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Paul’s View of Resurrection


So if, as you say, Paul believed in a ‘physical resurrection of the body ( = of the corpse, right?) of Jesus’ then why did he never refer to an empty tomb or to the discovery of such an empty tomb by the apostles in his letters although that would have fitted well at occasions?

Also, and I know we have discussed these matters briefly here before, why did Paul describe the ‘risen Christ’ as a light etc in his visions? And not as a humanoid? And if that ‘transformed’ body was so different from the normal, natural body humans have then why assume the corpse was actually needed in the first place to get ‘resurrected’ in this new one (and if a corpse is needed then what about corpses that have been totally decomposed?)? Why is it Paul’s aim to get away from the physical body that he himself is currently living in (as he mentions in some of his letters)?

Why does Paul then contrast the ‘natural’ body to the ‘spiritual’ body? Why does he call those people FOOLS who ask: “How are the dead raised? With what KIND OF BODY will they come?” (1 Cor 15) ? Why does he claim that FLESH and BLOOD cannot inherit the kingdom?


These are great questions, and get to the heart of the matter. I will deal with them one at a time.

(1) My guess it that Paul does not talk about any traditions that indicated that women went to the tomb and found it empty because he had not heard these tradition. Paul certainly thought, and would have said, if asked, that the tomb was empty, because he definitely thought Jesus was physically raised from the dead. That is his entire argument in 1 Corinthians 15. His Corinthian opponents maintained that the resurrection of believers was a past spiritual event, and they had already experienced it. Paul’s purpose in 1 Corinthians is NOT, decidedly not, to argue that Jesus really was raised from the dead physically. That is the view that he accepts as OBVIOUS and AGREED UPON between himself and the Corinthians. I say this because some people have claimed that 1 Corinthians 15 is the chapter where Paul tries to prove Jesus resurrection. That’s not true at all. He USES the belief in Jesus’ physical resurrection – a belief he shares with his readers – in order to argue a different point, about their OWN resurrection. His point is that since Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection (which the Corinthians agree on), then their own resurrection will as well be bodily. Which means it is not simply spiritual. Which means they have not experienced it yet, whatever they may be saying or thinking. The entire argument, in other words, is predicated on an understanding that Jesus was physically raised from the dead. So why doesn’t Paul mention the empty tomb? Probably because he doesn’t know of the stories later found in the Gospels about it. Would he have said the tomb was empty? Certainly yes. But that would have been out of logical necessity, not because he had heard stories about Mary Magdalene going there on the third day.

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Christians Charged as Perverts and Criminals
Gerd Lüdemann on the Resurrection of Jesus



  1. Robertus
    Robertus  October 6, 2012

    “His Corinthian opponents maintained that the resurrection of believers was a past spiritual event, and they had already experienced it. … Which means they have not experienced it yet, whatever they may be saying or thinking.”

    What is the evidence for this being the viewpoint expressed by some Corinthians? It appears much more certain that they were saying there is no resurrection of the dead:

    “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead … if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised … the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being. … If the dead are not raised at all … If the dead are not raised …” (1Co 15:13- RSVP)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 7, 2012

      Yes, you need to read 1 Cor. 15 in light of the entire letter to see what he’s talking about. These people think they have already experienced a spiritual resurrectoin (much like the author of Ephesians — who was not Paul — thinks); that’s why (ch. 4), they though they were “already ruling with Christ.” For starters you may want to look at my (brief) discussion in my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  October 9, 2012

        I see what you mean with 1 Cor 4,8 but I’m still skeptical. I will read the whole letter again and check out you Intro to the NT next time I’m at the library.

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    Jacobus  October 6, 2012

    In your book of “How did Jesus become God/ a god?” starting with the resurrection, are you going to take into account the afterlife in Jewish circles before Jesus and what about martyrdom and resurrection in the Second Temple era? (Geza Vermes gives a good summary of that in his book Jesus: Nativity, Passion and Resurrection). What will you make of Gerd Luedemann’s idea that the resurrection “developed” in Paul’s own thought? Going with that, Jesus had become more “divine” to accommodate a physical resurrection of the body. Are you going to give it a text-critical angle? Jesus being resurrected by God vs. Jesus who arose from the dead?

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    Helwys12  October 6, 2012

    Thanks professor for an excellent post. Keep up the good work.

