ne of the lessons that science teaches us about physical reality is that its character is frequently surprising. Part of the excitement of doing research lies in the unexpected nature of what may be found lying around the next experimental corner. It is sufficient to utter the words 'quantum theory' to make the point. As a consequence, scientists who are carefully reflective about their activity do not instinctively ask the question 'Is it reasonable?' as if they were confident beforehand what shape rationality had to take. We have noted how 'unreasonable', in classical Newtonian terms, the nature of light turned out to be. Instead, for the scientist the proper phrasing of the truth-seeking question takes the form, 'What makes you think that might be the case?' This style of enquiry is open to the possibility of surprise, while insisting on the presentation of motivating experience to back up any claim that is being made. No unshakable reliance is to be placed on supposed a priori
certainties, but evidence is demanded if expectations are to be revised. If you examine what Thomas Young had discovered about diffraction phenomena, and what Albert Einstein had to say about the photoelectric effect, you will be forced to take seriously the seeming paradox of wave/particle duality. In an analogous way, the writers of the New Testament were forced to affirm the even more perplexing fact of their encountering qualities both human and divine in their experience of Jesus Christ.
Neither in physics nor in theology can one remain content simply with accepting the brute fact of the surprising character of reality. There has to be a further struggle to set this new knowledge in some deeper context of understanding. In the case of light, the physicists only began to feel fully at home with wave/particle duality when Paul Dirac's insight led to the discovery of quantum field theory. Because a field is spread out in space and time, it has wave-like properties; when it is quantised, its energy comes in packets that correspond to particle-like behaviour. The threatened paradox had been dispelled by being able to examine a specific example consistently possessing the unexpected dual character. In a similar fashion, Christian thinking could not rest content simply with the assertion of the lordship of Christ, but it had to explore how that lordship related to the fundamental lordship of the God of Israel, a journey of theological exploration that led the Church eventually to trinitarian and incarnational belief.
Considering the ways, both in quantum theory and in theology, in which new discoveries are actually made, and a deeper understanding is then gained, affords a way in which to pursue further the analogies discernible between these two forms of rational enquiry as they engage with their very different kinds of subject material. Similarities emerge in the ways in which experience impacts upon thinking and the manner in which heuristic strategies are developed to yield fuller comprehension. Four exemplary comparisons illustrate the point:
(1) Techniques of discovery: Experience and understanding. Advance in understanding requires a subtle and creative interaction between experience and conceptual analysis.
(a) Theoretical creativity and experimental constraint. In chapter 1, I stressed the indispensable role played by experiment in driving the development of quantum physics. It is time, now, to redress the balance a little in favour of the theorists by emphasising also the creative role of conceptual exploration. Whatever Einstein meant when he asserted that the fundamental basis of physics had to be freely invented, I am sure that he was not casting doubt on the realistic reliability of our knowledge of the physical world, whose objective existence was a matter of passionate conviction for him. Einstein would never have countenanced any notion of physical theory as an arbitrary intellectual confection. What I think he did have in mind in making the remark was the creative leap of the theoretical imagination that is involved in grasping the character and implications of some great new insight. An outstanding example of this kind of creativity was Einstein's own ability to write down in November 1915 the equations of general relativity, fully formed after years of brooding on the nature of gravity. On the one hand, he must have felt that the economy and elegance of these equations—their possessing that unmistakable character of mathematical beauty that seems always to be present in the successful formulation of fundamental physical theory—was highly persuasive of their validity, but, on the other hand, this did not excuse him from immediately going on to check their consequences against observation. Einstein said that the happiest day of his life was when he found that his new theory of gravity perfectly fitted the behaviour of the planet Mercury, whose motion had long been known to exhibit a small discrepancy with the predictions of Newtonian theory.1
The interplay between theory and experiment in physics is deeper than simple dialogue about the interpretation of experimental results. It involves a creative interaction of a profoundly truth-seeking kind between stubborn experimental findings and imaginative theoretical exploration. Truly illuminating discovery far exceeds in subtlety and satisfaction the plodding Baconian accumulation and sifting of a host of particulars, in the hope of stumbling on some useful generalisation. Equally, scientific discovery also exceeds anything attainable simply through free play with mathematical speculation — a point rather sadly made by the second half of Einstein's scientific career, in which he continually and fruitlessly tried to construct general unified field theories, a quest in which the only guide he allowed himself to follow was recourse to ingenious mathematical speculation. Science progresses neither by sole reliance on an earthy empiricism, nor by indulgence in theoretical leaps in the dark, but through the discipline imposed by a continual interaction between assessed experience and proffered interpretation.
