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Did Paul Belief in that the Fleshly Body Would be Resurrected

Browsing through posts I made (exactly) six years ago, I came across this one (which deals with a subject I’ll be addressing in my new book) about Paul’s view of the future resurrection.  What I thought I thought about that issue *before* I started doing the hard core research for my book on the afterlife is very similar to how I still think now.  I hope that doesn’t just mean I’m stubborn!  Here is the perceptive question and my response:



What is a BODILY resurrection without the flesh?  Don’t teh early Christians (and Paul) think the flesh (the corpse) didn’t matter anymore and could be left behind, rotting and decomposing? Isn’t it all about the spirit finally getting this new, better, perfect, divine ‘body’?

Addendum: The Greek for ‘spiritual’ (like in spiritual body) is pneumatikos, right? According to Strong’s that means: pertaining to wind or breath, windy, exposed to the wind, blowing. Now those wouldn’t be obvious words to describe something physical or made out of matter, would it? They seems to rather define something ‘intangible’


OK, I’ve been getting a lot of questions along these lines (some on the blog itself). So I need to try to clarify the whole matter. It’s not easy, for a variety of reasons. But I’ll do my best.

First thing to stress: the ancient apocalyptic view of the human that Paul had is not the view of the human that WE have.   This is one instance where it becomes crystal clear that we have to try to think in a way that we are decidedly not accustomed to if we want to understand Paul.  For US, the body is made of flesh, so when we speak of flesh, we speak of the body.  For Paul, the flesh and the body were two different things.  That’s because, for him, “flesh” does not refer to what WE refer to when we refer to flesh.  That is, we think of it as the meat that is hanging on our bones; but that is not what Paul is referring to.  He does, of course, know that there is meat hanging on our bones, but that is what he thinks of as our body.  It is not our flesh.  “Flesh” is a technical term for Paul.  It is the bad side of being human.  It is that part of the human that has been corrupted by sin and is alienated from God.  The flesh is the reason we cannot please God even by keeping the Law.  Because sin, using the flesh, forces us to do things in opposition to God.  The flesh needs to be destroyed.  But since the flesh is not the same thing as the body, that does *not* mean that the body has to be destroyed.  The body has to be redeemed, not destroyed. (See how Paul talks about “flesh” in Romans 6-8)

Second point.  In ancient ways of thinking, the body was not the ONLY material part of a human.  Humans also have souls and spirits.  And for ancient people, souls and spirits were MATERIAL entities, not IMMATERIAL entities (as they are for us).  For *us* the difference between soul and body is visible/invisible or material/immaterial or substantial/insubstantial.   That’s not how the ancients saw it.  For the ancients, soul and spirit were made up of *stuff*.  They were material entities.  But their material was much finer, more refined, than the clunky shell of our body.

And so, if an ancient apocalypticist like Paul talked about a spiritual body, he meant a body that is no longer made up of just this clunky meat, it is a body of a more refined substance; it is still matter, but it is a different kind of matter.   When Paul thought Jesus was physically raised from the dead, that was NOT a contradiction to his claim that Jesus had a spiritual body at the resurrection.   Spiritual bodies *were* physical.   We too will be raised (for Paul) into spiritual bodies.  At that time we will not have “flesh,” because sin will no longer have any role to play in our existence.  But when he says this, he means it in the ancient, not the modern, sense.

If you want to read up on ancient understandings of body, flesh, spirit, soul (especially as these are physical entities, not immaterial), I’d suggest you read the book by my friend Dale Martin, professor of NT at Yale, The Corinthian Body.

Later Christian theologians who were NOT raised in Jewish apocalyptic thinking did not make this distinction that Paul made between body and flesh, leading to all sorts of confusions.  They stressed the “resurrection of the flesh,” which for Paul would have been nonsense.   For Paul, flesh and blood do not inherit the kingdom of God.  They are done away with, because people are raised in spiritual bodies, just as Christ was.  But later theologians (for example, Tertullian) did not make this distinction and stressed that it is precisely the “flesh” that comes to be raised.  By that, he meant what Paul meant when he talked about “body.”

One of the ironies that was created is that later theologians stressed the resurrection of the flesh thinking that they were advocating Paul’s view, e.g., against Gnostics.   In fact, they were not advocating Paul’s view at all, since Paul did not think the flesh would be raised.

