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April 23, 2006


Pertinacious Papist

So what is it, exactly, you're trying to say here?

Steven Carr

'“What is sown a physical body is raised a spiritual body”'

Paul writes no such thing. In the verse, which Greek words in the text correspond to the words 'what' and 'body'? Doctored translations are not convincing.

Paul regards the resurrected Jesus as having a body. But a body made out of heavenly material. That is why he explained to the Corinthians why different things have different materials. Because the had foolishly assumed that a resurrection involved making dead materials lived, and were puzzled how that could happen.

There is a famous question in rabbinical literature, supposedly said by somebody questioning the resurrection of corpses (as many early converts to Jesus-wosrhip did)

Paul's writings seem to answer the question perfectly.

The question was 'A sectarian said to R. Ammi: 'Ye maintain that the dead will revive; but they turn to dust, and can dust come to life?'

Paul writes ' The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.'

Spirit of Vatican II

Doctored translations?

"It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44) (KJV); "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body" (RSV); Latin: seminatur corpus animale, surget corpus spiritale; Greek: speiretai sôma psychikon, egeiretai sôma pneumatikon.

Which Greek words in the text correspond to the words 'what' and 'body'?

Body is sôma.

"What" occurs in the RSV translation 15:42, which is an antecedent to the verse just quoted: "What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable." The Greek has simply "speiretai en phthora, egeiretai en aphtharsia" (KJV: "it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption"), but "what is sown" is probably a better English translation than the unexplained "it is sown".

Anyway, it is clear that Paul's language leaves a wide open space for negative theology as to the nature of the Resurrection, a space that too many are too anxious to close.

Spirit of Vatican II

From Steven Carr's blog:

"The earliest Christians believed Jesus was still alive, but that his body had been left behind." No, the physical identity of the risen and crucified Jesus is taught in John 20 and Luke 24.

"Paul’s view that it is idiotic to wonder how a dead body could be raised. It won’t be raised. It is a non-problem. Paul says clearly ‘You do not plant the body that will be’, and talks about different kinds of bodies. Paul says there is first the natural body and then the spiritual body. The Corinthians presently have their natural bodies, and then they will have spiritual bodies."

But the metaphor of sowing implies a continuity of some kind between the naked kernel (gymnon kokkon) and the body that is to be (to sôma to genêsomenon) (15:37).

"If you wonder how a magician can produce an egg from your ear, after you have seen him crack the egg open, then you are an idiot for not realising that there are two eggs. Paul writes the same way. Why wonder how a dead body can be transformed into a resurrected body, when there are two bodies?" The normal reading is that the spiritual body is a transfigured state of the natural body, and this is certainly the way the Church has always taken it.

"Paul is very explicit in 2 Corinthians 5 that we will leave this present body behind and receive a heavenly body. A new body to replace the old body. He often uses a clothing analogy. At the resurrection we will get a new set of clothes. This means that the old set of clothes will be discarded." No, he says, "not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed" (2 Cor. 5:4, RSV; ou thelomen ekdusasthai all' ependusasthai).

elinor robinson

this does not help me

Spirit of Vatican II

The John Updike poem I quoted above is apparently an early text of his.


St Paul is our only “eyewitness” to the resurrection. If we are to achieve a reliable understanding of the matter, we must depend on his comments. We are fortunate that he has chosen to comment at length.

The conclusion that God had raised Jesus from the dead is based on encounters with him – after he was believed to have been executed and buried (etaphe). In the modern world a missing corpse would not raise suspicion of resurrection and it’s hard to see that the situation would have been greatly different in antiquity.

Our understanding of life has evolved. It is based on cells that represent a complex organization of nucleic acids, and proteins. Ongoing integrity is based on the generation of ATP. When energy production ceases, cellular organization rapidly undergoes irreversible deterioration.

The fact that animal life is sentient presents us with a conundrum. Mental processes are clearly in parallel with biochemical processes but, from my perspective, mental processes cannot be reduced to biochemistry. Happiness is not the same “substance” as dopamine and serotonin.

Man is body (physical) + soul/spirit (non-physical). Clearly the Judaism which gave rise to the concept of resurrection did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Indeed the concept of “soul” as I/we understand it did not exist within Judaism. Jewish anthropology was monistic; man was understood as soma. This is why the concept of resurrection was needed to offer the hope of post-mortem life.

When Paul encountered “the risen Lord”, he encountered a “soma”. This was a reasonable interpretation based on his anthropology and his understanding of resurrection. [A Greek (or a Hellenistic Jew) might have viewed things differently.] The interpretation of his experience could not easily be revised. Paul became part of a movement based on the concept of resurrection.

But (to my mind) the concept must have created a problem for the Greek mind, which was familiar with the concept of the immortal soul. It seems to me that this is one of the most exalted concepts that issues from Greek philosophy. The Phaedo was the only philosophic work read when I studied Greek in high school.

Paul tells us that there were Christians in Corinth who did not believe in resurrection. I am not surprised. For those who believed in the immortality of the soul, the concept was superfluous. How could those who were not dead be raised from the dead?

It would have been straightforward, if Paul had simply declared the concept of the immortal soul as false. He did not do that.

Another approach would have been for him to declare that Resurrection and Immortality of the Soul are equivalent concepts. He does not do that either. And I can see compelling reasons why he would not take this approach. The concept of Resurrection was fundamental to Christianity as it had developed out of its Jewish matrix; it had to be preserved.

The concept of soma is central to resurrection. And so we have the question placed in the mouth of the fool: with what kind of body do they come? The answer might seem straightforward. “They ‘come’ with the body which is placed in the grave.” But this answer is not given. And it is very clear from the extensive discussion that follows why Paul does not give this answer. In Paul’s mind this answer is false.

Man is a soma in both his pre-mortem and resurrected state. But the man has changed; the soma has changed. When I say “the man has changed”, I do not mean that we have a “different person”; the person encountered by Peter/Paul is/was Jesus of Nazareth. When Paul says “we shall be changed”, he does not mean that Paul will cease to exist and a person other than Paul will come into existence. What will change is the soma.

Our pre-mortem life is based on ATP. This ensures the integrity of our DNA. Our unique personality is based on this DNA – which is not like that of any other (even if we have an identical twin).

Jesus/Christ is in heaven. Is this a controversial statement? I have come to believe that there is no Carbon/Oxygen/Hydrogen/Nitrogen in heaven. These elements correspond to “dust of the earth”. It seems clear to me that Paul is insisting that Jesus Christ is not “of dust”; he is “of heaven”. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics does not apply: he is not subject to decay. A DNA repair system is totally out of place.

Clearly the pre-mortem body is flesh (and blood). The body in heaven could not be flesh and blood. Earthly material cannot exist in heaven. And I believe I know the reason. By definition heaven is the “spirit world”.

The earthly soma is vivified by psyche/nephesh. The heavenly soma is a “soma pneumatikon”. Rather than saying that the “soma pneumatikon” is vivified by “pneuma”, Paul says that the person he encountered was (life-giving) pneuma. He is very close to the Greek Philosophers at this point. Of course man is not immortal. Post-mortem life results from God’s intervention. And only “the dead in Christ” will rise. But John comes even closer to the Greek position: "those who ‘live and believe in me' shall never die”.


So many words spent so pointlessly. He ate, He invited Thomas to touch His wounds. What more do you need? He is risen. Blessed are we who believe and have not seen.

Spirit of Vatican II

SteveD -- but you are referring not to historical reports here but to symbolic narratives. I don't believe the disciples really ate and drunk with Jesus after his resurrection. The 40 days of Acts I contradict the one day of Luke 24, again suggesting symbolism rather than factual narration.

In Mark and Matthew Jesus is to appear to the disciples in Galilee; in Luke and John, the source of the stories you refer to, he appears to them in Jerusalem. Both accounts cannot be historical, and Mark's is about 20 years earlier.

To be sure, Jesus also eats in Galilee in John 21, usually seen as an appendix to the main text. Maybe that chapter is already attempting to harmonize divergent traditions, which became an industry in later exegesis, but which does not really work.

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