After my column on the Resurrection three weeks ago, one of our readers emailed me. He pointed out how confusing our four biblical accounts can be. And he’s right. For such an important event, we would expect impeccable accuracy; instead, we find embarrassing variations.
However, we’re lucky. We have only four stories to deal with; think of those poor converts in Corinth decades before any gospels were written. They were listening to hundreds of different stories: “Josie had a vision about Jesus.” “Oh yeah? well, did you hear about Mary Magdalene’s vison?” “Yes, I heard she claimed she hugged him!”
These Christians didn’t need Paul to tell them 500 people had “seen the Lord.” They didn’t care to hear any more; they wanted Paul to explain how a dead body could come back to life. And Paul tried his best to explain it (1 Cor. 15).
Paul called it a “spiritual body.” He made it clear to his converts that the physical body of Jesus died and was buried. Period. End of story. What Yahweh had raised from the dead was his spiritual body. Only a spiritual body could appear in visions to all those people and then 20 years later, appear to Paul himself. Dead physical bodies do not “appear;” spiritual ones do.
Several decades after Paul’s explanation, the gospel writers tried to combine the many theories of who was in the tomb and who rolled the stone back, and who came running up and who saw Jesus first. And where was Mary Magdalene in all of this, and what role did she play with Jesus?
The evangelists painted these scenes as vividly as they could, and it’s amazing we don’t have more variations than we have. However, we’re talking here about visions and apparitions, and, as Paul had explained to the Corinthians 40 years before, a physical body just can’t do these things.
The Vatican claims that of all the many “Virgin Mary Visions,” nine of them are reliable. But what does that mean? One of these “Marys’” was French, one was Mexican, one was Portuguese, etc. They all looked like a hometown girl. None of them looked anything like the little Jewish gal who lived in Nazareth, but that doesn’t matter. Each vision was a vision of Mary, the Vatican says, and each one is reliable.
I am sure that all those who “saw” Jesus back then thought their visions were reliable. We must assume that at least some of the 500, like Paul, had never known Jesus, but all of them had a vision of what they wanted him to be. Some of those who had known him had denied him, like Peter; some had just “put up” with him, like his big brother, James, and some had fallen in love with him, like Mary Magdalene.
Each had his own image. Each had his own Resurrection theme to describe in detail and pass on to whomever would listen. Paul’s theme, as I said on Easter Sunday, was the “new creation,” a creation without end where our own resurrection meets the resurrection of Jesus and our spiritual bodies — now united to his — live forever.
In past columns, I have publicly repudiated the Pauline errors of misogyny, homophobia and slavery, but now I wish to put my own papal seal of approval on his vision of resurrection. I find it immanently reliable.
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