Respected evangelical theologian N T Wright says “No”
“I have friends who I am quite sure are Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection,” he says carefully, citing another eminent scholar, American theologian Marcus Borg, co-author with Wright of The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.
“But the view I take of them - and they know this - is that they are very, very muddled. They would probably return the compliment.
“Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection.
What can be said here? Well, first, Wright still thinks that denying the resurrection is not a good thing - so let’s give him that much. Second, Wright has some friends who are non-orthodox in their belief about what happened to Jesus and they still believe that Jesus is (somehow?) “Lord”, e.g. Marcus Borg. He evidently doesn’t want to call them sub-Christian and I can undestand that too. But here is where I must part company with a resounding “Nein”! Here’s my take…
I think Mike is exactly right about the centrality of resurrection in the primitive Christian kerygma. But the crucial question is whether any particular theological interpretation of resurrection belongs to the heart of the gospel. And it seems to me that the New Testament itself resists such a view. In fact, the New Testament witnesses donâ€™t offer any precise theological interpretation of the resurrection. None of the Gospels tries to describe or explain the event of resurrection at allâ€”rather, the resurrection is precisely the mystery at the centre of the story of Jesus.
…and a lively conversation ensues in which my friend Kim comments
I don’t like the discourse of “You have to believe X, Y or Z in order to be a (proper) Christian”, and Jenson too says that “doubts about the empty tomb are not in themselves doubts about the resurrection”; and, obviously, the empty tomb is not a sufficient conditon for resurrection-faith. But it does seem to me to be a necessary condition. The exegesis against it is laboured, counter-intuitive, unconvincing. And if a “spiritual body” may be unimaginable, and its metaphorical language verge on collapse - what else?!; while the idea of a “spiritual resurrection” is just plain bizarre.
At the risk of sounding like a horrid fence-sitter, I’m going to agree with everyone I’ve quoted here! The whole point of the Resurrection is surely that it is ‘bodily’. First century Jews would not have been able to talk of anything else. The Resurrection appearances of Jesus make it plain that the risen Christ is not merely some disembodied spirit. However, and this is equally clear, the body of the Risen Christ does have some rather unusual properties as bodies go. He can, for example, arrive through locked doors and then disappear at will. The resurrection is bodily, but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, the body the days is not the same as the body that is raised: “What you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel…”
I can’t pretend to know what a “spiritual body” might be. I suspect that it takes us to the edge of our language’s ability to speak of these things. But it does seem to me to indicate that, yes, Christ was raised ‘in the body’ but (as a previous Bishop of Durham famously remarked) that raising was ‘more than a conjuring trick with bones’.