Monday, 17 October 2011

Our neo-gnostic culture and the Resurrection of the Body: New article by Donal A. Hagner

One of my favourite New Testament scholars is without a doubt Donald A. Hagner, emeritus professor of New Testament from Fuller, and a regular visitor here in Cambridge. Last year I had the privilege of having several engaging discussions with him about the resurrection of the body here at Tyndale House. I was surprised and excited to read his new article: "The Resurrection of the Body in the New Testament," published in Australian Biblical Review [ABR 59 (2011) 64-80].

What strikes me in his article is how he captures the modern disregard for the human body:

"... we watch gratuitous violence and killing on television dramas where the more killing per 12-minute segment the better. Our children play computer games where the goal is to kill as many as possible. All this reflect how neo-gnostic our culture has become. The death of the body does not matter very much because of the popular conviction that the soul is immortal. The real person is the soul; therefore the body is finally unimportant, dispensable, and even despised" (64).

When it comes to how the New Testament sees Jesus' resurrection, Hagner's interpretation of the empty tomb and the foundational importance of his bodily resurrection is striking:

"It is of the greatest importance to be clear on the fact that Jesus was resurrected bodily. The tomb was empty because the body of Jesus had been raised. Any idea of a tomb still containing the body of Jesus is totally incompatible with the New Testament evidence and proclamation. The appearances of the resurrected Jesus were not merely subjective visions. Those who witnessed the resurrection appearances saw Jesus in a literal body. The objective reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus as a space-time event is fundamental to Christianity. It serves as the vindication of all that he said and did, including his personal claims. It also serves as the guarantee of the future. No other explanations will suffice. The bodily resurrection of Jesus alone provides the only compelling explanation of the transformation of the disciples and only it can account for the origin of Christianity and the growth of the church" (68).

I love the way Hagner spells out the implications of Jesus' resurrection on p. 77:

"It is as though the future resurrection has interrupted into the present. Becoming a Christian is more than just having our loyalties shifted. Just as the resurrection of Christ inaugurates a new era, so by our identification with Christ we immediately enter into an existence that can be characterised as resurrection life. That new existence is made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit".

Hagner discusses many other aspects of Christ's and our future resurrection in this article. In my opinion, this article is compulsory reading for anyone doing research on the resurrection of Jesus. It is also a good introduction to the resurrection of Jesus and believers for ministers and lay people who wants to get a birds eye view of some of the best research, from the pen of a mature and erudite Christian scholar.


francois mulder said...

Well said, Prof Hagner.

John W. Morehead said...

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

I agree that the West is neo-Gnostic, as many times so is the church with its embrace of the spiritual to the neglect of the material creation, and secret knowledge for salvation. But I don't believe the West is neo-Gnostic in terms of the body. In fact, I believe there has been a shift away from spirit-body dualism and toward an embrace of metaphysical holism due to the influence of secularism (and neuroscience which casts doubt on the existence of the soul), as well as the New Spirituality with its idea of the enlightened body-self. If anything, our culture has embraced the body and the physical with a passion, as evidenced for example by our culture's current fascination with the zombie, shuffling around in its embodied and decaying glory. This may be understood as a form of critique of the Christian narrative of resurrection, but the body is surely not denied in this neo-Gnosticism.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,
Thanx for this. Hagner does deal with aspects of what you mentioned.