One text where this is particularly interesting is the pseudepigraphic (i.e., forged) 3 Corinthians, where, as my student Benjamin White has shown, in an important article recently, the author, claiming to be Paul, tries to wrest Paul away from the Gnostics precisely by stressing that the flesh is all important before God and will be raised.  Woops.  That’s not Paul’s view.  But this later second century author was not trained in Jewish apocalyptic thinking, and so simply didn’t know that.

Jesus and Hell
What’s the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man All About?



  1. Avatar
    Steefen  October 14, 2018

    When people say Pharisees believed in resurrection but Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, for Pharisees, when were people resurrected?

    If all we can come up with is people thinking Jesus was Elijah, that’s reincarnation.

    If you say they believed in reincarnation and body stealing (Jesus really is John the Baptist–John the Baptist reincarnating in the body of Jesus instead of reincarnating into a new born), that would be interesting.

    Finally, when Jesus shows himself to Thomas, he is showing him body only and not flesh?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 15, 2018

      The resurrection would come at the end of time.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 15, 2018

      The Pharisees believed pretty much everything the first Christians believed, with the one important exception that the Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus had not been already resurrected.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  October 16, 2018

        Thank you but Bart and you are not answering the question that makes this thread a thumbs up or thumbs down: When Doubting Thomas was convinced, “OMG, you have been resurrected,” by touching the flesh/material soul, material spirit where he was pierced in the side, that was more than body without sin but material flesh over bones, just like Lazarus, yes?

        For the original post by Bart to be accepted, one and Paul would have to reject Lazarus and Thomas touching flesh, yes?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 17, 2018

          I”m not sure what you’re asking. You seem to be asking of the story in the Gospel of John subscribes to the view of the flesh found in the writings of Paul. The answer’s no. The problem is that you’re not differentiating between what Paul means by “flesh” and by “body.” He certainly thought, in my opinion, that jThomas owuld have been able to touch Jesus’ body, yes. But Jesus, for Paul, didn’t have “flesh” — that sinful part of the self that is indwelt and empowered by sin. (you can’t conflate flesh and body for many passages in Paul)

        • Avatar
          Steefen  October 17, 2018

          The Gospel of John does not subscribe to the view of the flesh found in the writings of Paul, not in the Doubting Thomas selection and not in the Raising of Lazarus selection.

          Luke 24: 38-43
          With these verses Jesus shows them his hands and feet after his resurrection. Furthermore, he asks for something to eat and eats fish.

          Jesus is demonstrating he is present in the flesh. So, either we add that Luke does not subscribe to the view of the flesh found in the writings of Paul or the spirit body without sinful flesh looks like flesh and that flesh can be touched by the flesh of food (fish)–since in the Lukan version they look at Jesus wounds instead of touching them.

          At that time we will not have “flesh,” because sin will no longer have any role to play in our existence.

          In the Lukan account Jesus has flesh because the flesh of the fish touches the flesh of his tongue. He chews, swallows, and digests the fish.

          How do we avoid adding that Luke does not subscribe to the view of the flesh found in the writings of Paul?

          (It’s one thing to say the gospel of John came so far after Paul, but that is not the case with the gospel of Luke.)

          • Bart
            Bart  October 19, 2018

            No, Luke doesn’t hold Paul’s view either. Only Paul does!

      • Avatar
        Steefen  October 16, 2018

        You may say Jesus was without sin, so he had no corrupted flesh (if you choose to believe that baseless claim of faith, not fact) but you cannot say that about Lazarus and his resurrection.

        Jesus’ sin was to lead the Jews (and Christians) astray with his Bread and Wine – Body and Blood request for remembrance which point to verses that were prohibitions against doing that because they call up desecration (Psalm 106: 38), victory of enemies over God’s people (Deut.28: 53, 55) , stress of the siege of enemies (Jer 19: 9), the destruction of God’s people (Lamentations 4: 10), and separation of God from God’s people (Leviticus 17: 10-11). The sin of Jesus is writ large (clear and obvious).

  2. Lev
    Lev  October 14, 2018

    This is really fascinating. We had a brief back and forth about something similar last month, but I’d like to follow up with something I forgot to ask at the time.

