an article from the Interview column of the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 5: Number 1, 1992.
The Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter is Ron Rhodes.
Throughout the 30-year history of the Christian Research Institute, we have endeavored to limit the focus of our attention to the proclamation and defense of the essentials of Christianity. We have always allowed a great deal of latitude regarding secondary or peripheral issues such as the perpetuity of the spiritual gifts, the timing of the Rapture, the proper mode of baptism, and so forth. However, when it comes to the essentials of the faith, we have never equivocated.
One of these essentials is the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ. Recently, this has become a matter of controversy among some Christian scholars. In this issue of the Newsletter, Dr. Norman Geisler is interviewed regarding what is at stake in this controversy.
Newsletter: Dr. Geisler, why is the issue of the Resurrection so important?
Dr. Geisler: Because we're not talking about one of the trivials of Christianity, we're talking about one of the essentials. The apostle Paul said, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). If the Resurrection did not really happen, the apostles were false witnesses, our faith is futile, we're still lost in our sins, the dead in Christ have perished, and we're the most pitiful people on the face of the earth -- to say nothing of the fact that there's no hope beyond the grave. Clearly, this is a transcendentally important issue. You can deny the inerrancy of the Bible and still be saved. If you deny the bodily resurrection, however, there's no basis for salvation (Rom. 10:9).
Newsletter: You really can't preach the Gospel without this doctrine, can you?
Dr. Geisler: The Resurrection is the heart of the Gospel. According to 1 Corinthians 15:2-6, the Gospel includes Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, and His appearances to people in proof of His resurrection. Without the physical resurrection of Christ, there is no Gospel.
Newsletter: If a person was asked, "Do you believe in the empty tomb, in the Resurrection, and in the bodily appearances of Christ?" would this be a sufficient test of orthodoxy?
Dr. Geisler: If you used that as a test to determine whether you should hire somebody to be the pastor of your local church, congratulations, you may have just hired a Jehovah's Witness.
Newsletter: Because a Jehovah's Witness could go along with that definition?
Dr. Geisler: Yes. They affirm all of those things.
Newsletter: If that's the case, then what question should we be asking?
Dr. Geisler: We should ask: "Do you believe that Jesus was raised in the same physical body in which he died?" That's the crucial question, because if the body that died didn't come back to life, the Devil won and God lost.
Newsletter: What are the key elements, then, in the orthodox view of Christ's resurrection?
Dr. Geisler: Two of the key elements are sameness and physicalness. Christ's resurrection body was the same body in which He died. That's why He could say to Thomas, "See the scars in my hand, put your hand in my side" (John 20:27). It had to be a physical body because the physical body died, and if that physical body didn't come back to life, there was no victory over death and sin. So, two of the key elements of the orthodox view of the Resurrection are sameness and physicalness, or, to put it another way, numerical identity and essential materiality.
Newsletter: As far as this issue of "sameness" is concerned, let me play devil's advocate. Why is this such a big deal anyway?
Dr. Geisler: Because the victory has to be at the point of defeat. If the point of defeat is physical death, then the victory has to be resurrection of the physical body. The soul didn't die. The soul lived on. It was the body that died, and if the body that died didn't come back to life, then there was no victory over death and sin. In Acts 2:31 we read, "His flesh did not see corruption." The flesh of Christ did not corrupt in the tomb because He was raised incorruptible.
Newsletter: What scriptural evidence is there for the "sameness" and "physicalness" of Christ's resurrection body?
Dr. Geisler: Christ said His resurrection body had "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39). He had the same physical scars (John 20:25). He was touched on two occasions (Matt. 28:9; John 20:17), and challenged the disciples (Luke 24:39) and Thomas (John 20:27) to feel His wounds. He also ate physical food four times after the Resurrection (Luke 24:30, 42-43; John 21:12-13; Acts 1:4).
Newsletter: All this is related to the different views on the empty tomb. Can you elaborate on this?
