The Resurrection Story – Retold

Of all the accounts in the Christian Bible (any of the Christian cannons), probably the most important is the Resurrection story. In fact, Paul says flat out in 1 Corinthians:

1Co 15:14-17 (NIV); And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

I’m certainly not the first to point out the following inconsistencies in the resurrection story, but since there is still no satisfactory response to the inconsistencies, and since this story is so central to Christianity, it bears reviewing.

Paul’s version written between 50 – 60 ce:

First, I would like to point out that Paul wrote several years before the Gospels were written, some time between 50 and 60 ce (a short 20 – 30 years after Jesus’ purported ministry). Because of this, we have to take care not to project our knowledge of what later writings (like the Gospels) say onto what Paul said earlier. Since the Gospels are clear that Jesus’ resurrection was a physical bodily resurrection, we are tempted to project that understanding back into Paul’s earlier description of the resurrection. But Paul’s own notion of the resurrection does not appear to be the same as the Gospel-writer’s notion. If you look closely at the body of Pauline epistles, you will find no clear indication that Paul considers Jesus’ resurrection to be bodily in the sense that Jesus’ dead body was resurrected. As far as we can tell from his writings, Paul seems to believe that the resurrection was spiritual – Jesus’ spirit was quickened and he now has a new heavenly body, not his corrupted human body that was buried. If he thought the resurrection was bodily and that anyone had seen Jesus resurrected body, he surely would have mentioned this important detail in his discourses about the resurrected Christ.

Now fast-forward several years later to the writing of the first of the canonical Gospels, The Gospel of Mark, which was written some time between 65 – 80 ce, some 35 – 30 years after Jesus. Here is our first claim of a physical resurrection… and already there is a problem:

Mark’s version (the original ending) written between 65 – 80 ce:

Mar 16:1-8 (NIV); When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

The problem is this: in the original version, that’s where the story ends! The remainder of The Gospel of Mark (verses 16:9-20), where the arisen Jesus appears to various people, was not in the original account but was added much later by a different author. This Gospel originally ended with no one ever being informed of the empty tomb.

In any case, the Gospel of Mark allows us a unique opportunity to witness the mythology as it develops:

  1. from a belief that Jesus was risen spiritually (as Paul believed): you have to take the resurrection on faith because no one has seen the resurrected Jesus – except for a few like Paul in a vision
  2. to an evolved belief that Jesus was risen bodily: you still have to take it on faith because no one has seen the resurrected Jesus and no one saw the missing body – except for the 2 Marys – and they didn’t tell anyone
  3. to the claim found in the new verses that were attached many years later that there were “eye witnesses” of the arisen Jesus.

Matthew’s version written between 80 – 100 ce; the mythology continues to evolve:

Mat 28:1-8 (NIV); After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

In the Gospel of Matthiew written after the Gospel of Mark, the women are afraid but now they run off to tell the disciples who later see Jesus for themselves. Notice how Matthew add guards to the story (as eye witnesses) and also has the angel show the women around the tomb to prove to them that he is really gone (nothing up my sleeves!). Later in the chapter, Matthew makes a point to say that the guards were paid off not to tell anyone what they saw – since he needed to explain why no one ever heard the Romans claiming that Jesus had risen!

Notice also that in Mark’s earlier version, the women encounter a young man in a white robe who was already sitting on the rolled-away stone when they got there. But in Matthew’s version, the woman and the guards were frightened by a gleaming-white angel that came thunderously out of the sky and rolled away the tomb, and then sat on it.

Luke’s version, written between 80 – 130 ce:

Luk 24:1-9 (NIV); On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.

Now their are 2 angels that look like lightning! Here again, unlike in the original version of Mark, the women do tell the disciples what they saw.

John’s version, written between 80 and 120 ce:

Joh 20:1-8 (NIV); Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

There is no mention of angels or guards or thunder to legitimize John’s story. Instead, John adds a completely new account of the disciples seeing the tomb for themselves; the disciples, not the women or the Roman guards, are John’s important eye witnesses.

These are by no means a complete list of contradictions in the resurrection story, but they are ones that give us a fascinating illustration into how the resurrection myth grew over time from a crucified Jesus whose spirit lives on, to a bodily resurrected Jesus with credible witness of his bodily resurrection.

27 Responses to The Resurrection Story – Retold

  1. Hi there,
    This simple spiritual-to-bodily suggestion is not new.

    If you look closely at the body of Pauline epistles, you will find no clear indication that Paul considers Jesus’ resurrection to be bodily in the sense that Jesus’ dead body was resurrected. As far as we can tell from his writings, Paul seems to believe that the resurrection was spiritual – Jesus’ spirit was quickened and he now has a new heavenly body, not his corrupted human body that was buried.

