Biodegradability and Spirituality

Easter 2013 – Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

In a television program a few yeas ago, Lloyd Geering quoted a notable Presbyterian theologian from the University of Glasgow. His name is Gregor Smith, and in 1966 he said “until Christians can feel free to say that the bones of Jesus may still lie in Palestine, they have not really understood The Resurrection”. A few years later I heard Bishop John Robinson say “I don’t doubt that the bones of Jesus are mouldering away somewhere in Palestine”. I thought that was a Robinson original until I saw a DVD of the Geering program, & realised that he was alluding to the earlier saying.

Now I can imagine some people thinking (if they do think it, I hope that they will say it aloud when I’m within earshot, or press ‘reply’ on their computer) “why do we have all this hard stuff to deal with. Why can’t Brye accept that God is almighty, and that the stories of Jesus’ rising from the dead and ascending into heaven are factual, and leave it at that?”

For me, that would be dishonest. The stories as they stand would make perfect sense to people who believed that dead people went to sheol (hades in Greek), and that heaven was a place above the bright blue sky. But our understanding of bodily death and decomposition, and the nature of outer space, would logically force us to recognise that God had pulled-off a series of magical party tricks. And that for the benefit of a few chosen witnesses (Acts 10:41), and to the detriment and damnation of the vast majority of the human race. Det sholy en’t de work of a loving farder, eh, bro?

The Resurrection (ho anastasis in Greek – literally “the standing-up”) is a technical term for what happens at the “Last Judgement” (sorry about all these heavily loaded terms) when the dead are aroused from their sleep and sorted out. The Sadducees denied its existence (Matt 22:23) and John explains it in detail (Jn.5:27,28). It’s explained in more detail still in the parable of the sheep & the goats (Matt 25:31-46). The term is used more than 20 times in the New Testament in contexts where its specific meaning is unmistakable.

The raising of dead bodies is mentioned more than 40 times, more than half of them referring to Jesus. The Greek words used are a collection of verbs & nouns based on the Greek root eger or egeir*, meaning “raise”. Almost without exception it is used in the passive sense, i.e. stating or implying that God is the active ingredient. There are plenty of inconsistencies, both in the Greek original and in the translations. The classic one is 1Cor. 15:4, where the Greek text clearly states “he has been raised”, while the KJV (AV to Anglicans) translates “rose”. The English versions of the two ancient creeds also say “rose”, & that is not what Paul wrote.

All of which would leave us in great confusion, were it not for good old Paul, who sorts it all out in 1Cor. 15:35-end. “Don’t be so stupid as to mix up biodegradability and spirituality”, he says. “And a good job too” say I.

There’s not room in one article to go into more detail, but I do hope that people who have questions or strong feelings on this subject will contact me about it.


*It appears that the NT authors weren’t too fussy about their spelling.


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