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Paul and the Resurrection of a Spiritual Body

QUESTION:

You may have gone over this before, but do you think the earliest Christians, Peter, Paul, and Mary etc. believed in the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus, or do you think they believed his “spirit” was raised from the dead? From Paul’s writing it’s hard for me to judge. I ask this because it seems easier for me to attribute the resurrection belief to “hallucinations” if they were only experiencing visions of Jesus’ spirit. Even group “hallucinations” of Jesus’ spirit seems plausible, maybe during a group’s ecstatic experience or something. On the other hand I think there’s difficulty with the idea that several people hallucinated an experiences with a seemingly physical Jesus.

RESPONSE:

This is a great question. My view is that different early Christians had different views. Paul’s view for me is the most interesting. In a forthcoming book I’ve mapped out my understanding of that. Here’s what I say there:

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It is striking, and frequently overlooked by casual observers of the early Christian tradition, that even though it was a universal belief among the first Christians that Jesus had been raised from the dead, there was not a uniformity of belief concerning what, exactly, that meant. In particular, early Christians had long and heated debates about the nature of the resurrection, specifically, the nature of the resurrected body. Here I map out three options for what that resurrected body of Jesus actually was, as evidenced in writings from the early church. I start with our earliest recorded source, the writings of Paul, and once again with his “resurrection chapter” (1 Corinthians 15), so named because it is devoted to the question of Jesus’ resurrection and the future resurrection of believers. Here Paul stresses that Jesus rose from the dead in a “spiritual body.”

The Raising of a Spiritual Body

Both terms are important for understanding Paul’s view of the resurrection of Jesus: Jesus was raised in the body; but it was a body that was spiritual.

 

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A Gnostic View of Jesus’ Resurrection
Errant Texts and Historians

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    toejam  November 29, 2013

    I was watching Gerd Lüdemann debate William Lane Craig on youtube recently, and one of Gerd’s arguments against the ’empty tomb’ narrative was how the pre-gospel source Paul uses the ‘seed’ analogy in 1Cor 15:37. When you couple that with his other passage in 1Cor 15:4, where Paul states directly that Jesus was “buried”, I think it’s quite clear that Paul had no knowledge of an empty tomb, and that when he said “buried”, he really meant it! – Paul literally thought Jesus had been buried in the ground like a seed. I’m sure this is old news to you… but it for me it was one of those ‘Ahhaa!’ moments! I’ve always had my doubts about the empty tomb narrative, but this insight has made it seem increasingly unlikely.

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  November 30, 2013

      Yes. And just as he believed the shell of the seed to remain in the ground (while the ‘essence’ of the seed was given a NEW body according to its kind by God), it’s reasonable that he assumed the corpse of Jesus to remain buried while Jesus’ soul/spirit was given a NEW, spiritual, perfect, heavenly etc body by God.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  December 1, 2013

        The seed doesn’t stay in the ground as a seed. It *becomes* a plant.

        • Avatar
          Xeronimo74  December 2, 2013

          It ‘becomes’ the plant after it has ‘died’, at which point!, God GIVES it its actual, new body. The former seed, or actually the shell of the seed, remains dead and destroyed. And Paul which for his current body to be destroyed too so he could be given his new body and be with the Lord.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  December 4, 2013

            Yes, I’m afraid we’ve had this disagreement before.

  2. Avatar
    MichaelBrainerd  November 29, 2013

    Bart,
    How do the accounts in John & Matthew fit into this discussion? Referring to Mary (the other women too) when she (they) first saw him at the tomb entrance, as well as when doubting Thomas and Jesus interacted?

    Jesus tells Mary,”Touch Me not” (John 20:17); but then later, speaking to Thomas, He says, “Reach hither thy finger and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side” (verse 27).

    Matthew 28:9 also talks to the other women falling down and grabbing his feet/ankles to worship him when they saw him there?

    If it was/was not a physical resurrection how do these two situations effect/affect this discussion?

    Don’t touch me? Why not? She had many times before? They were the closest of all! Shared secret’s!

