Friday, June 1, 2012

What did the disciples (and Paul) mean by "resurrection?"

(This last post turned out to be quite enormous. For those who want to know what I am trying to do here, all I am trying to show is that the disciples of Jesus (and Paul) believed that Jesus resurrection was a bodily event, and not just some kind of ghostly or metaphorical event. If you already don't think they could have meant that, then you might want to save yourself the time and read the "summary" at the end. If you dispute a point in the summary, move to the corresponding number-bullet in this blog post.)

Summary of What We Have Seen So Far

In the first post, we showed why over 95% of scholars publishing on the historical Jesus admit that he was crucified, buried and died. In that section I demonstrated the evidences that compel scholars to accept this and good evidence for the fact that he died. In the second post, I showed why 99% of historians accept that the disciples sincerely believed they had experiences which they believed to be appearances of the risen Lord after his death. In the third post, I showed why the vast majority of scholars reject the idea that the disciples lied about the resurrection. In the fourth post, I showed why the most popular theory to account for the appearances, namely the visions/hallucinations theory, fails based on what we know of psychology and the Jewish culture at the time.

Denial of Bodily Resurrection

So if historians agree that Jesus died and his disciples believed they had seen him alive again after the fact, and the most popular alternative theory fails on psychological grounds, that leaves us with few options other than accepting the resurrection itself. However, there is another option that some non-Christian scholars take. Some, like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg of the Jesus Seminar, believe that the proclamation that Jesus was raised from the dead was primarily metaphorical (even though the "appearances" could have been visions). (5) (10)  Others, like atheist historian Richard Carrier, interpret Paul's discussions of "resurrection" to mean something entirely different than we understand it today. (6) Still others (about 30% of scholars), deny the reality of the empty tomb. (7) (13) Finally, others affirm a "spiritual resurrection" where Jesus was only "spiritually" resurrected. (Wright mentions these people in (2))

These four stances may sound vastly different from each other, but they all have something in common, namely that the proclamation of Jesus resurrection was not intended as a bodily event. In the current usage of the word "resurrection," if it's not a bodily resurrection, its no resurrection at all. Indeed, saying that someone was raised bodily from the dead is like saying "I walked down the street on my feet" as NT Wright puts it. (2)

I will put forward multiple arguments for why it was originally understood by the disciples (and Paul) as a distinctly physical and bodily event. Each of these arguments (generally) work pretty well on their own, so every one of them has to be a bad argument for the bodily resurrection to be denied.

But first, a lot of this will make more sense if I outline what traditional Christian theologians (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) believe about the resurrection today. This way, my argument will make more sense when I contrast the Christian view (which I believe is most evidenced) with alternative theories.

What Christians Theologians Believe About the Resurrection Body of Jesus

Christians believe that Jesus was crucified, died and stayed dead for at least 36 hours. After this, Jesus became alive again on Sunday morning. He then departed from his place of burial, leaving an empty tomb behind him. However, Jesus' resurrection was not like the resurrection of Lazarus, where Lazarus simply came back to life to a mortal existence, where he would die again. On the contrary, Jesus' resurrection was so significant to Jewish theology because he experienced a resurrection to eternal life, never to die again. (14) Apostle Paul uses many words to describe a resurrection body which help us understand what happened to Jesus. He came back to life in the same body, but one that has been "transformed." Furthermore, the resurrection body is also described as "imperishable" and one that has "immortality." (1 Cor. 15) This physical but transformed body is further supported by the book of Luke, where Jesus is able to eat food and says "Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:39)  However, in those very same passages, where he does physical things, he is described as being able to move through locked doors. (2) NT Wright uses a new word to describe the nature of his body, calling it "transphysical." (2) It is physical (able to do things such as eat), but also has additional capabilities that mortal bodies don't have (such as the ability to move through locked doors).  (2)

After Jesus appeared to his disciples, he ascended (literally moved in an upward direction), and passed into the realm Christians call "heaven." Jesus didn't just resurrect to eternal life, he also experienced something called "glorification" upon his arrival to heaven. Due to Christ's achievement on the cross, he didn't just resurrect to eternal life, but obtained a glorious appearance as well. The book of Revelation, though highly symbolic, portray Jesus as wearing a robe with a golden sash, a face like the shining sun, his eyes like fire, and his hair white like snow, and his legs burning like bronze in a furnace. (Revelation 1) This very physical (non-ghostlike) picture of Jesus is also portrayed as especially radiant and powerful. 

Though it may not be clear yet in this blog post, this description of traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus' body after the resurrection will become important as I survey the arguments for alternative theories. 

There are many good arguments for why the disciples (and Paul) intended the traditional picture of Jesus' resurrection:

1) The Empty Tomb

The empty tomb works two ways. If the disciples meant a traditional bodily resurrection by saying "raised from the dead," then by definition they also believed in the empty tomb. If they believed in the empty tomb, then it really was empty, because the disciples would have known if the tomb was empty or not. If however, we find that the tomb was really empty, then it necessarily means the disciples believed in a bodily resurrection, because only bodily resurrection leaves behind an empty tomb. To put it simply, if the disciples mean bodily resurrection = historical empty tomb. And, if there is a historical empty tomb = disciples mean bodily resurrection.

