Resurrection: Response to Wright, 4

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by Neil Godfrey

Revised May 8 2008

Continuing from a previous post:

Wright argues that the narratives of the resurrection appearances in our canonical gospels are based on traditions that were set and hardened well before the gospels came to be written. Discussed one in previous post and attached comments. Two more to go:

  • the different gospel accounts do not betray any textual or narrative interdependence
  • I will include here Wright’s reasons for thinking it noteworthy that the gospel authors did not describe the resurrected Jesus as a shining resplendent star or such — this fact supposedly demonstrates that the early “traditions” were based on some real historical experience

Textual and narrative interdependence

(Following I use Matthew and Mark interchangeably as both the authors of the gospels and as the titles of the gospels attributed to them.)

Matthew clearly used (either copying directly or re-writing) the narrative of Mark. It is said that Matthew repeats about 600 of Mark’s 661 verses. Mark has no resurrection appearance, but that does not hide the fact that Matthew’s resurrection appearance scenes grew out of Matthew’s use and knowledge of Mark.

How Matthew built on Mark’s narrative for the resurrection appearances:

Mark created a narrative in which:

  • Jesus was reported as arranging to see his disciples, after his resurrection, in Galilee.
  • This message was conveyed through a mysterious “young man”,
  • who instructed the women at the tomb to pass it on to the disciples.
  • These women had come to anoint the corpse of Jesus even though it belatedly dawned on them that they would not be able to enter the tomb with its massive stone obstructing its entrance.
  • And when these women heard the message from the young man, they were said to have run off immediately without even telling the disciples after all.
  • They were said to have been too fearful to say a word to anyone. And that is where the original text of Mark’s gospel ends.
  • See Mark 16:1-8.

Matthew then, after reading Mark, wrote a revised narrative:

  • Like Mark, he wrote that Jesus would see his disciples, after his resurrection, in Galilee.
  • But this message was made more authoritative by being conveyed, not by a mere young man whom readers might wonder if he was an angel or not, but by an unambiguous angel who came down from heaven and with superstrength rolled aside the massive stone from the tomb’s entrance
  • As in Mark, this angel instructed the women to pass the message on to the disciples
  • But Mark’s nonsense of the women coming to anoint a body when they knew they could not enter the tomb is removed by Matthew. Matthew re-writes the more sensible account that the women merely came to see the tomb.
  • And when these women heard the message from the angel, they were said to have run off immediately — just as Mark also said —
  • but unlike Mark’s account, they ran off to tell the disciples after all. Matthew had added to Mark’s Fear the emotion of “great Joy” to drive the women to break through the silence barrier and not remain silent after all.
  • See Matthew 28:1-8.

So Matthew followed Mark’s script with a few modifications up to verse 8. At the critical verse 8 (not that the original gospels were written in our verse numberings of course) Matthew essentially copied Mark’s final verse but added a twist to it. The women ran off not only with Mark’s fear, but with fear tinged with a dash of joy. And, contra Mark, they ran off to tell the disciples, as commanded by the angel.

But having twisted Mark’s tail thus, how was Matthew to narrate that meeting? Mark’s original gospel ended at verse 8. The closest Mark offered for a resurrection appearance was the account in an earlier chapter of Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain.

Matthew began by having Jesus make his first resurrection appearance to the women mourners who had come to see his tomb. But he was clearly floundering. He had no model on which to draw. Only Mark’s narrative where the young man had told the women that the disciples could see Jesus in Galilee. So what does Matthew narrate? Matthew’s Jesus zaps down to the women as they flee from the tomb. The women stop, look and listen. Even hold Jesus by the feet. And Jesus proceeds to utter his first words as a resurrected saviour. They are verbatim what Mark’s young man and Matthew’s angel had already told the women. “Go and tell my disciples they can see me in Galilee.” Yes. We have read that already. Matthew is clearly at a loss here. He is floundering when left to his own imagination.

Next, Matthew finally has that long awaited contact between the disciples and Jesus in Galilee. Again Matthew’s creative imagination is limited. The best he can offer readers is a Moses-like departure on a mountain top. He charges his successors to carry on the good work, just as Moses charged his successor Joshua to do likewise. And it is all done on a mountain top — the same topography where Jesus had earlier been transfigured, and where Moses spent his final moments.