Dr. Geisler: The orthodox view says God raised the body of Christ from the dead. The liberal view says someone took the body from the tomb. The neo-orthodox view says that God destroyed the body -- which is the same as the view of the Jehovah's Witnesses. They say Christ's dead body turned into vapor, or gas, and leaked out the cracks of the tomb. That's not a resurrection, that's an annihilation.
The key question becomes: If you were in the tomb on the first Easter Sunday morning, what would you have seen?
The orthodox view says you would have seen that body come back to life again and walk away. The liberal view says you would have seen somebody come in and take the body. This new view (neo-orthodoxy) -- which is now held by some eleven percent of so-called evangelical scholars -- says you would have seen that body vanish before your very eyes. Well, that's a Houdini act -- "now you see me, now you don't." That's not a resurrection.
Newsletter: And the statistic of eleven percent is based on what?
Dr. Geisler: I took a survey of the Evangelical Theological Society -- scholars who sign a statement saying that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God -- and asked them, "Do you believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead in the same material body of flesh and bones in which he died?" And eleven percent said "no"!
Newsletter: That's an alarming figure. Why do they even belong to the society?
Dr. Geisler: That's a good question. How can you believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and deny the materiality of the resurrection body when the Bible says four times clearly that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh, and says dozens of times that He was resurrected in a physical, material body?
Newsletter: As you noted in your article, "I Believe...in the Resurrection of the Flesh," published in the Summer 1989 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, one Christian scholar who has written several books arguing for the nonmaterial nature of Christ's resurrection body is Murray Harris, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Dr. Geisler: Yes. Murray Harris has written two major books on the subject -- Raised Immortal and From Grave to Glory. He believes that Jesus was not resurrected in a continuously material body -- it was not a body of flesh. He believes that Christ's body was transformed from a physical to a spiritual body at the instant of the Resurrection and that Jesus only materialized on a few occasions, temporarily assuming bodily form for apologetic purposes.
Now, here's the real problem. Major magazines, many scholars, and one major seminary have pronounced this view "orthodox," and various countercult groups are scurrying around saying, "Hey, we're going to have to apologize to the Jehovah's Witnesses if this is orthodox, because this is substantially the same view that the Jehovah's Witnesses have held on the nature of the resurrected body."
Newsletter: Bottom line -- what are the consequences of denying that Christ was raised immortal in the same physical body in which He died?
Dr. Geisler: In brief, if Jesus wasn't resurrected in the same physical body, then God lost in His purpose to create a physical world, because the physical world was destroyed and never restored. God also lost in salvation because Jesus' physical body died but was never brought back to life. As well, Christ lied because He looked at His disciples in Luke 24:39 and said, "See my hands and my feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." Furthermore, there's no hope that you'll see your loved ones in heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18). To summarize, if Jesus wasn't raised in a physical body, then God failed, Christ lied, and there's no hope beyond the grave.
Newsletter: What is your closing admonition to our readers?
Dr. Geisler: In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity. I believe that adage, but the Resurrection by any count is an essential. It's a fundamental of the Christian faith, and I would like to see Christians rise up and defend the crucial physical nature of the bodily resurrection against these neo-orthodox incursions into the Christian church that are now being blessed by major scholars and magazines. I think we need to stand up and be counted on this doctrine and say that these people have made a tragic mistake. It's a fundamental doctrine, and these people have denied one of the orthodox pillars of the church.
Newsletter: This is not a time for silence.
Dr. Geisler: Silence is not golden when one of the great doctrines of the Christian faith is in the balance. Silence is cowardice. Silence in this context is probably one of the greatest sins of omission that can be committed by a Christian who wants to preserve the orthodoxy of the faith.
You can contact Dr. Geisler by writing him at: Southern Evangelical Seminary, 5801 Pineville-Matthews Rd., Charlotte, NC 28226-3447; or phone: (704) 543-1200.
End of document, CRN0041A.TXT (original CRI file name), "The Battle for the Resurrection: An Interview with Dr. Norman Geisler" release A, June 30, 1994 R. Poll, CRI
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