From: A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 15 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2012
If Not a Personal, Physical Resurrection—
: Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection from within
the pre-A.D. 70 Christian community: The pioneering work of Hymenaeus
: Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection from later dissenters within the Christian community—the post-Biblical age.
: Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection in our modern world: Is it the collective body of the redemed that is “raised” and not the individual body?
: Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection from within the pre-A.D. 70 Christian community: The pioneering work of Hymenaeus and Philetus. It should be remembered that in the early centuries these Christian challengers of the Pauline doctrine would have been quite emphatic in insisting that they did not deny the doctrine of the resurrection—just that it needed to be redefined in nonphysical terms. (This inclination is hardly likely to be a innovation of contemporary TFP; it would be a logical and obvious option in any age when one wished to deny “physicality” to the “resurrection.”) Hence they would cling to “resurrection” language but gloss it with a very non-temporal meaning.
Biblical age inclinations in that direction: 2 Timothy 2:18. Unquestion-ably, even in Paul’s day, when he denounces Hymenaeus and Philetus for “saying that the resurrection is already past” (2 Timothy ), he conspicuously does not deny that they claim to believe in the “resurrection.” Only that they insist it is an already accomplished event. Hence it seems (nearly?) inescapable that they somehow redefined the meaning of the term to fit a non-physical interpretation. Some simply call it “the spiritualizing of the idea of resurrection. . . .”
[Page 250] Some try to carry the analysis of the nature of their belief yet further. Lynn Boliek wonders, in effect, if the resurrection, to them, is the resurrection from believing in error to believing in truth. Boliek notes that Irenaeus refers to Gnostics who claimed that “the resurrection from the dead is simply an acquaintance with that truth which they proclaim.”
Paul’s 2 Timothy remarks could easily be read as involving not merely a rejection of physical resurrection but embracing a rival version of Christianity for he denounces them for their “profane and idle babblings” that would inevitably encourage “ungodliness” in daily life (2 Timothy 2:16; cf. the “iniquity” in 2:19). They have “their message” (), as if a body or system of thought and not a mere divergency concerning resurrection is involved. The idea of being “born again”/“resurrected into” their distinctive system of “truth” may or may not have been in Paul’s mind, but it certainly does sound like a concept that fits.
Indeed, for 21st century Christians, it is the only way they can possibly be resurrected if Totally Fulfilled Prophecy be valid. Accept the soundness of the 70 A.D. doctrine and one could reasonably conceive of this approach ultimately being adopted for that very reason—so it can have an application to us and our children. Otherwise “resurrection” is a mere historical relic and curiosity of antiquity.
Think of how many
traditional interpretations of so many subjects have to be re-arranged or
reversed to fit Totally Fulfilled Eschatology—even the traditional summary “The
Old Testament was nailed to the cross” has to change to “it was finally removed
at the fall of
We are invited into a
dramatically new synthesis of the alleged truth. A Second Restoration Movement, if you will. (Members of the churches of Christ,
Will it happen this way? Who knows! But having been denied a place in the “first century resurrection,” there does seem to be a certain inherent allure to being able to offer new theological recruits a “resurrection” of their own. One can easily imagine the rallying cry, “We did not miss it all!”
Is it unfair to suggest such? In evaluating religious doctrines it is far from inappropriate to suggest unintended consequences that either grow out of them or which a generation grounded in the “new orthodoxy” might find appealing. So long as we recognize that it is reasonable conjecture—not a certainty nor an accusation. In this case, just the musings of a “history nut” who assumes that if people can mess up even a valid idea—they probably will.
A. Was it a matter of the definition of resurrection or only its timing that was at issue with Hymenaeus and Philetus? Randall E. Otto is convinced that these two “accepted only half of Paul’s doctrine, rejecting a belief in a general resurrection and insisting that the only valid meaning which the word ‘resurrection’ could have would [Page 251] relate to the baptismal experience. . . .”
Otto considers himself an advocate of “full preterism” (TFE/TFP) and dates the parousia in the events of A.D. 66-70, but does not seem to identify what he himself regards the promised resurrection to have been. Like all of us—myself included upon occasion—Randall trips over his own feet in his explaining: he quickly proceeds to make the very different claim that the only divergence between Hymenaeus and Philetus and Paul related to the timing of the resurrection (see below). However this can’t be the baptismal resurrection, for that was an event in the past and Paul could hardly question that fact. The only resurrection he could challenge was some additional, later one.
In spite of this accidental blunder, his argument that there was a fundamental agreement with Hymenaeus and Philetus on the nature of the resurrection--while only challenging the timing--deserves special attention since it appears to be the prevalent explanation among TFP advocates,
Moreover, preterists in general uphold the resurrection of Christ and of humanity in a transformed body, their primary divergence with traditionalists being over the nature of the resurrection body. This is well brought out by Ed Stevens who, in responding to the characterization of preterists as embracing the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus, asks how this early church could have surmised that the resurrection had already taken place, if it held to the resurrection as the resuscitation of the dead body? Paul could easily have undercut such a supposition by appeal to bodies still in their tombs, but “Paul doesn’t challenge their concept of the nature of the resurrection, but rather their timing of it.”
Yes, Paul only mentions the timing. Yet it is obvious that if Hymenaeus and Philetus had the timing wrong, there is more than one reason that could occur. It could be within the shared context of believing in the same “spiritual resurrection.” It could also be because Hymenaeus and Philetus attempted to redefine the resurrection from something physical to something purely spiritual.
Once one did that, the claim of “fulfillment has occurred!” was inevitable from one advocate of the approach or another. The only question was when it would be claimed. They had to get the timing of the resurrection wrong when they weren’t looking for the genuine resurrection in the first place—especially when they used that as proof that a physical rising was never intended.
I’m yet to hear of any TFP advocate who believes in a future physical resurrection. I, too, can assert with full confidence that “they have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past.” The exact same words as Paul used! Yet they get the “timing” of the resurrection wrong because they’ve redefined it into something it never was. If we can speak in such language about the “timing” of the resurrection without conceding their new definition of it, is there any reason to doubt that Paul could as well?
Hence the lack of appealing to the bodies still in their tombs argues not against physical resurrection, but that the two heretics had redefined the resurrection to mean something far different from Paul. In such a case Paul could have appealed to the dead bodies to his heart’s content—even helped pull one out of a tomb. It wouldn’t have done one bit of good.
[Page 252] The resurrection Hymenaeus and Philetus embraced was one that was “unfalsifiable.” Nothing you could, externally, do could prove it hadn’t happened. In such circumstances why appeal to it? It wouldn’t affect in any way their new definition of resurrection. In short, Paul’s failure to “appeal to the corpses” only shows that the resurrection of Hymenaeus and Philetus was not one involving physical bodies and tells us nothing about Paul being in agreement.
1. The intensity of Paul’s response as an indication of whether just timing was involved? Could a dispute about the mere timing of a shared concept of resurrection have led to such intense denunciation as leveled by Paul—especially when the two dates can’t be all that far apart? Assuming Paul wrote in the mid-sixties (a good approximation since exact timings aren’t available), he’s threatening them with the full wrath of God for being off a maximum of five years (or a bit more) on a subject they otherwise agree on (the nonphysical resurrection), with the “right” date being no later than 70 A.D.
Is God really going to be that indignant over that modest amount of time? Theoretically they could have dated it at any time from the resurrection of Christ onwards (c. 40 years maximum), but the fact that the doctrine escapes mention earlier in Paul’s writings argues that the date it was “keyed” to was surely much closer to the mid-sixties than to any other point.
2. Direct evidence that Paul disagreed over more resurrection doctrine than just timing. Intriguing as the seemingly disproportionate Pauline response is (if the issue involved only timing), there is a far more fundamental difficulty. We have powerful evidence that Paul was in vigorous disagreement with any spiritual resurrection doctrine because the apostle argues so strongly and intensely in behalf of a physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
The “normal” reading of this passage moves from the unique physical resurrection of Christ to the equally physical resurrection of believers. Yes, one can “gloss” the texts and avoid this, but, as noted previously, no one uncommitted to TFP is ever going to read the chapter and jump from their seat shouting, “The resurrection has nothing to do with the temporal body!” That requires considerable “interpretive” work to get anywhere close and that argues powerfully against its validity.
Comparison: Agree or disagree with TULIP, we can all still read the various proof texts and normally understand quite easily how a person arrives at a Calvinistic “spin” on the passages. With the non-physical resurrection alleged in 1 Corinthians 15, however, you have to laboriously toil in order to obtain the needed “evidence” to work with. You dig, you explain, you redefine, you impose on it what you insist is “really” there. In profound difference with TULIP texts, to provide but one example.
It doesn’t come from anything close to a “natural” reading of the text; it is deduced from the need to force fit the passage into a theology that makes A.D. 70 the culmination date of all Biblical prophecy. Strip the need for that and it is hard to believe anyone would ever have come up with a non-literal reading of chapter 15. (Reject its validity is another story; until now it was called “unbelief” by conservative Bible believers. Now it is embraced as Full Preterism [TFP/TFE] and hailed as the benchmark of faithfulness to Scripture. How times change!)
Our core point is that 1 Corinthians 15 bears powerful evidence as to what the [Page 253] apostle meant by resurrection. If one accepts this, then the fact that Hymenaeus and Philetus thought the resurrection was past meant that Paul denied not only their doctrine of the timing, but also their claims concerning the nature of the resurrection. They had changed the right one into a false one.
3. Had the spiritual resurrection doctrine produced a compromised gospel that undermined the moral foundations of Christianity? As we already saw, “their message” (2 Timothy ) consisted of “profane and idle babblings” that promoted “ungodliness” in behavior (; cf. the “iniquity” in ). Does that not argue that there were fundamental doctrinal differences and not merely an argument about timing of the resurrection? Serious and grievous errors that prompted the sternness of Paul’s rebuke. Serious and grievous errors that directly grew out of a spiritual rather than bodily resurrection doctrine?
Yes such could, indeed, have given rise to a grab bag full of spiritual blight such as they clearly embraced. One can imagine theorists arguing that since we live in a post-resurrection world none of the prohibitions of our old—now past—earthly life have any bearing on behavior.
Advocacy of a spiritual resurrection could easily breed a “gospel of moral anarchy” in which—in their now resurrected state--there are no rights and wrongs any longer since the gospel was given for when we were in our original non-resurrected body. Now we are in our resurrected form, free from all those inhibitions and limitations. This would be especially appealing when blended with traditional Greek contempt for the flesh.
So, at least in its original Greek context—and a spiritual resurrection being the only resurrection ever intended—well, when that was accomplished one can easily see them throwing out all the “old and outdated” pre-resurrection rules the gospel imposed. Outdated. Not relevant to their new advanced spiritual state. Doing it today would be quite a bit harder—but we’ve had theological “justifications” for every evil under the sun since the 1960s at least, so perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard after all. The arguments are already out there; they only need to be embraced.
On the other hand, the prime movers in TFP are so morally conservative it’s hard to imagine that being a short-term danger. What happens, however, when a new generation embraces meditation not upon the validity of TFP but on how the everyday limitations play out in their own lives? Restraint will probably still win out for them also because of their upbringing and heritage. Probably. Probably.
But it didn’t work out that way with the deniers of a physical resurrection in the first century.
B. Was the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus in teaching that the resurrection was already accomplished or that it was already fully over? The impression one normally receives from TFP advocates is that the two men were in error because they claimed it was past history rather than their future history, to be fulfilled in 70 A.D.
It was quite startling
then to come across a major defender of Covenant Eschatology present the
“Biblical” case that Hymenaeus and Philetus were actually right--that
the resurrection had begun--but only wrong in claiming it was
completed. Don K. [Page 254]
How would it be possible for Hymenaeus to teach what he did? Hymenaeus clearly thought he had support for his views. Was not Jesus the firstfruits from the dead, and if the firstfruits had come then had not the harvest time arrived? Did not Paul himself proclaim that resurrection from the dead was a reality already (Romans 6:3-5, 9-11; Ephesians 2:1-5; Philippians 3:9-16; Colossians 2:12-13; 3:1f)? Had Paul himself not told the Romans "reckon yourselves to be alive from the dead" (Romans )? Had he not told the Colossians that they had risen with Christ? Hymenaeus, therefore, ostensibly had somewhat of a case, for as Max King has well stated, "The question is not whether the eschatological resurrection had begun, but whether it was a completed or consummated work of the quickening Spirit?" Hymenaeus could indeed effectively prove that the time had come for the resurrection.
Did Hymenaeus have grounds for saying the time for the resurrection had come? He knew Jesus had come at the end of the age (Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 1:1; Hebrews ), and that the resurrection was to occur at the time of the end (Daniel 12:2-4). Thus, the time for the resurrection was present! He could hardly have been unaware that even Paul said, "the end of the ages has come upon us" (1 Corinthians ). Was he not also aware that Peter said Jesus was, "ready (Greek, hetoimos) to judge the living and the dead"? (1 Peter 4:5), and "the time has come for the judgment to begin at the house of God" (1 Peter )? Thus, Jesus and his own apostles clearly taught that the time for the resurrection was present.
This came as a startling analysis to me. In an article apparently designed to disassociate Covenant Eschatology from the label of “the Hymanaean heresy,” he effectively concedes that it is the same, disagreeing with it only as to the resurrection’s proper end point. And as to the nature of the resurrection, he agrees with them and argues that Paul did as well: If Paul had thought a spiritual resurrection doctrine wrong, he would explicitly have rejected it. (Well, he did repudiate it—by branding the two men wrong when the only possible “resurrection” they could have believed in was a non-temporal one. Saying the words were hardly necessary in such a case)
Yet, in spite of his admissions, he insists that “to attempt to utilize 2 Timothy 2:17-19 to negate Covenant Eschatology is, therefore, unscholarly, specious and futile.” So he concludes in his last paragraph. This after conceding that the definition of resurrection was the same and conceding that the error lay only in whether it was fully completed or not. If one doesn’t want to be called a follower of someone—or their “heretical” theology—then one really shouldn’t say it was right on its core point; in this case, that the resurrection had already happened/begun.
There are, of course, other major problems in the interpretation itself. For example, if the approach is valid, this means that 70 A.D. was the ending of a “resurrection” period, one that began at some point earlier than 2 Timothy. Note the [Page 255] word “period,” it no longer is a specific event, but one that took an unstated number of years or more to complete.
What then happens to the
all important destruction of
Then there is the matter
of when did the resurrection period begin?
If the fall of
Preston suggests that the
Hymenaeus might have had in mind the tragic loss of some 30,000 in a Jerusalem
riot (48-52 range) or Caligula’s attempt to install a pagan statue in the
Temple (between 39-41). “The incident
involving Caligula's statue could have been understood as fulfillment of Paul's
teaching about the son of perdition (II Thessalonians 2:5), and the catastrophe
involving all the deaths could have been understood as Christ's wrath on the
I would have no problem
with this theorizing if
But there is a major
stumbling block: If the resurrection
“period” ended with a massive event (the fall of
Furthermore, would we not
expect prophecies of that beginning point, just as we do of its alleged
Paul does not rebuke them
for believing that Divine judgement had come—these might well be
considered such. But, so far as anything
Paul wrote, it is the resurrection and the resurrection only that they
claimed was past. There is no obvious
direct connection between these events (or the fall of
It has to be laboriously
joined together by assumption and the connection of the dots—for example: Jesus was to come in judgment but all
passages that refer to such must deal with the judgment on
Even though one judgment /
coming is identified in the text as nation or city specific (Israel/Jerusalem)
and the other is of judgment on the human race is irrelevant. That one event is destructive (
What I am driving at is there
is nothing in either these earlier events or the fall of
Finally, why are we left under the impression by the wording of scripture that the “resurrection” is a specific point-in-time event when it really isn’t? Again we appeal to people as readers of scripture. Without the need to fit it into some over-arching theory, would you ever expect it to be anything else? Even if it really did occur in 70 A.D.?
C. Did Hymenaeus and Philetus agree with Paul on the physical nature of the resurrection but differ on its extent? The bulk of TFP advocates clearly seem to take refuge in the controversy being over timing. However there is an alternative approach that locates the controversy elsewhere, but one which provides no encouragement to such individuals. Dan Trotter, a critic of TFP, provides a concise summary of this view and the problem with it,
I should point out here that there is another possible way to analyze the controversy between Paul and Hymenaeus, which, however, still leaves the heretical preterists in trouble. I take this argument from Jonathan Seriah's The End of All Things, p. 158. This argument assumes that the controversy between Paul and Hymenaeus was not over timing (impossible, as we've seen above), but it also assumes that Paul and Hymenaeus weren't disagreeing over the nature of the resurrection either.
Says Seraiah, Hymenaeus was referring to the events recorded in Matthew 27:52-53 when he says the resurrection already occurred. Those verses say that, about the time of Jesus' resurrection, "the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many."
Therefore, on Seraiah's view, Hymenaeus agreed with Paul that the resurrection of the saints was a physical one, but he disagreed with Paul concerning the extent of the resurrection. Hymenaeus believed that those few that were raised at Jesus' crucifixion were all that were ever going to be resurrected. The rest of Christendom were going to have their bodies rot in the graves. On the contrary, Paul believed that all the rest of the believers would be raised (physically) at the last day.
One will immediately discern that on this view, the hyperpreterists are still [Page 257] at odds with Paul: Paul believes in a physical resurrection of a believer's body, and he is upset with Hymenaeus, who, like the heretical preterists, does NOT believe in a physical resurrection of (the great majority of) believers' bodies.
Even more fundamental, this approach concedes that 1 Corinthians 15 is about physical, individual, bodily resurrection. Something that TFP advocates can not concede without admitting a fundamental and unfixable flaw in their interpretation of the chapter.
D. Disassociating Hymenaeus and Philetus from advocates of a non-physical resurrection today. A totally unrelated tangent has been used by some to disassociate Hymenaeus and Philetus from Full Preterism and its various TFP variants. That is to argue that Hymenaeus and Philetus were non-believers and that those who teach the same assertion today—the resurrection is past—can’t fairly be lumped into the same condemnation.
Of course this is to assume Hymenaeus and Philetus were unsaved. Believers have been known to do and advocate some pretty silly things upon occasion. Indeed, many who regard the resurrection as yet future would surely add something to this effect: if we were to grant the argument, one would still think God would be even madder at believers for being as gullible as unbelievers!
Furthermore, who would expect unbelievers to be teaching a resurrection doctrine that would make any particular direct impact upon Christians in the first place? They are not a logical target for “conversion!” There is this “Christ thing” and all the other “oddities” attached to Christian faith.
Finally, if 21st century believers can teach a “resurrection is past” doctrine, there’s absolutely nothing in the world to have kept believers in the first century from doing so as well. One falls into the classic “generational arrogance” of assuming that we are the first ones to have been able to reason to a particular conclusion. The real issue is whether the conclusion was valid either then or now.
So are modern advocates of a 70 A.D. resurrection teaching the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus?
Differences: (1) The resurrection occurred some time prior to 70 A.D. vs. it occurred in 70 A.D.—or was finished at that time even if it began earlier. (2) It apparently justified the abandonment of behavioral restraints.
Similarities: (1) The resurrection is past. (2) The resurrection taught is almost certainly a non-physical one in both cases. (3) Both then and today the idea of a physical resurrection for all believers is rejected: this is true regardless of whether Hymenaeus and Philetus advocated a wholly spiritual one or literal resurrection for only some.
It seems undeniable that, if not identical, the Covenant Eschatological and related TFP variants of the 70 A.D. doctrine are at best only modified forms of the same resurrection error that Paul so vigorously denounced. Having escaped, so far at least, the use of the doctrine to justify a “live as you wish” approach.
To argue that point 1 is invalid because, when Paul wrote, the resurrection was still future but was no longer so after 70 A.D. is a valid rebuttal only if we accept the non-physical resurrection demanded by TFP. If that is not true, however, then the parallel holds very firm, indeed.
: Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection from later dissenters within the Christian community—the post-Biblical age
1. The “resurrection” at death scenario. As to how resurrection thought was advocated after Paul, in the second century we find Justin Martyr (lived c. 103-165; his Dialogue typically dated 150-160) speaking of “some who were called Christians . . . who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven.” To Justin the denial of a physical resurrection was a denial of the promised resurrection—period.
“Merely” going to heaven directly when one died (rather than to Hades?—cf. “Abraham’s bosom” in Hades: Luke 16:22-23) was inadequate to qualify as “resurrection.” Justin does not consider there to be many who took this approach: avoiding all language indicating a sizable percentage were involved, he merely speaks of “some.”
Justin utilized the example of the human “seed’s” transformation into a full fledged human being and adult to illustrate this point of birth into a new, visible, bodily form, “But as at first you would not have believed it possible that such persons could be produced from such a small drop, and yet now you see them thus produced, so also judge ye that it is not impossible that the bodies of men, after they have been dissolved, and like seeds resolved into earth, should in God’s appointed time rise again and put on incorruption.”
Randall Otto insists that this most likely does not means the obtaining of that same body again. Instead he urges the view “now perhaps even predominant, which sees the resurrection not as the reassembling of all previous components in the same flesh, but as a transformation of the material body based on the slightest continuity with the previous body.”
To this commentator it hardly seems a either/or choice. Justin is clearly echoing, in his own way, the seed imagery of 1 Corinthians 15. And Paul promises the restoration of the physical body and transformation as well. The minimalization of the original seems as much inappropriate as minimalizing the degree of change. To Paul it is a continuum of existence of the same literal person.
