Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Recently a parishioner asked me a question about the article of faith we profess in the Apostles’ Creed where it is said, “On the third day he rose again from the dead.” What does it mean, “he rose again“? Thank you. — P.H., Toronto
A: This expression is also found in the Nicene Creed in English which is rarely used in Canada.
In Latin, French, Spanish, Italian and other languages it is stated that “On the third day he rose from the dead.” With no “again.”
For some this again seems to imply that Jesus rose more than once from the dead.
This is simply a quirk of English grammar that is not found in all languages. It does not necessarily mean that the action was done before.
For example, if we say: “Peter was walking in the woods, he tripped on a root and fell face down. With a groan, and rubbing his nose, he got up again.” His getting up again does not imply that he had fallen more than once.
This English construction is also used in the King James and other translations of the New Testament in referring to Christ’s resurrection.
For example, take Matthew 20:18-19:
“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again” (this is repeated in Mark 10:33-34 and Luke 18:31-33).
Also, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Or from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act 5, Scene 2), where Laertes says:
“It is here, Hamlet. Hamlet, thou art slain;
No medicine in the world can do thee good.
In thee there is not half an hour of life.
The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,
Unbated and envenom’d. The foul practice
Hath turn’d itself on me. Lo, here I lie,
Never to rise again. Thy mother’s poison’d.
I can no more. The King, the King’s to blame”
In these cases “again” can mean anew or afresh or a return to a previous place and condition. Thus “rose again” does not mean rose a second time but rose anew, came back to his previous condition, returned among the living.
This use of again, relatively common in early 17th-century English, is less so in the modern idiom, and this would explain the confusion of some contemporary readers.
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