The pre-Easter Jesus versus the post-Easter Jesus


Here is what Marcus Borg has to say on the pre-Easter Jesus versus the post-Easter Jesus. This comes from a December 12 posting in the Newsweek/Washington Post online column "On Faith":

I see the pre-Easter Jesus as a Jewish mystic who knew God, and who as a result became a healer, wisdom teacher, and prophet of the kingdom of God. The latter led to his being killed by the authorities who ruled his world. But I do not think he proclaimed or taught an extraordinary status for himself. The message of the pre-Easter Jesus was about God and the kingdom of God, and not about himself.

Rather, I see the grand statements about Jesus – that he is the Son of God, the Light of the World, and so forth - as the testimony of the early Christian movement. These are neither objectively true statements about Jesus nor, for example in this season, about his conception and birth. To speak of him as the Son of God does not mean that he was conceived by God and had no biological human father. Rather, this is the post-Easter conviction of his followers.


Ruth said...

Yes - I've read a bit of Borg, this included. What Borg says, in my opinion, makes total and utter sense. And in a way, that's the problem with it. For me, there's no challenge in believing what Borg has to say. That doesn't necessarily matter - except that I _hope_ that there is, in fact, more to Jesus than Borg would have us accept.

I've no argument with the Borg you've quoted here. My faith is not rocked by the fact that I do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that I question whether he literally turned water into wine and walked on water...etc. I do not understand Jesus to be literally the Son of God - conceived by God.

But I do think a whole lot hinges on the resurrection. I think that if the resurrection did not happen, (and I mean literally happen) what is the point of it all.....? Borg's view of the resurrection is not included in your quote and I've lent my Borg to someone so can't quote from it right now, but I do seem to remember that he does not subscribe to a literal, bodily resurrection. I think he questions whether you could have 'recorded the risen Jesus with a video camera'.

JP Manzi said...

In regards to the post-Easter Jesus, I do have a question. Something I am having trouble wrapping my brain around. Did the early christian movement believe what they were saying about who Jesus was? Were they lying about who he was? Fabricating the story? Speaking metophorically? or something else. Why did they use this language about Jesus?

Heather said...

I really like Marcus Borg's work.

**but I do seem to remember that he does not subscribe to a literal, bodily resurrection. I think he questions whether you could have 'recorded the risen Jesus with a video camera'. ** I believe he goes more along the lines of it was a vision. Now, to me, either one works, because both say that 'life' isn't over as soon as the body passes, but that there's much more to it.

**Did the early christian movement believe what they were saying about who Jesus was? Were they lying about who he was? Fabricating the story? Speaking metophorically? or something else. Why did they use this language about Jesus? ** Borg would go more along the lines of metaphor. They used this language about Jesus, because that is how they came to encounter God -- through Jesus. 'Lies' back then weren't the same as lies now. For instance, it was common practice to write something and then put a well-known person's name to it.

Livingsword said...

I have no idea why anybody would want anything to do with the Jesus that is described here.

Why bother, not worth the effort... May as well read Homer. may as well rape and pillage because nothing matters and it is all about being the strongest. But if the Bible is correct then that changes everything.

Mystical Seeker said...

Ruth, you raise a question that does seem to be important to a lot of people. I do agree with Borg on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus. I think the point of a Christianity without Jesus having been physically resurrected is something that each person can only answer for themselves, but to me religion isn't about finding an afterlife or achieving the atonement for my sins or any other similar theological explanations that have been proposed, but simply about my relationship with God in this world. As I see it, Jesus disclosed through his life and teachings what it means to be in a true relationship with God (Borg calls him a "Spirit Person"). The point of religion is thus, for me, to build on that relationship with God by looking to Jesus as the example. For me, it is basing my faith in some fashion on the religion of Jesus, rather than a religion about Jesus. In addition, I find myself drawn to the Christian spiritual path because that is what I am comfortable with.

I might note that Jews, to cite an example of another people of a monotheistic faith, have no trouble seeing the 'point' of their religion without worshiping a historical figure who was said to have been raised from the dead. A religious faith doesn't require a resurrection of its founder in order to have a point to its followers.

Of course, I understand that for many Christians, a faith built around the resurrection of Jesus is what sustains their own faith. I certainly can't tell someone else how to make a religion meaningful to them. I am a pluralist, and I recognize that different religions and different theologies sustain people in different ways. All I can tell you is that the religion does have a point for me without having a physical resurrection of Jesus.

