Monday, March 29, 2021

Jesus Resurrected Himself: A Holy Week Refutation of Subordinationist Claims

 by Michael R. Burgos

Because of its Christological and anthropological implications, subordinationists typically deny that the Son of God resurrected himself. Instead, they appeal to NT passages that assert that the Father was alone in bringing about the resurrection (e.g., Acts 2:24). John 2:18-22 has been a classic locus for the orthodox contention that Jesus resurrected himself. That is, not in isolation from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Rather, like creation itself, the resurrection of Christ was a Triune work.

In John 2:19 Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John noted that Jesus was metaphorically referring to the “temple of his body" (v. 21). The verb translated “raise” is ἐγερῶ, the future active first person of ἐγείρω; a term which is defined as “to wake.”[1] Jesus uses this term metaphorically as a reference for his resurrection in conjunction with λύω, a circumlocution for death. Three days after his interlocutors would kill him, Jesus would raise the temple of his body. Here, Jesus explicitly claims responsibility for his future resurrection.

Despite his clarity, subordinationists insist that Jesus was not claiming responsibility for his resurrection. A case in point is the comments made by Carlos Xavier:  

In John 2.19 Jesus did not say, “I will raise myself up.” The word translated “raise” [egeiro] simply means to get up or to wake up. So when we normally speak of someone waking up from sleep, we have no problem. But because the context here has to do with the resurrection, many in the Jesus-is-God movement have tried to use it as some sort of “proof text.” This view is propagated by the Orthodox teaching of the immortal soul that clearly contradicts the biblical view of the state of the dead as total inactivity in the grave.[2]

    Xavier recognizes the implications, at least in part, of Jesus’ claim. If Jesus raised himself, anthropological monism is necessarily untrue. Given that the historic Christian faith has affirmed the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ as one of its central tenets, Xavier’s quaint characterization (i.e., “the Jesus-is-God movement”) is akin to calling the United States the “freedom movement.” Unfortunately, Xavier has employed a common subordinationist tactic: obscuring Jesus’ statement by relegating it to the opaque veil of a figurative speech:

The fact is that the immediate language in John 2 is figurative since Jesus was comparing his body with the temple and spoke of it in the third person. The point is Jesus [sic] resurrection from the dead as a sign to his unbelieving fellow Israelites, not how it would happen.”[3]

This is a betrayal of an explicit statement and a false dilemma. Jesus’ statement indicates both that his resurrection would occur and that he would bring it to pass. Xavier added:

Note that John did not go on to say “So when Jesus raised himself from the dead” but “when he was raised from the dead,” i.e., by God. This is typical resurrection language for Jesus throughout the rest of the NT.[4]

            Xavier has pitted Jesus’ statement (i.e., “I will raise it”) against v. 22 (“he was raised from the dead”), arguing that the aorist passive ἠγέρθη requires another actor, namely God, to have accomplished the resurrection. However, because ἠγέρθη only takes a prepositional object (i.e., “from the dead”) it is intransitive, especially given its complement in v. 19.[5] The grammatical passivity is owed not to a “divine passive” and the like, but is active in meaning (cf. John 10:17).[6]

            While it is common for subordinationist writers such as Carlos Xavier to obscure the plain statements of Scripture, their arguments, upon closer scrutiny, are bald eisegesis. Perhaps this is why the Jesus-is-not-God movement, in all of its iterations, remains a small fringe minority in comparison with the historic Christian church.



[1] BDAG, 271.

[2] Carlos Xavier, n.d. “Did Jesus Raise Himself From the Dead?,” The Human Messiah Jesus, http://thehumanjesus.org/2019/07/31/did-jesus-raise-himself-from-the-dead/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: B & H, 1934), 817.

[6] J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2010), 168. Cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 38.