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    gregmonette  October 6, 2012

    Hi Bart:

    Here is my question: in your book ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ you argued that since Paul knew Jesus’ brother James, than that is itself a pretty good argument that Jesus existed since you’d think that the brother of the Lord would know if he existed!!! Now, let’s take that a step further: Peter and James are the only two people Paul lists in the 1 Cor. 15:3-8 creed. Galatians tells us that Paul met and spoke with Peter and James specifically. If Paul’s view on the resurrection is as you explained above, wouldn’t the historical argument for the resurrection be pretty good (not rock solid, or even a slam dunk) that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead? I know you’re an agnostic, but IF you did allow that God existed, would that change your thinking on the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus? We have a pretty good line of transmission here don’t we? James and Peter, then Paul (and Paul claims his own experience, but let that pass), and then the written text that we now have. Assuming that the written text we have is generally decent at describing what the historical Paul really experience and/or thought, would you say that ‘Christians’ actually have a decent argument for the resurrection of Jesus (assuming God exists?). I do not think that the resurrection can be ‘proved’. I don’t think we can prove hardly anything from the ancient past. But would you agree that the argument for the resurrection of Jesus (if God exists) is not baseless or completely without merit?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 7, 2012

      No, I’m afraid not — this would not be evidence (historically) that Jesus was raised from the dead. It would be evidence that Peter, James, and Paul all claimed to have visions of Jesus after he died. That’s not the same thing!! (My grandfather claims to have seen his wife after she died, but that doesn’t prove that she was raised from the dead. But I have no reason to doubt that he thinks he really did see her)

      • Avatar
        DMiller5842  October 9, 2012

        gregmonette said above “Paul knew Jesus’ brother James, than that is itself a pretty good argument that Jesus existed since you’d think that the brother of the Lord would know if he existed!!! Now, let’s take that a step further: Peter and James are the only two people Paul lists in the 1 Cor. 15:3-8 creed. Galatians tells us that Paul met and spoke with Peter and James specifically”
        OK SO THEN >>>
        . I wonder if anyone mentioned to Paul the story of Thomas? Remeber the one who needed to see with his own eyes and touch the wounds and nail holes in order to believe? If Jesus had a “perfect spiritual body” at the point of the resurrection, how could Thomas have been offered the opportunity to see and touch the nail holes and wounds in the body of Jesus?

        And since Paul is trying to convince others having “not seen” in person the risen Jesus, wouldn’t Peter and James have wanted to share the story of Jesus saying to Thomas “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and (yet) have believed (Jn. 20:29).”

        And what about the spiritual body needing food?

        Luke 24:36-43: “As they (i.e. the disciples) were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And hesaid to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see, for a spirit has no flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb. And he took it and ate in their presence.”

        These passages indicate that the risen body still has wounds and needs to eat. Jesus actually says he has FLESH and bones.

        Paul is so well connected with the “eye witnesses” why does he not know these things?

        And how does this information fit with his version of what happened and what he is preaching will happen? Paul responds to critics by saying that the body will be raised, but without its mortality and weaknesses. Why would he think this when the risen body of Jesus was not perfect, but wounded and weak (still needed to eat).

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 9, 2012

          I think the short answer is that Luke and Thomas were writing *later* than Paul and embody later ideas, that differed, in fact, from Paul’s.

        • Avatar
          Xeronimo74  October 10, 2012

          >> If Jesus had a “perfect spiritual body” at the point of the resurrection, how could Thomas have been offered the opportunity to see and touch the nail holes and wounds in the body of Jesus?

          Good question! So it seems like it wasn’t even clear at those times what a ‘resurrection’ and a ‘spiritual body’ really were supposed to be. A perfect, ‘spiritual’ body couldn’t bear the fleshly wounds of the now-resurrected and transformed ex-corpse. Although, since we’re in fantasy land already, why wouldn’t the ‘Risen Christ’ have the ability to transform his body at will, to make it show whatever he wants to? 😉

          But that verse clearly shows that the belief of its author differed greatly from, and even contradicted, Paul’s belief.

          • Avatar
            DMiller5842  October 11, 2012

            Well all I can conclude from that Dr Ehrman is that the “ideas” were all just made up and differed due to what the writers wanted to say in their respective messages. The Thomas message was one of sure proof – saw with his own eyes and could have touched the wounds in the body. Paul’s message was at resurrection we get a perfect spiritual body which manifested to him as light. He describes a bright light that talks. He does not describe a physical body (wounded or otherwise). The idea of a resurrected body that still has the wounds and weakness of the former body is not a very good “selling point” either. If I was going about trying to establish a new religion, I would prefer to tell folks that they would get a new perfect spiritual body after death in which to spend eternity – one which does not have flesh and bones. EVEN THOUGH Jesus says , during his appearance to the 12. “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see, for a spirit has no flesh and bones as you see that I have.’

