In 2 Kings 8:1 and 5 Elishah (cf. Elijah in 1 K. 17:17-24) is portrayed as the prophet who restored to life (resuscitated) the son of a Shunammite woman to whom he had ministered (4:32-37). While such actions as his are presented as resurrections throughout the Bible, Christians customarily distinguish between a resurrection and a restoration. For example, it may be said that Lazarus underwent restoration to natural or earthly life only to die again (cf. John 11:23-26); in contrast Jesus experienced a resurrection to immortality which implies that he was raised never to die again (Rom. 6:9; Rev. 1:18). This, as Murray Harris asserts, constitutes a move “from restoration from death to conquest over death” (Raised Immortal, pp.226f.). Though the point is valid, it is questionable whether the distinction is very helpful to our understanding of the post-resurrection body of Jesus. For whatever else was implied in Jesus’ resurrection, it certainly involved physical restoration like all the other earthly resurrections that occur in the Bible. In John 10:17f. Jesus tells us that the life he will lay down is the one he will take up (cf. John 2:19-22). (It should be noted that he uses the word ‘psyche’ here implying that what he will take up again is his fleshly, Adamic, physical, ‘natural’ or ‘psychikos’ life, which on his own account he should never have lost since he did not sin. Cf. 1 Pet. 3:18 which refers to his death in the flesh and his spirit, ‘pneuma’, in heaven.)
In light of the clear information we are given, his physical restoration is beyond reasonable dispute. The implication of passages like Luke 24:39-42, Acts 10:40f. and John 20:17,27-29 leaves us no room for manoeuvre except as disbelievers. If, however, we acknowledge Jesus’ truly physical restoration, in what way was his ‘resurrection’ different from that of Lazarus and others? It is a common assumption that his resurrected body was transformed and glorified (see e.g. Geivett and Habermas, In Defence of Miracles, pp.316,319; Packer and Oden, One Faith, pp.80,92, Downers Grove, 2004. Glorification is normally understood to mean corporeal and spiritual perfection in the presence of our immortal God, 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16). However, in view of the evidence, this is impossible to sustain. For Paul would have us believe that a permanent glorified body is at once invisible (Rom. 8:24f.; 2 Cor. 4:18) and endowed with splendour (Eph. 5:27; Phil. 3:21, cf. 1 John 3:2), fitted for heaven not earth (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). (There is a disturbing failure among many writers to distinguish adequately between heaven and earth. Under the influence of Augustine and a false interpretation of Romans 8:18-25, many seem to think that the only problem with the earth is the effect of sin. They seem to ignore entirely the very first verse of the Bible which indicates that the earth is temporal and in direct contrast with heaven which is eternal. God’s throne is heaven and earth his footstool, Isa. 66:1; Mt. 5:34f.; Acts 7:49f.) So, since flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, our initial conclusion must be, as John 20:17 (cf. 6:62f.) implies, that Jesus was not glorified until his ascension and exaltation. However, we must not run ahead of ourselves.
It may be observed, first, that while we are bound to associate resurrection with transformation so far as we ourselves who experience corruption are concerned (1 Cor. 15:35ff.; 2 Cor. 5:1, etc.), we must avoid attributing transformation to Jesus at his restoration from the grave on pain of denying his true physical resurrection. (Pace Habermas, who tells us that Jesus rose in a transformed but still physical body, Miracles, p.274. In contrast Tom Houston says that Jesus was no longer in the flesh but had a resurrected body, p.242. These are both contradictions in terms and reflect confusion regarding the biblical position.) For if the Jesus that rose is not restored but is fundamentally different from the one that was buried, then his resurrection never truly occurred. In fact, it is not a resurrection at all but a transformation or metamorphosis. He was in plain language ‘a ghost’ (Lu. 24:39, cf. Mt. 14:26), something he himself seems to be at considerable pains to deny. In this case, the word ‘resurrection’ is emptied of meaning. We must probe further.
