Pearce’s Potshots #56: Paul & Jesus’ Resurrection

Pearce’s Potshots #56: Paul & Jesus’ Resurrection December 10, 2021

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” 

This is a reply to his post, A Spiritual Body Resurrection vs Corporeal Resurrection (12-9-21). His words will be in blue.

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I have had another interview with Derek Lambert of MythVision in the series where we are working through my book The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story [UK]. This latest episode (8) concentrated on the conflict between Paul, who believed in a two-body spiritual resurrection thesis, as opposed to the Gospels, who argue against Paul for a re-animated corpse resurrection. Of course, Paul’s claims from 1 Corinthians and elsewhere explain why he doesn’t mention an empty tomb anywhere – because there would be no empty tomb as the earthly body would remain in situ.

The Gospels fundamentally contradict Paul precisely because they are an overt counter-argument against Paul’s theology, and the related Gnostic position of a full-on spiritual resurrection.

Jonathan seems to maintain (from what I can tell in his brief statements) 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.

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)

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 15:35-44 (RSV) 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. [43] It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. [44] It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:53-54 For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. [54] When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Does Jonathan think that Paul thought the moon was a spirit and not physical? It’s absurd. 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). 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. Jesus held 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).

Moreover, Paul describes our own resurrected bodies as like that of Jesus:

Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Philippians 3:20-21 . . . a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Paul talks about our resurrection bodies, which we “put on” being “imperishable.” In other words, he’s saying that according to natural law, physical bodies perish and die, but spiritual, resurrected bodies do not. He’s not talking about spirits. If it were a transformation of a physical body into a spirit, he wouldn’t use the terminology of “raised” either: because that refers to physical bodies, which died, and are now “raised”.

Nor would he refer to a “spiritual body”: he would have simply referred to a “spirit” (which the New Testament does many times). The two are not at all identical. The whole point was Jesus conquering physical death, which applies to physical bodies, not spirits. The Gospel of Matthew exhibits the same understanding of resurrected bodies of the dead:

Matthew 27:52 the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,

Here is another passage from Paul that plainly refer to bodily resurrection:

Romans 8:22-23 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; [23] and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Case closed. Jonathan is wrong yet again about what the Bible (agree or disagree) teaches. It’s amazing how often that happens.

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ADDENDUM: Jonathan Clarifies

You literally got it wrong from the outset: . . . 

You are suggesting more of a “Gnostic” approach that Paul was similar to. There are three approaches: Gnostic, Paul’s two body transformation (psychikos to pneumatikos), and the Gospel’s resuscitation resurrection. The Gospels do a really explicit job in arguing against Paul and the gnostics. I mean, it’s really overt. The contradictions couldn’t be more obvious. Plus, the early church fathers carry this on very explicitly (Justin Martyr etc). Why would they be so forceful and arguing these points if there was no one claiming otherwise?

Go read 1 Corinthians 15 and get back to me. I mean, really read it, not with “I must cohere this with the Gospels” glasses on. Read it as it is written.

What do you mean by “two body transformation”? If you are saying that Paul’s view of Jesus’ resurrection still involves a physical (“glorified”) body, then we agree. We disagree that this is supposedly a blatant and “obvious” contradiction over against the Gospels.

[After telling me I should watch a three-hour video or buy one of his books, he finally wrote]

Or read [Richard] Carrier’s FAQ on the topic.

[His basic idea is that Paul thought Jesus had a completely new body, unrelated to the one He had before He was crucified, which is  contradictory to the Gospel’s teachings that His resurrected body was one and the same as His previous one; just transformed. I read it and replied]:

Thank you. I have rarely read such ridiculous sophistry as Carrier’s analysis there. He believes that he can explain or rationalize away anything, no matter how obviously it is stating the opposite of Carrier’s anti-Christian agenda.

Carrier’s (and your) view is contradicted by the following statement of Paul:

Romans 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

If indeed a resurrected body was a brand new one, with no relation to our bodies on this earth, then it makes no sense that Paul would say, in the context of our resurrection, “he . . . will give life to your mortal bodies.” That is clearly teaching a transformation of our earthly bodies rather than a completely new body with no relation to our earthly ones, because it’s saying that the bodies that could die and that were mortal will be given “life” and power and be glorified. Therefore, it has to be the same body, by virtue of the reference to “mortal bodies” being given “life” so that our bodies can be glorified as Christ’s was.

