The Third Day Series: Part 9 – Athanasius

Athanasius, in his book On the Incarnation, discussed the third day resurrection of Jesus. But he did not interpret a Biblical text or discuss an Old Testament type. Rather, he engaged in philosophical reasoning. Here are his words, found in the fifth chapter:

Fitting indeed, then, and wholly consonant was the death on the cross for us; and we can see how reasonable it was, and why it is that the salvation of the world could be accomplished in no other way. Even on the cross He did not hide Himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker. Then, having once let it be seen that it was truly dead, He did not allow that temple of His body to linger long, but forthwith on the third day raised it up, impassible and incorruptible, the pledge and token of His victory.

It was, of course, within His power thus to have raised His body and displayed it as alive directly after death. But the all-wise Saviour did not do this, lest some should deny that it had really or completely died. Besides this, had the interval between His death and resurrection been but two days, the glory of His incorruption might not have appeared. He waited one whole day to show that His body was really dead, and then on the third day showed it incorruptible to all. The interval was no longer, lest people should have forgotten about it and grown doubtful whether it were in truth the same body. No, while the affair was still ringing in their ears and their eyes were still straining and their minds in turmoil, and while those who had put Him to death were still on the spot and themselves witnessing to the fact of it, the Son of God after three days showed His once dead body immortal and incorruptible; and it was evident to all that it was from no natural weakness that the body which the Word indwelt had died, but in order that in it by the Saviour’s power death might be done away.

At the beginning of this series, it was stated that there are two reasons (Biblically) why Christ rose on the third day:

  1. Jesus said He would.
  2. Jesus said that the Old Testament prophesied a third day resurrection.

In the passage quoted from Athanasius, neither the prophecy of Jesus nor the prophetic witness of the Old Testament played a role in the explanation as to why Christ rose on the third day. Instead, Athanasius engaged in philosophical reasoning. Rather than offering Biblically based reasons for the third day resurrection, which can be validated by Scripture, there were speculations provided that have no Biblical basis.

With all due respect to Athanasius, a beloved saint and a great defender of the doctrine of the Trinity, his words on the third day pull us away from the Biblical text and towards opinions and guesses. Not only with this third day doctrine, but with all the doctrines of Scripture, we should strive to stick as closely as possible to the text, lest we supplant the teaching of God with our own.

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