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Easter: Some distinctions

Dr. Thomas Sheehan (Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University)

April 18, 2005

  • The Word Alone Network Annual Convention
  • St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church
  • Mahtomedi, Minnesota

"Wake up, sleeper, rise up from the dead, and the Christ will enlighten you." (Ephesians 5:14)


Part One: Two presuppositions

  • The New Testament theologizes history
  • Faith as interpretation

Part Two: Paul and Easter

  • Historical research on Yeshua
  • Easter in the early Yeshua-movement
  • Easter in Paul
  • Conclusion

Easter: Some distinctions


Dr. Thomas SheehanThe task. Our task today is to understand the relation between Scripture and Easter faith. But Easter faith preceded the New Testament by two decades and helped to form it. So more precisely our task is to understand how Easter faith got expressed in human language and specifically the language of Scripture. I will focus on Easter in Paul. My purpose is not to tell you what Easter means so much as simply to make some distinctions.[1]

A necessary distinction. The most important distinction to make is between God’s Word and man’s word – God’s creative and efficacious Word on the one hand, and human words and interpretations on the other. It is easy to confuse God’s Word and human words. You probably have heard of Governor “Ma” Ferguson of Texas (Miriam Amanda Ferguson, 1875-1961), who back in the 1920s opposed the use of the Spanish language in Texas kindergartens. She based her argument on the New Testament: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for Texas school children.”

Different dialects. Within Christian faith, all human language is a finite effort to understand God’s Word; and within the languages of Christian faith there are different dialects, each with its own grammar, intonation, and rhetoric. None of these religious dialects is entirely adequate to God’s Word, and yet Christians believe that as a whole these dialects are united by that Word, which transcends them all and yet resounds in each. Today you have invited Professor Craig Koester and me to talk about Easter. He and I speak different dialects – his Lutheran, mine Roman Catholic – but we share a common scholarly idiom. He uses the work of Raymond E. Brown and others to understand the Gospel of John, and I use the work of John P. Meier and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., to understand Jesus and Paul.

Historical-hermeneutical method. Professor Craig Koester and I both employ the historical-critical method for studying the New Testament. However, I tend to avoid the phrase “historical-critical,” lest the word “critical” be misunderstood as expressing negativity towards the Scriptures. I prefer to call my work “historical-hermeneutical” scholarship. It makes use of both scientific history and various hermeneutical methods, in an effort to understand first-century Judaism and Christianity. What is historical-hermeneutical method? Let us find out by watching it at work. I divide this talk into two parts. Part One discusses two presuppositions that I bring to scholarship on Easter. Part Two presents some distinctions relevant to understanding Easter in Paul.

Part one: two presuppositions

First presupposition

My first presupposition is that the New Testament is a theologization of history – that is, it understands itself as a faith-interpretation of the historical events surrounding Yeshua of Nazareth. (I shall call Jesus by his historical name “Yeshua” – Aramaic for Joshua – rather than “Jesus,” an Anglicization of the Greek word Iêsous, which he probably never used.) This position entails that Christians should respect the distinction between the New Testament’s faith-interpretations, and the historical events that preceded such interpretations by several decades. I begin by distinguishing between God’s creative Word and our discursive words.

God’s Word. Christian faith holds that God’s creative Word is God himself, acting efficaciously outside of himself and revealing himself in that efficacious act. God’s Word is one, instantaneous, and eternal. It is also transitive and effective: it brings about what it is about. God’s Word is not verbal but a silent divine act from all eternity. Let us call it God’s “Word-Act,” as in the Hebrew davar. Believers hold that God’s Word-Act brings about historical effects: deeds like the cross, spoken words like the parables, and written words like the New Testament. Those effects of God’s Word-Act are also God’s Word but, as Karl Barth points out, only in an extended and analogous sense.[2] The distinction here is between God’s one, instantaneous, and efficacious Word-Act of creation and revelation, and the plural words and deeds that God’s Word-Act brings about in history.

Human words. By contrast, human words are a finite, discursive way of making sense of God’s Word-Act and responding to it. Just as God’s Word-Act is a single silent deed, so human words, before they become articulate sounds or written letters, are silent acts of synthesizing and understanding. Examples would include Paul’s inner thoughts before he dictated his Epistle to the Romans, or Martin Luther’s thoughts as he composed his 1515-16 commentary on Romans, or your own silent faith in the Word-Act revealed in that epistle. Because God is first in everything, no human words stand outside the power of God’s Word-Act. Paul’s and Luther’s and one’s own words of faith are all, in different ways, empowered by God’s creative and revealing Word-Act.

The historical-hermeneutical method. The historical-hermeneutical method is a scholarly way of understanding the New Testament’s faith-testimonies to God’s Word-Act. When scholars employ the method, they presuppose the obvious: that Scripture is history understood through a faith-hermeneutic. The New Testament certainly contains history. It is about deeds performed by human beings, and things that happened to them, in the first century C.E. Insofar as it records those events (whether accurately or not), the New Testament is about history – but only in a very specific way. The New Testament is concerned chiefly with faith and salvation, and it interprets historical events not for their own sake but for the sake of salvation. It does so by a faith-interpretation, by which I mean a theology in the broadest sense. The New Testament is a theologization of history, a reading of history through theology, whether the theology takes the form of hymns, prayers, proclamations, ethical exhortations, historicizing narratives, pastoral guidance, imaginative apocalypse, or proto-systematic doctrine.

Two moments of historical-hermeneutical method. Parallel to the twofold nature (historical and theological) of the New Testament, the historical-hermeneutical method operates both as historical science and as a hermeneutics of first-century faith. On the one hand, the New Testament scholar investigates all the available historical data on Yeshua and the Yeshua-movement and draws historical conclusions from that. On the other hand, the scholar carries out a second-order hermeneutics of the first-order faith-hermeneutics found in the New Testament. That is, the authors of the New Testament carried out a first-order interpretation of Yeshua and the Yeshua-movement, motivated by their faith in God’s Word-Act. And today historical-hermeneutical scholarship carries out a second-order interpretation of those first-order interpretations, in the interests of either secular or religiousscholarship.

A strict distinction. Whether practiced by believers or non-believers, historical-hermeneutical method maintains a strict distinction between the historical events and the Scriptures’ later faith-interpretation of those events. Some scholars will be interested only in the historical events – for example, how Yeshua understood himself before his death. Others may be interested only in the New Testament’s Jewish-Christian theology. Still others will try to conjugate the two in order to understand the transition from Yeshua’s self-understanding during his lifetime to the disciples’ understanding of him after his death. In any case, only by maintaining the distinction between faith and theology can historical-hermeneutical scholarship properly synthesize its understandings of both history and theology into either a secular-historical or a religious interpretation of what first-century Jews and Gentiles thought God had done in their lives.

