Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the tag “Resurrection”

Jesus – God and Man

Introduction

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus – God and Man[1] set a Christological precedent. He approached the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity with rigorous rational thought and historical-critical methodology, contemporary philosophical enquiry and sensitivity to tradition and ecumenacy, concluding that the majority of the core tenants of Christian orthodoxy are, in fact, sound doctrine, whilst placing high importance on Jesus’ resurrection. This latter point is what makes Pannenberg’s Christology distinctive: the resurrection must be the point of departure and the central concern for any discussion regarding Jesus’ divinity.

This essay shall analyse the theological landscape from whence Pannenberg’s Christological triumph emerged, through the turbulent responses to Enlightenment thinking, differing historical-critical arguments, philosophical, existential and eschatological speculation, to the theological positions that influenced Pannenberg’s Christology ‘from below,’ his desire to go behind the New Testament texts and assertions that Jesus’ resurrection is the key to unlocking the mystery of Jesus’ being. First shall be discussed the several broad categories of differing Christologies, before analysing the first two “historical quests for Jesus” and then how these have influenced theological approaches to Jesus’ resurrection in recent history. The essay shall conclude with a discussion of how Pannenberg emerged out of this theological landscape as a distinctive theologian in his own right.

The Theological Landscape

‘Types’ of Christology

Hans Frei broadly categorizes Christian theology into five ‘types.’ The first places theology within a purely philosophical discipline; the second gives weight to Christian self-description, but remains predominately a philosophical discipline; the third ambiguously merges the disciplines of philosophy with Christian self-description; the fourth gives Christian self-description superiority, but includes philosophical reflection; and the fifth has solely to do with Christian self-description, rejecting any other influence.[2] Ford expands these categories into a Christological context, and provides the following examples:[3]

  • Kant falls into the first Christological ‘type,’ arguing Jesus was a prototype for human morality.
  • Bultmann is an example of type two, who, engaging with the distinctive elements of the proclamation of Jesus, argued Christology has more to do with immediate and present experience of Jesus than anything else.
  • Schleiermacher fits into type three, for whom Jesus was both an historical person and the mediator of Christian experience.
  • Barth falls into type four, giving precedence to Christian self-description, arguing Jesus was both a particular human and God, and thus beyond normal human experience.
  • D. Z. Phillips, arguing there is no place for philosophy in the discussion about the biblical Jesus, is an example of the fifth type.

Apart from these five types, there are two distinct methodological approaches, commonly labelled as either Christology “from above,” and “from below.”[4] The former are exponents of traditional Chalcedonian Christology, insisting that the basis of Christological understanding is Christian kerygma, not historical-critical analysis, nor upon rational argument. Occasionally caricatured as Docetism, examples include Barth, Bultmann, and Brunner. Those who fall into the latter approach assert a necessity upon historical research, that the possibility exists to arrive at the divinity of Jesus as a conclusion rather than a presupposition. Käsemann and Pannenberg are examples of a Christology “from below,” and have received criticisms of reviving elements of Nestorianism.[5]

Historical Quests

A precursor for these two approaches to Christologiy is what has been labelled the “historical quest” for Jesus. The Enlightenment thinking of the 18th century began to question with unprecedented vigour the historicity (or lack thereof) of the Gospel narratives. A succession of authors in the 19th century sought to reconstruct the life of the ‘historical Jesus’ through stringent historical-critical scholarship, most concluding that the Jesus of the Christian faith was an invention of Christianity. Feuerbach (1804-1872) argued Christianity was mere introspection and Strauss (1808-1874) argued the supernatural elements in the gospel were myth, primitive expression of spiritual ideas. Strauss’ work demanded objectivity in historical research of Jesus, for the Gospels were not historically reliable. Strauss’ work influenced many others, including Renan’s Life of Jesus in the 1860s. Drews (1865-1935) argued the historical Jesus was a myth and hence the quest for the historical Jesus was pointless, and then Schweitzer (1875-1965) wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its progress from Reimarus to Wrede in 1906, tracing the history of this quest, and insisted these attempts at the historical Jesus should stop, for they domesticate Jesus and had become more about the historian than the history. Schweitzer’s attack on the historical quest effectively stopped this first ‘quest.’

Kähler also had a significant role in the cessation of this Quest through his critique of its methodology in The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, in 1896. He argued it was impossible to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith; the only Christ academics should be interested in is the one preached through the ages. Searching for the historical was not only unsuccessful, but counterproductive. He also, however, argued faith should not be dependent on historical research, this latter statement greatly influencing Tillich and Bultmann who focussed not on the historical events of Jesus, but on the faith and teachings of the church, wherein meaning is found in existential encounter.[6] Witherington argues this separation causes problems, for Christian faith is based on historical events and thus separating the Jesus of history from the Jesus of Christian kerygma leads to a form of Gnosticism.

Until the second half of the 20th century, the academic quest for the historical Jesus was nonexistent. However, in 1953 a gathering of Bultmann’s former students launched a new revitalized quest for the historical Jesus, particularly in Käsemann’s (1906 – 1998) work. He argued against Bultmann’s assertion that the Gospels had no historical credibility and that Bultmann was too extreme in his scepticism about what could be known of Jesus. Bornkamm (1905 – 1990) had an influential role in this second quest. His publication, Jesus of Nazareth in 1956, argued that by applying critical scholarship we can know something about the historical Jesus.[7] This paved the way for Pannenberg, who insisted that, in fact, we can know something about Jesus only by applying critical scholarship.

The Resurrection

Fergusson begins his historical analysis of the doctrine of the resurrection with the simple question: “Is the resurrection an event in the life of Jesus or an event in the life of the believer?”[8] He argues the different doctrines can be divided into three broad positions: radical, liberal, and traditional. The ‘radical’ and ‘liberal’ positions argue there was no historical resurrection; the former posits the resurrection is a reference to faith itself, the latter that it is myth emerging out of faith. The ‘traditional’ position claims the resurrection was an historical event in Jesus’ life which gave rise to that faith. Bultmann and Marxsen are examples of theologians who fit into the ‘radical’ position, Küng and Schillebeeckx into the ‘liberal’ position, and Barth and Pannenberg into the ‘traditional’ position.[9]

According to Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the only support for the resurrection of Christ comes from Scripture, which is historically unreliable. After a detailed historical analysis of the Gospels, he concludes that much of what was said during Jesus’ life, pre- and post-resurrection, were the result of redaction. He then questions why Jesus would devote his time after his resurrection strictly to a few, rather than many, which would clearly have a greater impact. Furthermore, he argues the resurrection has no significance for Christ or the individual, for the cross itself has no redemptive significance.[10] However, he does not deny the historicity of the resurrection, for that would mean Jesus chose his disciples poorly as unreliable testimonies, or that he intended to deceive humanity. The resurrection is therefore a kerygmatic tool arising out of the disciples’ faith who “recognized in Him the Son of God without having the faintest premonition of His resurrection and ascension.”[11]

There seems to be some tension present in Schleiermacher’s understanding of Scripture. On the one hand he refuses to acknowledge the reliability of the resurrection accounts, but on the other does not question the disciples’ statements about Jesus. Furthermore, while the biblical accounts attest to the disciples’ acknowledgment of Jesus as Christ, none of them addressed Jesus as God until Thomas did so after the resurrection. Hieb details a further inconsistency within Schleiermacher’s theological schema, in particular regards to his positivistic nature-system which inherently disallows supernatural miracles. His doctrine of reconciliation denies the need for resurrection and his nature-system denies the possibility of resurrection – yet he refuses to deny Christ’s resurrection.[12] As is evident, there is ambiguity to Schleiermacher’s interpretation of the resurrection and unresolvable tensions. His doctrine is thus irrevocably untenable.