i. See, A. Pais, Subtle Is the Lord . . . , Oxford University Press, 1982, pp.
The way the balance is struck between these two aspects of scientific heuristics changes with varying historical circumstances. I have spoken of how particle physics was largely experimentally driven during my time in the subject. Of course, there were brilliant theoretical insights, discovered by people like Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann, but they arose as responses to empirical challenges. Today, many particle theorists are concentrating on efforts to consolidate and elucidate string theory, and its still somewhat elusive generalisation, M-theory. The fundamental basis for this activity lies in the mathematical exploration of relativistic quantum theory when it is formulated in terms of entities of higher dimensions rather than simple points. Since the combination of relativity and quantum theory is known to yield a synthesis with a depth and fruitfulness that exceeds the mere sum of its component parts, there is good general motivation for such a line of investigation, though there is also such a degree of free creation involved in formulating string theory that it is by no means clear that it will necessarily prove to be the actual description of a new level in the structure of the physical world. At present it lacks the discipline of engagement with new experimental predictions and results. History suggests that quite severe limits should be set on any expectation of human ability to second-guess nature in regimes lying far beyond current experimental access.
(b) Christology from below and from above. Scientific progress through a dialectical engagement between experimental challenge and theoretical conceptual exploration has its analogue in theology. An important component in Christologi-cal thinking is a careful evaluation of what can be learnt historically about the life of Jesus of Nazareth and about the experiences of the very early Church.2 Later in this chapter I shall focus on the claim by those first Christians to have been witnesses to encounters with the risen Christ, taking place after Jesus' resurrection from the dead on the third day following his execution. These first-century events, historically unique in their character, are the experiential counterparts for theology of the experiments that initiated the development of quantum physics. Theologians call arguments of this kind 'Christology from below', since the movement of thought is upwards from events to understanding. We shall have much more to say about a theological strategy of bottom-up thinking as the discussion of this book develops. For the present, it suffices to note the analogy that consideration of the historical Jesus bears to the observationally driven component in scientific discovery, and the fact that taking these issues seriously illustrates the point that theological understanding has the character of seeking truth through motivated belief, and it is not based on mere fideistic assertion.
Yet, just as physics has to combine experimental challenge with conceptual exploration, so theology has also to complement Christological argument from below with further argument 'from above', assessing the conceptual coherence of the ideas that have been formulated, when they are analysed on their own proper terms. For theology, the tools for this investigation will be provided from the resources of philosophy, in contrast to physics' recourse to the equations of mathematics. But just as not all mathematics proves physically useful, so theology is entitled to discriminate between
2. For introductions to the vast literature, see G. Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, Oxford University Press, 1989; G. Theissen and A. Metz, The Historical Jesus, SCM Press, 1998.
the philosophical concepts that it finds helpful for its purposes and those which it has to discard. Philosophical theology has its own protocols and it cannot operate properly using schemes of thought that do not respect its intrinsic character, any more than quantum physics could operate with the criteria of Newtonian thinking. In particular, I believe that an adequate assessment of the historical Jesus cannot proceed under the regulative regime of a naturalistic historicism, whose basic premise is that what usually happens is what always happens.3 If the physical world often proves to be surprising, so it may also be the case with the revelatory ways in which God has chosen to make known to humanity the divine nature and purposes. Although the warnings of apophatic theology carry the implication that theological discovery is likely to prove less successful and complete than scientific discovery, one can at least see a degree of kinship between the two.
