Carrier’s Closing Statement (2008)
The Stronger Case Prevails
I remain convinced. More likely than not, Paul did not believe the corpse of Jesus rose from the dead, but that Jesus left his corpse behind and rose from the dead in an entirely new body. Therefore, Paul did not need to believe the tomb of Jesus was empty in order to believe Jesus had risen, and there is no evidence he did.
1. The Cumulative Case For This Is Strong
- Several scholars have come to the same conclusion or concede it’s possible.
- There were other Jews of the time besides Paul who held such a view (of the general resurrection of the people of Israel).
- Even some pagans of the time held such a view (of the resurrection of gods).
- Paul outright says it.
“That which you sow is not the body that will come to be” (1 Corinthians 15:37).
Instead of raising the body that dies, God will “give” you an immortal one (1 Corinthians 15:38, 44, 46, etc.).
“Our earthly house of a tabernacle” will be “destroyed,” and instead of God rebuilding that one, we’ll get “a house from God, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Therefore “we groan” in our current body, “yearning to don” our new one (2 Corinthians 5:2).
- And a lot of what Paul says implies it.
- In his shell-seed analogy.
- In his analogies of changing houses and clothes.
- In his inner-and-outer man metaphor.
- In his clay-pots vs. divine-vessels comparison.
- In his repeated allusion to resurrection as a new Genesis (hence a new creation).
- In his emphasis on the need for a new and different body.
- In his emphasis on our current bodies being the organs we have on earth, and our future bodies as the ones we’ll wear in heaven.
- In his repeated emphasis that our current bodies will and must be destroyed (so we’ll need new, indestructible ones).
- In his allusion to a passage in the Greek Psalms that entails exchanging clothes rather than transforming them.
- In his use of the vocabulary of mercantile exchange in that very context.
- And in the fact that Paul conspicuously never says the risen body is the same as the dying body, despite numerous occasions where this would be the obvious thing for him to say if he believed it.
- Whereas, instead, while some Jews who advocated single-body resurrection assumed we would exchange our grave clothes for splendid clothes, Paul turned the analogy around to argue that our bodies would be the clothes, using the exact same analogy to defend a two-body resurrection.
- In fact, Paul sounds nothing like single-body resurrection advocates (whether Christians or Jews), yet sounds a lot like two-body resurrection advocates, like Origen, who himself understood Paul to be advocating a two-body resurrection.
- The points of dissimilarity in this regard are numerous and strong.
- One-body advocates had many ideal scriptural prooftexts to cite, and cited them. Paul cites none of them.
- One-body advocates had many obvious and illuminating analogies to employ in illustrating how a burned, destroyed, decrepit, mangled, or rotted corpse would be raised, and used them. Paul uses none of them, or anything remotely like them.
- One-body advocates all emphasized that the resurrection body had to be the same body that died. Paul never says anything like this. In fact, if anything, he says exactly the opposite.
- One-body advocates realized the obvious and most challenging objection to their idea of resurrection involved problems of assembly and improvement, so they addressed them. Paul not only ignores these problems, but explicitly bypasses them by insisting we’ll get entirely new bodies. Only a two-body resurrection theory can bypass the conspicuous problems that one-body advocates all had to address, and that’s exactly the tactic Paul appears to take.
- Additionally, the Gospels provide no reliable help in determining what Paul believed, and the evidence is lacking or even against any of their contents (pertaining to the resurrection body) having been in circulation in his day. In fact, Paul never mentions any evidence of a risen Jesus other than revelatory visions and hidden messages in scripture.
- And finally, the content of Acts argues so strongly against there having been any claim of an empty tomb in the early years of the Church (when Paul joined) that either Acts is complete fiction, or there was no claim of an empty tomb at that time, which implies early Christians (like Paul) were claiming Jesus had not left an empty tomb, but had left his corpse behind and risen in a new body.
2. There Has Been No Adequate Rebuttal
- Nothing about Paul’s resurrection vocabulary argues the contrary.
Regarding anastasis there are simply (i) too few examples of usage and (ii) too great a variability in usage to warrant any sweeping generalization of the sort O’Connell maintains. O’Connell’s Yahweh analogy is thus in both respects invalid.
As for N.T. Wright’s remarks: as I represented, his statements are quite clear and thus not as dismissible as O’Connell claims. I think O’Connell overlooks the fact that N.T. Wright’s book contains material written at different times over the course of some twenty years, and Wright clearly made little effort to smooth over the inconsistencies produced by his evolving positions. It remains a fact that nowhere does Wright say what O’Connell originally alleged regarding the word anastasis, nor would Wright have had any valid basis for such an assertion even had he made it. In contrast, Wright does say, and quite clearly, what I said he did. Moreover, several other experts explicitly concur with my view.
- No passage in Romans provides any clear argument to the contrary.
In none does Paul actually say we will be raised in the same body that died. O’Connell keeps trying to bootstrap two vague statements there into assertions of one-body resurrection, but his efforts depend upon an array of assumptions that are no more secure than O’Connell’s desired conclusions. For example…
I. Debating Pauline Eschatology
Most New Testament texts on the end times clearly describe destruction of the world and its replacement (most explicitly in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21:1-5), and if Jesus taught anything, he taught essentially this (so it would be odd of Paul to disagree). Paul clearly seems to imply as much himself when he says “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50), everything we “see” is “temporary” and only what we “do not see” is “eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18), and “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31)—plus many other allusions in his writings to God ultimately destroying the things of the world. O’Connell believes Paul still fundamentally differed from other New Testament authors on this point. But I doubt it, and O’Connell can’t prove it. Although many early Christians (including Paul) may have assumed God would assemble the new world from the purified elements of the old, the New Testament attests to the common view that the present world still had to be dissolved (which would certainly explain why Paul, and Jesus, expected everyone in the end to be taken up into the sky—you don’t need an earth no one’s going to live on).
Accordingly, Romans 8:14-25 speaks of creation (notably ktisis, not the kosmos) awaiting the inheritance of the Christians as adopted sons of God (Romans 8:19-22), which would make them formal heirs to the future Kingdom. But Paul says no flesh or blood will “inherit” that kingdom, in fact nothing that decays will (1 Corinthians 15:50). Paul likewise says the whole scheme of the world will pass away (1 Corinthians 7:31), all that is mortal will be “swallowed up” (katapothê to thnêton, 2 Corinthians 5:4; similarly, 1 Corinthians 15:53-54), and what we see now will end and be replaced by what lasts forever (2 Corinthians 4:18). Hence I think Paul did in fact imagine the destruction of the world as its liberation: it is freed from the bondage of the corrupt, worldly elements and powers by being dissolved and rebuilt—or replaced with the perfect things of heaven (like the Celestial Garden of 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 and Celestial Temple of Hebrews 9, and thus like our Celestial Bodies of 2 Corinthians 5:1), which may be the only parts of Creation that yearn to be freed and that Christians will inherit. Since Paul says of the terrestrial world that the very elements themselves are corrupt and in fact the very origin of the world’s bondage (Galatians 4:3, 4:9; Colossians 2:8, 2:20; cf. Romans 7:18), they must be destroyed. And since “corruption cannot inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:50), when Paul says “even the creation itself shall be freed from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21), he must mean the world will be refashioned, freed from the bondage of the elements by being dissolved and cleansed, and put back together (with only incorruptible elements the second time around), as would accord with Paul’s ‘New Genesis’ theme.
That the old creation would look forward to its cleansing this way is not unthinkable, in fact it’s an exact analogy to our own resurrection, which is Paul’s point in this very chapter of Romans: that not only do we groan inside our burdensome shells, which are the visible bodies that will pass away and be destroyed and then replaced with new incorruptible versions (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:2), so does the universe groan inside its burdensome shell, the visible world that will pass away and be destroyed and then replaced with a new incorruptible version (Romans 8:21-24). The parallels are so close as to surely be intended. And again, the case for this is at least as strong as any case O’Connell can make to the contrary.
II. Denying the Inner-and-Outer Man Metaphor
Despite O’Connell’s protestations to the contrary, I think there is a strong case to be made that Paul’s inner and outer man metaphor connects with his concept of resurrection. Nothing O’Connell presents contradicts this. As O’Connell himself attests, the flesh is indeed the “outer man” and the spirit is indeed the “inner man,” but the question is: How will the inner man survive death? For Paul, only if it joins the Spirit of Christ. Everyone else will be destroyed (as far as Paul seems to say, body and all). Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul actually doesn’t say which body he might have gone to heaven in, so O’Connell again imports unwarranted assumptions into the text (contrast my discussion of this very passage). Otherwise, I agree with O’Connell that Philo’s view of resurrection is very similar to Paul’s. That’s no objection to my case.
III. Begging the Question of Pauline Usage
O’Connell claims Paul never uses the word sôma of a second body, yet that seems quite explicitly what he is doing in 1 Corinthians 15:44-49 and quite implicitly in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:7. It begs the question to assert these are not such occasions.
I can detect no valid logic in how O’Connell derives his last conclusion regarding Romans 8:11. I see none of the things he claims are “clear” in the text, and I don’t see how his conclusion follows. As for his last remark, a mortal body that doesn’t stay dead is simply not mortal. Paul says so: “what is corruptible cannot inherit incorruptibility” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Which is why Paul insists we’ll need immortal bodies. That our current bodies can never be immortal is the entire point of Paul’s two Corinthian discourses. My arguments stand.
- There are no other passages in the whole of Paul’s authentic corpus that argue the contrary—in contrast with numerous passages in several letters supporting my conclusion.
Ultimately, none of Paul’s analogies or vocabulary entail retention or continuity of the corpse. In fact, they tend to imply the opposite (e.g. his exchange-of-houses analogy, or his reference to “getting out of” our earthly bodies before “getting into” our new heavenly ones).
O’Connell can only wiggle out of this by making dubious grammatical claims. For example, he claims Paul meant we’ll “put on” our new bodies the same way he meant us to “put on” the “breastplate of faith” (1 Thessalonians 5:8), evidently unconcerned with the fact that if this were so, Paul would be denying a literal resurrection (since then the resurrection body would be as unreal as “the breastplate of faith”). I agree Paul is speaking figuratively (the body is not literally an overcoat, or a house), but surely he means an actual body (he outright says it’s the “tent” in which we “live”). So although he can speak of wearing a metaphorical Jesus (in Romans 13:14), he is not speaking of wearing a metaphorical body.
Likewise, regarding the pronoun in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, O’Connell claims we can assume a grammatical pick-up of a subject-noun ten verses away, but that is hardly defensible. It would be contrary to all sound practice for an educated Greek, which is why modern professional commentators like Jean Héring agree with me, and not O’Connell. Worse, the verse O’Connell cites (again!) doesn’t even have the word “body” in it (1 Corinthians 15:42; he must be confusing this for 1 Corinthians 15:44, but that doesn’t even entail “body” is the subject of the preceding verbs, as I’ve noted elsewhere—though here at least it could be).
O’Connell is also entirely incorrect to claim that my (and Héring’s) interpretation of this passage “reduces to the view that it is the soul which is being described as mortal and corruptible,” as I have very clearly argued elsewhere that Paul did not believe in what O’Connell means by a soul and is not referring to such a thing here (a point also made by Héring). We (and Paul) are here speaking of a condition (in the abstract), not a physical thing (whether a soul or a body—again, the word “thing” is not in the text).
- As already noted, there were other Jews who advocated two-body resurrection (e.g. Josephus), and there were Christians who understood Paul to be one of them (e.g. Origen) or who imagined similar views (e.g. Clement would allow that our bones could remain behind).
O’Connell’s “reinterpretation” of Josephus constitutes special pleading (on any plain reading, Josephus is certainly not saying what O’Connell wants), and as I have pointed out in my published work (cited in my opening), there is evidence some Rabbis (and many other Jews) may have held a two-body view. We can expect such views were suppressed in later Rabbinical writings (in the Talmudic drive to develop an orthodoxy, contrary to the diversity that prevailed in the first century).
- There is no valid challenge to my seed-sowing analysis.
All of O’Connell’s arguments here depend on certain of his interpretations of the texts being correct. I argue those interpretations are improbable or not established. O’Connell offers nothing to challenge that.
1. John 12:24: O’Connell now agrees that this intends the analogy Jesus = dying seed, Church = resulting fruit, but then claims “the thing that dies … and the thing that produces fruit … are understood as the same thing,” yet the contrast drawn is between what is buried (that which dies) and what rises (the resulting fruit), not what dies and what produces. For the latter are both Jesus, and O’Connell just agreed John 12:24 is contrasting Jesus with the Church, not Jesus with Jesus. Since Jesus and the Church are not “the same thing,” O’Connell’s argument becomes an explicit non sequitur. My argument stands.
2. 1 Clement 26:3: Nothing O’Connell argues here rebuts anything I actually argued against the relevance of this passage to interpreting Paul. My arguments stand.
3. Talmud: It is possible Rabbi Meir (like Clement) didn’t know the basic agricultural facts of seeds and believed there was no shell left behind. But I doubt it. The context of his remarks wasn’t entirely of Jews being buried naked, but in their grave clothes, and whether they would rise in new splendid clothes or the rags they were buried in. But in any case, Paul clearly did understand the agricultural facts, so Rabbi Meir’s ignorance (even if we grant it) bears no relevance to interpreting Paul. For contrary to O’Connell’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:36, Paul immediately says in the next verse (1 Corinthians 15:37) that the seed that dies in fact is not the seed that rises. Observe that Paul also calls this a “naked grain of wheat” (gymnon kokkon … sitou), exactly as Meir does, yet he still clearly understands (as I believe Meir did) that this is what is destroyed and what we take off (2 Corinthians 5:1-4), and is a distinct thing from what rises (1 Corinthians 15:37-38, 44, 46).
As with other passages in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54, Paul equivocates with pronouns as to whether the “dead” (person) is meant, or his “body” (corpse). But when 1 Corinthians 15:36-38 are taken together, it’s clear that what God will “quicken” is the person, not the corpse, and he will do this by giving him a new body.
- Finally, in accordance with my analysis of Acts, there is no adequate case to be made that there was ever in fact an empty tomb.
Despite O’Connell’s best efforts, the preponderance of evidence remains heavily on my side. His efforts have nevertheless been admirable. Most critics resort to arguments that are so far from valid they only expose their advocate’s incompetence. O’Connell has safely avoided such arguments (for the most part), while still deploying what I believe to be every remaining argument possible. Hence I do believe O’Connell has presented the best case to be made against my view. Which is precisely why I hold that view: the case against it is simply too weak to credit.
 See, for example, Mark 13:31, Matthew 13:24-53 (esp. Matthew 13:40-43). See also Matthew 5:22-30, 10:28, 18:8-9, 25:41; Mark 9:43-49; Luke 12:49-55; John 15:6. Scriptural precedents: Zephaniah 1:14-16, 18; Psalms 102:25-27.
 See §3.1 of my second rebuttal and pp. 136-38 and 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). See also note 10 in my Opening Statement, and related Empty Tomb FAQ response.
 See §3.4 of my second rebuttal along with note 15 there and pp. 137-38 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 material cited in note 8 in my First Rebuttal and note 15 in my Second Rebuttal, along with p. 125 (and n. 138 on p. 209) in Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).
 Besides §1 of my opening statement: for Josephus, see §3.4 of my second rebuttal; for Clement, see the middle part of §5 of my first rebuttal; and for Origen, see §3 of my opening statement and §1 of my second rebuttal.
 See §6 of my second rebuttal, along with Part II (“The Legend of the Empty Tomb”) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005): cf. pp. 155-231 (and associated FAQ).