Friday, October 20, 2006

"Resurrection" as Spiritual as well as Physical

NT Wright emphasizes throughout his books that "resurrection" in Jesus' day had only to do with a new physical existence and never applies to non-bodily revivification. For example, in What St. Paul Really Said, he writes:

"First-century Jews held a variety of beliefs about what God would do with, or to, his people after their death. But 'resurrection' was never a term covering lots of different options on that score. It had to do, specifically,with reembodiment, with a new physical existence. When Paul talks about a 'spiritual body' (1 Corinthians 15:44), he doen't mean 'spiritual' in the Platonic sense, i.e. non-material. He means a body (physical, in some sense) which is constituted by 'spirit.'"

I agree about Wright's reading of 1 Co 15. I also affirm without equivocation our bodily (physical) resurrection to a new (physical) creation. But Wright doesn't have it right regarding the common meaning of "resurrection," at least if we allow Jesus words to reflect a commonly accepted meaning in his time.

Consider, for example, Mt 22.31-32: "'But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? God is not the God of the dead but of the living.' And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at his teaching."

Now Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died in body. How then does the OT passage that Jesus quotes establish the reality of resurrection, as against the Sadducees? Well, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob live in spirit before God -- God "is" their God instead of "was" their God -- and therefore they are resurrected.

I don't think this should surprise us (or first-century Jews) all that much given the pattern of the first death. God told Adam, "but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die" (Gn 2.17).

Adam (and Eve) did not die physically on the day that they ate of the tree. Nonetheless, God's word to Adam was true: they died spiritually -- which is truly and really a death -- being separated from God from the moment they ate from the tree. This, incidentally, is the death most to be feared; not physical death (Mt 10.28). (Our eyes deceive us if we think that mere physical life is true life.)

Resurrection is the movement from death to life. We are dead spiritually, and we are resurrected to a new spiritual life in Christ. If we are dead physically, yet alive to God in the spirit, then we shall be resurrected in body as well.

This shouldn't surprised us, as Rev 20 teaches of two resurrections, as does Jesus in John 5.25-26, 28-29:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live. For just as the Father has life in himself, even so he gave to the Son also to have life in himself . . . Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil to a resurrection of judgment."

The first resurrection is now -- the resurrection of those who were once dead but are now born again in the spirit. The second resurrection is still in the future, when all who are in "tombs" -- both the righteous and the unrighteous -- who will be resurrected on the last day.


Blogger Steven Carr said...

Presumably when Paul wrote 'the first Adam became a created being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit', he was implying that the first Adam set the pattern for us to become created beings, and that the last Adam set the pattern for us to become life-giving spirits.

I wonder why people in Corinth converted to Jesus-worship yet still scoffed at the the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse, while still having no doubts (as seen by Paul's quote from Genesis 2:7) that there was a God who could breathe life into dead matter, if He so wished.

October 23, 2006 10:44 PM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Was Moses resurrected when he appeared at the Transfiguration? Or did he die again?

Or was he not embodied at all?

Why would the author of 1 Peter 1:24 still think that flesh was the best metaphor for something perishable, after his life had supposedly been turned upside down by the news that flesh would be made imperishable?

'All flesh is grass' writes 1 Peter 1:24.

October 23, 2006 10:47 PM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

'When Paul talks about a 'spiritual body' (1 Corinthians 15:44), he doen't mean 'spiritual' in the Platonic sense, i.e. non-material. He means a body (physical, in some sense) which is constituted by 'spirit.'"'

People thought of spirit as an element, like air, earth,fire and water.

The only sensible reading of Paul is that the resurrected Jesus was composed of spirit.

But the Gospels say he was composed of flesh and bones.

October 23, 2006 10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard Wright sermonize on Jesus' reply to the Sadducees ("I am the God of Ab &c..") and say that Jesus scored a QED point about physical resurrection that we characteristically miss. NT's point was that all Jesus had to do was point out that Ab, Is, and Jac. still had a continuing, present-tense life before God; no 1st cent. Jew would ever argue for an open-ended non-corporeal existence, thus if the patriarch are still alive before God, there must certainly await a physical resurrection.


December 12, 2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


I'm not in a position to quibble with what Wright thinks that every first-century Jew believed.

And, believe me, I give a hearty and unqualified "Amen" to the idea that the hope of resurrection is embodied life. I complain all the time to my Sunday-School classes and my prison groups about thinking of our hope being disembodied spirits in heaven.

So it's not like I'm saying, "Man, Wright is REALLY wrong, and this is a critical point." I'm just quibbling.

Wright just seems to go farther than the texts do, in my judgment, in identifying resurrection with embodied life.

The first resurrection (Rev 20), Adam and Eve's death, and Jesus' teaching in John.

Plus, you'll note that Wright's ponit about Jesus' response to the Sadduccees assumes the answer that is in contention.

December 14, 2006 10:36 AM  

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