Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles
Of the Resurrection of Christ
Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherefore He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day.
Christus vere a mortuis resurrexit, suumque corpus cum carne, ossibus, omnibusque ad integritatem humanae naturae pertinentibus, recepit, cum quibus in coelum ascendit, ibique residet, quoad extremo die ad iudicandos homines reversurus sit.
(Composed by the English reformers in 1552/3.)
Fr. Robert Hart
The opening words of Article IV have a necessary double meaning. By saying “Christ did truly rise again from death” Anglicans affirm two things with the word “truly.” First, it is true that Christ rose from the dead. The second reason for saying “truly” has to do with what follows, that He “took again His body, etc.” That is, His resurrection was a physical fact. The Gospel is not a ghost story.
The most detailed passage in the Bible that explains all of this is the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Paul opened that chapter by declaring to the Church in Corinth the same Gospel he had preached to them from the start, the one in which we all stand. In that opening he points out that Christ had fulfilled what the prophets foretold (which is what is meant by the words “according to the scriptures”), that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose the third day and appeared to witnesses.
The historic context that occasioned Paul’s writing was, no doubt, a Hellenistic distaste for the old Hebrew idea of physical immorality. It was more fashionable to believe in an immortal soul, and to disdain the Hebrew doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Paul begins, therefore, by proclaiming the negative, that if the dead do not rise, then Christ did not rise either, in which case we would be left in our sins with no Gospel. Think about that in light of current religious talk about “going to heaven” as if we were going to spend eternity as disembodied spirits. For, even today, too many Christians think in Hellenistic rather than Biblical terms.
Then Paul ties the fact (the fact that was confirmed by many eyewitnesses) of Christ’s resurrection in to our own glorious hope, teaching clearly that all true believers will rise from the dead in the same way that the Lord did. At one point Paul uses imagery from agriculture, about the first fruits and the harvest:
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.” (vs. 20-23)
Paul explains, as well, that the Lord has become the Second man and the Last Adam, the father of a new humanity of the resurrection. The nature of Christ’s body changed into that of a body that is naturally and supernaturally immortal, that is, by its nature the resurrected body cannot die. It is a different body, but it is the same body. Others had been brought back from the dead miraculously, such as Lazurus. But, they had come back to a mortal life. Christ rose to a human life of immortality. It is the same, but it is different, just as a seed is not as glorious as the life that grows from it after it is buried and springs up.
Christ’s coming, on what he Himself called “the Last Day” in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, is that harvest of the General Resurrection to which we look forward with great hope; and not only hope, but as the Book of Common Prayer says, “sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This hope is sure and certain because it is the promise of Almighty God.
Details in Article IV show how much care the English Reformers took to speak Biblically. They chose their words to match the revelation of God through Scripture. Therefore, they wrote, “His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature…” This echoes everything in I Corinthians 15, in I Thessalonians 4:16-18, and in the sixth chapter of the Gospel According to John, about that future perfection of the saints (i.e. all who are “in Christ”), and the present perfection of Christ’s risen and glorified human nature. Also, by a small detail such as “flesh [and] bones” rather than flesh and blood, we see their care to speak from Scripture. Compare the following verses.
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” (I Cor. 15:50)
“And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24: 38, 39)
We could say much here about Biblical Anthropology. The natural man lives by the soul, which corresponds to blood,
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Lev. 17:11)
The word “life” is nefesh, that is, soul, the same word translated “soul” in the same verse. “He poured out his soul (nefesh) unto death,” says Isaiah (53:12) of the Suffering Servant, for His is the blood that makes the only true atonement.
The new man, that is the immortal resurrected man, lives by the spirit, which corresponds to breath rather than to blood. The soul and the spirit are not the same part of a man (I Thes. 5:23), and the Bible consistently attributes different elements and activities to each of them. A human being is a soul who has the spirit of life and a body in order to be complete (Gen. 2:7).
Also it is likely that the English Reformers meant to make a statement about the popular misconception regarding the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation by these words: “He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day.” Most likely they wanted to defend the truth that Christ’s resurrected body is a physical reality, located beyond our reach until he returns. This served as a defense of two revealed doctrines of Scripture, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, against which they saw danger from a popular misconception of Transubstantiation.
