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Paul’s View of Resurrection

QUESTIONS:

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?

RESPONSES:

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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Comments

  1. Avatar
    ftbond  April 1, 2017

    Dr Ehrman –

    Way back, eons ago, at the beginning of this thread, you said “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.”

    I can only presume that you might be referring to the infamous “lack of mention of an empty tomb” in 1 Corith 15, where Paul states “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”.

    (Note: the reason I make that presumption is that I don’t see any necessity whatsoever of Paul mentioning anything at all about the empty tomb – in ANY of his writings – because ALL of his authentic writings are addressed to people who are already believers. He is not evangelizing in ANY of those letters, not telling the “life and times of Jesus”, not recounting history, except when somehow necessary to his point. BUT – even though I believe the same points apply to 1 Corith, in which he was not evangelizing, not telling history, etc, I’ll give it a pass for this question, because people, including yourself, seem to jump on 1 Corinth 15 to somehow attempt to demonstrate that Paul knew nothing about the empty tomb).

    So – Regarding 1 Corinth 15 3-4 as noted above: Take a very careful look at this: “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”. Now — minus the English-like punctuation (which, of course, is not used in Greek): “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”.

    Christ died “according to the scriptures”, and he was “buried and raised… according to the scriptures”.

    You can’t just stick “the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, which was found empty” in there. Why not? Because THAT much of this sentence (or, perhaps even oft-cited “creed”) is NOT “according to scriptures”, is it? There’s no mentioning of Joe of Arimathea anywhere in the OT, nor is there specific mention of his tomb – or of any tomb at all – in any scripture which might be understood as a reference to a prophesied resurrection. And, if this sentence were indeed a quote from an oft-cited creed, then sticking in something about Joe’s tomb would screw up the creed, wouldn’t it?

    My question to you: Would you agree that it is (at least) equally suitably explanitory to assert (a) Paul didn’t mention the empty tomb in 1 Corith 15 because the tomb itself was neither part of any particular prophesy, nor part of the “creed” that Paul seems to be quoting (if indeed it was a creed), as (b) Paul didn’t mention the empty tomb in 1 Corinth because “he never knew about it”?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 2, 2017

      It’s possible. But then you’re still left with the problem that Paul doesn’t mention it in other seemingly appropriate places that were *not* part of a creedal formulation.

  2. Avatar
    john76  January 7, 2018

    It would be interesting to ask Paul exactly what he meant by the resurrected Jesus being the “firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23) of the general “harvest” of souls at the end of the age where the Kingdom of God was imminent. We certainly know some early Christians thought this meant bodies emerging from tombs. For instance, Matthew characterizes the first stage of the general resurrection of the dead and Christ as the firstfruits as:

    “The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection, when they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.… (Matthew 27:52-53)”

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2018

      I think he meant the rest of the fruit (all other resurrected bodies) were soon to be “brought in”

      • Avatar
        john76  January 8, 2018

        I know that. I meant whether Paul though the general resurrection of souls at the end of the age meant bodies leaving their tombs. This is how Matthew interprets it (Matthew 27:52-53). It’s interesting because if Paul pictured the general resurrection as bodies leaving their graves, then Jesus as the “first fruits” would also be one of these – Which would speak against mythicism.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 9, 2018

          Yes, I think Paul thought bodies could come out and up (1 Thess 4;13-18)

          • Avatar
            john76  January 10, 2018

            That’s interesting! It means Paul might have believed in an empty tomb scenario for Jesus, even though Paul doesn’t mention the empty tomb, which wouldn’t be weird because Paul doesn’t mention much of Jesus’ biography.

  3. Avatar
    Gerhardt  May 15, 2020

    I am curious (and this has to do with Paul, not Paul’s view of the resurrection, so I hope that it is okay to bring it up here…). Do you have any thoughts on the nature of the thorn in Paul’s side (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10)? Coming from a Pentecostal background, I have heard a variety of theories, most of which involved that theorist’s “pet sin” – suggesting that Paul was a compulsive gambler, a homosexual, an alcoholic, or whatever – with each person using other Bible verses to back up their claim. And so, the question has always been of some interest to me.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      I wish we knew. Other people come up with physical ailments: epilepsy, blindness, etc. He never gives us a hint, presumably because the Corinthians already knew what he was talking about.

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