This will be my final post on the early Christian understandings of the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body. I have tried to show that Paul believed that Jesus’ actual body came out of the tomb, but as a spiritual, immortal body – completely transformed; other Christians, including groups of Gnostics, maintained that Jesus’ spirit lived on even though his body decomposed and ceased to exist (like all other bodies) In this final post I deal with another extreme in the opposite direction, one found already in the New Testament, possibly in order to oppose the idea that Jesus was raised only in spirit but not in body. Again, this is an extract from my forthcoming book How Jesus Became God.


The Raising of the Mortal Body

We don’t know how early such full-blown Gnostic views came to expression in the Christian movement; they were certainly in place by the middle of the second century, and possibly earlier. But there were tendencies toward such views already in the New Testament period. If my reconstruction of the events in Corinth stated above are correct, then already in the 50s there were believers in Jesus who would have been open to the view that Jesus’ spirit, not his physical body, was raised from the dead. Further evidence that there were some Christians who held that view can be found in the fact that some of the later Gospel traditions go to some lengths in order to counter it.

In Luke’s Gospel, for example, written possibly around 80-85 CE, when Jesus is raised the disciples have trouble believing that it is really him, in the body – even when they see him. This is explicitly stated in Luke 24:36: “While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood in their midst said to them, ‘Peace by with you.’ They were startled and afraid, and thought that they were seeing a spirit” (sometimes translated “ghost”). Jesus rebukes them and tells them to feel his body to show it is real: “Look at my hands and my feet, to see it is I. Handle me and see – for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (24:39). They still have trouble believing it, and so he asks them for something to eat. They give him a piece of broiled fish, and he eats it before their very eyes.


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