Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bodily Resurrection: Part 3 (Theological Significance)

Things have finally settled down enough for me to get to the next installment in the series. In the previous posts, I have attempted to show that both the Old Testament and New Testament clearly teach a physical bodily resurrection. I think there are perhaps better theological arguments against full preterism (that I may explore in future posts) but I have focused on physical resurrection because I think it is the clearest and most straightforward exegetical argument. Even so, physical resurrection is theologically significant in its own right. My goal in this post is to highlight several elements of the theological significance of physical bodily resurrection.

In my view, the most significant theological implication of denying the physical resurrection is that it undermines the role of Christ as redeemer. If the work of Christ merely creates an escape for righteous souls, then sin and death have succeeded in eternally undermining the work of God in physical creation. In preterism, rather than redeeming the fallen creation, Christ simply evacuates His people. It turns the physical and fully human incarnation of Christ into a theological oddity rather than a logically necessary part of the redemptive plan of God. Why become human in the full sense if the mission is merely to provide escape for the soul?

The preterist theology is far less comprehensive with regard to God’s glory in creation than is orthodox theology. In the end, it is much more aligned with a Platonic or Gnostic worldview than the holistic redemptive flow involved in the promises to Adam, Eve, and the prophets. If all prophesy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. and physical bodily resurrection is denied, there is no vindication of God in creation. The notion of redeeming the creative work is essentially discarded. In contrast, notice that in Paul’s theology the restoration of the physical world is part of the broader redemptive work and is closely connected with the glorification of our physical bodies.

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:19-23)

Unless there is physical salvation as well as spiritual salvation, Christ is not a redeemer of the fallen creation and Christ's role as a second Adam is severely truncated.

Connected to this distortion of Christ’s redemptive role resulting from a denial of physical resurrection is the particular problem of the scope of Christ’s atoning work in relation to the believers as whole persons. Although it is common for people to speak about Christ’s blood being the price paid for our souls, the Bible extends the blood bought purchase and subsequent union with Christ to the whole person, including the body. In 1 Corinthians, while discussing the importance of holiness with regard to our bodies, Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15) He explains further “… your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

This is tremendously significant. Since our bodies are members of Christ and have been purchased with Christ’s blood it would be most strange that something bought with such a high price and sanctified to the glory of God be discarded to rot in the ground. Even more profoundly, since our bodies are members of Christ, to deny physical resurrection is to assert that sin, death, and the grave retain power over the members of Christ! The implication is that the conquest of Christ over these enemies is either a spiritualization or is incomplete. It is only by recognizing the future fulfillment of the fullness of redemption, including physical resurrection, that we find any meaning or hope in the statements of Paul that “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:26). The hope of the faith is fixed upon that day when the graves are opened and “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 54)

This obviously raises several questions, not the least of which is the implications it has for the restoration of human beings as image bearers. People were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and as image bearers were designed to reflect the glory of God. As a result of sin, all now fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and thus fail to properly fulfill one of the purposes for which we were created. Christ, however, who is the second Adam is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). As believers are conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) through the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 3:18) we are being restored to the fullness of humanity which is a reflection of the glory of the Creator. The biblical promise of physical resurrection in glorified bodies involves the full restoration of humanity as image bearers. Christ, who is the perfection of humanity now has a glorified body (Luke 24:39). It was in this body that He ascended to Heaven (Acts 1:9). At the Last Day when believers are changed into their glorified state our restoration as perfect image bearers will be complete (1 John 3:2).

All of these things connect to a major biblical theme that is directly connected to the hope of the resurrection. Throughout the Bible, and the New Testament in particular, the resurrection is connected to an insistence on holiness and purity. The physical body is important in orthodox theology and is a vessel that God is redeeming and setting apart for His glory. Time and again the apostles conclude from their references to resurrection the importance of living well in this body. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and are the means through which we glorify God both now and more perfectly in the future.

