The Scandal of Joshua Ben Adam, Part 9
By Robert D. Brinsmead VERDICT, April 1999


THE RESURRECTION
THE STORY THUS FAR

This special issue on the Resurrection is Part 9 of a series on The Scandal of      Joshua ben Adam.

For the historical Jesus of Nazareth we have used his real Hebrew name Yashua which is translated directly into English as Joshua. In his native Aramaic tongue Joshua called himself bar Nasha which also in the Hebrew is ben Adam - without definite article because it was not a title. It simply means son of man (Adam), human one. or this man. No one emphasized the genuine reality of Joshua's humanity as much as Joshua himself. 

Every important feature of Joshua ben Adam's life was a scandal.

His conception and birth was surrounded by very irregular, probably tragic circumstances.

The fact that he was a Galilean was a scandal. Galilee was the northern province of Israel whose more rugged and independent spirit was despised by the Jewish elite in Judea. It was taken for granted that no prophet, to say nothing of a Messiah, could ever come from that hillbilly province in the north.

Then there was the scandal of his public ministry. After being baptized by John (a baptism of repentance!) he gained the reputation of "a glutton and a drunk". He scandalized everybody by ignoring the holiness code which forbade, among other things, eating with unclean people. Joshua's radical egalitarianism and non-discrimination were the actions of a man who ignored the canons of honor and shame.

But every other scandal was put in the shade compared with the scandal of his death. He was condemned and executed as just another (dime a dozen in those days) Galilean rabble-rouser. His hanging on a tree was a sign that be was turned by God. So he died utterly discredited, abandoned by all and apparently forsaken by God.

Everything would have ended right there and everybody would soon have forgotten everything about this unfortunate man if it were not for Easter. It was the resurrection which convinced Joshua's totally dispirited little band that Joshua was signally honored by this resurrection by Almighty God. No honor was too great for them to bestow on him. The pressure to embellish his story and to explain away those scandals was too much for them. Finally they even took away the scandal of his being truly human like the rest of us. (Is anyone who is more than human truly human?)

There was one final scandal which was removed in all this: and that was God's own scandal of the resurrection. But the gospel of resurrection did not remain central in the church's life for very long. The central issue became Joshua's divinity and his blood atonement to pay for the sins of the world. In the history of theology, Catholicism's theological center was the Incarnation whilst Protestantism's theological center was the substitutionary blood atonement. The resurrection hardly came into it at all accept in Christian apologies as if the resurrection was there simply to prove the Christian religion's exclusive possession of the truth.

It is the thesis of this Paper that the only way to restore the centrality of the resurrection is to let the scandal of who Joshua ben Adam was stay as it was. I realize that many are apprehensive, even fearful, that the good news contained in the resurrection story is going to be lost unless they hold strictly to that religiously sanitized version of Joshua's life and death. But what this Paper will show is that the resurrection is a far greater story if the scandal of Joshua ben Adam is not dissipated by the misguided effort to embellish his history. When the resurrection is re-told against its genuine historical background, we will recapture the laughter of the greatest scandal of all-the scandal of God's Justice

THE COLLAPSE OF RESURRECTION APOLOGETICS

The one area in which the resurrection has been given a prominent rote is in Christian apologetics. The so-called historical proofs of the resurrection have been marshaled, not to explore the meaning of the mystery itself, but to validate the church's claims about the divinity of Jesus, the authority of the church and its possession of an exclusive and absolute truth. This represents an enormous prostitution of the Word of God.

It is clear from the book Of Acts that the preaching of the Word, the preaching of the gospel, and the preaching of the resurrection was the same thing. The Word Of God was the word of the resurrection. It was an Easter gospel pure and simple. There were no arguments put forward about the divinity of Jesus, much less about his virgin birth. Nothing was said about salvation by blood atonement. There was no teaching about Incarnation or Trinity, both of which were unthinkable to Jews anyway. Now it would be reasonable to expect that this Word of the resurrection should remain central and that everything in the life and thinking of the church would serve this Word. But it was not to be. Claims about the divinity of Jesus. the Trinity, the blood atonement, the sacraments and the authority of the religious hierarchy became the central issues. The resurrection was simply the miracle of all miracles which validated this religious system, and of course, people's subjection to it.

The whole edifice of resurrection apologetics was bound to collapse because it never did have anything to do with faith in the Word of resurrection at all! As we will see, apologetics is the fruit of unfaith, that is to say, it is an expression of unbelief which has only succeeded in producing a great pile of religious manure at the tomb of Joshua ben Adam.

The resurrection is an article of faith like the existence of God. Neither are provable, and if they ware provable they would not be articles of faith. That Joshua ben Adam died was an historical fact openly disclosed to all, followers and opponents alike. But the same thing can never be said about his resurrection from the dead. It is not historically accessible like his death. We are not saying the resurrection is not real, anymore than we are saying that God is not real. But what we are saying is that all attempts to prove that the resurrection was an historical event are as ill-fated as all the attempts to prove the existence of God.

We must go further even and say that the God which is proven to exist by any kind of demonstration would be a God not worth believing in, because a God subject to definitions, propositions, explanations, and human demonstrations would no longer be the God who is infinite, transcendent and unimaginable.

The same is true of the resurrection Of Joshua ban Adam. The kind Of resurrection that is provable from an historical point of view, the one backed up by signs of earthquakes, appearing angels, an empty tomb and tales about fish and chips on the beach is like the God who is humanly provable. Neither are worthy of our credence or allegiance.

Consider the following obstacles which stand in the way of a resurrection which is historically provable:

1. No one witnessed the resurrection of Joshua ben Adam. No one ever came forward to say he or she saw it happen.

2. The four Gospels were written between 70 and 100 AD. They are not eye-witness accounts, and they do not claim to be eye-witness accounts. They contain the traditions of second or third generation Christians writing from 40 to 70 years after the event.

3. Not one among the original group who saw the risen Joshua has left us his statement concerning what he saw. We don't have access to Peter's testimony. There is no record left by James or any of the eleven apostles. We simply have a tradition passed on to us by a later generation that Mary or Peter or some others said that they saw the risen Christ. We have no direct access to the testimony of any of those eye-witnesses.

4. There is one solitary eye-witness in the entire New Testament: he is the apostle Paul, the Diaspora Jew who had never met Joshua ben Adam except in some kind of post-Easter revelation. According to the tradition recorded in the books of Acts, this appearance of the risen one happened to Paul on his journey to Damascus. Paul himself says nothing about the Damascus Rood, but about 50-60 AD he wrote just two brief statements: "I saw the Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:1) and "He appeared to me." ( 1 Corinthians 15:8 ) Those eight words are all that we have from anyone claiming to be an eye-witness of the resurrection. And of course, we need to take into account that Paul does not qualify as an original eye-witness who could say of the Easter event in Jerusalem, "I was there." We are left therefore without a single eye-witness who says, "I was there." We have only got second or third generation reports saying, "Peter said he saw him," "Mary said she saw him" etc. If it came down to a matter of proof in a court of law, how much of the foregoing testimony would qualify as admissible evidence?

