Sunday, October 19, 2008

The resurrection of Jesus

The earliest Christians believed Jesus was still alive, but that his body had been left behind.

The earliest reference to the resurrection is in 1 Cor. 15. There we learn that the Corinthians accepted the resurrection of Jesus, but still disbelieved that a dead body could rise.

This is impossible to explain, if they had been taught that Jesus dead body had risen. After all, modern Christians have no problem with the idea that God can raise dead bodies, because they have heard stories of how the body of Jesus was raised.

The Corinthians worry is easy to explain if they believed that Jesus was a god. Jesus had been a spirit before he became a human , and became a spirit again after he died. Gods can do that. However, we are not gods, and so the Corinthians wondered how we could follow Jesus , when our bodies , like the body of Jesus, would stay in the ground.

The Corinthians knew that God could breathe life into dead matter. God had breathed life into clay and created Adam as a living person. So if they believed God could make dead matter live, why did they believe God would choose not to make their dead bodies alive?

They must have had good evidence that God had not made dead matter alive in the case of the resurrection. They must have had good evidence that the dead body of Jesus had not been made alive. Only this explains their wondering how they would be resurrected, as it appeared to them that God did not want to make dead bodies live again.

So far this is speculation, although reasonable speculation. If the Corinthians believed God could make dead matter live, and had heard stories of the dead bodies of Jesus, Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus etc, being made alive, how could they doubt that God would make their dead bodies live again? Answer. They had not heard these stories, and had good evidence that a resurrection did *not* involve a dead body being made alive.

We have to turn to 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul answers the objections of the Corinthians.

Paul calls the Corinthians idiots for wondering how dead bodies would be raised. And he immediately stresses that dead bodies are dead. ‘You fools! 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.’

If Paul thought the Corinthians were idiots for wondering how dead bodies could be raised, when it was child’s play for God to raise dead bodies, he would have told them so. He could have used such passages as Ezekiel 37, or talked about how God breathed life into dead matter to make Adam.

Instead, he thinks the Corinthians are idiots for wondering how dead bodies could be raised, as they have totally missed the point about a resurrection.

Dead bodies will not be raised. Instead, we will get a new body, made of spirit.

The Corinthians were as idiotic for wondering how dead bodies would be raised in the resurrection, as somebody would be idiotic for wondering whether we still have to take our library books back after the resurrection.

Such questions were irrelevant, which is why Paul never answers the questions of how corpses could get back missing limbs, or how a corpse destroyed by fire could be reconstituted from smoke and ash etc.

Paul goes so far as to contrast , Adam, with Jesus. ‘The first Adam became a living being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.’

The Corinthians were idiots for not realising that we would follow Jesus and leave our dead bodies behind. We are made from the dust of the earth, but like the resurrected Jesus, we will be made from heavenly material.

The whole chapter only makes sense when we take seriously Paul’s view that it is idiotic to wonder how a dead body could be raised. It won’t be raised. It is a non-problem. Paul says clearly ‘You do not plant the body that will be’, and talks about different kinds of bodies. Paul says there is first the natural body and then the spiritual body. The Corinthians presently have their natural bodies, and then they will have spiritual bodies.

Here is an analogy for how Paul writes. If you wonder how a magician can produce an egg from your ear, after you have seen him crack the egg open, then you are an idiot for not realising that there are two eggs. Paul writes the same way.

Why wonder how a dead body can be transformed into a resurrected body, when there are two bodies? In 1 Cor. 15, Paul stresses how there are different bodies made of different materials. Why stress that there are different bodies, if he is trying to tell us how the magician put the egg back together again?

English translations of 1 Corinthians 15 often mask Paul’s idea that after our natural body has died, we will get a body made of spirit. Just like Jesus, we will become ‘a life-giving spirit.’ People of that time believed that celestial things were made of entirely different substances to earthly things. Paul shares that view and emphasises it in 1 Corinthians 15. This makes no sense if he is supposedly teaching the Corinthains that their resurrected bodies would be made from flesh and blood, which is what the Gospels claim Jesus resurrected body was made of.

It does make sense if Paul is teaching that the resurrected body would not be made from the flesh and blood of our earthly bodies.

Paul is very explicit in 2 Corinthians 5 that we will leave this present body behind and receive a heavenly body. A new body to replace the old body. He often uses a clothing analogy. At the resurrection we will get a new set of clothes.

This means that the old set of clothes will be discarded.

The earliest reference to the resurrection, Paul’s writings, clearly indicate that the earliest Christians did not believe Jesus flesh and blood body rose from the grave.


Blogger Jim Deardorff said...

They [the Corinthians] must have had good evidence that the dead body of Jesus had not been made alive. Only this explains their wondering how they would be resurrected, as it appeared to them that God did not want to make dead bodies live again.

A more obvious possibility, it seems to me, is that some of these Corinthians believed that Jesus hadn't quite died in the first place. In that case, he had remained alive, and his body had not "been made alive." Thus, those ones had no evidence that resurrection was real, especially if they knew much of anything of the traditions that Jesus had afterwards appeared to his disciples in a physical body, with crucifixion wounds partially healed.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

You need some sort of evidence that these Christian converts believed Jesus had never died.

Why doesn't Paul attack any such alleged belief?

8:39 AM  

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