            IN regard to the previous poster that said since we are in fantasy land anyway why not allow that Jesus could manifest in any manner he desired. I’ll buy that – so his entire life/existence could have been a manifestation. Some gnostics, for example, argued of Jesus: “If he suffered, he was not God; if he was God, he did not suffer. Take it from there….

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    Yentyl  October 6, 2012

    Tov meod.

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    Xeronimo74  October 6, 2012

    Thank you very much, Bart, for addressing my questions so explicitly. We live in fascinating times when it’s possible for a reader to interact with one of his favorite authors in such a way. Although the intent is probably not to discuss an issue over a longer period? I would appreciate it though if you’d read my whole reply since I, obviously, think it contains important points and questions regarding these quite crucial issues (I may be wrong though, of course).

    So I’m still not sure what Paul is really supposed to have believed then, according to you? Was it that the physical, human corpse of Jesus lay in that tomb until, at some point, it was first revived and then transformed, ‘atom by atom’, into this new, ‘spiritual’ body that got up and walked out of the tomb (or simply through the walls)? So that if there had been a video camera present at the time then we would be able to see a corpse kind of shape-shift into … what exactly? What IS a ‘spiritual body’ if it’s not a ‘natural body’ of flesh and blood?

    And if this ‘new, spiritual body’ was so different then why would the old, sinful body be needed in the process? Why would this corrupted, old piece of meat need to be recycled, in a sense? Especially since that would mean that all those corpses that had been burned or decayed a long time ago would first need to be reassembled/recreated (ex nihilo!) in order to only THEN be transformed into something new! Why not assume that Paul simply believed that, at the resurrection, the spirit/soul of the deceased person would be called back from the realm of the dead (it never totally cease to exist, right?) and be clothed with this new, ‘spiritual’ body? Independently of what happened to the actual corpse in the mean time.

    Paul seems to actually suggest something like that in 2 Cor 5: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.” and “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling”. This is all about leaving the ‘earthly tent’ (the physical body) behind.

    You write: “He USES the belief in Jesus’ physical resurrection – a belief he shares with his readers – in order to argue a different point, about their OWN resurrection.” and “The people Paul attacks are those who mock his view that there will be a real physical resurrection of the body.” > but where is this indicated in 1 Cor? And why couldn’t the ‘foolish’ refer to their question as to what ‘kind of BODY’ the resurrected will have? To simply expect a revived corpse would be foolish indeed if one (like Paul) believed in a ‘new, spiritual body’ that didn’t require the actual, physical corpse.

    Is it so impossible to assume that the belief went like this: Jesus’ corpse lies in the tomb, Jesus’ spirit is in the realm of the dead (or wherever), Jesus’ spirit is then ‘called back’ from this ‘naked state’ (thus being different from the Greek belief of bodiless souls as the highest form of existence!) and ‘clothed’ with this ‘new, spiritual body’, maybe even right next to the corpse! This ‘resurrected Jesus’ with his ‘new, spiritual body’ would then walk out of the tomb, leaving the corpse (that body of flesh and bones) behind? What a triumph over death! Death was only able to kill that imperfect, corrupted vessel that contained the spirit for a while. But the spirit couldn’t be killed and it had been placed into this new, perfected body!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 7, 2012

      I wish I had time to deal at length with such lengthy sets of questions. Especially such good ones. But alas, there are not enough hours in the day. Is there a concise way of asking it?

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  October 8, 2012

        Ok, I’ll try to be more concise …

        1. What was, according to Paul, a ‘spiritual body’ without flesh and blood? How is that to be imagined? And why would such a body require the old body as a starting point? Especially since Paul makes a clear distinction between earthly body and heavenly body (1 Cor 15) and also seems to consider the human body to simply be an ‘earthly tent’ that will be destroyed while the soul/spirit will, during a resurrection, be clothed with a ‘heavenly house’ (2 Cor 5).

        2. According to the Jewish thought of the day when someone died then the soul/spirit went to the ‘realm of the dead’ (to ‘live’ there or wait for a resurrection or whatever) while the body/corpse was left behind, right?