5. The only testimony available to us is the testimony of a believing community which was committed to the mission of convincing the world that Joshua ben Adam had risen from the dead. None of the New Testament writers would qualify as detached, unbiased witnesses. We don't have anything from the other side, that is, from the opponents of the Joshua ben Adam movement. They too saw him die. But the risen Joshua did not appear to confront his accusers. He only appeared to a small inner circle of believers. So there is no such thing as heating both sides of the case.

6. Finally, the different New Testament writers give us a very confused and inconsistent account of the resurrection. Their divergent testimony is sometimes impossible to harmonize. On some vital points their evidence is mutually exclusive. The evidence of these discrepancies is not obscure. Anyone with a very modest education can read the four accounts of the resurrection in half an hour and map out the main contradictions within an hour or two, Of course, if one is already convinced that such obvious mistakes could not exist in the inerrant Bible, why look into the proverbial horse's mouth? And who hasn't been guilty of confusing religious gullibility with faith? Anyhow, here is partial list of the problems:

(a) What was the number and identity of Joshua's women friends at the crucifixion and at the tomb? It only takes a few minutes to see that the four Gospel accounts don't harmonize. If you say, "This is a minor point which does not matter," then don't appeal to the evidence of either their number or identity.

(b) Did the women observe the crucifixion and burial from afar, or did they stand close to the cross? The Gospels give the two accounts. If it's not important, then why appeal to this evidence in the first place?

(c) Was the body of Joshua anointed on the Friday afternoon, or did the women come to do it Sunday morning? Again, the Gospels give divergent accounts.

(d) Did one angel or two angels greet the women at the tomb? Or were they young men? There are different accounts.

(e) Did the women (or one woman) see the risen one? Two evangelists say No. Two evangelists answer Yes. Paul apparently sides with the two evangelists who do not include the woman among the witnesses. (See 1 Corinthians 15)

(f) Did the angel/angels or young man/men tell the women that Joshua had risen and then invite them to see the empty tomb, or did the women first find the tomb empty and after that have the celestial messengers tell them that Joshua had risen? Again, one evangelist gives us one account, and the other gives us the order in reverse.

(g) Did an earthquake greet the arrival of the women at the tomb, and was the stone rolled from the mouth of the tomb before or after they arrived? The Gospels give both accounts.

(h) Now for the big one: Did the angels instruct the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where he would appear to them, and did these appearances in fact take place in Galilee? Or did the appearances take place in and around Jerusalem? According to Mark who was lair copied by Matthew, the disciples were instructed to go back to Galilee where the risen Joshua would meet them. The journey from Jerusalem to Galilee would take from 7 to 10 days. But according to Luke and John, the appearances did not take place in Galilee, but in and around Jerusalem. Mark and Matthew do not know about any Jerusalem appearances, in fact, they rule them out. This brings us to the discrepancies about the timing of the resurrection appearances.

(i) If the appearances took place in Galilee (at an unnamed mountain according to Matthew). then at least a week would have had to elapse between the actual resurrection and the appearances. But according to Luke and John, the first appearance to the disciples took place in or around Jerusalem the evening of Easter Sunday.

(j) Did Joshua appear to his disciples before he ascended to heaven to receive all power and authority, or did he appear after he was enthroned, glorified, and given all power and authority? Matthew has it one way and Luke another. Is the resurrection and ascension essentially one event (Matthew), or two events forty days apart (Luke - Acts)?

(k) Did the risen Joshua give his disciples the power of the Holy Spirit when he first met with them (John), or did he give them the Holy Spirit 50 days after the resurrection and 10 days after his ascension from Bethany (Luke - Acts)?

(l) Woe the disciples commanded to return to Galilee to meet the Lord and receive the great commission there (Matthew), or woe they commanded to stay in Jerusalem until the coming of the spirit on the day of Pentecost (Luke)? Or did the disciples go back to Galilee, resume their old trade of fishermen, then meet the Lord by the Sea of Tiberius where they got their commission rather than on the mountain? (See John 21, which scholars generally agree is a late edition or appendix to the fourth Gospel.)

While it may be possible to harmonize some of the above points, it is clearly impossible to reconcile mutually exclusive data. The above list is by no means exhaustive, but just a brief summary of the main points. All these points, of course, have been well canvassed in many books written by New Testament scholars. There are not many dinosaurs left who think they can harmonize the four Gospels on the resurrection.

The accounts are so divergent that it does rule out any collusion between the different witnesses. This may impress the jury that the stogies are not the product of a caucus, but it still remains that the resurrection is not accessible to historical proof.

The first Gospel (Mark) was not written until about 40 years after the death of Joshua. The other three followed over the next thirty years. Scholars now agree that the Gospels were confessions of faith coming from divergent Christian groups. They were not intended to be biographies. They contain interpretation of history us well us history, end the element of interpretation was determined to a large extent by the views which had developed in the disparate groups within the early Christian movement. Often the different books tell us more about the beliefs and actual historical situation in the particular group at the time of its writing than the actual historical situation of Joshua ben Adam half a century earlier.

It is not fair when we judge those New Testament books by our canons of historical accuracy or literal interpretation. These people of the first century used midrash and pesha methods to interpret Scripture and tell stories. We live in another kind of world, and it is hard for us to understand how those writers had a liturgical agenda or a midrashic agenda which gave priority to certain meanings rather than to strict historical accuracy. For instance, Matthew may tell us that a sermon or an appearance of Joshua took place on a mountain because this kind of place is full of symbolic meaning for any Jew. He uses the mountain symbolism to make a theological statement rather than an historical one.

I say this to make it clear that I am not scolding the New Testament authors for writing conflicting accounts of the resurrection. It probably would not concern them that their accounts did not tally, because unlike us (who need to be scolded for using the material in a way for which it was never intended) they told folk stories which appeared meaningful to them and seemed to make the mystery of the resurrection more tangible to the common people, most of whom could neither read nor write. Of course the story got embellished! Of course it tended to become hagiography more than biography!

From the standpoint of historical science, how much about the resurrection is provable? We can prove that there were a group of people around 30 AD (give or take a few years) who were convinced that Joshua ben Adam rose from the dead. This faith founded a movement of unstoppable conviction, joy and courage to face torture, death or anything else. They left us their testimony that Joshua had appeared to a small number of their group after he was crucified and buried. That much we can prove. But because that much can be proved beyond a shadow of doubt, it is not an article of faith. Even non-Christians believe that too.

The resurrection has to do with something transcendent and immortal, something utterly beyond our present experience or the capacity of our imagination. How can proof of such a thing be possible? What would constitute proof? What categories of science or any other evidence could we fall back on to prove that which transcends the realm of finite science or anything else within the parameters of human experience? Asking for proof of the resurrection is like asking for proof of the existence of God. If God himself were to tell us that he exists, we would only have his word for it!

It is significant that the ones to whom the risen one first appeared left no written account of it. Apparently they did not believe that the revelation could be adequately expressed in the mundane form of a written text. No one attempted a written account of it until 40 years later! Ah, yes, there was Paul who 20 years later said it all in four words: "I saw the Lord" or "he appeared to me." Beyond that he did not say a thing-- nothing about an empty tomb or a resuscitated corpse who appeared to eat fish and all the rest.

