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Paul and the Resurrection of the “Flesh”?

QUESTIONS:

But what is a BODILY resurrection without the flesh? And doesn’t this indicate that 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’

RESPONSE:

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)

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Comments

  1. DamianCyrocki  October 9, 2012

    So the corpse matter or not? I mean are the canonical Gospels compatibile with Paul’s view on that matter? Was Paul thinking that the corpse shouldn’t go through the process of decomposing? That’s the idea I get whenever I read the Gospels, but I know I might be wrong (and probably I am;) It’s hard to catch this subtle difference between body and flesh!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      I don’t think Paul imagined decomposition was a problem, since God would reconstitute the body (as he would for all those who had already “died in Christ”)

      • samchahal  October 22, 2012

        hi you say that the resurrection was a “visionary” experience to all involved ie mainly Paul , Peter , James etc , however in Galations Paul says that 500 people all saw Jesus at one time , whta do You make of this , would you say they all had the same vision at the same time?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 22, 2012

          You’re referring to 1 Corinthians 15. It’s an intriguing statement, to be sure. Paul certainly has heard about this tradition, but unfortunately no one else who wrote about the resurrection says anything about it — it’s not narrated in any of the Gospels, for example. So I’m not sure what to make of it. Stories do get exaggerated over time, and we do, of course, have numerous visions recorded throughout history that were seen by lots of people (visions of Mary, for example, have happened like that. The evangelical Christians who want to insist that the “500” really saw Jesus also want to insist that the many people who saw Mary did *not* really see Mary) (i.e., for them, Jesus was really there, and Mary really was not!).

          • samchahal  October 23, 2012

            yes sorry 1 Corinthians 15 , its just that Paul seems to know these people as he says “some have fallen asleep”.

            This seems to be an event that Paul has heard perhaps over and over again and perhaps was witnessed by some of his closest converts.

            It may not be in the Gospels because most of Paul’s mission was solitary and a lot of the Gospel narrative is inspired by oral traditions outside of Pauline mission?

            I buy Your theory that the “first” `witnesses to the “risen Christ” experienced visions which were subjective to them ie Peter knew Jesus well so he “heard” him and so on… However , i am still intrigued at this verse in 1 Corinthians 15 as it seems like a historical reported event,

            500 people see the same vision at the same time ?

            is there any evidence of such things in your opinion?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  October 23, 2012

            No, there is no evidence — just what Paul says. And he doesn’t say anything else about it, apart from 1 Cor. 15:5-8.

          • Christopher Sanders
            Christopher Sanders  November 9, 2012

            If you were to guess, where and when would you say Paul picked up this tradition? The apologetic crowd want to say Peter and James, of course, when he went to visit Jerusalem.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 12, 2012

            Yes, I’d say that it’s plausible that he got the tradition from James and Peter. We know that he knew them and spent time with them, and they must have talked about *something*!

  2. James Dowden  October 9, 2012

    So given the common misunderstanding, is “flesh” the best translation of sarx in the authentic Pauline Epistles?

  3. Robertus  October 9, 2012

    Even earlier than Tertullian, already Luke presented the Jesus’ resurrected body as somehow composed of flesh and bone. We simply cannot imagine Paul saying that, but why do you think Luke was interested in making this point? Was he, for example, trying to translate a Jewish apocalyptic view for his Greek audience? Perhaps in contrast to some proto-gnostics?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      Yes, Luke is combatting those who want to argue that Jesus was raised in a spiritual, not a literal, sense. (These people were obviously not Jewish apocalypticists)

  4. nazam44  October 9, 2012

    Dr Ehrman, I thought It was interesting that in the piece you point out that later Christians stressed “the resurrection of the flesh” and failed to distinction between Paul’s use of the word flesh and body.

    You reminded me of Luke’s post-easter account (24:39), which shows a Jesus who has flesh and bones unlike a spirit which according to Luke has no flesh and bones. But according to Paul in your understanding a spirit can be a physical entity.