        3. Why would the ‘foolish’ in 1 Cor 15:36 refer to those doubting a physical resurrection? To me it sounds more like he calls those who ask what kind of BODY people will get resurrected in, foolish (since the resurrection would not be in a body like we know it).

        4. Would it be completely impossible for Paul to have believed that Jesus got resurrected (meaning his soul/spirit got called back from the realm of the dead and put into a new, spiritual/heavenly body) even though his previous body, and now corpse, was still present? I tried to describe this alternative view in the last paragraph of my previous post.

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    toddfrederick  October 6, 2012

    Bart…you explain these complex issues so clearly. You are a gift to those of us who seek to understand. I know you do not want to talk about why you left Christianity, but I personally hope that some day you will return. Blessings. Todd

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  October 10, 2012

      Given his explanations how can you expect him to return? He would have to throw away all his insights! He would have to negate his findings. Also, why do you hope for him to return? So he’ll escape Hell?

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    SJB  October 7, 2012

    Don’t we see here the early tension in the Jesus movement between the traditional Jewish view (however filtered through apocalypticism) of the primacy of this world vs. the pagan idea that the physical world is secondary to a greater spiritual realm? The Jewish view being that there really is no life outside the body so the body will be transformed as the world will be transformed into a new Kingdom on earth. Don’t the Greek converts have trouble with this idea because they bring their own cultural baggage to the discussion?

    Isn’t this at least partly why the Jewish apocalyptic idea of the Kingdom of God became the Christian Church’s idea of Heaven as the Jesus movement went from being primarily composed of Jews to being mostly gentiles?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 7, 2012

      Yes, in basic outline, I think I agree!

    • Avatar
      Attu  October 7, 2012

      Then how was the Witch of Endor able to call up the shade of Samuel?

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  October 8, 2012

        He was in Sheol. Jews, of course, and Israelites before them had a wide range of views of the afterlife — not only one view!

        • Avatar
          Attu  October 9, 2012

          Yes that is true. I guess my point is that the Israelites view of death was more like dormancy.

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    donmax  October 7, 2012

    How Jesus Became God is a good title, Bart. It will do well in the marketplace, but has nothing to do with incarnation per se or with resurrection. These ideas are outmoded theological notions that have trickled down to us from the remote past and from people like Paul who knew next to nothing of science or secular history. So on one level,, “who cares what he may or may not have thought?” On the other level, it’s good of you to pull back historical curtains to reveal what happened with respect to misguided perceptions reinforced over the centuries by religious propaganda.

    Yes, Jesus Christ arose, not from the grave, but out of Jewish and Greco-Roman mythology. And like every other icon of ancient days, we now know he reeks of fabrication.

    I look forward to seeing how you paint the picture.


  10. Avatar
    laz  October 7, 2012

    wait a second, I think that’s a good question what does Paul mean when he says its raised a spiritual body… That does not sound like a ” bodily resurrection” but a spiritual body. “God is a Spirit”…. What of vs 49 of the chapter, if we bear the likeness of Adam we shall bear the likeness of him from heaven. Adam was fleshly, God is a spirit…. How could Paul mean a fleshly resurrection…

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 8, 2012

      For Paul it is decidedly not a “fleshly” resurrection. For him the flesh is the fallen part of the human. It was a bodily resurrection, without the flesh. Spirit, too, was a kind of “matter” for ancient people.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  October 9, 2012

        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’?

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  October 9, 2012

        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’.

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    RonaldTaska  October 8, 2012

    I would be very interested in reading something written by authors who essentially agree with you about history, but still have worked out a Christian theology that allows them to remain Christian. Do you have any suggestions? I mean by this more than just advocating Christian ethics, like Thomas Jefferson did, but having an actual Christian view of the Resurrection and salvation and life after death and so on and so forth. It seems like the world is divided between fundamentalists and skeptics. Are there any other alternatives? Thanks.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 8, 2012

      I’d suggest reading serious theologians. Maybe start with Rowan Williams. For New Testament scholars, read Dale Martin.

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    RParvus  October 8, 2012

    Always good to keep in mind, though, that if Marcion was right about the Pauline letters being tampered with by Judaizers, 1 Corinthians was surely one of the passages that received their “improvements”. They would have intervened to install their “correct” version of the resurrection. And so when you write that “God created this body and he will redeem this body; just as God created this world and will redeem the world,” and “All of God’s creations are good, even if they have become corrupt because of sin…”, you may be attributing to the original author doctrines that he did not hold.

