Thoughts on Easter: Who raised Jesus from the dead?


On Easter Sunday morning, watching TV footage of pilgrims visiting Jesus' traditional tomb, I noticed a sign by the entrance with the standard seasonal legend "He is risen!" Now, that sentence has always seemed awkward to me; I figured it was just an archaism. But then I thought about the reason for translating the original New Testament Greek that way, and wondered if there was a theological reason behind it.

"He is risen" raises the question of who's doing the raising. Modern Christians believe Jesus was both God and man, so he could have raised himself if he wanted to. But many early Christians didn't consider him divine, and if one believes the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), neither did Jesus, who was always looking to his Father for instructions. His miracles were accomplished not on his own, but through the Father.

The Bible's Easter scene portrays some of Jesus' female followers visiting the tomb two mornings after the crucifixion to anoint the body. (They couldn't do it the previous day because it was the sabbath.) They are greeted by a mysterious young man (or two men, or an angel) saying, "He is not here; he is risen."

In the Greek of Matthew 28:6, Mark 16:6 and Luke 24:6, the crucial word is the third person aorist (past tense) passive of the verb egeiro, "I rise." Following the King James Version, most English translations render this "He is risen." This is simply incorrect. In 1970, the scrupulously literal translators of the Catholic New American Bible, bucking their religion's own dogma in order to honor the openness policy mandated by 1960s Vatican II ecumenism, got it right: "He has been raised."

It may seem like a small point, but it's important. The writers of the Gospels didn't believe Jesus raised himself from the dead. If they did, they wouldn't have written "He has been raised," and they certainly wouldn't have fudged it with "He is risen." They would have said "He has raised himself." They thought God the Father did the raising. So they didn't believe Jesus was God.

Comments (3)

g.e. stinson:
re: jesus never existed? no shit? when did that happen? with respect, i don't think that's actually being discussed here. the personal documented history of jesus is almost irrelevant. i thought we were discussing spiritual death and rebirth and how language has been used to obscure it by literalists. as far as fixing the mess that humanity finds itself in, science and the intellect have been of little or no help in this area. i'm not suggesting that religion has but scientists and intellectuals also have a belief system of dubious credibility. that system requires as much or more faith than any religion or spiritual practice. the history of humankind is littered with the detritus that was once the evidence of science. each decade brings another bucket-load of evidence trotted out as the holy word of the intellect and empirical science. sophistry? who is it that is actually engaged in sophistry? philosophers actually invented that word to describe each other. these were the foremost intellectuals and scientists of their day.
Jay Sedrish:
Sorry to say, guys, that Jesus never existed. I realize that it's necessary for some adults to deal with their existential angst by creating an imaginary friend, but the reality that exists is the simple, scientific, discernible (as much as our lack of knowledge will allow), world that we perceive through our physiological schemata and then interpret through our conscious human brains. As long as intelligent people waste their time discussing this irrelevant sophistry, we will be avoiding the desperately needed process of fixing the mess in which humanity now finds itself.
g.e. stinson:
interesting and tantalizing point. from a buddhist perspective the story takes on another angle. i've heard it said that the so called missing part of jesus' life history was spent in the "east" possibly studying with buddhist and hindu mystics.*** the story of death on the cross and resurrection is somewhat analogous to the enlightenment of the buddha also called "the great death" or satori in japanese. this is the "death" of the illusory ego self. also called "dropping away of body and mind." this is a place where many practitioners become stuck because in actually it is the state of oneness. it is also called "the pitch-black cave of hell" and according to the great zen masters, one should not remain in that place. the practitioner must come back to "life," go out into the world and actualize the enlightenment by helping others. without actualization, it is self indulgent and meaningless.