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Old 01-07-2001, 11:34 AM   #1
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Post Resurrection: explaination of interpretation as non-literal

Resurrection: explanation of interpretation as non-literal

This thread has come to be out of extended and ongoing discussions between mpartyka and myself on various threads in the Existence of God forum. Direct prerequisites to this topic would include discussions in:

Not that I’m saying in order to enjoy discussion in this thread one must read all of this. I just provide them as resources for background, just for the sake of being thorough.

In the course of our discussion, Mike has felt that Christianity, and the ability to correctly define oneself as a “Christian” depends on a belief in the Resurrection of Christ. I have responded that while this may be true, different people calling themselves Christians understand the Resurrection account different. Some believe it to be a literal occurrence. Others believe it to be symbolic of other truths. My claim is that both types of people make their claims based on their understanding of how scripture is to be interpreted.

I believe it would be fair of me to say that one of Mike’s objections has been his feeling that those who interpret the Resurrection literal do so by deciding the “ends” they like best, and then forcing the “means” to fit whatever end they have in mind. I have argued that such people believe the “means” (namely scripture) are most correctly understood in a particular way, and therefore force a particular end conclusion (namely the symbolic, not literal, understanding of the resurrection account.)

In response to this, Mike has fairly and reasonably asked for evidence explaining why such people would believe that scripture is most accurately interpreted as people of a more “liberal” Christian understanding interpret it. Mike has also asked directly, how those believing in a non-literal understanding of the resurrection account interpret Paul’s understanding of the account, specifically as giving in 1 Corinthians 15.

It will be my attempt here to respond to some of these questions. My goal would be as follows:

1. To provide a brief overview to the process of biblical interpretation and exegesis among Christians who could loosely and somewhat vulgarly be lumped into the category of “liberal.”

2. To explain as much as possible why certain people professing to be Christian believe that the process of biblical interpretation outlined in number 1 is more desirable, indeed the most proper interpretation of scriptural texts.

3. To address the questions present by the words of Paul, and to give and explanation of the interpretation of those words (not simply a denial that his words are correct).

It should be noted that my intent is not to change Mike’s (or anyone who would read this) beliefs of convictions. My intent is simply to provide understanding into the interpretive process that goes into other people seeing things differently. Mike expressed his desire to talk “one to one” with one of these liberal persons. I’m not sure that I fit that label or not. I do know that I believe there is meaning and significance in the account of the Resurrection of Jesus, though I do not believe that power is to be found in its literalness (or in debates over its historical literalness of non-literalness.) Since I believe that, I felt I may be close to the kind of dialogue Mike was looking for.

So, with that said, here is a brief (and unfortunately ripped for a much larger context) summary of my understanding of the resurrection – one that is not dependant on its literalness:

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
In Jesus, we see the unity of the eternal logos, also called Christ, representing the power in Being-itself, with the individual being of the man, Jesus. This unambiguous unity it was makes us able to not just speak of Jesus, but speak of Jesus as the Christ. This unambiguous unity is also our witness to the “New Being.” This reality of unambiguous unity is the power of the “New” as I call it (or borrowed it, actually) and it is available for all people, and all creation.
There are two particular understandings of the Resurrection that I have sympathy for. The first is one I first heard described by Rita Brock, a feminist theologian. She suggests that the resurrection was not a literal event, but that its power comes from the “resurrection” of the spirit of Christ through the power of the Church. Christ then is resurrected through our continuing commitment to his mission, namely the Kingdom of God.
I won’t develop this one further, because it is not really at the heart of my own understanding of the resurrection.
To me, the resurrection account(s) stands as the ultimate symbol and example of the power in Being, and the power available to us through the New Being, namely unambiguous reconciliation between our own being and Being-itself. The account of the resurrection bears witness to the truth, that even when we are dead and drowning in the midst of the “old” – old ways of thinking, old ways of acting, the old of alienation and estrangement, the old of anxiety and fear, the old of deep and existential need in our lives, the power of the New is available to us, the power of Being, the logos, the Christ, is available to our own lives, that we too may experience the New Being – that we too may experience a resurrection! A resurrection right out of the midst of the “old” in us – when things look their darkest, when we feel that sickness even unto death that the power available to us as we become reconciled to life may burst on to the scene, and re-animate our broken selves, breath live into our shattered lives, restore our fatally wounded souls and set us back on solid ground as new, transformed, truly resurrected lives through the power of the New that can grasp us at a moment when all seems lost!
That is what I believe to be the significance of the resurrection account, whether it is literal or figurative, and regardless of whether scripture is historically accurate or not.
I believe this is at the heart of an essential and existential truth that is greater and beyond all concrete and historical religious interpretations of it. And yet, as I have said before, I have great hopes that the historical religious may have the power to illuminate these truths to a greater or lesser extent. For me, the Christian resurrection account is where I see these truths most clearly manifest, mainly because this tradition of my heritage. My Muslim friend however, may see this greater truth more clearly represented in the tradition of his heritage – more power to him.
Question: what method of understanding/interpreting scriptures could lead me to this understanding?

In order to think about the method of interpretation that goes into potential non-literal understandings of scriptural accounts, we must look for a “norm” or a foundational understanding that governs all of the interpretive process. The “norm” that I believe in centers around the conviction that the scripture is not the final authority, the last word, or the end of spiritual wisdom. Instead, I believe scripture is the foundational point, the initial word, the beginning of wisdom on the ongoing and evolving spiritual journey of human beings. In light of this, I feel that the approach to scripture as too long been one “dominated by the past.” I believe that scriptures truest function is always directed into the future.

