Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On the Resurrection, PART I

The importance of the Apostle’s Creed for early and modern Christianity cannot be overstated. Gnosticism is rampant in our thinking, even though the mythological aspects of the religion are explicitly denied. That the early church had to define itself in opposition to the Gnostic heresy makes them, rather than unique, of one task with us, as we seek to define ourselves in distinction from neognostic thinking. Hence, the Apostle’s Creed, constructed for that very reason, is not merely some historical relic for us to chant every once and awhile, but a boundary marker that defines what Christianity, at its core, is and is not in reference to Gnostic thought.
The creed begins by reminding us that God, the Father, the Almighty, not the lesser Demiurge, created the spiritual and physical spheres of the cosmos (i.e., heaven AND earth together). Hence, the good Almighty God is the very One who made the physical and spiritual to dwell together. It is good because He is good, as all Christians and Gnostics would agree when speaking about the Supreme (i.e. the Almighty) God; but this, therefore, means that creation, as both the spiritual and the physical dwelling together must be good (something the Gnostics would cringe at). Hence, the creed denies that a lesser, and even evil, deity made the physical cosmos.

The creed then proceeds on this point to say that Jesus Christ, the Son of this good God, our Lord, became physical by the power of the Holy Spirit through the physical means of being born of a virgin. It states that He was not only born into the physical world as a physical human, but suffered under Pontius Pilate, was really killed by way of crucifixion, and was bodily resurrected.

All of this is meant to convey the idea that the Son of God, the Christ, was born a human, rather than appear to be human or have the Christ Spirit adopt a human at his baptism or later in life. It was the very Son who was born, suffered, and crucified (some Gnostics believed the Christ Spirit came upon Jesus at His baptism and then left Him when He was crucified, and others believed that He was never really a physical human at the get go). Hence, the creed tells us that the creation is good and that the Son of God became a part of the good creation to redeem it. He was really born, He really suffered, and He really died.

But what is even more significant is that He was really raised, that is, with the very body in which He died. His body was good. His body. This would have been completely despised by the Gnostics. The body is physical, and therefore, of a lesser nature than the spirit. Salvation is a salvation of spirit, not of body. To shed the body is salvation itself. It is to be free from its constraints and its corruption. The physical is darkness but the spiritual is light. Hence, for the early church to say that the Son, identified as both body and spirit, the very One born and suffered and crucified, was raised from the dead, i.e., He, in His very same body, was raised from among the dead, is to say that salvation is not just of spirit, but is of the body. It is not merely Christ’s spirit that was saved, but Christ, who is body and spirit, was raised as the same. His spirit was redeemed and His body was redeemed. He was completely redeemed. And, of course, that is consistent with Second Temple Judaism, which believed that salvation was not gained until resurrection of the body had taken place. Full salvation is salvation of both one’s spirit and one’s body, and Gnosticism cannot accept such a doctrine. Hence, orthodox Christianity is distinguished from Gnosticism by it.

But the creed does not stop there. It continues, based upon the first premise that the Almighty God made the physical and spiritual cosmos to dwell together, to argue that Christ is eternally physical and spiritual, as He, not just His spirit, ascends into heaven, sits down at the right hand of God, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. The physical Christ ascended. The physical Christ dwells in the presence of God the Father Almighty, making intercession for the saints, and the physical Christ will return and judge both the living and the dead. 

From there, the creed confirms that the Spirit and flesh dwell together and are together redeemed by stating a belief in the Holy Spirit, who is spirit, a belief of the holy physical Christian church that confesses on earth, the communion of holy ones here on earth in the physical, the forgiveness of sins committed in the body, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, again, in context, an everlasting life in the body.
What I want to do today is focus on the biblical teaching concerning the phrase, “the resurrection of the body.”  

This has become an issue in our current church with the fact that there are some Preterists who espouse the idea that when a Christian dies, he receives a different body than the one he has now.

Now, of course, when I say “different body,” I don’t mean what all Christians throughout the ages have meant when speaking of the transformed body. What this mortal body becomes is a spiritual body, but that is precisely what is denied by some who have more Gnostic assumptions in their dualistic thinking of body and spirit. What these Preterists believe is that one receives an entirely different body. It is not this body, but some other body. They will often refer to texts like 2 Cor 5:1-5, which talks about a house that is not built by human hands, reserved in heaven for the saints. Of course, one of the many problems with interpreting this common idiom that merely refers to something that God does supernaturally and links it to another common idiom where He keeps something safe for the believer in heaven until the time which they are to receive it, in a literal fashion is that Jesus refers to His own resurrected body, that we know is the same body in which He was crucified, as that which is a building “not made with human hands” (acheiropoietos, Mark 14:58; Paul may even be taking this phrase from the Gospel of Mark).

