December 10, 2016

Resurrecting Bodily Remains


Hi Dr. Craig.

Happy Thanksgiving. My question is secondary to the last Q&A. You mention that the biblical view of the resurrected bodies is one of transformation of our existing bodies, not exchange of our bodies for a new one. As someone in the medical field, I have personally dissected many human bodies and would consider giving my body to medical science. Do you think that is wrong to dissect or even cremate our postmortem bodies? Intuitively, that doesn't seem to be a problem to me, but I cannot articulate why - especially since it seems on the surface to go against the transformation view of the resurrected body. Thanks.




Dr. Craig, I was impressed with the question & your answer #501 about the possibility of the body of Jesus being found. As you noted, in line with Paul in 1 Cor. 15, such a finding would falsify Christianity. However, the likelihood of knowing that any particular body found was that of Jesus would seem impossible to know for sure. However, your explanation was clearly focused on a body being transformed. What came to my mind & what I would appreciate you addressing is what about those whose bodies are not anywhere. I am not so much speaking of Cremations, which at least have the ashes in an urn, but those whose bodies were completely eliminated. It came to mind because of the tragic event of a young man who foolishly tried to use one of the Yellowstone hot springs as a sauna. His body was completely dissolved. Similarly those killed in other horrific ways such as nuclear or other means & were vaporized. What is your view on the resurrection for those who have no body available but were followers of Christ?



Both these questions concern the relation between the remains of the earthly body and the resurrection body. If resurrection involves a transformation of the former into the latter rather than an exchange of the former for the latter (#501), then what happens in the case of persons whose mortal bodies have been damaged or utterly destroyed?

We begin to get some insight into this question when we reflect on the fact that in Jewish belief, the primary object of the resurrection is the bones of the deceased. This typical Jewish conception is dramatically portrayed in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of human bones (Ezekiel 37.1-14), which God progressively clothes with sinews and flesh and raises to new life. For that reason, Jewish funerary practices included interring the corpse of the deceased for a year, until the flesh had completely decomposed, and then exhuming the bones of the deceased and gathering them carefully into ossuaries, which could then be placed in tombs, where they would remain until the day of resurrection.

Organ donation or even cremation would therefore not have been problematic to Jews, so long as the bones were preserved. My understanding is that in modern cremation, the flesh is burned up, but the bones survive until they are ground up and pulverized. It seems to me that someone wanting to do things as Jews did in Jesus’ time might simply avoid that last step, preserving the bones intact after the flesh has been incinerated. The bones could then be interred in the hope and expectation of Christ’s return (I Thessalonians 4.13-18).

In the case of Jewish martyrs, Jews themselves confronted the problem of persons whose remains, even the bones, were utterly destroyed. Rabbis debated how God would handle this problem. It was agreed that the problem was not insuperable. For example, God, being omnipotent, could simply re-create ex nihilo the bodies of the martyred persons. Such an unusual case was simply the exception that proved the rule.

The question for Christians today is whether, since Scripture nowhere commands us to follow Jewish custom in this regard, we should avoid funerary practices that do not preserve the bones intact. I think this is a matter of individual conscience; but for my part I find the idea of an ossuary rather charming and an expression of one’s hope and expectation of the resurrection.