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.