I think that "livingsword"'s comment seems to be arguing that since he can't see the point in such a religious faith without a physical resurrection or that recognizes a pre-Easter Jesus who was different from the post-Easter Jesus, no one else could possible find value in it either. This comes across as a rather intolerant point of view, since it generalizes from personal experience and presumes to tell other people what works for them. All I can do is bear witness to what works for me. I can't tell others that there is no point in a spiritual path just because I find no value in it. On the other hand, I tend to be a little more judgmental about the fruits of a spiritual path--does it make the person more loving, and does it inspire them to live their lives generously? As long as the path can accomplish that, and if it nourishes and sustains its believers internally, then more power to it.

John Shuck said...

Might as well rape and pillage? OK.

I think JP Manzi's question is an interesting and important one. It is one I wrestle with as well. What did the storytellers and later authors think when they told the story of Jesus in this way?

I don't have the answer, but what I am leaning toward is this: There are patterns of stories, themes, mythemes that occur again and again in the Hebrew scriptures and in pagan literature. Truth for the ancients was different than truth in modern times. The truth about Jesus and resurrection is that his character fits these stories. In other words, these stories are vehicles to demonstrate the blessedness, divinity, uniqueness, etc. of Jesus.

The earliest storytellers had an encounter with Jesus (pre-Easter Jesus) and told the story through the methods available to them.

It doesn't lessen the value of Jesus to me. In fact, quite the opposite.

Heather said...

** I tend to be a little more judgmental about the fruits of a spiritual path--does it make the person more loving, and does it inspire them to live their lives generously? ** I do this, as well. I tend to look at a particular religious text and see what it says about the behavior of the followers. In any religious journey, behavior and actions matter, and do play a part in one's relation to the divine.

**It doesn't lessen the value of Jesus to me. In fact, quite the opposite. ** I agree with this thought, too. It makes the texts less 'stagnent' for me, in a way. I can see how the writers and followers were struggling to understand God and such, and how they decided to explain what happened.

Livingsword said...

“Mystical Seeker”,

I find it interesting that I am called intolerant for my point of view. It seems that instead of actually speaking to my argument I am attacked as a person; please note that I did not do that.

Perhaps more practice at being tolerant of others that are perceived as someone that “generalizes from personal experience and presumes to tell other people what works for them” would be of benefit. The law says you must stop at a stop sign when driving a motor vehicle, I presume to tell you to do as it says. I say that for your safety, my other words should be taken in that manner. I hope you don’t find that intolerant, it is meant as generosity.

This has been created as an open forum as I was able to “just walk right in”. So I asked a question that is “where the rubber hits the pavement”.

If there was no physical resurrection then the Bible is not worth the paper it is printed on, because it would be full of lies.

Question; If God can create the entire universe and more, how difficult is a virgin birth or resurrection?

My peace I give you my peace I leave you.

Mystical Seeker said...

I think you make a good point, Heather. When we see how others have struggled to define their understanding of God, as the writers of the Bible did, maybe it can inspire us in our own struggles to do the same.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I didn't carefully read the comments section, but I think it's important to note that Borg doesn't put the pre-Easter and post-Easter Jesus'in an adversarial position. In his recent book, which I've reviewed at my blog, he makes it clear that they're both true, but both are different. Again, it goes back to the distinction he makes between memory and metaphor. The question is -- how much is memory and how much is metaphor. Borg doesn't affirm a literal physical bodily resurrection, but he does affirm a resurrection and insists it is central. Not bodily, but certainly real. This is really a matter of categories!

Eileen said...

I don't understand how you can say that Christ's life and ministry cannot possibly have meaning if he was not literally, physically resurrected.

So, if the "magic" goes away, so does his worth? so does his 2000+ year contribution to humanity? His legacy of a new way of life, and a new commandment has no value, no meaning? Why, because he has no "outward" special authority from God? Or, not any more so than any of the other prophets?

Personally, Borg's post-Easter Jesus theory doesn't mean that for me. But, I understand that is me - if the resurrection is the thing for you, so be it.

Ruth said...

There are some very interesting comments here - and I've done a little reading into the resurrection to see what I can add to the debate. Obviously John's gospel refutes Borg's claim that the resurrected Jesus was merely a vision, by having Thomas touch him and feel his wounds. And I am taken by the fact theat ALL FOUR gospels record Jesus' death and resurrection (whilst they are far from consistent in their stories of his birth, for example). But, clearly, there seems to be an awful lot that casts doubt on the literal resurrection.

