Monday, March 17, 2008

The Case for the Real Jesus (7): Spiritual Body or Physical Body

I still think that Lee Strobel is the most intellectually dishonest apologist that I have read. His "I'm a tough skeptical questioner" shtick leads his readers to believe that they are seeing both sides of the argument when they are actually getting an overwhelmingly one sided presentation. However, after reading his interviews with Mike Licona in The Case for the Real Jesus, I think that he has some real competition.

The section I find particularly ludicrous is entitled "Physical or Spiritual Resurrection." (TCFTRJ p. 138-141). The discussion focuses on the following passage from 1 Corinthians 15. Playing the skeptic, Strobel quotes only the highlighted verses, but you really have to see the whole thing to understand how disingenuous both he and Licona are being. After Licona's comments, I will try to suggest the questions that a real skeptic might have asked.

35But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 1 Corinthians 15:35-54

Now let's see what Strobel and Licona have to say.

"Do these Corinthians passages indicate Paul’s encounter was visionary in nature rather than a bodily, corporeal resurrection?"

Obviously, this was a hot-button issue for Licona. He moved to the edge of the couch and his voice became more animated. “First let’s examine this term ‘flesh and blood,’ he said. For the past thirty years, most experts have concluded that this term was an ancient figure of speech, probably a Semitism, that simply meant ‘a mortal being.’ That’s what it means every time it appears in the New Testament, the Septuagint, and throughout the Rabbinic literature. It’s kind of like when Americans call a person ‘cold blooded,’ ‘hot-blooded,’ or ‘red-blooded.’ They’re not referring to the temperature or color of their blood."

Have you ever heard of context, Mike? Look at the question that Paul is addressing: “With what kind of body will they come?” In any of those other cases you investigated, was the term “flesh and blood” being used in answer to that question? I’ll tell you something Mike. When an American is talking about reptiles and he uses the term “cold-blooded,” he really is talking about the temperature of its blood.

"Now you can’t equate that with what Luke reports Jesus as saying when he appears to the disciples: “Hey, I’m not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” He said flesh and bones, not flesh and blood."

So what? Are you really trying to tell us that the phrases “flesh and bones” and “flesh and blood” are so completely unrelated that Paul couldn't have meant something similar to what Luke meant?

"What about the way Paul contrasts the words natural and spiritual?" I asked.

"I recently analyzed each time these words appeared between the eighth century BC through the third century AD. These words have multiple definitions, but what’s really interesting, Lee, is that I never found a single instance in which the Greek word translated 'natural' meant 'material' or 'physical.' Never. Not once."

Context, Mike, context! When Aretha Franklin sings “You make me feel like a natural woman,” I know she isn’t talking about the same thing as Quaker Oats is when it calls its cereal “100% natural.” The important thing is the whole song that Aretha is singing. Try analyzing the way the word fits into this passage.

"It’s also important to see how Paul uses these terms elsewhere, especially in the same letter. A few chapters earlier, in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, referring to spiritual truths, Paul writes that the ‘natural’ man rejects and cannot understand the things of God, because they are ‘spiritually’ discerned. But, he adds, ‘spiritual’ people understand them."

"So when we come to chapter 15, Paul gives a number of differences between our bodies. They’re sown in weakness, they’re raised in power. Their sown in dishonor, they’re raised in glory. They’re sown perishable, they’re raised imperishable. They’re sown natural—bodies with all their fleshly and sinful desires and with hearts and lungs—but raised and transformed into a new body with spiritual appetites and empowered by God’s Spirit. There’s no thought about a contrast between physical and spiritual."

You must really think that I’m dumber than a bag of hammers, Mike. Are you really going to tell me that Paul wrote this passage because the believers in Corinth were arguing about what kind of appetites they would have after the resurrection?

"And here’s one other thing: if Paul had meant to draw a comparison between material versus immaterial, he had a better Greek word at his disposal, which he had already used a few chapters earlier with a similar analogy of sowing. He doesn’t use that word here, though, that’s more evidence that this has nothing to do with material versus. So to claim that Paul is saying that the Christians will have an immaterial body in heaven is not longer sustainable."

I am not sure the analogy is all that similar. In that earlier chapter Paul is arguing that he has the right to expect support from the community even though he does no work. “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” While I will grant you that Paul might have used that word again, are you going to tell me that there were no other words available to him that might have made the meaning you prefer clearer? Are you really trying to tell me that a single word choice controls the meaning of the entire passage?

"When we come across a passage with an ambiguous meaning, we’re required to interpret according to other passages by the same person that are more clear. So if Paul is referring to a bodily resurrection elsewhere—as the does in at least three other places—then its irresponsible to translate this passage in a manner that has Paul contradicting himself."

