) was probably a necessary precurser, in a sense, to this moment.  Weird how that works sometimes.

(This isn’t make-it-or-break-it Christianity here, but an important understanding nonetheless.)

11 thoughts on “Well, this clears up a few things…

  1. Dan Kearns

    I agree with you, but I have always been a bit unclear about what is going on with the burial cloth which had covered the head being rolled up “in a separate place” in John 20: 6-8

    What do you suppose the Beloved Disciple might be seeing there, and what might be the meaning in terms of the Resurrection and resuscitation question?

  2. Toni

    I suspect we’re trying to get a little too much meaning into the words ‘resurrection’ and ‘resuscitation’. They could be quite comfortably be interchanged in many circumstances. It is not unusual to tak about resurrection of the dead, meaning resuscitation.

    It seems to me that a better word *for our modern usage* would be transformation. He was changed from one form into another, receiving a heavenly body (there’s scriptures to suggest that we shall all do likewise) that appears not to be bound by the normal physical laws and restrictions. If you were interested in this area and had the time, there’s quite a lot that can be mined about it.

  3. Gavin

    Good thoughts, Marc and John Stott….

    I’m wondering about the language of “transformation.” Does this limit our ability to talk abou the very real death of the very human (and divine) Jesus?

  4. Linea

    Also just wondering what implications the use of these particular words have on our understanding of “the resurrection of the body” which we are to anticipate and which is a fairly foundational belief in Christianity?

  5. Marc

    I was just about to ask Gavin if he meant the question you asked, Linea.

    I don’t know the answer, but it seems to me that Stott’s explanation makes sense of a whole lot of things to me.

    I would ask that question simply because I assumed the “bodily resurrection” was the “yawn and get up” kind of resurrection. But Paul talks a lot about transformation and “new” this and that.

    I suspect it would have the effect of us realizing that it’s not necessarily this body in its present form or state that will be resurrected. Or perhaps this means that “bodily resurrection” is maybe better phrasing than “resurrection of the body”.

    I should look up “resurrection” and the related words in a lexicon. Or maybe you should, Linea, being the Greek scholar! 🙂

  6. Linea

    Yeah, well, I haven’t gotten to that word yet in my vocabulary but I will watch for it. 😉

    I suspect, all Greek aside, that we lack understanding on the whole matter – but it is interesting to discuss. Maybe we don’t have words for what actually happens.

    Obviously, our dead physical bodies are not necessary for resurrection to happen as our physical bodies do not disappear at our deaths. However, Jesus’ body did disappear. Lazarus’ body did come back to life – he was resurrected but this was not “the” resurrection for him either so I guess he still needed his body.

    Not sure exactly what implications there are to the different handling of the physical body in these instances. There seems to me to be something very significant to “the very human” body of Jesus and the fact that he seems to have continued to make use of that body somehow, resurrected or transformed as it was after his return to earth from death.

  7. Marc Vandersluys

    Linea: it is my understanding that the Jesus vs. Lazarus comparison is precisely the difference between resurrection and resuscitation. Jesus was resurrected, Lazarus was resuscitated.

    That’s my *understanding*, mind you. I could be wrong.

  8. Linea

    Marc, in medical speak resuscitate is something that happens to someone near death, someone who would die if no intervention took place. So when someone stops breathing they can be resuscitated by breathing for them and restarting their heart, etc. If someone is actually dead they can’t be resuscitated and their state of health if resuscitated too long after heart and breathing stops is going to be precarious and brain death will likely have occurred. So, medically speaking, I don’t think Lazarus could have been resuscitated unless he was not really dead.

    Just an example of how we understand words I suspect.

    And Dan, you stirred out thinking, how is that being a pest?

  9. Marc Vandersluys

    Dan: No worries. Nothing like a good conversation and you’re partly to thank for that.

    Incidentally, WRT to your original comment, John Stott suggests (as I recall) that “in a separate place” does not mean someone moved it elsewhere (bad translation perhaps?), but simply that there would have been, for whatever reason, a space between the body cloths and the face/head cloths. Unfortunately, I don’t have the book with me, so I can’t quote Stott.

    Linea: The medical definition is precisely why I have been confused in the past. And perhaps it might be good to avoid that word because of its common modern definition.

    But it seems to me that in theological circles (whom I peer at from the outside) that resuscitation is used to differentiate between the “coming-back-to-life” of Jesus and the “coming-back-to-life” of those Jesus healed from death (who would later die a second death).

    I just found a post from back in May in which there was disagreement about this as well. I think the intent with the distinctive words is good (the difference between what happened to Jesus and what happened to others), but one of the words used may no longer be helpful…

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