Strauss interpreted all stories through the lens of myth and thus any hint of supernaturalism was denied from a historical perspective. He “regarded the Gospels as a hopeless conglomeration of mythical stories from which no trustworthy picture of Jesus could ever be won,”[13] arguing that either Jesus had not really died, or he had not really been raised. The resurrection was, rather, a primitive myth. Similarly, Tillich (1886-1965) rejected the notion of Christ’s bodily resurrection and insisted it was a metaphor, a reference to the return of Jesus to Christ in the minds of the disciples.[14] For Troeltsch (1865-1923), historical-critical methodology threatened traditional dogmatics. If certain traditions or ‘facts’ did not correspond to present experience – such as the resurrection – it is deemed improbable. His aim was to present Christianity purely as an historical phenomenon compatible with historical-critical methods.[15] Ruling out any supernatural explanation, he concluded that “Christianity is in actuality the strongest and most concentrated revelation of personalistic religious apprehension.”[16] While viewing Christianity as the highest religious truth, in regards to morality, the resurrection must be denied on a historical basis – we do not experience people resurrecting today, therefore we cannot say that anyone has in the past.

Bultmann (1884 – 1976) believed that what is significant is the ongoing, existential meaning of the cross and resurrection. More important than any historical evidence is the individual’s experience of Christ in the present. Like Tillich he viewed the resurrection as metaphor, but insisted that the resurrection should not be understood as an event of past history, nor can its saving significance be proven historically. Instead, it represents “the elevation of the Crucified One to the status of Lord,”[17] a belief arising out of the early Christians’ proclamation to be prepared for his imminent return. According to Bultmann, “The resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost and the parousia of Jesus are one and the same event, and those who believe have already eternal life.”[18]

For Barth (1886 – 1968), the resurrection was entirely a work of the Father, and it was unnecessary for redemption. Reconciliation occurred in and through Jesus’ obedient life and death, and so Christ’s resurrection was a sovereign act of God’s free grace as an entirely new act – as was the creation of the cosmos. However, the resurrection functions epistemologically; “In His resurrection He reveals Himself as the One He is – the genuine, true and righteous man, the real man, who kept the covenant which all others broke.”[19] It does not alter who Jesus is, yet there is definite transformation. He is “the same whole man, soul and body,” who “rises as He dies,”[20] yet it “crowns this event [of Jesus’ ministry on Earth] as its disclosure and revelation.”[21]

For Barth, “The resurrection is an event in the life of Jesus that gives meaning to the disciples’ faith and to ours today through the power of the Holy Spirit and thus through faith.”[22] Furthermore, “It is…an objective event within history whose meaning is always tied to Jesus himself as subject and object and thus requires faith in him to be understood.”[23] Jesus was a particular man in a particular time, and is saviour only so long as he, his incarnation and resurrection, are historical events. However, understanding these events cannot come through normal historical-critical methods, rather can only be understood through faith, given through our unification with the risen Jesus by the Holy Spirit. He argues that his death and resurrection “must be understood in the flesh, as a real event, yet not as a single event or as many single events, but as the totality of the event of the existence of Jesus.”[24] For Barth, the resurrection is an historical event but is unlike any other historical event; it is God’s history with humanity, more than it is empirical human history.[25]

Rahner (1904 – 1984) attempts to hold the resurrection as both an event in Jesus’ life and as an event within the faith of the disciples. He insists the resurrection be linked to the cross, arguing it is “the manifestation of what happened in the death of Christ,”[26] and in his resurrection, the transfiguration and renewal of the world has begun; in his death and resurrection, Christ is the fulfilment and consummation of all of creation.[27] According to Rahner,

The resurrection of Christ is essentially…the event in which God irrevocably adopts the creature as his own reality, by his own primordial act, as he had ‘already’ done in the incarnation of the Logos. It is likewise the event in which God so divinizes and transfigures the creature that this glorification is accomplished as the total acceptance of this divine assumption by the freedom of the creature itself.[28]

The resurrection was an actual, historical event that gave rise to faith, but without faith there would be no resurrection, as Molnar notes, “The resurrection of Jesus is not a historical fact existing independently of the disciples’ faith and ours.”[29] While it was an historical event, it cannot be understood as any other historical event, for it does not exist within our normal realm of experience of empirical and recurring data. The resurrection cannot be separated from faith for “it is only in this faith that its own essential being is fully realized.”[30] In this faith we receive and experience Christian hope, for since Jesus has been raised, we can hope for our own resurrection, which shall be a resurrection into Jesus himself.[31]

Where Rahner links the resurrection to hope, Schillebeeckx (1914 – 2009) links it to Christ’s glorification: “Jesus’ resurrection is directly associated with his exaltation.”[32] The empty tomb tradition did not lead to the belief in Christ’s resurrection, rather God exalted Jesus to the heavenly places after his death, which in effect was his resurrection, and thus resulted in the tales of the empty tomb as a consequence. He argues the early Christians would have reflected upon Apocalyptic texts such as Wisdom of Solomon, and concluded that upon his death, Jesus lived on in God. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is merely a reference to his exaltation into the heavenly places, and not a literal historical event. Yet through this exaltation, “God’s definitive saving action has been accomplished.”[33] Macquarrie, reflecting upon this position, concludes that simple contemplation upon a passage would not result in the dramatic turnaround in the disciples’ lives – something had to have happened to cause them to insist, to their deaths, that Christ was risen.[34]

For Moltmann (1926 – present), the resurrection represents the antithesis to Christ’s crucifixion. The former represents death and the absence of God, the latter represents life and the presence of God. Despite this contradiction, Jesus remains the same man, though in his cross he is identified with sin and death and in his resurrection is identified with God’s promises. The Christian hope arises out of this resurrection, wherein the general resurrection, the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the new re-creation of all, are ensured.[35]

Conclusion: The Arrival of Pannenberg

This essay has attempted to outline the major theological currents that paved the way for Pannenberg’s Christological publication, Jesus – God and Man. To be noted, of special interest, is the sheer diversity of Christological assertions and how these conclusions have been influenced by an even greater diversity of factors, including philosophical presuppositions and approaches to the role of historical research. The essay began with an overview of Ford’s five ‘types’ of Christologies; with Bultmann, Pannenberg fits into the second type, in that his study of Jesus had as its foundation a rigorous historical-critical methodology. He refused to accept, without question, Christian self-description and kerygma, seeking to go behind the early church proclamation to find the real, historical Jesus. He insisted that “the task of Christology is to establish the true understanding of Jesus’ significance from his history,” and thus “all statements…are to be tested in the light of Jesus’ history.”[36] Emerging out of the ‘Second Quest’ for the historical Jesus, Pannenberg argued that it’s not just possible to discover the real Jesus through historical-critical methodology, but, in fact, we can discover the real Jesus only through historical-critical methodology.

Evidently, Pannenberg approaches Christology from below and provides three reasons why a Christology from above is not feasible:[37]

  1. It presupposes Christ’s divinity. Determining who Jesus was and is is the primary task of Christology, and thus nothing can be presupposed or assumed.
  2. It does not fully recognize the distinctive elements and attributes of the historical human figure. For example, if a universal nature is presupposed in Christ’s being, Jesus’ relationship with historical Judaism loses importance.
  3. It assumes a position any human interpreter cannot inhabit: the position of God himself. We can only ever think from a humanly, historical perspective.