Can Christians accept history? As regards Yeshua and the New Testament, the entrance-level challenge for Christians today is: Can they make the requisite distinctions between history and the faith-interpretations of history? Can believers learn to differentiate between the historical Jewish Yeshua, along with all that he did (and did not) say and do, from the Scriptures’ later theologies of Yeshua? Or are Christians forever destined to blur the two, to read the post-mortem theologies about Yeshua back into the pre-mortem historical life of Yeshua? To confuse history and theology within one’s private piety may perhaps be innocuous, but when done in the name of scholarship it is disastrous. When Christian theologians and preachers confuse history and faith and then insist that this untutored confabulation is Christian doctrine, they betray their vocations as scholars and teachers. They fail their mandate to “rightly divide the word” (II Timothy 2:15).[3]

Hard not to read back. To be frank, most Christians in fact do blur later first-century theology and earlier first-century history. They tend to write the later theology over the earlier history, like a palimpsest. That is why they get defensive when they hear that some theological grinch has stolen yet another figure from their Christmas crib. First the Christmas star and the Three Wise Men went out the door. (By the way, Matthew never says there were three wise men – there could have been thirty-three.)[4] Then Bethlehem was called into question as Yeshua’s birthplace. Next thing you know, they’ll do away with the Slaughter of the Innocents – and what will Christmas be without those two-year-olds getting hacked to pieces?[5]

Some corollaries. The historical events that occurred in Yeshua’s lifetime were available to direct empirical observation back then, just as they are available to indirect historical observation today. Then, as now, those events had their own secular, empirical parameters and were susceptible of differing interpretations of equal validity. Good and faithful Jews (the disciples among them) witnessed the events surrounding Yeshua but understood them in divergent ways. Towards the end of the first century Josephus gave those events a valid historical reading. In the midst of the events, Pontius Pilate gave them a valid political reading. Even Caiaphas gave a valid realpolitisch interpretation of Holy Week when he observed that “Firebrands like Yeshua can bring Rome down on our necks. Better for one man to die than for thousands to be murdered or enslaved” (cf. John 11:50) – a prescient statement when you think ahead to the Jewish revolt.

Respecting history. In the Roman Catholic tradition it is a matter of principle, based on Scripture, that faith does not and cannot conflict with right reasoning and that good theology cannot contradict good science. Catholics hold that God is the First Truth and author of all truth, whether of faith or reason, whether of theology or science. To be sure, respecting history may not bring you salvation; but neither will disrespecting history help the faith – and it makes for very bad theology. As renowned scholar John L. McKenzie has wisely noted, “God is not well served by telling lies on his behalf.”[6]

Matthew 27:51-54. With articles of faith Christians have managed to distinguish faith-interpretations from empirical history. Today, for example, few Christians will insist that Matthew 27:52-53 was recounting actual history when it proclaimed that many Jews were resurrected on Good Friday afternoon (beating Yeshua to the punch by three days), then hid in their tombs until Easter Sunday, whereupon they left their graves, entered Jerusalem, and scared the socks off their relatives.

Acts 1:9. Nor will every Christians insist that Yeshua ascended physically and spatially into Heaven forty-three days after his death – first of all, because only one of the four Gospels mentions an ascension and not necessarily a spatial one (Luke 24:51); second, because Christians no longer think of Heaven as spatially “up” (wherever “up” might be in today’s world); and third, because if Yeshua had left the Mount of Olives on April 28, 30 C.E. at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), he would still be traveling through the Milky Way, whizzing past the 200 billion suns of this one galaxy, not to mention the 200 billion other galaxies he would have to get past to arrive in Heaven. No, both Matthew’s text and Acts 1:9 are theologizations, not accounts of historical events. They express the Christian belief that the crucified Yeshua is with and of God.

Second presupposition

The first presupposition about the New Testament as a faith-interpretation of history leads to a second one: According to Christian theology, faith is a God-inspired interpretation of human experience.

Knowledge. Let us begin with ordinary experience, specifically with human knowledge. Knowing does not mean mentally photographing something. It does not consist in merely seeing and recording a datum, but in seeing it as something, making sense of it, taking it as this or that. All knowledge is judgment (i.e., attributing a meaning to something); every judgment is an interpretation; and all interpretations are open-ended and reformable. New Testament theologian James G. D. Dunn puts it correctly: “The facts are not to be identified as data; they are always an interpretation of the data.”[7] If the 1944 bomb plot against Hitler had succeeded, would his death have been murder or justifiable homicide? When an Israeli Mossad agent preemptively and extra-judicially kills a member of Hamas, is that murder or justifiable homicide? Was Truman a war criminal for ordering the bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki? In each case, the fact of the matter is a matter of interpretation, and as Craig Koester points out, “The interpreter’s frame of reference plays a crucial role in the interpretation. . . .”[8]

True and false. To say that human knowledge is an interpretation does not mean that it is never true. It can be true, and it can be false. But for believers God’s knowledge is always true, because it is never an interpretation of data but always a creation of data. That is why believers should never confuse temporal and discursive human words with God’s eternal Word-Act. Nor should they confuse the words of Scripture with the divine Word-Act that those words intend to reveal. God’s Word-Act is not subject to interpretation, but the words of Scripture certainly are. In fact they do not become revelation until someone understands those words as communicating God’s Word-Act.

Faith as interpretation. Let us move from knowledge to faith. According to Christian theology, faith is a God-inspired interpretation of historical human experience. Here, seeing is not believing. The wondrous deeds that God did through Yeshua (Acts 2:22) were not always seen as miracles, even by Yeshua’s own disciples. Those people were right to be cautious. There were many charismatic healers in Yeshua’s time, and many false Christs, some quite possibly from Beelzebub (cf. Matthew 12:24). The disciples did see Yeshua’s deeds, but they did not always see them as the work of God.

John 20 and John 1. Even Easter, the Word-Act that God did in Yeshua, was not immediately understood by Yeshua’s followers. Notice, in the story about Mary Magdalene, that John 20 has her turn around twice, once in order to see, and a second time in order to see as. After looking into the empty tomb, Mary turns around the first time (verse 14: estraphê eis ta opisô) and sees only a gardener. He asks her, “Whom do you seek?” (tina zêteis;). She responds with a question with her own: “Where have you laid him?” At that point – but only when the man calls her by her own name – “Maria” – does she turn a second time (verse 16: strapheisa) and see the man as the Christ of God. Only with that second “turn” does she believe. Compare this with the parallel scene at the River Jordan in John 1. There it is Yeshua who turns (verse 38: strapheis) to find Andrew and another disciple following him. He asks them not “Whom do you seek?” but “What do you seek?”(ti zêteite;). They respond with a question of their own: “Where do you dwell?” Yeshua invites them to come and see. They do, and only then do they see him as the Christ. The scene at the Jordan is already the beginning of Easter faith; and in its depiction of Mary Magdalene’s double turn, chapter 20 reaffirms that seeing is not believing and that faith is a divinely inspired seeing-as (cf. also John 20:29). Only under the power of God’s Word-Act is faith in that Word-act possible.

