By William Lane Craig*
Abstract: It has been argued on the basis of Paul’s testimony that Jesus’s resurrection body was spiritual in the sense of being unextended, immaterial, intangible, and so forth. But neither the argument appealing to the nature of Paul’s Damascus Road experience nor the argument from Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection body supports such a conclusion. On the contrary, Paul’s information serves to confirm the gospels’ narratives of Jesus’s bodily resurrection. Not only is the gospels’ physicalism well-founded, but it is also, like Paul’s doctrine, a nuanced physicalism.
There are probably few events in the gospels for which the historical evidence is more compelling than for the resurrection of Jesus. Historical-critical studies during the second half of this century, increasingly freed from the lingering Deistical presuppositions that largely determined in advance the results of resurrection research during the previous 150 years, have reversed the current of scepticism concerning the historical resurrection, such that the trend among scholars in recent years has been acceptance of the historical credibility of Jesus’s resurrection.
Nevertheless, there is still one aspect of the resurrection that a great number of scholars simply cannot bring themselves to embrace: that Jesus was raised from the dead physically. The physicalism of the gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’s resurrection body accounts, I think, more than any other single factor for critical skepticism concerning the historicity of the gospel narratives of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Undoubtedly the prime example of this is Hans Grass’s classic Ostergeschehen and Osterberichte. Inveighing against the ‘massiven Realismus’ of the gospel narratives, Grass brushes aside the appearance stories as thoroughly legendary and brings every critical argument he can summon against the empty tomb. Not that Grass would construe the resurrection, at least overtly, merely in terms of the survival of Jesus’s soul; he affirms a bodily resurrection, but the body is ‘spiritual’ in nature, as by the apostle Paul, not physical. Because the relation between the old, physical body and the new, spiritual body is totaliter- aliter, the resurrection entails, not an emptying of the tomb, but the creation of a new body. Because the body is spiritual, the appearances of Christ were in the form of heavenly visions caused by God in the minds of those chosen to receive them.
It is difficult to exaggerate the extent of Grass’s influence. Though few have been willing to join him in denying the empty tomb, since the evidence inclines in the opposite direction, one not infrequently finds statements that because the resurrection body does not depend upon the old body, we are not compelled to believe in the empty tomb. And it is everywhere asserted, even by those who staunchly defend the empty tomb, that the spiritual nature of the resurrection body precludes physical appearances such as are narrated in the gospels. John Alsup remarks that ‘. . . no other work has been so widely used or of such singular importance for the interpretation of the gospel accounts. . . as Grass’. . .’ But, Alsup protests, Grass’s insistence that the heavenly vision type of appearance underlies the physical appearances of the gospels ‘is predicated upon the impossibility of the material realism of that latter form as an acceptable answer to the “what happened” question. . . . Grass superimposes this criterion over the gospel appearance accounts and judges them by their conformity or divergence from it.’ As a result, ‘. . . the contemporary spectrum of research on the gospel resurrection appearances displays a proclivity to the last century (and Celsus of the second century) in large measure under the influence of Grass’ approach. In a sense the gospel stories appear to be something of an embarrassment: their “realism” is offensive.’
What legitimate basis can be given to such a viewpoint? Those who deny the physical resurrection body of Jesus have developed a line of reasoning that has become pretty much stock-in-trade:
The New Testament church does not agree about the nature of Christ’s resurrected body. Material in Luke and John perhaps suggest this body to be corporeal in nature.43 Paul, on the other band, clearly argues that the body is a spiritual body. If any historical memory resides in the accounts of Paul’s conversion in Acts, he must not have understood the appearance of Christ to have been a corporeal appearance. Most critics identify this conversion with the event referred to in I Cor. 15:8: ‘Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.44 The arguments in verses 47-50 of this chapter for the identity between Christ’s body and the spiritual body of the resurrection indicate that for the Apostle his Lord rose from the dead in a spiritual body. Most importantly, Paul has equated the appearance of Christ to him with the appearances to the other apostles. The resurrected Christ, as he was manifested to the church is thus a spiritual body 43Luke 24.39-43; John 20.26-38. There are, of course, contradictory elements in the stories which imply the body is more than physical.
1. Paul’s information is at least prima facie more reliable than the gospels.
a. For he stands in closer temporal and personal proximity to the original events.
2. Paul’s information, in contrast to the gospels, indicates Jesus possessed a purely spiritual
a. First Argument:
b. Second Argument:
3. Therefore, Jesus possessed a purely spiritual resurrection body.
In this way the gospel accounts of the physical resurrection may be dismissed as legendary.
Now it is my conviction that this reasoning cannot bear the weight placed upon it by those who would reject the physical resurrection. I shall not in this essay contest the first premise. But I wish to take sharp issue with the second. Neither of the two supporting arguments, it seems to me, is sound; on the contrary, they embody serious misconceptions.
With regard to the first supporting argument, concerning the appearance of Jesus to Paul, it seems to me that both premisses (1) and (2) are highly questionable. Taking the premisses in reverse order, what is the evidence for (2) The appearance of Jesus to Paul was a non-physical appearance? Usually appeal is made to the accounts of this incident in Acts, where, it is said, the appearance is to be understood as a visionary experience (Acts 9.1-19: 22.3-16 26.9-23). As a matter of fact, however, the appearance in Acts, while involving visionary elements, cannot without further ado be characterized as purely visionary, since in all three accounts it is accompanied by extra-mental phenomena, namely, the light and the voice, which were experienced by Paul’s companions. Grass dismisses these as due to Luke’s objectifying tendencies. This is, however, very doubtful, since Luke does not want to objectify the post-ascension visions of Jesus; it is the pre-ascension appearances whose extra-mental reality Luke emphasizes. Had Luke had no tradition that included Paul’s companions, then we should have another vision like Stephen’s, lacking extra-mental phenomena. And secondly, if Luke had invented the extra-mental aspects of the appearance to Paul, we should have expected him to be more consistent and not to construct such discrepancies as that Paul’s companions heard and did not hear the voice. These inconsistencies suggest that the extra-mental phenomena were part of Luke’s various traditions.
Grass further maintains that Luke had before him a tradition of Paul’s experience that could not be assimilated to the more physical appearances of Christ to the disciples and that therefore the tradition is reliable; the extra-mental aspects are the result of mythical or legendary influences. But one could argue that precisely the opposite is true: that because the appearance to Paul is a post-ascension experience Luke is forced to construe it as a heavenly vision, since Jesus has physically ascended. Grass’s anthropomorphic parallels from Greek mythology (Homer Illiad a 158; idem Odyssey p. v. 161; Apollonius Argonauts 4. 852) bear little resemblance to Paul’s experience; a genealogical tie between them is most unlikely. Thus, no appeal to the Acts accounts of the appearance to Paul can legitimately be made as proof that that appearance was purely visionary in nature.
Paul himself gives us no firm clue as to the nature of Christ’s appearance to him. But it is interesting to note that when Paul speaks of his ‘visions and revelations of the Lord (II Cor 12.1-7) he does not include Jesus’s appearance to him. Paul and the early Christian community as a whole were familiar with religious visions and sharply differentiated between these and an appearance of the risen Lord. But what was the difference? Grass asserts that the only difference was in content: in an appearance the exalted Christ is seen. But surely there must have been religious visions of the exalted Christ, too. Both Stephen’s vision and the book of Revelation show that claims to visions of the exalted Christ which were not resurrection appearances were made in the church. Nor can it be said that the distinctive element in an appearance was the commissioning, for appearances were known which lacked this element (the Emmaus disciples, the 500 brethren). It seems to me that the most natural answer is that an appearance involved extra-mental phenomena, something’s actually appearing, whereas a vision, even if caused by God, was purely in the mind. If this is correct, then Paul, in claiming for himself an appearance of Christ as opposed to a vision of Christ, is asserting to have seen something, not merely in the mind, but actually ‘out there’ in the real world. For all we know from Paul, this appearance could conceivably have been as physical as those portrayed in the gospels; and it is not impossible that Luke then ‘spiritualized’ the appearance out of the necessity of his pre- and post-ascension scheme! At any rate, it would be futile to attempt to prove that either Acts or Paul supports a purely visionary appearance to the apostle on the Damascus road.
But suppose this is altogether wrong. Suppose the appearance to Paul was purely visionary. What grounds are there for believing premise (1), Paul equated the appearance of Jesus to him with the appearances of Jesus to the disciples? Usually appeal is made to the fact that Paul places himself in the list of witnesses of the appearances; hence, the other appearances must have also been visionary appearances like his own. This, however, does not seem to follow. First, in placing himself in the list of witnesses, Paul does not imply that the foregoing appearances were the same sort of appearance as the one to him. He is not concerned here with the how of the appearances, but with who appeared. He wants to list witnesses of the risen Christ, and the mode of the appearance is entirely incidental. But second, in placing himself in the list, Paul is not trying to put the appearances to the others on a plane with his own; rather he is trying to level up his own experience to the objectivity and reality of the others. Paul’s detractors doubted or denied his apostleship (I Cor 9. 1-2; II Cor 11.5; 12.11) and his having seen Christ would be an important argument in his favor (Gal 1.1, 11-12, 15-16; I Cor 9. 1-2; 15.8-9). His opponents might tend to dismiss Paul’s experience as a mere subjective vision, not a real appearance, and so Paul is anxious to include himself with the other apostles as a recipient of a genuine, objective appearance of the risen Lord. By putting himself in the list, Paul is saying that what he saw was every bit as much a real appearance of Jesus as what they saw. In fact, one could argue that Paul’s adding himself to the list is actually a case of special pleading! At any rate, it is a non sequitur to infer that because Paul includes himself in the list of witnesses, all the other appearances must be of the same mode as the appearance to Paul.
Hence, the first argument against Jesus’s physical resurrection seems doubly unsound. Not only does the evidence run against a purely visionary appearance to Paul, but there is no indication that Paul equated the mode of the appearance of Jesus to himself with the mode of the appearances to the other disciples.
Let us turn then to the second supporting argument for a purely spiritual resurrection body of Jesus: the argument from Paul’s term swma pneumatikon. Premise (1), Paul equated Jesus’s resurrection body with our future resurrection bodies, is surely correct (Phil 3.21; I Cor 15.20; Col 1.18). But the truth of premise (2), our future resurrection bodies will be spiritual bodies, depends upon how one defines its terms. Therefore, before we look more closely at Paul’s discussion of the resurrection body in I Cor 15.35-57, a word ought to be said about Paul’s anthropological terms σωμα, σαρξ, and ψυγη.
The most important term in the second half of I Cor 15 is σωμα. During the nineteenth century under the influence of idealism, theologians interpreted the σωμα as the form of a thing and the σαρξ as its substance. In this way they could avoid the objectionable notion of a physical resurrection, for it was the form that was raised from the dead endowed with a new spiritual substance. Hence, in the old commentaries one finds that the swma pneumatikon was conceived to be a body made out of himmlischer Lichtsubstanz. This understanding has now been all but abandoned. The view of σωμα as merely form and σαρξ as its substance cannot be exegetically sustained; σωμα is the body, form and substance. This does not mean, however, that twentieth century theologians take swma to mean the physical body. Rather under the influence of existentialism, particularly as adopted by Bultmann, they take σωμα, when used theologically, as the whole person conceived abstractly in existentialist categories of self-understanding. Thus, σωμα does not equal the physical body, but the person, and hence, a bodily resurrection means, not a resurrection of the physical body, but of the person. In this way the doctrine of physical resurrection is avoided as adroitly as it was in the days of philosophical idealism. It is the burden of Gundry’s study to show that this understanding is drastically wrong. Even if his exegesis suffers at times from over-kill, Gundry succeeds admirably in carrying his main point: that σωμα is never used in the New Testament to denote the whole person in isolation from his physical body, but is much more used to denote the physical body itself or the man with special emphasis on the physical body. Gundry’s conclusion is worth quoting:
The soma denotes the physical body, roughly synonymous with ‘flesh’ in the neutral sense. It forms that part of man in and through which he lives and acts in the world. It becomes the base of operations for sin in the unbeliever, for the Holy Spirit in the believer. Barring prior occurrence of the Parousia, the soma will die. That is the lingering effect of sin even in the believer. But it will also be resurrected. That is its ultimate end, a major proof of its worth and necessity to wholeness of human being, and the reason for its sanctification now.
