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Richard Carrier Carrier Oconnell Carrier3

Carrier’s Second Rebuttal (2008)


Possibly is Not Probably


O’Connell’s general mode of argument is to propose possible alternative explanations for everything. But possibility is not probability. And some of his arguments (like those repeating his seed-plant analysis) I already refuted in my first rebuttal, so I will only address here what’s new.

1. On Over What?

O’Connell: Paul’s use of “ependyomai” (5:2; 5:5) clearly supports 1BT. The word means to “put one garment on over another.”

When ependuomai is used to mean “put one garment over another,” the other garment is usually named as the indirect object of the verb.[1] So we should expect Paul to say “put on over our earthly body” or something like that. But he doesn’t. He never says what we put the new body over. But he does say if we don’t put the new body on, then we’ll be naked, which implies it’s our naked selves that don the new body, not our old body wearing an extra one. Origen interprets 2 Corinthians 5 in exactly this way.[2] And Paul uses a domicile analogy here: he speaks of losing our current “tent” or “house” and getting another, using such terms five times in just four verses (instead of words for “garment”). You don’t don one house on top of another. A house goes on top of a person.

Hence ependuomai does not always mean “put one garment on over another garment” but can mean simply “put on over” (even over a naked body).[3] So the question is: Over what? The body that’s destroyed? How can you put something on over something that no longer exists? Paul is not talking about what happens when our earthly body merely dies, but when it’s completely destroyed (kata-luthê). And he repeats, in parallel[4], getting out of our first garment before getting into the other (emphases added):

In this [body] we groan, [because we] long to put on [our new body] from heaven, if indeed we will not be found naked when we get out of [our old body]. For we groan because we are in [this body] and are weighed down [by it], because of which it’s not that we want to get out of [our old body], but [that we want] to put on [our new body], so what is mortal may be completely swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:2-4)

Paul clearly says bearing this body (our earthly body) is a burden and for this reason he expects to get out of it, although he emphasizes that he does not desire to be naked, but to be clothed anew. You can’t make a burdensome body unburdensome by donning an additional cloak over it (as I’ve already explained). Surely we must get rid of the burdensome body in order to get rid of its burden. But Paul is hopeful he will not thus become naked, but will don a new, better body. This is reinforced by all the other evidence in Paul, and by his peculiar choice of vocabulary here: for he uses the term skênos to refer to “this” body that “burdens” us, and he uses it without explanation or qualification, as if his readers understand, which can only imply a deliberate allusion to popular Orphic notions corresponding to 2BT, as I’ve argued elsewhere.[5]

So we either put a new body “over” our naked selves, or don a new body at the same time our old one dissolves (when our current “mortal existence” is “swallowed up,” since 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 parallels 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, despite O’Connell’s assumption that the word “body” is in the latter, which I’ve already shown is unwarranted).[6] Either way, Paul is talking about losing the earthly body (he says it’s dissolved) and gaining a new body (the one “made without hands” waiting for us in heaven, literally or figuratively—Paul’s use of figurative language doesn’t argue against me).[7]

2. Clay Vessels

O’Connell: Paul’s point is only that our bodies, like clay vessels, are fragile (the whole context of [2 Corinthians] 4:7-11 concerns the fragility of our present existence)…. If Paul had said our bodies will not be reconstituted … we would have a clear affirmation of 2BT. But Paul does not say that.

But this context includes 2 Corinthians 5:1 (for which chapter 4 is a preamble). Saying our current bodies will indeed be destroyed, and implying we will “get out of” them to don new bodies God has specially prepared for us, practically is saying our old bodies will not be reconstituted, as Paul already explicitly said in his previous letter.[8] What Paul doesn’t say is that our bodies will be reconstituted, yet he should have, if that’s what he believed. Everything he says instead implies exchange.

I cannot believe it’s a coincidence that Paul chose to oddly describe our new bodies as “not made with hands” (what bodies ever are?) right after the section describing our current bodies with the peculiar term used for ritual clay vessels known to be “made with hands” and then necessarily destroyed. Paul even says our old bodies will be “destroyed” right before saying our new bodies are “not made with hands.” The obvious explanation for why Paul chose such an odd thing to say of our future bodies, and why he specifically juxtaposes an allusion to ritual clay vessels with the destruction of our earthly bodies, is that Paul is playing on the fact that our current bodies must be destroyed to make way for new and better ones. Again, all the other evidence converges on this same conclusion (unlike C. F. Moule, I find Paul’s two letters perfectly consistent on this point).

3. Varia

(1) O’Connell argues Paul didn’t imagine the world would be remade at the eschaton. I doubt that, as Paul repeatedly remarks on how present things will no longer exist, and denying this would put Paul at odds with the rest of the New Testament.[9] I think it more likely Paul did imagine the destruction of the world as its welcome liberation. For Paul says the very elements themselves are the origin of the world’s bondage.[10] And since “corruption cannot inherit incorruptibility” (1 Corinthians 15:50), when Paul says “even the creation itself shall be freed from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21), clearly something must change: the current structure of the world must pass away (1 Corinthians 7:31). Paul’s repeated use of a “new genesis” theme throughout his discussion of the resurrection corroborates this.[11] But regardless of what Paul thought would happen to the rest of the world, he clearly believed our current bodies would be “destroyed” (he says exactly that) and these would not be the bodies we rise up to new life in (he says, again, exactly that).

(2) O’Connell didn’t rebut how I used 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 or 1 Corinthians 5:5. I’m arguing a collective case: when all the relevant passages are read together (like 2 Corinthians 5:1), what we see is a pattern of thought, one that, when joined with Paul’s peculiar silences, leaves us with the more probable conclusion that Paul believed a 2BT. For example, Colossians 3:5 doesn’t just affirm we have an earthly body (why would that need affirming?). By strangely referring to our bodies as “our parts on earth,” Paul is identifying our corrupt body parts as the ones we have on earth, which implies an intentional distinction from other body parts, which are not on earth. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 Paul tells us where those are (or will be): in heaven (even specifically distinguishing these bodies from our “earthly” ones). And in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54 Paul explains why these two bodies have to be different. The total force of all the evidence trends in this direction, not O’Connell’s.[12]

(3) O’Connell claims allassô can mean “change” as in “transformation,” rather than “exchange,” but he adduces no evidence of this, and ignores my cited evidence to the contrary that allassô rarely means transmutation. And Paul appears to be alluding to a passage in the Septuagint that specifically describes the eschatological event as an exchange, not a transmutation.[13] Why else would Paul adopt this unusual word here? I argue Hebrews 1:10-12 shows what Paul must have been thinking—it doesn’t matter that Paul didn’t write Hebrews, its author still shares the same background. Since Paul uses this same unusual word, in exactly the same form, in exactly the same context of exchanging garments at the end of the world, it’s hard to imagine there was no intended connection.

(4) Contrary to O’Connell’s claim that “there are no Jewish sources which affirm an exchange,” I’ve already cited Josephus as a clear case of exactly that. Josephus says, for example, that the soul of a good man will “cross over” (metabainein) into “a different body” (eis heteron sôma). There are hints some other Jews held similar views.[14] And though O’Connell claims “there is nothing to suggest that Paul’s inner man is an unseen body,” the transition from 2 Corinthians 4:14-18 to 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 does exactly that. All the evidence collectively suggests a strong link in Paul’s mind between the outer man and the destructible body we shed, and between the inner man and the new indestructible body we shall assume.[15]

4. The Comparative Argument

O’Connell’s rebuttal to my comparative argument is inadequate.

(1) Paul wrote explicitly on his theory of resurrection twice, in 24 verses of over 300 words, and used several analogies, metaphors, and scriptural references—but none any 1BT proponent would use. I don’t argue Paul should use “everything” other 1BT proponents did, but at least something comparable. It’s improbable he would never say anything comparable.

(2) The Corinthians would be worried about continuity.[16] There’s no reason to believe otherwise. All who wrote on resurrection mention this problem and respond to it. All 1BT proponents also argued the body must be the same, not that it merely was. Paul never says this. Whereas for them it’s necessary, for him it’s not. And it’s so easy to say the same body rises that dies, or we’ll don a new body over the old, or our body will be reassembled, yet Paul conspicuously avoids ever saying this. Instead he says exactly the opposite in 1 Corinthians 15:36-37.

(3) If Paul believed the flesh would be “changed” into a new material, why never say this? Why use analogies, allusions, and descriptions implying exchange instead? Why does he talk about our bodies being dissolved, but never about them being reconstituted? What’s more probable?

It’s very peculiar that Paul never once uses any of the obvious 1BT analogies or metaphors or proof-texts (despite this being very easily done and ideal for his stated purpose), and never once says anything clearly supporting or asserting 1BT, but often the opposite. That this is all just an accident is highly improbable. Since Paul sounds more like Origen (in more ways than one), Paul probably thought more like Origen.[17]

5. Paul Never Cites Evidence Available to the Gospels

“Paul’s failure to mention an empty tomb does not imply that he was unaware of one,” but it does support that conclusion (especially when he omits it even from 1 Corinthians 15:4-8). But what’s more conspicuously absent is all the evidence later Christians adduce in defense of their view of resurrection: actual descriptions of Christ’s risen body and its nature (showing wounds, eating and drinking, being handled, not glowing but looking ordinary, etc.). In essence, in Paul we lack testimony “proving” the resurrected Christ to be of the same body he had in life, for which an empty tomb would also be necessary. Also missing is anything Jesus said, for instance: “See 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 behold me having” (Luke 24:39).[18] That Paul mentions none of this, unlike later Christian authors, suggests none of it existed in Paul’s time.

6. Was There an Empty Tomb?

O’Connell’s defense of an empty tomb is wrong on the facts. The social status of women would have no effect on their inclusion in a fabricated empty tomb report, and Christians had specific reasons to include them there.[19] So it’s not an unlikely feature of the story. The Gospels are mutually dependent and therefore not ‘four independent sources.’ They all ultimately derive their empty tomb from Mark and embellish it.[20] And besides, multiply attested fiction is still fiction. That the labors of Hercules are multiply attested does not make them true. As for contradictions, contrary to O’Connell, these are so extreme in the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb that we can have no faith in them.[21] And we have no evidence either way whether the tomb was venerated (the site was lost or buried before any relevant texts would inform us).[22] So O’Connell can’t assert it wasn’t venerated—nor that it was any more likely to have been if occupied than if empty. On either account, it would be equally venerable as the site of the greatest and most important miracle in history, so if an empty tomb could be ignored, so could a needless body.

7. The Silence of Acts

O’Connell says “I do not think Carrier has shown that Acts’ account is incompatible with an empty tomb.” But it doesn’t matter whether a story can be made “compatible” with a theory. What matters is whether such compatibility is at all probable. And in the case of Acts, if it records any history of the earliest Church, its silences are highly improbable on the theory that the tomb was actually empty.

(1) In Acts the Christians are routinely hauled into court and tried, and the Jews are constantly looking for excuses to imprison or kill them—and try everything they can think of to get the Romans to help. Yet not even once do they ever think of laying the crime of graverobbing or abetting an escaped felon on any Christians, nor do any Jews or Romans in these trials ever seem aware of either crime.[23] Roman judges even repeatedly say the Christians have done nothing wrong. How could that be? Not only would the trials and accusations recorded in Acts be different, the history of the Church itself would have been different, if either of these crimes were suspected—and they would have been, had there been an empty tomb.

(2) Who would the Jews or Romans try? The Church leaders of course. They would first interrogate them to ferret out all their accomplices (and to determine if Jesus was still alive), much like Pliny.[24] This would surely happen, and would be more important than any other event in Acts, especially as it would provide powerful evidence for the Gospel. Therefore, that it didn’t happen makes no sense—unless there was no crime, hence no empty tomb. The Jews would probably fabricate witnesses to suit their needs as well (as they supposedly did for Jesus). Since these crimes would guarantee execution by the Romans, and considerable disgrace and discredit to the Christian mission, prosecuting them would be the first thing attempted to shut down the Church. Even if we think a judge would acquit, the means, motive, and opportunity were still sufficient to argue in court. So that none of this ever happened (and Acts attests it didn’t happen) is inexplicable unless there was no empty tomb.

(3) The Romans wouldn’t believe the Christian claim that it was all a supernatural act of God. Hence it doesn’t matter what the Romans understood the Christian teaching to be, what matters is what the Romans would conclude the actual facts were. The body is missing. People then said they met Jesus, spoke with him, ate with him, and housed him. So what explanation is left? Either theft of the body, or aiding and abetting an escaped felon, either of which the Christians were exaggerating into a claim of miracle. That’s what the Romans would investigate. It’s implausible to imagine they wouldn’t. So that they didn’t has only one credible explanation: there was no empty tomb.

(4) O’Connell’s argument that the Romans should have prosecuted the Christians anyway makes no sense. The Jews did prosecute them (even before Roman judges), and surely leveraging available crimes to win Roman assistance is exactly what the Jews would have done. That they didn’t entails they couldn’t, which entails there were no crimes to leverage. And if the body of Jesus was still in its tomb, there would be no crime for the Romans to prosecute. As O’Connell himself says, Christians would then simply be dismissed as hallucinating religious nuts (Acts 26:24), guilty, at worst, of violating Jewish laws, which Roman officials rightly said wasn’t a Roman matter (Acts 18:14-15, 23:26-29). O’Connell suggests the Romans would prosecute the promotion of a pretender to the throne. But not when the pretender was dead. Many gods of the time were worshipped as Lords and Kings without incurring Roman wrath, and though venerating a recently deceased man like this could make some in Rome nervous, there was no actual law against it. Pliny the Younger, for example, was in the unusual circumstance of governing a province that at the time outlawed illegal assembly, but in the period covered by Acts, the Jews actually had the legal right of assembly. Since the Romans in Acts still see the Christians as a Jewish sect, they saw the matter as a purely internal dispute.[25] This would not have been the case if an actual body had been missing.


O’Connell has not adequately rebutted my arguments and evidence (from either my opening statement or my first rebuttal). He ignores the fact that my conclusions arrive from examining all the evidence together, whereas he tries to reinterpret each passage in isolation from the others. I argue for probability based on the total trends of the evidence; he argues for mere gainsaying possibilities. And he has not challenged any of my facts, only my conclusions. But those challenges consist merely of his own contrary interpretations. Considering all the evidence as a whole, I conclude his interpretations are less probable than mine.

Continue the Debate


[1] See, for example, Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 5.37 (and more indirectly 3.159).

[2] See Origen, Against Celsus 7.37 and note 12 in my opening statement.

[3] For example, of the naked Philotera in Clement of Alexandria, Stromata Similarly, using a nominal cognate: John 21:7.

[4] See 2 Corinthians 5:1 and n. 180 (pp. 212-13) in Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), edited by Bob Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder: 105-231. Also see the current edition of The Greek Text of the New Testament (4th revised edition, 1983), p. 619.

[5] See pp. 142-147 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005). For the other evidence corroborating all this, see §2 of my first rebuttal, and §1 and §2 of my opening statement.

[6] As argued in §2 of my first rebuttal.

[7] My agreement with O’Connell on the possibility of figurative language here is already described in §5 of my first rebuttal.

[8] In 1 Corinthians 15:35-38. See §1 of my opening statement.

[9] See n. 160 on p. 211 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), and related FAQ response.

[10] Galatians 4:3, 4:9; Colossians 2:8, 2:20 (cf. Romans 7:18).

[11] See note 10 in my opening statement, and related Empty Tomb FAQ response.

[12] Throughout pp. 110-147 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[13] Psalms 102:25-27. See §2 of my opening statement and p. 136 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[14] See note 4 of my opening statement and pp. 112-113 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[15] See pp. 139-42, pp. 144-45, p. 150 (and n. 179 on p. 212) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[16] See pp. 120-126 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[17] That Paul and Origin sound alike in more ways than one see, again, note 2 above.

[18] For many examples, see pp. 156-158 (with n. 263 on p. 219) and p. 124 (with nn. 103 and 104 on pp. 206-207) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[19] See Chapter 11 (“Did No One Trust Women?“) of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006).

[20] See pp. 155-65 (that Mark invented the story) and pp. 165-166, 188-97 with p. 155, n. 256 on p. 218, and n. 284 on p. 221 (that the others derived the idea from Mark) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[21] In addition to the material already cited in note 20 above, see pp. 358-364 of Richard Carrier, “The Plausibility of Theft” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), and especially the associated FAQ response.

[22] See p. 179 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005). See also “The Argument from Silence” in Richard Carrier, “Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity” (2002) for the logic of valid arguments from silence. On the fate of the Jerusalem graveyards, see Aelia Capitolina (Wikipedia) in conjunction with Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3.26.

[23] See Acts 4, Acts 5, Acts 6-7, Acts 18:12-17, Acts 23, Acts 24, Acts 25, Acts 26, etc.

[24] See Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97.

[25] On the special legal rights of Jews at the time, see pp. 373-75 of Richard Carrier, “The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005). On the special law against illegal assembly in Asia Minor, see Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.34, and in general note 7 in Chapter 18 (“How Successful Was Christianity?“) of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006).

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