(2) Defining the problem: Critical questions. A sharp and selective focus on issues of critical significance is essential to achieve progress in understanding.
(a) Quark theory. One of the greatest gifts that a scientist can possess is that of being able to ask the right questions. This ability requires a sense of what is significant and attainable at a particular time in the development of a subject. The discovery of the Standard Model of quark theory proceeded through the successive identification of two key issues that had to be settled. The first arose from the search for an underlying order hoped to be present in the welter
3. See, J. C. Polkinghorne, ExploringReality, SPCK/Yale University Press, 2005, ch. 4.
of new 'elementary' particles that were discovered by the experimentalists from the 1950s onwards. Before the Second World War, Heisenberg had suggested that, since protons and neutrons behave in very similar ways inside nuclei, despite their having quite different electrical properties they might be bracketed together for some purposes and treated as two states of a generic entity that he called a 'nucleon'. The plethora of postwar discoveries of new states of nuclear matter encouraged a greatly enhanced boldness in thinking along these lines. People began to associate particles together in sets, or 'multiplets', whose members had a degree of similarity, while in some other respects seeming quite different from each other. This strategy began to look potentially fruitful when groupings of this kind were recognised as corresponding to certain patterns that mathematically might be associated with structures called Lie groups, and which physically might be thought of as arising from combinations of fractionally charged constituents, the celebrated quarks. A fascinating and suggestive answer had been found to the question of how to introduce some taxonomic order into the particle 'zoo', but this led to the second question of whether this was just a useful mathematical trick, not really much more than an intriguing mnemonic, or whether it was the sign of the presence of an actual underlying physical structure of a quark-like kind. The way to answer this second question turned out to be the investigation of behaviour in an extreme physical regime in which high-energy projectiles bounced off target particles at wide angles. This kind of encounter probed the inner structure of the target in a transparent way. Extremity of circumstance had produced simplicity of analysis. The study of deep inelastic scattering, as these kinds of experiments are called, re-
vealed phenomena that corresponded exactly to the projectiles having struck quarks within the target. In the judgement of the physicists, the reality of quarks had been convincingly established, despite the fact that no single quark has ever been seen in isolation in the laboratory. This character of unseen reality that attaches to the quarks is due, we believe, to a property called 'confinement' that binds them so tightly together within the particles that they compose that no impact is ever sufficiently powerful to dislodge them individually.
(b) Humanity and divinity. Theologians, in their turn, need to be clear what are the questions whose answers will control adequate theological thinking in the quest to find an acceptable interpretation of the Church's knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ and its consequent understanding of the nature of God. I believe that there are three such questions of fundamental importance: (i) Was Jesus indeed resurrected on the third day, and if so, why was Jesus, alone among all humanity, raised from the dead within history to live an everlasting life of glory beyond history? (ii) Why did the first Christians feel driven to use divine-sounding language about the man Jesus? (iii) What was the basis for the assurance felt by the first disciples that through the risen Christ they had been given a power that was transforming their lives in a new and unprecedented way?
What are called functional or inspirational Christologies see Jesus as differing only in degree from the rest of humanity. He lived closer to God than others do, and he was more open to the influence of the divine presence that was with him. It is in this fully authentic walk with God that his unique significance is held to lie. Jesus' role is seen as that of providing an example of what a human life might be like, affording en couragement to others to seek to follow that example and conveying to us insights about God, his heavenly Father, that we would not have been able to attain on our own. Those who take this view are sincerely and deeply committed to the cause of Christ as they understand it. They sometimes speak of Jesus in evolutionary terms, seeing him as the first realisation of a newly emergent possibility for human life, an intensification of what had previously been present only partially in the lives of the saints and prophets. According to this view, while Jesus was unique in his time, such a level of life with God might, in principle, be attainable also by others who come later.
