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Richard Carrier Carrier Oconnell Oconnell2

O’Connell’s First Rebuttal (2008)


Response to “What Paul Said”

Carrier here throws out a number of passages which he thinks make better sense if Paul accepted a two-body theory of resurrection (hereafter 2BT). But it can be clearly demonstrated that all of these passages are either better explained on a one-body theory (hereafter 1BT), or at least that they are too ambiguous to determine one way or other. And provided that there are other passages which are best explained on 1BT (such as the ones I discuss in my opening statement), the ambiguous passages should be presumed to affirm 1BT as well, since we must assume that an author does not contradict himself unless we have definite evidence for it.

Let’s start with 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8. Since this passage has its interpretive difficulties (Wright calls it “dense” and Margaret Thrall tells us it has “occasioned extensive debate”),[1] I’ll first lay out the general thrust of the passage[2]: Paul is not discouraged by the sufferings he has faced, for he knows that even though he is subjected to hardship now, yet he has an eternal reward (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul knows that though his present body may die, he can look forward to receiving the resurrection body (5:1). It is the resurrection body which he longs for now (5:2-3). Ideally, he does not want to ever experience a bodiless state in heaven, but wants to go straight from the preresurrection body to the resurrection body (5:4).The resurrection body (5:5) has been prepared by God. In a way, the present bodily state is better than the nonbodily state in heaven because we do at least have a body (5:6-7). On the other hand, the bodiless state is better because we are present with the Lord (5:8).

Now, getting to one of the disputed aspects of this passage, what do we find here that supports either 1BT or 2BT?

Paul’s use of “ependyomai” (5:2; 5:5) clearly supports 1BT. The word means to “put one garment on over another.”[3] Paul says that we do not want to be unclothed (i.e. die and lose the body), but rather want to “put one garment on over another.” This is of course reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 15:54, where Paul says that the mortal corruptible preresurrection body must “put on” the incorruptible immortal resurrection body. And 2 Corinthians 5:3, like 1 Corinthians 15:54, makes sense only on 1BT. For if, as 2BT requires, Paul thinks his present garment (the preresurrection body) is going to disintegrate while his soul escapes this garment, then he is not putting one garment on over another. Instead, he is taking one garment off in order to put another on.

What in this passage might support 2BT?

First, Paul seems to say that the resurrection body is already in heaven, even as we presently occupy our earthly bodies (5:1). But Paul’s language may be no more than an expression of his assurance that God has guaranteed us a resurrection body (cf. Matthew 5:20, where Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven, but does not mean we should literally put gold coins up there). In fact, the whole passage is filled with figurative language: Our present body is a “tent,” mortality will be “swallowed up,” a disembodied state is “nakedness,” etc. Thus, it is entirely plausible that Paul’s words concerning the location of the resurrection body are figurative.

Second, Carrier argues that by calling our bodies clay vessels (which are made by hands) in 4:7 and then saying that our resurrection bodies are not made by hands (5:2), Paul is drawing a contrast between the two, and since clay vessels are destroyed after use, therefore our bodies will be destroyed rather than resurrected. But in comparing our preresurrection bodies to clay vessels, Paul’s point is only that our bodies, like clay vessels, are fragile (the whole context of 4:7-11 concerns the fragility of our present existence). That our bodies are like clay vessels with respect to their fragility does not mean that they are like clay vessels in all other respects (e.g. the two may not be alike with respect to their ultimate fate). That would be analogous to claiming that because Jesus tells the disciples to be like the Devil with respect to cleverness (Matthew 10:6), he wants them to be like the Devil in all other respects. If Paul had said our bodies will not be reconstituted, just as a broken clay vessel will not, we would have a clear affirmation of 2BT. But Paul does not say that.

I may also add that I find C. F. Moule’s suggestion that Paul changed his mind on the question of 1BT/2BT in between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians preposterous.[4] If Paul was trying to teach the Corinthians a doctrine completely opposite from the one he had taught them just a year earlier, he surely would have made his new teaching much more explicit.

As for Carrier’s other passages:

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 is no “plain statement” of 2BT. In these very verses, Paul uses the seed-plant analogy to illustrate what he is trying to say. As I demonstrated in my opening statement, Paul’s use of this analogy is strong evidence for 1BT.

  2. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is entirely ambiguous on this question. It says nothing relevant to our topic one way or the other.

  3. The word “allasso” (1 Corinthians 15) and the word “metaschematizo” (Philippians 3:20) can mean either “change” (i.e. transform) or “exchange.” Their meaning is dependent on the context, and so Paul’s use of these words cannot, in and of itself, be used as evidence for 2BT. Only if one already has other evidence that Paul holds to 2BT, can either of these words be used to support 2BT. Further, we can note that while 2 Baruch 49-51 would provide a parallel to the idea that humans will be changed (transformed) at the resurrection, there are no Jewish sources which affirm an exchange.

  4. Colossians 3:5 is another ambiguous passage. It affirms only that we have an earthly body; it says nothing about whether that body will be resurrected or replaced.

  5. 1 Corinthians 5:5 proscribes excommunication for a man practicing incest. He is to be delivered “to Satan” (i.e. expelled from the Christian community into the Gentile world which Satan has in his grip) for the “destruction of his flesh” (i.e. he will suffer affliction once he is thrust into Satan’s world), so that “his spirit will be saved on the day of the Lord” (i.e. the affliction he will suffer will cause a spiritual transformation so that he will repent of his evil ways and be saved). The passage is not concerned with resurrection.

  6. Paul’s references to our “inner man” can plausibly be understood as references to our inner person, our spirit. There is nothing to suggest that Paul’s inner man is an unseen body.

  7. Paul’s view of the eschatological age as a new Genesis (1 Corinthians 15:35-50) is of no help to 2BT. Romans 8 makes clear that Paul’s hope is for a renewed creation, not a brand new one. Paul writes that creation eagerly awaits the eschatological times (8:21) and that once the eschatological times arrive, creation will be delivered from its bondage to corruption. If Paul expects a destruction of the present creation, he would not speak of creation being “delivered,” and would not tell us that creation is looking forward to these times (it would not look forward to its own destruction). The texts Carrier cites as affirming destruction and recreation (Psalms 102:25-27 and Hebrews 1:10-12), themselves ambiguous, are both non-Pauline.

Response to “What Others Said”

Carrier’s basic argument here is that the Church Fathers and the rabbinic writers, both of whom believe in 1BT, sound a lot like each other when they talk about resurrection, and a lot different from Paul. By contrast, heretical writers who teach 2BT sound more like Paul. Therefore Paul probably agrees with the doctrine of the heretical Christians rather than that of the Fathers and rabbis.

In his second paragraph, Carrier offers three reasons to think that Paul affirms something different from the Fathers and the rabbis: (1) the Fathers and rabbis use some analogies and metaphors, and concern themselves with some questions, that Paul does not; (2) they talk about the continuity between the two bodies, but Paul talks about the discontinuity; and (3) unlike them, Paul does not affirm a resurrection of the flesh.

Regarding (1), we should expect the Fathers and rabbis to use some metaphors, and address some issues, which Paul does not, simply because they wrote much more than Paul did on the subject. Some of the Fathers devoted whole treatises to the resurrection.[5] So it is hardly justifiable to argue that because Paul does not address everything they did, Paul must disagree with them. Regarding (2), the reason Paul does not emphasize the continuity between the two bodies is obviously because the Corinthians are not having any difficulty understanding that the two bodies are in certain respects continuous. From the manner in which Paul answers the question, it is clear that the Corinthians’ problem is with understanding how the resurrected body is in any way different. Thus, Paul focuses on the issue of discontinuity because that is what the Corinthians are concerned with. Further, the Fathers do sometimes discuss the differences between the two bodies: Clement of Rome uses the seed-plant analogy, and Tertullian speaks of the “transformation” of the resurrection body in his discussion of 1 Corinthians 15.[6] In fact, any Church Father who discussed 1 Corinthians 15 (and plenty of them did) would necessarily have discussed the discontinuity between the bodies. Also, 2 Baruch 49-51 discusses at some length how the body will be transformed at the resurrection. As for (3), Paul’s failure to mention a resurrection of the flesh at most suggests that he thinks the flesh will be transformed at the resurrection so that it is no longer flesh (if it even suggests that), and a transformation of the flesh is still 1BT.

