RE: Will the New Jerusalem Literally Decend to the Earth?

Over two years ago I responded to a blog post over at Foster’s Theological Reflections (which is a blog I recommend all of the readers of my blog, follow). In this blog post I plan to re-address the issue because it’s critical, I believe, in determining the fellow hope of Christians.

In the original October 12, 2012 blog post entitled “Will New Jerusalem Literally Descend to the Earth?,” Dr. Foster addresses the arguments of J. Richard Middelton. In particular, the question revolves around what Dr. Foster regards as an assumption on Middleton’s part with respect to his reading of Revelation 21.

Middleton argues that based on Revelation 21: 1, 2 the New Jerusalem descends from heaven to the earth. While this position seems uncontroversial, Foster maintains that such a view is only derived from inference and from “weak exegesis.” The reason for the objection is that the text “does not explicitly say that the city lands on the earth.”

My response is twofold. First, the phrase “coming down out of heaven from God” doesn’t necessarily refer to spatial movement. While it may be a reasonable inference, one has to recall that the New Jerusalem are human beings—Christians. The metaphor of Christians as a city—indeed, a temple city—would suggest that God is the source of their new status as God’s habitation. God “tabernacles” with man to an even greater degree than he did in the wilderness with the Israelites. Therefore the city’s foundation, its source is from God. This doesn’t require a spatial movement from heaven (wherever that might be, geospatially) to earth. It simply refers to Christians—human beings on earth—as God’s metaphorical city. It is God’s house, God’s city and is therefore its source.

Second, that the city is on earth is obvious from the surrounding context. In Revelation 20:9, for example, the city is surrounded by enemies upon the earth. This further suggests that the ‘coming down from heaven’ language in Revelation 21 is in reference to source and not geolocation, hence the territorial nature of their envelopment. Furthermore, in Revelation 22:14-15, those who have washed their robes are granted access to “enter by the gates into the city.” Those outside the city are the “dogs,” “sorcerers,” “immoral persons,” “murderers,” and “idolaters.” Thus, there is some sense in which one can be found outside the city’s parameters and in some sense enter the city through its gates. The language John uses clearly suggests a terrestrial nature to the scene he is describing. So while the text may not explicitly say the city lands upon the earth, the context not only suggests it but demands it.

Once the context is factored in, Middleton’s suggestion that the city is upon the earth is not “weak exegesis” but in fact good exegesis. Christians will reign on the earth, exercising authority over it. That is the great Christian hope taught in Revelation and elsewhere in the New Testament.

He Came to Verify the Abrahamic Promises

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 15:8:

For I tell you that Christ became a minister of those who are circumcised in behalf of God’s truthfulness, so as to verify the promises He made to their forefathers,

One may rightly ask which “promises” Jesus came to “verify.” When one refers to the “forefathers,” that is, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—there are explicit “promises” made to them by Jehovah God over the course of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jehovah God made them promises about inheriting land, producing progeny, and becoming a blessing to all nations. Several texts bear this out:

  • He remembers his covenant forever, The promise he made, to a thousand generations, The covenant he made with Abraham, And the oath he swore to Isaac, Which he established as a decree to Jacob And as a lasting covenant to Israel, Saying, “I will give you the land of Ca′naan As your allotted inheritance.” (Psalm 105:8-11)
  • Reside as a foreigner in this land, and I will continue with you and bless you because to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will carry out the oath that I swore to your father Abraham: 4 ‘I will multiply your offspring like the stars of the heavens; and I will give to your offspring all these lands; and by means of your offspring, all nations of the earth will obtain a blessing for themselves,’ (Genesis 26:3-4)
  • For it was not through law that Abraham or his offspring had the promise that he should be heir of a world, but it was through righteousness by faith. (Romans 4:13)

Shockingly, according to the Watchtower Society, the Abrahamic covenant—which is constituted by these promises—has already been fulfilled! Indeed, in their February 1, 1998 Watchtower, under the article “Jehovah is a God of Covenants,” they claim not only that the Abrahamic covenant has been fulfilled, but that it has been supplanted or superseded by the new covenant! They write:

Jehovah made a new arrangement to administer the complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. That new arrangement was the new covenant. (p. 13, par. 19)

Undoubtedly, some aspects of the Abrahamic covenant are being continuously fulfilled. For example, Abraham did have (and continues to have) progeny and the nations did (and continue to) bless themselves. However, as the texts listed above show, the “land” is a crucial part of the promises, and that aspect of the covenant has not seen fulfillment. The New Testament tells us as much:

  • Stephen replied: “Men, brothers and fathers, listen. The God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham while he was in Mes·o·po·ta′mi·a, before he took up residence in Ha′ran, and he said to him: ‘Go out from your land and from your relatives and come into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out of the land of the Chal·de′ans and took up residence in Ha′ran. And from there, after his father died, God caused him to resettle in this land where you now dwell. And yet, he did not give him any inheritance in it, no, not even enough to put his foot on; but he promised to give it to him as a possession and after him to his offspring, though as yet he had no child (Acts 7:2-5)
  • In faith all of these [=Patriachs] died, although they did not receive the fulfillment of the promises; but they saw them from a distance and welcomed them and publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land. (Hebrews 11:13)
  • And yet all of these, although they received a favorable witness because of their faith, did not obtain the fulfillment of the promise, because God had foreseen something better for us, so that they might not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

The clear and unambiguous testimony of the New Testament is that Abraham and the forefathers did not receive the “fulfillment of the promise(s).” That is to say, that a crucial part of the Abrahamic covenant—contrary to what the Society has published—has not, in fact, been fulfilled.

Perhaps because the nation of Israel’s lack of faith and hard-heartedness, they needed re-affirmation of the promises. They had waited thousands of years for that promise to be fulfilled and yet it hadn’t. But with the advent of Jesus Christ and the testimony from the Apostle Paul, we know that those promises haven’t changed and that God’s purpose for humankind—Christians and their “forefathers, alike—will be fulfilled in due course.

Critically, at Romans 4:13-16, Paul includes his own hope alongside Abraham’s. He writes that Abraham’s seed, both under the law (i.e. Jews) and those who adhere to faith (i.e. Gentiles), are Abraham’ ‘sons.’ They share in the “promises” of being “heirs of the world,” that is, of the “world to come.” (Hebrews 2:5) There is no distinction of hope between Christians and the Old faithful. Christians, as Abraham’s progeny, look forward towards the fulfillment of the promises Jehovah made to Abraham long ago. We look forward towards a new world—a renewed earth—in the age to come.

Spirit-Led, How?

When engaging Jehovah’s Witnesses on issues related to their Governing Body or their Organization more broadly, it is often the case that they will convey the notion that the leadership is not “inspired” directly from God, but rather are “spirit-led” or “spirit-directed.” But how so? In what sense are they “spirit-led,” uniquely and solely, from any other Christian or Christian organization? How are Jehovah’s Witnesses differently “spirit-led” than others?

In the most recent Study Edition of the Watchtower magazine (August 15, 2014) they write on page 21:

Today, Jehovah guides his people by means of the Bible, his holy spirit, and the congregation. (Acts 9:31; 15:28; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17) The guidance that we receive from him is so clear that it is as if ‘our own ears hear a word behind us saying: “This is the way. Walk in it.”’ (Isa. 30:21) In effect, Jesus also conveys Jehovah’s voice to us as he directs the congregation through “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45) We need to take this guidance and direction seriously, for our everlasting life depends on our obedience.—Heb. 5:9.

 

It is clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus conveys God’s voice through “the faithful and discreet slave.” But how is this done? Does Jesus give them special insight that he is not willing to give to others? Does he interpret prophecy for them? Give visions or dreams? How exactly does Jesus convey his message to the “faithful and discreet slave”? Who does he communicate with and in what manner? What is the biblical distinction between being spirit-led as the anointed voice of God on earth and being directly inspired?

The word “inspiration” is rhetorically soften when supplanted by “spirit-led,” but until further definitions are given, it is a distinction without a difference. Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot have their cake and eat it too. That is, they apply to themselves every aspect of what it means to be inspired, claim to be solely and uniquely led by God, without actually admitting they are. Therein lies the problem. You can deny all you want that you’re not inspired, and reject such a notion explicitly, but with every action and publication and the authoritative demand that “everlasting life depends on our obedience” to the “faithful and discreet slave,’ you, in fact, do present yourself as inspired.

Is 1 Thessalonians 4:16 Evidence for Identifying Jesus with an Archangel?

This blog post will not address the broader Christological question of whether Jesus in his prehuman and resurrection existence ought to be identified with the figure known as Michael the Archangel. Instead it will focus on a much narrower question: Is 1 Thessalonians 4:16 evidence that Jesus is an archangel?

The Watchtower Society, a proponent of this view, puts forth the following cumulative arguments:

(1)  When “archangel” is used in the bible it is always in the singular.

(2)  The voice of Jesus “is described as being that of an archangel, suggesting that he is, in fact, himself the archangel.”

(3)  When Jesus descends he comes with a commanding call. If Jesus is not the archangel, then the reference to Jesus having the archangel’s voice “would not be appropriate” because “it would be describing a voice of lesser authority than that of the Son of God.”

For the fuller context of these arguments consult the Society’s bible dictionary Insight on the Scriptures Volume 2: Jehovah – Zuzim, pages 393-394. A variation of the third argument may be found in Reasoning from the Scriptures, page 218, paragraph 2, where after explaining the “command of Jesus” is described as the archangel’s call, they ask the question if it “would be appropriate to liken Jesus’ commanding call to that of someone lesser in authority?” The implied answer, of course, is no.