Matthew is grasping at his bland unimaginative straws. All he knew was that he had to do better than end is gospel the same way Mark had ended his. If Mark had more subtle themes to convey with his ending of the women fleeing dumb in fear, they were wasted on Matthew. Matthew re-wrote Mark to give it a more positive ending:

  • The women were not so stupid as to come to the tomb to anoint a body when they knew they couldn’t enter the tomb. They came to just visit the tomb, as mourners do.
  • No mysterious “young man” was there to deliver a message to these women. None other than an angel came down. He was so unambiguous that the tomb guards fainted on the spot at the sight of him.
  • And the women did not run like scared, um, girls, at the sight of him, too scared to say a word to anyone. No, they ran with fear and joy to tell the disciples!

Mark and Matthew share the same characters, the same scene, the same words, the same setting and narrative point of view or vision (camera angle) of events. That last point, the camera angle, is a vital key to establishing a Matthew-Mark interdependence. Authors without any contact would most likely imagine different points of view from which to portray a common event — the mind and/or experience of one of the women, or of a disciple who saw the women, or of someone who first saw or heard from the women, etc.

Matthew owes his resurrection appearance narrative to Mark. From Mark he derived the setting and the words and the characters. When other gospel authors disagreed with both Matthew and Mark, their disagreements were on theological and literary (not eyewitness) source grounds, as already discussed.

The textual and narrative ties between the resurrection appearances in Luke and John

The narratives of the resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples in Luke and John share the same structure:

  1. Jesus appearance to the disciples takes place in Jerusalem, not Galilee
  2. Jesus appears suddenly in the midst of the disciples
  3. Jesus shows his body (hands and side/feet)
  4. Disciples react with joy to the appearance
  5. Immediately after appearing to the disciples, Jesus speaks to them with identical words: “And said [historical present in both gospels] to them, ‘Peace with you'”
  6. At the appearance Jesus presents his body as a verification [– verification that he is risen, in Luke who may well have been expressing an anti-docetic or anti-Marcionite agenda here; verification that he is indeed Jesus, in John –] and uses very similar wording: “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet” in Luke; “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and side” in John.
  7. In both gospels the authors are said to be in fear. In Luke, however, it is fear that they are seeing a ghost when they see Jesus; in the more anti-semitic John, they are hiding in fear of the Jews.
  8. Both gospels speak of the disbelief of the disciples. In John the disbelief is a theological issue, and is packed into his discussion of Thomas and the need of all believers to have faith; in Luke, with a different theological agenda, the disbelief is a narrative colouring — they were confused when they saw unexpectedly Jesus, and finally were so overcome with joy that they could scarcely believe that what they were seeing was really happening.

(Adapted, with significant modification of point 6, from Matson’s In Dialogue With Another Gospel (pp. 422-424)

Matson discusses many more verbal and stylistic similarities between Luke and John’s resurrection appearance accounts.

Written sources for the Emmaus narrative in Luke

I have already discussed Luke’s use of Genesis and Judges in his construction of the Emmaus Road encounter with the resurrected Jesus. See points 6 to 10 in the Emmaus post. What follows is adapted from Matson, pp. 410-421.

But there are other indications in the text that Luke’s Emmaus narrative has been edited from other text. (I suspect that the final redactor/author of Luke-Acts has re-worked an earlier Luke, also discussed in other posts here.) The dramatic climax of the story, when the two who had just been with Jesus run off to tell the disciples of their experience, collapses into anti-climax when they completely fail to tell of their experience and instead bring in an entirely new thought nowhere before hinted at, that Jesus had appeared to Peter. Readers are left wondering how and when that could have happened, and are also left with a bland taste in place of savouring a narrative climax.

The author of the gospel was normally capable of much better than this. Indeed, his structure of staged steps to the final appearance of Jesus demonstrates his literary competence: moving from an empty tomb and confusion, then to a meeting and confusion and a mere glimpse of recognition; and finally to the full bodily appearance before all. If this is how a Jesus really did show himself and if the narrative is read as history instead of narrative drama, it reads as if he is having a joking game of hide-and-seek before revealing his resurrected self. A bit like a playfully teasing ghost?

The (final) author has awkwardly inserted the message of the appearance to Peter into an existing narrative. He was probably attempting to give life to the claim in 1 Corinthians 15 that Peter had been the first to see Jesus. (That tradition or passage in 1 Corinthians may well be a later pastoral insertion and not original to Paul anyway. If so, this would tie in with the final redactor of Luke-Acts himself giving narrative form to several Pastoralist ideas.)

