Category Archives: Christianity

The Tamir Rice Case and American Exceptionalism

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This week, I contributed a post at Then and Now on how the Tamir Rice case flies in the face of closed American exceptionalism, particularly the notion of American innocence. As I wrote in American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion, American innocence is one of several key religious commitments in closed American exceptionalism. American innocence–the notion that America has no social ills like the rest of the nations of the world, that American is an inherently good nation–is clearly called in question when it comes to race prejudice. In the post, I try to think historically about the idea of American innocence as well as racial injustice. And in a related development, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has gone on record supporting #BlackLivesMatter at its huge Urbana missions conference, as Religion News Service was first to report. This is noteworthy–a major evangelical para-church organization has come forward without ambiguity to urge Christians to take a stand in solidarity with the movement. We’ll see what impact this development makes in the new year.

Here is a short segment of my piece at Then and Now.

The notion that America is normatively different than other nations, that America does not suffer social ills like everyone else, is not new. The idea can be traced back to the first colonial efforts of the European kingdoms in the 16th and 17th centuries. European imaginations were moved by the western hemisphere’s stark newness to them. Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516, contrasting the “new world” with overpopulated and degenerate Europe. In the excellent book The Intellectual Construction of America, Jack Greene wrote, “By associating Utopia with the New World, More . . . effectively directed attention not just to Europe’s own internal social, moral, and political problems but also to the as yet unknown potential of the immense New World.”

But racial prejudice is also found at the roots of North American civilization. If we sound the deepest parts of our identity as Americans, we find white supremacy along with the many forms of social ills that attend it as they have appeared over the four centuries since the first slaver in Jamestown. The tragedy Tamir Rice suffered—along with his community—is one manifestation of race prejudice’s degradation of American civilization.

W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1896 monograph The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America: 1638-1870 was based on his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard. The work is, as Du Bois described it, “a small contribution to the scientific study of slavery and the American Negro.”

Du Bois closed with a short section he called “A Lesson for Americans.” There he reminded readers that as great as the founders were, they were flawed human beings seeking to achieve union of the colonies at the expense of leaving the monster of slavery in its cradle to thrive, flourish, and grow to ultimately turn on the new nation and tear it apart.

Happy All Saints Day!

So awesome!

Do Ghosts Exist? Oh Yeah.

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But they aren’t what you may think they are.

So on this All Hallows Eve, let me speak to one of the most common questions I used to get from people all the time while serving on a pastoral staff. Do Christians believe in ghosts?

Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy was talking about this last night on Twitter–which got me thinking about the subject.

***

First, a couple of stories.

1. About 10 years ago, I was having some work done on a shotgun by a gunsmith whom someone had recommended to me. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was a master at his craft. We got to know each other over the course of several weeks, and I came to like him very much. He was quiet, absorbed in his work, not chatty at all. But we did talk about our backgrounds. I found out he had an M.Div. from Gettysburg Seminary, and when I asked him if he believed in ghosts–given the fact that 25,000 people suffered violent deaths there in the space of 3 days in 1863–I’ll never forget his response. He stopped what he was doing, looked at me over his glasses right in the eyes, and said, if you didn’t believe in ghosts when you got to Gettysburg Seminary, you sure did when you left. He didn’t elaborate. Then, he simply returned to his work.

2. My grandmother moved into a new house she had built shortly after her husband had died in 1969 on the outskirts of Gordonsville, Virginia. I remember visiting that house when I was little, and finding it fascinating. She died when I was only 6, but for years, I had a recurring dream of being in the pasture across the road from her house. In that pasture, I would meet my grandmother and my uncle, who died in a tragic car accident. My aunts told me that my grandmother believed the house was haunted, and they thought so, too. They lived in the house for two years after my grandmother died, and they thought there was a connection between the house and my recurring dreams.

Thirty years later, my wife and I found ourselves living in the same community as my grandmother had lived at the time of her death. I took my brother on a drive to her house one afternoon, because he hadn’t seen it during all that time. I said, why don’t we drive up the driveway and see if anyone is home–maybe they’ll invite us in when we introduce ourselves. This being rural Virginia, the people who lived in the house were very friendly and welcomed us inside. We had a great deal of fun going from room to room, and experiencing a flood of wonderful memories.