    In your view, was Paul bi-partite (body and soul/spirit) or tri-partite (body, soul, and spirit), and do you think his view was shared by Jewish apocalyptics and early Christians?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 15, 2018

      My guess is bipartite, body and soul, corresponding with his dualistic views otherwise (like other apocalypticists).

      • Lev
        Lev  October 15, 2018

        That’s very interesting. So would that mean apocalypticists like Paul and others would have believed that when Jesus “gave up his spirit” on the cross, that was not just the moment that his soul departed his body, but also when the indwelling Holy Spirit did so also?

        That is they believed, Jesus’ soul would have departed his body (presumably into paradise) at the moment of bodily death and then (the soul) returned “with power” (Rom1:3) a couple of days later to merge again with his body, transforming it in an instance to its post-resurrected glorious form?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 16, 2018

          Because they were apocalypticists who believed that the person was soul and body together, not soul and body separate.

          • Lev
            Lev  October 16, 2018

            Ah.. so did Jewish apocalypticists believe the soul remained with the body after it had died, and both would be resurrected at the end times?

            If that’s the case, would they have understood Jesus’ “giving up his spirit” (soul leaving the body) on the cross as an unexpected occurrence? That is – they would have expected his spirit/soul to have remained with his body?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 17, 2018

            I think the normal idea is that the soul is like the “breath” we breathe. It has it’s own existence as a “thing” but it doesn’t exist outside the body once the body dies. God brings the breath back into the body when it rises from the dead. Other apocalypticists did believe somehow that the “person” could exist outside of the body. There was not one single view of such things!

          • Lev
            Lev  October 17, 2018

            Ok – now I’m really confused! Perhaps this will all be unpacked in your new book?

            In Philippians 1:20-24 Paul seems to indicate that should he be put to death he would “depart and be with Christ” – thus suggesting he would continue to exist in an afterlife “with Christ”.

            Was Paul, therefore, one of those apocalypticists who believed his soul would live on after his body died?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 19, 2018

            Yes, Paul developed a view taht the soul would live on after death in an interim state before the resurrection; I’ll have a discussion of this in my book.

          • Lev
            Lev  October 19, 2018

            Thanks Bart. Would you say that the gospel writers shared this view – and in particular – did they believe Jesus’ soul lived on after his body died, departed and went to the heavenly realm before returning as the first of the resurrection?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 21, 2018

            It’s hard to know what they thought; they may have believed he was simply “dead” like everyone else, either temporarily in SHeol or simply deceased.

  3. Avatar
    Celsus  October 14, 2018

    In his commentary on John 13.21.128, Origen says the Stoics “are not ashamed to say that since God is a body he is also subject to corruption, but they say his body is pneumatic (πνευματικόν) and like ether, especially in the reasoning capacity of his soul.”

    In Pseudo-Plutarch Placita Philosophorum 4.3 the section is entitled:


    “ALL those that have been named by me do affirm that the soul itself is incorporeal, and by its own nature is in a perpetual motion, and in its own essence is an intelligent substance, and the actuality of a natural organical body which has life. The followers of Anaxagoras, that it is airy and a body. The Stoics, that it is a hot breath. Democritus, that it is a fiery composition of things which are perceptible by reason, the same having their forms spherical and without an inflaming faculty; and it is a body. Epicurus, that it is constituted of four qualities, of a fiery quality, of an aerial quality, a pneumatical (πνευματικοῦ), and of a fourth quality which hath no name, but it contains the virtue of the sense.”

    So yeah, I think it’s pretty clear Paul wasn’t talking about physically raised corpses.

  4. Avatar
    John Uzoigwe  October 14, 2018

    Dr Bart Ehrman I’m a little confused by two contradictory verses in the Bible about what happens after death..the first verse says.. .after death judgement follows…
    The second verse says after death the dead will remain dead until the endtime then they will be raised
    Can you clarify please.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 15, 2018

      Sorry — I’m not sure which verses you’re talking about.

  5. Avatar
    godspell  October 14, 2018

    “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
    Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
    Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
    His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
    How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
    Seem to me all the uses of this world!
    Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
    That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
    Possess it merely. That it should come to this!”

    I think Paul would find points of understanding here.