(1)  Archangel in the singular. The term “archangel” (Gr. ἀρχάγγελος) appears twice in the New Testament. Once in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and once in Jude 9– both in the singular. Yet, a grammatically singular noun is not evidence that singular implies “only.” For example, the name “Jesus” only appears in the singular yet doesn’t mean there is only one “Jesus.”

Jude has shown to have been influenced by the Jewish literature of his day, in particular First Enoch. Jude 14-15 quotes 1 Enoch 1:9’s prophecy. The relevancy is the book of Enoch speaks of other archangels. It refers to Michael as “one of the archangels” (71:3; cf. Daniel 10:13) and elsewhere calls “Uriel” an archangel. (79:6)

Because Jude speaks of “Michael the Archangel” in his letter and quotes from 1 Enoch, it is entirely expected that he should share or at least have no objection to, the angelology of the very book he is quoting.[1] The body of Christians to which he was writing would have also been familiar with Enoch and with the angelology expressed in the book.

The singular in Jude 9 is easy to account for. “Archangel” has a very specific, singular referent in this context.  Nothing more can or should be extrapolated from this. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 “archangel” is in the singular because it describes a singular noun.[2]

(2)  The voice of an archangel. Is it a necessary conclusion to assert the voice actually belongs to Jesus himself as part of who he is?[3] By no means. Jehovah’s Witnesses simply misconstrue the verse. It nowhere states this is Jesus’ voice.

The grammatical issues accompanying this verse, without even engaging them, render the Society’s assumptions quite naïve. For example, the three prepositional phrases (“with a commanding call”; “with an archangel’s voice”; “with God’s trumpet”) may well be taken as temporal referring to Christ’s descent.

Grammatically other views are possible as articulated by Charles A. Wanamaker in The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text:

The “cry of command” may come from the archangel. If this is correct the καί connecting ἐν φωνῇ ἀρχαγγέλου (“with the voice of an archangel”) to ἐν σάλπιγγι θεοῦ (“with the trumpet of God”) implies that the last two prepositional phrases should possibly be taken together as epexegetical to the first. If so, they express the means by which the command is issued (so Frame, 174; L. Schmid, TDNT III, 658). Another possibility is perhaps more likely. The juxtaposition of κελεύσματι (“cry of command”) with the phrase αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος (“the Lord himself”) suggests that Christ’s cry of command is directed to the dead, whom he calls to the resurrection by means of the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. This interpretation is perhaps supported by the statement in Jn. 5:25–29 that the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and will come forth to the resurrection and the judgment.

If “with the voice of an archangel” and “with the trumpet of God” is epexegetical, then this is the means by which we should understand the “commanding call.” Wanamaker feels it is best to see the commanding call coming from Jesus himself as a directive towards the dead, whom he calls by means of an archangel’s voice and trumpet of God. Needless to say there are a handful of different and legitimate interpretations.

However, the most convincing view is one which seeks to understand the three prepositional phrases in light of other texts which share the same or similar syntax. The preposition “en” is virtually agreed by all grammarians to denote the “attendant circumstances,” that is, the sphere of occurrence within which Jesus’ descent happens.[4] For a biblical text describing a similar situation with the same preposition consider Psalm 47:5 (46:6) in the Septuagint:

God went up with shouting (Gr. ἐν ἀλαλαγμῷ), the Lord with a sound of trumpet (Gr. ἐν φωνῇ σάλπιγγος).

The syntax is the same as 1 Thessalonians 4:16. We have en + phōnē + genitive singular noun. In Psalm 47:5 (46:6) it is not the case that God himself is “shouting” or sounding the “trumpet.” No, instead as the context reveals, God’s subjects on earth are the ones doing the shouting and playing the music as God ascends to his throne. Similarly, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 the voice of the archangel does not belong to Jesus grammatically or syntactically. Rather, it is merely the case that an archangel’s voice accompanies his descent. This view is reinforced when one considers earlier in Paul’s letter he had described Jesus’ coming as involving “saints” or angels. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)

(3)  Voice of lesser authority. The Society’s argument is that it would be diminishing and even offensive to attribute the archangel’s voice to Jesus if in fact he is not the archangel himself. One Jehovah’s Witness author puts it like so:

It is only logical that the voice expressing this commanding call be described by a word that would not diminish or detract from the great authority that Christ Jesus now has as King of kings and Lord of lords. (Mt 28:18; Re 17:14). If the designation “archangel” applied, not to Jesus Christ, but to other angels, then the reference to “an archangel’s voice” would be describing a voice of lesser authority than that of the Son of God.

The assumption in the above “logical” expression is that the voice belongs to Jesus himself. As has been shown through an analysis of the syntax, it is not required for this voice to belong to Jesus. That’s the burden Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Society must prove.

Even if one were to grant the view that the archangel’s voice belongs to Jesus why would it be inappropriate for him to express himself and his authority by way of his choosing? Authority can be expressed in numerous ways and by various agencies. The status of the agent doesn’t restrict or constrain the authority of the message. Witnesses have not told us how attributing to Jesus the archangel’s voice would “diminish” and “detract” from Jesus’ “great authority.”


[1] Additionally evidence exists that Jude’s story about the dispute with Satan is from the missing fragments of a literary work known as the Assumption of Moses. Early Christians unanimously attested to this, including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus. Jude’s quoting approvingly of these documents render it utterly unlikely that he differed angelologically from his contemporaries. Certainly his quotations don’t evidence that he did.

[2] “Archangel” in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is an indefinite noun simply making a general reference, not determining a fixed identity. This is articulated in the New World Translation’s “an archangel’s voice.” A.T. Robertson emphasizes to take ”note [of] absence of article with both φωνῃ [phōnēi] and ἀρχαγγελου [archaggelou]. The reference may be thus indefinite.” (Word Pictures in the New Testament. Oak Harbor : Logos Research Systems, 1997, S. 1 Th 4:16)

[3] Even if one were to say this voice belongs to Jesus, it would merely show he has an archangel’s voice, not that he’s Michael. Given there may be many (Daniel 10:13), choosing Michael seems arbitrary.

[4] Grammarian George Milligan notes the use of en in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 denotes “the attendant circumstances of the Lord’s descent” and lists Luke 14:31, Ephesians 5:26, 6:2, and Colossians 2:7 as other references in St. Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes (Toronto: The MacMillan Co. of Canada, 1908), page 60. See also Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words Volume 2 (Nashville: Nelson, 1996), page 572; A.T. Robertson’s A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1919) Third Edition, pages 588-589.

House to House

It is expected of the dedicated one that he will uphold the cause of the Father, the cause of true worship, will preach in honor of the Word and name of Jehovah God, will fully bear his responsibilities as a minister, a preacher in the field service from house to house, and otherwise participate fully in the activities of the New World society, to advance the proclamation of the Kingdom and uphold the true worship of Jehovah. (Watchtower, July 1, 1955, page 409, paragraph 10.)

The above quote from the Watchtower magazine under the subheading reading “REQUIREMENTS,” outlines in no uncertain terms what Jehovah’s Witnesses are “expected” to do, namely, go preaching “in the field service from house to house.”

Later in paragraph 10 they state emphatically,

The dedicated one must be a house-to-house witness as was Christ Jesus and the apostles to the extent of his ability

Accordingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses “must” go “house-to-house” as an official mandate. The question then arises: is this requirement biblical? The answer to this question isn’t trivial. It isn’t a superficial critique of the Society’s policies. This involves real world issues and circumstances.

A significant amount of time, planning, money, automobile costs, repairs, and maintenance, traveling, inconvenience, and so on are at stake. People forsake their careers and scholastic pursuits to dedicate themselves fulltime to this endeavor because they feel “must” carry out this practice. At times marriages are strained due to the fact that one spouse is a non-Witness. Such persons can face severe objections by their spouses, sometimes even leading to divorces or troubled marriages.

In fairly restrictive states much more is involved. Persecution, violence, imprisonment, and even death are real threats. Consequently, the Society’s doctrinal requirements can and often do have financial and civil repercussions. The question is, are these unintended consequences justified biblically? Is it a command from Jehovah God or Jesus Christ that Witnesses “must” go “house-to-house,” even if it involves putting their life, liberty, or financial well-being in jeopardy?

There can be no debate that Christians are in fact obligated to share their faith. Matthew 28:19’s command to “go and make disciples” is clear enough. Christians must preach. So the question isn’t should Christians preach, the question is if the Society is right and justified in ascribing a particular method? That is, is it true that a “dedicated one must be a house-to-house witness”?

Now, it is true that Witnesses have other options to preach. They can go to public places or even make telephone calls. However, it would be disingenuous for any Witness to comment that these two other methods are viewed as “on-par” with “house-to-house witnessing” by the Watchtower Society. Honest Witnesses must admit that door to door preaching is ultimately the method which is expected of them. If they don’t carry out a door to door ministry, they are considered “spiritually weak.” These statements are not found in print, but they are by all intent and purposes as good as if they were.

PROOF TEXTS

There are two texts used by the Watchtower Society to justify and advance their methods. These texts are Acts 5:42 and 20:20.

ACTS 5:42

And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.

ACTS 20:20

while I did not hold back from telling YOU any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching YOU publicly and from house to house.

FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE

In the past there had been controversies about the New World Translation’s rendering of kat’oikon as “from house to house.” Today, it is recognized this is a valid and perhaps even a preferred translation.

However, the rendering is not the issue. The problem is the meaning assigned to this phrase. It is important to note that the phrase kat’oikon (or kat’oikous) is never used with respect to missions to the homes of non-disciples. This phrase occurs 4 times in the Acts of the Apostles and it is important to look at each instance individually.

