Resurrection changes the world

This is the third instalment of my notes written for BRF Guidelines Bible reading notes which have just come out and lead up to the Easter season. You can read the first instalment (…’creates a transformed community’) here and the second instalment (‘…the fulfilment of God’s promises’) here. If you are not encouraging those in your congregation to use Guidelines, what Bible reading notes are you encouraging?

10. Resurrection as a challenge to culture (ii) Acts 17:22–34

Because of his debating in the agora, the main marketplace in the centre of Athens, Paul has been called before the council of the senior men governing Athens. They meet at the Areopagus (‘Ares Rock’), a rocky hill overlooking the marketplace, to the west of the main acropolis on which the Parthenon was built. The implication is that Paul is making an appeal for recognition of his new gods, and the council need to grant approval for new altar to be added in the pantheon—though Paul quickly dismisses this option. The God he proclaims cannot simply be slotted in to the existing patterns of belief.

His speech is often taken as an example of Paul’s accommodation to culture, and Paul certainly engages his listeners in terms they understand. His opening greeting ‘Men of Athens!’ (sometimes translated ‘People of Athens’ or ‘Athenians’—though only men are present) is the formally correct way to address the council, and Paul’s speech, even as edited by Luke, contains numerous rhetorical devices that would have impressed his listeners. And Paul cites writings from two Greek philosophers—the Cretica of Epimenides from Crete (which he also quotes in Titus 1:12), and the Phenomena of Aratus, whom came from Paul’s home region of Cilicia. This confirms what we might suppose from Paul’s own writings, that he was well educated in Greek philosophy and rhetoric as well as being steeped in the Scriptures.

But we also need to note the manner of Paul’s engagement. He begins by highlighting an inconsistency or incoherence in his listeners’ perception of the world—that amongst all the known and named gods, the true God remains unknown to them. This God, who is magisterial in his power, is also (paradoxically) closer than they realise, Paul hinting here at the incarnation of Jesus as God’s presence on earth. Their whole system of statues and temples is an ignorant falsehood, which calls for repentance—and the lynchpin of Paul’s argument is the proof of the resurrection. God’s vindication of Jesus overturns human judgements, establishes Jesus as Lord, and anticipates the end of the world—and in doing so confirms the Jewish view of God, the world and humanity, over against the Greek view. Though expressed in cultural clothing, Paul’s message is uncompromising in its conceptual challenge.

11. The resurrection as a source of theological division Acts 22:30–23:11

Luke is here carefully recording Paul’s time in Jerusalem prior to the journey to Rome and the end of his story. Paul has already caused a stir in the city amongst the Jews, and was about to be flogged by the Roman garrison commander when Paul reveals that he is a Roman citizen. The commander wants to learn more about why Paul is controversial, and so takes him the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. The deep divisions and animosity between groups in first-century Judaism recorded by Luke match what we know from other sources, and it is now customary to refer to ‘first-century Judaisms’ to reflect this diversity.

The main division here is between the Sadducees—the aristocratic rulers who regulated temple worship, oversaw civil government and regulated relations with the Romans (as successors to the Hasmoneans)—and the Pharisees, who were mostly a lay movement concerned with practical questions of holiness. Although, in the gospels, Jesus’ main disputes appeared to be with the Pharisees, Jesus’ biggest theological differences were actually with the Sadducees. At one point, Jesus even tells both the crowd and his disciples to follow the teaching of the Pharisees (in Matthew 23:3)—but he questions the core belief of the Sadducees that there is no resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23).

The differences in belief arise from different views of Scripture. The Sadducees only believed that the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) were scripture, and the idea of resurrection is barely evident there. It is a central notion in the prophetic vision of Ezekiel 37, but only becomes a personal hope in Daniel 12, texts also considered Scripture by the Pharisees. Despite the difference of view, for Paul the resurrection is the key theological hope of Scripture—and is the heart of his message. Belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection should never be dismissed as a ‘juggling trick with bones’ as some have done. It is the basis of our hope for the future; it says something fundamental about the importance of the body for human existence; and (as Paul expounds in Romans 6:1–5) it is a central metaphor for the new life of the baptised follower of Jesus. It is not something about which we can ‘agree to disagree’.

12. Resurrection as the hope of judgement Acts 24:10–26

Luke continues with his detailed account of Paul’s various trials, demonstrating both the opposition he faced, and his steadfast defence before various authorities. We are now in the coastal settlement of Caesarea, residence of the governor of Judea. Felix was governor from AD 52, and other sources confirm he was violent, unsympathetic to the Jews, and unpredictable—leading to his being recalled by the emperor in AD 58.

The trial follows the usual Roman pattern of face-to-face accusation before the judge, after which the defendant offers his apologia. Both Tertullus, the accusing lawyer, and Paul in his defence, refer to the followers of Jesus (‘Nazarenes’ v. 5, ‘followers of the way’ v. 14) as a ‘sect’. The word hairesis can have a neutral sense of ‘party’ or ‘group’ (as in Acts 5:17), but it more usually has a negative connotation, closer to our derived word ‘heresy’ (Galatians 5:20 and 2 Peter 2:1). Paul refutes the specific accusations of being ritually impure within the temple precincts, and the suggestion of causing a riot (of particular interest to the Roman governor). But he then once again turns to the theme of continuity that we saw in his earlier speeches, as well as those of Peter and Stephen: he worships ‘the God of our ancestors’; he believes everything in ‘the Law and the prophets’; and he shares their hope of resurrection. The claim of ancient belief would be important to Romans, who greeted novelty with suspicion. But he is also arguing against his fellow Jews, claiming that the resurrection of Jesus accords with the Jewish scriptures.

It is particularly interesting that he talks of the ‘resurrection of the righteous and the wicked’. The image of resurrection in Ezekiel 37 is just of God’s people, illustrating God bringing them back to life. The earliest mention of a universal resurrection comes in Daniel 12:2, and the purpose is that people might be judged before God. This theological conviction has a very practical outworking: since Paul knows that God is his judge, and that in the resurrection there is vindication for all those who trust in him, he can face accusers of every sort confidently and with a clear conscience. This hope provides Paul with an anchor in the storm of theological debate, personal corruption (‘he hoped for a bribe’ v. 26) and political turmoil.