    If Marcion’s claim about the letters was correct, chapter 15 would have to be evaluated quite differently. For the Marcionite Paul (Simon of Samaria?) believed in non-bodily resurrection. Only the soul rises. The flesh was not made by the supreme God. It was made by the lower, ignorant angel(s) who made the world. It will not rise. The soul will be given a heavenly garment of glory by God. And because flesh is so base, when Christ descended and tricked the spirit princes of this world into crucifying him, he only had the appearance or semblance of a human body.

    When Paul heard that resurrection was being denied at Corinth, he was dumbfounded. He didn’t realize that it was only his version of resurrection that was being undermined there, so that is why he just defended the fact of resurrection. He only subsequently learned that his Corinthian opponents were, in reality, denying his version of resurrection by trying to install in its place a bodily version. In this scenario, chapter 15, verses 12 – 20, 29 – 32, and 53 -58 likely constituted Paul’s defense of the bald fact of our resurrection (its nature unspecified). And verses 21 -28 and 33 – 52 would be what was later added by the proto-orthodox editor to turn the author of the passage into a proto-orthodox Christian.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 9, 2012

      Yes, interesting point. The question is whether the charge made by Marcion was (historically) correct. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence for it. It would be more interesting, historically, if there were!

      • Avatar
        RParvus  October 10, 2012

        Understood. But there are many inconsistencies in Paul’s letters. And Marcion’s theory can account for them. It may be that scholars have been too hard on Paul, blaming him for the inconsistencies, when the fault lies with subsequent proto-orthodox editors who sanitized the letters.

        And the proto-orthodox themselves concede that there was a gnostic type Christian missionary present at Christianity’s first hour: Simon of Samaria. The proto-orthodox description of Simon’s beliefs bears a definite resemblance to what Marcion claimed was present in the Paulines regarding the Law, sin, the flesh, and this world. Moreover, the proto-orthodox associate Marcion with a Simonian from Antioch named Cerdo.

        And there are other apparent anomalies in the early record. For example, Justin mentions Simon several times, but never Paul or his letters. Likewise, the document(s) underlying the pseudo-Clementines mentions Simon but not Paul. In the pseudo-Clementines Peter faces off with Simon, while in the New Testament Peter faces off with Paul (at Antioch, and possibly at Corinth). But it is only in much later literature that the two apostles to the Gentiles, Paul and Simon, ever face off with each other. If A (Peter) faces off with B (Paul), and A (Peter) faces off with C (Simon, whose beliefs resemble those of the Marcionite Paul), one cannot help but wonder whether B and C are different versions of the the same person.

        So these are some of the reasons I continue to keep Marcion’s theory in my “viable” file.

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    Walid_  October 8, 2012

    Professor Ehrman,

    I understand your argument that Paul’s view is at that the resurrection a person would have a ‘physical’ entity,
    however I can’t combine that with the fact you stated that the resurrection according to Paul is also ‘without flesh’.

    How can there be a physical entity without flesh?

    apologies in advance if it is just my poor understanding.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 8, 2012

      Yes, in our understanding flesh = physical. But not for Paul. What we call “physical” is anything that is made of matter. For ancient people, even spirits and souls were made of matter. And to complicate things further, for Paul, flesh was not equivalent to body. It was the part of a person that was subject to and corrupted by sin. IN the future resurrected life, we would be material beings, but we would not have that part of us (flesh) connected with and subject to sin. So we would have physical, resurrected bodies, but without what he calls flesh. I know, it’s very confusing!

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  October 9, 2012

        Honest question: if these words and concepts are so confusing (and incoherent/badly defined) then how can we be sure to actually know what Paul (and the earliest Christians) really meant with ‘resurrection’?

  14. Avatar
    toddfrederick  October 8, 2012

    Bart…I found a number of titles for both Dale Martin and Rowan Williams at Amazon for Kindle eBooks. Can you suggest a couple of titles as good for starters? Thank you.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 9, 2012

      Really depends what you’re interested in. I’d simply look at Amazon and pick a title/subject that seems interesting to you at this point. If you have a particular topic you’re interested in and want a recommendation, I could give it a shot (or tell you that I have no idea where to turn!)

  15. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 9, 2012

    Thanks for your suggestions about reading Rowan Williams and Dale Martin. I have just recently completed Dr. Martin’s online Yale course on the New Testament. It is still not clear to me how these scholars work out a Christian theology given the “historical” difficulties, but I would like to learn how they do this.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 9, 2012

      You should write him a note and ask. He is right now writing a “theology” of the New Testament. He is one smart and insightful cookie.