  5. maxhirez  October 10, 2012

    Wow-once again proving this is the best investment I’ve made in years. I am surprised to not have read this in any of the trade publications, but it’s invaluable insight. Thanks again for bringing this to an understandable level.

  6. DMiller5842  October 10, 2012

    “They are done away with, because people are raised in spiritual bodies, just as Christ was. ”

    How so? Christ’s actual body was missing from the tomb and Thomas insisted on seeing and touching the wounds of Jesus before he declared his belief. Jesus himself said that he was flesh and bones and NOT a spirit.

    How was it that Paul — who personally knew the eyewitnesses to these Biblical events — would not know these things?
    When and why did Paul think that Jesus got a perfect spiritual body? From the testimony of the eyewitnesses Jesus still had the wounds and he still got hungry too — needed to eat food after the resurrection.
    Did Paul expect others to get a perfect spiritual body when Jesus did not?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      I don’t think the Thomas event is a historical memory, and there is nothing to suggest that Paul either knew Thomas or knew about the event. (same with the later traditions of Luke about eating and such) Paul thought Jesus’ *did* have a perfect body. And we would as well.

  7. Xeronimo74  October 10, 2012

    Thank you, Bart, for ‘fleshing’ (pun intended) this out even more. And I will definitely read the book you’ve recommended.

    Unfortunately I didn’t see a reaction to my question about the Greek word ‘pneumatikos’ that Paul used when referring to ‘spiritual (body)’. A word that definitely seems to refer to intangible stuff? Why would Paul use THAT word if he believed that the corpse of Jesus was indeed physically raised first and then transformed into something different but still physical?

    And the way you describe Paul’s belief it seems like a resurrection went like this then:
    – a person dies
    – his or her soul/spirit leaves the corpse to go and wait in the realm of the dead until the resurrection
    – when God deems it’s about time to resurrect he’ll remove the meat (and blood) of the corpse and replaces it by some other (spiritual?) ‘stuff’
    – God ‘connects’ the soul/spirit to this ‘new body’ again
    – voilà, person is resurrected!

    Would you say that this description is correct?

    And would you say then that it’s impossible for Paul to have believed that the spirit/soul was directly resurrected into an entirely new, ‘spiritual’ body, bypassing and ignoring the corpse (or what was left of it)?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      I think it’s impossible to nail down Paul’s thought completely, in part because he appears to have changed ideas over time and in part because he does not write a systematic treatise about the subject. I’m afraid I simply don’t have time to answer all of your questions!! But if you want to do some reading, again I’d suggest starting with Dale Martin’s book The Corinthian Body and see if that helps.

      • Xeronimo74  October 10, 2012

        I can totally understand that you (unfortunately) can’t answer all my questions but maybe just this one: Why did Paul use the word ‘pneumatikos’ then when describing this new, ‘spiritual’ body when he thought, as you claim that this ‘body’ was physical? That word usually refers to something intangible like the wind. It’s not an obvious choice to describe something allegedly physical then, is it? So why would he use it?

        And yes, Paul seems to be a bit incoherent in what he believed about the ‘resurrection’.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

          Because he is talking about pneumatikos *stuff*: it is a form of what we think of as matter, but highly refined. It’s physical, but different from hylic or psychic stuff. Again, I’d suggest you read Dale Martin’s book The Corinthian Body.

      • proveit  October 11, 2012

        I wish someone could put your suggested readings in list form some place on this blog. It makes me sad that they get lost in the archives!

  8. Xeronimo74  October 10, 2012

    Another thought: we’re just talking about Paul here but isn’t it as crucial to try to figure out how the EARLIEST Christians ( = his disciples etc) thought a ‘resurrection’ would work or what they thought they had actually seen when they claim to have seen Jesus after his death (assuming they did indeed claim this)? Because they were the first, they were those who started the belief that Jesus somehow survived his death?

    What is the actual evidence that THOSE people believed that Jesus’ corpse was raised and transformed? Or could it have been that they simply thought that Jesus’ ideas and ideals lived on, thus having triumphed over death? But that this later on got misunderstood or lost in translation?

