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Thursday, June 15, 2006 

The Future Resurrection of the Body: Part III

In his post entitled The Body and the Self, Patrik, in response to a reader's comments, presents us with a tentative interpretation of the Pauline view concerning the resurrection taken from the context of 1 Cor 15. In this post I want to comment briefly on a certain section of that post:

Patrik says,

"the immediate problem I see is the assumption that we can agree on what a 'real physical resurrection' would mean, not to mention know what St. Paul would mean with such a phrase. Both the terms "real" and "physical" are modern concepts. My point is that even if one would attest that Paul did in fact believe in a real physical resurrection, one would still have to address what this means. I guess my interpretation is an attempt to address that question."

First, Patrik's assertion that "the terms 'real' and 'physical' are modern concepts" is baffling to me. The Ancient Near East and Late Antiquity surely had concepts such as these. Patrik must have in mind a philosophically loaded understanding of "real" and "physical". And if that's so, I do not see how that applies to the discussion.

However, perhaps Patrik is right to assert that we can never agree on what a real physical resurrection would mean. But what I think Patrik is implying is that we could never really conceive what a resurrection (physically) of a body would mean. For my part, it is enough to affirm that God will redeem our bodies and that we call this "resurrection." I'm not concerned with the particulars of the resurrection body and neither was Paul:

"But some one will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain." (1 Cor 15:35-37)

As Patrik has rightly pointed out before, Paul is stressing discontinuity and transformation of the body. But this should not detract us from seeing that Paul is still emphasizing that resurrection is something that happens to these bodies. Paul never has in mind two absolutely distinct bodies. What is sown and what is reaped are still, in someway, the same. All Paul wishes to affirm is that resurrection is something that happens to our present bodies and that probing beyond this to ask particulars about certain qualities of the new body such as whether it will wear clothes, have sex, eat, etc. need not be our concern.

Therefore, I do not see the importance of agreeing, in a complete and exhaustive sense, what a real, physical resurrection would entail. It is enough to say that the resurrection indicates God's desire to save this fleshly body of mine. And even if we have to live with the supposedly insolvable paradox of a "spiritual body" or of trying to figure out what Paul meant by "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God", the purpose of resurrection remains the same: the salvation of the believer's body, even if that salvation takes on an almost completely different form (spiritual body) that is inconceivable to us.

Nice post Chris. What do you make of NTW's view of this? There is misunderstanding of Paul's view due to a subtle mistranslation which skews his meaning. The English translation here for "physical body" is "soma psychikon" (soul-driven body) whereas the "spiritual body" is "soma pneumatikon" (spirit-driven body). Therefore, the text is not actually seeking to contrast physical and non-physical bodies in the first place. Any thoughts?

(In passing, have you waded through his big book yet?)

Remember also the soma warrentikon, the purpose-driven body. Ahem.

Good observation, Jonathan. The problem with using "spiritual body" as most translations do is that it misses that nuance that Jonathan posted above. The issue Paul is addressing isn't "what matter it is composed of" (though I do think it is a body made of flesh), but rather what is fueling or driving that body - a body still run by fleshly desires or a body run by the Spirit.

I think you know what I mean when I say that real and physical are modern concepts: What the ancients meant with similar words is something very different than we do. For most people in the ancient world (maybe not Paul) they would have been opposites, while for us they're roughly synonyms. In Plato's philosophy that which is immaterial is more real than the material for sure.

I don't think we are that far appart from each other in this discussion actually. I may think that "the particulars of the resurrection body" are a bit more problematic than you do, i.e. that what we're left with is not that much to work with.

More important, though, is that I don't think it is a good idea to focus to narrowly on the question of the ressurection. It is after all only one of the symbols Paul uses to describe salvation (itself of course a symbol). It should be regarded in relation to others, such as justification, freedom, becoming God's children and so on. It is all of this I try to decribe in terms of personlity. Of course, as little as I can conceive of a physical resurrection of the body, I can understand how one could talk about a personlity separate from the body. I am my body - this certainly it true in this life. This is also why I feel that Paul is not maybe so much talking about the carbon-based molecules that make up my muscles and organs, as the person I am. Underlying this whole debate is the Cartesian division into soul and body as two substances - something foreign to the world of the NT. As has been pointed out, for Paul (as soul and body for Plato) spirit and flesh (and body) is mostly moral concepts, they are symbols for what we would call two different frames of mind.

Jonathan and Rob,

I myself think NT Wright's interpretation of the spiritual body paradox is the most satisfying one that I've encountered. I have been intending on touching on this in a future post. Jonathan, I've most certainly read Wright's tome,"Resurrection of the Son of God." It was actually the first book of Wright's that I read. The importance of that book for me was the massive literature Wright utilized in order to show that what resurrection meant in Second-Temple Judaism something that concretely, or physically happened to a body.


I would agree with you that resurrection is one of the symbols for salvation;only, what I'm trying to affirm is that behind the symbol lies a concrete referrent. It still seems to me that you are drawing sharp distinctions between symbolic and more literalistic representations of salvation. Perhaps your're right that to focus narrowly on the question of resurrection is not a good idea, but neither, I would sumbit, is focusing narrowly on the question of personality. As you rightly point out, Paul and most in Second-Temple Judaism would've understood a "person" as a pyschosomatic unity such that they would say, as you say, "I am my body." This is why I believe that the body requires salvation because, along with the personality, it is a part of who I am. Lastly, to say that for Paul spirit and flesh are for mostly moral concepts is overstating your case. Why cannot Paul, assert such things as moral concepts but also have an underlying concrete understanding of these concepts as well?

I think this is where you fail to see my intention. I do not draw a sharp division between symbolical and literal. The literal is a part of the symbolical, only that is not the point of the symbol, the point is what it is pointing at. Like when I signal you to look at something by pointing at it my finger is part of the symbol of "pointing at something" but it is not what is important. My act does not result in you looking at my finger.

If the resurrection of the body is used as a symbol for the future existence, it is not the body that is central, but what the body represents.

Hi Chris,

I'll look forward to your future post interacting with NTW. I also find his work the most "satisfying" thing I've read on the subject. Perhaps when you've finished your dissertation you might consider posting your biblliography? Or, at least your top 20 or something. I'm sure I'd not be the only one who would be graeful.

I happen to be reading Allison's "Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet" right now. Here's a quote that's relevant to the dialogue between Chris and Patrik, in support of Chris's position:

Most eschatological language functions as both sign and symbol; that is, it has a literal referent — it denotes — and a symbolic dimension — it connotes. There is nothing remarkable about this. A restored '57 Chevy is simultaneously a literal, functioning transport and a symbol of a particular period of American popular culture. …

In like fashion, when the Jesus tradition envisions the Son of man coming on the clouds or foretells the general resurrection, we should, even if this puts us in the disagreeable company of modern fundamentalists, think of the redeemer literally flying upon the clouds and of the redeemed literally coming forth from their graves — and also of all that those events represent: the vindication of Jesus, the triumph of believers, the judgment of the wicked, the fulfillment of prophecy, etc. The literal and the symbolic need not be sundered

Patrik, you write, "I do not draw a sharp division between symbolical and literal." But, with respect, it seems to me that you do.

You say it is the symbolical that is central. OK, that's unobjectionable to me. But you also deny that the New Testament teaches a literal, physical resurrection body. And there you do what Allison warns us against: you sunder the literal and the symbolic.

These days, I'm leaning in the opposite direction. Rather than subordinate the literal to the symbolic, I am beginning to think it was the literal that mattered most to the New Testament authors, and the symbolic may have been just poetic language.

I'm referring to N.T. Wright's position, that Jesus expected a this-worldly consummation of the kingdom of God. That is, the saints of ancient times would be resurrected physically to live in this world, only this world restored to a state akin to the Garden of Eden. (Actually, I haven't gotten too far into Wright's argument, so I should be careful about putting words into his mouth lest I misrepresent him. Chris, please correct me as necessary.)

On the face of it, Allison is dissenting from Wright and arguing for a literal "end of the world" expectation. But when you search out Allison's bottom line he comes surprisingly close to Wright's position:

Maybe the best conclusion with regard to Jesus is that the differences between heaven and earth became, in his imagination, indistinct in the eschaton, that is, the two things in effect merged and became one. "Heaven on earth," we might say.

The point is this: while you're arguing for a completely otherworldly, spiritual resurrection, other New Testament scholars are shifting in the opposite direction.

Hey Chris,

There is a somewhat similar conversation going on here: http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?t=79039

Figured you'd find it interesting if you have time. I'm posting as "L."

God bless.


But you also deny that the New Testament teaches a literal, physical resurrection body.

But, I don't - I am simply asking what that means! I can't understand how you and others can claim that this is something easy to understand? What do you mean with "literal"? "Physical"? What is it that constitutes the physical body? The molecules in it? The DNA that forms it? What? What do we have to go on when we try to understand how Jesus and Paul envisioned this? Certainly the early Fathers had problems with this in their understanding of the physical body as much as we do - they almost always re-interpreted the body in some way.

I'm not denying anything. I just do not want to say things that does not make sense. Unless you envision some kind of "night of the living dead" you are just piling symbol upon symbol when you talk about a literal physical resurrection of the body, to the point where the meaning of the doctrine gets completely lost.

