Friday, April 17, 2009

The Tale of the Resurrection Narratives

I have been under the weather recently, so I have not been blogging as I ought. But even while I was recuperating, I was still ruminating. So, now that I feel a bit better, I am going to post the three main topics on which I had focused my attention.

The first of these is a kind of general observation about the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels and we might also say Acts and Paul's own writing. At first glance there appears to be significant divergence in the different tales. People like Bart Ehrman make a great deal of how many women actually went to the tomb, did Peter alone or with John go into the tomb itself, was there a single angel or were there two, etc.

I think it prudent to take a step back and consider the general structure of the Gospels themselves before approaching this question. We can general say that the Gospels all portray the Public Ministry of Christ differently. There is material found in Luke not found anywhere else, like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. The order between Mark and Matthew is often different. And John portrays a very private Christ, especially during the Farewell Discourse. Then when we get to the Passion Narratives they come together and tell almost essentially the same story with only very minor variation. And then with the Resurrection Narratives they appear to diverge again. Now some people might look at that and say that the reason for this is that the only thing that can be definitively pointed to as being historically true is the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The stuff that came before is attributed to Him, but might not necessarily have been really said or done by Him, and the stuff after is just fancy. We certainly know people who advance this argument.

But I think that the Public Ministry material and the Resurrection material are structurally different, and that this partly explains their appearance of divergence. I'll briefly touch on the Public Ministry side to make clear why the Evangelists, in my opinion, wrote them the way they did. Since each Evangelist had a particular lesson about Christ to convey they portrayed Him in that light. So, when we think of it like this, it becomes clear that if Matthew wants to show Christ is the New Moses, mentioning the Flight to Egypt makes sense, to drive home the parallelism that both Moses and Christ came to lead their people from out of Egypt, so to speak. If one's job is to show a new teaching perhaps alien to a Gentile like Theophilus, telling a much different infancy narrative is thus important. And so on. Really treating this in detail is clearly for another blog post. But the point to make about the lead-ups to the Crucifixion is that they tell us a great deal about the Evangelists and the points they were trying to make.

But the Resurrection Narratives are different animals altogether. They essentially tell the same story. Whether there were two or one angel is perhaps not the point, or rather missing the forest for the trees. The point can best be described by looking at Mark and Luke. Both mention the Road to Emmaus, but only Luke looks at it in detail. Why? Because the point of this difference, and indeed the point of all the divergences is how we encounter the Risen Lord. You see, we all encountered the Saving Victim on the Cross together as Fallen Human Kind Redeemed. But we encounter Christ Risen individually. Consider how the major stories that differ between the versions of the Gospel are about Christ coming to individuals and little groups. He is the one who for some journeys to Emmaus and rebukes them because they should have known the Scriptures. For others He comes to them in the Room and submits to The Twin's empirical analysis. It is why Christ called Peter a second time and asked him three times whether he loved The Lord. Our encounter with the Risen Christ is individual to draw us together into His body.

It seems to me then, that in this regard it becomes clear why the Resurrection narratives are as divergent, such that they are.

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