The Easy Part
Ok, now this is supposed to be the easy part of explaining how the Jewish people of about 2,000 years ago understood what resurrection meant and how today’s skeptics warp and distort that information to prove their points that Jesus did not arise from the grave. First some shorthand: NT = New Testament, OT= Old Testament. So let’s have it!
I have previously noted that at the core of many non-believers or other arguments on the resurrection of Jesus Christ lies a base assumption. This is that the epistolary (relating to or denoting the writing of letters or literary works in the form of letters) NT records could be interpreted as saying that the resurrected Jesus was not a being with a physical body (as the Gospels make clear), but rather was some sort of ghostly or spiritual being that was not tangible. This allows the Skeptics another way to attack the resurrection by claiming the visions of Jesus then mass hallucinations, or “something” like that.
Now even if indeed the resurrection body (as I will disprove) was not physical, this does not automatically disqualify the authenticity and revelatory authority of the appearances; it merely gives some critics another argument to try to hold on to. However, we need not make that point. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate that the resurrection body of Jesus clearly was physical, and that this will shown in two ways:
- The Jewish contextual literature of the period that describes the nature of resurrection.
2) The NT epistles themselves, which many skeptical and other critics fail to understand properly.
In recent days, in Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave has become a popular book for atheists and non-believers (I warned you I research both sides of the issue-please feel free to verify and cross check me at your convenience and expense).
It is a collection of thesis from many scholars who would refute what I will be saying in this article, but that is all right. They have their opinions and I have the facts of my faith. It is a good read, but I would not pay for it, get your local library to borrow a copy for you from a university library.
We first need to do a quick background survey of Jewish literature. This will be taken from Pheme Perkins’ work Resurrection. And this one I do recommend you buy.
Although not all Jews held uniform ideas about resurrection, it becomes clear that the concept always involved a physical reconstitution of the deceased body. There is no room or place for the idea of a “spiritual resurrection”, which was an unknown concept in this timeframe- this is a 20-21st century concept.
We need to do a quick survey of relevant material from the OT and other writings from that time, including books that were not considered historically accurate to be included as a formal part of the Bible, but would still show many of the ideas and concepts of that period of time:
Daniel 12:2-3 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.
Ezekiel 37:1-12 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
Is. 26:19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.
These three passages, especially Ezekiel, are essential to the concept of resurrection. Now here are other citations from Judaism at or about the time of Jesus:
4 Ezra 7:32 The earth shall restore those who sleep in her, and the dust those who rest in it, and the chambers those entrusted to them.
1 Enoch 51:1 In those days, the earth will also give back what has been entrusted to it, and Sheol will give back what it has received, and hell will give back what it owes.
Sib. Or. IV[i] …God Himself will refashion the bones and ashes of humans and raise up mortals as they were before.
2 Baruch 50:2ff For certainly the earth will then restore the dead. It will not change their form, but just as it received them, so it will restore them.
Pseudo-Phocylides 103-4 …we hope that the remains of the departed will soon come to light again out of the earth. And afterward, they will become gods.
Now, let us deal directly with some of the objections to the Resurrection that are in the book edited by Robert Price.
Objection: Could there have been a “two-body” version of resurrection?
Carrier writes an article to try to specifically demonstrate that the idea of a “two-body doctrine” of resurrection could have plausibly existed in Judaism. Briefly, this “doctrine” is supposed to be that a dead body of a person stayed and rotted in the grave and they were given a completely new body in heaven. In short, there is a full replacement as opposed to a complete transformation.
One aspect of his approach is to appeal to “diversity” in Judaism. Carrier charges those who maintain a relatively uniform view of resurrection in Judaism with “inherently racist” thinking. Where he comes up with that is anybody’s guess and it is a bit ironic in a volume where another paper by J. Duncan M. Derrett appeals to the racist stereotype of Jews as financiers or gold hoarders.
This is not “racist” in any sense but in accord with the conservative realities of ancient suspicions about anything new; and it is and it is also in line with the point that any faith or belief will have an “acceptable pool of diversity.” This concept has been different in today’s world, where groups like the “Skinheads”, “Black Panthers”, and many more small groups maintain standards that do not allow for diverse thoughts or actions that go against the groups “core principles.” Thus we would hardly expect Carrier to admit that a person was an “atheist” if they believed in God. So likewise, the idea is that Judaism held at its core a certain idea of “resurrection”.