    And after all, so do most of us, sometimes. We love and hate the flesh at the same time. Life is a contradiction, and so is our attitude towards it. But is that life’s fault or ours (that we are underlings)?

  6. Avatar
    dws  October 14, 2018

    Okay, that was really interesting. Two questions. First, I see that Martin’s book came out in 1999. Is there now broad agreement on these ideas or is this debated? Second, is there a shorter, less technical article summarizing his argument that you could recommend? A quick search on the internet did not turn up such a thing, although I see he has videos of his lectures available. Here is a link if anyone is interested and if links are allowed: https://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studies/rlst-152/lecture-1. Some of his reading assignments are from a textbook by some guy named Ehrman. 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  October 15, 2018

      No, I don’t know of a shorter less technical explanation; but I think his book is pretty accessible. I’m not really sure if this is a consensus view or not.

  7. Avatar
    NancyGKnapp  October 14, 2018

    This really clarifies Paul”s teaching for me. I was having a hard time justifying faith if I had to believe in a corpse coming back to life. I bought and read Dale Martin’s “Biblical Truths” and am looking forward to getting a copy of “Corinthian Body”. He uses both historical criticism and good theological interpretation.

  8. Avatar
    Steefen  October 14, 2018

    Is your position, Jesus did not read Greek?

    Jesus did read Greek and incorporated what he learned into his own teachings.

    Jesus Ben Sira was a scribe. His grandson wrote down his teachings in Greek.

    Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
    The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira / Sirach 28: 2

    When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.
    Mark 11: 25

    And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
    Matthew 6: 12

    Build Treasures I
    Store up almsgiving in your treasure house, and it will save you from every evil;
    better than a stout shield and a sturdy spear.
    It will fight for you against the foe.
    Sirach 29: 12-13

    Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and decay destroy and thieves break in and steal.
    But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal.
    For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
    Matthew 6: 19-21

    Build Treasures II
    A man may become rich through a miser’s life…
    When he says: “I have found rest, now I will feast on my possessions,”
    he does not know how long it will be till he dies and leaves them to others.
    Sira 11: 18-19

    Then he told them a parable. There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
    He asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?”
    And he said, “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods
    and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’”
    But God said to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”
    Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
    Luke 12: 16- 21

    • Bart
      Bart  October 15, 2018

      Yes, my view is that an impoverished day-laborer from rural Galilee would not have been able to read Greek.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  October 15, 2018

        I’m sure the historical Jesus wasn’t educated in Greek, but I’d be terribly surprised if Jesus could not, at the very least, speak and understand some very broken Greek, and possibly be able to read snippets of Greek words and phrases. But nothing even close to the level of the Greek we find in the NT.

        By way of analogy, I can think of, for example, the English skills of a villager in the middle India.

        • Avatar
          Nexus  March 9, 2019

          I agree. I believe Jesus would’ve at least known some broken Greek via a natural diffusion of the language.

          For hundreds of years, Galilee was occupied by various Greek speaking empires, which would have had soldiers marching through the land. Further, the Greek speaking diaspora would travel to Jerusalem coming and going from all directions; undoubtedly some travelled through Galilee.

          Being in Nazarus, he would’ve also had a good chance to pick up some Greek from Sepphoris. The people of Nazarus would’ve needed to purchase supplies and sell goods. It is more likely that rural folk travelled to the city for this purpose than it is for merchants to have an Amazon-like delivery service to the rural areas. A merchant would not know when you needed a hammer or new clothes.

          The Norman conquest of England is a good parallel to note. Aristocrats would speak Old Norman, which the lower classes picked up, and it transformed Old English to Middle English. This is why we have many many French (Latin) words in our Germanic language.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 10, 2019

            If you’re genuinely interested in this question, I’d suggest you read the books on Galilee by Mark Chancey. He argues that Greek would have been known to the elite in major cities in Galilee, but not broadly among the general population. I think he is surely right. (He gives the evidence, of course)

          • Avatar
            Nexus  March 10, 2019

            First, thanks for letting me know about the book!

            Secondly, my apologies. I should correct myself. I meant to say that Jesus would probably at least know some words and broken Greek phrases; in particular, I think it’s likely Galileans would’ve over the centuries picked up words and phrases on military and merchantile topics. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is probable that he could communicate to an great extent in Greek.