After visiting for about an hour, the owner of the house said to me, “This may sound strange, but did your grandmother ever say anything about this house being haunted?”

I was speechless.

3. My great aunt and uncle lived in the same house in Ennis, Montana for almost 60 years, but they weren’t the original owners of the house. My Aunt Joan always said that the house was haunted. She surmised that the “ghost” was the spirit of a young child, because she would find random toys on the floor of the house as if a little one had just gotten up from playing. After so many years of being in the house, Aunt Joan and Uncle Chet just got accustomed to sounds of laughter, lights coming on or off at random, and the little marbles and jacks that would show up on the floor in the night or while they were out. As a teenager, I was fascinated by the prospect of their house being haunted, but I didn’t take it all that seriously.

One evening at about 10, I was sitting in the dining room of their house writing a letter to a friend. I was all alone in the house at the time, and concentrating on my letter. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a small person running up and down the upstairs hallway.

Out the door I went, and slept in the bunkhouse that night. I never finished that letter.

***

So what’s the deal, at least from a theological perspective? Hebrews 9.27 states, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Jesus said in John 5.28-29, “an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, and those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” Jesus’ words are consistent with Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 12.2–“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”

It would appear that Scripture teaches that, after death occurs, we are all held accountable for our lives before God, the only One to whom we are ultimately responsible, since he is our Creator. Those who put their trust in Christ arise to the newness of eternal life. We see this throughout the entire Scripture, but a couple of passages in particular serve as examples of this teaching–

“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay. You will make known to me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16.10-11

“Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.” Isaiah 26.19

“Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.” Ezekiel 37.13

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11.25-26

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” I Corinthians 15.22

So, if there is no intermediate state by which spirits of the dead roam the earth, how do we explain the myriad and diverse accounts of apparitions? Many of us have had direct experiences of encountering apparitions–we’re not simply relying on History Channel episodes. Some of us have seen or heard things that have no rational explanation except that of an encounter with an apparition.

Scripture itself suggests that such encounters are possible. One of the strangest stories in all the Bible is found in I Samuel 28. Here we have Saul going to the witch of Endor, and asking her to bring the prophet Samuel up from the dead so that he might consult with him (I Samuel 28.13-25). To Saul’s utter shock and awe, Samuel appeared and sternly rebuked him, reminding him of his sins and of the fact that God had chosen David in his stead to be king of Israel. My own position (and that of St. Augustine, I might add) on the identity of the personage brought up by the witch of Endor is that it was indeed Samuel, and God brought him up to rebuke Saul for his sins (as well as the witch herself, for her spiritualism, which was, and remains, a grave sin.)

But we must remember another key passage from the New Testament, a passage that sheds light on the true identity of apparitions that the living sometimes encounter. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 11.14-15, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” To be sure, Paul is talking about living false prophets and apostles, who go about spreading heretical teachings. But clearly, the Apostle Paul is warning his readers that the devil and his servants have great power to deceive we who are among the living, and draw us away from some of the most significant truths of the Scriptures, namely, that all have sinned (Romans 3.23), all stand accountable to God upon their deaths, and there are no second chances for the dead to get it right on earth after their deaths.

Jesus told the Pharisees that Satan is a liar–“Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” In that same verse, he said that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.”

What better way to deceive and murder then to draw us away from the truth of the gospel by convincing us that there is no sin, no hell, no heaven, no accountability to God, no atonement for sin, and no eternal life united with Christ?

Ghosts are real. But they are not spirits of the departed. They are demons, attempting to deceive, and draw us away from the gospel. They can strike fear into our hearts, but there’s no cause for all that. The glorious Christ declares, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1.17-18). He who has life in and of himself gives life to those who put their trust in him. Those who are Christ’s need have no fear of the grave, or of those who would have us believe they are among the dead.

What Are We Missing in the Gun Debate?

Like many Americans, I have been following the conversation on the most recent mass shooting in Oregon.

Many helpful perspectives have been offered. And if I could, let me begin this post by recounting a brief personal story.

