Can People Call Themselves Christians If They Don’t Believe in a Literal Resurrection?

“And as Paul said, ‘We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us,’ so would we in the same spirit and language earnestly desire to be ambassadors for Christ to men, even as the Word of God beseeches them to the love of Himself, seeking to win over to righteousness truth, and the other virtues, those who, until they receive the doctrines of Jesus Christ, live in darkness about God and in ignorance of their
Creator.” – Origen in Contra Celsus.

Introduction

I came upon an article by Dorothy Cummings McLean from earlier this year in which a Catholic talk show host Patrick Coffin attempted to obtain a straightforward answer from psychology professor and rising internet star Jordan Peterson on his beliefs in a literal resurrection. The article may be accessed here: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/jordan-peterson-i-will-explain-my-position-on-the-historical-jesus-in-three. Peterson indicated he needs another three years to fully examine the historical nature of Jesus Christ.

The Liberal View of Christianity

“He stated that he understood the story of the Resurrection symbolically, but didn’t ‘know enough about it to say anything more than what I’ve said psychologically, and so I want to know more about it,’ he said, with emphasis” (McLean, 2018).

I can relate to Peterson, as I too was once a very weak Christian. Though I was raised a Catholic and began my life in Catholic schools with traditional beliefs, I gravitated for about two decades beginning in my mid-twenties towards a much weaker, more liberal version of Christianity in which I revered books by gurus of eastern faiths (such as the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra and James Redfield) and those by more liberal theists like Wayne Dyer. Wayne Dyer was strongly influenced by those in eastern faiths, as illustrated in the following quote:

“One of the great teachers in my life was Paramahansa Yogananda, a man who came out of India to teach the ways of the higher self to people of the West.  I have read many of his speeches and have found great comfort in his writings as well as reading about his life…Seek spiritual riches within. What you are is much greater than anyone or anything else you have ever yearned for. This is the voice of your higher self reminding you to quietly accept yourself and turn off the yearning” (Dyer, 1995, pp. 293). Several times in his book Your Sacred Self, Dyer references finding the “Christ in you” just as he says one could find the “Buddha in you.”

He states, “When you center yourself and find your quiet inner sacred space, you know the loving presence that does not discriminate. You know that specialness is not something bestowed on some and not on others. You know that it is absurd to believe that a Muslim baby will burn in hell because of not having Buddhist or Christian beliefs. You know that Australian aborigines are equal in importance to royalty. Your sacred self tells you this, and so does all of our spiritual literature” (Dyer, 1995, pp. 353).

From what I have read recently about Jordan Peterson and Oprah Winfrey, they may also align with these liberal views that Wayne Dyer has been endorsing for decades. In this view, Jesus is more of a metaphorical legend and His resurrection merely symbolic.

The Traditional View of Christianity

The intention of the present blog is to explain why these views are inconsistent with Christianity. It took me two decades to escape such “spiritual and worldly” liberal views, yet personal and highly spiritual experiences with Jesus have given me good reason to revert back to my original traditional perspective. In other words, I fully believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead, spent forty days with His disciples, and ascended into heaven physically before their eyes. Furthermore, He declared in no uncertain terms, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6. If one takes such a statement seriously, coupled with the fact that He forgave the sins of His followers and spoke with authority on the Old Testament laws, one cannot also take Wayne Dyer’s statement seriously.

Next I will present five reasons why we should support traditional Christian views. Some of these reasons have also been offered in prior blogs. These include (1) Jesus’ claims about Himself in the I AM statements; (2) Jesus’ references to Himself as the “Son of Man,” (3) Jesus’ followers’ understanding of Jesus’ divinity; (4) Extra-biblical understandings about Jesus’ divinity; and (5) Jesus’ fulfillment of 330 Old Testament prophecies.

  1. The Seven “I AM” statements

Note that Jesus prefaced each of the seven “I AM” statements with “I AM,” fully embracing the powerful, divine implications of the name of the LORD.

  • John 6:35: “I AM the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty.”
  • John 8:12: “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
  • John 10:9: “I AM the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture.”
  • John 10:11: “I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
  • John 11:25-26: “I AM the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
  • John 14:6: “I AM the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  • John 15:5: “I AM the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

The seven I AM statements make it clear that Jesus considered Himself divine. No man of sound mind would make such powerful, eternal, and salvation-implicating remarks about himself if he did not consider himself to be divine.

