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A Gnostic View of Jesus’ Resurrection

Yesterday, in response to a question, I discussed Paul’s view of the resurrection of Jesus. In response to several questions I was asked, let me say emphatically that YES, in my view Paul believed that Jesus corpse itself was transformed into a spiritual body. If asked, he would have said that the grave was empty. That’s how I read 1 Corinthians 15. The body that comes out of the tomb is the same body that went into the tomb, but it is a transformed (not a different) body, made immortal. (And let me stress – again in response to a couple of questions I’ve asked: this is not *my* view of what happened to Jesus’ body. I’m just explaining what *Paul’s* view was).

Paul’s view was not the only one found among the early Christians. I explain that view further in this excerpt from my forthcoming book How Jesus Became God:


The Raising of the Spirit

Some ancient Christians – taking a line very similar to that found among Paul’s opponents in Corinth – maintained that Jesus was raised in the spirit, not in the body, that his body died and rotted in the grave, as bodies do, but that his spirit lived on and ascended to heaven. This view became prominent among various groups of Gnostic Christians.

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A Third View of Jesus’ Body at the Resurrection
Paul and the Resurrection of a Spiritual Body



  1. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  November 30, 2013


    Regarding 1 Cor 15 again: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. ”

    To me that sounds like Paul imagining the seed being buried, the seed dying (which it actually, biologically speaking, does not do!), the ‘essence’ of the seed thus leaving the dead shell behind (or being freed from it) and getting its actual, final body (ex nihilo) from God as he has determined it. And the resulting wheat (or whatever) is then ‘coming out of the earth’, leaving the ‘dead shell’ behind.

    Paul does not describe the dead seed as being revived and transformed into wheat.

  2. Avatar
    judaswasjames  November 30, 2013

    I suppose nobody will believe me, as I’m used to getting rebuffed for saying this: there is a tradition, now many hundreds of years running, that explains all this, with first hand account. The Radha Soami Satsang Beas, of Beas, India, currently three million in number of members, has been conducting initiations for nearly two hundred years, with another three hundred going back through 10 Sikh Gurus to Guru Nanak into the Yoga of the Shabd or Word. It is THE SAME teachings as taught by the Palestinian Masters John, ‘Jesus’ and James, in the first century. There is NO difference. All these mystic appearances and every other biblical reference to the various aspects of the teachings can be studied in detail using Sant Mat as the control. http://www.RSSB.org

  3. Avatar
    hwl  November 30, 2013

    “If asked, he would have said that the grave was empty. That’s how I read 1 Corinthians 15.”
    Do you think Paul received an early Christian tradition that the grave was empty? At what stage in the life of the early church did Christians start to believe the grave was empty? Is the question of whether the grave was actually empty altogether different from whether the Christians in Paul’s days believed it was empty? Can 1 Cor 15 be used as historical evidence that the tomb was actually empty?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 1, 2013

      When I say his grave was empty I do not mean “Joseph of Arimathea buried him in a known tomb and women later came to find it empty.” I simply mean “Jesus’ remains were deposited someplace and then were reanimated” I don’t think Paul knows of an “empty-tomb” tradition as related in the Gospels.

  4. Avatar
    Jim  November 30, 2013

    Would the notion of Jesus pre-existing as God (John 1.1-3) be more compatible with the Gnostic idea (dumping the physical body upon death) than with Paul’s idea of a transformed body? Were the views on resurrection mechanics among early Christians therefore influenced in some way by their Christological viewpoint?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 1, 2013

      Well, many gnostic groups *loved* the Gospel of John — possibly for this reason. They often liked Paul too, but they wouldn’t have agreed with him on this teaching. (Or with John’s view of the resurrected Jesus –as, for example, in the story of doubting Thomas, where Jesus at the resurrection is a real body still)

    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  December 1, 2013

      That isn’t Jesus in John 1:1-3. You don’t see “Jesus” do you? The Word isn’t Jesus. The Word is the Spirit. Lines 6-13 are John the Baptist, too, not Jesus. JOHN is the Master before Jesus. HE gave “power to become children of God”.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 30, 2013

    My opinion so far: Ancient people made up a lot of stuff without much evidence.

  6. Aleph82
    Aleph82  December 1, 2013

    What’s interesting to me about these Gnostic accounts is they all seem to be inversions of various earlier accounts and beliefs – reinvented with a twist. The basic literary formula seems to be “No, X didn’t happen. In fact, just the opposite, Y is what REALLY happened.”

    “Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, that was just his physical shell. The real Jesus escaped and laughed at his persecutors.”
    “Judas Iscariot didn’t be betray Jesus. In fact, he was Jesus’s greatest disciple who really understood what Jesus was here to do.”
    “Adam didn’t eat the apple because of the wicked serpent and Eve. Christ told him to eat the apple as it would lead him to escape the clutches of the evil creator, Yaltabaoth” and so forth.