The importance of this conclusion cannot be overemphasized. Too long we have been told that for Paul σωμα is the ego, the ‘I’ of a man. Like a dash of cold water, Gundry’s study brings us back to the genuine anthropological consciousness of first century man. The notion of body as the ‘I’ is a perversion of the biblical meaning of swma: Robert Jewett asserts, ‘Bultmann has turned σωμα into its virtual opposite: a symbol for that structure of individual existence which is essentially non-physical.’ Hence, existentialist treatments of σωμα, as much as idealist treatments, have been a positive impediment to accurate historical-critical exegesis of I Cor 15 and have sacrificed theology to a philosophical fashion that is already passé. To say that swma refers primarily to the physical body is not to say that the word cannot be used as synecdoche to refer to the whole man by reference to a part. ‘The soma may represent the whole person simply because the soma lives in union with the soul/spirit. But soma does not mean “whole person,” because its use is designed to call attention to the physical object which is the body of the person rather than the whole personality.' Nor does this preclude metaphorical use of the word, as in the ‘body of Christ’ for the church; for it is a physical metaphor: the church is not the ‘I’ of Christ. When we turn to I Cor 15 and inquire about the nature of the resurrection body, therefore, we shall be inquiring about a body, not about an ego, an ‘I’, or a ‘person’ abstractly conceived apart from the body.
I have already alluded to Paul’s use of σαρξ, and it will not be necessary to say much here. Theologians are familiar with σαρξ as the evil proclivity within man. This touches sensitive nerves in German theology because the Creed in German states that I believe in the resurrection of the Fleisch, not of the body as in the English translation. Hence, many theologians are rightly anxious to disassociate themselves from any doctrine that the flesh as a morally evil principle will be resurrected. But they seem prone to overlook the fact that Paul often uses sarx in a non-moral sense simply to mean the physical flesh or body. In this morally neutral sense the resurrection of the flesh = resurrection of the body. Now in I Cor 15 Paul is clearly speaking of σαρξ in a physical, morally neutral sense, for he speaks of the flesh of birds, animals, and fish, which would be absurd in any moral sense. Hence, understood in a physical sense, the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh is morally unobjectionable.
Finally a brief word on the third term ψυγη: Paul does not teach a consistent dualism of σωμα-ψυγη, but often uses πνευμα and other terms to designate the immaterial element of man. In fact in the adjectival form, ψυγηικος has a meaning that does not connote immateriality at all, but rather the natural character of a thing in contradistinction to the supernatural character of God’s Spirit. Thus in I Cor 2.14-3.3 Paul differentiates three types of men: the anJrwpoV yuchikoV or natural man apart from God’s Spirit; the anJrwpoV pneumatikoV or spiritual man who is led and empowered by God’s Spirit; and the anJrwpoV sarkinoV or carnal man who, though possessing the Spirit of God (I Cor 12. 13), is nevertheless still under the sway of the σαρξ or evil principle in human nature. This makes it evident that for Paul ψυγηικος did not have the connotations which we today associate with ‘soul.’
With these terms in mind we now turn to Paul’s discussion in I Cor 15.35-37. He begins by asking two polemical questions: How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come? (v 35; cf. II Bar 49.2-3). Paul’s opponents seemed to have been unable to accept the resurrection because the resurrection of a material body was either inconceivable or offensive to their Greek minds (cf. Bultmann’s ‘resuscitation of a corpse’). Paul’s answer steers a careful course between the crasser forms of the Pharisaic doctrine of resurrection, in which the raised will, for example, each beget a thousand children and eat the flesh of Leviathan, and the Platonistic doctrine of the immortality of the soul apart from the body. Paul will contend that the resurrection body will be radically different from this natural body, but that it will nevertheless be a body—∏Paul contemplates no release of the soul from the prison house of the body. Paul’s answer is that the resurrection body will be a marvellous transformation of our present body, making it suitable for existence in the age to come—a doctrine not unusual in the Judaism of Paul’s day and remarkably similar to that of the contemporary II Bar 50-51, which should be read in conjunction with Paul’s argument. It is highly instructive, particularly if we accept that the author of Luke-Acts was an associate of Paul that Luke specifically identifies Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection with that of the Pharisees (Acts 23.6; cf. 24.14; 16.6, 21-23).
In the first paragraph, vv 36-41, Paul searches for analogies to the resurrection of the dead (v 42). The first analogy is the analogy of the seed. The point of the analogy is simply to draw attention to how different the plant is from the seed that is buried in the ground (cf. Matt 13.31-32 for Jesus’s use of a similar analogy in another context). It is a good analogy for Paul’s purposes, for the sowing of the seed and its death are reminiscent of the burial of the dead man (vv 42-44). To criticize Paul’s analogy from the standpoint of modern botany—saying, for example, that a seed does not really die—presses the analogy too far. Similarly some commentators criticize Paul’s analogy because he lacked the modern botanical notion that a particular type of seed yields a particular type of plant; Paul thought God alone determined what plant should spring up from any seed that was sown (v 38). But this is quite unreasonable, as though Paul could think that a date-palm would conceivably spring from a grain of corn! He specifically says that God gives ‘each kind of seed its own body’ (v 38), which harks back to the Genesis account of creation according to kinds (Gen 1.11). At any rate this loses the whole point of the analogy: that from the mere seed God produces a wonderfully different plant.
Paul then appeals to the analogy of different sorts of flesh again in order to prove that if we recognize differences even in the physical world then the resurrection body could also be different from our present body. Paul’s analogy may have in mind the creation account, but I think the Jewish distinction between clean and unclean food is closer (cf. Lev 11; animals: 1-8; fish: 9-12; birds: 13-19; insects: 20-23; swarming things: 29-30). So I do not think sarx here is precisely identical with swma. Not only would that reduce Paul’s argument to the rather banal assertion that men have different bodies from fish, but it would also entail the false statement that all animals have the same kind of body. Rather in the present connection, sarx means essentially ‘meat’ or ‘organic matter.’ The old commentaries were therefore wrong in defining sarx tout simple as ‘substance,’ for inorganic matter would not be sarx; Paul would never speak of the flesh of a stone. To say that the resurrection body has therefore a different kind of flesh than the present body probably presses the analogy too far; all Paul wants to show is that as there are differences among mundane things, analogously the supernatural resurrection body could also differ from the present body.
