Tish Harrison Warren thinks it’s critically important that Jesus DID rise bodily from the dead

April 17, 2022 • 1:00 pm

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

—1 Corinthians 15:14 (King James version)

The quote above is one I use in Faith Versus Fact to help demonstrate that truth does matter to many believers—that factual claims of religion are often vitally important to sustaining the faith. If it were all just a made-up story, or a long metaphor, people wouldn’t be nearly as religious.  And this holds for many faiths. If John Frum didn’t exist, and his followers knew it, there wouldn’t be cargo cults.

This point is demonstrated by Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren’s new Easter column in the NYT. In fact, she takes the exact opposite stand of Tim DeRoche described in my previous post. DeRoche argued that there’s no compelling evidence that Jesus was resurrected, but it didn’t matter anyway. In contrast, as you can tell from Warren’s title, it’s crucial for Christians to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected. Such are the conundrums in a world where science is increasingly putting the lie to religious claims.

Click to read:

Warren uses two poems to argue for the importance of Jesus’s bodily resurrection: Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The first argues that the Resurrection really happened; the second that its truth transforms the world, offering the possibility of redemption.  And Hopkins tells us why the first is so vital for Harrison: for if Christ be not risen, then is Harrison’s preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. That is, the resurrection has to be true because if it isn’t, Harrison is wasting her life, as are the many Christians, who like her (and unlike DeRoche) depend on the literality of the Crucifixion/Resurrection tale.

Now I’m not being completely fair to Warren. She has one other reason why she thinks the Resurrection happened:

I believe, in part, because I doubt my doubts and I doubt my doubt about my doubts. I can keep going. Round and round, round and round.

But at the end of the day, there’s this unflinching claim to reality: an empty tomb, as Updike says, a stone rolled back, “not papier-mâché, not a stone in a story.” And I, like every person who encounters this claim, have to decide if Jesus’ earliest followers died for something they knew to be a lie.

The first sentence is pilpul: you don’t believe something because you doubt it and then don’t doubt it and go back and forth. That proves nothing.

But what about the second argument? After all, people wouldn’t die for something if it wasn’t true, would they? But of course Jesus’s followers could have died even if he hadn’t been Resurrected. They could have died simply because he was a charismatic leader with a message they fervently believed in. After all, Jim Jones, who was not resurrected, persuaded over 900 people to die in Jonestown.  Further, what about all those Christians who died and never saw the Resurrection, or all those Muslims or Hindus or Jews who died without believing in a Resurrection? To say that if people die for a belief then that belief must be true is the height of self-deception. And that’s all the evidence that Harrison has.

Here Harrison is accepting one of the many bogus arguments apologists make for the truth of the Resurrection story (another is that it was reported by women, and people wouldn’t believe women back then if they weren’t speaking the truth). Here’s evidence that a main reason for her self-forced belief is because it offers her what she wants:

Jesus promises a future when everything is made new. But the only real evidence that that is any more than wishful thinking is rooted in history, as solid as a stone rolled away. The Resurrection happening in truth, in real time, is the only evidence that that love in fact outlasts the grave, that what is broken can be mended, and that death and pain do not have the final word.

Not everything will be redeemed in our lifetime but, even now, we see newness breaking in, we see glimpses of the healing to come. We believe that, because “He is risen indeed,” we can know God and our lives can participate in the life of God, that our own biographies and mundane days collide with eternity.

If Jesus defeated death one morning in Jerusalem, then suddenly every revitalization, every new birth, every repaired relationship, every ascent from despair, every joy after grief, every recovery from addiction, every coral reef regeneration, every achievement of justice, every rediscovery of beauty, every miracle, every found hope becomes a sign of what Jesus did in history and of a promised future where all things will be made new.

I don’t see any “glimpses of the healing to come”. Do you?

In other words, If Christ be not risen, then is her preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. To make a syllogism again (I’m not good at that!), because Harrison knows that her preaching and faith are not in vain, yet they would be in vain if Christ hadn’t risen, then he must have risen.  This is what’s known as confirmation bias.

Of course the Passover story is equally bogus, and I’ll criticize that, too—when the NYT starts presenting it as if it were fact.

32 thoughts on “Tish Harrison Warren thinks it’s critically important that Jesus DID rise bodily from the dead

  1. She doesn’t go along with the former bishop of Durham’s take, then:

    After being reminded that, according to the New Testament, Jesus rose from the tomb, Jenkins replied: “All I said [was], ‘Was it literally physical?’ After all, a conjuring trick with bones only proves that somebody is clever at a conjuring trick with bones.”

    He also told a BBC presenter that he doubted God would have arranged a virgin birth or for Jesus to walk on water.


  2. After a great deal of study and thought, my conclusion is that since, of course virgins don’t conceive, and water can’t magically turn into wine, and Matthew’s great zombie uprising couldn’t happen, and big stones don’t conveniently roll aside to reveal empty tombs, and nobody but nobody, once really and truly dead, could ever come back to life — then the gospel tales of the supernatural weren’t intended to be taken as literally true. Their very impossibility was a giant flashing sign to the reader that they were to be read as metaphor and allegory. Readers who do struggle to wrap their brains around a literal interpretation are going to a great deal of effort to miss the point. The gospel authors, who worked so hard to craft their works of literary genius, would have been amazed and very disappointed to know that it would have come to this 2,000 years later in the pages of the New York Times.

    1. Metaphor and allegory for what? Is it a metaphor that Jesus descended into hell to free the souls in chains? Are souls and hell also “allegories and metaphors”…meaning the gospel writers did not literally believe in an afterlife or immaterial souls that survived death?

      I think you fail to see the logical necessity of believing at least some of these supernatural claims in order for Christianity to even stand as a religion. This is exactly why even “sophisticated” religious believers feel obliged to defend the literal truth of events like the resurrection of Jesus.

      Basically, under your lights the gospel writers were either atheists or Enlightenment-style believers in a very detached God who did not engage in supernatural interference with his creation. If the writers believed as such, one wonders why they did not write something more like the Jefferson Bible, instead of something larded with miracles.

      1. The gospels clearly re-tell episodes from the Old Testament, as well as other familiar (to their original readers) tales such as The Odyssey, Greek novels, the Life of Romulus, and of course other sources which have since disappeared. So: not history, not to be taken literally, but metaphors. And they contain moral instruction in the form of fantastical tales, just like Aesop’s Fables, so: allegory.

        The anonymous author of the gospel of Mark seems to have been familiar with Paul’s theology and even his actual writings, and re-framed them as being the actual teachings of a corporeal Jesus. But I don’t think he intended for us to take that literally (admittedly, mine is a minority view!). It’s an open question whether the later gospels, which are of course redactions and expansions of Mark, were also crafty inventions, or if their authors actually believed it all actually happened. It’s possible that Christianity was taught on two levels — a literal reading for new believers, and then the secret, esoteric meanings for more advanced practitioners.

        Of course the early Christians believed in an afterlife — our rebirth into new bodies already prepared for us in our future celestial abode. This is spelled out in the earliest Christian writings that survive, the letters of Paul. And according to Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection paved the way for the rest of us. But what Paul conspicuously never said was that Jesus was a human being on earth — it all took place on some ethereal plane up in the sky. According to Paul.

        1. “The gospels clearly re-tell episodes from the Old Testament, as well as other familiar (to their original readers) tales such as The Odyssey, Greek novels, the Life of Romulus, and of course other sources which have since disappeared. So: not history, not to be taken literally, but metaphors.”

          That doesn’t prove that the writers didn’t believe that some of these were historical events. For example, although contemporary scholars doubt the historicity of the Moses and the Exodus, it seems quite crucial to Judeo-Christian theology that both Moses existed and there was some sort exodus-like event from slavery under Egypt. Or the great pains taken to establish Jesus’ lineage to Abraham and Adam; it would not make sense to do this without presupposing a belief that Abraham and Adam actually existed!

          Also, you didn’t answer my question. What is Jesus coming back from the dead an allegory FOR…exactly? What is Jesus casting out demons, or bringing back someone from the dead, or walking on water, or feeding the masses, or curing diseases with his hands…what are these allegories for if not to be taken literally? There is no indication from either the text or contemporary Christian authorities that these are to be considered “metaphors” by the reader.

          Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church has maintained for two millennia that all of the above are indeed actual events, as they help demonstrate the truth of Jesus’ claim of divinity. To convert them to allegories completely undermines this central claim of Christianity.

          The complete “metaphorization” of all supernatural events in the Bible is, again, a relatively recent, Enlightenment-era interpretation by people wishing to have both their rational/scientific cake and their cozy belief in a personal Christian God.

          1. “To convert them to allegories completely undermines this central claim of Christianity.” Yes, well, that’s why few people expressed that idea until recently. If I had uttered that a few centuries ago I would have had my tongue cut out right before I was burned in the town square. This theory, which is certainly not original to me, may be revisionist, but just like in science, revision of traditional ideas is appropriate if new ones turn out to be logically sound and fit the evidence with the fewest unsupported assumptions.

            A huge number of events, quotations, place names and personal names in the gospels map back to identifiable earlier writings, and those that don’t could well be based on sources which have since been lost. Thus the gospels are much more easily explained as literary inventions, created with familiar characters and situations, than as anything meant to be taken as historical fact.

            Just one example: According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ dying words were “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” Which is taken directly from Psalm 22, which is in fact a story about a guy who was in a desperate situation but kept his unwavering faith to the bitter end. Its insertion in the gospel is explained perfectly as a literary allusion, not a record of something somebody said.

            As for gospel wonders and signs being allegorical or retellings of earlier myths, you can start with these:

            Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms. “Are the four canonical Gospels actual historical accounts or are they imaginative literature produced by influential literary artists to serve a theological vision? In this study of the Gospels based upon a demonstrable literary theory, Randel Helms presents the work of the four evangelists as the “supreme fictions” of our culture, self-conscious works of art deliberately composed as the culmination of a long literary and oral tradition.”

            The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark by Dennis R. MacDonald. “Mark was composing a prose anti-epic, MacDonald says, presenting Jesus as a suffering hero modeled after but far superior to traditional Greek heroes. Much like Odysseus, Mark’s Jesus sails the seas with uncomprehending companions, encounters preternatural opponents, and suffers many things before confronting rivals who have made his house a den of thieves. In his death and burial, Jesus emulates Hector, although unlike Hector Jesus leaves his tomb empty. Mark’s minor characters, too, recall Homeric predecessors: Bartimaeus emulates Tiresias; Joseph of Arimathea, Priam; and the women at the tomb, Helen, Hecuba, and Andromache. And, entire episodes in Mark mirror Homeric episodes, including stilling the sea, walking on water, feeding the multitudes, the Triumphal Entry, and Gethsemane. ”

            On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt by Richard Carrier. “…the Jesus figure was originally conceived of as a celestial being known only through private revelations and hidden messages in scripture; then stories placing this being in earth history were crafted to communicate the claims of the gospel allegorically; such stories eventually came to be believed or promoted in the struggle for control of the Christian churches that survived the tribulations of the first century.”

            This exchange has been stimulating but would I risk transgressing Da Roolz by continuing it. You may have the last word if you wish to add anything.

  3. What can she mean by “it’s crucial for Christians to believe…”? You don’t believe a proposition because you are told it’s crucial to do so. You believe something only if you are convinced by some form of reasoning that it is true. You may very well want to urge someone to consider evidence to form a belief, but all the urging in the world won’t help of you can’t be convinced by some sort of evidence, be it good or bad evidence. It sounds to me like an appeal to emotion, which almost anyone will agree is not a good mechanism for finding truth.

