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Monday, June 12, 2006 

The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part II

Sorry for the lack of blogging. It was a busier weekend than expected. One of my jobs is as an agent for a cell-phone company and so I've been dealing with customer issues all weekend. One of the cons of selling cell-phones is that I have to give these people my personal cell-phone number and so, naturally, when problems arise they call me. Well, enough of the complaining. In this part of my new series of posts concerning the future resurrection of the body I want to comment briefly on each of the propositions I gave concerning what I felt to be the substance of Patrik's (sorry for the misspellings earlier) view. Here was the first proposition:

1.) First, discussions on the afterlife are problematic to begin with since we know so little about existence after death (granting there is such a thing).

Patrik is certainly correct, from a purely epistemological perspective, to assert that we know very little about post-death experience. However, there is a difference in epistemological certainity and hoping for certain conceptions of the afterlife. As I will try to argue in future posts, I think there are reasons for hoping in a future, and in some sense more than metaphorical, resurrection of our bodies. The key term here is hope. This is how I want to frame this discussion, by affirming that, yes, our knowledge about the after life is limited but that this limitation should not hinder us from having certain (hopeful) conceptions about it.

2.) Furthermore, the Bible does not offer any detailed discussions concerning life after death and the common perceptions of this post-death existence have more to due with the influence of such literary works as Dante's Inferno.

3.) What the Bible does offer is" essentially a 'negative theology'" about the afterlife.

Patrik is a bit wrong on these two points. Granted, most of the Hebrew Bible does not offer much in regards to an afterlife and when it is clearly asserted it is not until the Book of Daniel, which many scholars believe to be one of the latest books in the Hebrew canon. However, once we cross the intertestamental divide into the NT it is an entirely different story. I must admit to being somewhat perplexed as to how Patrik can assert that the Bible says very little about existence after death. The hope of a future resurrection permeates the NT (even in individualized eschatological schemes such as John's Gospel there remains a hope for future resurrection). What the Bible is silent about is the intermediate phase between death and resurrection. But it has much to say about the final state of salvation.

4.) And though Paul takes up the issue of future bodily resurrection in 1 Cor. 15, Rom. 6ff offers a better guide to Paul's thoughts on the believer's body where he uses it as a symbol for what the believer has become or who they currently are (personality).

In Romans 6, Paul never actually uses the body as a symbol in and of itself. Paul's discussion concerns our being crucified and baptized into Christ's death. This is the symbolism being utilized (though I think if Paul were here he would reject our talk of 'being baptized into Christ' as merely symbolic). Yet even if we allow that Paul is using the body in a purely symbolic sense in this passage this would by no means signify that that is how Paul always understood the body. Indeed, later in Romans we see clearly Paul's understanding of the body as more than a symbol for "ourselves." Consider the following passages:

"But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." (Rom. 8: 10-11)

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved." (Rom. 8: 22-24)

In regards to the first passage two things need to be noted. First, Paul makes it clear that the life given to our mortal bodies is provided for on the basis of the life given to Jesus' mortal body when he was raised from the dead. The connection would imply the salvation of our bodies as similar to that of Jesus' when God, through the Spirit, raised him from the dead. Secondly, Paul places an attributive adjective with the word body (Greek: soma), namely, mortal. The use of this adjective is inexplicable if Paul merely has in mind a metaphorical body.

As for the second passage, Paul clearly makes a correlation between the redemption of the created order with that of our bodies. Just as the creation eagerly groans to be redeemed, so too do our bodies. To make Paul's use of body as merely symbolic for our personalities or what have you would not make sense in this passage.

So then for Patrik to divert the discussion concerning Paul's view of the body from 1 Cor 15 to Rom 6 is not helpful since, in my mind at least, other passages in Romans would seem to suggest the same type of understanding of body as that found in the famous resurrection chapter.

5.) Based on this observation, the hope of salvation after death should be understood as the redemption of our personality, that which constitues who we truly are. Resurrection of the body is simply a way of affirming that after death, God will make us "whole."

Since this is the crux of Patrik's position. I do not think Patrik is necessarily wrong in what he is saying but it is incomplete in my opinion. The rest of the posts in this series will attempt to clarify why I think this is incomplete and why I think we can hope for the resurrection as more than the salvation of our personalities. In the next post I will engage Patrik's interpretation of 1 Cor 15 (be sure to read Patrik's intepretation here).

First I want to say, as should be apparent from my newer posts (like this one and the ones following it)that I agree about the hope as being the central aspect of all talk about the future existence. My point is that the content of that hope is found, not by trying to create an image of what this life will look like, but by looking at what the Christian faith and the Christian Chruch is like in this existence, because these are typoi of the future world.

Then for some of your remarks: When I say that the bible does not discuss the afterlife in any detail this is not a statement about the amount of sayings about the afterlife but of the quality of them. Here I see a strong tendency in the writers of the NT texts to prefer to say what this life will not be like over affirming things. For example, Jesus says that in the next word people will not marry (Luk 20:35). Jesus says that they will be "like angels, like the sons of God" (do angels have bodies?). Similarly, Paul in 1 Cor 15:35ff merely states that the resurrection body will be different, in the sense that we cannot base our knowledge of those bodies on the knowledge of our present bodies. Finally look at Rev. 21 where the description of the future Jerusalem starts out rather concrete (walls and gates), but gradually moves into the abstract (Pure gold being as pure glass) untill finally the picture looses all concreteness and becomes purely abstract (No sun and moon because God will shine, and the lamb will be a lamp). Again I interpret this as a conscious attempt by the NT writers to avoid giving exact images of the future existence, and rather try to remove such images from our imagination.

As for you comment regarding Paul's use of soma in Romans I feel equally perplexed that you can find a literal(?) interpretation of the word more plausible. What does Paul mean when he says that the body is dead because of sin but the spirit is alive, if we take the body literally? This would mean that the body would be dead, without life, a corpse. But clearly this is not the point, because he says that death here means to have the "a mind of the flesh" (v. 6, the Greek is tricky here). Body here seems to have moral meaning. The most plausible interpretation of soma here is precisely the one I proposed, that the body symbolizes a part of our personlity that because of sin is "dead", that is turned against our true selves and God. To try to force in a physical body in this text makes it completely incomprehensible. Also, mortal in antiquity did not mean merely something that is subject to death, but it is something that is connected to the material nature fo this world, i.e. that which is not spiritual, not true, not essential.

What I do not understand is why a non metaphorical understanding of body is "better" that an symbolical or metaphorical. The body is never merely a body, it always represents something else, this is why it lends itself so well to symbolical language. The only instance when Paul seems to talk directly about the physical body is when he says that flesh and blood will not inherint the Kingdom of God in 1 Cor 15. This to me is non-metaphorical language, this is Paul trying to distinguish between the physical body and body used in a wider sense.

Excellent discussion gentlemen. So far the match seems even...I've got a point to each of you for your takes on soma. Chris: I think you are right to insist on the "more than metaphorical" aspect in Paul's thinking. Patrik: you raise a strong point in demonstrating how Paul can and does use soma in a metaphorical (at least "non-literal") way, though it seems to me to be a non sequitur that ergo Paul is referring to the human personality instead. That interpretation of Paul's idea of resurrection would need massive support in my opinion.

Happy feuding gentlemen!

Thanks Patrik and Derek for the comments.


I still think you are overstating your case a bit by asserting that the Bible doesn't have much to say about the quality of the afterlife. The very example that you give (Luk 20:35) does state a quality which you yourself point out, i.e., we will be "like the angels in heaven." And by the way, most Jews of the Second-Temple period believed that angels were in some sense corporeal, or at least able to take on corporeality.

I agree with you that Paul does not say much about the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15ff. But as I will argue, in the next post resurrection is still something that Paul believes will happen to our body, even if it is raised radically different.

In regards to your comments about Romans 6ff and Paul's use of the body as metaphorical I agree with you.I should have been more clear about this in the previous post. What I meant to affirm was that Paul was able to conceive the body being something non-literal, as well as literal. I think it is a mistake to impose an either/or on Paul's conception about the body. My reference to the two passages in Romans 8 was intended to exhibit that Paul was completely able to conceive of the body as something metaphorical but also as something more.

Patrik, you ask "What I do not understand is why a non metaphorical understanding of body is 'better' than a symbolical or metaphorical one?" This may be, again, to set up a false-dichotomy between a metaphorical and non-metaphorical body. I agree whole-heartedly with you that the ultimate salvation of "ourselves", namely, our "personalities" is part of the redemption process. But I think our physical bodies are a part of the redemption process as well. Because of this, I think Paul is very able to use the body with both understandings.

In the end Patrik, you're certainly correct to say that "the body is never merely a body." Where we part ways I suppose is that I see the physical component of the body as an aspect of us that God will choose to redeem as well as our personalities.

I think Chris is right about the non-metaphorical interpretation of "body" in Ro. 8:22-24.

Paul clearly makes a correlation between the redemption of the created order with that of our bodies.

I'd like to know Patrik's response to that specific point.

It is my firm conviction that God does not intend to abandon (destroy) his creation, but to redeem it. In other words, the material realm must be conformed to God's original intention for it (before the Fall). Included in the material realm is the human body. It, too, must be redeemed — not merely symbolically, but redeemed as a material object.