The third analogy is that of terrestrial and celestial bodies (vv 40-41). There can be no doubt from v 41 that Paul means astronomical bodies, not angels. Again the point of the analogy is the same: there are radical differences among bodies in the physical world, so why should not the body in the world to come differ from the present body? Paul’s analogy is particularly apt in this case because as the heavenly bodies exceed terrestrial bodies in glory, so does the resurrection body the natural body (v 43; cf. Phil 3.21). The doxa of the heavenly bodies is their brightness, which varies; there is no trace here of Lichtsubstanz. When applied to the resurrection body, however, doxa seems to be honor (v 43). Paul has thus prepared the way for his doctrine of the world to come by three analogies from the present world. All of them show how things can be radically different from other things of the same kind; similarly a swma pneumatikon will be seen to be radically different from a swma yuchikon. Moreover, Paul’s analogies form an ascending scale from plant to animal to terrestrial bodies to celestial bodies; the next type of body to be mentioned will be the most wonderful and exalted of all.
From vv 42-50 Paul spells out his doctrine of the sswma pneumatikon. The body that is to be differs from the present body in that it will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual; whereas the present body is perishable, dishonourable, weak, and physical (w 42-44). These are the four essential differences between the present body and the resurrection body. What do they tell us about the nature of the resurrection body?
First, it is sown en jJora, but it is raised en ajJarsia. These terms tell us clearly that Paul is not talking about egos, or ‘I’s,’ but about bodies, for (1) the speiretai-egeiretai has primary reference to the burial and raising up of a dead man’s body, not the ‘person’ in abstraction from the body and (2) only the body can be described as perishable (II Cor 4.16), for man’s spirit survives death (II Cor 5.1-5; cf. Rom 8.10; Phil 1. 23), Rather the disjunction under discussion concerns the radical change that will take place in our bodies: Paul teaches personal bodily immortality, not immortality of the soul alone (cf. vv 53-54). Strange as this may seem, the Christian teaching (or at least Paul’s) is not that our souls will live forever, but that we will have bodies in the after-life.
Second, it is sown en atimia, but it is raised en doxh. Our present bodies are wracked by sin, are bodies of death, groaning with the whole creation to be set free from sin and decay; we long, says Paul, for the redemption of our bodies (II Cor 5.4; Rom 8.19-24). This body, dishonored through sin and death, will be transformed by Christ to be like his glorious body (Phil 3.21). In a spiritual sense we already have an anticipation of this glory insofar as we are conformed inwardly to the image of Christ and are sanctified by his Spirit (II Cor 3.18), but Paul teaches that the body will not simply fall away like a useless husk, but will be transformed to partake of this glory also.
Third, it is sown en asJenia, but it will be raised en dunamei. How well Paul knew of weakness! Afflicted with a bodily malediction which was offensive to others and a burden to those around him, Paul found in his weakness the power of Christ (Gal 4.13-14; II Cor 12.7-10). And on his poor body which had been stoned, beaten, and scourged for the sake of the gospel, Paul bore the marks of Christ, so much so that be dared to write ‘. . . in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. . .’ (Cal 1.24). Just as Christ ‘was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God’ (II Cor 13.4) so Paul longed to know the power of the resurrection and looked forward to the day when he, too, would receive the resurrection body (II Cor 5.1-4; Phil 3.10-11).
Fourth, it is sown a swma yucikon, but it is raised a swma pneumatikon, By a swma yucikon Paul clearly does not mean a body made out of yuch. Rather just as Paul frequently uses font face=”symbol”>sarkikoV to indicate, not the physical composition of a thing, but its orientation, its dominating principle, so yucikoV also indicates, not a composition, but an orientation. In the New Testament yucikoV always has a negative connotation (I Cor 2.14; Jas 3.15; Jude 19); that which is yucikoV partakes of the character and direction of natural human nature. Hence, the emphasis in swma yucikon is not that the body is physical, but that is natural. Accordingly, swma yucikon ought rightly to be translated ‘natural body;’ it means our present human body. This is the body that will be sown. But it is raised a swma pneumatikon. And just as swma yucikon does not mean a body made out of yuch, neither does swma pneumatikon mean a body made out of pneuma. If swma pneumatikon indicated a body made out of spirit, then its opposite would not be a swma yucikon, but a swma sarkinon. For Paul, yuch and pneuma are not substances out of which bodies are made, but dominating principles by which bodies are directed. Virtually every modern commentator agrees on this point: Paul is not talking about a rarefied body made out of spirit or ether; he means a body under the lordship and direction of God’s Spirit. The present body is yucikon insofar as the yuch is its dominating principle (cf. anJrwpoV yucikoV I Cor 2.14). The body which is to be will be pneumatikon, not in the sense of a spiritual substance, but insofar as the pneuma will be its dominating principle (cf. anJrwpoV pneumatikoV—I Cor 2.15). They do not differ qua swma; rather they differ qua orientation. Thus, philological analysis leads, in Clavier’s words, to the conclusion that ‘. . . le “corps pneumatique” est, en substance, le même corps, ce corps de chair, mais controlé par l’esprit, comme le fut le corps de Jésus-Christ.' The contrast is not between physical body/non-physical body, but between naturally oriented body / spiritually oriented body. Hence, I think it very unfortunate that the term swma pneumatikon has been usually translated ‘spiritual body,’ for this tends to be very misleading, as Héring explains:
En français toutefois la traduction littérale corps spirituel risque de créer les pires malentendus. Car la plupart des lecteurs de langue française, étant plus ou moins consciemment cartésiens, céderont à la tendence d’identifier le spirituel avec l’inétendu et naturellement aussi avec l’im-matériel, ce qui va à l’encontre des idées pauliniennes et crée de plus une contradictio in adjecto; car que serait un corps sans étendue ni matière?