    Paul does use the word spiritual (pneumatikos) to describe the resurrection in 1 Cor 15 (e.g. v 44), but he is not describing a spiritual spirit(not the redundancy), but a spiritual body – a strange notion indeed to Graeco-Roman culture in general and the ‘spiritual’ Corinthians in particular.
    What we have to be careful about is that we a) don’t read 1st century texts with our 21st century notions of what ‘spiritual’ means and b) that we remember to note how Paul uses the word in other places (e.g. within the same letter, etc.).
    You’ll have to do better than that to demonstrate your ‘spiritual-to-physical’ progression.
    Hope this helps,
    -d-

  2. edit: ‘not’ should read ‘note’… :S

  3. lisa bee says:

    No one would dispute the fact that our versions of the Bible contains errors. Most are attributed to human error. It has been said in an early version of King James Bible that the word ‘not’ was left out and the Bible said “thou shalt commit adultery”. Unfortunately, we cannot obtain the original manuscripts to scrutinize for errors. Even if we could obtain the originals, there are those of us are who are not able to read Greek.

    It is also a fact that the four gospels were written some 20-60 years after the resurrection with Mark and Luke being scribes to the eye witnesses. I would dare anyone to come up with 4 /several eye witnesses to the assassination of Lincoln and retell the story 20 years later and see if everyone agree. We are still talking about the assassination of Kennedy and that leaves us clueless and most of it was on TV; now add to the fact it is 1900 years later, it is nothing less of a miracle that the Bible still exists.

    Most Evangelicals now agree that on matters of faith and salvation it is absolutely essential that those verses be free from error. In other words, it is not important how many women did or did not see Jesus, if it were an angel or men in the tomb or sitting on the bolder outside the tomb, or even if Paul’s version agrees with John’s version.

    The only importance is that they all agree that Jesus was dead and more importantly that Jesus was resurrected. Jesus’s resurrection is the core belief of Christianity. If you cannot believe in that, there is no need for you to believe in any other part of the Bible, for it will all be in vain. Lisa Bee

  4. The Atheist says:

    Cheers Dale,

    Paul does use the word spiritual (pneumatikos) to describe the resurrection in 1 Cor 15 (e.g. v 44), but he is not describing a spiritual spirit(not the redundancy), but a spiritual body

    Then we agree – Paul was not talking of a physical body as later evangelists, but rather a spiritual one.

    You’ll have to do better than that to demonstrate your ’spiritual-to-physical’ progression.

    I’m not sure that there is much more to demonstrate to you, since you and I seem to agree that Paul was not talking about resurrection of the physical body! ;)

  5. The Atheist says:

    lisa,

    …the Bible contains errors. Most are attributed to human error…

    I’d go out on a limb here, but I think all, not most, of the errors in the Bible are attributed to human error. :)

    Unfortunately, we cannot obtain the original manuscripts to scrutinize for errors.

    Fortunately, we have a host of very early manuscripts from which we can derive a very good approximation of what the original manuscripts contained.

    It is also a fact that the four gospels were written some 20-60 years after the resurrection with Mark and Luke being scribes to the eye witnesses.

    Do tell! How is it a “fact” that any of the gospels were written by either Mark or Luke? And how is it a fact that whoever did write the gospels who bare their names are eye witnesses? Maybe you could answer this at least in part by clarifying what you believe the word, “fact”, means?

  6. A3,
    The emphasis is on body. Paul is not talking about a dis-embodied spirit, but a whole new kind of body – one that is ‘more-than-physical’ (as in, not less-than-physical).
    Following up this very issue with the same Corinthian church in a later letter to them (what we know of as 2nd Corinthians), he uses compares current bodily existence to a ‘tent’ compared to a ‘building’, and also speaks of being – not ‘naked’, but further clothed. The imagery couldn’t be any clearer – or any more physical.

  7. Lisa Bee says:

    On who wrote the scriptures and when they were written: I can only tell you what has been handed down as fact, not what I know is fact; therefore, I can only go by faith. Your own article gives the dates that you believe the gospels were written in, I was merely being more conservative.
    If Mark was written between c 65-89, and Luce c 80-130, this would at the least put it some time after the resurrection which according to most (I have no way of knowing) between c 25-40, on the conservative side. I assume that perhaps these men may have been young due to the fact that longevity of life was not abundant during this time frame.
    At any rate, we have four different versions because we have four different people telling their own. The only parts that we know and believe are that he died and rose from the dead, as he said in Luke 16.