Both the rewards and punishments of our life in the body will be justly given in the body. As the early Christian writer Athenagoras pointed out over 1,800 years ago,

“… if faults are judged, is the soul dealt fairly with, supposing it alone to pay the penalty for the faults it committed through being solicited by the body and drawn away by it to its own appetites and motions, at one time being seized upon and carried off, at another attracted in some very violent manner, and sometimes concurring with it by way of kindness and attention to its preservation. How can it possibly be other than unjust for the soul to be judged by itself in respect of things towards which in its own nature it feels no appetite, no motion, no impulse, such as licentiousness, violence, covetousness, injustice, and the unjust acts arising out of these?” [1]

We might forgive Athenagoras as being a bit simplistic in his theology if it were not for the very physical emphasis in the teaching of our Lord Himself regarding judgment. Consider the following warnings of Christ,

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matthew 18:8-9 ESV)

“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13)

Biblical theology is not merely spiritual. Historically, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christianity from other religions is a dual emphasis on both the spiritual and the physical. It fends off epicurean and hedonistic tendencies with a profoundly developed spiritual metaphysic, but it likewise pushes back against escapist worldviews that view the physical world as unimportant or illusory. 

Biblical Christianity places a strong emphasis on the goodness of creation and the final redemption of it by God. This is why it is so significant that God does not work out the plan of salvation from the outside-in. Rather than a transcendent salvation, we have an immanent salvation. Amazingly, God determined to redeem His creation from within it!

The doctrine of physical resurrection has profound theological importance on many levels. Although we have only been able to touch on a couple of the more obvious ones in this post I pray it will be food for thought for those who are interested in the topic.

[1] Athenagoras, “On the Resurrection of the Dead,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. B. P. Pratten, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 160.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bodily Resurrection: Part 2b (New Testament Continued)

In the previous post we looked at several explicit references to physical resurrection in the New Testament and I also argued that physical resurrection is assumed in the background of the New Testament as a whole. In that post, however, we did not explore the two most significant and lengthy New Testament passages dealing with the physical nature of the resurrection (Romans 8, & 1 Corinthians 15). That is what we will do today.

Romans 8

Most people do not think of Romans 8 as a major passage dealing with the resurrection but as I have argued in the previous posts, the New Testament concept of resurrection is not merely reanimation. It includes the transformation of our mortal bodies into bodies fit for the Kingdom of God through the process known biblically as glorification. In Romans 5 through 8 Paul is presenting the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ. Throughout this section of Romans Paul is discussing the confidence in salvation in light of several realities of life in this current world such as suffering, weakness, and struggles with the flesh. Throughout this section Paul bolsters the assurance of the believer through an appeal to God’s faithfulness and His promises. The entire argument culminates in chapter 8, especially verses 18-30, with the powerful reassurance that God will glorify His saints.

Therefore, this major teaching section of Romans is anchored in God’s faithfulness to a promise that includes the physical resurrection of believers. Recognizing this as a key theme helps to clarify several otherwise curious statements Paul makes throughout this section and especially in the last part of chapter 8. As Dr. Douglas Moo points out, “glory is the overarching theme of this passage.”[1] Notice that the pinnacle of God’s redemptive work is glorification.

Throughout the letter Paul frequently contrasts the flesh and the spirit. In most cases, Paul clearly intends “flesh” to refer not merely to the physical body but to the broader category of the worldly impulses and inclinations of our fallen state. It should not be missed, however, that in doing so he is recognizing the state of our bodies as exemplifying the fallen condition. It is frequently natural passions amplified by the fallen body that give occasion and means for us to express the depravity of our minds. Paul summarizes the depravity of us as whole persons by referring to our “fleshly” state.

Too frequently, readers miss the full significance Paul’s argument and are left with an overly spiritualized understanding. Paul, however, does not ignore the physical. For example, in Romans 8:10-11 Paul makes clear that assurance involves the hope of physical as well as spiritual redemption. Note also that we shall specifically be revealed as sons of God through the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:19) and that Christ Himself, the eternal Son, was declared to be “the Son of God in power” through His own physical resurrection (Rom. 1:4). As believers we will be conformed to the image of the resurrected Christ (Rom. 8:29). Indeed, Paul says that though we have already received the first fruits of the spirit, it is the redemption of our bodies that fully marks our adoption as sons (Rom. 8:23).