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    alion99  October 10, 2012

    Any disciple believe that there was no Jesus resurrection and Jesus was raised by God to heaven with physical body?. Do we have any reference in Gospel or in history book for this?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 10, 2012

      It appears that it was commonly thought that the resurrection and ascension were two parts of the same event. Some may well have thought that Jesus did not stop off, first, here on earth.

      • Avatar
        K  October 15, 2013


        I hope it is ok to ask you a question from this older thread of yours.

        You said this about 1 Corinthians: “Paul’s purpose in 1 Corinthians is NOT, decidedly not, to argue that Jesus really was raised from the dead physically. That is the view that he accepts as OBVIOUS and AGREED UPON between himself and the Corinthians.”

        What exactly leads you to the conclusion that Paul’s Corinthian opponents ACCEPTED Jesus’ bodily resurrection? How do you know that Paul’s Corinthian opponents were not doubting both their own future bodily resurrection AND that of Jesus that had already occurred? Given the Corinthian’s Greco-Roman beliefs and the difficulty they would have had with a raised corpse, it seems most likely that they would have doubted/not believed both the future general resurrection of their own bodies AND Jesus bodily resurrection. Obviously, there is something in the text that indicates to you that the Jesus’ resurrection was never in doubt by the Corinthians. What is it?

        Thank you.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 15, 2013

          It’s all because of the *way* Paul argues in the chapter. He does not mount an argument *that* Jesus was raised. He states Jesus’ resurrection as the view they “received” and he builds his argument on that assumption.

          • Avatar
            K  October 15, 2013

            You said: “[Paul] does not mount an argument *that* Jesus was raised. He states Jesus’ resurrection as the view they “received” and he builds his argument [for the general resurrection] on that assumption.”

            Hmmm, I guess I do not see your point. I agree with you that Paul states Jesus’ resurrection as the view the Corinthians “received”, but in the verses that follow (3-19), Paul seems to be building on an argument for JESUS’ resurrection, NOT the general resurrection. He repeats the core Christian creed which includes the assertion that Jesus was “raised” and that this has been confirmed in the scriptures (3-4). He goes on to remind the Corinthians that Jesus appeared to many people, including over five hundred “at one time”, most of whom “are still alive”, implying that some of them were still available to be asked about their experience (5-7). Why would Paul make this point if he was not trying to give evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Paul then draws on the influence of authority and group appeal by asking the Corinthians, “Now if Christ is proclaimed [by Paul, the Twelve, the apostles, and the five hundred] as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (verse 12). Paul finishes off by going into detail on the dire consequences if Jesus did not resurrect from the dead: “our proclamation has been in vain”, “your faith has been in vain”, we are guilty of “misrepresenting God”, our “faith is futile”, “you are still in your sins”, those Christians who have died have “perished”, and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (14-19).

            How do you conclude from the above textual evidence that “[Paul] does not mount an argument *that* Jesus was raised”?

            Thanks again.

            P.S. As an aside, when Paul tells the Corinthians that they had already “received” the information about Jesus’ resurrect (verses 1-2), he seems to do it in a very sheepish way, like they better not change their mind!:

            “Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you – unless you have come to believe in vain.”

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  October 16, 2013

            What he’s doing in vv. 5-9 is showing the *nature* of the resurrection. It was in the body. It was not just Jesus’ spirit being raised. Evidence: he “appeared” to people in his body. His readers agree that Jesus was raised; it’s a question of *how*.

  17. Avatar
    K  October 16, 2013


    You said: “[What Paul is] doing in vv. 5-9 is showing the *nature* of the resurrection. It was in the body. It was not just Jesus’ spirit being raised….His readers agree that Jesus was raised; it’s a question of *how*.”

    How do you reconcile your statement above with the following previous statement you made: “Paul’s purpose in 1 Corinthians is NOT, decidedly not, to argue that Jesus really was raised from the dead PHYSICALLY.” [my caps added]

    Your first statement above seems to be saying that Paul IS trying to argue that Jesus was bodily raised (i.e. corpse gone, not just spiritually). Your second statement seems to be saying that Paul is NOT trying to argue that Jesus was bodily raised (i.e. corpse gone)

    IMHO, your first statement above is the correct one. Paul IS mounting an argument that Jesus was bodily raised (i.e. corpse gone) because some of the Corinthians thought only Jesus’ spirit was raised.

