From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 15                    Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2012





[Page 155]



Chapter 9:

Controversies over Jesus’ Personal Resurrection







Questions Discussed:

            15:4:  What was the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body? 

15:4:  How ancient heretical movements used Biblical language  to prove that Jesus was not physically resurrected.--                                      

            15:4:  Biblical “Proofs” that Jesus’ Resurrection was Non-Physical and Non-Tangible.                                                                                    

            15:4:  Full Preterist/Covenant Eschatologists attempts to preserve the physical resurrection of Jesus.   





15:4:  What was the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body?     Paul provides no description of it but only of what a Christian’s own body would be like after the resurrection:  he speaks of the believer’s body having “glory” as greater than the earthly (15:40-41), of its “incorruption” (15:42), of its “power” (15:33), and of its being “a spiritual body” in contrast to the normal earthly body (15:34).  Would Jesus’ resurrection body on earth reflect this fully completed resurrection state or something even more awesome?  (Conceptually, it seems impossible for it to have been less—that of believers more impressive and special than that of the unique Son of God?) 

For that matter, do we even understand, except in the most limited way, the full implications of his description of our future bodies?  For example, that we are spiritual (15:34) not because the “physical” has been eliminated but the spiritual is in the driver’s seat—finally?  (I.e., reversing the normal human situation described in Matthew 26:41, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”)  Do we grasp the full implications of the impact of that on our resurrection life and behavior?  

As to physical appearance, transformation is promised but nothing is said that would require that we look other than normally human--except that the weaknesses associated with that state have been fully removed.  Does not Paul’s description of that [Page 156]   body rule out such existing any longer?  Whatever we will look like, Jesus will surely look and be even more impressive.  How could it be otherwise?

Do we look “superhuman” in the resurrection (for lack of a better way to describe it)?  Jesus did once that comes to immediate mind—on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2:  “And He was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.”)  And even in that context, the righteous dead who were with Him (Moses and Elijah, verse 3) are given no description indicating a similar appearance.  They just looked like—well, Moses and Elijah. 

But when the apostles saw them they were still visible and gave every indication of tangibility.  Otherwise the offer to build a “tabernacle” for each to dwell in was meaningless (17:4).  That they did not yet have greater than the normal human “glory” is quite possible; it is equally possible that in comparison with Jesus, it was overwhelmed and barely noticeable.  Either way, they were still “there” in person, identifiable by some means and in human form.  (If they appeared in any other form how could it possibly go unmentioned?)   

Yet we read in 17:4:  “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”).  One could attempt to dismiss the physicality because this was a “vision”—intangible and not objectively really there at all.  But if Jesus was really present—and will any think to deny at least that much?—the term “vision” surely refers here not to intangibility but to a “seeing, beholding”--of the manifestation of the supernatural—in a manner and form that is not normally granted to even faithful disciples.  Objectively, tangibly, real.

But to return to Jesus, who is the enter of our attention in this section—and whose resurrection is cited as proof positive of our own--the textual descriptions of His personal resurrection appearances provide no evidence that He looked anything different than He ever did.  Indeed, for them to be assured that this was the same Jesus they had worked with for years, how else could it have been?  Yet that very fact argues for a revitalized, perfected human body only, removed of the physical inadequacies it once had.  Whether it would change yet further after the ascension is, potentially, another story.  (See the discussion further below.)  

            Interestingly Jesus predicted what his resurrection body would be like:  physical, just like the one He had while teaching during His ministry.

            We have this assertion during His confrontation with the merchants in the Temple,


John 2:17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."   18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?"   19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."   20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"   21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.   22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.


[Page 157]           The body He had then was physical; therefore the body He was to have in His resurrection would be physical, would it not?  It was the “temple of His body”—the same body.      

In John 10:17-18 He drives home a similar point, but the physicality that is intended seems even harder to avoid in the Temple incident above.

            Furthermore, Paul wrote, “For since by man (i.e., Adam) came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21).  That sounds like an assertion that just as surely as a physical man brought death into the world, a physical Man / Jesus came out of the tomb, conquering death.  Transformed, either immediately or soon thereafter, of course.  But still a human being in contrast to a “spirit.”

Murray J. Harris takes the question of Jesus’ post-resurrection nature in an unexpected direction, however.  He insists that “His essential state was one of invisibility and therefore immateriality,” a statement he italicizes for emphasis.[1]  He is far from the first to have been inclined in such a direction, though some have thought it was a gradual process during the forty pre-ascension days.[2]  (How one could have a “partially spiritualized” Jesus is a concept hard to get the mind around.  Paul avoids such a difficulty by speaking of a dramatic one time change in the human resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 rather than speaking in terms of a “process.”) 

Although, this is not the best place for Harris’ rather weak supporting arguments to be considered, we should at least emphasize that invisibility does not require immateriality.  It might be present, but there is nothing inherent in the idea of “invisibility” to require it.  

At least not as we normally define the term in America.  From Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933) until today “invisible” simply carries the linguistic connotation of unseeable, not intangibility.  To use more modern examples, the American stealth fighters and bombers can’t be seen at all, or barely--by radar.  But one goes over your head at a hundred feet and you very definitely both see and hear it.  Logically, if Jesus’ “essential state was one of invisibility” then even in heaven itself He should have been unseeable.  I realize the Apocalypse is figurative and symbolic in so many ways, but an invisible Jesus just not fit the imagery found there, does it?


            The scriptural descriptions of Jesus’ post-resurrection body.  To have a factual basis on which to look further at the matter, let us examine some of the Biblical data dealing implicitly or explicitly with Jesus’ “appearance” during that post-resurrection and pre-ascension period of time.


            1.  He manifested Himself with full temporal/physical nature.

            (a)  He could be touched: 

            Women disciples—Matthew 28:9:  “And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’  So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.”

To the apostles at large--Luke 24:  38 And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled?  And why do doubts arise in your hearts?   39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.  Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’   40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.”

            (b)  He could eat food: 

Clearly implied:  Did so with the men heading to Emmaus--Luke 24:  29 But [Page 158]   they constrained Him, saying, ‘Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’  And He went in to stay with them.   30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.”  They were getting ready to eat, Jesus personally broke the bread, and gave thanks.  And He sat there and didn’t eat?  Hard to imagine.

Directly stated:  Did so with the apostles--Luke 24:  41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’   42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.   43 And He took it and ate in their presence.”

(c)  He manifested Himself with a body that had the same identical crucifixion wounds—and they were touchable:

            Doubting Thomas—John 20:27:  “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ ”  Surely this implies that He retained a fleshly body that, to Thomas’s touch, would feel exactly the same as normal human flesh.  (Either that or He was going to get a very startled reaction along the line of, “It doesn’t feel like a normal body!”  With Jesus’ resurrection as precedent for our own, we would anticipate receiving a fleshly body as well—changed and transformed, of course, in whatever ways deemed desirable by God—but still worthy of the same label.)


            2.  He could appear and visibly approach.

            Case of the men on the road to Emmaus somewhere in the seven miles between Jerusalem and there—Luke 24:  13 Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.   14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened.   15 So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.”


            3.  He could appear where He had not entered by normal physical means.

            To the apostles—Luke 24:36:  “Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ ”

            To the apostles—John 20:19:  “Then, the same day at evening, being the first [day] of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ ”

            Truth be told, neither text tells how He got into the room—just that He got there in spite of the obstacle of closed doors.  At most, this is an evidence of retained miracle working power rather than non-tangibility as His nature.  As a miracle, He could have done the exact same thing during His ministry if there had been the desire and the need.  A change in His bodily nature was not required from what it had been then.[3]  (Is John 8:59, during His earthly ministry, another aspect of this “appearing / disappearing” power or does it better fit the changed appearance on the road to Emmaus?)   


            4.  He could disappear:

            At the tail end of the account of the appearance to the men on the way to Emmaus we read of them sharing a meal--Luke 24:31:  “Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.”  A tool to get away from them unhindered [Page 159]  or a reflection of His new basic nature?  The former fits His repeatedly demonstrated miracle working power; the latter requires a major “leap of faith” beyond what can clearly be established.

            5.  He could mentally cloud the ability of people to see who He really was:

            Road to Emmaus—Luke 24:16:  “But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.”

            Upon repeated occasions the disciples visibly recognized Jesus as the same Jesus they had always known and such cases as touching the scar marks further verified that this was both the identical Jesus, that He retained a human body, and had what to every appearance was “the same body in which He died.”[4]  Changed and altered, surely—but the same to all visible indication.  Jesus could alter their perception so they could not recognize who He was (Luke 24:16, above), but note that the text explicitly attributes the non-recognition to that fact and not to His “actual” physical appearance/nature. 