Acts 2:46 (NWT): “And day after day they were in constant attendance at the temple with one accord, and they took their meals in private homes and partook of food with great rejoicing and sincerity of heart”

The phrase translated as “private homes” is the same translated “house to house” in Acts 5:42. The “homes” in Acts 2:46 are clearly Christian homes, as the “meals” referred to are not common meals but quite literally the ‘breaking of the bread,’i.e., the Eucharist.

Acts 5:42 (NWT): “And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.”

From the available context “house to house” probably refers to a meeting place since it is placed alongside “the temple.” Just like in Acts 2:46, Christian homes are in view.

Acts 8:3 (NWT): “Saul, though, began to deal outrageously with the congregation. Invading one house after another and, dragging out both men and women, he would turn them over to prison.”

Saul dealt with the “congregation” by invading “one house after another.” Again, “homes” are Christian homes.

Acts 20:20 (NWT): “while I did not hold back from telling YOU any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching YOU publicly and from house to house.”

The antecedent to the second person plural pronoun “you” are the Ephesian elders. (cf Acts 20:17) Paul taught the Ephesian elders “publically,” such as at the temple and/or synagogue and from “house to house,” that is, ‘privately.’

MISSAPLICATION

Upon a closer inspection of the phrase kat’oikon we have seen that no usage refers to a method of Christian evangelism to nonbelievers. The Society has seriously misapplied these and other texts to justify their door-to-door policy. Such application of these texts have been passed on to Witnesses as “food” from Jesus Christ or Jehovah God themselves. In many cases such policies result in detentions, physical abuse, and even death. Hopefully a reconsideration of the facts will loosen the yoke placed unfairly upon Jehovah’s Witnesses in the future.

None of the texts which speak of going “house to house” are a command or a required method of evangelism. Even if one were to refute the position articulated in this blog post and show that “house to house” means ‘going to uninvited unbeliever’s homes,’ this would still not show that it is a requirement. It would not show that one “must” go house to house to be a “dedicated one.”

The Resurrection Body: Part II

SPIRIT(UAL) BODY

The body that God created for man was made up of the elements taken from the earth and the atmosphere. It was not a spiritual body, and it cannot be spiritualized so as to become invisible and able to inhabit the spirit realm. It was a physical body, separate and distinct from a spiritual body such as the heavenly “sons of God” possess. Just as a Bible commentator of the first century C.E. said: “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual one.” The two kinds of bodies must not be confused, and the Bible does not confuse them.—1 Corinthians 15:44. (God’s “Eternal Purpose” Now Triumphing For Man’s Good [New York: Watchtower Society, 1974], page 39)

The Watchtower Society teaches the “spiritual body” Christians are given upon resurrection is same as the bodies the “heavenly ‘sons of God’ possess,” that is, the same as angels have. In support of this view they cite the Apostle Paul at 1 Corinthians 15:44. A close examination of this verse (and following verses) is in order.

PHILOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE –IKOS SUFFIX

Looking at 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul uses the adjectives pneumatikon and psychikon both ending in the suffix –ikos (-ikon due to inflection) to describe the two respective bodies Christians have and will have. According to several grammars this suffix means to “denote relation, many others fitness or ability.” (Smyth, Greek Grammar, chapter 858)

Similarly Moulton notes that the suffix meant “pertaining to” and “with the characteristics of.” In fact, he draws a very strong distinction between the endings –inos and –ikos. The former means “made of” whereas the latter means “-like.” Quoting Alfred Plummer he states –inos refers to “material relation” whereas –ikos refers to an “ethical” or “moral” relation. (A Grammar of New Testament Greek: Volume 2: Accidence and Word Formation, page 378)

Emphasizing the strong distinction between suffixes is A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDF) at section 113.2 where it differentiates between sarkikos and sarkinos. The former referring to ‘pertaining to the flesh’ whereas the latter referring to ‘consisting of flesh,’ materiality. 

N. T. Wright notes, “the Greek forms ending in -nos refer to the material of which something is composed, while the forms ending in -kos are either ethical or functional, and refer to the sphere within which it belongs or the power which animates it.” (Resurrection of the Son of God [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003], page 283)

Thus according to Greek lexicographers the suffix –ikos denotes “relation,” “pertaining to,” “with the characteristics of,” and “ethical and moral relation,” not materiality or composition.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:44

Paul makes two points in 1 Corinthians 15:44: (1) If there is a sōma psychikon there is also (2) a sōma pneumatikon. In order to properly understand this verse a close look is required of each term.

SOMA: PHYSICAL BODY

In Robert Gundry’s scholarly work Sōma in Biblical Theology with Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975, 2005) he demonstrates quite conclusively through a comprehensive analysis of Paul’s use of soma that it “in and of itself implies materiality”  when used of persons. (166)

Indeed, there is not one exception in 1 Corinthians (or in the Pauline corpus) demonstrating otherwise. When used literally it refers to physical bodies and when used figuratively in Paul in the expression “body of Christ,” it refers to the social group of (physical human) believers. In either instance soma retains its normal primitive meaning.

With respect to Gundry’s proposal that “spiritual body” refers to “a physical body renovated by the Spirit of Christ,” Stafford mounts no counterargument. Instead he insists that Gundry’s view is “based in large part on the assumption that soma always denotes materiality.” Yet, it is not an “assumption” but based on a systematic analysis of the data.

In fact, it seems Stafford admits at least a portion of Gundry’s thesis when he writes “it is true soma often refers to a physical body…because the majority of persons referenced in the Bible are physical, human persons!” (JWD3, 438)

The concession that soma “often refers to a physical body” need not be overlooked. Stafford’s burden (and by extension Jehovah’s Witnesses’) is to show that soma can be used to refer to an immaterial body in the biblical material. No such proof has been provided.

In an effort to show exceptions to Gundry’s study, Stafford appeals to J. A. Ziesler’s article Soma in the Septuagint wherein he argues, based on the LXX, that soma can have a more than physical meaning and thus, by extension, in Paul as well. Having accepted his thesis, Stafford goes on to say “there is, in fact, no basis upon which to conclude that ‘body’ always denotes a material body.” (JWD3, 439)

These claims made by Ziesler and Stafford need to be taken seriously and examined critically. What is Ziesler really arguing in the aforementioned article and how does it relate to Stafford’s claim that there is “no basis” for viewing soma as strictly physical?  Let’s first begin by citing Ziesler’s conclusion in full:

In the Septuagint, soma overwhelmingly means the (usually human) physical body, alive or dead. Leaving aside the ‘slave’ instances, we started with 11 possibles, but have tentatively eliminated 3, namely Prov. 25:20; Bel 32; 2 Macc.12:26. In one instance (Prov. 11:1 7) we found good reason to give soma the meaning ‘person’. In 7 instances (Gen. 47: 12; 1 Chron.28:1; 1 Esdr. 3:4, 4; Tob. 11:15; Tob. 13:7 B; Sir. 51:2; Job 33:17) we found that though the physical aspect was evident, it was the medium through which the person as a whole was viewed. Thus with one probable exception, soma may not strictly mean person, but is used to indicate the person. (“Soma in the Septuagint,” NovT27 (1983), page 144)

Out of 136[1] references to soma in the LXX, Ziesler is only able to conjure up 11 possible exceptions to Gundry’s thesis, which even he admits are “very few in number.” Immediately, he “eliminated 3” more, leaving only 8. After reviewing the remaining 8, he concludes 7 are found to have an evident “physical aspect,” thus leaving only 1 possible exception to Gundry’s thesis, namely, Proverbs 11:17.

With respect to Ziesler’s analysis of Proverbs 11:17, the lone “exception” to Gundry’s study, Xavier Paul B. Viagulamuthu states that soma can be understood in this passage without a holistic meaning. Indeed, according to Viagulamuthu:

The soma here [Proverbs 11:17, LXX] is a figure of speech. Ziesler underestimates the role of a figure of speech in his work and maintains that the figure of speech can actually take away the distinction between the figure and the figured. But that is not true. The essence of a figure of speech is that it is a “deviation in the use of words from the literal sense or from simple and common practices.” A figure of speech is never synonymous. (Offering Our Bodies as a Living Sacrifice to God: A Study in Pauline Spirituality Based on Romans 12:1 [Rome: Gregorian University Press, 2002], page 121.)

Consequently, there is no good reason to be persuaded by Ziesler’s arguments nor can one claim he provides clear exceptions to Gundry’s thesis. He doesn’t. From over 100 references he could find but one “exception,” which upon further consideration is not an exception at all.

Yet, even if one would continue to find Ziesler persuasive, he cannot be used in support of Stafford’s position. According to Ziesler, “in the LXX soma does indeed usually mean the physical body, but it can refer to the whole person without any special emphasis on the physical, though the latter is never excluded.” (Paul’s Letter to the Romans [London: SMC Press, 1989], page 160.)

Ziesler’s view, then, is that soma can denote the “whole person” not that it can denote something other than physical. As the quotation above shows, physicality is “never excluded” from soma, yet Stafford and Jehovah’s Witnesses need to prove that it is. Consequently, Ziesler does not support the Watchtower’s position nor is Ziesler’s holistic contention even correct based upon a further examination of his article.

Indeed, unless anyone can produce evidence countering Gundry’s thesis, we have no reason to suppose “body” can denote anything other than physical, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul.

PSYCHIKON: NATURAL, WEAK, PERISHABLE, OF THIS AGE

The BDAG provides the following lexical gloss, “lit. pert. to the life of the natural world and whatever belongs to it, in contrast to the realm of experience whose central characteristic is πνεῦμα, natural, unspiritual, worldly.”

