Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Women at the Tomb 3

... continued from yesterday
It seems very likely indeed that these women found the tomb empty where Jesus’ body had been laid, as well as that they did not initially tell anyone, as Mark 16:8 says. There is first the fact that such specific names are mentioned. For such specific names to be remembered in places far removed from where they were known, surely the tradition started first in the places where they were known, probably well within their lifetime. [1]

Similarly, the fact that they did not initially tell anyone out of fear is scarcely a comment someone would invent. Indeed, Matthew and Luke chose not to mention this little detail even though they were likely copying Mark at this point. The tradition that Paul passes on about resurrection appearances does not mention these women, unless they are part of the five hundred who saw Jesus risen on one occasion.  Their role in the story seems very likely--surely no one in that day would have invented women discovering the empty tomb if it had not happened that way. [2]

We thus have two very interesting likelihoods. First, Jesus’ tomb was empty on Sunday morning. Second, hundreds of individuals were quite convinced that they had seen Jesus alive after his death. [3] If we add a little faith to these two likelihoods, we have Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Obviously if a person does not believe that resurrections can happen, then he or she will find another explanation. But if you believe resurrections can happen, this is the most likely one of all history.

Paul says that the first resurrection appearance was to Peter. This is more than a little intriguing, since none of the gospels clearly tell about the incident. The most we get is an intriguing and allusive comment in Luke 24:34—"he has appeared to Simon." But the story of that appearance is not told, unless John has moved it to his final chapter (John 21).

The way the gospels present the resurrection appearances in general makes it clear that no one of them gives us the full story.  For example, it is easy to think that the Great Commission of Matthew happened outside of Jerusalem right before Jesus ascended to heaven in Acts 1:9. Then we realize that the Great Commission took place in Galilee (Matt. 28:16), a three days journey away from Bethany where Jesus ascends (Luke 24:50).

In fact, Luke-Acts does not mention any of the appearances in Galilee at all, while Mark and Matthew indicate that Jesus' primary resurrection appearances were there.  It would be easy to conclude that there is some artistry involved in these presentations rather than a completely literal presentation.  For example, one of the features of Luke-Acts is to focus the center of his presentation, especially in Acts, on the city of Jerusalem. He has accordingly omitted the part of the resurrection story that took place in Galilee.

Even a brief comparison of the ending of Luke with the beginning of Acts highlights the artfulness of Luke's presentation. If one looks at the timing of Luke 24, you might easily infer that Jesus rises from the dead and ascends to heaven on the same day.  Jesus appears to the men on their way to Emmaus "that same day" (Luke 24:13). They return to Jerusalem "at once" (24:33). "While they were still talking" (24:36) Jesus appears again, and Jesus leads them out near Bethany, where he ascends to heaven (24:50).

But then, when we turn to Luke's second volume, Acts, there are forty days between Jesus' resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3). This is scarcely a difference Luke would expect his audience to miss. [4] It must have surely been understood that Luke was not simply presenting a documentary of what happened but also arranging and presenting the material in an artful and meaningful way.

If our reaction is, "Luke messed up because the two don't seem to match," then we are not thinking about Luke-Acts in the right way. We are thinking it's all about history when in fact it's all about truth, using history as the medium. This is an important paradigm shift you must make if you are to have a deep understanding of the message of the gospels...

[1] Books such as James Dunn's Jesus Remembered and Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses remind us that such traditions would have likely circulated while these individuals were still living.  The details of such oral traditions might vary quite a bit, but a core tended to travel intact.

[2] That is, if someone were making the story up from scratch, surely they would have had men find the tomb empty. For example, in John, Peter and the Beloved Disciple corroborate the fact that the tomb is empty.  See also Luke 24:12.

[3] A good book on this topic is James Dunn's The Evidence of Jesus.

[4] Although I am using the name Luke for convenience, the author of Luke-Acts nowhere actually gives his name, assuming it was a man.  Technically, Luke-Acts is anonymous.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Truth", then, is subjective, particular, and contextual. Such "truth" is about the "glasses" we wear, when reading scripture. It is about how we use certain personal values and interests to understand "truth". Some use scripture as a personal message, while others use it as a social message to the church.

So can we surmise that trying to make a concise corrolation to literal historical experience of the Gospel writers, by syntheizing the Gospels, is a hinderance to "Truth"?

I think I remember "Karl Barth" being one theologian that affirmed such "truth" ("truth for me"). He found his "faith" within Dogmatics. Others would have found their faith in other ways, Reinhold Neihbur, who found his "faith" as a neo-orthodox. While both men were neo-orthodox, one found solace in a transcendental faith, while the other found it in the real political realm...

Ken Schenck said...

My claim is not at all here that truth is subjective. At issue is not the subjectivity of truth but the manner in which truth comes. The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we should help someone in need. It does so by way of a story that, as far as we know, never happened in history. So we can learn objective truth from history and we can learn objective truth from proverbs. And we can learn objective truth from Moby Dick... The truths in question can all be objective truths, as far as any truth is objective, even though they come by way of differing genres. The question is not objective versus subjective but mode of delivery.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You're not talking about objective, so much as "universal", which collides with particularity, because we live within particular contexts/experiences/values, which make self responsibility, and the "personal" a matter of subjectivity, as to choice. This is why government cannot choose for the individual what they MUST do. Government can only prescribe what one must NOT do, so that society functions orderly, that is, where individuals do not intrude into another's property (life)!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think this is where the individual mandate in Obamacare is being debated. Can government make (or co-erce without consent) the individual to buy healthcare? and should the Government be the overseer of every choice and value?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Is Government "God" over the individual or is the individual "God" over his own life?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Revolution, resistance, civil disobedience and petition have all been a part of the interaction of the individual, social groups, and the government. We can'tall agree, but to understand that disagreement is what makes our country FREE, as to opinions, political persuasions, and commitments in life. Apart from allowing disagreement, there is tyranny, because authority/power supercedes individual rights.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Universals/objectives "put upon" individuals by government/authority breeds oppression or limitation as to choice. Our government was not a "top down" approach, but a revolution from the bottom up, that bred a feeling of ownership in the early colonies! And it allowed for personal liberty as to defining one's conscience about "God".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You speak of ethics (universals), versus morals (conventional realities based on cultural contexts). Universals are "idealistic", not practical realities. This is the problem of universalizing in government "God" (theocracy) or equality of outcome (communism). America believes in equal opportunity, which grants the individual a vast amount of liberty as to his pursuit of happiness!