Another textual anomaly in the Emmaus account is its tension against an earlier passage where the author claimed the disciples scoffed at the reports of the women about the angels at the empty tomb (24:11). Luke 24:24 in the Emmaus story contradicts that, saying that several of the disciples did pay enough attention to the women to go and investigate. Note that this is scarcely a reference only to Peter running to the tomb. Peter ran alone in Luke. In the Emmaus narrative several of the disciples took the women seriously.

While the Emmaus narrative is woven with Lukan wording and style, the evidence suggests that Luke was struggling with an earlier written story. He did not have eyewitness reports and traditions to help him piece what he wanted to say all into a seamless whole.


So when Wright says that the different gospel accounts do not betray any textual or narrative interdependence, he is “overstating” the case. One may disagree with some of the specifics of the arguments for narrative interdependence, and dispute the interpretation of some of the above passages. But it is misleading to insist that there is no evidence for such interdependence among the gospels in their resurrection appearance accounts.

There are clear structural and verbal links between the gospels in these narratives, and where there are differences, they are readily explained by the larger theological interest of the authors.

One more post to go to finish this mini-series . . . .


A Palestinian Christian’s perspective on the Israeli occupation and suicide bombing

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by Neil Godfrey

It is ironical that so many western Christians support or excuse the state of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians when there are both Christian Israelis and Christian Palestinians who do not. Indeed, the use of the Hebrew Bible by both Zionists and their Christian supporters to justify Zionism, illegal settlements, land confiscations, defiance of international law, humiliation and genocidal policies against the Palestinians, has been said to have turned the Old Testament almost into a current-day Mein Kampf.

Dr. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian and theologian, has compared the current Israeli state to Herod. He sees “Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him”.

He has posted an article reflecting on 40 years of Israeli occupation and discussing what Palestinians, particularly Palestinian Christians, must do. It is part of a special edition of Cornerstone [link downloads 2 MB PDF file], titled The Great Deception: What must Palestinians do? Cornerstone is a publication of the Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center.

Download (PDF, 1.99MB)

(from https://www.fosna.org/)

An earlier article of his take, as a Palestinian Christian, on Suicide Bombers is also worth reading.

Pentecost, belated birthday of the church

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by Neil Godfrey

Christianity was surely up and running at least a hundred years before someone thought to assign a special day for its birthday. And one might well read the evidence in a way that indicates “orthodox” theologians hijacked Pentecost from the Jews to use it as a hostage in their campaign against “heretical” — Marcionite — Christians.

The earliest evidence we have for the story that the church began on Pentecost, some fifty days after the crucifixion of Jesus, is the Book of Acts. But before we see any evidence that anyone knew of the existence of that Book, some time in the mid-second century, not a single Christian author indicates any knowledge of Pentecost as the birth-day of the Church. Justin Martyr, our first notable Christian apologist and one who was connected with Christianity from Syria to Rome, discusses in his tracts what he knows about Jesus and the beginning of the church. He informs us that as far as he is aware the church began with the sending out of the twelve apostles after Jesus persuaded them

For after His crucifixion, the disciples that accompanied Him were dispersed, until He rose from the dead, and persuaded them that so it had been prophesied concerning Him, that He would suffer; and being thus persuaded, they went into all the world, and taught these truths. (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 53)

So Justin, possibly as late as around 150 c.e., appears to understand that it was the persuasive powers of argument of the resurrected Jesus that catapulted the twelve apostles (not Paul) from Jerusalem into the world to preach to the gentiles. Most of what one reads by scholars about what Justin Martyr knew of our New Testament books expresses the conviction that Justin knew Acts and all our canonical gospels. That may be so but I doubt it, at least in the case of the book of Acts. If he did know the book of Acts, he is mysteriously silent about Paul, and even attributes the preaching to all the gentile world to the original twelve apostles. He is also convinced that the Roman armies invaded Judea and destroyed the Jerusalem Temple within weeks of Christ’s crucifixion. Both of these views of Justin simply fly in the face of what the book of Acts is all about. If he knew Acts he dismissed it.

The Gospel of Mark, arguably the earliest of our canonical gospels, indicates that the twelve disciples, led by Peter, were destined to be converted in Galilee after Jesus was resurrected. The original ending of the gospel (16:8 ) forces readers to focus on the fearful silence of the women who visited the tomb of Jesus. Readers are left with nothing more than a suspicion or hope that the apostles will somehow-maybe meet up with Jesus in Galilee again. Jesus had promised that the gospel would be preached in all the world, but the role of the twelve apostles in this preaching is fraught with ambiguity and uncertainty throughout the text.