There are 7 good arguments for the empty tomb, provided by Dr. Gary Habermas (1):

A - Jerusalem Preaching. The disciples preached Jesus as raised from the dead in the same city Jesus was crucified and buried. However, to refute the resurrection, all the Romans or Jewish leaders had to do was take a short walk to Jesus' tomb. If any remains at all were in there, then that would refute the resurrection. The fact that the disciples were able to preach the resurrection in the same city Jesus was buried, and the religion still be successful, shows that it was indeed empty.

B - Multiple Independent Sources. There are lots of theories about the relationship between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These theories vary as to which of these sources depended on each other for its material, and in what parts. However, no matter what major theory you take with respect to this, the empty tomb story has more than one independent source. This is very valuable in ancient historical study and perhaps the most powerful argument for the empty tomb.

C - Female Witnesses. Unfortunately, women were not acceptable witnesses in a court of law in 1st Century Palestine. So it would be a terrible apologetic strategy to say that they were the first ones to discover the empty tomb, and sometimes the first to see Jesus! However, this is indeed what all of the gospels have to say. Even in the resurrection creed found in 1 Corinthians 15, no women witnesses are listed, even though it is the largest list of appearances in the New Testament. Even atheist historians agree that the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 was created within 5 years of the death of Jesus. This shows that the material in the gospels that describe the discovery of the empty tomb is even earlier. Furthermore, it shows that the accounts are true, because no one would lie and say that women were the first witnesses to the empty tomb!

D - 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Creed

Although the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 does not specifically mention the empty tomb, the most natural reading of it implies that the body which was crucified and buried came back up again in resurrection to appear to many disciples. ".......that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve........." The multiple "and that" or "kai hoti" clauses indicate that what happened to Jesus in his death happened to him in his life.

E - Acts 13 Tradition. The book of Acts describes early church history. Much of this involves the disciples (and Paul) traveling around the Roman Empire and giving speeches about how Jesus has been raised from the dead. Acts records many summaries of these speeches. Whether or not one accepts the book as generally historical or not, it is evident that the author is getting these speech summaries from an earlier source other than the book of Acts itself. So it is likely that he is getting them from earlier traditions about the preaching of the apostles during their missionary activities. One of these speeches (by Paul) specifically states that Jesus was laid in a tomb. Furthermore, it goes on to say that God raised Jesus from the dead and didn't let him decay. Paul compares Jesus to king David, who was buried and decayed, with Jesus who did not decay but was raised from the dead. This strongly suggests both an empty tomb and a bodily resurrection.

F - Stolen Body Rebuttal. Starting in the book of Matthew, all the way through the first 200 years of debate with Christians, the Jews consistently argued that the disciples had stolen the body out of the tomb. However, if the Jews are right, then the tomb was empty, because a stolen body would mean that the tomb was empty.

G - NT Wright's Thesis

According to Habermas, NT Wright demonstrated that all writings on resurrection up until 2nd century A.D. (whether they be Jewish, pagan, or Christian) consistently referred to a bodily event. Furthermore, Habermas notes that Wright found almost no exceptions to this view. However, if the disciples proclaimed a bodily resurrection, that would mean that they also believed the tomb was empty, since bodily resurrection necessarily means the tomb is empty.

The above was basically a modified and explained version of this article:

2) The Meaning of "Raised" and "Resurrection" in New Testament Greek

The New Testament uses two words to describe the concept of coming to life again.

"Resurrection" = "anastasis"
"Raised from the dead" = "Eregoi ek nekron."

"Anastasis" derives its root from "anistemi," which means to stand up or to arise. See the link below:

Anastasis -
Anistemi -

"Eregoi" means to arise, stand up, or wake up. Below you can see all of the uses of this word in the New Testament, and take note of its usage when not discussing resurrection issues:

This is the same word that is used to say that someone woke up from sleeping, or that they stood up from their seat, or that they arose to the occasion. Given this, when Paul says "Jesus died and rose again" he means that Jesus died and woke up/ stood up again. Likewise when Paul says "that he was raised on the third day" he means that he was woken or stood up on the third day.

This shows that the traditional concept of Christ's resurrection is built right into the word itself. If Jesus died and stood up/woke up again, it is very consistent with the view that Jesus died and rose in a way that caused him to stand up again or "wake up," leave the tomb, and leave an empty grave behind.

3) The Old Testament Usage of The Resurrection Concept

The disciples made frequent use of Scriptural allusions to prove their point that Jesus was the Messiah. Indeed, the New Testament as a whole makes partial and whole Old Testament allusions over 1,000 times! (3) Furthermore, Jesus was "raised again on the third day according to the Scriptures." It seems that what the Old Testament said was of central importance to the first Christians. Here are some passages that indicate the Old Testament view of resurrection:

But your dead will live, Lord;
    their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust 
    wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
    the earth will give birth to her dead. (Isaiah 26:19) 

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2) 

Since the disciples of Jesus were so keen on using the Old Testament to support their views of Jesus, it only makes sense that they referred to Jesus as being raised in the same way the Old Testament portrays resurrection.

4) The 1st Century Jewish Concept of Resurrection

There were many theological subgroups in Second Temple Judaism, some of which included Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. (2) The two groups that Jesus interacted with most were the Pharisees and Sadducees. It is widely accepted that the Pharisees believed in a literal bodily resurrection of the dead of the righteous at the end of time, and believed in Old Testament prophets and the Torah. (4) (Acts 23) However, the Sadducees only believed in the Torah (the first five books of OT), and vehemently denied the resurrection of the dead. They also didn't believe in demons or angels.

This was no metaphorical dispute. It was quite heated. Indeed, there is an example in Acts where Paul is on trial for proclaiming the resurrection. The Pharisees and Sadducees are there, and he purposely gets them arguing about the issue in order to distract them from convicting him...and it succeeds! It would be like getting off the hook in court by bringing up a controversial topic such as abortion, and everyone getting so wrapped up in the argument that they forget to convict you!

"Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)" Acts 23:6-8

We also see vigorous debate on this subject in the gospels as well. In Luke, the Sadducees try to stump Jesus with a riddle meant to be a reductio ad absurdum to the resurrection of the dead. They tell Jesus that there was a woman who married a man, but her husband died and she remarried. However, every time she remarried, her new husband died, so that she ended up re-marrying seven times. They pose the question: In the end of time, when the dead are raised, who is this woman's real husband? Jesus responds by chiding them for not knowing the power of God. He also chides them for not knowing that no one gets married at the resurrection. (Mark 12:18-27)

This entire riddle is absolutely meaningless unless the Pharisees believed in a very tangible bodily resurrection at the end of time. If the concept of resurrection simply meant some kind of immaterial heavenly existence or a metaphor of some kind for the community of faith, then this riddle is completely useless. This proves that the Pharisees believed in a re-embodied existence at the end of time, as historians seem to agree. 

5) Greco-Roman Revulsion at Resurrection

This belief wasn't only controversial among different sects of Jews. Indeed, when Paul speaks to philosophers in Athens in Acts 17, he begins his speech by elaborating on a Creator god who commands that they do not worship idols anymore. However, the moment he mentions Jesus as raised from the dead, the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers interrupt him and "sneered." Indeed, the wholesale rejection of any kind of resurrection of the dead his supported by a wide variety of Greco-Roman literature, as NT Wright notes. (2) These philosophers whom Paul is disagreeing have read their Plato, and know that any post death existence is certainly not to be construed as a literal resurrection of a dead person. Indeed, much of Greek literature repeatedly denies the possibility of actually reversing death. Wright notes that supposed pagan parallels of dying and rising gods are very much unlike what Christians believe about resurrection. (2) He further affirms that, as far as an actual resurrection of a real human is concerned, the Greeks generally believed it was an absurd notion. (2) 

So when the disciples or Paul say they believe Jesus has been "raised from the dead" it meant something very specific and very controversial in their time period--and something extremely tangible. It's like walking into a classroom discussion, and very confidently saying phrases like "abortion is evil" or "I am pro-life." There is no ambiguity at all behind these terms, especially since its such a controversial subject. Same with Paul and the disciples. To proclaim Jesus as "raised from the dead" meant something very specific, very controversial, and emotionally charged in that time period. Indeed, this is especially the case since Paul calls himself a Pharisee on multiple occasions in Acts and in his letters. 

6) The Shouting "Fire" Argument

Given that Paul says he is a Pharisee on two different occasions, and given that the disciples grew up in an environment where Pharisees and Sadducees were constantly debating. Furthermore, given his education, Paul would know what the Old Testament said about resurrection, and had some idea what the Greeks and Romans thought of it. Given this knowledge, they would have certainly known how the audience would understand "raised from the dead" and "resurrection" if they were to go from town to town proclaiming that it happened to Jesus.

This is somewhat analogous to me yelling "Fire!" in a movie theater, or me yelling "Abortion is evil!" at a Planned Parenthood rally. If I don't want the audience to react in a certain way, I won't use those words. It is of no help to me if I actually intend "fire" to be a metaphor for how the movie causes my heart to burn with emotion, or to say that "abortion" is a metaphor for the bullying of small children. That is not how the group is going to take it. And I know this. The same applies to the disciples. They know how controversial it is to say that the resurrection can happen, and that it happened to Jesus before anybody else! If they didn't want people to take it at face value, then they wouldn't have said it that way. Especially if they don't want the negative reaction that goes with it!

If they wanted to use it a metaphor, they certainly did a crappy job at conveying that message. Furthermore, if they meant something else by it entirely (as Richard Carrier suggests), they did a complete horrible job conveying it. All the words attributed to the disciples and Paul in Acts would very strongly give the idea of a traditional Christian resurrection of Jesus. The earliest Creed on Jesus' resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, would strongly give that impression as well if no clarification was provided. Furthermore, most of Paul's letters strongly give this impression as well. Furthermore, all 4 gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and Acts enunciate this quite clearly, as we will see below. So if the disciples meant something else by saying Jesus was raised from the dead, they did a quite horrible job of conveying it, so badly that no one after them believed it.

7) Resurrection in the New Testament (Besides Paul)

Mark - (late date 70 A.D.)

Although Mark doesn't have resurrection appearances, it clearly describes the empty tomb, and the angel clearly says that they can go to Galilee to see Jesus. Whether or not we believe the angel's account, we can know that the author of Mark believed in a bodily resurrection of Jesus in the traditional Christian sense.

Matthew (Ehrman's date 85 A.D.)

This book has both resurrection appearances and the empty tomb. It even has the disciples clasping Jesus feet and worshiping him, showing that a physical body is very much what is intended. In addition, Matthew reports the creation of the rumor by the Jews that the disciples stole the body, further reinforcing the empty tomb.

Luke (Ehrman's date 85 A.D.)

Luke also reinforces a bodily resurrection, by also reporting the empty tomb and the fact that the grave clothes were left behind as well. Furthermore, Luke portrays Jesus as eating broiled fish and moving through locked doors. He also specifically invites them to touch him, declaring that he is not a ghost, and that he has "flesh and bones." This one also reports an extended conversation with Jesus, although they didn't initially recognize him.

Many critics point out that the women and the disciples didn't initially recognize Jesus during their conversation. It must be noted that this fact doesn't work against the idea of bodily resurrection, since they are having an extended conversation with a person. Furthermore, the case for the resurrection by no means depends on the Road to Emmaus appearance, since there are so many other appearances! Finally, I myself have been in situations like this. I specifically had known someone, but saw them in a highly unexpected context. This caused me to not initially realize who it was.

John (late date 90-95 A.D.)

This book also reports the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene clasping Jesus' feet, Jesus sharing breakfast with the disciples on the shore, and having lengthy conversations with the disciples. The author of John clearly believed in a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Acts (doesn't seem to be a consensus late date for this - agnostic Bart Ehrman probably dates it in 85 A.D.?) (9)

The author of the book of Acts very clearly believes in bodily resurrection. He states that Jesus gave his disciples "many convincing proofs that he was alive." Here, the phrase "alive" is used instead of raised or resurrection, making the meaning especially clear. Furthermore, it also mentions that Jesus was eating with the disciples, further enhancing that the author of Acts believes in a bodily and physical resurrection.

The author also clearly believes that the first disciples also believed in a bodily resurrection of Jesus. The author of Acts makes reference to Peter's speech, which very clearly enunciates a bodily resurrection. Peter is quoted as saying that Jesus' body did not see decay after his burial, but that Jesus was instead "raised to life." He also seems to contrast Jesus with King David. Peter is quoted as saying that King David has died and was buried, and his tomb remained until the time of Peter's life. However, Jesus was raised to life and did not see decay. In another chapter, the author of Acts quotes Peter as saying that Jesus rose from the dead and that he and other witnesses "ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead." This clearly portrays a bodily resurrection. (Acts 10)

Of great significance is Luke's quoting Paul as believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In Pisidian Antioch, Paul gives a speech to a synagogue, where he says that Jesus was crucified, laid in a tomb, and raised from the dead. This is significant because this is the only specific mention of the tomb by Paul in antiquity (in another place he simply refers to Jesus' burial). Furthermore, he very directly contrasts King David with Jesus. He says that David died, was buried and decayed. However, since Jesus was raised from the dead, he did not see decay. This strongly shows that Paul believed in both the empty tomb and bodily resurrection of Jesus. (acts 13) Such a comparison between Jesus and David would make no sense if the resurrection was intended as a metaphor.

Possible Rebuttal: Paul's Conversion in Acts

Some say that Paul's Damascus Road experience in Acts seems more "visionary" than physical. This is problematic for several reasons:

1) The author of Acts also quotes Paul as believing Jesus was entombed and raised from the dead. He further quotes Paul as contrasting King David and Jesus, where David decayed in his grave, whereas Jesus did not. So if we are to accept the accounts in Acts for Paul's conversion, we ought to believe the authors quotation of Paul believing in bodily resurrection as well. After all, it is the same source. (2)

2) There is nothing to suggest that Paul's "seeing" of Jesus at the Damascus Road led him to believe that Jesus had no physical body. Indeed, the author of Acts says Paul was blinded by the light. Visionary experiences typically don't blind a person. Furthermore, the Damascus Road event often has an effect on the surrounding people with Paul, either causing them to hear or to see the light. Since visions are private and subjective, this shows the Damascus Road event was not visionary in the normal sense we use the term "visionary." (2)

3) It makes perfect sense that Paul would see Jesus in heaven surrounded by light. Remember, Christians believe that Jesus wasn't just resurrected, he ascended and was glorified as well. So Paul's experience of the post-glorified risen Lord makes perfect sense on Christian theology and causes no inconsistency. Indeed, it is almost exactly what we would expect for a post-glorified appearance of Jesus.

8) Resurrection in Paul (besides 1 & 2 Corinthians)

Christian apologists often concede late dating for the texts in question, since the resurrection can still be rationally demonstrated with either early or late dates. This is not to say that the late dates are the best dates (indeed good arguments can be made for dating the book of Acts in the 60's). However, the current trend in apologetics is to concede the late dating for the writings in question.