I cannot see that this position offers satisfactory answers to the three critical questions of Christology. The resurrection of Jesus, understood in the terms given above and to be discussed in detail later, clearly lies outside anything covered by the idea that he was simply more completely and intensely human than the rest of us. The resurrection could not have amounted to a signal of what to expect in the next stage of hominid evolution, but it must surely have been the result of some great singular act of God. If Jesus was just an unusually inspired man, use of the divine language of lordship about him would seem to have been an unfortunate error, quite inappropriate to someone who was simply a human being, however remarkable. The first Christians testified to the experience of a new power at work in their lives. Such radical transformation of life needs more than example and encouragement, for it requires the gift of divine grace to effect a changed life.
What theologians call the work of Christ—the forgiveness of sins, victory over death, and the bestowal of the Spirit —is an important clue to the nature of Christ. I believe that only an understanding of Jesus that sees in him not only full humanity, but also the fullness of the divine life itself, offers a prospect of meeting adequately the demands made by the New Testament witness to him.
(3) Expanding horizons: New regimes. Progress requires allowing novel experience to enlarge the range of conceptual possibility.
(a) Phase transitions. New concepts often emerge in physics in response to the exploration of new regimes in which processes are found to display an unexpectedly novel character. The wave/particle duality of light has been our paradigm example, but others could readily be cited. One of the most 'assured' results in physics must have seemed to be Ohm's law, discovered in 1827 and asserting that the current in an electrical circuit is given by dividing the applied voltage by the circuit's resistance. Generations of students had already done countless experiments to verify this prediction when in 1911 a Dutch physicist, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, showed that, after all, it was not a universal law. When certain metals are cooled to very low temperatures, it is found that their electrical resistance vanishes and a current can circulate without a sustaining electromotive force driving it. Kamerlingh Onnes had discovered superconductivity, a feat for which he was rightly awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913. At the time, no one had the slightest understanding of why this strange behaviour happened. We know now that superconductivity is an intrinsically quantum phenomenon that could not have been understood in 1911. It was only some fifty years later that a theoretical way of accounting for the effect would be discovered.
Of course, the basic laws of physics had not changed at those very low temperatures. They remained the same, but the consequences of these laws altered drastically when one moved from the conducting regime to the superconducting regime. The physicists had had the horizon of their understanding enlarged under the stubborn impact of the strange way metals had proved actually to behave. Transitions of this dramatic kind are called 'phase transitions'. One that is familiar to all of us is the boiling of water. Below 100 degrees Celsius, water is liquid; above that temperature it is gaseous. If we had not seen this transition happen every day of our lives, we would be astonished by it. Phase changes are particularly tricky phenomena to understand, but they illustrate the fact that strikingly different superficial appearances can be consistent with a deep underlying uniformity of basic physical law.
(b) Miracles. A rather similar approach is needed in theology in relation to the question of miracles. It does not make theological sense to suppose that God is a kind of show-off celestial conjurer, capriciously using divine power today to do something that God did not think of doing yesterday and won't be bothered to do tomorrow. There must be a deep underlying consistency in divine action, but that requirement does not condemn the deity never to do anything radically new and unexpected. In the Christian tradition, we use personal language about God, not because we think God is an old man with a beard sitting high above the bright blue sky, but because it is less misleading in using the finite resources of human language to call God 'Father' than it would be to employ the impersonal language of 'Force'. The divine consistency is not a rigidly unalterable regularity like that of the force of gravity, but it lies in the continuity of a perfectly appropriate relationship to prevailing circumstances. When those circumstances change radically—when history enters the phase of a new regime, one might say—it is a coherent possibility that that new regime will be accompanied by novel providential phenomena. Thus the problem of miracle is not strictly a scientific problem, since science speaks only about what is usually the case and it possesses no a priori power to rule out the possibility of unprecedented events in unprecedented circumstances. Nor can it claim that its criteria are solely sufficient to define when a significant change of circumstances has occurred. Rather, miracle is a theological problem, requiring the discovery of how one might discern divine consistency underlying a claimed particular event, in a way that is compatible with the absence of similar events on other occasions.