The Gospel of Matthew rejects the ambivalence of this first gospel, and makes it clear that the resurrected Jesus did indeed meet up with eleven of his disciples (Judas was eliminated), and that this meeting was in Galilee, on a mountain there. Further, it was from this mountain in Galilee that Jesus sent out most of these eleven remaining disciples (Matthew says that some of them doubted that they really were in the presence of the resurrected Jesus) to the whole world. There is no Pentecost. There is no “holy spirit”. Jesus promises that he himself will be with them always.

The Gospel of John does bring in the holy spirit, but it is breathed out of Jesus’ nose onto the disciples, minus Thomas. (John does not specify if Judas was among those receiving the holy spirit.) Interestingly, Jesus links this nasal gift not with preaching to outsiders but with authority to decide what sins should be forgiven. The closest the gospel comes to any preaching mission is a concluding chapter where Peter is charged with the responsibility to “feed the flock”. The author of the Gospel of John appears to visualize apostolic activity in relation to a flock of other Christians. There is no Pentecost. If there is a starting point of the apostolic activity, it is either on the day of the resurrection when Jesus breathed on most of them, or afterwards when Jesus caught up with seven of the disciples by a seashore in Galilee.

It is only with the arrival of the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts, joined together as a single work by prologues and certain themes such as a focus on Jerusalem and the Temple as an honourable centre and focus of the new faith, that the Pentecost birth of the church makes its introduction.

It is noteworthy that Pentecost makes this special appearance in a context of a theological debate over the relevance of the Jewish scriptures and heritage to Christianity.

Both external and internal evidence testify that the Book of Acts was written as a second century response to what our “orthodox” Christians saw as the “heretical” Marcionite challenge that began in the first half of the second century. Our earliest evidence that anyone knew of the existence of the book of Acts is from the later second century, when Irenaeus cites it. The name of Luke as the author of these works was also an invention of these later times.

Marcionite Christianity rejected Jewish scriptures as having any sort of foundational relevance to the church. To interpret the Old Testament allegorically as foreshadowing or prophesying Jesus Christ was, to Marcion, just another expression of the Judaizing heresy condemned by the apostle Paul. Marcion insisted on reading the Jewish scriptures literally. The messiah promised in the Jewish scriptures by the creator God of this world was destined to be a messiah for the Jews only. Jesus was not that messiah. He came to reveal the hitherto unknown God. Jewish scriptures and laws were irrelevant to those who worshipped Marcion’s Jesus. And it appears that Marcionite Christianity was a serious rival to what became “orthodox” Christianity. It was certainly the dominant faith in Asia Minor, and appears to have been followed throughout Syria and Greece, through to Rome.

The allegorical reading of the Old Testament secured for the “orthodox” a hoary literary and spiritual heritage worthy of the new faith. Adam and Eve were allegories of Christ and the Church. Israel itself was an allegory of the Church. But some Jewish metaphors for Israel, such as the Servant in Isaiah, were prophesies of Jesus. One can see this allegorization process at its peak in writings like the Epistle of Barnabas and the Dialogue with Trypho. Some see this treatment of the OT as nothing less than a hijacking of the Jewish scriptures that went hand in glove with the anti-semitism of the time. Marcion saw it as a Judaizing heresy.

If the Book of Acts was written to defend the “Jewish-orthodox” Christianity, with its declared roots in an allegorical reading of the Jewish scriptures, and with its coopting of those scriptures as their own (not even understood by the Jews who originally composed them), then it would appear that the Jewish Feast of Pentecost was given its fame as the birthday of the Church as part of the propaganda campaign battle between the Marcionites and the “orthodox”.

Luke-Acts gives central focus to Jerusalem and the Temple in the life of Jesus and the early church. Acts makes regular references to the importance of the synagogues and Jewish feasts, including the sabbath day, to the life of Paul. The earliest apostles preached daily from the precincts of the Jerusalem Temple.

The Jewish Feast of Pentecost as the day on which the miraculous birth of the Church occurred made its first appearance in this second century theological battle between the Marcionites and the “orthodox”. Quite likely it was constructed to affirm the Jewish “spiritual/allegorical” heritage of those Christians who saw themselves in rivalry with their Marcionite brethren.


The price of a humane society

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by Neil Godfrey

One bright light has shone out of the hideously incomprehensible crime of Josef Fritzl in Austria. His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, is quoted as saying that he was “not defending a monster but a human being, even if that is hard to take for some people.”