13. Resurrection as cosmic fulfilment of history Acts 26:1–23

Two years have passed; the more noble Festus has succeeded Felix as governor (Acts 24:27); and Festus, unsure what to do and needing advice, has invited Herod Agrippa II, client king over territory to the east of Judea, to help him. Agrippa was the great grandson of Herod the Great, and the last of the Herodian dynasty to bear the title ‘king’. He spent large sums beautifying Jerusalem to curry favour with the Jewish leaders, and had power the appoint the high priests—but his capricious decisions in appointment made him unpopular. In focussing on Paul’s appearance before Festus and Agrippa, Luke is doing what he has done from the beginning: describing the Jesus movement not as a local, Jewish issue alone, but locating it on the stage of world history (see Luke 1:5, 2:1 and 3:1). Paul’s testimony is of truly global significance.

Paul is flattering Agrippa by treating him as a respectable Jew, despite both his ancestry and his unpopularity; he talks inclusively of ‘our ancestors’ (v. 6) and makes the assumption of faith explicit at the end of his appeal (v. 27). As he does so, he expounds the resurrection in three ways. First, he sees it as a test of genuine faith in God: why would anyone who believes ‘in the God of the living, not of the dead’ (Luke 20:38) think it impossible for God to have raised Jesus (v. 8)? Secondly, the resurrection is indeed the fulfilment of ‘the promise’ of God which was the hope of the people of God from the beginning (the ‘twelve tribes’, v. 7). In a close parallel to Jesus’ explanation on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:26–27), Paul reiterates that Moses and the prophets anticipate that the Messiah would ‘suffer and rise from the dead’ (vv. 22–23).

But, in Paul’s account of his meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road, he goes even further, to a third perspective. The risen Jesus is not simply a completion of what went before, but a cosmic answer to the questions of all humanity—the light in their darkness, release from the power of Satan, and forgiveness of sins (v. 18). In an important sense, this is the end of history, in that God has in Jesus and his resurrection spoken a final word not just to Israel, but to all humanity.

14. Reflection: the centrality of the resurrection 

When reading the gospels and Paul’s letters, it is not always evident how central the resurrection of Jesus was to the early proclamation of the first Christian communities. But our survey of Acts shows how consistently important it was in the public communication and defence of the message. The later chapters of Acts are generally less well known than the early and middle sections, but here Luke appears to give us a reliable record of Paul’s apologetic defence of himself and his gospel—and the resurrection continues to feature as of central importance.

Even when in quite a different cultural context, one in which the idea of bodily resurrection made little sense, Paul persists in focussing on ‘Jesus and the resurrection’ as his core message. When given a chance to expand on this, he adapts his style and established points of cultural contact—but he does this in order to present as credible a still challenging message, whose acceptance would have required some significant philosophical rethinking on the part of his listeners. The same is true when Paul is faced with intra-Jewish theological controversy; his commitment to a belief in resurrection remains firm, even when that feeds into existing disputes and differences. Paul is convinced that the risen Jesus is indeed the fulfilment of the promise of God, given to his people in the scriptures of the Old Testament, and that this promise has now spilled out—as prophesied—to be a blessing to those of all nations.

But the resurrection is not merely the content of Paul’s message; it also provides the animating motivation for his mission. If Jesus has indeed been raised, then everything has changed. The role of the temple has been transformed, since forgiveness is now through trust in Jesus. The nature of hope has changed, since the resurrection brings the future into the present. Even the status of God’s people has moved on, since the message is for all nations and God’s people are to be the carriers of that good news. And the resurrection gives Paul his confidence, since he has met the risen Jesus who will be his judge, and who has commissioned him for this task and promised to be with him in it.


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61 thoughts on “Resurrection changes the world”

  1. This is typically helpful Ian. There a just a couple of points where you have mischaracterised people from traditions other than your own. Most preachers I have heard speaking about this passage see it as an example of Paul engaging with culture, not accommodating to it. And Bishop David Jenkins was defending the reality of the resurrection when he said it was “NOT just a conjuring trick with bones.”

    • Re Jenkins – true, but he did say he did NOT believe the resurrection was a historical event. That seems to be the opposite of Christian teaching as taught by Paul etc. Here is what he seems to have said-

      “[the Resurrection] is real. That’s the point. All I said was ‘literally physical’. I was very careful in the use of language. After all, a conjuring trick with bones proves only that somebody’s very clever at a conjuring trick with bones.” His implication is clear.

      • Jenkins revelled in contradiction, mystification and obscurity. “Oh, of course I believe in the resurrection: I just don’t think Jesus rose from the dead” is how I would sum up his contribution to the debate. Even after repeated attempts at clarification, people still didn’t really know for sure what on earth he was going on about.

    • Thanks Andrew–and I am fascinated by your observation!

      I wasn’t actually referring to people in ‘traditions other than my own’, but people in my own tradition. I frequently here evangelicals and people committed to fresh expressions and pioneer ministry arguing that Paul’s example means we need to ‘talk in their terms’. In fact, the beginning and end of Paul’s speech refers to the resurrection, which is something those in the culture would have found baffling!

      People in my tradition also often contrast Paul’s example here with the approach in Corinth to only speak of ‘Christ and him crucified, foolishness to the Greeks’. I am not sure that this wasn’t just what he did in Athens, and people did indeed find it foolish, as Luke tells us.

  2. Hi Andrew

    Re D Jenkins:

    This is often said, but surely you can see that there is more to be said:

    1 He preceded that by saying that the resurrection of Jesus was not physical;

    2 Any putative physical resurrection of Jesus *would* therefore have been a conjuring trick with bones, in his view;

    3 However – the resurrection has always been understood to be at least physical (though also more) and would be an extremely damp squib otherwise. They saw DJ as dishonest for failing to acknowledge that rather clear fact, and instead marketing his version as a step up frmo teh ordinary version. (Rather like I was once assured that the wooden headstone on a grave was biodegradable – a good thing in itself, but it did mean that you would have to keep on buying it and having it engraved over and over again: a clear downside that its marketers did not acknowledge.)