Thus accordingly, psychikon may be translated as “natural” or “worldly.” None of these words in English adequately conveys the etymological connection it has to its nominal cognate psyche, which means “soul” or “being.” Nonetheless the emphasis is on ‘natural life’ or ‘natural existence.’ Paul elsewhere uses this word as such.

In the ever important text of 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul states that a psychikos de anthrōpos (= “a worldly human being”) “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” Accordingly, someone or something who is or that is psychikos is deprived of the “spirit” and cannot understand spiritual things. Contrastingly, the ho de pneumatikos (= “spiritual person”) can and is given the spirit. The contrast cannot be in the material upon which they are made since Paul is comparing human beings. 

What, then, about the phrase sōma psychikon? Three points must be made:

  • After citing the lexical meaning of psychikon, examining the suffix –ikos, and looking at its etymological cognate psyche, we are now in a position to evaluate the meaning of the phrase sōma psychikon. The expression refers to a body which is ‘concerned,’ ‘belongs to,’ and is ‘characteristic’ of the psyche. So what is meant by psyche? Given that Adam is said to have become a psyche in verse 45, it must be understood in light of Paul’s Septuagintal pesher of Genesis 2:7. Psyche systematically translates the Hebrew nephesh in the Pentateuch and is a noun derived from the verb psychō, meaning “to breath.” Accordingly, psyche refers to a living being that “breathes” but which is also natural and susceptible to the laws of nature. It grows and it dies. Thus the sōma psychikon is a body that breathes, grows, and dies. It is natural. Yes, it is physical but this is by virtue of it being a soma not psychikon.

 

  • Had Paul wanted to teach that the resurrection body would not be physical he would have used a word other than psychikon and certainly a different suffix since it conveys a relation not a component. To quote J. A. Schep “If Paul wanted to…say that this present body is a flesh-body in distinction from the resurrection-body as a spirit-body, the apostle would have used his favorite words ‘carnal,’ ‘fleshly,’ or ‘fleshy’ (sarkikon or sarkinon)…Paul…wanted to prevent the Corinthians from thinking that there is no resurrection hope for this present body of flesh.” (The Nature of the Resurrection Body [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964], page 200)

 

  • Since soma already means “physical body,” it would be superfluous for Paul to then use psychikon to mean the same thing, in essence writing “physical physical body.” No, instead he uses the adjective psychikon to refer to the state of being of the current body, which in verses prior he describes as “weak,” (Gr. astheneia) ‘corrupt,’ (Gr. phthora) and ‘dishonored.’ (Gr. atimia) None of these qualities speak of composition but they all find their summation in the adjective, psychikon.

PNEUMATIKON: SPIRITUAL AS STATE OF BEING

This term means “spiritual.” It accurately captures its exact meaning and makes the etymological connection with “spirit,” its nominal cognate. Paul uses pneumatikos in two different ways: (1) as a substantive or (2) as an attributive adjective.

In 1 Corinthians 2:15 Paul talks about the ho pneumatikos, a reference to the spiritual person. 1 Corinthians 14:1 uses pneumatika in reference to spiritual gifts. In each case the substantivized use doesn’t focus upon immaterial composition but to things given by the spirit or motivated by the spirit.

1 Corinthians 10:3-4 provides an attributive use of the adjective which more closely resembles 1 Corinthians 15:44. There we have references to “spiritual food,” “spiritual drink,” and a “spiritual rock.” The reference is to Israel’s miraculous meals in the desert. The point being stressed here is that these elements have a supernatural source, not that they are immaterial. Certainly the manna was real, not immaterial bread!

From the uses of pneumatikos in the New Testament, when it is used attributively modifying a noun, it is the noun that determines whether the reference is physical or not. The adjective doesn’t refer to composition as the –ikos suffix makes clear. It refers to something “relating,” “pertaining,” or “characteristic” of the spirit. In the attributive uses, such relation is clearly of source and state/quality of being.

What about the phrase soma pneumatikon? It refers to a body that ‘pertains to,’ ‘concerns,’ and is ‘characteristic’ of the spirit, not made of spirit. Since “spirit” is never used in Paul’s writings to denote a substance as such, the point being stressed is the attributive qualities that the holy spirit will give to our resurrected bodies.

Gordon Fee is quite right when he notes concerning the adjectives that “they describe the one body in terms of its essential characteristics as earthly, on the one hand, and therefore belonging to the life of the present age, and as heavenly, on the other, and therefore belonging to the life of the Spirit in the age to come. It is ‘spiritual,’ not in the sense of ‘immaterial’ but of ‘supernatural.’… The transformed body, therefore, is not composed of ‘spirit’; it is a body adapted to the eschatological existence that is under the ultimate domination of the Spirit.” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Company, 187], page 786)

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS ON 1 CORINTHIANS 15:44

We have now considered four arguments that speak against the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses: we considered the adjectival suffix –ikos that never speaks of composition; when pneumatikos is used attributively with a noun in the New Testament, it is the noun that dictates the nature of the subject; we have seen how Paul elsewhere uses pneumatikos; and we have seen that soma always denotes materiality. But apart from these arguments what is the general consensus in NT scholarship?

Anthony Thistleton. Thistleton observes that pneumatikos when used “in its regular Pauline sense [means] that which pertains to the Holy Spirit of God.” He goes on, “Paul is speaking in v. 44 of a mode and pattern of intersubjective life directed by the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, he finds “even less convincing…the theory that soma pneumatikon means simply a nonphysical ‘body.’” His reasons are threefold: (1) quoting Fee he notes that the ‘transformed body is not composed of ‘spirit,’ just as the current body is not composed of ‘soul’; (2) human beings cannot be “less” than physical when in fact “the totality of the mode of life of the resurrection existence in the Holy Spirit is more than physical but not less”; (3) 1 Corinthians 3:1 “provides an admirable starting point for confirmation of” the meaning of pneumatikos.

Continuing along the lines of point (2), Thiselton adds “the character of Christ’s own raised body in later traditions of the canonical Gospels as ‘more’ but not ‘less’ than an earthly physical body. In these resurrection traditions Jesus Christ was not always immediately “recognized” (John 20:14, 15; 21:12; Luke 24:13–20) but his personal identity was recognized in terms of sociophysical gestures and characteristics (Luke 24:31; John 20:16, 20, 27–28; action, voice, hands, side).” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000], pages 1275-1277) (More on Jesus’ appearances below)

Plummer and Robertson. According to Plummer and Robertson “ψυχικόν does not mean that the body is made of ψυχή, consists entirely of ψυχή: and πνευματικόν does not mean is made and consists entirely of πνεῦμα. The adjectives mean ‘congenital with,’ ‘formed to be the organ of.’ (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians [New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1911], page 372)

Mike Licona. Licona aptly points out that we have “a third-person singular verb” in 1 Corinthians 15:44 with “natural body” and “spiritual body” functioning as “predicate nominatives.” As such “the implied subject of the verb ‘sown’ is ‘it.’” Thus in the expression “it is sown…it is raise” most clearly refers to the body. “This is confirmed by Paul’s use of touto in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.” Indeed, “this perishable” and “this mortal” must necessarily be the body and it is “this” which is “sown” and “it” is “this” which is “raised.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach [Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010], page 404-406)

According to Licona’s research, there are 846 occurrences of psychikon in Greek literature dating from 700 BCE to 300 CE. After examining each one he concludes: “I failed to find a single reference where psychikon possessed a meaning of ‘physical’ or ‘material.’” As for pneumatikon there are 1131 occurrences during the same time period. The word differed in meaning in Greek philosophers but had a wide range of usages. However, of note is that the expression “spiritual body” occurs in at least 5 authors during this time period. In each case “none of these [references] seem to be referring to ethereal bodies.”

In summary and after combing through 11 centuries of Greek literature, Licona finds that pneumatikon can refer to something ethereal but also finds a wide range of other meanings; psychikon never means “physical” or “material”; occurrences of “spiritual body” doesn’t mean “immaterial body.” (408)

After noting Paul’s uses of the same terms in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, Licona notes that “it is clear that Paul is not contrasting material and immaterial objects, since for him humans can be natural or spiritual. In other words, when employing the terms ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ Paul is not referring to the substance of the old and new bodies but rather their mode of existence.”

He continues, “later on in 1 Corinthians 15:44, when Paul employs these same terms, he is saying that our current body is buried with all of its ‘natural’ or ‘this-wordly’ appetites and weaknesses but is raised and transformed into a new body with spiritual appetites and qualities.” (410)[2]

Finally, Licona notes the significance of 1 Corinthians 9:11.  Since the apostles were providing spiritual things (“pneumatika”) were they then not entitled to material things (“sarkika”)? Clearly, when Paul wants to contrast nonmaterial with material, he shows awareness for the vocabulary fitting the occasion. It is thus striking and noteworthy that he chose not to use a word which would otherwise demonstrate a material vs nonmaterial body in 1 Corinthians 15:44. (414)

J. A. Schep. “The four contrasting characteristics of both bodies have nothing to do with a difference in substance, as appears also from the fact that Paul uses the expressions ‘sown in…,” “raised in…,” followed by nouns that state conditions of the bodies concerned, not the ‘material’ they consist of.” (Resurrection, 200)

Schep continued that “psychikon must be understood in the light of the preceding statement that Adam became a living soul. Psychikon therefore denotes Adam’s life as he received it at creation and it is reproduced by natural procreation and birth.” (175)

Gordon Fee. “[T]hey describe the one body in terms of its essential characteristics as earthly, on the one hand, and therefore belonging to the life of the present age, and as heavenly, on the other, and therefore belonging to the life of the Spirit in the age to come. It is ‘spiritual,’ not in the sense of ‘immaterial’ but of ‘supernatural.’ (First Corinthians, 786)

1 CORINTHIANS 15:45

Although the majority of occurrences of 1 Corinthians 15:45 in Watchtower literature deal with Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, they nonetheless use it to support the notion that Christ is now an immaterial ‘spirit’ being:

A limited number of men and women will be resurrected to life in heaven. As kings and priests with Jesus, they will share in undoing all the effects of death that mankind inherited from the first man, Adam. (Romans 5:12; Revelation 5:9, 10) How many will God take to heaven to rule with Christ? According to the Bible, only 144,000. (Revelation 7:4; 14:1) Jehovah will give each of these resurrected ones a spirit body so that they can live in heaven.—1 Corinthians 15:35, 38, 42-45; 1 Peter 3:18. (Knowledge that Leads to Everlasting Life [New York: Watchtower Society, 1995, 2006 reprint], page 88.)