So, the word “truly” in the opening line carries the strongest significance in all that follows it: “Christ did truly rise again from death.”
Fr. Laurence Wells
For those who treat the Articles dismissively, either as a heap of Reformation polemic or as the English Church's compromise on a few disputed points, this Article is especially important. What we have in these well-crafted words.
is a ringing affirmation of the central truth of the Christian religion, the great Event which makes Christianity not only a religion but a Gospel, good news to lost mankind. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was not under dispute between Rome and the Reformation. Neither was there any radical sect which denied it, at least none which our research can find. Even the Racovian Catechism, which set forth the doctrines of the proto-Unitarians of the 16th century, clearly affirmed that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. So what was the fuss about in Article IV?
In Articles II, III and IV we have a noble restatement of the New Testament kerygma, a recital of the Gospel in its simplest and baldest form. This is compelling evidence that the English Reformation was not merely a political settlement but a powerful revival of the Good News which Peter preached on Pentecost, which the Apostles carried to the uttermost parts of the earth, and Paul summarized in his Epistle to the Romans.
This Gospel is most concrete in the clock-time physical event of Jesus' Resurrection. N. T. Wright is correct when he points out that when Our Lord predicted His Resurrection (Matt. 16:21), the disciples were surprised not because He promised to rise again, but because He promised it would happen so quickly-- "in three days". This was a common Jewish idiom for a swift event, after a brief interval. Almost all Jews, except the Saddducees, believed in a Resurrection at the end of he world. But when the Resurrection was promised so suddenly, the Consummation of the Ages was at hand. The New Creation, which commenced in His Virgin Birth, was rapidly on the way. It will be consummated and finished when we also shall rise at the last day, as Paul sets forth for us in I Corinthians 15.
This means that the Christian life of here and now is lived between two cataclysms, two earthquakes, two Resurrections, His and ours. If a Sermon is preached at the Burial of the Dead, it should proclaim the great Easter in our future. Merely to say that the deceased has "gone on to a better place" (like moving from one suburban town to another), is a false Gospel. Simply stating that "the soul lives on" is chilly consolation.
I like particularly the blunt realism of this Article, with its language, "and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature." We cannot be too realistic in how we describe or affirm what happened at the Tomb of Jesus. Yes, His body was made glorious in a manner beyond our description. What Peter, James and John saw briefly on the Mount of Transfiguration is now His permanent condition (as it will be our also). But I become nervous when some begin to make a sweeping distinction between resurrection and resuscitation.
Resuscitation is simply the revival of a mortal body at the point of death or perhaps even past that point. The resurrection of Jesus (and likewise of ours!) will be far more wonderful and glorious than a resuscitation, but it will not be any less.
Having stirred up one controversy over the terms "reconciled/propitiated." I am about to stir up another. When the writer wrote "did truly rise again," I wish he had said "was truly raised again." The passive voice would have the double advantage of asserting that Our Saviour was truly dead, not merely unconscious, and of declaring that His Father raised Him up.
The Greek NT has two verbs which refer to Jesus' resurrection. There is anisthmi which has many occurrences but is used rather infrequently to refer to what happened at Easter. In John 20:9, we find this verb in the active voice: "for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead." In John 10:17 the active voice is even stronger, "I lay down my life that I may take it up again."
But the more common verb is egeirw, which is preferred by the Synoptics and by Paul, and was not unknown to John. This verb generally appears in the passive voice, the Hebrew idiom for Divine activity. But we also find the active voice in texts like Acts 3:15, "But you killed the Author of life, whom God hath raised up," or Acts 5:30, The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree."
The resurrection which Article IV sets forth was not an independent action of Jesus alone, but the mighty act of the entire Trinity, when the Father, acting through the Spirit, raised up the truly dead but incorrupt body of the Incarnate Son. There is no other spot in the Prayer Book which trumpets the Gospel so forcefully. God save us from ever losing it.