    4 Accordingly, the resurrection (i.e. ‘the resurrection’ as it was at that point [or pre1962] defined) was seen by DJ as being a conjuring trick with bones.

    5 And given that the whole of Christianity has the resurrection of Jesus central to its message – that is remarkable.

    Most people would be extremely puzzled -and in need of enlightnement – about what exactly a resurrection could be if it were not physical. ‘Resurrection’ is an extremely grand word, so would need a grand reality to correspond to it. Is it a bit like the guardians of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia who had actually nothing in their museum, and when the punter complained, they justified this by saying ‘The Ark of the Covenant is what you make it.’?

    I have had this conversation several times, and do long for a world where counter arguments are taken into account and the debate advances. Ever on the lookout for Orwellian doublespeak…

    Chris.

  3. Christopher, you say ” the resurrection has always been understood to be at least physical”.

    Now, let’s read 1 Cor 15:3-8: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters a at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then
    he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

    What about this report, written far earlier than the gospels, NECESSITATES physicality?

    Is it Paul’s vision of Jesus? Luke reports that in Acts like this in Acts 9:3-7: “Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.”

    What about this vision, compared, it would seem, by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 to the “appearances” to others, NECESSITATES physicality?

    Perhaps it is the “resurrection appearances” of Jesus reported, but only much later than Paul, in the gospels? Perhaps it is the “appearance” to the women in Matthew 28:9-10? “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

    This story, were it true and verifiable, WHICH IT MANIFESTLY ISN’T, would seem to require something physical to touch. Yet why was Paul not told of this “as of first importance”, not least when he can go shouting his mouth off about an appearance “to 500 at once” which is otherwise entirely unattested to in all of human history despite Paul’s own insistence that witnesses still survive? Paul seems singularly uniformed about the apparent resurrection when he seems to lack information about the meeting on the road to Emmaus and an appearance to the gathered apostles, both in Luke 24, and the entirety of the not entirely agreeable appearances recorded in John 20. Yet even there, in John 20, literary critics or theologians alike can ascribe the appropriate literary or theological purposes to these stories. What’s more, when traditions carry such an individual flavour one should, it seems to me, be accordingly more cautious in one’s historical validations. Much as the Christian harmonising scholarship continues I, at the very least, do not remain convinced that there is one coherent and consistent story here to tell nor that physical resurrection is here NECESSITATED or even reported in the traditions that we do have. Were we talking about the resurrection of anybody but Jesus called Christ in historical documents you would, I’ll wager be 100 times more skeptical and without the historical reasons to be so.

    • I meant only the definition of the word/concept.

      They didn’t even talk about something called ‘physical resurrection’. There was only one kind of resurrection, a point not acknowledged by several who make these distinctions.

      You raise innumerable points, which I’m sure I can discuss one by one. First we need to clarify that the concept always implied physicality; more to the point, what alternative was there?

    • Because I am not sure either how something nonphysical can ‘appear’.

      Secondly, it is pretty difficult to understand how there can be nonphysical entities or entities that do not at least interact within a physical system.

        • Presumably, if we accept your thesis about the resurrection, we might all concur with your published conclusion: ”As you know by now, I have written five books about Jesus and the Jesus I find in history was not a god, not a saviour, not a redeemer.

          The fact is that even when you challenge the historical Jesus (which according to you is “usefully falsified, narrativised, more than facts”) with your post-historical approach, your recognition that history is “always within some kind of, or someone’s, bounds as a discourse” doesn’t exempt you from susceptibility to those self-same bounds.

          As much as anyone else’s, your own statements here can be just as “usefully falsified, narrativised, more than facts”, including your estimation of what you’ve called, “the Jesus I find in history”.

          • And I would never deny it was David. As Gianni Vattimo says of Nietzsche’s “there are no facts, only interpretations”, this is itself OF COURSE also an interpretation. You may find fault elsewhere but of inconsistency I am not guilty. When I, as well as many others, claim that interpretation goes all the way down we mean it and we include what we are saying in the description.

          • Based on your premise that “one cannot have a Jesus that does not also explain the earliest Christians and what they thought and said about him”, you claim that “Jesus was preaching and teaching open access to God, God’s transcendent immanence in, over and above all things, and that this should make a real difference to people’s lives and their experience of life.”

            As we agree, that sketch is also just as “usefully falsified, narrativised, more than facts.”

            So, why shouldn’t your acknowledged consistency just leave you no more than apophatic negations, rather than positive assertions about what you consider to be persuasive?

          • Since you have found my books David you will see, if you read them all, that I certainly do make positive assertions as well as plenty of entirely necessary negations. The interpretation that all things are interpretations does not stop people making assertions. In fact, it is what ENABLES them to do so. Enquiry of any kind is an interpretive act, including mine and yours. Hence, for example, in my book “Jesus and the Community Gospel” I write the following in the final chapter about the resurrection, our subject here, in the context of the subject of my book, a historical Jesus based in reconstructions of early formulations of both Q and Thomas (from other scholarship). There I say:

            “it is indeed the case that not everyone could have probed a body. The vast majority, and certainly those hearing the post resurrection preaching of those who did believe in it, simply had to accept it as a proposition based on argumentation and whatever background beliefs they may have held about resurrection. Not all Jews did believe in
            resurrection and most, as with Paul the Pharisee, only believed in one general one rather than individual ones that could happen here, there and everywhere. So, that people would automatically accept the resurrection is not something we should think was necessarily likely and neither should we assume they would find such a thing the most important thing about Jesus. This becomes more pointed if, as it is suggested, groups and communities of people who revere Jesus in other ways, are in evidence say, for example, because they produce sayings gospels that remember Jesus more for the content of his teaching than for an imagined resurrection. This, as will be clear to readers of this book, is in fact argued to be the case. In fact, we might even reasonably ask if some of these non-believers in a resurrected Jesus were not likely to have been members of the twelve, at least half of whom are largely anonymous gospel figures who are barely named, who play no useful role in the recitation of events, and, of whom, Matthew can tautly report “but some doubted”. Certainly, it seems to me that the resurrection experience, if I may call it that, was far from the universal phenomenon some would like to claim it was and better answers to the
            phenomena of Q and Thomas, which show no concern for such a postulate, are required than to either imagine their non-existence (in the case of Q) or to posit their reliance on things they may ultimately be substantially autonomous of (in the case of Thomas).”