Revelation. The point is that for faith to happen at all, God must reveal the meaning of the historical data. Only then can the believer understand that the meaning of the data is God’s Word-Act. (If Christians could see and understand the divine meaning of historical data without God’s revelation of that meaning, their act would not be faith but a human work.) The Greek word for God’s revelation is apokalypsis; and so for Christians, “faith” means accepting God’s apokalypsis, receiving his revelation, embracing his Word-Act when it is made manifest. But first the revelation, then the response. First the apokalypsis, then the acceptance. First the manifestation, and then, under God’s power, the metanoia.

Some concluding questions. The destruction of the Second Temple on August 7 (the 10th of Ab), 70 C.E., is a firm fact of history. And by our human lights, we can arrive at various meanings of it – the geopolitical, ethnographic, and historical meanings, for example. Those meanings, long tested and confirmed, are also facts of history. But the Synoptics interpreted the destruction of the Temple in a different light, according to what they took to be God’s revelation of his Word-Act in history. Their faith in that revelation led them to understand the destruction of the Temple as a sign of the Parousia. For them, that was a fact of faith. This leaves us with some questions. Can one reasonably and responsibly hold to both sets of meanings, the historical and the religious, without confusing the two? Or is it a zero-sum game: either the empirically based meanings or the faith-based meanings? Is it reasonable and responsible to hold that God is the final (if not proximate) source of both science and theology? Or is it once again it a zero-sum game? Must Christians either abandon their faith or twist reason to fit revelation, science to fit Scripture?[9]

Part two:

Paul and Easter

This second part unfolds in three sections: First and briefly, the historical Yeshua of Nazareth apart from Easter. Second, Easter in the early Yeshua movement. And third, Easter in Paul.

1. the historical Yeshua apart from easter

John Meier’s A Marginal Jew. By a broad consensus, the best historical work on Yeshua is Father John Meier’s massive treatise A Marginal Jew – three volumes already published, soon to be four.[10] It is clear from what he writes that John Meier, a Catholic priest teaching at Notre Dame University, believes that Yeshua is Christ, Lord, and the Son of God, the divine and incarnate savior of humankind. But Meier is also a historical scholar, and that is why he has written these volumes. The following brief summary draws on Meier’s work.

Three characteristics of Yeshua. History shows Yeshua to have been understood by others, and to have understood himself, as three things: a prophet, a healer, and a teacher. It is likely that Yeshua saw himself as the final prophet, whose role was to prepare for God’s definitive appearance on earth. Yeshua had one overriding message: the Power of God, which the Gospels call “the Kingdom of God.” In Yeshua’s preaching, God’s Power – his Word-Act – is entirely for empowering human beings. It has already arrived in a hidden way for those who accept it in trust, and it will soon arrive visibly when God appears in glory to judge the living and the dead. As a prophet (like a new Elijah) Yeshua declares the eschatological, i.e., definitive, message of God’s in-breaking Power. As a charismatic healer (like the historical Elijah) Yeshua gives evidence of that in-breaking Power by the mighty deeds God works through him. And as an authoritative teacher (like Moses) Yeshua interprets Jewish law (halakhah) in a much more compassionate way than did some Pharisees of the time.

Prophet and Martyr. The historical record shows Yeshua to have been both a prophet and a martyr. A prophet is not one who predicts the future so much as one who proclaims God in the present. A prophet is also a martyr in the Greek sense of martys – not one who dies for what he believes so much as one who lives his life bearing witness to it. Yeshua was a prophet-martyr who, as far as we can tell, trusted in God’s in-breaking Power to the point of being tortured to death for it. That commitment is what his early followers called “the faith of Yeshua.”[11]

Yeshua’s purpose. The consensus of mainstream Christian scholarship is that Yeshua’s purpose was not to found a new religion to replace Judaism (much less to institute the papacy and episcopacy so dear to my own tradition). He simply meant to gather together faithful Jews in radical readiness for the in-break of God’s Power. There is no credible evidence that he intended to die a death of substitutionary atonement for the sins of humankind. His one and only concern was the Power of God, already arriving and soon to be manifest.

Disturbing news. The results of historical research into Yeshua may be disturbing to some Christians. But if believers resolve to distinguish – and refuse to conflate – historical data and the New Testament’s faith-interpretations of that data, they will see that such historical facts do not imperil faith. Nonetheless, overcoming one’s initial defensiveness is not easy. I am reminded of the old priest in rural Ireland who took a course in current Scripture scholarship, and was shocked by what he learned. The next Sunday he mounted the pulpit to address his flock. “Ach,” says he, “I’ve got some bad news for you. Last week I learned that our Lord Jesus Christ – who I always thought was a good Catholic – was in fact a Jew!” (Groans of disbelief from the parishioners.) “Well, Jesus maybe. But not his Sacred Mother!”

2. easter in the early Yeshua-movement

Claims of historical experiences. The New Testament is clear in its claims that soon after the murder of Yeshua – which probably occurred on April 7th (the 14th of Nisan), 30 C.E. – God manifested Yeshua to well over five hundred Jews at various times. The early founders of the Yeshua-movement proclaimed these events as real – not as hallucinations or ghostly apparitions or cases of mass hysteria, but as personal, historical experiences that they took to be revelations (Greek, apokalypseis) from God. In those revelations God manifested Yeshua as lifted up from death to the status of the Chosen One who would soon bring God’s Power to earth. In brief: Yeshua as exalted and to come, whether as the Son of Man (Acts 7:56) or the Messiah.

Easter: factum, phenomenon, faith. Faith, we said, is the acceptance of God’s apokalypsis, the response to his revelation. But there must be some content that gets revealed in the revelation. For Christians that content is the divine factum, God’s Word-Act in Yeshua. Easter is thus comprised of three distinct moments. First, the Easter factum of God’s appointing Yeshua the Messiah to come – God’s Word-Act which, like God himself, is beyond space and time. Second, God’s revelation of that Easter factum. Third, the human response to God’s revelation of his Word-Act. Easter is the unity of those three distinct moments: (1) the Easter factum, (2) the Easter phenomenon (cf. phainesthai, to make manifest), and (3) Easter-faith. The first moment lies outside the world of space and time; the second and third lie within it.

Faith is from revelation, not sight or reason. The New Testament is clear: The disciples could not have understood the Easter factum by their own lights. Without God’s apocalyptic revelation they could not have known or accepted the crucified Yeshua as the living Christ. Or to reverse the point, if they had seen the crucified Yeshua as the Messiah with their own eyes and by their natural lights – i.e., if they had accepted the Easter factum on the basis of empirical evidence – that would have been a work of reason rather than an act of faith, and therefore not salvific. But the New Testament never claims such empirical evidence, no matter how rich and elaborate the later Gospel narratives get. Those stories always show the disciples as doubting, struggling, not getting the point – until God enlightens them through his Christ. The New Testament teaches that faith is faith, not sight, and that seeing is not believing. What Christians usually called the “Easter appearances” are better understood as God’s revelations of Yeshua – within history and to specific people – as the living Christ to come. These revelations occurred within the disciples’ experience and are inseparable from it. Cephas, James, Paul, and the others understood God to be revealing Yeshua as the one in whom God’s fullness dwells (Colossians 1:19). Their response to those revelations was faith.