Next, there is a basic theological reason why we must deny the idea that the resurrected Jesus was at the same time transformed and glorified and, by implication, not restored and no longer physical. Apart from the fact that the glorification of corruptible flesh is inherently contradictory (1 Cor. 15:50), the point we must consider is that Jesus did not die on his own account but for us. This means that having died for us and risen again, he was necessarily saved from the permanent clutches of death (Acts 2:23f., cf. Rom. 6:9; Heb. 5:7; Rev. 1:18) and hence the same as he was before (cf. John 2:19; 10:17f.). Why is this so? The answer lies in the original vocation of man in the early chapters of Genesis. In the Garden of Eden, God promised mortal Adam that he would not die if he obeyed the commandment. He did not keep it and, since the wages of sin is death, he died. Jesus, however, did indeed keep the commandment, the entire law of Moses in fact, and so inherited (eternal) life. It follows from this that since he freely gave his fleshly body on our account (Col. 1:22; 1 Pet. 3:18), so he kept it, or should have kept it, on his own account! So far as he himself was concerned, since he never sinned he should never have died, least of all experienced ensuing corruption. Rather he inherited the promise of his Father by retaining his flesh or physicality as though he had never died. In other words, he would have been as Adam (or even any of his posterity) would have been if he had never sinned. He thus became the complete man who was perfected at his ascension, exaltation and heavenly session. Since flesh and blood, which are inherently corruptible (Gal. 6:8; 1 Pet. 3:4, etc.), cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:1-8), he necessarily underwent transformation at his ascension (cf. Rev. 12:5) as the pioneer of the saints who are still alive at his coming (1 Cor. 15:51). In confirmation of this, the three examples that Scripture gives us of avoidance of death (and hence of resurrection), that is, those of Enoch, Elijah and the saints at the end of history, are all transformed at their ascension. This being so, we are bound to infer that it was Jesus himself who provided the pattern or model for Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:51 (cf. 1 Thes. 4:15-17; Phil. 3:21). (See further below. Rev. 11:11f., which involves a vision, is clearly based on the physical resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The witnesses come to life, cf. John 10:17f., as he did and then ascend.)
It is here that Murray Harris (Raised Immortal) seems to have seriously misinterpreted the evidence at his disposal, for he implicitly denies the physicality of Jesus’ resurrection, as Norman Geisler (The Battle for the Resurrection), who had his own but different problems, noted and vehemently criticized. (The idea that Jesus’ resurrection body was spiritual was championed by the Alexandrian school and Origen. Ignatius and Tertullian took the view that Jesus rose again in the flesh. See e.g. art. Resurrection of Christ in EDT, p.939. By contrast, it is an odd fact that the premillennialist view that Jesus is going to return to earth in the flesh implies that his resurrection was merely a restoration. It also necessarily implies that his ascension was fleshly which is contrary to Paul’s explicit teaching in 1 Cor.15:50, contrast Geisler, pp.194f. See further below.) Harris makes much of what are in effect Jesus’ phantasmal appearances and disappearances and the like after his resurrection failing to note that they featured in the physical or natural life of Elijah (1 K. 18:12), Philip (Acts 8:39) and Peter (Acts 12:6-11), for example. We do not draw the conclusion that Peter was transformed when he overcame locked doors, so why should we in Jesus’ case? The reason why Jesus appeared only to believers (Acts 10:41; 1 Cor. 15:5-7) was, in part, to preserve the nature of the gospel, that is, justification by faith. (The weakness of Harris’ case seems to me to become most evident when he sets side by side what he calls the ‘materialistic’ and the ‘non-materialistic’ statements in his later work “From Grave to Glory”, pp.372f. His conclusion that the glorified Jesus is still “in the flesh” and that the incarnation is irreversible, p.415, is potentially misleading and inherently contradictory unless he simply means “human”. Surely what the Bible is teaching is that when Jesus returned to heaven, he did so as man spiritually perfected in the image of God (Mt. 5:48; 19:21) corporeally (somatically) transformed and glorified. It perhaps needs to be added at this point that we achieve physical perfection or maturity in this corruptible world and then, in accord with the law of nature, decline, die and yield to total corruption. This, I contend, is what Paul is saying in Romans 8:18-25, cf. Heb. 1:10-12, etc. So Jesus was certainly not flesh, even transformed flesh when he entered heaven! Harris’ attempt to talk in terms of acted parables, p.423, seriously threatens the actuality of the truth. Furthermore, the fact that Jesus will return in like manner, Acts 1:11, does not mean that he will come back looking (physically) as he did when he ascended but that he will return from heaven, 1 Thes. 1:10, in the glory of God, Mt. 16:27; Luke 9:26, etc., and as a consuming fire, 2 Thes. 1:7f.; 2:8, cf. Rev. 1:12-18, etc.) In both the OT and the NT faith is founded on the testimony of appointed witnesses, and we live by faith and not by sight (cf. John 20:29). For us, the ‘proofs’ of the faith never go beyond the convincing evidence provided by apostolic testimony (cf. Luke 1:2; Acts 1:3; 10:39-41; Eph. 2:20; 1 John 1-3) which we are at liberty to accept or reject.