What about the supposed agreement between Paul and the heretics? Carrier’s only example of a heretic who sounds similar to Paul is Origen, and Carrier only cites one point from Origen that supposedly sounds similar to Paul. This is Origen’s statement that the resurrection body grows inside our body and eventually sloughs off the old body like a placenta. However, this does not sound like anything Paul says unless we assume that the seed/plant analogy is an illustration of 2BH. But I showed in my opening statement that this analogy clearly supports 1BT.

Response to “Paul vs. the Gospels”

Carrier provides two arguments here: (1) Paul’s failure to mention the empty tomb implies that he was unaware of an empty tomb, probably because there was no empty tomb; and (2) Gospel accounts of the empty tomb are unreliable because (a) the Gospels are unreliable in general due to problems such as their uncertain date and authorship, and (b) Gospel accounts of the empty tomb contradict each other on fundamental matters.

Regarding (1), Paul did not write his letters to give a comprehensive account of Christian belief. Thus, Paul’s failure to mention an empty tomb does not imply that he was unaware of one. Paul simply does not talk about Jesus’ life very much. Keep in mind that Paul nowhere mentions three aspects of Jesus’ ministry which are virtually universally acknowledged as historical: First, that Jesus performed miracles[7]; second, that he proclaimed the kingdom of God[8]; and third, that he spoke of “the Son of Man.”[9] Moreover, if we did not have 1 Corinthians, we would have no reference from Paul to any resurrection appearance except his own, and scholars who take Carrier’s approach would then presumably argue that Paul was unaware of any other resurrection appearances. So this argument from silence seems most tenuous.

As for (2), this is really not an offensive argument for Carrier’s thesis, but merely a defensive argument, since all it does is keep the Gospels from being brought in as contrary evidence. But in presenting my case, I did not rely on the Gospels at all; I appealed only to Paul’s epistles. Thus, I could concede for the sake of argument that the Gospels are not reliable. Nevertheless, I will now give three arguments in defense of the historicity of the empty tomb.

First, the Gospels state that women discovered the tomb empty. Given the low social status of women in first-century Judaism, it is unlikely that the early Christians would invent a story making women the discoverers of the tomb.[10] Second, the empty tomb is multiply attested by all four Gospels. Third, if Jesus’ tomb remained occupied, then given the popular interest shown in the bones of martyrs during this period, Jesus’ tomb ought to have been venerated.[11] The absence of tomb veneration is best explained by the hypothesis that the tomb was empty.

As for apparent contradictions among the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb’s discovery (such as precisely which women went to the tomb), even if they could not be harmonized, they strike me as incidental rather than fundamental. But contradictions on minor details do not require that the basic fact be dismissed. There are various contradictions among surviving accounts of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, but that does not mean we should conclude that the game never happened.[12]

Response to “The Gospels vs. Acts”

Carrier’s argument here is that Acts’ record of the history of the Church is incompatible with Jesus’ tomb being empty, and thus either Acts is worthless as history, or the tomb was not empty. Carrier argues that if the tomb was empty, the Christians would have been investigated by the Romans for grave robbery, and for helping a criminal to escape crucifixion. Again, since I did not appeal to Acts as support for 1BT, I could simply concede for the sake of argument that Acts is worthless as history. But supposing it is not, I do not think Carrier has shown that Acts’ account is incompatible with an empty tomb.

With respect to grave robbery, if there was an empty tomb, then we can be quite sure that the Jewish leaders (and the Romans if they were interested) would have suspected that some Christians had stolen the body (as Matthew 28:11-15 records). But the mere fact that the Christians were accused of stealing the body is not so significant that the author of Acts would be certain to make mention of it. Plenty of accusations were hurled against the Christians. In the Gospels, Jesus is charged with being a drunkard, insane, and in league with the Devil. If the charge that Christians were grave robbers represented just one more unsubstantiated accusation, there is no reason to think it would have been so important to Luke that he could not have omitted it. Only if some of the Christians were actually tried for grave robbery or desecrating tombs would Luke have an event of some significance.