    1. You don’t believe a proposition because you are told it’s crucial to do so.

      Exactly. But as you know, that is what they do. The arguments that people make about some made-up notion of god — there are many such notions — may be good to force those people who believe to rethink. However, if your premise posits the existence of a supernatural being, and the only constraints on that being’s nature are the ones you imposed, you can make up anything in defence. It is very arbitrary and that is what people do all the time. That is why Shalom Auslander’s article from a previous WEIT post seems silly to me; the question he should be asking himself is, if we started out from a position of ignorance, what would we admit as knowledge about the world? Why? What should be our criteria for evaluating statements about nature? We should have the intellectual honesty to admit ignorance. Many religious people do not, at least not about the basis of their faith — in that respect, they are intellectually dishonest. They do admit ignorance about God’s ways when things get tough.

      But most people, understandably, do not start there. They are already in the grip of one religious tradition or another. So it is about finding a good enough reason to break free. So we have nonsense like a secular case for Christianity.

    2. I don’t know about his resurrection being crucial in the story, but one could say that his death literally was ‘crucial’ 😁

  4. In answer to your question…
    “I don’t see any “glimpses of the healing to come”. Do you?”
    NOPE…not even a hint.

  5. But at the end of the day, there’s this unflinching claim to reality: an empty tomb, as Updike says, a stone rolled back, “not papier-mâché, not a stone in a story.”

    Funny that. I’m pretty sure it was a stone in a story. And if it was a real stone and a real empty tomb, I can think of a plausible hypothesis that explains the events without supernatural magic.

    If Christ be not risen, then is her preaching vain, and her faith is also vain. To make a syllogism again (I’m not good at that!), because Harrison knows that her preaching and faith are not in vain, yet they would be in vain if Christ hadn’t risen, then he must have risen. This is what’s known as confirmation bias.

    I agree. Either

    a) Christ was risen

    b) Christ was not risen


    If b, my faith is in vain, but that would be upsetting for me therefore a is true. It’s a terrible argument and a textbook case of confirmation bias or “argument from adverse consequences”.

    However, the context in which it was written is a letter from Paul to the Christian church in Corinth where some of the congregation were doubting whether Christ was actually raised. It’s not an argument that the resurrection happened, it’s an argument that you can’t call yourself a Christian if you don’t believe it happened. At least, that’s my opinion.

    1. Yeah, that “not a stone in a story” statement is really incredible. What else could it be?

      I guess she means that she doesn’t consider it a fiction story, but that’s circular reasoning: “since I consider it true, I consider it true.”

  6. As Earl Forgerty writes (Jesus: Neither God nor Man, 2009), Paul knew no Jesus of Nazareth; what he believed in was Jesus the Christ, the mystical idea, not the terrestrial, posterior idea created by Mark ca. 90 CE. That is why Paul (in your quote) is saying that if you do not believe that Christ resurrected (in the lower regions of the moon), then one cannot resurrect neither. Christ’s resurrection is not a fact, but a belief. As religions deny reason and follow faith, to be saved one has to believe that Jesus the Christ resurrected. Otherwise the paradigmatic parallelism does not function, i.e. the believer resurrects because he believes that his deity resurrected. Because the Son was glorified by the Father, the believers in that mystical event (not terrestrial event) will pass through the same process. The resurrection idea functions as a model-to-copy process. It is purely mystical.

  7. — “After all, people wouldn’t die for something if it wasn’t true, would they? ….(snip)…..To say that if people die for a belief then that belief must be true is the height of self-deception. ” —

    Jerry, I’m afraid that Christians such as Warren will say you’ve missed the point there.

    I see that Warren repeated the very common Christian apologist argument for the resurrection that it’s implausible people would die for what they KNEW to be a “lie.” (or knew to be false).

    Warren: “And I, like every person who encounters this claim, have to decide if Jesus’ earliest followers died for something THEY KNEW to be a lie.”

