T.F. Torrance on the Resurrection of Jesus

This post begins a series overviewing "Space, Time and Resurrection" by Thomas F. Torrance with an edited summary of chapter one from Torrance scholar Jerome Van Kuiken for a meeting of the Torrance Reading Group. For summaries of other chapters, click on the chapter number: 2

In the opening chapter of Space, Time and Resurrection, Thomas F. Torrance (TFT hereafter) lays the biblical foundation for theologizing in light of the Resurrection about the person and work of Christ, his ascension and Parousia, and the implications for our understanding of space and time in dialogue with the natural sciences. The introduction to chapter one addresses the uniqueness of the biblical concept of Resurrection (27-28) contrasted with nature religions’ dying and rising gods tied to the seasons (27) and contrasted with modern historians’ view of history as cycles of decline and renaissance (28). Against these immanentist views, TFT addresses the biblical conception of a transcendent Creator acting in the world and its history to redeem it (28). TFT thus operates with an oppositional model of pagan vs. biblical Resurrection. 

The teaching of the Old Testament

According to TFT, the teaching of the Old Testament is rightly discerned only in light of Christ’s Resurrection. Here are his key points (with page references): 

  • Noting God's covenant fidelity to his people is the basis of resurrection (28).
  • Addressing corporate restoration-thru-judgment of Israel (28-29).
  • Exploring promises that God will raise up a savior: a prophet like Moses, shepherd-king like David, the (self-sacrificial) Isaianic servant of the Lord (29). 
  • Noting God as Kinsman-Redeemer (goel) even from the realm of the dead (sheol) (29-30).
  • Exploring the concept of resurrection in the later Old Testament: personal resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous (30).
  • Noting the absence in Judaism of an “anticipated resurrection as an event in history” (30).

The teaching of the New Testament

According to TFT, the teaching of the NT concerning the Resurrection includes the following key points:

  • The Resurrection is altogether a dominant concept (30).
  • The Resurrection is not cyclical or tied to nature but is an inbreaking divine act of new creation in the midst of history (31). 
  • In relation to time, the Resurrection sets in motion the start of the consummation of all things. In relation to space, the Resurrection claims every square inch for the new heavens and new earth. (31).
At TFT notes, the Resurrection is an event that requires “new modes of thought and speech.” He then examines the New Testament's language for the Resurrection:

  • AnistÄ“mi, Egeiro. Both are used of raising up or rising up in Greek (32). “The use of egeiro in the New Testament to speak of the raising up of the sick is an indication that the miraculous acts of healing are regarded as falling within the orbit of the resurrection, and as belonging to the creative and recreative activity of God in incarnation and resurrection. In these miracles the resurrection is already evidencing itself beforehand in signs and wonder” (32-33).
  • The OT language of the raising up of a savior is taken over by the NT, so that Christ is not only raised up from the dead but is raised up as Messianic Prophet, Priest, and King, (33).
  • “The peculiar semitism, raising up seed, is also involved in the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. He is raised up as a root out of the dry ground, the shoot of the vine, after it had been cut down to the ground. It is a miraculous act, in line with the raising up of seed out of the barren womb, in the cases of Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth, etc. This idea also plays its part in the accounts of the virgin birth of Jesus, but here we see already how the birth and resurrection of Jesus are linked, for together they constitute, in the understanding of the New Testament, the raising up of the new seed in whom all nations will be blessed, the First-born of the new creation” (33).
  • Christ’s personal resurrection is the first-fruits of a corporate resurrection (34), 
  • Christ’s resurrection—not any immortality inherent in human nature—is the basis for the general resurrection (34-35).
  • Christ’s resurrection is unto immortality, unlike the raisings of Lazarus and other biblical characters. “If the distinctive language used of the resurrection of Jesus is also used to speak of other incidents or events, it is only because the resurrection has so transformed the whole picture that they have to be seen as falling within the field of its impact” (36). Thus the NT also applies to believers the language of being raised with Christ, for his resurrection spills over into their lives. (36-37).
TFT seems to see New Testament terminology for raising up as applying primarily to Christ’s resurrection and only by extension to the raising up of the sick and the other dead. Is this the case or is the opposite true: that NT terminology applies primarily to healings and resuscitations and only by extension to the ultimate and unique raising of Christ? TFT links the various uses of “raising up” language in order to bring together the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, Christ’s healing ministry--a way of working through the biblical data that certainly enriches our theology of the Resurrection.

We can’t interpret the Resurrection within the old, ordinary framework used for interpreting life, but only within the transformed framework created by the Resurrection itself. According to TFT (following Polanyi), only one who indwells/participates in the framework set up by the thing to be known can know it properly (37-38). That said, we can’t collapse the objective event of Easter into its subjective counterpart in the Easter faith of the disciples. This German NT scholarly move trades on a Cartesian-Kantian dualism that divides the world into outer facts accessible to the hard sciences vs. inner meaning (Historie vs. Geschichte) and the apparent detachability of “meaning” (timeless, spaceless, expressed in symbol and myth) from “fact” (the time-space world of nature and history) (39-41). 

Concerning hermeneutics

In approaching the Resurrection, TFT emphasizes that we must be self-critical about our interpretive assumptions and methods (our hermeneutics), taking care to interpret ideas and events within their own context rather than transplanting them into a different context. That’s what happens when the Resurrection is interpreted in terms of Hellenistic or gnostic notions instead of within its proper Israelite religious context. Many modern biblical scholars fall short here. This modern dualistic interpretation echoes the ancient Hellenistic dualism that led to the equal and opposite Christological errors of Docetism and adoptionism (41-42). 

Interpreted within its Israelite context (that is, in a nondualist manner) the Resurrection sparked the rethinking of the doctrine of God: if God is personally involved in the Resurrection, then God is personally involved in Christ’s preceding life and indeed in the world at large to create and redeem. Hence God is not aloof (42-43). How then are we to interpret the Resurrection “for ourselves in such a way as to remain faithful to its basic character and content?” (44). According to TFT, since the Resurrection is an event in space and time, we need to interpret it as such, accounting for the difference between ancient and modern views of space and time. We must avoid forcing modern thought-forms onto the event of the resurrection but rather “allow the resurrection in its own integrity to come to view and understanding within modern forms of thought and speech” (44). 

The ancient church interpreted “incarnation and resurrection within the thought forms of classical Graeco-Roman culture only in such a way as to reconstruct the foundations of that culture, developing radically fresh notions of space and time accordingly. And that is the task of modern theology and indeed of theology in any and every age” (44). TFT comments further:

We are in the process of developing a non-dualist outlook upon the universe, and basic to all that is the non-dualist understanding of space and time resulting from relativity theory.... [W]e are emancipated in a remarkable way from the tyranny of dualist modes of thought which have throughout the history of biblical interpretation done such damage, for example, in the allegorizing of the ancient and mediaeval Church and in the demythologizing of modern scholars from Strauss to Bultmann. But it also means that here we have being developed new, relational notions of space and time which are astonishingly similar to those which classical Christian theology found itself forced to develop. (44-45) 


In ending chapter one, TFT calls for dialogue between natural sciences and theology regarding space, time, and the Resurrection, but only after we’ve understood the Resurrection within its own frame of reference (45). TFT is thus concerned to hold together both the objective event-nature of the Resurrection and its subjective reception by believers (both in the 1st century and today), viewing theology and natural science as legitimate, independent disciplines, yet as disciplines that share common ground.