I will be who I am now; is not all else window dressing and argumentation about “what percentage of this or that will we be,” when we really have no way of knowing before the event occurs? This does not justify minimalizing into (near?) non-existence either continuity or change but a recognition that a vast amount of both will be involved in order to make Paul’s language accurate. Note the minimalizing language of Otto, however: “the slightest continuity.”
He apparently doesn’t dare break the continuity entire, but edges as close to it as he can. This is as blatantly improper as arguing that Paul really means only “the slightest change” when we enter the resurrection. All the “change language” merely represents rhetorical efforts to powerfully convey the honor, glory, and recognition we will be given so we can grasp it better. Such an approach would be equally inappropriate.
Later in the same century, Tertullian (c. 160-220) writes in his volume on the Resurrection of the Flesh (c. 210) of those who held a view similar to those criticized by Justin—being “resurrected,” through physical dying, to go to heaven. He indicates it had [Page 259] become a popular belief (“a great many”) and provides two different scenarios explaining why they regarded it as a resurrection from the dead,
There are however, a great many also, who, claiming to hold a resurrection after the soul's departure, maintain that going out of the sepulchre means escaping out of the world, since in their view the world is the habitation of the dead—that is, of those who know not God; or they will go so far as to say that it actually means escaping out of the body itself, since they imagine that the body detains the soul, when it is shut up in the death of a worldly life, as in a grave.
Tertullian makes plain that these folks were convinced that the transferal of the soul from the flesh and place they physically died to a place of eternal life—that that was, inherently, just as deserving of the label “resurrection” as any removal of the physical body from the earth and its rejuvenation / replacement with a new one. Death has been equally left behind and permanently triumphed over.
The fact that the original meaning and intent of the language has been blatantly mangled is irrelevant; the language of “resurrection” is retained. They could, in apparent clear conscience, insist that “we believe in the resurrection just as much as you do.”
Tertullian was deeply annoyed at such individuals who used word games to paper over major differences in resurrection belief, “By such subtlety, then, even in conversation they have often been in the habit of misleading our brethren, as if they held a resurrection of the dead as well as we.” To him it was deception and it would be surprising if in some cases it wasn’t.
To others, though, they probably said it because they really believed it. But when you know full well that the other person doesn’t use the words anywhere close to the way you do—and you don’t tell them--how can it avoid emitting the odor of deception? Disagreement is honorable; misrepresentation is not. Hence if Tertullian had been willing to concede they had a clear conscience—and I suspect it would have been very hard for him to do so—he would surely have cynically added that their conscience was clear only because it was burnt insensitive to the obligation of candor and intellectual honesty.
Christian dissenters of those early centuries had the general predispositions of Gentile society working on their behalf in advocating non-physical explanations of the resurrection. Equally important, one suspects, was also the Christian emphasis—repeatedly emphasized in the New Testament—that the development of the spirit is the Christian’s ultimate goal. The flesh and its weaknesses and temptations are the enemy.
Of course this is both true and, simultaneously, a vast oversimplification of the intent of Biblical teaching—the New Testament is very critical, after all, of sins of the spirit as well: pride, hate, envy, etc. The flesh may yearn for adultery, for example, but it is the inner being that plots who, how, and when and the lies to hide it with.
But if we redefine all spiritual truth and reality in terms of a stark spirit / body conflict and nothing more, then it becomes easy to dismiss the resurrection of the flesh. Why in the world would any rational believer want it? In such an approach we can better understand the Manichaean denial of physical resurrection. As the famous Augustine, a former adherent, described their belief, “Christ came to deliver not bodies but souls.”
[Page 260] 2. The “resurrection” as exclusively at baptism
scenario. The most “Biblical” way
to advocate resurrection without
physical change, was to tie it tightly in with believer baptism. Though Paul clearly pictured baptism as a
death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:4; Colossians ), he also vigorously insisted upon a future
resurrection above and beyond that (1 Corinthians 15)—indeed, he was promising
it those very same people who had already been through the baptismal
“resurrection.” This obvious truism
makes it harder to comprehend how they believed that that was the event the apostle
had in mind.
In spite of this, there were later writers and advocates of the Christian persuasion who insisted on the former being, exclusively, the New Testament promised resurrection. Although Tertullian refers to “a great many” who made resurrection that of the soul leaving the body at death and going to heaven (see above), he also noted there were those who placed it earlier, at baptism as the culmination of their journey from error to truth,
For some, when they have alighted on a very usual form of prophetic statement, generally expressed in figure and allegory, though not always, distort into some imaginary sense even the most clearly described doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, alleging that even death itself must be understood in a spiritual sense. They say that which is commonly supposed to be death is not really so—namely, the separation of body and soul: it is rather the ignorance of God, by reason of which man is dead to God, and is not less buried in error than he would be in the grave.
Wherefore that also must be held to be the resurrection, when a man is reanimated by access to the truth, and having dispersed the death of ignorance, and being endowed with new life by God, has burst forth from the sepulchre of the old man, even as the Lord likened the scribes and Pharisees to whited sepulchers (Matthew 23:27). Whence it follows that they who have by faith attained to the resurrection, are with the Lord after they have once put Him on in their baptism.
thought also sees conversion as an implicit or explicit part of the
resurrection, edging the “resurrection” into a synonym for reformation of
character—and adding a mystical streak to the entire event as well. For example, the anonymous Treatise on
Resurrection from the late second century Nag Hammadi library in
The author cautions that his approach represents a minority belief, “But since you ask us pleasantly what is proper concerning the resurrection, I am writing you that it is necessary. To be sure, many are lacking faith in it, but there are a few who find it.”
He asks, “What, then, is the resurrection? It is always the disclosure of those who have risen.” As an example he cites how Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration as proof. It occurs through “the transformation of things, and a transition into newness. For imperishability descends upon the perishable; the light flows down upon the darkness, swallowing it up. . . .”
In essence the believer’s resurrection is his or her conversion from a life of evil to [Page 261] that of good. “Therefore, do not think in part, O Rheginos, nor live in conformity with this flesh for the sake of unanimity, but flee from the divisions and the fetters, and already you have the resurrection.” Putting these disjointed threads together, his apparent point is that our resurrected state is “disclosed” to the world as that of Moses and Elijah on the Mount through what is done and said. It involves what we do and the accompanying Divine “light” that swallows up the old mortal that we were.
From a Christian standpoint, he surely considered this as beginning at conversion / baptism though he never spells it out. It is certainly not completed at that point, but is the result of the moral transformation of mind and behavior and Divine intervention. Hence we have a drift into what might well be called “mystical resurrection.”
The Gnostic work Exegesis on the Soul (c. 200 A.D.?) makes the linkage of resurrection transformation to conversion / baptism more clear cut,
Now it is fitting that the soul regenerates herself and becomes again as she formerly was. The soul then moves of her own accord. And she received the divine nature from the father for her rejuvenation, so that she might be restored to the place where originally she had been. This is the resurrection that is from the dead. This is the ransom from captivity. This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven.
When does this occur? The author of Exegesis connects this with the forgiveness of sins (immediately quoting from Psalms 103:1-5 as scriptural precedent) and adds, “Then when she becomes young again, she [the soul] will ascend, praising the father and her brother, by whom she was rescued. Thus it is by being born again that the soul will be saved.”
The Gospel of Philip (c. 300 A.D. in its final form) makes a similar connection with baptism but is long on the rhetoric and short on any clear-cut explanation of exactly what he has in mind, probably an inevitable failure of many forms of Christianized mysticism. Presumably the very “mysteriousness” and vague generalities were designed to convey the idea that this is a special system of spiritual insight that only folks like “you” can grasp but is beyond that of the rest of us. (Or, at least, of our patience.)
Early in the presentation, the author admits that he is using language in a special way not shared by others,
Names given to the worldly are very deceptive, for they divert our thoughts from what is correct to what is incorrect. Thus one who hears the word "God" does not perceive what is correct, but perceives what is incorrect. So also with "the Father" and "the Son" and "the Holy Spirit" and "life" and "light" and "resurrection" and "the Church (Ekklesia)" and all the rest--people do not perceive what is correct but they perceive what is incorrect, unless they have come to know what is correct. (Verse 10)
That he is using rhetoric in ways very unlike most, is also seen when he comments that, “Those who say that the Lord died first and (then) rose up are in error, for he rose up first and (then) died. If one does not first attain the resurrection, he will not die” (Verse 22). Hence it is quite natural that ours also comes first, “While we are in this [Page 262] world, it is fitting for us to acquire the resurrection, so that when we strip off the flesh, we may be found in rest. . . .” (Verse 69).
In this reconstruction “baptism includes the resurrection and the redemption; the redemption (takes place) in the bridal chamber” (Verse 82). Hence the resurrected state begins at baptism. Later he could also intend a similar interlocking, “Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing. So also when speaking about baptism they say, ‘Baptism is a great thing,’ because if people receive it they will live” (Verse 97). Yet there is also a mysterious “Chrism” that “is superior to baptism” and if one has that as well, “He possesses the resurrection, the light, the cross, the Holy Spirit” (Verse 101).
At least some full preterists find a baptismal/conversion concept of the promised resurrection congenial—at least so far as it applies to post A.D. 70 converts. I do not know whether Michael Bennett has baptism specifically in mind, but he clearly does have conversion in mind as that point. I quote his remark in full on the matter, which is tied in with the punishment of eternal fire threatened in Revelation 20 (underlined is my emphasis),
But, anyhow, granted that the wicked are indeed “raised” out of Hades (from Adam to AD 70) then each time after that the wicked die, come before the judgment seat, are judged (found not in the book), and then tossed into the lake of fire. The righteous, having already participated in the resurrection by being made alive through faith in the here and now, physically expire, come to the face of Christ and are received into what the Confession calls “the perfect blessedness of holiness,” awaiting the full outworking of the restoration of all things when, at the end of time, ALL of God’s people will participate in that restoration of the creation."
course, there is the very real question of why he should be looking forward to
any resurrection in the first place.
“All prophecy has been fulfilled.”
Therefore the promise (and its inherent prophecy) of salvation has been
fulfilled. We have no more salvation to
look forward to than we do the fall of
Let us say it a different way: Only those living before 70 A.D. were ever prophesied salvation. If salvation continued after that date, prophecy has not been totally fulfilled, gutting the basic assumption of Full Preterism.
one way I see out of this difficulty is to argue that the resurrection is not
at a specific point in time, but is an on-going process that began in 70
A.D. and will never come to an end. The
prophesied fall of
The fall of
Covenant Eschatology difficulties: The CE variant of Full Preterism believes in a collectivity resurrection in 70 A.D. That would, obviously, have no relevance to the post 70 generations. For them such an individual resurrection as Bennett postulates would be essential if they are to be resurrected at all.
