“There is no question in my mind that had there not been some transforming experience that happened to the disciples after the death of Jesus that convinced them that he had conquered the boundary of human death there would be no Christianity. But what people don’t understand is that the idea that that experience meant the resuscitation of a body that could walk physically out of a tomb on the third day after crucifixion is a very late developing tradition. You will not find it in Paul; you will not find it in Mark. Most people are surprised to know that in the first gospel, Mark, written in the early seventies, that no where does the risen Christ ever appear in Mark to anybody! It’s only in the late gospels that he not only appears but offers his flesh to be inspected and eats and walks and talks and interprets scripture; it’s a very late development in the tradition. There is a powerful Easter experience that starts the whole Christian faith, transforms the disciples, changes them from cowards who had forsaken him and fled and brought them back into being heroic followers of this Jesus — changed the way they understood God so that whatever that Easter experience was they could never again think of God without seeing Jesus as part of that definition. They could never again see Jesus without feeling that God was part of that definition. Something incredibly powerful happened but it had nothing to do with the resuscitation of the body.”
The retired Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong is one of the featured contributors in several Living the Questions series. He is a columnist and author of over sixteen books including Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. Lecturer at Harvard, Humanist of the Year, and a guest on numerous national television broadcasts including The Today Show, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, and Larry King Live, Bishop Spong continues to write and lecture around the world. His newest book is The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.