    I’d like to think that I would have been irritated by the Gnostics had I been around at the time. In either case, is there a Gnostic account that doesn’t follow this formula?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 1, 2013

      Well, I suppose that formula works only if you assume that X comes before Y. One could argue (the Gnostics did!) that it was the other way around: *their* teachings were the original ones and the other Christians altered them by denying their view. (The real Jesus escaped and laughed at his persecutors. No he didn’t — he actually died on the crosss…. etc.)

  7. Avatar
    MrPillow  December 1, 2013

    If Gnosticism has such early roots then how come people typically date gnostic gospels to the second century? I thought the logic behind dating them basically was along the lines of that these teachings weren’t formed until the second century so therefore their gospels can’t precede them, but I guess I must be mistaken, haha.

    Also can you recommend some of these gnostic studies that would be suitable for laypeople? I’m familiar with Karen King and Elaine Pagels. I’m hoping to hear voices on both sides of the argument. Sorry for derailing!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 1, 2013

      These gospels appear to be 2nd century for other reasons (including the first times they get mentioned); there have been long and hard debates among scholars when Gnosticism started out. Our first hard evidence of it is second century. But there may have been similar forms of thought earlier.

      Other gnostic studies. Try Marvin Meyer. And possibly Bentley Layton’s Gnostic Scriptures.

      • Avatar
        judaswasjames  December 1, 2013


        People started “calling on the Name of the Lord” (Apophasis Logos) at the end of Genesis 4 with Seth. That’s pretty ‘early’! The Tower of Babel was a fable of people trying to reach the heavens by building a “Name” for themselves. Pretty ‘gnostic’…. Both of these, btw, have elements of a tradition of ‘calling’ on saviors.

        Isaiah 53:11 has “many accounted righteous by the *knowledge* of the Righteous One”. More saviors. Saving by ‘knowledge’. Before Jesus.

      • Avatar
        MrPillow  December 2, 2013

        Well, correct me if I’m mistaken, but don’t we not get quotations from the canonical Gospels until Ignatius and Iranenus? (not saying that I think the gospels were 2nd century, far from it)

        I’ll definitely have to pick up Lost Christianities. What heterodox theologies can we say did exist in the first century? Obviously doectism. What about adoptionism? And doesn’t 2 Timothy preach against people searching for their inner gnosis?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  December 4, 2013

          It’s not clear that Ignatius had access to our Gospels. The first author certainly to have them is Justin, around 150 CE. My sense is that the heterodoxies of the first century may have led to what we find clearly in the second, but they are not crystallized yet.

    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  December 1, 2013


      You have your suspicions backwards. The invention is the canon! The church won the day and wrote the history. That doesn’t mean it is correct. Judas is myth, a stand-in for James the Just. The church couldn’t abide a successor, so they tried to hide him in plain sight. He was well known, and they couldn’t just ignore him, so for the masses, they created a mythical Jesus and Judas. What does ‘Judas’ dream? That he is stoned to death by fellow disciples, same as Hegesippus, Clement, and Josephus (conflated) record of JAMES. Who leads the other disciples forward after he is “replaced by someone” (36:1-3)? Judas (James). It didn’t say “Matthais” or anyone, actually. It is because HIS MASTER replaced him, the “sacrifice the man” is JUDAS (James). THAT is gnosticism. I know because I am a ‘Gnostic’ (a practicing Mystic, http://www.RSSB.org)

      James is recorded as dying to Self in “James” 13:25, the text just before “Judas” in Codex Tchacos. The “Judas” text can be seen as a “Betrayal” remake of First Apocalypse of James. The gnostic story informs THE CANON, not the other way around!

      There are some 45 titles here, printed at cost and shipped free anywhere. Many are written by recently living Masters. (This is getting a little weird. I’m noticing that I’m not getting replies to some rather profound statements. Is it because readers think that this is a joke or something? Well, it isn’t. Living saviors are quite real. I have met two of them. I’m trying to present a defensible alternative view here, and it isn’t being received. What happened to intellectual curiosity?)


      On John >


  8. Avatar
    bobnaumann  December 1, 2013

    This is all very curious. Just who were these Gnostics? Were they Jews? Was the God of Israel (Elohim) considered to be the inferior God that created the Earth and delivered them from slavary in Egypt? So there must be an unnamed bigger God behind all of this?

    Actually I kind of like this. YHWH or Elohim, the Tribal God of the Israelites, was never the kind of God that one could really worship. He did some really mean stuff in the OT. Jesus was incarnate of the True God. I could sort of see how this would make sense to a Christian, but not to a Jew. So were the Gnostic pagan Egyptians that were exposed to Christianity? But where would this have come from? This certainly isn’t Paul’s teachings, nor Peter’s nor James’.

  9. Avatar
    Steefen  December 4, 2013

    Bart Ehrman:
    This “living Jesus” is laughing because his enemies think they can kill him, but in fact they can’t touch him.

    Interesting because around the time the movie, Dead Man Walking (Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn), came out, I recall someone saying victims are sometimes rescued from their bodies during a cruel death (a cruel death of a victim happens in the movie and sends the criminal to capital punishment).

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