Paul believed in the Resurrection of a Spiritual Body, not a Body of Flesh and Blood. A Review of Gregory Riley’s “Resurrection Reconsidered”, Part 3

Wow.  If Riley and his sources are right (and NT Wright is wrong), the earliest Christians, including the Apostle Paul, did not believe that the flesh and blood corpse of Jesus was resurrected from the dead.   The earliest Christians believed that a spiritual body rose from the grave of Jesus, a concept much more compatible with the Hellenistic world in which the early Christians lived.

“The contrasting ideas concerning afterlife and the body in the first century in Palestine present a variegated background against which the resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed.  Several interpreters have collected passages from the Bible, intertestamental Judaism, and less often Greek authors, in order to trace the history and development of the idea of resurrection among the Jews. The results demonstrate more or less successfully that the doctrine of physical resurrection [among the Jews] had precedent, and conversely that Christians had to combat certain ideas of the supposed Greek concept of “immortality of the soul,” which denied the possibility of fleshly postmortem survival, as they spread the gospel of Jesus throughout the Roman world.

It has been less often noted how late a development in early Christian history was the doctrine of the physical resurrection of Christ, and how common the “heresy” of its rejection in the Church.  The original Christian idea was, if not identical with, then far more in accord with “spiritual resurrection” and “Greek” ideas than with mundane restoration of corpses.  In response, for example, to the Corinthian party which denied the resurrection of the body, Paul declared that Jesus had appeared to many irrefutable witnesses (1 Cor 15: 3ff.), but in a transformed “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15: 44).  This body was a “dwelling from heaven” made by God and given in exchange for the earthly body (2 Cor 5:1-4), for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50).  Mark, the earliest canonical Gospel, contains no physical demonstration of Jesus’ post-mortem body.  All three Synoptic Gospels preserve the saying that the resurrected believers would become like the angels (Mark 12:25 and parallels).  Among non-Christian Greeks and Romans, some believed that there was no survival at all beyond the grave, while the majority opinion was clearly that of nonphysical, postmortem survival.  None at all conceived of fleshly resurrection of the body.

Opinion among the Jews was similar, but ill-defined and among some groups mixed with ideas of a general resurrection of differing types.  The contrasting and exclusive pair, often seen in secondary literature, of “the Jewish belief in physical resurrection” as opposed to “the Greek idea of immortality of the soul” is far too simplistic to substantiate.  Greeks certainly did not believe in physical resurrection, but neither did many Jews, even among the Pharisees and Essenes, evidence is at best ambiguous, and very Hellenistic.  One would surmise from what evidence there is that the majority of pre-Christian Jews believed in something other than the “Jewish belief in physical resurrection,” and that none had yet conceived of the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh, highly developed in the second century CE and later, which seems to determine much modern thinking.

The Church moved gradually toward a doctrine of the fleshly postmortem body of Christ, away from the “spiritual” conception.  Yet throughout the early centuries of the Empire Christians continued to believe the earlier idea against the arguments to the contrary.”  pp. 7-9  (emphasis, Gary’s)

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Paul believed in the Resurrection of a Spiritual Body, not a Body of Flesh and Blood. A Review of Gregory Riley’s “Resurrection Reconsidered”, Part 3

  1. I admit, I didn’t read your entire post, but THIS stood out to me because it follows along with the research I did for my book: The earliest Christians believed that a spiritual body rose from the grave of Jesus, a concept much more compatible with the Hellenistic world in which the early Christians lived.

    Paul’s call was to convert the Gentiles so his message fell in line with what they already believed — that the soul/spirit was separate and distinct from the body, so at death the body ceased to exist but the spirit lived on. In 1 Corinthians, he went into great detail to convince his readers that after death the body is raised as a spiritual body.

    Like

    1. But did Paul believe that “the body” that is raised as a “spiritual body” leaves behind the flesh and blood human body in the grave? That seems to be what Riley is saying. If so, there would be no place for an “Empty Tomb” in Paul’s theology. If this was Paul’s theology, Jesus’ tomb would still have contained his rotting corpse.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess this is what makes the study of the scriptures so fascinating. One person claims one thing, another person claims something else. Both offer “scriptural proof” for their beliefs. And then “interpretation” enters the picture.

        I wish you luck in your continuing studies of this centuries old Story.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s