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Carrier's First Rebuttal (2008)

 

A Weaker Case Cannot Defeat a Stronger

 

O'Connell makes five arguments. None establish his case. I will treat each in turn, then reiterate my conclusion.

 

1. Vocabulary Argument

O'Connell: 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 has not been demonstrated. Not even N. T. Wright ever says this. To the contrary, N. T. Wright would agree that two-body resurrection is a possible application of the word.[1] Many uses of the word anastasis are ambiguous (being unclear what kind of resurrection is meant), there are too few such references (especially from the first century) to declare its use was so restricted, and the word was too broad and generic in its meaning to have so limiting a restriction on its use (to the contrary, it clearly meant all kinds of things).[2] Therefore O'Connell cannot claim "all" ancient uses of this word were of a one-body resurrection. In fact, that begs the question, since I demonstrated Paul uses this word of two-body resurrection (as does Origen), which makes these counterexamples to O'Connell's false generalization. I further demonstrated that "resurrection" (even if indicated with other words) was described as two-body by other ancient authors, including Josephus, a first-century Jew.[3]

Ironically, O'Connell's two clear examples of one-body resurrection (from the Sibylline Oracles and 2 Baruch) are perfect examples of what Paul conspicuously never says, even though these passages manage to say it in just a simple line or two. The very fact that Paul says something entirely different is sufficient reason to conclude he meant something entirely different.

 

2. Clothing Argument

O'Connell: [T]hat 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."

It is not. Since in the relevant passage (1 Corinthians 15:42) Paul is speaking of the eschaton (the end of the world) when everything corruptible will be destroyed, he is not thinking of the old body staying behind and rotting away, but immediately disintegrating, and thus being "swallowed up" (1 Corinthians 15:54), i.e. completely consumed. This would not have happened to Jesus, however, as the world had not burned away yet. His body thus remained behind (until it, too, is burned up in the eschaton). Either way, Paul is adamant that the old body will be destroyed, not restored or raised in any way (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:1 and 1 Corinthians 5:5).

I've demonstrated that Paul's garment analogy most likely refers to exchanging garments, not putting one on over another and continuing with both. That's why in 2 Corinthians 5:3-4 he says at the resurrection we will "get out of" what we presently wear when we "put on" our new body (and the same exchange is described with his building metaphor in 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-8).[4] O'Connell's view would sound illogical to Paul, since if flesh cannot inherent incorruptibility (1 Corinthians 15:50), then it cannot inherent it by putting on a cloak of incorruptibility. There would then also be two bodies, one of flesh and one of higher material, walking around together one on top of the other. That is certainly not what Paul is proposing. Not only does he say we "get out of" our old bodies, he never says our old body "gets into" another, much less stays there.[5]

The word "body" is not even in the text of 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 (or 1 Corinthians 15:50), where O'Connell needs it to be. Hence he must conjecture it there, but his only basis for this is 1 Corinthians 15:42, which is a whole ten verses away from 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 and thus hardly the most likely source of Paul's intended subject. So which is the more likely interpretation of what Paul is saying on the total evidence? I argue it is exchange, not layering. Accordingly, I conclude (with Jean Héring) that the grammatical subject in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 is more likely our present condition in the abstract, not our bodies.[6] Hence he means we take off our old bodies (or allow them to be consumed in the eschaton) and "put on" our new ones (much like in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44).[7]

But I agree with how O'Connell describes my position when he says "what is corruptible (the preresurrection body) just disintegrates while our soul" (or the equivalent[8]) "puts on incorruption." O'Connell is describing a two-body resurrection: the old body "just disintegrates" while we jump into a new "incorruptible" body—at the eschaton. But since Jesus wasn't raised at the eschaton, there is no reason to expect his body to have disintegrated. Paul would not have to believe it did, and he never says it did.

 

3. Argument from Romans 8:23

O'Connell: In Romans 8:23, Paul speaks of the "redemption" (apolytrosis) of our bodies.... [But] 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.

