Resurrection in Judaism and Christianity  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Resurrection as a concept is not a Christian invention; it entered Judaism during the post-Exile period (cf the Book of Daniel) and by the time of Jesus it was widespread among Jews.  Not uniformly, however, since some factions like the Pharisees embraced the notion enthusiastically, while the Sadducees, strict adherents of the Pentateuch, rejected it.   NT Wright in a recent article points out seven ways in which the resurrection view of the earliest Christian community differed from that of its Jewish matrix.


  1. There is virtually no spectrum of belief on this subject within early Christianity.  The early Christians came from many strands within Judaism and from widely differing backgrounds within paganism...Christianity looks, to this extent, like a variety of Pharisaic Judaism.
  2. In Second-Temple Judaism, resurrection is important but not that important...But in early Christianity resurrection has moved from the circumference to the center...
  3. In Judaism it is usually left vague as to what sort of a body the resurrected will possess...But from the start the early Christians believed that the resurrection body, though it would certainly be a body in the sense of a physical object, would be a transformed body, a body whose material, created from the old material, would have new properties.  That is what Paul means by the "spiritual body".
  4. ...The resurrection, as an event, has split into two...the resurrection itself has happened to one person in the middle of history, anticipating and guaranteeing the final resurrection of his people at the end of history.
  5. ...The early Christians believed...that God had called them to work with implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness.
  6. ...In the Old Testament "resurrection" a metaphor for return from exile [Ezekiel 37] the New Testament resurrection is used [metaphorically] in relation to baptism and holiness...though without affecting the concrete referent of a future resurrection itself.
  7. No one in Judaism had expected the Messiah to die, and therefore nobody had imagined the Messiah rising from the dead...It is impossible to account for the early Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah without the resurrection.

Victory in Christ  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Macrina Walker of A Vow of Conversation has very helpfully  transcribed a talk by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on "Salvation in Christ".  Ware summarizes the various theological interpretations of just how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus "save" us.  The excerpt below deals with Jesus as the victor over sin and death.


Here Christ's work of salvation is seen as a cosmic battle between good and evil, between light and darkness.  Dying on the cross and rising from the dead, Christ is victor over sin, death, and the devil.  this victory is summed up in the last word that he spoke on the cross, tetelestai (Jn 19:30) which is usually translated "It is finished".  But this is not to be seen as a cry of resignation or despair.  Christ is not just saying, "It's all over.  This is the end", but he is affirming, "It is accomplished.  It is fulfilled.  It is completed"...

The Father who particularly uses the idea of victory is St Irenaeus of Lyons at the end of the second century.  If you want to see the idea of victory lived out, then think above all of the Paschal Midnight service, with its constant refrain, Christos anesti ek nekron, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death"...

...when Christ says "it is finished", the Evangelist intends us to think back to what was said four chapters earlier, "Having loved his own, he loved them to the end", eis telos.  From this we understand exactly what is finished on the cross, what is fulfilled:  it is the victory of love.  Despite all the suffering, physical and mental, inflicted on him, Jesus goes on loving humankind; his love is not changed into hatred.  We are to see the victory then as not a military victory but as the victory of suffering love, unchanging love, love without limits.  As the Protestant theologian Karl Barth said, "the Christian God is great enough to be humble".  And that's what we see above all in his victory on the cross.  God is never so strong as when he is most weak.

Passover and Eucharist  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Since Passover falls during Holy Week this year, it is most appropriate to consider possible connections between the Passover seder and the Christian Eucharist.  (And even if the Last Supper did  not take place during a seder, as some New Testament scholars maintain, Passover was definitely in the air.)

A worthy effort in this direction is Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Roman Catholic scholar Brant Pitre (Doubleday 2011).  Pitre documents parallels between the Eucharist and a number of Jewish concepts such as messianism, Exodus, manna, the Bread of the Presence, and the paschal lamb.  What Jesus and his followers did was not to discard the seder but to reinterpret it in a radically new way.  Examples are found on pp 70-74.


...the Last Supper was also different--radically different--from an ordinary Passover meal.  Any ancient Jew, including the apostles, could easily have seen this.  For one thing, most Passovers were celebrated within families, with the father leading and acting as head.  At the Last Supper, by contrast, Jesus acted as host and leader of the Twelve, even though he was not the father of any of the disciples.  Even more, at an ordinary Passover, the focus was on God's covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, and the entry into the promised land of Canaan.  Yet Jesus spoke instead of the "new covenant", prophesied by Jeremiah to be fulfilled in the age of salvation...Perhaps most significant, at an ordinary Jewish Passover, the entire liturgy revolved around the body and blood of the sacrificial Passover lamb.  First, the lamb would be slaughtered, and the priests in the Temple would pour out the blood of the lamb on the altar.  Then the Jews would bring the body of the lamb from the Temple to the Passover meal, and the father would explain its meaning at the meal.  Yet at the Last Supper, Jesus did something entirely different.  With his words of explanation, he shifted the focus away from the body and blood of the Passover lamb (of which there is no mention), and turned it toward his own body and blood.

... Along the same lines, before the Temple was destroyed, the climax of the Passover sacrifice was the pouring out of the Lamb's blood by the priests in the temple...[Jesus calls the Passover wine "my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many".]...When we compare Jesus' actions to these ancient Jewis traditions, it doesn't take much imagination to figure out his point.  By means of his words over the bread and wine of the Last Supper, Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms, "I am the new Passover lamb of the new exodus.  This is the Passover of the Messiah, and I am the new sacrifice".

Why the Creed Matters  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Theologian Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory University in The Creed:  what Christians believe and why it matters  (Doubleday 2003)  takes on the issue of the Nicene Creed and its seeming intellectual incoherence to many--both inside and outside the Church--whose worldviews are informed largely by the assumptions of post-Enlightenment modernism.  An excerpt can be found here on the Beliefnet site.


For Modernity, belief in a creed is a sign of intellectual failure.  Creeds involve faith, and faith  makes statements about reality that can't  be tested.  Everyone knows that statements can be true only when they don't really say anything about the world or when they have been empirically tested.  Creeds are therefore structures of fantasy.  One cannot be both a believer and a critical thinker...To be authentic, people must own each statement they make passionately and personally, and must accept nothing on the basis of outside authority...

My aim is to make the creed controversial for those Christians who say it but do not understand it and therefore do not grasp what a radical and offensive act they perform when they declare these words every week in a public assembly.  In other words, I want to make the creed more controversial rather than less controversial for the right reasons rather than the wrong reasons.

I think that the Christian creed enunciates a powerful and provocative understanding of the world, one that ought to scandalize a world that runs on the accepted truths of Modernity.  There is something in the creed to offend virtually every contemporary sensibility.  At the same time, it communicates a compelling vision of the world's destiny and humanity's role that challenges the accustomed idolatries and the weary platitudes of current worldly wisdom.  Christians who say these words should know what they are doing when they say them and what they are saying when they mean them.  This is the precondition to celebrating a specifically Christian conception of reality, and the presupposition for their challenging the dominant conceptions of the world.