When I was sixteen, I was held hostage in an armed robbery of a gas station in Sandy Springs, Georgia. I stopped in to fill up my puke-yellow colored Dodge Omni on the way to pick up a buddy. We were planning on going to see a movie (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Don’t judge me.) The pumps were turned off, so I went inside to ask the attendant to please cut on pump #1. Immediately, a man that was on this side of the counter put a gun in my face, grabbed me by the shoulder, and held the gun to my head while he demanded that I tell the attendant to give him the money.

It all happened so fast. Three seconds earlier, I was safe and sound, looking forward to seeing a goofball movie with my goofball friend. Now I had a gun jammed right under my ear, by a person who appeared to be in deep earnest who was prepared to kill me where I stood.

Long story short, the assailant shot the attendant in the face, took the money, and ran out the door. He had to get past me to get to the door, and as he was running for the door I remember him looking right into my eyes. I closed my eyes, believing with all sincerity that he was going to shoot me, too. He didn’t. He ran out the door and was never caught (to my knowledge, at least for that particular crime).

Let me also say this about myself. I am a gun owner, and grew up surrounded by guns. My grandfather was a World War II veteran and an avid hunter. He taught my brother and I how to respect guns, how to shoot guns, how to clean guns, and how to hunt with guns. I consider that education under my grandfather’s wise tutelage critical to my upbringing and formation as a human being. In teaching me all about guns, Papa taught me how to value life—all life, the life of animals and the life of human persons.

Now I realize not everyone was blessed to have such an education. I realize that there are a lot of idiots out there with guns. And I’m not opposed to some smart and effective gun laws that seek to curb gun violence that claims the lives of precious sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, grandmothers, and grandfathers. As a survivor of gun violence myself, how could I be opposed to the enacting of such laws?

But I do not believe that more laws are going to deter the lawless. The cretans who take lives in movie theatres, churches, schools, and other public places will find means to do so no matter the laws. That’s why they’re lawless.

There are 300 million guns in this country. As many people have accurately pointed out, the only way to eliminate gun violence is to eliminate guns. But there will always be guns in our society. Always. And guns will always be available. Even if we rounded up all the guns (which seems like a pipe dream) held by private citizens in the United States, more guns will still be available, and people with ill intent will perpetually seek to acquire them. And use them against the unarmed.

So what to do?

The gun problem in America seems to be a symptom of the deeper problem of the coarseness of our culture. To put it in plain English, people are crazy. I watched a clip just this morning of a UConn student that went ballistic in the cafeteria. He was refused service because he had an open container of alcohol while trying to get his food. When he was refused service, the kid went crazy—along with an F-word laced rant, he shoved the manager numerous times, nearly knocking the man off his feet each time. He had to be physically restrained and taken off by the cops in handcuffs. As he was being led away, he offered a classy parting shot. He spit in the manager’s face.

It’s a good thing he didn’t have a gun. But this culture, in which we all are a part, does not value life. It does not value human dignity. It is not respectful of authority. It is contemptuous of the elderly. It is self-obsessed, shortsighted, base, and ignorant. The discourse in popular culture and in politics is self serving, oversexualized, trivial, vain, violent, filthy, and puerile. The culture calls evil good and good evil, and does not even know how to blush.

Add 300 million guns to the mix, and who could be surprised at the number of violent deaths in this country? It’s a wonder the numbers aren’t higher.

Adding more laws to try to control the deviance of this culture may do something of value, but it won’t cure the deviance.

I submit that one avenue of hope is religion. Contrary to the charges of the hard-core secularists, religion is not harmful to the culture. Religion promotes virtue, promotes human dignity, self-sacrifice, neighbor-love, good citizenship, and respect for individual freedom.

What about religious people? Aren’t a lot of religious people crazy, too? You better believe it! Many are. Religious people sometimes betray the convictions of their faith system. There are many hypocrites among us. But the actions of hypocritical people do not undermine the claims of religious faiths. They prove those claims. Take human sinfulness as an example, a teaching that the major religions affirm. Hypocritical religious people simply demonstrate the teaching of human sinfulness in real time.

Now I’m an evangelical Christian. Naturally, I want everyone in the country (and the world) to be a follower of Jesus Christ, who took the penalty of sin upon himself on the cross and rose again on the third day, providing eternal salvation to any person who will place her faith in him.