That being said, liberal scholars consider Paul's writings to have the earliest dates over all other New Testament writings. The argument is that Paul is the earliest source regarding what the disciples believed about resurrection, since he had contact with the disciples. Furthermore, Paul regularly states that all believers will experience a resurrection at the end of the age. He repeatedly states that our body will be like Jesus' body was in the resurrection. So, whatever Paul thinks about the future resurrection body of believers, he believes about Jesus' body.

Despite what some critics have to say, Paul agrees with other New Testament writings on the subject of resurrection. There are 7 letters of Paul that scholars are unanimous in agreeing that Paul actually wrote them. These are of principal interest in determining Paul's views on the nature of the resurrection body.

Romans - 60's A.D.

"And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you."

Here Paul states that the Holy Spirit who resurrected Jesus will "give life to your mortal bodies." This works against Richard Carrier's two body hypothesis, and John Dominic Crossan's metaphor hypothesis. The passage implies that the body that is raised is the same that dies. This works against Richard Carriers hypothesis that Paul believed in a replacement resurrection body that is different than the one that died. Furthermore, it is difficult to understand the metaphorical meaning behind "your mortal bodies." 

Philippians - 60's A.D.

10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Here Paul talks of the "resurrection from the dead." Gary Habermas notes that this phrase implies a resurrection out from among dead ones, which very keenly consistent with traditional Christian theology and its belief about resurrection. (8)

 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

This passage most strongly implies a future transformation of our current bodies into a glorious one. Notice that glorious does not at all mean non-physical in Christian theology. This works against the metaphor hypothesis, because the resurrection of all believers is a future event. If, as Crossan and others maintain, the resurrection of Christ is symbolized by his continued presence in the church through the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, it makes passages that discuss the resurrection of believers at the Second Coming rather meaningless. Furthermore, "transform" strongly states that the body we have now will be transformed, not replaced as Richard Carrier states Paul believed.

1 Thessalonians - 50 A.D.

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Here Paul very clearly falls in line with traditional Christian belief about resurrection. He tells the Thessalonians that the rest of mankind "have no hope." Since he is talking to a Greek audience at Thessalonica, the locals undoubtedly believed in a ghostly existence in Hades after death. (2) (cf. Plato) Apparently, Paul lumps this in with having "no hope." For Paul, eternal life is not a reality without the bodily resurrection from the dead. Apparently for Paul, a ghostly existence in Hades is no hope at all, and certainly not a resurrection.

Furthermore, he uses the common euphemism of the time, referring to dead people those who "sleep in death" and "fallen asleep." However, it is interesting that he says that "Jesus died and rose again." The word here for "rose" is eregoi, which is the same word that means to arise from a seat or to wake up, or to "arise" to the occasion. Combined with the sleep euphemism, it is very clear that Paul believes that the dead will literally wake up, or stand up again just like Jesus did. This works against Richard Carrier's replacement body hypothesis, because it shows a strong continuity between the body that dies and the body that is raised. Furthermore, it works against Crossan's metaphor hypothesis because it speaks of a future event that happens where dead believers will rise, and not just the presence of Christ in the church. Furthermore, in the phrase "Jesus died and rose again," purporting that the "rose again" part is a metaphor would necessarily mean that the "Jesus died" part is a metaphor too. And Crossan thinks its historically certain that Jesus really literally died. So there is no reason to jump from literal to metaphorical interpretation without reason for doing so.

Galatians & Philemon

Both of these books have very little to say about the nature of resurrection body.

9) Resurrection in Paul (1 & 2 Corinthians)

Paul's longest explanation of the concept of resurrection is in 1 Corinthians 15. He also explains some of it in 2 Corinthians 5 as well. These passages are either long, complex or controversial. That is why I group them separately from the others. So far, what we have learned about Paul's view of resurrection is very consistent with the traditional Christian view of resurrection. Since Paul is associated with the Pharisees, and seems to be confirming traditional Christian views of resurrection, we should assume that is what he is doing unless we have some strong evidence to the contrary in another one of his letters.

2 Corinthians 5

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Crossan Metaphor: 

The metaphorical meaning of this passage would be remarkably difficult to decipher if it has no concrete basis. In fact, one wonders if this passage would mean anything at all within a purely metaphorical context. Paul speaks of clothing our presently weak and mortal existence with a heavenly one. If our presently weak and mortal existence is not metaphorical, then neither is the heavenly body we will receive. Furthermore, the reference to "earthly tent" and "building from God" are clearly metaphors with concrete referents. If the whole passage is a metaphor, then we have an situation where we have metaphors nested within metaphors, which is a very awkward explanation for the passage and is an unnecessarily complex theory. 

Non-physical "Spiritual" Resurrection: 

A non-physical spiritual resurrection would not make sense here, because in the first paragraph, the body is very specifically not abandoned, but is "clothed" with the heavenly dwelling. It also says that what is "mortal" is not abandoned but is "swallowed up by life." He specifically says that "we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling." It seems to abandon the body would be to be "unclothed" in this context, which is not what Paul has in mind since he says we are going to be "clothed" with our heavenly dwelling. 

Carrier Replacement Body:

It is hard to use this passage to make a case for the abandoning of this present body for the replacement of another. This is the case for several reasons. First, Paul wants us to be "clothed" with our heavenly dwelling and for what is "mortal to be swallowed up by life." He speaks of the new heavenly dwelling clothing and swallowing up the mortal body, but certainly does not speak of abandoning the mortal body. In the second paragraph, Paul speaks of being "away from the body and at home with the Lord." However, this is evidently a temporary state, because he already said in the previous paragraph that "we do not wish to be unclothed, but clothed by our heavenly dwelling." 

Traditional Resurrection: 

Mike Licona in a debate with Richard Carrier mentions that this is one of the most controversial passages with respect to what Paul actually meant. (15) Indeed, it has at least a small amount of awkwardness for every theory. So we ought not use Paul's ambiguous passages to explain his very clear ones, but vice versa. This passage works reasonably well with bodily resurrection if one views each paragraph as speaking of a different topic. The first paragraph speaks of a body that clothes the present mortal and weak "earthly tent" to a more permanent existence. This is perfectly in line with other Pauline passages on resurrection. Furthermore, the second paragraph speaks not of resurrection at all, but of abandonment of the body to the intermediate state while waiting for the Second Coming of Christ. We have already seen why Paul does not view abandonment of the body as the ideal or final state.

Finally, the fact that the body is "in heaven" is merely awkward but poses no inconsistency with traditional resurrection, or what Paul seemed to mean in his other letters. It does make sense on traditional resurrection, because if we are to clothe/transform our mortal bodies with something that isn't earthly or corruptible, it only makes sense that this body or the material for this new transformed body would originate from heaven, since it obviously can't come from earth. Furthermore, as NT Wright notes with respect to the body in heaven: "If I assure my guests that there is champagne for them in the fridge I am not suggesting that we all need to get into the fridge if we are to have the party." (2) The body comes from heaven, but doesn't stay there, in NT Wright's analysis. (2)

So 2 Corinthians 5 gives us every reason to reject alternatives to physical resurrection. It also works (more or less) smoothly with traditional Christian view of resurrection. Since this is what Paul seems to affirm in his other unambiguous writings, we have no reason to reject this view in the case of 2 Corinthians 5.

1 Corinthians 15

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed  52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Crossan Metaphor

The metaphor hypothesis has a lot of trouble with 1 Corinthians 15, but mainly with passages I left out. Before this part of the chapter Paul again reaffirms that our faith is worthless without a future resurrection of the dead.

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Here he poignantly reaffirms that if Jesus is dead, then so are we---permanently. He says that "If only for this life we have hope in Christ" everyone should feel sorry for us. He clearly thinks that there is a future life of resurrection which makes this present life worth living. This idea makes little sense on Crossan's metaphor hypothesis, where Jesus' resurrection is merely Christ's working through the body of Christ, which is the church. This has little to say  when explaining Paul's belief in a future resurrection life, without which our present faith is worthless.

Non-Physical "Spiritual" Resurrection:

An (often accidental) anachronistic reading of this passage could lead us to belief that Paul speaks of some kind of ghostly or non-physical spiritual resurrection, because of a couple verses. However, the whole passage works against a non-bodily resurrection in a very strong way, especially once we understand the meaning of the terms Paul uses.

There are three verses which might imply to a 21st Century reader a non-physical resurrection.

1) "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body."

A) Paul uses the words "natural" and "spiritual" in this same letter to refer to "natural" and "spiritual" Christians. Surely he does not think some Corinthians are physical, and some non-physical! His usage of "spiritual" is similar to the way we use it when we say that the Bible is a "spiritual" book. (11)

B) Mike Licona did a word study and studied the usage of "natural" (psychikon) and "spiritual" (pneumatikon). He found that in over 800 instances in Greek literature, the word "natural" (psychikon) NEVER means physical. He found that the word "spiritual" (pneumatikon) can sometimes mean non-physical or physical. However, since "psychikos" never means physical, it is almost positively certain that Paul did not intend to contrast a physical with a non-physical body in this passage. (11)

C) If Paul wanted to say that the resurrection was purely a non-physical event, he could have easily said that it is raised a "spirit" (pneuma), not "spiritual body" (soma pneumatikon). The use of the word "body" (soma) is where we get our word "somatic" and has a physical connotation. (11)

D) Paul's actual meaning in this passage makes more sense when we look at his other letters. Paul's letters repeatedly emphasize that some people give in to fleshly impulses and follow the sin nature, while others are led by the Spirit to do good. When Paul speaks of a "spiritual body," he likely speaks of a body devoid of sinful impulses and oriented towards what God wants. This interpretation is especially fitting given his contrasting "natural" Christians with "spiritual" Christians earlier in the same letter. (11?)

2) "'The first man Adam became a living being,' the last Adam a life giving spirit."