            Now that is my historical interpretation and is fully acknowledged as such in all the terms of my own that you have quoted back to me from my writing. But what is not clear is that anything you may claim to the contrary has escaped the charge of being exactly the same thing as well. Interpretation is what enables enquiry. It is not its end.

          • Andrew,

            I won’t read them all. However, as you say, “But what is not clear is that anything you may claim to the contrary has escaped the charge of being exactly the same thing as well. Interpretation is what enables enquiry. It is not its end.”

            I don’t mind the charge. And, you may well consider that any contrary claim made by conservative evangelicals reveals as much of an psychological “comfort blanket” as yours reveals an intellectual one.

            What you haven’t clarified is the end, for you, of such enquiry and why any of us should engage with it.

            Beyond yourself and a part of the Western liberal elite does any ethical or moral worth accrue from it, or does it just impart intellectual stimulation and affirmation?

          • Ah, I see David. Your enquiry is essentially “Why bother if its all only interpretations?” The end, in that sense, is that interpretation is the stuff of life and a part of our God-given being. We can read John 1 as saying that Jesus is the interpretation of God. If God feels a need to interpret then I certainly don’t see why we shouldn’t. Indeed, such a thing would then be a partaking in God’s own activity and nature. I would find such partaking not only of worth but part of what, theologically, it is claimed God is actually doing which is an interpretive engagement with his creation.

          • Oh, I certainly agree that “interpretation is the stuff of life and a part of our God-given being”.

            However, there’s nothing in that which limits interpretation to an intellectual exercise.”

            In any engagement of our faculties, interpretation is going on all the time. If you think how that works in intimate relationships, some of the interpretation is again: “usefully falsified, narrativised, more than facts”.

            For many, the change to belief or to doubt of that interpretation is only precipitated by some personal occurrence that’s either significantly consonant or at odds with it.

            The fact that such an occurrence can be physical, psychological or emotional, rather than only intellectual doesn’t make the interpretation less valid as a basis for ethics, or morality.

            As an example (which I won’t explore further), the vicar of Didsbury parish church interpreted a Coroner’s hearing as revealing the church’s ‘conspiracy of silence around the issue of sexuality’ in Lizzie Lowe’s suicide.

            Should that fact that there’s no factual record corroborating such a damning assessment, but that it lent the credence of a public verdict to the vicar’s own agenda of promoting the adoption of the Inclusive Church Charter invalidate it as an impetus for that church’s subsequent decision to join the Inclusive Church movement?

            Some might say that the end justifies the means.

            So, I’m not asking why at all we should seek to interpret, but, instead, what is the expected (better?) moral outcome should result from your own approach as opposed to any other.

          • You ask very interesting and, in my view, very vital questions David and, to be totally honest, they are not ones I’ve really been addressing in my posts here so far. These posts have been restricting themselves, in the main, to questions of historical interpretation regarding the subjects of Ian’s blogs. When I address your specific question now I am not sure that I can answer that there is an “expected moral outcome” from them. I, like any other engaged enquirer, am simply setting out what I see and what I regard as important in reaching such conclusions. About that we may agree or disagree just as we may agree or disagree on if my procedures or what I regarded as evidence were, indeed, valid and appropriate versions of such things. As far as the morality of interpretation goes, this, for me, is a matter of open-mindedness, willingness to listen to and engage with, the thoughts of others which, if genuinely held and put forward in a community spirit, should be taken on their merits. I hope you imagine that anything you have read of mine fits into such a characterisation. So I would not argue my conclusions are more moral. I, like others, would simply argue for their relevance based on the grounds I give in arguing them.

            Here, though, it is worth adding that, of course, personal and communal matters play a role in this. You may know, for example, of the notion of “hermeneutic traditions” or “reading communities” in various kinds of reader theory. In my own writing over the last few years I have talked about “being-in-the-midst” which is meant to indicate that people are not islands but always part of something bigger than themselves. Interpretation, then, is always situated and conditioned and I wouldn’t seek to deny this at all. Its one reason that people give themselves labels and then imagine they have to defend them, it seems to me.

        • (a) how do you define visions?

          (b) how are they nonphysical?

          (c) how can 500 witnesses share the same vision at the same time?

          • Paul is the sole witness, if he is indeed a witness, to something nowhere else attested. Even the most conservative, biblicist, inerrantist biblical reader has nothing but the simple choice to believe Paul at face value or reject it as is. In my “likeliest scenario” this is a total dead end.

          • No they don’t. They have not only Paul but also his cited witnesses to rely on. Apart from James Zebedee these were all alive. Paul knew this, and was either lying (lies which he would have known could be esaily falsified, so he would have sold his whole ministry for a foolish lie) or telling the truth. By what means could you make the former option the likelier, as you would have to do for your stance to stand?

    • ‘and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day’

      Andrew, is the implication not clear? His body was buried, His body was raised.

      Peter

        • Ok, Andrew but I thought you were implying Paul’s understanding was not necessarily of a ‘physical’ resurrection as per –

          ‘ Now, let’s read 1 Cor 15:3-8: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters a at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then
          he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

          What about this report, written far earlier than the gospels, NECESSITATES physicality? ‘

          But you accept Paul understood Jesus’ resurrection to be physical in nature. Ok.

          • Peter, I don’t claim to know what Paul understood. My efforts are to understand what he says. There the precise question I ask is my explicit focus and the implication of his vision of Jesus being put side by side with the appearances to others. The implication, in fact, should be clear: if Acts 9 is an accurate representation of what happened to Paul then no physical body may, in fact, be required to validate their specific experiences. On this please also see my response to John Grayston at the bottom of the page.

