Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NT Wright on expectations of resurrection

Matthew 27 - The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first."

Why did first-century Jews believe that the early Christian movement would be able to deceive people by proclaiming that their Messiah had died a violent death, and had been resurrected?

NT Wright explains why it was perfectly reasonable for people who did not believe in resurrection to think that a Jewish messianic movement would proclaim that their Messiah had died, but was still the leader of their movement.

'We note at this point, as an important aside, how impossible is it to account for the early Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah without the resurrection. We know of several other Jewish movements, messianic movements, prophetic movements, during the one or two centuries either side of Jesus’ public career. Routinely they ended with the violent death of the central figure. Members of the movement (always supposing they got away with their own skins) then faced a choice: either give up the struggle, or find a new Messiah. Had the early Christians wanted to go the latter route, they had an obvious candidate: James, the Lord’s brother, a great and devout teacher, the central figure in the early Jerusalem church.'

I don't think Wright gives a very good explanation here of why people could perfectly reasonably expect a Messianic movement to try to continue after the death of its founder, even without any resurrection of the dead Messiah.

Wright seems to be saying that the enemies of Christianity would have thought that the Christians would have gone for their 'obvious' candidate, James.

So why did the Pharisees believe that Christians would not have chosen their 'obvious candidate', but would instead would have been successful in deceiving people in a false claim about the resurrection of a crucified Messiah?


Blogger paulj said...

I wonder who was the 'fly on the wall' at this meeting with Pilate. I doubt if it was one of the two pharisees who had a bit earlier ask to bury Jesus. Wright is still working from the assumption that the gospel accounts are accurate, even in this story that only Matthew records.

The version of Christianity that ended up surviving was the Pauline Gentile one, not the more Jewish one supposedly lead by James. As such we have little information about the motivations of the earliest 'Christians' in and around Jerusalem.


6:35 PM  

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