    Put your finger in my hand (physically)? Put your hand in my side (physically)? Could that have happened with a physical resurrection? Why could he touch Jesus when Mary was told she could/should not?

    I find all of this very interesting, could/did he manifest himself in a way to been seen but not in a physical body? The belief of the time was that the spirit had some (material?) presence to it, it wasn’t just a spirit that existed within them, it could?? stand on its own so to speak if it were separated from the body?

    Other than the cases of “taken up to heaven and never dying” there are no other resurrections in the Bible or other historical accounts. This seems to be as a lot of things in the Bible, a take off/retelling of old Mesopotamian and Sumerian gods who die and are resurrected in similar ways, but really no talk of the physical vs. the spiritual.

    I guess this is just one of many Bible subjects that the conversation could go on forever!!!

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 30, 2013

      I’ll deal with the other NT accounts in another post — hopefully tomorrow or the next day!

  3. Avatar
    JimmyLLang  November 29, 2013

    Is the separating of the spirit and body into two things an idea from Greek philosophy? You reference that we have difficulty with this concept today, but the ancients did not struggle. So I guess I would assume that many could maybe see they are different entities but mutually connected. Clarify my ignorance.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 30, 2013

      Yes, roughly speaking this split between body and spirit can be traced back into Greek philosophy, most notably Plato.

  4. Avatar
    willow  November 29, 2013

    “It is striking, and frequently overlooked by casual observers of the early Christian tradition, that even though it was a universal belief among the first Christians that Jesus had been raised from the dead, there was not a uniformity of belief concerning what, exactly, that meant.”

    That there was no uniformity, regarding such a spectacular event, capitalize and italicize the word “spectacular”, is indication enough for me that the event, most likely, never happened. But then, that’s where the oldest text of Mark ends, isn’t it? With no resurrection.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 30, 2013

      Actually Mark has a resurrection (notice what the young man tells the women at the tomb). What he doesn’t have are appearances of Jesus to his disciples (or anyone else) after the resurrection.

      • Avatar
        willow  December 1, 2013

        Thanks, Bart. I humbly admit to having, pretty much, dismissed Mark’s account in 16:6 for the far more spectacular John 20:1-18, that comes to us complete with two angels and Jesus himself. Sigh.

      • Avatar
        Kazibwe Edris  April 3, 2016

        could it be possible that mark BELIEVED in a meeting without knowing any of the details?
        today christians believe without seeing
        is it possible in marks time the story was that there was a meeting but no details were given?

  5. cheito
    cheito  November 29, 2013

    His body did indeed come out of the grave. But when it did it was a transformed body, made of spirit, and raised immortal.

    I knew you had it in you DR Ehrman. :-))

    I’ll agree that the body is a Spiritual Body whose ‘Glory’ is Eternal not mortal. However I don’t think the body is made of Spirit. I think the Spirit is still The Spirit and the Body remains the Body.

    Now our Spirit inhabits a mortal body but at the resurrection our spirit will dwell in a immortal body or spiritual body. An incorruptible body not subject to decay.

    We are beings composed of Spirit Soul and Body. Paul states this very clearly in the scripture verse below:

    1 Thessalonians 5:23-Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  December 1, 2013

      Resurrection to an immortal body has two impossible implications:

      1) the Earth is immortal. Look at the scenario for the death of our Sun.
      2) the New Earth does not come until the present Earth is destroyed with the death of our Sun.

      • cheito
        cheito  December 2, 2013

        These ideas about the Earth’s destruction and the ‘death of the sun’ is part of the deception of wickedness. God will also deceive the wicked to believe what is not true. You’ll be surprised what God is really going to do. What’s going to end is evil and all who practice it. What’s going to END IS SIN! The earth will survive and thrive. God will destroy the works of satan and ALL wicked people but will renew the earth and recreate it as we look on. In front of our very eyes God will transform deserts into beautiful landscapes filled with springs of water. The topography will be changed in many geographical locations on Earth. God is Love and everything and anything that is good and wholesome will come to pass. No more death! No more wickedness. Etc.

