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Richard Carrier Carrier Oconnell Oconnell3

O’Connell’s Second Rebuttal (2008)


The Meaning of “Resurrection”

First, to clarify my original point, the word anastasis does not always refer to resurrection. It can simply mean “to rise up” in a mundane sense (e.g. rising up out of bed). But my intended point was that in those cases in which anastasis does refer to resurrection, it always denotes one-body resurrection. Hence, E. E. Ellis states: “It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, ‘grave-emptying’ resurrection. To them an anastasis (resurrection) without an empty tomb would have been about as meaningful as a square circle.”[1]

Carrier objects that in some instances in which this word is used, the author is ambiguous as to the kind of resurrection he means. But the fact is that in every case in which the author is unambiguous as to what kind of resurrection he means, it is always one-body resurrection which the author has in mind. Therefore, based on the principle I laid out in my opening statement, all of the ambiguous references to anastasis should be presumed to refer to one-body resurrection. As an analogy, consider the use of the word “Yahweh” in second-Temple Jewish sources. In most instances in which the word appears, it is clear that the author uses the word to refer to the God of Israel. Now suppose we uncovered in Palestine a small fragment of a text which contained the word “Yahweh,” and there was no indication from the text itself that the author meant the God of Israel. Suppose the text read: “Yahweh … bears … birds.” Certainly we would assume that in this text “Yahweh” means the God of Israel.

Carrier cites Paul and Origen as counterexamples. But Paul is the point in dispute, and Origen is too late and non-Jewish.

Carrier cites only one Jewish source from Jesus’ time which purportedly endorses two-body resurrection. This source is Josephus, who Carrier believes affirms 2BT in a variety of passages. For example, in Jewish Wars 2.163, Josephus declares that the souls of the good will “pass into another body.” However, “another body” is not necessarily a brand new body. Josephus may simply mean another kind of body. Josephus’ statements on resurrection are quite vague: N. T. Wright tells us “his language on the subject is so imprecise that at some points it sounds as though he is simply talking about reincarnation.”[2] Likewise, E. P. Sanders: “Josephus’ attempt to use Greek categories is so thoroughgoing, however, that we cannot confidently say just what the Pharisees and Essenes thought—nor even … just what he thought.”[3] Further, the suggestion that Josephus, a Pharisee, endorsed 2BT is problematic because there is no trace of 2BT in the rabbinic writings, and the rabbis are in some sense the successors to the Pharisees. It is likely that if prominent Pharisees such as Josephus had endorsed 2BT, this fact would have been preserved by the rabbis.

In his essay, Carrier also states that Philo’s view of the afterlife “comes very close” to 2BT, and that the Essenes “may” have endorsed 2BT.[4] I will not address these passages in detail, but I think it is clear that both affirmed immortality of the soul, not 2BT.

I am unsure what to make of Wright’s comments on p. 367 of The Resurrection of the Son of God.[5] It does sound as if Wright here affirms that Paul understood the resurrection as an exchange of bodies. However, as Carrier himself says: “Wright appears to assert entirely contradictory things elsewhere in his book.”[6] Indeed, everywhere in his book except p. 367, it sounds like Wright thinks 1BT was the only notion of resurrection during Jesus’ time. Thus, it is prudent to refrain from saying that Wright acknowledges 2BT as a possible application of the word anastasis.

1 Corinthians 15:53-54

In order to avoid Paul’s clear affirmation in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 that the corruptible, mortal body will put on the immortal, incorruptible body, Carrier appeals to the fact that the word “body” is not in vv. 53-54. As Carrier notes, an explicit statement that the body is corruptible is only found in 15:42, “a whole ten verses away from 15:53-54.” But ten (actually eleven-twelve) verses is not very far away. In 15:42, Paul says that the preresurrection body is corruptible while the resurrection body is incorruptible. Then in 15:54, Paul says that at the resurrection, this (touta) corruptible (something) will put on incorruption. The obvious conclusion to draw is that the corruptible something of 15:53-54 is the body of 15:42. However, Carrier proposes that the corruptible thing referred to in 15:53-54 is not our body but “our present condition in the abstract.”

This suggestion is untenable for one simple reason: Carrier’s view reduces to the view that it is the soul which is being described as mortal and corruptible in 15:53-54. Carrier states: “hence [Paul] means we take off our old bodies … and put on new ones.” Since this “we” is an immaterial thing capable of moving from body to body, it must be our soul. However, it would make no sense for Paul to call the soul corruptible and mortal. Paul’s belief is that the soul goes to be with the Lord upon death (2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 1:21-23). Hence the soul never dies or suffers corruption. Only the body dies and corrupts, and thus only the bodily aspect of our present existence can properly be called mortal and corruptible.

