by Rev. Dr. Jerald C. Joersz
Q: In both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, we confess that Jesus “rose again” from the dead. English versions of the Bible also say in a few passages that Jesus rose again (e.g., Mark 8:31 and 1 Thess. 4:14). Doesn’t this imply that Jesus rose a second time? Why not just say, “Jesus rose” like most other passages that mention Jesus’ resurrection?
A: Actually, in common English usage, we often use the word again like this without implying that a specific action is being repeated. For example, we may say, “The boy fell down and got up again.” We don’t necessarily mean that this is the second time or third time he got up, but only that he stood up after falling down. In a way, the word again strengthens the action. The phrase “rose again” in the creeds and the passages you have mentioned can be understood this way.
In the vast majority of passages where the New Testament says that Jesus rose from the dead, the text says simply Christ “rose” or has “risen.” Only in the two you have noted in your question does “again” appear in English translations (Mark 8:31 and 1 Thess. 4:14).
So, what’s going on here in the English Bible versions? To be honest, I am not completely sure. I say this because the English Standard Version and the New International Version, for example, translate the same Greek word with “rise again” in Mark 8:31, but 39 verses later, they render it simply with “rise” (9:31). Apparently the translators saw no difference in meaning, and in my judgment, they would be right about that.
In Mark 8:31 and 1 Thess. 4:14, the Greek word mentioned in the previous paragraph means literally “make stand again” and then “raise up” or “restore to life” (anistemi). It’s the same word that occurs in the Nicene Creed. The Latin text of the Apostles’ Creed employs the word from which we get our word resurrection. It means a coming to life again after being dead or inactive.
All of this can sound a bit confusing to some. But the bottom line is that it doesn’t make any difference whether you say simply “Jesus rose” or say “Jesus rose again.” We have here a distinction without a difference. The point is simply that He didn’t stay in the grave but came back to life.
Christ’s resurrection was the singular, crowning event of all human history. Just as Jesus died once and for all for our sins, so also God raised Him from the dead once and for all (Heb. 10:10; Rom. 4:25; 1 Co. 15:34). That means that we now have a living hope. Through our Baptism, God has given us an eternal inheritance kept secure and guarded in heaven. In the words of the apostle Peter, it is “imperishable, undefiled and unfading” (1 Peter 1:35). We “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible” as we await “the outcome of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (vv. 89).
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About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Jerald C. Joersz was formerly an associate executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations.