Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bodily Resurrection in Paul? part one

I have listened to several debates recently on the bodily resurrection of Christ. I am sure I will be recommending some of them, or portions of them, soon.

I divide the predominant views that I have heard into two basic categories:

1. Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. His dead body was transformed into a “resurrection” or “spiritual” body, but it’s the same physical body transformed.

2. Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead. His followers had visions of Christ vindicated and exalted by God and saw this as the new “resurrection” or “spiritual” body. How seriously you take this depends on how seriously you view that which is considered “spiritual” in this context. A secularist might describe these as hallucinations, a religious person might see them as "genuine" visions.

The question for this brief series of posts is, "What did Jesus first followers think?"

It can be argued that both views are represented in the New Testament. Jesus is presented as a spiritual vision, appearing in a flash of light to Paul, walking through walls, appearing in a form that was not immediately recognizable to his followers. But then in Luke, Jesus eats a piece of broiled fish to prove that he is not a ghost. Luke 24:39b has Jesus state, “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” This is contrasted by Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:50 concerning the resurrection body, “ flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Paul’s description of spiritual bodies in 1 Corinthians 15 can be argued vigorously to support both views. Did Paul believe Jesus left his earthly body behind, exchanged for his resurrection body? Those who support this view may quote the following passages from 1 Corinthians 15:

35 But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ 36Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

45Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is* from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will* also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters,* is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Those who think Paul believed that Jesus’ physical body was not exchanged for a spiritual body, but rather was the same physical body changed into a spiritual body, might quote these passages, also from 1 Corinthians 15:

42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

Note the “it"'s in the first passage seems to refer to the same entity, but is it referring to the physical body or to the “dead” from verse 42, which may mean soul?

I go back and forth on what I think Paul thought happened when God raised Jesus. Physical body changed or exchanged? Did Paul think that Jesus took any flesh and blood with him to his spiritual body? We should remember that the term “spiritual body” is paradoxical and therefore perhaps it is fitting that Paul’s intentions can be read both ways! I come down cautiously on the side of the spiritual body replacing the physical body in Paul’s theology for two reasons that I will present in the 3rd or 4th part of this series.

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