"So Paul is not saying this is merely a spiritual resurrection?"

"No, and I think the evidence is so obvious. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul is clear that he regards Jesus’ resurrection as a model for our future resurrection. He says in Roman 8:11 that ‘he who raises Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” And he stresses in Phillippians 3:21 that the Lord Jesus Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Doesn't Paul explain that model in the forty-fifth verse Mike? “So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” Why should we go hunting in other letters to see what Paul meant when he explains right here that the resurrected Jesus is "a life giving spirit." What possible reason could you have for quote-mining Romans and Phillippians when the answer is right there in front of your face?

Aren't you really counting on your readers being too lazy to look up the passages for themselves? After all, Paul isn't even talking about the resurrection in Romans 8. He is explaining how the Holy Spirit transforms the believer in this life rather than anything that happens after death. And doesn’t the passage from Phillipians just beg the question of what kind of body it is that Christ has after the resurrection? Aren’t you just desperately flailing to avoid the plain implications of what Paul has written in 1 Corinthians 15?

The real capper to this discussion comes in the next section when Licona tries to explain away Paul's failure to mention the empty tomb while listing the resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

“Still,” I pressed, “why didn’t Paul specifically use the words ‘empty tomb’?”

For Licona, the answer was all too obvious. “It was unnecessary,” he said. It would be redundant after he said ‘resurrection.’”

“But can you blame people today for wishing Paul had been even more explicit?”

Licona shrugged. “Maybe the skeptics want to have it spelled out for them in the twenty-first century, but Paul was writing this in the first century. They all knew what resurrection meant. To them, Paul was plenty explicit. He’s clear in his own letters. Moreover, when Luke reports Paul stating in Acts 13:37 that Jesus’ body ‘did not see decay’ readers surely understood that his physical body had been raised—and if the body was raised, the tomb was empty. This is early Apostolic tradition.

In the end, I had to admit: this made sense to me too.

Does it Lee? If so, than you are an idiot. If not, then you are simply matching Licona shovel for shovel.

The question is obvious to any real skeptic. If Paul expected his readers to understand exactly what “resurrection” meant in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, why the hell would he spend 1 Corinthians 15:12-54 explaining what resurrection meant? Hell, nobody understands what resurrection means now. How would Greek pagans in Corinth know the meaning of resurrection in Judaism? How can you even pretend that Paul thought his readers understood this? Why would he have bothered to write the letter?

These guys are shameless. That's the only thing that's obvious.


  1. 'The body that is sown is perishable....'

    Where is the word 'soma' in the Greek for that verse?

    The dead are sown and the dead are raised.

    But Paul carefully does not have the word 'body' as subject here.

    And why was flesh and blood used to mean 'mortal being'?

    Because if you had flesh and blood, you were a mortal being!

    So how could think that the resurrected Jesus had flesh and blood, when having flesh and blood meant that you were mortal?

  2. Surely the word 'pneumatikos' in 1 Corinthians 9 is basically the same word as in 1 Corinthians 15.

    Paul's whole point is that the Corinthians were idiots to think that a corpse turns into a resurrected body.

    He gives them a whole list of examples of earthly and heavenly things - fish, birds, animals, the sun, the moon.

    These do not turn into each other.

    In Paul's view, an earthly thing could not become a heavenly thing.

    It would be like a fish turning into the moon.

    That is why the Corinthians were idiots.

    Their model of a resurrection was like wondering how a fish can turn into the moon.

    Hence Paul's elaborate talk of all sorts of different bodies, to emphasise that a resurrected body is not a transformed corpse.

    No heavenly thing is a transformed earthly thing.

  3. 'They’re sown natural—bodies with all their fleshly and sinful desires and with hearts and lungs—but raised and transformed into a new body with spiritual appetites and empowered by God’s Spirit.'

    So Licona is claiming that there has to be a corpse present to be transformed? Paul's whole thesis is that there has to be a body to be transformed.

    What about all the cremated bodies? Or the billions of bodies which have been eaten and disappeared?

    How would Paul's answer have answered the questions of the Corinthians about how dead people could be resurrected, as they surely knew that corpses were often burned to ash and smoke?

    It wouldn't. They would still scoff at the idea of God transforming bodies which no longer exist, just as I would scoff at the idea of God transforming water into wine, if there wasn't any water left to transform.

    Paul, of course, *explicitly* teaches the destruction of the natural body, not its salvation.

    2 Corinthians 5:1 'For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands'

    'Not made with hands' is jargon for made from a different material.