  8. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    I don’t deny that Paul saw the spiritual body as a wonderful being. The point is that there is no clear indication that Paul considers Jesus’ resurrection to be bodily in the sense that Jesus’ dead body was resurrected. This not only contradicts the Gospel writers understanding of the resurrection, but more importantly it provides a valuable glimpse into the formation of the resurrection myth.

    This is particularly interesting when seen in the broader context of the change in the Jewish notion of ‘messiah’ over time, from an official king or priestly ruler of a sovereign earthly kingdom who was ceremoniously “anointed” with real olive oil, to a God-“anointed” ruler of a broader “Israel” (exiles, and later the diaspora), and finally to a God-anointed ruler over a spiritual (non-earthly) kingdom – the “world to come”. As it became clearer over time that foreign occupation of the physical kingdom was permanent, the faithful would have to admit that the ancient prophesies would go unfulfilled, or they would have to reinterpret the prophesies to be about a spiritual kingdom. When Jesus, one of the last messiah’s before the destruction of the 2nd temple, was killed, it became necessary to either conceive of a spiritual ruler of the spiritual kingdom, or admit that Jesus was not the messiah.

    Paul picks up here and advances the idea of the spiritual messiah of the spiritual kingdom – a claim that cannot be confirmed, but more importantly, a claim that cannot be disproved – not even by the death of the messiah. He and the other faithful can continue to believe the ancient promises that could never be fulfilled in their original meaning, but could not be denied in their new spiritualized meaning. That Jesus was the fulfillment of the revised promises (of a spiritual messiah and a spiritual kingdom) could not be disproved since no one cannot disprove the existence of the spiritual any more than he can prove the existence of the imaginary. It matters little whether Paul understands the dead messiah as a “spiritual body” or a dis-embodied spirit.

    As the story reached more ears, it was no longer sufficient that the spiritual could not be disproved, it was necessary to embellish the story even more – to prove that Jesus was the spiritual messiah. We can now look to the gospels for the progression of the story’s embellishments – from the angel in Mark declaring the risen Jesus, to Matthew’s thunderous angel descending from heaven to role away the stone, to Luke’s and John’s eye-witness of the risen Jesus.

  9. Lisa Bee says:

    The story of Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus is found in Acts 9: 3-9 and Act 22: 6-11 (as told by Paul himself).
    No where does it make the claim that Jesus was in body form or spiritual form. The only claim that it makes is Paul saw a bright light and heard a voice that said he was Jesus of Nazareth.
    Yes there are discrepancies between the two versions as to what the men around saw/heard. I can only imagine that all the men were in a state of shock (I know I would have been) and when questioned about their version as to the facts, they told as best as they could remember.

  10. Simeon bar Kochba – 135AD – Jewish revolt – EARTHLY kingdom – coins minted with the year ‘1’ and everything – they hadn’t given up hopes by then – 100 years later…
    Your assessment of the beliefs of Jews of Second Temple Jews is faulty (no offense) – read Tom Wright’s ‘The New Testament and the People of God’ – this will help you I think.
    -d-

  11. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    Paul’s words in both letters leave his physical+spiritual view of resurrection quite clear.

    I was hoping you’d say that… and I’m hoping you will show me the context that makes this clear to you ;)

    I find your notion that “Paul considered the risen Jesus to be separate from the fallen body of Jesus” to be simply bizarre.

    Yes. It is not what is typically taught in Sunday School, is it? But it seems to be the case as nearly as I can tell. Paul gives no indication that he believes that the body of Jesus is no longer in its tomb. But he does indicate that he does not consider Jesus resurrected body to be the same as his “corruptible” body.

    nothing like the word ‘inerrant’ to distract many a conversation… :)

    Sounds like an accusation of sorts – but I’m not sure what exactly you are accusing me of… if anything… maybe you would care to clarify :) Did Lisa’s earlier posts give you the impression that she believed that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God? One reason I had this impression was that on a few occasions, she interpreted verses by citing other verses that were unrelated – much like I do in my “God So Loved the World” post. I’m glad she clarified that she does not hold this untenable position.

  12. The Atheist says:

    Lisa,

    The only parts that we know and believe are that he died and rose from the dead, as he said in Luke 16.

    I’m very glad to hear you say this! I was getting the impression from your earlier posts that you accepted every word in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. At least now we can have some reasonable discussions!

  13. Indeed, not all Jews from 2.T.J. (2nd Temple Judaism) had the same beliefs, but they remained Jewish in worldview. Creation – including the body – was good. The only sect that denied resurrection of the body were the Sadducees, and it would be quite the colossal claim to suggest that Jesus’ followers were from this group!
    And whilst these historical specifics are important as a backdrop to the New Testament in general (and Paul’s Corinthian correspondence in particular), Paul’s words in both letters leave his physical+spiritual view of resurrection quite clear.
    I find your notion that “Paul considered the risen Jesus to be separate from the fallen body of Jesus” to be simply bizarre.

  14. The Atheist says:

    Lisa,

    Acts was written decades after Paul wrote. While your reference to Luke’s description of Paul’s encounter may seem to corroborate my point, that Paul considered the risen Jesus to be separate from the fallen body of Jesus, I don’t think we can legitimately use Luke’s account as evidence of what Paul believed.

    Dale

    read Tom Wright’s ‘The New Testament and the People of God’ – this will help you I think.

    I may well – Wright seems like an interesting fellow! But in the mean time, can you summarize your (or Wright’s) argument against my view of 2nd-temple Jewish thought?

    There were various factions of Judaism and these factions were not monolithic; there is no reason to expect that because Jews in Jerusalem had not yet given up on a physical messiah, that Jews in the north (like in Galilee) would also hold the same view. To be sure, Bar Kochba was another messianic figure similar to Jesus – only bar Kochba’s Jerusalemite followers had not yet given up on the promise of a sovereign Jerusalem as Jesus’ followers had. In fact, decedents of the rabbinic movement still await a physical messiah to this day.

  15. nothing like the word ‘inerrant’ to distract many a conversation… :)

  16. Dale says:

    I’m hoping you will show me the context that makes this clear to you

    It really has to do with words. Paul speaks of Jesus being ‘raised’ and of ‘resurrection’ (which – to all Jews – even the resurrection-denying Sadducees – was a bodily resurrection). But further clarity comes from Paul’s choice of metaphors: in 1 Cor 15:36-38 the ‘seed’ >> ‘plant’ picture; in 2 Cor 5:ff the ‘tent’ >> ‘house’/’building’ picture. Also Paul combines words which were not to be combined in wider Greek thought: i.e. speaking of corruption ‘putting on’ incorruption in 15:51-54…

    Yes. It is not what is typically taught in Sunday School, is it? But it seems to be the case as nearly as I can tell. Paul gives no indication that he believes that the body of Jesus is no longer in its tomb. But he does indicate that he does not consider Jesus resurrected body to be the same as his “corruptible” body.

    Indeed, Paul’s notion of renewed, transformed, spiritual + physical bodies certainly doesn’t reflect a simple ‘off to heaven to float on clouds’ view all too often taught in Sunday Schools, etc. But indeed, we can safely assume that Paul believed that Jesus’ body had been transformed (now more than physical), and most certainly was not still dead in the tomb. Jesus had a different body indeed – but more than physical, not less. Wright helpfully describes resurrection as ‘using up the material of the old body’. Jewish burial procedure anticipates this.

    As for the ‘inerrant’ comment, it was passing and general, so no, not directed at you. Just lamenting the unhelpfulness of it all… :)

  17. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    Paul speaks of Jesus being ‘raised’ and of ‘resurrection’ (which – to all Jews – even the resurrection-denying Sadducees – was a bodily resurrection).

    Those don’t seem to be the facts. Josephus said in Jewish War 2.154-155:

    For it is a fixed belief of theirs [of the Essenes] that the body is corruptible and its constituent matter impermanent, but that the soul is immortal and imperishable. Emanating from the finest ether, these souls become entangled, as it were, in the prison house of the body, to which they are dragged down by a sort of natural spell; but when once they are released from the bonds of the flesh, then, as though liberated from a long servitude, they rejoice and are borne aloft…

    He goes on to say in 2.163:

    Every soul, they [the Pharisees] maintain, is imperishable, but the soul of the good alone passes into another body, while the souls of the wicked suffer eternal punishment.

    Regarding the seed metaphor: Paul says “thou sowest not that body that shall be”.

    Regarding the tent metaphor: if we are “naked” between the time we leave the earthly tent and enter the heavenly tent, then there is a time after we shed the physical body, and before we don the spiritual one. This language is consistent with the view that the physical body is removed (and left to rot) while a new spiritual body is subsequently donned.

    Regarding language of “putting on incorruption”, this language is also consistent with the view that the physical body is removed (and left to rot) while a new spiritual body is donned.

    But indeed, we can safely assume that Paul believed that Jesus’ body had been transformed (now more than physical),

    Note that “more than physical” does not require a transformation – it can (and I believe does) mean a new body that does not come from the physical.

    …and most certainly was not still dead in the tomb.

    This is a significant claim that other authors of the Bible make, but Paul is silent on this most important point.