          • Andrew – Im replying to myself (!) as I could not reply directly to you. It seems Ian limits the number of responses – probably a good thing.

            “Peter, I don’t claim to know what Paul understood. ”

            but in your other response, in reply to my ‘ Andrew, is the implication not clear (from 1 Corinthians)? His body was buried, His body was raised’ you said “Peter, the implication is manifest.”

            You seem to be saying Paul didnt mean what he manifestly meant?!

    • Eating NECESSITATES (your capitals ;-)) physicality… but not quite as we know it.

      The Ascension surely demands it…. Taken into heaven… I guess that you do not believe it happened.

      Pentecost builds on it…. When I go… We will send…

      The resurrection that’s coming is a foretaste and modelled by it.

      Andrew…. You seem to accuse the gospel writers of being dishonest rather than adding a theological spin, refusing them any historical validity and preferring that which isn’t demonstrated to exist… Eg Q

      • In Luke 23 Jesus tells his fellow person on the cross “Today you will be with me in paradise” so does Jesus believe in “the ascension”? Perhaps he had not been updated on God’s, sorry, I mean Luke’s timetable!

        I do not think that the gospel writers were “dishonest” at all Ian. I think that there are far too many people, perhaps you are one but that is for you to say, who wish they had written the books they think they did when, in fact, they didn’t. Specifically, I think if you had asked any gospel writer “Did it happen exactly like this?” they would have either looked at you funny as if you had missed the point or they would have taken you aside to explain to you what was genuinely important about what they had written. I do not think they would have insisted it happened “just like that”.

        But then, how could they when at least two of the four, some argue three, used the other ones BUT CHANGED THE STORY ANYWAY!!

        • “Today you will be with me in paradise”

          – I understand the original Greek can be read “Today I tell you, you will be with me in paradise”, so Jesus’ words do not necessarily mean that the man will be with Jesus that day. Some have used that alternate rendering to imply when someone dies, they remain dead and not in heaven etc until the final resurrection. But it’s open for debate.

        • Today in paradise? I can’t see a problem there at all… unless you think that everything exists in time. Are the dead inside time or beyond it?

          You haven’t answered the implications of Jesus eating for non – physicality…

          Why do you use so many capitalisations? Do we need to be shouted at?

          • Not having yet been dead Ian I’m not sure I have an opinion on what the dead are apart from dead. Can you share with me your knowledge of coming back to life so that I might become more informed on the subject?

            I must also proclaim myself not so wide-eyed regarding Jesus eating and its implications. Can ghosts eat? What’s the evidence? How about if I have a dream or vision of someone eating?

            I use capitalisation for emphasis. If I could use italics instead, I would.

  4. 1. Ian Paul,
    Thank you for the GOOD NEWS.

    2 Andrew Lloyd,
    From the totality of your contributions to the comments recently, you have deconstructed your own beliefs to be so far from Christian core beliefs and reconstructed them to show, to me, your scepticism, and unbelief, so much so, much could come from the pen of an atheist, and do on some blogs.
    Some mainstream Christian traditions would bar you from any leadership and or training, teaching or pastoral role, may even excommunicate if you persisted in promoting your unbelief, for that is what it is; unbelief. (I am presuming here, perhaps erroneously, that you have a ministerial role in the CoE)
    You have consistently set out what you don’t believe but have not what or WHO, which god you believe:
    1 What is the GOOD News of Jesus Christ, Messiah
    2 Who is Jesus Christ
    2 God’s Son, incarnate
    3 God the Son
    4 God the Father
    5 God the Holy Spirit
    6 the thrice Holy Trinity
    7 Which god do you believe in, which god do you BELIEVE.
    8 Lets us have your testimony of your conversion to Jesus Christ
    Come on Andrew, don’t be shy, let’s have your reconstructed beliefs about god:
    let us have your reconstructed god, based on your handed down, far from radically new traditions.
    So far as I can see you have no GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ to spread.

    • Geoff, I can assure you I am far from an atheist… And equally far from an apologist for evangelicalism. If you want my views all you have to do is click my name. I’m not exactly hiding them!

  5. In John 20:24–29 Jesus asks Thomas to touch his wounds. Although Thomas did not do so, this seems to me to be enough to suggest that Jesus’ resurrection body was physical. The writer of John’s Gospel clearly believed so.

    • Is this the same John who then says “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe”? What seems clear to me from John 20 is that the writer knew very well that if everyone became like Thomas in his story then there was going to be a huge problem because Thomas was one of a vanishingly small number of people who would even get the chance to touch it. So, instead, he praises those who don’t need proof and promotes belief which is a standard NT move. The amusing thing about this though is that it then follows that Christians don’t actually need a body at all. “Just believe it,” says John. And ever since millions have believed in the resurrection without seeing a body, a tomb, a vision, an angel or anything at all. That, in fact, is what the NT asks Christians to do and its why the historical fixation some have with” proving” their history is, in a sense, profoundly unChristian.

      • “The amusing thing about this though is that it then follows that Christians don’t actually need a body at all. “Just believe it,” says John.”

        You are absolutely correct that meeting the physical (or should that be transphysical?) Jesus is not a prerequisite for salvation, and that the emphasis in John is on faith rather than on sight, but the resurrection is far more than simply a salvation issue: It serves validate, through the example of Jesus’ own resurrection, our future hope of resurrection and restoration/renewal of creation.

        The difficulty of a non-physical resurrection is not that it invalidates (or confuses) a salvific faith, but that it fails to conform to the consistent narrative of scripture, beginning right at creation, that humanity is fundamentally ‘bodied’, and that this remains God’s intent throughout scripture.

        • My point Mat would be the historical inference from that which you have already accepted though. 99.99999% of all Christians have never needed a body, tomb, etc., so why did anybody? It is manifestly not necessary and the primary example of that, as scholar Maurice Casey noted well, was Paul very much inside the NT.