What the first apostles proclaimed was the gospel of resurrection which was called the Word of God. As we showed in our last issue of Verdict, the Word of God cannot be laid out in cold text to be dissected and analyzed, nor can it be reduced to a matter of propositions and descriptions. This is sillier than saying that love and hope and courage and beauty can be encompassed by verbal definitions. Those who stood nearest to the resurrection said the least about it. They did not try to explain it They confronted a reality beyond rational explanation. The hush of awe and wonder remained with the movement for 40 years. The later the accounts of the resurrection, the longer the explanations became. Matthew and Luke's account of the resurrection is twice as long as Mark's; and John's account is longer still.

THE LEGEND OF THE EMPTY TOMB

There were no stories about the empty tomb until Mark wrote his Gospel about 40 years after Easter. In his great chapter on the resurrection in I Corinthians 15. Paul argues for the reality of the resurrection but not for the reality of an empty tomb. According to Paul's reasoning, an empty tomb would serve no useful purpose. He contrasts two very different bodies. There is, he says, a flesh or a flesh and blood body, and there is a spirit body. The first is mortal and corruptible. The other is immortal and incorruptible. The flesh and blood body, says Paul, cannot inherit the life of the eternal kingdom.

Paul uses two analogies to show that there is no continuity between the two different bodies. First he uses the analogy of the grain of wheat which dies before it brings forth an entirely new form of life. But move importantly, he draws an analogy between the resurrection of Christ and the general resurrection of his people. The bodies of those who have died have been devoured by worms, sharks, and fires. The elements of their bodies have been recycled back into the elements of the cosmos. Their resurrection has nothing to do with the resuscitation of their old corpses. Those old mortal flesh and blood bodies do not live again. And if this be analogous to the resurrection of Joshua, why would one think that his earthly flesh and blood body would have to be revived again?

In I Corinthians and I Thessalonians, which represent the earliest Paul, the apostle speaks of the resurrection of the dead in terms of a very traditional Jewish eschatology. He expects to be alive when it happens, as all the first Christians did, because they viewed the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of his people as being two parts of one end-time event But as Paul's thinking on this question matured, he began to conceive of putting on the new body at the moment of his departure from this life:

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens...while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord...I.....prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose...having a desire to depart and be with Christ...yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians I: 22-24)

These passages show quite clearly that Paul sees no continuity between the mortal body of flesh (the tent to be dissolved) and the eternal, glorified body. The old tent of the fleshly body is not raised up again. There is no way to fit the notion of a resuscitated corpse into Paul's vision of the resurrection, whether it be the resurrection of Christ or his people. The two must stand together because the first is the pattern of the second. ( see Philippians 3:21 )

If we ask Paul, however, what is a "spirit body" or a "glorified body" or a building of God eternal in the heavens"? He just says it is a mystery. He makes no attempt to explain the new form of the resurrected life, and he would totally agree with that unknown New Testament author who also said, "It does not yet appear what we shall be." (1 John 3:2)

As we have said, the first empty tomb story appears in Mark about 40 years after Easter. We know that Matthew copied Mark about another 15 years on, and he embellished the story even further. By the time the story got to the Fourth Gospel near the end of the century, the risen Joshua not only ate fish with his disciples, but he demonstrated that he had real flesh and bones. He even displayed the marks left in his body by his brutal execution. This added feature of the marks of the crucifixion still on the body became fuel for wild legends saying that Joshua did not die on the cross, but merely fainted and then revived some time later.

If the Roman soldiers had hacked off one of Joshua's fingers in the process of a brutal crucifixion, would he have appeared to his disciples minus a finger? Can this be the "spirit body" or the immortal body of which Paul spoke? Peter was also crucified - upside down as tradition has it -so is he also destined to retain those grim reminders of his execution?

So the further we get away from the original witnesses, the more embellished and fantastic the stories become. Yet these are the "proofs" which have been served up by apologists for the resurrection. When we have to reckon with the scrutiny of modern Biblical scholarship, these embellishments to the resurrection story are not aids to faith but a serious hindrance to it.

THE CRASS RESURRECTION TRADITIONS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD

It is not hard to understand how the legends of the empty tomb and the revival of the corpse got started. The authors of these stories succumbed to the demands to answer more and more questions to satisfy human curiosity about the nature of the resurrection. They used some established Jewish traditions close at hand.

Scholars tell us that the idea of the resurrection of dead bodies came from Persia and entered into the Jewish tradition during the inter-Testament period. It made its first appearance in the apocalyptic book of Daniel which was written during the lime of the Maccabees (about 200 BC). In the stream of Jewish apocalyptic literature which followed (Ezdras, Enoch, Jubilees, Testament of Judah, etc), the idea of resurrection was increasingly embellished with descriptions of the resuscitated bodies of the dead. The popular doctrine of resurrection championed by the Pharisees in Joshua ben Adam's day presumed that even a person's sexual nature would be preserved in the resurrected life.

Some lay to defend the "fleshly reality" of the resurrection by appealing to the sanctity of "Hebraic anthropology". It is said that the Hebrews had a holistic or monistic view of man in contrast to the dualism of Greek thinking. It is further argued that this Hebraic view about the oneness of the body and the soul comes with the divine imprimatur.

A few years back, Hebraic thinking became a kind of shibboleth among exponents of Biblical theology. That God communicated his truth to the world in the Hebrew language was taken as an indication that Hebrew thinking about the nature of man and other things was superior to everything else. So Hebraic thought was in; Greek thought was out. This trend was not without some merit, but it got out of hand. Then that formidable Scottish scholar James Barr got out his shotgun and blew all the feathers off this trendy bird so that it could not fly again.

It could just as easily be argued that God communicated a more advanced truth to the world in the Greek language of the New Testament. Does that in any way endorse Greek thinking? Of course not! But as Barr pointed out, the Bible doesn't represent just one strand of thinking when it comes to the nature of man. Various ways of thinking are represented throughout the Bible. Whilst that form of Greek dualism which is totally negative about the body is generally not advocated by the different Bible writers, both Testaments certainly reflect the idea of man being a dichotomy of body and spirit, body and soul or body and mind. For example, The dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7 ), The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak· (Matthew 26:41 ), The spirit fights against the flesh and the flesh fights against the spirit. (Galatians 5:17 ), Though the outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16 ), Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to destroy the soul. (Matthew 10:38 ), Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved...(l Corinthians 5:5 )

Two of the above statements are attributed to Joshua ben Adam. In the light of the above, we would argue that what is preserved in the "resurrection" is not the flesh, the old body, or the outward man, but the spirit, soul, inward man, or essential personal identity. All illustrations will fall short, but I would suggest that in our modem age the computer is a good illustration of the relationship between the body (including the brain) on the one hand and the mind on the other. The body and brain is the organ of the mind just as the computer hardware is the machinery through which the memory is stored. If the computer hardware becomes obsolete, you throw it away but keep the memory or essential data that has been written within it.

Another observation concerns the Hebrew world-view. If the resurrection is supposed to sanction Hebraic anthropology, why wouldn't it also sanction the Hebrew world-view of the three- story universe? Doesn't Luke say that Joshua ascended up to heaven in a cloud? That is the language of a Flat Earth society. It might have been meaningful to ancient man, but a heaven in the sky and a God up there is not a helpful metaphor in this post-Einstein age.