    Jesus had a different body indeed – but more than physical, not less.

    The nature of the new body is not the dispute. The dispute is whether in Paul’s view, the physical body remained buried.

    Wright helpfully describes resurrection as ‘using up the material of the old body’. Jewish burial procedure anticipates this.

    That’s very interesting! And I would like to see some of the references. In any case, Paul does not appear to subscribe to this view.

    In the latter part of 1Co 15 (35-50), Paul describes his understanding of the relationship between bodily death and spiritual resurrection. He first asks the rhetorical question:

    But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?

    Then he proceeds to answer it:

    that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die…that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be…All flesh is not the same flesh [that is, the physical body does not become the spiritual]…there are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another [the spiritual and physical bodies are not related]…So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption…neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

    Jesus’ flesh was condemned for sin – his flesh was not condemned if it didn’t ‘stay dead’:

    Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

    Paul uses this metaphor to explain the relationship of sin and death, but the function of the metaphor depends on the common understanding that the dead body is separate from the living spirit – they both exist at the same time (the dead body exists in the tomb while the spiritual body lives in the spiritual realm):

    Rom 8:10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

    We are to be resurrected like Jesus, but our flesh is to be destroyed:

    1Co 5:5 – To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

    Regarding the helpfulness of the term ‘inerrant’, I personally find it very helpful to know when someone holds the view that the Bible is the Inerrant Word. For example, if I know that someone holds this view, I wouldn’t bother to cite historical or social context to discuss biblical passages. Instead I would focus on evidence that demonstrates that the Bible is not inerrant. On the other hand, if I know that someone does not hold this view, I can have more illuminating discussions about what the author believed and the message that he was trying to convey.

    Cheers!

  18. A3,
    Thanks for the reply. Admittedly, my comment about ‘all’ Jews could/should have been more nuanced. Certainly there is room for varying degrees of (in the case of the Essenes) influence to-and-fro from Greek philosophy and Jewish creational monotheism. In his ‘big book’ on Resurrection(‘The Resurrection of the Son of God’ [RSOG]; one you’d thoroughly enjoy, I suspect), Tom Wright treats (p. 182-186…) that Josephus text (the first one about the Essenes) which seems to be at odds with another text by Hippolytus (Ref. 9.27.1-3). Josephus (the Greek sympatahiser that he was) seems to be wanting to ‘paint’ various sects in ‘greek-friendly’ ways (and that’s hugely sweeping and summarising lots of nuance). It’s no small task getting to the bottom of such things, and he is very thorough. It seems that with these texts, the immortality (or not) of the soul was in view, not so much bodily issues.
    Another thing that’s important to consider is that the text of Corinthians is to a Greek audience, so Paul has to use terms/ideas they will understand. Indeed, chapter 15 of his first epistle needed to be followed up by chapter 5 of his second!
    (As for ancient burial customs, see RSOG 90-93 – at the very least, we can say quite certainly, that what happened to the body (or ‘bones’ – all that was left) ‘mattered’ enough to treat them with great care (in anticipation of resurrection).

    As for your quotations (Rom 8 and 1 Cor 5), they are both out of context and not at all dismissive of bodily resurrection.
    I could just as easily quote Phillipians 3:21 – “…who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed (Gr. summorphon) to His glorious body”
    Or Romans 8:23 (same context – redemption of creation (not escape from it) – as your 8:10 verse); “…we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body…” (cf. v. 21 “…the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption…”).

    Resurrection, for Paul, was the redemption of the physical body – which is the good creation of the Creator God. His communication of this to Greek thinkers like the Corinthians would have been tough work.

    I’m happy to continue here, of course, but the next two weeks will be a bit busy for me – I’ve got another essay due soon, plus sermons.
    I do heartily recommennd having a look through Wright’s tome (RSOG).
    Cheers.

  19. A3,
    I found a couple nice quotes by Wright about the post-mortem beliefs of ‘post-biblical Judaism’:

    Post-biblical Judaism offers a range of beliefs about life after death. Resurrection is by no means the only option; and, when it is specified, it is not a general word for life after death, but a term for one particular belief. In fact, resurrection is not simply a form of ‘life after death’; resurrection hasn’t happened yet…(emphasis mine)

    and…

    I am not convinced that the Essenes believed in resurrection; but I do hold that Wisdom of Solomon 3.7-8 teaches resurrection, a re-embodiment for the righteous whose souls are presently in the hand of God, who will be given a new life in which, to the consternation of their former persecutors, they will return and rule over nations and kingdoms. Finally, a much more Platonic picture is held by Philo of Alexandria, who believed in disembodied bliss for the immortal soul. This belief is shared by Jubilees. Resurrection is thus one point on the spectrum of Jewish beliefs about life after death. ((Both quotes from here))

