Thursday, 6 February 2014

How Do We Interpret Jesus?

Speaking Christian- Jesus

Luke 2: 1-20  The Birth of Jesus

The central claim of Christianity is that Jesus is the decisive revelation of God. Jesus reveals, discloses what can be seen of God in a human life. And it is in the decisive revelation of God in a person which distinguishes Christianity from other religions. Jews find this decisive revelation of God in the Torah; Muslims find this in Qu’ran. But it is Jesus who to Christians is how God reveals himself in a person. The struggle many people have with Jesus is because he is both God and human. He was born of a virgin- literally interpretation?, He performed miracles and he died in our place for our sins but is this is so did God require his death? Was there a resurrection? Many of these questions are answered by faith in this Jesus because his Spirit is still with us as God.
To understand Jesus, we must look to the pre- Easter/ historical Jesus and the post- Easter Jesus, what he became after his death as there is a distinction. Who is the historical Jesus? He was a man raised in Galilee as a Jew and was a flesh and blood human being who had height, weight, ate, drank and was mortal, He had a beginning and an ending.
Post Easter, Jesus was not constrained by time and space, could appear anywhere, pass through wall, be unrecognized and able to disappear. Jesus was not simply a figure of the past dead and gone, but a living reality of the present. He is also divine reality. Thomas spoke in John 20:28  My Lord and my God. Matthew 28:20  I am with you always to the end of the age.”
But who is Jesus to you?  For in our faith and understanding we hold on to the infant born in a stable, the child who was in His Father’s House learning, the young man raised as a carpenter and closed the shop to reveal who he really was and is. He is also the one who healed, preached, taught and performed miracles and signs of wonder. And he is the one who was betrayed, arrested and killed on a cross. But he is also with us now- in spirit and in truth. Jesus is all of these and more—because we may understand only so much, we need to remember that Jesus can be even more than we thought possible.
Who is Jesus to you right now? Do you believe he lived and died for you?
Jesus of many names and titles we pray to you this day that you would reveal yourself once again for our understanding and wonder. You were human and yet came to show us the depth of your Father’s love through dying on a cross. Help us to make clear in our minds who you are today. We believe in you help our unbelief and cause us to understand. Reveal yourself to us we pray. Amen.

What does “Jesus” mean to you? How would you explain the baby born in a stable as a resurrected messiah? Do you believe that this man Jesus lived ?It is historical fact that he died, but the resurrection is now being questioned? Do you believe he rose to teach us post Easter? How does Jesus reveal himself to you today?

For further reading, Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian.(Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning, 2011), p. 126-142


  1. The resurrection has always been questioned since the day Jesus arose from the tomb. His power that lives in us to this day is proof enough, but the world can neither see him nor accept him. We all have a choice in this life. Do we accept Christ or are we among the mocking scoffers who hurled insults as he bled and died?

  2. I am unsure if the right term is "questioned" or not. For me the resurrection is being explored to better understand what the writers truly meant as they wrote the gospels. Crossan says (paraphrase) It is not that the early writers wrote literally and we are smart enough to take it metaphorically; it is that they wrote stories and myths metaphorically and we are dumb enough to take them literally. If I am required to believe in the resurrection literally, and "accept" Jesus only and literally as Christ (as opposed to being Christ-like or chosen) then I would "question" my work as clergy and my effectiveness as a spiritual leader.

  3. In reading Rev Cathy's blog I hear what she is asking … but begs the question, when people say who Jesus is to them often the church tells them they are wrong, because the person asking has a different viewpoint or faith statement, so what of this? If the question is going to be asked then the answer must be respected. I also note Rev Cathy writes: "… is how God reveals himself in person" and this gender specific statement makes it difficult for me to agree with Rev Cathy because I do not see God as gender male … I have had a friend say to me … "people say God is mystery and then go on to define the mystery in words and language.."

  4. "Asking for something from God does not mean talking God into it; it means an awakening of the gift within ourselves." Rohr, The Naked Now pg 20

  5. The literal resurrection of Jesus to a new physicality as N. T. Wright describes it is central to the Apostle Paul's understanding of the resurrection. I Cor. 15:1-5. His resurrection vindicated his life and death. Without this resurrection of Jesus Christ we have no life.

  6. Could it then be said that was Paul's understanding at that time and place and in early context. In studying all of Paul's letters his theology changes significantly over time. Paul's conversion was on the road to Damascus we should ne so present to the work and teaching of Jesus to be as profoundly affected.