But I realize that not everyone is going to adhere to the doctrines of Christianity. Others will adhere to the teachings of Moses, to Mohammed, to Buddha, to Confucius, to Brigham Young, and to a host of others. Many will choose to adhere to no religion at all. Every person will exercise her right to follow her own conscience in terms of spiritual truth. That is the beauty of religious freedom in the United States. Religious freedom is being politicized these days, and we must guard against that disturbing trend. Religious freedom is not the property of any particular interest group. It is a heritage intended for all of us, even non-believers.

But religion in general is a good thing. It is good for a society to encourage the flourishing of religious faith, because in that flourishing, public virtue and a culture of life may also flourish.

Our society has only recently bought into the great lie that religion is a bad thing, that it has no place in public policy or discourse, that its place is confined to the four walls of a religious meeting house. Few politicians in office, that I know of, have offered up a serious argument in a consistent way for the encouragement of public religious expression as a panacea to the gun problem—or any moral problem in our country, for that matter. That’s too bad, because the flourishing of religious faith would be a great ally in the struggle against gun violence, among the many other moral woes we face as a culture.

Sure, there are religious people in office and running for office. But they often scrupulously keep their religious beliefs “personal” because their faith “does not influence their policy positions.” That’s absurd. It’s intellectually vacuous. It’s also not true. Every position we take on things that matter is informed by our religious commitments. Nobody is religiously neutral. Even non-religious people stand on absolute moral principles, such as the affirmation that murder, lying, adultery, and theft are wrong and should be punished.

Do laws matter? Of course they do. And we should consider enacting some new laws that make sense, laws that are not crafted for their own sake. And we must enforce those laws that are already on the books.

But to promote a culture of life, to soften the coarseness of our culture, to train respect of other people’s things and other people’s lives—do religions have anything to offer in these noble and civic pursuits?

A thousand times, yes.

And as a Bible believing Christian, I bear witness to unique claims of Jesus Christ to bring life to the world. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6.51-52). Christ is the One who laid down his life so that you and I might have life.

Guest Post from Sarah Etter, 8th Grade Author, on C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma

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Sarah Etter with her editors, Ned Bustard and Greg Thornbury

Sarah Etter is a dear, dear friend of mine. Actually, I’ve known her all of her life. She is the daughter of one of my very best friends, Bruce Etter, who faithful readers of TBYFA will remember recently included me in some interviews for a history series. He interviewed me on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and also hosted a roundtable discussion with John Fea and me on whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation.

Sarah is thirteen years old, and finishing up her eighth grade year as a student at Wilson Hill Academy where her father serves as head of school. What is really special about Sarah is that she is a contributor to Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who, edited by Gregory Thornbury and Ned Bustard. She is one of the most impressive students I’ve ever seen–truly. She is the only eighth grader I’ve ever known to contribute to a work edited by such towering figures as Thornbury and Bustard. I am honored to share this essay that she wrote especially for us here at the blog.

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Sarah writes about C. S. Lewis’ famous Trilemma, but she gives us a fresh and very interesting perspective on it. Here’s Sarah–read and enjoy.

The enchanted world of Narnia has brought charm to the world since 1950. It is a world of silver seas, growing lampposts, and valiant mice. C.S. Lewis’ story has impacted the world internationally, selling over 100 million copies in 47 different languages. Outside of literature, Lewis was also a world-renowned Christian philosopher, writing dozens of theology books on ultimate issues, arguing from a Christian perspective. In Mere Christianity, he explained his famous theory, the “Trilemma”, which states that when it comes to answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” we have three choices: Jesus is a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord. Later on, the idea of “Legend” became a fourth “L” option.

The Chronicles of Narnia are well-known for their powerful Christian allegories. They are clear, fresh, evident, and enjoyable. Lewis clearly meant to communicate deep theological meanings. One example has to do with three main villains of Narnia. A closer look reveals that these notorious bad guys resemble the three views of Lewis’ Trilemma. Whether or not Lewis intended such a connection is not clear, but Jadis, Miraz, and The Emerald Witch correlate with Liar, Legend, Lunatic.

