Saturday, September 12, 2015

Paul's Physical Experience With The Physical Risen Christ

Steve and I have already said a lot about the physical nature of Paul's experience with the risen Christ in recent discussions with Faith Slayer here and here. I want to expand on some themes I mentioned in those discussions.

The New Testament doesn't just say that Paul saw a light and heard a voice. We're also told that Paul saw Jesus (Acts 9:27, 22:14, 1 Corinthians 9:1). By contrast, Paul's companions are referred to as "seeing no one" (Acts 9:7). Notice, too, that Acts 22:14 uses physical language to describe Paul's hearing of a voice ("hear an utterance from his mouth"). That language could be used in a non-physical way, but those who take it that way bear the burden of proof. All of these passages in Acts about Paul's experience are in the context of Luke's two-volume work, in which he keeps referring to the physical nature of Jesus' resurrection (Luke 24:1-3, 24:39-43, Acts 1:3, 10:41) and how Paul's fellow apostles had physical experiences with the risen Jesus that qualified them as apostles (Acts 1:21-2, 10:40-1). In that context, when Luke refers to how Paul and/or his companions saw, heard, fell to the ground, were blinded, etc., it's absurd to conclude that the experience was subjective and/or non-physical.

It's also absurd to conclude that a body other than the body of Jesus that died was resurrected, as if he was merely given a new body of some type. What dies is what rises. The death is what brings about the need for resurrection in the first place. You could speak of receiving a new body as a resurrection, but that would be a less natural way of using such terminology. Anybody holding such a view would bear the burden of proof. Luke's gospel makes it clear that the dead body was the one that was raised, and it was seeing Jesus raised in that body that qualified individuals as apostles. Notice the emphasis on Jesus' crucifixion wounds, by showing his hands and feet, in Luke 24:39. Notice the continuity in Acts 1:21-2 and 10:37-41. The witnesses saw Jesus in the time leading up to his death and following it. The continuity of the body is suggested. And that continuity isn't just mentioned as a historical fact. Physically witnessing Jesus before and after his death was a requirement for Jesus' original disciples who became apostles. Paul isn't placed in that category, but he is portrayed, in Acts and elsewhere, as being an apostle with equal authority. Seeing Jesus in his physically resurrected state makes more sense of Paul's status as an apostle. People who saw visions of Jesus, like Stephen, have a lesser status than Paul.

Here's a post I wrote several years ago about the evidence for Paul's experience with the risen Christ.


  1. Some lesser suggestive evidence:

    - Paul seems to teach that the resurrected Jesus remains a Jew (e.g. Rom. 9:5). Such a description makes most sense if there's continuity between the body that died on th cross and the body Christ currently inhabits. If Jesus received a spiritual body that has no connection with the body that died, it would be difficult to affirm Jesus still being considered a Jew. Since Jesus' body didn't disintegrate due to a nuclear bomb nor was it eaten by a shark that was in turn eaten by a human. An ex nihilo creative miracle wasn't necessary. Jesus' body didn't need to be reconstructed with different molecules (as other people might need). Bodily continuity isn't necessary to maintain ethinic heritage. But the best way theologically to affirm the Messiah's continued Jewish heritage (as Paul would be motivated to do) was to affirm Jesus' bodily resurrection.

    - I forget which passage(s) it is and whether it's Pauline, but there's a passage that could be translated to refer to a resurrection "from AMONG the dead" or "out of the dead." Implying that there are other people who remain dead from whom (or the group out of whom) the resurrected are distinguished by being raised to life. This is makes sense if it's referring to a physical resurrection of a body or bodies. I think it might be Phil. 3:11. That it could literally be translated "the out resurrection from among the dead."

    - Paul's use of agricultural language when he refers to burial as "sowing" implies resurrection is a kind of "reaping." That's most consistent with the traditional understanding of bodily resurrection in which the same body that was buried is the same which is raised.

    - The early Christian's euphemism of death as sleep is more consistent with a bodily resurrection since the same body that lied down is the same body that rises up (cf. Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1 Cor. 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thess. 4:13-15; 5:10; 2 Pet. 3:4; Matt. 27:52). BTW, the OT also used the euphemism. Which, in most cases, indicates that the Jews of the time anticipated an afterlife when they would be awakened by resurrection by God.

    - Baptism (esp. as described in Rom. 6) is symbolic of death and therefore most consistent with bodily resurrection since there's continuity between the body that's plunged into the water and that's raised out of the water. Also, Paul's rationale for sanctification and living a holy life in our current physical bodies based on our union with Christ's death through our baptism does as well. If resurrection were merely spiritual, then that would invite a Gnostic antinomian view that believed what was done in the current body doesn't really matter (pun intended).

