Sunday, April 4, 2010
How the first Christians understood Jesus' resurrection
Easter Sunday represents the foundational claim of Christian faith, the highest day of the Christian year as celebration of Jesus' resurrection. But many Christians are unsure what the claim that Jesus had been raised to new life after being crucified actually means—while non-Christians often find the whole idea of resurrection bemusing and even ridiculous.
These differences over what Jesus' resurrection represents and discomfort with the whole idea are nothing new, however: Christians in the first few centuries also had difficulty embracing the idea of a real, bodily resurrection. Then, as now, resurrection was not the favored post-death existence—people much preferred to think that after dying, souls headed to some ethereal realm of light and tranquility. During the Roman period, many regarded the body as a pitiful thing at best and at worst a real drag upon the soul, even a kind of prison from which the soul was liberated at death. So, it's not surprising that there were Christians who simply found bodily resurrection stupid and repugnant. To make the idea palatable, they instead interpreted all references to Jesus' resurrection in strictly spiritual terms. Some thought of Jesus as having shed his earthly body in his death, assuming a purely spiritual state, and returning to his original status in the divine realm. In other cases, Jesus' earthly body and his death were even seen as illusory, the divine Christ merely appearing to have a normal body (rather like Clark Kent!).
Read the rest of Larry Hurtado's article Here