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Do I have to believe that Christ literally, physically rose from the dead in order to be a Christian?

Funny you should ask. I was bought up Jewish (what we call “non-observant”) and was baptized at age 26. One day, during the time that I studied and pondered prior to my baptism, I asked the Episcopal priest who was guiding me, the exact same question. Only I said, “…in order to be baptized?” which really was the same question. He replied, “What do you believe?” I said that I thought Jesus had been a common denominator, helping God to know us better and helping us to know God better. My priest said, “That will do for starters.” He okayed my moving ahead toward baptism.

As time went on, I came to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I believed that it was the “stamp of authenticity” on everything that Jesus said, did and taught during his earthly ministry. I pointed, when asked, to Peter and others who obviously had experienced a life-changing event that made them radically different from what they had been before the resurrection. For me the rising of Jesus from the grave was the foundation upon which all else rested.

Nowadays (forty years later) I would say that I am of two minds. One, which is my “worldly, common-sense” way of thinking, tells me that the resurrection might be metaphorical, but if it is, that does not make me believe in Jesus any less, nor in him as the divine model for living and dying, any less.

But there is another part of me that continues to believe in the resurrection literally. And I would say that that is the part of me to which Jesus referred when he said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” God has put it into my heart to believe in things that neither I nor the world can prove with our mind, but which we believe with our heart, and usually with all our heart.

Do you have to believe this to “be a Christian?” I would say not. I would say that what it takes to “be a Christian” is to want to be a Christian. The more you believe and the more you practice the things that Jesus taught, the stronger a Christian you will be.

--The Rev. William A. Kolb

I think that human beings have always turned to the use of metaphor when they’ve had an experience that words alone cannot express. For example, “I was scared to death!” or “She’s so happy that she’s walking on air” or “The news truly broke her heart.” None of these statements is literally true, yet each one of them gives expression to a sentiment or an experience that is nonetheless profoundly true.

I believe that there is a similar dynamic of truth in the concept of Christ being raised from the dead. So, no, I don’t think that to be a Christian we have to believe that Christ literally, bodily rose from the dead and that he literally, bodily ascended into heaven. Yet I do believe that these words are our best attempt to give expression to an experience which was true to the followers of Jesus in his time, and is still true to those of us who engage with Jesus in heart, mind and spirit still today. What Jesus’ rising from the dead means to me is this: That life is eternal, and that we are a part of that eternal life even now, in this life we are living. That we live in eternal life was true of us before we were born; it is true while we are living here and now; and it will be true after we have died. We live always in the embrace of God’s eternity.

Jesus spoke often of such life eternal. And his disciples continued to try to proclaim this mystery, using the image of his rising from the dead in order to proclaim a truth too big for human language or understanding.

--The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

The most Christ-like professor I ever had once turned to our seminary class and asked us a question with an intensity that made us know he was serious: "What if they proved without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth never lived! What would that do to your faith?"

He stared fiercely at us. There was a long, awkward silence. Then he said, "I can tell you what it would do to my faith. It would not change it one bit. I would believe in the myth of Jesus. It's the best story going!"

There are some people who find they can believe in the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus and that they are comforted by that belief. I think there is good, strong evidence to support such a belief. Belief in the physical resurrection is not irrational.

But there are others—including me on some days—who find the physical resurrection just too much to swallow. However, they do see God's work bringing life out of death all around us. They are moved by the compelling creativity of the divine Surprise who turns darkness into light. They know the presence of the risen and living Christ. And though they may plead agnosticism about the physicality of the resurrection, they believe in the deeper truth it symbolizes.

Both interpretations are present in the New Testament.

--The Rev. Lowell Grisham

In the spring of last year, I went with family members to a performance of a Passion Play in a nearby resort town. I, along with the rest of the large audience, was thrilled with the presentation. At the Resurrection scene, an angel came down and rolled the stone away from the tomb. Then the actor playing Jesus stepped out.

That may be the only way to perform this scene using human actors, but it's not the way things happened, at least not according to the New Testament. If Christ's resurrection had occurred as it did in the play, Jesus would have looked like a weakling, imprisoned in the tomb until the big, heavy stone was moved for Him. Rather, according to the New Testament accounts, when the stone was rolled away, Jesus was already long gone.

Something happened in that tomb that we don't quite understand. It was as if Jesus was reborn into an existence different from the one He had known. He continued to have a palpable body, but it was one which could dematerialize and rematerialize at His will. When the stone was rolled away from the door of the tomb, the body that had been deposited there on Friday was missing.

Many sincere persons believe that the dead body of Jesus somehow came back to life on its own in the darkened tomb (everybody at the Passion Play applauded!). But I think the idea is altogether untenable; it contradicts our experience of human bodies, which do not resuscitate on their own after death. Thus anyone would be justified in rejecting such an idea. The Resurrection of Jesus was not some spooky horror-movie resuscitation of a dead body; it was instead a metamorphosis into an advanced state of existence that defies our comparison with any known experience.

I believe the early Christians seized on this motif to express their wonderment at the fact that they still felt the power of Jesus in their lives—even though His body was no longer present to their senses—without casting doubt on the testimony of those who claimed to have had vivid personal encounters with Him. Members of the early church held every range of belief about what happened. In his recounting of the ascension of the risen Christ, St. Matthew recorded, "When they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted" (Matthew 28:17). That statement is given without discounting the experience of the doubters. And yet every single person in that group, disparate as their beliefs and experiences may have been, was a Christian.


I believe God will strengthen our faith if we are on a journey to find Him. If someone disagrees with my belief that Christ literally rose from the dead, that does not mean they are not a "real Christian" and I am. I think the only thing you "have" to do in order to become a Christian is simply to seek God. He will do the rest, and we will find Him if we are sincerely looking for Him.

In my case, I have no trouble believing Christ literally rose from the dead. God is God. He can do anything He wants. If He can create all that exists, He can certainly raise Christ (and us through Christ) from the dead. The Bible is explicit in saying that Christ did, in fact, rise from the dead so I have a hard time rejecting it.

Whenever I spend time in solitude and prayer, I come away from the experience awed by the mystery of God and faith. We know so little and God is so great. The really difficult concept for me to accept is not the idea that Christ rose from the dead, but rather the fact that God could love me enough to reach out to me through Christ.

-- Nick



I am uncomfortable with some of the doctrines professed in organized religion. Is believing certain creeds really what Christianity is all about?

As a Christian, how do I reconcile stories from the Bible with current scientific thought?

How can I know the truth about Christianity if I question the Bible's status as the literal Word of God?

MARCUS BORG on explorefaith.org

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