If Jesus underwent transformation at his resurrection, why did he appear in physical form in what was apparently an earthly body unless that body was the original one he had laid down in death? The answer may be simply to indicate that he was still alive, but this hardly constitutes resurrection. If transformation is the essence of resurrection, physicality, if not corporeality, is eliminated.
Here it is useful to draw attention to an apparent contradiction in John 20. First, let us focus on Doubting Thomas. If ever there was an attempt to prove that Jesus had undergone a genuine physical restoration resurrection, this is it, for Thomas is not merely invited to touch Jesus but virtually to subject him to a careful physical examination. By contrast, in verse 17 we find Jesus asking Mary not to hang on to him, and the reason he gives is that he has not yet ascended to his Father. His implication is surely that this is his final destiny/destination (re-iterated many times in John’s gospel: e.g. John 3:13; 14:2; 16:28, etc.) and, though he is present with her at the moment, he cannot remain with her, distressing though she may find it (cf. 16:5f.). Touching, as well as seeing and hearing, him would have been pointless unless it was designed to prove that he was truly flesh and blood or bone (Luke 24:39). So, on the one hand, Jesus is underlining the genuineness of his physical resurrection from the grave and, on the other, the necessity of his coming ascension to the Father’s side which will lead to the sending of the Spirit. This is to the disciples’ advantage (John 16:7), but it cannot occur until he has been glorified (7:39, cf. John 12:16,32-34). From this we are forced to infer that Jesus was not glorified at the time of his resurrection (cf. 1 Tim. 3:16, Acts 1:2f.,22 and Rev. 12:5 where his resurrection is not mentioned, and note Heb. 1:6; 2:5). Clearly, his rising from the grave was but the beginning of his total resurrection exaltation or exodus (Luke 9:31) and permanent escape from this present evil world (Gal. 1:4) of sin and corruption (Luke 9:51; Rev. 12:5) (1* Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, p.118, sees Jesus’ ascension as his escape. In Jesus, man achieves the escape that the naturally mortal Adam was promised in Genesis 2:17.) never more to return (Acts 13:34; Heb. 7:26) (2* See further on this verse below.) Thus he ends where he began (John 17:5) but having permanently assumed human nature and paved the way for his fellows to enter the presence of God (John 17:24, cf. Heb. 2:10). As Irenaeus said, he became what we are so that we might become what he is.
There is a further point. Many seem to assume without adequate warrant that Jesus’ glorious body in heaven (Phil. 3:21) is to be identified with his post-resurrection one which his disciples saw on earth (cf. 1 John 1:1-3). On the limited evidence at our disposal it was not a particularly prepossessing one (cf. Isa. 53:2) and certainly not worthy of description. (3* Habermas and Licona’s contention, p.161, that “if the nature of our future resurrection body is immaterial and not physical, then so was Jesus’ resurrection body” is astonishing. They are comparing like with unlike! Jesus’ body on earth was like ours lowly, that is, fleshly, but in heaven it is gloriously transformed, Phil. 3:21, cf. Rev. 1:12-16; 2:18; 19:12.) But is this really what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of his heavenly glory he wishes us to see (John 17:5,24, cf. Isa. 33:17; 66:18)? Paul gives the strong impression that when God gives us an appropriate body in the world to come (cf. 1 Cor. 15:38), both the body and the world (or age) to come itself will be different (cf. Isa. 33:17-22). In other words, it will not be a revised form of the present creation (cf. Mt. 13:43) as is implied by Augustinian theology (see next paragraph). The present (evil) age (Gal. 1:4, cf. Mark 13:8) and the world to come are as fundamentally different as earth and heaven (cf. Luke 20:34-36). So far as man is concerned, there will be continuity certainly, but it will be bodily (somatic) not fleshly. The seed may differ from the plant (1 Cor. 15:37f.) but the genus is the same. Like produces like (Gen. 1:11f.. etc.), so if the seed is fleshly so is the body (John 3:6; 1 Cor. 15:48). However, if the seed is spiritual (1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9, cf. James 1:18), then the body is also. So while there is continuity of person, there is discontinuity of flesh if not body or house (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Cor. 6:13). The clay jar is dispensed with but the treasure is retained (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7).