    - The early Church's teaching on the "rapture" (without the Dispensational connotations) is most consistent with a bodily resurrection since the living saints' bodies don't collapse as their souls exit their old bodies and enter new spiritual bodies. Rather, their current bodies are changed and transformed into a glorified body (1 Thess 4; 1 Cor. 15).


    1. - Paul taught that Christians' future resurrection will be physical. He also taught that our resurrections and resurrection bodies will be like Christ's resurrection and resurrection body. Therefore, it makes most sense that Christ's resurrection was physical as well and that he walked out of the tomb with the same body that died on the cross. Just that the body was glorified by transformation.

      20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,21 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.- Phil. 3:20-21

      - Paul discussed the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11) and said Christians observe it in order to remember the Lord and await His [apparently physical] return. The physicality of the elements of bread and wine are (among other things) to remind us of the physical resurrection of Christ, His current physical absence, and His future physical return. All this together best comports with bodily resurrection of the same body that died on the cross. They mutually support each other in a coherent and consistent fashion.

      For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.- 1 Cor. 11:26

      Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul AND BODY be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.- 1 Thess. 5:23

      - Paul taught that the creation itself will be renovated/transformed. Not that it will be replaced. He seems to say that the redemption of our bodies is, in some way, similar to the redemption of creation on account of Christ's death (Rom. 8). Thus, suggesting continuity of pre and post resurrection bodies. Creation doesn't have a spirit that leaves the physical creation to enter a spiritual creation.

      Paul, knowing that the term "resurrection" usually connotes a bodily raising from the dead, would also know that using the term would be counterproductive if he believed that Christ was spiritually resurrected. That it would confuse his audience and given them the wrong impression. Yet, he used the term. That makes most sense if he did mean to teach and imply a bodily resurrection of Christ and of believers.

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    3. I intentionally handicapped myself by limiting the above evidence from the more accepted Pauline corpus even though I think a good case could be made that most of the books of the NT have an early date. I did so to show that even with those books a resurrection of Christ's original body can be reasonably inferred. If I included the other NT books there would be even more evidence. Take for example the fact that the early Christians and John the Baptist's disciples treated the body of the deceased with respect. As if in anticipation of a future resurrection of that body. They took the time to bury John's decapitated body. To wash Tabitha's body (Acts 9:36-37). To lovingly and respectfully spice and wrap Jesus and Lazarus' bodies. Also, there are a number of temporary resurrections in the Gospels and Acts which were bodily (e.g. Jairus' daughter in Mark 5:42; the widow's son at Nain in Luke 7:12; Eutychus at Acts 20:9-12; Lazarus in John 11; the "many saints" in Matt. 27:52-53.). There's no indication in those passages that they expected the final resurrection of the saints, or even of Christ's original resurrection to have been anything other than the raising up of the original body. The only difference being that the final resurrection of believers will like Christ's where his and their bodies would be immortal ("put on immortality"). It's not like bodily resurrections are confined to the NT. There are OT examples too like the Zarephath widow's son in 1 Ki. 17:17ff.; the Shunammite woman's son in 2 Ki 4:35; the corpse that touched Elisha's bones in Ki. 13:21. That's partly why the Jews in the OT collected the bones of the dead after the flesh had disintegrated and placed them in ossuaries. In expectation of a resurrection. Job states "25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19:25-27). It's no wonder that the majority view among 2nd Temple Jews is of a resurrection of the bodied that died. When God "took" Enoch [presumably to "heaven"], his spirit didn't leave his body to enter another "spiritual body." Somehow, Enoch's "translation," as Hebrews 11:5 puts it, involved his original body. His translation was a type of eschatological resurrection.

      I don't think you've been paying attention to the sources I've brought up in our past discussion. Paul says it was a "spiritual body" not the earthly body that was raised.

      I've been aware of those type of arguments for decades. Christian apologists have answers but it requires a depth of knowledge of Koine that I don't have. So, I leave those objections alone and don't try to fake more knowledge of Greek than I actually know by repeating those answers. I'm only an amateur apologist. My apologetical contributions are like crumbs (hence the name of one of my blogs Gospel Crumbs.