[Page 263] But then one must
postulate two definitions of
resurrection—one at the destruction of the
In fact, if resurrection at death is to be the operative scheme, then one would anticipate it being the same earlier. We would not anticipate the definition changing. However such a consistency dare not be conceded: if the nature of resurrection doesn’t change, then Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is blatantly erroneous because he clearly views it as (1) future and (2) a point in time event rather than a phenomena already in action and ongoing.
3. The “resurrection” through childbearing
scenario. One final alternative
“definition” for resurrection is deserving of attention because it is presented
in connection with men named by Paul in the same epistle as the one that
condemned the “past resurrection” doctrine.
Hermogenes is mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:15 as among “those in
Since the author was writing a pseudo-history of Paul it may well be that he has them in mind as among those who were apostates in 2 Timothy 2 and that this was the particular form of “accomplished resurrection” embraced by Hymenaeus and Philetus—though, strangely, they themselves are not mentioned.
Be that as it may, when we reach c. 150-160 and the Acts of Paul (or Paul and Thecla) Demas and Hermogenes are presented as teaching that we have resurrection through our children: “We will teach you concerning the resurrection which [Paul] says is to come, that it has already taken place in the children we have.”
The conviction represented in 2 Timothy 2, however, is of a past and accomplished event, one that was not ongoing nor in their future. (The text says they believed “the resurrection is already past” —not “already partially past.”) If adhered to with consistency, the Acts of Paul interpretation would mean that resurrection of the same person would occur on multiple occasions, as additional children were brought into the world.
They would have been believing—if consistent--that not only was “resurrection” past but “resurrections” in the plural for those individuals with multiple offspring. (Or does childbearing produce resurrection only the first time? For one parent or both?) Not to mention it would happen again in the future as well, when more children were born to them. That seems inherently unlikely; not merely a guess at what had been taught in Paul’s day, but a very bad one at that.
: Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection in our modern world: Is it the collective body of the redeemed that is “raised” and not the individual body?
Denying a physical resurrection, it would be natural to describe the alternative as a “spiritual resurrection.” But this is transparently erroneous. As Herschel H. Hobbs concisely put it, “The spirit does not die. So resurrection can only refer to the body.”
This potential objection TFE sidesteps by typically defining the resurrection not [Page 264] as something that happens to the individual but to the group that the individual is in. Hence the “resurrection” of the individual human spirit is not under consideration at all and the question of it having to die before being resurrected is, effectively, sidestepped. How it could be a “spiritual” resurrection is dealt with by making the collective resurrection not a rising from the physically dead but from the grave of sin.
Indeed, this shift to the group is essential to preserving their claim that they believe in the resurrection of “the body” at all: Once the individual body has been ruled out, there is nowhere else to go but the collectivity of all of God’s people. For verbal shorthand purposes, we are likely to simply say “the church.” We mean that in the sense of all God’s “called out” people rather than just its New Testament manifestation.
(Aside: Universalist Full Preterists in the 19th century were known to argue that it was “the body” of humanity that would be saved in “the resurrection”—thereby, ultimately, making all of human creation part of that collective body of the redeemed. An important distinction from what is currently being contended for. One might be wise to keep its existence in mind, however. Bad ideas rarely die permanently but are later revived with, perhaps, changed rhetoric and rationalizations.)
We’ve discussed the collectivity scenario previously, but more attention still needs to be devoted to it before we end our discussion of 1 Corinthians 15. This will involve, in part, a repetition of some points raised earlier in the book as well as raising others not previously mentioned.
Milt Smotherman is representative of those who invoke to prove that point (“But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’ ”):
In this verse, ‘dead’ is a plural adjective, the question is asked what kind of body (body is singular) do they (obviously plural) come? The dead ones were raised in a body. The body talked about in this passage of Scripture is not the physical or spiritual body of any individual; I believe it is the collective body of the saved.
Earlier I had written to him this explanation of why I thought the singular was natural usage in the verse,
Would not the point be that they all have the same kind of resurrected body? If he had used the plural would not that have led the reader to think that the resurrected body came in a multiple number of ‘embodiments’ (for lack of a better word)? Human flesh is of one essential kind; resurrected bodies are one of essential kind. Why is there the need to find a ‘corporate body’ in here at all?
He responded by two means. The first was by contending that my argument was far from convincing, “If the text had said, How are the dead ones raised and with what bodies do they come, I don't know that that would have implied anything regarding a kind of body or embodiments.” Not to me because I’m convinced that individual bodies are involved and not to him, because he is convinced of an alternative definition of resurrection, but if we put ourselves in the shoes of the Corinthian doubters, we have a [Page 265] significantly different situation: Here we have people who want to deny the resurrection will occur—period.
With that mind frame, the use of the plural “bodies” would be sure to result in the question of how those bodies would differ. If you shared their doubt, wouldn’t you make that objection? It cries out to be made if you work from their denial of resurrection.
The other response was to restress the singularity that is referred to and that something was needed to explicitly alter that reading and not mere claimed clear implication, “Of course body is singular. The way I see it is, that for the text to refer to individual bodies ‘raised bodies’ would need to be in the text somewhere.” Well, individual bodies are the subject matter in the very same verse—both before and after the singular reference: “How are the dead raised up? [an obvious reference to individuals who are dead, is it not?] And with what body do they [note the indication that individuals are involved—“they,” those in that group.’” (You may have noticed that he himself concedes that “they” is “obviously plural.”)
How many times must Paul hit us over the head with the plural for us to recognize that he is speaking of the type of body we—all of us—will have in the resurrection? Or are we to say that he shifts the allusion from individuals (“the dead raised up”) to the collectivity (“with what body”) and then back to individuals (“they come”)—all in one short verse?
When we have individual body, then (supposedly) collective body, then individual body all in the same verse, aren’t we guilty of literally changing definitions or subject matter in mid-sentence rather than defining meaning in light of what comes both before and after? Interpreted as one should—in light of internal verse context—it is the individual’s body that is under discussion. The singular means no more than that this will be true of every single body of the group—no exceptions being made.
Furthermore this approach defies other wording of the verse as well: “And with what body do they come.” Note the wording is conspicuously not “And in what body do they come”—as if Paul might, for some strange reason, be introducing a new entity rather than the individual human body already under discussion--but “With what body to they come,” what kind of body will they be in. The singular is quite natural in this context, as an affirmation that all believers will have the same type.
A consideration of other widely used translations confirms that the nature of the individual resurrection body is under consideration:
“With what kind of
body do they come?”
“With what sort of body do they come?” BBE
“With what kind of body will they come?” NIV
“With what kind of body will they come back” GW
“With what kind of body do they come?” RSV
“With what manner of body do they come?” ASV, ERV
“What kind of body will they have?” TEV
“What kind of body will they have when they come?” Holman CSB
“What kind of body
will they have when they come back?”
“With what kind of
body do they come back?”
“With what kind of body do they come? ESV, WEB
“What kind of bodies will they have?” CEV
[Page 266] A quick survey provides only one mode of rendering that offers any solace, “With what body do they come?” That is the rendering of the KJV, NKJV, and the two one man translations of Green—MKJV and LITV. However, if those under discussion in the text are going to be in embodied form in eternity, then “with what body” carries the same idea as “with what kind of body,” what its nature will be. Nothing more. Hence there is imaginative proof for a collectivity resurrection, but rooted in nothing stronger.
In short, Paul utilizes the singular “body” to describe what is true of each believer who has a body—not to introduce a different “collective” concept that will be resurrected / raised in place of the individual, but as a way of saying each and every individual being discussed will go through this.
An aside on “what” in “with what body do they come:” For those wishing to track the matter further via Strong’s, he assigns this the number G4169 (Greek: poios) and defines it: “individualizing interrogative (of character) what sort of, or (of number) which one:--what (manner of), which.” Thayer’s Lexicon defines it as “of what sort or nature.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary gives the definition “of what sort.” In short, a further blow to the collective scenario and yet more evidence that individual bodies are actually under discussion.
But let us briefly make two more concise points about the collective interpretation before moving on:
1. If the resurrection is that of the church and not the individual, will the individual believer have their soul back within an individual body during eternity? If one does, what passage does one go to prove it once the traditional texts have been pre-empted as, actually, references to the collective resurrection?
2. For the TFE scenario to work here, Paul must have been discussing whether the Christians would come back in the church body or some other collective grouping. If the chapter is discussing the collective and not the individual body, what else could have triggered the discussion but this? Remember: He’s not talking about individual believer resurrections at all, we are told.
A creative imagination can find a way to wiggle this into the text—perhaps as an unstated assumption essential to the interpretation of the verse. Maybe, “Will they come back, if Jewish, as part of the faithful Jewish remnant body or as part of the church body since they fit into both groups? Or will they both be united into one group?” But if Paul is discussing what collectivity will be resurrected, how in the world does anything in the surrounding text function as proof, strengthening, or obvious deduction from that premise? In contrast, the connection with individual resurrection is easily laid out.
A. The theme throughout 1 Corinthians 15 has been individual resurrection; a shift to a collective one is to impose an interpretation that flies in the face of this broader context. The verses immediately following , in particular, also show that individuals are under consideration.
We will work from the standard English translation the New King James Version, though the same result could be produced from others equally easily.
Verses 1-20 discuss the resurrection of the individual—Jesus, not a collectivity. Having laid the groundwork of individuals being under discussion, we would expect the [Page 267] same theme being under discussion when “resurrection” is discussed in the rest of the chapter.
We readily concede that it doesn’t have to be. We merely argue that, in light of the framework that has been laid, we expect that pattern to continue. If it doesn’t, we have every right to anticipate clear cut language indicating a shift to a collective body rather than the mere straw in the wind found in —whose very collectivity interpretation requires us to ignore the individual language found both before and after it in the very same verse!
Let us recall that proof text now: “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come.” Collective body here? We have seen the immediate problems with this but there are others in the following verses as well.
: “And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain--perhaps wheat or some other grain.” We have the singular “body” again. Is the singular used of each and every entity that has a “body” (hence the singular being appropriate) or because some kind of collective body is under discussion, which is the interpretation imposed on ? We know by observation or reading, that when we sow, it isn’t merely one seed that is sowed but multitudes. Hence “body” is used of the plurality here, of each individual “body” of grain. We have further confirmation in the next verse.
: “But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.” Note that the singular “body” is paralleled with “each seed.” The interjection of “each” shows it is the individual seed/body in as does the use of “its own body” (singular) at the end of the verse.
Although I have no reason to believe that Ben Witherington had the A.D. 70 doctrine in mind when he wrote, his comments certainly are relevant here, “Verse 38 argues not only that God gives each seed a plant body but also that each one has its own body. It becomes clear that Paul conceives of resurrection as something that happens to each deceased believer who gets his or her own distinct resurrection body. There is no corporate body of Christ being raised.”
