Marcus Borg's Blinders
His failure to account for the first Easter
Several years ago, I picked up a copy of Marcus Borg's Jesus: A New Vision at a library book sale. I spent all of one dollar to buy it, and except for the fact that I find it a useful tool to point out the absurdity of his position, I would find it to be the least valuable dollar I ever spent. I want to take just a second here to point out one of his more ridiculous statements.
"[T]he image of the historical Jesus as a divine or semi-divine being, who saw himself as the divine savior whose purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and whose message consisted of proclaiming that, is simply not historically true. Rather, it is the product of the blend produced by the early church--a blending of the church's memory of Jesus with the church's beliefs about the risen Christ. The former was seen through the window provided by the latter. They remembered Jesus with the 'eye of faith,' that is, in the light of Easter and afterward.With all due respect to the Dr. Borg, this is absolute nonsense. Certainly, he is entitled to follow the teaching of those scholars of the New Testament who believe (for various reasons) that the historical Jesus was not the Jesus that we see in the Bible. I certainly have found no compelling reason to accept that line of thinking, and I certainly can point to a number of well-respected scholars who have rejected those conclusions. Thus, I do not believe, and do not believe the weight of the evidence is so overwhelming as to force anyone to adopt, Dr. Borg's misguided conclusions that Jesus was less than he is reported to be in the Gospel accounts.
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"Knowledge of the historical Jesus is not essential. Being a Christian does not require having accurate historical information. Generations of Christians, taking the gospel portraits at 'face value' as historical accounts, have had incorrect historical beliefs about Jesus without harm to their faith or piety. Christianity does not consist primarily of having correct beliefs about the historical Jesus, but consists of having a relationship with the living Christ." (Some emphasis added.) Jesus: A New Vision, pp. 7-8, 13.
But suppose for the sake of argument that he is right. Suppose that Jesus--far from the picture presented clearly in the Gospels of a man who claimed to be God, performed miracles, died and self-volitionally resurrected--was a man who was a simple (perhaps profound in many ways) eschatalogical preacher who had not self-image of being the messiah who was sent to die for the sins of the world. What then?
According to Dr. Borg, the belief in such a Jesus is still valid. Why? Because the Christian believer would still benefit from "having a relationship with the living Christ." Well, now Dr. Borg needs to explain two things: first, in what sense is Jesus "living"? Second, in what sense do I benefit from the relationship with this "living Christ"? Obviously, if Jesus were no more than an eschatalogical preacher who was elevated to Godhood by the post-Easter church, then Jesus would be no more "living" than any other previously dead prophet. After all, if Jesus didn't really bodily resurrect from the dead following his crucifixion, then he is only as alive to us today as Moses, Samuel and Ezekiel. Come to think of it, he is also only as alive as Confucius, Muhammad, Gandhi and Jackie Gleason. Dr. Borg needs to answer how Jesus is any more alive than any of these other people.
Dr. Borg gives a rather mealy-mouthed answer to this question.
We cannot know exactly what happened. According to the earliest accounts of Easter reported by his followers, Jesus 'appeared to them' and they knew it was the same person that they had known during his ministry. We do not know what form the appearances took.So, according to Dr. Borg, we can trust that the apostles experienced "something" as the result of the earliest accounts of Easter reported by his followers, but that something does not necessarily include the bodily resurrection that is also reported by his followers and attested to by Paul. What we apparently know is that somehow, through some unexplainable event, the earliest Christians continued to experience Him. But isn't this a real problem for Dr. Borg? If the disciples did experience the living Christ following his Easter crucifixion, then what other possibilities could explain it other than the bodily resurrection? After all, if these disciples were so excited to tell the world about what they experienced following the death and resurrection, wouldn't it be likely that we should be able to discern from the "earliest reports" something of what they experienced? And why is it that the bodily resurrection is ruled out when it is these same "earliest reports" that give him confidence that something happened in the first place?
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Did Easter nonetheless involve something happening to the corpse of Jesus? On historical grounds, we cannot say. What we can say, however, is from the standpoint of Christian faith most crucial: Jesus' followers continued to experience him as a living reality, and in a new way, namely as having the qualities of God." (Emphasis in the original.) Id., pp. 184-185.
Moreover, if Jesus didn't really come to die to save the world, then what is the benefit to me (and you) of having a relationship with that "living Christ"? By the terms of the Bible, I would still be under the law and would be required to uphold every jot and tittle in order to join in the presence of the Father when I die. My "relationship with the living Christ" does nothing to free me of that burden because Jesus, much as I may want to believe to the contrary, wasn't really the Son of God sent to take away the sins of the world, but was instead merely another man--an insightful man who was a religious revolutionary--whose death does not free me from anything. In fact, my relationship with my wife is really more meaningful than that.
With all due respect to Dr. Borg, I stand with St. Paul and in doing so, I think I stand on firm ground.
"Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then [is] our preaching vain, and your faith [is] also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith [is] vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." 1 Corinthians 15: 12-19.