Neither does the word "resurrection" serve us all that well. Wherein it conveys the image of a body emerging from the grave it is false and misleading. Those who insist on sticking rigidly to a language because it is in the Bible could just as well use the language of the Bible to prove that our thought processes and emotions do not take place between our ears, but down in the heart, kidneys and bowels. That is what Bible writers actually believed. But it is easy to demonstrate that Paul was not stuck with the language of resurrection. He found other ways to convey the idea of making the transition from this life to rite next dimension of reality.

In summary, what can we say about this empty tomb tradition? It is fine provided it is nothing more than a metaphor. If it is taken literally, it is a very shaky refuge for faith.

Some scholars suggest that crucified victims were generally not given a proper burial. That was part of the humiliating punishment. These scholars contend that the bodies of the crucified were generally thrown into open pit graves if the carrion and dogs had not already eaten them. Archaeologists have discovered evidence for only one crucified man even though thousands were put to death by this method? But is it all that important whether my remains are eaten by the flames or by the fish? As Luther once said, it would be a foolish soul who wanted to have back the old sack of dung.

Suppose archaeologists did discover the bones of Joshua ben Adam, as some say they have discovered his shroud, would that destroy your faith in the resurrection? Far better a faith which is not at the mercy of someone finding bones or fossils. So whether Joshua's tomb was empty or not is irrelevant

THE BELIEVABILITY OF THE RESURRECTION

What we have said in the forgoing chapters is not designed to weaken, much less destroy any one's faith in the resurrection. The purpose of all that shoveling was to get rid of some accumulated traditions which hide the reality of the resurrection. No point in hiding the light under a manure heap!

One of the most inspiring little books I have ever read on the resurrection is authored by Pinchas Lapide, a non-Christian Jew. It is entitled The Resurrection of Jesus. Whilst Lapide does not believe that Joshua ben Adam was all that be was made out to be, especially by Gentile Christianity, he does believe that Joshua actually rose from the dead. He does not believe all the embellishments of the Gospel accounts. These are what he calls Christian midrash. But he does believe there is a reality behind the appearances of the risen Joshua which will not go away.

Before we get to Lapide's reasons for finding the reports of Joshua's resurrection believable, we observe that he is fully conversant with all the literary problems such as the divergent and irreconcilable accounts of the resurrection given in the four Gospels. Of this he says:

While Paul, who is closest to the events, needs only four sentences (1 Corinthians 15:3-7) to express his faith in the resurrection, Mark, decades later needs eight. After him, Matthew expands the report to 20 verses, followed by Luke who is able to report later more than twice this amount - 53 verses. The Fourth Gospel, edited two generations after Easter, long after the last eye-witnesses were deceased, devotes two full chapters of altogether 56 verses to the theme, in order to describe what its author could know only by hearsay. The later a report, the more is to he narrated; the further the distance from the event itself, the more colorful is the description.

The reason some Gentiles find all this a stumbling block to faith while he does not is because they do not understand the nature of Jewish midrash. Joshua and all his first followers were Jews; in fact, the risen Joshua appeared only to Jews They were all perfectly familiar with midrash. Their native tongue was Aramaic, and they only had access to Aramaic versions of the Scriptures. These translations were called Targums. The Targums were not strict translations, but contained a lot of midrash - a kind of Jewish interpretation/commentary on the original Hebrew text of Scripture which only a few scholars were still able to read.

The Jewish sacred tradition was full of midrash. Lapide gives examples. For instance, the account of man's creation is stated in just a few words. But the Rabbis had traditions which interpreted or expounded the story more fully, such as the saying that God created man last "in order that later on no months can he found which spread the rumor that...Adam had helped him." "Or God created man last so that he would not he arrogant because even the worm was created before him".

In a midrash on the story of Abraham and Isaac, the Jews would read how Satan tempted Isaac to flee from being a willing sacrifice, saying, "Don't you know that this old dumb senile man who calls himself your father is leading you to slaughter? Why should you die in the bloom of your years. You still have a beautiful world before you." etc.

So as the sacred stories were re-told, the teller would bring them alive and make them relevant to the hearers by suitable embellishment and interpretation. Is this not what any good story teller or preacher does even today? He may paint a picture of the experience of the prodigal son, for instance, putting him into a more modem setting so that the hearers can better relate to the story. No one expects him to stay rigidly with the text, but he brings it alive by recasting or even reshaping the original story so as to make it live again in his re-telling. So too when the early Christians told and re-told the story of the resurrection to new audiences in different cultural settings they used midrash. They knew they were using midrash, and their audiences knew they were using midrash.

No, the first evangelists were not indulging in a purely fictional narrative, says Lapide. "To blame the rabbis and evangelists for deception [ on account of using midrash] or to accuse them of lying would have been as foreign to the Jews and Jewish Christians of that time as an accusation of 'embellishment' against Van Gough or of the corruption of history against Shakespeare's Macbeth would be to us." (p. 111)

The fact also that the resurrection of Joshua is not provable is no barrier to Lapide believing it. He says that God exposes himself to skepticism and disbelief because he renounces anything that would compel men to believe. Proof cannot be given of the resurrection. He cites the words of Karl Jaspers: "A proven God is no God." (p. 118-9) Lapide regrets those apologetics which turned the resurrection into "a polemic, spiteful reaction against those who denied the Easter faith" and "objectified [it] into a historical event which supposedly does not need any faith to be considered as true." (p. 99)

*In his little book about the South Pacific, James Michener tells about a Polynesian preacher giving this charming pidgin English "midrash" of Calvary: "Master he look down he see Picaninny belong him in pain too much. He sing out, 'Son, how's things?' Picaninny belong him sing out, 'O.K., Boss!' " (Return to Paradise, p. 157)

Now for the reasons Lapide believes that Joshua ben Adam was raised from the dead:

1. Resurrection is True to the Old Testament Faith.

Lapide acknowledges that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead solidified late in the history of Israel. Although the clear expression of it appears in the very late book of Daniel. the idea that God will rescue his people out of death is implied in many Scriptures, and re-enforced by stories of Enoch, Moses, Elijah and Elisha. Job expressed the hope of seeing God beyond his present mortal existence. (Job 19:.25-27) Israel's return from captivity was depicted in terms of the Lord opening their graves. (Ezekiel 37:11-14) Isaiah declared, "Your dead will live; their bodies will arise". (Ch. 26:19)

In the inter-Testament period the implication of these and many other Scriptures became the basis of a very strong belief in a resurrection from the dead in the last days, and the possibility that it could happen for special individuals at any time.

2. Resurrection is not Incredible.

Lapide calls attention to the wonder of life arising from dead matter over a period that lasted billions of years. Then "consciousness gradually arose, and out of consciousness, love and self-knowledge...Is not every tree, every flower, and every child a wonder of God..." And then he asks:

Why should the resurrection of a personal ego after passing through death be more miraculous than the gradual awakening of a human being out of the lifeless matter of the fertilized ovum? And if the physicists affirm that in this inexhaustibly large universe not a single ounce of substance is lost but just changes its form, why should the most precious gift that God wanted to give us, a spark from his fire, the breath from his spirit, disappear without a trace after our earthly decease? To argue otherwise would not only give the lie to all confidence of salvation but would also contradict the elementary logic of natural science. Thus the hope of the resurrection is a reasonable faith which should be sufficient for a meaningful, fulfilling life on earth. (p.150-150)

At this point Lapide sounds like Pascal who said that for a person who has died to live again is not more astonishing than having a person who has never lived actually live.