Since is an elaboration on , in that previous verse as well “body” should be taken as each individual’s body, not a reference to a collective body.
In -44 we encounter “body” several times. The first occasion (in verse 42) is required to complete the sense of the verses, the “body” being that of the “dead” person under discussion: “42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”
The word “body” is singular—not “bodies,” plural--yet it is clearly an individual term designed to cover anyone and everyone who is in that category, i.e., who has a “body.” Why should we take differently? It fits the usage of “body” throughout the verses that follow. The Collective Interpretation imposes something far different.
For those interested in Strong’s numbering system: The word “body” in each of the above cases (except for the one case where it was added by the translators to clarify the meaning of the text) is 4983. It is not a case of different Greek words being used.
B. Three fundamental interpretive issues that must be faced.
1. Why is the resurrection of Jesus introduced into a chapter that, supposedly, is assuring believers of a collectivity resurrection rather than an individual one? In regard to the latter, it would have an obvious direct relevancy.
The precedent for Christian “resurrection” is that of the individual, Jesus—as Paul argues at length at the beginning of the chapter. So why introduce that at all, since it is totally irrelevant to the group resurrection of the church? After all, Jesus’ resurrection was physical, that of the collectivity of the redeemed is not.
Furthermore, the precedent for a “group resurrection” has to be found in the Old Testament examples Paul cites in the chapter. On the collectivity scenario, this is all he needed to introduce as precedent.
But there is an interpretive scheme where both facts—Jesus’ resurrection and prophecy--are relevant: Could it be that Paul introduces the OT texts not to prove “group resurrection” but to prove the conceptually and distinctly different issue of the triumph over death? In that context the prophetic passages are a fitting supplement to the argument from Jesus’ personal experience; as an effort to change the discussion from individual to group resurrection it seems rather out of place with the argumentation the apostle had just presented.
Furthermore, why would they be upset with the idea of a collective resurrection and Paul have to argue so passionately for it? It was an individual physical resurrection that ancient thought had a passionate distaste for!
(Aside on why the Old Testament prophecies are introduced: One could easily argue that the texts are presented because each and every individual in the group is resurrected: it was a “group resurrection” only in the sense that it happened to every single individual within it. It never happened to the “group” distinct from those individuals. Again, the emphasis on individual change—not group. Then the argument would still be from individual resurrection to individual resurrection. Still fatal to Covenant Eschatology’s collectivity theory.)
2. Why and how are living church members involved at the time of the “resurrection”?
Covenant Eschatology makes the “body” singular in —while refusing to permit the preceding and following words to carry out their function in showing that every individual resurrected comes with the same kind of body. Not one with one type and another with a different.
a. In a very real sense, two different collectivities are involved at the resurrection—that of the dead and that of the living. If all the physically dead come back in “one group,” then what happens to the living believers? They are clearly a distinct entity by the virtue of being alive. They are, by definition, not in that “one body” of the dead! In other words, the physically dead are a collectivity, as are the living faithful—two different collectivities. (Or have you seen the physically dead dropping money in the contribution basket lately?)
b. In the collectivity scenario, the living are also resurrected because they are part of the church collectivity. The collectivity is raised; therefore the living must be as well. Hence the resurrection is shared in by the living and the dead for it happens to the
[Page 269] collectivity of the church rather than merely the physically dead components. Hence, if one is consistent, both groups are “raised” at the same time.
Yet, conceptually, the resurrection of the living flies in the face of objective reality. How can “the resurrection” apply to the living when it’s expressly applied to just the dead in 1 Corinthians 15? (Or have “traditionalists” misunderstood that as well?) Resurrection involves bringing back to life; the living, by definition, are alive! The terminology simply doesn’t fit.
So one, seemingly, must also introduce the hypotheses of the living church members being dead in God’s sight. That fits the scenario of a universal apostasy pre-70. However since it is the righteous who are involved in the resurrection pictured in 1 Corinthians 15, why would the unrighteous living members fit into the picture anywhere at all? To Covenant Eschatologists even church members were unsaved until 70 A.D. so, I suppose, this extreme a scenario would not absolutely be required.
I am driving at two key things in this section: (1) There are actually two collectivities (if you insist on using the terminology at all) at the time of the resurrection—the living and the dead. (2) To claim that the living share in the resurrection is to tear to shreds Paul’s teaching that they are not raised but merely changed (-52).
3. If there is a collective resurrection, it is a collective resurrection from what? The Judaism and apostasy approaches.
a. Options and an analysis of the resurrection from Judaism line of thinking.
From what has been written on the subject, there seem three possibilities:
(1) Resurrection from the apostate church that
existed in 70 A.D. Since all
prophecies were fulfilled by that year (we are told), then this would be a
resurrection from the church’s own sin; a parallel of
(2) They are resurrected from their sins in that they are—finally—given redemption; salvation becomes a reality and no longer just a promise. We will devote a lengthy discussion to this further along.
(3) They are resurrected from Judaism in some sense: “Judaism dies and Christianity arises” is the kind of language one encounters. This involves the fatal shift in the identity of who is being resurrected: one collectivity dies, while another and different one arises. We’ll begin with this possibility first, then move on to the church resurrection over apostasy option and then deal with the sin resurrection scenario, which clearly seems to get the most attention.
The language used is often vague. In some sense Christianity had been resurrected from Judaism. If that means, no longer following the precepts of the Torah to be a faithful Christian, any follower of Paul was living by that principle decades before 70.
If it means a freedom from Temple Judaism
that was not available prior to 70 A.D., i.e., the politico-religious
jurisdiction of the Jews (the National Sanhedrin): Well, then, the Sanhedrin appears to have
had minimal if any influence outside of Judea—neither in Galilee nor the
remainder of the Roman Empire. And
whatever limited influence it had, how was that a stranglehold, especially the
further one was from
The only available
evidence of intervention elsewhere that I can think of is their endorsement of Paul’s
The text we have describing this is quite interesting and is found in Acts 9:1-2, “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
(1) The effort did not originate with the Sanhedrin; it originated with the zealotry of an outsider. (Unless one adopts the scenario that Paul himself was a member of the Sanhedrin. Not impossible, but one would have expected a clear allusion to it somewhere in his writings or in Acts itself. It would have powerfully illustrated just how much he had been willing to give up to serve the Lord.)
(2) There is no mention of the Sanhedrin endorsing the plan: Paul “went to the high priest” and there is no hint of him seeking a broader sanction. Does that imply he was pulling a shady “executive action” around the authority of the Sanhedrin or that he deemed there would be no opposition?
It could be either way, but even leaders, if wise, like to encourage support for their measures in case things go unexpectedly awry. Also to show that they are not (blatantly) abusing the authority inherent in their post and that there is a wide base of support for the action. Hence, on balance, this probably argues it was an independent decision of the high priest.
(3) Note the way the letters Paul received are
described: it sounds like they were
simply letters of permission to arrest any Christians. They are conspicuously not described
as orders to the
Hence the single documented case that exists, argues strongly that the high priest would seldom attempt a direct intervention in an external region and, if done, extreme caution would be exercised lest the locals feel that their own rights and privileges were being challenged.
So, yes, there was
Jewish persecution in various places pre-A.D. 70. But we have every reason to expect that that
Why, even the
If “freedom from Judaism / triumph over Judaism” is used in the broader
sense of victory over the only major monotheistic rival: Well Judaism remained numerically quite
large even after the destruction of the
Judaism was still around with literally millions of adherents. They were just as capable of opposing Christianity as they had been in the past. Not to mention that the “vanquished foes” probably still outnumbered Christians by what—10 to 1? Far more? Probably so: Remember that typical estimates put Judaism at 7% of the Empire’s population, with a million in Egypt, another million in Syria, and 10,000-plus in Rome itself. Christianity did not reach the “big numbers” of adherents till centuries later. That much is certain.
Furthermore, we have the fundamental problem of a different collectivity dying than the one being resurrected—Judaism going under and Christianity ascending. Which makes the option of a revived / “resurrected” Christianity make greater sense no matter how much it is currently out of vogue.
b. The “resurrection” of Christianity from its apostate recent heritage option.
It would seem far stronger to ground one’s argument in Christianity being victorious over its own apostate tendencies—then you have a match between the same group dying as being resurrected. And the desire to claim all prophecies mentioned in the NT were fulfilled by 70 A.D. means that the “great apostasy” has to be put on the earlier side of that date.
If that time placement is true, then the most natural non-physical resurrection would be a resurrection from the church’s rejection of God, a return to the Lord. This would fit well with “Old Testament resurrections” in which God’s people turned their back on the Divine, suffered in doing so, and returned to their original loyalty.
On the other hand, the period of revival then faces the fact of the “second death” that occurred as it slowly and then not so slowly grew into a bureaucratic bishop centered institution and started the accretions that ultimately gave us Roman Catholicism. Or was that only after the still surviving apostles successfully launched a temporarily effective campaign to restore the church’s original purity?
If one is as highly critical of the centralized church and its doctrines and practices from say the 5th or 6th century onward—and many of the readers of these words are likely to fall into the category—one faces the conceptual problem of how any pre-70 apostasy could be considered “the” apostasy (especially the “great apostasy”) compared to what came later in history. Of course one might argue that the pre-70 apostasy was rooted in a different set of principles (Gnostic and other theories) and that it differed qualitatively rather than quantitatively in the degree and nature of its success.
Which would leave us with the fascinating paradox of the “apostate church” of the 6th century and beyond successfully having marginalized or crushed the “apostate Gnostic and other fringe” movement apostasy that continued to nip at its heels at least during the earlier centuries. The concept of an “apostate church” accomplishing that is [Page 272] enough to make the head spin. It’s not impossible, but it would be, as the late twentieth century would have put it, “seriously weird.”
One obvious Biblical problem with the description of the church as apostate as of 70, lies in the fact that the triumphant church in Revelation is pictured as faithfully following God. And since “all prophecy was fulfilled by 70 A.D.” it must have reached that state by then. If it, instead, was apostate, would not much different rhetoric have had to be used? In that case would not the church itself be (almost?) as deserving of punishment as the polytheistic Romans and the traditionalist Jews? Would God have let their sin go by without striking it down and humbling the community of faith as well?
Although this would not be the appropriate place to go into detail, it should be noted that some 19th century Full Preterists believed that the glorification of living believers—as well as the liberation from Hades of the faithful from earlier centuries—occurred in 70 A.D., but took a far different form than currently being advocated.
For the dead it involved a literal resurrection from the grave and the glorification of living believers was brought about during their literal removal from earth. Both groups, of course, were transformed into their new bodily form at that time. In this Full Preterist approach, it was the removal of true believers from the earth that made the victory of the apostates possible: The decay was already doing very well--allowing one to fit into a pre-70 date the apostasy predictions of the New Testament--but it was the removal of these human “hindrances” to the new form of Christianity that allowed the various innovations to gain “universal” acceptance and dominance.