Here the words used for living being (lit: "living soul") and ("life-giving spirit") are the roots of the words "natural" and "spiritual" above. We have already seen that "natural" never means physical. Since the roots are used here, this comparison also cannot be a contrast between "physical" and "non-physical."  So whatever Paul means here by this contrast between "living soul" and "life-giving spirit," it does not mean that it is a contrast between a physical body and a non-physical one. (11)

3) "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God"

Some scholars try to contrast "flesh and blood" with Luke's gospel, where the risen Jesus claims to have "flesh and bones." This they say, is proof that Luke is later and the result of legendary embellishments, whereas Paul actually did not believe in physical resurrection. (11)

The majority of scholars view this to be a figure of speech for "mortal," because of its usage in the Old and New Testament, and the rest of antiquity. So here, the actual words are more analogous to saying that a person is a "cold-blooded murderer" or a "red-blooded" male. The expression "cold blooded murderer" could not be used as evidence that the murderer had cold blood. So the phrase, "flesh and blood" merely means that "mortality" cannot inherit the kingdom of God. (11)

Context bears this out as well. It says that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." Context shows that Paul simply means that perishable and mortal bodies don't inherit the kingdom of God. Furthermore, "the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality." This further demonstrates that Paul means that mortal existence can't inherit the kingdom of God.

Carrier Replacement Body:

The material in this passage works strongly against a replacement view of resurrection. Paul says that "we will not all sleep, but will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." The primary meaning of the word "change" is to transform. It can mean exchange, but its primary meaning is to transform. Furthermore:

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Here he repeatedly speaks not of an exchange, but the clothing of the present mortal body with an immortal and imperishable body. This works strongly against the view that Paul thought that our present bodies would remain in the grave, while we get  new bodies in heaven. Clearly Paul believed that the present body would be transformed and "clothed" with immortality.

This view is also born out in this paragraph:

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

In the preceding, Paul compares the dying mortal body with a seed that dies and comes to life again in a plant. He continues the use of that metaphor when saying "it is sown,...It is raised..." The "it" implies a continuity between that which dies and that which is raised to life, albeit it is a transformed existence.

Traditional Resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15 strongly bears out the traditional view of resurrection. We have seen no reason that Paul was referring to a "non-physical" resurrection, because only an anachronistic reading of the text would yield that interpretation. Furthermore, Crossan's metaphor hypothesis is unsuccessful here, because Paul emphatically believes in a future life beyond this current life, without which his current faith is useless. Furthermore, Carrier's replacement body hypothesis works against the text, because the text refers to the mortal being "clothed" with immortality, not replaced.

The traditional Christian view of resurrection is strongly elucidated in 1 Corinthians 15. It speaks of the transformation of the perishable and mortal body into an imperishable and immortal body. It also says that the mortal body dies in weakness, but is raised in power. The first body dies in dishonor, but is raised in glory. Once we realize the Jewish meaning of resurrection, and the anachronistic reading of "spiritual body," 1 Corinthians 15 very strongly bears out the idea that the resurrection involves the emptying of a tomb, the transformation of a mortal corpse into an immortal existence.

Paul Overall

Since Paul is supposedly the earliest source, we cannot find any reason he believed in a different kind of resurrection body for Jesus than what the Gospels present. The "transformed corpse" view is found explicitly in 1 Thessalonians, Romans, and Philippians, and also in 1& 2 Corinthians, despite what critics have to say. So here, Paul is in full agreement with Christian tradition regarding the nature of the resurrection body (and the nature of Jesus' body specifically as being a physical, tomb-emptying event.)

10) Resurrection in Apostolic Fathers

Apostolic Fathers are Christian writers in the 1st and 2nd Century that are the earliest writings we have other than the apostles themselves. Furthermore, some other Church fathers, such as Irenaeus, specifically say that some of these men knew certain apostles. It is believed that some of these men listened to the apostles preaching. So what they think of resurrection is also important. (2)

Polycarp (2)

Polycarp seems to believe in an intermediate state between death and the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. If resurrection was merely a disembodied afterlife, Polycarp would not need or want to speak of both a disembodied intermediate state and a resurrection at the Second Coming.

Ignatius (2)

Ignatius may very well have known the apostle John. He very much goes out of his way to affirm what Luke says about the resurrection body of Jesus. He very much affirms it to be a physical body that could eat food. He insists that Jesus body was composed of "flesh."

Clement of Rome (2)

Clement specifically compares the resurrection to the rising of the phoenix from the ashes. The bird dies and rejuvenates every 500 years. With using such an obscure parallel in Greco-Roman literature, he is clearly looking for some precedent to affirm a physical resurrection, because affirming a disembodied existence in the afterlife would have been an easy task for him.

Traditional Theologians

For those who say that my reading of physical resurrection is entirely "modern" all one has to do is look at some famous theologians in the past to see that they share my view as well:

Augustine (14)

But, as far as the substance of the resurrection body is concerned, it will even then still be “flesh.” This is why the body of Christ is called “flesh” even after the resurrection.

Thomas Aquinas on 1 Corinthians 15:50 (12)

What we must not think, as some heretics say, is that flesh and blood will not rise according to substance, but rather that the whole body will be changed into spirit or into air. This is heretical and false. For the Apostle says that our body will be conformed to his body of radiance. Therefore, since Christ after his resurrection, has body and blood, as it says in Luke (24:39): “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have,” it is certain that we too will have flesh and blood in the resurrection.