3. The Resurrection is the most Reasonable Explanation for the Transformation of the Disciples.

Whilst Lapide, like all the literary critics, can see the obvious discrepancies and embellishments ("Christian midrash") in the New Testament accounts of the resurrection, he also confesses his belief that there is a hard core reality there which can't be explained away. Included in the New Testament reports of the resurrection are things which would never have been included if the authors were simply trying to fabricate a story. For example, Joshua's terrible cry of God-forsakenness would not have been included in a mere fabrication. It seems to contradict what the disciples believed about him and had come to expect of him. Neither would they have included the testimony of the women in a fabricated story because everybody in that culture knew that the testimony of women was not accepted as credible evidence.

But the big thing which moves this Jewish historian is the astonishing transformation in the disciples. I will quote him at some length because no Christian apologist has ever said it better:.

Despite all the legendary embellishments, in the oldest records there remains a recognizable historical kernel which cannot simply be demythologized. When this scared, frightened band of apostles which was just about to throw away everything in order to flee in despair to Galilee: when these peasants, shepherds, and fisherman, who betrayed and denied their master and then failed him miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation...

If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception --without a fundamental faith experience -- then this would be a much greater miracle that the resurrection itself...

Any kind of deception is excluded in any case, be it the theft of the body, trance, or the invention of a miracle...

I cannot believe in the empty tomb nor in the angels in white garments nor in the opening of the heaven nor in the absurd miraculousness of the so-called Gospel of Peter. All that belongs to the pious fraud of later generations which themselves no longer felt the direct impact -- but tried to whip up enthusiasm by means of embellishing the truth. If one removes cautiously all these literary additions, a certain 'something' remains for us which in the apostles' simple manner of expression has been called resurrection.

Lapide almost become amusing when he critiques those Christian demythologizers and liberal scholars who say that Joshua rose "in the kerygma", "in the hearts of his people", or in the sense that his message goes on. To which this Jew responds:

But most of these and similar conceptions strike me as all too abstract and scholarly to explain the fact that the solid hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers...

One thing we may assume with certainty: neither the Twelve nor the early church believed in the ingenious wisdom of theologians[ Indeed, they hardly would have understood what the gentlemen of scholarship want to say in such a roundabout manner...

However, for the first Christians who thought, believed, and hoped in a Jewish manner, the immediate historicity was not only a part of that happening but the indispensable precondition for the recognition of its significance for salvation. For all these Christians who believe in the incarnation ( something which I am unable to do ) but have difficulty with the historically understood resurrection, the word of Jesus of the "blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel" probably applies. (Matt. 23:24 )

Wow !

4. The Resurrection is Consistent with God's Justice.

It is inconceivable to Lapide that God would call man, not just to life, but to consciousness and the knowledge of God, and then abandon him in the grave. If death is the final word in a world exposed to catastrophe and misery then the ground of all hope has fled.

If desertion by God and suffering mortal tortures are the end of a great hope-filled person, how can people continue to hope for goodness and justice amidst a world that remains both inhumane and alienated from God. (p. 146)

In the case of Joshua ben Adam, Lapide sees his death as the senseless killing of a man of God by the religious and civil elite. But something happened in the midst of this tragedy to convince Peter and the others that this martyr's death was not the last word from God. That something was his resurrection.

In other words, can swindlers let themselves be tortured and persecuted in the name of an illusion - up to joyful martyrdom ? (p. 141 )

If God is all-just and all-merciful, then death in this world cannot be the final end. ( p. 54)

This is really Lapide's first and final argument. At this point, Paul the Pharisee would applaud his fellow Jew. If you were to ask the great apostle who God is, he would answer, "God is he who raises the dead". Any other God is not worth believing in.

THE RESURRECTION AND THE SCANDAL OF GOD'S JUSTICE

Justice in the Old Testament

Justice, from the Hebrew tsadaq, is the most important word used by the Old Testament to portray the character of God. It is also the most misunderstood concept of the Old Testament.

Justice, or righteousness, is also the most important word used by the Old Testament to express the essence of the human obligation. But whether tsadaq is referring to God or man, it simply means doing the right thing.

There are two kinds of justice, or two ways in which doing the tight thing is understood. These run right through the Old Testament literature and stand in a real tension to each other.

And it will he righteousness [justice] for us if we are careful to observe all these commandments. (Deuteronorny6:25)

So you shall keep my statutes and my judgments, by which a man may live if he does them. (Leviticus 18:5)

This legal kind of justice is emphasized in the priestly portions of the Old Testament literature. It is all about rewards and punishments, an eye for an eye, atonement or pay-back justice.

We cannot dismiss this kind of justice out of hand as if it served no useful purpose. If Israel was to exist as a civil society, some minimum standards had to be enforced and some external discipline had to be maintained. But as Paul was to observe in his letter to the Galatians, this justice of the law was a temporary, pedagogic regime imposed on minors until they became of age. (See Chapter 3:21-25)

The Old Testament portrays another kind of justice. It is featured in stories of God's mighty ants on behalf of his people. It is often sung about in the Psalms. But above all, it is a justice which is championed by the Old Testament prophets.

This is a justice which means doing the right thing in terms of being faithful to a relationship -which the Old Testament often calls a covenant It carries the idea of loyalty to a personal commitment, faithfulness to a personal promise, and fidelity to personal obligations. This is the justice of love which is illustrated by the covenant of marriage or the obligation of parenthood. It is a justice which transcends all legal categories. It is not based on performance according to legal roles, but it is based on unconditional acceptance, on being there for the other in time of need for better or for worse. This kind of justice does not mean getting even, paying back, making atonement, punishment for mistakes and the like, for --

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities...
For he knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:10-14)

This is the kind of justice which burned with compassion for a tribe of slaves and acted for their deliverance from oppression in the Exodus from Egypt. God did not do this for them because they were righteous or better than anyone else. He did it because his justice is biased in favor of the poor and the oppressed, the fatherless and the defenseless, and everyone who calls upon him for mercy and forgiveness. For them the justice of God means salvation, deliverance and acceptance. (See Psalm 51:14; 1(13:6; Isaiah 56: 1)

This is the kind of justice which the prophets called the people of Israel to practice. These fearless visionaries for a new kind of social justice poured scorn on Israel's cultic justice. They ridiculed the justice of religious assemblies, offering of sacrifices and the sacred fasts:

Yet they seek me day by day, and delight to know my ways,
as a nation that has done justice,
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God...

Why have we fasted and thou dost not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and thou dost not notice? Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, And drive hard all your workers..

Is it a fast like this that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?. Is it for bowing one's head like a reed, and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?

Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day of the Lord?

Is this not the fast which I chose,
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free,
And break every yoke?

Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry,
And bring the homeless poor into the house:
When you see the naked, to cover him:
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah58:2-7)

Perhaps the Old Testament passage which best encapsulates the meaning of God's justice is this one:

"The Lord executes justice.., for all who are oppressed".
(Psalm 103:6) 

The Justice of God in ben Adam

With Joshua ben Adam, God's justice and God's kingdom were one and the same thing. (See Matthew 6:33) The good news of the kingdom which was always on his lips was the good news of God's justice. True to that spirit of justice, he went about helping "all that were oppressed" (See Acts 10: 38; Luke 4:18 )

 Joshua's method of teaching was parable. He was a master story-teller who would begin by saying, 'There was this man who had two sons..." or 'There was this landowner who needed some hired help..." He was also the master of hyperbole and deliberate exaggeration. Some of his sayings would either make people laugh or gnash their teeth. If his authentic stories don't strike you as being quite outrageous it is either because you can't appreciate the cultural setting of the story or because you have become too accustomed to having the story sanitized by religious dribble. His parables were a calculated, powerful assault on all the accepted canons of justice. He turned everything on its head. The revered role models of his society - priests, Levites, Pharisees, rulers, rich landholders, sons who were obediently respectful of established custom, etc., - became the objects of derision: but those whom society regarded with contempt --wasters, scoundrels, tax-collectors, Samaritans and other bad characters - became unbelievable heroes.

Joshua was also a master of contrast. He set the two kinds of justice - the legal justice of his opponents and the saving justice of his kingdom - on opposite sides of the battle field.

Except your justice exceeds the justice of the Scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom. (Matthew 5:18 )

The justice of the Pharisees was a justice which consisted in strict obedience to the written text. Paul, the Christian Pharisee, called it "the justice based on law" in which he had once been "blameless." (Philippians 3: 6, 9)

Joshua told the story of two men praying at the temple. One was a Pharisee who gave thanks to God for his blameless life according to the stipulations of the Torah. The other was a tax-collector who was so ashamed of his ways that he beat his breast and threw himself on the mercy of God. In this story the villain went home with the status of a man who had done the fight thing, but the man who was blameless in terms of the justice of the law went home condemned.

According to Joshua ben Adam, the justice of God is not the kind of justice which can be weighed out, measured and calculated by any kind of. law. It is not that "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" kind of justice spoken of in the law of Moses. It is rather the overwhelming, uncalculating and scandalous generosity that gives and hopes for no repayment returns good for evil, keeps no score of wrongs, sends rain upon the bad people as much as the good, and absolutely never runs out of mercy and the readiness to forgive. God's justice is all this because it is the justice of love, the commitment to save all who are oppressed.

In his story of the father who joyously welcomes home the son who was a waster, there is no suggestion of acceptance based on pay-back justice or atonement for the father's outraged honor. With an almost shameless disregard for his own reputation and dignity - luxuries which love cannot afford - he runs to welcome home the waster as if he is some kind of hero. The docent, law-abiding older brother is offended by what he perceives as the father's total disregard for the canons of justice. ( Is this waster about to get another bite at the family estate? ) Unless we have some empathy for the older brother's grievance we haven't begun to understand the quite outrageous nature of the story.

By this and other brilliantly crafted stories, Joshua penetrates to the heart of the cancerous "justice of the law". His is not an attack on the law as such, for he knows that no society is going to exist without minimum standards about what is tolerable within a society. That is not the issue. What Joshua exposes is using the law (which in his context includes religion, doctrines, and theology as well as ethics) as the mediating agent of personal relationships, whether with God or neighbor. When the law is allowed to intrude as the mediating agent in human relationships, it not only keeps us at arms length from God, but it keeps us at aims length from our brother, father, wife or any other neighbor. It intrudes as a barrier preventing the immediacy of an unbrokered relationship. When law is allowed to determine the way we relate to other people, we cannot help but be judgmental, unforgiving, discriminatory, and above all, falling to be caring and compassionate. First the justice of the law brings division and separation, then despising others and hatred, and finally persecution and killing them in the name of God and the law. In short, the justice of the law makes us inhuman. It not only hides us from our own flesh according to the complaint of the prophet Isaiah (Chapter 58.'7), but it hides us from God. It puts us in an isolation cell, which is exactly what every religious cult happens to be!

All the world is queer except you and me, 

And even thou art a little queer..

Joshua told the story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector for the benefit of those who were confident they were just whilst they despised others. But the story shows that one can do the fight thing (justice) or one can despise others, but one cannot do both.

In the story about the two brothers - the waster and the one who was obediently correct - it is shown that the brother who was "faithful" to the law never had a loving bond either with his father or his sibling. When the father tried to remonstrate with him saying, "Son, you have always had me with you", that apparently did not count for a thing. He only wanted the justice of the law. This attitude cut him off from any sympathy with his brother. It shut him out of fellowship with his father. He didn't enjoy the music and dancing of the party. He had nothing to celebrate. The justice of the law had put him in an isolation cell.

When Joshua talked about the kingdom of God being present, what be meant was that God's justice was to become visible and given a human face. This cannot happen by our being legalistic, religious or perfectionist, but by being truly human in God's image and likeness. In the first place this means admitting our finitude, our frailty, our need of deliverance from the things which oppress us. Then as we receive, we are called to be just us willing to pass it on. "Freely you have received, freely give."

Being human is just like having two arms. With the one we receive and with the other we give. To be human is to be weak and helpless. We not only need God; we need others and cannot live without them. Even if one just wants to make money and have a good time, one needs others to do that. But to be human also means to have remarkable abilities to help others. 80 being human means to be totally dependant and rich in ability at the same time.

According to Joshua, we give God's justice a human face by being endlessly forgiving, unconditionally accepting, and graciously non-judgmental. It means living without looking down on any person as inferior or up to anyone as superior. It means being willing to relate to others without religious tests, without titles, without any thought of pay-lack justice. God's grace may be scandalously free, but it is not cheap. It is a hard act to follow, in fact it is an impossible act to follow unless we can believe in our hearts that God's justice is something which never falls or runs out but triumphs over any human tragedy, including especially the tragedy of death. This brings us to consider the final showdown between the justice of the law and the justice of God.

Justice in the Resurrection

In the trial and execution of Joshua ben Adam a man was brought to justice This kind of thing happened all the time, and in this world continues to happen all the lime. Civil and religious structures cannot exist without "law and order". Those who break the law have to be brought to justice. This means punishment or pay-back time.

In the case of Joshua being brought to justice, we will miss the whole point of the story if we caricature the legal authorities as out and out "badies". On the contrary, these were the best religious and civil authorities that the civilized world of the day had to offer. The main actors in this drama of bringing a man to justice were not evil men bent on perverting the course of justice. but simply men who had the responsibility of carrying out justice according to law.

During Joshua's public ministry be was constantly accused of being "a glutton and a drunk", a Sabbath breaker, and a violator of the holiness code, especially due to his custom of eating with unclean people. When he caused a great disturbance in the temple precincts by overturnng the money exchange facilities and chased people away with a whip, be was accused of profaning the temple. According to a strict interpretation of the Torah, all these offences carried the penalty of death. If there was any difficulty making any of those charges slick, there was one law whose clarity could not be avoided: the Torah decreed that if there arose a prophet who led people astray from obedience to the law, he most certainly be put to death. (See Deuteronomy 13: 1) So the Jewish authorities finally arrived at this simple consensus: "We have a law. and by that law he ought to die. (John 19:17)

Joshua was handed over to the Roman authorities, not because there was any distinction between civil and religious powers in those days. but simply because Rome had reserved to itself the right of capital punishment. Rome had very severe laws relating to all matter of sedition, rebellion, and unlawful assembly. Galileans were especially suspect. The Romans had already executed a large number of re. hellions spirits from Galilee. That Province had become notorious us a breeding ground of insurgents, Zealots and Messianic crackpots. Furthermore, the Roman law decreed that Caesar was the divine "son of God". No rivals were to be tolerated - anywhere! No Galilean rabble-rouser was going to stand a chance of survival in this climate. Even if Pilate did not relish putting Joshua to death, he had no option as an instrument of Roman law.