What does and does not count. We must distinguish between the theological meaning of Easter and various ways the New Testament refers to Easter. The theological meaning of Easter is God’s Word-Act in Yeshua – in the language of first-century Judaism, the fact that God made Yeshua the Messiah (Rom. 1:4, Acts 2:36). That is the bottom line. It is the Easter factum revealed to the earliest disciples, the content of their faith. That is all that God revealed, and for Christians it alone saves. It is simply irrelevant whether any women visited the tomb on the first day of the week, or found it empty, or met an angelic messenger. Christians are free to believe – or doubt – that Yeshua walked to Emmaus, ate fish in his disciples’ presence, and let Doubting Thomas touch his wounds. Believing that those things happened – or not – has nothing to do with Easter. None of it is part of God’s Word-Act in Yeshua. None of it was revealed to Cephas, James, and Paul. None of it will save you. Easter faith means embracing the revealed Easter factum: God’s extra-temporal, non-spatial Word-Act in the crucified Yeshua.[12]

Earliest articulations of the Easter factum. The New Testament preserves the historical record of the earliest terms believers used to name the Easter factum. It is important to note: (1) that the earliest name for the Easter factum was not “resurrection” from the dead but “exaltation” from the cross; and (2) that the English word “resurrection” is not only metaphoric but also a conflation of two distinct Greek words that the New Testament uses to name the Easter factum. We take up each point in turn.

First: hyper-hypsôsis. Father Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., expresses the consensus of mainstream Christian scholarship when he writes that the earliest levels of the New Testament tradition make no mention of “resurrection” but speak only of God’s “exaltation” of Yeshua to glory directly from the cross.[13] The classic text is the early Aramaic hymn that Paul quotes in Greek in Philippians 2.[14] At verse 9 that hymn proclaims that God “exalted” Yeshua, i.e., lifted him up on high (hyper-hypsôsen, cf. also Acts 5:31) and named him the Messiah. This hymn is one of the earliest proclamations of the Easter factum, and the language of “resurrection” is entirely absent from it. The Greek verb used here –hyper-hypsoô– echoes LXX Psalm 96:9 (= 97:9), where “Elohim is the most highly exalted (ho hypsistos) above all the earth.”[15]

Second: egersis/anastasis. Regarding the second point, we note three things. First, the single English word “resurrection” is used to translate two distinct terms that the Greek New Testament uses for Easter. Second, both of those Greek terms are metaphoric, just as are the words “resurrection” and “exaltation.” And third, conflating those two distinct terms into the totum-coverum word “resurrection” is both inaccurate and misleading – inaccurate because it is a conflation, and misleading because it leads to false literalizations.[16]

“Resurrection” is a conflation of two metaphors. When Christians read the word “resurrection” in their English New Testaments, they may not realize that this single word is used, indifferently, to translate two very different Greek terms: egersis and anastasis. The Greek noun egersis (or the verb egeirô) refers to “waking up someone from sleep,” whereas anastasis (or the verb anistêmi) refers to “standing someone up after a fall” or “putting him back on his feet.” When used of the Easter factum, these two Greek words are clearly metaphors. “God has awakened Yeshua from the sleep of death” and “God has made Yeshua stand up again after falling among the dead” are powerful religious metaphors for expressing the ultimately inexpressible fact of God’s transcendent Word-Act in Yeshua. However, their rich expressiveness is lost when the two terms get crunched into the single word “resurrection.” In turn that word gets falsely literalized when Christians (scholars included) claim it means “to rise from a horizontal to a vertical position so as to be able to exit from a tomb” – as in the famous, if uneducated, guess of Professor William Lane Craig of Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology: “He probably literally got up and walked out of the tomb."[17]

“Resurrection” not normative. Although the Jewish metaphors of God “awakening Yeshua” and “putting him back on his feet” were most likely not the first expressions believers used for Easter, they certainly were optional and legitimate ways of expressing that trans-historical factum. However, we note four negatives. The metaphors of egeirô and anistemi (1) are not the first ways that believers expressed Easter, (2) are not necessary for naming it, (3) are not the only ways to refer to Easter, (4) nor are they the normative way to articulate it, to the exclusion of other metaphors. As names for Easter, egerein and anastasis (and the derivative term “resurrection”) are neither first, always, only, or alone.[18]

Other biblical terms for Easter. Another early Christian hymn also names the Easter factum without mentioning “resurrection.” I Timothy 3:16 speaks of Yeshua being vindicated or justified (edikaiôthê) by God, and “made manifest” (ôphthê) to angels. Similarly the Gospel of Luke and the Epistle to the Hebrews both use the Greek verb eiserchomai – “to enter in” – as a way of expressing the Easter factum. Hebrews 6:20 proclaims that Yeshua “entered into” the Inner Sanctum (eisêlthen); and Luke 24:26 speaks of Yeshua “entering into glory” (eiselthein eis tên doxan). Here as in other texts, the metaphor of “resurrection” (either God’s awaking Yeshua or his standing him up again) is entirely absent. “Resurrection” is not the original, necessary, exclusive, or normative name for Easter.

Literal and metaphoric usage in Mark. The New Testament is careful to distinguish between the literal meanings of egersis and anastasis when those words have nothing to do with Easter, and their metaphoric meanings when they do. Mark 4:38, for example, uses egeirô in a literal sense when the disciples, storm-tossed on the Sea of Galilee, wake up Yeshua to tell him they are in trouble. The verb-form Mark uses is egeirousin (Latin, excitant). The disciples do not “resurrect” Yeshua; they literally “shake him awake.” However, Mark 16:6 uses the same verb in its metaphoric sense when the angel in the tomb proclaims: êgerthê– “Yeshua has been awakened from the sleep of death into the new Day of the Lord.”

Literal and metaphoric usage in Luke. Similarly, Luke uses egeirô in the literal sense at Acts 12:7 when he says that an angel woke up Peter in jail (êgeiren); but he employs it metaphorically at Acts 3:15 to proclaim that God awoke Yeshua from the sleep of death (êgeiren). Or again: he uses anistêmi in its literal sense at Acts 9:6 and 26:16, when Yeshua tells Saul “Stand up!” (anastêthi, in contrast to katapiptô, “to fall to the ground”). However, at Acts 4:33 Luke employs the word metaphorically to express faith in God’s “standing up again” of Yeshua (anastasis), just likewise at Acts 3:26, and at Luke 24:7).[19]

Various names for the same fact. The point is not to derogate the language of “resurrection” as a way of naming Easter – far from it – but simply to relativize it the way the New Testament does. Christians should understand “resurrection” as one possible way – not the normative way – of naming God’s Word-Act in Yeshua, and they will want to recognize when the New Testament uses those words literally and when it employs them metaphorically. Believers will also want to be clear on which of the two metaphors they have in mind – either awaking Yeshua from sleep or standing him back on his feet – when they speak of Christ’s “resurrection.”

