Pastor David B. Curtis


Physical Resurrection?

An open letter from Dan Harden to Hank Hanegraff on the resurrection of believers

To Hank Hanegraff:

Thank you for your ministry, I find that you usually have a way of getting right to the Biblical point on controversial issues.

This is regarding a few things that were said on the radio broadcast yesterday, 8/10/99.

To one caller, who was asking about the Christian perspective of being an organ donor in light of 1 Cor 15, you responded that being an organ donor was a good cause. I certainly agree. You then proceeded to say that the "resurrected body" of 1 Cor 15 was numerically the same as the physical body we currently have.

The next caller was asking about Kirkegard, to which you cautioned that his subjective truth put him in a position of cognitive dissonance. Again, I agree.

But in reviewing your answers to these two callers, it seems that you are in a position of cognitive dissonance as well! Consider -- you indicate that we shall be resurrected back into our physical bodies, numerically whole. But if a person dies with an organ, say a liver, and it is subsequently donated to another person who needs it, and that person uses it but also dies, then you have a situation where both will be resurrected with the same liver! That makes your statement inconsistent and irresolvable logically.

Let me again say that I support organ donors, and believe we are remiss if we don't use our resources for the betterment of life for mankind.

Let me also reassure you that I am a devout Christian, and have been studying the Word now for 35 years. I believe in the trinity, I believe in Christ being wholly God and wholly man, and I believe that salvation can only be had through Christ and Christ alone.

Now, I believe you were suggesting that the issue of donating organs was minor when compared to the "resurrection of the dead". Actually, I agree! But I'm not sure you have explained why you feel this is so. As I see it, there are three ways to look at a physical resurrection.

(1) The soul reanimates the body as it finds it.

(2) The body is restored to its condition at death before the soul reanimates it.

(3) The body is restored to peak condition before the soul reanimates it.

In the only instances we have of a reanimation of a physical body in the Bible, it would seem that (1) is the mode of resurrection. This is a major problem, however, for anybody that has been physically dead for over about 3 days, as well as for those that died violently or while not strong -- like the extremely aged or the extremely young.

Christ still had his death wounds when He rose back into His physical body. That would indicate that He probably also was a case (1) resurrection. The most that can be asserted was that He was a case (2) resurrection.

This leaves us with a problem when confronted with the "resurrection of the dead". Surely no Christian would suggest that the type of resurrection indicated is the same as Lazarus, for the indications are that Lazarus, who received a case (1) resurrection, lived to physically die again. The obvious reason against this is that most bodies of physically dead Christians are not in a condition anymore to be reanimated.

However, neither is a case (2) resurrection sufficient for the Christian, for this leaves a distinct problem for those that died violently, such as in a fire or as a result of a beheading, or those that were infirmed prior to death, such as with blindness or deafness. Would it be a blessing to receive their physical bodies back under those conditions, after having shed them? Not likely.

That leaves a case (3) resurrection, which would be what you are suggesting, and what would seem to solve your problem. This case entails a body that is miraculously healed of any and all infirmities. But a closer inspection may be that it creates as many or more problems as it solves. Consider:

What are the chances that there has never been any physical element or atom present in more than one body at "peak condition" during all of history? Slim to none.

How can a soul that physically died as a deformed child and is resurrected into a perfect "peak condition" body be considered to have received back his numerically same physical body? It wouldn't be the same shape, size, or look. It is insufficient to indicate that it "would have been, had he led a normal life". The whole idea of physical resurrection isn't a case of "might have been", it is a case of "was".

Those are just two examples of the impossibility of trying to assert a "numerical sameness" to the physical resurrection under case (3). There is one point, however, that seems to speak volumes against this scenario.

The entire argument for a physical resurrection hinges on the fact that we shall be raised as he was, for 1 Cor clearly indicates that Christ was the firstfruit. This would then say that the manner of the "resurrection of the body" must be the same as Christ's resurrection, in order to maintain a proper "firstfruit" relationship.

But not only is case (3) NOT the resurrection that Christ received -- He still had His death wounds -- it is also attributing to Christians a resurrection substantially BETTER than that which Christ received! Christ received His body back just as He left it, while Christians would receive a perfect body. Christ still carried the wounds He had in life, while Christians would be miraculously healed of all wounds. Can you see the discontinuity that this entails? It is sufficient to negate the case of "firstfruit", for Christ wasn't raised that way at all!

So now that all three cases have been shown to have problems, you are still left with a "cognitive dissonance" between the body of the "resurrection of the dead" being numerically the same, the resurrection being the same as the type that Christ experienced, and the fact that the body of every dead Christian since Christ has suffered decay. These are incompatible and irresolvable.