Héring therefore suggests that it is better to translate swma pneumatikon as the opposite of natural body (swma yucikon) as supernatural body. Although this has the disadvantage of ignoring the connotation of pneumatikoV as ‘Spirit-dominated,’ it avoids the inevitable misunderstandings engendered by ‘spiritual body.’ As Héring rightly comments, this latter term, understood substantively, is practically a self-contradiction. By the same token, ‘physical body’ is really a tautology. Thus, natural body/supernatural body is a better rendering of Paul’s meaning here.
Having described the four differences between the present body and the resurrection body, Paul elaborates the doctrine of the two Adams. His statement that the first Adam was eiV yuchn zwsan and the second eiV pneuma zwopoioun (v 45) must be understood in light of the foregoing discussion. Just as Paul does not mean Adam was a disembodied soul, neither does he mean Christ turned into a disembodied spirit. That would contradict the doctrine of the resurrection of the swma. Rather these terms refer once again to the natural body made at creation and the supernatural body produced by the resurrection (cf. v 43b). First we have our natural bodies here on earth as possessed by Adam, then we shall have our supernatural bodies in the age to come as possessed by Jesus (vv 46, 49; cf. vv 20-23). The fact that materiality is not the issue here is made clear in v 47:
o prwtoV anJrwpoV ek ghV coikoV
o deuteroV anJrwpoV ex ouranou
There is something conspicuously missing in this parallel between to yucikon and to pneumatikon (v 46): the first Adam is from the earth, made of dust; the second Adam is from heaven, but made of—? Clearly Paul recoils from saying the second Adam is made of heavenly substance. The contrast between the two Adams is their origin, not their substance. Thus, the doetrine of the two Adams confirms the philological analysis. Then comes a phrase that has caused great difficulties to many: ‘I tell you this, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable’ (v 50.) Does not this clearly indicate that the resurrection body will be immaterial? Jeremias has tried to escape this conclusion by arguing that ‘flesh and blood’ refers to those alive at the Parousia, while the ‘perishable’ refers to the dead in Christ: Paul means that neither living nor dead as they are can inherit God’s kingdom, but must be transformed (v 51). This, however, is unlikely, for it requires that v 50 go with v 51. But not only does v 50 appear to be a summary statement of the foregoing paragraph, but v 51 introduces a new paragraph and a new thought, as is indicated by the introductory words, ‘Lo! I tell you a mystery!’ and by the fact that something new and previously unknown is about to be communicated. Neither need one adopt the expedient of Bornhäuser that Paul means flesh and blood will decay in the grave, but the bones will be raised. This falsely assumes Paul is here speaking of anatomy. Rather commentators are agreed that ‘flesh and blood’ is a typical Semitic expression denoting the frail human nature. It emphasizes our feeble mortality over against God; hence, the second half of v 50 is Paul’s elaboration in other words of exactly the same thought. The fact that the verb is in the singular may also suggest that Paul is not talking of physical aspects of the body, but about a conceptual unity: ‘flesh and blood is not able to inherit . . . .’ Elsewhere Paul also employs the expression ‘flesh and blood’ to mean simply ‘people’ or ‘mortal creatures’ (Gal 1.16; Eph 6.12). Therefore, Paul is not talking about anatomy here; rather he means that mortal human beings cannot enter into God’s eternal kingdom: therefore, they must become imperishable (cf. v 53). This imperishability does not connote immateriality or unextendedness; on the contrary Paul’s doctrine of the world to come is that our resurrection bodies will be part of, so to speak, a resurrected creation (Rom 8.18-23). The universe will be delivered from sin and decay, not materiality, and our bodies wil1 be part of that universe.
In the following paragraph, Paul tells how this will be done. When he says ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed’ (v 51), it is not clear whether he means by ‘all’ either Christians in general or Christians alive at his time (cf. I Thess 4.15, 17). But in either case, two things are clear: (1) Paul held that the transformation would take place instantaneously at the moment of the resurrection (v. 52). In this he differs sharply from II Bar 50-51 which holds that the resurrection yields the old bodies again which are transformed only after the judgement. Paul’s doctrine is that we are raised imperishable and glorified. (2) For Paul the resurrection is a transformation, not an exchange. Klappert draws the distinctions nicely:
Es geht also in der Auferstehung nach Paulus weder 1. um eine Wiederbelebung, d. h. um eine Neuschöpfung aus ( ! ) dem Alten, noch 2. um eine Shöpfung aus dem Nichts, d. h. um eine Neuschöpfung anstelle ( ! ) des Alten, Sondern 3. um eine radikale Verwandlung des sterblichen leibes, d. h. um eine Neuschopfung an ( ! ) dem alten.
In the resurrection the ‘ego’ of a man does not trade bodies. Rather the natural body is miraculously transformed into a supernatural body. The metaphor of the sowing and raising of the body points to this. In fact, the very concept of resurrection implies this, for in an exchange of bodies there would be nothing that would be raised. When Paul says ‘We shall all be changed,’ he means the bodies of both the dead and the living alike. Paul’s doctrine is that at the Parousia, the dead will rise from their graves transformed and that those who are still alive will also be transformed (vv 51-52; I Thess 4.16-17). The concept of an exchange of bodies is a peculiarly modern notion. For the Jews the resurrection of the dead concerned the remains in the grave, which they conceived to be the bones. According to their understanding while the flesh decayed, the bones endured. It was the bones, therefore, that were the primary subject of the resurrection. In this hope, the Jews carefully collected the bones of the dead into ossuaries after the flesh had decomposed. Only in a case in which the bones were destroyed, as with the Jewish martyrs, did God’s creating a resurrection body ex nihilo come into question. It is instructive that on the question of the resurrection, Jesus sided with the Pharisees. He held that the tomb is the place where the bones repose and that the dead in the tombs would be raised (Matt 23.27; John 5.28). It is important to remember, too, that Paul was a Pharisee and that Luke identifies his doctrine of the resurrection with that of the Pharisees. Paul’s language is thoroughly Pharisaic, and it is unlikely that he should employ the same terminology with an entirely different meaning. This means that when Paul says the dead will be raised imperishable, he means the dead in the graves. As a first century Jew and Pharisee he could have understood the expression in no other way.
Thus, Grass is simply wrong when he characterizes the resurrection as an exchange, a re-creation, and not a transformation. He mistakenly appeals to v 50; his statement that Paul has no interest in the emptying of the graves ignores the clear statements of I Thess 4.16 (which in light of v 14, which probably refers, according to the current Jewish idea, to the souls of the departed, can only have reference to the bodies in the graves) I Cor 15.42-44, 52. be attempts to strengthen his case by arguing that the relation of the old world to the new is one of annihilation to re-creation and this is analogous to the relation of the old body to the new. But Grass’s texts are chiefly non-Pauline (Heb 1.10-12; Lk 13.31; Rev 6.14; 20.11; 21.1; II Pet 3.10). As we have seen, Paul’s view is a transformation of creation (Rom 8.18-23; cf. I Cor 7.31). According to Paul it is this creation and this body which will be delivered from bondage to sin and decay. Paul, therefore, believed that the bodies of those alive at the Parousia would be changed, not discarded or annihilated, and that the remains (the bones?) of the dead bodies would likewise be transformed.
But this at once raises the puzzling question: what happens to those Christians who die before the Parousia? Are they simply extinguished until the day of resurrection? The clue to Paul’s answer may be found in II Cor 5.1-10. Here the earthly tent = swma yucikon, and the building from God = swma pneumatikon. When do we receive the heavenly dwelling? The language of v 4 is irresistibly reminiscent of I Cor 15.53-54, which we saw referred to the Parousia. This makes it evident that the heavenly dwelling is not received immediately upon death, but at the Parousia. It is unbelievable that had Paul changed his mind on the dead’s receiving their resurrection bodies at the Parousia, he would not have told the Corinthians, but continued to use precisely the same language. If the body were received immediately upon death, there would be no reason for the fear of nakedness, and v 8 would become unintelligible. In short this would mean that Paul abandoned the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead: but his later letters show he continued to hold to it.
In I Cor 15 Paul did not speak of a state of nakedness; the mortal simply “put on” (endusasqai) the immortal. But in II Cor 5 he speaks of the fear of being unclothed and the preference to be further clothed (endusasqai), as by top-clothing. It is evident that Paul is here describing losing the earthly body as being stripped and hence naked. He would rather not quit the body, but simply be transformed at the Parousia without experiencing the nakedness of death. In this sense, putting on the new body is like putting on top-clothing; namely, one need not undress first. Taken in isolation, this might be thought to imply that the resurrection is an exchange of bodies, not a transformation; but this presses the metaphor too hard. Paul is not trying to be technical, as is evident from his use of the ordinary endusamenoi in v 3; and the notion of ‘putting on’ is not inconsistent with the concept of transformation, as I Cor 15.53-54 makes clear. Indeed, the ‘putting on’ consists precisely in being transformed. Neither the ecomen nor the aiwnion of v 1 indicates that the new body already exists; rather they express the certitude of future possession and the subsequent eternal duration of the new body. The idea that the new body exists already in heaven is an impossible notion, for the idea of an unanimated swma pneumatikon, stored up in heaven until the Parousia, is a contradiction in terms, since pneuma is the essence and source of life itself. Rather from I Cor 15 we understand that the heavenly dwelling is created at the Parousia through a transformation of the earthly tent, a point concealed by Paul’s intentional contrast between the two in v 1, but hinted at in v 4 (cf. also Rom 8.10-11, 18-23). What Paul wants to express by the metaphor is that he would rather live to the Parousia and be changed than die and be naked prior to being raised.
The nakedness is thus the nakedness of an individual’s soul or spirit apart from the body, a common description in Hellenistic literature. This is confirmed in vv 6-9 where Paul contrasts being at home in the body and being at home with the Lord as mutually exclusive conditions. Paul is saying that while we are in this natural body we sigh, not because we want to leave the body through death and exist as a disembodied soul, but because we want to be transformed into a supernatural body without the necessity of passing through the intermediate state. But despite the unsettling prospect of such an intermediate state, Paul still thinks it better to be away from the body and with the Lord (v 8). Christ makes all the difference; for Paul the souls of the departed are not shut up in caves or caskets until the end time as in Jewish apocalyptic, nor do they ‘sleep’: rather they go to be with Jesus and experience a conscious, blissful communion with him (cf. Phil 1.21, 23) until he returns to earth (I Thess 4.14). This overrides the dread of nakedness.
Paul’s doctrine of the nature of the resurrection body now becomes clear. When a Christian dies, his conscious spirit or soul goes to be with Christ until the Parousia, while his body lies in the grave. When Christ returns, in a single instant the remains of the natural body are transformed into a powerful, glorious, and imperishable supernatural body under the complete lordship and direction of the Spirit, and the soul of the departed is simultaneously reunited with the body, and the man is raised to everlasting life. Then those who are alive will be similarly transformed, the old body miraculously changed intro the new without exess, and all believers will go to be with the Lord.
This doctrine teaches us much about Paul’s conception of the resurrection body of Christ. In no sense did Paul conceive Christ’s resurrection body to be immaterial or unextended. The notion of an immaterial, unextended body seems to be a self-contradiction; the nearest thing to it would be a shade in Sheol, and this was certainly not Paul’s conception of Christ’s glorious resurrection body! The only phrases in Paul’s discussion that could lend themselves to a ‘dematerializing’ of Christ’s body are ‘swma pneumatikon’ and ‘flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God.’ But virtually all modern commentators agree that these expressions have nothing to do with substantiality or anatomy, as we have seen. Rather the first speaks of the orientation of the resurrection body, while the second refers to the mortality and feebleness of the natural body in contrast to God.
So it is very difficult to understand how theologians can persist in describing Christ’s resurrection body in terms of an invisible, intangible spirit; there seems to be a great lacuna here between exegesis and theology. I can only agree with O’Collins when he asserts in this context, ‘Platonism may be hardier than we suspect.' With all the best will in the world, it is extremely difficult to see what is the difference between an immaterial, unextended, spiritual ‘body’ and the immortality of the soul. And this again is certainly not Paul’s doctrine! Therefore, the second supporting argument for Jesus’s having a purely spiritual resurrection body also fails.