3. Easter in Paul

This third and last section of Part Two concerns how Paul expressed the Easter factum. To begin with, some dates within the first century C.E.:

  • 30 C.E.
    • The crucifixion occurred most likely on April 7, 30 C.E.
    • The Easter factum has no date. It is God’s extra-temporal Word-Act.
    • Shortly after April 7, 30 C.E. Cephas, James, and others began proclaiming revelations of the Easter factum.
  • Paul’s kerygma
    • The earliest recorded mention of the Easter factum goes back to ca. 51 C.E. and to Paul’s proclamation of it in I Thessalonians 1:10.
    • The earliest recorded mention of a revelation of the Easter factum goes back to ca. 54 C.E., i.e., Galatians 1:12, 16, which records Paul’s assertion that God revealed the Easter factum to him twenty years earlier.
    • The earliest recorded mention of an Easter revelation to someone other than Paul goes back to ca. 57 C.E. (I Corinthians 15:5-7).
  • The Gospels’ stories
    • The first story about the empty tomb on the first day of the week was written ca. 70 C.E. (Mark 16:1-8), some forty years after Yeshua’s death. No appearances of Yeshua are narrated in Mark.
    • The next stories about the empty tomb and the first day of the week were written ca. 85 C.E. (Matthew 28; Luke 24; Acts 1). Several appearances of Yeshua are recounted in those texts.
    • Some sixty-five years after Yeshua’s death (ca. 95 C.E.) John 20 and 21 provide quite different stories about the first day of the week and the weeks thereafter. Various other appearances of Yeshua are narrated there.

Distinguishing Paul from the Gospels. It is important to “rightly divide” Paul from the Gospels, that is, to distinguish – and even separate – Paul’s proclamations of Easter from the elaborate Gospel stories about the first day of the week. Paul’s texts date to ca. 51-58 C.E., but they repeat proclamations from very early in the first century (the 30s and 40s). The Gospels were written ca. 70 to 95 C.E., and they reflect Christian beliefs from much later in the first century. The most important dividing line between Paul and the Gospels is the fall of Jerusalem (70 C.E.), an event that deeply affected the Yeshua-movement, including the way it expressed the Easter factum.

Kerygma and narrative. Earlier we noted the danger of reading the later theology of the New Testament back into the earlier history of Yeshua. Now we must guard against reading the Gospel narratives of Easter back into Paul’s proclamations of Easter. Kerygmatic proclamations and narrative stories are two distinct literary forms and very different ways of referring to the Easter factum. It may be harmless to mix them up in personal piety and devotion; but it is disastrous when done in scholarship. Again let us distinguish between the meaning of the Easter factum and the various ways of referring to it. Paul’s kerygma and the Gospels’ narratives mean the same Easter factum but express it in entirely different, if equally legitimate, ways. Let us investigate this thesis with regard to two focal issues: (1) the Easter factum and (2) the revelation of the Easter factum.

Easter in Paul: “the third day.” The kerygmatic proclamation of Easter in I Corinthians 15 and the elaborate Easter stories in the Gospels point to the same factum. However, they express it in very different ways. The two literary and theological forms should not be confused. When Paul proclaims that Christ was awakened by God “on the third day” (egêrgetai têi hêmerai têi tritêi: I Corinthians 15:4), he is not referring to “the third day after the crucifixion,” i.e., Sunday, April 9 (18th of Nisan), 30 C.E. Paul’s “third day” is not the Gospels’ “first day of the week” – or any other date. Paul is careful to specify “on the third day according to the Scriptures.” His reference is to Hosea 6:2: “[God] will revive us after two days [i.e., after a very brief lapse of time], and on the third day he will stand us up again to live in his presence.” I Corinthians 15 is not saying that Easter occurred at Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb just outside Jerusalem on the third day after Good Friday, or at any other place or time. God’s Word-Act in Yeshua is neither spatial nor temporal. It cannot be located at a tomb or dated to a moment in time, any more than you can date and locate your great-grandmother’s entrance into Heaven. Easter is not a historical event but a divine Word-Act known only by faith.[20] Paul most likely knew nothing about Yeshua’s tomb or the alleged events surrounding it, and it seems he couldn’t care less. During his first visit to Jerusalem as a Christian (Galatians 1:15-20), he apparently did not bother tp walk the 500 meters beyond the city walls to visit Yeshua’s tomb. (In any case, the alleged tomb was first “located” only in 326/327 C.E. for the benefit of Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena.) If perchance Paul had heard about that tomb and visited it, his faith in Easter would not have been shaken by discovering Yeshua’s bones in it, nor bolstered by finding them gone.

The revelations of Easter in Paul. Christians should also guard against conflating the Gospel stories with Paul’s kerygma on a second issue, what is usually termed the “Easter appearances.” In his epistles Paul mentions the six original Easter revelations that he knew of, namely to (1) Cephas, (2) the Twelve, (3) a group of over 500 people, (4) James, (5) all the missionaries, and (6) Paul himself. Paul’s mention of the revelation made to him (in Galatians 1 and I Corinthians 15) is the only autobiographical record of such an appearance in the entire New Testament. To name that appearance Paul employs only two words: apokalypsai (God chose “to reveal” Yeshua to Paul: Galatians 1:15-16) and ôphthê (Yeshua was “made manifest” to him: I Corinthians 15:8). For the first fifty-five years after the crucifixion (i.e., 30-85 C.E.), those were the only two words in the entire New Testament for expressing how God communicated the Easter factum to the earliest believers.

Luke’s account of the revelation to Paul. It was more than fifty years after the Easter revelation to Paul – and thirty years after Paul had simply called it a “revelation” – before Luke invented the high drama of Paul being knocked to the ground and blinded by a blaze of light. Luke in fact provides three divergent accounts of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9, 22, 27), and in the third account Yeshua, even though he is addressing Paul in Hebrew, quotes him a line in Greek from Euripides’ racy feminist play The Bacchae: “It’s hard for you to kick against the spur” – a line that Euripides has Dionysus say to Pentheus.[21] All of this is from Luke, none of it from Paul. Some thirty years after 54 C.E., Paul’s single word “revelation” got transformed into Luke’s brilliant rush of prose describing a scene worthy of Hollywood.

Other “appearances” in the Gospels. n turn it took seventy years (i.e, from 30 to 100 C.E.) before the Gospel writers came up with the full complement of their multiple and contradictory stories about the Easter appearances of Yeshua – at least seven more appearances beyond the original six revelations mentioned in I Corinthians. And the later they were written down, the more visual and tangible the appearances become, whether it be the appearance to Mary Magdalene alone, or to Mary Magdalene and another Mary, or to two disciples at Emmaus, or to ten disciples (without Thomas) on the second day of the week, or to eleven of the original twelve (with Thomas) a week after that, or to seven of the disciples who were fishing in Lake Galilee, or to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee, or to the same eleven on a hill just east of Jerusalem. The further removed from the original events, the more numerous and dramatic these appearance stories become.