So, in light of that understanding, I can say that I believe the norm, or the “lens” through which we should investigate all scripture is the “theocentrically understood” promise of God lovingly offered to each and all and the command of God that justice be done to each and all – in short, the message of the Gospel is the “lens” through which we should investigate all texts. It is important to remember this, because I believe that those who would call themselves Christians do not have a responsibility to proclaim the text at any cost – they have a responsibility to proclaim the gospel at any cost. That cost may include even speaking out against certain texts (or interpretations of the text) that go contrary to that larger message. (More on that later)

With this norm or lens in mind, I believe that scriptures throughout both the old and new testaments basically fall into one of four categories:

1. Theologically appropriate and credible
2. Theologically appropriate and incredible
3. Theologically inappropriate and credible
4. Theologically inappropriate and incredible

This division here, is part of the difference between a more “conservative” interpretative process and more “liberal” processes. I believe that most “conservatives” would see number 1 as the only option for evaluating scripture – in other words it is all theologically appropriate and credible. However, the liberal understanding sees more realities buried within the texts.

First, theologically appropriate and credible means that we find complete agreement with the text. What this means is that the witness of the text is consistent with the gospel and the cultural characteristics of the text do not pose an insuperable barrier to our appreciation of it.

Second, sometimes we find agreement with parts of the text and disagreement with other parts. This covers both 2 and 3 above. A person will sometimes find a text contains an appropriate theological affirmation (by appropriate remember, that we refer back to the “norm”) expressed in a worldview that is no longer credible. Or in other cases, the worldview expressed may not be troubling or outdated, but the theological premise may be inappropriate (again, inappropriate to the heart of the gospel message – remember that this interpretive understanding comes from the premise that we are responsible to proclaim the gospel, not the text, which may mean sometimes even speaking against a certain text that is not in harmony with the greater gospel message.)

Finally, on rare occasions, we find certain texts (I personal find more examples in the Old Testament, but I believe this is possible throughout the scriptures, though rare) to be bothinappropriate and incredible. Everyone knows that preachers stay away from certain “troubling” passages in scriptures. Very few preachers (worth anything) would devote a sermon to the text about dashing the heads of babies against rocks. Here are some other examples of texts that under the liberal norm and interpretive lens might be considered both theologically inappropriate and incredible:

Numbers 16-17: The revolt of Korah comes to and end when God despises Korah, splits asunder the ground under Korah and his followers and swallows them all.

Judges 4:17-22: Jael drives a tent peg through the head of Sisera

1 Samuel 28: Saul consults the spirit of the dead Samuel by means of a medium at Endor.

Psalm 109: The psalmist prays for his enemies prays to God to be counted as sin, and continues to pray for pain and suffering for his enemies, that God would orphan their children, and for God to “curse” them.

John 8:12-59 Jesus identifies Jews as children of the devil.

Acts 5:1-10: Ananias and Sapphira drop dead because they lie to Peter
1 Corinthians 15:29-33: Paul appears to approve of the Corinthian practice of living persons being baptized as proxies on behalf of the dead.

These scriptures are just some examples of problematic texts. The point here is not to say conclusively that these texts are theological inappropriate and incredible. Perhaps some out there would interpret some of these texts in such a way that they rightly harmonized with the message of the “good news.” The point is however, that under a more liberal interpretive lens, we have the option in interpretation, to simply say, this particular passage is not theologically consistent with the message of the gospel, and no longer credible to our understanding of the world today.

So, to summarize, in a more liberal interpretive process we have establish the norm or lens through which to approach the text, and we have established broad criteria for evaluating the theological truth and appropriateness of the text. But next, we need to understand the historical and textual intension of the text itself. In other words, was the text serving as a historical document, was the text a narrative, was it to be understood symbolically? How do we go about determining the difference?

The answer is that we must take seriously the need and indeed the responsibility for biblical criticism. Biblical criticism comes in many forms, but here are three that I feel are most important: author-centered, text-centered, and reader-centered criticism.

Author-based and reader-based are probably most important, but without a text-based analysis as well, the circle would not be complete. It is important to attempt to understand, what were the author’s intentions when writing? Did the author believe he or she was conveying history, or a narrative story? If history, how are we to understand it. If a narrative story, is the story to be understood in terms of midrash, or theological narrative, or parable? This is not always a matter of personal preference or pure speculation. Often, we can get clues to how the author most likely intended his accounts to be understood through historical analysis, archeology, anthropology and other scientific disciplines.

But just as important is reader-based interpretation. This by itself will not stand, because it would be too subjective, but reader-based interpretation must be understood to be a part of interpretation, along with author and text-based. In reader interpretation, the goal is to interpret the meaning that the texts can provide for us today, to interpret them in to a credible and modern worldview. Part of this is done by understanding the author’s intentions, and the text itself, but it is also done by remembering the established norm or lens, and the 4 categories of evaluating the truth of scriptural text.

So, in light of that understanding several things spring to mind about the resurrection accounts. Number one, were the authors’ intentions to convey literal and historical information, or were the authors’ intentions to express theological truths in narrative form. There are those, who would say “narrative” because they believe it most accurately represents the authors’ intentions when writing. Number two, how are we to interpret the significance and the meaning of the resurrection account in the modern world (reader-centered approach)? There are those, such as myself who believe that the deepest truths of the resurrection account for today lie not in its “literalness” as a historical fact, but in the deeper and more abstract existential truths to which its symbol can witness (described above in my “take” on the resurrection. Number three, how are we to interpret the text itself. Believe it or not, this is particularly important when thinking of Paul, and his witness for the resurrection, which I will address shortly. And finally, we must evaluate the passage under the four criteria listed above and determine if we believe the particular passage is theologically appropriate and credible.

