Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Resurrection of the Body

Richard Carrier has argued that Paul believed Jesus "was resurrected by being given a new body, one not made of flesh or physical matter as we know it, but of some kind of ethereal, spiritual material." [1]

In support of this, Carrier cites 1 Cor. 15:42-44, "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body."

Apparently, he has in mind something like the following:

1. Something spiritual is necessarily non-physical.
2. Paul's conception of the resurrection is that of a spiritual body.
3. Therefore, Paul's conception of the resurrection is of a non-physical body.

The problem is certainly with premise (1). If I told you that the Bible is a spiritual book, would it be assumed that I meant to say that the Bible is a non-physical book? Such an interpretation misses the point that a thing can be spiritual in the sense that it exemplifies spiritual properties while simultaneously remaining a physical object.

The Bible is both physical and spiritual, and the same applies to the resurrected body. Paul tells us elsewhere (Rom. 8:11) that, "if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."

What dies - the physical body - is also what rises: "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable . . ." This is from the same 1 Cor. 15 text that Carrier cites to begin with.

[1] http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/3.html


  1. Just FYI, you've quote-mined Carrier's argument.


    He says:

    "This does not mean that Jesus was resurrected as a bodiless soul (there is no evidence Paul even believed in such a thing), but that he [...your quote...] Thus, the distinction is not between bodily and nonbodily resurrection, but between a resurrection of a corpse vs. resurrection of a person into a superior body, leaving the corpse behind like a spent shell (or, as Origen called it, the corpse is like the discarded placenta)."

    Hence, he has in no way argued for an "immaterial" resurrection body as you have portrayed. He says the exact opposite in the quotes around what you quoted as I have just shown.

    What's the deal, if I may ask?


  2. Hi Ben,

    I'm happy to be corrected on this matter, but I don't think the paragraph you cite is in conflict with my objection. In fact, part of Carrier's hypothesis is that Paul believed the earthly body of Christ remains buried and has been "exchanged" (Carrier's term) for a different body.

    "All of the above is compounded by the fact that Paul fervently portrays the Resurrection as into a spiritual body, not the rising of a corpse."

    This is why I emphasized that the same body that is sown perishable is also raised imperishable. Carrier holds to an exchange-theory of the resurrection, which if my reading of Paul is correct, misinterprets 1 Cor. 15:42.

    The key portion of what I quoted was, "one not made of flesh or physical matter as we know it . . ." Carrier, then, associates "spiritual" with something ethereal, and that's where I believe his error lies.

  3. I might modify the syllogism to more closely resemble Carrier's own words:

    1. Something spiritual is necessarily non-physical as we know it.
    2. Paul's conception of the resurrection is that of a spiritual body.
    3. Therefore, Paul's conception of the resurrection is of a body that is non-physical as we know it.

    This allows for an interpretation of an ethereal body (maybe physical in one sense but not in another), but it has the same problem as before. Nobody would think I meant to call the Bible "ethereal" just because I call it a spiritual book.

  4. Yeah, see nonphysical is the same as immaterial, which is still a vastly different claim than Carrier's actual conclusion of "a superior body." Again, Carrier specifically negates your interpretation when he says, "the distinction is not between bodily and nonbodily resurrection." [emphasis mine] It's a different kind of body made of heavenly materials and "spiritual" probably didn't mean "nonphysical," "immaterial," or "nonbodily" to Paul.

    Regardless, Carrier presents many reasons for his conclusion which are not represented well by your oversimplified comparison. Feel free to disagree with his conclusions still, but at least get his argument right.


  5. I would feel more compelled to agree with your interpretation if Carrier had said that "the distinction is not between physical and non-physical resurrection," but as it is, he uses "bodily and non-bodily." This leaves him some wiggle room to deny the physical nature - or at least, what we know of as physical - of the resurrected body.

    With respect to your last comment, I agree that Carrier offers many reasons. However, I never claimed that this was going to be an exhaustive point-by-point critique of Carrier's writing. I just feel he's mistaken on at least this one point.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Keep 'em coming!

  6. This seems like a pretty obvious point, but I'd mention being raised to a 'superior' body doesn't itself indicate that the 'old' body is left untouched or plays no role. At most, it indicates that the body is changed - and changes to a body can take place without said body being utterly replaced in the relevant sense. And I think the 1 Cor. 15:42-44 cite drastically favors "change" instead of "replacement" besides.

    To use a casual, more transhumanist-flavored example: Robocop's body is 'superior' in many ways to Alex Murphy's. Certainly the two are tremendously different when compared side by side and considered as a whole. But if you try to find Alex Murphy's grave and dig up his body somewhere, you'll be out of luck. It's part of Robocop.

    And I think this all hones in on a particular point: Carrier's argument about whether or not Christ was bodily raised relies in part on some serious speculation about what sort of "divine technology" (for lack of a better word) St. Paul had in mind when very briefly referring to resurrected bodies. All I'll say is, think about that.

  7. Crude, I think you're spot-on. Paul takes a transformation perspective on the resurrected body, and not an exchange perspective. We have already mentioned 1 Cor. 15 and Rom. 8, but we also might consider Phil. 3:20-21, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

    Our bodies will be changed (transformed), but they will remain the same bodies.