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8/16/2018 8:10 pm  #11

Re: Did Paul believe in a spiritual or physical resurrection?

RomanJoe wrote:

Given the series of threads on the historicity of Christianity, I thought it would be appropriate to further the discussion with perhaps one of the most controversial issues--did Paul believe in a spiritual or physical resurrection of Christ? I've read NT Wright's tome a few years ago and he practically spends 700 pages arguing that given the Second Temple Judaic understanding of eschatology it seems improbable that Paul, and by implication the disciples, believed in a spiritual resurrection. Any thoughts?

A more fundamental question is whether or not Paul would have accepted the "physical vs spiritual" dichotomy in the first place. 

Words that Paul uses:

Pneuma - "Breath, Wind, Spirit." The "Spiritual Body" of I Cor 15 is literally a "pneumatic" body. Usually refers to the Spirit of God.

Psyche - "Soul." The "Natural Body" of I Cor 15 is literally a "psychic" body. The soul, considered as the principle of life/animation.

Soma - "Body." The extended thing, especially insofar as it belongs to the living person. 

Sarx - "Flesh." Strictly speaking, this would be "meaty stuff" that's characteristic of the "soma" we have today. However, Paul uses the term rather idiosyncratically, as can be seen from Galatians 5:19-21.

"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, contentions, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkennesses, carousing, and things like these, as to which I forewarn you, even as I warned before, that those doing such things will not inherit God's kingdom."

While sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, drunkennesses, and carousing could be seen as somehow related to the meaty part of the person qua meaty, idolatry, sourcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, contentions dissensions, and factions most certainly cannot. 

Most likely, Paul uses the term "flesh" to denote that part of a person which is susceptible to corruption, both morally and materially (though Paul would have seen those as two sides of the same coin). But in that sense, it would be impossible for the flesh to be raised - for the resurrection as such is the final overthrow of corruption and decay. 

The perishable puts on the imperishable. Sown in decay, it is raised incorruptible. But what is sown? The body, precisely as currently animated - by the human soul. And what is raised? The body, but with a new principle of animation - the Spirit. The Spirit of God reanimates what was sown, and in this way the body puts on the imperishable. To dust we return, until the Breath of God is breathed into our nostrils once again. 

Nowhere in the entire chapter is Paul interested in some some aspect of the person, severed from the rest. He is interested in the body, insofar as it is a central aspect of the person as a whole. He is interested in soul and Spirit, insofar as they animate the person. He is interested in Earth and Heaven, insofar as they are sources or principles of a certain kind of life. None of these terms are intended to refer to a kind of "stuff" out of which a container/vessel for an abstract "self" is made. That kind of thinking is not found in Paul, but imposed on him. Paul though holistically, just like most of the other Jews of the period. 

As for the relation of Christ's resurrection to the general resurrection, Paul repeatedly describes Christ as the "firstfruits." As in, Christ is the first taste of what will be coming to the rest of us - Christ is a precursor to the final resurrection, and Paul comes right out and says so!

The only kind of "spiritual resurrection" I'd be willing to admit as appropriate here is case B listed by ficino. The old is changed into something new. Needless to say, such a thing happening in First Century Palestine - as Paul seems to believe did, in fact, happen - would still be a miracle of stupendous proportions. Possibly even more stupendous than the sort that is depicted in the gospel narratives - a physical thing being turned into something non-physical while preserving identity is, after all, far more impressive than merely turning one kind of physical thing into another.

That being said, what I'd expect from the proponent of the "spiritual resurrection" of Christ is

a) a clear explanation of what respect "physicality" is being denied of the resurrection body.

b) a clear example of "physicality" in that same sense being discussed by First Century Jews and denied of the resurrection body.

c) clear evidence that the views of the group identified in "b" had an impact on the views of early Christianity - and thus that it is reasonable to attempt to read Paul or some other early Christian figure in such a way.

So far as I'm aware, that has yet to be presented.

Last edited by Dave (8/16/2018 8:34 pm)


8/16/2018 10:11 pm  #12

Re: Did Paul believe in a spiritual or physical resurrection?

It is certainly true we have to establish the contemporary views of the Pharisees before ascribing them to Paul, but wouldn't we expect Paul to spell out the differences, if he did disagree with the Pharisees (assuming there was a settled view here)? This would have been his previous view, and presumably the predominant Jewish view at the time. I suppose there are dangers in concluding anything from an absence of comment, but it seems likely there would be some evidence of this contrast in Paul's writings.


8/18/2018 10:00 am  #13

Re: Did Paul believe in a spiritual or physical resurrection?

A thorough analysis of Paul's discussions of the resurrection body, esp. in I Cor 15, is made by E.P. Sanders, Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters and Thought (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publ. 2015). On Paul’s discussion of resurrection body, 375-401. Sanders makes a very strong case, with which I agree, that Paul presents the resurrected body both of Jesus, and of believers at the Parousia, as a NEW pneumatic body and NOT identical to the flesh and blood/bone body, the soul body. It is worth noting that Sanders like many assumes that Paul derives views about resurrection from his pharisaic background, but Sanders also emphasizes that Paul's experiences of whom he considered his risen Lord must also have strongly impacted his descriptions of the resurrected body.

In this Sanders is in line with Alan F. Segal, to whom I referred in Roman Joe's other thread.

Neither man gets into the question, did Paul believe Jesus' fleshy body was still in the grave at the times when the risen Jesus appeared to him and other disciples. I myself don't see that question touched on explicitly in Paul's letters. But to suppose that a corpse was in the grave while the resurrected pneumatic body was walking and appearing seems inconsitent with the meaning of ἐγείρω and with the imagery of "putting on" immorality.

Last edited by ficino (8/18/2018 10:37 am)


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