          So I am not at all sure about the relevance of your point that humanity is “fundamentally bodied”. As I study Jesus and the scholarship about him, it seems most of the time Christian conception wrestles with the idea that Jesus was even a human being BEFORE he died! Indeed, in one book I wrote about the historical Jesus I have a chapter that includes noting how European culture has made Jesus a white man, the reflection of his predominant viewers, and also how psychological studies of the historical figure, such as John Miller’s “Jesus at Thirty”, are simply disguised Christology, pretense of humanising Jesus which ends up making him more divine. That Jesus is an entirely enculturated figure is the inescapable conclusion. And, what’s more, the Jewish conception of God is utterly averse to embodiment which why we have storms and clouds and whirlwinds, etc. In a context of “Behold, I am making all things new!” that Jesus had a body is a moot point and precedent is only circumstantial.

          • “My point Mat would be the historical inference from that which you have already accepted though. 99.99999% of all Christians have never needed a body, tomb, etc., so why did anybody?”

            I was very clear: meeting the resurrected Christ, in the flesh, is not a prerequisite for ‘being saved’. I did not say that being bodily resurrected was unimportant: indeed, as I said in our previous conversation, it is central to other Christian claims: our future hopes chief among them. So no, I don’t agree with you. 😉

            “So I am not at all sure about the relevance of your point that humanity is “fundamentally bodied”. “

            Because in all the early stories we have about Jesus, he doesn’t exist as a random interjection in human history without purpose or prior expectation, but rather as culmination of, or the long awaited fulfillment of, God’s promises to Israel. Chief among these being the promise to restore that which was broken in the fall; humanity itself. This is the very essence of Paul, his “creational monotheism” which all other ideas are nested within.

            You cannot separate Jesus from those things, without doing a frankly criminal injustice to both theology and early church history in the New Testament.

            “…it seems most of the time Christian conception wrestles with the idea that Jesus was even a human being BEFORE he died!”

            Even among the most skeptical modern scholars (skeptical is, obviously, a relative term) there is at least the admission that the earliest christian writers and thinkers were not wrestling with the question “was Jesus human?” per se, but something more like “In what way, or to what degree, was Jesus human?”, and attempting to reconcile his humanity and divinity. As early as Justin Martyr and the first apologists the physical nature of Jesus, as a walking, talking person, is simply assumed, and the questions they ask of the resurrection tend to be “how”, and “when”. Even Schweitzer, with whose work I have only limited acquaintance and whose work features heavily in your own, seems to acknowledge this.

          • Mat, there are two questions here. The first is about what Jesus is presented as in the NT and you answer that in a way that sounds very like Tom Wright. But the second is about what the likely historical truth of this is. You may think the answer to both questions is the same. My honestly reached conclusions from my own research are that they aren’t. What’s more “the long awaited fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel” covers a multitude of sins. Wright would claim his writing fills that out even as I, with my different writing, would with mine and many others would with their own different yet again conclusions. We are there talking about “the kingdom of God” which I don’t for a single millisecond believe that Jesus filled out himself with talk of death and/or resurrection but which I certainly do believe he filled out in other ways. That, in fact, is the content of my own writing as well as being exactly the point at issue.

            So I agree with all you say about resurrection as the expression of Christian doctrine. I agree with you completely. But elsewhere there are differences.

          • RE the first question, I’m going to take that as a compliment.

            I do indeed think Wright has grasped the heart of the matter regarding ‘who Jesus was’ and has placed him in his 1st-C context a lot better than many other New Testament historians have. Wright’s detailed sketch of Jesus, especially in JVG, is personally the most compelling because his Jesus is both historically probable (a real man who did real things, with a set of revolutionary ideas) and utterly fantastical (a healer and miracle worker, who repeatedly defies the laws of physics).

            Wright, like the gospel writers that precede him by two millennia, resists being drawn too firmly either way, and holding the two in theological balance is the goal, rather than discarding the one we don’t like. 😉

            RE the second question, as is perhaps obvious, I don’t think the answer is the same, no.

            It is as as clear to me as to you that the gospel writers are not writing ‘history’ in the way that we might think of it today, and that their unique language and literary styles serve their individual agendas and the story they wish to tell, often at the expense of a strictly chronological history, but this makes them no different from any other writer, then or now.

            I would certainly be willing to hold the integrity of the gospel accounts as of higher objective historical value than either Q, the gospel of Thomas, or the Qumran scrolls. It doesn’t mean I think they’re flawless.

            I still think you’re dodging the question a lot of us are asking though: which is how your approach reconciles a spiritualised (non-physical) resurrection, with a firmly physical expectation and hope (or denial thereof)?

          • So I accept your call for reasonable doubt, I do not think your position without merit. I just find it the weaker of the two positions when it come to explaining the thought of Paul (and to a lesser degree, John).

            If nothing else you’ve persuaded me to look at your material, and to revisit Borg again.

          • Mat, thank you for your further replies. If our exchanges encourage thinking on either side that can be no bad thing. I can say that they have for me too.

            To encourage the view that I am not dodging expectations, though, let me say that I am myself largely agnostic about the substance which I regard as characterised by lack of knowledge rather than surfeit of it. One of my criticisms of Wright is that he always knows too much and always exactly the things he would have needed to know when beginning the search. That makes my spidey senses tingle! I am not sure I have actually said I believe in a “spiritualized” resurrection though. In fact, if you do read any of my books, especially “The Gospel of No One” in which the crucifixion and resurrection is discussed, it might more reasonably seem the case that I believe in no resurrection at all. I think the resurrection is something to do with certain, but not all, followers of Jesus rather than with Jesus himself. So what I have asked through the scholarship of Casey as responses to others here is basically two questions:

            1. Is there a coherent and plausible resurrection history of a (trans) physical body to find? I answer this question with a “No”.