In certain cases there may have been other factors affecting the human observer rather than the “normal” appearance or nature of the resurrected Jesus having any role in the matter.  Geisler suggests that possible reasons are sorrow in John 20:11-15, dim light in John 20:14-15, and the distance involved in John 21:4.[5]  Such would naturally not affect Jesus’ actual appearance or physical solidarity.           


            Evaluation of the data as to Jesus’ post-resurrection bodily nature.  That Jesus could appear in locked rooms merely shows that He could work a miracle; its tells nothing, really, of His “normal” or “essential” nature during the post-resurrection  appearances.  Certainly not that it was “invisible” or “immaterial.”  The invisibility scenario would only be provable if you could scripturally validate the premise that there were extended periods when Jesus was in their presence in such a form.  Otherwise the reason for His not being seen was simply He wasn’t there!  It would be like arguing in Galilee during His ministry that He was spending most of the time “invisible” and “intangible” because they couldn’t see Him, when the real explanation was that He was in other parts of the country preaching.

            Indeed, the fact that He could—and did—visibly approach the men on the road to Emmaus argues that it was a matter of choosing the best circumstances for each individual appearance.  For example, appearing in locked rooms argued powerfully that He had retained the miracle working powers He had possessed during His personal ministry.  It in no way requires the scenario that he “passed through” the door intangibly and invisibly. 

            Similarly the strange phenomena of clouding the minds of the men on the road to Emmaus is something that says nothing of His essential “physical (or) intangible” nature, but does tell us that He was willing to work miracles, as He deemed best—just as He did by His appearing in the midst of the disciples unannounced and when they were behind locked/barred doors.  (In modern science fiction the effect has been produced by teleportation such as in Star Trek and simply willing movement to a new location as in the novel Jumper.  How Jesus worked His movement from one place to another, we have no idea, but surely the Omnipotent has in hand far better tools than even our best science fiction writers can imagine!)

            In regard to John 20:19, Wayne A. Grudem is certainly right that rather than the [Page 160]   more exotic alternatives, the text could easily only mean that “the door miraculously opened for Jesus or even that he had entered the room with the disciples but was temporarily hidden from their eyes,”[6] in a more extreme blinding of perceptions such as the men on the road to Emmaus underwent.  This is fully compatible with the fact that most translations speak in terms of how He “came and stood” in their midst--which sounds far more like He entered as they had rather than mysteriously appearing, seemingly, out of nowhere.

            So, what was Jesus’ “normal” nature in the time between resurrection and ascension?  To me the simplest answer and the one that best fits the data would be:  the appearance of a normal human.  One can’t prove that He was normally among the disciples and apostles both invisibly and intangibly--as already noted the first does not require the second—much less elsewhere in such a form.  Hence we seem even further driven to the conclusion that He had a normal but glorified physical body whether He was among those followers or not.  (Even the texts that might imply invisibility only do so for the brief period to get Him into or out of a given place.  Since it serves a specific purpose, there seems no way they can reasonably argue His “normal nature.”)

            There are some significant ethical problems with Jesus’ words if He normally was immaterial.  And if we are to share a similar condition in eternity.  As Wayne A. Grudem argues, instead of challenging them to feel His hands and feet to prove He was tangible and real (Luke 24:39)—when this was only a temporary aberration from reality and would totally cease when He left their gathering—would not His admonition be to handle His flesh and bones “as you see I temporarily have”?[7]   

Furthermore, He made His appearances in physical form and left earth in such a form, leaving His viewers with every impression that that was His normal appearance.  Was He guilty of misleading them?[8]  (Assuming He has human shape in heaven, then having the functional equivalent of flesh and bone would be essential even there to give the body shape and form.) 

When God made mankind He branded everything He made—including mankind as “good” (Genesis 1:31) and it was all physical.  We will be made free from “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21) in eternity but not free from transformed “physical” bodies.[9]  Or whatever better terminology might better describe such thoroughly changed human entities.  However it should be noted that in 1 Corinthians we are promised the transformation of our physical bodies and conspicuously not their elimination.     

            The body Jesus had when He was not among them, is simply not directly revealed to us.  The available evidence argues for physicality.  We simply have nothing else to work from, or on which to make intelligent speculation, arguing that we should make any conclusion other than the normal deduction we make of fellow humans—that a person stays the same whether we see him or not.  That He spent the rest of the time when not directly with His disciples with a vestige that others would not recognize (as on the road to Emmaus) would, of course, be a possibility.  But, then, He may have spent the time when not with the disciples in heaven itself—which would raise an additional set of interesting questions.   

            The final issue we need to touch on is what kind of body did He have after the Ascension?  There are a few hints given in the scriptures.

When He appears to John in the Apocalypse, He is still in human shape:  He has “head and hair” (1:14) and arms to touch John with (1:17).  Yet His overall impression [Page 161]   was so overwhelming to John that he fainted.  Even setting aside the obvious hyperbole (“out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword,” 1:16), His appearance is human in frame but obviously something overwhelmingly more as well (Revelation 1:12-18).[10]

            In 1 Timothy 6 He is described as He “who alone has immortality,” presumably meaning the only human to be so blessed—at least at that time.  His mortal body could be killed; His immortal can not.[11]    



            15:4:  How ancient heretical movements and later skeptics used Biblical language  to prove that Jesus was not physically resurrected.


A.  How they used the language of 1 Corinthians 15 to deny Jesus was physically resurrected.  If Full Preterists ultimately repudiate the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, they would be doing no more than certain unorthodox movements in the early centuries did.  TFP advocates insist that a physical resurrection of believers is not taught in 1 Corinthians 15; ancient heretics argued that because 1 Corinthians 15 repudiated physical resurrection, that of Jesus of Nazareth must similarly be repudiated.   

            Dag Oistein Endsjo develops this line of reasoning in great detail as he argues  that ancient unorthodox embraced the language of that chapter while using carefully chosen phrases and idioms concerning resurrected believers as evidence that Paul was convinced Jesus’ was similarly non-material,  “According to Irenaeus, the Ophites used Paul’s assertion that flesh and blood had no place in God’s kingdom to argue that Jesus, too, must have been resurrected without flesh and blood.  This was no farfetched idea, as Paul himself held the resurrected Christ to be ‘the firstborn from the dead’ and ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ ”[12] 

Note the clear spin Endsjo puts on those last two texts:  rather than developing the natural image of physicality from the expressions “firstborn from the dead” and “firstfuits of those who have fallen asleep”--i.e., since a physical person died, a physical person rose--he lays these aside without an explanation of their “true” meaning.  Instead, he accepts as reasonable that Paul’s teaching required a resurrected being to lack flesh and blood.  Therefore, Jesus must have lacked such as well. 

He chooses the phrases that favor his preferred alternative rather than recognize that one is dealing with a this/and rather than this/or situation:  one needs a means of making both types of statements true rather than just one.   

He overlooks that the tension would be resolved by changing the nature of the flesh and blood, transforming both into something that bears the elements of such but elevating them into something modified, greater, and befitting eternal bodies.  As Paul describes it, a body “incorruptible, and . . . changed” (15:52), one that now has “put on immortality” (15:53, 54).                               

            Endsjo notes that Paul’s rhetoric speaking of the flesh as inferior to the spirit can be similarly read as requiring a non-temporal body; the Valentinians made the deduction that “this present body was not worthy of resurrection and argued for a different kind of corporeality in the future.”[13]  Normal flesh, yes; but the kind of miraculously transformed and miraculously altered body in 1 Corinthians?  A flesh that is now working arm-in-arm with the spirit rather than in opposition?  Then you would have a body “worthy” of

[Page 162]   resurrection—the result being worthy, not necessarily, perhaps, what you began with.  

            Likewise the seed analogy developed in chapter 15 is interpreted as meaning that the seed was flesh but what it yielded up must have been considerably different than flesh.  Both would still have a key continuity, however—physicality—but within a context of dramatic transformation.  Paul’s point would best be interpreted as meaning that the changed body is so dramatically better and desirable than what was begun with, that the vastness and comprehensiveness of the change is as great as if one went from seed to grain.   

Appeal is made to Origen’s belief that the fleshly body of Jesus was confined to while on earth; afterwards “those who are flesh” would be lead “upwards to see him as he was before he became flesh.”[14]  Why would one have to assume that won’t also be in a bodily form—a transformed bodily one?   Or do both Christ and us exist in eternity, somehow, bodiless—an experience for which we have absolutely no preparation for in any shape or experience?  (Want to consider maintaining sanity in such a situation?)