Paul ends with those words that have strengthened so many saints through the years,

“28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28-30)

Paul roots the assurance and hope of the believer in the unbreakable chain of God’s faithfulness. Here we clearly see the sovereign grace of God involved in the salvation of His people. The final product of that salvation is their glorification, their transformation into the image of His Son through their glorious resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15

The longest and clearest passage on the physical resurrection of believers, however, is found in 1 Corinthians 15. Here Paul specifically addresses objections to the idea of physical bodily resurrection. The context is that there were some who were denying the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12). Paul argues against this objection using a type of reductio ad absurdum argument, showing that his opponents position logically leads to conclusions they themselves would not wish to accept. These people apparently accepted the resurrection of Christ but did not believe in a future resurrection for others.

First, Paul makes it clear that the resurrection of Christ is absolutely central to the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). He then proceeds with a logical argument that assumes the full humanity of Christ by showing that since Christ was raised, one cannot deny human resurrection because to do so would entail also a denial of Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-13). The result of that assertion would be 1) their faith is in vain, 2) Paul and the apostles were lying, 3) the hope of the Gospel is a pitiful hope without power to save (1 Cor. 15:14-18). Paul asserts that Christ is raised, and is the “first fruits”, indicating that others will be as well (15:20) and that through Him comes the resurrection of the dead (15:21). Paul sees the resurrection of Christ and that of believers as tightly interconnected. That one happened is the guarantee of the other. Therefore, to deny the resurrection of believers is to deny something essential about the Gospel.[2]

Paul then presents an argument that explains the current situation of believers who remain in mortal bodies though Christ is already risen. Essentially, verses 22-28 present an explanation of the delay of the Parousia by drawing upon OT prophetic passages.

The typical Jewish understanding of the resurrection was that it was a one-time event at the Last Day associated with judgment of the wicked and the coming of the Kingdom of God. The Apostles, however, argued that Christ’s resurrection inaugurated The Kingdom and the Last Days though the end had not yet come as there were prophesies yet to be fulfilled. As Alexander Stewart points out, Paul’s use of Psalm 110 in this chronology is typical of the way the early Church addressed the apparent delay in Christ’s coming.[3]

Paul then points out several ethical results of the hope of bodily resurrection. Whatever is meant by baptism for the dead, it is clear that it is done in the hope of physical resurrection. Paul himself endures great dangers and refrains from hedonistic pleasures because of his faith in resurrection. It gives him the strength to live radically devoted to his ministry.

In verses 35 through 58, Paul addresses a troublesome philosophical issue. How can physical bodies, which are inherently subject to decay and change, inherit immortality? Paul begins by rebuking them for their imperfect rationalization. They were not subjecting their logic to the revelation of God and thus missing important facts about the resurrected body. He points out that there is both a change and a continuity involved in the resurrection. It is like the relationship of a seed to the plant that springs up. They are the same plant, but do not have all of the same attributes. The “death” of the seed yields life to the plant (35-37). He then explains that there are different types of flesh, each with its own glory. What we now are is not what we shall be (39-42).

Paul then explains that the glorified body is a spiritual body. Paul does not mean by this that it is non-physical. The Greek word πνευματικός (pneumatikos) which is translated “spiritual” in this phrase does not mean immaterial, but rather indicates a body ruled by the spirit. Paul’s point is that our glorified bodies will be ruled by the spirit rather than the flesh. They are characterized by that which is immortal rather than that which passes away. Just as we bore the image of the man of dust (who was cut off from life through sin), so too will we have the image of the man of spirit (whose faithfulness obtained our glory) (43-49).

Paul then concludes in 50-58 by explaining that although our current bodies are unfit for immortality they will be transformed. Paul explains that it is that event that marks the fullness of our redemption (vs. 55). It is at this point that God will have fulfilled His promise and will have completed the redemption of His people for which all of creation is waiting expectantly. Rather than merely providing escape from the fallen creation, God has redeemed it from within. It is a true redemption that includes victory even over physical death itself. Paul encourages the Corinthians with this truth to persevere in their faith and work.


Obviously we could not fully explore either of these two extremely rich passages in a single blog post but both of them clearly demonstrate the importance of physical resurrection to the message of the New Testament. Here and elsewhere, it is the promise and hope of the resurrection that the apostle uses as the cornerstone of his encouragement and assurance. The theological and ethical importance of the doctrine is strikingly on display in both of these passages.

