An Easter Myth

At this time every year Christians all across the world celebrate the greatest event in human history — the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from among the dead. The age-long desire of man to somehow escape death and live on in immortality finds it’s only hope of fulfillment in this one incomprehensible event.

Yet within the world of Christendom there is a persistent and prevailing myth that mars the wonder and beauty of that glorious event. In the realm of orthodox, catholic Christianty, there is the belief that Jesus is God himself. As a corollary to this belief is the notion that Jesus actually raised himself from the dead. Then the supposed fact that Jesus raised himself from the dead is used as proof of his Deity. This is clearly circular reasoning. But is this really what Scripture tells us about the resurrection of Messiah? Let’s examine the Scriptures together to see if this is indeed a biblical truth or a mere myth.

The Scriptural evidence is overwhelming with respect to the fact that Jesus did not raise himself from the dead but was raised by another, i.e. God , the Father. The following list of verses show this to be the case (please look up each of these passages for yourselves): Acts 2:24, 31-32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39-40; 13:29-37; 17:30-31; Romans 4:24; 6:4; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; 2 Cor. 4:14; 13:4; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:19-20; Colossians 2:12; 1Thess. 1:10; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 1:21.

Besides these verses, which explicitly state the fact that Jesus was raised by another person, namely God, there are at least 28 verses in the NT which state that Jesus would be or has been raised from the dead. In each of those 28 verses the Greek word egeiro, in one form or another, is used in the passive voice, implying that Jesus was a passive participant in his resurrection i.e. he was raised by another.

With such formidable testimony, from multiple witnesses, how is it that the myth of Jesus raising himself from the dead ever came to be so prevalent in the thinking of Christians? Beside the already mentioned fact of orthodoxy’s belief in the essential deity of Jesus, the only line of evidence in favor of this notion are two passages of Scripture from the gospel of John. The first one I will deal with is John 10:17-18 which reads:

17.) Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. 18.) No one taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from my Father.  ASV

I chose the American Standard Version to illustrate the tendency of translators to lead the reader in a certain direction. First, the word “power,” used twice in verse 18, is from the Greek exousia, which does not refer to raw power, i.e. the ability or strength to act, but to the authority or right to act; jurisdiction, privilege or liberty. The following verses confirm these meanings:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed on his name, he gave the right(exousia) to become children of God. John 1:12 NIV

Because he taught as one who has authority(exousia), and not as their teachers of the law.  Matt. 7:29  NIV

… the chief priests and elders of the people came to (Jesus). “By what authority(exousia) are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority(exousia).  Matt. 21:23  NIV

But take care that this right(exousia) of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  1 Cor. 8:9  ESV

Do we not have the right(exousia) to eat and drink? Do we not have the right(exousia) to take along a believing wife … Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right(exousia) to refrain from working for a living.  1 Cor. 9:4-6  ESV

Jesus was not saying that he had the sheer, raw power to take his life again, but that he had the authority or right or privilege to do so, this being given him by the Father. The second thing to see in our passage are the words “take it,” which appear three times. Again, the English misleads us here. The second use of “take it” is the Greek word airo, which in this context means ‘to take by force.’ The first and third use are from the Greek word lambano, which can mean to ‘take’ but also and often to ‘receive’. What is not apparent in the English is that the word lambano appears again in our text, “This commandment I received(lambano) from my Father.” So the word lambano appears three times, each time in the aorist tense, active voice. I offer this translation:

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life, in order that I might receive it back again. No one takes it from me by force, but I lay it down of myself. I have the privilege to lay it down and the privilege to receive it again. This command I received from my Father.

This certainly takes away from the passage any idea of Jesus raising himself by his own power, thus harmonizing it perfectly with the preponderance of testimony that Jesus was raised by another – the Father.

The second and only other passage that appears to give credence to this myth is John 2:19:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.”

Orthodox Christian apologists see this as a clear declaration by Jesus that he would raise himself from the dead, thus proving himself to be God. But can this one verse cancel out the overwhelming testimony of the NT authors. Peter was no doubt present when Jesus said this, but as we find in his recorded messages in the book of Acts, he surely did not take Jesus’ words to mean that he raised himself. Peter’s testimony, again and again, is ” … but God raised him from the dead … “ Acts 2:24; “God raised this Jesus to life … “ Acts 2:32; “You killed the prince of life, but God raised him from the dead.” Acts 3:15; ” … Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead … ” Acts 4:10; “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead … ” Acts 5:30; “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead … ” Acts 10:39-40; “Through him(Jesus) you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him … .” 1 Peter 1:21.