This leads to another point which has two implications. First, Augustinian tradition based on Jewish speculation has idealized Adam and fostered the idea that he was originally created perfect and glorious like the earth from which he was taken. While the biblical evidence for this is wholly lacking, it leads logically to the belief that what the first Adam lost is recovered in the second Adam. This inevitably leads to the absurd notion that the original paradise, which was, like the temple, only a type of the true, is regained (as opposed to replaced, enhanced and spiritualised) and is the goal of creation (cf. Jer. 33:7,11! This thinking is in fact cyclical and Greek. Man ends up where he started, an idea that is implicitly rejected in John 3:1-8. But, second, tradition has failed to appreciate the difference between Greek and Christian thinking which differs fundamentally with regard to the body. Whereas in Greek thinking the body as such is an unnecessary encumbrance, the prison house of the soul, and has to be dispensed with or escaped from so that the permanence of the intellect, or the immortality of the soul, may be retained, in Christian thinking it is the corruptible flesh which is superfluous, destructible and dispensable, while the body as such is retained in a different form. The essence of the matter is finely expressed by Dunn when he asserts that soma (body) can cross the boundary of the ages whereas sarx (flesh) belongs firmly to this present age (cf. 1 Cor. 15:44-50; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:5, Romans, p.391.) The assumption harboured in church dogma seems to be that the flesh and hence physicality (materiality as opposed to corporeality) is retained. This Scripture flatly denies. The notion entertained by some (e.g. Geisler) that it is only ‘sinful’ flesh that constitutes a problem, must be rejected out of hand. As deriving from the naturally corruptible earth, flesh as such, like the law to which it relates (2 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 8:13; 9:9-14, etc.), is temporal and provisional and, as we have already seen, is incapable of inheriting the spiritual kingdom of heaven (John 3:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:42-50). The basic biblical reason why we must not foster or capitulate to the flesh, or the world for that matter, is that it is by its very nature ephemeral (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8; Heb. 12:16). To be a slave of corruption is not merely to be immoral but to be under the dominion of the intrinsically transient and corruptible creation which man’s original vocation required him to rule over in his quest for glory and honour (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:5f.). Like all created things (Rom. 1:20; Heb. 12:27), the fleshly body is destined for removal and replacement by the perfection of a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:35ff.; Rom. 8:24f.; 2 Cor. 4:17; 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:14, etc.).
It is here of course that Augustine made such a profound mistake: he assumed that the word ‘good’ in Genesis 1 meant morally ‘perfect’ rather than ‘useful’ or ‘suited to its purpose’ (cf. e.g. Gen. 2:9; 3:6; Eccl. 3:11). Thus instead of starting with imperfection (cf. the immaturity, incompleteness and innocence (!) characteristic of babies) Augustine began with perfection and consequently had to posit a ‘Fall’ from it! Furthermore, he failed to realize that man is by nature subject to development (evolution, if you will!), fleshly first and spiritual second (1 Cor. 15:46, cf. v.23). Creation, far from being universally cursed, is temporal by nature (Heb. 1:10-12, cf. Gen. 1:1 and contrast Heb. 7:3) and needs development or cultivation at the hands of man who inhabits it in order to exercise dominion over it. Apart from this, it is desolate (e.g. Jer. 9:11; Isa. 6:11; Acts 1:20, etc.). And once it has served its purpose, it will be dispensed with. Augustine put the cart before the horse, and regrettably his devotees continue to do so to this day.
After his resurrection Jesus appeared in physical form for the simple reason that he was still physical material. We have his own word for it (Luke 24:39; John 20:27). He had undergone a genuine resurrection which clearly involved restoration like that of Lazarus (John 11). (4* It can hardly pass without notice that just as all the resurrections referred to in the Bible that occur in this world involve restoration, so all ascension referred to involve transformation. See further below. It might usefully be added at this point that an earthly resurrection involving restoration hardly compares with the better resurrection, Heb. 11:35, of those who undergo a permanent physical death but are raised spiritually in the manner Paul describes in 1 Cor. 15:42-50) Any powers that he exercised which appeared to transcend the physical were no different from, and certainly not as dramatic as, say, his walking on water prior to his death when his physicality was not in question. (It should be remembered that even Peter walked on water briefly and he certainly had not undergone transformation, Mt. 14:29.) It was not until his ascension that he was transformed and disappeared permanently from physical view (cf. Acts 1:9; 2 Cor. 4:18, cf. Rom. 8:24f.), for earthly flesh and blood cannot by nature inherit the spiritual kingdom of heaven. While it is true that Jesus had completed his work on the cross (John 19:30), he did not ascend until the time set by the Father (cf. Gal. 4:2).
