Distinctions that Matter

For some time I’ve wondered why liberals in general and scholars in particular want to make a distinction between resurrection and resuscitation.  At first, I thought there were some plausible reasons for doing so; then I concluded it ought not to be done; now I’ve seen the argument was going the opposite direction I thought.  (This is not an unusual experience for me.)

At first, I thought, “Yeah, I can see that raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead was not the same as the resurrection of Jesus.  Not even the raising of the four day dead Lazarus was because they were raised to die again.  So maybe they should be called resuscitations.”

Then I thought better.  EMS, firemen, and ER’s resuscitate people, but nobody but God Almighty can rejoin soul to body. And make no mistakes; the three people Jesus raised were dead, dead.  The young man from Nain was so dead they were burying him; the mourners at Jairus’ daughters house were so sure she was dead they laughed Jesus to scorn for using the euphemism sleep; Lazarus was so dead “he stinketh.”  (Sometimes you just can’t improve on the King James way of conveying an image, can you?) Therefore, I don’t think it wise, advisable, or even biblical to speak of others being resuscitated and only Jesus being raised.

Finally, the proverbial scales fell off.  Making the distinction never was in the interest of speaking more precisely; it wasn’t even about speaking of those other than Jesus being raised; it was always about Jesus and denying a physical resurrection.

Hear C. S. Mann in his 1986 commentary on St. Mark in the liberal Bible commentary series The Anchor Bible. First he makes two observations on page 667.  “c. The empty tomb is no necessary component of faith in the resurrection of Jesus, and aside altogether from the language and imagery with which the evangelists speak of it there is no way that we can either prove or disprove it.  d. If the burial chamber of Jesus should be discovered tomorrow and the unquestionably physical remains found there too, this would not disprove the resurrection.”

Why not?  Why wouldn’t all of Christianity come tumbling down as Paul Maier’s 1994 book A Skeleton in God’s Closet postulated?  Why wouldn’t we of all men be most miserable as St. Paul prophesied?  Why wouldn’t it matter if Jesus really was a ghost that Thomas could somehow poke and the disciples could somehow feed?  Because of Mann’s point e. “It is important to distinguish between the resuscitation of a dead body, and resurrection.”

Poor, deluded schmuck that I am; all these years I’ve believed in a resuscitation because I believed Jesus physically rose from the dead.  In reality, according to Mann, I’ve believed that what happened on Easter morning was no different than what an ER, EMS, and just about anyone else with a deliberator can do.  Had I as much education as the scholars and as broad a mind as the liberals I would have seen that a resurrection goes so far beyond a resuscitation that a body isn’t needed.

So it seems the true God’s plan hasn’t been much different from the plans of the Hindu or Buddhist gods.  He never did set out to redeem this fallen creation.  He intended all along to free us from the physical, the material, the earthly.  How silly then to apply baptismal waters to bodies and give the Body and Blood of Jesus to them.  How silly for God to become incarnate in a virgin’s womb and pay in His flesh and blood for what we have done and left undone in our flesh and blood.  The goal all along was to resurrect us out of these bodies not resuscitate us in them.




About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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