In what is likely the most famous Narnia story, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, we watch Aslan, (an allegorical figure representing Jesus), die for Edmund. This has become one of the most famous allegory to the crucifixion and substitutionary atonement in all of children’s literature. However, maybe The White Witch represents more than just Satan. In The Magician’s Nephew, we learn The White Witch’s (Jadis) back story and character. One of the most revealing scenes in this area is Narnia’s birth, where Aslan’s sacred voice creates a blooming life to an infant Narnia. As Digory and Polly look on Aslan with humbled and perplexed eyes, Jadis is repulsed. She throws her lamppost at Aslan’s head in an act of defiance, loathing the life and magic that Aslan is performing. Later on in the book at the garden, she declares that Digory has a false view of Aslan. Jadis is essentially saying that Aslan is a liar. It’s very common today to divide ourselves up into those who believe Jesus existed and those who don’t. Lewis says that is not legitimate. He says that out there, in the world, there are people who wouldn’t doubt Jesus’ existence for a second. A man named Jesus walked the earth? That’s right. But he was a liar. Son of Mary? Sure. Son of God? Certainly not. Jadis wants to plant doubts in Digory’s mind about who Aslan truly is. She seeks to plant thoughts into the back of his mind and toys with his desires. What has Aslan ever done for you? What about your mother? She is pinning deceit onto Aslan. People like Jadis want to turn us against God, and it is often difficult not to listen to them. But, as all heretics do, Jadis makes a mistake when she tries to turn Digory against Polly.

The Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Emerald Witch, the malicious Queen of the Underland, is the villain who makes all of us cringe at the sound of her name in The Silver Chair. Though she appears less often than Miraz or Jadis, her impact on Narnia is just as powerful. Sly, cunning, and gorgeous, she very much reminds us of Jadis. But just as compelling as her character is the theological meaning embedded in her character. When Eustace and Jill boldly claim their belief in Aslan, the witch shuts them down, declaring this as lunacy. Aslan is not a lion; that is insanity. Jesus was not the Son of God, that is madness. We know this is not true. But Eustace, our great hero, whose skin was torn from him by Aslan’s own paw, whose dirt and monstrosity were washed away, who treaded the Silver Sea and touched the end of the world, to this heresy he succumbs. He collapses. Not by physical force, just by a pretty face and some sweet sounding spell and he is useless. What a depressing depiction of how easily we break. The Lady of the Green Kirtle claims Aslan is essentially a lunatic, and Eustace falls right at her feet. It’s not just in Narnia that Christians are confronted with this view, and it’s just as life threatening here as it was for Eustace and Jill.

In Prince Caspian, we read of Miraz’s ancestors, the Telmarines, who invaded Narnia in year 1998, the last year of the Dark Age, the first year of the Telmarine Age. This was 983 years after the Pevensies left Narnia in 1015. In approximately 2263, Miraz killed his brother, Caspian IX and took the throne, and then in 2303 attempted murder on his nephew, Caspian X. Miraz thinks his greatest strength is rationality. Miraz mocks the fairytales of Old Narnia. This sounds strangely close to the part of the Trilemma that others added later on. “Legend” represents the people who think that Jesus never existed. This is clearly the view Miraz has of Aslan. These people are everywhere in our world today. Just look at Miraz, he, the great Telmarine king, he, who laughs in the face of legends, he, who is rational and intelligent. He cares nothing for Narnia, but forbids anyone around him to speak of it. He firmly denies the existence of the kings and queens of old, and yet is hesitant to duel Peter. He declares it all as legend, which matters not, he doesn’t care for it all, and yet the very name of Aslan makes his blood boil. In our society, and Lewis’ as well, people claim God is dead.They are skeptical of God’s existence, but God still infuriates them. Miraz is a picture of those who claim Jesus is a legend.

Lewis depicts these heretics as witches, tyrants, and snakes, each one attacking Aslan with a different weapon. It would be unwise to take that depiction for granted. In Aslan’s story, these people are villains, and line up too well with Lewis’ opposing beliefs against Jesus. Of course, there is one more category Lewis believed in that I have not spoken of. Now that we have observed the violent Jadis, the dictatorial Miraz, and the cruel-hearted Emerald Witch, there is one more. And while the first three have been constant in our time and in Lewis’ day as well, in the fictional realm and the real realm, this one is more eternal, more impenetrable, and more triumphant than any of the others. While Jadis is slain, and Miraz is killed, and the Emerald Witch is slaughtered, this one stands tall and vibrant, and remains victorious when all others fail. And when the earth shatters and the stars rain down from the heavens, when all others recoil in fear, they will not falter. These are they who believe in that Jesus is Lord and not a liar, not a lunatic, and not a legend.

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part IV

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Let’s summarize our findings in this last part of the series on whether or not the gospel accounts of the resurrection are contradictory.

I am going to list all the events that are pertinent to the resurrection in chronological order. You can use the key below to reference each event as narrated in the gospel accounts.

Directions: Each event is listed in chronological order according to the gospel accounts. References are cited by the following code

a—Matthew 28

b—Mark 16

c—Luke 24

d—John 20-21

e—Acts 1

f—I Corinthians 15

g—Acts 9

The appropriate citations that correspond to the specific reference are given in superscript following the event.

  1. Mary Magdaleneabd, the other Maryab, Salomeb went to the tomb at early dawnabcd on the first day of the week.abcd

2-4 occur while the women were en route to the tomb.

  1. There was an earthquake.a
  1. An angel descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat on it.a
  1. The guards were afraid and became as dead men.a
  1. As the women were drawing near to the tomb, they wondered who would roll away the stone for them.b
  1. They saw that the stone had already been rolled away.bcd.
  1. They entered the tomb and did not find Jesus’ body.bcd
  1. Mary Magdalene left the tomb to find Peter and John and tell them that Jesus’ body was missing.d The other women stayed behind while Mary Magdalene left in despair, confusion and grief.

9-11 takes place while Mary Magdalene is absent from the tomb, looking for Peter and John.

  1. At the tomb, while they were still inside, they were perplexed,c and saw two angels,c one of them on the right side.b
  1. One of the angels spoke, and said, a) Fear not,ab b) I know you seek Jesus,ab c) why do you seek the living among the dead,c d) Jesus is not here,abc e) He is risen,ab f) just as He said,a g) remember how He told you that He would be crucified and rise again,c h) come behold the place where they laid Him,ab i) go, tell the disciples,ab j) He is going before you into Galilee,ab k) you will see Him there.ab
  1. They left the tomb quickly in fear and joy going to the disciples, saying nothing to anyone.abc

By this time, Mary Magdalene had found Peter and John and told them the tomb was empty.

  1. Peter and John arrive at the tomb, John having outrun Peter.d
  1. John did not go in, but stooped down and looked inside—he saw the linen cloths by themselves.d
  1. Peter went inside the tomb and saw how the linens were arranged.d
  1. Neither understood the Scriptures, which said that He must rise again.
  1. Peter and John went to their own homes.d
  1. Mary remained outside the tomb weeping, and she stooped down to look inside the tomb. She saw the two angels, one at the head, and the other at the feet of where Jesus had lain.d
  1. The two angels reappeared.d
  1. They asked her, “Why are you weeping?” She replied that she did not know where the Lord’s body was.d
  1. She then turned around and saw Jesus, but she thought He was the gardener. He asked her the same question, and “Whom do you seek?”d
  1. She answered again, and Jesus said her name, at which time she recognized Him and worshiped Him.d
  1. Jesus told her to go and tell the other disciples that He was alive.d
  1. Jesus met the other women as they were going—they worshiped Him and He told them to proceed on to the disciples.a
  1. Mary Magdalene went to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive, but they did not believe her.bd
  1. Jesus appeared to two other believers on the road to Emmaus, who did not recognize Him at first. They told the disciples that Jesus was alive.bc
  1. The disciples did not believe them either.bc
  1. At evening on the same day,bcd Jesus appeared to the disciples.abcd They thought He was a ghostc until they touched Him and gave Him something to eat.c
  1. Christ expounded to them in all the Scriptures and opened their understanding.c
  1. After eight daysd Christ appeared to Thomas in order to disspell his doubts.
  1. Christ appeared to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, whereupon He asked Peter three times if he loved Him.d
  1. Christ appeared to five hundred at once, of whom Paul said several were still alive in his own day.f
  1. Christ gives the Great Commission to go into the world making disciples and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.abc
  1. Christ appeared to James, as reported by Paul.f
  1. Over the course of forty days, Christ appeared to the disciples, and spoke to them concerning the things of the kingdom of God.e
  1. Christ commanded the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they had been endued with power from the Holy Spirit.ce
  1. Christ led the disciples out as far as Bethanyc and then was taken into heaven as they worshiped Him.c
  1. Two angels told the disciples that this same Jesus who had ascended would return in like manner.e
  1. Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.g