  7. I think we need to always be careful to not assume that our modern/postmodern/progressive understanding is superior to those who came before. I find we were tempted before to read the entire Bible literally -- now we are tempted to read the entire Bible metaphorically. Scripture is too important to not wrestle with it AND be challenged by it, especially when it says things that don't fit with our worldview. Metaphorical or literal, it seems very important to the testimony of scripture that Jesus was bodily resurrected -- with a new kind of body, yes (passing through locked doors) but with a body (that eats, has scars, etc).

  8. Hi Erin Good to meet you at EE14 :) ! Hopefully you do not think anything I wrote assumes either understanding is superior to the other. Speaking to importance of scripture, wrestling with it is always our task. In my NT studies I am fascinated with Paul's writings and the change in theology as they unfold thru the years

  9. Michael Ensley
    7:39pm Feb 6
    I believe a metaphor is often used as a sign of the divine presence...Reading the Bible as literature means we must see different genre's vs trying to find the literal meaning which is often not the intention of the Text itself..

  10. Fran Ota
    7:58pm Feb 6
    I confess I get a little tired of the phrase "the resurrection", as if we all understand the same thing by it. So - did Jesus physically get p and walk around in the same body? No. Even Paul the Apostle said that wasn't the idea. A seed cannot grow unless it first dies. There is a physical body and a spiritual body. I believe in a spiritual resurrection - I believe the spirit of Jesus lives. Do I believe he was physically resurrected looking exactly the same as before he died, in the same body. Unequivocal no.

  11. David William McKay
    8:04pm Feb 6
    Sometimes the literal is very clearly the intention of the text; those are the times we most want them to be metaphorical. James 4:1, for example. Or how about Luke 18:22. John 14:12 is good.

  12. Michael Ensley
    8:09pm Feb 6
    True, but to retreat to a literal interpretation ignoring genre is to literally misread the Text..

  13. Greg Smith-Young
    8:25pm Feb 6
    Except that in 1Cor 15, Paul never speaks of a physical body vs as spiritual. That's a poor translation (the NRSV is guilty of that). He writes of a psyche-body (soul-driven body) and a pneuma-body (spirit-driven). Did those Jews who expected the resurrection, or those Greeks who rejected the idea of resurrection, think of it as anything but a physical event in the space-time universe?

  14. David William McKay
    8:41pm Feb 6
    Greg Smith-Young. Your question has no answer. What the heck is a space-time universe for a people who saw heaven as "up"?

  15. Fran Ota
    8:50pm Feb 6
    I like the translation of the NRSV because it provides a good vehicle for dealing with resurrection with people who *don't* think about space-time. Those concepts (and multi-verses and bending of space and all). When preaching a funeral or memorial - it's a good connection to preaching hope....

  16. Cynthia Breadner
    9:05pm Feb 6
    Fran what does *don't* mean?

  17. Fran Ota
    9:09pm Feb 6
    What people in a congregation (other than one or two who read sci-fi) thinks about the space-time continuum? psyche, and spirit? I'd look at that in a small study group, but probably not when trying to preach hope to a grieving family which has a tenuous connection to the church.

  18. Cynthia Breadner
    9:09pm Feb 6
    So much of what I read ... I simply try to take it in and just take it where I need it to be. Analyzing and dissecting is so anal and restricting. I just want to feel and to be in the presence of something true and real for me! To be thinking deeper than most people feel. Paul did ... that is (for me) why he wrote letters and reminded folk to be with the divine and remember what Jesus did in his passion...

  19. Fran Ota
    9:12pm Feb 6
    Despite Greg's comment - I think Paul's analogy of the seed going into the ground is quite good. Our physical bodies die, and eventually they decay. We know that. So how do we then explain resurrection, if we believe in it? By suggesting that there is something beyond the physical which yet has form (of some kind). Being in a room as a person dies, holding their hand and praying, and feeling that spirit leave the body - that says to me Paul - in this instance, had it right. And it is yet a mystery - and in a moment, and in the twinkling of an eye, we are changed.

  20. Cynthia Breadner
    9:14pm Feb 6
    I just scrolled down from this picture which heads up this feed/thread. How depressing it is. A man sitting on a piece of wood (a cross for most) with his back bloody and bare. His posture downtrodden and thorns in his hair. Very European/North American in his skin colour and hair ... and simply depressing. Why do we keep processing these images? Why (if I wasn't already deep in it) would this picture invite me into dialogue?