Although the Society expresses their view about 1 Corinthians 15:45, they provide no exegesis to buttress their point. Instead we are expected to accept such teaching at face value. But what did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 15:45?

In order to appreciate the text and context, we have to situate it within its proper intent. The purpose of Paul’s citation of Genesis 2:7 in 1 Corinthians 15:45 is to “demonstrate from Scripture the reality of v. 44, that just as there is a psychikos body, so there is a pneumatikos body.” (Fee, 787)  Indeed, Paul’s primary intent is to show that the natural body is first, then the spiritual body. This point is so important to Paul that he reiterates it four times: in verses 44, 45, 46, and 47. This carries with it the initial consequence that Paul is not interested in composition but in proving the existence of a future resurrection, which some Corinthians denied. (1 Cor 15:12)

VERSE 45a

In order to properly exegete the text we first have to figure out what is going on with Paul’s quotation of Genesis 2:7. Thus we begin with 1 Corinthians 15:45a.

Genesis 2:7 (LXX). Paul quotes the Septuagintal translation of Genesis 2:7, but doesn’t quote it in full or verbatim. In fact, he adds two words: “first” and “Adam.” Such interpretative citation is often called a midrashaic pesher. (see Fee, 788; cf Brodeur The Holy Spirit’s Agency in the Resurrection of the Dead: An Exegetico-Theological Study of 1 Corinthians 15,44b-49 and Romans 8,9-13 [Rome: Gregorian University Press, 2004], page 104)

As for why Paul would add these two words to the citation we can agree with Brodeur that “it would seem that by means of the adjective ‘first,’ the Apostle carefully sets the stage for the Adam-Christ typology that follows.” He continues, “in his pesher, the antithesis now becomes typology: Paul concentrates on the two different types of human beings as embodied by their representatives, Adam and Christ.” (105)

Indeed, Paul goes on to contrast these two representatives in opposite pairings. While both of them are “Adam(s),” one is “first,” the other “last.” One is psyche, the other pneuma. One is “living,” the other is “life-giving.” According to Brodeur, Paul purposefully and intentionally chose all these adjectives and participles to “place the emphasis on the second line” of the pairings. “Through his midrash pesher, the Apostle changed the text of Genesis 2:7 in v. 45a so that it would resemble what he really wanted to write in v. 45b. The nouns psyche and pnuema refer back to their cognate adjectives in v. 44, psychikon and pneumatikon.” (106)

In agreement with Fee’s insight that Paul uses Genesis 2:7 to argue for the existence of a future resurrection, Brodeur notes that “through his own exegesis of the Pentateuch, [Paul] demonstrates the cardinal doctrine of the gospel that he preaches: the resurrection body truly does exist.”

Thus the purpose of the quotation is clear: firs the natural, then the spiritual. He is not contrasting materiality vs immateriality as we will see.

Adam as psyche. Psyche designates “life,” “being,” “person,” “mind,” and “inner man” according to several lexical authorities. (cf BDAG) In Paul’s quotation it seems “being” best translates the meaning into English: Adam became a “living being” in his pre-fallen state. Adam was once mere inanimate dust but through God’s creative act he came to be animated, alive. But to call anyone psyche, even Adam in his pre-fallen state, is to necessarily allude to the communion which all of Adam’s descendants now partake in: mortality. Psyche is simply an animated earthly life which can be lost in death.

After considering the fact that Paul’s intent is to prove a future resurrection, the comparison with Christ as a “spirit” must mean that Adam never achieved or reached the stage which God had planned for him. This is implied by the sequence: first the natural, then the spiritual. If Adam began as natural, he would have progressed to spiritual.

Witnesses rightly teach that had Adam not sinned he would have lived forever. However, this stops too short. In Genesis we have the Tree of Life, which, we assume, Adam would have had access to had he not sinned. Along these lines G. K. Beale remarks, “there are indications in Gen. 1-3 that if Adam had been faithful and obedient, he would have experienced even greater blessings than he had before his sin.” (A New Testament Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011], page 33-34) These “greater blessings” no doubt are what Jesus is now currently enjoying. So through Paul’s quotation of Genesis 2:7 he is essentially pointing to the fact that humans reach their eschatological fulfillment in the resurrection. First the natural, then the spiritual.

Even Adam in his pre-fall state couldn’t inherit the kingdom of God as he was (1 Corinthians 15:50). Something needed to happen to his body to make him fully prepared. The “mortal” does not inherit the “immortal.” So as Beale acknowledges, “even if Adam had never sinned, his prefall existence still needed to be transformed to some climatic point into an irreversible glorious existence, which Paul identifies as resurrection existence.” (45) 

J. A. Schep concurs with Beale by stating “the contrast between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit,’ characterizing respectively Adam and Christ, indicates that Adam, though not without the Spirit of God, had not yet reached the stage to which God wanted him to come and to which Christ brings those that are his.”  (174)

VERSE 45b

“The Last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” At this juncture in the text it becomes clear there is a contrast between psyche and pneuma. Fee rightly recognizes that “the two words that describe Adam and Christ respectively are the cognate nouns for the adjectives psychikos and pneumatikos in v. 44.” Indeed this simple fact provides a “clear linguistic connection that the original bearers of the two kinds of bodies mentioned in v. 44 are Adam and Christ.” (788)

In other words, Adam at his creation, at his becoming psyche, received a soma psychikon. Christ at his resurrection, at his becoming pneuma, received a soma pneumatikon. First the natural, then the spiritual.

Two questions need to be asked with respect to 15:45. When did Jesus become the “last Adam” and what does it mean for him to have become a “life-giving spirit”?

Since the reference to Jesus as the “last Adam” alludes to his becoming the adoptive Father of the new human race, the new humanity, it must refer to his becoming “Adam” in the resurrection, for he was not “Father” during his lifetime. He was not “life-giving” or progenitor until being resurrected.

Consequently, it is as the “last Adam” that he is also functioning as the “life-giving spirit.” In other words, the text is not saying the human Jesus became an ontological spirit in the resurrection. Rather, becoming the Last Adam in the resurrection, he functions as a life-giving spirit.

Some make the mistaken of taking “the Last Adam” as a reference to Jesus’ earthly course instead of as a role he fulfills in the resurrection. This misinterpretation leads some to conclude Paul is contrasting Jesus as an ontological human (=”Last Adam”) to now having become an ontological spirit. This view is wrong. Jesus as the “Last Adam” is an eschatological role that he fulfills upon his resurrection, when he becomes the adoptive “Father” (Isaiah 9:6) of the new human race.

Further confusion stems from the Society use of this text as a proof-text for the idea that Jesus is Adam’s antithetical equivalent. In essence, Jesus is the opposite of Adam. Adam was human; Jesus is now a spirit being. Yet, this is not Paul’s point. As noted above, the point of verse 45 is to prove to the Corinthians that there is indeed a future resurrection. The contrast of Adam and Christ in verse 45 is not ontological but sequential (as verses 44, 45, 46, and 47 prove). First the natural, then the spiritual.

As Beale notes, “the point is not that he becomes ontologically transformed into a purely ‘spirit being’; rather, in his physically resurrected condition, which certainly is transformed in comparison to preresurrection bodies, he becomes functionally identified with the Spirit, who raised him from the dead (Rom. 1:4).” (440)

Schep decisively argues against ontology when he notes “since it is obvious that ‘soul’ does not denote the substance of Adam’s body, it follows that ‘Spirit’ cannot possibly denote the substance of Christ’s glorified body.” (174)

The fact that Jesus’ role as “spirit” is “life-giving” demands that this be viewed as “soteriological-eschatological.” (Fee, 790) It is soteriological in that it involves ‘giving life’ to those that are saved, specifically in the context of resurrection. It is eschatological in that as the spirit-filled Last Adam he becomes the “Father” of the new humanity.

On this significant point James D. G. Dunn writes concerning verse 45 that “Paul could hardly expect the well-informed reader to think of anything other than the life-giving power of God.” In other words, “the thought is not so much of last Adam as pattern of existence, as though all spiritual bodies of which Christ was the ‘firstfruits’ would be similarly ‘life-giving.’ The thought is more on the last Adam as the progenitor of a new kind of humanity—resurrected humankind.” (The Theology of the Apostle Paul [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998], page 261)

So the arguments against ontology are threefold: (1) Just as Adam is not made of psyche, so Jesus is not made of pneuma; (2) verse 45 is not talking about pattern of existence since no one resurrected will be “life giving.” Instead, as Dunn notes, the point here is of progenitor; (3) in context, verse 45 deals with sequential order not ontology: first the natural, then the spiritual.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS ON 1 CORINTHIANS 15:45

One must recall that 1 Corinthians 15:45 is found in a unit wherein Paul argues primarily for a future resurrection which the Corinthians largely denied. So his primary purpose is apologetic. His point is that we who are ‘in Adam,’ as it were, have “natural bodies” susceptible to the laws of nature, which includes the negative qualities of mortality and perishability. These persons and bodies are characteristic of what it means to be psyche. A life that is susceptible to death. Jesus, on the other hand, is the representative for those that will have “spiritual bodies” which are characteristic of pneuma.