    Please clarify, and thank you for helping me understand your position on this!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 17, 2013

      In vv. 5-9 he is affirming what he taught the Corinthians, and what they accepted, when they first became Christian. Jesus was raised. And he appeared to Cephas and the others. Because it was a physical resurrection. Not a spiritual one. They all agreed on that. And then he begins his argument: the resurrection of *believers* will be the same kind of thing — not just of the spirit, but of the body as well.

  18. Avatar
    K  October 17, 2013

    So if I understand you correctly, you think Paul’s Corinthian opponents were not questioning THAT Jesus was bodily raised (i.e. they completely accept, at the time Paul is writing 1 Corinthians, that Jesus’ corpse was gone from its final human resting place). According to you, Paul’s Corinthian opponents, with respect to Jesus’ resurrection, were ONLY questioning HOW Jesus’ dead body could be raised. Do I got that right?

    If so, how does listing appearances (vv 5-8) explain HOW Jesus’ body was raised? I honestly cannot see anything in vv 5-8 (nor all of verses 3-19) that explains HOW Jesus’ body was raised, but I see a lot of stuff in there that looks to me like Paul is trying to explain THAT Jesus was bodily raised. In other words, it looks to me like Paul is trying to explain that Jesus’ resurrection was “in the body. It was not just Jesus’ spirit being raised” (quotes are even from you!).

    I agree with you that in vv. 5-9 Paul is affirming what he TAUGHT the Corinthians, and what they accepted (past tense) when they first became Christian, but it appears to me that some of them changed their mind (or never fully accepted it in the first place, despite Paul thinking otherwise).

    One more thing that you did not answer from my previous post. Why does Paul say of the 500 that most of them “are still alive”, implying that these people were still available to be asked about their experience? Was Paul implying that if some of the Corinthians went and talked to these people (800 miles away!), that these people were going to be able to tell the Corinthians HOW Jesus was bodily raised? What in the world would these people know about that? But these people would be able to tell the Corinthians THAT Jesus was bodily raised (because he appeared to them) Note: I am not saying there was an appearance to the 500 (I think that was a legend), I am just saying what I think is Paul’s reason from mentioning the appearance to the 500 (which I think he may have believed was true).

    What am I missing here, because for the life of me your explanations for Paul’s intent in 1 Corinthians 15 are not making sense to me. I really do not see at all how you conclude that “Paul’s purpose in 1 Corinthians is NOT, decidedly not, to argue that Jesus really was raised from the dead physically,” and then you say at another moment that Paul was trying to show that Jesus’ resurrection “was in the body. It was not just Jesus’ spirit being raised”.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 18, 2013

      No, they were not disputing Jesus’ resurrection. They were disputing how *Christians* would be raised. They maintained that at baptism, Christians were exalted with Christ to rule with him in the heavenly realms. Paul counters this view by insisting that believers’ resurrection would be like Christ’s — therefore it would be physical, and therefore it had not happened yet.

      • Avatar
        K  October 18, 2013

        If what you say is true — that the Corinthians were not disputing Jesus’ bodily (i.e. corpse gone) resurrection — then why in your view does Paul say that some of the 500 “are still alive”? Why would any of the Corinthians want to ask these people about their experience of Jesus if they already fully believed in Jesus’ bodily resurrection?

        Also, was this previous statement from you a mistake?:

        “What he’s [Paul is] doing in vv. 5-9 is showing the *nature* of the resurrection. It was in the body. It was not just Jesus’ spirit being raised.”

        Why would Paul try to show in vv. 5-9 that the *nature* of Jesus’ resurrection was in the body and not just Jesus’ spirit being raised if none of the Corinthians doubted Jesus’ bodily resurrection?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 20, 2013

          I think this needs to be the last back-and-forth on this; you may want to read up on what scholars’ have said about the passage in some of the commentaries; but I do want to stress simply that the passage is widely understood to be an argument about the future resurrection of believers (it will be bodily: therefore it hasn’t happened) rather than about the past resurrection of Jesus. That’s why my statement was not a mistake. Paul is reasserting what they already claimed to believe and that had been believed from the beginning by all Christians — including the 500, many of whom were still alive to attest — that Jesus’ own resurrection was bodily. And therefore their’s would be. They have not yet experienced the resurrection. That’s the point. (as is clear by reading the entire chapter.)

          • Avatar
            K  October 21, 2013

            “…[it] is widely understood…”

            That’s not much of an argument, but I admit that group consensus is probably correct more often than it is wrong.