[1] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 508.

[2] We will explore the theological reasons for this in the next post. That Paul sees the denial of the resurrection of the saints as connected to the Gospel claim should be obvious by the way he connects the two in his argument.

[3] Alexander E. Stewart, “The Temporary Messianic Kingdom in Second Temple Judaism and the Delay of the Parousia: Psalm 110:1 and the Development of Early Christian Inaugurated Eschatology,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59/2 (June 2016): 255-70.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bodily Resurrection: Part 2a (New Testament)

As we saw in the previous article, the doctrine of the resurrection of believers is taught in the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul identified it as a promise upon which the hope of the Jews rested as they earnestly worshiped (Acts 26:6-8).[1] The precise nature of the resurrection, however, was not clear and is one of the things made known through the person and work of Christ (2 Tim. 1:10).

Whatever extent the teaching remained in shadows throughout the Old Testament, the doctrine of the resurrection is a clear and central theme in the New. In fact, the author to the Hebrews lists the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead as one of the elementary and foundational doctrines of Christ (Heb. 6:1-2). It is therefore something all Christians must understand and believe. In the next two posts I hope to show that this New Testament resurrection is undoubtedly a physical bodily resurrection.

Clear Statements Regarding Physical Resurrection:

The teachers who prompted this series of articles accept that resurrection is a central claim of the New Testament but they spiritualize it and deny its physical nature. The New Testament, however, repeatedly makes the explicit claim that the resurrection is physical and bodily in nature.

Paul speaks of the hope of salvation to include the redemption of our bodies in addition to the spiritual blessings we already have when he says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved...” (Rom. 8:23-24)

Paul has already explained that the power of God displayed in the raising of Christ is the same power through which our bodies will be raised. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

In the longest and most important passage on resurrection Paul emphatically defends bodily resurrection, even addressing the question, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Cor. 15:35). The Corinthians, influenced by Greek philosophy, could not understand how material bodies could possibly inherit immortality. Paul explains that the resurrection is not merely a reanimation of corpses but that a change takes place that makes our bodies fit for glory. Although these new bodies are spiritual, they are still bodies. Paul says, “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15:42). Notice, that which is raised is that which was perishable, namely our bodies.[2]

Paul also affirms the physical nature of our resurrected bodies elsewhere, explaining we will be like Christ. “… we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21). The Apostle John says the same thing more succinctly when he says “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).

As Murray Harris has said, “In distinctive New Testament usage, resurrection signifies not [only] the reanimation of corpses but the transformation of the whole person into the image of Christ by the power of the indwelling Spirit, in spite of the intervention of death.”[3] Our lowly bodies will not be discarded but will instead be transformed to be like Christ’s.

Christ’s resurrection body was a physical body (Luke 24:39) and although it was changed, it was the same body He previously had as is demonstrated by the empty tomb as well as the wounds in His hands and side (John 20:27). He ate food, had conversations, and was even mistaken for other people.

Jesus also affirms the physical nature of the resurrection when He says, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29). The emptying of tombs requires the reanimation of the physical body and cannot be a spiritual resurrection.

Preterists often claim Paul’s condemnation of those who denied the resurrection does not apply to them because he wrote before what they think was the resurrection event in A.D. 70. What is clear, however, is that the emptying of the tombs of the righteous and wicked did not happen in A.D. 70. If this day is yet future, then not all prophesy has been fulfilled and preterism cannot be correct.[4]

Resurrection as a Defined Term:

As we have seen, there are several passages that clearly assert that our physical bodies will be redeemed in addition to the spiritual blessings we already possess as believers (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:5).[5] Support for bodily resurrection, however, is founded on even more than the verses explicitly mentioning our bodies. In fact, all of the New Testament references to resurrection entail a physical bodily event. As good students we must take the time to see how the New Testament authors define the terms they use. When Paul, Jesus, John, etc. use a term like resurrection we must ask what exactly they meant.