            2. Can the resurrection be explained by means other than a (trans) physical body? I answer that question with a “Yes”.

            Those answers to those questions, however, come from an appraisal of the whole “historical Jesus” scenario that I have studied and written about rather than from an analysis of these events in isolation. It all fits together rather than being something we can judge by itself for me. The Jesus I find in history did not talk about his death and resurrection and had a different relationship to God than that which canonical gospels, I would claim, give him. Needless to say, while I can subsequently understand the meaning these documents are giving his death and resurrection, I can only see them as imposing on Jesus rather than following any program he had initiated himself. That Jesus was then resurrected becomes all that much harder for me to accept as a consequence.

          • “I am not sure I have actually said I believe in a “spiritualized” resurrection though.”

            Fair enough. I was hesitant to put you in a doctrinal box, but I couldn’t think how best to define your position. I certainly didn’t mean it as a slur…

            FYI, Ian’s blog comments support HTML tags. 😉

            If you do want to bold text you just need type and on either side of the words you want them in bold (minus the dots, which are there to enable you to see the tags). Italics are and respectively.

          • Haha, clearly dots in the tags don’t break the html on your website Ian.

            Please delete the above comment, or edit it so that it makes sense by either purging the lower half, changing the tags, or removing it entirely.

            Thanks

      • Undoubtedly milliions have believed without seeing a body. Seeing a body is not necessary to Christian belief, but it does not necessarilly follow that belief in a physical, bodily resurrection is not. While visions might be an acceptable explantion of the events recorded, it is not the way in which the NT writers or the early Christians interpreted those events. They understood their experiences to involve an empty tomb, a body raised and in some sense reconstituted having both continuity and discontinuity with the old. Tom Wright has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that in the first centruty there was no other way of understanding resurrection. While we are at liberty to interpret their experiences in ways other than they did it does seem an odd sort of cultural hegemony to insist that our understanding of what they experienced is preferable to their own.

        • John, if I may, allow me to be slightly pedantic in response. What about accounts written after decades of reflection, and earlier Pauline accounts such as 1 Cor 15:3-8 or Luke’s description of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:3-9, requires or establishes an actual body, tomb, etc?

          Tom Wright notwithstanding, perhaps it is just the case that scholars every bit as distinguished as he, yet who don’t agree with his conclusions, have made such conclusions not quite as “beyond reasonable doubt” as you imagine? Perhaps you have just not read such other books? For example, compare the scholarship of Maurice Casey in a book published 7 years after that on the resurrection published by Wright and of which he shows knowledge. Casey, who often jousted with Wright in real life, speaks in his “Jesus of Nazareth”, for example, of Jesus’ own parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” from Luke 16:19-31 in which, in Casey’s words, “Jesus envisages in story mode a person going to heaven after death without leaving his tomb empty, being sent to five people, and this being described as ‘rising from the dead’.” Casey concludes that “the process of going to heaven after death has NO NECESSARY CONNECTION with a person’s tomb being empty” (p.469, emphasis Casey’s). He further mentions Jesus’ own comment from the cross to the man crucified with him “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43) which has both Jesus and the other man in heaven immediately after death. Casey, after cataloguing other things, concludes that “All this illustrates the massive variety of beliefs which Jesus’ followers could generate after Jesus’ death. It is especially important that believing that God had taken someone straight to his throne after their death did not entail that an empty tomb was left behind on earth” (p.470). Neither am I using Casey as an example here because I agree with him because on a number of points I don’t. Casey, for example, thinks Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. I don’t. Yet Casey does see variety where Wright, a Christian believer in the bodily resurrection of Jesus before he had even read a word in the course of his research, does not. What’s more Casey, who often uses the phrase “story mode” of the gospels, claims “I have not argued that any of the Gospel stories of the empty tomb or of Resurrection appearances are legends. I have argued that they are stories, written in their present forms by the Gospel writers themselves” (p.485). The best affirmation Casey can muster is that “some of them had experiences which they interpreted as appearances of the risen Jesus” (p.487).

          So is it really a matter of the “liberty” of modern interpreters? There is, by the by, much more of this and a full argumentation if you read Casey’s book. I have only scratched the surface which certainly gives some room for “reasonable doubt”. Read, for example, Casey’s section on “Appearances, Visions, Apparitions and Hallucinations” (pp. 488-497).

  6. Andrew,
    A) So much could be said about form and redactor criticism, (I’ve found Vol 2 of Josh McDowell’s Evidence that demands a verdict which was superseded by New Evidence… which is out on loan), but it is so old hat on the wrong side of history, resurrection history. Even all the old arguments over hallucinations ect seem to continue to be trotted out.
    from McDowell
    1 Redaction criticism is built on form criticism , which is, in turn built on a priori pressumptions
    1.1 anti-supernaturalism – a disbelief either in a) God’s existence or b)His intervention in the natural order of the universe
    1.2 we live in a closed material world, universe system (every cause has its natural effect)
    1.3 for all practical purposes there is no god
    1.4 there is no supernatural
    1.5 miracles are no possible
    2 Prof HW Hehner summary assessment of redaction criticism
    2. 1 The sitz-em- leben position is not historically substantiated. The evidence points to the fact that the Gospels Created the Christian community, not vice-versa.
    2.2.1The role of eyewitness is forgotten. Their testimony is clear in the Gospels and if one of them was wrong it would have been corrected.
    2.2.2 The critics believe that theologians would distort history to fit their theology, This is not the case.
    2.2.3 The critics attempt to reconstruct the gospel accounts, totally apart from the eyewitness. who were there.
    2.2.4 The uniqueness Jesus is minimised. the critics assume that the writers made the brilliant statement in the Gospels rather than Jesus
    2,2.5 Christian ethics are minimised. Christ empathised the truth, yet the Gospel writers fabricated a story: they told us that the story of Christ happened in a certain way, yet in reality it did not -It was a community creation. Yet their “lie” has been believed by millions and thousands have died for a lie.
    2.2.6 There is no room for the Holy Spirit. Their naturalistic theology almost excludes the work of God in a believer’s life.
    2,2.7 Simply because the authors have a theological purpose does not negate authenticity or historical accuracy.
    3 Of course you’ll be aware of this from CS Lewis. To be enjoyed and savoured:
    https://lewisonbiblicalcriticism.blogspot.com/2005/06/modern-theology-and-biblical-criticism.html
    4 Your comments have sent me back to enjoyably flick through Andrian Warnock’s book I mentioned in an earlier comment. So thank you for that – I’ll enjoy it further at leisure. Again it’s helped me praise and worship bodily raised from death and ascended ALIVE.
    5 I repeat my questions to you, the substance of which you have avoided in total.
    As a former lawyer with some knowledge of laws and rules of evidence, including eyewitness testimony, I have little difficulty in ascribing veracity to Gospel eyewitness accounts.