  1. The Son of Man

Jesus also made it clear that He considered Himself divine when He referred to Himself as the Son of Man. The “Son of Man” is found in the New Testament eighty-seven times: once in Acts, once in Hebrews, three times in Revelation, and eighty-two times in the canonical Gospels, almost exclusively by Jesus. The origin and the meaning of the Son of Man are “firmly rooted in first-century rabbinics and classical Judaism” (Triblehorn, 2015, p. 106).

As pointed out by Triblehorn (2015), leading Jewish scholars such as Daniel Boyarin and Rabbi John Fischer have indicated that during the first century, the terms Son of Man and Son of God were used interchangeably, but Son of Man was more potent due to its use in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 7:9-13) as part of Daniel’s visions. His vision is here:

“As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.
A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”

“Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)”

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.”

When Caiaphas placed Jesus under oath (Matthew 26:63-64) and asked Him if He was the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Son of the Most Blessed One, Jesus answered in the affirmative, cementing His arrest. The latter term (Son of the Most Blessed One) is a title that referred to Israel’s royal political heir (c.f., Psalm 2; 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89). Jesus responded to Caiaphas with words that ignited a “rabbinically supercharged powder keg” (Triblehorn, 2015, p. 117).

“I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

Caiaphas was well aware that Jesus had just labeled Himself as divine when he ripped his clothes and shouted, “I have heard enough! We have no need of further witnesses; we have heard blasphemy!”

  1. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do you say the Son of Man is?’

They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’

‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” (Matthew 16:13-16).

Even the demons recognized Jesus as the Son of God (Luke 4:41; Matthew 8:29). In Matthew 8:29, they said, “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

While the apostles at times expressed their doubts (e.g., Peter denied Jesus’ three times following Jesus’ arrest), Jesus’ half brother James tried to stop His ministry, and Saul/Paul was originally a Christian persecutor who hunted down Christians, all ended up committing their lives and careers to preach for Jesus for decades.

Had they not seen the risen Jesus following His crucifixion, they would not have continued preaching for Him. There was simply no motivation to do so (i.e., no money, no sex, no security, no safety, and no power) and Christianity was considered illegal, punishable by death, which was often via gory means (Wawro, 2008).

James went on to become a missionary and an author of the book of James in the New Testament. Eusebius (c. 263 – 339 A.D.), the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History, in which he cited a variety of authors and described the martyrdoms of Peter, James, and Paul. Peter, who denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (as predicted by Jesus) was hung on a cross upside-down. James was pushed from a building and beaten. Paul was beheaded. The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul cited by Eusebius were documented by Dionysius of Corinth (~170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 230 – 250 A.D.). The martyrdom of James was documented by Josephus (~ 95 A.D., Hegesippus (~ 165 – 175 A.D.) and Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.).

In his book Contra CelsusOrigen writes, “Jesus, who has both once risen Himself, and led His disciples to believe in His resurrection, and so thoroughly persuaded them of its truth, that they show to all men by their sufferings how they are able to laugh at all the troubles of life, beholding the life eternal and the resurrection clearly demonstrated to them both in word and deed.” In another writing, Origen documented Peter’s upside-down crucifixion (Habermas and Licona, 2004a).

Tertullian states (The Twelve Caesars 15:44; Habermas and Licona, 2004b), “That Paul is beheaded has been written in their own blood. And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Caesars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith. Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the cross.  Then does Paul obtain a birth suited to Roman citizenship, when in Rome he springs to life again ennobled by martyrdom.”

Clement of Rome also documented the sufferings and martyrdoms of Paul and Peter (1 Clement). “Because of envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars have been persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set the good apostles before our eyes. Peter, who because of unrighteous envy endured, not one or two, but many afflictions, and having borne witness went to the due glorious place. Because of envy and rivalries, steadfast Paul pointed to the prize. Seven times chained, exiled, stoned, having become a preacher both in the East and in the West, he received honor fitting of his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, unto the boundary on which the sun sets; having testified in the presence of the leaders. Thus he was freed from the world and went to the holy place. He became a great example of steadfastness.”

Paul, James, and Peter were not alone.  Second century Roman historian Tacitus also documented early Christian persecutions. “Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed” (Habermas and Licona, 2004b).

Had they not witnessed the risen Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15), they would have remained in hiding until the memories of Jesus’ ministry died down. As the Pharisee Gamaliel pointed out in Acts 5, when prophets before Jesus died, their ministries died out. Gamaliel quite presciently indicated that if Christianity survived, the movement was of God. By 313 when Constantine legalized Christianity, the faith had between five and six million adherents (Wawro, 2008).