            Is the book called “The Myth of a Gentile Galilee”? Google and many sites are blocked where I now live, so I can’t immediately find a list of all the books he authored. I’m also unlikely to get a book on religion through customs either. I’ll have to see if I can purchase it electronically.

            That book does have a lot of what I’m interested in. Unfortunately, it can’t answer this question. Reading the half of the Introduction that is available on Amazon, Chancey says “I am not here trying to resolve such questions as how widely Greek was used…” He even goes on to say that the region is too small to allow for isolation of groups. That is to say that the small pagan population would have some influence on the Jews of Galilee.

            I would be interested in what he says to say about the Hasmonean dynasty, but it looks like it is only 7 pages. My interest comes from this map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hasmonean_dynasty#/media/File:Hasmonean_kingdom.jpg. From this map, I’m guessing that there is a slowly moving border over circa 50(?) years thus I surmise all types of Seleucid troops (front line, reserves, camps, supply routes) would have Greek speakers in contact with the urban and rural population of Galilee leaving a recent impression on the Galileans of the first century.

            One should also consider the influence of trade routes. According to the sole Amazon reviewer of Chancey’s book (the humour of what I just wrote is not at all lost on me), Chancey says that the trade routes in Galilee were small. Even thought small, I believe, they would still have a lasting effect over centuries of Greek influence.

            I think that a linguist that has examined the influence of the language of the upper classes on the language of the lower classes would be better able to shed light on this topic.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  October 15, 2018

        Because of the Jesus Ben Sira verses above matching verses in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, we know verses in the gospels come not just from Mark, Matthew, Luke and Q but from Mark, Matthew, Luke, Q and the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira, yes?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 16, 2018

          I”m not sure what verses you’re talking about.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  October 16, 2018

            Professor, just look at my comment thread, the first comment I made in this comment thread shows the Jesus Ben Sira verses vs. the Matthew, Mark, and Luke verses.

            With your door post sign of being our textual critic, scholar/expert in verses in the gospels, you tell us by the verses we find in the gospels.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 17, 2018

            I don’t think these verses are sufficiently similar in verbatim agreements to require a theory of literary dependence. They are simply embodying comparable views/traditions.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 17, 2018

            I don’t think these verses are sufficiently similar in verbatim agreements to require a theory of literary dependence. They are simply embodying comparable views/traditions

          • Avatar
            Steefen  October 17, 2018

            I don’t think these verses are sufficiently similar in verbatim agreements to require a theory of literary dependence. They are simply embodying comparable views/traditions

            –which is sufficient for the claims
            a) they are not original to Jesus
            b) Jesus was familiar with the views of Jesus Ben Sira or, conservatively, the gospel authors who wrote in Greek, could read Greek, were familiar with the views of Jesus Ben Sira.

            How did Jesus become familiar with views written down in Greek?

            Your position is that he did not read the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira in the language in which it was written by the grandson. Given the popularity of Jesus Ben Sira, his ideas became tradition and the biblical Jesus was aware of those particular items within the tradition and relayed them himself without crediting the scribe in the manner in which he honored the prophets.

            Alternatively, the gospel authors writing gospels in Greek had read the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira in Greek. Instead of Jesus speaking favorably of a scribe (Jesus Ben Sira), no attribution is given leaving open the misleading possibility that they were original to Jesus in contact with God the Father.

            Question: If the biblical Jesus is relaying tradition, we have cultural dependence, if added by gospel writers we have literary dependence?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 19, 2018

            Such views were in wide circulation, and known to different people in different contexts.

  9. talmoore
    talmoore  October 14, 2018

    It’s rare to find anyone outside of philosophers or classicists who really understand how the ancients thought about “stuff”. Ancient theories varied, but there seems to have been a core theory of “stuff” and it went something like this:

    There were four “elements” (fire, air, water and earth) that made up literally every material “thing” in the universe, including earth and heaven and everything in between. (However, there were a few from the Aristotelian school who proposed a fifth element, the so-called quintessence, that was found in the celestial realm and only extremely rarely found on earth.)

