I recently spoke with a friend who asked, “Why do you always say that Paul’s conception of Jesus’s resurrection was different than that of the Gospel?”
Good question. Basically, gentiles understand the Bible in a vastly different way from the Jewish people. (Remember, the Bible was written by Jewish authors.) Gentiles almost always interpret it literally. They believe that Jesus performed incredible miracles and impossible healings, rose from the dead (while decaying), walked and talked with folks postmortem, and finally ascended into the heavens without special space equipment. If that were true, he would still be in orbit.
However, Jewish people don’t generally interpret scripture as true stories. Rather, they view it as religious history, which requires looking deeper into the fairy tale to find the truth.
If I told people that after being dead for thirty-six hours, I arose, rolled back a huge stone door, jumped into my street clothes, took a walk, had breakfast with friends and then suddenly appeared in a room full of people, no one would believe me—but people don’t blink when the Gospels say Jesus did this. For centuries, gentiles have accepted the resurrection stories as truth.
I can’t do the same—these tales are impossible.
To me, Easter is a metaphor that was never meant to be taken literally. The stories were told to reassure people that although Jesus died, his spirit and his message about unconditional love were still relevant and always will be.
Back to Paul and his use of the word resurrection. He was a highly educated Pharisee, part of a religious school that was fascinated by the concept of resurrection. However, Pharisees understood this as a transformation rather than a dead person defeating death.
Paul’s resurrection story suggested that because Jesus was such a godlike person, after he died, he was transformed into God. If people believed that Jesus was God, their lives also would be transformed. A literal physical resurrection never happened.
To me, Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human being with a strong prophetic voice and deep insights into humanity, and he was my Christ—but not God.
The resurrection stories are metaphors meant to help me live to the fullest.
I hope that Paul will be relegated to the ancient history shelves and Jesus’s life-transforming message will become the rallying call for all Followers of the Way.
What do you think resurrection means?
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, is in the public domain