A person and body that is dominated by natural deficiencies can be said to be psyche. A person and body that is dominated by God’s holy spirit can be said to be pneuma. This present age is natural; the age to come is spiritual.

Verse 45 tells of sequential order in the logical argument of Paul, but also tells of two respective “Fathers” or progenitors. First Adam who gives ‘natural life,’ then the Last Adam who gives ‘spiritual life.’

1 CORINTHIANS 15:47-49

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

At this point in his argument Paul is no longer talking about “bodies” as such but of “human beings.” (Gr. anthrōpos) The first “human being” is “out of/from [the] earth.” (Gr. ek gēs) While this can be taken in terms of what someone or something is made of (cf BDAG), this is certainly wrong for its antithetical pairing “out of/from heaven” does not speak of materiality but quite clearly of origin, for how can a “human being” be made of “heaven”?

For this reason we are inclined to agree with Gundry that ek gēs does not refer to “substance as such, for its counterpart epouanios has nothing to do with substance and is defined by the phrase ex ouranou.” Similarly, choikos, meaning “dusty” or “earthy” doesn’t seem to refer to material substance, but “mortality due to earthly origin.” (Soma, 166)

Others, however, disagree. According to Stafford these terms do “speak of the composition of the body.” (JWD3, 440) The problem with this view is that Paul is not talking about “the body” but of “human beings.” (Gr. anthropos) It is difficult to see how exactly “out of heaven” and “out of earth” means one is ‘made of heaven’ or ‘made of earth.’

But with respect to the term choikos, we have seen that adjectives ending in –ikos suffix do not denote materiality but ethical and qualitative relation(s). Thus Gundry’s qualitative understanding (quoted above) best fits the language used. Brodeur similarly remarks that “choikos means that which belongs to, concerns, or is characteristic of chous. It does not mean that which is made of dust.”

Brodeur rejects the meaning “dusty” since this “really describes something which is covered with dust rather than something that is characteristic of it.” He suggests it is best understood as “characteristic of dust,” by which he means something “temporary” which is “here right now but gone in just a moment.” As such, to call Adam choikos is to allude to his “feebleness,” “frailty,” and “mortality.” (129)

 FLESH AND BLOOD CANNOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Jehovah’s Witnesses and others claim that according to 1 Corinthians 15:50 human beings cannot inherit the kingdom of God and must therefore be converted to spirit creatures. Let us then examine this claim.

When sarx kai haima (“flesh and blood”) are used together they never refer to that which a human being is made of. Instead, they are a pair that describes human beings, generally in their fragility and mortality. In fact, if we accept 1 Corinthians 15:50 as structured, we note the obvious parallelism Paul employs to bring about his point:

50a: flesh and blood
50b: corruption

50a’: kingdom of God
50b’: incorruption

Thus Paul is saying that corruptible “flesh and blood,” which is an obvious reference to humans in their weakness, cannot inherit the kingdom because of their present status. But through the resurrection they will become ‘incorruptible’ and hence fit for the kingdom. (cf Thiselton, 1291)

WE SHALL BE CHANGED

In order to enter the kingdom a change must occur to our bodies. According to Paul, “we shall all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51)  The dead will be raised up “incorruptible.” He continues by stating “for this which is corruptible must put on incorruption, and this which is mortal must put on immortality.”

The use of touto is significant. Here Paul conclusively shows that it is “this” body which will be transformed or changed. It is “this” body which must “put on incorruption” and it is “this” body which must “put on immortality.”

The verb endysasthai (“to put on”) is used in the sense of how one would put on a new set of clothes or how one put on a jacket. It is done to “this” body. There can be little dispute over the antecedent to the pronoun touto. The point that incontrovertibly demonstrates this is that Paul here is talking about those who “shall not all fall asleep.” In other words, the living will have “this” body transformed and clothed in immortality. It is obvious, then, that our current physical body has a future in God’s eschatological plan.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Christians who go to heaven become immortal by means of becoming spirits. Yet, Paul quite clearly demonstrates that such immortality is given by means of transforming the present physical body into a body with spiritual qualities, not by becoming immaterial.

NEW CREATION IN 1 CORINTHIANS 15

An often overlooked theme in 1 Corinthians 15 is the idea of new creation. Paul appeals to Genesis often to argue for the resurrection body. He contrasts the different types of “flesh” by listing a series of animals, many of which are mentioned in Genesis 1-2. He also mentions the ‘heavenly bodies,’ which are solar the planetary and star systems. Finally in 15:45 he appeals explicitly to Genesis 2 in regards to the formation of man. Thus, Jesus, the new Adam, is the progenitor of the new creation. (cf Revelation 3:14) So the contrast of bodies in 1 Corinthians 15 can readily be understood in a broad sense as the difference between the present/old creation and the new creation. The present age is natural; the age to come is spiritual or brought about by the spirit and power of God.

1 PETER 3:18

Another proof-text that Jehovah’s Witnesses use to show Jesus is no longer human, but now an ontological spirit being, is 1 Peter 3:18 where it reads:

Why, even Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous [person] for unrighteous ones, that he might lead YOU to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.

Witnesses reason since Jesus was put to death in his physical body, the contrast here must be of ontology. I will argue this interpretation is unnecessary.

According to the general consensus, sarki and pneumati in 1 Peter 3:18 are datives of respect or reference. (cf Ramsey J. Michaels’ World Biblical Commentary: 1 Peter) This suggests 1 Peter 3:18 should be understood as Jesus being put to death “with reference to the flesh” and made alive “with reference to the spirit.” Along these lines Michaels notes “there is growing agreement that the distinction here indicated by ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ is not between the material and immaterial parts of Christ’s person, but rather between his earthly existence and his risen state.”

Thus by Jesus being “put to death in the flesh,” this of course refers to his execution but also to his being to put to death within the realm of the flesh in its ethical and qualitative relations. His being made alive “with reference to the spirit” invokes, as Michaels notes, “his risen state,” that is, the realm within which the Spirit operates.

In summary, “if ‘flesh’ is the sphere of human limitations, of suffering, and of death (cf 4:1), ‘Spirit’ is the sphere of power, vindication, and new life.” Michaels concludes that “the statement that Christ was ‘made alive in the Spirit,’ therefore, means simply that he was raised from the dead, not as a spirit, but bodily, and in a sphere in which the Spirit and power of God are displayed without hindrance or human limitation.”  (204-205)

So based on the dative of reference, it seems the focus is on the sphere of existence not ontology.

2 CORINTHIANS 5:1-3

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, should be dissolved, we are to have a building from God, a house not made with hands, everlasting in the heavens. For in this dwelling house we do indeed groan, earnestly desiring to put on the one for us from heaven, so that, having really put it on, we shall not be found naked.

The “earthly house,” “tent,” “dwelling house,” and even the state of ‘nakedness’ are all terms referring to our present physical body[3]. Paul says that if this body is to be “dissolved” we have another body, that is, another “building from God,” “a house not made with hands.”

According to the text, this new body is “in the heavens.” This need not be understood we go to heaven to put the body on, for Paul clearly states that it will come “from heaven.” That is, it comes to us.

More properly, as N. T. Wright notes in his Resurrection book, “heaven” for Paul is “the place where the divinely intended future for the world but is kept safely in store, against the day when, like new props being brought out from the wings and onto stage, it will come to birth in the renewed world, ‘on earth as in heaven’.” (368)

So heaven is not where we go when we die. This is not what Paul meant. Instead, “heaven” is the place where things are kept safe or stored only to then be revealed “from heaven” in the Eschaton. We “put on” this new building so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:4; cf 1 Corinthians 15:53)

PHILIPPIANS 3: 21

who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

According to Paul, “by the exertion of power” Jesus will transform our humble bodies into conformity with Jesus’ glorious body. First thing to note is that he is referring to the living, but presumably also setting a pattern for those that are dead.

For Paul the transformation is of our current body. Our physical body will be changed. He is not talking about a fundamental material transformation in substance, for certainly ‘humiliation’ is not a substance nor is “glory.” So obviously the contrast here is the quality of existence. As J. A. Schep notes, “after both instances of ‘body’ [Paul] adds a noun in the genitive case…the parallel in this verse implies that both genitives must have the same nature.”

This usage of the genitive is called a “genitive of quality.” The respective nouns tell of what our body is characterized by, not made of. Thus, for example, the ‘body of humiliation’ means that it belongs to the state of humiliation, presumably caused by sin.

“The genitive in the first half of Paul’s statement doubtless speaks of the condition of our present body, so must the second genitive be a genitive of quality stating the glorious condition” of Jesus’ body. (Schep, 171) Paul is not contrasting a body of flesh versus a body of glory. He is contrasting a body in a qualitative state versus a body in another qualitative state.

In addition, as we’ve seen, soma in and of itself refers to materiality. Paul is contrasting the current physical body which we all have, to Jesus’ physical resurrection body which Christians will be conformed to (literally, ‘have the same form’). It is the soma that will be changed, not replaced.

ROMANS 8:23

and not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

The “redemption of our body.” The New World Translation renders this expression as the “release from our bodies by ransom.” Although rare in Watchtower literature, the expression “release from our bodies” is understood to refer to the exchanging of our physical body with a spirit composed body.