Simply “revelation.” Paul’s earliest mentions of Easter revelations to himself and others (Galatians 1, I Corinthians 15) are not shorthand references to the later, imaginative “appearances” narrated in the Gospels and Acts. It is crucial to separate Paul from Luke, Galatians from Acts, and I Corinthians 15 from all the Gospel accounts. Paul never mentions how the six historical revelations took place – whether ocularly, or in dreams, or during visions, or by a divine voice, or in a trace (cf. Acts 22:17-18), or by some other means. He does insist that he and the disciples knew the Easter fact only by way of a revelation. Moreover, the passive or middle voice of the Greek verb ôphthê (used in I Corinthians 15) indicates that Paul and the earliest believers understood the source of the revelation to be God rather than subjective human experience, or hallucination, or hysteria. It was by God’s Power that Yeshua was made manifest. But Paul provides no grounds for thinking that God’s revelations of Yeshua as the Christ were anything but that: revelations. They could have occurred in prayer, or meditation, or any numbers of ways “whether in the body or out of the body” (I Corinthians 2:12). The Gospels (legitimately) invented imaginative stories to convey the meaning of those revelations. But the revelations themselves need not have occurred – most assuredly did not occur – in the dramatic ways that Matthew, Luke, and John depict. For Paul, the Word-Act of Easter lay beyond space and time. He believed that God had revealed it within space and time on six powerfully transformative occasions, but not in the scenarios that the Gospel depict. Paul the apocalyptist was much more restrained in his imagery than the evangelists would be in theirs. But whether in Paul or the Gospels, believers should never confuse the biblical imagery with either the Easter factum or the revelation of it.


A thought experiment. I close by inviting you to join me in a thought experiment. Imagine that, as Paul fondly hoped, the Parousia actually did take place in his lifetime – say, in the year 59 C.E., when Paul was still in prison in Caesarea Maritima. Imagine too that some months before the Parousia occurred, you and I –God-fearing Gentiles or observant Jews but not yet believers – visit Paul in prison, listen to his proclamation, and, thanks to God’s grace, come to believe, to be baptized, and to receive God’s holy Spirit, just weeks before the end comes.[22] Of course we would know nothing of the Gospel stories about the first day of the week, because they do not yet exist, and never will (the Parousia occurred before they got written), and Paul never told us anything about such things.

What have we missed? As we gaze up at God’s Christ returning in glory to judge the living and the dead, let us ask ourselves: Did Paul omit anything about God’s trans-temporal Word-Act in Yeshua? Were we cheated of the full story with all its details? Did we get only a shorthand version? And not just us. Think of the converts Paul evangelized in Asia Minor and Greece without ever once mentioning the first day of the week, the empty tomb, the appearances in the upper room. Did we and they miss out on anything? I can tell you what I would miss: the most sublime prose ever written about Easter, namely, the text in John’s twentieth chapter: “Maria! Rabbouni!” Yes, that would be a shame, but what can you do? God had his own time-table, and as predicted in Matthew (16:28, 24:34), the Parousia had to occur before Yeshua’s generation had passed away. In any case, missing out on John’s Gospel would be negligible compared with the immense joys of the Parousia and the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth.

A variety of theologies. We may end where we began, by distinguishing God’s eternal Word-Act from all human words, including the inspired words of Scripture. The authors of the New Testament not only used different literary forms to articulate the transcendent Easter factum but also employed different theologies, based in a variety of faith-hermeneutics. There are different theologies in Paul and the Gospels, but not only there. Within the four Gospels themselves we can distinguish at least two distinct theologies – Synoptic and Johannine – and more precisely still, four different theologies, one per evangelist.

They all point to the Easter fact. Christians believe that God, the author of all truth, graciously empowered such theological plurality because of the diversity of the New Testament audience. Surely God would not want believers to collapse the multiple forms of Scripture into a crude confabulation, but rather would have Christians sing the Easter factum in the different voices and tones of Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John – all blending into a harmonious hymn to his Word-Act. Surely God wants Christian theologians, pastors, and lay people to enjoy and profit from those divergent referential constructions – since he inspired each of them. Different expressions, but the same meaning. They all get you to Easter, but by different paths.

Word Alone. The title and theme of this convention is “Word Alone,” that is, God’s Word Alone. What if we took that motto literally? The etymology of “alone” is the Middle English “al” + “one” (“all one”). Within the common language of faith, Paul and the Gospels speak different dialects which, for all their variety, are “all one” in pointing to God’s single Word-Act. Why not let God’s Word-Act be the Word Al-one? Why not, out of respect for that Word, recognize the all-one-ness – the diversity and harmony – of the various ways of expressing Easter?


[1] [1] What exactly is the topic of today’s lecture? (1) Is it to understand the relation between God’s Word and Easter? Not exactly, because God’s Word is Easter. What we mean by God’s Word (דבר־יהוה davar yhvh) is God’s Act, not God “saying something” but God acting ad extra. But whenever God acts outside himself, he creates. God’s Word-Act in Christ is the “new creation.” So, are we trying to understand God’s new creation, i.e., the whole order of salvation? In a sense, yes; but that is too broad. (2) Secondly, it seems our task is to understand the relation between God’s Word-Act called “Easter” and Christian faith in that Word-Act. But believers holds that God’s Word-Act of Easter also makes possible their relation to that Word-Act, i.e., faith. So are we trying to understand what makes possible faith in God’s Word-Act? In a sense, yes, but that is too broad as well. (3) So thirdly, it seems we are trying to understand the relation between faith in God’s Word-Act of Easter and the ways in which that faith gets expressed in human language, whether it be the revealed language of Scripture or the approved language of preaching or the private language of faith.

In another formulation: There are three distinct issues here. (1) God’s Word-Act inspires Christian faith; (2) Christian faith finds expression in human language, including inspired Scripture; and (3) we seek to understand both how that faith got formulated and expressed in the first century and how it might be formulated and expresaed today. The first issue is about God’s Word, the other two issues are about human words.

What is entailed in disagreement about Easter? If Christians truly disagree about Easter, the disagreement cannot be charged to their faith (God alone is the judge in matters of faith). It might be in the faith-language they use to express Easter; but Easter-faith does not depend on Easter-language. The disagreement might be in the presuppositions that guide their understandings of that faith-language. Two presuppositions guiding the present essay are that first-century theology is not be confused with first-century history and that Christians understand faith as an inspired interpretation of history in the light of what they take to be God’s revelation of his Word-Act.