We have seen, therefore, that the traditions of the appearance of Jesus to Paul do not describe that event as a purely visionary experience; on the contrary extra-mental accompaniments were involved. Paul gives no firm clue as to the nature of that appearance; from his doctrine of the nature of the resurrection body, it could theoretically have been as physical as any gospel appearance. And Paul does insist that it was an appearance, not a vision. Luke regarded the mode of Jesus’s appearance to Paul as unique because it was a post-ascension encounter. Paul himself gives no hint that he considered the appearance to him to be in any way normative for the other appearances or determinative for a doctrine of the resurrection body. On the contrary, Paul also recognized that the appearance to him was an anomaly and was exercised to bring it up to the level of objectivity and reality of the other appearances. Furthermore, Paul conceived of the resurrection body as a powerful, glorious, imperishable, Spirit-directed body, created through a transformation of the earthly body or the remains thereof, and made to inhabit the new universe in the eschaton. The upshot of all this is the startling conclusion that Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection body is potentially more physical than that of the gospels, and if Christ’s resurrection body is to be conceived in any less than a physical way, that qualification must come from the side of the gospels, not of Paul.
So although many theologians try to play off the ‘massiven Realismus’ of the gospels against a Pauline doctrine of a spiritual resurrection body, such reasoning rests on a fundamental and drastic misunderstanding of Paul’s doctrine. One cannot but suspect that the real reason for scholarly scepticism concerning the historicity of the gospel appearances is that, as Bultmann openly stated, this is offensive to ‘modern man,’ and that Paul has been made an unwilling accomplice in critics’ attempts to find reasons to support a conclusion already dictated by a priori philosophical assumptions. But Paul will not allow himself to be put to this use; a careful exegesis of Pauline doctrine fully supports a physical resurrection body. And, it must be said, this was how first century Christians apparently understood him, for the letters of Clement and Ignatius prove early wide acceptance of the doctrine of physical resurrection in first century churches, including the very churches where Paul himself had taught. The ground is thus cut from beneath those scholars who object to the historicity of the gospel resurrection narratives because of their physicalism.
But more than that: given the temporal and personal proximity of Paul to the original witnesses of the resurrection appearances, the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus can scarcely be denied. For the physicalism of the gospels cannot now be explained away as a late legendary or theological development; on the contrary, what we see from Paul is that it was there from the beginning. And if it was there from the beginning, then it must have been historically well-founded—otherwise, one is at a loss how to explain that the earliest witnesses should believe in it. Though it is constantly repeated that the physicalism of the gospels is an anti-docetic apologetic, scarcely a single piece of evidence is ever produced in favor of this assertion—and mere assertion is not proof. We have seen that both Paul’s personal contact and temporal proximity with the original disciples precludes a late development of the notion of physical resurrection, which is implied by the anti-docetic hypothesis. And Paul’s doctrine can hardly be explained away as an anti-docetic apologetic, for it was the crass materialism of the Jewish doctrine of resurrection that Paul’s Corinthian opponents probably gagged at (I Cor 15.35), so that Paul found it necessary to emphasize the transformation of the earthly body into a supernatural body. An anti-docetic apologetic would have been counter-productive. Hence, the evidence of Paul precludes that the physical resurrection was an apologetic development of the gospels aimed at Docetism.
But this consideration aside, there are other reasons to think that in the gospel narratives Docetism is not in view: (1) For a Jew the very term ‘resurrection’ entailed a physical resurrection of the dead man in the tomb. The notion of a ‘spiritual resurrection’ was not merely unknown; it was a contradiction in terms. Therefore, in saying that Jesus was raised and appeared, the early believers must have understood this in physical terms. It was Docetism which was the response to this physicalism, not the other way around. The physical resurrection is thus primitive and prior, Docetism being the later reaction of theological and philosophical reflection. (2) Moreover, had purely ‘spiritual appearances’ been original, then it is difficult to see how physical appearances could have developed. For (a) the offense of Docetism would then be removed, since the Christians, too, believed in purely spiritual appearances, and (b) the doctrine of physical appearances would have been counter-productive as an apologetic, both to Jews and pagans; to Jews because they did not accept an individual resurrection within history and to pagans because their belief in the immortality of the soul could not accommodate the crudity of physical resurrection. The church would therefore have retained its purely spiritual appearances. (3) Besides, Docetism was mainly aimed at denying the reality of the incarnation of Christ (I John 4.2-3; III John 7), not the physical resurrection. Docetists were not so interested in denying the physical resurrection as in denying that the divine Son perished on the cross; hence, some held the Spirit deserted the human Jesus at the crucifixion, leaving the human Jesus to die and be physically raised (Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.26. 1). An anti-docetic apologetic aimed at proving a physical resurrection therefore misses the point entirely. (4) The demonstrations of corporeality and continuity in the gospels, as well as the other physical appearances, were not redactional additions of Luke or John, as is evident from a comparison of Luke 24.36-43 with John 20.19-23 (it is thus incorrect to speak, for example, of ‘Luke’s apologetic against Gnosticism’), but were part of the traditions received by the evangelists. Docetism, however, was a later theological development, attested in John’s letters. Therefore, the gospel accounts of the physical resurrection tend to ante-date the rise and threat of Docetism. In fact, not even all later Gnostics denied the physical resurrection (cf. Gospel of Philip, Letter of James, and Epistle of Rheginus). It is interesting that in the ending added to Mark there is actually a switch from material proofs of the resurrection to verbal rebuke by Jesus for the disciples’ unbelief. (5) The demonstrations themselves do not evince the rigorousness of an apologetic against Docetism. In both Luke and John it is not said that either the disciples or Thomas actually accepted Jesus’s invitation to touch him and prove that he was not a Spirit. Contrast the statements of Ignatius that the disciples did physically touch Jesus (Ignatius Ad Smyrnaeans 3.2; cf. Epistula Apostolorum 11-12). As Schnackenburg has said, if an anti-docetic apology were involved in the gospel accounts, more would have to have been done than Jesus’s merely showing the wounds. (6) The incidental, off-hand character of the physical resurrection in most of the accounts shows that the physicalism was a natural assumption or presupposition of the accounts, not an apologetic point consciously being made. For example, the women’s grasping Jesus’s feet is not a polemical point, but just their response of worship. Similarly, Jesus says, ‘Do not hold me,’ though Mary is not explicitly said to have done so; this is no conscious effort to prove a physical resurrection. The appearances on the mountain and by the Sea of Tiberias just naturally presuppose a physical Jesus; no points are trying to be scored against Docetism. Together these considerations strongly suggest that the physical appearances were not an apologetic to Docetism, but always part of the church’s tradition; there is no good reason to doubt that Jesus did, in fact, show his disciples that he had been physically raised.