        2 Thessalonians 2:8-Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9-that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,10-and with all THE DECEPTION of wickedness for those who perish, BECAUSE they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
        11-For this reason GOD WILL SEND UPON THEM a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12-in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

        • Avatar
          Steefen  December 4, 2013

          2 Thessalonians is not an authentic letter of Paul.

          I picked up Craig Evans book, “Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels.”

          In it, he says Joseph is the historian’s name before it is Latinized into Josephus.

          Joseph takes down from the cross the body of Jesus who survives crucifixion. (New Testament)
          Joseph takes down from the cross the body of a man who survives crucifixion. (Autobiography of Flavius Josephus in which Josephus, with tears in his eyes, asks Titus to take down from the cross, the three bandits, rebel freedom fighters, who were crucified.)

          (Saul – Paul – Joseph – Flavius Josephus)

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  December 5, 2013

            Well, it would be a bit difficult for Josephus to be Joseph of Arimathea, since he wasn’t born yet…..

        • cheito
          cheito  December 5, 2013

          I think Thessalonians is a Letter written by Paul. We’ll have to wait and see who is right or wrong.
          The writer of Thessalonians is actually relating the Idea of the antichrist as recorded in Daniel:

          Daniel 7:25‘HE WILL SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE MOST HIGH and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26‘But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. 27‘Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’

          Daniel 8:23-“In the latter period of their rule,
          When the transgressors have run their course,
          A king will arise,
          Insolent and skilled in intrigue.

          24“His power will be mighty, but NOT BY HIS OWN POWER.
          And he will destroy to an extraordinary degree
          And prosper and perform his will;
          He will destroy mighty men and the holy people.

          25“And through his shrewdness
          He will cause deceit to succeed by his influence;
          And he will magnify himself in his heart,
          And he will destroy many while they are at ease.
          He will even oppose the Prince of princes,
          BUT HE WILL BE BROKEN WITHOUT HUMAN AGENCY.

  6. Avatar
    ben.holman  November 29, 2013

    In N.T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God, he states: “Though Moule is no doubt right that Paul can envisage here the possibility of ‘exchange’ (losing one body, getting another one) rather than ‘addition’, as in 1 Corinthians 15, we should not lose sight of the fact that even if such an ‘exchange’ were to take place the new body would be more than the present one. (p. 367)”

    Is it possible 1 Cor. 15 (or Paul in general, or some of the first christians) thought of Jesus’ resurrection Body as being a “newly made super spiritual (yet still physical) body” but that his corpse was still in the tomb? Such that, there were in total two bodies: the old dead discarded corruptible one, and the super new resurrected one… in effect thinking an exchange had taken place?

    So, had you asked Peter or Paul, “hey, why is Jesus’s body still in the tomb?” They would’ve said, “well, its because he was resurrected into his new body.”… OR, can we be positive they thought of “resurrection” as the actual transformation of the very corpse that was dead?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 30, 2013

      My view is that Paul definitely did not think the corpse was left in the grave; he sees the future resurrection of Christians as a transformation of their present bodies, at Jesus’ return — not a departure from the present body into a different body — and he bases his view on his understanding of Jesus’ own resurrection (thus 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess 4:13-18).

  7. Avatar
    laz  November 29, 2013

    So your saying Paul’s view is that Jesus corpse stayed in the tomb……and his spirit which is made of stuff (a kind of body) was raised?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 30, 2013

      No, in my view the corpse was reanimated and made immortal.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  November 30, 2013

        But where does Paul imply this? Especially since he’s aching for his current body to be destroyed and to be freed from it so he can ‘be with the Lord’?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  December 1, 2013

          1 Thess. 4 and 1 Cor. 15.

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 2, 2013

            I’m sorry but where exactly does he mention a reanimated corpse there? And what about Paul’s desire to be away from his body (to have it destroyed actually) so he can be with the Lord?

  8. Avatar
    maxhirez  November 30, 2013

    Was a “spiritual body” of the sort you describe Paul writing about here one that could just kind of fade away whenever it wanted so that believers didn’t have to explain where this resurrected presence was at the moment?

  9. Avatar
    SJB  November 30, 2013

    Prof Ehrman

    Where do you think Paul got his conception of the spiritual body? Was he drawing from widespread Jewish views or is he being innovative?

    Thanks

  10. Aleph82
    Aleph82  November 30, 2013

    When I first read about the resurrection story in the Gospel of Peter, the appearance of the gigantic Jesus sent my mind back to the glorious transformation being discussed in 1 Corinthians. Are there any scholars who consider the gigantic Jesus found in the Gospel of Peter an evolution of Paul’s theology? I admit that it still doesn’t explain the walking and talking cross, but I found this possibility intriguing.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 30, 2013

      I’ve never heard anyone make this direct link, but it does make some sense.

      • Aleph82
        Aleph82  November 30, 2013

        Not outrightly dismissed! Wish I could read Greek and was a graduate student. I’d have a potential dissertation topic to research! Speaking of reading Greek, any book/textbook you can recommend to eager amateur?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  December 1, 2013

          I’m sure there are “teach-yourself” books available — but I’m not up on any of them! (I haven’t taught beginning Greek for nearly thirty years now! I do work with my graduate students, reading Greek every week; but I’m not sure what beginning books are good now….)

        • Avatar
          JimmyLLang  December 1, 2013

          I certainly am not Dr. Ehrman so feel free to dismiss this if you want. However, I have had good success with Mounce’s grammar. There are a lot of self helps for the independent study at home student. You can get lectures on dvd and what not at his website.

  11. Avatar
    alexius105  November 30, 2013

    Sill confused. Does this mean Paul believed the tomb of Jesus was empty on the third day? He probably talked to other disciples and they confirmed this. Does this mean we actually can say there was a tomb and that it was found empty?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 30, 2013

      Yes, I think he imagined that the tomb was empty. But I don’t know that there were any traditions of the empty tomb being discovered — there’s no trace of that view until Mark, who was writing about 20 years after Paul.

      • Avatar
        alexius105  November 30, 2013

        Paul only imagined this? He had acces to the disciples and they had access to the women at the tomb (eyewitnesses). So Pauls letters contain verified eyewitness accounts.? This means there was a burrial, a tomb, a known location of the tomb and some event that caused the boddy to dissappear.

        And you said you don’t think there ever was a tomb, because Romans did not allow bodies to be buried.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  December 1, 2013

          I don’t think Paul ever had contact with the women who went to the tomb; he never mentions them. And yes, I think Paul thinks Jesus’ body came back to life, raised immortal; by “tomb” I simply mean the place where Jesus’ remains were eventually placed.

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  November 30, 2013

      The tomb could have been empty for a couple of different reasons. One of them being that Joseph of Arimathea’s people had transferred the corpse to the final tomb before sunrise (and before the women came to the tomb).

  12. Avatar
    wjlabarre  November 30, 2013

    Professor Ehrman,
    If this means that Paul was telling his congregation that there indeed was some kind of physical body (a sort of super-human) that could have been touched, would this have made skeptical members seek out verification from the appearance witnesses in your opinion?

  13. Avatar
    Steefen  November 30, 2013

    Eventually, people will come around to know Paul discredits himself and Paul is discredited by others. Journey of the Souls by Michael Newton, Infinite Mind by Valerie V. Hunt, books on reincarnation and the paranormal give no “peer review” nod to Paul’s notions of almost 2,000 years old. Paul got it wrong. So much of what Paul has added to the New Testament needs a long strikethrough. Paul is not reliable on the afterlife. He may be reliable on his personal hopes about the afterlife. Hopefully waves of Post-Christianity will wash away notions of Paul that have little weight of anchor.

    It’s one thing for Mark to use the Homeric Epics in the Gospel of Mark. It’s quite an important thing for Luke, in Acts of the Apostles, to use Pyrhhus: The Fool of Hope by Plutarch (first century common era historian) against Paul.
    http://www.thenazareneway.com/The%20Gospel%20of%20Paul.htm

    So, in addition to biblical scholars and writers needing to read Josephus to get a broad view of what really went on in the first century, common era, the contribution of Jesus’ legacy to Jewish Revolt, we should be aware of what does not hold up for Paul and Paul’s teachings.

    Jesus was more masterful than Paul who “popularized” a corrupt version of Jesus’ movement.

    Keeping Paul’s pseudo-spirituality in higher standards of Christianity and Post-Christianity that are constantly being raised is like keeping the worse parts of Biblical Creationism in Human Evolution Studies.

    That Saul-Paul persecuted followers of Jesus, then set up a rival Gospel and a rival movement against Jesus’ movement proves his conversion did not stop him from working against Jesus’ aims.

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 30, 2013

    It is confusing indeed!

  15. Avatar
    z8000783  December 2, 2013

    Corinthians 15 seems to imply that what Paul saw of Jesus during his conversion (whatever that was) was similar to what the apostles saw does it not?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 4, 2013

      Yes, Paul seems to think so.

      • Avatar
        z8000783  December 4, 2013

        But Paul did not see the resurrected body though did he. Isn’t there an anomaly here?

        If Paul believed that the apostles saw a ‘risen’ body Jesus, straight from the grave (before the ascension) how does that tie up with what he saw on the road.

        Or are you saying that he thought he saw the ‘real’ body of Jesus as well?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  December 5, 2013

          Yes, he seems to say that he saw the resurrected body of Jesus (presumably coming down from heaven; but that’s what the others thought as well).

  16. Avatar
    Steefen  December 5, 2013

    Bart Ehrman:

    Well, it would be a bit difficult for Josephus [Joseph, Latinized to Josephus] to be Joseph of Arimathea, since he wasn’t born yet…..

    Steefen:

    IF no one is tampering with the timeline of History — AND BOY HAVE WE SEEN THAT GOING ON IN THE BIBLE, for example, the book of Daniel definitely has evidence of being written later.

    Some say, Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple is also an example of moving the timeline of History around.

  17. Avatar
    Cliff  December 6, 2013

    I believe in Paul’s understanding about the resurrection of Jesus’s body to life. Resurrection in the body is real as the body is actually transformed into an immortal one. The body is the same but immortal, never gets old and never dies. In the part of the world that I grew from, there were stories of people dying and sometimes appearing to their loved ones, and disappear again. Their bodies have been transformed so much so that they could go through walls, roofed ceilings, locked doors and suddenly show themselves to people they knew in this natural world. In most cases, people who die harshly eg. in accidents, murder, and so on usually are reported to have been seen after their tragic deaths. Could it be the same with Jesus’s death after his cruxifiction? It was a harsh death and sudden.

  18. Avatar
    Brand3000  December 29, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman:
    I’ve been working hard on crafting this, is it correct? Thanks

    What Paul conveys in 1 Cor. 15:

    1) Paul is saying that our ‘spiritual body’ will be suited for its environment. The mortal body we have now is unfit for eternity. He makes a similar statement; ‘flesh and blood’ cannot inherit the kingdom of God (v. 50). The body that we now inhabit is fashioned after Adam, “man of dust” (v. 48). We are flesh, blood, and bones and we are made to live on this earth.

    2) When Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he’s referring to our flesh and blood as they are now: cursed and under sin. But our future bodies—though still bodies in the fullest sense—will be untouched by sin and incorruptible. They will be like Christ’s resurrection body—both physical and indestructible. Paul speaks of the type of resurrection that will leave an empty grave behind. “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable” (vv. 42, 50, 51, 53, 54).

    3) “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory” (v.43a). Whatever imperfections our earthly bodies had will be gone. We will inhabit the bodies that God intended for us before sin entered the world and caused damage. The ‘dishonor’ will be transformed into a ‘glory’. “It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (v. 43). The body of feeble flesh will be transformed into a body energized with the power of God. Paul teaches that the resurrection is a transformation of the same bodies we had on earth. For example, Philippians 3:21 says that our earthly body is transformed into conformity with Christ’s body in the resurrection, and not that God creates a new body from scratch.

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