There are no examples in the New Testament where resurrection language is used only of the spirit of a person. In fact, scholars who have studied the Jewish literature of the Second Temple period have concluded that 1st Century Judaism did not have the concept of resurrection without a body.[6] Although Jewish views of the afterlife were diverse and complex, scholar N.T. Wright asserts “if a first-century Jew said that someone had been “raised from the dead,” the one thing they did not mean was that such a person had gone to a state of disembodied bliss…”[7]

The New Testament contains many references to resurrection including over 40 uses of the specific term ἀνάστασις. These references were all understood in their Jewish contexts to involve the raising of the body. When Jesus, Paul and others use the general term resurrection they mean a physical bodily resurrection. Indeed, it was confusion about this Jewish concept in the Greek Church at Corinth that prompted Paul’s extended explanation of the doctrines of resurrection and glorification in 1 Corinthians 15, which I plan to deal with in detail in the next article.

Immortality as a Defined Term:

Likewise, terms related to immortality in the Bible do not carry the Platonic ideas that so strongly influence our current cultural views. These days most people think of immortality as a characteristic of the soul or spirit that is eternal or continues after death. This, however, is not the New Testament view.

There are 3 words in the New Testament that are used to refer to immortality. These terms are never used of the soul or spirit of human beings. They are only applied to entire human beings in relation to the future state of believers. Only God Himself is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16). Human beings gain immortality when they become partakers of the divine nature though their union with Christ and are glorified through the power of God (Rom. 8:30, 38).

Biblical immortality is not the continuation of the spirit after death or into eternity. All human souls will persist after this life, some to glory and some to judgment. Human immortality in the biblical sense is deliverance from the suffering and decay of the flesh and the torment of the Second Death. This is accomplished in our final glorified state. There is never any mention in the Bible of an immortal or glorified human spirit. Biblically, human immortality is directly connected to the hope of the bodily resurrection.

We even see this in various subtle ways. For example, believers who have passed away are often said to be asleep (1 Cor. 15:51; Eph. 5:14). To sleep implies an awakening. The image seems clearly to indicate it is the body rather than the soul primarily in view (2 Cor. 5:1-9). Likewise, we are said to be clothed in our bodies and are longing not to be unclothed (no body) but that we would be further clothed (glorified body), “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Cor. 5:4)


There is much more that could be said regarding the New Testament teaching on this issue but this article is already too long. I pray that it is at least clear that there are several New Testament verses that explicitly teach a physical bodily resurrection. Beyond that, the New Testament concept of resurrection itself entails a physical aspect. Finally, the Biblical concept of immortality is always developed in coordination with the glorification of the body. Having laid this foundation, I plan to focus on Paul’s extended teaching on resurrection in 1 Corinthians in the next article.


[1] Having been most clearly developed in the Prophets, the resurrection was denied by those, like the Sadducees, who did not accept the writings of the prophets as Scripture.

[2] I will deal extensively with Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 in the next article.

[3] Murray Harris, “Resurrection and Immortality: Eight Theses,” Themelios 1, no. 2 (1976): 51.

[4] Russell acknowledges that the reference in John must refer to a literal resurrection. Even in placing the events fully within a Palestinian context, however, he fails to make any adequate case to account for the scope of Christ’s words. Essentially, his position is that almost nothing is known about the events taking place for 60 to 80 years after the end of Acts and so a lot of stuff could have happened. The quotes he uses to support this view are referring to specific knowledge of historical development within the Christian community. It is not true that we have no historical records from that time. One would expect to find references in Greek, Roman, Jewish, or other sources if there was a massive emptying of graves associated with the Roman occupation in Jerusalem. Nothing of the sort is mentioned.

[5] Notice that Ephesians 1:3 establishes that we have every spiritual blessing, yet verses 13-14 indicate that the Holy Spirit is a down payment on us receiving the fullness of our inheritance which we have yet to possess. The full inheritance is the completion of our redemption in glorification.

[6] N.T. Wright, “Resurrection of the Son of God”, especially chapters 3–4.