And it must be said that despite the disdain of some theologians for the gospels’ conception of the nature of the resurrection body, it is nonetheless true that like Paul the evangelists steer a careful course between gross materialism and the immortality of the soul. On the one hand, every gospel appearance of Jesus that is narrated is a physical appearance. The gospels’ unanimity on this score is very impressive, especially in view of the fact that the appearance stories represent largely independent traditions; they confirm Paul’s doctrine that it is the earthly body that is resurrected. On the other hand, the gospels insist that Jesus’s resurrection was not simply the resuscitation of a corpse. Lazarus would die again some day, but Jesus rose to everlasting life (Matt 28. 18-20; Luke 24.26; John 20.17). And his resurrection body was possessed of powers that no normal human body possesses. Thus, in Matthew when the angel opens the tomb, Jesus does not come forth; rather he is already gone. Similarly, in Luke when the Emmaus disciples recognize him at bread-breaking he disappears. The same afternoon Jesus appears to Peter, miles away in Jerusalem. When the Emmaus disciples finally join the disciples in Jerusalem that evening, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. John says the doors were shut, but Jesus stood among them. A week later Jesus did the same thing. Very often commentators make the error of stating that Jesus came through the closed doors, but neither John nor Luke says this. Rather Jesus simply appeared in the room; contrast the pagan myths of gods entering rooms like fog through the keyhole (Homer Odyssey 6. 19-20; Homeric Hymns 3. 145)! According to the gospels, Jesus in his resurrection body had the ability to appear and vanish at will, without regard to spatial limitations.
Many scholars have stumbled at Luke’s ‘a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have,’ claiming this is a direct contradiction to Paul. In fact, Paul speaks of ‘flesh and blood’, not ‘flesh and bones.’ Is the difference significant? It certainly is! ‘Flesh and blood,’ as we have seen, is a Semitic expression for mortal human nature and has nothing to do with anatomy. Paul agrees with Luke on the physicality of the resurrection body. But furthermore, neither is ‘flesh and bones’ meant to be an anatomical description. Rather, proceeding from the Jewish idea that it is the bones that are preserved and raised (Gen R 28.3; Lev R 18.1; Eccl R 12.5), the expression connotes the physical reality of Jesus’s resurrection. Michaelis writes,
Wenn nach Lukas ein Geist weder Fleisch noch Knochen hat, der Auferstandene aber kein Geist ist, so besagt das nicht, dass der Auferstandene, mit der paulinischen Terminologie zu reden, kein “pneumatisches (verklärtes, himmlisches) Soma,” sondern ein “psychisches (natürliches, irdisches) Soma” habe. Mit Fleisch und Knochen in der lukanischen Aussage ist vielmehr (wie zugeben werden muss, in einem kräftigen Ausdruck, den Paulus aber nicht unbedingt als “lästerlich” empfunden haben müsste) das ausgedrückt, was Paulus mit dem Begriff “Soma” (Leib, Leiblichkeit) ausdrückt. Durch den Hinweis auf Fleisch und Knochen soll nicht der pneumatische Charakter dieses Soma bestritten, sondern die Realität des Somatischen bezeugt werden. Auch Lukas steht, wie sich zudem aus der Gesamtheit der bei ihm sich findenen Hinweise ergibt (vgl. 24.13ff; Apg. 1.3), unter den Voraussetzung, dass es sich bei den Erscheinungen nur um Begegnungen mit dem Auferstandenen in seiner verklärten Leiblichkeit handeln kann.
The point of Jesus’s utterance is to assure the disciples that this is a real resurrection, in the proper, Jewish sense of that word, not an appearance of a bodiless pneuma. Though it stresses corporeality, its primary emphasis is not on the constituents of the body. Thus, neither Paul nor Luke are talking about anatomy, and both agree on the physicality and the supernaturalness of Jesus’s resurrection body.
In conclusion, we have seen that the critical argument designed to drive a wedge between Paul and the gospels is fallacious. Neither the argument from the appearance to Paul nor the argument from Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection body serves to set Paul against the gospels. Quite the opposite, we have seen that Paul’s evidence serves to confirm the gospels’ narratives of Jesus’s bodily resurrection and that their physicalism is probably historically well-founded, that is to say, Jesus did rise bodily from the dead and appear physically to the disciples. And finally we have seen that the gospels present like Paul a balanced view of the nature of Jesus’s resurrection body. On the one hand, Jesus has a body—he is not a disembodied soul. For the gospels and Paul alike the incarnation is an enduring state, not limited to the 30 some years of Jesus’s earthly life. On the other hand, Jesus’s body is a supernatural body. We must keep firmly in mind that for the gospels as well as Paul, Jesus rises glorified from the grave. The gospels and Paul agree that the appearances of Jesus ceased and that physically he has left this universe for an indeterminate time. During his physical absence he is present through the Holy Spirit who functions in his stead. But someday he will personally return to judge mankind and to establish his reign over all creation.
*William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and the author of numerous books including Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (with J.P. Moreland); Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time; The Kalam Cosmological Argument; Creation Out of Nothing: Its Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (with Paul Copan); and Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz. This article is reprinted with permission of the author. © Copyright, William Lane Craig. All rights reserved.
Source: Lane, William Craig. “The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus,” in Gospel Perspectives I, pp. 47-74. Edited by R.T. France and D. Wenham. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1980.