My point is that talking about a real physical resurrection is just as symbolical as trying to interpret it as something to do with our personality. It is just symbolical in a less conscious way.

In my most recent comment, I was musing on a this-worldly consummation of the kingdom of God. This world will be restored to its original condition, before the fall of man. And the resurrected saints will need bodies just like the ones we have now, except those bodies will not be subject to decay and death.

I don't see any cause for confusion there.

To be honest, I'm not sure that's the whole meaning of the eschatological passages in the New Testament. Maybe there's a further consummation beyond that one. But I can relate to a this-worldly consummation more readily than a vague, spiritual existence in an otherworldly realm. That, for me, is meaningless, simply because it's incomprehensible.

So I'll toss the question back at you: what do you mean by the purely spiritual resurrection you envision? It makes no sense to me.

I was rereading a bit of my RSG by Wright and I found that his explanation of "flesh and blood" was a bit disappointing.

What is sown and what is reaped are indeed in some way the same.

They are the same person. But what is sown and what is reaped are made of different materials. What is sown dies, says Paul. People who denied any reward for the dead (such as the Corinthians) already knew that the dead die. So why does Paul stress the death of the body? Surely to point out to the Corinthians how foolish they were to question the resurrection by questioning why God would choose to make dead bodies live.

In Paul's view they have missed the point, and are being as idiotic as somebody who questions how omellettes can be cooked, when the eggs have been broken by the chef.

And, of course, Paul's chapter is entirely about what different bodies are made of. He gives examples of different materials, using things which do not turn into each other , fish, animals, birds, the sun, the moon.

When Paul says that the last Adam became a life-giving spirit - that is what he means. He is not denying that Jesus was God Incarnate before his death. He is claiming that Jesus went back to being a spirit, and that we too will share in that nature.

Christian apologists like to say Paul was telling the Corinthians that by spiritual body , he means their body will be controlled by the spirit (a sthough Jesus was not God made flesh. How can God made flesh not be a spiritual body? How much more controlled by the spirit can a body be than a body which is God Himself?)

But how would a 'spurit-driven body ' answer the Corinthians question?

Take 2 possible conversations and see what meaning of spiritual body makes sense.

Conversation 1

Corinthians - How can people be resurrected , when corpses lack a head or an arm?

Paul - You idiot. What goes into the ground dies, and your corpse will become a spiritual body, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Corinthians - Yes, but how can my head be filled with the Holy Spirit, if my corpse doesn't have a head?

Conversation 2

Corinthians - How can people be resurrected , when corpses lack a head or an arm?

Paul - You idiot. What goes into the ground dies, and you will get a new body, made of spirit.

Corinthians -. I see what I was missing now. If I get a new body, made of spirit, it was stupid of me to worry what happens to the corpse.

Clearly, Paul's reply only answers the Corinthians doubts, if he is telling them they will get a body made of spirit.

And Paul's categorisations of bodies which do not turn into each other only makes sense, if he is stressing that one material does not turn into another. How can earth, air , fire and water turn into a heavenly material? That is a category error in ancient thought.

The Corinthians knew that a corpse dissolves into dust.

If our corpses dissolve into dust, will we be reformed from the dust of the earth?

Paul denies that resurrected bodies are made of materials found on earth.

1 Corinthians 15:47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

No wonder Paul regarded the Corinthians as idiots for wondering how God could reform a decayed, rotting corpse. They were missing the whole point. What goes into the ground dies.

' The importance of that book for me was the massive literature Wright utilized in order to show that what resurrection meant in Second-Temple Judaism something that concretely, or physically happened to a body.'

Wright never once finds space to quote in full Paul writing 'The last Adam became a life-giving spirit'.

Similarly, Wright never quotes 1 peter saying 'All flesh is grass'. All Wright has is an obscure footnote saying this is a 'positive' passage.

The author of 1 Peter's world was supposedly turned upside down by the news that flesh would be made imperishable and glorious.

How strange that he still regarded flesh as the best metaphor for all that is temporary and fleeting.

How very strange that Wright cannot bring himself to even quote it, let alone discuss it.

'This world will be restored to its original condition, before the fall of man.'

Why would the writer of Hebrews 1 writes ' "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.'

To change a garment means to discard a garment, and put on a new garment , doesn't it? You don't 'change' garments by patching up the old ones.

Clearly Hebrews thought the world would be discarded and recreated, in constrast to God, who is never discarded.