    Aside from this material stuff there existed an immaterial power that animated everything, from the motion of the heavens to the flapping of a bee’s wings. For instance, some cultures spoke of a “soul” as the animating power in the universe. This soul made the stars and planets move. It made animals “alive”. It made objects “fall” to the ground.

    Some ancients distinguished between two types of animating power, such as soul and spirit/mind. The “soul” is in literally everything in the universe, including inanimate matter, but the spirit or mind is only found in two special entities: deities and humans. For example, the “mind” is what allows us to reason, while the soul is what motivates our base instincts. Some ancients (such as Plato) further divided the animating power into three. We can call them soul, spirit and mind. In modern terms, he can think of “soul” as like our base instincts or Id, “spirit” as like our moderating beliefs or Ego, and “mind” as like our rational self or Superego.

    The corruptibility and immorality of these immaterial powers depended on their number. For thinkers who proposed at least two, they saw the basest power (usually the soul) as corruptible and mortal. When the material body died this soul also died. The higher powers (spirit or mind) came from the divine, so they were incorruptible and immortal.

    This is where it gets interesting. The gods (and other heavenly beings) were actually made of material stuff (depending on various schools the stuff could be quintessence or pure “fire” or both) animated by the highest power (or pure mind). So when Paul or any other ancient spoke of humans resurrected into new “spiritual” bodies they meant a body “made” of this higher incorruptible, immortal material stuff (like “light”) animated by the highest, purest power (like “mind”).

  10. Avatar
    Silver  October 15, 2018

    I am still struggling with NT Greek so please forgive this question if I am way off track.
    In Matt 27:52 where it says και πολλα σωματα των κεκοιμημενων αγιων ηγερθησαν does this mean that Matthew misunderstood what sort of body will be raised? Or does this perhaps indicate that these were zombie like creatures who would die again and were not, as yet, resurrected in the sense that Paul believes will be the case? Is there another word instead of σωματα which Matthew might have used if he wished to convey Paul’s sense of a glorified body?
    (This passage in Matthew fascinates me.)

    • Bart
      Bart  October 15, 2018

      SOMA simply means body, and when it is not further described/modified, it almost always simply means the physical body. Paul has to explain what he means by it when he talks about hhe “Pneumatic” (= “spiritual”) body. Since Matthew doesn’t further explain, he almost certainly simply means the resuscitated corpse(s). Whether they would die again later, he doesn’t say.

    • Avatar
      brenmcg  October 15, 2018

      What fascinates you about the passage?

      • Avatar
        Silver  October 16, 2018

        It fascinates because I cannot believe that this could actually have happened viz dead bodies coming from the graves and being seen walking about in Jerusalem. Surely this would have caused much greater furore and reporting (eg in other gospels). I do not believe in zombies. Since I find the passge suspect I see this as the thin end of the wedge and gives me cause to doubt so much more of the gospel story. I wonder what Matthew’s intentions/motivation/beliefs were when he penned these words
        It also intrigues me because in debate with Jehovah’s Witnesses they are fearful that if it did actually happen that would have signalled, at least for them, the start of the general resurrection which they cannot countenance. As a consequence I have heard them claim that it was not the dead bodies that went into Jerusalem but people from Jerusalem who came out of the city to see the bodies/graves following the earthquake. It was in response to such claims that I determined to try to learn NT Greek so I could tease out how JWs could interpret the story in that way.
        I trust this explanation gives some indication of why this so interests me.
        May I ask, brenmcg, your thoughts on the passage.

        • Avatar
          Silver  October 16, 2018

          My fascination with the zombie passage (Matt 27:52) was also fuelled by the contretemps played out on the internet between Mike Licona and Norman L Geisler who saw it as a battleground for their views on inerrancy.

        • Avatar
          brenmcg  October 17, 2018

          Hi Silver, the passage is obviously a messianic prophesy and Matthew’s intention was to simply to have Jesus fulfill all prophies.

          To me the passage is important for dating Matthew’s gospel. It would have originated when the church was much smaller (cult-like even) and less exposed to outside criticism. As the church began to expand to gentiles this passage could no longer be rationally defended which was why it was left out in Mark and Luke.

          To me the inclusion of the passage indicates Matthew was written first and in the very early church.