Carrier first errs by believing that the Jewish faith could not conceive of survival in a disembodied soul. He takes it further to mean Jews could not conceive of ANY conscious life apart from a body. That is not what is being argued here. He then goes on to claim that first century Judaism boasted “a colorful continuum of ideologies” but rather significantly missing from this continuum is any evidence of a two-body doctrine. He names some thirty sects, but admits that “we know almost nothing about” some of them.
Carrier’s mere listing of sect names does not tell us just how closely these groups were aligned — whether it was a matter of “Presbyterians and Lutherans” or “Baptists and Mormons” or any other juxtaposition of sects. He even admits that the number of sects could be most conservatively given at ten. In light of how little information he truly does have, it is evidence of epistemic (of or relating to knowledge or to the degree of its validation ) despair that he resorts to the contrivance of arguing that “it is absurd to say they would not accept a two-body doctrine of resurrection” merely on the basis of their variety. Nothing like stating your opinion and making it the ‘truth’ for others. Carrier has failed to prove that such a belief would fall within an “acceptable pool of diversity” for Judaism, and cannot show that it would; thus his appeal to “diversity” is in vain.
In terms of proving that there WAS such a doctrine elsewhere in Judaism, his evidence is both meager and again contrived:
- He appeals to those who supposedly believed in a conscious soul before the general resurrection; this has little to do with a belief concerning resurrection itself, much less does it prove a “two body” thesis.
- He notes “Jubilees 23-25 and a redaction in 1 Enoch (92-105) as well as other Jewish apocrypha, “the latter of which are not specified”. But neither of these says that the non-bodied soul “lives forever…without a body” as claimed. One wonders whether Carrier has fallen for the error of equating “soul” with “spirit” in these texts because he doesn’t indicate any difference.
- He appeals to Philo, who (in line with his Hellenism) called the present body a prison to be escaped, and believed in an ethereal afterlife. As one who has been seriously Hellenized, the relevance of Philo to this issue is highly questionable. Philo was an example of the sort of thinking that “did not come to dominate the horizon,” of one who syncretrized his beliefs with Platonism.
To use Philo as evidence in favor of a broader possible existence of a “two body” doctrine, is unreasonable, especially since it is not close to such an idea, despite Carrier’s attempts to make it that way. There is no “new” body here, but rather, components of the “old” person released. This is similar to the Essenes, who held a view similar to Philo’s, though the Essenes do not reject a later resurrection according to Josephus.
- Carrier claims there exists an “explicit” report of a two-body belief from Josephus, in which those raised “cross-over” into “a different body” but does not provide evidentiary proof of it. Carrier errs, however, in trying to force the language of Josephus to say more than it does. Instead, Josephus teaches a transformed body IS a “different body” and would also, by virtue of exposure to the cleansing power of YHWH, be called “undefiled” — and thus he does not at all clearly teach a “two body” doctrine.
- Last, Carrier points to a “Rabbi Mari” who merely says that “the righteous are fated to dust,” from which Carrier forces the conclusion that he “believed in a different type of resurrection.” Mari’s words are not in the least incompatible with a transformatory view, and moreover, are just as well understood not as a teaching of doctrine, but as a riddle in which a subject is tested and challenged to defend his view against a seemingly contradictory passage.
So there is the OT attempts to claim a two body resurrection. Very little to no evidence and a great deal of speculation and reading into words ideas that are not really there.
[i] THE Sibyls occupy a conspicuous place in the traditions and history of ancient Greece and Rome. Their fame was spread abroad long before the beginning of the Christian era. They belong to that large body of pseudepigraphical literature which flourished near the beginning of the Christian era (about B. C. 150-A. D. 300), and which consists of such works as the Book of Enoch, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Book of Jubilees, the Assumption of Moses, the Psalms of Solomon, the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Fourth Book of Esdras. The production of this class of literature was most notable at Alexandria in the time of the Ptolemies.
Let’s now work with the NT evidence, starting with the positive arguments for a physical resurrection body:
- Paul’s word for “body” can have no other meaning than a physical body.
In this regard, Gundry’s landmark study of the word used for “body” (soma) makes it quite clear that something physical is intended. In Soma in Biblical Theology, Gundry examines the use of soma in other literature of the period and shows that it refers to the physical “thingness” of a body- an actual ‘touchy”, “feely” something or other. It is most often used in the sense of commanding the movement of, such as: “We need a body over here” with reference to slaves who are used as tools; to soldiers who are on the verge of death, to passengers on a boat, or to people in a census. In other places, it is used to refer to a corpse (and so cannot refer by itself to the “whole person”).