[2][2] See Karl Barth, Göttingen Dogmatics, ed. Hannelotte Reiffen, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. I (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991). (This is the text of Barth’s first lectures on dogmatics, beginning with the summer semester of 1924. The lectures have been published as Unterrricht in der christlichen Religion [Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1990].) “Scripture does indeed bear witness to revelation, but it is not revelation itself. The historical heteronomy points us on to an absolute heteronomy. The supreme proof of scripture is always that God speaks in it in person. [Barth references Calvin, Institutes, I, 7, 4.] Thus we again come up against a Deus dixit, against revelation behind, above, and beyond the Bible, with its center in the fact of Jesus Christ” (p. 202, line 12-27). “In no way can it be self-evident that there should be a body of literature which, without itself being revelation, sets us before revelation, points us to it, and bears witness to it. [. . .] How does it come to be even the reflection or echo or historical mediation of revelation? [. . .] If, then, God gives himself to be known by scripture, even if only relatively in the form of an indication or historical mediation, we can hardly avoid seeing in this mediation God’s own Word, the logos, even in a special form which is distinct from the incarnation and stands over against it, not now in the form of God’s direct speaking [i.e., God’s Word-Act], but only indirectly in the form of human speaking about God in the face of God’s own speaking, in the form of a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ whose content will then be human, earthly, historical words. This participation of human words in God’s Word is the principial [sic] element in the scripture principle” (p. 212, lines 21ff.)

[3][3] Consider an imperfect analogy. It is not terribly wrong to make grammatical mistakes when writing to a friend. (Luther said that even “The Holy Spirit does not always observe the strict rules of grammar.”) But there would be a problem if a renowned grammarian made such errors and then insisted that everyone else speak and write in the grammarian’s erroneous grammar or else be excommunicated from the English-speaking community. Luther’s remark occurs in his commentary on Galatians: 2:6, cited in Brian Gerrish, Grace and Reason: A Study in the Theology of Luther (Oxford: Clarendon, 1962), 60, n. 2. (Cf. also Luther’s “It is a light fault in the Holy Spirit if he offends a little against grammar,” ibid., 60.) Gerrish is citing Philip S. Watson’s revised edition of Luther’s A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, trans. Erasmus Middleton [original, 1807), revised edition (London: James Clarke & Company, 1953), 143 and 102, respectively.

[4][4] That there were “three” wise men or astrologers (Greek, magoi) is a deduction from the three gifts mentioned at Matthew 2:11: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In Herodotus’ fifth-century B.C. Greek, a magos was either a member of a Median tribe (History I, 101) or a Persian priest or savant, associated with Zoroastrianism, who interpreted dreams (ibid. VII, 37). Christian lore turned these magoi into kings in the light of Psalm 72:10-11, which expresses the hope that the kings of “Tarshish” [Albright: Tartessos, Spain?], Sheba, and Seba will bring gifts to King Solomon. Cf. also Isaiah 49:7 and 60:10

[5][5] In San Francisco’s Mission Dolores Grammar School the nuns told us that, even though he may have confined them to limbo, Jesus loved those innocent children above all others because they had, so to speak, taken a bullet for him so he might escape unscathed to Egypt. On the question of their eternal fate, doctores scinduntur:

(1) It is theologically possible that Jesus admitted the Innocents to Heaven thirty years after the slaughter – on April 14, 30 C.E., after he had redeemed them from original sin– on the theological premise of “baptism of blood” (baptismus sanguinis; Tertullian: lavacrum sanguinis: De baptismo 16. The word “baptism” in Latin can be either baptisma, -atis; or baptismus, -i; or as here in Tertullian, baptismum, -i.) On that view, at their death the Innocents would have been admitted to the pro tempore “limbo of the fathers” (limbus patrum, as contrasted with the eternal limbus puerorum vel infantium: cf. below) where dwelled the souls of the pre-Christian just people, who were unable to enter Heaven until Christ descended into Hell and ascended into Heaven. In Heaven, however, these Innocents would not have the “character” (the permanent spiritual mark) of the sacrament of baptism, only its other effects: cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, 66, a. 11, ad 2

(2) On the other hand, the Council of Trent declares that no one can be justified and cleansed of original sin “sine lavacro regenerationis aut eius voto” (“without the bath of regeneration or the desire for it”): Heinrich Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, 31st edition, ed. Carolus Rahner (Herder: Barcelona, Freiburg im Breisgau, Roma, 1957), no. 796, p. 285. Since the slaughtered Innocents had not yet reached the age of reason, it may be doubted that they had any knowledge of, or desire (votum) for, the baptism of blood. On that premise, it would be likely that they were confined not to the temporary limbus patrum but to the eternal limbus puerorum vel infantium, reserved for those who, before their death, neither attained the use of reason nor received baptism and who, as a result of the latter, could never enjoy the beatific vision. The doctrine of the limbus puerorum was confirmed on August 28, 1794, by Pope Pius VI (1775-1799) in his Auctorem fidei (which condemned the errors of the Synod of Pistoia), no. 26, “De poena decedentium cum solo [peccato] originali” in Denzinger no. 1526, p. 422.

(3) Then again, in support of the first option Augustine declares “Absit ut, ad liberandos homines Christus veniens, de illorum praemio qui pro eo interficerentur nihil egerit, qui, pendens in ligno, pro eis a quibus interficiebatur oravit.” [“It is inconceivable that, having come to liberate humankind, the Christ who, hanging on the cross, prayed for those who were killing him, would do nothing to reward those who were killed for him.”] Sermo 373 (in Epiphania), c. 3 (Migne, Patrologia Latina, XXXIX, 1665).

(4) Ludwig Ott, Grundriß der katholischen Dogmatik, 6th revised edition (Herder: Freiburg, Basel, Wien, 1963), p. 138, lines 12-13 and 22-23, also holds – but on his own admission without scriptural evidence – that the Innocents were redeemed by baptismus sanguinis: “Auf außersakramentale Weise kann die Wiedergeburt der Unmündigen durch die Bluttaufe erfolgen (vgl. die Opfer des bethlehemitischen Kindermordes) [. . .] doch ihre Tatsächlichkeit aus der Offenbarung nicht bewiesen werden.”

(5) That notwithstanding, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Image-Doubleday, 1994) offers no assurance about the eternal fate of the Holy Innocents (cf. no. 530) but simply and sadly declares that “the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God” (no. 1261).

(6) Of course, the whole problem would disappear if the Slaughter of the Innocents were not a historical fact but a theological story.

[6][6] Commonweal, 111 (September 21, 1984), 497

[7][7] James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Willaim B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 102 ad fin. Elements of the argument (not articulated by Dunn) might run as follows. (1) Data and facts are indeed to be distinguished from each other, as are “the real,” “the true,” “the meaningful,” etc. (2) Likewise the intentional processes that correlate to data and to facts are to be distinguished from each other, just as other intentional processes (e.g., generating hypotheses, testing hypotheses, passing judgments, and reviewing and reforming all such performances) and their correlates are to be distinguished from each other. (3) Facts are the outcome of correct interpretations of data and specifically of correct judgments about the relations between data and rationally tested hypotheses. Facts are always, at their best, only virtually unconditioned, always dependent for their status on further input of data, better generation and testing of hypotheses, and more precise judgments. (4) Data, facts, the real, the true, the meaningful (etc.) are all analogous terms in Aristotle’s sense. Each of them is to be defined by its relation to its own proper intentional process as well as to related intentional processes. (5) The facts of one interpretation can become the data of a subsequent interpretation. For example: (a) The fact that JFK died in Dallas (which itself is an answer to the question “Did JFK die in Dallas?” and thus the outcome of a prior interpretation of data relating to JFK's presence in Dallas) (b) can in turn become the datum of a second interpretation that may be represented by the question: “Was JFK murdered in Dallas?” If, in that second interpretation, one adjudges that he was murdered in Dallas, (c) that fact can become the datum of a third interpretation that may be represented by the question: “By whom was JFK murdered in Dallas?” (d) and so on, ad infinitum.

