A Response to Andrew's Questions on Resurrection
by Virgil Vaduva, Jack Scott and Jeremy Lile
A few days ago Andrew Perriman posted a sort of review and a list of comments regarding Kevin Beck’s book titled This Book Will Change Your World. In response to my comments, Andrew also had a couple of questions about the resurrection, especially about 1 Thes. 4 and 1 Cor. 15. This is a response to the questions Andrew raised about the resurrection, not just recently but also in the past. Hundreds of pages can be written on these two passages, and I am hoping that however inadequate of a response, Andrew together with the readers of Open Source Theology will enjoy these arguments and interact in a constructive and meaningful way.
Andrew’s first question revolves around the issue that in 1 Thes. 4, because Paul is stating, “we believe that Jesus died and rose” (clearly in a physical sense), other believers will also eventually be resurrected in a physical, bodily, biological resurrection. Traditionally in my opinion there are several problems with this text, one being the expectation from scholars that the text’s primary purpose may be Paul’s clarification of a certain type of a resurrection (i.e. scholars claiming that Paul is clarifying that the resurrection is in fact physical in nature), and another being that it is still yet a future final resurrection (Andrew admittedly does not see things exactly like this). I disagree with both premises.
Since we don’t know what question exactly Paul is answering in 1 Thes. 4, we have to try to deduce possibilities:
1. Some people were worried that their physically dead relatives would be “forgotten” or somehow “lessened” because they were physically dead, or they would take a secondary role or place in the resurrection of the dead.
2. Some people were experiencing discomfort at the thought that those of them who would be physically alive at the Parousia would prevent those who were dead from being resurrected or from enjoying their resurrection benefits.
3. Some people who were physically alive were really concerned in that they clearly expected the Parousia or return of Christ to happen within their lifetimes and they didn’t know how this would affect those who were physically dead.
In my opinion, Paul is apparently writing to clarify one or more of these points and comfort those who were worried. He is explaining the resurrection process primarily, not the resurrection type, although we can again try to deduce from the text itself what kind of resurrection Paul is teaching.
Paul is using the resurrection of Jesus as the springboard to assure the resurrection of those who were dead, not as an example of what their resurrection was going to be like; I don’t see anything in the text to indicate that Paul is deriving anything more than assurance out of his example. This connects well with 1 Cor. 15:16 where Paul says, “for if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.” Again, a primary argument used by Paul to show that there is such a thing as the resurrection of the dead and that Pharisees were in fact correct in claiming that there is a resurrection (I will show in a bit how he diverged from a physical resurrection): if Jesus was not resurrected, then we really have no hope at all!
Secondly, in v. 15 there is a very specific first person plural reference to himself and his audience regarding the timing of this resurrection being discussed. Literally Paul is saying: “We the living, the ones surviving until the Presence will not precede [in resurrection] the ones who are asleep.” This puts a whole new spin on the conversation and together with v. 16 and 17 creates a two-fold argument: (1) the resurrection was going to happen at that time, within the lifetimes of his audience and (2) it was a corporate, unified resurrection of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles, dead and alive, where nobody took priority, nobody was forgotten and nobody was left out. All of them were to be resurrected together, at the same time.
Note the layout of the resurrection process and of Paul’s explanation in v. 16-18:
1. When the Lord descends from heaven with trumpets, shouts, etc (allusion to judgment), the ones physically dead will rise first.
2. Then we (Paul and his audience) who are physically alive will be “caught up” together with them (the ones rising up in v. 16) to meet the Lord in the air.
3. So, don’t worry, find comfort in knowing that nobody is being forgotten or prevented from partaking in the resurrection and the promises made to Israel.
Paul here unequivocally connects the Parousia (the coming Presence of Christ) with the resurrection of the dead. The two cannot be theologically and prophetically separated.
Now, this actually gets me to my main point: namely that Paul’s resurrection message is one of a corporate resurrection, of a body of believers, both Jews and Gentiles together, Christ’s Church and body, not one of individual, physical bodies being resuscitated; I will cover this in more detail later.
Andrew does betray a bit his predisposition towards a physical approach when he writes “Would you maintain that Jesus’ resurrection was not real – not a victory over death in the sense that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15? Or is Jesus’ resurrection real but the resurrection of those who have died, whom Paul says will be raised (in the future) and vindicated with him, not real?”