While he would fit into Fergusson’s ‘traditional’ position on the resurrection, with Barth, Pannenberg’s position is very different to Barth’s, due to Barth’s methodology being a Christology from above. Where Barth placed emphasis on the epistemological significance of the resurrection, Pannenberg prescribed it a greater ontological significance, arguing,

Only because in Jesus’ resurrection the end of all things, which for us has not yet happened, has already occurred can it be said of Jesus that the ultimate already is present in him, and so also that God himself, his glory, has made its appearance in Jesus in a way that cannot be surpassed. Only because the end of the world is already present in Jesus’ resurrection is God himself revealed in him…[and] in Jesus, God himself has appeared on earth.[38]

In other words, the resurrection – and the eschatological significance inherent within it –ontologically determines Jesus’ divinity. McClean expands,

[Pannenberg] argues that the Easter event ‘determines’ the meaning of Jesus’ life and his relationship with God. That is, the proper understanding of Jesus’ life and his identity depend on the resurrection, not simply for their being known, but for their being what they are.[39]

Pannenberg’s Christology in Jesus – God and Man is progressive and groundbreaking. Though his thought didn’t change dramatically as he aged,[40] it did develop and thus there are evident differences in his Christology in his later publication Systematic Theology, where a greater anthropological emphasis leads to slightly different conclusions regarding Jesus’ humanity and our relation to him.However, the purpose of this research is on his early work and as such, such discussion is best left elsewhere. Though technically falling into Fergusson’s ‘traditional’ position, he clearly is anything but.

 

References

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid, R. H. Fuller. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1960.

Bauckham, Richard. “Jürgen Moltmann.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.2nd ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

Bloesch, Donald G. Jesus Christ: Savior and Lord. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Bradshaw, Timothy. Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark International, 2009.

Bray, G. L. “Christology.” In New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson, and David F. Wright. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Bultmann, Rudolf. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958.

Edwards, Denis. “The Relationship Between the Risen Christ and the Material Universe.” Pacifica 4, no 1. (1991)

Eitel, Adam. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no 1. (2008)

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998.

Fergusson, David. “Interpreting the Resurrection.” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no 3. (1985)

__________. “Barth’s Resurrection of the Dead: Further Reflections.” Scottish Journal of Theology 56, no 1. (2003)

Ford, David. “Christology.” In The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, edited by Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ford, David F. and Mike Higton. Jesus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Frei, Hans W. Types of Christian Theology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Gilbertson, Michael. God and History in the Book of Revelation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. 20th-Century Theology. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Haight, Roger. Jesus: Symbol of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999.

Harris, Horton. David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology. London: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Hieb, Nathan D. “The Precarious Status of Resurrection in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre.International Journal of Systematic Theology 9, no 4. (2007)

Janssen, Claudia. “Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Sӧlle and Contemporary Feminist Theology.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79. (2000)

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospel. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

Macquarrie, John. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought. London: SCM Press, 1990.

McClean, John. From the Future: Getting to Grips with Pannenberg’s Thought. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013.

McGrath, Alister E. The Making of Modern German Christology. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986.

Molnar, Paul D. Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man. Translated by Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe. London: SCM Press, 2002.

Rahner, Karl. Theological Investigations. Vol. 4. Trans. Kevin Smyth. London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1974.

__________. Foundations of Christian Faith. Translated by William V. Dych. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., 1978.

Schillebeeckx, Edward. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Translated by Hubert Hoskins. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1979.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. The Christian Faith. Ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968.

__________. The Life of Jesus. Ed. Jack C. Verheyden. Translated by S. Maclean Gilmour. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.

Schwӧbel, Christoph. “Wolfhart Pannenberg.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.2nd ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

Smith, J. W. D. “The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or History?” The Expository Times 72, no 12. (1961)

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Two Horizons. Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1980.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Digswell Place, Great Britain: James Nisbet and Company Ltd., 1968.

Troeltsch, Ernst. The Absoluteness of Christianity. Translated by David Reid. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1971.

Witherington III, Ben. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

 

Footnotes

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, trans. Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe (London: SCM Press, 2002).

[2] Hans W. Frei, Types of Christian Theology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). 28-55.

[3] David F. Ford, “Christology,” in The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 116-118.

[4] G. L. Bray, “Christology,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, and David F. Wright (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998). 137-140. He argues this splits Christology into two opposing camps.

[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998). 684. Cf. Pannenberg. 1-11.

[6] Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997). 6-11. Also, Michael Gilbertson, God and History in the Book of Revelation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 11-16.

[7] Witherington. 11. Though the second quest was largely a reaction to Bultmann, his influence remained, portraying Jesus as an existentialist philosopher (p. 11).

[8] David Fergusson, “Interpreting the Resurrection.” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no 3. (1985). 287.

[9] Ibid. 287-305. Cf. Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007).

[10] It is not within the scope of this essay to detail and critique Schleiermacher’s understanding of redemption, but in short the satisfaction of sin is found not in the suffering, but in the active obedience of Christ throughout his life. If humanity’s sin is infinite then the punishment must equally be infinite. Christ’s death, having occurred within time and space, is not infinite and thus cannot satisfy the punishment for sin. Reconciliation comes through Christ’s obedience, and that obedience is transmitted to those who have fellowship with Christ (Cf. Nathan D Hieb, “The Precarious Status of Resurrection in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 9, no 4. (2007). 401-03).

[11] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith. Edited by H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968). 418. Cf. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Life of Jesus. Edited by Jack C. Verheyden. Translated by S. Maclean Gilmour (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975). 392-465.

[12] Hieb. 399, 407-14.

[13] Horton Harris, David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973). 272.

[14] Stanley J. Grenz, and Roger E. Olson, 20th-Century Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992). 129; Paul Tillich. Systematic Theology (Digswell Place, Great Britain: James Nisbet and Company Ltd., 1968). Cf. Alister E. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986). 37-38.

[15] Gilbertson. 3-4.

[16] Ernst Troeltsch, The Absoluteness of Christianity. Translated by David Reid (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1971). 111-12.

[17] Grenz and Olson. 95.

[18] Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958). 33. Cf. J. W. D. Smith, “The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or History?” The Expository Times 72, no 12. (1961). 372-73.

[19] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid, R. H. Fuller (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1960). III/2, 214. Cf. Adam Eitel, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no 1. (2008). 38. Cf. p.40 – “Barth understands Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead as the event in which God the Father acted unnecessarily and graciously.”

[20] Barth. III/2, 327.

[21] Ibid. III/2, 337.

[22] Molnar. 1.

[23] Ibid. 6.

[24] Barth. III/2, 337.

[25] Ibid. 8-14. Cf. Claudia Janssen, “Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Sӧlle and Contemporary Feminist Theology.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79 (2000). 64.

[26] Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations. Vol. 4. Trans. Kevin Smyth (London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1974). 128. Furthermore, the death of Christ was “the imposed and enforced handing over of the whole bodily man to the mystery of the merciful loving God, by the concentrated freedom of Christ as he disposes of his whole life and existence,” (p. 128).

[27] Denis Edwards, “The Relationship Between the Risen Christ and the Material Universe.” Pacifica 4, no 1. (1991). 11-12.

[28] Rahner. Theological Investigations. 128-29.

[29] Molnar. 63.

[30] Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith. Translated by William V. Dych (London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., 1978). 267-68.

[31] Molnar. 45-66. Cf. Rahner. 267-68 – “Jesus is risen into the faith of his disciples…that faith which knows itself to be a divinely effected liberation from all the powers of finiteness, of guilt and of death, and knows itself to be empowered for this by the fact that this liberation has taken place in Jesus himself and has become manifest for us.”

[32] Edward Schillebeeckx. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Translated by Hubert Hoskins (London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1979). 533.

[33] Ibid. 543.

[34] John Macquarrie. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (London: SCM Press, 1990). 311-312.