    • DMiller5842  October 11, 2012

      In The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine sites Boulang’s “Life of Paul” and states that the earliest Christians rejected all of the Epistles of Paul and regarded him as an imposter.

  9. RParvus  October 10, 2012

    You wrote:

    “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.” And: “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 if flesh AND BLOOD do not inherit the kingdom of God, it would seem to follow that “blood” too was a technical and negative term for Paul, correct? And that it too corresponded to a part of the human that had been corrupted by sin and was alienated from God. Do you know of any other early apocalyptic writings that use “blood” in that way?

    And if blood cannot enter heaven, it would seem to follow that a spiritual body is bloodless, correct? But did not the Jews think that human life was in the blood? And if so, wouldn’t a spiritual body, by the very fact it was bloodless, also be lifeless?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      Yes, I’m not sure about this. My sense is that human life is “in the blood” (as Leviticus says), but that all that will be transcended in the life to come.

  10. Scott F  October 10, 2012

    With contemporary thinking already dividing the body into sinful flesh and pure soul, it is not hard to see how Gnostic thinking could take hold in Christianity. Am I right in remembering that Gnosticism was already present in the intellectual environment when Christianity started to spread?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      It’s much debated still. I think the current majority view is that what we call Gnosticism developed after the writings of the New Testament, but that there were movements with similar views at about the time of the NT.

      • donmax  October 11, 2012

        Majority views are frequently wrong. Gnosticism precedes the Christian religion, a view I share with Hyam Maccoby. He lays out the historical and theological connections in THE MYTHMAKER and in PAUL AND HELLENISM. According to his assessment there were several forms of Gnostic thinking rooted in the Jewish Bible that carried over into Mystery Cults and Christianity. He even devotes an entire chapter to “Paul and Gnosticism.”

        DCS
        P.S. What’s your take on Professor Maccoby’s scholarly opinions?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

          Yes they are!! On the other hand, it’s not a bad thing to know what most experts think — about the Big Bang, human evolution, the causes of WWI, or … aspects of ancient religion! Maccoby is an interesting and intelligent scholar. But I think he’s wrong about Gnosticism. The “majority opinion” in this case has a LOT to be said for it. Maybe at some point I’ll post a few things about it.

          • donmax  October 12, 2012

            I hope you do, because I think he’s right. When you use terms like “majority opinion” and “probabilities” what we get is an appeal to numbers (unsubstantiated numbers at that) couched in verbal affirmations as though they reflect something specific, definitive and countable. This, as you must know, is akin to the Jesus Seminar which takes on biblical issues by voting, as though its membership somehow represents the consensus of scholarly opinion. Like all groups, these collective “experts” are as ego-driven as any other collection of opinionated humans and no less prone to “group think.”

            In this regard, I think it best to just state one’s views on a given subject without labeling someone else as “outside the mainstream.” It smacks too much of religious orthodoxy!

  11. RParvus  October 10, 2012

    You wrote:

    “And for ancient people, souls and spirits were MATERIAL entities, not IMMATERIAL entities (as they are for us)… 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.”

    But since “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17), it would seem to follow that God too was viewed as being material, though surely of the most refined matter. And so, for the ancients, everything was material to some degree, correct?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      My understanding is that the material/immaterial dichotomy (much like the natural/supernatural dichotomy) is modern.

  12. DPeel  October 10, 2012

    I have read Dr. Martin’s The Corinthian Body and highly recommend it.

    I also watched his New Testament course published by Yale. It is very good.

  13. Attu  October 10, 2012

    My view is that the laws of physics and biology cannot be abrogated but an incorruptible body would be great to have. That would mean we could stop eating animals which would alleviate much suffering. No reproduction so no more sexual sin. Could humanity evolve incorruptible bodies without some god waving a magic wand? I hope so.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      I’m with you, except for that part about sex….

      • DMiller5842  October 11, 2012

        I don’t think the Thomas event was(real) historical either, but if we are going by what the Bible says …. it is there, isn’t it? Do you see Paul’s claim of the vision of a bright talking light any more historical than the Thomas event? I don’t.
        A Facebook friend recently sent me this. I like this idea better than Paul’s.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5Mnv7Nuoug&feature=share

        And on another note — did you see the cover of Time magazine. Seems Heaven is real and according to the testimony of the doctor that was “brain dead” and came back we ride around on butterflies there.