I understand what he is asking, but the word “real” is a poor choice. Andrew is polemically connecting the word “real” to the word “physical.” This immediately creates an uneven ground in this conversation since now the implication is that “non-physical-material” cannot be “real” and it puts the physical at odds with the spiritual. My answer is “yes” - they are both real, and they are both different…it doesn’t have to be one or the other. As I mentioned above, the resurrection of Jesus is the assurance for a resurrection of the dead, not necessarily an example that this resurrection of the dead consists of physical bodies coming back to life.
Andrew also emphasized the future nature of the resurrection, and is apparently associating this physical future resurrection with the final defeat of biological death, pointing to 1 Cor. 15 as a reference. This creates a problem on several levels, one being the fact that Paul sees the resurrection of the dead as the ultimate fulfillment of old covenant promises made “to the fathers” (Romans 15:8), more specifically Paul’s resurrection message is rooted in the hope of Israel found in Moses, the Law and the prophets; re-casting Paul’s resurrection into a post-Israel, post-A.D. 70, modern or postmodern framework is unsustainable. We know this because he says this repeatedly in his defense in Acts 24-26:
Acts 23:6 - “…I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!”
Acts 26:6 - “…now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers”
Acts 26:7 - “…the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain”
Acts 26:7 - “And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews”
Acts 26:22 - “I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place”
Evidently, Paul was convinced that the resurrection of the dead was to be the ultimate fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, the fulfillment of Israel’s hope for the resurrection of the dead, the promises made to Moses and the twelve tribes. The resurrection of the dead, was to be the beginning of a new covenant mentioned in Hebrews 10:15, one prophesied in Isaiah 25 (He will swallow up death for all time) and in Hosea 13 (O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?). This is what Paul was quoting in 1 Cor. 15:55: “O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Unfortunately for whatever reason, the definite articles were left out in the English translation: the death, the sin, and the law. There is a specific death, sin and Law referenced by Paul here, the death being the ultimate archenemy of God throughout the Biblical narrative (and I am sure Andrew would agree).
Now, regarding Andrew’s second question, which is the issue of physical bodies discussed in 1 Cor. 15, I want to point out that reading 1 Cor. 15 without reference to any of Paul’s other usage of soma may lead to erroneous conclusions. For example in Romans 6:6 Paul is referencing “the body of sin being destroyed” in the context of crucifying the old man; clearly not a reference to a physical/biological body. Paul in fact makes a habit of throwing around soma in different contexts and analogies, both to describe physical bodies but also communities of believers, Christ’s body; i.e. in Romans 7:4 Paul is contrasting the body of Christ with the law.
Throughout 1 Cor. Paul talks about bodies (flesh), bodies (spirits), and bodies (corporate communities). In chapter 12 he starts using the analogy of a physical body for the body of Christian believers: “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” And again in 1 Cor. 12:27, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”
Then after spending a good portion of chapter 15 explaining and developing parallels for bodies, members and communities, Paul finally throws the spinner (or kicks it in the back of the net, if you want an European allegory): there is a first body, of flesh (Adam) and then there is a second body of spirit (Christ). This is another contrast between the body of the law (body of flesh), and the body of Christ (body of resurrection, of life). It is the old Adamic body, which dies, crucified with Christ, and this new body, which comes to life as the body of Christ at the resurrection of the dead. In this new body there is no Jew or Gentile, and this resurrection is not of flesh or blood (1 Cor. 15:50). Again, connecting this language back to Romans 6:6 we are able to see a systematic approach taken by Paul to repeatedly parallel and compare the natural body and the spiritual body of Adam and Christ respectively. Paul presents these two bodies as corporate figures. A person’s stance before God is determined by his or her headship or affiliation with Adam or Christ. Christ is the man of heaven, the spiritual body; power, honor, and incorruption are attributed to the body of Christ. Adam is the man of dust, the natural body; weakness, shame and corruption are attributed to the body of Adam. It is apparent that neither Adam nor Christ have multiple bodies, as Paul says elsewhere, there is one body and one new man (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Co 10:17; 12:12-27; Eph 2:15-16, 4:4,24; Col 3:10,15). Therefore, we understand the terms as definite though the article is not present in the Greek text until verse 46.
This resurrection of the body fulfills Paul’s expectations outlined in Acts; it satisfies the expectations of the law and the prophets; it fulfills an old covenant and initiates a new one. It also meets the expectations of a suffering body of believers, a suffering community captured, enslaved and oppressed by the body of the law and sin, and by the death, the ultimate oppressor and enemy of God. In the new covenant, the death is defeated, swallowed up in victory, made the footstool of Christ!
Another serious problem is the present passive tenses in 1 Cor. 15 which are being completely ignored by English translators and readers. In English, verse 26 seems to be tainted and distorted by the translators’ predisposition towards a future resurrection. When the verse should be translated as, “the last enemy is being abolished (or destroyed), the death” we see it repeatedly translated with a future tense “the last enemy that will be abolished is death.” NET, ESV and NLT even switch to an infinitive. I would hope that Andrew would agree with me in saying that this is a rather serious blunder and misunderstanding.
Andrew already knows this, but for the other readers’ sake, we should say that on the topic of the present passive, Machen uses luomai as an example and writes: “Both I am loosed and I am being loosed might, therefore, have been given in the translation of luomai (passive). But I am loosed is so ambiguous that the student is advised to adopt the alternative translation (i.e., I am being loosed, Jack Scott)…I am loosed…indicates a present state resultant upon a past action and would be translated, not by the present tense, but by the perfect tense in Greek…It will be seen, therefore, that the translation I am loosed for luomai, though it is not wrong (since luomai may sometimes be translated in this way), would be misleading.” (Machen pp. 59-60. emphases Jack Scott)
Some people may be tempted to explain this misunderstanding away through what Robertson calls a gnomic present (see A.T. Robertson, Grammar, pg. 866). Wallace defines the gnomic present saying, “The present tense may be used to make a statement of a general, timeless fact. It does not say that something is happening, but that something does happen. The action or state continues without time limits. The verb is used ‘in proverbial statements or general maxims about what occurs at all times.’ This usage is common.”
But this usage does not apply here. First, Paul emphatically stated four times, that the dead ones are being raised. He is also quite clear in verse 26 that the last enemy, the death, is being abolished (See Thiselton, NIGTC). Now if the death is being abolished, are not those being held under the power of death being raised? Paul seems to think so. Second, the traditional view must disregard Paul’s seed analogy. The process of concurrent dying and rising like the seed is replaced by two asynchronous events; physical death followed by an indefinite period of abeyance, and finally, physical resurrection. Have dead physical bodies been in the process of dying and being made alive for the last 2,000 years? It seems that the physical body resurrection view has been cut-off from the constraints of Paul’s seed analogy. Third, does the gnomic present apply to is being raised as well? Dead physical bodies are being sown; that “does happen.” Dead physical bodies are being raised; that “does happen.” Have you seen one lately? We cannot call one side of the equation gnomic without addressing the other. Andrew’s physical body view must overlook the present tense being raised and posit resurrection as wholly future; this is hardly a gnomic present.
What is the translators’ excuse for the flagrant misrepresentation of Paul’s language and timing of the resurrection?
The question for Andrew then is, if the resurrection of the dead is indeed connected with the destruction of the death as the last enemy, and if this destruction of t death is yet future and physical in nature, why is Paul using present passives throughout 1 Cor. 15 when referring to both dying and also resurrecting:
v. 2 – “you are being saved”
v. 12 – “Christ is being preached”
v. 15 – “…we are being found…and are not being raised…
v. 16 – “…are not being raised”
v. 26 – “last enemy being destroyed…”
v. 32 – “if the dead ones are not being raised”
v. 35 – “how are the dead being raised, with what body are they coming”
v. 42-44 – “The body is being sown…it is being raised…it is being sown…it is being raised…it is being sown…it is being raised…it is being sown…it is being raised”
As one last thing to note, a huge and serious problem comes up when the coming of the new covenant is being divorced from the destruction of the last enemy of Christ, the death (I hope I am not misrepresenting Andrew, but that is what I am understanding him to say). The author of Hebrews has the two inextricably connected in chapter 10: “…having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, this is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them,” He then says, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” The new covenant prophesied about in Jeremiah 31, which is what is being quoted here, will be instituted after his enemies will be made a footstool for his feet – should we understand that the death is not included, if the defeat of a physical death is yet future? Are all enemies defeated, except the death? Where does that leave this new covenant that is written on our hearts and minds?
So here are some questions I am closing with:
If the resurrection of the dead is yet future, are we still living as Christians under the old covenant?
When was the New Covenant instituted?
Are Andrew’s resurrection hopes based on the promises made to the twelve tribes, on Moses, the Law and the Prophets?
Why does not a first-century corporate resurrection of the body satisfy Andrew’s expectations?
And Andrew, I am always thankful for your willingness to interact on these matters, no matter how out there you think some of us are.