I must admit to being somewhat perplexed at what you are trying to get it. In essence I agree with most of what you have said. I think what you are wanting to affirm is the radically different substance between the earthly body and the "heavenly or "spiritual" body. This is fine by me if you want to emphasize this component of the resurrected body. It matters not to me if there exists radical discontinuity between the body that is sown and the body that is reaped since there still exists continuity otherwise for Paul to say "what you sow is not the body to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain" makes no sense. What is raised as spiritual died as natural. If you want to affirm an almost entirely different kind of body that is fine by me. I think that is open to interpretation. I would submit that your error lies in trying to draw too much from Paul's metaphor, just like I think the later church fathers tried to infer more from the metaphor that was there when they wanted to stress (material) continuity between the two bodies.

The reason Paul supplies the metaphor that he does is to actually limit speculations about the resurrected body. For Paul it is enough to affirm its continuity (albeit minimal) as well as its radical discontinuity and he does so by a clever metaphor. The point is that the resurrected body whether understood as completely spiritual or what have you is formed from the body that was laid into the ground. What exactly the resurrected state will be like is excessive in my opinion.

I suspect, Steven, that you are stressing discontinuity and the resurrection's spiritual nature because you think I am wrong to view the resurrection as the redemption of the body (I've read your other comments). You would rather speak of redemption as release from the body, as you think Paul does in Rom 7:24 and you criticize me for thinking that Rom 8:23 is explicit proof that Paul thinks the fleshly body will be redeemed. You say that:

"'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"

Even granting that you're right about the definition, Paul can still use the term to refer to the salvation of our bodies in the sense that the redemption of the body is its release, rescue, or liberation from its corruption and ultimate death. And I think that is exactly how Paul uses the term in Rom. 8:23. Look at the passage again, Steven, in its full context:

"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 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 adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Rom 8:18-23)

Clearly, as I stated before, this passage has in view the salvation of creation itself. It is in this context that Paul speaks of the redemption of our bodies. How this can be understood to indicate salvation from the body is beyond me.

I say all of this to point out that even given the radical discontinuity that you wish to stress between the resurrected bodies in 1 Cor 15, because there still exists some kind of continuity (even if only a speck)I think it is still correct to speak of the resurrection of the body as its redemption and not of resurrection as release from the body.

I rather hoped you would agree with much of what I wrote, because I was hoping that what I wrote was correct.

'It matters not to me if there exists radical discontinuity between the body that is sown and the body that is reaped since there still exists continuity otherwise for Paul to say "what you sow is not the body to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain" makes no sense.'

Paul doesn't quite say that. He also says that the seed dies. And God gives it a body. The seed is just a marker, to tell God where to create the new body. It is continuity in space, but not in material. There is continuity in that both are the same person, but discontinuity in bodies.

And Paul says our body is a body of death, from which we are to be rescued. Our bodies of spirit are what will be liberated from their present imprisonment (just as the kernel of a seed is 'liberated' from the case of the seed, which dies and is discarded)

Paul believes the flesh and the spirit will have different fates. One will perish, and the other be saved. See 1 Cor. 5:5 where the flesh is destroyed that the spirit may be saved.

As for Romans 8, the word you have translated as 'travil' (sunodino) is often used to mean labour pains. A strange metaphor for a process of transformation, but a good metaphor for a new creation of something previously hidden inside something else. Similarly, Paul's claim that we are groaning within ourselves suggests there is a real us inside our fleshly bodies. Paul goes on to say that nobody hopes for what is seen - implying that there is no hope in our present bodies.

Paul's seed analogy fits in nicely with this, and Paul then goes on to use clothing analogies. The obvious point of a clothing analogy is that we will discard our present clothes (or body) and get new clothes (or body. See 2 Cor.5, where Paul goes on to use a dwelling analogy.

Clothes and dwelling analogies suggest discarding the old, and getting new. People change clothes and houses by discarding the old and getting new.

This is why Paul regards the Corinthians ad idiots for doubting the general resurrection because they could not understand how a decayed corpse could be patched up. It is only an idiotic objection if decayed corpses are not going to be transformed. Otherwise it is rather a sensible objection. What sort of transformation will there be of a baby who is still born? Will it be resurrected fully-grown? And will an old man , who has lost a leg in a war haev a missing leg transformed?

These are sensible objections to the idea of a resurrection, and rabbis spent time discussing them. Such questions must have troubled the Corinthians surely. One rabbi records an apocryphal objection 'the dead turn to dust, and can dust come back to life?'

A sensible objetion or an idiotic one? How can dust come back to life?

But Paul says people are idiots for wondering how the dead are raised, and with what sort of body they come back.

Why does Paul tbink such apparently sensible questions are dumb? He tells the Corinthians that the resurrected body is not made of dust at all. It is made of heavenly material.

The Corinthians are like people wondering how you can build the Empire State Building out of papier-mache. How dumb can you get?

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