Christianity cannot escape the problem of miracle, since the resurrection of Jesus lies at the heart of its belief. Chris-tology is concerned with evaluating the claim that in Jesus human life and divine life are joined uniquely in the incarnation of the Son of God, thereby realising a new regime in the history of creation. These two issues, resurrection and human/divine duality, are central to the theological agenda of this book. They inextricably intertwine. If Jesus is the Son of God, it is a coherent possibility that his life exhibited new and unprecedented phenomena, even to his being raised from the dead to an unending life of glory. (It is important to recognise that the claim being made about Jesus is quite different from that in stories of people like Lazarus, who were said to have been restored to life but who undoubtedly would eventually die again. Jesus was resurrected, not resuscitated.) If Jesus was raised from the dead in this fashion, then there is surely something uniquely significant about him. Once again, there is no escape from engagement with the hermeneutic circle in the human search for knowledge of reality. In theology, as in science, one must seek, by scrupulous enquiry into motivated belief, so to tighten that circle that it can be seen to be benign and not vicious.
The attitude to miracles being taken here corresponds to the way in which John's gospel speaks of them as 'signs' (John 2:11, and so on), events that are windows opening up a more profound perspective into the divine reality than that which can be glimpsed in the course of everyday experience, just as superconductivity opened up a window into the behaviour of electrons in metals, more revealing than the discoveries of Professor Ohm had been able to provide. Claims for the occurrence of miraculous events will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There can be no general theory to cover the character of unique events, but the refusal to contemplate the possibility of revelatory disclosures of an unprecedented kind would be an unacceptable limitation, imposed arbitrarily on the horizons of religious thought.
(4) Critical events of particular significance. Specific phenomena, contrary in nature to previous expectation, can confirm radically new forms of understanding.
(a) Compton scattering. Much scientific insight arises from a rolling programme of experimental investigation, and the associated developments in theoretical understanding that accompany it. Progress is often gradual and episodic, fought for step by step. The idea of the isolated critical experiment that settles an issue out of hand, a notion somewhat beloved of popular expositors of science, is sometimes the oversimplification and over-dramatisation of a more painstaking process. Nevertheless, there are some occasions when an important matter does seem to receive definite and irreversible settlement as the consequence of a particular experimental result. In the long history of the investigation into the nature of light, such a critical moment occurred in 1923 in an investigation by Arthur Compton into the scattering of X-rays by matter. His results delivered a final coup de grâce to any lingering doubts there might have been about the particle properties of radiation.
What Compton had discovered was that the frequency of X-rays is changed by their being scattered by matter. The scattering was induced by an interaction between the incident radiation and the electrons in the atoms that composed the matter. According to a wave picture, these electrons would vibrate with the frequency of the incoming X-rays, and this excitation would cause them in turn to emit radiation of the same frequency. Therefore, on the basis of an understanding framed in terms of classical wave theory, no change of frequency was to be expected. On a particle picture, however, what would have been involved was a kind of 'billiard ball' collision between photons and electrons. In this collision, the incoming photon would lose some of its energy to the struck electron. According to Planck's rule, reduced energy corresponds to reduced frequency, with the result that the outgoing scattered radiation would have its rate of vibration diminished, just as Compton had discovered to be the case. It was straightforward to calculate the effect, and the resulting formula agreed perfectly with the experimental measurements. Compton's work had clinched the case for particle-like behaviour, fully dispelling any lingering doubts.