[7] N.T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bodily Resurrection: Part 1 (Old Testament)

Among the central tenants of orthodox Christianity is the hope of the physical bodily resurrection of believers. The blessed hope that we shall be brought back from the dead as whole persons is a theme that weaves its way throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Unlike the idea which became particularly popular in ancient Greece, where life after death was a spiritual existence freed from the prison of a physical body, the Bible presents the separation of the body and the soul as an unnatural condition brought on by sin and death. The defeat of sin and death in Christ therefore ultimately involves the redemption of both our bodies and our souls. This is a foundational doctrine of the Christian faith.

I recently became aware that certain Bible study groups in my area, having come under the influence of a type of full-preterism, have been questioning if the resurrection will be physical. As I understand it, they believe Paul’s comment, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15:50) implies a denial that the resurrection is physical. In this series of posts, I would like to show that the Bible teaches physical resurrection. In this post, I would like to show that the hope of the physical resurrection can be found in the Old Testament. In Part 2 I will show that the New Testament clearly teaches a physical resurrection. In Part 3 I will explore the theological significance of this truth for the Christian faith.

The Hope of Physical Resurrection in the Old Testament:

The teaching of a physical resurrection is found in the Old Testament although not nearly as clearly as in the New Testament. Indeed, it was a topic of debate among Jews at the time of Christ (Acts 23:8). However, it was apparently not something so difficult to see that only scholars embraced it. For example, Lazarus’ sister Martha expressed her hope, presumably derived from her understanding of the Old Testament, in a future resurrection (Jn. 11:24).

In any case, the apostle Paul makes it clear that the Old Testament without question teaches a twofold doctrine of the resurrection. When he is before Felix at Caesarea Paul says, “…I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:14-15). Jesus also confirms that resurrection is an Old Testament teaching in his dispute with the Sadducees (Mt. 22:31-32).

I should point out here that the 1st Century debate within Judaism was regarding a physical bodily resurrection. These statements by Jesus and Paul must be understood within the context of that doctrinal debate. This alone is sufficient to settle the question regarding the teaching of the Old Testament on the matter. They also have interpretive significance for us because they indicate conclusively that we should expect to find Old Testament passages that address the question.

Implied Old Testament References:

There are a number of Old Testament texts that are at least pointers toward resurrection such as Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. As Abraham is preparing to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God, he says to his men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Gen. 22:5). The author of Hebrews explains, “He considered that God was able even to raise him [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”  

There are other possible types and figures such as Joseph, etc. in the Old Testament as well as three people who actually were physically brought back from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:35, 13:21).

Of course, these texts are not conclusive. Abraham’s circumstances are unique and these other people died again. None of these definitively demonstrates a future hope of bodily resurrection. They do, however, establish a certain pattern that is consistent throughout the Bible. God’s power is frequently demonstrated through the raising of the dead. These signs generally accompany further revelation about God’s redemptive purposes and it is not altogether unfounded to see them as closely connected.

Beyond these, there are many Old Testament texts that contextually imply a hope in a physical resurrection even if they do not directly state it. The Bible commonly uses words in resurrection contexts such as awake, live, rise, to stand up, etc. For example, when David says, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  (Psalm 17:15) his phrase “when I awake” is best understood as a reference to his confidence that this promise will be fulfilled after his death, that is in the resurrection. Most of the Old Testament texts related to resurrection are of this type. They do not directly spell out the hope of the resurrection but rather assume it. Thankfully, there are a few Old Testament passages that more clearly indicate a hope in a physical resurrection.

Clear Old Testament References:

Job, for example, expresses his confidence that in the end he will see his redeemer in the flesh, even should he die when he says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God…” (Job 19:25-26 ESV)

Likewise, Isaiah includes physical resurrection as part of the hope of the deliverance of the Lord, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!          For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19 ESV)

The prophet Daniel also discusses physical resurrection as part of the events associated with the time of the end, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2 ESV)


When we combine these prophesies with the implied texts and the general connection between the imagery of redemption and resurrection (like we see in places like Ezekiel 37 etc.) we can better understand Martha’s confidence. If we look carefully, in the Old Testament we see a glimpse of the hope of physical resurrection which becomes far more explicit in the New Testament. This combined with the confirmation of Paul and Christ assures us that this is a doctrine found in both Testaments. Paul tells us that it is through the coming of Christ and the Gospel that light has been shed on immortality (2 Tim. 1:10). I hope to show in Part 2 that this doctrine which is revealed dimly in the Old Testament is undeniably bright and clear in the New Testament.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How Tall Were the Giants in the Bible?