        • DMiller5842  October 11, 2012

          Sorry that was Newsweek where the cover story was Heaven is Real.
          Is there anyway to edit our posts on here?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

            Not really. Like publishing a book — sometimes you just gotta take your lumps!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

          Paul doesn’t say anything about seeing a bright light talking! (That’s Acts)

          • Xeronimo74  October 12, 2012

            Correct. I mixed that up as well … Paul claimed that God revealed ‘his Son’ IN him (Paul). Via some sort of vision projected right into his head?

          • DMiller5842  October 13, 2012

            Sure, but Acts reporting what Paul said – right?

  14. james_stephen  October 10, 2012

    Interesting distinction, thanks. While this helps my general understanding, I separately wonder about the resurrection and ascension into heaven of Jesus in his spiritual body that Paul thought was physical. If this ascended body is physical and in heaven, how does it function, i.e., eat and breathe? If it does not function in a human way, OK, but then calling it a “body” seems at least a bit misleading. And if it does function normally, I can see how ancient people might believe it possible for such a body to live in some nearby physical heaven, but such an idea is no longer believable. So, I’m confused–what’s the point in believing in a physical resurrection if this resurrected spiritual, but nonetheless physical, body must have died once again during its ascension (when the air got thin)? I could understand a purely spiritual resurrection more easily, but that’s not the story of the empty tomb. Sorry for the sophmoric response, but this stuff is hard.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      I think the point is that God created the physical, material world (including human bodies) and intends for all ife to be lived in a physcial, material world (including bodies). I would guess they breathe, but I doubt if Paul ever thought through all the implications (such as: what would happen if they stopped breathing!). Just as people today believe things for years without thinking through the implications (your soul is what goes to heaven, not your body, but you recognize your grandmother there….)

      • laz  October 10, 2012

        Prof Ehrman , thanks for the information in this blog. But something just crossed my mind from something you said in Jesus Interrupted , that Paul thought that the Kingdom of God would be on the earth not in heaven, like we all think now. So when Paul saying Spiritual he means without sin, o.k got it. But does he mean spirit like an angel type spirit.? And if you could comment on the Paul believing the Kingdom of God was on the earth. Does that mean he thinks we were all going to be spirits on earth in the Kingdom of God.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

          I think it’s hard to figure out what Paul thought exactly, or to know if he ended up changing his views over time. In 1 Thess 4:13-18 he seems to assume that believers will be up in the air with Jesus forever; unless he thinks they’ll come back down once they meet him there. Most apocalypsticists, I believe, thought that the kingdom would be here on earth, not up in heaven.

      • DMiller5842  October 11, 2012

        I agree with you — I get confused by all this convoluted reasoning. The truth is pretty simple for me though — I don’t believe any of it . I just like to examine what the Bible says and then what the Bible says somewhere else. I really enjoy being able to see the discussions with Dr Ehrman since he is so knowledgeable.

      • DMiller5842  October 11, 2012

        Maybe we can recognize our Grandma there —we might all have a unique frequency that remains ours alone throughout eternity. I don’t expect to see Grandma there in her favorite dress wearing her black frame glasses.
        I think the ancients might have been on the right track in believing that everything is matter – even spirits. Just because we don’t have the capability of detecting that kind of matter doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
        It might be all around us just like radio waves and we don’t even know it.

  15. RParvus  October 11, 2012

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    But I am wondering if any other ancient apocalypticists used the expression “spiritual body”? Do you know of any?

    Moreover, the impression I get when I read the “spiritual body” passage in 1 Corinthians 15 is that its author is trying very hard to maintain at least some kind of nominal bodily resurrection as opposed to a non-bodily one (resurrection of spirit alone). He’s trying, by hook or by crook, to make a place for a bodily resurrection, even if it means he has to spiritualize the body so much that it is practically indistinguishable from spirit.

