Paul’s Version

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

5 thoughts on “Paul’s Version”

  1. I believe it just like you do. I know and anyone with any science at all knows, that a literal resurrection is physically impossible. Within hours the body starts decaying. I believe nearly every story in the Bible is a metaphor and originally meant to be taken that way…not literally!.

  2. Thanks, Bil, for always emphasizing the beauty of the metaphorical over the literal. As Tolstoy, TC Boyle, Poe, and Longfellow – to name a few authors – fiction can convey more powerful truths and experiences through metaphor than can literal prose. Thus, Biblical scripture can be rich in life lessons; but, taken literally, they are an interesting collection of strange tales.

    • Many thanks Steve for your provocative and supportive email. The Easter metaphor has great transforming powers. The Easter story taken literally is nothing more than a preposterous fable.
      Annie and I feel so fortunate to be members of the IUCC Easter community and to have family like you.
      See you on the slopes, if not before.

  3. I believe that it was Jesus’s spirit, teachings and philosophies that live on though his body did not. I think of him as a profit. Not to be sacrilegious, but I also believe that the same is true for others who I consider profits like Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Their spirit, teachings and philosophies also inspired and created meaningful changes.

  4. Thanks Bil, once again a thought provoking and teaching moment. In short, I believe that every time I think of my Dad, feel the presence of my Dad who passed a few years ago, I am experiencing resurrection.


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