(Photo from The Seattle Times story found HERE)

It is interesting how from time to time certain subjects pop up with unusual frequency. Over the past couple weeks I have talked to multiple people who were curious about the height of the giants in the Bible.

There is a great deal of information circulating on the internet about these giants along with various theories connecting them to demons, aliens, and various types of governmental and/or scientific conspiracies. I am not going to take the time to deal with all of that, but given all the misinformation I did think it might be helpful to answer the basic question about their height.

Internet references vary widely in their claims but many of them are in the 20 to 30 foot range, and several have heights up to 450 feet tall! Since the Bible is often used to provide support for the idea that these giants existed, I would like to look at what the Bible actually says about the height of the ancient giants.

The Bible does record that giants existed in the ancient world and mentions them in several places. Most of these references do not provide exact height dimensions but describe people of great size and power. A typical example is the report of the spies who were sent to scout the land in Numbers 13 who said,

“…all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”  (Numbers 13:32-33 ESV)

or the record in Amos chapter 2 where the Lord says…

“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks..." (Amos 2:9 ESV)

While clearly references to very large and powerful people, it is not necessary for us to assume that these are literal proportions. It is far more likely that this is figurative language. The point is that they were very large and not that they were actually as tall as trees or could squash normal men under their feet. We can be confident that this is figurative language because there are a few places in the Bible where we are given size dimensions for those who are called giants. Although still remarkably large, they are nowhere as large as some of the internet sources claim.

For example, in 1 Chronicles 11:23 we learn that one of David’s mighty men struck down an Egyptian who was a "man of great stature" who was 7 foot 6 inches tall. The Bible does not refer to this man specifically as a giant, however, he is given special attention as a result of his uncommon height. If there were 450 foot tall men around, I am not sure 7’6” would have been that impressive.

Of course, the most famous giant is Goliath of Gath (2 Samuel 15:21-22). In 1 Samuel 17:4-7 we are told exactly how tall he is. Most translations follow the Hebrew Masoretic text for this verse which reads, "And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span." That is 9 feet, 9 inches tall.

Interestingly, even this height is challenged because there are variant readings of this verse. Many of the oldest versions say Goliath was 4 cubits and a span (6’9”), which is why some English versions, such as the NET, record his height as "close to 7 feet tall".[1] Some argue that the size and weight of Goliath’s armor indicate the 9’ number is more likely. In any case, Goliath is between 7 and 10 feet tall. This is a big man, but nowhere near 20 or 30, let alone 450 feet!

Perhaps even more remarkable than Goliath, however, is the giant named Og who was king of Bashan and likely the tallest man mentioned in the Bible. The Book of Deuteronomy records the following:

"For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit." (Deuteronomy 3:11 ESV)

The Rephaim were considered giants and although the Bible does not give us Og’s specific height, his bed is 13 feet 6 inches long and 6 feet wide. If we assume that the king had a bed that fit him comfortably, it seems reasonable that he was likely between 10 and 12 feet tall.

Again, this is extreme size but nothing close to 20, 30, or 450 feet. Based on the various references given in the Bible it appears the giants of the ancient world were generally between 7 ½ and 10 feet tall. Nowhere in the Bible are there any people who are said to be anywhere close to 20 feet tall.

Where do people get these extreme figures? The exaggerated figures result partially from a blending of biblical texts with ancient mythological texts. Most ancient cultures had stories about giants. Pagan mythological references, as well as non-biblical Jewish literature such as the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jasher are frequently referenced.[2]

In an effort to boost the credibility of these books it is sometimes pointed out that although they are not biblical books, the Books of Jasher and Enoch are referenced in the Bible. We need to keep a couple things in mind regarding this. First, the Books of Jasher we now have (there are as many as 5) are not the same Book of Jasher the Bible references (Josh. 10:13, 2 Sam. 1:18). They are much later texts that have been given the ancient name. Second, simply because the Bible references a book does not mean that everything in that book or by that writer is true, good, or even helpful.