Both translations are grammatically accurate. The noun apolytrōsin can be understood as “release” or “redemption.” If understood as “redemption” it refers to act of renewal expressed throughout chapter 8. Our bodies will be renewed/changed by the spirit of God. This is to be preferred. But if understood as “release” as per the BDAG, it means “release from a captive condition.”

So we are not shedding off our bodies as Witnesses claim for the so-called “anointed.” Instead, our bodies are being “released” from its current state of “pains,” “bondage to decay,” and “groanings.” It’s a release from a condition, not “from” our bodies.

However, the Watchtower Society has translated it as release “from” as oppose to release “of” our bodies. What this suggests, whether they intended it or not, is that Paul seeks to get out of the body in some dualistic sense. This is nearer to Platonism which viewed the body as something objectionable and worth losing to free the spirit or soul. This cannot be farther from Paul’s Jewishness!

Such interpretation runs counter to Paul’s entire argument. His point is that the entire creation, the entire cosmos, will be liberated from its current fallen condition. It is in this context that he states our bodies will be apolytrōsin. Hardly is it the case that we want to escape the soma!

Gundry correctly notes “this hope on the part of the whole creation can hardly consist in liberation from materiality. It is rather hope for liberation of its materiality from decay. So also the believer’s hope does not consist in liberation from the physical body, but in liberation of that body (objective genitive) from decay.”

In another text employing the same linguistic construction (apolytrōsin + article + genitive noun), the clear and obvious meaning is believers will be the redeemed possession of God. Thus “redemption of God’s own possession.” Quite clearly, we are not redeemed “from” God’s own possessions!

ROMANS 8:10-11

But if Christ is in union with YOU, the body indeed is dead on account of sin, but the spirit is life on account of righteousness. If, now, the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in YOU, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also make YOUR mortal bodies alive through his spirit that resides in YOU.

Explicitly Paul states God’s spirit, which raised Christ from the dead, “will also make your mortal bodies alive.” The use of kai for “also” implies mutual inclusion. Dunn understands the conjunction as “as well.” (cf World Biblical Commentary, page 432) The significance of kai cannot be understated. What is true for x, is true for y. Thus, just as believers’ mortal bodies will be made alive, so Jesus’ mortal body was made alive. Jesus’ resurrection is the basis upon which we can be confident in the resurrection.

Some try to deny this refers to the resurrection and instead argue it refers to spiritual revivification. Our “bodies” will be made alive in a spiritual sense. The problem is that the verb zōopoiēsei is only used in contexts where the spirit gives resurrection-life. It is never used of spiritual revivification.   

Since the resurrection is clearly the climatic point (“Jesus raised up from the dead”) in the passage, it must be the case, as in all the instances of the verb zōopoiēsei, that resurrection is in view. In addition, Romans 8:11 viewed together with Romans 8:23, proves conclusively that “made alive” and the redemption of our bodies refers to a real bodily resurrection in the future.

PART II CONCLUSION

We have now seen the New Testament’s teaching on the Resurrection Body. It is a new bodily experience which is suited for life in the age to come. It will be physical as evidenced by Paul’s use of soma. That Christ became a spirit is to say he now functions as the holy spirit. He raises the dead and gives life to the dead (hence, “life-giving”). God will give his followers a new embodiment suited for the new world, which isn’t merely a return to primordial conditions, but by far surpasses them.

Laudem Deo


[1] This number is based on an electronic search in Rahlfs’ Septuaginta: Morphologically Tagged Edition through the Libronix Digital Library System.

[2] Licona on page 410, footnote 454, impressively lists well over 30 sources and commentators that agree with this understanding of “natural” and “spiritual.” In additions he cites 28 English translations which support the “natural” rendering of the text.

[3] For a different view see Samuele Bacchiocchi’s Immortality or Resurrection?: A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny (Michigan: Biblical Perspectives, 1997, 2006), pages 185-186, where he argues that the metaphors don’t refer to bodies as such but to different “modes of existence.”

The Resurrection Body: Part I

INTRODCUTION

When discussing the resurrection and the resurrection body, it is important to note the conceptual categories which Judaism provided the earliest Christians. When Christians referred to the “resurrection,” [1] what did they mean?

HEBREW SCRIPTURES ON THE RESURRECTION

1 Kings 17:17-24. Elijah is reported to have stayed at the house of a single mother, who happened to be a widow. Upon staying there, her son became ill and died. After performing several prayers and pleadings to God, the child’s “soul” (=life) returned to the child’s body and he came to live again.

2 Kings 4: The prophet Elisha visited an elderly couple who could not bear children at their old age. Through Elisha God healed them and enabled them to have a child. One day, this child died in the field from an undisclosed incident. Elisha after performing a ritual and several prayers brought the child back to life.

2 Kings 13:20-21. A dead man/corpse was thrown into Elisha’s burial plot, where upon touching Elisha’s bones, came life immediately.

Ezekiel 37. The prophet Ezekiel “in the spirit” was taken to a valley full of dry bones. After prophesying over them, God put upon the bones sinews, flesh, and skin, and after having been breathed into, they came to life. While this is only a metaphor for “the whole house of Israel” (vs 11), metaphors only work within the context of an understood and accepted concept.

Isaiah 26:19. Dead ones “will live” again and ‘corpses’ “will rise up” and “awake” from their sleeping “in the dust.”

Daniel 12:2-3. Those “asleep in the ground of dust” will “wake up” and inherent “indefinitely lasting life.”

According to the Old Testament tradition of the resurrection, it is clearly the “corpse” (Isa 26:19) that “will rise up” out of the “ground of dust.” (Dan 12:2) In the passages of Elisha and Elijah, the resurrection involved the reviving of a person’s dead body. Ezekiel, while only a metaphor, explains in detail the belief of a physical resurrection. Consequently, if the earliest Christians knew their Hebrew Bible, it was unescapably the fact that “resurrection” meant a physical act done to the dead.

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS

The fragments found at Qumran present us with at least two relevant texts which interest us with resurrection as understood in times contemporaneous with the Old Testament but pre-dating the New Testament.

4Q521. When the “anointed one” or Messiah comes, “the heavens and the earth will listen” to him. He will consider the pious, call the righteous, renew the faithful, give sight to the blind, straighten out the twisted, heal the badly wounded, and “make the dead live.” (Fragment 2, Column 2, Line 12)

4Q385, 4Q386, 4Q388. These fragments are a re-adaptation of the prophecy of Ezekiel 37. These refer to a valley of bones being covered again in flesh and skin, to once again come back to life.

Though reference or even mention to the resurrection is quite rare in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we nonetheless have at least two very clear examples which demonstrate continuity with the physical aspect derived from the Hebrew Bible.

SECOND-THIRD-FOURTH CENTURY CHRISTIANS ON THE RESURRECTION

Having covered the resurrection as found in the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can now ask whether early second through fourth century Christians retained belief in a physical resurrection or instead demonstrate discontinuity with such a notion. We skip the New Testament, for now, in order to provide some chronological and conceptual context within which the New Testament writers would have found themselves in.

Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:2 (ca 155-177 CE). Martyrs will be ‘considered worthy’ of the resurrection “of [the] body.”

Irenaeus, Apostolic Preaching, Chapter 42 (ca 130-200): In the resurrection the “soul” or “life” will be received by the “body.”

Bishop of Ambrose of Milan, Resurrection, Book II, Verses 52ff (ca 337-397): The resurrection brings the “soul”/”life” together with the “body,” “rising again” back to life.

I’ve listed one Christian from each respective century to showcase the point[2]: Christians were in solidarity with their Jewish counterparts about the physical aspect of the resurrection. One may also list the so-called “Apostles’ Creed,” which some date to as early as 140 CE, where it unambiguously states Christians affirm the “resurrection of the body.”

BODILY RESURRECTION

As we have shown, the belief in a physical resurrection was well established in the OT, DSS, and maintained in the second, third, and fourth centuries of the Common Era. There is striking continuity with this belief throughout the ages. It would indeed be shocking, both theologically and historically, if the New Testament era Jewish Christians disagreed with the aforementioned doctrine.

Let us, then, look at the New Testament Gospel evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In Part II we will examine epistles.

EMPTY TOMB

According to the Gospel narratives, after Jesus had been executed and entombed his body came up missing. (Mark 16:1-7; Matthew 28:5-7) Some speculated Jesus’ body had been stolen by his disciples (Matthew 28:13), but Christians were well aware that God had raised him from the dead. (Luke 24:5-6)

The Watchtower Society postulates that God had “disposed” of Jesus’ human body, resurrecting him as a ‘spirit creature.’  (Insight on the Scriptures Vol. 2 [New York: Watchtower Society, 1988], page 1083) This, then, is how they account for the empty tomb: God destroyed the body.

While the implications of an empty tomb will be discussed later below, for now it’s worth mentioning that there is no evidence, implied or otherwise, which states Jesus’ human body was “disposed.” In addition, it is clear that the Watchtower Society does not believe the idea of “resurrection” implies a physical body, since what was ‘resurrected’ happened quite apart from it. Indeed, given this assumed definition of “resurrection” it would have made little difference if Jesus’ body was still in the tomb or not.

The problem, of course, is obvious. Since there was an empty tomb according to the Gospel narratives, why was the body missing if in fact the concept of “resurrection” has little to do with it?

As we saw according to the Insight book, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus’ human body was “disposed.” In their earlier years they had otherwise stated his body had been “dissolved into its constituent elements or atoms.” (“The Fleshly Body of Jesus” The Watchtower, September 1, 1954, page 518.)

Though this is an unsubstantiated assertion for which they provide no evidence, is there anything in the Gospel narratives which precludes the notion altogether? Our answer is found at John 20:5-7 (New World Translation [NWT]):

And, stooping forward, he beheld the bandages lying, yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter also came following him, and he entered into the memorial tomb. And he viewed the bandages lying, also the cloth that had been upon his head not lying with the bandages but separately rolled up in one place

According to John 20, the cloth that had been placed upon Jesus’ head was “not lying with the bandages” but had been rolled up separately in another place. This demonstrates that Jesus’ body was not “dissolved.” Had Jesus’ body been “dissolved” as Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, why was the headband rolled up separately? Obviously only intelligible actions could result in the folding of the linen. Clothes don’t fold themselves. There was intelligent movement within the tomb immediately after the resurrection but before the women showed up at the tomb.

The best available evidence suggests the following narrative: God raised Jesus from the dead physically, resulting in both an empty tomb and his burial clothes being moved, which is a necessary fact if his body had been raised.  The Watchtower’s explanation neither accounts for the necessity of an empty tomb or for the clothes’ relocation.[3]

Apart from having to deal with an empty tomb and an implausible explanation on how it came to be empty, the Watchtower Society is advocating for a radical break away from the conceptual category Jews had for speaking about “resurrection.” In fact, the Society admits as much. In the December 15th, 2011 Watchtower entitled “Guided by God’s Spirit in the First Century and Today,” they write that “Peter had not discerned that Christ would be resurrected as a spirit on the third day.” (page 23)

Let me suggest Peter had not “discerned” such a concept because his conceptual category for “resurrection” involved a body or corpse, not a transformation into a nonhuman.

Is there anything that Jesus said or did which shows that his physical body would be raised and not ‘dissolved into elements’ as the Watchtower claims?

THE TEMPLE OF HIS BODY

In John 2:19-21 we read (with my underlining and bolding):

In answer Jesus said to them: “Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Therefore the Jews said: “This temple was built in forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was talking about the temple of his body

Before exegeting the relevant texts, a word must be said about why Jesus’ “body” can rightfully be considered a “temple.” According to John 1:14 the Word, Jesus in his prehuman existence, became “flesh” (Gr. sarx) and “tabernacled” or “tented” (Gr. eskênôsen) among us. This suggests that Jesus’ human body, composed of “flesh,” was the place of residence for God’s glory. (John 1:14b) Stated another way, Jesus’ “flesh” body was God’s “temple.” With this in mind, let us now consider John 2:19-21.

The key sentence in John 2 is the statement where Jesus says, “Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Specifically, what does the “it” refer to in this sentence? The word translated “it” into English is the Greek pronoun auton, which is masculine, singular, and accusative. Just like English, a pronoun replaces an aforementioned noun. In this instance, the pronoun’s grammatical antecedent must agree in gender, number, and case. It is not difficult to see which word or phrase is the grammatical antecedent. It is the phrase ton naon touton. Accordingly, “it” can only refer to “this temple” grammatically. There are no other options.

The reason this grammatical point is significant is because Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that while the Jews destroyed/killed Jesus’ physical body, he would be raised in a new “spirit body,” entirely unrelated to “this temple,” that is, to ‘this body.’ This interpretation is an impossibility. The “temple” (=”body”) that would be raised up necessarily has to be the same one (“it”) that was destroyed/killed, otherwise it’s not “this temple” and the pronoun loses its antecedent.

But which “temple” Jesus was referring to? John tells us plainly that Jesus was “talking about the temple of his body,” i. e., his physical body. There was no other body that was killed and/or destroyed. As we saw in John 1:14, God’s “glory” was “tabernacling” in Jesus’ “flesh” (Gr. sarx) or human body. His physical body was God’s “temple.”

Still there are those who, apart from the exegetical and grammatical points raised above, argue otherwise. Consider, for example, Greg Stafford. In his Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended Third Edition (JWD3) he provides no exegetical or grammatical counterargument with respect to John 2:19-21. Instead he argues based on Mark 14:55-58 that Jesus said he would build a temple “not made with hands,” which he interprets to be a different resurrection body.

The problem with this argument is threefold:

  • (1) The claims of the Jews are explicitly said to be “false witnesses” and “false testimonies.” Additionally verse 59, a text which Stafford leaves out of his discussion, states that their evidence ‘did not agree.’ So we cannot be sure what portion, if any, of their testimonies were true.
  • (2) John 2:19-21 tells us definitively what Jesus said and meant, with no need to speculate or try to retrieve what Jesus said according to the “false testimonies” given against him in Mark 14:55-58. The fact that Mark’s parallel, namely, Matthew 26:61 doesn’t include the phrase, suggests the testimony is false. In addition, they misquote Jesus in verse 58 where they have him saying, “I will throw down…” It is absurd to suggest Jesus himself would destroy his own body, if in fact we understand “temple” to refer to his body. The point is not that Jesus would kill himself (“I”) but that they would kill him. So we have an clear instance where they misquote Jesus.
  • (3) Even if one accepts the “false witnesses” as true or even partially true, it is unclear what could have been meant in Mark 14. Since the grammatical points raised with respect to John 2:19 are not valid in Mark 14 due to the fact that it employs a different expression altogether, the interpretation of the testimony can be various. For example, it is possible that the expression ‘a temple not made with hands’ could refer to the Church as the “temple.” The expression only means ‘not manmade.’ Certainly the Church is ‘not manmade’ since it owes its existence as “temple” to the Spirit of God. Thus, Mark 14 is inconclusive and potentially not even related to John 2:19, if the testimony is to be believed at all.

RESURRECTION APPEARANCES

In Gospel narratives after his resurrection, Jesus always appears in physical form. Jehovah’s Witnesses account for this by suggesting Jesus materialized physical human bodies. In their view this accounts for his physical manifestations and for the lack of recognition.

A couple of comments must be made. It is true that in few instances they weren’t able to recognize Jesus, but Luke 24 tells us “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” On this point Stafford suggests this is the case not because of a supernatural power but because Jesus “appeared in a different body.” (433)

The problem with this view is that it doesn’t account for what the text actually says. Their inability to recognize him was not because of Jesus’ body but because of “their eyes.” Such lack of recognition was independent of Jesus’ person, and thus, not because of his body.

In Luke 24:39 Jesus states emphatically, “a spirit does not have a body of flesh and bones just as you behold I have.” According to Stafford, by denying Jesus was a “spirit” he meant that he was not a demon or evil spirit. (431-432) Undoubtedly this is correct. Jesus was trying to calm his disciples who had become “terrified” because they thought they had beheld a demon or ghost. (Luke 24:37)

But more than this is obviously involved since Jesus’ proof appealed to his own physical body. Demons/evil spirits do not have “flesh and bones.” It is unlikely that demons/fallen angels/evil spirits are composed of different “stuff” than righteous angels or spirits. So by refuting the notion that he was a demon by appealing to his physical body, he also denied the idea that he was a “spirit” in any ontological sense. If Jesus was not an evil spirit because of his physical body, then he is also not a righteous spirit because of his physical body.

FLESH WILL RESIDE IN HOPE

We have now seen that according to the empty tomb account in the Gospel of John that Jesus’ body could not have been ‘dissolved into elements.’ In addition, according to John 2:19-21, Jesus predicted that his physical body would be raised, not dissolved. Finally, we saw in Luke 24 Jesus denying to be ontologically spirit by appealing to his physical body. One final text should suffice to put the nail in the coffin to the so-called ‘dissolution’ of Jesus’ body.

Acts 2:26, 31: “…even my flesh will reside in hope…nor did his flesh see corruption.”

According to this pair of texts, Jesus’ “flesh” would “reside in hope” so as to not “see corruption.” Certainly if Jesus’ flesh-body had been destroyed/dissolved, it could hardly be appropriate to suggest this is a kind of “hope,” for how can a destroyed body, apparently being zapped out of existence, be “hope”?

In accordance with the consistent biblical testimony, resurrection from a Jewish perspective necessitated the revival of bodies, and in Jesus’ case, the residing hope of Jesus’ “flesh.”

PART I CONCLUSION

In this section we examined what Jews believed about “resurrection” during Old Testament times, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and what second through fourth century Christians believed about “resurrection.” We found that by “resurrection” they meant something would happen to the physical body.

Additionally, we saw according to the Gospel narratives that the best available evidence indicates Jesus was raised in the same body in which he died (albeit, transformed, as will be shown in Part II). This best accounts for his post resurrection appearances and for the empty tomb. We also saw that Jesus himself affirmed the resurrection of the body according to John 2:19-21.

Those arguing that Jesus was raised a “spirit creature” must show evidence that Christians rejected the OT notion of resurrection, of Jews contemporaneous to them, account for the empty tomb, Jesus’ statements in Luke 24, Acts 2, and John 2.

In Part II I will discuss 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 3, 2 Corinthians 5, and 1 Peter 3.


[1] According to N. T. Wright “there is no evidence that anastasis root meant anything other than bodily resurrection, either in paganism that denied it or the Pharisaic Judaism that affirmed it.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, page 215)

[2] I limited the references to clear and incontrovertible references to the “body” so that there is no potential ambiguity, as Witnesses claim, as to the phrase “resurrection of the dead.”

[3] Similarly Greg Stafford in his Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended Third Edition (Murrieta: Elihu Books, 2009), page 434, quotes Charles Venn Pilcher’s explanation in approval, wherein he suggests Jesus’ “earthly Body must have been dissolved or changed.” (The Hereafter in Jewish and Christian Thought With Special Reference to the Doctrine of Resurrection [New York: Macmillian Company, 1940], page 160) Yet, as been shown according to John 20:5-7 his body could not have been “dissolved.” Jesus’ burial clothes had been purposefully relocated, which is only accountable if his human body had been raised.