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.