Instead, the most straightforward teaching concerning the resurrected body is found in 1 Cor 15. Paul premises his argument upon the fact that Christ has been raised, and that this is part of the gospel. It is good news because if He has been raised bodily, then we will be raised bodily too. We receive whatever He has received because our salvation is derivative of His. We cannot receive any salvation that He does not. Hence, if His body was not redeemed, there would be no resurrection. But since His body was redeemed, our bodies will be redeemed as well. Christ is saved body and spirit. Hence, we will be saved, body and spirit. 

That is why he builds the argument that there is a resurrection on the fact that Christ has been raised. It is important to point out here that the subject is the body. The reason why this is important is because many might think that resurrection has to do with the spirit. But the ancients are not typically philosophical naturalists as we are. They believed in the afterlife for spirits. Paul speaks of it being much better for him to be with the Lord when he leaves his body behind. The spirits are in the netherworld in the Bible, whether a peaceful sphere within that world or one of torment. But whether the body would be raised up is a question yet to be answered, and Paul is here addressing it.

Hence, to be resurrected refers to one’s body already. This is not even to bring out the other evidence of the passage yet. When the body died, the NT writers, based upon what Jesus taught, referred to it as going asleep. Since they believed the spirit was not asleep, but alive and well in another realm, this had to refer to the body. It was for this reason that the imagery of going asleep lent itself to the idea that whatever goes to sleep wakes back up again. Hence, as one rises in the morning from a night’s rest, the body is raised.
This, therefore, cannot refer to some other body, as throwing away this body and getting an entirely different one is not resurrection of the body anymore than God throwing away the mind and spirit of Person A and making a completely different person (Person B) is salvation for Person A. Instead, transforming Person A into the best of Person A is the salvation of Person A. Likewise, transforming the body into the best body it can be is salvation of the body, but merely tossing it and creating some completely different body means that the body is not redeemed. Christ, therefore, has not saved the body. He has merely obtained the use of some other body, as this one cannot be saved. Perhaps, it’s too corrupt. It’s too inferior. See the Gnostic thinking emerge?

Paul, however, addresses this wayward thinking by stating that it is the very body we currently have that is sown mortal but raised immortal, sown corruptible but raised incorruptible. In other words, it is the same body that is transformed and redeemed, not a different one. It is transformed to be like Christ’s glorified body, which is also the same body He had on earth, as Christ has been completely and fully redeemed, not just His spirit. He is body and soul redeemed, and hence, we are body and soul redeemed. There can be no other salvation outside of Christ, and therefore, we can receive nothing that Christ did not receive for Himself, and all that He received we receive, body and soul.

This is the clear teaching of the passage, brought out further by the fact that Paul discusses those who will not sleep, but be immediately transformed—thus indicating that it is the same body that is transformed. Otherwise, one has Paul saying that the body does not sleep, i.e., die, when in fact it is dying and being replaced by some other body. Such would be a twisting of the text beyond recognition, and an absurdity, since a body cannot live without the spirit, and once removed would no longer be alive. Hence, it would die, which contradicts what Paul is saying here. So, again, before even looking at the passage that closely, the knowledge concerning to what “sleep” refers makes it impossible to argue that the spiritual body is a completely different body than the one we have now. It is the same body, but transformed to its best state, a state that cannot be brought about by a natural process, i.e., not made by human hands, but as a gift of God in Christ.

But what I want to do is look at the logic of the language in its context, as some of the arguments presented by Preterists completely ignore linguistics and the grammatical sense of the context. In order to do that, since Paul begins with Christ’s resurrection as the precedent for the resurrection of Christians, I want to pursue what the Scripture says of Christ’s resurrection in Part II. In Part III, I will then look at the rest of the argument Paul is making in 1 Cor 15. In Part IV, I will then look at other passages that speak of our resurrection. Finally, in Part V, I will look at the arguments made by Preterists, the exegetical fallacies being committed, the Gnostic assumptions concerning human nature, and why their theology is the only thing dictating their view of resurrection, not what the text of Scripture actually says.

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