Carrier objects that if the present body puts on the resurrection body, then we have the absurdity of one body walking around on top of the other. However, “put on” (endyo) is not meant literally. Paul’s statement that the preresurrection body will put on the resurrection body is merely a figurative way of saying that the preresurrection body becomes the resurrection body. Paul uses the term “put on” figuratively numerous times in his epistles. For example, Paul instructs Christians to put on the breastplate of faith (1 Thessalonians 5:8), and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14). Excluding the present passage and 2 Corinthians 5:3 (another passage which is under dispute), Paul uses “put on” figuratively nine times in his epistles (including Ephesians and Colossians) and does not use “put on” literally once.[7]

Paul’s affirmation that at the resurrection death will be “swallowed up” by life is not an affirmation that the mortal body will be annihilated. Death is swallowed up because death is annihilated when the dead bodies are raised to eternal life (i.e. our bodies are not swallowed up, death is). In fact, the Gnostic Treatise on the Resurrection states that death was “swallowed up” by Jesus’ resurrection, and this text clearly understands resurrection as a transformation of the dead body.

The questions of destruction and recreation at the eschaton, and the meaning of “change/exchange,” have already been addressed in my first rebuttal.

Romans 8:23

Romans 8:23 states that our bodies will be redeemed at the resurrection, and thus clearly affirms 1BT. However, Carrier proposes that the body in question is not our physical body, but is actually an unseen, hidden body. This body is supposedly trapped inside the physical body, and hence it is in a state of bondage. At the resurrection, this body is “redeemed” by being set free from the physical body.

There are a number of serious problems with this suggestion:

1. Paul clearly expects that the physical creation will be redeemed, not annihilated. In Romans 8:19-22, Paul affirms that at the eschaton, the creation will be delivered from its bondage to corruption, and that the creation looks forward to the eschatological times (it would only look forward to these times if it was awaiting redemption, not annihilation). Hence, if Paul thinks that our bodies will be annihilated, then he holds a rather strange view: He expects the physical creation to be redeemed, but the physical body to be left behind.

2. There is no justification for Carrier’s postulation that Paul’s inner man is our unseen, resurrection body. Rather, the inner man is our soul, or spirit, and there is no unseen resurrection body. Three points make this fact clear. First, the inner man is juxtaposed with the flesh in Romans 7, and Paul elsewhere juxtaposes the spirit with the flesh (Romans 8:10; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Colossians 2:5). Second, the inner man is closely associated with the mind (Romans 7:23, 25). The only entity which fits this role is the spirit. Third, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul envisions two possibilities as to how he may have gone to heaven. He may have gone in his body or out of his body. Paul does not envision the third possibility of going to heaven in his unseen resurrection body. Finally, Philo, a contemporary of Paul, uses very similar terminology in reference to the soul. He refers to the soul as the “internal,” “real,” and “true” man.[8]

3. Whenever Paul uses the word “body” (soma) in reference to a human body, he always means the physical, flesh and blood body. A search through the occurrences of “soma” in Paul will verify this. Although Paul does sometimes use “body” figuratively (e.g. “the body of Christ”), he never indicates that human beings possess any sort of body other than a physical one. Thus, if Romans 8:23 is concerned with an unseen body, it is the only instance in which Paul uses “soma” in reference to a nonphysical human body.

Romans 8:11

Carrier notes that the verses immediately preceding and following Romans 8:11 speak of life and death as metaphorical states of being in the Christian’s present life. Hence Carrier concludes that since the general context is about the spiritual transformation which the Christian undergoes in this life, Paul’s statement in 8:11 that our mortal bodies will be given life is probably about this spiritual transformation rather than about the resurrection.

However, what Paul says about the spiritual transformation of the Christian in 8:10 makes it clear that he is not talking about this transformation in 8:11. In 8:10, Paul affirms that once the Christian has had his sinful nature transformed by the Spirit, his spirit is alive, but his body is still dead to sin. Hence, the spiritual rejuvenation which the Christian experiences in the present life (which is indeed the main concern of the passage) only accomplishes a transformation of the spirit; the body remains dead to sin. Therefore, when Paul says in 8:11 that God will give life to our mortal bodies, he cannot mean this in a metaphorical way, in reference to the Christian’s spiritual rejuvenation. Thus, 8:11 must be concerned with resurrection.

Carrier argues that because Paul calls our bodies “mortal,” he cannot think that our bodies will experience eternal life; if they did, they would not be mortal. But “mortal” just means liable to death. A mortal body is a body that is fated to die. But such a body does not necessarily have to stay dead.

Seed-Sowing Argument

We have seen that there is no basis for the idea that Paul thinks there is a second body growing inside us. The only passages in Paul that could be construed that way are concerned with our soul, not with a second body.

John 12:24

  1. The question of who originated the saying of John 12:24 (whether Jesus, the author(s) of John, or someone else) is irrelevant to the present argument. All that I am attempting to establish is that a number of ancient sources use the seed-sowing analogy to illustrate 1BT. If my interpretation of John 12:24 is correct, then an ancient source does indeed use the seed-sowing analogy as an illustration of 1BT.