    And it is curious that nowhere else in the Paulines are “spiritual bodies” mentioned. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 5: 1 – 10 Paul seems to think he will be “with the Lord” in heaven immediately after death without bringing any kind of body—spiritual or otherwise—with him. There will be a heavenly garment or dwelling waiting for him there, but he doesn’t call it a “spiritual body” or indicate that it will in any way sprout from the “earthly tent” that he previously had. No, he is explicit that the earthly tent will be destroyed. Wouldn’t the destruction of the earthly tent include not only the sarx, but also the soma? Likewise, in Philippians 1: 20 -26: no indication by Paul that a “spiritual body” is in his future.

    So, here again, Marcion’s theory that the Paulines were interpolated by a Judaizer could sure come in handy. In that scenario the original author of the letters, Paul, (Simon of Samaria?) was someone who believed in resurrection of the spirit only. To the later Judaizing interpolator such a belief was unacceptable, so he inserted the “spiritual body” passage in order to bring at least a nominal bodily resurrection into the letters. The resulting inconsistency was his fault, not Paul’s.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      Again, I’d suggest you read some scholarship on the question, starting with Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body.

      • RParvus  November 6, 2012

        I took your advice and got Martin’s book. But it has only served to strengthen my suspicions. On pages 126-27 Martin writes:

        “What human beings have in common with heavenly bodies is, in Paul’s system, incorporation as a ‘pneumatic body’—that is, A BODY COMPOSED ONLY OF PNEUMA WITH SARX AND PSYCHE HAVING BEEN SLOUGHED OFF ALONG THE WAY. The philosophers, nevertheless, would have had little objection to speaking of a celestial entity as a pneumatic body, as long as it was understood that the term ‘body’ in that phrase did not refer to an entity composed of the heavier matter of the earth” (my emphasis).

        A body composed only of pneuma? Hmmm. To me it still looks like someone (i.e., a proto-orthodox interpolator) was trying by hook or by crook to characterize as a “body” the entity that will get resurrected . He couldn’t accept the proto-gnostic “resurrection-of-pneuma-only” that was in the original text, so—voila!—he concocted a “body-composed-only-of-pneuma” as an acceptable replacement.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  November 6, 2012

          I think you’re still imagining that “body” means “this hunk of flesh we’re carrying around.” A Pneumatic body is still a body, made uup of material. But it is not fleshly material. It is pneumatic material.

          • Xeronimo74  November 7, 2012

            ‘pneumatic material’ doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense though … these two words seem to exclude each other! It’s like saying ‘immaterial body’.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 7, 2012

            Only if you think that pneuma is not “matter.” But that’s where we differ from the ancients, in our post-Descartesian world. For them, pneuma was indeed a form of matter.

          • RParvus  November 7, 2012

            No, I that’s not the part I’m having trouble with. Granted that pneuma is some kind of stuff (i.e., it is not non-material), how do you explain the difference between:

            Resurrection of pneuma only (the gnostic position)

            and

            Resurrection of a body that is composed only of pneuma (proto-orthodox).

            Or, put another way, what additional stuff gets resurrected by the one but not by the other?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 7, 2012

            OK, I think I see the problem. You’re thinking that Paul represents the proto-orthodox position. But he doesn’t. He was used by both the proto-orthodox and the Gnostics. The proto-orthodox believed in the resurrection of the SARX; Paul did not; nad either did the Gnostics. But Paul and the Gnostics disagreed as well. It gets a little hard to figure out at this point, but my sense is that the Gnostics did not subscribe to the idea of the resurrection of a SOMA in any sense, but a disembodied pneuma (as opposed to a pneumatic soma).

          • Xeronimo74  November 8, 2012

            Bart, could you post some references as to where the ancients (in the NT or otherwise) thought that ‘pneuma’ was indeed referring to physical stuff? Thank you.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 8, 2012

            It’s all thoroughly documented in Dale Martin’s book The Corinthian Body; that would be the best place to turn.