11) "At Least One" Authorship Argument

But of course, all of these arguments assume a "minimal facts" approach. This means I am trying to concede to liberal scholarship as much as possible, especially in the areas of dating and authorship.

However, this does not mean that I actually agree with the dating and authorship assessments of these liberal scholars! Very powerful arguments can be made for early dating of some of the gospels and Acts. Good arguments can be given that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John really wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But all of that aside. If I can prove just ONE conservative authorship of any of the gospels (or Acts), that pretty much sinks the idea that Paul or any of the disciples believed in a non-traditional resurrection. If any of the gospels was written by an eyewitness, then that destroys the theory that the apostles believed in a non-traditional resurrection.

Furthermore, if the early date of Acts is true, then trying to prove that Luke didn't write it, or that Paul didn't believe in bodily resurrection, becomes a useless endeavor. Believing in the non-bodily interpretation means that the authorship of EVERY SINGLE ONE of the gospels (and Acts) was not written by an eyewitness or someone who spoke to eyewitnesses. The early church was unanimous as to who wrote these books. This is often how authorship is determined with ancient writings. If they are right about any of them, then the non-bodily resurrection hypothesis falls apart. Notice a trend here. The skeptical case for non-bodily resurrection depends entirely on the idea that none of the traditional authorships are true.


The apostles believed in bodily resurrection of Jesus for several reasons:

1) The empty tomb - if the scholarly majority (70%) is right about the empty tomb, then the disciples would have necessarily believed in bodily resurrection.

2) The meaning of "raised" in Greek is often the same word for to "stand up" or to "wake up" or to "arise" to a certain occasion. Greek for "resurrection" also has the root for "to stand up." The word itself corresponds with the traditional view of resurrection.

3) The Old Testament portrays resurrection as dead people waking up from the dust of the earth. Since the disciples frequently cite the Old Testament as such a high authority, one would think they would share the Old Testament view of resurrection.

4) Second Temple Jews had many sub-groups including Pharisees, Sadduccees, and Essenes. However, it was known that the Pharisees disagreed with the Sadducees, not on the nature of the resurrection, but on whether or not it actually happened. So Jews in 1st Century Palestine who affirmed resurrection were affirming a bodily notion. We shouldn't expect any different from a Pharisee like Paul or Jews like the disciples.

5) Greco-Roman revulsion at resurrection. Many pagan beliefs actually repeatedly repudiate the notion that a dead person can return to life. This is often due to their Platonic view of afterlife. So resurrection is a bodily notion for the Greeks as well. The only difference is that they disagree with it.

6) Proclaiming Jesus as raised from the dead is like shouting "fire" in a movie theater. The disciples would know how people would interpret the phrase "raised from the dead," but chose to use that phrase anyway, despite the negative (and positive) reactions.

7) "Resurrection" in New Testament writings other than Paul clearly affirm a bodily notion, especially because the Gospels report an empty tomb and Acts strongly implies one.

8) Resurrection and "raised from the dead" in Paul (outside Corinthians) very clearly enunciate the traditional Christian belief of bodily resurrection.

9) Resurrection and "raised from the dead" concepts in Paul (in 1 & 2 Corinthians) work strongly against alternate interpretations but work best with the traditional resurrection. Furthermore, only an anachronistic reading of these passages would lead us to believe in a non-bodily resurrection.

10) Resurrection belief in apostolic fathers is very consistent with the traditional Christian view of bodily resurrection. This is significant because many of these people are purported to have spoken with or learned under the apostles.

11) Most arguments against a non-bodily resurrection depend on the idea that every single one of the traditional authorships for the Gospels is false. However, in many cases good arguments can be made for traditional authorship. Furthermore, arguments against Paul believing in a non-bodily resurrection collapse with an early dating of Acts, which is very likely.

Conclusion to Resurrection Series

This concludes the series on resurrection. We have seen that:

1) Jesus was crucified, buried and died.
2) Jesus disciples claimed Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to them
3) The disciples did not lie about the resurrection.
4) The disciples could not have possibly hallucinated the resurrection.
5) The disciples affirmed a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

I got carried away and got very detailed on the posts on resurrection, since the entire Christian religion depends on the truth of it.

However, He is risen indeed!

I will now return to more regular posting with shorter, less confusing, posts.

1) Gary Habermas and the Empty Tomb

2) "The Resurrection of the Son of God" NT Wright

3) Number of OT allusions in NT

4) Jewish Beliefs on Resurrection in the 1st Century

5) Mike Licona and the Metaphor Hypothesis

6) Richard Carrier's View

7) Habermas on Percent of Scholars Who accept empty tomb

8) Gary Habermas (Physical or Spiritual) Resurrection

9) Licona vs. Ehrman

10) Marcus Borg's Metaphor Hypothesis

11) Mike Licona on Bodily Resurrection

12) Thomas Aquinas on Resurrection

13) Habermas on Percent of Scholars Who accept empty tomb

14) Augustine on Resurrection

15) Licona vs. Carrier

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