          • Avatar
            Silver  October 19, 2018

            Thanks for the reply, brenmcg.
            Can you point me to the specific prophesy which Matthew believes is being fulfilled with the ‘Resurrection of the Saints’ in the ‘Zombie’ passage please? (Matt 27:52)

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  October 23, 2018

            I think isaiah 26:19 is one that is often used but like all prophesy its not specific

          • Avatar
            Silver  October 24, 2018

            Thanks yet again for your reply brenmcg. It’s been good to have this exchange.

  11. Avatar
    whroll  October 15, 2018

    The article title “Did Paul Belief in that the Fleshly Body Would be Resurrected” needs editing.

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    JohnKesler  October 15, 2018

    Matthew 16:17:
    17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.

    Luke 24:39 {the risen Jesus speaking}:
    39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’

    John 1:14:
    14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us…

    2 John 7:
    7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh…

    Since “the ancient apocalyptic view” is that flesh is “the bad side of being human,” I’m having a hard time seeing how that definition comports with the verses above. What are the respective views of Jesus, Luke, and John about what “flesh” means?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 16, 2018

      Paul’s view of the “flesh” was distinctive to him: it wasn’t shared by these other authors.

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    rburos  October 15, 2018

    Reading Karen Armstrong’s St Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate, and she mentions that Jewish martyrs were considered to have died for the sins of the nation. Do you agree with this, and if so, would it have affected Paul’s thinking on the passion?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 16, 2018

      Yes, it’s found in the Maccabean literature. The idea of substitutionary atonement definitely has Jewish roots.

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    fishician  October 15, 2018

    I John 4:2 says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…” So this writer has a different understanding of “flesh” than Paul, if Paul associated the “flesh” with the sinful side of a person?

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    Pattylt  October 15, 2018

    I’m still a bit confused (who wouldn’t be?). Who, besides Paul, considered the body and flesh as two distinct materials? I’d like to explore these ideas further so any suggested ancient authors? Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 16, 2018

      Paul is the only one who draws the strong distinction that we know of.

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    dankoh  October 15, 2018

    Are you familiar with Dag Endsjo’s work, and if so, what is your opinion? I refer especially to his 2008 essay on “Immortal Bodies” where he argues that Greek folk tradition included the idea that very recently dead persons could be resurrected, and on rare occasions would be immortal (which included becoming divine). He cites to Herodotus’s report of Aristeas of Proconnesos as well as myths about Heracles, Asclepius, etc. His argument is that while Plato would not have accepted this, Greek tradition did, and this is why Paul has to make the argument the way he does in 1 Cor.

    I find his position persuasive.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 16, 2018

      Yes, his work seems to try to stand the consensus on its head, arguing *against* the widespread view that Greeks held to the immortality of the soul but not to the resurrection of the body. So far as I can tell, he is a bit of an outlier on this point.

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    meohanlon  October 15, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Do you think the author of John’s gospel had a similar view of the resurrected body to Paul’s? I ask because of the part where Jesus asks Thomas to confirm its actually him by touching his wounds. Now this would seem to contradict what Paul has in mind w body (for why would a perfected body retain wounds?) Unless we’re missing the point, and what matters is that the wounds dont signify a reanimated corpse, but that its the memory (that which defines personal identity) of what Jesus’ body underwent that confirms it is him, so perhaps the story is thus meant symbolically if John agrees w Paul.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 16, 2018

      No, my view is that John’s view of the body was quite different from Paul’s; John was far more invested in showing that Jesus’ corpse was reanimated, not transformed.

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    fedcarroll77  October 16, 2018


    Have you wrote about Paul’s view about “original” sin. I know St Augustine uses this in his book The Co cession. I though think he misses the ancients view. Especially in the Hebrew Bible. I take Paul’s view is also missing what the ancients thought prior to him. Since most believe humans are born with sin due to Adam and Eve in the garden. The sin is within us at birth. If your a fundamental Christian you have heard this mindset before. But we fail to read the next chapters in genesis with Cain and Abel where god tells Cain that you can conquer sin and one is not born with it. But I see the New Testament is littered with the idea that we all are born with sin and because of that results in spiritual damnation. Why the conflicting ideologies? What are your thoughts concerning this?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 16, 2018

      I”ve never written about it. But my view is that Augustine *developed* views found in the Bible, and as such his views were *different* from those found in paul and the other NT authors (which, of course, were different from each other as well).

