When Jesus rose from the dead, was it a physical resurrection of His body, or was He transformed into a spiritual body?
That question has sparked a serious dispute in the Church of England, and the archbishop of Canterbury is now being pressured to force his new representative to Rome to resign.
That representative is Rev. Dr. John Shepherd of Perth, Australia, whose remarks from 2008 have surfaced, creating the uproar.
“We need to challenge the belief that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a physical resurrection,” Shepherd says on video.
“It would be wrong to demand an interpretation of the resurrection which includes the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ body when the accounts in the New Testament refer to the resurrection of the body transformed by the Spirit of God.”
The early Christians wanted to convey their conviction that Jesus, despite the fact that He’d been put to death, overcame this death, and all the constrictions of death that went with it, and now lived as a transformed, spiritual reality to strengthen, inspire and console. Their overriding concern was to communicate the reality of their experience of the new life which Jesus embodied. So it’s not surprising that these accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances differ with regard to place and time. Their authenticity doesn’t depend on them being precise, historical records.
The disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb, Jesus’ appearance behind locked doors and His vanishing from sight, His appearance as a gardener, inviting Thomas to place his hand into His pierced side, the recognition of Jesus by disciples at Emmaus during a meal, these are all images of the triumph of the Spirit of God over all that physical thwarts and damages us in this life.
So Paul’s teaching [in 1 Corinthians 15:35-50] is very clear: Our earthly bodies will be transformed so that they’ll be like Christ’s glorious body. What is sown a natural body is raised a spiritual body. So the empty tomb is not assurance that our bodies will be miraculously reassembled, thank goodness, nor is it the hope of an extension of life for a few believers which would demean the graciousness and generosity of God, it’s the image of a complete transformation of life available to all.
However, if some find it helpful to attach a physical dimension to the image of the resurrection, so be it. It would be wrong to place limits on the extent to which the New Testament images can be helpful. But faith in the resurrection of Jesus need not require us to believe in the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ earthly body. People who find that concept difficult are by no means excluded from the Christian faith and the celebration of Easter.
Rev. Lee Gatiss, who heads the Church of England’s largest evangelical group, told Britain’s Telegraph the situation was “utterly bizarre and absolutely inappropriate.”
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“If it is true that he does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, then I don’t think he should have been ordained as a minister in the Anglican Communion in the first place,” he told the paper.
“The Bible is absolutely clear, as are the Anglican formularies, that Jesus died and rose again — it is the whole point and center of our good news for the world.”
“He should stand down immediately or be replaced, for the honor and integrity of the Church of England.”
But Dr. Stephen Platten, head of the governors of the Anglican Centre in Rome, told the Telegraph that Shepherd is “an extremely good theologian.”
Platten said of Shepherd: “He emphatically believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s [just] a matter of how one understands that.”
According to the Gospel of John, after Jesus rose from the dead, He instructed Mary not to touch Him: “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17 King James Version).
However, after eight days, Jesus appeared again to His disciples and gave permission to touch Him:
“And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.” (John 20:26-28 KJV)
The apostle Paul is also famous for his statement that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50 KJV).
According to an announcement about Shepherd’s appointment:
“Shepherd was Dean of St. George’s Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia from 1990 to 2014. During his time as Dean over $19,000,000 was raised to fund a complete restoration and development of the cathedral and Old Deanery alongside the building of the Cadogan Song School. Dr Shepherd has had a distinguished ministry in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. He was ordained at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne in 1966 having completed his BA at the University of Melbourne. He also has a Master of Sacred Music degree from Union Seminary in New York and a PhD from St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge — his doctorate focused on the changes in the doctrine of sacrifice in sacred music during the English Reformation.”
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