(b) The resurrection. The critical question on which all turns in the case of Christology is the resurrection of Jesus. He had a remarkable public ministry, drawing the crowds,
COMPARATIVE HEURISTICS healing the sick, proclaiming the coming of God's kingdom. Then, on that final visit to Jerusalem, it all seemed to collapse and fall apart. His entry into the city, riding on a donkey, had been hailed with the politically dangerous cry, 'Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our ancestor David!' (Mark 11 :i0), and this had been followed by the religiously provocative act of the cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15-18). As the week went on, the mood of the crowd changed and people either turned away or became openly hostile. The civil and religious authorities, Pilate and Caiaphas, acted to regain control of a potentially dangerous situation. Jesus was swiftly arrested, condemned and led away to crucifixion. This painful and shameful death, reserved by the Romans for slaves and rebels, was seen by devout Jews as a sign of God's rejection, since Deuteronomy (21:23) proclaimed a divine curse on anyone hung on a tree. Out of the darkness of the place of execution, there came the cry of dereliction, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mark 15: 34; Matthew 27:46). On the face of it, the final episode of Jesus' life had been one of utter failure. If that had been the end of his story, not only would it put in question any claim that he might have had to any special significance, but I believe that it would have made it likely that he, someone who left no personally written legacy, would have disappeared from active historical remembrance in the way that people do who are humiliated by being seen to have had pretensions above the sober reality of their status. Yet we have all heard of Jesus, and down the subsequent centuries he has proved to be one of the most influential figures in the history of the world. Any adequate account of him has to be able to explain this remarkable fact. Something must have happened to continue the story of Jesus. Whatever it was must have been of a magnitude adequate to explain the transformation that came on his followers, changing that bunch of frightened deserters who ran away when he was arrested, into those who would face the authorities in Jerusalem, only a few weeks later, with the confident proclamation that Jesus was God's chosen Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:22-36). I do not think that so great a transformation could have come about simply through calm recollection and a renewed determination to continue to affirm the teaching of Jesus. All the writers of the New Testament believe that what had happened was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day after his execution.
This is a staggering assertion. Its truth or falsehood is the issue on which the question of the significance of Jesus pivots. The earliest statement of the claim that we have is given in Paul's first letter to Corinth,
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
This passage, composed in the middle 50s, about twenty to twenty-five years after the crucifixion, is an exceedingly condensed piece of writing, wasting no words. It lays an emphasis on witnesses to the resurrection, accessible at the time of writing since most of them were then still living. When Paul says
COMPARATIVE HEURISTICS that he is recalling something that he himself 'in turn had received', the natural implication is that he is referring to what he was taught following his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. This would place the original testimony within two or three years of the events to which it refers. The idea of such antiquity receives confirmation from the details of the wording, such as use of the Aramaic 'Cephas' for Peter, and reference to the apostles as 'the Twelve', usages that did not last long in the early Church. However, what the appearance experiences were actually like is not made clear in this spare account. To gain insight into that one has to turn to the four gospels.
The New Testament scholar N. T. Wright comments that 'The resurrection stories are among the oddest stories ever written'.4 Despite their extraordinary subject matter, in many ways the appearance accounts are very matter-of-fact, with little emphasis on the wonder and astonishment that such events might have been expected to induce in their beholders. The stories are somewhat fragmentary, with comparatively little detailed conversation being recorded between Christ and the witnesses. Their character is enigmatic rather than trium-phalistic. Instead of immediate exclamations of welcome and relief from the disciples, there is a recurrent inability to recognise at first who it is that is with them,5 and even after the moment of disclosure it seems that some kind of odd reserve lingers on ('Now none of the disciples dared to ask him ''Who are you?'' because they knew it was the Lord'; John 21:12). The stories do not follow either of the patterns that might have
4. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK, 2003, p. 587.
been expected in first-century writings. They portray neither a person resuscitated and restored again from death to ordinary life (like Lazarus; John 11:44), nor the vision of a figure of light (like Revelation 1:12-16). The accounts in the different gospels are distinctly diverse in character. The authentic text of Mark that is now available to us ends at 16:8, without describing the appearance in Galilee that is twice foretold earlier in that gospel (Mark 14:28; 16:7). In Matthew, Jesus appears to women in Jerusalem, but the main story is of an appearance to a group of disciples on a hillside in Galilee (Matthew 28:1620). In Luke, everything seems to happen in or near Jerusalem on the first Easter day. There is the story of the couple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), the briefest mention of an appearance to Peter (v. 34), and a subsequent appearance to the disciples gathered in the city (vv 36-51). Yet, the same author writing in Acts (1:3) speaks of appearances occurring over a forty-day period. In John there are appearances in Jerusalem (ch. 20) and an appearance beside the lake in Galilee (ch. 21).
