Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Two-Body Resurrection

I am attempting to make my way through The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave edited by Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder. It is a pretty heady work. It includes contributions by a variety of scholars in order to deal with questions regarding the historicity of the resurrection. One particular article I mention today is by Richard C. Carrier, "The Spiritual Body of Christ." I like it when authors put their theses statements in the first couple of paragraphs. Here is Carrier's:

Christianity probably began, and was taken up and preached by Paul the Apostle, with a different idea of the resurrection than is claimed today. The evidence suggests the first Christians, at least up to and including Paul, thought Christ's "soul" was taken up to heaven and clothed in a new body, after leaving his old body in the grave forever. The subsequent story, that Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed over the course of the first century, beginning with a metaphorical "empty tomb" in the Gospel of Mark, most likely written after Paul's death. By the end of the first century the Christian faction that would win total power three centuries later, and thus alone preserve its writings for posterity, had come to believe in the literal truth of the ensuing legend, fogetting or repudiating the original doctrine of Paul.

If this theory of events is correct, then the Christian religion did not begin with an empty tomb or physical encounters with the risen Christ. Rather, it began with visions, dreams, and interpretations of scripture and, possibly, things Jesus was believed to have said, which all converged to inspire a belief that Christ's being had ascended to heaven and been granted, in advance of everyone, that new glorious body of the promised resurrection. There could not have been any physical evidence to back up this cliam, which is why none is ever mentioned by Paul or indeed in any of the epistles. It had to be taken on faith. At most, one could be persuaded to believe it through an analysis of scripture, and the sworn testimony of men like Paul who claimed to have encountered the risen Jesus in a spiritual epiphany. This makes the most sense of the fact that these two things are the only evidence Paul ever appeals to in persuading his fellow Christians to remain in the fold. It also makes more sense of the exact language Paul employs, and of certian peculiarities in the Gospel tradition itself.

So I have two points to prove: first, that the original Christian belief probably involved a two-body doctrine of the resurrection, where the identity of Jesus was believed to have left one body to enter another; and second, that the subsequent Gospel accounts, polemically emphasizing a physical raising of a flesh-and-blood corpse, probably represent a legendary development from that original belief.

Carrier goes on (for over 100 pages!) to demonstrate his thesis. The reason I bring him up is that one could still believe in the resurrection of Jesus (without resorting to metaphor) and be comfortable with his first body in the grave (say the Talpiot Tomb for instance). Here is Paul from I Corinthians 15:35-50:

But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

I am not necessarily defending the two-body doctrine. I think Paul means something far more important when he speaks about Resurrection than corpses rising or life after death. I think he is speaking about a new way of living and being, not least of which is a whole new order of participating in the justice and compassion of God. I will address this on Easter Sunday. Sea Raven has a couple of nice posts about this as well here and here.


  1. I have never viewed it that way, but it makes since. It seems that even the gospel accounts of his appearence after the resurrection were more on the spiritual side than physical. They hardly ever recognized him and he could appear and disappear at will. That isn't something my physical body will allow.

  2. in my personal belief in resurrection, i like to think of paul's metaphor of the church as the body of christ as literally the resurrection body of christ - that christ's resurrection is the church. it makes a lot of sense to me - we all talk about sharing in christ's crucifixion and resurrection, death and new life, and that we share that new life with christ.

    i like this because it doesn't limit the incarnation to a bracketed historical event but rather treats it as a new reality inaugurated with christ. perhaps better than "church" would be "those who take on christ's death and resurrection", since i think the body of christ definitely exists outside the specific 'church'.

    i tried preaching this once, and i can't say it went all that well. a few people really liked it - those who, like me, just tend to look at things like resurrection as having metaphorical or symbolic power rather than power through literal interpretation. it was a lot harder for those who focus their faith on a resurrection of the body - a position i respect but don't entirely share, realizing that this is a difference mostly of preconceptions.

  3. I wonder if Jesus was wearing spiritual clothes after his resurrection as the Gospels appear to claim that clothes could appear and disappear, and travel through walls.

    That isn't something my physical clothes will allow.

    The converts to Jesus-worship scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse.

    Paul calls it foolishness to imagine how a corpse could come back.

    In my opinion, Paul uses 'foolishness' almost as a moral issue. It was immoral to want the dead body back. That was Adam's body. It was the body of death.

    Paul wanted to be rescued from that body (Romans 7:24), which is why (in my opinion) he got so annoyed with the Corinthians who thought resurrection involved the dead body being made alive again. (An impossibility in their view, but that is what they thought their resurrection would involve, if it were to happen)

  4. John,

    We should start a lecture tour together. You can teach 2BH (two body hypothesis) and I'll teach 2GH (two gospel hypothesis).