[35] Richard Bauckham, “Jürgen Moltmann,” in The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford. 2nd ed. (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997). 210-213.

[36] Pannenberg. 12. Emphasis mine.

[37] Ibid. 17-18.

[38] Ibid. 59.

[39] John McClean. From the Future: Getting to Grips with Pannenberg’s Thought (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013). 99-100.

[40] It should be noted at this point that his earlier work is marked but a focus on methodology, as seen in his works Revelation as History and Basic Questions in Theology, thereby establishing his theological schema for healthy growth and development. Hence his overall direction taken in his theological work remained true and did not change or wave.

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Positive Positivism?

What is Positivism?

It’s not a way of life that insists you remain happy all the time. It’s got nothing to do with magnets and electricity. And it doesn’t have anything to do with chemistry or physics, per se.

Positivism is a philosophy that insists that the only true statement is a statement that can be proved through empirical evidence. You’re probably aware of this way of thinking, even if you didn’t know what it was called – or that it even had a name. The insistence upon measurable evidence based proof comes from a Positivistic methodology.

This way of thinking is extremely pervasive in the world today, even in an increasingly postmodern world…whatever that may mean.

There are many good things about this philosophy, things I think make an extremely large amount of rational sense. However, there are aspects of this philosophy that I think are irrational and perhaps harmful.

If the only things that can be considered true are those things that can be measured, our science is restricted. We are limited by what we already know, or are at least restricted to a short field of view. What I mean by this is that we are restricted by rules that we have constructed based on recurring patterns that we have observed in the observable, material universe.

However, I have two concerns with this:

  1. In the world we live in, occasionally things happen that defy these rules. Events occur that are un-explainable because they are outside the rules we have created.
  2. Science is continually updating with new evidence, and old rules become obsolete. If we restrict ourselves to the rules we have already created, we deny ourselves further scientific development. Any development is restricted to a very limited field of view before us, constrained by observable and measurable rules.

Let’s take Jesus’ resurrection for example. Our experience of this material universe tells us that dead people do not come back to life. The 19th century philosopher and theologian David Strauss argued that because we don’t experience resurrections today we cannot say there ever has been any. This is a very Positivistic way of thinking.

But just because resurrections don’t regularly occur doesn’t mean we should insist they don’t happen at all.

Just because something lies beyond the rules we have constructed doesn’t mean we should believe them to be false. If we were to insist on this, we would never make any scientific progress at all. There will always be things lying outside of our observable rules; we will always revise old rules and expand our present knowledge. But to do so requires that we do not immediately reject those things that defy our present rules.

Hence I believe we should construct a revised Positivism.

I do not wish to reject Positivism outright, for I believe there must be precedence given to recurring patterns. Earth gravity will always cause things to fall down, not up, and will always stop me from floating into space. One plus one will always equal two. Applying enough heat to plain water will always cause it to heat up enough to make my coffee. Drinking too much of my 15 year old Glenfiddich in one night is never a good idea.

There must always be space for measurable rules.

But there must always be space in our understanding for those things that defy our present understanding. We must always leave space for those things that are un-explainable, confusing, bewildering and surprising. We must always leave space for mystery.

Yes, apply a reasonable amount of critical skepticism to these things that lie beyond our rules, but do not immediately reject them.

A revised Positivism encourages measurable evidence without immediately rejecting the immeasurable. It encourages skepticism but leaves space for the mysterious.

A revised Positivism allows reason and faith in God to coexist in harmony. It allows a belief in Jesus’ resurrection, as well as our own future resurrection. It allows scientific progress to stand side by side with a belief in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not deny what God has done, but let us not deny God all together.

Thomas and I

Sometimes I feel sorry for Thomas.

He’s gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas,” when, upon hearing from the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 

I get that. I, too, would be hesitant to immediately believe that someone I saw die was once again living.

But what I find fascinating about this passage is Jesus’ response to Thomas’ skepticism:

“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

More to the point, what’s fascinating is what Jesus didn’t say.

Elsewhere, Jesus was pretty short with his disciples, quick to rebuke and not exactly prone to holding any punches (such as Matt. 16.23). He got exasperated and exhausted and desperately hoped the disciples would stop being so darn   s   l   o   w   . His divine patience was regularly tried.

Yet here, there is no rebuke, but rather a simple extending of his hands for Thomas’ doubts to be squelched. And then Thomas’ declaration is astounding: “My Lord and my God!” An undeniable recognition of Jesus’ divinity. In fact, this is the only explicit statement of Jesus’ divinity made by any disciple…and he goes down in history as “Doubting Thomas.”

There is nothing wrong with questioning, and seeking reason and proof. There is nothing wrong with applying a rational way of thinking to matters of faith. If we didn’t, we would believe anything and everything that came our way, and we would be guilty of one of the most dangerous attitudes possible to humanity: blind faith.

We need not see to believe, but that does not mean there aren’t other ways of knowing and finding truth.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But I refuse to believe that Jesus is advocating blind faith, as elsewhere we are told to “always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you,” (1 Pet. 3.15). Nor was Jesus claiming that Thomas’ faith was inferior – for Thomas’ declaration of Jesus as Lord and God functions as a climax for the Johannine narrative.

Jesus’ statement in verse 29 has more to say to the present reader than to the figure of Thomas. He is speaking directly to us today. Blessed are those, he says, who will be recipients of the Holy Spirit, through whom faith in the church’s proclamation shall become truth.

There is nothing wrong with questioning, testing and seeking proof, but we must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us toward the truth of Christ – the Risen Lord.

The Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15

Introduction

Paul’s discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 reveals an eschatological aspect to Paul’s Gospel, in which the resurrection is a fundamental aspect to the soteriological efforts of God. His argument is long and a logical progression is evident, evidencing his Pharisaic upbringing and rejection of many Hellenistic themes, particularly the immortal soul. His argument for a bodily, physical resurrection of the dead is not simply an exhaustive and impractical theology of the future, but impinges on ethical living; because we will resurrect bodily, we mustn’t be oblivious to the consequences of our actions before we die, as some Corinthians were. This essay analyses the resurrection in the Jewish tradition, to understand Paul’s approach and background; the resurrection in the Hellenic tradition, to understand what the major view of the Corinthians was; and unpacks the text in light of these analyses, attempting to accurately portray Paul’s understanding of the resurrection.

Part A: Jewish and Hellenistic Backgrounds

Resurrection in Jewish Tradition

The idea of a resurrection of the dead was a late theological development in Judaism.[1] Originally, there was no concept of heaven or hell; souls would simply sink into Sheol. Over time the concept of reward and punishment after death ebbed into Judaism, eventually forming the idea of resurrection, the event in which the righteous would be raised from the dead to live with God.[2] However, the oldest mention of the resurrection is unclear. Some suggest Isaiah 26:19, and others suggest Ezekiel 37. However, these two passages aren’t talking about a Messianic eschatology, and so Daniel 12:1-3 is recognized by the majority of scholars to be the first reference of the resurrection.[3] Second Temple Judaism generally recognized the resurrection as referring to the age to come, the idea of the soul referring to the body’s capacity of action.[4]

Apocryphal, pseudepigraphical and Qumran texts mention the resurrection also. 2 Macabees 7 mentions a man who professes that God will replace his body when he loses it; 1 Enoch 51 says “Sheol will return all the deposits which she had received and hell will give back all which it owes. And he shall choose the righteous and the holy ones from among the risen dead…and the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy, because on the day the Elect One has arisen.”[5] 2 Baruch 30:1 says “all who sleep in hope of him will rise,”[6] and the Dead Sea Scroll text 4Q521 says “He will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live.”[7]