Incidentally, I've heard ministers say that belief in the physical resurrection is essential for salvation. But how can this be? In 1 Cor 15, the Corinthians were obviously not correctly understanding the resurrection, and yet Paul still considers them Christian brothers. Paul did not consider them outside of Christendom for their erroneous understanding. Any minister that attaches any view of eschatology to salvation is adding to the gospel and therefore teaching another gospel.

Now there are several issues that have to be considered before this can be resolved.

(1) Acts 2:24-27 indicates that only of Christ is the natural process of decay invalidated. Nowhere does Scripture teach that mankind other than Christ wouldn't see decay. This is a point of discontinuity.

(2) Christ's risen form had properties that were previously foreign to it. He could appear and disappear in this earthly realm at will, walls couldn't hold him, and He didn't need physical sustenance. In fact, He spent the majority of His time invisible, not visible in this realm. This is a condition that describes the angelic activity in both the OT and the NT, not a condition that is ever used of the physical body.

(3) 1 Cor 15:37 clearly states that the body that is raised for the Christian is NOT the body that is, but a different body. Paul actually affirms that the physical body and the heavenly body are different no less than four times:

37. And what you sow, YOU DO NOT SOW THAT BODY THAT SHALL BE, but mere grain perhaps wheat or some other grain.
44. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. THERE IS A NATURAL BODY, AND THERE IS A SPIRITUAL BODY
49. And as we have borne the image of the MAN OF DUST, we shall also bear the image of the HEAVENLY MAN.
50. Now this I say, brethren, that FLESH AND BLOOD CANNOT INHERIT the kingdom of God; nor does CORRUPTION INHERIT INCORRUPTION.

So you said it is numerically the same body, but Paul said it is NOT the same body.

Let me say right here and now that Christ was indeed raised physically and bodily. There is no question about that. But does His physical resurrection necessitate ours, based on the "firstfruit" idea?

In order to properly understand this, it must also be understood what was understood by the word "resurrection" in the first century. There were at the time a variety of philosophies regarding the afterlife among both the Greeks and the Hebrews. But one thing that was clear was that before the second century, no group understood this to mean a PHYSICAL resurrection! The common understanding among the Greek speaking world was one of survival of physical death, where the soul proceeds to another existence in the afterlife (heavenly) realm after death. Every Greek philosophy that addressed this did so from a "what happens after we die" standpoint. Resurrection was merely the rising of the living soul out of the dead body, NOT the reanimation of the dead body. Some philosophers adhered to a "corporate entity" resurrection, indicating that after death the soul proceeded to become part of one massive all-encompassing entity. Others indicated that after death the soul would drift around without a body. Others indicated that there was no existence after death. In each of these Greek philosophies, there was no indication that the resurrection included any physical reanimation at all. The resurrection was merely a concept for what happens to the soul once it is freed of the physical body.

Paul's usage of the seed analogy in 1 Cor 15:37 actually supports this! The seed is buried. The shell dies and falls away, while the inner part of the seed springs forth with a new body. The seed is the whole man, body AND soul, the shell is the old body that dies and falls away, and the plant is the numerically new body that the soul acquires. This is NOT a PHYSICAL body, for the soul is no longer in the physical realm, but a HEAVENLY body. A new body is needed, for just as the seed must shed the shell that it had while in seed form, so too must the man shed the body while in physical form. The inner germ of the seed is then given a plant body that is adequate for its new environment, as is the soul given a new form that is adequate for its new realm. Simple concept, so often misunderstood.

And then, when Paul indicates that "it is sown corruptible, it is raised incorruptible", the idea that what the "it" is becomes clearer. Paul doesn't say "it" is the body, but rather he just finished saying that the body that is sown is NOT the body that is raised, and that each has a body as is appropriate. It is not the "body" that is sown and raised, but the seed. Therefore verse 44 is NOT:

"The body is sown a natural body, and the body is raised a spiritual body."

but rather

"The seed is sown a natural body, and the seed is raised a spiritual body."

This is much more in keeping with the seed analogy. The seed shell dies and falls away, being recycled into the natural order. The seed never goes back into the seed once it has left it!

If we apply this back to man, then the same principle is at work -- the physical body dies and falls away, and the soul sprouts in the heavenly realm with a form adequate for that realm. The physical body decays and is recycled into the system. The soul has no more need for it.

Now it must be made clear that this thought is NOT anti-Biblical, but rather any thought that adheres to a resurrected PHYSICAL body goes against the clear teaching of Paul.