  4. 1 Corinthians (as common with Paul’s letters) was written to address problems within the Church. You can read it almost like a laundry list:

    1) Problem of marriage/divorce. Solution
    2) Problem of Gifts. Solution.
    3) Problem of Sexual Immorality. Solution

    And so on… One of the problems Paul was addressing was the Corinthian concept of Resurrection. They didn’t know what this new Christian perspective would be. I always find it an extremely weak (yet amazingly popular) argument to claim, “Oh, they already knew such-and-such, which is why Paul didn’t write it.” Paul was addressing a problem. To claim they already knew the solution is…well…ludicrous. To claim they already knew of an empty tomb is stupid.

    The Jewish concept of Resurrection was en masse--everyone at one time. The concept of an “empty tomb” would be meaningless, since there would be no one to be around to observe any empty tombs and they would all be empty anyway. They did not have this one-at-a-time view more popular today. For Paul to speak of Jesus’ body no longer present at all would be very new indeed. To talk of his already being resurrected (when no one else was) would also be new.

    So Paul was addressing a new problem with a new solution, but doesn’t mention supporting evidence because they already knew it? But if they already knew it, it wouldn’t be a problem, now would it?

    Further, Licona (and Strobel) fail to mention burial practices of the time. Bodies were habitually placed in tombs and later removed. In fact, the Jewish notion was that you were not truly “dead” until one year after the heart stopped beating. For that one year, your body was laid in a tomb to decompose. (The decomposition process was part of the retribution for acts committed while alive.) After one year, the only thing left were the bones, which would then be placed in an Ossuary (bone box) with designation of the person. Typically a family tomb would contain numerous ossuaries—father, mother, sons, grandchildren, etc.

    Since Jesus was not from Jerusalem, his family tomb would have been in his hometown of Galilee. If Joseph used his tomb for Jesus temporarily, it would have been normal, even expected, for Jesus’ family to remove his body and take it back home for proper burial. Most likely immediately, but possibly one year later.

    The reason Paul didn’t talk about an “empty tomb” is because everyone, EVERYONE would expect Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb to be empty of Jesus’ body. If you wanted Jesus’ Ossuary (there would be no body) one would look to Galilee.

    Paul, in his typical convoluted way, was saying, “Don’t worry about the physical body. It is, at best, a seed which will disappear once the new plant—your spiritual body—comes out.” Of course this is some type of spiritual resurrection. The “material” of the supernatural was considered quite different than the material of the natural. (They fail to point that out as well.)

    Finally, this was not exactly a new question. The Jews wrestled with the resurrected body as well, if I remember correctly. I thought there was some Rabbinical teaching regarding whether a man who was blind in one eye would be blind after the resurrection, or what age they would portray. I am too lazy to look it up. I will when Strobel interviews me. *grin.*

  5. Strobel takes a lot of heat for his books. The two or three I have read are not defintive tomes on the subjects covered. In fact, I found them to be a somewhat hurried synopsis of how his research probably went. They seem a bit too convenient, even for me who doesn't think he's the putz Vinny and friends seem to believe he is. At the same time, he lists quite a group of people who DO have definitive works on such things, and it is to them one should concern themselves, not a distiller of info like Strobel.

  6. The evidence is not in Strobel. Somebody else has it.

    More pass the parcel apologetics.

    The evidence is always in another book.

    When you open that book, you will be told that the evidence is in another book.

    Eventually you open the last book and discover there is nothing in the parcel of 'evidence' that is being passed from one book to another.

  7. I have certainly had the same experience as Steven Carr.

    In Lord or Legend? , I saw Greg Boyd citing Richard Bauckham as authority for a claim that the oral culture of first century Palestine would be capable of accurately handing on the historical facts of Jesus’ life until the time they were recorded in the gospels. There was no explanation of Bauckham’s research; just some conclusory assertions along the lines of “recent scholarship has shown that oral cultures can preserve history more accurately than once thought.”

    I am now taking a look at Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Bauckham, which I obtained through inter-library loan. In turns out that Bauckham cites the abstract conclusions of other scholars with little or no details concerning the factual situations they investigated and little or no showing of how their conclusions apply to first century Palestine.

    Compare that to John Dominic Crossan’s The Birth of Christianity. In the section titled “Memory and Orality,” he describes both the research and the conclusions of scholars in these fields. He describes studies of the transmission of oral traditions in Yugoslavia with specific illustrations of how the stories were altered by different performers in terms of details, length, and phrasing. He describes various studies of memory with detailed examples of different experiments with different types of information. Even if you disagree with Crossan, you are not left wondering whether or not the authorities he cites actually have anything to do with the arguments he is making.