Seidensticker Folly #26: Spiritual Bodies R Still Bodies!

Seidensticker Folly #26: Spiritual Bodies R Still Bodies! October 9, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did.

But don’t hold your breath. He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to my previous 25 installments. Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.” 

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

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In his article, “Debunking 10 Popular Christian Principles for Reading the Bible” (3-2-15), Bible-Bashing Bob opined:

The puzzle given is Paul’s statement that “[the human body] is sown a natural body, [but] it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44). Paul is rejecting the imperfect physical body and sees it perfected in the spiritual equivalent. While this was popular Greek thinking at the time, it was eventually rejected by the Christian church. . . . 

The only problem [Jim] Wallace solves is how to hammer the Bible to fit his preconceptions. He goes into his Bible study certain that God raises bodies physically rather than spiritually, and he’s determined to wring that meaning from it. That’s not how an honest person reads the Bible.

Elsewhere, Bob wrote:

Paul says, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable … it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (15:42–4). This makes clear that the resurrected Jesus was spirit, not flesh. This sounds a lot like docetism, a heresy that was rejected in the First Council of Nicaea. It also contradicts Luke’s physical post-resurrection Jesus: “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). (4-8-13)

Bob maintains that Paul’s reference to a “spiritual body” is to a pure spirit, with no physical body. This is immediately absurd, since “spirit” cannot have an additional description of “body”. A “body” is physical, and spirits aren’t physical; they are immaterial. Yet Bob appears to think that his flatly absurd interpretation of the passage is the only “honest” one anyone can take. We Christians, according to him, are reading into Holy Scripture things that aren’t there. That’s false, and it is Bob foolishly projecting precisely what he is doing, onto us.

Evangelical G. Shane Morris gives a good refutation of this Gnostic-influenced thinking in his article, “Jesus Has a Physical Body Forever (And So Will We)”:

There’s a common misconception in the Christian rank and file that Jesus’ resurrected body was something other than a real, physical body with flesh and bones, and that our resurrected bodies will likewise be something other than or somehow less solid than our bodies are now. . . .

Christians’ enduring hope has always been what Paul said the creation itself groans for: “the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) This is what it means to swallow up death in victory. A “spiritual resurrection” of any kind isn’t resurrection. It’s a euphemistic redescription of death.

Second, the term “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44 does not, in Paul’s original use, mean what the phrase seems to imply in English. [N. T.] Wright points out that to the original audience, a “spiritual body” understood as an “immaterial body” would be a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing. You might as well talk about solid mist or dry water. What Paul is doing, in context, is contrasting a body of flesh (which is the most common New Testament metonym for fallen humanity) with the body of the Spirit—that is, a body empowered and animated by the Holy Spirit. The Jews and Greeks had words for immaterial beings.

If Paul had meant for us to expect a non-physical resurrection, he could have spoken of “ghosts,” or “spirits.” He did not. For a man of his background, “resurrection” meant only one thing: To get up out of the grave, body and all, and walk again. Jesus left behind an empty grave devoid of flesh and bones. He took them with Him. And so will we. (1 John 3:2) A physical understanding of our resurrection bodies is crucial to the passage, as Paul calls Christ Himself “a life-giving spirit” in the very next verse. Does this mean the resurrected Christ is a mere spirit? If so, what of the central fact of Christian history? What of the empty tomb? Where did the body go? It got up and walked out, scars and all.

Finally, people will sometimes cite the gospel accounts of Jesus entering through locked doors and walking through walls to visit the Disciples as proof that His body was not quite as solid as it appeared. This is a huge non-sequitur, if you consider it for just a moment. This is God we’re talking about. He had spent His entire ministry in a quite ordinary human body, performing miracles that defied the laws of physics (walking on water, disappearing through crowds, being transfigured and shining like the sun, etc.). No one but the Docetic Gnostics ever suggested that this calls into question the corporeal reality of Jesus’ pre-resurrection body.

James Bishop adds:

Paul was, prior to his conversion, a Pharisee. Pharisees held to a physical resurrection (see: Jewish War 3.374, 2.163; 4Q521; 1QH 14.34; 4Q 385-391; Genesis Rabbah 14.5; Leviticus Rabbah 14.9). For instance, one leading scholar by the name of NT Wright, in his 700 page volume, argues that the resurrection in pagan, Jewish, and Christian cultures meant a physical and bodily resurrection (2). Paul held the same view (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:14; Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:20-21). . . .