Yes, it can. As O'Connell says, "the word apolytrosis connotes the idea that the thing being redeemed" was "previously in a state of bondage, but is now being freed." But the question remains: which body is being "freed" from its bondage? I agree with O'Connell that it is the resurrection body that is being freed. But that is not our current body. Our resurrection body is to be freed from its bondage within the mortal body, as Paul implies repeatedly elsewhere. Our "outer man," which Paul says is going to its destruction, currently "burdens" our "inner man," which Paul says is eternal. Thus, Paul's resurrection consists of "freeing" our inner body from the burden of our outer body, just as a new birth must be freed from the placenta that surrounds it (from Origen's analogy), or as a new plant must be freed from the chaff of its shell (from Paul's analogy).[9]

Notably, Paul does not say in Romans 8:23 that our mortal bodies will be redeemed. Thus how we interpret what he means here must follow what he says elsewhere, and what he says elsewhere is fairly conclusive when taken as a whole: one body is destroyed, a new one replaces it; and that new body is grown or vouchsafed within us even now.

 

4. Argument from Romans 8:11

O'Connell: 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.

But if Paul is not talking about the resurrection of the dead when he refers to the body being given life here, then O'Connell's conclusion does not follow. Paul conspicuously does not say God will raise our mortal bodies in 8:11. In fact, our resurrection is not mentioned there at all. Thus, O'Connell must conjecture that Paul means resurrection. But there is no reason to prefer his conjecture to mine.

The verses immediately preceding and following (Romans 8:9-10 and 8:12-13) all refer to life and death as metaphorical or spiritual 'states of being' here and now, in our present life. The context is not obviously our resurrection (which is never named or mentioned). If Paul can say our body is dead now (Romans 8:10) and the spirit "in" us now "is life" (Romans 8:10), then when he says God will give us "life" when that spirit is "in" us (Romans 8:11), the obvious implication is that he is talking about the spirit (and thus life) that is in us now.

Contrary to O'Connell, Romans 8:11 says nothing of a future "transformation" of our bodies. It says only that our present bodies will be made alive when the spirit resides within us. Paul says elsewhere that our mortal bodies (our flesh and blood) cannot inherit eternal life. So it would not make much sense to say that God will make our mortal bodies alive if that is impossible (and notably, again, Paul does not here say God will make our mortal bodies eternally alive, or indestructible, or any of the other things he says our resurrection bodies will be). The whole point of describing our bodies as "mortal" (thnêta, literally "dying," from thnêskô) is to indicate that they are doomed to die. If they were not, in what sense would they be mortal? You can't have a mortal immortal body. Yet Paul does not say here that God will change our mortal bodies into immortal ones. He never mentions immortality here at all.

Clearly, there are two ways to interpret what Paul means here. And though I think I've shown my interpretation is the more plausible, I've at least proven that either is equally plausible. Therefore, since Paul is too vague here to extract definite conclusions about his resurrection belief, we must decide between alternative interpretations in light of what Paul says elsewhere. But as I've explained in my opening statement, what Paul says elsewhere is otherwise clear and thus argues against O'Connell's interpretation of Romans 8:11. For you cannot use one vague passage to refute an entire collection of clear passages. The interpretive direction must go the other way.[10]

 

5. Seed-Sowing Argument

O'Connell: 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.

Since I demonstrate that Paul imagines our future bodies already growing inside us (our "inner man" as mentioned above), there is no difficulty. To the contrary, the analogy then matches my theory exactly. Paul may be vague as to whether he is literal or figurative about that (whether there is an actual spiritual body germinating inside us as we live, or whether there is only the hope of one vouchsafed within us by God, as N. T. Wright suggests with his bizarre idea of a celestial body farm[11]), but either way it amounts to the same thing. The analogy then works either to describe the literal fact, or the figurative fact. Either way, the fact represented is a two-body resurrection.[12]

To rebut this, O'Connell attempts to find a contradiction in usage between Paul and other authors. But none of his examples are sufficient to carry his point:

                                   John

  1. John 12:24 allegedly preserves a saying of Jesus, but O'Connell is confusing the author of John (most likely an early second-century writer, or several) with Jesus (a pre-Pauline oral teacher). Many scholars conclude the Gospel "according to" John has been edited, expanded, interpolated, and rearranged, and thus the current text does not necessarily represent the original author's meaning or intentions.[13] It thus can't be expected to maintain thorough consistency. So not much can be inferred if John's explicit theology conflicts with the implied theology of the people he quotes; i.e. just because "John" believed in a one-body resurrection does not mean Jesus did (or whoever originated or transmitted the saying in John 12:24).

  2. John 12:24 is cryptic. It is not placed in any clear context, and what it refers to cannot be positively identified. That it is about our resurrection therefore cannot be established. Since it says a lone wheat grain that dies bears plenty of fruit, the subject does not appear to be our resurrection, but something else, such as the death (or resurrection) of Jesus causing the flowering of the Church. That seems more likely (it would be the implied context of the preceding verse: John 12:23), and is certainly no less likely. Yet on that interpretation, Jesus is (metaphorically) the discarded shell and the Church the new second body that germinates from it. This would confirm my reading of Paul's different application of the same analogy.

  3. A cryptic verse of undetermined meaning from an uncertain source, and of indefinite consistency with other material that came from a completely different source, cannot be used to refute a clear verse of obvious meaning from a known author that has a confirmed consistency with other things said by that same author. Weak evidence never trumps strong.

                                   Clement of Rome

  1. Though 1 Clement 26:3 affirms the risen body will be made from the flesh of the mortal body, this comes immediately after 1 Clement 25, where our resurrection is likened to that of the Phoenix, which Clement describes without qualification as the bird destroying its old body, then rising from its ashes, but leaving the bones behind, which it then carries home (for burial). This is still a two-body resurrection analogy: a new body is fashioned from the flesh of the old, yet there is still a corpse (a skeleton) remaining in the grave.[14]

  2. Clement's idea is not entirely Pauline: e.g. for Clement the new body is of flesh, which Paul explicitly denied, and Clement says nothing about the different properties and compositions of the two bodies that are central distinctions for Paul. Since Clement's scheme is notably different, we cannot conclude that Paul would have agreed with anything else Clement said, as we already know Paul would have disagreed with at least some of it.

  3. 1 Clement 24 does not use the analogy "in almost the exact same words as Paul." To the contrary, it uses notably different concepts and phraseology, indicating Clement does not have the same knowledge or ideas as Paul. Clement says the "dry" seeds cast onto the ground "are dissolved" (dialuetai) "and then" out of their dissolution (ek tês dialuseôs) the "mighty power of the Lord's plan" raises them up, and "from one, many grow and bear forth fruit." This is all very different from Paul, who does not mention one seed producing many other seeds in a subsequent stage of fruit-bearing (an idea that makes little sense as a theory of resurrection but sounds a lot like a confusion from another statement, like that of Jesus, noted from John above, that from one death would come many saved). Moreover, Paul says exactly the opposite of what Clement does here: Clement says God raises the actual seeds cast on the ground (auta, "the seeds themselves" or "the same seeds"), whereas Paul explicitly denies this and says the risen germ is not the one buried. Paul also doesn't say the buried seed is "dissolved" (completely destroyed) and then magically restored, he says the buried seed dies, and a new one rises (thus he is distinguishing two components: the seed that dies, which would correspond to the shell, and the seed that rises, which would correspond to the germ inside). 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).

                                   The Talmud

  1. I've specifically pointed out how the Talmud (in that very passage, b.Sanhedrin 90b) uses the seed analogy in a completely different way from Paul: the Rabbis use it to theorize about actual clothing, whereas Paul uses it to theorize about our bodies. Paul understands our bodies to be the clothing, and advances a radically different idea of resurrection than the Talmud defends, a point I conclusively prove elsewhere.[15] Since the Rabbi he quotes is not talking about our bodies, but our clothes, O'Connell's conclusion doesn't follow.

