The always excellent Terry Mattingly of Get Religion points out that the Associated Press reveals a bit of biblical and theological illiteracy in a March 20th piece about the renovations done to the shrine in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The report begins in this way:
tomb of Jesus has been resurrected to its former glory. Just in time
for Easter, a Greek restoration team has completed a historic renovation
of the Edicule, the shrine that tradition says houses the cave where
Jesus was buried and rose to heaven.
The problematic phrase"the
shrine that tradition says houses the cave where Jesus was buried and
rose to heaven"is repeated in the photo caption. Mattingly writes:
I know that this is complicated. Maybe there needs to be an expanded
entry in the Associated Press Stylebook covering the events of Holy
Week, Easter and the Ascension?
Attention AP corrections desk:
Christians around the world do not believe that Jesus was "buried and
rose to heaven" from the tomb cut into the stone of Gethsemane. They
believe that he was buried there, was resurrected, then ascended to
heaven 40 days later. Church tradition points to Mount Olivet as the
site of the Ascension.
This very issue is addressed in one of the 75 or so questions found in my book Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? (Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute, 2016):
Q. Was the Resurrection also when Jesus ascended into Heaven and was exalted there by the Father?
This is a common misunderstanding, even among some Christians. It is even, as Brant Pitre points out [in The Case for Christ]
remarkably popular “especially among scholars who do not believe in
Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Nevertheless, this idea is (literally) dead
wrong.” That is because the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, as the
creedal statements above indicate and Scripture clearly attest, took
place forty days after the Resurrection; the two are entirely distinct
events, even though the Ascension is made possible because of the
Resurrection. The risen Jesus, in fact, told Mary Magdalene that he had
not yet gone to the Father:
said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!”
(which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have
not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I
am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (Jn
addition, Luke begins Acts of the Apostles by stating, “To them he
presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to
them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
key point here is that the Resurrection was not a spiritual event only,
during which Jesus was exalted, in some form, into Heaven; rather, it
was a miraculous event in which Jesus was raised from the dead with real
and glorified body, becoming “the first‐born from the dead” (Col 1:18;
cf. Rev 1:5). And forty days separated that event from the Ascension,
during which time Jesus, according to Paul, “appeared to Ce’phas, then
to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at
one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Cor 15:57).
Mattingly reminds readers of a similar error made by The New York Times
in a May 2013 piece about Pope Francis' first Urbi et Orbi message:
"Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus,
three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief
in an everlasting life."
These sort of mistakes certainly betray
sloppiness and a lack of basic knowledge, which is frustrating enough.
But a deeper issue, I suspect, is the implicit assumption that the
Resurrection is an entirely spiritual event, having little or nothing to
do with the material realm. This general approach to the Resurrection
can be described as the Spiritual Resurrection Theory; here is an
excerpt from Chapter 9 ("Physical and Spiritual") of my book:
Q. What is the Spiritual Resurrection Theory?
is the idea that the Resurrection of Jesus was purely spiritual and not
at all corporeal or bodily. The risen Jesus was a spirit. Those who
encountered him encountered the spirit of Jesus. His corpse is
irrelevant, in this view. Whether dogs ate it or it remains buried in a
tomb makes no difference. Jesus’s body wasn’t transformed; he was raised
Q. Who advocates the idea of the Spiritual Resurrection Theory?
theologically liberal Christians espouse the Spiritual Resurrection
Theory, or a form of it. It is held by John Shelby Spong, John Dominic
Crossan, and Marcus Borg, among others. Jehovah’s Witnesses, oddly
enough, also advocate a form of it. They think the various Resurrection
appearances recounted in the New Testament do not reflect Jesus’s actual
resurrected state, but involve various bodies he assumed or
materialized in order to indicate to his disciples his continued
existence as a spirit. Unlike most people who reject the traditional
understanding of Jesus’s Resurrection, advocates of the Spiritual
Resurrection Theory generally appeal to the New Testament to support
their views. As a result, the case against the theory involves a careful
review of certain New Testament passages.
There is much, much more, as you can see from the table of contents and the Introduction.
Related at CWR: "Olson's Resurrection" (May 11, 2016) by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.