It is clear then, that by the first century, the concept of the resurrection was prevalent in Jewish thought, especially within the Pharisaic party, who believed that the righteous survive death.[8] And it was from this group of Jews that Paul inherited his understanding of the resurrection, and the Christian expectation of the future resurrection stems from this tradition.[9]

Resurrection in Greek and Roman Tradition

Where Judaism moved toward an understanding of the eschatological resurrection as a bodily resurrection, Greek tradition moved toward the concept of the immortal soul, after approximately 500BC.[10] However, it must be understood that there were many, often contradictory, views on the afterlife.[11] Homer believed that all, both good and evil, live eternally in Hades, though some divinely favored heroes would be granted access to the “Isles of the Beloved.” The immortal soul developed later, with the Orphism movement, and was championed by Plato. Plato provided a philosophical foundation,[12] arguing that the body is a prison for the soul.[13] His dualism emphasized a distinction between the body and the soul,[14] and idea was later taken up by Socrates, who said that death is a release.[15]

However, Epicureanism and Stoicism were both widespread. Epicureanism denied the afterlife, arguing that the body and soul are so intertwined that when the body dies, the soul inevitably dies also; the soul was entirely corporeal. Stoicism was something of a mediatory position between Epicureanism and Platonism, in that while it denied the incorporeality of the soul, it also denied its immortality. Stoicism likened the soul to a “warm breath” which would eventually return, after a temporary afterlife, to the soul of the world.[16]

The group Paul was addressing likely believed the idea of an immortal physical body to be absurd. The Greek understanding of a resurrection recognized the resurrected body as being the exact same substance and body as it was prior to death. [17] Hence, the concept that God will one day resurrect all believers, including those whose bodies have disintegrated would have conjured up images of reanimated corrupted corpses. This group also placed little stress on the afterlife, focusing on present blessings, seeing that only death was coming. They didn’t care about the future, only about the present.[18]

Part B: Paul’s Discussion on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15

Paul’s understanding of the resurrection was absolutely vital for the Corinthians’ salvation.[19] The resurrection is the climax of grace as God’s gift, because God doesn’t just leave us in the ground, he raises us to life with and in him.[20] Though Paul elsewhere places great emphasis on the cross, here it is impossible to separate the death and resurrection in the soteriological purposes of God in Christ. The Gospel can’t exist unless both are present.[21]

He begins in verses 1-11 by establishing some common ground.[22] He presupposes Christ’s resurrection, rather than apologetically arguing for it, approaching the discussion as one who recognizes that the Corinthians haven’t rejected the resurrection, but rather have their theology somewhat confused. He comes as a teacher, to correct.[23] The reference to Jesus’ death rejects Docetism – a movement arguing that Jesus only seemed to be human – emphasizing that he was human and that he died a real death.[24] He then cites eyewitnesses to affirm the resurrection.[25]

In verses 12-20 and 29-34, he unpacks the implications if there were no resurrection. He begins by asking why, if they believed in Jesus’ resurrection, they would reject their own.[26] The implication of the rejection of the resurrection is expounded in the following verse; if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised, and if he was not raised, everything Paul has been proclaiming about the Gospel is invalid, and their faith is futile. In verses 29-34 he reveals how such an implication would invariably mean all his effort was for nothing. [27] The most serious implication of the rejection of the resurrection, which he picks up in following verses, is that if there is no resurrection, then death is unconquered and, hence, there would be no salvation.[28]

The reason for their rejection was likely due to the Hellenistic culture. As argued above, the concept of a corporeal resurrection was entirely foreign. It was not the resurrection they were rejecting, rather the physical bodily resurrection.[29] It is also likely, as evidenced from previous passages, such as their desire for spiritual gifts, their belief that all things are lawful and beneficial to them, etc. that the Corinthians already saw themselves as spiritual and “above” the physical. Therefore, they only had to rid themselves of the humiliation of humanity. [30] Furthermore, the belief that they could eat, drink and be merry was due to their rejection of the resurrection; they didn’t care about the body or the consequences, since only death was in store for them.[31]

In verses 21-28 Paul discusses the positive implications of the resurrection of the dead, which ultimately points toward the glory of God. He argues that Christ has risen from the dead, thus there is no reason to reject their own resurrection.[32] By labeling Jesus as the “first fruits” he connects Jesus’ resurrection with the future, general resurrection, the beginning of the eschatological resurrection, which comes through Jesus and for Jesus’ glorification.[33] The passive perfect “has been raised” signifies God the Father’s activity and the on-going effects of this resurrection.[34] God, through Jesus’ resurrection, has set in motion the final victory over death.[35] If the resurrection is real then there is real purpose and meaning to be found in life.[36] In Jesus, we rise, unified in Jesus; in Adam, we die, unified in Adam. This completes God’s purpose in creating humanity.[37]

The remainder of the chapter discusses how the dead are raised and what form they will be raised in. Paul mocks the idea that the resurrected body will be of the same substance, arguing it will not be subject to death and decay.[38] Here he is evidently influenced by his Pharisaic background, with his image of the perfected flesh.[39] He argues from nature that there are different sorts of bodies; the human body is different to the fish or the birds, so why can’t the spiritual body be different to the material body? They are still a physical body, yet entirely different. He continues this train of thought and uses an analogy of a seed, something which goes into the ground one thing and comes out an entirely different thing, emphasizing the new nature of the resurrected body.[40]

Semantically, he distinguishes between the material body and the spiritual body by using the words sōma psychikon and sōma pneumatikon, respectively. The former refers to creatures of body and spirit, the latter to an inherited spiritual, heavenly body. This new body is animated by the Holy Spirit when a divine transformation at the parousia occurs, causing bodies to be made fit for heavenly existence.[41] He ends on an ethical and moral exhortation to stand firm and to live in light of the resurrection that has come in Jesus and is still yet to come for all his followers.[42]

Conclusion

Paul’s understanding of the resurrection, heavily influenced by his Jewish background, was of a physical, bodily resurrection. This body, however, will be transformed and animated by the Holy Spirit, adapted to the new heavenly conditions. He rejects the Platonic understanding of the immortal soul and implores the Corinthians to do similarly. If there is no immortal soul or a physical resurrection, death is still victorious. Paul, however, doxologically declares the glory of God the Father in this passage, naming God as victor over everything, even death. The resurrection of the dead is the pinnacle event of this victory, and of our salvation.

Bibliography

Blomberg, Craig. 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Boer, Martinus C. de. The Defeat of Death: Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1988.

Croy, N Clayton. “Hellenistic Philosophies and the Preaching of the Resurrection (Acts 17:18, 32).” Novum Testamentum 39, no. 1 (1997): 21-39.

Dunn, James D. G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.

Dunn, James D. G. “How Are the Dead Raised? With Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15.” Southwestern Journal of Theology 45, no. 1 (2002): 4-18.

Elledge, C. D. “Resurrection of the Dead: Exploring Our Earliest Evidence Today.” In Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine, edited by James H. Charlesworth. New York: T & T Clark, 2006.

Endsjo, Dag Oistein. “Immortal Bodies, before Christ: Bodily Continuity in Ancient Greece and 1 Corinthians.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 4 (2008): 417-436.

Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.

Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.

Holleman, Joost. Resurrection & Parousia: A Traditio-Historical Study of Paul’s Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996.

Isaac, E. “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by James H. Charlesworth. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1983.

Klijn, A. F. J. “2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha edited by James H. Charlesworth. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1983.

Kreitzer, L. J. “Resurrection.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid, 805-812. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “1 and 2 Corinthians.” In The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, edited by James D. G. Dunn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Nichols, Terence. Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010.

Novak, David. “Jewish Eschatology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, edited by Jerry L. Walls. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008.

Prior, David. The Message of 1 Corinthians. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985.

Rowland, Christopher. “The Eschatology of the New Testament Church.” In The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, edited by Jerry L. Walls. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008.

Segal, Alan F. “Paul’s Jewish Presuppositions.” In The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, edited by James D. G. Dunn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Sider, Ronald J. “St. Paul’s Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19.” Novum Testamentum 19, no. 2 (1977): 124-141.

Smith, Ben C., “Www.Textexcavation.Com/Qumran4q521″, Text Excavation  (accessed 15/05/2012).

Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000.

Witherington, Ben. Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.


[1] L. J. Kreitzer, “Resurrection,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid(Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993). 806.

[2] Terence Nichols, Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010). 19-23.

[3] C. D. Elledge, “Resurrection of the Dead: Exploring Our Earliest Evidence Today,” in Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine, ed. James H. Charlesworth(New York: T & T Clark, 2006). 24-26. Cf. Nichols. 24-25; Kreitzer. 806; David Novak, “Jewish Eschatology,” in The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, ed. Jerry L. Walls(New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008). 123.

[4] Christopher Rowland, “The Eschatology of the New Testament Church,” in The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, ed. Jerry L. Walls(New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008). 57. Cf. Novak. 123.

[5] E. Isaac, “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth(London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1983). 36-37.

[6] A. F. J. Klijn, “2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha ed. James H. Charlesworth(London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1983). 631.

[7] Ben C. Smith, “Www.Textexcavation.Com/Qumran4q521”, Text Excavation  (accessed 15/05/2012).

[8] Alan F. Segal, “Paul’s Jewish Presuppositions,” in The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, ed. James D. G. Dunn(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).  165.

[9] Cf. Joost Holleman, Resurrection & Parousia: A Traditio-Historical Study of Paul’s Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996). 205.

[10] Nichols. 23.

[11] N Clayton Croy, “Hellenistic Philosophies and the Preaching of the Resurrection (Acts 17:18, 32),” Novum Testamentum 39, no. 1 (1997). 29.

[12] Ibid. 29.

[13] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985). 256.

[14] Dag Oistein Endsjo, “Immortal Bodies, before Christ: Bodily Continuity in Ancient Greece and 1 Corinthians,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 4 (2008). 418.

[15] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003). 700.

[16] Croy. 29-34.

[17] Endsjo. 418-34. Cf. Ben Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995). 302.

[18] Witherington. 292-93.

[19] James D. G. Dunn, “How Are the Dead Raised? With Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 45, no. 1 (2002). 5.

[20] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000). 1169. Thiselton states, “It brings to a climax the theme of grace as God’s sovereign free gift through the cross to which “the dead” contribute no particular “knowledge” or “experience,” but do indeed undergo transformation of life and lifestyle through “God, who gives life to the dead” (Rom 4:17) on the basis of promise,” (p.1169).

[21] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998). 235. Also, Prior. 256.

[22] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988). 714.

[23] Witherington. 291. Cf. Garland. 678.

[24] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994). 296. Also, Witherington. 299.

[25] Ronald J. Sider, “St. Paul’s Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19,” Novum Testamentum 19, no. 2 (1977). 140-41. Sider states, “When Paul learned that widespread opposition at Corinth to the notion of a bodily resurrection of believers had led to serious questioning or unacceptable reinterpretation of the nature of Jesus’ resurrection, he was very disturbed. In order to establish his fundamental belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection he cited the eyewitnesses of the appearances. Apparently Paul thought that the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead was a factual question which could be settled by citing the historical evidence,” (pp.140-41).

[26] Fee. 713.

[27] Witherington. 302-303. Also, Fee. 714; Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “1 and 2 Corinthians,” in The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, ed. James D. G. Dunn(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 82.

[28] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle. 488. Cf. Garland. 681. Cf. Boer, “Behind the human reality of dying and the promise of resurrection, there is an apocalyptic confrontation of cosmic proportions between God’s Messiah and the power of death which has subjugated and alienated all human beings from God,” (Martinus C. de Boer, The Defeat of Death: Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1988). 139).

[29] Fee. 715. Also, Blomberg. 295; Endsjo. 417-418; Garland. 699-670.

[30] Fee. 715. On this, Fee contends, “In their view, by the reception of the Spirit, and especially the gift of tongues, they had already entered the true “spirituality” that is to be (4:8); already they had begun a form of angelic existence (13:1; cf. 4:9; 7:1-7) in which the body was unnecessary and unwanted, and would finally be destroyed. Thus for them life in the Spirit meant a final ridding oneself of the body, not because it was evil but because it was inferior and beneath them; the idea that the body would be raised would have been anathema,” (p.715).

[31] Witherington. 292.

[32] Holleman. 205. Also, Fee. 714; Garland. 678; Murphy-O’Connor. 82.

[33] Holleman. 203. Cf. Witherington. 304.

[34] Witherington. 300.

[35] Fee. 717.

[36] Prior. 277. Cf. Rowland. 57.

[37] Holleman. 206. According to Holleman, “Jesus represents all those who are faithful to him. The latter will therefore join the risen Lord in that they will be raised with him. Jesus represents all those who will be raised just as Adam represents all who die. Those who are ‘in Christ’ will be raised as a result of their unity with Christ, the ones ‘in Adam’ will die because of their unity with Adam,” (p. 206).

[38] Dunn, “How Are the Dead Raised? With Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15.” 17-18.

[39] Segal. 167.

[40] Witherington. 307-311. Cf. Garland. 725; Murphy-O’Connor. 83

[41] Dunn, “How Are the Dead Raised? With Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15.” 17; Fee. 714-715; Witherington. 308-309; Segal. 168-169; Garland. 739-740.

[42] Witherington. 306, 311; Garland. 715.

Wolfhart Pannenberg on Revelation

Introduction

Pannenberg made his first significant mark upon the theological community in 1968 when his influential “Revelation as History”[1] was first published, reacting against a common early 20th century trend of avoiding historical criticism by embracing it and concluding that revelation was exclusively history. With a starting point built on a Hegelian and Barthian understanding,[2] Pannenberg advances the argument that “theological questions and answers are meaningful only within the framework of the history which God has with humanity,”[3] and revelation comes through the indirect process of interpreting this history, comprehended objectively and completely only at the end of history, open to anyone who has eyes to see.[4] Reacting against a strong onslaught of modernism threatening theology, Pannenberg’s theology was reasonably influential[5] in retaining a sense of rationalism in the public arena and extending the discussion beyond simply seeing the Bible as the unique revelation of God. This essay seeks to analyze Pannenberg’s understanding of revelation, discussing his context, his understanding of Old Testament and apocalyptic traditions, the role of Jesus’ death and resurrection and what this means for our understanding of the future. This analysis will be followed by a critique of its validity as a theological doctrine, and a proposed method for its application in a local congregation, with the example of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

Context

With the rise of historical criticism, doubts began to develop regarding the validity of the Biblical texts, resulting in theologians by the 20th century reacting in differing ways; some ignored historical criticism, leading to a form of fundamentalism, others conformed theology to the modern historical outlook, which often meant completely removing certain doctrines, and others inhabited a middle ground in which historical criticism was seen as valid, with revelation understood to be separate from world history entirely. Bultmann and Barth adopted a form of this third approach;[6] “pursuing the purity of faith, revelation was restricted to the Bible,”[7] hence history had no influence over theology. Pannenberg departed dramatically, finding Barth to be too subjective[8] and understood Bultmann’s distinction between New Testament theology and Jewish apocalypticism to be erroneous, himself believing them to be a continuous tradition. According to Powell, Pannenberg placed himself outside fundamentalism, in opposition to Bultmann’s approach to apocalypticism,[9] and rejected the common idea that revelation is “trans-historical.”[10]

