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#99 Jesus’ Body

March 09, 2009

Hi. I was wondering if you could clear up a small conundrum. In first Corinthians 15 Paul explains that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of god. So how then, if jesus was resurrected in the flesh, did he go to be with the father in heaven after the resurrection? Thanks for your time.


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Dr. craig’s response


You've raised an important issue that is likely to arise in my debate with Richard Carrierthis month at Northwest Missouri State. Carrier adopts the line, long repeated in liberal Protestant theology, that Paul did not believe in a physical resurrection body, but in a "spiritual body," that is to say, an unextended, immaterial, intangible, massless "body." On the presumption that Paul is our earliest witness to Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection, Paul is then played off against the Gospel narratives of the empty tomb and resurrection appearances of Christ. Paul's view is taken to be the primitive belief and the Gospels represent the result of legendary corruption and theological re-shaping of the primitive tradition.

This attempt to play Paul off against the Gospels has been shown, however, to be misconceived. Everyone recognizes that Paul does not teach the immortality of the soul alone but the resurrection of the body. But it is extraordinarily difficult to conceive what the difference is between the immortality of the soul and the existence of an unextended, immaterial, intangible, massless "body." In I Corinthians 15:42-44 Paul describes the differences between our present, earthly body and our future, resurrection boxdy, which will be like Christ's. He draws four essential contrasts between the earthly body and the resurrection body:

The earthly body is:But the resurrection body is:


Now only the last contrast might make us think that Paul did not believe in a physical resurrection body. But what does he mean by the words translated here as "natural/spiritual"? The word translated "natural" (psychikos) literally means "soul-ish." Now obviously, Paul does not mean that our present body is made out of soul. Rather by this word he means "dominated by or pertaining to human nature." Similarly, when he says the resurrection body will be "spiritual" (pneumatikos), he does not mean "made out of spirit." Rather, he means "dominated by or oriented toward the Spirit." It is similar to the sense of the word "spiritual" as when we say, for example, that Billy Graham is a spiritual person. In fact, look at the way Paul uses those same words in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15:

The natural man (anthropos psychikos) does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man (pneumatikos) judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one.

Natural man does not mean "physical man," but "man oriented toward human nature." And spiritual man does not mean "intangible, immaterial man" but "man oriented toward the Spirit." The contrast is the same in 1 Corinthians 15. The present, earthly body will be freed from its slavery to sinful human nature and become instead fully empowered and directed by God's Spirit.

The vast majority of contemporary Pauline scholars therefore conclude that Paul believed in a physical resurrection body (and therefore by implication the empty tomb). In his recent doctoral dissertation "The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus" (2008) Michael Licona lists Ackerman, Barnett, Barrett, Bostock, Brodeur, Collins, Conzelman, Fee, Gundry, Harris, Hayes, Héring, Hurtado, Johnson, Kistemaker, Lockwood, Martin, Segal, Snyder, Thiselton, Witherington, and Wright.

But what about I Corinthians 15.50: "Flesh and blood is (n.b. the singular verb) not able to inherit the Kingdom of God"? Doesn't that indicate that the resurrection body must be immaterial? Not at all! Virtually all commentators recognize that the expression "flesh and blood" is a typical Semitic idiom indicating our frail human nature. Elsewhere Paul uses the expression to mean "mortal creatures" (Ephesians 6.12) or even just "people" (Galatians 1.16). Thus, the second half of the verse parallels the first: "neither is the corruptible able to inherit incorruption." The present body must be freed of its corruptibility, not its materiality, in order for it to be fit for God's eternal dominion.

Carrier acknowledges that the expression is an idiom; but he insists that the idiom would not be suitable if the resurrection body were still fleshly. But so to think is just to fail to understand how idioms and metaphors work. Their meaning cannot be collapsed to the meanings of their constituent words. Compare "it's raining cats and dogs!" It would be a complete misunderstanding to take such an idiom as implying that there must be animals on the pavement. Similarly, Paul is not talking about anatomical flesh and blood but about our mortal human nature.

So how should we conceive of Christ's resurrection body today? Christ in his exalted state still has a human nature; he did not "enter back into God's own existence." But Christ has exited this four-dimensional space-time continuum. Therefore, perhaps we might say that his human nature does not now manifest itself corporeally. Compare a tuning fork which is plucked and begins to hum. If the vibrating fork is placed in a vacuum jar, though it continues to vibrate, it does not manifest itself by a humming noise because there is no medium to carry its vibrations. Similarly, Christ's human nature, no longer immersed in spacetime, does not manifest itself as a body. But someday Christ will return and re-enter our four-dimensional space-time continuum, and then his body will become manifest. In the new heavens and the new earth Christ will be corporeally present to his people. Christ, then, has a human nature which is manifested as his physical resurrection body when he exists in a spatio-temporal universe.

- William Lane Craig