    4. Nevertheless, here's one angle I can approach it without appeal to the Greek. The term "spiritual body" (at least in English, maybe also in Greek) sounds like an oxymoron because that which is spiritual (or spirit itself) is normally non-physical/unembodied. Conversely, that which is material (like the body) isn't a spirit. I suspect Paul's use of the term "spiritual body" is his way of trying to explain how the resurrection will result in bodies that are in one sense physical yet possess attributes that go beyond the natural. That along with the fact that eschatological resurrection involves differing amounts of the remains of corpses. In the case of Jesus, His death was so recent that virtually no new matter would need to be created ex nihilo, nor the molecules of the body gathered from all corners of the earth or even from the bodies of other living human beings. However, Paul was aware that sometimes new matter would need to be created since Paul was aware of cannibals and of how fruit could grow from trees that (unbeknownst to us) receive nutrients from human corpses. Paul wouldn't have been thinking in modern terms of "molecules," but and everyone else knew that sometimes the 'stuff" that was once in people could have been shared by many other human beings (e.g. mother's milk). Think of how many organisms (like dinosaurs and humans) each drop of water we drink has been in. This difficulty in explaining how there's continuity and sometimes necessary discontinuity between the body that died and the resurrection body also explains why there was a diversity of views regarding the afterlife among Jews before, during and after the time of Christ. On the one hand the OT teaches continuity, yet on the other hand we know by experience strict continuity is sometimes impossible. That's also why despite the diversity, the majority view regarding the resurrection has usually included some degree of continuity between the old life and the new life. Even between the old body and the new body. Especially, when they went beyond 1. the concept of resurrection or 2. the ambiguous encompassing words like "raised" to 3. the actual word "resurrection."

      On the one hand the NT church believed in a future resurrection, yet on the other hand they believed in an intermediate state. If they believed one received their resurrection spiritual bodies upon death [as presumably Faith Slayer would interpret 2 Cor. 5:1-9, 17], why would they be waiting for a future resurrection? It would seem to make better sense if they believed the body that died would itself be raised (presuming it hasn't completely disintegrated).

      Faith Slayer, when do you believe Paul believed the righteous receive their spiritual bodies? Soon after death, or at the end of the world? If the latter, why the wait? If they are waiting, in what state do you believe Paul believed dead saints exist? Or do you believe Paul believed in a kind of soul sleep or soul oblivion before the eschaton?

      Regarding Dale Martin's quote, I agree that Paul (as all Jews around that time) were groping at trying to understand, describe and label the difficult concept of resurrection. But I do think the early Christians did have some conception of a distinction and contrast between matter and spirit, body and soul and/or the human spirit.

    5. Like I said before, I think the traditional understanding of resurrection is not only the historical (including Christian AND JEWISH history) and the majority view, but it also has the greatest explanatory power and scope.

      As I wrote in one of my blogposts:


      Abductive arguments are popularly known as Inference to the Best Explanation type of argument. That is, reasoning or inferring to that theory or hypothesis that provide:

      1. the greatest explanatory power and

      2. the greatest explanatory scope

      Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on Explanatory Power

      Part of the above article states, "...a good explanation also provides specific details which fit together so tightly that it is difficult to change one detail without affecting the whole theory."

      Michael Licona simply summarized the difference between explanatory power and scope by saying (paraphase)

      Explanatory Scope: deals with a theory's ability to account for all facts

      Explanatory Power: deals with a theory's ability to account for facts without forcing the data to fit or ambiguity

      William Lane Craig applied explanatory power and scope to the case for Jesus Christ's resurrection. He said/wrote (paraphrase):

      The Best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.

      1. It has great explanatory scope. That is, it will explain more of the evidence.

      2. It has great explanatory power. That is it will make the evidence more probable.

      3. It is plausible. It will fit better with true background beliefs.

      4. It is not ad hoc or contrived. That is, it won't require adopting new beliefs which have no independent evidence.

      5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. It will be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than other explanations. That is, it won't conflict with as many accepted beliefs.

      6. It far outstrips any rival theories in meeting conditions (1) - (5). It will meet conditions 1-5 so much better than the other theories that there's little chance that one of the other explanations, after further investigation, will do better in meeting these conditions.


      Similarly, I think the traditional view of resurrection best accounts for all the data in a consistent manner. I say that as someone who doesn't think the truth of Christianity hinges on the truth of the traditional understanding. Christianity can still be true even if the traditional understanding is false. So, I think I'm more objective than some atheists who DO hinge their rejection of Christianity on Paul having a view of Christ's resurrection being spiritual. I can let the evidence shape my opinion rather than having to manipulate the evidence to fit my preconceived opinion.

    6. Finally, there's the vision of the resurrection of a valley full of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Yes, this is only a vision, but it's a vision of what God can literally do. It informed and influenced both Jews and the original Christians (who were Jewish) on the concept of resurrection. Namely, if there are remains by which to allow for continuity between the corpse and the resurrected body, that that's what God will do.