NT Wright – ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?’

Last night I attended a packed-out NT Wright lecture, ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?’. It was the clearest I have heard the good bishop for a while (of course, this could be because I was the most awake, a rare thing in itself). Those expecting to hear a ‘scientific’ engagement with the issues may have been disappointed; for the historians (and apologists) among us, however, it was great. Nothing at all new but classic apologia – Wright-style.

This lecture has also been made available in a number of formats.

Alastair has saved us some work by posting his excellent summary of the talk here. My notes are considerably more scrappy (resembling the state of my mind) but for the record, here they are:

  • Science can never be enough for a full and flourishing account of human being.
  • Resurrection in the C1st necessarily impinged on the the public world. It meant a real physical act. To talk of resurrection is to do history rather than science because it is a unique, unrepeatable, event.
  • Resurrection is not about life after death; it is about what happens after life after death.
  • Christianity stands with the Pharisees rather than with the Sadducees or Philo on the question of resurrection.
  • The resurrected body – though created out of the ‘stuff’ of the old body – contains new properties. The resurrected body used up all the old properties (hence the empty tomb). The resurrected body has a ‘new kind of physicality’, one equally at home on earth as in heaven. It is not capable of decay or death.
  • Resurrection is not resuscitation, which is merely the return to the corruptible body.
  • No Jewish hope envisaged a two-stage process of resurrection, the second part of which was a general resurrection.
  • The resurrection of Jesus transformed Jewish notions of a messiah. No Jew expected the Messiah to be resurrected because no Jew expected the Messiah to be killed.
  • ‘Death is the last weapon of the tyrant; and the point of the resurrection is that death has been defeated’.
  • Discrepancies in the accounts in the four canonical gospels concerning the resurrection of Jesus is evidence which supports the historicity of the event. If we only had one account – or of the accounts were derived from one another – then the story would be more improbable.
  • The resurrection accounts witnessed to in the gospels are very early, arising from oral traditions.
  • 1 Corinthians 15 is a later revision from the earlier gospel accounts wherein the first witnesses were women. In the C1st, women were considered incredible witnesses. There appearance in the gospels, therefore, suggests that the gospel accounts were the earlier.
  • Christianity appeals to history and so to history it must go. And yet who we meet as we go challenges us to rethink – and reconceive – our worldview, including our understanding of history.
  • Faith does not ignore history but respects and transforms history because it is faith in the Creator-God.
  • When something turns up in science that doesn’t fit the paradigm with which we’ve been working, we must be prepared to change our paradigm even while not rejecting all that had gone before. The faith by which we know is determined by the nature of its object. This corresponds to the methodology adopted by science. Scientific epistemology occasionally requires having to change ways of seeing to that which is more appropriate to the new reality. So too with Christian faith.
  • Hope in the resurrection is actually a ‘mode of knowing’. Wright cites Wittgenstein, ‘It is love which believes the resurrection’; as it was for Peter. The reality of the resurrection cannot be known is we insist on a mechanistic view of reality. Belief in the resurrection requires a full devotion of love. This love-epistemology relates to a new ontology of the resurrection.
  • Unlike with lust, love requires a real other, a real external knower. To believe in the resurrection, therefore, is to believe in the one resurrected.
  • All knowing is a gift from God – no so less scientific and historical knowing – and ought be situated within the arena of knowing established by faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Forthcoming James Gregory Public Lectures are:

February 28, 2008: John Polkinghorne, ‘Has Science Made Religion Redundant?’

April 17, 2008: Bruno Guiderdon, ‘Islam and Science’


  1. ‘In the C1st, women were considered incredible witnesses.’

    John 4:39 ‘Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the women’s testimony’.

    The person who announces the resurrection in Mark’s Gospel is a young man. The women tell nobody.

    Wright really does not believe in telling it how it is , does he?


  2. ‘The resurrected body – though created out of the ’stuff’ of the old body…’

    1 Corinthians 15 ‘The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…’

    Paul explicitly denies that resurrected bodies are made from the dust that those of the earth are made out of.

    Paul thinks the time in the present body is finite. We will not remain in those bodies.

    2 Corinthians 5:10 ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.’


Comments welcome here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.