Did Jesus come back to life, soul, spirit, and body? Or, did he just manifest himself to the disciples as an ethereal spirit, a kind of ghostly apparition that could walk through walls and vanish into thin air – you know, all the things any self-respecting ghost could do?
It’s a question that has occupied many a theologian and not a few philosophers over the course of human history, and it’s something I tackled in this paper I wrote for my Unschooled Master of Theology Program (uThM), and I discovered the bible actually has quite a lot to say about it.
(You can read all of my assignments and see the coursework I’m undertaking for my uThM program here.)
So, get ready to have your mind blown as we answer the question:
Is the Bodily Resurrection a viable philosophical proposition?
First, let’s start with definitions. I remember someone commenting awhile back (in the Metaphysics & Mystery course) that they didn’t care much to start a discussion by defining terms.
Unfortunately, I would argue this is a sure-fire way to stumble headlong into confusion and relativism. Of course, if Woo Woo is what you’re going for, then you don’t really want to clear things up with pesky things like….well….definitions.
But, what is bodily resurrection? The word used in the bible is σώμα (G4983) “body” and is used 64 times in the LXX and 122 times in the New Testament (from a search of the ABP, though my Concordance to the Greek Scriptures lists 219 occurrences). It indicates either a living or dead body, planets, stars, the whole of, does include both human and animal. In Homer, soma always referred to a dead body or corpse (something Paul never did). Rather, Paul’s usage veers toward the word’s meaning to encapsulate “embodiment…that which is me, the means by which I and the world can act upon each other.” (7)
In it’s overarching use, though, the word predominantly narrowed to the physical form (2), in so much as is contained in the natural human, but not to necessarily cross over into the neighboring word σαρξ (G4561) “flesh” which is the literal, physical meat of the bone.
Putting on More Evidence
Paul’s use of the body is an interesting one, especially as it pertained to how one is resurrected – the rudimentary process of it.
In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is laying out our habitation, where we dwell. He renders our body as an “earthly house,” a tent. He goes on to say, “in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.”
Of course, he’s talking about the resurrection (or the rapture – depending on your state at the time of the return of Christ). Immortality is something we will “put on” like a garment. He goes on to make it very clear, “not that we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2).
Resurrection is not the casting off of the body, as some would believe. Rather, it is the return to the pre-fall state (of which we’ve never actually experienced before). It is to the state in which Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden, before they fell from grace.
The old body puts on the new (2).
It is the state in which the angels now enjoy, being clothed with something “extra” that we currently do not have. Once clothed, our mortality will be swallowed up. “Corruptible must put on incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:53).
Mortal Bodies Evidence
Paul also talks about this type of body we have currently, the “mortal body.” He states in Romans 8:11, “He would raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” This word θνητά (G2349) “liable to die” indicates the kind of body we have now. A body subject to death, which is the penalty of the curse we inherited from Adam.
But, Paul clarifies in Philippians 3:20-21, we do not cast off our bodies at the resurrection, but our bodies will undergo a μετασχηματίσει (G3345) “transformation.” Our mortal body will be transformed into an immortal one. The body remains, but it is fundamentally different.
Again, Paul makes it clear, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Those who are dead (a given state of being) will be raised or εγερθήσονται (G1453) “awakened, roused from sleep.”
Paul talks about the resurrection at length in his letters and always references a physical body resurrection.
There are two distinct types of bodies: a natural and a spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:44), yet they are both physical in substance, as God will “give life to our mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11) not separate us from it.
Jesus provides us with one of the greatest evidences concerning the mortal body, since he is the only one thus far to have undergone this particular transformation.
After his resurrection, he appeared to the disciples and they were immediately terrified because they, “supposed they had seen a spirit” (Luke 24:37).
This is the exact claim from the spirit-only resurrection proponents. We die, the body is separated from the soul and when we are resurrected, it is our soul that is quickened, not our physical remains.
Jesus, though, paints a different picture in this passage. His responds to their fright by saying, “Why are you troubled? Look at my hands and feet. It is me. Touch me and see for yourself. A spirit does not have flesh and bone as I do.”
Not only was he resurrected to a physical body, but he went on to ask for and ate some food while the disciples wrapped their head around what was happening.
But, how do we know it wasn’t a new and distinct body from the old one? That’s possible with God, right? He made the first set of clay figurines and gave them miraculous life, he could do it again at the resurrection?
Well, I’m not so convinced. Recall the account in John of the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion. The Jews made a big deal about leaving the bodies up on the cross on the Sabbath. They asked Pilate to break their legs so they would die quicker, allowing them to remove them.
They did so, and Jesus was buried in a tomb nearby. Great detail was provided in the text, about the strips of cloth, about the stone being rolled in front of the entrance to seal the tomb.
So as not to allow the disciples to sneak in and steal the body away and pretend he had rose from the dead.
What was the first reaction from Mary when she went to visit the tomb? What did she find?
It was empty (1) (2).
The cloth strips were there, but his body was gone. If this had been a spiritual resurrection only, the body would have remained in the tomb. This would have been irrefutable proof of spirit-only resurrection. The opposite, of course, is evidence in support of bodily resurrection.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul captures it perfectly, “may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord” (5).
The Seed Evidence
Paul, in fact, propositions this very question for us in 1 Corinthians 15:35, “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?””
The metaphor of the seed (2). In summary, you must sow the seed in order to reap the harvest. The seed is but one type of body, the plant is another type. In verse 38 he declares God gives the being the type of body he chooses. Basically stating – dealer’s choice.
But, not all flesh is the same (meaning the meat on the bone). These are different types of bodies: human, animals, fish, birds, celestial (angels), terrestrial (all bodies found on earth), sun, moon, and stars. Likewise, the body of the resurrection. It’s sown in corruption (not necessarily in death, but in birth) and raised in incorruption.
Paul claims there are two distinct types of human bodies. The natural body and the spiritual body. Neither negate physicality, but rather, corruptibility.
But, there are external evidences that point to a bodily resurrection as well.
Of course, the Pharisees are not typically an example of proper doctrine in the bible. In fact, they served most often as the proverbial what-not-to-do cautionary tail.
But, the adage holds: a broken clock is still right twice a day.
So were the Pharisees from time to time, and bodily resurrection was one of those times.
Unlike the Sadducees who disavowed any sort of afterlife at all (your modern day evolutionary Christian) or the Essenes who possibly believed in the resurrection but swore off the existence of angels, the Pharisees were lock step with bodily resurrection (2)(8).
Greeks, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with a bodily resurrection. The Platonists especially despised the idea of the body’s return after death, counting the flesh all manner of evil (2)(3).
Bodily resurrection became a Christian distinction in the first century and beyond and were chastised for it (4). Even the Gnostics created their own spiritual body that had no flesh (3).
There are also a myriad of arguments against a bodily resurrection.
The first one is from experience, in that we lack any. Never before (save Christ) has anyone come back to life, at least in modern times. There is no verifiable evidence to support any claim of resurrection (1).
Medical science has come close, bringing back people who were frozen in ice due to accidents and the like. But, the bible writers go to great lengths to establish that Jesus was physically and clinically dead before his resurrection so these two are not the same.
Unfortunately, this argument does not hold, since lack of first hand experience does not falsify a claim. There are many things that have occurred in the past that we all agree occurred, yet no one alive today ever experienced it first hand. Likewise, there are a multitude of things we experience today (smart phones) that someone from biblical times never experienced – I don’t see phones vanishing from existence (1).
Another argument leveled against bodily resurrection is science itself. The claim is there is no way to test such a theory and, thus, science proves it false.
But this is an ill-formed argument. Science is only observation, founded on the principles of rational thinking and predominately by biblical believers (6). It operates (properly) from the scientific method and is inherently empirical and it measures and tests only natural phenomena.
Science has no mechanism by which to test supernatural phenomena since that activity does not exist in nature and is not bound by natural laws. Science cannot falsify what it cannot measure.
Most often these type of arguments are leveled by people who discredit the miraculous upon a sliding scale. They will accept nearly anything, no matter how fanciful, so long as it bears no connection to Judeo-Christian thought or conviction (6).
Evolution is the perfect example of this.
The reality is, the idea that events contrary to the laws of science simply can’t happen is a metaphysical argument based in blinded belief rather than rational and empirical reasoning (6).
Nothing Really Matters to Me
In the end, though, the argument for bodily resurrection really doesn’t matter all that much. People will believe what they want to believe, especially as we draw closer to the end.
Luke put it best in his account of the rich man who found himself in torment in Luke 16:26. He said, “Please send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so he can warn them, so none of them end up here.” Abraham responded, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear.” But the rich man persisted, “If one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Abraham responded, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone was raised from the dead.”
And this is true universally it appears. For, the Jews had ample opportunity to accept their King when he came the first time. Yet, they would not heed Moses or the prophets, and Christ held them accountable for that.
And, even today, we find the Old Testament standing as a condemnation against all people on earth who have not repented of their sin.
I imagine it will be part of the judgment to come, when the lost stand before the throne and the books are opened….even though it was written of by Moses and the prophets, even though one was raised from the dead, yet they still refused to believe.
The bible makes a bold claim. All will live again after a bodily resurrection. But, it’s not a matter of quibbling over how we will be resurrected, but what will happen once we are. Will you be resurrected to eternal life or to eternal condemnation?
Until my next paper….
