Thursday, November 28, 2013

Visions of Jesus

Does Jesus ever appear to people in post biblical times? The question is ambiguous. We need to draw a preliminary distinction between different kinds of appearances. In the NT, there seem to be at least two different modes:

i) There's a physical appearance. Jesus is physically compresent with the observer, in his glorified body. He occupies the same time and space as the observer. Is tangible.  

Lk 24 & Jn 20-21 are paradigm-cases. 

ii) There's a visionary appearance. Jesus is psychologically present. A trance state or altered state of consciousness. 

Acts 7:55-56 & Rev 1:12-18 are paradigm-cases. 

The former is a "deathbed" vision. If Stephen sees the Father as well as the Son, that would underscore the psychological nature of the appearance–since the Father is a discarnate spirit. It's possible that the "right hand of God" is an idiomatic expression (cf. Ps 110:1). However, the scene seems to envision the divine throne room (a la Dan 7:9-10). So the "right hand of God" is not an isolated phrase, but part of a unified depiction. 

The latter seems to be a Christophany, given its angelomorphic features–like OT theophanies and angelophanies. Although it's possible for Christ to be literally luminous (e.g. the Transfiguration), the description includes symbolic features which evoke OT antecedents (cf. Isa 11:4; 49:2; Ezk 1:24; 43:2; Dan 7:9-12). These aren't necessarily literary allusions so much as the type of numinous experience which gave rise to the OT texts in the first place.  

(ii) stands in contrast to (i), where observers use their sensory organs (eyes, ears, hands).

Cessationists rule out postbiblical appearances of Christ by appeal to 1 Cor 15:8. However:

i) Scholars differ on what is meant by Paul as the "last." Clearly he's the last in that particular literary or chronological sequence. The last in that grouping. The last up until that point in time. 

ii) The list is not exhaustive. It doesn't include the appearance to Stephen.

iii) Even assuming it excludes postbiblical appearances of Christ, in context, that has reference to physical rather than visionary appearances. 

None of this proves that Christ does, in fact, ever appear to anyone in postbiblical times. 

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