C. The salvational definition of resurrection option—First approach: the collectivity was raised from sin.
There are at least two different ways of expressing Covenant Eschatology convictions on the matter and they overlap: the collectivity was raised from sin or salvation from sin was finalized through the resurrection. In many ways these statements overlap, but since they could well be developed significantly differently by varying advocates, it is probably worthwhile to analyze both approaches separately. We will do this on the basis of the arguments of an advocate of TFE who I deeply respect.
correspondence, Milt Smotherman had argued to me, in effect, that the one body
was resurrected from sin. “I believe the idea is the body of
sin, that is those in sin who have obtained forgiveness and are waiting for the
return of Christ in order for the forgiveness to be complete, will be
changed into the body of the saved.” “Those
who were physically dead, including the Old Testament believers in a Messiah
would also be raised into the expected
There are a number of problems here.
1. The problem of the promised redemption not already being given.
It is hard to imagine a much more flawed understanding of redemption than this: As one reads the call to belief and repentance and salvation, is there any reader of those words who is led to any conclusion but that it was granted promptly and immediately? You only go to “delayed salvation” when you have Covenant Eschatology to defend.
[Page 273] Yes, one must “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation ). But there is a profound difference between the warning that you might lose your salvation through your neglect or open repudiation of it and saying you weren’t saved in the first place. Discipleship is like a race and one must not be “disqualified” for misconduct before it is over (1 Corinthians -27), but there is a profound difference between losing “the race of faith” that you are already in and never being in it in the first place.
You met the entry requirements which promised salvation if you participated. You have every reason to see it through and none but human weakness to throw in the towel. But the promised salvation that got you into the race in the first place, was nonetheless delivered—or do those solemn promises crumble into dust as so much does when it encounters Covenant Eschatology?
2. The problem of definitions.
Definitions are dramatically shifted in this scenario: The collectivity is raised from sin but it is not the collectivity that we normally speak of as “lost” but the individual sinners within that collectivity.
If the collectivity is redeemed then it should be the collectivity that has sinned rather than its individual members. And when churches have sponsored improper and even dishonest things, one could well imagine describing the collectivity / institution as knee deep in sin in distinction from those individual members who have opposed it.
Would we label the entire membership as guilty of individual sin in such a case? Why then would we brand the church as “lost” because of the actions of individuals, acting individually rather than congregationally?
Has the church sinned or has its members?
I hate to fall into a “What does ‘is’ mean?” type of argument, but this is a case where it seems to be obligatory: What is a “collectivity” in this context?
a. If the collectivity is of the church in the sense of all the individuals within it, then they can’t be resurrected from sin because they are already redeemed. It is part of the definition inherent to the concept of “the church,” isn’t it? After all, Scripture says: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts ). They were saved when added to the church. They weren’t having to wait for 30-40 years for it to come about.
b. Laying aside that difficulty, we have the problem of the collectivity of the future redeemed. As of 70 A.D. these unconverted are surely still part of the collectivity of the lost. They, typically, haven’t even heard the gospel yet. They certainly haven’t obeyed it.
Since they are not
redeemed at the fall of
There is no text that promises salvation to anyone after the “end” and the “resurrection” occur. Those are terminus events. All prophecy was fulfilled by then; therefore all the promised redemptions were carried out by then. The ball game is over. Pack your bags and go home. Don’t even think about “obeying the gospel” because the era in which salvation was promised is now history—utterly irrelevant to those “converted” after 70. There’s no more left to bestow.
[Page 274] Mere ancient history to you and me. Though we have the sad reminder of it in the New Testament which describes an era in which—for less than forty glorious years—the doors of heaven were opened before being slammed shut for eternity. A harsh judgment or merely the logical (but unintended) consequence of Covenant Eschatology?
c. The Covenant Eschatology approach makes the church, pre-70, part of the great body of all the lost. They have to be for they aren’t saved yet! The “church collectivity” that is resurrected is part of that greater body—not the entire group: only those awaiting their promised redemption.
The rest remain lost. So it is not really a collectivity resurrection it is a sub-collectivity that is resurrected, being spun off into a new collectivity of its own, it would seem.
Perhaps the fault lays within me and not the proponents of Totally Fulfilled Eschatology: but I have a seriously hard time getting my mind “around” how this collectivity is a separate collectivity in the first place—since it shares in lostness the exact same state of the outright unbelievers—and also how this supposed “collectivity” gets resurrected when it was only part of the collectivity of the lost and not the whole entity. I think quite a few others will also judge that we have a serious case of conceptual “fuzziness” involved here.
(Aside: If we insist that the believers are actually a separate category / collectivity because they count as if saved--because they will be saved in 70 A.D.--that still creates serious problems as we will examine a little later. In effect, one must argue that they are part of the collectivity of the lost but, really, they aren’t exactly such either. The outsider is hard pressed to call this anything but “self-serving logic.”)
3. Is salvational personal or group?
Approaching a related aspect of the definitional question: Are we saved because we are in the church or is the church saved because those in it are themselves saved? In other words: Is our salvation caused by us being in the church or is the church saved because its individuals members are saved?
Biblically speaking, the latter seems clear: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts ). The salvation of the church is rooted in the fact that its component parts are redeemed and not vice versa.
We stress this because Covenant Eschatology roots salvation and the resurrection in what happens to the church collectivity. Its part of the grand scheme to transfer Pauline terminology in 1 Corinthians 15 from its traditional individual roots to the group.
A fundamental problem of this approach is that salvation is really no longer because we have believed and followed the Lord; it is because we are in the church. In other words, we fundamentally reverse the Divine pattern. Is this really desirable?
4. The problem of Paul not making his point explicitly clear while devoting so much space to it.
If it were a collective arising from sin, why didn’t Paul come out and say it in chapter 15? We can say it in one sentence or two! Couldn’t Paul? Why in the world would he have preferred the obscurity he has left us with in that chapter when its “core truth” could have so easily and clearly been made explicit?
We would suggest the reason is that he never had it in his mind in the first place. [Page 275] It is a particularly ungrounded piece of exegesis, arbitrarily imposed upon the text in order to make room for Covenant Eschatology within its language.
You might say in response, “It is clear; it is explicit in the collectivity resurrection texts cited from the Old Testament.” Odd, that it is so “clear” that no one else seems to notice that this overruled and reversed the individual orientated language used in the rest of the chapter.
That it really meant that the collectivity arose rather than the individual when it has traditionally been used to prove that all the individuals—i.e., within God’s collective people—would arise. The reverse of the interpretation you now suggest is its “true” meaning. Yet the interpretation that the individualistic language in the rest of the chapter would powerfully argue for.
Again, if Paul intended to make the shift in emphasis and meaning, why didn’t he come out and set us straight as concisely as modern advocates can? Then no one would have any excuse to doubt!
Even when folk disagree with an interpretation, they usually can at least easily see why it might be adopted. They may not agree, but they can at least grasp “where you are coming from.” But in this case one has to labor at length to get people to even see the possibility—not even the probability—of the proposed approach. This should set off loud alarm bells of caution all by itself.
5. Was God’s collectivity lost in sin until 70 A.D.?
If one makes the collectivity rise from sin in 70, then it must be that the collectivity was previously lost in sin until 70. But was that the case for God’s collectivity?
“And He is the head of the body, the church . . .” (Colossians ). “And He put all things under His feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Was Christ’s body lost in sin—was part of Christ lost in sin since He “is the head” of that very body?
If we speak of individuals lost in sin, we are talking of specific persons and not the group. If it is the group that is lost in sin, however, then we are talking nothing less than Jesus’ spiritual body / collectivity / the church being spiritually lost as an entity and as a unit. The head is holy but his entire body is still reprobate from God? That concept will take some getting used to!
If salvation was “promised” to them and finally delivered in 70, then prior to 70 they were still lost in the depths of their depravity, weren’t they?
“Will be” is a country mile from “is.” They were still in the depths of their sin, still enemies of God and still His foes. And taking the gospel to the world to convert them (Matthew 28:18-20) meant only—in cold bloodied reality—not bringing them from sin to redemption but from the mass body of the damned to a particular faction of the damned. A group who “will” be saved—a few decades in the future. What a powerful message to attract the multitudes! Who face repression and even the threat of death for conversion!
We used to believe that Paul was writing the words describing the church as Christ’s body as referring to the discipleship then currently alive and describing the existing reality. Are we now to decide that the church only became the body of Christ at [Page 276] the “resurrection” in 70 A.D.? Or that he was writing “prophetically” of what would only occur in 70 A.D.? (And without giving a hint of it!)
It is either one of these options or concede that the church was in sin as a group, institution, collectivity prior to that time. That approach would certainly fit well with what chapter 15 is supposedly “really” discussing—the group and not the individuals within the group. Accepting the legitimacy of that approach let us, therefore, substitute “church” for “body” and see what 15:42-44 is really intended to tell us:
“42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The church is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural church, it is raised a spiritual church. There is a natural church, and there is a spiritual church.”
I don’t really want to think what an exegesis of these verses would produce based upon this message which they “really” intend. I suspect it can be done—perhaps already has been. What you would seem to have to do is tie it in with the widespread (complete?) apostasy of the church which—in this reconstruction—occurred prior to 70 A.D. since every single prophesied item of both testaments came to pass by then. The church prior to 70 is full of “corruption;” it is “weak;” it is “natural” and nothing more. After Jesus returns and brings about the destruction of Jeruslaem, it is transformed into “incorruption,” “power,” and “spiritual[ity?].”
Smotherman described the glorious change at the fall of
I have no doubt that he meant well by those words. But cynics like me would take one horrified look at this and proclaim “the impossibility of apostasy—the church can’t fall into sin and leave God behind after the 70 transformation.” If so, what happened in the centuries following was not—and could not be—apostasy. He didn’t believe that for a second, I’m sure, but work from these premises I really don’t see how one can avoid the conclusion—unless we adopt one of the undesirable options already referred to.
Furthermore, the pre-70 church was not “corruptible because of sin:” it was inherently and ongoing corrupt because the sin of its members had not been forgiven.
6. Did the Great Apostasy come before or after A.D. 70?
In Covenant Eschatology, it came earlier. It had to since “all prophecy” was fulfilled by then.
When the rest of us would be inclined to think the church begins its slow decline and drift into a distinctly different religious system, this interpretation would make it already full of decay and darkness. Of course this raises fascinating historical problems, not the least of which is the increased unbiblical and anti-Biblical teachings that began to become ever more the definition of “orthodoxy” in the following few centuries.