    The point for our discussion (if it’s not clear from reading the quote) is that Josephus’ description (accurate or not) of Essene beliefs, does not at all define resurrection. The distinction, then, is that whilst all Jews did not have the same views about post-mortem existence, the word ‘resurrection’ refers to the eschatological transformation (not mere ‘resusitation’, by the way) of the physical body.
    Another helpful article here. Or others at http://ntwrightpage.com

    Cheers,
    -d-

  20. lisa Bee says:

    Dale: I am not an atheist, I believe whole heartly in the total body/soul/ spirit resurrection of Jesus; however, I do not understand Matthew 27 and the graves opening up. Was this a resurrection of eternal life, or back to an earthly life, or just spirits? This is the only place in the Bible that I can find and I don’t have access to any other religious material that is not on the internet. It is one that certainly not taught in Sunday School either.

  21. lisa Bee,
    Indeed, in addition to Jesus’ own resurrection, the four biblical gospels tell of other ‘raisings’ (the Synagogue leaders’ ‘little girl’ and Lazarus), which are not themselves full, ‘new-creation’-style resurrection, but that point to Jesus’ resurrection. As for the Matthew 27 episode about graves opening, etc.; if the post-resurrection stories of Jesus are strange (and that they are – wonderfully strange), then this is even stranger. The text doesn’t specify what happened to these ‘raised’ people, whether they died or not. The theological point of the story is debated by various people, but seems to be related to the significance of Jesus’ death. The lesson to remember here is to be able to say “I don’t know” (which is a pretty good attitude to have most of the time, I think!). It’s quite OK (even helpful or even a must at times!) to hold our interpretations ‘loosely’.

  22. The Atheist says:

    Cheers Dale. Sorry to abandon our conversation for a while – I got very busy again with a combination of a tough work schedule and some personal commitments I had to fulfill.

    I agree that Josephus is often not a trustworthy source, at least not for his historical claims. However, he remains a very rich source in other ways. For example, even if he mischaracterizes or conflates Jewish thought with Greek thought, he is still reporting the concepts that existed during his day, concepts with which Paul would have been well acquainted, regardless of their origin. And it is these concepts which are germane to our discussion. And as you point out, thoughts about immortality centered around the destiny of the soul and not the physical body.

    And so it is with Paul’s ideas about resurrection; it is a further development of ideas that were already extant; they centered on the destiny of the soul. A radically new idea, that Jesus’ physical body was raised, would suggest that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Paul never refers to an empty tomb as evidence of a resurrected Jesus. The omission is reasonable evidence that the myth had not yet been circulated widely enough for Paul to know of it, or that Paul knew of it but he rejected it. Instead, Paul cites only sitings of the risen Jesus as evidence of the resurrection. Indeed, Paul seeks to explain why the observed death of the physical body is no reason to doubt that the soul receives a new spiritual body, because the physical body, he admits, is corruptible whereas the spiritual body, which the soul puts on after taking off the physical, is eternal.

    at the very least, we can say quite certainly, that what happened to the body (or ‘bones’ – all that was left) ‘mattered’ enough to treat them with great care (in anticipation of resurrection)

    I’m not sure how this can support a view that Paul believed in a physical resurrection. For example, the ancient Jews believed in an earthly Kingdom to come, but Paul believed in a heavenly one.

    I’m not even sure that the storage of bones in ossuaries are an indication of a belief in physical resurrection. As you quoted from Write, “I am not convinced that the Essenes believed in resurrection:”, yet we know that the Essenes treated the bodies of their dead with utmost respect.

    As for your quotations (Rom 8 and 1 Cor 5), they are both out of context and not at all dismissive of bodily resurrection.
    I could just as easily quote Phillipians 3:21 – “…who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed (Gr. summorphon) to His glorious body”

    Could you point out the context that I have missed? Or possibly, you mean that Phi 3:21 is the context that I missed?

    I agree that the context of Paul’s concept of resurrection is broader than Rom 8 and 1Co 5. For example, we see also in Romans that Paul believes that the soma is destroyed (Rom 6:6). Indeed a common theme throughout all of Paul’s writing is that the flesh is corruptible and should be killed in order to preserve and sanctify the soul. On the other hand, I think that 1Co 15 to a large degree is the context for Paul’s concept of resurrection since it is there that he presents his most extensive description of it. I would argue that other spurious statements that Paul makes should be measured against this chapter.