Mayer is also reported to have said he has received threatening letters and I don’t doubt that he has.

It’s the likes of Josef Fritzl that put our humanity, our civil society, to the test. If we try to distance outselves so completely from such a person by thinking of him as something other than a fellow human, whose acts are in some literal sense “inhuman”, then we are still living in a dark age of knifing sacrificial victims to our ignorant and murderous impulses.

It’s the fact that Josef Fritzl IS a human, that he IS one of us, that needs to sober us, not tailspin us into denial. It’s his humanity that makes him a mirror, or a teacher of what we are capable of, given his particular neuronal wirings. That sounds on the surface like a trivialization of his acts. But what it says to me is just how fragile we all are, and how important is the nature of our society.

This may all sound puerile academic abstraction out of touch with reality. But anyone who has personally been pushed to the very edge of extreme limits and survived to come back again to normalcy will know it’s very much in touch with exactly what we really are and can become.


why science is not a faith

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by Neil Godfrey

Reading the same old “tu-quoque/you too!” fallacy from fundamentalist supernaturalists that science or any position questioning the Bible is itself “a faith” or “belief” puts a responsibility however tedious, I suppose, on naturalists with a scientific disposition to continually make accessible the answer to that fatuous canard:

Tamas Pataki, from Against Religion (pp.117-118 )

The charge of scientific dogmatism is so contrary to fact and so foolish that it calls for diagnosis. Richard Dawkins is a favourite bogeyman, and McGrath and Eagleton are two of those who stalk him. How can Dawkins ‘be so sure that his current beliefs are true, when history shows a persistent pattern of the abandonment of scientific theories as better approaches emerge?’ asks McGrath. But Dawkins, of course, is not ‘so sure’: ‘My belief in evolution is not faith, because I know what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.’ He’s not sure (in McGrath’s sense) because although his beliefs may be indubitable in light of currently available evidence, he knows that they are not infallible. That is what science is about: conjecture (or hypothesis) and refutation.

But the religious apologists are imputing a religious conception of knowledge, characterised by inerrancy – just as the Bible is supposed to be inerrant – which allows them to stretch science on the horns of a false dilemma: either science presumes to provide incorrigible knowledge, in which case it is shamelessly dogmatic, or it is just a matter of faith, just like their turf. They have no conception of the difference between warranted but fallible belief, and faith. Finding to their satisfaction that science falls short of incorrigibility, they conclude that, after all, science and religion are in the same boat-just matters of faith.

(Pataki here footnotes by way of illustration Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism (2004), pp.93-97, 179-83. Unfortunately I have not run across a copy of McGrath’s book, so can only leave this reference here for others to follow up. But I have certainly read many of the sorts of ignorant claims Pataki refers to.)

And Anthony Grayling, from Against All Gods: Six Polemics on Religion and and an Essay on Kindness (p.34)

People who do not believe in supernatural entities do not have a ‘faith’ in ‘the non-existence of X’ (where X is ‘fairies’ or ‘goblins’ or ‘gods’); what they have is a reliance on reason and observation, and a concomitant preparedness to accept the judgement of both on the principles and theories which premise their actions. The views they take about things are proportional to the evidence supporting them, and are always subject to change in the light of new or better evidence. ‘Faith’ – specifically and precisely: the commitment to a belief in the absence of evidence supporting that belief, or even (to the greater merit of the believer) in the very teeth of evidence contrary to that belief – is a far different thing.


Resurrection: more responses to Wright, 2

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from previous post:

Wright argues that the narratives of the resurrection appearances in our canonical gospels are based on traditions that were set and hardened well before the gospels came to be written. Discussed one in previous post and attached comments. Three more to go:

  • the differences among the respective resurrection accounts do not reflect theological differences and arguments found among the later church, so variant theological dispositions of the gospel authors cannot explain their narrative differences
  • the different gospel accounts do not betray any textual or narrative interdependence
  • I will include here Wright’s reasons for thinking it noteworthy that the gospel authors did not describe the resurrected Jesus as a shining resplendent star or such — this fact supposedly demonstrates that the early “traditions” were based on some real historical experience

theological differences

Wright sees little if any theological bent behind the resurrection appearance scenes in the gospels and argues that therefore these gospel scenes rely on very early church traditions — before theological debates had time to take over.

