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A Physical Resurrection?

Thomas Whitley

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that all of you who choose to attend a church this Sunday (Easter) will hear a sermon about Jesus' physical resurrection. To be fair, the gospels do allude (somewhat) to a physical resurrection, talking about the body not being in the tomb, but the gospels are not our earliest accounts of resurrection understandings. For that we must go to 1 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 dishonor, 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 become 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.

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. There is no gray area here for Paul.

Now, I fully recognize that this is Paul's understanding of how resurrection works, but it is our earliest account, being at least a decade earlier than the earliest gospel account. Moreover, Paul seems to have no understanding of a physical resurrection of Jesus, though he proclaims confidently in 15:12-17 that Christ has indeed raised from the dead.

So, what do we do about the clear discrepancy between the gospel accounts and Paul? Both perspectives are represented in the text, yet only one has widespread acceptance. I, for one, tend to side with Paul on this one, seeing that his text is much earlier and likely represents an earlier strand of tradition than do the gospels.

How do you reconcile the two texts? If you choose to side with the gospels why do do so? Is it simply because it is what you have always been taught? Would Easter be any less meaningful if you did not believe in a physical resurrection? If so, how and why?

P.S. While I tend to prefer Paul's understanding of "resurrection," I do tend to disagree with his concept of "kingdom of God." I am aware how those two concepts intercept in this text and how one's understanding of one could easily change her understanding of the other.