  23. A3, (excuse the length)

    “…as you point out, thoughts about immortality centered around the destiny of the soul and not the physical body. And so it is with Paul’s ideas about resurrection…”

    The point Wright is making is that against the backdrop of Graeco-Roman beliefs about ‘immortality’ (including this influence as seen in some Jews – i.e. Sadducees, and likely some Essenes), the distinctive, standard, Jewish post-mortem hope was a (general) ‘resurrection’ of the dead. Not only persons raised, but bodies (i.e. as in their physical bodies) raised. What Paul saw in Jesus’ resurrection was a one-off, advance (and representative) occurrence of what awaited all.

    “Paul never refers to an empty tomb as evidence of a resurrected Jesus. The omission is reasonable evidence that the myth had not yet been circulated widely enough for Paul to know of it, or that Paul knew of it but he rejected it. Instead, Paul cites only sitings of the risen Jesus as evidence of the resurrection.”

    The fact that Paul doesn’t specifically mention “the empty tomb” or explicitly say “oh and by the way, just to clarify, since Jesus’ body has been glorified, transformed, raised, resurrected, re-created, etc. it is of course no longer in the tomb…” does not in the least sense mean that resurrection for Paul is non-physical or that he assumed Jesus ‘old body’ to still be in the tomb.

    Paul seeks to explain why the observed death of the physical body is no reason to doubt that the soul receives a new spiritual body, because the physical body, he admits, is corruptible whereas the spiritual body, which the soul puts on after taking off the physical, is eternal.

    I’m curious what you think Paul had in mind when he said ‘spiritual body’. In other words, do you think Paul thought that a ‘body’ could be purely ethereal? I think your seeing a hard distinction between ‘old’ body (physical, corruptible, mortal) and ‘new’ body (non-physical, incorruptible, immortal). It’s not that the ‘soul’ escapes one body and jumps in another one, but that the existing physical body gets ‘raised’ (i.e. ‘transformed’, ‘glorified’, ‘set-free from bondage to decay’, ‘redeemed’, etc., etc.). I know you’ll likely reject evidence from the Gospels as they were written after Paul (though the numerous stories/traditions from which the gospels were created were no doubt well-known well before the writing of 1 Cor…), so I’ll not bother connecting this with that material.

    I’m not sure how this can support a view that Paul believed in a physical resurrection. For example, the ancient Jews believed in an earthly Kingdom to come, but Paul believed in a heavenly one.

    It seems like you’re reading a kind of dualism (or proto-Gnosticism?) onto Paul – who was Jewish, and whose kingdom belief was indeed ‘earthed’. Yes, plenty of talk of ‘heavenly’ this and that, but for Paul, it was very connected with earth.

    Could you point out the context that I have missed? Or possibly, you mean that Phi 3:21 is the context that I missed?

    Well, the context I refer to for your Romans quotes would be initially the rest of Romans 8 (i.e. v. 10, 21-23). My Phil. 3:21 quote was just an example of what a counter ‘proof-text’ could look like. Better not to proof-text at all, but map contextual flow of argument (in immediate context, chapter, letter, author…)

    I would argue that other spurious statements that Paul makes should be measured against this chapter.

    I agree. 1 Corinthians is the fullest treatment on resurrection. Of course (and I suspect you would agree here) we do gain much from observing his wording in other literary/rhetorical contexts as well.
    Concerning 1 Corinthians, when looking at words like ‘flesh’, ‘spirit’, ‘spiritual’, etc., it’s crucial to see one of the largest themes in 1 corinthians; namely that he’s trying to emphasise that some of them aren’t as ‘spiritual’ as they think. (cf. ch 2, 3:1-3, 7:40b, 12:3, 14:37 – though the theme is consistent throughout) The Corinthians had an over-realised eschatology; they thought they ‘had it all’, and Paul is telling them (in addition to not being as ‘spiritual’ as they thought they were) that there’s a lot more to come…

    Summing up, I think the key difference here is your distinction between an ‘old’ (physical) body and a ‘new’ (spiritual) body. Your interpretation of Paul seems to be a ‘never shall these two meet’ view (the physical body simply dies forever, but the soul –exiting the physical, dead body– gets to go into a new ‘spiritual’ body). That would seem more like an escape from death, rather than the defeat (i.e. reversal – well, actually more than reversal!) of death that Paul presents in 1 Cor 15. The physical body (dead, corruptible, decaying, rotting, stinking) is ‘raised’, ‘glorified’, ‘transformed’, ‘changed’, etc.

    It’s a very detailed and nuanced discussion, so apologies for the length again…

  24. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    Not only persons raised, but bodies (i.e. as in their physical bodies) raised.