The Gospel of John

But the differences in the accounts are readily enough explained by theological interests. John Ashton is cited to this end in a paragraph by April DeConick in her Voices of the Mystics (p.83):

The Johannine scholar, John Ashton, in his balanced monograph on the Gospel of John [i.e. Understanding the Fourth Gospel, 1991. p. 514], warns us about plunging into a morass when inter­preting this story, of reading beyond the intent of the author as, unfor­tunately, Barnabas Lindars has done in his statement: ‘According to the Jewish idea of bodily resurrection presupposed by John, Jesus is touch­able, and perfectly able to invite Thomas to handle him. ‘ Ashton reminds us to keep the author’s point of the story foremost in mind: ‘If John invented this story, as there is every reason to believe, it was not, surely, to stimulate his readers to reflect upon the tangibility of risen bodies, but to impress upon them the need for faith.’

This is obvious when one compares how the authors of the gospels of Luke and John treat similar words of Jesus:

In Luke 24:39 the resurrected Jesus is made to say:

Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.

Compare John 20:27

Then he said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

Which is followed by:

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In contrast to the author of Luke’s gospel, the author of the narrative in John has no interest in explaining the difference between flesh and spirit in relation to the appearance of Jesus. Rather, the whole point of the scene — the reason for its difference from the one we read in Luke — is to instruct readers that having faith in Jesus without even seeing him is more commendable than having faith because one sees him. DeConick argues that this scene in John is really a rebuke, through the mouth of Jesus, against those Christians who believed in the superiority of seeing Jesus, through visionary experiences, as the Christians whom we associate with the Gospel of Thomas did.

John’s scene of the resurrection appearance is different from Luke’s because John was constructing his scene to illustrate and teach his theological belief in the superiority of faith without seeing Jesus. This is confirmed by the clear statement near the end of this gospel that the author’s goal is to persuade readers to believe — John 20:31.

The gospel of John evidences none of Luke’s interest in explaining the nature of Jesus’ body. His theological purpose is quite different. His different resurrection appearance scenes are crafted to illustrate this theological interest.

The Gospel of Luke

As for the Gospel of Luke, this narrative insists that all the resurrection appearances happened in and near Jerusalem, and pointedly has Jesus forbid his followers to leave that city. This contrasts with Matthew’s gospel that picks up its cue from Mark’s ending and has Jesus appear to the eleven in Galilee only.

This Jerusalem setting for the resurrection appearances in Luke’s gospel is clearly a theological decision of the author. Luke’s gospel begins in Jerusalem and its Temple, with a priestly father of John the Baptist. The newborn Jesus is blessed in Jerusalem, in the Temple. The boy Jesus returns to Jerusalem’s Temple. There is no reference to Jerusalem’s temple being desecrated by an “abomination that makes desolate”. And there is no ominous cursing of the fig-tree outside the Temple, which in other gospels can be taken as a sign that Jerusalem is to be cursed. Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem. The same author/final redactor, presumably, who wrote Acts, likewise makes Jerusalem the centre of apostolic preaching at the founding of the church. The apostles go out from Jerusalem to preach. In Luke, Jerusalem is the ideological centre of the Christian faith.

This contrasts with the Gospel of Mark which depicted Jerusalem as the den of iniquity, the place where Jesus was crucified. Galilee on the other hand was the place of the beginning of the Kingdom of God, or at least where the Kingdom was “at hand”. Matthew’s gospel follows Mark’s gospel here.

This difference in the Gospel of Luke’s resurrection appearance narrative is without doubt spawned by the theological meaning its author attached to Jerusalem.


No doubt a long chapter, if not a book, could be written discussing all that could be covered to bring out the theological differences guiding each gospel’s resurrection appearance narratives.

I have not even touched one most obvious point: that non-orthodox Christians from earliest times read these same gospels but understood their theological message quite differently from the way many literalists do today. They could read them as supporting their beliefs that the resurrected Christ did not have a flesh and blood body. In other words, they inform us that there are at least two ways of reading Luke’s (and John’s) passage. If one of those ways is lost in the culture of antiquity, then it is up to moderns to find it again to understand the debate as it once was. But I’ll be covering some of that in my final post addressing Wright’s 4th point. The point here is that the narratives themselves are clearly theological, and the differences between them identify the different theological slants that shaped each.

But even if one disagrees, the above cases should suffice to establish that Wright’s claims are at the very least anything but conclusive. There is clearly a strong case to be made that the differences in the resurrection appearance narratives were shaped by different theological interests.