In any case, Joshua was just another insignificant man brought to justice. (We say insignificant since there was almost no mention made of him in any contemporary Jewish or Roman circles.) But for the astonishing intervention of Easter he would have disappeared from history without leaving a trace.

However impressive the Galilean teacher may have been to his little band of supporters, he appeared pathetically weak as he was quickly arrested and hurried off to a brutal execution. All faith and optimism on the part of the disciples vanished. They fled into hiding like cats, not waiting around to witness the final scenes in their doomed cause. If they as much as showed their faces around Jerusalem they were liable to be rounded up and crucified as sympathizers according to the Roman practice.

There was one final insult to add to the dead and buried cause of Joshua hen Adam. He not only died totally discredited in the eyes of the highest judicial authorities in the world, both religious and civil, but as it appeared, he was totally discredited in the eyes of God. The law of Moses had decreed that anyone hanged on a tree was cursed of God. (See Deuteronomy 21: 23). The later accounts of his body being embalmed and laid in a rich man's grave are not well attested. It is quite likely that his body endured the ultimate insult of Roman crucifixions -- no decent burial, but thrown into pits to he scavenged by dogs and carrion.

In any case, the death of Joshua was the ultimate scandal that early Christianity wrestled to come to terms with. Lapide suggests that a very large portion of the New Testament was driven by the effort to explain it. But the untimely death of Joshua was a brutal, senseless tragedy. It had no meaning in itself. Death is an enemy which seems to empty life, goodness, love and whatever is beautiful in life of any meaning. Millions of others, most of whom have been unknown and unsung, have suffered the same fate as Joshua hen Adam. They have been cruelly tortured, burnt alive, butchered, or left to perish of hunger, thirst, or the depravation of human company. It has been done to them too in the name of justice, the law, God! The world seems to he ruled by idiots and bureaucrats who, the moment they get behind the wheel of this juggernaut called "the justice of the law", run people down. Religious authorities have not been exempt from grinding up their share of human bones. The death of Joshua ben Adam stands as a paradigm for the justice of this world, the justice of man, the justice of the law.

When the powers of this world had brought Joshua ben Adam to their idea of justice, a higher court was convened to bring him to another kind of justice.

The Lord executes justice...for all who are oppressed. (Psalm 103: 6)

He will deliver the needy when he calls for help, the afflicted also and him who has no helper...he will rescue their lives from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight. (Psalm 72:12-14)

The man whom the rulers of this world condemned to the most ignominious death was now "declared to he the son of God by the resurrection from the dead". (Romans 1:3) God highly exalted him and gave him a name which is above every name. (Philippians 2:9) "He raised him from the dead...far above all rule and authority and power and dominion." (Ephesians 1:20, 21) "God made him to be both Lord and Christ - this Joshua whom you crucified." (Acts 2: 36)

In the resurrection "the justice of God is revealed". (Romans 1:17) This justice is a scandal to the world, not just because it totally reverses the judgment of the world, and not only because it is a saving justice for the oppressed, but it is a scandal because it is "the justice of God apart from the law". (Romans 3:21) Unlike the justice of the law, it is not a justice that is calculated, measured out, and pays back lit for tat. It is the justice that the Old Testament prophets began to anticipate, that Joshua ben Adam tried to illustrate in quite outrageous stories or tried to act out in his compassion for the oppressed. It was the justice he still trusted in when he was overwhelmed by utter failure and total disaster.

The thing which made Easter so electrifyingly liberating was the perception that the resurrection of Joshua was of monumental significance for the entire human situation. Joshua's exultation to the right hand of God was the revelation of God's final solution to the human condition. For the God who has called the human t-ace from the evolutionary mud of creation into consciousness and the awareness of himself has a destiny for this creature which will not be abandoned:

Thou hast made him a little less than God,
And dost crown him with glory and majesty!
Thou has made him to rule over the works of Thy hands;
Thou hast put all things under his feet. (Psalm 8: 5,6)

Like The Hound of Heaven - "with majestic haste and unperturbed pace"-- the Creator has pursued that goal through the long course of history, sometimes losing the battles but never losing the war.

Can a woman forget her nursing child,
and have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
but I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49: 15)

For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29: 11)

The justice of God is not a justice of the law. It is out of all proportion to anything remotely deserved. It breaks through all categories of what is logical or measurable. Like life itself, it is a gift of inconceivable generosity. It is all this because it is a justice based on fidelity to his own covenant of love.

The Lord's loving kindnesses indeed never cease,
For his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Thy faithfulness. (Lamenations 3:22,23 )

The good news of Easter is that death is not the final word. Life was not intended to end in the tragedy of the grave. The justice of God turned what was a paradigm of all human tragedies into the celebration of the triumph of life over death, of love over hate. The words of Joshua were vindicated: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot destroy your life". (Matthew 10:.38) "God is not the God of the dead but of the living." (Matthew 22:32) Or as he said on the day of his death to the dying thief, "You will be with me in Paradise today." (Luke 22:43)

THE RETREAT OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION

The Retreat from the Centrality of the Resurrection

The message of resurrection was absolutely central to the first Christians. That is quite clear from the accounts given of their preaching in the book of Acts. The central thing was not the divinity of Christ nor his atonement on the cross. These were issues which developed later and assumed the ascendancy. But the original gospel was the word of the resurrection.

If the resurrection had remained central, that great gulf between Joshua's preaching of the kingdom and the church's preaching of other things -- a problem which many scholars are now very aware of - would not have developed. For the heart of Joshua's preaching of the kingdom was the scandal of God's saving justice, and in the gospel of his resurrection the same justice of God was revealed. (Romans 1:17) The kind of justice Joshua gave his life for, God executed in his resurrection from the dead.

But it did not take long before other issues supplanted the centrality of the resurrection. In our issue of Verdict called A Theology of Resurrection which we published 15 years ago, we documented the testimony of both Catholic and Protestant scholars that the church did not have a theology of resurrection. It is well known that Catholicism made the Incarnation central to its theology while Protestantism had made the atonement of the cross the central thing. The resurrection was largely relegated to the field of apologetics wherein the so-called proofs of the resurrection were used to establish the claims made for the divinity of Christ and the exclusive role of the church as possessor of the keys of heaven.

The retreat from the centrality of the resurrection began when the church tried to mitigate what appeared to be the scandalous features of Joshua's birth, life and death. The resurrection had convinced Joshua's followers that God himself had exalted him to the status of "son" or "Messiah". No honor was too great to be conferred upon him, and this pressed them to embellish his history in keeping with his status.