[Page 277] We seem to be required not only to utterly revise the natural meaning of the resurrection (from individual human to collective church) but also to reverse our reading of history (with the [relative] golden age of the church prior to A.D. 70 actually being its nadir). Which means that the massive changes--“apostate departures” to those who reject them--that occurred gradually afterwards, evolved the church into either just as bad a shape or an even worse shape that a fully apostate one. A lot of luggage to carry there, my friends. A whole lot of luggage.
Don’t get me wrong: The first century had its full share of problems. The prime one, documentable from the New Testament that is, was that of Judaizing, a movement that would have made Christianity a mere sect of Judaism. Immorality and ethical problems were a plague as they usually are even under the best of conditions. Yet you still hadn’t had the major shifts in organizational structure (regional authority figures instead of congregational). You still haven’t developed the gradual new belief system in the supposedly “orthodox mainstream” that you began to see a century or so later and which proceeded to serve as precedents for yet more drastic innovations.
Gnosticism is assumed to be the target in a number of passages, and it might well be. On the other hand, they may be targeting what later became Gnosticism and was nowhere near that stage yet—at least among Christians. A whole lot of speculation here and not so much clear evidence. And even though the convictions and practices of the corporate church say 600 A.D. are definitely not Gnostic in nature, how much of a firm Biblical root will we grant to them? Not all non-Biblical “heresy” was Gnostic in any age!
I have no idea how TFE advocates deal with the post-70 A.D. changes. But here is how I would argue the case if I took their approach: (The subject is so marginal to our 1 Corinthians concern, I simply haven’t pursued it yet.) In order to have a “resurrection” occur at all and yet for it to be a non-physical one, then one must adopt some other definition for the term. The only available approach seems to be to follow the precedent of “national resurrection”--which we are told is found in Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14, as originally situated in OT history.
Well, what was a resurrection in that particular context? God’s called out people composed of Jews had fallen into grievous sin, suffered great and even hideous defeat that destroyed their power and independence. Yet God “resurrected” them to an even greater glory as the people repented and turned back to God; His blessings were upon them and their independence regained.
If the called out people composed of Christians is to have a parallel to this, then it would be by them falling into general apostasy, repenting of their evil at the fall of Jerusalem--recognizing that the same evil could be inflicted on them if they continued in their rebellious ways?--and being restored to God’s acceptance and blessed even greater than they had been in the past.
This still creates historical problems and turns upside down our traditional understanding of church history. Instead of proceeding from (relative) purity in 70 and going downhill, we have a roller coaster: the great apostasy pre-70, the restoration to purity, and a slide back into it in the centuries afterwards. Who were these gallant men and women who temporarily restored the faith? Odd, nothing is known of them, their [Page 278] actions, or their results. We simply have to assume they existed. That way the underlying theory works.
that is adequate evidence, I leave to others.
Perhaps TFE advocates have some alternative version of events. In this case, I can only present how I
would argue their case if I embraced their assumptions. However, they prefer to handle it, the Great
Apostasy has to occur prior to
It still leaves the incongruity of a restored post-70 Christian faith after a massive apostasy and the not (historically) distant drift back into it. And a few centuries later a church that seems just as distant from the apostolic ideal found in the New Testament epistles.
D. The salvational definition option—Second / Overlapping approach: Defining the promised resurrection as salvation finalized.
In a e-mail seeking clarification to be sure I understood what he was driving at, I asked Milt Smotherman,
assert, “In my understanding it [1 Corinthians 15] simply means that
individuals under the old covenant were changed to be in the
Pre-70 we were saved. Post-70 we were saved.
Pre-70 we were faithful servants of God and His Son. Post-70 the same.
we go on? (It would be easy) Whatever we were before the fall of
had not dawned upon me at this stage, that granting the claim of believer
salvation in Acts 2 etc. was a totally unwarranted assumption if one contends, as
in Covenant Eschatology, that it wasn’t actually received till the fall of
Judging from Smotherman’s response, he is convinced that the shift from having salvation promised and having it in hand was sufficient to describe the transition as a resurrection,
We are changed when we are baptized, because the sacrifice has been completed. They, pre 70 AD had to wait for a number of reasons.
The kingdom had not come—there was as yet no judgment.
The marriage had not taken place for us to be married to Christ.
All the prophecies had not been fulfilled: therefore, the law was still in effect. They were in the process of receiving the new covenant. Jesus fulfilled that old law. He offered himself as a sacrifice under the old law. According to the law in Leviticus chapter 16, he needed to return out of the holy place for sacrifice to be complete. Compare this with Hebrews 9. . . .
In Acts 2 it was a process that needed to be completed. Yes, they had salvation and they trusted in the blood of Christ to bring that salvation. There was no question about their salvation. The question is a matter of when, not if.
The reader must make judgments on three points closely involved with the above reasoning.
1. On what basis do we redefine “resurrection” into “gaining salvation”? That faith and baptism are necessary to salvation is directly asserted (Mark ), as is the necessity of moral reorientation and reform (i.e., “repentance,” Acts ). Shouldn’t we expect an equally clear text(s) asserting that the post-conversion “resurrection” means to be saved?
Instead the terminology makes us think of something physical and visible: When Lazarus was “resurrected” they could see the body. Those Jesus resurrected could be visibly seen. When Jesus Himself was resurrected, He could be seen. Can you name any “resurrected” person who could not be seen?
The closest one can come to the concept is Romans 6:1-11 which is fatal to the 70 A.D. salvation scenario on several counts:
(NKJV) Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also shou0ld walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We have here a clear text making “resurrection” both a spiritual and salvational event but—
[Page 280] (1) It had already happened to them. Having already been “resurrected” (in baptism) there was no need for another symbolic/salvation resurrection in 70 A.D.
(2) However, there was some sense in which they would be raised again—
* They had already had the baptismal resurrection (verse 4): “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” As Christ had a literal “newness of life” through being resurrected, so do we have a renewed / new / righteous “newness of life.”
* But there was also another resurrection to occur (verse 5): “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.” One resurrection accomplished and one future. Unless we are going to argue that there are two spiritual resurrections (one at conversion and one at 70 A.D.) the natural reading would be to make this later one a physical resurrection.
Interestingly, in regard to our first / baptismal resurrection, Paul avoids that term “resurrection” though the idea is clearly there (“newness of life”). Only when he is discussing the yet future resurrection does he overtly refer to “the likeness of His resurrection.” And what was that “likeness”? Obviously it was to be “like”—have a “likeness” to—the physical resurrection! For “His (Jesus’) resurrection was exactly that! Hence this text seems to clearly point to first century believers anticipating a future physical resurrection because, in part, they had already enjoyed a spiritual one.
(3) If they had a spiritual resurrection in baptism and they had been baptized to be saved (Acts ), it seems inescapable that the spiritual resurrection in baptism involved salvation at the time they were “resurrected” from the watery grave of baptism. Or did they have to wait 35 or so years after they were first “resurrected”—for a resurrection Peter hasn’t even had the courtesy to warn them they must wait for to be redeemed? (Note how the words “and you will be saved at the time of the next and collective resurrection” are conspicuously absent.)
If you wish to make “resurrection” salvational in nature, you really do need to make it the right “resurrection,” the one in baptism. Of course the reality is that even here, the New Testament conspicuously does not define salvation as resurrection. It happens that both occur at the same time, so one can make the rhetorical connection, but the Bible writers themselves conspicuously avoid doing so themselves.
Do we need a stronger “shot across the bow” warning us that in redefining resurrection as salvational we may be “logical”—if applied to the time of conversion rather than decades later—but are still using the concept in a way neither endorsed or applauded by the original writers and speakers?
2. Having received a “spiritual resurrection”
through baptism, why would they have thought any yet future resurrection would be “spiritual”?
Accepting that it is technically proper to describe their post-baptismal condition as a “resurrected life,” we are left to wonder why—if they even consciously thought in such resurrectional = salvational terms at all—that something more would be deemed necessary to accomplish it in the future. They were given the promise of salvation, they fulfilled the conditions of that promise, they had every reason to assume it was carried out. After all, how many times does a promise have to be fulfilled to count it as an accomplished reality and fact of life?
[Page 281] Or look at it this way: They had already undergone a “spiritual resurrection” for they had arisen from their sins. That strongly argues that nothing that happened in 70 A.D. would be deemed as producing their redemption. Instead something happened to their enemies and it was quite visible, temporal, and undeniable in nature—it wasn’t a “resurrection” for the Christians, however; it was a Divine judgment against their enemies.
The stink of smoldering bodies, of burning buildings, of streets literally flowing with blood—that’s about as terrestrial as you can get. In these, Christians were supposed to find their own spiritual resurrection accomplished? In someone else dying?
In baptism, they themselves had “died” and been “raised.” Someone else had to die—by the thousand—to obtain the promised Christian resurrection of salvation, to assure that it was finally being granted and delivered?
As I read the Scriptures only one person had to die physically to save us.
His name was Jesus of Nazareth.
3. Why would church members have defined post 70 A.D. conditions as their resurrected life?
It is contended that folk like me spend too much time looking at the New Testament promises as if they were addressed to us, but I don’t believe you’ll find the results much better when we shift viewpoint to believers of the 30s to 70 A.D.
Where is a clear-cut, explicit teaching to them that their everyday life would continue just as it had prior to their “resurrection.” Text please!
They had the same enemies, the same foes, the same adversaries, the same people (sometimes literally, I suspect) praying for their failure. The triumph of a bodily resurrection would be obvious; they are discredited and being sent their way to Hell. (Or even annihilation, if you wish.) From the standpoint of our argument it doesn’t really matter whether they are even resurrected at all. Any of the options—Hell, annihilation, you name it—and the believers’ fate would clearly be distinguished from that of the anti-Christians.
After the fall of
Oh one could imagine a few rejoicing in the destruction itself, but that is something far different—joy in the face of the elimination of enemies rather than joy in one’s own spiritual transformation. But would it produce anything more than a limited joy? Think of how many of their ethnic kin had perished if they were Jews. Even if they weren’t Jews, how many more potentially lethal enemies still remained? Furthermore, there is a massive conceptual chasm between rejoicing at enemies receiving their comeuppance and rejoicing that one has been personally redeemed.
Can’t you at least understand why we would expect outward, tangible evidence rather than “the same old ho-hum” going on till these early Christians died? It’s not a matter of us imposing on them what they “should” have anticipated, but the common sense question of what they would have regarded as proof of their resurrection. Slopping [Page 282] the hogs the next day, somehow, I do not expect was on their list of expected post-resurrection activities! Would it have been on yours?
Now let us look at the scriptures and see what kind of post-resurrection life and nature they were led to anticipate in place of this.
had visibly triumphed and suppressed all foes: “Then comes the end, when He delivers the
kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority
and power. For He must reign till He has
put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians -25). Yes, sir, the day after the
Somehow, I think not.
Or how about these words:
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it
is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it
is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.
44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual
body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 49 And
as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image
of the heavenly
This is the language of visible, obvious change. Their resurrection bodies will not have the ability to be “corrupt[ed]” (with age or decay), they will manifest Divine “power,” they will have “the image of the heavenly Man,” they will not have flesh and blood because we shall all be “changed” into a form that is “incorruptible” and has “immortality.” I could belabor these points at length, but few readers will miss the fact that these words carry the “freight” of observable and obvious outward and tangible changes. Such they were promised.
Looking out their
Did they notice them stop aging? Did they notice that they didn’t appear to even have flesh and blood bodies anymore but something else? Did they somehow avoid dying? No more funerals would ever be needed among them! For that matter, some of these folk ought to be our neighbors today, shouldn’t they—if these promises were actually granted in 70?
Somehow I think it not happen.
And if it did not happen, the resurrection did not occur in 70 A.D.
To make Covenant Eschatology work, not only does the resurrection have to be shifted from individuals to the collectivity, the very nature of our resurrection bodies must be altered and stripped of the beauty and glory that they are promised. Words can [Page 283] not mean what they say. They must mean whatever is necessary to make the theory work. That is not responsible exegesis.
(Aside: And if we insist upon applying these
promises—contrary to their wording [note the explicit and implicit “we”
language throughout]—to the collectivity of the church, how did that
collectivity appear different the day after the
4. Barring something explicit and clear-cut being told the disciples, they had every reason to believe that salvation had been granted as of conversion rather than needing to wait up to almost forty years.
We introduced this general theme earlier in connection with the idea that since they had already received a “spiritual resurrection” in conversion, they were hardly likely to anticipate yet a second one. Here we deal with the strictly salvational aspect of the question—whether they believed they had salvation “in hand” at the time of embracing Christ.
What was the perceived timing of salvation from the standpoint of the first Christians? When would they have perceived it as being given--or us if we had been standing next to them at Pentecost, for example? If you had been a Jew and heard the words in Acts 2:38, would you believe it meant you would have to wait an unknown number of years to receive redemption--35-40 years, thereabout, for it to be finally and completely granted? For it to be “finalized.”
(An oddity here: They were supposed to give themselves fully and completely to God at conversion but God was not going to give them a similar measure of salvation until long later. Hmm.)
If you go to a car dealer and buy a vehicle there—and virtually every reader of these words has done so—you were quite happy to be able to obtain it. You might not have been with the causes of having to make your purchase: maybe you suffered a car wreck because some guy ran a red light (been there; survived it). Maybe it was a new car (only two in my life, but they were pleasant to have) or maybe it was a used car (been there multiple times). Maybe you paid it all up front or maybe you went by the dealer every week to make a payment. (Done both.)
But you were still happy to have transportation available. You’ve been promised the car. You’ve made payment arrangements. And you are ready to drive it away.
And then you are told you are going to having to wait 35 years or more to actually take possession. Did you obtain the promised car? Fraud. Misrepresentation. Deceit. Such are some of the milder words that would go through your mind. (Not to mention nasties like “lawyer” and “suing.”)
Yet, we are told by Covenant Eschatologists, that those on Pentecost were in exactly that situation. They were not going to get their promised salvation for decades.
Now if there had been a specific text (or texts) that spelled it out, then they would have been forewarned. But there aren’t such texts. (Though why they should do the “repent” part of Acts 2:38, 35 years before the salvation part kicks in, would still seem a bit odd. Before some pious soul objects to that possibility: We are talking real life here; not preacher constructs of how things “ought to be” or “could be.”).
[Page 284] No, we are reassured; you have it wrong here: You do have salvation; it just hasn’t been finalized yet.
That unscrupulous car dealer could say much the same thing, however: “Here’s all the identifying information, here’s your name on the title. It’s yours. You just don’t have the transfer ‘finalized’ for a few decades at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Though you will have to be paying for it the entire time, of course. I’m sure you’ll understand. After all, everyone knows that even God works that way.”
Is this reasoning any more convincing in a delayed salvation context? It is a conclusion from the massive massaging of various passages in order to force it all into a consistent whole. It is not something that comes from the natural language and meaning of the Biblical texts. It is a maneuver to fit an embarrassing “loose end” into an interpretive scheme, but at the cost of “reinterpreting” multiple passages in what seems (to the uncommitted) a most unnatural manner.
In writing to Milt Smotherman, I had touched on the promise of salvation being misleading if wrestled out of the time when people obeyed admonitions like those found in Acts 2:38. He responded in this manner,
There was no misleading. This is evident--Those early disciples looked for and expected the imminent return of Christ their Savior. Look at the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew 24, 25 and other passages. Look at Peter's reference to Joel 2, a prophecy which was beginning to be fulfilled. It is we who were misled because we do not know about prophecies and their fulfillment. It is we who been misled because we have taken those Scriptures which deal with an imminent return of Christ and applied them 2000 years down the road. It has not been the apostles which misled us, it has been us in our arrogance to ignore the prophecies and their fulfillment. We have ignored the fact that salvation was out of the Jews.
In one sense this entire line of reasoning is irrelevant; it doesn’t actually deal with the question of the apparent misleading of converts as to the timing of their salvation. Approaching the matter this way, is an effort to change the topic and not answer the difficulty. (More relevant responses of his we’ve presented earlier.)
But the words are still very worth quoting in spite of this limitation, because we see here the mental framework within which advocates of Totally Fulfilled Prophecy work: since part of the prophecies of Christ were intended to refer to a particular chronological point, therefore all must have referred to the same one. There is no room in their scenario for the multiple comings in judgment, which is what Jehovah did on multiple occasions in the Old Testament and which, as ruler, we would expect Jesus to do as well.
There is one coming and one coming only. Hence 1 Corinthians 15 has to fit the first century one and we have to conjure up a scenario that fits the wording even though—if we did not believe in TFP—we would never have imagined the resurrection being fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. Literally never have imagined.
The fact that many ignore that Jesus returned in a (singular—not only) judgment in 70 A.D. is hardly the issue. Although Premillennialists have been known to apply the entire chapter to yet future events, non-premillenialists have often seen in Matthew 24 a [Page 285] double coming: one in judgment on one particular nation and people (Jerusalem, Israel, the Jews) and one later (both in the chapter and chronologically) on the entire world.
The shift seems clear. Note how Jesus shifts from the knowable short term future (Jerusalem) to the unspecified long term, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34). Then the shift to a second, grander event, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:35-36).
We are now told
that “day and hour” actually refers not to “heaven and earth will pass away” but
But Jesus had
already made clear that when it came to that subject, they had no need for such
clock specific timing in the first place:
When things came to a certain point, “then let those who are in
As to “heaven and
earth will pass away,” He is telling them of that event they aren’t even
going to have the forewarning in regard to timing that they had of the fall of
Even assuming our exegesis is incorrect, that does not remove the thoroughly misleading promise of immediate salvation found in Acts 2:38. It is not a matter of “when” it would occur: The wording promised it to them as if immediate. You would no more anticipate God postponing the salvation in the text than God expected the hearers to postpone the repentance demanded.
This huge problem of relocating the time of salvation remains regardless of other interpretive issues that are raised on unrelated matters.
 Walter Schmithals, “The Corpus Paulinum and Gnosis,” in The New Testament and Gnosis, edited by A. H. B. Logan and A. J. M. Wedderburn (London: Continuum, 1983; reprinted 2004), 116.
 Against Heresies, II:31:2, as quoted by Lynn Boliek, The Resurrection of the Flesh: A Study of a Confessional Phrase (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), 23.
 Randall Otto, “Preterism and the Question of Heresy,” Quodlibet Journal (Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 2000). Reprinted at the website World Without End: Proclaiming the [Page 286] Finished Work of Christ (IBN). At: http://worldwithoutend.info/ wwewp/?p=53. [July 2011.] In the next paragraph after this quote, his article has an excellent collection of heretical quotes from the early centuries redefining “resurrection.”
 Dan Trotter, “Why It Is Perfectly OK to Call Heretical Preterists Naughty Names.” At: http://www.thingstocome.org/perfectly.htm. [July 2011.] He argues that even granting it a full forty years would seem a rather disproportionate response. The more time one “hacks off” the beginning point—reducing the time left to 70 A.D.—the stronger this response becomes, however.
 Don K. Preston, “Covenant Eschatology and the Hymanaean Heresy.” At: http://hellbusters.8m.com/prophecy/DP/hymanaeanheresy.htm. [July 2011.]
 Trotter, “Why It Is Perfectly OK to Call Heretical Preterists Naughty Names.” I had the Matthew text in my notes but did not have the foggiest idea of where and how it would fit into this discussion and am especially glad that Trotter provides an opportunity for its presentation and discussion.
 Dialogue, 80, as quoted by Boliek, 23.
 As quoted by Otto, “Preterism and the Question of Heresy.”
 Tertullian, The Resurrection of the Flesh, translated by Peter Holmes in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (volume 3; 1885), Chapter 19. Reprinted in full at the New Advent web site. At: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0316.htm. [July 2011.]
 Tertullian. The Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 19.
 De Haer., 46, as quoted by Lias, 144.
 Tertullian, The Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 19.
 The quotations in the following paragraph come from [Anonymous,] “The Treatise on the Resurrection,” translated by Malcolm L. Peel. Part of the Gnostic Society Library website. At: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/res.html. [July 2011.]
 [Anonymous,] “Exegesis on the Soul,” translated by William C. Robinson, Jr. Part of the Gnostic Society Library website. At: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/exe.html. [July 2011.]
 [Anonymous,] “Exegesis on the Soul.”
 All quotations from this work are from [Anonymous,] Gospel of Philip, translated by Welsey W. Isenberg. (Includes verse numbers from Patterson Brown and a second translation from Brown.) At: http://gospelofthomas.nazirene.org/philip.htm. [July 2011.]
 Michael Frost, “Frost Conundrum (Part 2) (Acts 24:15,
Rev 20),” dated
 As quoted by David Wenham, “Acts and the Pauline Corpus: II. The Evidence of Parallels,” in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; volume 1: Ancient Literary Setting, edited by Bruce W. Winter and Andrew D. Clarke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 128.
 Milt Smotherman, “Re:
1 Corinthians 15—A Reply in the by 70 AD Series.” Widely circulated e-mail dated
 Milt Smotherman e-mail dated
 -----. “4101 (pistikos) to 4200 (porismos).” King James Bible: Strong’s Greek Dictionary. At: http://www.htmlbible.com/sacrednamebiblecom/kjvstrongs/ STRGRK41.htm. [March 2011.]
 For convenience, I picked up the Strong’s number
along with the Thayer’s, and Vine’s information from Blue Letter Bible,
"Dictionary and Word Search for poios (Strong's 4169)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011.
 Witherington III, World, 196.
 Milt Smotherman, “Re: Questions on October 5th 1 Cor. 15 Analysis.”