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Carrier's Opening Statement (2008)


Two Bodies: One in the Sky, One in the Grave


1. Basic Argument

When the Apostle Paul was asked "How are the dead raised? With what sort of body do they come?" he answered "that which you sow is not the body that will come to be" but "God supplies a body as he pleases" (1 Corinthians 15:35-38). I believe Paul meant what he said: God supplies a new body at the resurrection, and that is not the body we bury. I've made the case for this elsewhere, and have only space to summarize here.[1] Since Paul believed Jesus was raised the same way we would be (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:13-16, 20-23, 49; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Philippians 3:21; Romans 6:5), he must also have believed that Jesus did not rise in the body that was buried ("that which was sown"), but that God gave Jesus a new body ("the body that will come to be"). Since transferring Jesus to a new body would not require the transformation or disappearance of the old body, Paul would not need to believe there was any missing body, and there's no definite evidence he did. So even if the body of Jesus remained in its tomb, this would prove nothing against the claim that he rose from the dead.

Several scholars have agreed with this conclusion and defend it.[2] Even noted scholar N. T. Wright, though he doesn't agree, nevertheless admits it might be correct.[3] And we know Paul did not have to innovate to believe this, for there were many pagans and Jews who held a similar view, believing the best resurrection was one in which the earthly body of flesh is left behind and a new, superior body rises to eternal life.[4] There is thus solid and respectable precedent for my conclusion, in both ancient evidence and modern scholarship.

2. What Paul Said

Besides his plain statement of the fact in 1 Corinthians 15, on every other occasion when Paul speaks of the resurrection body he says the same thing or something that can be so interpreted. He responds to Christian worries about aging and dying (or being killed) by reminding them that "though our man outside is being destroyed, yet our [man] inside is being renewed day by day," hence:

We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of a tabernacle is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens. For in this [domicile] we groan, yearning to put on [like a coat] our domicile from heaven. (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:2)

Paul thus says our resurrection body is a new body God has made for us in heaven, while our current bodies will decay and be destroyed. Paul also argued we need a different body for heaven than the one we have on earth (1 Corinthians 15:39-50), and he imagined we would actually fly up to heaven in our new bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, as also implied in 1 Corinthians 15:45-52 and Philippians 3:20).

Paul frequently speaks of our inner and outer man, or our seen and unseen bodies, and specifically uses the analogy of planted seeds (1 Corinthians 15:36-44), which evokes the notion that the outer shell (the husk) is sloughed off and the inner germ rises to glory.[5] In such an analogy the husk corresponds to the earthly corpse, and the resurrection body to something greater hidden within, or donned after death, in either case numerically different. This is clearly implied in 1 Corinthians 15:46 ("the spiritual [body] is not first, but the natural one, then the spiritual one") and in a literal translation of 1 Corinthians 15:44 ("a natural body is sown, [then] a spiritual body is raised" and "if there is a natural body, there is [also] a spiritual one"). Paul conspicuously omits saying these are the same body on any of these occasions--or anywhere at all. And Paul never says the one body becomes the other. A discourse of change and transformation he only uses of current Christian life, not the future resurrection (e.g. 2 Corinthians 3:18, which is how Romans 8:11 is probably intended, per 2 Corinthians 4:16).[6]

Paul also describes the resurrection in the language of mercantile trade: we will exchange our old bodies for new ones, hence he repeatedly employs the metaphor of wearing different garments (1 Corinthians 15:49-54, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10). The verb allagêsometha (literally "we will be exchanged," i.e. "we will undergo an exchange") in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 deliberately echoes the apocalyptic replacement of one world with another (by analogy, again, with exchanging coats) in Hebrews 1:10-12 (hence Psalms 102:25-27).[7] We will thus discard our old body like an old coat, and don a new body in its place. Such an analogy entails an old coat left behind, which is the old body, the one in the grave. Hence the implication that in the resurrection everyone will get "a body of his own" (1 Corinthians 15:38). And this is probably what Paul means in Philippians 3:21, where he says our bodies will be changed, using the same verb Josephus does to mean changing clothes (metaschêmatizô).[8] Since we must interpret that passage in light of Paul's others, the garment analogy is most probably intended, hence changing bodies here does not mean transformation, but the same thing as changing clothes.

