What kind of nonsense?

At the core of the Christian gospel lies some abject nonsense. But the real question is: what kind of nonsense is it?

The Christian message is not a matter of opinion (although it certainly has a bearing upon your opinions), nor is it a world view or a philosophy of life (although it certainly brings radical changes to your way of seeing the world and living life). Instead, it is the declaration of certain events that took place in human history; events that reveal God’s purposes for his world, and to which certain promises from God are attached.

At Easter we remember these events, their revelation and their promises. More could be said, of course, but to put it simply:

  • Good Friday: Jesus died, this was ‘for us’, and so God promises to forgive our sins.
  • Easter Sunday: Jesus rose from the dead, this was ‘for us’, and so God promises to give us victory over the grave and eternal life.

But at the core of this message there is a great nonsense. This was recognized from the beginning. On the third day after Jesus died, some women went to the tomb to complete the burial process by anointing his body with aromatic spices. They found the rock-cut tomb open. That was enough for Mary Magdalene to run back into the city to tell the apostle Peter (John 20). The other women pressed ahead and looked into the tomb to find Jesus’ body gone (Luke 24:3). They then saw two men, in the process realizing they were angels, who told them that Jesus had risen as predicted. These women then went back into the city and reported what they had seen.

But their reception was less than warm. Luke tells us that the apostles “did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11, NIV 1984).

At this point the question should shift. What kind of nonsense did it appear to be? If those who heard the women’s report were rationalists (if that is not anachronistic), then it would be a logical or a necessary ‘nonsense’ that goes like this:

Dead men don’t rise, therefore this report is nonsense.

Such things can’t happen.

On the other hand, if they were empiricists (again, with due allowance for any anachronism), then it would be a factual or experiential ‘nonsense’ that goes like this:

Never before in human history has a man risen from the dead, so, against this vast wealth of human experience of death and burial, this report appears to be nonsense.

Such things don’t happen.

At least one of the crowd of apostles who heard the women’s testimony that day must have had some empirical leanings. As Peter sat there amongst the disbelieving group, he must have thought: “Such things don’t happen. But, hey—what if it did?”

He jumped up and ran to the tomb to check the facts out for himself (Luke 24:12). That was the beginning of a massive change of life for him. That was the beginning of a massive change of life for the world.

2 thoughts on “What kind of nonsense?

  1. Peter Bolt wrote:
    “He jumped up and ran to the tomb to check the facts out for himself (Luke 24:12). That was the beginning of a massive change of life for him. That was the beginning of a massive change of life for the world.”

    This too is nonsense. Peter never went to the tomb. Somebody just added this sentence (Luke 24:12) later to the text. Some Bibles like RSV and NEB omit it. So it is nonsense that it started “a massive change of life for the world”

  2. Hi Peter,

    You are right that there is some textual variation on Luke 24:12, with some manuscripts omitting the verse. But contrary to your suggested time-line, manuscripts that omit are later than many of those that include the verse. The omission is in the ‘Western’ Manuscript D, and several versions of the Old Latin (it).

    This verse is one of the nine verses the 19th century scholars Wescott and Hort declared to be ‘Western non-Interpolations’. Whereas Western readings were not usually regarded as highly as those from Alexandrian manuscripts, W.&H. argued that in these nine verses the Western reading should be followed, and that every other manuscript contains an interpolation. (thus the odd expression: western non-interpolation)

    In 1952 the Bodmer papyri were discovered, including P75 which is dated to late 2nd or early 3rd century. Earlier than previously known Alexandrian manuscripts, P75 also contains verse 12. Along with other reasons, this textual antiquity has made many, if not most, scholars increasingly dissatisfied with the ‘Western non-interpolation’ theory of W.&H.

    But it is interesting to ask again the question, ‘what kind of nonsense?’. Here it is obviously an empirical question: what actually happened?  Did Peter run to the tomb etc? Even without Luke 24:12, we have another source that tells us he did (John 20), along with another; with Luke’s verse, we have a second; with the independent source behind the ‘road to Emmaus’ story (Luke 24:13-35) we have an allusion to the event, although Peter is not specifically named but it does use the plural (v.24), affirming the TWO of John more neatly than the ONE of Luke. It is also inherently probable that such a report from the women (which Luke acknowledges was received as nonsense) would be checked out by someone else.

    Not bad, historically speaking.

    Interesting that Peter was the first to preach publicly about the resurrection of Jesus, and the massive change of life for the world that that event entailed (Acts 2).

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