          • RParvus  November 13, 2012

            I think I sidetracked you by my misuse of the term “proto-orthodox”. Let me try one more time. What is the difference between:

            A — Resurrection of PNEUMA ONLY (gnostic)
            and
            B– Resurrection of a body that is COMPOSED ONLY OF PNEUMA (i.e., the spiritual body of 1 Corinthians 15 as explained by the Martin quote from pp. 126-27 of his “The Corinthian Body)?

            That is to say, what additional stuff gets resurrected by A but not by B (or vice versa)?

            Thanks for your patience!

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 13, 2012

            Good question. My sense is that by the time we have Gnostics (after Paul’s day) the terms of the debate had shifted, so that it was no longer a debate over whether the pneumatic or the somatic body had been raised (Paul’s debate) but over whether the sarx and the pneuma are both raised or just the pneuma (the debate between the proto-orthodox and the gnostics).

    • Xeronimo74  October 12, 2012

      @RParvus: I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who is confused by what exactly Paul is trying to say here 😉 And I’ll definitely check out that book recommended by Bart though. I’m curious as to whether any of this makes more sense afterwards …

  16. DMiller5842  October 13, 2012

    http://www.paulonpaul.org/workshop/acts_source_3.htm

    I found this discussion of the issue interesting – particularly these parts:

    “Once a physical body was attributed to the risen Christ, the problem was to explain why he no longer appeared in a physical body. The “solution” offered by the author of Luke-Acts—a solution which has created other problems, both ancient and modern—was to restrict the resurrection appearances to the forty days of Easter, and to introduce the notion of an ascension of the body with physical characteristics into heaven, as an explanation of why he was no longer appearing in physical form. Given this post-resurrection scenario in Luke-Acts, Paul’s experience could not be a resurrection appearance: he could receive a vision of the heavenly Jesus only, and thus his qualifications as an apostle were dubious (see below).”

    “After the forty days of Easter, Paul can have a heavenly vision or audition, but he cannot be a witness of the resurrection.”

    I think much of the confusion we have is a result of the differences between the Letters and Acts:

    “1) According to the letters, it was an experience of seeing the risen Lord; that is, this was a resurrection appearance, as much as any of the other appearances referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8.

    In Acts, Paul’s experience is not acknowledged as a resurrection appearance. “

    • DMiller5842  March 3, 2013

      But Paul went to visit with Peter and James, who in the account in the Bible WERE at the Thomas event. I do not believe that any of this is historical, but for the sake of examining consistency in the story, why would Paul think that the “flesh” (the missing, wounded flesh body with the earthly need to eat) body was instead some kind of “spiritual” perfect body? Since even in his own words, Paul did not “see” (even in a vision) the body (flesh or spiritual) before the ascension? If we are to believe that the “flesh” body is not necessary as a component of the spiritual body, then when Jesus ascended what became of the “flesh” body? How could anyone witness such an event as the ascension and not describe in detail EXACTLY what happened and tell everyone? One would think that James and Peter would have been bursting with this info, since the Bible says that this event happened in front of them. To me this is information is vital for the Christian who thinks that they are going to get a spiritual body. Is the flesh body needed to convert it to a spiritual one or not? If it is needed then, decomposition, cremation etc. matter don’t they? If the “flesh” body is not needed to transform or receive a spiritual body, then why did the “flesh” body of Jesus disappear from the tomb and then reappear to the 11? I am trying my best to use “flesh” in the sense that you described above in these questions.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  March 3, 2013

        I think what you’re having trouble with is the term “flesh.” For Paul it simply doesn’t mean what it means to us. It does not mean, for Paul, the skin and all the stuff that makes up our bodies. Insetead, the “flesh” is a kind of cosmic/mystical feature of our being which is susceptible of sin and therefore the part of us that alienates us from God. Paul would never say that hte “flesh” of Jesus was raised from the dead, or that our flesh will be raised. It is his “body” that was (and our “bodies” that will be), not his/our flesh. The body is not made up of flesh for him. Flesh and body are two different things.

  17. Xeronimo74  October 13, 2012

    Bart, Paul seems to have believed that the return of Jesus (and the General Resurrection) would actually happen during his (Paul’s) own life time (1 Thess 4:16-17: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. fter that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever.)