Revelation as History

Pannenberg places great emphasis on a correct understanding of Jewish tradition, and much of his argument is based on his interpretation that there was no initial special revelation at the beginning of Israel’s faith. Instead, there was an existing sense of the divine (more of a general revelation), which was interpreted and reinterpreted over time. The function of revelation was never to prove God’s existence, for this was already presupposed.[11] Pannenberg argues,

Inspiration and signs have significance for knowledge of God. Yet they are not its basis. These various forms of revelation already presuppose a knowledge of God…If an awareness that God is the author [of revelation] is connected with the content of the revelation, the awareness of revelation already contains an element of reflection.[12]

What separated Israel from the other nations was an awareness of the history in which God sought them out to save them.[13] History is suspended between promise and fulfillment, hence Israel was always looking forward to the goal of the fulfillment of God’s promises, and, quoting Deu. 7.8, Pannenberg stressed “the goal here of Yahweh’s action in history is that he be known,” which is revelation.[14] This led to the development of apocalypticism, which said history would provide reinterpretation, and his self-revelation would be surpassed by new events as it further developed over time.[15] He further argued,

Apocalyptic Israel understood every world event as God’s passage toward a final goal. The last fulfillment was expected to be the event of raising the dead. For us the end is still outstanding: our resurrection has not yet occurred. History for the world is not yet complete.[16]

Murdock points out that from Pannenberg’s understanding of the Old Testament and Jewish apocalypticism, Jewish tradition understood revelation as indirect and partial, in historic events, reinterpreted over time, heading toward the final consummation at the end of time.[17]

Regarding New Testament theology, Pannenberg argued it was not the person of Jesus, but his fate, which indirectly revealed God’s glory.[18] He argued, “Without the resurrection Jesus’ interpretation of the law would have remained an exorbitant critique…the teaching of Jesus is not true in itself, but only as it is a constituent part of the fate of his career.”[19] In other words, neither the person nor the teachings of Jesus directly revealed God, rather the resurrection “is the appearance in historical time, of the future kingdom,”[20] so is not just the confirmation of Jesus as the revelation of God (through hindsight), but also the revelation of the eschatological goal of history. He further argued that “the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection yields itself to us today: in him the end of world history has already come to fulfillment, an end which also waits for us but which still remains hidden from us in the future.”[21]

The apostolic and patristic proclamation, says Pannenberg, was less to prove and more to interpret Jesus,[22] arguing his career was historically verifiable, among other events, but not just another event.[23] Their interpretation, built on an apocalyptic tradition, pointed them toward anticipating the future, as McGrath discusses, “Revelation is not completely apprehended at the beginning, but only at the end of revelatory history.”[24] Full knowledge will only be revealed at the end,[25] but in the mean time the Spirit provisionally convinces us of the truth of God.[26] The end of history is the goal,[27] “which reads back over the events [of history] to declare the meaning of all the ‘factors’, all the clusters of events in different contexts bundling up together until that final ‘secret’ discloses itself and every thing with it.”[28] According to Pannenberg, history does not end with Jesus, but continues, drawing all Christians into the same history as that of Israel. By this we are unified, and look toward our future resurrection, which Jesus has already revealed.[29]

Pannenberg’s approach is summarized in the first four of his seven theses:[30]

  1. God’s revelation is not theophanic, rather indirect, through historical acts, arguing that “the apocalyptic writings expect the final and ultimate self-vindication of Jahweh in connection with the end event, and envision his appearance in glory.”[31]
  2. This revelation can only be fully comprehended at the end of the revealing history. Our current revelation is partial, and the meaning of the present is hidden. However, the ultimate event of salvation that is to come in the future has already been experienced in the fate of Jesus.
  3. This revelation is objectively and universally open to anyone willing to look, and understanding this historical revelation points us toward faith in God’s future actions.[32]
  4. The deity of God is not yet revealed completely and objectively to all people, except in the fate of Jesus, in whom “the resurrection of the dead has already taken place, though to all other men this is still something yet to be experienced,”[33] and “the fate of Jesus Christ is the anticipation of the end, and thus the revelation of God.”[34]

Furthermore, he rejects the distinction between special and general revelation, arguing there is one self-disclosure, found in the public sphere of history,[35] linking revelation with reason,[36] thus concluding that “all theological questions and answers are meaningful only within the framework of the history which God has with humanity,”[37] and, notes Wood, “what is theologically true cannot be historically false.”[38]

Pannenberg’s approach is not without criticism. Some criticize him of misinterpreting apocalypticism, such as Murdock,[39] and Olive who argues he made apocalypticism too optimistic.[40] Gunton argues revelation should not be understood merely eschatologically, but also soteriologically, quoting Exodus 3, John 1, Galatians 1.11, and Ephesians 3.5-6 as scriptural evidence for direct revelation.[41] Wood criticizes Pannenberg of making the Bible simply a historical resource instead of a kerygmatic tool[42] and Powell notes a remarkable lack of examples of Kingdom appearances in historical situations other than Biblical tradition.[43] Furthermore, it seems his discussion tautologically presupposes his conclusion, with broad, general statements lacking in evidence and theological statements lacking in scriptural examples. Hence, Pannenberg’s approach is not entirely convincing.

Application for Congregations: Mount Pleasant Baptist Church

Despite these criticisms, three areas of Pannenberg’s approach carry merit for the church. Firstly, while his rejection of direct revelation is short-sighted and unscriptural, he reminds us of the broad ways which God could reveal himself to us; we should not limit God’s methods of revelation, but continuously expect God to do the unexpected. Secondly, his emphasis on the resurrection is notable, as confirmation of Christ as Son of God and, hence, of our salvation. Thirdly, we should not separate theology from its place in history and the world, immediately rejecting anything that questions the validity of Scripture.[44]

A recent survey found that people from Mount Pleasant Baptist tend to hold to something closer to Barth, but place a greater emphasis on the role of the Spirit in revelation. Further, God reveals himself through ways other than simply the Bible, including history and nature, but is not limited to one way or another. The Spirit is vital to our understanding of Scripture and revelation can be either direct or general, but only through the illumination of the Spirit. All three of the above are applicable: the congregation should expect God to work in many possible ways; the proclamation of the Gospel should include the resurrection as a pivotal point for the validity of our faith and remind us of our future resurrection in Christ; and, without compromising theology, we can openly discuss worldly matters and the Church’s eschatological role in presenting Kingdom values to the world which is yet to receive revelation of Christ.

Conclusion

Pannenberg’s understanding of revelation places history as the unique mode in which God reveals himself, built on from his interpretation of Jewish tradition. We interpret previous events in the world to see God, which gives us faith for our future resurrection. The fate of Jesus is the ultimate revelation, in whom we experience the eschatological reality of our future resurrection. He rejects direct revelation, arguing the meaning of the present will only be made known in later interpretation, culminating in the eschaton which provides the ultimate revelation and understanding of history. While his approach has disagreeable elements, three conclusions can be applied to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, in that we should expect the unexpected, preach the resurrection as vital to our faith, and understand theology, revelation and the Church as being a part of the world, not separate from it. His influential doctrine came at a much needed time and has been successful in reinforcing the need for reason and rational thinking in the way we perceive Christ.

Bibliography

Bradshaw, Timothy. Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark International, 2009.

Fackre, Gabriel. The Doctrine of Revelation: A Narrative Interpretation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Gunton, Colin E. Revelation and Reason. London: T&T Clark, 2008.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. King’s College, London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Murdock, William. “History and Revelation in Jewish Apocalypticism.” Interpretation 21, no. 2 (1967): 167-187.