But now, suppose the Jews or Romans were convinced that the Christians had stolen the body, and that they wanted to try the culprits for grave robbery. Who were they going to try? They could not simply try all the Christians, for they would have to try the individuals who were actually suspected of grave robbery. But who? Acts 2:41 tells us there were 3,000 converts to Christianity on the day of Pentecost. This is generally thought to be exaggerated, but the early material of 1 Corinthians 15:6 affirms that there were over 500 Christians very early on.[13] How were the Romans supposed to determine exactly which Christians took the body? Besides, Jesus’ execution occurred at Passover, when there would have been hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem.[14] By the time Peter and the others started to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection 50 days later at Pentecost, the culprits could have been anywhere.

As for the witnesses to the resurrection appearances being investigated for running around with an escaped felon, and the Romans starting a massive manhunt to find Jesus and kill him again, this scenario only would have occurred if the Romans had completely misunderstood what the Christian proclamation was all about. The Christians were not claiming that they had temporarily housed a resuscitated Jesus who was now on the loose somewhere. Rather, they were claiming that Jesus had been supernaturally resurrected, after which he spent most of his time in heaven while making occasional appearances to his followers. The Romans surely would have either understood the resurrection appearances as analogous to religious visions (which were not at all unusual in the ancient world)[15], or they would have figured that the witnesses to the appearances were simply lying (which is apparently just what the Jewish leaders were saying per Matthew 28:11-15).

Further, we could just as well reason: (a) Jesus was crucified as a pretender to the throne; (b) his followers were continuing to proclaim the message of a pretender to the throne (whether they were claiming there was an empty tomb or not); (c) the Romans would have been upset with such a proclamation; and thus (d) the Romans would have persecuted Jesus’ followers. Yet clearly they did not (prior to Nero). Common sense would seem to dictate that the Romans should have persecuted the Christians regardless of whether there was an empty tomb, but they didn’t, and there is no reason to think an empty tomb would have made any difference.[16]

Carrier also makes one other argument: he suggests that Acts’ failure to mention an empty tomb implies that there was none. But Luke, like Paul, is not trying to be comprehensive. He has already affirmed his belief in an empty tomb (Luke 24), and there is no reason why he should be compelled to mention it again in Acts.

Continue the Debate


[1] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 366; Margaret E. Thrall, The International Critical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), p. 357.

[2] For an exegesis that I generally agree with, see e.g. William Lane Craig, “The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” in R. T. France and David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives (vol. 1) (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980): 47-74, available to registered users here: <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5215>, and Jan Lambrecht, Second Corinthians (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999).

[3] See the New American Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1992) footnote on 2 Corinthians 5:2-5, p. 271.

[4] C. F. Moule, “St. Paul and Dualism: The Pauline Conception of Resurrection,” New Testament Studies 12(2): 106-123 (January 1966).

[5] Justin Martyr, On the Resurrection; Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh.

[6] Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 42.

[7] On Jesus’ miracles, see Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), pp. 139-158.

[8] On “the kingdom of God,” see John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 2) (New York: Doubleday, 1994), pp. 509-1038.

[9] On the title “The Son of Man,” see Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), pp. 233-261.

[10] See e.g. b. Sot. 19a.

[11] See James Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 837-838.

[12] See Bryan Burwell, At the Buzzer! Havlichek Steals, Erving Soars, Magic Deals, Michael Scores: The Greatest Moments in NBA History (New York: Doubleday, 2001), pp. 126-127.

[13] On the reliability of this material, see William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1989), pp. 3-62.

[14] According to E.P. Sanders there were generally 300,000 to 500,000 people in Jerusalem for Passover (Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE-66 CE [London: SCM, 1992], p. 128).

[15] See Violet MacDermot, The Cult of the Seer in the Ancient Middle East (Berkley: University of California Press, 1971).

[16] On the question of why Jesus was crucified but not his followers, see the articles in the June 2007 issue of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament.

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