  2. In fact, this crucial difference confirms my theory: Rabbi Meir is conceding that we change clothes, and he uses what happens to seeds to confirm this. Thus Rabbi Meir agrees with Paul that seeds change clothes. Since Paul applies this to the body itself, the same exact analogy entails that we change bodies (just as Rabbi Meir concludes we change clothes). The dead are buried in drab clothes, and rise in splendid clothes; wheat grains are buried in drab shells and rise in splendid shoots. There is no contradiction here with my interpretation of Paul.

 

Conclusion

The terminology and conceptology of ancient resurrection belief was not as narrow as O'Connell claims. He does not offer sufficient evidence to conclude otherwise. There were first-century Jews who held a two-body resurrection doctrine, as well as Christians after Paul. Paul's garment analogy does not imply retention of the corpse, since it's equally compatible with changing garments, and the evidence makes more sense that way. Romans 8:23 is equally compatible with one-body and two-body resurrection, and thus does not argue against either. Romans 8:11 is not clearly about resurrection, and since it has other interpretations, of which O'Connell's is neither definite nor the most likely, it cannot bear the weight of refuting the copious and clear evidence I adduce in other passages from Paul. Finally, there is no valid basis for rejecting my interpretation of Paul's seed analogy, especially since Paul backs it up with a "changing houses" analogy.

It's not possible to defeat stronger arguments with weaker. Compare my case (summarized in my opening statement) with O'Connell's: my evidence is far clearer and more numerous. I adduce many explicit statements from Paul (§1 and §2); O'Connell can only adduce a scant few passages that are inherently vague. I confirm with numerous examples that in what he says (and doesn't say) Paul clearly differs from one-body proponents, and that he differs in exactly those respects that are best explained if Paul held a two-body view (§3); O'Connell presents no valid evidence to the contrary. My theory also better explains the peculiar contents of Acts, and Paul's ignorance of the many relevant claims in the Gospels (§4 and §5).

So far, the preponderance of evidence clearly falls on my side, and heavily.


Continue the Debate


Notes

[1] See references in note 3 in my opening statement.

[2] See "The Word Anastasis" in Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), Chapter 19 ("Responses to Critics"), as well as n. 253 on p. 218 of 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: 105-231.

[3] See references in note 4 of my opening statement.

[4] For a complete demonstration of this point, see The Empty Tomb pp. 139-42 and the following note.

[5] Besides the summary in my opening statement and the preceding note, I demonstrate these points in The Empty Tomb pp. 137-39, 212-213n180. See also references in note 7 of my opening statement.

[6] On this point see my more detailed discussion in The Empty Tomb pp. 138-39 with p. 212n175. Also see my FAQ response on transformation.

[7] See The Empty Tomb pp. 127-28, with associated FAQ response.

[8] For what I mean by this, see The Empty Tomb pp. 133, 142-147, with associated FAQ response.

[9] I demonstrate this inner-and-outer man conception in The Empty Tomb pp. 144-145. The placenta-and-shell analogies I discuss and reference in my opening statement (§2 and §3). For my complete analysis of Romans 8:23, see The Empty Tomb p. 150, and the following note.

[10] For a demonstration of everything just summarized here, see The Empty Tomb pp. 149-150, and associated FAQ response 1 and FAQ response 2.

[11] See The Empty Tomb p. 211n165, with associated FAQ response.

[12] For my complete discussion, see The Empty Tomb pp. 146-147, with associated FAQ response.

[13] See discussion of the Gospel of John in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (1997) and the The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. 9 (1995). See also Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John, ed. John Lierman (2006), C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (1978), and pp. 119-23 of Helmut Koester, "Apocryphal and Canonical Gospels," The Harvard Theological Review 73(1/2): 105-130 (January-April 1980).

[14] See my discussion in The Empty Tomb p. 126.

[15] See The Empty Tomb pp. 114-118.

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