            BTW, my position was that Paul’s argument was about the future resurrection of believers AND Jesus’ resurrection, not JUST Jesus’ resurrection (in case that got lost somewhere in our discussion).

            No problem if you want to stop here. You have been more than generous with your time. However, if you (or anyone else that shares your view) can better answer the two questions below, I would greatly appreciate it because your explanations so far escape me.

            1] If Paul did not suspect that some of the Corinthians were doubting Jesus’ resurrection, and Paul was not on any level trying to argue for Jesus’ bodily resurrection (which is your position I as best I can tell), why does Paul say that some of the 500 “are still alive” if it was not to bolster a case for JESUS’ resurrection by implying that the Corinthians could go talk to these people to confirm JESUS’ bodily resurrection?

            2] How can you say in one breath, “[What Paul is] doing in vv. 5-9 is showing the *nature* of the resurrection. It was in the body. It was not just Jesus’ spirit being raised,” and then in another breath say that Paul was not trying to show that Jesus was bodily raised?

            BTW, here’s a couple of examples that seem to go against your consensus, but I suppose they could be wrong too:

            The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (2008), pg. 247: “In one of the reports Paul received concerning what was going on in Corinth, he heard that some were claiming “that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12)….Paul was so deeply concerned about this theological position that he gave an extended discourse in ch. 15 to PROVE THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST and to set a timetable for the final return of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.”

            Wolfhart Pannenberg in Jesus: God and Man (1977), pg. 89: “The intention of this enumeration [in vv5-8] is clearly to give PROOF by means of witnesses for the facticity of Jesus’ resurrection.”

  19. Avatar
    Zboilen  November 23, 2016

    Hi Bart, do you think that different New Testament authors had different views of the resurrection? An example would be Mark’s view and Paul’s view. Do you see any differences between them?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 24, 2016

      Yes I do. I wrote about this in How Jesus BEcame God. Maybe I’ll post on it!

  20. Avatar
    Gary  February 7, 2017

    Wow. I’m still not sure I understand your position on Paul’s view of Resurrection.

    I just finished reading scholar Gregory Riley’s “Resurrection Reconsidered”. He presents the position that people in the Greco-Roman world had a very different perception about spirits (ghosts) than we do today. Riley states that people living in the first century Roman Empire believed that dead people frequently came back to visit the living, appearing in “bodies” that looked exactly like their former fleshly bodies, and having the same capabilities of their former fleshly bodies: capable of eating food, drinking wine, and even engaging in sex…even sex with the living! The ONLY difference between a spirit body and a fleshly body was that USUALLY a spirit body was impalpable (could not be touched).

    Riley believes that Paul would have been shocked to hear about an empty tomb as he would have believed that Jesus’ fleshly body would OF COURSE still be in his grave! To Paul, Jesus had been resurrected as a spiritual body. His fleshly body remained in his grave. You seem to believe that Paul believed that the fleshly body of Jesus left the grave entirely and was transformed into an immortal body.

    Riley believes that there were a variety of views on the concept of resurrection among first century Jews and among the earliest Christians and that the Gospel of John, written at the end of the first century, was written by the emerging proto-orthodox against the Thomas community of Christians who believed in a spiritual, non-physical resurrection.

    What percentage of scholars would agree with Riley’s view regarding Paul’s Resurrection views and what percentage agree with yours?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2017

      Yes, I very much disagree with him on this. Paul, like other apocalypticists, thought that the current corrupt world would be restored to perfection, as would the human body, as was (already) Jesus’ body. I’m going to be devoting a number of posts to just this question soon after I end the current thread.

      • Avatar
        Gary  February 9, 2017

        What percentage of scholars hold Riley’s views (regarding Paul’s resurrection belief–that Jesus was resurrected as a spiritual body, his body of flesh was not resurrected) would you say?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 10, 2017

          Good question! I don’t really know. My sense is that it’s a minority opinion.

          • Avatar
            Gary  February 10, 2017


            I just checked on NT Wright’s website regarding early Christian resurrection beliefs. Wright believes that there was no spectrum of resurrection beliefs among early Christians: they all believed in a bodily resurrection of the flesh. Riley on the other hand claims that the earliest Christians held a wide spectrum of resurrection beliefs as did first century Jews. Who is correct in your opinion?

            Wright uses this unanimous resurrection belief as evidence for the historicity of the appearance claims of a real, flesh and blood body.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 12, 2017

            I’m afraid Wright is just wrong about that.

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