Even the very context of our passage throws doubt on the ‘orthodox’ interpretation. In verse 22 we read, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.” The word  for ‘raised‘ is a passive voice verb, implying that Jesus was passive in his resurrection. Note, John did not write “after he raised himself from the dead … .” The apostle is commenting on the words of Jesus and does not say what the apologists say. How odd! So what did Jesus mean if not that he would raise himself? I stress again, we want to avoid interpreting Jesus’ words here in such a way that they are in contradiction to the clear teaching of the rest of the NT. There are, at least, two possible solutions, and perhaps even others that I haven’t thought about.

Solution 1

The first solution is to take Jesus’ words here in the same sense as we saw at John 10:17-18, so that he is simply saying, under the analogy of the temple, “Kill me and in three days, upon receiving my life back again, I will raise my body up.” The word for ‘raise‘ is often used in the gospels of someone going from a lying down position to a standing position. When Jesus was buried he was placed inside a tomb cut out of the side of a mountain. In the tomb there would have been a stone slab upon which his body was laid. When he was brought back to life and made immortal, by the power of God, his Father, he would have still at that moment been lying down on the stone slab. It was then under his own power that he stood up. So Jesus, in this view, would not be saying that he would bring himself from a state of death to a state of life again, but merely that, having received his life back, he would raise his body up from a lying down position to a standing position. This would provide the proof of his authority that the Jews demanded, not proof of his deity, but of his messiahship.

Solution 2

In the NT we are told that Jesus was not only the Messiah, but also a prophet {Acts 4:22-26; Matt. 13:57; 21:11; Lk. 7:16; 13:33; John 4:19}. This is an overlooked aspect of Jesus’ ministry, because the belief that Jesus is God so dominates the thinking of Christians, so that he is seen as speaking and acting as if he were God himself rather than as one speaking and acting for God. Now the prophets of the OT would often speak as God, in the first person, and even without first saying “thus says the LORD.” There are many examples of this in the Scripture, e.g.  throughout Hosea chapters 5-10, the prophet is switching back and forth between speaking about God in the third person, and speaking in the first person as God. He does not announce this switch with the customary “This is what the LORD says.” Many passages in Isaiah do this same thing, e.g. 3:1-4; 10:1-12; 22:17-24; 27:1-5; 29:1-6; 54:5-8; 61:7-10. This same phenomena is found in some of the Psalms, e.g. 50:4-7; 82:5-8; 95:7-11; 132:13-18. Since Jesus was a prophet, is it not reasonable to suppose that there were times when he spoke in the first person, not as himself, but as God? Not only that, but in John’s gospel itself we have Jesus saying,

“For I have not spoken on my own, but the Father himself, who sent me, has given me a commandment to say everything I have said … so the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me.”  John 12:49-50  CSB

“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God … “ John 3:34

” … I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”  John 8:28  ESV

“The word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.”  John 14:24  HCS

I believe it is reasonable to propose that when Jesus said “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” he was speaking as God, in the first person, not as himself. Other examples of Jesus speaking in a prophetic role as God may be Luke 11:29-32; 13:34-35; 17:22-36; Matt. 11:20-24; 21:43-44. Or should we just assume that Jesus never spoke in this unique way as a prophet.

Conclusion

We must avoid the error of the apologists of orthodox Christology at this point. They are guilty of pitting their literal interpretation of one verse against the unanimous and unambiguous testimony of the whole NT, resulting in a contradiction between Jesus and the apostles whom he chose. I have offered here two solutions which avoid this error. If anyone has an alternative solution I am interested in hearing it. Please comment on this post for open discussion.

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Author: Troy Salinger

I am 55 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 32 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 36 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

2 thoughts on “An Easter Myth”

  1. The Jews thought Jesus was speaking of the impressive second temple of stone which Herod had spent years adorning. Jesus said in three days he would raise up the temple, but spoke of the temple of his body. I think perhaps we are too narrow in our thinking if we think of the temple
    Jesus would raise as only his physical body. Jesus is the chief cornerstone of a living, spiritual temple into which believers are being built as living stones. Might that entire spiritual edifice, his “body” the church be more in line with what Jesus is raising up? The Father raised Jesus from the dead, but Jesus is raising the living spiritual temple composed of all believers in place of the temple of stone which Jesus said be destroyed with not one stone left upon another.

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    1. Robbjerk, thanks for your comment. Yes Jesus is raising up a spiritual temple with himself as the chief cornerstone, but I don’t believe that is what he meant, for three reasons. 1.) John says that he spoke of his body and comments that the disciples understood it of his physical body after his resurrection 2.) Jesus was actually physically raised after being destroyed 3.) he said this raising would happen in three days after the destruction. This happened literally in his bodily resurrection but would be hard to explain on the spiritual temple raising, which only began then but is still continuing.

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