The idea that this type of thought is a Gnostic heresy is also incorrect. Isn't it true that the Gnostics believed in God? So is belief in God a Gnostic heresy? Not at all.

The Gnostic error wasn't in their definition of what the resurrection was -- they adhered to the same definition as the Greeks did, and Paul never rebuked them for that -- but in other areas. First, the Gnostics denied the trinity. They denied that Christ was wholly God and wholly man. That was their biggest mistake, the one that took them beyond the bounds of Christianity.

Second, they denied the importance of the physical body, espousing rather that it didn't matter what was done while in the physical body. This came from the knowledge that the physical body was only temporary (2 Cor 5:1) while the heavenly body was eternal. But they took it to extreme, allowing all types of sin under this guise. They failed to see that what we do while in this body was crucial to our faith, and that living Godly lives while in this body was what was called for. They gave themselves license for all physical sin, because the Kingdom wasn't physical but spiritual. It is THAT which John addresses in 1 John 3. In all the problems that the NT addresses where the Gnostics are concerned, NOT ONCE are they redressed for having an erroneous view of what the resurrection is, but only for how they apply it to this life. That is a critical distinction!

Indeed, we see the same type of thing where Hymenaeus and Philetus are concerned in 2 Tim 2:17-18 -- their error wasn't in their definition of what a resurrection was, but in the timing of the resurrection of the dead. How could they have possibly led the saints astray if the saints understood that the resurrection was a physical resurrection? Answer -- they couldn't have.

The same is true for understanding 2 Thes 2:1-2 - how could they possibly assume the eschatological events had already happened if they understood that these events would accompany physical resurrection?

In both cases, it was extremely obvious that a physical resurrection hadn't taken place, so that type of deception couldn't have happened.

So what is the answer? How was it that Christ was a "firstfruit" and that Christians can follow? As I have already mentioned, the answer lies in understanding the meaning of the first-century term "resurrection". We know that only Christ was free of decay, so we know the idea of "firstfruit" couldn't extend to any physicality. But if we understand resurrection to be life beyond the grave, free of the Hadean realm of the dead, then it all begins to fit.

Murray Harris, in his book "From Grave to Glory", correctly identified that to understand the resurrection of the saints, we must first understand Christ's resurrection. Harris makes the suggestion that the nature of Christ's body after the resurrection was radically different than before the crucifixion, based on the abilities already mentioned -- existing primarily in an "invisible" state, needing no food, not being physically confined. What Harris suggests is that when Christ was raised into His physical body, it was transformed into a heavenly body, of the same type as the angels. (And doesn't He say in Luke 20 that at the resurrection we shall be as angels?) Yes, Christ was raised bodily, but it was transformed. So His primary existence was "invisible" because creatures from heaven aren't restricted to being visible in the physical realm, although they can appear at need.

The same is not true of saints, however. It is well within the realm of speculation to assume that the saint's body cannot be so transformed because of its sinfulness. Only Christ's body didn't see decay.

The question then becomes one of reversal -- if the norm is to be raised with a heavenly body that is numerically NOT the physical body, why was Christ raised into His physical body? The answer to this seems to be for evidentiary reasons. It was critical to Christianity that the apostles know for sure that He had indeed risen, having come out of the Hadean realm in the first step to conquering death.

Having said all that, I think it is critical when interpreting any text to consider audience relevance. When we consider to whom 1 Cor 15 was written, and when we understand that the idea of resurrection for the Greeks in the first century had nothing to do with physicality, and everything to do with what happened when the physical is left behind, then the complications created by overlaying a physical resurrection on 1 Cor 15 begin to fall away.

There is evidence as well that the Hebrews understood resurrection in the same terms as the Greeks, rather than a physical resurrection. In Luke 20, the Sadducees equated the resurrection with an "afterlife" event, not with an event in the physical form. In Acts 23:8, the concept of resurrection for the Pharisees and Sadducees is tied in to heavenly realm things -- angels and spirits -- not physical things.

I look forward to the day when I will be in heaven with the Lord in a form far superior to what I now have. I don't believe it was ever meant for us to die, be with the Lord in heaven in a heavenly form, and then return to the physical. After all, 1 Cor 15:46 says: "However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. " There is no hint there of a return to the physical form.

In fact, it is logically impossible, and cognitively dissonant, to reconcile the true idea of Christ being the "firstfruit" in 1 Cor 15 with the idea of physical resurrection.

Is belief in the physical resurrection of the believer critical for salvation? Nay, not at all. Belief in the risen and divine Lord, being born into His Kingdom, following the Father -- this is what is necessary to becoming a new creature in Christ.

In Christ,

Dan Harden

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