Paul says a lot else that supports this interpretation. He refers to our current bodies as the ritual clay vessels that are (of course) made by hands and must be destroyed after use (2 Corinthians 4:7, cf. Leviticus 6:28, 11:33, 15:12 and Lamentations 4:2) and then to our future bodies as eternal abodes "not made by hands" (2 Corinthians 5:1), thus establishing a contrast that implies exchange, not transformation: entirely new bodies must be made, and the old ones must be destroyed.[9] Hence he also refers to our current bodies as "the body parts we have on the earth" (Colossians 3:5) and says the flesh must be destroyed in order for the spirit to be saved (1 Corinthians 5:5), again implying the old body will be destroyed and replaced with a better one. Paul also repeatedly equates his doctrine of resurrection to a new Genesis, hence a new Creation (in 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 and elsewhere), which also implies the creation of a new body to replace the old one, just as God will create a new world to replace the old one.[10]

3. What Others Said

We can further understand what Paul meant by examining how others answered the same question. In extant literature we can find three sources that did: "orthodox" Christians, their "heretical" peers, and Rabbinical Jews. By "orthodox" or "heretical" I don't intend one was more authentic than the other, as I believe both were equally deviant and innovative, and equally far from any original Christian teachings. I only call "orthodox" those Christians of the first three centuries whose views were considered more or less acceptable by the imperial Church of the late 4th century, and "heretical" all other Christians of the same period (though the line is always blurry). The answers provided by "orthodox" Christians and Rabbinical Jews are nearly identical or very similar in every relevant respect (both explicitly maintaining the same body rises that is buried, with many of the same arguments), yet completely different from anything argued by Paul.

Paul never employs any of their scriptural proof-texts (like Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 26:19, or Ezekiel 37:5-10), doesn't use any of their analogies or metaphors (like claymolding or metallurgy), never insists (even though they always do) that we must rise in the same body to be the same person (reuniting soul and body so both can be judged together), nor shows any concern to meet objections about whether our old bodies will be healed or fixed when we get them back or how they can be brought back if they are destroyed (as by fire or beast). Paul never emphasizes the continuity of the body the way they all do, but instead emphasizes (and at length) how different the two bodies will be, and Paul never says anything like "the resurrection is a resurrection of the flesh that died" (as Justin Martyr would say), even though such a statement is easily made (the addition of a single pronoun, "the same," in 1 Corinthians 15:44 would have done it). Yet such a statement would've been vital to his point--if he believed it. So he must not have.[11]

In contrast, some "heretical" Christians who answer the same question (most notably Origen) sound very much like Paul, using similar arguments and concepts, yet explicitly defend a two-body doctrine of the resurrection. Origen argues that our resurrection body will grow inside us and rise from inside our current body, then slough the current body off like the placenta at birth, hence leaving it behind. Our pattern will thus be stamped into an entirely new body, and our old body will go on to rot in the grave without us.[12] Paul and Origen make similar arguments and sound alike, while Paul never makes the arguments employed by those who insist the same body dies and rises, nor ever sounds like them. This confirms that what Paul preached and believed was more like Origen than like them. Thus, more probably than not, Paul held a two-body doctrine of the resurrection essentially like Origen's, and did not share the one-body resurrection doctrine defended in Rabbinical and "orthodox" Christian sources.

4. Paul vs. the Gospels

Paul shows no awareness of any of the stories of empty tombs in the Gospels and never describes any appearance of Jesus the way the Gospels do. Whereas later Christians explaining the resurrection suddenly have all sorts of facts from the Gospels to quote in their defense, Paul conspicuously does not.[13]

The preponderance of evidence suggests (and most scholars agree) that the Gospel accounts were written long after Paul died, about a generation after Christianity began. (The death of Jesus occurred no later than the early thirties A.D., the average lifespan for adults in antiquity was fifty years, and the first Christians had to be at least in their mid-teens. This means the second generation began before the mid-seventies A.D., yet there is no definite evidence any Gospel circulated at all widely before then, certainly not in Palestine.) None were written by actual witnesses of the events they describe (nor by anyone whose sources, intentions, and character are reliably known to us), and we have no surviving testimony from any witnesses as to the merits of the Gospel accounts, despite the fact that the Gospels contradict each other in numerous fundamental details (especially in their accounts of the tomb and appearances).[14] Early Christians do not appear to have encouraged critical inquiry or formal historical research, nor been very careful at checking claims. Yet we know such elaborate legends can easily arise within forty years even today: e.g. a brief speculative report about finding some tinfoil in Roswell, New Mexico evolved, within a mere forty years, into elaborate narratives of recovered alien spacecraft and autopsied bodies. For these and other reasons we cannot trust any of the details the Gospels provide.[15]

Paul probably only knew Jesus had risen from the dead because he was told this in a revelation or 'discovered' it in scripture (or both). For hidden messages in scripture and special visions of a risen Jesus are the only evidence Paul ever mentions in support of his (or anyone's) belief that Jesus rose from the dead. And that is consistent with there being no missing body: Jesus got a new body, and thus could appear at will without emptying any tomb, and only those who were privileged to see his new form (or grasp this secret from scripture) would "know" this.[16]

5. The Gospels vs. Acts

Luke's Gospel is an elaboration of the Gospels before him. But his public history of the Church, which begins in Acts 2, must have had other sources. In any case, either Acts is complete fiction, in which case it has no value as evidence; or it preserves some true details of the progress of the Christian Church from its first public announcement on the Pentecost after Jesus died (Acts 1-2), in which case it presents a record that refutes the Gospel claims of empty tombs and missing bodies.

