James Dodds on the Ascension of Jesus

This is the sixth follow-up to the post, “Gagarin and the Seven Heavens“. The first follow-up post is here. The second follow-up post is here. The third follow-up post is here. The fourth follow-up post is here.

The fifth follow-up post was broken up into several parts; follow-up post five-one is here, post five-two is here, post five-three is here, post five-four is here, post five-five is here, post five-six is here, and post five-seven is here.

In this an in the next several follow-up posts, I will focus on modern Protestant, then modern Catholic, then modern Orthodox interpretations either of the ascension of Jesus in Luke-Acts or of the nearly-identical articles from the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds that refer to Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

James Dodds’ work Exposition of the Apostle’s Creed (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1896) has a chapter dedicated to the article “he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty”. There, he notes that Jesus’ ascension is public, but his resurrection is not:

The Ascension took place in open day and in the sight of the Apostles. “While they beheld, he was taken up.” [Acts 1:9] That they might be witnesses of the fact, it was necessary that they should see Him go up from [E]arth. Unlike the Ascension, the Resurrection of Christ took place unseen by mortal eye. Eye-witnesses of His rising from the dead were not needed. The fact that they had seen Jesus after He rose qualified them to be witnesses of His Resurrection, but it was only because they had seen Him taken up that they could bear personal testimony to His Ascension.

This is an interesting note from Dodds, and, if we were to run with this, perhaps we could read Dodds as suggesting something about Paul. Paul seems to understand the visionary mode of Christian religious life as an act of investiture with angelic life — the visionary mode, aside from dreams, usually means an ascent to heaven of some sort. Paul knows about ascents into heaven (“I know a man in Christ who […] was caught up to the third heaven […] [a]nd […] how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words” 2 Cor 12:1ff.), seemingly patterned after the ascents of earlier prophetic figures like Jeremiah and Isaiah, that invest the visionary both with angelic life (“you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” Gal 4:14) and with a mission of sorts (“Am I not an apostle? […] Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” 1 Cor 9:1ff.).

Now, if we read the ascension story in Luke through Dodds’ rationale for the public ascension of Jesus, then it seems that Dodds would have us read Luke to be situating the visionary mode within a specific event that Paul nowhere mentions. Paul mentions public, or at least simultaneous, visions of Jesus (“He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep” 1 Cor 15:6). Paul mentions that Jesus was “taken up” (“Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” Rom 8:34). He nowhere mentions vision, or the visionary mode, in the way that Luke mentions it with regard to the ascension of Jesus.

Of course, omission is not the basis for an argument, but the logic that Dodds gives to the vision of Christ’s ascension is that of something to verify the basis of preaching, as it were. On the other hand, the logic that Luke seems to be giving to the ascension is something else.

Dodds then goes on to ignore the cosmological implications of this notion of Jesus rising up into the sky (except to write that “Our Lord does not indeed now appear in visible form, speaking face to face with men as He did in Palestine, but He speaks in and through every believer who in His name seeks to win souls for His Kingdom”). Instead, Dodds focuses on the political stability that Christ’s rule enjoys whilst he is sitting “on the right hand of God the Father Almighty”. Dodds does mention that Christ “passed into the heavens”, and talks about how “there He makes continual intercession for us”, but he glides over where this “there” is.

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Header image found here.

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