The following article is from the Q&A section of the August 1997 issue of The Lutheran Witness, p. 25.
We can find no one who has the answer to this. Why do we say of Christ in the Creed that “on the third day He rose again from the dead”? Why “again”? Christ rose only once from the dead.
Yes, Christ did rise only once from the dead. And the phrase “rose again” does not imply more than one resurrection.
It’s amazing, though, how often we are asked this question. Most recently, we got the same question from K.B. in Delaware, and we’ve had others ask it in the past.
We asked staff of the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations about this question and found that they, too, have had it asked of them. Dr. Jerald C. Joersz, the CTCR’s assistant executive director, was kind enough to share copies of his responses. Here is some of what he wrote:
“As you no doubt recognize, the adverb ‘again’ when it is attached to a verb need not mean ‘a second time’ (or more times for that matter). For example, to say ‘the boy fell down and got up again’ need not mean that he fell down more than once and arose more than once. The expression ‘he got up again’ is merely a way of emphasizing the fact that despite falling down, he got up!
“Similarly, when some English translations render the original Greek ‘He rose again’ in reference to Jesus (see, for example, the KJV translation in 1 Cor. 15:4; 2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Thess. 4:14), it is simply a way of saying that despite the fact that Jesus died and was buried, He got right back up from the grave. That is to say, the point of reference for the word ‘again’ is not a previous resurrection, but the death and burial of Jesus.”