And I take your point, Mystical Seeker, about the point of religion. And I agree with you, except I need more! For me, without the promise of something 'more than this mortal life on Earth' - some on-going, ETERNAL relationship with God or with Love or something, as exemplified by the fact that Jesus died and rose again, I can't make sense of the suffering and loss that we endure here on Earth.

Hmmm. I don't think I've expressed myself very well there.

John Shuck - I am very interested in what you say about the way the scriptures were written. I'd love to know more about this and wonder if you can recommend any reading.

Mystical Seeker said...

Ruth, if you look at the first Gospel to be written, Mark, there is no reference to any physical resurrection appearances by Jesus. All we have is an empty tomb and the woman fleeing it. I think that if you look the New Testament references to this subject in the order they were written, you can see a progressive evolution and enhancement of the story.

I actually would start with the epistles of Paul, which were written before the gospels and which also make no mention (that I am aware of) of bodily resurrection appearances; Paul says that Jesus "appeared" to him in the same way that he appeared to the apostles. How did Jesus appear to Paul--in bodily form while walking on the earth, or in a vision? And if Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision, and it was the same kind of appearance as what the others before him experience, what does that say about what Paul thought?

Then if you look at Mark, the first Gospel to be written (some 40 years after Jesus died), as I mentioned, you will note that there is no mention whatsoever of any bodily appearances by a physically resurrected Jesus. Matthew, written later, has the disciples going to Galilee and Jesus appears to them there. Luke has the disciples staying in Jerusalem, with Jesus appearing to them in Jerusalem.

The resurrection stories are mutually contradictory and can't be reconciled with one another. They also show a progression over time. They move Jesus's appearances from Galilee to Jerusalem. John's Gospel, which is latest, is just in general the most ethereal, and the most mythological of the four, and in my view is the least credible witness to something like this. John was written some 60-70 years after the crucifiction by a non-witness, and aside from the resurrection it has Jesus in his lifetime making all sorts of statements about himself that clearly reflect late fist century theology but have little credibility as having been anything that he would have actually said. So I would not take John's resurrection story seriously as a literal depiction of events.

This evolution of the resurrection stories corresponds to the evolution of the birth stories and the evolution of when Jesus was declared to be the Son of God. In every case, there was a tendency to push the envelope of Christology in more elaborate directions.

Livingsword said...


The Scriptures are clear that there was a physical resurrection. If in fact Jesus was not physically resurrected then the Bible is not from God; which means that it is based on lies, but claims to be truth. That means the writers are evil people.

I happen to believe otherwise. I believe that the Bible is from God, and in a literal physical resurrection.

Why is it so hard to believe this, as I said earlier, if God can create the universe then resurrection is easy!

Please do not take my passion for lack of sensitivity.

Ruth said...

Mystical Seeker - what you say is true, of course. It seems to me that there is so much to cast doubt upon the life events of Jesus as told in the scriptures. This doesn't take anything away from his teachings (I don't think), but it causes me to re-examine, yet again, whether I can believe in God. My gateway to God is through Jesus (I recently concluded that Jesus' life, death and resurrection (and very little else) provide me with the evidence I need to believe in God - without that, I struggle to believe).

You believe in God though - so I'd be interested to know what makes you believe?

Heather said...

**How did Jesus appear to Paul--in bodily form while walking on the earth, or in a vision? ** I think that's a large part of why Marcus Borg doesn't believe in a literal resurrection. Especially when combined with the fact that Mark, the first Gospel, doesn't have Jesus literally appearing to anyone, either. And even though the Gospel of John has Thomas physically touching Jesus, it also has Jesus passing through walls -- which lends credence to the vision theory.


**For me, without the promise of something 'more than this mortal life on Earth' - some on-going, ETERNAL relationship with God or with Love or something, as exemplified by the fact that Jesus died and rose again,** I can understand the question. For me, even if the resurrection wasn't literal, Jesus appearing as a vision would still support the eternal relationship for me. Even if the body didn't rise, there was still something of Jesus that lived on and appeared, which would still prove an eternal God for me. I still see it as a promise that there's more to this mortal life than just what we see.

John Shuck said...

Hi Ruth,

John Shelby Spong's, Jesus for the Non-Religious touches on some of that in regards to how the scriptures were put together. Also, Uta Ranke-Heinemann, "Putting Away Childish Things" was helpful to me.

Hi Livingsword:

I don't think the issue is "why is this so hard to believe?" It is an attempt to understand the literature.

We could say the same for the Qur'an: "If God created the universe why is it so hard to believe that Mohammed ascended into heaven, or that Jesus sat up in his crib and talked."