The Second Adam
The clearly erroneous notion that Jesus underwent transformation at his resurrection from the grave has other implications. On the face of it, it would seem to deny not merely that Jesus was fully a man, and was hence docetic, but also that he was the second or last, complete and fully perfected Adam. Harris rightly maintains that resurrection is only applicable to those who have died. So if the first Adam had not sinned, he would never have died and undergone resurrection. Having attained to full maturity (perfection) as a man, he would have received the eternal life originally promised to him by being transformed directly from his naturally impermanent fleshly physicality at his presumed ascension like Enoch and Elijah and the saints still alive at the end of history (1 Cor. 15:51ff.). (I have frequently puzzled over Enoch and Elijah. Perhaps the reason for their ascension was not to affirm their sinlessness but to give their contemporaries hope for the future as that of Jesus does us. Perhaps also they were intended to prove that transformation occurs at ascension!) So it would seem to follow necessarily from Jesus’ nature as the second Adam, who remained sinless, that his transformation occurred at his ascension. If it occurred at his resurrection, it is difficult not to conclude that he was not truly the second Adam but someone who differed in some respects from the first, sin apart (cf. Heb. 2:17; 4:15).
It is important to stress at this point that, in accordance with the promise made to Adam in Genesis 2:17, Jesus, as the only man in history to keep the law, inherited eternal life at his baptism. But for the fact that his purpose was to serve his people and to lay down his life for them (Mark 10:45, etc.), his continuation on the earth from a personal perspective was wholly unnecessary and simply awaited the time set by his Father for his ascension (cf. Gal. 4:2). The Augustinian view that the new birth relates purely to sin, which is not even mentioned in John 3:1-8, and that the flesh itself is sinful has led to a radical distortion of Christian theology. According to Jesus’ own dictum in John 3:6, as mortal flesh he himself had to be born again (3:5). Hence his baptism and new birth occurred when his stint under the law had been successfully completed to his Father’s satisfaction (Mt. 3:17, cf. Gal. 4:2). And as the divinely acknowledged (now regenerate) Son of God who had been permanently endowed with the Spirit (cf. John 3:34f.), he was fitted to become the pioneer and perfecter of the regenerate life of his people. Just as we depend on him for righteousness (Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9), so we depend on him for new birth or eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Both are the free gifts of God in Christ. Without the former we cannot have the latter, as God made clear in his dealings with Adam (Gen. 2:17; 3:22-24). Pace Augustine!
Jesus’ Post-resurrection Appearances
Why then, it may be asked, did Jesus re-appear after his resurrection? We might argue that it was for evidential reasons even though his work (John 6:38; 17:4) and course (Luke 13:32) were completed on the cross (John 19:30), and this being so he was no longer susceptible to death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:9). Had he simply ascended and been glorified at his resurrection we would never have known. True though this is, part of the answer must be, as I have implied above, that it was to fully complete the Adamic life he had taken on. He was a true human being to the end (cf. Acts 1:22), indeed beyond the end in the sense that he remains forever man, corporeally transformed and no longer incarnate, but glorified and perfected in heaven (cf. Col. 1:19; 2:9). As such, he is the man (Adam) who has taken on (arguably retaken, John 17:5) the generic nature of God (John 17:24; Heb. 1:3), and we follow in his steps (2 Pet. 1:4, cf. 1 Pet. 4:6).