We do have copies of the Book of Enoch referenced in the Bible (Jude 1:14). Enoch is a Jewish religious book written during the time between the Old and New Testaments but although well known to both Jews and Christians it is not part of either the Jewish or Christian Scriptures. Intertestamental books like Enoch are important and helpful because they provide insight into the language and culture at the time the New Testament was written, but they are not inspired and therefore not reliable as foundations for doctrine and teaching. In fact, much of what they contain fall into the category of myths and fables that we are warned to avoid (1 Tim. 4:7).

In any case, the 7th chapter of the Book of Enoch specifically references the height of the giants. The translation I have says, “And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind.”[3]  An ancient ell is roughly a cubit or 18 inches. Therefore, the text actually says that these giants were 4,500 feet tall. Many supporters of the extreme figures argue this is a textual error and the verse should read 300 ells, or 450 feet.

Just to put this in perspective, the Statue of Liberty is 151 feet tall. Even if you include the base, she is only 305 feet tall. To give you an idea of the size we are talking about, if the faces on Mount Rushmore had bodies, they would be 465 feet tall.

Compared with these numbers, the 20 and 30 foot references coming from ancient mythological literature do not seem quite as incredible. The bottom line, however, is that none of these extreme figures, including 20 and 30 feet, come from the Bible. The giants whose heights are recorded in the Bible are between 7 and 10 feet tall and one had a bed that was a little over 13 feet long.

[1] Examples listing Goliath as around 7 feet include the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Samuel. The ancient Jewish writer Josephus also follows this reading.

[2] Often there are also various problematic archaeological and journalistic references as well.

[3] R. H. Charles and W. O. E. Oesterley, The Book of Enoch (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917), Enoch 7:2–4.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: Scot McKnight: The Heaven Promise

There has been no shortage of books on heaven in recent years. Some of them have been fairly solid biblical examinations of the doctrine of heaven and others have been fanciful, if not unfortunate stories that stimulate much discussion about the topic while adding very little in the way of biblical wisdom. In his latest book, The Heaven Promise, Scot McKnight explores the most frequently asked questions about the topic including:

  1. What about near-death experiences?
  2. What about rewards in Heaven?
  3. Who will be there?
  4. Is God fair?
  5. Will there be families in Heaven?
  6. What about children who die?
  7. What about cremation?
  8. What about Purgatory?
  9. Will there be pets in heaven?
  10. Why should we believe in Heaven at all?
McKnight examines each of these questions with a mixture of storytelling and biblical exegesis. He relies heavily on a combination of quotations from scholars and theologians who have previously written on the topic and anecdotal stories from people he has met or heard about. 

On a few occasions, he points out a few thought provoking observations that are often neglected in discussions on the topic such as the unity of believers or the nature of the Kingdom mandate and how those influence our thinking about Heaven. More generally, however, he is providing answers, observations, and interpretations that are fairly standard within Christian discussions on the topic.

There are various theological questions bearing upon the way McKnight answers his questions that some believers may wish to examine carefully. His understanding, for example, of the nature of the Kingdom and the responsibilities that implies for our current mandate as Christians to pursue the realization of the Kingdom now is certainly a debated point even among conservative believers. His view on this as well as his views on Christ’s descent, cremation, family relationships, and several other matters are commonly held but are not consensus views. Nevertheless, McKnight is free to present his case and he does provide reasons for his views that are developed enough for a popular work such as this.

Some readers will no doubt be charmed by McKnight’s liberal use of adjectives and his slightly schmaltzy descriptions, other might find it mildly annoying. In either case, it is obvious that he is doing his best to capture the imagination of his readers. The narration was mostly well done but at times I am not sure that Jay Greener captured the rhythm and pacing that McKnight intended.

Overall, the book is a vast improvement over the many pop culture treatments of Heaven to which we have been subjected. Unfortunately, however, the book does not add much of any importance to the discussion that one cannot find in other books on the subject written by conservative Christians. The book is likely to be most helpful to those who have not previously studied the biblical teaching on the subject.

* I received a free copy of this book from christianaudio.com as part of their Review Program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own.