Xenophon (Anabasis 1.9.12) refers to the people entrusting Cyrus with their possessions, their cites, and their “bodies” (somata). Plato refers to the act of habeus corpus in terms of producing a soma. Aristophanes refers to the throwing of a soma to dogs. It is used by Euripides and Demosthenes to refer to corpses.
- Paul’s 1 Cor. 15 examples are analogous to a physical body.
Paul is answering the question posed by the Corinthians, “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” His answers refer to appropriate physical bodies, suitable for various types of existence — “somatic variety with the universe”. This is not appropriate if Paul has in mind a spiritual, disembodied “resurrection”. And of course, he refers back to Christ’s own body (1 Cor. 15:3ff) as an example of this principle in action, a “positive and emphatic correlation” between the resurrection of Christ and that of the believer.
- The word anastasis can only mean bodily resurrection.
This word is used 44 times in the NT. In the Synoptics we have this episode: “The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection…” In John we have: “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation,” a clear allusion to Daniel 12; also “Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Acts uses this word to explain what happened to Jesus. “But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.”; “And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” Paul uses anastasis as well to refer to what happened to Jesus (Rom. 1:4, 6:5; 1 Cor. 15; Phil. 3:10). It is used to describe a physical, bodily resurrection in Heb. 11:35, and is found as well in 1 Peter.
Skeptics may wish to argue, “Well, the Gospels and Hebrews meant one thing, and Paul meant another.” That would be a case of massaging the written facts to fit into line with a specific theory.
- 2 Cor. 5 shows that a physical body is in view.
“Now 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 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 with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Here, Paul describes the earthly body as a “tent” (i.e., temporary living structure) and the new body as something that is a “building” built by God, something that one is “clothed” with (the verb in question has the connotation of “pulling one garment on over another one”), something that the Spirit is a “deposit” for. How much more of a suggestion of being tangible and material do we need?
Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
It is clear from this simple little verse that Paul regards Christ as now having a “glorious” body (soma). This is clear testimony to a physical resurrection.
- A transfer to an idea of a physical resurrection from a spiritual one makes no sense in the social context.
In view of the expanding Gentile mission, it is hard to see how an embellishment from “disembodied” to “embodied” could take place. The Greeks perceived such events as a resurrection, initially, as a “resuscitated corpse”. Paul would have had no problem preaching a disembodied spirit to the Gentiles; but doing that, then switching it to “physical” as in the Gospels, would have been highly counterproductive to missions. As Perkins [observes:
Christianity’s pagan critics generally viewed resurrection as misunderstood metempsychosis at best. At worst, it seemed ridiculous.
This view is reflected for example by Celsus, who responded to the idea of resurrection: “The soul may have everlasting life, but corpses, as Heraclitus said, ‘ought to be thrown away as worse than dung'”. Plutarch similarly said it was “against nature” to “send bodies to heaven” and that only pure souls “cast no shadows” (i.e., had no bodies) and he even rejected accounts of bodily translations on this basis. “The funeral pyre was said to burn away the body so that the immortal part could ascend to the gods.”
There were cases of temporary resuscitation, but these occurred before the person was buried and in almost all cases before they entered the realm of the dead. In such cases the person died again eventually — which does not conflict with hostility to, or rejection of, resurrection. (See Peter Bolt, “Life, Death and the Afterlife in the Greco-Roman World”, in Life in the Face of Death, Eerdmans, 1998.)
Note as well that in 1 Cor., Paul is addressing advocates of asceticism and libertinism — points of view associated with those who thought matter was evil and at the root of all of man’s problems. Platonic thought supposed that “man’s highest good consisted of emancipation from corporeal defilement. The nakedness of disembodiment was the ideal state.” If the critics are right, Christianity took a big and significant step backwards that should have killed it in the cradle, or at least caused historical reprecussions and divisions that would still be in evidence.
This is my “pro” case for a physical resurrection body; what about the counter-arguments? I haven’t forgotten about them- next posting. Robert Price claims above that the Gospel pictures of the resurrection of Jesus clash “violently” with those in the epistles — mainly, Paul’s material in 1 Cor. 15. Is this truly the case? We will find out.
 Harris, Murray. Raised Immortal. Eerdmans, 1983
 Craig, William Lane. Analyzing the New Testament Evidence for the Resurrection
 Perkins, Pheme. Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection. New York: Doubleday, 1984.
 Harris, Murray. Raised Immortal. Eerdmans, 1983