“Physical” vs. “spiritual” resurrection?

Liberal Christian icon Marcus Borg recently joined the blogosphere, and one of his first posts was an attempt to clarify his views on the resurrection of Jesus. Borg has been accused of denying the independent reality of the resurrection, reducing it to a subjective experience the disciples had after the crucifixion. But Borg maintains that he believes in a real resurrection, just not a physical one. Jesus is really alive and manifested himself to his followers following his death, but his body was not raised physically from the tomb.

I’m not sure I find the “physical”/”spiritual” distinction particularly helpful or important. First, it presumes that we have a clear idea of what “matter” is and how it contrasts with “spirit.” Modern physics, if nothing else, has called that kind of Cartesian dichotomy into question. But more fundamentally, the New Testament stories themselves don’t seem particularly interested in answering that question. Even if we take the resurrection stories at face value, we have a Jesus who is both “physical” in the sense of being a tangible presence, who eats with his disciples and shows them the still-present wounds in his body, but who also can appear and disappear at will and whom the disciples don’t immediately recognize as being the same person. The only thing that comes through clearly here is that, for the NT writers, Jesus’ post-resurrection state involved both continuity (he was the same person, the crucified one) and discontinuity (he had been radically transformed and raised to a different state of existence).

Keith Ward has suggested that Jesus’ resurrection involved a transformation of his body (i.e., the tomb was empty) to a “spiritual” state. But “spiritual” here doesn’t mean the opposite of “physical”; rather it means something more like a state of being fully infused with God’s Spirit. Jesus lives in the power and presence of God, but in a form that radically transcends his earthly, pre-resurrection existence. It’s not clear that asking whether this constitutes a “physical” or “spiritual” resurrection is a particularly meaningful question. The point is that the resurrection signifies God’s victory over the forces of sin, alienation, and death and promises a consummation of God’s purposes for creation.

One thought on ““Physical” vs. “spiritual” resurrection?

  1. The true meaning and significance of the Resurrection may only now be coming to light, [no pun intended] and it may very well prove to contain both physical and spiritual components transforming ‘the most difficult issue’ for faith into one easily understood. But it hasn’t come from any traditional religious source!

    Thus the first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ published. Radically different from anything else we know of from theology or history, this new teaching is predicated upon the ‘Promise’ of a precise, predefined, and predictable experience of transcendent omnipotence and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to reveal Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine omnipotence and ultimate proof!

    Thus ‘faith’ becomes an act of trust in action, the search along a defined path of strict self discipline, a test of the human heart, to discover His ‘Word’ of a direct individual intervention into the natural world that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our mortal moral compass with the Divine, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” By this first Resurrection is a man ‘created’ in the image and likeness of his Creator.

    For individuals able to shake off their existing prejudices and imagine outside the cultural box of history, trials of this new teaching are open to all and under way in many countries To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk

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