Saturday, July 22, 2006

NT Wright on Christians who don't believe God can work miracles

On page 343 of the Bishop of Durham's book 'The Resurrection of the Son of God', NT Wright examines these two questions that Paul says the Corinthians are asking about the resurrection of the dead, which they denied.

1 Corinthians 15:35 'But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?"'

Wright ignores the fact that Paul takes for granted that the Corinthians believed God could breathe life into dead matter, and tells us that the most natural way of reading the first question is that the Corinthians were wondering who could perform a resurrection.

Wright wants people to believe the Corinthians denied that resurrections were possible, because they could not work out who had the power to do it.

These people had converted to Jesus-worship, accepted the story of Adam being created , and believed in God, and Wright wants people to believe they did not know of any agent who could raise the dead.

Surely, this is way too much too swallow. Has Wright really thought it through?

Surely, the most natural way of reading the two questions is just how they do read - the Corinthians were wondering how a corpse could be reformed after it had been destroyed, burnt to ash, or dissolved into dust. Would still born babies be formed as adult people? Would old, senile people, who had perhaps lost a leg or an arm in an accident, would they be formed whole?

And Paul chides them for not realising that what goes into the ground dies. Those questions are foolish , because you will not get your old body back. The old body is just a seed which dies, and God gives it a body. Just as an oak tree bears no resemblence to an acorn, our new bodies will be nothing like the old.

In fact, Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that resurrected bodies will be made from a different material - a heavenly material.


Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...


Nice work, as usual.

Thought you'd be interested in this: Some Sources on Docetism and the Resurrection, by Christian literalist Jason Engwer. He quotes NT Wright and seems to suppose that the early Christians were monolithic in the belief that Jesus rose in a physical rather than "spiritual" body (i.e., one lacking flesh and bones). (However, I don't see any actual argument to support such a sweeping assumption.)

I'm still of the opinion, inspired by your counterpoints to Canon Michael Cole, that Jesus is a mood, not an actual person. A person's "experience" of "the risen Jesus" is wholly internal and subjective, emotional and imaginative.


7:01 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

Hi Stephen, thanks for dropping by at I'm going to try and work my way through you posts over the next couple of days.

On your post here, what do consider the make up of the Corinthian church to be? I think that in speaking of "heavenly material" you start to read into Paul the kind of dualistic gnosticism that he and others spent much time refuting. I think Paul is alluding the kind of seed metaphor that Jesus uses in John 12:24. The implication is that there is something of the old body in the new one, but that the new one is much more besides. Paul is arguing against exactly kind of "spiritualizing" of the resurrection that you have ended up with.

3:13 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Thanks Simon for your comments.

I don’t know what the make up of the Corinthian church was, apart from what can be deduced from Paul’s letters, which seem to show that it consisted of people who believed in some reward for the dead, and people who denied any reward for the dead.

The two seed analogies are very different. If I remember rightly, even the words for seed are different. Paul refers to a naked seed (using the word which became our word for sperma).

To Paul, the seed is just something which dies, and which is there solely to tell God what kind of body to create. It is just a marker, which is why he thinks it is bare or naked. Obviously, if you plant seeds of wheat, you won’t get resurrected humans. And if you plant human bodies, you won’t get wheat. But God creates what appears. The seed dies. People were well aware of the difference between a seed and the final plant – hence Jesus’s metaphor of separating the wheat from the chaff.

And the other difference is Paul’s exasperation with the Corinthians for not realising that what goes into the ground is just a seed. He calls them fools.

As far as Paul is concerned, they are like people who deny the existence of omelettes, because you can still see the shells of the broken eggs. Such people are idiots, because discarded shells are just what you expect to see when omelettes are made.

How would you tell such people that they were fools. You would tell them what they already knew. You would tell them that there are bound to be broken shells left over, because that is what making omelettes involves. You would say ‘You can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs.’.

Paul reacts exactly the same way. The corpse is a broken shell which is left over, or a seed which has died. He says ‘How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.’

Paul tells them you do not plant the body that will be, and you just plant a seed, which dies. The Corinthians already knew that corpses are dead. Paul tells them what they already knew , that bodies die. The Corinthians didn’t believe that bodies would be restored (just as I don’t believe you make omelettes by restoring eggs to their pre-broken state), and for Paul, their objection is a stupid objection , because it is obvious that that is just what you expect to see in a resurrection.

To summarise, the Corinthians were saying ‘Corpses won’t be restored’, and Paul was saying ‘So what? What’s your point?’

And then Paul goes on to talk of different bodies , made of different materials, and talks of 2 bodies , the natural and the spiritual body, and explains that people will not be made of the dust of the earth, but will be made of heavenly material.

Paul never talks of a restoration of a body, or uses the sorts of reasoning you would use to persuade people that God can reform corpses even when they have been burned to ash and smoke.

Paul doesn’t talk about such things, because he didn’t think they were relevant.

Incidentally, in John 12:24 , Jesus claims that ‘many’ seeds are produced from one. Hardly analogous to a resurrection…

4:15 AM  
Blogger byron said...

Wright ignores the fact that Paul takes for granted that the Corinthians believed God could breathe life into dead matter

And yet Paul says that some of them do not even believe the resurrection! (15.12). I'm not persuaded.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

I don't understand your point.

Paul takes for granted that the Corinthians believed the story of Adam, where God breathes life inot dead matter. Paul quotes it, as though it was obvious that the Corinthians accepted it.

Yet , even despite that belief of theirs. the Corinthians still did not believe God would choose to raise a corpse.

Wright ignores the fact that the Corinthians believed in a God who could transform water into wine, but did not believe God would choose to transform a corpse into a living person.

Some of the Corinthians believed that the dead had some reward, but we are not told that even they thought that the dead were living on in the bodies they were buried in.

10:21 PM  

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