In Acts' history of the Church, from the moment the Church first goes public, right in Jerusalem, nowhere do either the Romans or the Jews ever show any knowledge of a missing body, nor do they ever take any action to investigate what would only be to them a crime of tomb robbery and desecration of the dead (both severe death penalty offenses), or worse. The Gospel of Matthew even claims the Jewish authorities accused the Christians of such crimes before Pilate himself (Matthew 27:62-66, 28:4, 28:11-15). Although that is certainly fiction (as I have argued elsewhere, external and internal evidence confirms Matthew's story is a poetic and apologetic fabrication), it reflects what could not fail to have happened--if any body had gone missing.[17]

Since Christians were supposedly capitalizing on this fact, they would be the first suspects--or at least the second ones if (as the Gospels claim) Joseph of Arimathea was the last person known to have had custody of the body (Mark 15:43-46, Matthew 27:57-60, Luke 23:51-56, John 19:38-42). In that case he would be the first man hauled in for questioning. Yet he vanishes completely from this earliest history of the Church, as if no one knew anything about him, or he didn't exist at all. Though Christians would be suspects in a capital crime of grave robbery, and Acts records case after case of them being interrogated at trial before Jews and Romans on other offenses, never once in this history of the Church are they suspected of or questioned about grave robbery. It's as if there was no missing body to investigate, no empty tomb known to the authorities. Which means the Christians can't have been pointing to one. If they had, they would have been questioned about it (and possibly convicted for it, innocent or not). Yet Acts shows there were no disputes at all regarding what happened to the body, not even false accusations of theft, or even questions or expressions of amazement.

Thus, either Acts deliberately suppresses the truth about what happened to the body and what was really being argued, said, and done about it (which entails the truth must have been severely embarrassing to Christians), or there was no missing body and no one was claiming there was. In alignment with the latter conclusion are the facts already surveyed above, which suggest the original Christians were preaching that Jesus rose in an entirely new body, not the old one left in the grave, and the fact that Acts fails to mention any debate or discussion about any tomb being empty or any body being missing (e.g. it never occurs as an argument or a defense in any of the trials or debates it records).[18] Such an incident was evidently entirely missing from the history of the original Church.

The Romans would have had an even more urgent worry than body snatching: the Christians were supposedly preaching that Jesus (even if with supernatural aid) had escaped his execution, was seen rallying his followers, and then disappeared. Pilate and the Sanhedrin would not likely believe any of this resurrection or ascension nonsense (and there is no evidence they did), but if the tomb was empty, and Christ's followers were reporting that he had continued preaching to them and was still at large, Pilate would be compelled to haul every Christian in and interrogate every possible witness in a massive manhunt for what could only be in his mind an escaped convict (guilty of treason against Rome for claiming to be God and King, as all the Gospels allege: e.g. Mark 15:26; Matthew 27:37; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-22). And the Sanhedrin would feel the equally compelling need to finish what they had evidently failed to accomplish the first time (finding and killing Jesus). Yet none of this happens. No one asks where Jesus is hiding or who aided him. No one is at all concerned that there may be an escaped convict, pretender to the throne, thwarter of Roman law and judgment, dire threat to Jewish authority, alive and well somewhere, and still giving orders to his followers. Why would no one care that the Christians were claiming they took him in, hid him from the authorities, and fed him after his escape from justice (according to Acts 1), unless in fact they weren't claiming any such thing?

The best explanation of this strange omission is that the body was still in its grave, since then all the Christians' claims could be legally ignored. That's why those claims are dismissed as mere madness (Acts 26:24), involving no possible criminal charge of any kind under Roman law (e.g. Acts 18:12-17, 23:26-35). Otherwise, the crime of either robbing graves or aiding and abetting an escaped felon and royal pretender would certainly have been obvious grounds for an inquest or trial. Yet neither occurs. Thus, if Acts records any truth about the history of the first Church, its narrative all but entails there was no empty tomb, the body of Jesus was not missing, and that the earliest Christians, including Paul, were instead preaching a resurrection by transfer to a new body, residing in heaven (at least after the Pentecost), a fact known only by private revelations and interpretations of scripture.