    • Geoff, you quote C S Lewis in your reply to me as offering some sage advice. He refers to critics of John’s gospel as history in his diatribe, plainly himself imagining that that still today historically disdained text is genuine history, by referring to Jesus writing with his finger in the ground. This passage, commonly printed in John as Jn 7:53 – 8:11, is almost universally regarded, even by Conservative scholars, as not an original part of John. In several ancient manuscripts it is found, instead, as part of Luke 21, a different book with a completely different author! Thus, to find Lewis praising the veracity of John for, amongst other things, such a dubious passage fatally wounds and undermines any credibility you might think he has on the subject of “biblical critics”. Perhaps he should have stuck to lions, witches and wardrobes and hopefully this does not speak too much to your own “difficulty in ascribing veracity to Gospel ‘eyewitness’ accounts”.

  7. Reply button exhausted so it’s a new post…

    Andrew Lloyd… “Can ghosts eat?”… Jesus appeared to think they didn’t but that he, in resurrected form did as demonstration of bodily resurrection.

    But then you don’t believe he did or that these accounts have any veracity in any truly meaningful way. It doesn’t seem to have any meaning left. That’s your decision and choice.

    You seem as decided as anyone on all this so I’ll leave you with what you have…

    • Ian, You appear happy to believe that whatever canonical gospels report Jesus said, thought or did that Jesus said, thought or did. That’s your choice. Many others find a distinction between these two things, however.

      Yet on your next point I must vehemently disagree in at least two ways. One, a “truly meaningful” way to read the gospels is not, and never will be, merely the way either you or I choose to read them. Meaning, as vast and complex philosophical discussions show, is never simply a matter of marks on a page. It involves and engages the reader as part of its very construction. “Meaning” is not, then, one thing. Second, I absolutely do believe that the gospels have “veracity”. Just not necessarily for the things that you think they do. But unless you can show me why the only veracity they have should be your kind then we can discuss that no further.

      There is one more error you make in reading my replies Ian. You decide for yourself that I am “as decided as anyone on all this”. But I am far from decided. I am, in fact, quite happy to admit I might be totally wrong. No doubt you might actually agree with me on that! I do not think that here we dabble much with knowledge. “Certainty” is but a stranger. We are dealing more with probability, hunch, instinct and imagination.

  8. A vision is not a resurrection or evidence of one, and cannot possibly accurately be described as such. Likewise a ghost. The reason is that both may be projections.

    • If you read the entire comments section you’ll see I’ve quite clearly stated on multiple occasions that I regard the phenomena as visions and in response to Mat I have openly stated I see no resurrection in view. I doubt I could be any clearer. You could have also read my own work, which is openly linked in every comment I make, which would confirm and further flesh out these same judgments.

      • No – you more than once say things like ‘can the resurrection be explained by…?’, thus presupposing that there was something called the resurrection rather than resurrection allegations.

      • Christopher, your descent into pedantry is here complete. Nothing in the example sentence you quote precludes “resurrection” being a simple example of me running with the presuppositions of others, which even though I disagree with I am still able to understand, out of simple conversational good manners. It doesn’t need to refer to a physical event and both by my direct comments to you and to others here it should be clear to you that it in fact does not. It seems that you have trouble discerning the meaning of texts even where you can directly quiz their author.

  9. Thanks, Ian, very informative re: Pharisees and Sadducees.

    In regard to this quote, ‘the ‘resurrection of the righteous and the wicked’ which reality is not made too clear in the OT: is it not possible that Paul is simply quoting the teachings of Jesus which had been related to him which are recorded in John 5:28-29?

  10. Andrew Lloyd,
    A belated response to your comment to me above:
    Andrew,
    1 You have failed to answer the particular points of substance, set out your beliefs, your god, the Trinity, your testimony of conversion, the Good News of Jesus Christ, let alone the quotations relating to form/redactor critics and responded in a slightly puerile, miffed, high-handed way to the whole CS Lewis essay: a man whose intellect and testimony “Surprised by Joy” in your estimation falls far below yours.

    2 I’ll give this from CS Lewis in response: “The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing up nature with Him. It is precisely on great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.” (God in the Dock)
    3 You argue that it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was physically resurrected. You are wrong. This is from Francis Schaeffer:

    “The Bible says that Christ rose physically from the dead, that if you had been there that day, you would have seen Christ stand up and walk away in a space-time, observable situation of true history. The materialist says, “no, I don’t believe it. Christ was not raised from the dead.” That is unbelief. Liberal theology is also unbelief because it says either that Jesus was not raised from the dead in history, or maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t because who knows what’s going to happen in this world in which you can’t be sure of anything. The historic resurrection of Christ doesn’t really matter, says this theology; what matters is that the church got a big push from thinking he was raised in history… Now I would say that the old liberalism, the new liberalism, and materialism are basically the same. To all of them finally the same word applies: UNBELIEF.” (Complete Works of Francis A. Shaeffer.)

    4 And this:

    “The chief modern rival of Christianity is “liberalism.” An examination of the teachings of liberalism in comparison with those of Christianity will show that at every point the two movements are in direct opposition.

    The many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.

    Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity–liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.

    It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.” Gresham Machen “Christianity and Liberalism”.

    5 Yesterday, at an Anglican Communion service we all said the Nicene Creed together. From all you have written, it doesn’t seem likely that you could affirm the truths therein with any integrity of belief. There indeed would be no true communion, in relation to the elements or commonality of belief, a unity in Christ, a unity in the Holy Spirit.

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