The New Testament and Doctrine

We are approaching the time of Lent and Easter again. I always enjoy the time of Easter and Holy Week that comes just before it. Lent…well let’s just say I know what it is for. The truth is that I could do without it. However, it just like those trough periods of spiritual dryness and depression that we get before we go back to those rare mountain to moments. So if we must observe Lent before we celebrate Easter…so be it.

The one annoyance of the this time is that the publishing industry likes to release some new take on the idea of the Resurrection of Jesus. Actually, it can be a very old take (remember the gospel of Judas?) of some gnostic or neo-gnostic idea. In marketing, timing is everything. And in religious debate one should remember the old advice “buyer beware.”

So, let’s take a look at the Resurrection as a doctrine in the New Testament. Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John each have a story of the events surrounding the experience of the Apostles had with Jesus after his resurrection. There is a temptation for modern readers to put the cart before the horse so to speak. The New Testament writers often bring their readers into the experience of the story as though the events were occurring right then. This leads some people to assume then the writing of the story as setting the real limits of the story itself.  Therefore, when the stories disagree on the names and numbers of persons or the setting of events then the basic underlying story must be false or needs a new interpretation. Of course, that is not the case.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are written as worship events. They often set teachings within the environment of sacraments (baptism and Holy Communion) and liturgical calendars (both Jewish and Christian).  This allows for the story of (say) the Transfiguration and the Confession of Peter to be events within a context teaching the supremecy of Christ. It is the same reason Luke and Matthew give different understandings of the meaning of the story of the virginal conception of Jesus. Matthew sees the fulfillment of prophecy in the event. Luke understands the divine declaration of Abraham “For nothing is impossible for God” as the basis for a doctrine that was taught before both writers took up their respective pens.

This is the same with the Resurrection of Jesus. All four gospel writers and St. Paul believe in and experienced Jesus (even if it was during worship) after the Resurrection. They are explaining to believers what the resurrection now means to their new lives as messengers and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Mark sends the reader back to Galilee where Jesus ministry begins in his story. Matthew reminds us that a mountain in Galilee is where the messianic kingdom is declared. Luke has two men in his gospel and the book of Acts reminding us that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in the kingdom of God. John tells us we have seen God’s Son, Spirit, and power in the Word of Life.

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