To start with they had to deal with the scandal of a Galilean Messiah. Galileans were held in very low esteem by the orthodox Jews of Judea. Galileans had the stigma of being something like provincial hicks. It was generally held that no prophet would come from Galilee; and to suggest that the royal Messiah would come from Galilee was almost akin to blasphemy. Then added to that was the scandal of Joshua's very irregular conception. So about .50 years or two generations on from Easter we have the introduction of very contrived stories in Matthew and Luke to show that Joshua was not born in Galilee at all. but in Judea (an account not supported by either Mark or John). We will pass over for now how the church softened the scandal of his baptism by John (Why baptize a sinless man?), and the scandal of his radical table fellowship, and we come to the greatest scandal of all: How could an utterly discredited Galilean who died in such public disgrace possibly be the Messiah?

The church explained away the scandal by saying that the death of Joshua was a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world. That is to say. Joshua was not only murdered at the hands of man carrying out the law, but he was slain by God himself as he carried out his far more terrible law. The whole focus hereby turned from the saving justice of the resurrection, which is a justice "without the law", to the punitive pay-back kind of justice.

The Retreat to the Justice of the Law

What all this means is that the Christian religion made a full retreat to the old justice of the law which ben Adam repudiated and which God exposed and shattered in the justice of the resurrection. As we will see, the church breathed new life into the old justice of the law and earned legalism far beyond anything Judaism had ever known. Focusing on salvation by death on the cross rather than by the life of the resurrection, the whole system of Christian theology became a schema of Latin justice from beginning to end.

The whole Christian theological system, whether Catholic or Protestant, begins with the premise of God having a law which requires of man perfect obedience to his every decree to the utmost degree.

There was supposed to be a time when man and woman were sinlessly perfect and qualified to render that kind of obedience to God's law. There was said to be no death or imperfection in the world anywhere - presumably there was a time when even the fish in the sea did not eat one another!

God's law decreed zero tolerance! One strike and you're out! So for a single misdemeanor these first humans were locked out of God's favor, abandoned in this earth like some kind of leper colony, and sentenced not just to temporal sufferings, misery and death, but to eternal damnation along with all their offspring who inherited their original sin. Death also spread across the whole face of nature as a result of one act which incurred the full penalty of the law.

(This myth of the Fall, recited above, is just the orthodox Christian version of a recycled old Babylonian myth which should have been discarded ages ago as sheer intellectual rubbish. But as we will see, it gets far worse.)

The penalty for the smallest infraction of an infinite law had to be an infinite punishment.

Since the honor and integrity of this law had to be maintained. God could not forgive unless the demands of his law were fully met and the penalty for transgression be paid in full. Someone had to win for us divine acceptance and unlock the gates of heaven.

The condition of salvation is exactly what it always has been - perfect obedience to the law of God. In the active obedience of his life, Christ perfectly kept the law for us in every decree to the utmost degree. Then in the passive obedience of his cloth he paid the infinite penalty of our sins. According to this premise, he had to be an infinite person to satisfy an infinite law.

The justice of God's law, having been satisfied by his infinite merits, God is now able to forgive us without violating the honor of his law. He can save us in a way which vindicates his regime of legal justice. According to all the "good" theologians, our salvation is only a means to a higher end - the vindication of this justice of the law.

It is in the application of Christ's merits that a difference developed between Catholics and Protestants. The Catholics said that in response to faith God justifies the sinner by making him just by in infusion of the grace won for him on the cross. The Protestants said that God forensically declares him just by imputing to him the merits of Christ's active and passive obedience, after which he begins the process of making him just by an infusion of grace. We won't go on with all the subtle legal argument about imputare and efficare, faith formed with charity versus faith alone, the ordo salutus what not. The whole dispute was based on the premises of the Latin legal frame-work which both sides accepted. This entire frame-work must now be discarded. It is not only based on a world-view which is already at least two thousand years out of date, but on religious imagery of a Fall and a lock-out from God that Joshua ben Adam totally discarded.

Now let us refocus the main point in this brief sketch of Christian orthodoxy. From beginning to end it is a gospel according to law and a system of legal justice. The resurrection scarcely comes into this theology at all. How could it be otherwise since in the gospel of resurrection "the justice of God without the law is manifested". (Romans 3:21) That is to say, the resurrection is the scandal of a saving justice which transcends all legal categories because it is a justice based on the unconditional acceptance of divine love which never at any time contemplated locking anyone away from an unbrokered fellowship with God. It would be more excusable to believe in the Flat Earth, and certainly less psychologically damaging, than to carry on with views of God's justice that are in some respects worse than bad paganism.

The Retreat to a Deified Messiah

Scholars now generally agree that the earliest believers, being Jews, held to a strict Jewish monotheism. Joshua was believed to be "the son of God" in their traditional sense of being elected and anointed as the Messianic king. Any fair reading of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) finds no evidence that these authors believed that Joshua ben Adam was God. A man of God, certainly! God in the form of a man, certainly not! James Dunn (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament) takes the view that the development toward a full-blown Incarnational theology (ie., Jesus is God) was an inevitable and necessary maturing process of the Christian faith.

In one sense the transformation of Joshua ben Adam to the Jesus God was inevitable, given the retreat to a religion of a legal, pay-back justice centered in Christ's death. If you then put that in the context of the myth of the Fall and a law demanding an infinite penalty for human sin, who else could pay the price and unlock the gates of heaven but a member of the Godhead? There is a certain logic to this legal religion, but it is completely out of kilter to the scandalous, liberating justice of the resurrection. It is the theology of God in a legal box, and an old Latin one at that!

We need also consider how turning Joshua ben Adam into one who comes into this world as God greatly diminishes the original story of the resurrection. Where is the glorious surprise and scandal of God's justice if the man who rises from the dead is God himself?. Given that his birth was supposed to be so supernaturally spectacular with angel choirs and royal visitors etc., and given that he walked on water and confidently foretold his own death and resurrection, Easter was no surprise but a foregone conclusion. And does God need anyone to raise him from the dead? And if God highly exalts the risen one and gives him a name which is above every name (clearly the language of adoption), is not this rendered meaningless if he was God to start with? Is this merely a ceremony wherein God puts his name where it always was, and puts himself on the throne of the universe where he always was? Or was the resurrection the surprising, scandalous generosity of God in raising from the dead and oppressed and discredited man who staked everything on God's faithfulness?

The resurrection of God in the guise of human nature is too much like all the old pagan myths of dying and rising gods which were venerated in every culture of the pagan world. The Greek cities into which the Christian gospel spread were full of these myths. But transforming the risen one into the Deity himself puts an infinite gulf between him and the rest of humanity. As we have said, there is no surprise if it is the immortal Deity himself who rises from the dead according to the teaching of the Christian religion. Neither is this kind of Easter good news to ordinary mortals like the rest of us who are victims of human tragedy - unless we are lucky enough to be Christians who believe all the right things about the Incarnation, Trinity, and belong to the true church outside of  which none can be saved. For what the Deification of the risen one inevitably does is to torn the good news of Easter into an exclusive monopoly by a totalitarian religious system. Everything in this appalling system is based on merits and pay-back justice. Christ, according to this system, was raised from the dead and exalted to the highest place in the universe because he merited it. The resurrection itself along with the atonement on the cross is all a system of merited justice. But on top of this, this Christ is said to have a surplus fund of merits which be will now dispense through ministrations of the church upon individuals who comply with the required conditions such as joining the church by baptism and believing the received teaching on the divinity of Christ, etc. So the message of Easter got tamed into an exclusive religious cult which is light years removed from the original article.

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