Monday, April 03, 2017

Is Jesus a ghost?

The short answer to the title of the post is "no". That said, it's not uncommon for liberal scholars or outright atheists to claim that Paul's reference to a "spiritual body" in 1 Cor 15 denotes something etherial, in contrast to a physical resurrection. On that view, a "spiritual body" would be something like a ghost. 

The usual evangelical argument is that a "spiritual body" is not an immaterial body; rather, that's shorthand for a body empowered by the Spirit of God. And I think that's a persuasive interpretation.

But let's play along with the ghostly resurrection for the sake of argument. It's striking because this is generally put forward by critics of orthodox Christianity, yet it has ironic consequences for critics of orthodox Christianity.

On the orthodox view, if the corpse of Jesus never came back to life, that falsifies Christianity. But according to the ghostly interpretation, even if we discovered the bones of Jesus, that wouldn't falsify Christianity since the Pauline paradigm doesn't require a physical resurrection.  

Perhaps a critic would object that while that's true considered in isolation, it contradicts Gospel accounts regarding the empty tomb. Ah, but that presents another irony. Given the ghostly interpretation, a Christian could help himself to one of the naturalistic explanations for the empty tomb (e.g. swoon theory, wrong tomb, stolen body, nonburial, body moved) because, on the ghostly interpretation, there needn't be a supernatural explanation for the empty tomb since Jesus wasn't supposed to be physically resurrected. It doesn't matter what happened to the corpse. Here a conservative Christian can use one liberal theory to deflect another liberal theory. 

Perhaps, though, a critic would object that even if that explains the empty tomb accounts, consistent with the ghostly interpretation, it fails to explain the emphasis in Luke and John on the solidity of the Risen Jesus.

But if (ex hypothesi), we're going to use the ghostly interpretation of 1 Cor 15 as our frame of reference, then it makes sense to question the traditional interpretation of Luke and John, to bring them in line with 1 Cor 15. From what I've read, apparitions can appear to be 3D. Block out light. Be seen from different angles. In a fraction of cases, they are even said to be tangible. So, if we were using the ghostly interpretation of 1 Cor 15 as our benchmark, that could still be harmonized with the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus in the Gospels. 

I'm not saying that's how I interpret the Gospel accounts. But then, that's not how I interpret 1 Cor 15. If, however, a liberal or atheist is going to insist that in 1 Cor 15, a "spiritual body" is etherial rather than physical, two can play that game. They can't pit that against the Gospels. So that wouldn't be a defeater for Christianity, on their own grounds, so long as the "resurrection" is consistently ghostly in the Gospels and 1 Cor 15 alike. 

This creates a dilemma for the critic of orthodox Christianity. How do they disprove Christianity? They can't disprove Christianity by claiming that the Resurrection never happened if they define a resurrection in immaterial terms. For by that logic, it only has to be a ghost or apparition. 

The only way they could disprove the Resurrection on those terms is if a reported ghost or apparition of the dead can only a hallucination. But a problem with that contention is that we have evidence of veridical apparitions and ghosts. 

So the dilemma persists. Having raised a shortsighted objection to the physical resurrection of Christ, the critic has unwittingly made the Resurrection unfalsifiable. 

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