    You’ve given an example of the keeping of bones in ossuaries as evidence of this, but I pointed out why this does not serve us as good evidence. Is there other evidence that Jews believed in a resurrection of the physical body?

    The fact that Paul doesn’t specifically mention “the empty tomb” … does not in the least sense mean that … he assumed Jesus ‘old body’ to still be in the tomb.

    I understand that you believe this but I still don’t understand why. Would you agree that Paul is a skilled debater who chooses his strongest arguments to support his position?

    I’m curious what you think Paul had in mind when he said ’spiritual body’.

    I don’t think Paul’s notion of a ‘spiritual body’ is ethereal, but rather a ‘hyperphysical’, substantial body which is not constrained by the familiar physical laws. However, I think Paul’s notion of the ‘spirit’, that which puts on a physical body or a spiritual body, is ethereal. It is this spirit which is reborn during one’s physical lifetime, before the death of the physical body.

    It seems like you’re reading a kind of dualism (or proto-Gnosticism?) onto Paul…

    I do think that Paul was dualistic, but I don’t consider the belief in a spiritual kingdom to be primary evidence for this. I think he was dualistic because of the numerous distinctions he makes between the body (flesh) and the spirit.

    Summing up, I think the key difference here is your distinction between an ‘old’ (physical) body and a ‘new’ (spiritual) body.

    Yes, I think that Paul understood resurrection to mean that the saved ‘person’ (the spirit or essence) survives physical death and is given a new spiritual body.

    Your interpretation of Paul seems to be a ‘never shall these two meet’ view (the physical body simply dies forever, but the soul –exiting the physical, dead body– gets to go into a new ’spiritual’ body). That would seem more like an escape from death, rather than the defeat (i.e. reversal – well, actually more than reversal!) of death that Paul presents in 1 Cor 15. The physical body (dead, corruptible, decaying, rotting, stinking) is ‘raised’, ‘glorified’, ‘transformed’, ‘changed’, etc.

    I think you are right to look to 1Co 15 for Paul’s view on the resurrected body, but I think you don’t give enough weight to statements like “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed” and “God gives it a body as he has determined” and “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies” that provide key insights into Paul’s understanding. Then statements like “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” must be understood in light of the earlier statements (unless we charge Paul with equivocation).

    It’s interesting to speculate about what Paul might say of bodies who have been devoured by animals or that have been otherwise obliterated. If we concede that Paul would say that these people could be saved and clothed with a heavenly body, then he can’t also say that their physical body is resurrected.

    Then there remains the absence of any discussion of the absence of Jesus’ physical body.

    It’s a very detailed and nuanced discussion, so apologies for the length again…

    No apology necessary at all – thanks for the enjoyable discussion!

  25. Seems to me that our main point of difference here is what Paul thought happened to the physical body after death.
    I think Pauline resurrection-langauge is consistently and thoroughly transformational; that the body is changed, morphed, healed, reconstituted, re-created, redeemed, raised, glorified, set free, etc.
    This fits beautifully with the seed/plant analogy: the seed ‘dies’ and is given a body – but a body growing from the ‘dead’ seed – and of course livened by soil, water, etc. The earthly/heavenly bodies distinction is about distinctions in glory. The resurrection body – obviously – would far exceed our current bodies in glory.
    Seriously, you would really enjoy Wright’s ‘Resurrection of the Son of God’, or just having a look around http://www.ntwrightpage.com for some selected stuff on resurrection – not hard to find. Especially if you’re going to say (as you do early in the original post) that “there is still no satisfactory response to the inconsistencies [in the resurrection accounts]” :D

  26. The Atheist says:

    Dale,

    This fits beautifully with the seed/plant analogy: the seed ‘dies’ and is given a body – but a body growing from the ‘dead’ seed

    It could fit neatly – if the main body of Paul’s treatise corroborated this notion (but it doesn’t seem to) and if the seed metaphor were based on a certain understanding of how seeds work – that the seed becomes the plant, vs. the seed is consumed by the growth of the plant. Paul is clear when he says “The body that is sown is perishable” instead of saying that ‘The body that is sown is transformed.”

    I did have a chance to look around a bit on Wright’s site and I did enjoy it. Thanks for the reference!

  27. A3,
    I think we’ve reached (or are nearing) the ‘agree-to-disagree’ point. :)
    I’m pleased to see that you agree about the ‘hyper-physical’ state of the resurrection body (for Paul), but we disagree concerning what ‘resurrection’ means for the dead, corruptible bodies…
    One verse (and it fits in context, methinks) that seems to put it quite clearly is Romans 8:23:
    …even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
    That doesn’t sound like ‘John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave, but his soul is marching on…’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: