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Richard Carrier Carrier Oconnell Oconnell1

O’Connell’s Opening Statement (2008)


The Meaning of “Resurrection”

Whenever the word “resurrection” (anastasis) occurs in Jewish sources within and around the first century A.D., it always denotes a “one-body” notion of resurrection. This fact has been amply demonstrated by N. T. Wright’s thorough examination of the sources.[1] Although there were disagreements over the details (such as whether all humans would rise, or only the righteous), the sources are unanimous in using the word “resurrection” to mean the one-body doctrine of resurrection defined in my position statement. Dale Allison sums things up very well:

To my knowledge, nowhere in the Bible or in old Jewish or Christian literature does the language of resurrection refer to a materially new body, physically unconnected to the old. A resurrected body is always the old body or a piece of it come back to life and/or transformed…. Resurrection meant bodies in the ground coming back to life. To rise from the dead was to rise from one’s tomb.[2]

Now if “resurrection” has a uniform meaning in all of the other Jewish sources from the time period in question, we ought to assume it has the same meaning in Paul’s epistles unless there is positive evidence to the contrary. That is, even if we have no specific evidence one way or the other as to what “resurrection” means in Paul, we should assume that it has the same meaning used in all of our other sources. This is based on the epistemological principle that when we encounter a word, which in our past experience has had one particular meaning in the large majority of instances in which we have heard that word, then, barring evidence to the contrary, we should assume that the word means the same thing that it has meant in the majority of other instances in which we have encountered the word. If we don’t follow this principle communication will completely break down.[3]

For example, suppose someone asks me if I want to “go bowling.” In the large majority of instances in which I have heard someone utter those words (in fact, as far as I can recall, in every instance in which I have heard someone utter those words) the words have meant that the person uttering them is asking if I want to go pick up a ball and knock down pins Hence when I hear this question, I assume that the person asking it is asking me if I want to go pick up a ball and knock down pins. Now conceivably, he might mean something else; I have not asked him to define “go bowling,” so maybe he is using those words to ask me if I want to play poker. But I’m not going to ask him to define “go bowling”; I am simply going to assume that the words have the same meaning they have had in the majority of other instances in which I have heard them used. And I would do the same thing if someone asked if I wanted to “have supper,” “read a book,” “watch TV,” and so forth. Thus we ought to operate on the same principle when we interpret the word “resurrection” in Paul’s epistles.

The following are examples of the many ancient Jewish sources which affirm a one-body understanding of resurrection:

But when now all things shall have been reduced

To dust and ashes, and God shall have calmed

The fire unspeakable which he lit up,

The bones and ashes of men God himself

Again will fashion, and he will again

Raise mortals up, even as they were before

(Sibylline Oracles 4:231-36)

‘Hear, Baruch, this word,

And write in the remembrance of your heart all that you shall learn.

For the earth shall then assuredly restore the dead,

[Which it now receives, in order to preserve them].

It shall make no change in their form,

But as it has received, so shall it restore them,

And as I delivered them unto it, so also shall it raise them.

(2 Baruch 50:2)

1 Corinthians 15:53-54

In 1 Corinthians 15:42, Paul writes that our preresurrection bodies are corruptible and that our postresurrection bodies are incorruptible, and in 15:50, he affirms that corruption cannot inherit incorruption. Then in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, Paul writes that “that which is corruptible must put on incorruptibility.” The word “put on” (endyo) means to “clothe” or “get into” (i.e. in the sense of putting on clothes).[4] Since Paul explicitly calls the preresurrection body corruptible in 15:42, and since the entire discussion from 15:35-58 is concerned with the nature of the resurrection body, it follows that when Paul speaks of corruptibility and mortal bodies putting on incorruptibility in vv. 53-54, he means that our corruptible, mortal bodies must put on incorruption and immortality. This clearly indicates that Paul believes the corruptible, preresurrection body is going to be transformed into the incorruptible, postresurrection body. The alternative, that Paul thinks the corruptible, preresurrection body will simply rot away while the spirit which previously inhabited that body moves into a new body, is incompatible with Paul’s use of “put on.” For only if the corruptible, mortal body is transformed into an incorruptible, immortal body does it make any sense to say that corruption will “put on” incorruptibility. If the preresurrection body simply rots away, then what is corruptible (which Paul has identified as the preresurrection body) does not put on incorruption, but rather what is corruptible (the preresurrection body) just disintegrates while our soul (which was never corruptible to begin with) puts on incorruption (and even if the argument could be made that the soul is corruptible, the fact is that in the context of the passage “that which is corruptible” (v. 53) must refer to our preresurrection bodes, because of the parallelism between v. 42, v. 50, and vv. 53-54, and because the entire discussion is concerned with the preresurrection body vs. the postresurrection body, not the preresurrection soul vs. the postresurrection soul).

Romans 8:23

In Romans 8:23, Paul speaks of the “redemption” (apolytrosis) of our bodies. Paul must have in mind our resurrection bodies because the statement occurs in the context of a discussion about the eschatological age. Paul contrasts the “suffering of the present” to “the glory that is to be revealed” (8:18) and envisions a time when the children of God will enjoy freedom and the curse of Adam will be undone as creation is set free from its bondage to corruption (8:19-22). It is clearly the eschatological times that Paul is discussing here, and since Paul elsewhere affirms that the resurrection will occur during the eschatological age, and since no other second-temple Jewish source expects anything special to happen to our bodies at the time of the eschaton other than their resurrection, Paul must be referring to the general resurrection when he mentions the “redemption of our bodies.”

Now if this is the case and thus Paul is referring to the resurrection of our bodies as the redemption of our bodies, Paul is clearly affirming a one-body view of resurrection. The word apolytrosis connotes the idea that the thing being redeemed (in this case our bodies) was previously in a state of bondage, but is now being freed.[5] Thus Paul’s point must be that our bodies which, like the rest of creation, are currently in a state of bondage to corruption (“corruption” is the same word used in reference to the transformation of our corrupt bodies in 1 Corinthians 15) will at the time of the resurrection be redeemed by being changed into incorruptible bodies. This of course requires that the body which is currently in a state of corruption is the same body which will be resurrected. By contrast, if our body simply rots in the grave while the soul passes into a new body, then there is no redemption of our bodies. Hence, a two-body view of resurrection cannot make any sense of Paul’s affirmation that our bodies will be redeemed.

Romans 8:11

In Romans 8:11 Paul states that the Holy Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. If Paul is talking about the resurrection of the dead when he refers to the body being given life, then he clearly has in mind a one-body view of resurrection, since only our preresurrection bodies are mortal. A second body assumed for the first time at the resurrection, and designed to exist for the rest of eternity, is not a mortal body.

Once we examine Paul’s train of thought in this passage, it becomes clear that Paul is referring to the resurrection in 8:11. In 8:1-4, Paul states that Christians have been freed from the Law by Christ’s death, and so do not live according to the Law, but according to the Spirit. After contrasting the concerns of the flesh with the concerns of the Spirit, Paul affirms that Christians are in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells in them. However, despite the fact that Christians have the Spirit of God within them and consequently their spirits are alive, their bodies are still dead because of sin (8:10). Thus, when Paul speaks of our mortal bodies being given life in 8:11, he cannot, contrary to Carrier[6], be speaking in reference to the moral transformation which Christians undergo in this life. For he makes clear in 8:10 that the moral transformation in this life involves only the spirit; the body remains dead to sin. Hence, when Paul refers in 8:11 to a future transformation of our bodies, he must have in mind not the Christian’s present spiritual transformation, but the general resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:36-44

In 1 Corinthians 15:36, Paul introduces the analogy of sowing and reaping in order to illustrate his teaching on the transformation of the preresurrection body into the resurrection body (or, on Carrier’s two-body view, the preresurrection body’s replacement with the resurrected body). Paul’s use of this illustration indicates a belief in one-body resurrection, because when a seed is sown, the plant that emerges is numerically identical to the original seed (though greatly transformed). In his essay, Carrier argues that this analogy actually makes more sense for a two-body resurrection, because when a seed is sown, the outer shell is not transformed into a plant; rather, it is cast off and dies (which Carrier equates with casting off the old body) while the inner kernel grows into the plant (which Carrier equates with taking on a new body).[7]

Now when we consider the minutiae of the seed-plant transformation, it becomes clear that if we want to press the details, the seed-plant transformation does not correspond exactly to either a one-body or two-body view of resurrection (yet of course Paul must be espousing one or the other). For while it is true that the kernel’s dropping off of the shell makes the analogy inexact for one-body resurrection, the fact that the kernel grows into the plant makes the analogy difficult for two-body resurrection. For the kernel, since it has been inside the shell from the beginning of its existence, would seem to correspond to the soul (which has been inside the person’s body the person’s entire life), not to a second body (which had never been inside the person’s body). But on the two-body view the person’s soul is not transformed into the resurrection body in the way that the kernel is transformed into the new plant (or else the identity of Christ would not have passed into another body, but would be numerically identical with his resurrection body); rather the soul begins to inhabit another body.

Since it is difficult to determine how Paul is using the sowing/reaping analogy from this passage alone, we ought to look at parallel uses of the sowing/reaping analogy in other ancient writings, as these will likely illuminate the discussion.

In three other sources, this analogy is used to illustrate resurrection, and in each of these cases the author clearly has in mind one-body resurrection:

  1. In John 12:24 Jesus, in reference to his own death and resurrection, states: “Amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” Since John clearly believes in one-body resurrection (see the resurrection narrative of John 20-21), 12:24 must affirm the same idea.

  2. Clement of Rome (1 Clement 24:4-5) also uses the analogy (in almost the exact same words as Paul) to illustrate the idea of resurrection. He must mean one-body resurrection because he quotes approvingly a textual version of Job 19:25-26 in which Job affirms that his flesh will be raised (1 Clement 26).

  3. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 90b, reads as follows:

But when they arise, shall they arise nude or in their garments?’ He replied, ‘Thou mayest deduce by an a fortiori argument [the answer] from a wheat grain: if a grain of wheat, which is buried naked, sprouteth forth in many robes, how much more so the righteous, who are buried in their raiment!’

Rabbi Meir’s point in the Babylonian Talmud is that since the body goes in to the ground clothed, it will arise clothed. Hence, Rabbi Meir must think it is the same body which arises, otherwise the logic of his argument does not make any sense.

Thus in light of these sources, it is certainly likely that Paul is using the sowing/reaping analogy to illustrate one-body resurrection, not two-body resurrection.

Continue the Debate


[1] See N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).

[2] Dale C. Allison Jr., “The Resurrection of Jesus and Rational Apologetics.” Philosophia Christi 10 (2008): 315-338.

[3] On this principle see Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 10-12.

[4] See Blue Letter Bible and Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), vol. 2, p. 319.

[5] See Blue Letter Bible and Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4., p. 351.

[6] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005): 105-231, p. 149.

[7] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” pp. 146-147.

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