[8][8] Craig Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community, second edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 312.

[9][9] Another example: Most people hold, on scientific grounds, that HIV-AIDS is a pandemic; medical science has shown that to be the case. But others hold, on religious grounds, that HIV-AIDS is God’s punishment visited upon homosexuals who practice anal and oral intercourse without benefit of matrimony. Is such a judgment made rationally and responsibly when the data itself and our own human lights do not support it? Presumably the judgment rests on presuppositions not shared by medical science; specifically it seems to rest, directly or indirectly, on what those people take to be God’s Word-Act, his divine revelation inscribed in Holy Scripture and accepted in faith. However, the words of Scripture need to be first interpreted as the inscription of God’s Word-Act and then interpreted a certain way in order to show that the conclusion about HIV-AIDS follows from the Scriptures. Moreover, both of those interpretations are made, circularly, on the basis of theological and hermeneutical presuppositions that are themselves derived from the Bible taken as the inscription of God’s Word-Act. Those presuppositions may be held to be legitimate, but they are presuppositions nonetheless.

[10][10] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1991ff.). I. The Roots of the Problem and the Person (1991); II. Mentor, Message, and Miracles (1994); III. Companions and Competitors (2001).

[11][11] Galatians 2:16 (twice; and cf. 2:20, 3:22) and Romans 3:22: dia pisteôs Iêsou Christou. Philippians 3:9: dia pistin christou. Romans 3:26: ek pisteôs Iêsou. Acts 3:16: epi têi pistei tou onomatos autou. Ephesians 3:12: dia tês pisteôs autou [= Iêsou Christou]. I Timothy 3:13: en pistei têi en Christôi Iêsou [= “in the pistis that Christ Yeshua has/had”]. Revelation 14:12: tên pistin Iêsou. James 2:1: tên pistin tou kyriou hêmôn Iêsou Christou. (But cf. Mark 11: 22: Echete pistin theou.). See Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1–4:11, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002). The first edition was published in 1983 by the Society of Biblical Literature as no. 56 in its Dissertation Series and was subtitled An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1–4:11. For a contrary view: James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 379-385.

[12][12] In his The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright is misleading about the meaning of the sentence “Jesus was raised from the dead.” First (and legitimately), he substitutes the word “referent” (i.e., what is being referred to) for “meaning” when he asks what the “meaning” of that sentence is. But secondly (and incorrectly) he argues that “Within first-century discourse, the sentence referred (whether the speaker believed it or not) to an event which the early Christians claimed took place on the third day after Jesus’ execution” (719-720). The remainder of this paper is devoted to showing that position to be wrong.

[13][13] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers, new revised and expanded edition, p. 89, lines 1-5.

[14][14] See Pierre Grelot, “Deux notes critiques sur Philippiens 2,6-11,” Biblica, 54, 2 (1973), 169-186, especially 176-186. The hypothesis of an Aramaic original was initially posed by Ernst Lohmeyer in his classic Kyrios Christos. Eine Untersuchung zu Phil. 2,5-11 (Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, 1927-28, Heidelberg 1928; second. posthumous ed., 1961), 9-10, on the basis of (1) the common participial style that characterizes Semitic hymns generally and the Philippians hymn in particular (where participles do the work of finite verbs, as in Psalm 89) and (2) the easy convertibility of the Greek hymn back into a hypothetical Aramaic Ur-text. Lohmeyer’s hypothesis was taken up and furthered by Roger P. Martin, Carmen Christi: Philippians ii.5-11 in Recent Interpretation and in the Setting of Early Christian Worship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 38-41. Grelot, while offering a strophe structure that differs from Lohmeyer’s and Martin’s, argues like them for an Aramaic original, the text of which he projects at p. 186-7.

[15][15] Hyper-hypsoô from hypsoô, to lift up; ultimately from hypsí “high, on high”and hypsêlos, “towering.” The noun hypsôsis is, metaphorically, an exalting or glorifying (cf. the plural in LXX Psalm 149:6 “the praises [or glorifications, or exaltations: hai hypsôseis] of God in their mouth”).

[16][16] The English word “resurrection” is derived from the Latin verb surgo by way of re-surgo, where the prefix re- adds the meaning of “again.”

  • (1) Surgo has both (1a) a transitive, active-voice meaning and (1b) a reflexive and thus a middle-voice meaning.
    • (1a) transitive, active-voice: “to lift up or raise up someone/something”
    • (1b) reflexive and/or middle voice meaning: reflexive: “to lift up or raise up oneself” and therefore middle voice: “to rise, get up, stand up.”
  • (2) Resurgo (which underlies the noun resurrectio and the English “resurrection”) is never transitive (in Latin, God does not “resurrect” Yeshua) but has only a reflexive and thus a middle-voice meaning:
    • (2a) reflexive meaning “to raise oneself up again” or “to raise one’s self up again” in the sense of “to appear again” – and therefore
    • (2b) middle-voice meaning “to rise again.”
  • (3) The Vulgate translates the two Greek verbs inconsistently by surgo, resurgo, or suscito (from sub + cito), but translates anastasis consistently by resurrectio.

[17][17] William Lane Craig’s statement is cited in the ABC 20/20 report “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” by Elizabeth Vargas (May 20, 2005). On that same program Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s remarks were just as bad. Cf. the following URL: (this URL is no longer active 07/27/2005).

[18][18] Cf. James Joyce, Ulysses, new edition corrected and reset (New York: Random House, 1961), 731, line 21f.

[19][19] Cf. Acts 3:22 and 7:37 (loosely citing Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18), where God “will raise up”(anastêsei / anastêsô) a prophet like Moses; and Acts 3:26, where Yeshua is understood as fulfilling that prophesy (anastêsas ho theos ton paida autou).

[20][20] The Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. supra) is in error at no. 643 (p. 184) when it asserts “Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.”

[21][21] Bacchae line 795: “Sacrifice to [the god] rather than, full of wrath [thymoumenos] / kicking against the spur [pros kentra laktizein].” Acts 26:14: sklêron soi pros kentra laktizein. That might be (irreverently) compared to Yeshua appearing to the Reverend Jerry Falwell and quoting him a line from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (“It’s so haahd, honey”) in a Virginia drawl.

[22][22] On the triad of belief, baptism, and reception of the Spirit, cf. Acts 8:12, 15f., and elsewhere.