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    Jon1  October 16, 2018


    You said later Christian theologians “stressed the ‘resurrection of the flesh,’ which for Paul would have been nonsense.” So just to clarify, you think Paul would have scoffed at the discovered empty tomb tradition in Mark, i.e., in your view, Paul thinks Jesus’ bones and meat remained in his burial location even after he was raised from the dead. Does this capture your position correctly?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 17, 2018

      No, I think Paul definitely thought the tomb was empty. Jesus’ body was raised. But Paul avoided using “flesh” in a positive snese. I think the problem is that you’re thinking that the body is the same as the flesh. For Paul, “flesh” is often used as a technical term for the sinful part of the person that is filled with sin (i.e., it is not the same thing as the “body”, as it would be for us). The “flesh” is not raised but destroyed. The body, however, is raised and glorified.

      • Rick
        Rick  October 17, 2018

        By “raised” Then would Paul have meant more than just reanimated…. he would have meant perhaps transformed from muscles and bones made of earth, air , fire and water (or whatever concept of base matter he had) … to spiritual material?

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    balivi  October 17, 2018

    The problem is that Paul uses multiple terms for the word body, not just two.

    1. body: (σώμα, soma) This word his used only when he think about Jesus (as Son of God e. g. 1Cor11:24, likenes in sinfull flesh Rom8:3 and Fil2:6-8), and when he talks about himself (the new man, the inner man e. g. Fil1:20: here by my body, and not in my body)
    2. flesh: (σαρκὶ , sarks) in which he wanted “remain in the body” (e. g. Fil1:24)
    AND which everyone forgets
    3. the body of Christ: This is ecliss, the congregation.

    The flesh (σαρκὶ , sarks) is the reason we cannot please God even by keeping the Law, its true. But because of the faith, the (body of) Christ can be recognized, since this is the task of the law: “… the law was our guardian until Christ…” (Gal3:24)
    If that happens, “by faith, in fath” then the life only in faith livable. until the BODY (σώμα, soma) waits for salvation. In faith, the flesh (σαρκὶ , sarks) no longer has its role and life.

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      balivi  October 18, 2018

      Conclusion Gal2:20.
      1. “I have been (body: σώμα, soma, the inner man) crucified with Christ (Christ is the visible, not Jesus as Son of God:-)
      The body (σώμα, soma, the inner man, with whom Paul identifies himself) is IN Christ. It is necessary for the body (σώμα, soma), to die (e.g. 2Cor 1:9). so that he may receive the resurrection of the dead. The body (σώμα, soma) dies, because of the faith the “Christ” (not Jesus) becomes visible (2Cor10:12) the secret of God is revealed. The lives is any more not visible, the life only in faith livable, because the flesh (σαρκὶ , sarks) is dead because of sin, the body (σώμα, soma) in turn crucified with Christ. So have to wait for the resurrection of the dead. The dead are not in the grave at Paul, they live from faith for faith in the Crist, the Crist live by them, waiting for salvation.
      Paul, because the faith, does not see himself in the mirror. The one whom he sees is the Christ (not Jesus).
      That’s why in Matthew and in Mark say: “For false messiahs/Christ will appear.”

      Whit big respect!

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        balivi  October 20, 2018

        Conclusion 2 (Rom12:5)
        “…so in Christ we, though many, form one body (σώμα, soma)”.

        The congregation the one body (σώμα, soma) IN Christ, or because of the body (σώμα, soma) of Christ form one body the congregation/ecclesia? I think, Paul thought the first one. Therefore say In Matthew and in Mark:: “For false messiahs/ChristS will appear.”. Therefore do they says false ChristS. In plural. They are yet understand what Paul wants to say:-)

        So I see that, Paul believe the body (σώμα, soma) of Christ (not Jesus, but God’s revealing secret) is material, this body is realy material (of which there are kind of many), but the congregation the one body (σώμα, soma), that is, not material. The congregation/ecclesia a purely spiritual, psichicaly entity IN the Christ, by the faith, at Paul.

        • Avatar
          balivi  October 20, 2018

          In the madness there is logic It is the logic of madness….
          All the best!

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