That's my paraphrase of Chris's argument, and I think it's a good one.

I'll just give you a quick response. First of all a central point is what we mean by "symbolical" or "metaphorical". It is wrong, I think, to translate it with "unreal" or so. A symbol is a very powerful thing, and in a sense all language is symbolical. The question one has to ask is what a symbol points at.

A symbol does not mean that the literal meaning is absent, just that the literal sense is not what is most important. The point, so to speak, is elswhere. I fell it is pretty clear that Paul is using the body in a symbolical way, also in Rom 8:23, even if he there does connect it to the material world. Still, th freedom he speaks of is not a physical one (like frrdom from captivity) but a moral one, freedom from sin. (Derek, my interpretation of sin can be found in my blog, it is not based on these texts only). And this is the point.

We're back to my first response: Why is this question important? I donät think Paul's point is to say saomething about the body, but to use the body as a symbol to say something about salvation. The body is not central.

Also, I like a response regarding the "flesh and blood" part.

The only instance when Paul seems to talk directly about the physical body is when he says that flesh and blood will not inherint the Kingdom of God in 1 Cor 15.

We'd better look at that verse in context:

"But someone will ask, How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come? You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies …."

At the outset of this section of 1Co. 15, Paul raises the issue of the resurrection body. It is clear that he expects resurrected people to have a body; albeit, not the same kind of body we have now.

What is sown (the corpse) is merely a seed. But that metaphor of a seed is significant, because it implies some degree of continuity between the corpse and the new body that will be received at the resurrection.

Again, Paul speaks of earthly bodies and heavenly bodies. An oak tree is very different than an acorn; nonetheless, the one comes from the other.

This is how I understand the talk of resurrection bodies. There is both continuity and discontinuity. It would be pedantic to suppose that the resurrection body will be identical to the mundane body. We should expect a significant degree of discontinuity. But we don't want to fall off the high wire on the other side, either, and suppose that there is absolutely no continuity between them.

"So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body."

It is sown; it is raised. It is raised in an unimaginably different form — it is transformed. Nonetheless, there is continuity between the "it" that is raised and the "it" that was sown.

And it is raised "a spiritual body". What exactly does that mean? I haven't got a clue! But Paul expects the resurrection body to be exactly that — a body — albeit a "spiritual" body.

Now we come to your text:

"I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet."

But there's nothing here to undermine my argument. Paul pictures some believers living an earthly existence at the time of Christ's coming. Will they miss out on the resurrection? No; their living earthly bodies will be transformed into resurrection bodies just as surely as corpses will be transformed at the resurrection.

That's the only significance of the phrase, "flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God". That is, earthly bodies cannot enter the kingdom without first undergoing a transformation.

Nonetheless, there is both continuity and discontinuity; and a "spiritual body" is still a body.

As for the question about significance, that's the question I was addressing in my last comment. Is it significant that God will redeem his creation, including the material world? I think it is.

Patrik and Q,

Since my next post will deal with 1 Cor 15 I will refrain from replying to your comments Patrik about "flesh and blood", though Q in my opinion has already responded adequately. As to the significance of the question, I think, Q, you have nailed it right on the head that it has to do with God's intent to redeem his physical creation which includes our bodies.

Well, ok, I agree that Paul says there will be a ressurection of the body. That is not the question is it? The problem is what he means with this body. Does he mean what we mean with body? I would argue not, because we tend to mean "flesh and blood" with the word body.

Also, remember, I'm defending the "agnostic" viewpoint here, I'm not denying a bodily resurrection. I'm merely arguing that based on a bible we cannot really say much about what it will be like.

Thanks to both participants (and hangers-on) for this discussion. I wonder whether the belief that God is creator is relevant here. For me, that is one of the key theological underpinnings to the Christian hope for the redemption of the body (Rom 8).

'As for the second passage, Paul clearly makes a correlation between the redemption of the created order with that of our bodies.'

'Redemption' is a rather confusing translation of the Greek of Romans 8:23. A better word is release, or liberation from imprisonment, often after paying a ransom. For example, Hebrews 12:35 uses it to mean release (and incidentally uses it to mean the opposite of a resurrection).

Presumably Paul thinks we are imprisoned in our flesh and our body of spirit needs to be liberated from its prison. This is why we are groaning within ourselves. We are trapped in our body of flesh.

See Romans 7:14 where flesh is used to mean being sold into slavery. In which case , the 'apolutrosis' of our body means liberation from what is keeping us in our slavery - namely, our flesh.

Paul has explicitly stated in Romans 7:24 that he wants to be rescued from this body of death. He does not think this body of death is going to be resuced. He is going to be released from it. Naturally, of course, he will still be in A body - but he won't be in his present body, which is a body of death.

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