Or we could look at all kinds of stories from ancient literature, from Appolonius of Tyana walking on the water, or Andrew fighting dragons in the apocryphal Acts of Andrew.

It isn't enough to conclude because God could do it, that God in fact did.

Livingsword said...

Hi John;

It is very clear from the Scriptures that Jesus was resurrected physically. John’s gospel is very clear about this: Mary Magdalene spoke with Him in person and clung to Him (John 20:17), He stood in the midst of the disciples (John 20:19), He breathed on them (John 20:22), His appearance to Thomas and claims to be seen by Thomas and requests him to touch Him (John 20:26-29), He manifests Himself to his disciples (John 21:1), in John 21 He converses with them, Jesus handles bread and gives it to them, he walked with them (as the disciple He loved was following them), Peter leaned back on his chest (John 20:20) etc. That is just in John never mind the rest of the Bible.

Since this is so very clear from Scripture I conclude that if people do not believe in a physical resurrection they don’t trust the Scriptures as being from God. If people choose another path that is their decision, no problem, but then let’s not pretend that the Bible still has any worth even if it is based upon lies. If it is that full of lies it is evil at its base (Note that I believe the Bible is from God and not full of lies), therefore has no authority, moral value, or trustworthy spiritual truth.

Yet there are some that say “Jesus was not physically resurrected, it is too hard to believe, the Bible is wrong about this, but there is a God and I follow Jesus”. That is why I say if God can create the universe then resurrection is easy.

It seems that people want to keep the nice soft “mystical” Jesus but not the full panoply of His character, nature and truth. I don’t think He leaves us that choice.

Heather said...

Living Sword,

** If people choose another path that is their decision, no problem, but then let’s not pretend that the Bible still has any worth even if it is based upon lies.** The resurrection makes or breaks the Bible? Untrue. For starters, the Old Testament isn't dependent on the resurrection. Otherwise, the Jews wouldn't be able to use it.

You can say that the physical resurrection is clear. But this still doesn't address that Paul said Jesus appeared to him just as he appeared to Peter and the other disicples. This doesn't address that Mark originally ended with no visible resurrection, and that the concept evolves in terms of the order written.

The other problem comes from the nature of the Gospel of John and one's viewpoint on it -- there are scholars that hold that it wasn't literally true, but written as CHristian's reaction and understand to Jesus and what he represented, as well as other Christian beliefs the writer was trying to refute. Even if it is just a metaphor, and even if the Gospel of John didn't literally happen, it doesn't make the Bible any less valid for many people. Nor does it make the Bible full of 'lies.' Rather, it's how people were struggling to understand God.

Mystical Seeker said...

You do sometimes hear the viewpoint that if the Bible isn't all literally true, then it must be nothing but "lies"; but that is way too simplistic. Part of developing a mature faith, I think, is in moving beyond this kind of binary thinking. The Bible need not be all true or all false, and one can often find deeper truths in the Bible even where it is not literally true. One thing that both fundamentalists and militant atheists share in common is this all-or-nothing view of the literal truth of the Bible. But life, and religion, are much more complicated than that.

Livingsword said...

Mystical Seeker, thank you for this forum on such an important topic, I appreciate your hospitality. Please take my words as a humble whisper.

Please note that I am NOT a “fundamentalist”, for the record neither am I from the “religious right”.

I do not take the entire Bible literally. The parts that that are literal I take literally, the parts that are hyperbole I take in that manner, the poetic parts I take poetically, etc. Yet the parts dealing with the physical resurrection are clearly meant in a literal sense.

I thought perhaps I should allow the Biblical text to help me communicate my explanation:

In Luke 24 Jesus walks with believers, He reclines at a table, He takes bread and blesses it, and further more in Luke 24:36-43 (NIV) we are told:

36While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.

Please note that Jesus Himself says He has “flesh and bones” when He was resurrected. He asks for food and eats it in front of them to prove His point. This one text alone should prove the point.

Acts 2:22-32 (NIV) tells us:

22"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25David said about him:
" 'I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
27because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
28You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.'
29"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.
Please note that the text speaks about Christ’s body and: “that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay”.

In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (NIV) we are told:

12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

This may provide reasons why some would deny the very clear texts from Acts and Luke (and other parts of Scripture). To declare that the Christian faith is futile, and we are to be pitied for our belief.

I understand the arguments from “higher criticism”, I believe that they are not well founded; they are futile, and pitiful. The Biblical text is abundantly clear on the matter.