(P.S. If you liked this paper from my Unschooled Master of Theology Program (uThM), then you’re going to ABSOLUTELY LOVE my novel Our Daughter, where our characters must deal with the stark realities of death and loss intimately. Check it out below.)
Please consider supporting my work, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Our Daughter:
“Okay, mom,” Randy said.
“You behave yourself and be nice. You’re lucky to have company while you wait for the doctors.”
The woman turned and started back the way she came.
“The nurse said it would be twenty or thirty more minutes, so we’ll eat quick and be back up here before they take you in, okay?”
“Sorry for him,” the woman said to Katie as she walked by.
As the woman left, Katie noticed the boy moving around again on the bed. Before she realized what was happening, the tiny lump disappeared and she could hear the faint sound of bare hands and feet on the tile floor.
He was low crawling under the beds toward her.
A moment later, Randy popped his head out from under the nearest hospital bed, craning his neck around to look up at her.
“Hello, there,” Katie said.
Randy disappeared back under the bed, the bed sheet draping down almost to the floor. Katie could still see three little fingers pressed to the tile.
“What are you here for?” Katie asked, readjusting her seat in the chair, trying to get the ache in her chest to lessen.
For whatever reason, the wheelchair was really uncomfortable.
“Why are – ”
Randy’s voice trailed off for a moment as he looked around.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m getting my leg fixed,” Katie said. “See?”
Randy poked his head back out from under the bed and looked at the leg she was pointing to.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“The doctor said it’s broken,” Katie said. “Shattered.”
“Can you feel it?” Randy asked, able to stay out from his hiding place.
“I can feel it, but it’s not too bad,” Katie said, then tapped the IV in her arm. “This thing is giving me medicine of some kind for the pain. At least that’s what the nurses said.”
“Why are you – ”
Randy stopped mid-sentence.
He scooted out from under the bed entirely and slowly crept over to her on all fours.
“What are you, some kind of spider?” Katie asked, giggling a little.
“What are you?” Randy echoed.
He was now only about a foot away from her chair and sat there, his legs folded up under him, gawking up at her.
“What are you staring at me for?”
“I’ve never – ”
Randy put out a hesitant hand and ever so gently touched her arm.
“Are you some kind of ghost?”
He looked around again.
“Are you – ”
He leaned in, talking in a whisper.
“Are you dead?”
A nurse came around the corner and stopped abruptly, spotting the empty bed in the far corner where Randy should have been.
“Randy Andrews,” the nurse said, her hands now on her hips. “You get right back into the bed and you stop playing around, please. They are ready for you in surgery.”
Katie watched as Randy scrambled on all fours under the beds and back up onto his, pulling the sheet back over top of himself again.
She started to ask him about his question, but couldn’t get the words out before his parents appeared at the door.
Katie sat there quietly, watching Randy stare back at her from under his sheet. She glanced over at his parents and the nurse, noticed Randy’s dad had no hair on the top of his head.
Are you dead?
What kind of question was that?
The snap of the wheel locks being disengaged on Randy’s hospital bed jarred Katie out of the confusion she was in.
The doctor she’d first seen was now at the door, waiting for Randy.
He was his surgeon.
They wheeled Randy out of the room, his parents following right behind, disappearing to the left, heading for his operating room.
The pre-op room was empty again.
Are you dead?
What kind of crazy question was that?
The nurse came back through the double doors.
“It won’t be long now,” she said.
Katie tried not to think about the dull ache growing just behind her sternum.
The nurse disappeared around the corner as Katie watched the double doors to the operating rooms slowly shut.
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(1) Torrey, R. A. The Certainty and Importance of the Physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead (2019, December 18). https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/torrey_ra/fundamentals/33.cfm
(2) Price, Chris. Paul’s Belief in a Bodily Resurrection. (2003, July 21). http://www.christianorigins.com/resbody.html
(3) Miller, Glenn. Questions on Paul, Jesus, and Middle Platonism. Christian Think Tank. (2019, December 18). http://christianthinktank.com/muddleplatonismx2.html
(4) Miller, Glenn. As Jesus Christ Just a Copycat Savior Myth? Christian Think Tank. (2001, May). http://christianthinktank.com/copycatwho1.html
(5) Miller, Glenn. Was Jesus a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet? Christian Think Tank. (2012, Sept 2). http://christianthinktank.com/spinmequick4.html
(6) Hutchinson, Ian. Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection? Three Hypotheses. – The Veritas Forum. (2016, March 25). http://www.veritas.org/can-scientist-believe-resurrection-three-hypotheses
(7) Dunn, J. D. G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Eerdmans Publishing Company. (2006).
(8) Pecorino, Philip A. Chapter 7 Section 3: Resurrection of the Body. Philosophy of Religion. (2009, November 27). http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/phil_of_religion_text/CHAPTER_7_SOULS/CONTENTS.htm