These are the things that go into a liberal interpretation of scripture. For me, as I mentioned above, I believe in the symbol of the resurrection more than I care about its literalness, because I believe that the symbol most accurate reflects the heart of the gospel, not the historical literal or non-literal reality of the event. I believe in the symbolic power of the resurrection account, because of the norm and lens by which I approach scripture, and because of the author, reader and even text based criticism that I engage in to understand the texts.

Now, what about Paul? Paul seems very adamant about some specific understandings of the resurrection account in 1 Corinthians 15. How are we to understand this? Well, obviously, the interpretive method that has been described above allows for the possibility of simply say, “well, Paul was wrong.” But that is not something to be done lightly – it should mean that somehow Paul’s words are not compatible with the heart of the gospel – our normative lens. Although there may be some who would dismiss Paul’s words, that someone would not be me. Instead, I believe we must understand the heart of Paul’s words, using all the tools we have available.

The conservative objection to any non-literal understanding of the resurrection lies mainly in the recitation of this passage of Paul’s: “if Jesus be not risen, your faith is in vain.” But this statement is ambiguous, it needs a clarification of terms. This may shock a conservative who might ask, “what term could possibly need clarified?” I would submit that we need a clarification of what the word “risen” means. It is assumed to mean physical rising, bodily resuscitation. What does a physical, bodily resurrection mean? The Bible tells us that the risen Christ can appear and disappear as if out of thin air. (Luke 24:15, 31) Is that physical/bodily? Christ appeared in a room where all entrances were shut (John 20:19). Can a physical body walk through walls and doors? How can something be real and yet “not physical?” Paul wrestles with this and calls it a “spiritual body.” Paul said other places that flesh and blood could not inherit the kingdom of God, so did Paul believe in the physical resurrection of the bodily resurrection? Until one defines his terms, no one can really say. Paul did say that the risen Christ could never die again… to me, that seems to be some other kind of “resurrection” encounter, other than a literal, physical, bodily resurrection.

So in short, saying that if “Jesus Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain” is not the same as saying, “if Jesus Christ was not physically and bodily resurrected as a re-animated human life in the physical and bodily realm, then our faith is in vain.” The interpretation of Paul centers around how we should most properly understand “risen.” Is Christ “risen” in the transforming power possible in the hearts and lives of men, and in the continuing witness of Jesus manifest in the Church? Or is Jesus risen because, as a human life, he reawoke from death, and physically and bodily lived again in the same manner than we all live today. Obviously, it seems to be that this is a reasonable question that can be debated. Those who see it differently than “conservative” Christians are not simply inventing evidence to fit their conclusions, nor are they not interpreting text, but instead simply discarding text that they do not like. These charges are simplistic and do not cover many of a more liberal mindset who come to their conclusions because on considering all the evidence the belief the heart of the gospel is most properly manifest through their conclusions.

In a couple places above, I borrowed loosely from some authors, but for the most part, this is simply how I, who have a particular belief in the resurrection, explain the interpretive processes that led me to these conclusions. But now, I would like to mention a source you can go to in order to get even more information on interpreting Paul including interpreting 1 Corinthians 15. And when I say interpret, I mean it, I am not talking about rejecting Paul, but in interpreting him.

You may not like Spong, you may disagree with him, but he wrote a lot about interpreting Paul. You asked for information on how liberals “interpret” Paul, and you said you wanted something more than simply saying “well he was just wrong.” Well, these are the sources. Go down to your local book store and find, “Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism” and look at the chapter called, The Man from Tarsus. Next, and probably most important to your interests, find the book called “Ressurection: Myth or Reality. In it, you will find an entire section dealing with Paul and specifically dealing with interpreting 1 Corinthians 15, NOT simply discounting it.

I have not posted this for Mike to agree with, or for anyone else to agree with. Obviously, secularist and atheists will not agree but they reject the entire Christian framework. And I respect that, just please not that my intent in posting here was not to “prove” to atheists” that the resurrection is a good doctrine. My intent was to clarify for Mike and other “conservative” Christians exactly what kind of interpretive process goes into the liberal assertions about the resurrection and other things – that they are not all ill-informed, and they are not all simply re-inventing the “facts” to fit the desired results. Furthermore, as I was mentioning on the “minimum attributes” thread, because the liberal understanding of Christian dogma, is grounded in 1) a particular and formal interpretive process for scripture and 2) is based on their conviction that such interpretation and understand most truly and accurate reflects the very heart of the Christian witness, more effectively than the conservative Christians that they disagree with – because of that – it becomes difficult and impossible to exclude either side as “not Christian.” One side may turn out to be right and the other wrong (or as atheists would be quick to point out, they could both turn out to be wrong) but both’s heart is about attempt to most honestly and truthfully reflect the very heart of the Christian message in modern times. The closest thing you can come to grouping or associating Christians is simply to say, “one group interprets all scripture literally and inerrantly, and another ground interprets scripture as narrative and symbolic of larger truths. Can we right call one group “truly” Christian over the other? No.

I hope this answers your questions about the WHY of liberal interpretation Mike. I realize that you will see it differently. I would really ask you though, to refrain from a big refutation of the method described here. I already assume that you disagree. My post here was not made in an attempt to say “you are wrong” or in an attempt to get you to change your opinions. It was provided PURELY for information. If you would like more information, or more clarification, then let me know, but if you just want to disagree, I already know you disagree, and I accept that, but I’m not going to carry on an argument with you about it… maybe others here would desire to do that, but not me.

Anyway, I hope this helps clear things up.

Old 01-08-2001, 08:30 AM   #2
Posts: n/a

I felt your posting was a very accurate presentation of the position. I would briefly like to add to that position and also highlight one or two places the position itself falls short. This will only serve as a short intro until I can locate an article by a Harvard professor in Biblical Review on the topic of resurrection.

Demythalization (spelling?) of the Bible in modern circles has come to mean that I take the message as principle while I discard incredible content.

Three divisions on direct application of Scripture:
liberal conservative
culture no no (most sound ones)
content no yes
message yes yes

this is bear bones but in a few days I'll go more in depth.

The part I would like to argue about is the reasonableness of above cited passage as inappropriate and incredible. I disagree with some since they are viewed through modern ethics which are rarely Biblical values. If you could give a short list in addition to the ones above, I would take the challenge to refute some. I must admit my limited ability on some, but I do handle some problematic and controversial texts that many others shy away from.

Also the concept of resurrection as physical was alien to gentile thought in the first century. Judaism had a faint inkling on the subject, but Christianity is revolutionary and original its strong stance on the promise of physical resurrection. Its message and content was largely without precedent and the reaction to it is noted (Acts 17:31,32 among other extrabiblical sources). This info is from the BR article.

While this does not coincide with the popular conception of heaven as an eternal spirit state of the saved, I have no problem contradicting church tradition when it is unfounded. Resurrection is not passage by death into the next world, it is a reversal of death.

Further, Paul’s argument about the "glorified body" compared to the present state is but in terms of a tent or a permanent house. This suggest an actual physical body. But it does not suggest that when people die they are immediately ushered into the presence of God as the popular misquote goes, "absent from the body, present with the Lord". This passage and no other in the NT deals with the time laps or state of the believer between death and resurrection (Bullinger, Figures of Speech in the Bible in the portion dealing with that passage).

respectfully submitted for further dialogue.
Old 01-09-2001, 11:32 AM   #3
Posts: n/a

Captain Bloodloss,

Mike has felt that Christianity, and the ability to correctly define oneself as a “Christian” depends on a belief in the Resurrection of Christ.

For the record, I am basing this conviction on the following verse from the Bible:

Romans 10:9 -- That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

I have argued that such people believe the “means” (namely scripture) are most correctly understood in a particular way, and therefore force a particular end conclusion (namely the symbolic, not literal, understanding of the resurrection account.) In response to this, Mike has fairly and reasonably asked for evidence explaining why such people would believe that scripture is most accurately interpreted as people of a more “liberal” Christian understanding interpret it.

To be clear, let me state that I am not nor have ever declared that the Bible as a whole can only be interpreted one way. There are some passages in which actual events are being depicted, and in those cases I find the literal approach to be most sound. On the other hand, there are prophecies which are more easily understood through their inherent symbolism. Other passages contain straightforward explainations and admonitions. In short, the method for interpreting a particular passage of Scripture is going to depend largely on the context of the passage, the author of the passage, and the purpose of the passage.

In short, I agree that there are multiple ways to interpret Scripture. I disagree, however, that all methods of interpretation are necessarily applicable to all passages of Scripture.

Mike has also asked directly, how those believing in a non-literal understanding of the resurrection account interpret Paul’s understanding of the account, specifically as giving in 1 Corinthians 15.

I want to point out, consequently, that the passage of Scripture which we are considering for interpretation here is 1 Cor 15 and that alone. It may be, however, that during the course of interpreting the passage we need to bring in other passages of Scripture to support one's claims or deny the other's. In such an occurrence, I only think it fair to stipulate that we each specify the modes of interpretation which we will be using for the supporting passages as well as for 1 Cor 15.

My goal would be as follows: 1...2...3....

I want to reiterate for the record that I will likely not argue that the method of "liberal" interpretation that Captain Bloodloss presents is totally inappropriate for interpreting all passages of Scripture. Indeed, it may be that what he describes is precisely the method I would use to interpret a particular passage of Scripture. However, the main issue for me will be whether or not that method of interpretation can be properly and accurately applied to 1 Cor 15, which is the specific passage in question.

I do know that I believe there is meaning and significance in the account of the Resurrection of Jesus, though I do not believe that power is to be found in its literalness (or in debates over its historical literalness of non-literalness.)

My position, for the record, is that whether one is truly a Christian or not depends directly on whether one believes the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a literal, historical event. It is obviously true from Rom 10:9 (quoted above) that to be a Christian one must believe in the resurrection of Jesus. However, I additionally maintain that if you believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true only in a symbolic sense, then you have no right to call yourself "Christian." I cite 1 Cor 15 for support of this view, and I consider it a challenge to Captain Bloodloss to show me how 1 Cor 15 can be interpreted in such a way that the apostle's understanding of the resurrection reasonably appears symbolic rather than literal.

I'll have to dig into the actual meat of Captain Bloodloss's post later, but I thought it would be good to at least state what I intend to see come from all this. I look forward to reading the post.


[This message has been edited by mpartyka (edited January 09, 2001).]
Old 01-10-2001, 10:38 AM   #4
Posts: n/a

This is a question directed at Mike and the Captain equally, but also to anyone else that wishes to throw in their two cents.

Do you see the Church itself (however defined, and I certainly would like to see yours) as playing a role in Biblical interpretation? What is that role, and on a scale in which the Bible itself, the Holy Spirit, and human reason (including your own of course, together with that of secular and non-denominational scholars) are the other methods of Biblical exegesis, where does the Church fit?

For the record, I define the Church as comprising the principle apostolic Churches (including the Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Anglican and Lutheran Churches), and see solid doctrine coming only when these Churches are teaching on the basis of explicit and clear Scripture.

As for the order of importance in understanding the Bible is concerned, I rate them in descending order as follows:

1) God Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit to the believer
2) The Bible itself, interpretting itself whenever possible
3) The Church and its traditions as taught in the Creeds and ecumenical councils and decrees (i.e. the Augsburg and Westminister Confessions) and Catechisms
4) Human reason and scholarship

No doubt each of you views the importance of these factors differently, and gives them different weightings than I do, but I do think it would help the discussion if we cleared this point up.

Thank you,

Old 01-10-2001, 11:30 AM   #5
Posts: n/a

Nomad, Mike and others:

I'm sorry I have not been able to pay as close attention to this thread as I should. I realize that the first poster, ask some direction question of me, and I have yet to respond. But I must confess, I'm very tired and it takes a lot of energy to do this. So I will do my best to respond as much and as frequently as I can, but just remember, my initial post was not really to open a huge debate on whether liberal interpretation is "right" or not, but simply to give a brief overview of the elements that go into a "liberal" interpretation, and show that it is not just a bunch of people flippantly trying to make the Bible say whatever suits them best, but instead people really struggling to ask passionately and receive the truest answers about the very meaning of their "faith."

So that said, let me respond to Nomad's question as best I can:

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Nomad:
Do you see the Church itself (however defined, and I certainly would like to see yours) as playing a role in Biblical interpretation? What is that role, and on a scale in which the Bible itself, the Holy Spirit, and human reason (including your own of course, together with that of secular and non-denominational scholars) are the other methods of Biblical exegesis, where does the Church fit?
As far as this is concerned, I basically believe that the basis for Christian faith is the following: Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. You may have heard of this called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The "Church" I believe is described by "Tradition" and perhaps also to an extent by "Experience" but let me try to explore this little Quadrilateral analogy a bit further…

The first thing that we can say about this example is that each of these four things are not necessarily of equal weight. I wish that I could give some exact account of the proper and “official” ratio between these elements required for one to be a “good” Christian, but I cannot. At some point, we will have to look into our own depths of personal understanding to determine such things (or perhaps some would say at this point the Holy Spirit can help us understand.) I’m sure a great many people would place Scripture first, followed perhaps by Tradition, Experience, and last of all Reason. I think there are a great many debates between Christians coming from a primary emphasis on Scripture and Tradition alone, with other Christians who place a primary emphasis on Reason and Experience alone. In truth, I feel both are wrong. I believe all four elements are interrelated and to overlook any one of them is to miss something important.

That said, I know that in my own life, Scripture, Reason and Experience come before Tradition. That is not to say that Tradition is not important, but when Tradition is made into a “god” as though the final word on any subject is whatever has been decreed by others, I think that is a dangerous way to proceed. It’s important to take seriously and understand the ways in which Tradition has dealt with and understood matters of faith. However, I see it more as an interpretive lens, and not a final authority. The power of Tradition (which for Christians would be the Church) is in its continuing and on-going wrestlings and interpretations of Scripture. The great thinkers of the Church, and the Church fathers, and the many Church ministers and saints down through history can definitely contribute much to our own deep understanding of spiritual reality. But no amount of Tradition will remove from us the need to understand our spiritual life in light of our Experience, and our Reasoning faculties, and our own investigations of the texts of that history, namely the Bible.

Under the heading of Scripture, basically all that I have said about interpretation in my original post applies, along with all that Mike will say, and all that has been said by scholars, theologians and ministers down through the ages. The reality is, so much has been said, and so many different understandings and interpretations have been come to, that while all the resources on Biblical interpretation are valuable, they in and of themselves will not get us to an “authentic” faith. We must take all those tools, and add the element of Experience. If something about how we approach Scripture does not match up with my experience of life – it is meaningless. Paul Tillich was right when he said that the power of the spiritual answer lies in its ability to correlate to the deepest questions and realities of our existence. If they do not correlate, then they are dead and meaningless. In order to seek out spiritual truth that correlates to our existential experience, we have to include the element of Experience in our examination. But how can we evaluate the authenticity of our experience of reality? I mean, what is to say that I am simply not operating from a false worldview? Well, that is of course a risk. In addition to many other things like, the direction of the Spirit and things like that, one of the ways that we defend against that risk is to incorporate the category of Reason into our analysis. We think critically and reasonable about our experiences, we seek to verify them and authenticate them. We test them, scrutinize them, and we bring that same reasonable eye to our analysis or both our experience and our scriptural understanding. And then, we can also turn to Tradition for insight.

No one is suggesting blowing off hundreds of years of Tradition. When people have struggled to understand Scripture in previous times, it is foolish to summarily dismiss all that such people have had to say about it. At the same time, it is also foolish to assume that what was said by someone else, anyone else, will make up for my own lack in investigating and interpreting scripture myself through the lenses of tradition, reason and experience in an ambiguous mixture. It is also foolish to assume that what was said hundreds of years ago on an issue is the final and absolute word on the subject forever.

I’ve heard many Christians talk about their evolving and deepening understanding of spiritual truths throughout their lives. In fact, I remember more than one Christian talking about going to a text and interpreting it one way for years, then coming to it again, and understanding it completely differently! There is nothing static about the spiritual quest, and there never has been. All that tradition has to offer will always and forever be guides – starting points for deeper and more personal investigation. No amount of tradition, right down to the words of the very apostles, will substitute for brining an interpretive lens to scripture, to exploring the depths of spiritual life through the lens of Experience, Reason and Tradition as well as Scripture. The Tradition offered through the Church, should in my opinion be seen as a beginning not an end – and initial word not a final word on the matter of faith. It does not take away from us the responsibility to think very carefully and critically about our spiritual realities. And such an investigation may even lead us to non-traditional conclusions. To me, I don’t think that should be seen as such a terrible thing.

I for instance see a lot of value in Tradition, and I am very familiar (for the most part) with Church history, and the Early Church fathers, and the history of Christian Thought. Does that mean I agree with Augustine on everything? Absolutely not! I also do not think that in and of itself should somehow place me or anyone like me outside the scope of “Christian fellowship” as though I should not be calling myself a Christian for that reason and that reason alone. I don’t agree with every interpretation the Church has made over the years. Neither does the Church agree with its own interpretations consistently down through the ages – the Church makes corrections as they continue to pursue the deepest heart of the gospel/good news message. Just look at Vatican II. Just as I feel I cannot turn to Scriptures, simply look at the words printed on the page and say “well, God said it, I believe, that settles it!” neither do I think I can look to Tradition with the same blind certainty.

To do that is to consider only Scripture and Tradition in the mix of elements that go into authentic faith. It denies the role of Reason and Experience, and it creates many problems.

(And of course, as I mentioned before, each those four categories is extremely complex in and of itself – just look at all the material that could do under the “Scripture” heading alone…..)

Old 01-10-2001, 10:26 PM   #6
Posts: n/a

The following article is by N.T. Write and was posted in Bible Review, Agust 2000.
I present this only as evidence that the resurrection was believed by initial Christian's to be actual and physical and not a cultural way of expressing spiritual truths. I concur that "liberals" do tend to put out most of the best exegesis, but "conservatives" often disagree with their applications/conclusions.

"The Resurrection of Resurrection

Christianity was born into a world where one of its central tenets, the resurrection of the dead, was widely recognized as false—except, of course, by Judaism.

Jews believed in resurrection, Greeks believed in immortality. So I was taught many years ago. But like so many generalizations, this one isn't even half true. There was a spectrum of beliefs about the afterlife in first-century Judaism, just as there was in the Greco-Roman world. The differences between these two sets of views and those that developed among the early Christians are startling.

Let's begin with the Greeks. Some Greeks (and Romans) thought death the complete end; most, however, envisaged a continuing, shadowy existence in Hades. Homer, for example, tells of a murky world full of witless, gibbering shadows that must drink sacrificial blood before they can think straight, let alone talk. For Homer, Hades was no fun.(1) The "soul" in Homer, though, was not the "real person," the immortal element hidden inside a body, but rather the evanescent breath that escaped. The true self remained lifeless on the ground.

But there are happier variations on the theme. For Platonists, death's release of the soul from its prison was cause for rejoicing. And even within Homer's scheme, some heroes might conceivably make their way to the Elysian fields, to the Isles of the Blessed, or, in some very rare cases, to the abode of the gods themselves. Hercules, then the Hellenistic rulers and finally the Roman emperors were believed to follow this route. Mystery cults enabled initiates to enjoy a blessed state in the present, which would, it was hoped, continue after death.

All, however, were agreed: There was no resurrection. Death could not be reversed. Homer said it; Aeschylus and Sophocles seconded it. "What's it like down there?" asks a man of his departed friend, in a third-century B.C.E. epigram. "Very dark," comes the reply. "Any way back up?" "It's a lie!"

In Greek thought, the living could establish contact with the dead through various forms of necromancy; they might even receive ghostly visitations. But neither experience amounts to what pagan writers themselves referred to as "resurrection," or the return to life, which they all denied. Thus, Christianity was born into a world where one of its central tenets, resurrection, was universally recognized as false.

Except, of course, in Judaism. Resurrection was a late arrival on the scene in classic biblical writing, however. Much of the Hebrew Bible assumes that the dead are in Sheol, which sometimes looks uncomfortably like Hades: "The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence" (Psalm 115:17). Clear statements of resurrection are extremely rare.(2) Daniel 12 is the most blatant, and remembered as such for centuries afterwards: "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2). Daniel is, however, the latest book of the Hebrew Bible.

In the postbiblical period, the Jewish group known as the Sadducees famously denied the future life altogether. The Sadducees, according to the first-century C.E. Jewish historian Josephus, held that "the soul perishes along with the body" (Jewish Antiquities 18.16). Other Jews spoke, platonically, of a disembodied immortality; according to the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, at death the philosopher's soul would assume "a higher existence, immortal and uncreated."(3) Still others appear to display some kind of resurrection belief, as in Josephus and the Wisdom of Solomon. "In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over people, and the Lord will reign over them for ever" (Wisdom of Solomon 3:7-8).(4) The clearest statements of resurrection after Daniel 12, however, are found in 2 Maccabees, the Mishnah and the later rabbinic writings. In 2 Maccabees, a martyr on the verge of death puts out his tongue, stretches out his arms and declares: "I got these from Heaven, and because of his Laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again" (2 Maccabees 7:11). According to Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.1, "All Israelites have a share in the world to come; ... and these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law."

Remember, resurrection does not mean being "raised to heaven" or "taken up in glory." Neither Elijah nor Enoch had been resurrected in the sense that Daniel, 2 Maccabees and the rabbis meant it; nor, for that matter, had anyone else. Resurrection will happen only to people who are already dead. To speak of the destruction of the body and the continuing existence, however blessed, of something else (call it a "soul" for the sake of argument) is not to speak of resurrection, but simply of death itself. "Resurrection" is not simply death from another viewpoint; it is the reversal of death, its cancellation, the destruction of its power. That is what pagans denied, and what Daniel, 2 Maccabees, the Pharisees and arguably most first-century C.E. Jews affirmed, justifying their belief by reference to the creator God and this God's passion for eventual justice.(5)

The doctrine remained, however, quite imprecise and unfocused. Josephus describes it, confusingly, in various incompatible ways. The rabbis discuss what, precisely, it will mean and how God will do it. Furthermore, the idea could be used metaphorically, particularly for the restoration of Israel after the Exile, as in Ezekiel 37, where the revived dry bones represent the House of Israel.

The early Christian hope for bodily resurrection is clearly Jewish in origin, there being no possible pagan antecedent. Here, however, there is no spectrum of opinion: Earliest Christianity simply believed in resurrection, that is, the overcoming of death by the justice-bringing power of the creator God.

For early Christians, resurrection was seen to consist of passing through death and out the other side into a new sort of bodily life. As Romans 8 shows, Paul clearly believed that God would give new life to the mortal bodies of Christians and indeed to the entire created world: "If the Spirit of the God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised the Messiah Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who lives in you" (Romans 8:11). This is a radical mutation from within Jewish belief.

Resurrection hope (as one would expect from its Jewish roots) turned those who believed it into a counter-empire, an alternative society that knew the worst that tyrants could do and knew that the true God had the answer. But the Christians had an extra reason for this hope, a reason which, they would have said, explained their otherwise extraordinary focus on, and sharpening of, this particular Jewish belief. For the Christians believed that the Messiah had already been raised from the dead.

1 In more relaxed mode, however, some ancient Greek burial customs provided not only basic necessities for the hereafter, but also toys and games, and in some special cases, slaves and even wives. (Back)

2 Passages such as Job 19:25-27, which in the King James Version seems to predict bodily resurrection more solidly than the Hebrew warrants, may have gained this meaning when read in the Septuagint. (Back)

3 Philo, On the Giants 14. (Back)

4 Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-3, often quoted as supporting "immortality," must be read in the context of 1:16-3:9. The speech of "the wicked" (2:1-20) is intended as a classic statement of the pagan denial of resurrection; 3:7-9 is the answer. At the moment, the righteous souls are in God's hand, but a new day is coming in which they will rule the world. (Back)

5 It is thus misleading to describe this view as "a resolute view of death as resurrection," as does Jon Davies, in Death, Burial and Rebirth in the Religions of Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 122.

Old 01-10-2001, 11:25 PM   #7
Posts: n/a

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Josephus:
The following article is by N.T. Write and was posted in Bible Review, Agust 2000.
A good article. I would say that some of the conclusions could be interpretively disputed, namely about Paul. However, I will not dispute that the average person of the early Church was taught to believe that Jesus Christ literally rose from the dead in a physical/bodily way. They believed a lot of other things too, like that what we now understand today as epilepsy was demon possession. They did sense one thing: there was something significant about Jesus' life, his death, and the ways in which his legacy lived on.

The point for me was not to deny that early Christians believed in a literal ressurection. Clearly, today many christians still believe the same. And keep in mind, as I said in my original post, for me pesonally, the point is not to destroy their case for a literal ressurection, or to produce overwhelming evidence for a non-literal reading of the ressurection. My point was twofold: first, to explain the interpretive and exegetical method that is implied by those who would see the ressurection account in some way other than strictly literal, and two and most importantly, to express my own belief that the power and significance of the ressurection account is beyond the realm of quibblings and debates over its literalness or non-literalness, and that people coming to differing conclusions about that still have equal access to grasping the same understanding of the depth of power and significance in that which the ressurection account can stand to represent.

There are a great many other elements that go into the early christians spreading the teaching (true or not) that Jesus Christ physically and bodily rose from the dead. These include, the possible exaggeration of non-witnesses (not my favorite example), the need to establish legitimacy of faith in Jesus, a rift from the tradition of Jewish religion (a more plausible example), the attempt to further correlate the life of Jesus with the prophecies of the OT, again in order to help establish the legitimacy of this new "faith" which would obviously be viewed as a rift, a sect, and even a denial of traditional Jewish faith --- there are many others, and I really wish that I would have been able to carefully and meticulously unfold these examples in great detail.... but I am just too dang tired. Sorry.

Anyway, remember one thing about the last paragraph -- it was not intended to disprove the literallness of the ressurection. It was only intended as a reminder of the many and mitigating circumstances that may have contributed to the speading of the belief that Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead. My larger point still remains, to explain liberal interpretations as not non-rigourous and dismissive, but very rigorous and thorough, and to point out that the real power of the ressurection account exists above and beyond fights over its literalness or nonliteralness.

Good night.

Old 01-11-2001, 03:31 AM   #8
Posts: n/a

I respect the fact that your piece was a presentation of the position's laboriously laid foundation and extensive scholarship. I know these facts well as most theological institutions of higher learning teach according to these lines (true or not this is a fact to be reckoned with). I'm sorry if I took the thread in a different direction. Yet, the literalness of the resurrection only is irrelevant from the position that says only the message needs to be true. I realize that you could develop the arguments well past my learning to the contrary, and I can probably guess at some authors you'd recommend. But from the standpoint of ordeal trial (of which death is the ultimate and unprecedented in any body of literature that I am aware of) it matters a great deal whether it was literal. Briefly, the cross (death really) is an ordeal trial. Survival (in this case resurrection despite death) means authentication from the gods (in this case Jehovah) upon the individual being tried. No survival (resurrection) no validity from God. In the line of thinking that you presented it is possible that this report is false, but I would disagree that the inherent message should be validated as "God's divine word" if the verification by God's hand was not resurrection. This is totally consistent with OT accounts of trial by ordeal (Numbers 5, Daniel, Jonah). In fact, one of Jesus main teachings is that the Judaism of His day was breaking away from "true Judaism", hence the condemnation of His generation as gentile, and Him becoming a remnant of one through whom all Jews who come into him are the true Israel, the covenant keeping Israel, the Israel that will be saved, and all the covenants of God may still be fulfilled in Him. While Jesus outright contradicted much of the oral tradition of Judaism that was enacted shortly before His birth, any detailed analysis of His teachings show not only His vast command of Torah Law, but the strictness to which He kept it. Mike's understanding rests on what many believe, that if it does not resemble the doctrine and practice its original followers, it can not be called by the same name (In stating that I also realize the huge amount of areas in which the modern church differs with its first century counter part in both categories). I once was told that the highest of biblical scholars attempts vainly to know everything the poverty stricken beggar in Jesus' time knew as common sense. I am wary of schools of thought that profess to know more accurately than its original audience. I do concede in that I wish more Christians had a knowledge not only of the origin of the Bible, but the sometimes messy process of transmitting it to us here and now, and the modern myths about it which are very destructive.

[This message has been edited by Josephus (edited January 11, 2001).]
Old 01-11-2001, 09:18 AM   #9
Posts: n/a

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Josephus:
A great post. I want to get back to you about some of it, but for some reason, this thread takes more of my strength and energy than any other. I can only imagine what it will be like when Mike decides to chime in (that was not intended as a put-down).

So, I will try to get back to you on this, hopefully today, but no promises.


Old 01-11-2001, 10:11 AM   #10
Posts: n/a

Hello Andrew, and welcome Josephus.

Interesting posts from both of you. Thank you.

I understand that my purposes on this thread are slightly different from what the two of you have been discussing, but do feel that it has a place here. If, on the other hand, you (together with Mike) feel that I am distracting from the discussion, then I can move my questions to another thread. Please let me know.

My questions are actually for anyone reading this thread, but stem largely from the discussions I have followed between Mike and the Captain to date. Basically, I see the difficulty being presented when we take a discussion between a typical "evangelical" Protestant Christian and their "liberal" (I do hate labels BTW, but need some kind of point of reference here that all of us can accept), I think we are experiencing the effects of a set of assumptions that really are two sides of the same coin.

To both the liberal and the evangelical, human reason coupled with the Holy Spirit for the evangelical, and with the role of "experience (by which I am assuming the Captain means a combination societal, cultural and personal experiential factors that help to shape him as a believer) plays a role above that of any Church taught traditional understanding of the Scriptures.

Thus, the liberal is freed to say that the Bible does not mean what it clearly says, but needs to be read in a much more metaphorical sense while the evangelist is left with no more authority to counter this interpretation than offering his own in response. In such a scenario, there cannot be any real resolution in my view.

On the other hand, when I discuss this with the evangelical, who justifies his interpretation by simply accepting that the Bible be read literally, I am left wondering where, in the Bible he read that he can do this. In other words, where in the Bible itself does it say that an individual, working alone, or even together with the Holy Spirit, is able to clearly understand Scripture?

I also look to find out where the interpretations of past Christians, who were probably equally blessed with the power of the Spirit fits into the exegesis performed by the modern evangelical. We can call this past interpretation the "Church", or "Tradition", but since my own reading of the Bible tells me that this group, as the Body of Christ plays a central role in interpretation of Holy Scripture, and I can support this with clear literal Scripture (see Matthew 18:16-19, 1 Timothy 3:15), I do not understand this refusal to consult with the community of believers (both past and currently living).

Now, when I deal with the "liberals", who also reject Church authority in such matters, the challenge is even more problematic. At least with the evangelical, I am dealing with an individual that accepts the unique authority of the Bible as the inspired Word of God. With a liberal, as near as I understand it, he will see the Bible as a book of wisdom, but not something coming directly from the Mind of God, but from other men. As a result, I see no means by which I can convince this individual that his reading of the Bible may be flawed in some fundamental way, since I too, am merely human, and can claim no greater education, or insight that this person need accept. If they feel free to disagree with the Creeds and long established and accepted doctrines (our "traditions"), and create an entirely new set of beliefs (possibly even unique just to themselves as individuals), then what is left to say? They are an authority unto themselves, effectively a church of one, or at best, a few.

Now, in none of this am I saying that we are to blindly follow any human being. The rules in place, from my point of view, is that any Church teaching must have its foundation in clear Scripture. If my understanding of that Scripture is different from those that claim to have special authority (as the Church does), then like the Bereans, I have a Christian duty to insure that I am not being taught falsely. The Holy Spirit will guide my reasoning powers as I pray and meditate upon the words given to me in the Bible and by the Church, and hopefully, I can then arrive at the truth. But what I cannot do, or justify to myself as a Christian, is accept that my wisdom exceeds the Church's wisdom, or that my interpretation should be held in higher standing than that of the Body of believers. I have never understood how a person can individualize Biblical exegesis in such a manner, and yet claim to be consistant with what our Lord has taught us Himself.

I hope this helps to clarify my point of view, and I am seriously interested in gaining a better understanding of what both evangelical and liberal Christians alike happen to think about such questions.

If I may, here is my central question:

If a passage of the Bible can legitmately be interpretted in two different ways, and both can be rationally defended (even if they are mutually contradictory interpretations), how do you personally decide which interpretation is the best?

Thank you again, and peace.


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