Did the Disciples Believe Jesus’ Body Was Resurrected?

Posted: June 20, 2011 by Amy Hall in Jesus Changes Everything

Did the early Christians believe that Jesus’ resurrection was merely spiritual and not physical? Two passages in Acts say no:

The first is from Peter’s evangelistic sermon in Acts 2:22-36:

[Y]ou nailed [Jesus] to the cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, “…You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”

In case they missed the fact that Jesus’ body did not decay, Peter continues:

Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet…, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

Read the rest of this week’s featured article at STR Place.

  1. Sam Harper says:

    Amy, what do you think of 1 Corinthians 15:45 where it says, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit”? Doesn’t this verse explicitly say that Jesus became a spirit when he was resurrected?

    Also, there are three verses that seem to be using Christ’s resurrection as a metaphor of some kind:

    Ephesians 1:20: “He raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in heavenly places.”

    Now compare that to..

    Ephesians 2:6: “…raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

    Obviously, we are not literally seated with jesus in heavenly places, but these two passages parallel each other in that jesus was raised up, and we are raised up with him. If our resurrections and our sitting in heavenly places is metaphorical, then isn’t Jesus’ resurrection and being seated in heavenly places also metaphorical?

    There’s also…

    Colossians 2:12: “having been buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised up with him through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.”

    We were not literally raised from the dead, but Paul is tying our resurrection in with Christ’s. Wouldn’t that imply that Christ’s resurrection was not literal either?

    Don’t get me wrong. I totally subscribe to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and partly because of the argument you make in this article. But I’m curious how you’ll respond to these arguments.

    • Amy Hall says:

      Hmmm. Well, I look at those verses and I see that the body that is sown is the body that is raised. “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body.” It’s not talking about our souls—that we’re sown with a perishable body and then raised with an imperishable something. It’s actually our bodies that are sown and then raised. The subject is the body.

      I think if we carry that idea through the rest of the passage, then we have to put “life-giving spirit” into that context. If all we had was “life-giving spirit,” then I think it would be less clear.

      There’s another clue in the section directly after this one where it says “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” The idea of a body being changed from perishable to imperishable seems more likely in this context than the idea that we will lose our bodies altogether.

      I wish I knew more about this, but that’s the best I can do on that right now!

      Now with the Ephesians and Colossians passages, I would say that because we’re joined with Christ in God’s eyes, God sees us with Christ (i.e., we’re there “in Christ Jesus” since He is our representative). But this only works if Christ is literally there, correct? There’s no one there representing Christ whom He’s attached Himself to, so He must be there Himself. (And Hebrews is much more clear about this.)

  2. Steve Castlen says:

    Sam, I just finished reading Mike Licona’s new book(The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiagraphical Approach) and he offers a good explanation of 1 Cor.15:45 (pg.415-417), though I admit it is a tricky verse.

    It would seem odd for Paul to be suggesting an immaterial body in verse 45 when he seems to be making a case for a physical resurrection body before and after that verse. Paul’s seed analogy indicates physical continuity between what dies and what rises. Licona points out that the terms “natural” and “spiritual” in verse 44 are never used by Paul or any other ancient writer from the 8th cent. BC to the 3rd cent. AD, to contrast physical and immaterial bodies.
    Rather, “natural” meant sin-dominated/oriented, and “spiritual” meant spirit-dominated/oriented. (1Cor.2:14-15)

    His explanation is more detailed than this but the idea is that the terms used in verse 45, given their Greek roots and immediate context do not suggest an immaterial body any more than the terms in verse 44. This seems reasonable especially since Paul elsewhere states that we will be raised “bodily” like Jesus (Rom.8:11, Phil 3:21).

    Ephesians 1:20: doesn’t seem to even address the question of the nature of Jesus’ body but is only concerned with expressing the truth of his vindication and exaltation.

    Ephesians 2:6: is obviously a reference to salvation and the believers union with Christ . Yes, metaphor is employed both here and in Eph.1:20. For example I doubt that God has a literal right hand that Jesus sits beside. This however doesn’t preclude an actual resurrection event. I might say it’s raining cats and dogs, but still it is actually raining.

    Colossians 2:12 likewise uses metaphor and so what was said about the previous verse could be said here. But consider a different point. You write:

    “We were not literally raised from the dead, but Paul is tying our resurrection in with Christ’s. Wouldn’t that imply that Christ’s resurrection was not literal either?”

    If we press that argument all the way, then not only would Christ’s resurrection not be literal but neither would his burial. That would be a stretch I think.
    Given all that Paul and other N.T. writers say about the resurrection elsewhere, one can see how these passages fit well within the overall picture.
    That’s my take anyway.

    • Sam Harper says:

      I have that book, Steve, but I haven’t read it yet. Most commentators seem to gloss over 1 Corinthians 15:45. I was kind of disappointed by N.T. Wright’s treatment of it, especially since his book was so long and detailed in other areas. I have Licona’s book, but I haven’t read it yet.

      Anyway, let me play devil’s advocate just to draw you out a bit more. The point of Paul’s seed analogy was not to show physical continuity, but to show that the resurrection body is very different than the body that dies. To use his analogy to bolster the case for physical continuity is just to press the analogy beyond its purpose. You can see this by looking at the other analogies he uses to show the same thing. Stars differ from each other in their splendor. There’s no physical continuity between stars. Paul’s point is just that the resurrection body is very different than the body that dies.

      Granted, “soma pneumatikon” and “soma psychikon” do not indicate a different in substance–physical vs. non-physical. But that’s not the issue in verse 45. The issue in verse 45 is that Paul refers to the resurrected Jesus as a “pneuma,” a spirit. He doesn’t say the last Adam became spiritual in this verse, but that he became a spirit. Big difference.

      The points I meant to make in Ephesians and Colossians didn’t have to do with the material Jesus’ body was made of, but with the subject of whether Jesus’ resurrection was a metaphor or a literal event.

      “If we press that argument all the way, then not only would Christ’s resurrection not be literal but neither would his burial.”

      Well, there are a lot of people who deny that Jesus was buried. Maybe the whole story is a metaphor.