Jonathan cited Carrier in reply:

Q: In Romans 8:11 Paul says God “will also give life to your mortal bodies” just as he did to Jesus, and then he says in 8:23 that we await “the redemption of our body.” Don’t these passages clearly indicate the same body that dies is the body that will be raised?

A: Not necessarily. I already challenge this interpretation of both verses in the book (pp. 149-50). I say a lot there that must be read. Here I will only note three of the facts that I discuss further there: the “also” in Romans 8:11 does not grammatically correlate with the resurrection of Jesus (bad translations have falsely given that impression); Paul does not say “our mortal bodies will be raised” (in fact, he never connects our “mortal bodies” with resurrection at all, not even in 8:23, which is a whole twelve verses away from 8:11 and does not speak of a “mortal” body); the context of 8:11 appears to be about our current state of grace, not our future resurrection (as in 2 Cor. 4:10), while Paul only gets to the resurrection in later verses; and 8:23 actually says we expect “the release of our body,” without specifying which body he means, or in what way it will be released. Close examination suggests he more likely meant the release of our “inner man,” which is our new spiritual body, which we are already growing inside us (pp. 144-45, 150, and related notes; see my answer to a related question below).

Cross-referencing the word for “give life” in Romans 8:11:

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
STRONGS NT 2227: ζοωποιέω

. . . of the dead, to reanimate, restore to life: 1 Corinthians 15:45; τινα, John 5:21; Romans 4:17; Romans 8:11; passive 1 Corinthians 15:22;

HELPS Word-studies

2227 zōopoiéō (from 2221 /zōgréō, “alive” and 4160 /poiéō, “make”) – properly, make alive (zōos); i.e. “quicken,” vivify (“animate”); (figuratively) cause what is dead (inoperative) to have life; empower with divine life. . . .

(1 Cor 15:36,38) seed, come to life – The resurrection-body of the believer will be characterized by continuity with diversity – i.e. reflecting the physical-spiritual life we lived here on earth in a supra-physical fashion (Phil 3:11-21). Both of these aspects of glorification are illustrated in 1 Cor 15 by the metaphor of seeds.

Other verses where it appears in the same sense:

John 5:21 V-PIA-3S
GRK: οὓς θέλει ζωοποιεῖ
NAS: the dead and gives them life, even so
KJV: so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
INT: to whom he will gives life

John 6:63 V-PPA-NNS
GRK: ἐστιν τὸ ζωοποιοῦν ἡ σὰρξ
NAS: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh
KJV: the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh
INT: it is who gives life the flesh

Romans 4:17 V-PPA-GMS
GRK: θεοῦ τοῦ ζωοποιοῦντος τοὺς νεκροὺς
NAS: [even] God, who gives life to the dead
KJV: [even] God, who quickeneth the dead
INT: God who gives life the dead

1 Corinthians 15:36 V-PIM/P-3S
GRK: σπείρεις οὐ ζωοποιεῖται ἐὰν μὴ
NAS: you sow does not come to life unless
KJV: is not quickened, except it die:
INT: you sow not is come to life if not

See also:

Philippians 3:10-11, 20-21 (RSV) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. . . . [20] But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Adam Clarke’s Commentary observes:

That it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body – Εις το γενεσθαι αυτο συμμορφον τῳ σωματι της δοξης αυτου· That it may bear a similar form to the body of his glory. That is: the bodies of true believers shall be raised up at the great day in the same likeness, immortality, and glory, of the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ; and be so thoroughly changed, as to be not only capable through their immortality of eternally existing, but also of the infinite spiritual enjoyments at the right hand of God.

The Christian Cadre blog also offers a lengthy reply re: Carrier and Romans 8:11:

“Is Richard Carrier Wrong about Romans 8:11 and Bodily Resurrection?” (7-27-08)

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Summary: Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce wrongly contends that Paul denied that Jesus’ Resurrection entailed His having a glorified physical body after He rose from the dead.
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