“Rather than running scared, Jesus’ followers claimed He was the actual Messiah. Soon Jesus-followers grew into thousands. This early ‘church’ ran into very strong opposition in Jerusalem and around 35 CE great persecution took place there. Around this time, one of the most decisive turning points in world history occurred. The early church began to accept those who were not of Jewish origin – the Gentiles…Gentiles did not need to become Jewish to be a Christian. The message was revolutionary” (Wawro, 2008, pp. 84).

  1. Extra-biblical Authors Referred to Jesus as God Prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325

Prior to when the Nicene Council convened in 325 A.D., a variety of writers outside of the Bible referred to Jesus as God (Triblehorn, 2015). These authors include: Ignatius (105 A.D.), Clement (150 A.D.), Justin Martyr (160 A.D.), Iranaeus (180 A.D.), Tertullian (200 A.D.), Origen (225 A.D.), Novatian (235 A.D.), Cyprian (250 A.D.), Methodius (290 A.D.), Lactantius (304 A.D.) and Arnobius (305 A.D.).

  1. Jesus fulfilled 330 Old Testament Prophecies

Among the 330 Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, which Jesus fulfilled, are the following passages:

The Messiah would be: Tanach Reference Fulfillment
from the seed of a woman Genesis 3:15 Romans 16:20; Galatians 4:4; Rev. 12:9; Rev. 12:7
a willing sacrifice Genesis 12:3 Acts 3:24-26
a Passover lamb Exodus 12: 1-51 John 1:29; 1:36; 19:33; 1 Corinth. 5:7-8; 1 Peter 1:19
the suffering servant Isaiah 52-53 Matt 8:16-17; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:20; Acts 8:32-35
lifted up Numbers 21:6-9 John 3:14-18
called God’s Son Psalms 2:1-12 Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; Acts 4:25-28
Resurrected Psalms 16: 8-11 Acts 2:22-32; Acts 13:35-37
foresaken and pierced, but vindicated Psalms 22:1-31 Matthew 27:39; 46; Mark 15:34; John 2:17
a righteous sufferer Psalms 69 Acts 1:20; John 2:17; John 15:25; Romans 15:1-3
greater than David Psalms 110:1-4 Matthew 22:42-45; Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:34-36
the rejected cornerstone Psalms 118: 22-24 Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17-18
Acclaimed Psalms 118: 25-29 Luke 13:35; Mark 11:9-10; John 12:13; Matt. 21:9
born of a virgin Isaiah 7:14 Matt 1:22-23; Luke 1:31-35
a wonderful counselor; Mighty God; everlasting Father and Prince of Peace Isaiah 9:6-7 Luke 1:32-33; 79; Acts 10:36; John 14:27; John 6:51
perform signs of healing Isaiah 35:5-6 Matt 3:1-3; Mark 1:1-3; Luke 1:76; John 1:22-23

Source: https://jewsforjesus.org/answers/top-40-most-helpful-messianic-prophecies/

 Conclusion

Accordingly, developing an overly liberal interpretation of Christianity while considering oneself a Christian is an erroneous pursuit. Jesus is not a mere prophet: He is the way, the truth, and the life.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, well explains this assertion:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Thank you for your time.

References:

Dyer, W. W. (1995). Your Sacred Self. New York, NY: Harper Paperbacks.

Habermas, G.R. and Licona, M.R. (2004a). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Ibid., (2004b). Church, A.J. and Brodribb, W.J. translation of Tacitus.

Origen. Contra Celsus. Accessed on 7/23/18 at http://www.documenta-catholica.eu/d_0185-0254-%20Origene%20-%20Contra%20Celsus%20-%20EN.pdf

Tribelhorn, T.B. (2015). Opening the Rabbinic Doors to the Gospels. Morgantown, PA: Mastof Press.

Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Elanora Heights, Australia: Millennium House.

5 Replies to “Can People Call Themselves Christians If They Don’t Believe in a Literal Resurrection?”

  1. Reblogged this on Quotes, thoughts and musings and commented:
    This is very, very powerful.

    Christian Apologist Web is a site devoted to spreading the Good News of the Messiah Jesus. If you like her blog posts, please follow SJ Thomason @lead1225 on Twitter and help her to get word out.

    She chose 12/25 to symbolize Christmas. You might also follow her @INRI0316. She chose INRI out of respect for our King, Jesus the Messiah and 316 represents her favorite Bible verse, John 3:16.

    Liked by 1 person

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