27 June, 2007

NT Wright: The Resurrection of the Son of God

The Jews experienced a number of changes in their basic beliefs about resurrection over the centuries. By the time of the second temple, they had quite a fragmented set of ideas on the subject. The Pharisees believed that there would be a general resurrection of believers at the end of time (and often did not believe unbelievers would rise at all). The Saducees believed there was no resurrection. Other Jews had brought in the Platonic belief that the body was inferior and was best shucked off to live as eternal spirits.

The pagans also had changed their beliefs on the subject. Before ending up at the Platonic solution, they went through centuries of believing the dead were at best half-spiritually alive, and that they would never rise again. The dead forgot everything they ever knew, and lived comatose lives of spiritual misery forever. Plato did come along, and he did change all that. He taught that the dead were forevermore spiritual, and that they were infinitely happier than they had ever been while trapped in their mortal bodies.

Given this matrix of Jewish conflict on the subject, and complete pagan denunciation of the mere idea of resurrection, how Christianity come to embrace the idea of resurrection with one voice and in complete agreement? Why did they alter the Judaism from which they emerged such that the resurrection would be of two parts (first Christ, and later all His brothers and sisters) and such that it encompassed the whole idea of the triumphant kingdom?

NT Wright's answer in The Resurrection of the Son of God is, because Christ actually, eternally rose from the dead.

Wright makes a number of points. Most emphatically, he declares that resurrection is not life-after-death. There is definitely life after death, though most gospel writers are fuzzy at best about what that life is like, but that is not resurrection. Resurrection is life after life-after-death. Resurrection is when a formerly alive person dies, goes on to experience life-after-death, and then is brought back to live again on this planet with a new body - a body that is both physical and yet transcends the abilities of the former body and is somehow spiritual too. Heaven, he states, is not where we spend our eternity. Heaven is a realm unimaginably near to our own, and that intersects with our own in a number of ways, and our resurrected bodies will be comfortable interacting with heaven even while they live here on earth.

Wright explores every pertinent ancient source on the subject of resurrection in general, and on Christ's resurrection in particular. When he has completed his argument, you have insight into the beliefs of first temple Jews, second temple Jews, intertestamental apocryphal books, ancient pagan philosophers, later pagan philosophers, Paul, other writers of epistles, gospel writers, extra-canonical gospels, other Christian aprocryphal books, classical heretics, and finally the gospels' easter accounts. His historical analysis concludes with a thorough exploration of "necessary and sufficient" cause. He demonstrates that Christ's resurrection is sufficient to cause a movement like Christianity to emerge, and furthermore that an event like the resurrection actually happening as described is most probably necessary for the Christian doctrine of resurrection to emerge.

Throughout the entire book he maintains a consistent level-headedness that is a delight to read, and grants his opponents reasonable dignity, even as he tweaks their noses from time to time.

I won't kid you. At 730 pages, this book is probably not going to float everyone's boat, but if you've ever wanted to make a serious argument that the resurrection proved Christ as God's Son, you need this book. Wright defines the argument much more closely than anyone else I've ever read. He will keep you from over-promising on the meaning of the resurrection while arming you beautifully to defend the points you actually end up staking out.



Steven Carr said...

'Given this matrix of Jewish conflict on the subject, and complete pagan denunciation of the mere idea of resurrection, how Christianity come to embrace the idea of resurrection with one voice and in complete agreement? '

Why did early Christian converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth scoff at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse?

Why would the author of 1 Peter 1:24 claim that 'All flesh is grass', with its implicationn that flesh was temporary?

Paul thinks all discussion of how a corpse can become a resurrected being is foolish , and reminds the Corinthians that earthly things are as different from heavenly things as a fish is different from the moon.

Nobody expects a fish to turn into the Moon!

Paul trashes the idea that resurrected beings are made out of the dust that corpses dissolve into :-

47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As 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. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

Paul pleaded in Romans 7:24 to be rescued from his body.

Whatever body Paul thought Jesus had (and he could not use eyewitness accounts to explain to the Corinthians what he meant), Paul did not believe it was the body that was planted into the ground.

That body was history. It brought death with it, and Jesus had become a life-giving spirit.

Steven Carr said...

' He will keep you from over-promising on the meaning of the resurrection while arming you beautifully to defend the points you actually end up staking out.'

I have debates on the resurrection at Debate 1 and Debate 2

Defending the resurrection using Wright's arguments is a hopeless task.

Why did Paul write 'the first man Adam became a created being, the last Adam a life-giving spirit', which typology clearly indicates that all Christians will become life-giving spirits when they are resurrected?

The Gospels claim that resurrected beings eat.

Paul , writing to Christian converts, trashes the idea that resurrected beings will eat.

1 Corinthians 6:13 - "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"—but God will destroy them both.

Even such non-sinful activities as eating will be gone come the resurrection.

Paul clearly had no knowledge of any stories of a resurrected Jesus eating.

codepoke said...

Thank you for commenting, Mr. Carr.

Yours is an interesting set of conclusions based upon an interesting set of logical leaps. You have clearly given this a lot of thought, and come armed to the teeth. Your statements regarding Paul's opinions are misleading and misinformed, but certainly popular these days. I'm sure your journey to your present beliefs is fascinating.

But I would rather hear from you what your positive points are. You don't believe there is a physical resurrection, and yet you seem to cling to some kind of Christian truth. You believe Jesus was and is a life-giving spirit. You think Paul believed Jesus had some kind of body.

So, what happens when we die? How does Jesus play into that story? Who was Jesus 2000 years ago? Who is He today? What does any of that mean to us?

Steven Carr said...

I don't know what happens when you die.

You will have to ask some dead people.

codepoke said...


I know a guy who died and came back and old all about it. I believe him.

So, what are your plans to prepare for death?

Kansas Bob said...

CP -- I really liked this "Resurrection is life after life-after-death"

Steven -- Couldn't read your stuff because your debate links go to a website that needs a user login/password. I would be willing to read a very brief synopsis of them if you care to share them. Hopefully it will not just be a regurgitation of old Gnostic dogma or modern day swoon theories.


Steven Carr said...

Have they changed the site access recently? That bad

Registration is free.

I have an article at Paul and the resurretion of Jesus

Wright says that when Paul calls the Jesus-worshippers in Corinth 'idiots', it is just abuse.

Why does Paul abuse people who wonder how corpses can be raised?

Most Christians think it a very sensible question.

Steven Carr said...

Why did early Christian converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth scoff at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse?


Can abybody supply Wright's answer to that question?

Kansas Bob said...


I looked at the post on your blog. You seem to have built a theology around your interpretation of a few verses in 1 Cor 15. Anything other scriptures that support your ideas? And why do you think that your interpretation is important? Really, what point are you trying to make?


Steven Carr said...

There are just tons of verses which support the idea that Paul thought the present body would be destroyed, not saved.

2 Corinthians 5 has a good example.

Wright struggles to reconcile the idea of the earthly tent being destroyed and moving into a heavenly tent, with Wright's own belief that people will stay in the body they have now, but transformed.

I guess when Wright moves from one residence to another, he takes the old one with him and transforms it.

codepoke said...

Hello Steven,

There are few people with the intellect to snipe effectively, but the internet draws them like moths - and I don't enjoy sniping. The problem is that I don't know whether you are a sniper, so I probe a little bit to see how you react. Do you want to talk about eternity, or do you want to fire well-prepared verses from the book of Corinthians?

Don't feel alone if it seems like I'm ducking you. I've frustrated some of my favorite people in the world this way. If I cannot see your big picture, I won't argue with your proof-texts.

I hope to hear what your long-term goal is spiritually.

About your proof-texts, themselves.

You are not going to like my take on them, but here it is. If you read Kasparov, Fischer, Tal, etc. on chess, you will not hear a single discussion of what to do about the queen's knight pawn opening. Taking that ommision as a proof of the unfailing success of the queen's knight pawn opening is a mistake, though.

Wright takes on every major scholarly argument against the classic view of the resurrection. If he does not take yours on (as you say he does not) I'm inclined to believe you are presenting a theological version of queen's knight pawn opening.

When the best in the field completely ignore an argument, it's not because they're ignorant. It's because nobody on either side of the discussion sees a profitable outcome to that argument. That is exactly how I feel about your interpretations of the verses upon which you are leaning. When your interpretation enjoys no support from any side of the discussion, the burden of proof is on you.

I'm at a disadvantage, if we carry on, because I loaned out my copy of TRohSG on Sunday. But, if you want to take a bigger view, I'll do my best from memory and scripture.

Steven Carr said...

Wright spends 730 pages and never quotes in full Paul writing 'the first man Adam became a created being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit'.

Nor does Wright ever quote the author of 1 Peter 1:24 writing 'All flesh is grass' or Paul writing 'Who will rescue me from this body of death?'

For all I know , Wright might well have decided that the arguments of the Biblical authors have been exploded, and that Paul is not worth quoting in full and that it is a waste of space to quote the beliefs of the Biblical authors that flesh will perish, rather than be saved.

But the Biblical authors are still interesting to discuss, even if Wright does not want to.

Steven Carr said...

Wright's spin on 'the last Adam became a life-giving spirit' is to ignore the blatant typology and to say that it means that after his death, the body of Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus now had the power to give life to the dead.

Which is amazing considering that the body of Jesus was supposed to be filled with God before the resurrection and that Jesus had a 'life-giving spirit' before the resurrection.

Such spin means that the main use of Wright's book when arguing with sceptics is to point out that it has over 700 pages.

The actual arguments are pretty easy to refute, but it does have almost as many pages as a Harry Potter book.

The typology of 'the last Adam became a life-giving spirit' means that Paul thought all Christians would share in the nature of the second Adam, just as they had shared in the nature of the first Adam.

All Christians would become 'life-giving spirits', not just Jesus.

Of course, spirit (pneuma) was considered a material, just as much an element as air, earth ,fire and water.

The whole thrust of 1 Corinthians 15 is that there are different elements, and heavenly beings are made out of different elements to earthly beings.

So it was foolish to wonder how a corpse can turn into a resurrected being - as foolish as wondering how water could turn into fire.