In addition, outside the gospels there is the appearance to Paul 'as to someone untimely born', three times recounted in Acts (9:3-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18; see also 1 Corinthians 9:1; Galatians 1:15-16). This last story seems different from the others, not only because it occurs significantly later, but also because it has more of the character of a vision of a figure of light. Nevertheless, Paul himself seems to be able to distinguish this event, which he regards as the ground of his claim to be an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1), from more ordinary visionary religious experience (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1-5; see also Acts 18:9).
What is one to make of this bewildering variety, so different from the broadly similar ways in which the four gospels tell us about the preceding events that took place in that last week in Jerusalem? Are we simply faced with a collection of tales made up by different authors in different communities as a vivid way of expressing their conviction that the message of Jesus could, after all, continue beyond his death? I do not think so.
A number of considerations persuade me to take the testimony to the appearances of the risen Christ a great deal more seriously than that. First there is that strangely insistent common theme that there was difficulty in recognising who it was, an element of the tradition perhaps most strikingly expressed in Matthew's frank admission that on that Galilean hillside there were some who still doubted (Matthew 28:17). This theme is expressed in different ways in the different stories and I think that it is extremely unlikely that its consistent presence in the accounts is just an accidental coincidence in a bunch of made-up tales. Rather, I believe it to be an actual historical reminiscence of what these remarkable encounters were like. For reasons that one might speculate about, initially it was not easy to grasp that it was the risen Jesus who was there with the witnesses.
N. T. Wright draws our attention to two other unexpected features of the stories. One is their curious reticence about invoking biblical themes to interpret the experiences. Wright calls this 'The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Stories',6 contrasting it with the way in which themes from the Hebrew scriptures are freely alluded to elsewhere in the
6. Wright, Resurrection, p. 599.
gospels, not least in relation to the crucifixion. Yet this biblical contextualisation strangely fades away when it comes to the accounts of the resurrection appearances. It is as though here there is something so new and unanticipated being displayed through God's action, that it has to be considered in its own light alone. Wright says that this change in the gospels' style of presentation gives the 'actual feeling of a solo flute playing a new melody after the orchestra has fallen silent'.7 His second and related point is to stress the absence from the stories of interpretative glosses linking them to hopes for a destiny beyond death for those who trust in Jesus. Wright emphasises that 'at no stage do they mention the future hope of Chris-tians',8 in notable contrast to discussions on the resurrection theme elsewhere in the New Testament, such as in 1 Corinthians 15. Once again, it is as though the gospels are content to give raw data without imposing a wider interpretation on what is recorded.
There does seem to be something unique about the gospel accounts of the appearances. They have a very specific character, corresponding to the unprecedented claim that they are making, and they are not just 'more of the same' in a simple continuation that carries the story of Jesus a bit further. Vincent Taylor suggested that the perplexing variations in locale that we find between the different gospels arose because an emphasis on the value of direct testimony meant that each Christian community chose to preserve the account given by its locally accessible witnesses.9 The more one con-
9. V. Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (2nd edition), Macmillan, I953, pp. 59-62.
siders these points, the less likely it seems to be that one is dealing with a collection of pious fictions. The style is so different from what might be expected of a confabulation, a point that receives reinforcement when one reads unconvincing second-century attempts in the apocryphal gospels to add further resurrection stories. Wright considers that first-century authors making it all up as a strategy of apologetic or persuasion would not have produced so idiosyncratic a collection of accounts. 'They would have done a better job.'10 I believe that the appearance stories demand to be taken very seriously indeed as evidence of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.
There is a second line of evidence pointing to the resurrection that also has to be considered. This relates to the accounts of the finding of the empty tomb. This story is told in all four gospels in essentially the same terms, with only small differences about the exact names of the women and precisely how early in the morning they made their discovery. Once again there is a striking absence of a triumphalist tone in what is said. In fact, the initial reaction to the emptiness of the tomb is one of fear rather than rejoicing.11 It needs angelic interpretation before its true significance becomes clear. The gospels certainly do not present the story as an instant, knock-down proof of the resurrection.
The first question to ask in assessing this evidence is whether there was indeed an identifiable tomb in which Jesus was buried. The usual Roman custom was to cast executed felons into a common grave, though there is archaeological evidence demonstrating that there were exceptions to this
10. Wright, Resurrection, p. 680.
11. Matthew 28:5; Mark 16:8: Luke 24:5; John 20:11.
practice. The case for believing that Jesus was one of these exceptions is strengthened by the part that is played by Joseph of Arimathea in the story. He is an otherwise unknown figure of no obvious importance in the life of the first Christian community, and there seems to be no reason for assigning him this honourable role other than the fact that he actually performed it. In the controversies that soon developed between the growing Christian movement and contemporary Judaism, conflicts that can be traced back into the first century, it is always common ground between the parties that there was a tomb and that it was empty. Where the differences arise is in relation to the reason for this being so. Was it an act of deceit by the disciples or was it resurrection? It seems clear to me which is the more likely explanation.
It is, of course, true that Paul does not refer explicitly to the empty tomb in his writings, which are earlier than the likely date of the first gospel, Mark. Yet, in that spare account in i Corinthians 15, Paul takes the opportunity to state that Jesus was buried, which strongly suggests to me that he knew that there was an identifiable tomb. It also seems inconceivable that a first-century Jew like Paul, whose view of human nature would be the psychosomatic picture of our being animated bodies, would have believed that Jesus was alive (as Paul unquestionably did), but his body lay mouldering in the grave. In this connection, Wright makes an ancillary point when he draws attention to the fact that there is no suggestion anywhere of a secondary burial for Jesus.12 According to Jewish custom, after a corpse had been in the tomb for about a year, so that it had become reduced to a skeleton, the bones would
12. Wright, Resurrection, p. 707.
be taken away and placed in an ossuary for interment elsewhere. This apparently did not happen to Jesus. I believe that was because there were no bones to be dealt with in this way.
Yet the strongest reason for taking the story of the empty tomb seriously is that women are assigned the principal role in it. In the ancient world their testimony would have been regarded as unreliable, not to be trusted in a court of law. Any first-century person makingup so strange a story would surely have sought to bolster its credibility by making good reliable men the prime witnesses. I believe that the women are credited with the discovery simply because they actually made it. Perhaps they were given that privilege because, unlike those 'reliable' men, they had not run away when the authorities closed in on Jesus.
Thus there are good evidential reasons for taking with the utmost seriousness the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, however contrary that belief may be to conventional expectation. The case can be strengthened further by two collateral considerations. First, is the Christian establishment of Sunday as the Lord's Day in place of the Jewish Sabbath, in commemoration of its being the day of his rising. This was a change that would surely have required strong motivation of some kind in the very early Church, whose members were pious Jews. Second, the continuing witness of the Church has always spoken of Jesus as its living Lord in the present, rather than as a revered founder figure in the past.
A unique event of this kind cannot be confirmed with the same degree of certainty that attaches to a repeatable experimental finding like that of Compton scattering. Nevertheless, resurrection belief is well-motivated belief that I personally find persuasive. I recognise that how one weighs the claim being made will also depend on how such an astonishing event might find a coherent place in a wider-ranging assessment of the significance of Jesus and his role in God's purposes. Pursuing that analysis is the subject matter of Christology, and a continuing concern in the chapters that follow.
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