Continue the Debate


[1] For a full account of the evidence and argument for this conclusion, see 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: pp. 105-231, which is supported by an online FAQ and the official Empty Tomb website article "Stephen Davis Gets it Wrong" (2006).

[2] Peter Lampe, "Paul's Concept of a Spiritual Body" in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments (2002), edited by Ted Peters et al.: pp. 103-14; Gregory Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (1995); Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body (1995); Adela Collins, "The Empty Tomb in the Gospel According to Mark" in Hermes and Athena: Biblical Exegesis and Philosophical Theology (1993), edited by Eleonore Stump & Thomas Flint: pp. 107-40; and C.F. Moule, "St. Paul and Dualism: The Pauline Conception of the Resurrection," New Testament Studies 12 (1966): 106-23.

[3] Empty Tomb n. 2 (pp. 197-98) and n. 165 (p. 211) and associated FAQ Response.

[4] Josephus describing two-body resurrection as his own view: Jewish War 2.163 and 3.372-75, Against Apion 2.218 (cf. Life 12 and Jewish Antiquities 18.14). On Jewish views and diversity: Empty Tomb pp. 107-13, 126, 137-38. On various pagan views of resurrection, see the relevant sections of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), i.e. Chapter 3 "Was Resurrection Deemed Impossible?" and from Chapter 19 ("Responses to Critics") cf. "The Word Anastasis," "Zoroastrian Resurrection," and "Zalmoxis."

[5] On the inner and outer man: Empty Tomb pp. 150-51 (cf. also pp. 130-32). On seen and unseen things: Colossians 3:1-6 and Empty Tomb pp. 129-30, 139-42. On the seed-pod analogy: Empty Tomb pp. 146-48 (with associated FAQ Response).

[6] That Romans 8:11 is about current Christian life and not the resurrection is argued in Empty Tomb pp. 149-50 and associated FAQ Response (1) and FAQ Response (2).

[7] On the meaning of the verb: Empty Tomb pp. 136-39. On Paul's repeated use of the garment analogy: Empty Tomb pp. 119, 132-33, 134, 140-41 (with associated FAQ Response (1) and FAQ Response (2)).

[8] In Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 7.257 and 8.256-57 (see also Empty Tomb p. 119 and associated FAQ Response).

[9] Explaining the allusion in 2 Corinthians 4:7 to ritual vessels, and the implied distinction between vessels made by hands and those not: Empty Tomb p. 143 (with notes 188 and 189 on p. 213, though correcting Lamentations 4:3 with Lamentations 4:2).

[10] See Empty Tomb pp. 134, 140-41 and notes 91, 118, 140, and 275 (on pp. 206, 207, 209, 220, respectively).

[11] For Rabbinical views: Empty Tomb pp. 114-18. For "orthodox" Christian views: Empty Tomb pp. 123-25. For Paul's arguments in contrast: Empty Tomb pp. 116-22, 125-54.

[12] For Origen's view: Empty Tomb pp. 143-45 (with associated FAQ Response (1) and FAQ Response (2)). For other "heretical" Christian texts arguing the same thing: Empty Tomb p. 137 (and for related background see pp. 142-43).

[13] On Paul not knowing anything claimed in the Gospels: e.g. Empty Tomb pp. 120-21, 124, 135, 196-97.

[14] On ancient life expectancy see Estimated Life Expectancy in the Ancient World. For the evidence and argument that the empty tomb was a later legend: Empty Tomb pp. 155-95.

[15] On the Roswell case: Empty Tomb pp. 175-76. On Christian research methodology and epistemology, see the relevant chapters of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), i.e. Chapter 7 ("Was Christianity Highly Vulnerable to Inspection and Disproof?"), Chapter 13 ("Would the Facts Be Checked?"), Chapter 17 ("Did the Earliest Christians Encourage Critical Inquiry?"), and from Chapter 19 ("Responses to Critics") see "Christian Research?," "Hope & Hebrews," "The Word Pistis," and "Biblical Epistemology."

[16] Defending the arguments of this paragraph: Empty Tomb pp. 151-55 (with associated FAQ Response (1) and FAQ Response (2)) and Section 10.4 ("Malina and Neyrey on the Role of Revelation") of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), as well as chapters and sections of same cited in previous note.

[17] On the ancient crime of graverobbing: Richard Carrier, "The Nazareth Inscription" (Secular Web: 2000). On Matthew's invention of the guarded tomb: Richard Carrier, "The Plausibility of Theft," Empty Tomb pp. 349-68 (with associated FAQ Response).

[18] For a defense of this point see Chapter 13 ("Would the Facts Be Checked?") of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), e.g. Note on Peter's Sermon.

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