As [N. T.] Wright articulates: “Until second century Christianity, the language of ‘resurrection’ had been thought by pagan, Jew, and Christian as some kind of return to bodily and this-worldly life” [The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003, p. 83].

The context of 1 Corinthians 15 further bolsters this view:

1 Corinthians 15:35-42 But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” [36] You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. [37] And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. [38] But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. [39] For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. [40] There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. [41] There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. [42] So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.

Does Bob think that Paul thought the moon was a spirit and not physical? It’s absurd. Sadly, the absurd is a frequent feature of Bob’s anti-Christian ravings.

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the Greek word egiro (usually “raised” in English) 19 times, referring to resurrection, either of Jesus (15:4, 12-17, 20) or of the general resurrection of human beings (15:29, 32, 35, 42-44, 52). It was used in the verse Bob brought up (15:44). The same word is used in the gospels of the raising of the young girl who had died. She remained human, with her body, after being raised He was holding her hand when she was raised):

Matthew 9:18, 23-25  While he was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” . . . [23] And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, [24] he said, “Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. [25] But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose [egiro].

In John 12, the word is applied to Lazarus three times (12:1, 9, 17: “raised from the dead” and “raised him from the dead”: RSV). In John 12:2, the risen Lazarus is referred to, sitting at the table, eating supper with Jesus: obviously a physical being.  This is what the word means: “a body being physically raised and restored after it had died.”

Jesus was obviously also still in a physical body after He was resurrected, but it was a spiritual body, and so He could “walk through walls” (which modern physics tells us is actually physically possible, in additional dimensions and what-not). He ate fish with His disciples, told Thomas to put his hand in His wounds, which were still visible; was touched by Mary Magdalene, broke bread with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, etc.

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe offer further explanation in the following excerpt their book, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1992):

[N]otice the parallelism mentioned by Paul:

The complete context indicates that “spiritual” (pneumatikos) could be translated “supernatural” in contrast to “natural.” This is made clear by the parallels of perishable and imperishable and corruptible and incorruptible. In fact, this same Greek word (pneumatikos) is translated “supernatural” in 1 Corinthians 10:4 when it speaks of the “supernatural rock that followed them in the wilderness” (RSV).

Second, the word “spiritual” (pneumatikos) in 1 Corinthians refers to material objects. Paul spoke of the “spiritual rock” that followed Israel in the wilderness from which they got “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:4). But the OT story (Ex. 17Num. 20) reveals that it was a physical rock from which they got literal water to drink. But the actual water they drank from that material rock was produced supernaturally. When Jesus supernaturally made bread for the five thousand (John 6), He made literal bread. However, this literal, material bread could have been called “spiritual” bread (because of its supernatural source) in the same way that the literal manna given to Israel is called “spiritual food” (1 Cor. 10:3).

Further, when Paul spoke about a “spiritual man” (1 Cor. 2:15) he obviously did not mean an invisible, immaterial man with no corporeal body. He was, as a matter of fact, speaking of a flesh and blood human being whose life was lived by the supernatural power of God. He was referring to a literal person whose life was Spirit directed. A spiritual man is one who is taught by the Spirit and who receives the things that come from the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:13–14).

To summarize Paul’s doctrine of the general resurrection, I cite the section on that topic in the entry, “Resurrection” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

As the believer then passes into a condition of glory, his body must be altered for the new conditions (1 Corinthians 15:50Philippians 3:21); it becomes a “spiritual” body, belonging to the realm of the spirit (not “spiritual” in opposition to “material”). Nature shows us how different “bodies” can be–from the “body” of the sun to the bodies of the lowest animals the kind depends merely on the creative will of God (1 Corinthians 15:38-41). Nor is the idea of a change in the body of the same thing unfamiliar: look at the difference in the “body” of a grain of wheat at its sowing and after it is grown! (1 Corinthians 15:37).

Just so, I am “sown” or sent into the world (probably not “buried”) with one kind of body, but my resurrection will see me with a body adapted to my life with Christ and God (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). If I am still alive at the Parousia, this new body shall be clothed upon my present body (1 Corinthians 15:53,542 Corinthians 5:2-4) otherwise I shall be raised in it (1 Corinthians 15:52). This body exists already in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1,2), and when it is clothed upon me the natural functions of the present body will be abolished (1 Corinthians 6:13). Yet a motive for refraining from impurity is to keep undefiled the body that is to rise (1 Corinthians 6:13,14).

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Photo credit: The Resurrected Christ Appears to the Virgin (1629), by Guercino (1591-1666) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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