    That’s, at least to the Christian, a very important caveat because of course they acknowledge people die for untruths all the time. Just as for instance they would acknowledge that people from other religions die for their (false) beliefs all the time.

    So really we have to address that particular claim: that if Jesus didn’t die and resurrect, then his followers would have known this didn’t actually happen and would be spreading it as a lie, and it’s implausible they would be willing to spread a lie for which they knew they could be persecuted and killed for spreading. In other words, they were “willing to die for a lie.”

    The claim even in that form is clearly vulnerable to all sorts of objections. Among them is that they may have been mistaken, not lying, and more important, the bible simply amounts to claims about what these people believed. We don’t really know what any individual follower truly believed and why. We know that even now there are Christian preachers/pastors who preach while not believing.
    We know that plenty of people in scenarios where others believe pretend to believe. We know that even in charismatic churches many people will “go along” with the speaking in tongues thing due to social pressure. We know about the contagion of ideas in social groups. So we don’t really know how many of Jesus’ followers mouthed that he had risen for which reasons.

    Not to mention, the very project of diagnosing someone rose from the dead from ancient second hand testimony is utterly ludicrous in of itself.

    1. I don’t think we should take at face value the assertions of Christians that loads of them were martyred because of their faith.

      There is no evidence for the claims that any of the earliest apostles were put to death in the ways that subsequent hagiographies state. Nor is there much evidence that large numbers of believers were slaughtered by the Romans just because of what they believed.

      The Romans mostly didn’t care what people believed, as long as they were prepared to pay homage to the Emperor and not riot in the streets. Some Christians weren’t so prepared, and were got rid of as a result. The numbers pale into insignificance in comparison to the numbers of ‘pagans’ killed by Christians once they got their hands on the levers of power.

      The early Christians were, in effect, the Taliban of their day. Not that you will get any Christians today to admit the evidence, or even understand it.

      1. Yes there’s all sorts of obvious mythology in the Church about martyrdom, no way to verify it.

        My point went even further, I think, that we can’t even be sure what any particular disciple ACTUALLY said or believed. It’s all hearsay.

        Why do lawyers put people on the stands to cross-examine? Because their stories often change, and claims or views or quote attributed to a person often turn out to be incorrect “Wait…who told you I said that? That’s not actually what I said…what I really said and believe is…”

        Nobody can cross examine any of the purported witnesses or disciples to see what they ACTUALLY claimed or believed, to see how accurate the attributions are, and to see how their stories change or how their inferences hold up in court.

        But of course, in the big picture even that is irrelevant since, as Sam Harris has often pointed out, even if we had multiple contemporaneous claimed eyewitnesses to such a miracle, it wouldn’t be good enough to establish such a miracle, given the world is awash in dubious claims that are never empirically substantiated.

      2. According to the histories I have read, early Christians were indeed put to death in amphitheaters based on their refusal to do homage to the pagan pantheon. They were martyred because they publicly refused to acknowledge the Roman gods. I too have read that the Romans would be happy to look the other way if one would pay their taxes and go along with a few other requirements, so I understand your point that the Romans weren’t deeply concerned about Christianity. But since the Christians would not conform, they paid a price knowingly; the Roman were brutal. I also believe that many individuals were martyred for their beliefs. These facts do not make me admire Christianity, nor do they offset later Christian brutality once Christianity came into power. The pile of bodies of those persecuted by Christian is much taller than the pile of bodies of Christians persecuted by the Romans. But Christians were martyred in the Colosseum by the thousands for entertainment.

        1. “But Christians were martyred in the Colosseum by the thousands for entertainment” Really? What’s your evidence? This is what the current custodians of the Colosseum consider to be the truth:


          Many authorities estimate that the total number of Christians killed for their faith (or because they wouldn’t toe the line) by the Romans from about 50CE over the next 250 years or so is about 3500. That’s not a lot!

          1. Correct. In other words, several thousand, or as I wrote “thousands.” My point is that one can both be an atheist and still allow for historical realities, such that Christians were persecuted for a time by the Romans. No need to claim it didn’t happen.

  8. Honestly, I’m so tired of these debates that Christopher Hitchens so elegantly and brilliantly debunked in his books and debates. It is just a dreary fact of our species’ infantile need to keep adding some extra wonderful, mysterious explanation to life because of our fear of death. I was raised Jewish, but even as a small child I was not oblivious to a god that dramatically replaced the angel of death to personally murder the first born Egytians and ( to my horror) all their cattle, sheep and goats for good measure! In the old testament, it seems to me that the snake was the only voice of reason and my hero.
    This is why the aliens don’t bother making contact!

  9. I’ve always thought that the physical resurrection of Jesus was the part that hooked the most. Jesus was/is the faithful’s personal connection to the divine. The delusion of the path to a heavenly home. That apostrophe is most likely wrong. GROG

  10. Would this discussion (and similar ones on WEIT) be allowed in a US public school philosophy class? That is, would it be all right to discuss epistemological aspects of religion? Or would that fall foul of the constitution?

    1. This would be more likely in the UK, which has a state religion, and the Queen as the head of the Anglican Church. A situation that is completely ridiculous, and that is not part of democracy.

      1. Thanks. I take it you mean it is more likely in the UK that such a discussion would fall foul of the constitution (UK equivalent). It seems inevitable that teaching epistemology would lead to a discussion of the flaws of religious thinking and ‘other ways of knowing’. Even if not directly unconstitutional, it might be a delicate subject in the US. I am talking about the lower schools, not universities.

  11. There is no more reason to believe Jesus returned to life than there is to believe he died or lived at all.

  12. Fond as I am of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture”, I would not expect that music to be taken as evidence in a court proceeding about, say, the location of plot lines in a real estate case. Since the Rev. Warren’s column reveals that she has not the slightest understanding of the words “proof”, “prove” and “evidence”, It follows that she and all who share her ignorance should never serve on juries concerned with weighing evidence about matters or events in the physical world.

    In honor of the Passover/Easter/Ramadan occasion, I will share a favorite seasonal story:
    A Jewish man decides to eat his Passover lunch outside in the park. He sits on a bench, opens his lunch bag and pulls out a piece of matzo. A blind guy sits down next to him, and the Jew passes him a matzoh. The blind man holds the matzo for a few seconds, and fingers it. Then he exclaims: “These modern authors! Who can stand to read this crap?”

  13. Jesus could have stayed around a little longer after the Resurrection if he thought that believing in his resurrection was so important. A couple of years talking to thousands of people, or even writing a book, would have sufficed. Did he have better things to do?

  14. Jerry, allow me to help you with the syllogism at the end of your post. Really, it’s not so much a true syllogism with two premises as a simple conditional statement, by which Harrison commits an error to confirm her bias. The valid form of the conditional, and I’m not conceding the truth of the hypothesis, is, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then my preaching is not in vain.” Harrison commits a converse error in affirming the consequent, in other words, “If my preaching is not in vain, then Jesus rose from the dead.” As you pointed out, Harrison is holding firmly to her belief that her preaching is not in vain, but that does not make her consequent, Jesus’s resurrection, true.

  15. It’s always surprising to see otherwise intelligent people make such absurdly irrational arguments to support their religious beliefs.
    Such as the “die for a lie” nonsense. Did the 9/11 hijackers believe that they were dying for a lie? Did the 39 members of the Heavens Gate cult who committed suicide for their beliefs believe that they were dying for a lie? Of course not, but believing deeply in something doesn’t necessarily make it true. And I don’t know where she’s getting her information that the first followers of Jesus died for their beliefs. Virtually nothing is known for certain as to the fate of Jesus’ diciples/apostles. Only legends that were invented by the Church many years later.
    And to take the story of the empty tomb at face value is laughable and amateurish. No honest, trained historian would do such a thing. What a deluded mind.

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