The Glory of Jesus
Before leaving Jesus there are other points to be made. In Hebrews 9:28 we read that he will appear a second time, that is, at his second coming. This, however raises the question of the nature of his first coming. Somewhat unthinkingly we tend to assume that this is a reference to his incarnation, but this can hardly be the point the author of Hebrews is making. Rather, as some commentators (e.g. Bruce) indicate, the thought behind the comment is doubtless the re-appearance of the high priest from the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement. The point is that he re-appears alive indicating that his sacrifice has been accepted. Surely the same is true of Jesus who entered the greater and more perfect tent to make his sacrifice as both priest and victim (Heb. 9:11f.). But to infer that he was glorified at his re-appearance alive (cf. John 10:17f.) is to go beyond the evidence and to jump the gun. There are two points to be made here. First, if he was glorified on his first appearance after his resurrection, his second would be a repetition suggesting that the first was imperfect, superfluous and futile. Second, since we are told specifically that at his exaltation Jesus regained the glory that he shared with his Father before his incarnation (John 17:5,24), his second appearance will necessarily be in the glory of God (Heb. 1:3). This time his glorified nature will be unmistakable, since he will return as a consuming fire (2 Thes. 1:7f.; 2:8, cf. Heb. 12:29) visible to all (Rev. 1:7).
I conclude that the idea of Jesus’ glorification at his resurrection, in effect rendering his ascension, exaltation and even his second coming redundant, is seriously mistaken.
But there is more. According to the Bible man was made in the divine image in order to attain to the likeness of God (cf. Irenaeus above and note Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18, Col. 1:19; 2:9). Since he failed, Jesus in a rescue bid was made incarnate (flesh) for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9) in order to ensure that the divine purpose was achieved. However, if at his resurrection Jesus was forever glorified in the likeness of (sinful) flesh (cf. Rom. 8:3), God’s purpose has been reversed. For instead of man taking on the generic nature of God, God has permanently taken on the generic nature of man – an impossible scenario! Surely in spatial terms the intended movement was up not down, forwards not backwards, from earth to heaven, from flesh to spirit (1 Cor. 15:46). Man’s ascent to perfection from basic imperfection or incompleteness was in view from the start. Even the devil seemed to realize that the divine intention was that man should take on the likeness God (Gen. 3:5), hence his attempt to thwart it (cf. Mt. 4:1-11). Again I conclude that the currently widespread view that Jesus was glorified in the flesh(!) when he rose again points to serious error. The truth is that Jesus was made man so that through him we might become like God, and his children and heirs to boot. In light of this, we need to take to heart the fact that eternal life, the life of God himself, by its very nature excludes glorification in corruptible flesh.
The Resurrection of Believers
Paul goes out of his way to indicate that our resurrection, which is certainly somatic though spiritual, is different from that of Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 15:37). Jesus never experienced corruption, but we do. Because flesh is corruptible and we have all personally sinned, we lose it at death. We succumb like David (Acts 13:36) to the inevitable post-mortem corruption process that Jesus avoided because he never sinned. This means, as Paul was well aware, that we are left bodiless or naked (2 Cor. 5:2-4, cf. Phil. 1:21-23). So in our case, the body, but certainly not the flesh, must be redeemed (Rom. 8:23). This constitutes our resurrection; it is based on that of Jesus apart from which we would never experience it at all (cf. 2 Cor. 4:14, etc.). (With Harris, p.93, we need to recognize that resurrection in the NT frequently implies the whole process of glorification, e.g. John 11:24f., etc. Resurrection, ascension and exaltation are so intimately related that any one of the three may embrace the other two, see e.g. 1 Pet. 3:18, etc. The ascension is not a visionary acted parable but a visual dramatization of the unseen exaltation to God’s right that was the consequence of the successful completion of Christ’s work on earth, cf. John 17:4f.,24.)