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part III

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We have considered the questions about what the angels were doing and saying on the morning of the resurrection. Let’s take a look at the troubling apparent contradictions found in Mary Magdalene’s activities, and also those of Jesus himself.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels. New Testament scholars call them by that name because they are very similar in their content. Anyone who has given a cursory glance at these three gospels can readily see how similar they are.

But John’s gospel is different than the others. It does not contain any parables. And it is more theological than the Synoptics. So, we would expect to see wide agreement between the Synoptics concerning the details of the resurrection—which we do, especially in the sayings of the angels to the women as they perplexedly stood in the empty tomb.

John says that “on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb” (John 20.1). That comports with what the other gospel writers say—except that John does not mention the other women. Does not that lead us to a necessary contradiction? Not at all. All the gospel writers have Mary Magdalene going to the tomb very early in the morning. Just because John does not mention the others does not necessarily mean they were not there.

But then John says that Mary ran off to go and get Peter and John. The Synoptics do not mention Mary running off. Does that mean that a necessary contradiction exists here? Again, not at all. We can reasonably infer that all the women went together to the tomb, and when they found it empty, Mary Magdalene was so stricken with grief and perplexity, that she left the others to go and fetch Peter and John. Luke does say that the women were very perplexed. Mary Magdalene must have left the women there at the tomb, before they saw and heard the angels telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead.

So while Mary Magdalene was gone, the angels declared to the other women that Jesus was resurrected. The other women left the tomb in great joy before Mary Magdalene had returned with Peter and John. By the time Mary Magdalene had returned with Peter and John, the tomb was silent and empty, just as it was when all the women had arrived there at the first.

There is an interval of time and events between John 20.1 and John 20.2. From Mary Magdalene’s perspective, the tomb was empty and Jesus’ body had been taken away, by whom she did not know. Peter and John arrived at the tomb to see it was empty. Luke has Peter at the tomb, but not John. But again, if Luke reports that Peter was there but did not mention John, that does not leave us with a necessary contradiction. Remember that Peter was the first to confess Jesus as Messiah, and thus Jesus gave Peter the pre-eminent position among the disciples (Matthew 16.17-19). It was logical for Luke to mention Peter, but not to mention John.

After Peter and John departed the tomb in confusion, John says that Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, weeping. It is at this time that Mary looks into the tomb and sees two angels. Remember that Mary had not seen the angels yet, because she was not present with the other women when the angels appeared previously. So they ask her, “Why are you weeping?” She answers that she does not know where Jesus’ body is.

It is at this time that Jesus himself appeared to Mary, but she does not recognize him, but thinks he is the gardener. But he reveals himself to her, and tells her to and tell the disciples that he is alive.

Then Jesus appeared to the other women while they were en route from the tomb to Galilee to report back to the disciples, as the angels had instructed them from inside the tomb. How did Jesus get to them so fast, you ask? We know that Jesus had a glorified body—he could appear in unrecognizable forms; he could move through locked doors; and his body still bore the scars from the nails and the thrust of the spear as he hung on the cross three days earlier. So his speedy appearance between two places does no violence at all to the narrative. In fact, it lends it further credibility.

Thus, we see no necessary contradictions in the resurrection accounts in the gospels. As long as we can provide reasonable alternatives to resolve the apparent contradictions, we can demonstrate that no necessary contradictions are present. In fact, we can have reasonable certainty that the gospel accounts offer a coherent narrative of the events of the resurrection.

This means that when we place our faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Lord and God, we are making a reasonable epistemic choice. We are not taking an irrational leap of faith into the darkness. We can affirm, with the Apostle Paul as he was reflecting on whether or not Christ was raised: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep, for since by man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead” (I Cor. 15.20-21).

In Part IV, we will summarize our findings.