  21. Greg Smith-Young
    9:33pm Feb 6
    Sorry, my term "space time" has been unhelpful. What I mean is the reality in which we live. We live in physical space. We live in physical time. And those in the 1st century who hoped for resurrection (many Jews) or who disdained the idea (those holding to a Greek worldview) all agreed that "resurrection" was about an event that would happen, or not, in physical space and physical time. We can agree with that resurrection hope, or not. Or, we can redefine it to fit our own worldview. But let's not project our own worldviews back onto what Paul or others might have meant. That's poor scholarship.

  22. Greg Smith-Young
    9:40pm Feb 6
    Regarding translating 1Cor 15:44, my point is that only a mistaken translation of psychikon as "physical body" can lead to the claim that Paul did not have in mind a physical resurrection. His metaphor of a seed "dying" and "rising" fits best with a physical resurrection, for the resulting plant, while different from the seed in character and appearance, is still in direct continuity with the seed in both species and physicality. In Paul's development of the metaphor, he continuing refers to the resurrected being as a soma, a body. A different sort of body, to be sure: imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual. Nonetheless, a body, and nothing Paul says suggests it is anything but physical.

    Again, we can choose to disagree with Paul, and redefine "resurrection" to mean something else. But he won't let us claim him for support.

  23. Fran Ota
    9:45pm Feb 6
    So, how do you preach that, Greg????

  24. Greg Smith-Young
    9:52pm Feb 6
    How do I preach that? Carefully ;) Having the ability to project images and key words helps. I've preached it a few times, and people seem to get it. Though it is easier to take apart Paul's argument in a small group. At a funeral, I try to proclaim Christ's triumph over death and renewal of God's good creation, which includes the healing and restoration of us, body and soul. Of course, the details differ from person to person, family to family, and depending on the circumstances. No Greek, though!

  25. Gord Waldie
    1:18pm Feb 7
    Seeing as the common translation says "if there is a physical body there is also a spiritual body" we can agree Paul talks about a body. But what is a spiritual body?????

    ANd since neither Luke (in any of the tellings of the story) nor Paul are really clear about what Paul saw in his conversion vision, which would seem to be a large part of what Paul bases his argument on, we are left with a lack of clarity..or at least gaps to fill.

    THere is something beyond our last breath. Waht it is/looks like is up for debate

  26. Michael Ensley
    1:19pm Feb 7
    We may be reading way too much into this IMHO...

  27. Chris Miller
    8:46am Feb 8
    Or we don't read enough into it IMO.

  28. Michael Ensley
    9:03am Feb 8
    I meant we are trying to find more info than the Text gives..we being rationalistic vs the original readers...we are reading it like a study vs like literature..

  29. Greg Smith-Young
    6:01pm Feb 8
    I think I'm reading it as a polemic against those who were denying the resurrection of the dead. Which Paul makes clear is his purpose.

  30. David William McKay
    6:19pm Feb 8
    Even the most poetic of literature can be a pointing finger — indeed will be if it is really good — a pointing finger toward practical flesh and bone kinds of reality. Go back to the most primitive parts of our Scriptures, the creation stories in Genesis. Put aside the arguments about whether it's historically accurate or not. The message buried in the story and the metaphor and the poetry is this — God breathed into mud and that mud became a living soul. We are not spiritual beings trapped inside of physical bodies. Nor are we nothing but physical bodies. We are incarnate spirit and enspirited flesh.

  31. David William McKay
    6:24pm Feb 8
    I embrace a doctrine of bodily resurrection. By the way that is the historic expression found in our creedal statements – not physical resurrection — bodily resurrection. We are spiritual beings but we are also bodies and we are settling for significantly less than who we are if we imagine ourselves to be only one or the other. As a person living with a lifelong disability for over 50 years now I will affirm and continue to affirm that in a very intrinsic and important way I am who I am because of my disability. I am much more than my disability – but who I am in terms of personality psychology and moral character is formed by living a disabled life on a planet filled with people in denial of their own limitations and vulnerabilities and finitude. I fully expect that in whatever is waiting for me on the other side of death my disability will follow me because it is intrinsic to I am. That is what I mean when I say that I affirm a bodily resurrection.

  32. Attila L Gyorgy
    6:30pm Feb 8
    Also there is an other question of the Ascension, which is entwined with the resurrection.
    Also we have to admit, according to the Scriptures, that other people were resurrected as well.


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