Physicality and Corruption
But the essential physicality or materiality of Jesus’ resurrection seems to be underscored by the emphasis of the NT writers on the fact that he never saw corruption even though he was still flesh. If his resurrection was not physical, there would seem to be little point in stressing this. For how can someone who has been transformed and glorified succumb to corruption (cf. Mt. 6:19f.; 1 Pet. 1:3f.)? He is by definition excluded. On the other hand, as we saw above, mere restoration or resuscitation by no means obviates corruption (cf. Lazarus). But Jesus stands in contrast with David who succumbed to it (Acts 2,13). If we assume that Jesus was transformed at his resurrection, corruption is not on the agenda; it is simply avoided or obviated. It is no longer a live issue. What is more, it is not historical but rather trans- or supra-historical. But this is surely not what the NT writers are saying. Rather they say that he rose again in the flesh never to die again (Rom. 6:9) since, as the sinless second Adam who had given his life as a ransom for others, death had no claim on him. He had not personally earned wages (Rom. 6:23). The fact was that, because he had kept the law and had inherited eternal life in accordance with God’s original promise (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.) even before he died on our behalf, he was raised immortal, that is, never needing to die again (cf. Heb. 9:28; 10:10, etc.). Furthermore, since he had conquered death in his own case (cf. Ps. 49:7-9), so he overcame it in the case of all who put their trust in him (2 Cor. 4:14; Heb. 2:14f., etc.). In other words, he had brought life and the prospect of ultimate incorruption to light in a world naturally characterized by both death and corruption (2 Tim. 1:10, cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.). And it is worth adding at this point that physical death and corruption will never be destroyed until the temporal earth that spawns them is destroyed. But that this will be so, there is no doubt (1 Cor. 7:31; Heb. 1:11; 8:13; 2 Pet. 3,7,10-12; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 20:11, 21:1,4, etc.).
At this point, however, superficially at least, we encounter a massive problem. How can a deathless Jesus clothed in corruptible flesh permanently inhabit an impermanent or corruptible creation? (The difference between mortality and corruptibility is of basic importance. The failure of translations like the KJV, NIV, ESV, etc. to distinguish between them in Romans 2:7, 1 Tim. 1:17, and 2 Timothy 1:10 which is tautologous, seriously jeopardizes our understanding of what is involved. I note that Vine objects to the mistranslation of aphtharsia. See pp. 131,320. These verses suggest that immortality applies to persons while incorruptibility relates to their attributes.) The answer is that he cannot and was never intended to (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5). The Genesis story implied two promises: eternal life or immortality (2:17) on the one hand and (heavenly) glory and honour (1:26, cf. Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:8f.; Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7) on the other. Jesus’ call as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, was, as ours is, a heavenly call (John 6:62; 16:28; 17:5, cf. Phil. 3:14; 2 Thes. 2:14; Heb. 3:1; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; 5:10) leading to coronation (Heb. 2:9; Rev. 19:16), as ours does (James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4, etc.). So I conclude that the sinless (and hence immortal) Jesus inherited those promises which included, first, life then, after death on our behalf, physical resurrection, ascension, transformation (that is, from earthly corruptibility to heavenly incorruptibility, cf. Mt. 6:19f.; 1 Pet.1:3f. and 1 Cor. 15:51), exaltation, glorification, heavenly session and coronation (he is King of kings, Rev. 19:16) at God’s right hand (cf. Acts 2:32-36). Since God is both immortal (athanasia: 1 Tim. 6:16) and incorruptible (aphthartos: 1 Tim. 1:17), both immortality and incorruptibility being not synonyms but complementary concepts are necessarily involved (1 Cor. 15:54). And, as the author of Hebrews especially emphasizes, it is in a heavenly world of glory that Jesus exercises his kingly rule as both God and man (1:3,6,13; 2:5; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2, cf. Mt. 28:18, etc.). Furthermore, it is at his side that we shall eventually rule too (Rev. 3:21, etc.). But certainly not in the flesh, since we shall be raised incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:52)! (Note how Jesus himself insists that believers have life even though they die, as he did, and see corruption, John 11:25f.)