  2. I think that the analogy is meant to illustrate the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus causes the flowering of the Church. But this does not mean that “Jesus is the discarded shell and the Church the new second body that germinates from it.” The essential point here is that John (like the other two sources which we will examine below, and indeed Paul himself) does not make a distinction between the discarded shell and the seed contained within the shell. John 12:24 says that if a grain of wheat dies, it (the grain of wheat) produces much fruit. Thus, the thing that dies (the shell) and the thing that produces fruit (the seed) are understood as the same thing. Carrier is correct that this understanding is not literally correct (since only the shell dies, and only the seed bares fruit), and the ancients presumably knew this because of their familiarity with agriculture. However, when the seed-sowing analogy was used to illustrate how something could undergo a transformation, there was no concern for the minutia of how a seed is transformed into a plant. The shell and the seed are simply conceived of as one thing; when the shell dies the whole thing (shell and the seed) dies, and when the seed bares fruit the whole thing bares fruit.

1 Clement 26:3

Carrier’s first point seems to imply that Clement’s appeal to the phoenix indicates Clement believed in 2BT. But Carrier’s second argument notes that Clement expects the fleshly body to be raised, and a resurrection of the flesh is not compatible with 2BT. Hence, these two points seem to contradict each other.

Since Clement clearly thinks the flesh will be raised, we should not understand his appeal to the phoenix to mean that he thinks Jesus’ resurrection and the destruction and recreation of the phoenix are exactly analogous. Clement only mentions the phoenix to show his readers that the resurrection is similar to another historical event with which his readers are familiar, and therefore the resurrection is not absurd (most ancients accepted the reality of the phoenix’s annihilation and reconstitution).

It is irrelevant whether there are some differences between Paul and Clement’s conceptions of the resurrection. The only matter with which we are concerned is how Clement uses the seed-sowing analogy.

In making his third point, Carrier essentially admits that my interpretation of Clement is correct. Carrier writes: “By contrast, Clement imagines the entire buried seed is dissolved and then reassembled (which suggests he doesn’t know the basic facts of agriculture, and certainly has no idea of there being two components to a seed).” If Clement imagines that the entire buried seed is dissolved and reassembled, and he is using this to illustrate the resurrection, then Clement is using the seed-sowing analogy to illustrate 1BT. This does not mean that Clement misunderstood the basics of agriculture. Rather, Clement (like John 12:24, b. Sanhedrin 90b, and Paul) is just not very concerned with the details (and if Clement misunderstood the basics of agriculture, Paul could’ve as well).

When Paul says the body that is buried is not the body that is raised, he does not mean this literally. Rather, he means that the body which is buried is not the kind of body that is raised.

The Talmud

Like our other two sources, b. Sanhedrin 90b quite clearly understands the seed and the shell as one thing. Carrier is wrong to claim that Rabbi Meir holds that seeds change clothes. Rabbi Meier says that a seed is buried naked (without any clothes) and then sprouts forth in many clothes. Hence, he does not describe the shell as clothing for the seed; instead, he says that the wheat grain does not have any clothing. This only makes sense if he conceives of the shell/seed as one thing. For if Rabbi Meir thinks that the shell is the seed’s clothing, he should say that the seed is buried in one type of clothing (the shell), and then sprouts forth in different clothing.

Finally, it is clear from Paul’s own words that he thinks of the seed and shell as one thing. Paul writes that “what you sow is not brought to life unless it dies.” Paul affirms that the thing that dies is the same thing that is brought to life. The seed dies and then the seed is brought to life (and thus, by analogy, the body dies and then the body is brought to life). On Carrier’s interpretation, Paul thinks that only the shell dies, not the inner seed. The shell then remains dead, while the inner seed inherits life. Yet Paul clearly states that what dies will be brought to life. But if Paul thinks of the shell and seed as two different things, he certainly could not say that what dies (the shell) is brought to life. Paul’s words only make sense if Paul thinks the whole seed (shell and inner seed) dies, and hence that the whole seed is brought to life.

Continue the Debate


[1] E. Earle Ellis, ed., The Gospel of Luke, New Century Bible (London: Nelson, 1966), p. 273.

[2] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), p. 179.

[3] E. P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE-66CE (London: SCM: 1992), p. 301.

[4] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder, eds. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2005), pp. 105-231.

[5] “Though Moule is no doubt right that Paul can envisage here the possibility of ‘exchange’ (losing one body, getting another one) rather than ‘addition’, as in 1 Corinthians 15, we should not lose sight of the fact that even if such an ‘exchange’ were to take place the new body would be more than the present one.”

[6] Carrier, “Spiritual Body FAQ.”

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

[8] Fredrik Lindgard, Paul’s Line of Thought in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10 (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), pp. 118-119.

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