    You’ve probably written about this but unfortunately I forgot … Do you agree with the assessment that Paul believed this?

  18. tcc  October 17, 2012

    The more I read about Paul, the more he sounds like a shaman-type mystic who copied (consciously or unconsciously) a lot of his ideas from Hellenistic culture and Zoroastrianism. What’s weird, though, is that–compared to a lot of mystics back then–Paul was basically a naturalist. A naturalist who was DEAD WRONG about basically everything, but how could he have known otherwise? Even Aristotle thought that thoughts came out of the heart and that spirit was some kind of substance.

    I agree with what Thomas Paine wrote about Paul:

    “Thou fool (says he,) that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.” To which one might reply in his own language, Thou fool, Paul, that which thou sowest is not quickened lest it die not; for the grain that dies in the ground never does nor can vegetate. It is only the living grains which produce the next crop. But the metaphor, in any point of view, is no simile. It is succession, and not resurrection.

    The progress of an animal from one state of being to another, as from a worm to a butterfly, applies to this case; but this of a grain does not, and shows Paul to have been what he says of others–a fool. “

  19. raskel  October 21, 2012

    I don’t know about the material/immaterial split being modern. Definitely conspicuous in Platonism and probably prior Hellenistic systems. It seems to be related to a belief in reincarnation (immaterial substance perpetually taking on a new physical body). However Paul was clearly Jewish and may not have been exposed to Hellenistic philosophy.

    I’ve been reading some discussions on the development of yoga in Indian religion and it sounds like there may be some parallels with the “subtle energy body” presupposed in Indian systems which is connected to the breath. Its sort of physical and believed to break down at the time of death but is not clearly flesh. Granted its not historically or culturally connected with Paul’s world.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 21, 2012

      Yes, Platonism is sometimes pointed to as the big exception. But Dale Martin doesn’t think it is. You may want to read his book The Corinthian Body.

      • raskel  October 23, 2012

        I will check out Dale’s book. I took a class with him once but he mostly focused on Paul’s fear of the angelic phallus.

      • raskel  October 23, 2012

        Is there much in the way of modern scholarship on the medical ideas (and folk medical ideas) of the ancient world? I would imagine some of this stuff would be a result of the popular medical ideas of the time.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 23, 2012

          Yup, tons, in particular since we have medical writers from antiquity, from Pseudo-Hippocrates to Galen to… even gynecologists, such as Soranus.

  20. Xeronimo74  December 1, 2012

    Bart, I’ve just finished reading James Tabor’s new book about Paul: what do you make of his suggestion that Paul thought the souls/spirits of the dead would be immediately ‘resurrected’ into these new, heavenly, glorious, imperishable, spiritual bodies (whatever those are actually really supposed to be) without having their rotting corpses restored and their souls ‘latched back onto’ them first?
    1 Cor 15 and other verses in other letters of Paul seem to support this. And this could explain how his earliest followers could believe/claim that Jesus resurrected, even in the presence of his corpse (a supposed knowledge that got lost when Jewish Christianity died out after the fall of Jerusalem).
    Ok, such a resurrection is probably different from the traditional ‘bodily resurrection’ in the sense of reanimated corpses coming out of tombs but why have the corpses be restored only to then completely change them so they’re not recognizable anymore anyway (if they were recognizable then you’d have to answer uncomfortable questions like: if someone dies as a baby will they be resurrected as a baby?).
    Also, the soul/spirit is the part that endures between death and ‘resurrection’, right? The body dies/rots but the soul/spirit only sleeps in Sheol (or Heaven?), waiting (unchanged) for its resurrection into a better body.
    On the other hand those still alive at the ‘Second Coming’ on the other hand would have their current bodies immediately changed (with the soul/spirit unchanged) into these better bodies, without having to die first.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 3, 2012

      I haven’t read his book yet, so I can’t really comment on it. But Paul’s views of what happens when you die have always struck me as either inconsistent or in the process of developing. There’s not a clear-cut solution to his views….

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