Olive, Don H. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1973.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation.” In Revelation as History, edited by Wolfhart Pannenberg. London: Sheed and Ward Ltd, 1969.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Basic Questions in Theology. Translated by George H. Kehm. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1970.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “Jesus’ History and Our History.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 1, no. 2 (1974): 139-147.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.

Pinnock, Clark H. Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology. Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.

Powell, Sam. “History and Eschatology in the Thought of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Fides et Historia 32, no. 2 (2000): 19-32.

Root, Michael. “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” First Things 221 (2012): 37-42.

Wood, Laurence. “History and Hermeneutics: A Pannenbergian Perspective.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 16, no. 1 (1981): 7-22.


[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation,” in Revelation as History, ed. Wolfhart Pannenberg(London: Sheed and Ward Ltd, 1969).

[2] I.e. The only knowledge of God comes through his self-revelation.

[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology, trans., George H. Kehm (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1970). 15.

[4] Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation.”

[5] Some, such as Olive, suggest his influence was extensive (Don H. Olive, Wolfhart Pannenberg (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1973). 103-106), whereas others argue that whilst he had some sway, Pannenberg was not as influential as others imagine (cf. Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” First Things 221, no. (2012).)

[6] Sam Powell, “History and Eschatology in the Thought of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” Fides et Historia 32, no. 2 (2000). 20.

[7] Laurence Wood, “History and Hermeneutics: A Pannenbergian Perspective,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 16, no. 1 (1981). 7.

[8] Colin E. Gunton, Revelation and Reason (London: T&T Clark, 2008). 94. Further, Gunton states, “For Barth, you see, it would be direct, if you were to bump into Jesus Christ, as you wandered around Israel in the first century. You would actually be bumping into God. In that sense it is direct: to see Jesus is to see God. For Barth, Jesus is God’s self-revelation. Pannenberg will not go that far, it has to be indirect. You see, for Pannenberg, full Revelation happens, is disclosed, in the fullness of time,” (p.68). Also, Pinnock effectively argues that Pannenberg believed experience can reveal nothing new of Christ, contrary to Schleiermacher and Bultmann who place emphasis on subjective experience, (Clark H. Pinnock, Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971). 40). Cf. Gabriel Fackre, The Doctrine of Revelation: A Narrative Interpretation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997). 145. Fackre notes that Pannenberg rejected Barth’s separation of theology from public rationalism.

[9] This concept will discussed in detail further, but Pannenberg saw apocalypticism as the culmination of Biblical tradition, contrary to Bultmann, and argues these Jewish themes run into New Testament theology.

[10] Powell. 20-21.

[11] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans., Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988). 189 – 192.

[12] Ibid. 201.

[13] Ibid. 192.

[14] Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology. 19. He further argued that “we must say that the historical consciousness of Israel was always eschatologically oriented insofar as, on the basis of the promise and beyond all historically experienced fulfillments, Israel expected further fulfillment,” (p. 23).

[15] Olive. 51.

[16] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Jesus’ History and Our History,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 1, no. 2 (1974). 145.

[17] William Murdock, “History and Revelation in Jewish Apocalypticism,” Interpretation 21, no. 2 (1967). 167-168. Furthermore, Bradshaw argues that according to Pannenberg, “history reveals and enacts the human and the divine interweaving as we are drawn to trust in the God of the future eschaton, made present here and now,” (Timothy Bradshaw, Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark International, 2009). 47.

[18] Olive. 48. This is contrary to Barth, who argued that the person of Jesus was the direct revelation of God.

[19] Pannenberg, “Jesus’ History and Our History.” 140.

[20] Powell. 23.

[21] Pannenberg, “Jesus’ History and Our History.” 145. Olive notes, “In the fate of Jesus the end of history is actually experienced in advance as an anticipation. In his fate, the end of history makes itself available to man…The fate of Jesus is both past revelation and the anticipation of the end where God fully reveals his deity through the totality of all events. And in this sense the event of Jesus’ fate provides the means by which revelation is comprehended from the vantage point of the end before the end,” (pp.49-50).

[22] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 194.

[23] Olive. 100. According to Olive, “Pannenberg also restores Jesus to a determinative place in revelation as history. He cannot be only one among other events, although he is fully among other events. Jesus’ history is the key to the proper understanding of historical reality in which God reveals himself. His history is the anticipation of the future of God wherein God is fully revealed,” (p. 100).

[24] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (King’s College, London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 157. Cf. Fackre. 146.

[25] Gunton. 66.

[26] Fackre. 146.

[27] Murdock. 167.

[28] Bradshaw. 48.

[29] Pannenberg, “Jesus’ History and Our History.” 144. Furthermore, “The philosophical tradition has considered what lies beyond death in that it thought of the infinite destiny of man in terms of an immortal soul. This thought is strange to us moderns, because recent anthropology has demonstrated the unity of all mental events with the physical body as their prior source, so that a soul without a body has become unthinkable for us. Therefore we can no longer think of the infinite destiny of man extending beyond death as immortality of the soul, but, if at all, as resurrection from the dead,” (pp. 146-147).

[30] Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation.” 125-155.

[31] Ibid. 127.

[32] Pannenberg further discusses faith: “Faith has to do with the future. This is the essence of trust. Trust primarily directs itself toward the future, and the future justifies, or disappoints. Thus a person does not come to faith blindly, but by means of an event that can be appropriated as something that can be considered reliable. True faith is not a state of blissful gullibility…The Christian risks his trust, life, and future on the fact of God’s having been revealed in the fate of Jesus,” (p. 138).

[33] Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Concept of Revelation.” 141. NB. Earlier in the essay I briefly discussed the way in which – according to Pannenberg’s interpretation – apocalypticism saw the resurrection of the dead as the final goal, at which God would be clearly revealed to all humanity.

[34] Ibid. 143.

[35] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 137. Cf. McGrath. 157.

[36] Bradshaw. 46. According to Bradshaw, the “assumption that there is ultimately one convincing and true interpretation Pannenberg flies in the face of ‘postmodernity’ and its stress on the diversity of reason, truth and meaning, indeed the demonstration of such foundational matters,” (p. 51).

[37] Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology. 15.

[38] Wood. 7.

[39] Murdock argues apocalypticism led to dualism within Jewish tradition, i.e. good and evil. According to Pannenberg, “apocalypticists replaced the Old Testament idea of the future restoration of the earthly kingdom with the concept of the eschaton as the goal of history,”[39] which, asserts Murdock, poses problems. The Old Testament concept of the future kingdom was the future age, not the eschaton, and was prepared for the righteous, while another place was prepared for the unrighteous. Hence, Pannenberg must conclude that hell is the goal for some. Rather, heaven and hell should not be understood in terms of the goal of history, but with reward and punishment, (Murdock, p. 175).

[40] Olive. 101. According to Olive a better understanding is “that the apocalyptic attitude is one of negation and pessimism rather than affirmation,” (p. 101).

[41] Gunton. 73-76.

[42] Wood. 12.

[43] Powell. 32.

[44] A pertinent example is the discussion of evolution. We should not reject the possibility of evolution – or any other scientific theory (such as the 16th century discussion over whether or not the Earth is flat) – based on our interpretation, and understanding of the role of, the Bible. However, we should not go to the other extreme Pannenberg goes to and simply reject any Scriptural statement based on a historical or scientific argument. While we should not immediately reject the theory of evolution based on our understanding of the Bible, we should not immediately reject the Bible based on our understanding of historical or scientific arguments. What is important is the theological intent of the author.

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