            B.  How they used the language of the Road to Damascus appearance to repudiate a physically resurrected Jesus.     To Endsjo, there were two strains in the apostolic and post-apostolic eras:  one maintaining a doctrine of non-physical resurrection (even of Jesus) and the other embracing it.[15]  He is well aware of the road to Damascus account and does not deny that Luke derives it from the recounting(s) of Paul. 

As I read Endsjo’s argument, he holds out a fascinating way of having Paul believe it was a physical appearance while being honorably in the wrong.  In this scenario, by the composition of 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle had ultimately come to an interpretation of the event that minimized / eliminated the physicality of what he originally thought had happened.  Luke, however, remained firmly in the flesh and blood camp. 

Hence he makes sure to emphasize in Acts the part of Paul’s conversion narrative that undermines the certainty of Paul’s reliability on the non-material nature of Jesus’ body.  (To me, the explanation would work far better to “explain” why Paul still thought it was a fleshly Jesus rather than a non-fleshly one.)  As Endsjo develops the argument,[16]


Presenting Paul as seeing just “a light beyond the brilliance of the sun,” having him literally so blinded by this light that he was not able to distinguish anything, Luke subtly discredits Paul as a reliable witness to the nature of the resurrected Christ.  According to Luke, Paul simply admits that ‘I could not see anything for the glory of that light.’  Who, then, was Paul to argue anything about the nature of the resurrection body?  By blinding Paul, Luke effectively reduced Paul’s assertion about the fleshless resurrection body to an unreliable claim from a witness who could not possibly have distinguished the true nature of the resurrected Christ, which, as Luke insisted, consisted of flesh and bones.   


            Nor could the witnesses back Paul up because they only saw the bright light and no individual either.[17]

            It would be little short of ludicrous to believe that Luke and Paul actually held such incompatible views on the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body without having come to [Page 163]   a shared consensus as to its nature.  It was the formative experience in Paul becoming a Christian and an apostle.  They traveled together for lengthy periods of time.  Can one imagine them not talking about it and its details—repeatedly?

            Furthermore note when the blindness occurred:  After Jesus commands him to “go into Damascus and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do” (Acts 22:10), then “since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus” (22:11).  In other words he was blinded as of when Jesus ended His appearance. 

Was he blind all the way through the appearance?  Perhaps.  But it is hardly likely:  how could the apostle have so fervently claimed to have seen the Lord (15:8), using the terminology in the same apparent sense of how the others he cites “saw” the risen Lord?                          

Paul says he “saw” Jesus and puts it on a par with the other apostles; Endsjo, going on two millenniums later, insists he did not.  Which is the more likely source to be right? 

            Hence we conclude that Paul was either blinded at the end of the appearance of Jesus or at some point during it—as the light became just too bright for his eyes to handle any longer.  If one insists, from this text, that Paul did not see Jesus adequately (or at all) and could not tell whether He still had a physical body, we could just as easily argue that Jesus appeared in a non-human form.  Truth be told, we have no evidence for that option either.  Paul insisted “He was seen by me also.”  That establishes the fact of the appearance and the identicalness with the One who had been crucified and left dead.  How much more is needed?    


C.  How they used the language of the book of Revelation to deny that Jesus was physically brought back from the dead.  At least in the Apocalypse--unlike the gospel of John, where the ability to touch Jesus’ crucifixion wounds argues for physicality--we have what can be read as cautious or intentional non-commitment, “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.  And they were judged, each one according to his works.”  Per Endsjo:  “we realize that there is nothing explaining in what state these dead return.  The flesh is nowhere mentioned.”[18] 

For those who believe that the Biblical description of the afterlife represents a coherent and consistent whole, the fact that 1 Corinthians 15 teaches such a body is conclusive without it needing to be repeated.   


            D.  19th and 20th century Modernists who disassociate the resurrection of Jesus from physicality.  Dag Oistein Endsjo is interested in presenting what he regards as implicit or explicit evidence for an early century belief in a physically bodiless resurrection of Jesus.  Most liberal orientated commentators have tended to base their argument on the meaning of the word “body” in the Biblical texts.  In speaking of the resurrection of the human “body” in 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the Greek soma.  Modernists in the 19th century argued that this term referred to the “form” of Jesus being resurrected rather than the substance or “physical body”—going into lengthy analyses separating the two in Greek usage. 

Abandoning that distinction as untenable, twentieth century religious skepticism, [Page 164]   in its Bultmannian formulation, plays off the resurrection of the “person” in distinction, again, from the physical being.  In both cases theory encounters the troublesome difficulty that detailed analysis keeps bringing most (conservative at least) scholars to the idea of tangibility, of “flesh” in a neutral rather than negative use of the term.[19]  Since 1 Corinthians speaks of the soma (body) of the believer being resurrected, the “non-literal” use of the expression would be open to essentially the same challenge as when used to argue against the physical resurrection of Jesus.


            E.  Full Preterists denying or skirting whether Jesus came out of the tomb in a physical body.  That some—perhaps a significant number of Corinthians—were tempted by the concept of some kind of “non-physical” resurrection of Jesus might well be argued from the great length that Paul goes to argue that very point of physicality in the first part of chapter 15. 

Be that as it may, it should not be surprising that the redefining of the nature of believer “resurrection” could lead one today to suspect that the prototype—that of Jesus—was of a similar non-literal nature.  Hence one individual speaks of how “verses 3-4 do not provide independent confirmation of a physical resurrection.”[20]  He goes on to insist that, “personally, I believe that the empty tomb story is allegorical. . . .”[21] 

At this point most believers in Jesus’ physical resurrection would conclude that the man is self-indicted as an apostate and the issue of the “spiritual” resurrection (Jesus or ours) need not waste our time; it is simply unbelief and raw Modernism at its worst.  Evangelical Modernism” does not make it any less Modernism and infidelity.  And coming from those claiming to have been “washed in the blood of the Lamb” makes it seem even more horrendous.  (Have I misstated or misjudged the dominant reaction?  Somehow I think not.)

A Full Preterist advocate of a century ago--to judge by the language he used--may have been playing around with the possibility of a non-literal resurrection back then as well.  William S. Urmy argued, “The resurrection from the dead, or of the dead, is not necessarily a visible palpable occurrence.  It is an event which takes place in the invisible sphere. Even Christ's resurrection was not witnessed by mortals; therefore that the resurrection has not taken place as a visible occurrence should not be held as evidence that the parousia has not taken place.”[22]   

Note how Umry spoke of how Jesus’ “takes place in the invisible sphere.”  Of believers in general, their resurrection takes place so fast that it “was not an event to be plainly seen;” in effect, invisible.[23]  Indeed, later he insists that it happens so “suddenly” that it has “invisibility.”[24]

Such lines of argument inadvertently opens the door to those who say that Jesus’ body never left the tomb in any form, period.  (Or was miraculously removed and disposed of.)  None of us can prove an invisible resurrection; how could you?  Only a visible one was provable to His followers.  Would not the same logic apply to that of believers?



15:4:  Biblical “Proofs” that Jesus’ Resurrection was Non-Physical and Non-Tangible.  We have already examined the efforts of heretical movements in the earthly centuries—and later skeptics—to argue against a physical resurrection of Jesus.  Here we [Page 165]   center on the alleged positive evidence that such is clearly presented in the New Testament.  There will be an inevitable overlap between the arguments in these two sections since their ultimate goal is much the same, but the division into these two general headings seemed the best way to organize the available materials.

Furthermore, the earlier analysis dealt primarily with “outsiders” and how they handled the scriptures, while in this section we deal with those who claim to come from within the community of faith.  Indeed, they often put great emphasis upon having a purer insight into the true meaning of the Bible than do others.  In short, the earlier analysis dealt primarily with those hostile to the scriptural texts, while here the emphasis here is upon those claiming to be steadfast defenders of it.


1.  1 Peter 3:18 can easily be used to vindicate a “spiritual”—as versus physical—resurrection of Jesus.  In the widely praised literalism of the New American Standard Bible, the text describes the resurrection this way:  “having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”  This can obviously be read as no physical resurrection occurring, but a purely spiritual one.  The American Standard Version (another prized literalistic translation that used to be the near de facto standard for many) reads similarly:  “Being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit. 

Many other translations also use “in the spirit” or language quite compatible with the idea of a resurrected “spirit” Jesus.  Although how or why a “spirit” would ever stand in the need of a resurrection is a tad hard to comprehend.  Flesh dies; does a spirit?  Yet even in a physical resurrection there is a sense in which the spirit might need a “resurrection” as well, even though it has never actually died:  see below.  Yet the result would still not require a spirit body as the result. 

            Furthermore, as Vincent McCann interestingly argues in dealing with the Jehovah Witness use of this text,[25]


It is significant that this phrase states "in the spirit" rather than "as a spirit. The spirit referred to here is most probably the Holy Spirit, as He is certainly seen as being present at Christ's resurrection according to Romans 1:4 (New World Translation): "but who with power was declared God's Son according to the spirit of holiness by means of the resurrection from the dead - yes, Jesus Christ our Lord."


            The idea of the Spirit being involved in producing the resurrection is echoed in a minority of translations.  The NKJV renders it, “being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.”  Similarly the New International Version, “He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.”  God’s Word (a little more ambiguously), “His body was put to death, but he was brought to life through His spirit.” 

            This may be a case where we become so obsessed by a verse that we ignore the context that would help explain it.  The context seems to be not Jesus’  resurrection but His preparation (by?  in?) the spirit to teach to the dead:


18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by [in:  most translations] the Spirit,   19 by whom [in which:  Darby, ISV, NASB, Rotherham, [Page 166]    RSV, Weymouth, Young’s Literal] also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,   20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.


            If this refers to what Jesus did after His crucifixion and before His resurrection, then it would argue that something had to be done to fit Jesus’ “spirit” for the conditions in the Hadean world.  He had taught the living in the flesh; those dead he had to teach--His vindication?  triumph?--in spirit form.  The form in which they were:  spirits in prison.”  Up to now it was spirit in a body; now it was spirit independent of a body, requiring an adaptation to the spirit alone format.

            However great the temptation to push the preaching back to Noah’s day, this approach fits the thought flow of the verses into a coherent whole without having to interject a jump back in time of thousands of years.  A modern concept that is so often useful is relevant here as well:  KISS—Keep It Simple Stupid (smart folk too).  This approach does exactly that.

            Alternatively, if the text refers to the resurrection from the grave, then the imagery would be the spirit being “raised” from the Hadean world of spirits to be reunited with His body, which was then physically raised from the dead.  If the spirit separated from the body any time close to the point of death, then it stands to reason that the two have to be forged back together again into one combined unit. 

How else would we describe the idea of one’s spirit being brought out of the unseen Hadean world than as a “raising?”  Hence the “raising” of the spirit would, seemingly, be the essential prerequisite of anyone being physically raised from the dead—restoring the entity of spirit and body that once existed.  That being successfully accomplished, the bodily / physical raising of the dead person would then be possible. 

Indeed, without such a reunification occurring as the preliminary or simultaneous with the physical resurrection, could the “resurrection of the body” have any real meaning?  Would we not have a living corpse without a living spirit within?  Would that even qualify as a real person any longer?

            We have no idea how complex such a reunification maneuver would be—or if it would be complex at all.  But is not the natural inclination to assume it would be? If it is hard for us to imagine how “soul and spirit” could possibly be separated (Hebrews 4:12); isn’t it also rather hard for us to imagine how they—or body and spirit—could be rejoined, i.e., without it involving inherent complexity?  


            2.  Instead of arguing from Jesus’ physical resurrection to ours, others reverse the argument from our purported “spiritual” resurrection to that of Jesus’ being of the same nature.  In other words, since the believer’s resurrection body is “spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:44) then that of Jesus must be the same.

But if “spiritual” is interpreted to mean having no temporal physicality, the descriptions of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances make no sense:  He walks, He talks, He even eats with them.  This is non-temporality?[26]  Or one could say that He was purely “spiritual” except when he took on a temporal form--which argues for the quick application of Occam’s famous razor (don’t multiple hypotheses unnecessarily—especially as a way out of the difficulties of one’s interpretation).

[Page 167]           Traditionally, the most likely group where one would encounter the “spiritual resurrected body” scenario for Jesus would have been the Jehovah Witnesses.  To them, the actual body was “disposed of” by God; sometimes they even used the expression “dissolved.”[27]

            Vincent McCann deals effectively with their use of this text when he writes,[28]


The whole point of 1 Corninthians 15:35-58 is that the natural body will be changed and raised up a powerful supernatural body.  It is not as though what will be raised will be distinct from the physical body, rather, there will be a continuity.  For example, verses 42-44 state how it (the body, not something else) will be raised up.  It is sown a perishable, dishonorable, weak, and natural body. It (the same body) is raised up an imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual body.  Verses 53-54 also states that the perishable mortal body will "put on" imperishability and immortality. By putting something on you are adding to what you already have.


Full Preterism is vulnerable to difficulties in weaving together chapter 15’s description of two allegedly very different resurrections, temporal/physical (Jesus) versus spiritual (Christians). 

First of all there is the apparently still general disinclination not to insist that the two resurrections must be of a similar nature.  Whether from Jesus to believer or believer to Jesus, we would still anticipate the nature of the resurrection in both cases to be identical—either physical or “spiritual,” rather than one of both.

Second there is the unexpected shift from individual resurrection (Jesus) to group resurrection (the collectivity of believers in A.D.70, but not the individual believers) while we would normally expect argument from like to like.

            Whether Covenant Eschatology manages to retain a belief in the physical resurrection of even Jesus or not, either the physical/spiritual or spiritual alone approach subjects them to serious difficulties.


3.  Others argue directly from the description of the resurrected Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15—that a physicality is not explicitly attached to it.  B. B. M. J. Mackenzie-Hanson of the Arian Catholic Church cites 1 Peter 3:18 as evidence of a non-physical resurrection of Jesus and pulls in 3:19, 3:22, and 4:6 as further support.[29] 

In regard to further proving the spiritual form of Jesus’ resurrection,  Mackenzie-Hanson does exactly what we suggested above, argue backwards from the nature of the Christians’ resurrected body to determine the nature of Jesus’, “While St Paul leaves no definitive statement on Jesus’ resurrected form, he does give us some idea of how he views the future resurrected bodies of all people, and therefore by extension Jesus’ resurrected body as well.”[30] 

Support is found in the body being described as a “spiritual body” (15:42), though conceding that this might mean dominated or controlled by the spirit / Spirit.[31]  At greater length, there is the argument that Paul’s description of the resurrected Jesus does not use tangible terms to describe it,[32]  

[Page 168]

1 Corinthians 15 is the central text for St Paul on this topic. He mentions Jesus’ resurrection, but in a matter-of-fact way that tells us only that Jesus “appeared” to various followers after he was “raised on the third day” (15:4-7). He includes in this list his own experience of the risen Christ (15:8), making no distinction between Jesus’ appearance on the road to Damascus and Jesus’ earlier appearances to the apostles (cf. 9:1). This is telling since St Paul’s own experience of the resurrected Christ was that of a vision, complete with photism and audition, but wholly without an engagement with a physical form (Acts 9:3-6, 22:6-10, 26:13-18).


            Although conceding that this does not require that the appearances to the apostles have been similar visions, it creates the reasonable possibility.[33]  Although we could tear into the adequacy of this analysis of what Paul saw—as well as the earlier apostles—what we are most interested in currently is that the texts and theories already exist to “prove” a spiritual resurrection of both Christians as well as Jesus on the third day.  If other texts get “massaged” into what many like me regard as incredibly far afield from their transparent literal intent, would it really take that much of an effort to “massage” these texts into “their true meaning about the nature of Jesus’ own resurrection that traditional prejudices have long suppressed”? 

            Mackenzie-Hanson could have mentioned 1 Corinthians 15:50 as well (“flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”).  We have already seen it used as a proof that our resurrected bodies can not be physical one(s).  Does it not just as “conclusively” establish that Jesus’ could not be either? 

We have the word of Jesus to Thomas, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.  Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).  Could that “really” mean only that he had “flesh and bones” but was without blood?  Some already say just that while upholding Jesus’ physical resurrection.[34] 

But he certainly had “flesh”—at least that much, in His resurrected form--quite enough to keep Him out of heaven if 15:50 be interpreted as suggested by some.  Or is the underlying argument from 15:50—that believers do not gain new physical bodies--based on erroneous premises?  (The Jehovah Witnesses already cherish this text as a major proof text against the raised Jesus having His original fleshly form.)   

            It does not take a prophet—only a historian or other analyst of human thinking and behavior—to predict that the junking of the bodily resurrection of Jesus will ultimately become a major test of the New Eschatology movement:  It ties the whole package into a far more consistent whole.  To those of us who regard Modernism as about as vile a betrayal of the gospel of Jesus Christ as imaginable, this is a deeply horrifying prospect. 

Especially since those who will be tempted, were once steadfast opponents of such things.  But they have found a “new truth” requiring the junking of varied, once deeply held convictions.  Will this simply be the next to fall?  For those of a general Protestant background, it is virtually a Second Reformation; to those of a Disciples / Church of Christ background, a Second Restoration Movement that they are involved in.  Can anything inconsistent with its fundamentals be permitted to stand?


[Page 169]          4.  The next proof consists of the various accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances (especially in the gospels) and how they allegedly require the conclusion that Jesus’ body was normally intangible rather than having a physical form.         We have already briefly referred to some of Murray J. Harris’ assertions in our earlier discussion of Jesus’ resurrection body.  Here we will examine it more directly in regard to evidence arguing Jesus was--normally, at least—a spirit entity in contrast to a physical one during the forty days of appearances. 

Harris directly insists that “His essential state was one of invisibility and therefore immateriality,” a statement he italicizes for emphasis.[35]  He makes some extraordinarily weak arguments for this:  (1)  rarely is His departure mentioned, only His arrival;[36]  (2)  the Greek word ophthe is the one most commonly used of His appearances and it means “He came into visibility;”[37] (3) the very need to list His appearances shows that “He was generally not visible to human eyes;”[38] (4)  the listing of the appearances shows that they were relatively few in number, were sporadic, and that he did not spend extended periods with them to have repeated meals or to remain overnight.[39]

            Argument 1:  Even assuming that the individual appearances of Jesus aren’t usually that long (the incident on the road to Emmaus clearly falling into the “longish” category), why would one expect any emphasis on His departure?  They had limited space available; such would rarely be relevant to their goal of imparting a maximum of information.

            Argument 3 would argue that anyone who shows up in historical sources only a few times—especially when we would love to have more data on them (I speak here as a sometimes frustrated historian)—then that person must have spent the rest of their time in an invisible state.  We wouldn’t say it of each other; why say it of Jesus except for discomfort at the idea of a physical post-resurrection nature of the Lord?

            Argument 4 on the sporadic nature of the appearances, shows only that He wasn’t with His disciples the bulk of the time.  Nothing more.  They needed the time to get adjusted to the new reality—that the Jesus they had known was no longer “quite” the same Jesus they now had to deal with.  His being with them constantly would have done nothing for them in this transition period to one where He would not be present at all. 

Where was He the rest of the time?  In heaven for all we know:  When the female disciple was told at the tomb, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father” (John 20:17), is not the implication that He did ascend between then and His first appearances to the others?  Did He do this between other appearances?  We have no way of knowing, but it is at least as good an explanation as “going invisible.”

            I agree with Harris that the Lord’s appearances were relatively sporadic:  Acts 10:41 refers to “us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.”  This could easily be read as indicating repeated occurrences even dramatically beyond the limited selection (?) given in the gospels and 1 Corinthians 15.  I concur with him that though this is possible it’s not likely the intended meaning.[40]  Some readers might well evaluate the probability differently, however.

            Harris makes the more unlikely leap from sporadic appearances to short appearances.  Doubtless, some of them were.  But those where He appeared to most or all of the apostles or that crowd of 500 disciples?  It is unlikely that any reader of these words believes that the Sermon on the Mount is anything more than a synopsis of what Jesus said that day and that the full lesson went on for an extended period of time.  Why should we think anything less of most of His post-resurrection appearances?  

[Page 170]           This is especially obvious in the case of the men on the way to Emmaus:  Jesus came to their attention at some point in the seven mile walk there (Luke 23:13).  The mention of the distance makes me inclined to think it was relatively early in that journey for that would be the most germane relevance of mentioning the distance at all—adding credence to the tangible reality of Jesus being with those on the walk by the duration of time envolved and the “down to earth” setting (one in which imagination and over-wrought imagination had the least chance to come into play). 

He stayed long enough to talk at length with them on the Scriptures, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).  And to at least begin to have a meal with them (24:30).  This does not sound like a few minutes; surely a few hours at least.

            During one of His appearances to the apostles we read, And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (Luke 24:50).  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away” (John 11:18).  A “short” but hardly “brief” appearance/journey!  Especially when we aren’t informed how long the preceding visit with them had been.


            Finally, there is Harris’ argument that ophthe really means to become visible.  If you are seeing the person for the first time after hours, days, or longer, well—in a literal sense—they are becoming visible—to you.  Not that they were invisible previously; they simply weren’t where you could see them.  Or, to use the type of language Harris clearly prefers of Jesus, He had not decided to let certain individuals see Him yet or, alternatively, God had not decided to let Him be seen yet.[41]  Neither requires that Jesus be invisible; merely not present.

            Indeed the only case I can think of where the term “invisible” might apply to Jesus was not post-resurrection, but pre-resurrection:  “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:59).  Here we have tension between the expressions “hid Himself” and yet simultaneously “going through the midst of them” and leaving the Temple complex.  In such a context of concealment and personal movement, “hid Himself” does sound like making Himself invisible so His departure could not be observed. 

Here, unlike the post-resurrection appearances, we know that He was both among people and unseen.  We have zilch evidence in the post-resurrection appearances that He ever did that; all we can prove textually is that as soon as He came into a crowd or group that He was visible. 

By the scenario of Jesus’ “essential state [being] one of invisibility,” though, we unquestionably should have clear-cut evidence.  The Temple example, however, warns us that He was capable of going invisible beforehand as well—even assuming it ever occurred after death:  the one time on record was to save His own life; not hide His presence from His followers! 

So the natural question is:  Was His “essential nature” intangible and invisible during parts or all of His personal ministry as well, since we can clearly demonstrate the capacity existed during that earlier period?  How much can we really prove, textually, that Jesus was with His disciples during His ministry?  An ample imagination could easily have Him spending much of that time in such an invisible state as well, could it [Page 171]   not?   

Oh, one other thing:  The idea of invisibly passing through the crowd tears apart Harris’ assumption that invisibility means “immateriality.”  If the latter, wouldn’t Jesus simply suddenly have appeared elsewhere (immediately, one would think) rather than being described as passing through the multitude?


5.  Subsidiary arguments growing out of the assumption that one can establish from varied texts that Jesus’ resurrection was non-material in nature.  In the following two subsections, the argumentation overlaps yet they are retained as separate discussions because the flow of the argumentation works better separately than combined and because the first point elaborates on a specific sub-issue that merits individual attention.


A.  Jesus’ resurrection had tangible manifestations only to encourage faith; if physical resurrections are needed for our faith, there are better places to go to prove it.  Green and Wells contend, when it comes to physicality, that Lazarus’ was far more dramatic:  he was in the grave longer; furthermore, anyone and everyone available quickly saw the resurrected man, unlike in Jesus’ case where the appearances were limited.[42] 

Yes, Jesus’ body was removed from the tomb “for the conviction of His disciples” and because it was the only concept of resurrection that would convince them.[43]  Doesn’t that argue, however, that when Jesus used “human resurrection” language in regard to the disciples and Himself, He was guilty of intentionally misleading them by not setting them straight?  He had repeatedly trounced the Pharisees for their blind traditions.  Why did He permit His apostles to go uncorrected as to the “true nature” of resurrection?

Yes, Jesus appeared physically to them, eating and having them examine His wounds, but that was only to prepare them to accept “the real nature of the spiritual.”[44]  Is this not, at heart, a “pious fraud?”  Not by some misguided church leader but by the Lord Himself?

And where might He have gotten this quite tangible body from when it had already been removed from the tomb?  Was it the same?  As a science fiction reader, the image of a giant store house of perfectly preserved non-living dead bodies creeps into my mind.  They would be ready for immediate reuse, if required!  And wouldn’t it fit the scenario being proposed?

Shall we consider what happened to the bodies after the appearances were over?  Was it “returned” to such a place or, in the scenario suggested by Jehovah Witnesses, “dissolved?”

A physical resurrection is understandable.

A “spiritual,” non-literal resurrection is understandable.

But having one that begins non-literal, but then has literal physical manifestations, and finally Jesus’ body returns to a non-physical state—well that strikes me as the hardest of all propositions to defend.


            B.  One may contend that since it was the “spirit” of Jesus that was resurrected, that his “physical” manifestations were only those of a temporary embodiment in a fleshly replacement.  If one goes this route there is the not

[Page 172]   inconsiderable problem of what happened to the physical body that was left behind.[45]  The apostles certainly couldn’t find it when they looked!  And unless the Sanhedrin clique that masterminded the murder were total morons, they surely looked as well!

Furthermore, Thomas was challenged to touch the wounds Jesus had undergone while on the cross.  So we have a substitute embodiment that looks, touches, and feels exactly the same as the original.  Why then not use the genuine body itself?  But if one does, does not one risk the kind of ludicrous possibilities we discussed in the previous section?

            One logical culmination of this temporary physicality view, is to argue that the physical body was resurrected but only a spiritual one entered heaven (Acts 1:11).  But “spirit” body or not, it was still a physically visible one, according to the Acts text. 

Hence if Jesus’ behavior in Acts 1 is to be regarded as precedent for the spiritual resurrection of 70 A.D., why didn’t the collective body of faithful believers totally disappear from earth as well--or did that happen and just the evil members got left behind?  Why were there any righteous Christians left on earth since the “spiritual resurrection of Jesus” ultimately included, in Acts 1, not remaining on earth permanently? 

But Covenant Eschatology has the resurrection of the “group body” and not the “individual” one.  In that scenario, how does anything actually get removed from the earth at all?  Actually it seems to be a “resurrection” where all the beneficiaries—at least many of them—get left behind.  They don’t really “go” anywhere at the time they are resurrected! 

There is no visible ascension just as there is no visible resurrection.  Either in our future or even in 70 A.D.

An aside:  Many of the same people who vigorously embrace the A.D. 70 doctrine mocked the Jehovah Witnesses in their earlier years for claiming that Jesus returned “invisibly” in the early twentieth century.  Yet now they themselves say the same thing—just putting the time in the first rather than twentieth century. 

There is no gentle way to say this:  they know and we know that we jointly laughed at the Jehovah Witnesses for “the transparent silliness of their concept” (substitute whatever language you yourself may have used); can’t you see that your doctrine is going to be treated the same way? 

To be disagreed with is par for the course for a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ; to be laughed at is a far greater burden.  People can, perhaps, be convinced if they are willing to concede that “it is worth arguing over;” but when they behold something like this, the bulk will surely regard it as too inherently absurd to even think about.  You unquestionably have a horribly difficult challenge to overcome even if you turn out to be right.      


The Full Preterist 70 A.D. literal resurrection and ascension scenario.  It should be noted that some Full Preterists in the 19th century did present the idea of all the faithful being removed—in the traditional physical and literal sense.  For example, one advocate, whose remarks I can quickly lay by hands on, worded it this way,[46]


[Page 173]           As we read the history of this apostate Christianity, we are appalled at the record.  And herein we find an unanswerable confirmation of our doctrine of Christ’s second coming.  Our doctrine shows that Christ’s second coming occurred at the siege of Jerusalem, A.D. 70; that he then took the “saints” of the primitive church, and the righteous dead of past ages to glory, and left the unrighteous part of said church; and that this fact accounts for the terrible record of Christianity during the “dark ages.”  At that time Christ transferred His interest in the church which He founded, from earth to heaven, and He is in no way responsible for the doings of the apostate part of that church since.


 As he notes, this would explain the growing apostasy.  We would add, only in part.  It actually grew a lot slower in the early years c. 100 A.D. than we sometimes think and heresies often took such outrageous forms that they were quickly opposed by many in the “mainstream” church of the day, casting doubts on the extent, depth, and speed of the drift away from Christianity’s proper apostolic base.     

We should also note that just as the New Testament teaches that Jesus both arose and ascended to heaven, it teaches a similar correlation for the believer—that one will follow the other, locked together (to use a modern idiom) as if by super glue.  Paul put it in these vivid words in 1 Thessalonians 4:


14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.   15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.   16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.   17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.   18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.


Now, if this occurred in 70 A.D., then we would expect for their bodies to have been removed from earth—the language makes no sense otherwise.  After Jesus ascended, His did not remain on earth!  Why should we expect first century believers’ bodies to have remained after the promised ascension occurred at the fall of Jerusalem?



15:4:  Full Preterist/Covenant Eschatologists attempts to preserve the physical resurrection of Jesus.  The underlying question here is whether a doctrinal system fundamentally opposed to Biblical “resurrection” texts carrying a physicality nature, can preserve room in their theology for a personal, physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is extraordinarily hard to avoid the conclusion that this eschatological approach has a vested interested in minimizing the degree to which Jesus’ body was a faithful duplicate of that which entered the tomb.  It is not inevitable, but a tremendous intellectual pressure for full consistency is.    

Since Paul so heavily stresses Jesus’ resurrection as precedent for our own raising from the dead, the less that Jesus was actually a duplicate of His pre-resurrection nature, the less the disconnect between His “risen” body and any attributed to believers. 

[Page 174]          Will they ultimately go the whole road and embrace what evangelical types would brand “rank Modernism?”  There are certainly some who already try to delink the pre- and post-resurrection bodies of the Lord and who embrace TFP, but no one can know how far down that road they will ultimately travel.  As already shown, it is known that in the past there have been those claiming to be “Bible believers” that advocated a non-tangible “resurrected” Christ and thought they had the scriptures to prove it. 

Furthermore, if one can “prove” the identicalness between the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body and ours—i.e., in some “non-tangible” / non-physical / non-fleshly form in both cases--it certainly removes one of the more powerful arguments against their position as to the nature of human resurrection.  (For one way to take the physicality out of Jesus’ “resurrection” appearances, see the comment at the end of the “Hard Texts” section, “15:8:  Was Jesus’ appearance to Paul a vision?”)    

Hence one is not engaged in reckless speculation to assume the worst—but still hope for the best.  As a historian, though, I would be happily surprised (with emphasis on the “happily”) if in twenty years the full transition hasn’t been made by the majority:  Doctrinal beliefs typically have a logical development curve whether one accepts them or rejects them.  Begin with the rejection of physical, bodily Christian resurrection and the desire to push TFP into full logical consistency.  That brings immense pressure to bear in this direction of redefining not just our resurrection but that of the Lord’s as well. 

We have already seen mountain after mountain crushed into the ground in order to create such consistency within TFP, mighty peaks that we would have thought unassailable—no literal end of the planet, no visible coming of Christ, no visible resurrection, everything within a 70 A.D. framework.  The last mountain left seems to be that of the resurrected Christ; can it possibly remain unscathed?    

The popular “Covenant Eschatology” variant already denies individual resurrection—it was a “collective / group” one that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15.  If they can push the Lord’s physical, fleshly, bodily resurrection into the closet as well and substitute a “spiritual” one, then it becomes a matter of differing “spiritual” resurrections of the believer and of Christ and the issue of physicality is totally removed from the picture.  The inevitable tension left between the experience of believers and of Christ is removed.  Problem solved.

Fortunately many (most, I expect) TFP and Covenant Eschatology advocates do not fall into this niche—though it seems the most consistent approach to the chapter. Not now and hopefully not ever.  For example, Samuel M. Frost, who has done useful work in analyzing the early post-Biblical writers on resurrection from a Full Preterist standpoint, emphatically insists “This was not an appearance of flesh, but was the same flesh he had when he died.”[47] 

Yet that still leaves them with the problem of how to explain why Paul goes on at some great length to vindicate the physical resurrection of the individual Jesus while proceeding to introduce it as evidence of our non-physical resurrection.  One would normally anticipate arguing from “like to like” and Paul’s “shift” in what resurrection means is unexpected and disconcerting.


1.  The Preston scenario:  Interpreting Paul’s point in light of Romans 6.  In Romans 6:3-4 Paul parallels our baptism to Jesus’ burial and resurrection.  Yet in verse 5 [Page 175]   he unites that baptismal “burial” to a yet future event, “If we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.”  We were buried; we will be resurrected.  This resurrection can’t be the one at baptism—“shall be” argues it is still future.

            The traditional interpretation would be along the lines of:  In baptism we physically parallel what happened to Jesus: we are physically buried in the watery grave and are physically raised from it.  Yet this is for a spiritual purpose—the gaining of a new life, reconciled to God; dying to sin and being raised to a new life serving God.  In turn, Paul argues that there is a yet additional, though partial and yet future, parallel:  the next time we won’t have to be buried in water, but we will be brought back to fleshly life “in the likeness of His resurrection.”

Now, we are insistently told by TFP advocates, that our resurrection is a spiritual, invisible one.  And that Paul believed and taught it.  If that is true, would not Paul’s real intent in Romans 6 be more along the line of, “If we have been united together in the likeness of His physical death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His spiritual resurrection?”   

            This way you have a perfect parallel between Jesus’ resurrection and that of first century believers.  Both die the same way; both are restored the same way.  No longer would you have the strange mixture of apples and oranges (physical resurrection of Jesus proving the spiritual resurrection not of Him, but of believers); we would be arguing “from identical to identical” (or at least from “similar to similar”). 

            This seems unlikely to most interpreters because they take the initial death in Romans 6:5 as an imitation, in baptism, of physical death or, at least, through a physical burial (in water), a “duplication” of what happens in a tomb.  In defending Covenant Eschatology, Don K. Preston argues that Paul is arguing not from physical to spiritual (even though being plunged into the waters is a physical act) but from spiritual to spiritual.  The words are his, the emphases mine:[48]

In Romans 6:1-11 the apostle demonstrates how in baptism the Romans had died with Christ, vs. 3, and had been raised with him, vs. 4.  This patently cannot refer to a physical death and resurrection.  But notice verse 5: "If we have been planted with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection."  Is the likeness of his death a physical likeness?  If so, they had died physically!

But if it be admitted that this refers to a spiritual likeness how does this impact verse 5? Are we to see that in baptism there is a spiritual likeness to the death of Jesus but in resurrection there will be a physical imitation of his resurrection? Who changed the hermeneutic here? Modern interpreters, not Paul, change the nature of the discussion!

How is it possible to so radically change Paul's discussion from a spiritual death to a physical life? For Paul, the futuristic element was of the same nature in "likeness." In verse 8 the apostle says "if we died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him." The coming life was of the same nature as the death; but the death was not physical, therefore the coming life was not physical.

[Page 176]           This is, actually, laden with far more radical freight than the “gentler” version I suggested above.  What it means seems to be—accepting Paul is arguing from spiritual to spiritual--“If we have been united together in the likeness of His (Jesus’) spiritual death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His spiritual resurrection.”  Note that Preston quotes the reference to the death of Christ and then makes his claim that “the coming life was of the same nature as the death.”  How can we escape the consequence that Jesus died spiritually, at least in part, so that spiritual death and resurrection could be duplicated in our experience?     

It is but one small step to argue from this a conclusion that I have no doubt Preston vehemently would oppose:  that Jesus only “appeared” to die on the cross and that neither “death” nor “resurrection” in physical terms were actually involved.  “If the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26), then Jesus’ death on the cross could have been accomplished by withdrawing His spirit and leaving the “emptied” body to die.  In short, a variant of ancient Gnosticism. 

Even avoiding this particular “rock,” how and in what sense did Jesus die spiritually?  I thought He was sinless?  How could the sinless die spiritually?  I would be surprised if Preston actually believes such; I expect that his argument “ran away by itself,” as such things sometimes do.  But to demand the spiritual parallelism right after citing the example of Jesus.  How does one avoid saying He went through a similar spiritual death due to His transgressions?  

(On the other hand, consider Curtis’ argumentation, which follows, which attempts to redefine the moral failure element out of the concept of spiritual death.  Sigh.  How many more terms must be redefined to make Full Preterism work?)   

Preston also falters in not recognizing that the burial is a literal “burial” though in water rather than earth.  The involvement of a physical element is involved in going into the water and coming out of the water.  Hence Paul arguing from a literal, physical act (the “grave” of water in baptism) to a literal physical act (being removed from our physical tomb) is a quite logical word play and parallelism for the apostle to make.  


Aside:  Though this takes us afield, it should be noted that it could be argued that both traditional exegesis and Covenant Eschatology’s are in fundamental error on Romans 6:  that the future resurrection (whether 70 A.D. or yet still future) was not even in Paul’s mind in this passage.  Note the context and the flow of the argument:


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 should 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 [Page 177]   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.   12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.          


Does this not sound awfully like the “future” event that is “in the likeness of His resurrection” (6:5) actually being a morally pure life in the then current world?  A resurrection to moral purity and reconciliation with Deity?  That a yet future event is under consideration only in the sense that if their lives do not already manifest such a death to sin and life of righteousness, that it should immediately begin to do so?  That their problem was not already adequately manifesting this revolutionary transformation?

Is this Paul’s actual point?  I don’t know.  I simply make it to show that there are occasions when folks both like me and Preston might be incorrect in how we are understanding the texts.


2.  The Curtis approach:  The physical resurrection was needed to prove a non-physical point.  However one deals with Romans 6, the unexpected shift in 1 Corinthians 15 in regard to what “resurrection” means—how it is altered from  the “proof case” of Christ to what it means in the case of believers--must still be explained.  Those who have chosen not to (yet?  ever?) abandon the physicality of what Jesus went through, have at least one explanation why it should be held on to in the traditional sense. 

When David Curtis raised this question in a sermon, he answered in the fervent affirmative (with the emphases left as he presented them),[49] 


YES!  Absolutely, without a doubt.  Since Christ's resurrection was physical, won't ours be?  NO!  Christ's physical resurrection was a SIGN to the apostles that He had done what He had promised.  The resurrection of Jesus' body verified for His disciples, the resurrection of His soul.

David had prophesied:  “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”   (Psalms 16:10 NASB) 

Peter preached that David looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of Christ: “he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY.” (Acts 2:31 NASB)

These verses speak of both spiritual death (the soul in hades) and physical death (decay of the flesh). Jesus was resurrected from both.  Unless Jesus' body had been resurrected, His disciples would have had no assurance that His soul had been to Hades and had been resurrected.  The physical resurrection of Christ was essential to verify the spiritual to which it was tied.  While the physical resurrection of our bodies would have no point since we will not continue living on this planet, breathing earth's oxygen and eating earth's food, after we die physically.


            There is a certain self-serving illogic in this.  When discussing human resurrection in TFP we are confidently assured that it means one thing and one thing:  spiritual

[Page 178]   resurrection.  But when it comes to Jesus it must mean two different things:  both spiritual and physical.  “It means what I say it means except when it doesn’t?” 

Furthermore the Bible speaks (or clearly implies) that all believers who are physically dead at Jesus’ return are rescued from Hades, does it not?  (And that would remain true if the resurrection event is in 70 A.D. or yet future.)  If the means used to remove the one documentable individual ever pulled out of Hades was physical resurrection should we not assume that any others to be removed would be by the same means? 

We must challenge that strange remark “spiritual death (the soul in Hades).”  So the righteous endure spiritual death?  I thought they had forgiveness of sins?  “Spiritual death” is normally spoken of or described in terms of being “cut off from God’s approval,” “being in sin,” “being enslaved in sin,” “being guilty of unforgiven sin,” etc.  So if Jesus had undergone “spiritual death” as proved by “the soul [being] in Hades,” then it follows that He was a sinner.  Hmm.  Anyone wish to work out the doctrinal implications of that?

Many define Hades as the unseen world of the dead—of both the righteous and unrighteous.  Curtis clearly does and I concur.  We read of the hard hearted rich man being “in torments in Hades” (Luke 16:23) and that he could see “afar off” (16:23) both the poor man Lazarus and the patriarch Abraham, separated from him by “a great gulf fixed” in place (16:26). 

This leads to the traditional interpretation of Hades having two divisions, one for the righteous and one for the rejected.  The part described as “torments” (16:23) could, understandably, be regarded as the place of the spiritually dead, but the part where Abraham was?  I think not!  (Those who regard Hades here as being distinguished from the place of Abraham err, in our judgment, for Jesus is explicitly described as going to Hades in Acts 2:27.)      

One can argue in a sense that the removal from Hades of the spirit is a “resurrection,” one that makes possible the reunification of body and soul into the entity it once had been.  (We discussed this earlier.)  But to argue that being in Hades is “spiritual death” is a totally different matter.  Abraham was not spiritually dead in Hades, was he?  How could Jesus have been?  Hence we conclude that Curtis fundamentally errs in misdescribing being in Hades as equivalent with being spiritually dead.  

Passing along to the physicality of Jesus’ resurrection.  One key sentence for us is, “Unless Jesus' body had been resurrected, His disciples would have had no assurance that His soul had been to Hades and had been resurrected.”  By the same logic, we could well say of those alive in 71 A.D.:  “Unless Paul’s body was physically resurrected in the universal believer resurrection the previous year, no one then currently living could have been assured that Paul’s had been to Hades either.” 

Furthermore, if Jesus was normally on earth during the 40 days in a non-physical form—as has been suggested in the speculation we have examined—aren’t we conceding that a physical resurrection wasn’t really needed at all?  (A TFP advocate doesn’t have to believe that speculation, but if he does, then that question logically follows.)

The closing sentence isn’t of much use either, in our judgment, “While the physical resurrection of our bodies would have no point since we will not continue living on this planet, breathing earth's oxygen and eating earth's food, after we die physically.”  Since Jesus did “not continue living on this planet” beyond the 40 days (or was He only [Page 179]   here on part of some of them?), by the same logic He did not need a physical body either!  Furthermore, even though He did not remain but 40 days we still read of His eating (Luke 24:39-43).

As to us today, the argument is well intended but not well thought out:  Assuming the bodily imagery of the New Testament is correct, even if it is not meant to convey conventional earthly style physicality, we will still require “oxygen” or the next life’s equivalent.  It’s necessary to life.

And, yes, we will need “food.”  Nutriments in whatever form they may be.

We are talking about essentials of life in any form.  The alternative is ceasing to exist for all eternity.  Then, true, you won’t need either “oxygen” or “food” equivalents.  You won’t need anything at all.  But, until now at least, the Christian’s dream has always been for eternal existence and not eternal annihilation.  I, for one, think we should retain it.   

There remains a final problem:  Does Jesus retain a body in heaven?[50]  If He does He continues to breathe something and consume something in some form.  Define it how you will, Jesus would need it to survive.  And we have clear cut evidence that He is, indeed, “embodied” (for lack of a better word):  Philippians 3:21 refers to Jesus as, at that date, having a “glorious body” (BBE, CEV, NKJV, RSV, TEV) and often translations provide a wording that amounts to the same.  2 Corinthians 4:6 speaks of Jesus as if, at that moment, He has what He had earlier—“the face of Jesus” or “the face of Jesus Christ,” depending what Greek text is being followed.  Similarly, the image of Jesus found even in Revelation is that of an embodied—not disembodied—person.


            3.  The Townley approach:  Deny the reasonableness of arguing that physical resurrection is intended to be implied from Jesus’ because Jesus’ resurrection is obviously not the prototype of ours--the conditions of the bodies are just too different. 

            Robert Townley presented the case this way back in the 1800s[51]


Let the resurrection of Christ be a pledge as it may, still it is no pattern, of the resurrection of dust.  There is a wide difference, an immeasurable distance, a kind of impassable gulf of separation, between the case of a body that has the breath of life breathed into it again on the third day, and while it remains in substance unimpaired, and a body that has been dissolved for centuries, that has been burned by fire, that has undergone a countless series of new combinations of matter both, animal and vegetable. 


Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, clearly believes there is a connection between Jesus’ resurrection and ours even calling the former the “first fruits” that manifest what we shall be.  Whatever connotation one may wish to put on those words, Paul clearly sees a parallelism even though he full well knew that many had been in the graves for years and not just a few days.  He did not see the passage of time as fatal or inhibiting the process in the least.  Townley is convinced it would make a difference; Paul dissents.  Paul wins.

Will God recreate the body as it was at death?  If He can create man from the dirt of the earth, surely that would not be impossible.  The same body?  If it looks the same, feels the same, has the characteristics of the same—then, to all practical effects, it is the [Page 180]   same.  If we build from a kit a 1940 auto, is it a 1940 auto?  Literally no, so far as everything that matters (appearance, size, handability, safety) it is--and we would not hesitate to describe it as such to our friends.  (Though, admittedly, probably attaching the word “replica” to it.) 

The same is true of the resurrected body, however one may describe its origin:  restored, recreated, duplicated—the original “on file” (so to speak) in the Creator’s mind to be brought forth in its fullness once again?  Whatever difficulties we may see, Paul surely knew of himself, though over a lesser period of years or decades.  On second thought, over far longer as well:  He would surely have known that all of the patriarch Abraham that was left—at the most—were a few bones.  Yet he saw such hindrances as no obstacle when it came to God exercising His immense powers.  Why should we?   

            Aside:  Townley introduces the Old Testament text quoted in Acts about the Messiah’s body “not seeing corruption” in behalf of the physicality of His resurrection and then provides a rebuttal of the scenario that was floating around at the time of the spiritual resurrection of Jesus.  “Not seeing corruption” certainly argues powerfully that it was the same physical body of Jesus that was resurrected rather than any “spiritual” body in its place.  But it could still have been changed to a non-physical state when He came out of the tomb.  If one insists that His resurrection body was “spiritual,” then, there are still “interpretive” mechanisms such as this to produce that result.






[1] Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal:  Resurrection & Immortality in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 53.


[2] For a concise historical discussion see Schep, 145-147.


[3] Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection (Nashville, Tennessee:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 118-119.


[4] Ibid., 45.


[5] Ibid., 46.


[6] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology:  An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 612.


[7] Ibid., 612-613.


[8] Ibid., 612.


[9] Ibid., 613.


[Page 181]    [10] Walt Hibbard, “The Resurrected Body of Christ,” revised and expanded version of an article by Timothy King.  Part of the website Preterist Viewpoint:  Looking Beyond Futurist Speculation website.  At:   http://www.preteristviewpoint. com/id7.html.  [January 2011.]


[11] Ibid.


[12] Dag Oistein Endsjo, Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity (New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 185-186.


[13] Ibid., 185.


[14] Ibid.


[15] Ibid., 187. 


[16] Ibid., 176.


[17] Ibid.


[18] Ibid., 181.


[19] Cf. the analysis of the historical controversy and the textual use of soma in William L. Craig, “The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus.”  At:  http://www.leaderu. com/offices/billcraig/docs/bodily.html.   [January 2010.]


[20] David Friedman, “Does 1 Corinthians 15 Teach a Physical or a Spiritual Reusrrection?”  Preterist Archives website.  At:  http://www.preteristarchive. com/BibleStudies/Bible_NT/Corinthians_First/Articles/2000_friedman_1-cor_15.html.  [September 2009.]


[21] Ibid.


[22] William S. Urmy, Christ Came Again:  The Parousia of Christ a Past Event. . . . .  (New York:  Eaton & Mains, 1900), 198.


[23] Ibid.


[24] Ibid., 291.


[25] Vincent McCann, “The Resurrection of Jesus--Raised Bodily or as a Spirit Creature?”  Copyright 2003.  At: jwjesusres.htm.  [September 2011]


[Page 182]    [26] R. J. Cooke, Outlines of the Doctrine of the Resurrection:  Biblical, Historical, and Scientific (New York:  Phillips & Hunt, 1884), 349, makes the argument that the flesh “is adjusted to the pure spirit and so subjected in every part and particle to the volition and power of the spirit” that it is as if the two have, in effect, been merged into one entity with the normal human conflict between flesh and spirit eliminated in the body’s transformed nature.   


[27] For quotations, see McCann, “The Resurrection of Jesus.” 


[28] Ibid.


[29] B. B. M. J. Mackenzie-Hanson, “Resurrection.”  Arian Catholic Church web site; updated 2005-2006.  At: [September 2010.]  In my original notes I had not included the web location.  When I returned to it, in the process of finishing this note (October 2011), the title of the article was now “The Resurrection—What Happened on Easter Morning?”


[30] Ibid.


[31] Ibid.


[32] Ibid.


[33] Ibid.


[34] “Jesus was pointing out that He was different. He had a body, but not a body of flesh and blood. It was flesh and bones.  I am of the opinion that Jesus' body had no functional blood in it.”  Matthew J. Slick (apparent author), “Didn’t Jesus Simply Rise in a Non-physical Spirit Form?”  Part of CARM:  Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website.  At:  [September 2011.] 


[35] Murray J. Harris, 53.


[36] Ibid.


[37] Ibid., 53-54.


[38] Ibid., 54.


[39] Ibid., 55.


[40] Ibid., 54.


[41] Ibid., 46-47.


[Page 183]   [42] Calvin Green and Seth Y. Wells.  A Summary View of the Millennial Church or United Society of Believers (Commonly Called Shakers) (Albany, New York:  Packard & Van Benthuysen, 1823), daggered footnote, 307.


[43] Ibid., 308.


[44] Ibid.


[45] Jim West, “The Allurement of Hymenaen Pretism:  The Rise of ‘Dispensable Eschatology.”  Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics website.  At:  September 2009.]


[46] Charles J. Guiteau, The Truth:  A Companion to the Bible (Boston:  Wright & Potter, Printing Company, 1879), 61-63.  Special thanks for pointing out this quote before I encountered the book goes to Brian Simmons, “Mike Bull’s Resurrection Fallacy.”  At:  [September 2010.] 


[47] Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope:  The Origins of First and Second Century Eschatology (Colorado Springs, Colorado:  Bimillennial Press, 2006), 131.  I assume this is the same Sam Frost who later left the movement and who I quote in one or more other 1 Corinthians contexts opposing Full Preterist theology.   


[48] Don K. Preston, “A Study of the Resurrection.”  At: prophecy/DP/resurrectionuv.htm.  [September 2011.] 


[49] David Curtis, “The ‘About To Be’ Resurrection--Acts 24:15.”  July 2, 2011.  Part of the Sovereign Grace Preterism website.  At: topics/the-about-to-be-resurrection.  [July 2011.]  This sermon has also been reproduced at several other websites. 


[50] Samuel Frost, “Resurrection of the Body.”  Dated:  September 1, 2011.  At:   [September 2011.]


[51] Robert Townley, The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ:  A Past Event (London:  Simpkin, Marshall, and Company, 1845), 67.