So, as has just been intimated, it is vitally important to recognize that Jesus as man inherited, incorruption (Ps. 16:8-11; Acts 2:27; 13:35), the incorruption of God (cf. Rom. 1:23). Since eternal life cannot be lived on a temporal corruptible earth and in corruptible flesh which is profitless (cf. John 6:62f.), Jesus’ resurrection in the flesh was followed necessarily by his ascension and transformation (cf. John 20:17, cf. Acts 1:2,22; 2:32-36). In any case, mere physical resurrection, even to immortality (Rom. 6:9), leaves him with nowhere to go! If this is not the case and his resurrection constituted his transformation, his ascension was superfluous and theologically redundant. It was purely visionary. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were merely evidential in the sense that they testified to his being alive. But in themselves they were little more than a charade (cf. John 21:9-14). To all intents and purposes they involved blatant deception, not least since Jesus’ himself claimed that he was flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Habermas and Licona (p.163) seek to eviscerate the essence of this expression by claiming that it should not be understood as referring to a physical body but rather to our bodies in their current mortal form. The problem here is that, apart from ignoring the synonymous parallelism of 1 Corinthians 15:50, according to the Bible all physicality is by definition corruptible and hence mortal (Mt. 6:19f.; 1 Pet. 1:3f.). The material world is temporal by nature (Gen. 1:1) and will be terminated (Mt. 24:35) by annihilation (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4, etc.). All created (visible) things are destined for eventual destruction (Rom. 1:20; 8:24f.; 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 12:27). What is ‘hand-made’ (cheiropoietos) is in fundamental contrast with what is ‘not hand-made’ (acheiropoietos). This present temporal age must necessarily give way to the eternal age to come. The first must be abolished when the second is fully established (Heb. 10:9). The reason why Jesus tells Nicodemus that it is necessary (as opposed to imperative) for all who are born of the flesh to be born again is because otherwise they cannot, that is, it is intrinsically impossible for them, to enter the (heavenly) kingdom of God. Jesus, who was himself corruptible and unprofitable flesh (John 6:62f.) since he was born of woman, is implicitly announcing his own need as one who had already gained eternal life by keeping the law and had consequently been acknowledged as God’s Son (Mt. 3:17, etc.) to be corporeally (somatically) transformed at his ascension (John 20:17, cf. 1 Pet. 3:18) and to enter his glory (Luke 24:26). Only in this way could he reign forever on the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32f.; Acts 2:29-36).
A Body of Glory
If the reader is still unconvinced, there is a further point to ponder already touched on above. If Jesus was glorified at his resurrection, why was his glory hidden? Why throughout the NT is there no physical description of him at all? The answer may well be to avoid idolatry since even Jesus in the flesh could not be a physical image of God who is spirit. But the question becomes all the more pertinent when we consider that in his high priestly prayer he specifically asked that his disciples should be permitted to see his glory (John 17:24). If he had it at his resurrection, why was it hidden? Why did he not appear in his transfiguration glory, let alone the heavenly glory that Paul fleetingly glimpsed and was blinded but not killed by (cf. Gen. 16:13; Ex. 33:20, etc.)? While it may be argued that this would have rendered redundant the ‘proofs’ referred to above, it is far more likely that he was not yet glorified. (In the Bible, glory seems to imply exaltation to incorruptible honour or splendour and majesty or both, Ps. 145:5,12; Isa. 33:14-22; 66:18, cf. John 12:23,28,31. See e.g. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, pp. 1269f. Thiselton, incidentally, reflects his dilemma regarding the resurrection body of Jesus. On pp.1278f., he first asserts that Jesus was raised transformed but goes on to argue that his bodily mode verged on but also transcended the physical. Cf. Carson who sees Jesus’ ascension as a process, John p.645. However, the contention that Jesus’ resurrection involved transformation (a) lacks evidential substantiation; (b) implies denial of his physical or material resurrection; and therefore (c) that Paul, like Jesus in John 3:4,6, is talking about composition in spite of his indisputable references to dust and flesh and blood.) One of the promises of the book of Revelation is that we shall see his face (22:4) and that would seem to go far beyond anything that was seen on earth (cf. Isa. 52:14; 53:2f.).
It is here especially that there seems to be a strange anomaly in Harris’ reasoning. On pages 53ff. of his work “Raised Immortal” he discusses the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body which appears lowly rather than glorious. Yet on pages 119ff. where he discusses our own resurrection body he emphasizes among other things its “unsurpassed beauty” (p.124). Paul tells us that our resurrection body is patterned on that of Jesus (Phil. 3:21, cf. Isa. 33:17; 66:18). The inference from this is that if we had seen him after his resurrection, we would hardly have known that he was already glorified!
There is another problem. References like Hebrews 7:26 (cf. 4:14; Eph.4:10) imply that the glorified Jesus was locally or spatially separate(d) from sinners (see e.g. Bruce and especially Lane on this). However, if we insist that he was glorified at his resurrection, how do we interpret his encounters with his sinful disciples, specifically Peter who had deserted him?
Glorification a Process
The process of the glorification of Jesus is reminiscent of, first, the time lapse between conversion (repentance and faith) and the regeneration of believers in the NT. While for us the two are usually co-incident or immediately successive, for the protagonists of the gospel they were not. Though faith (and hence justification) in Jesus is evident in the apostles while he was still on earth (cf. also Heb. 11), it does not culminate in regeneration until the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. In fact, as Jesus himself points out, the Holy Spirit is not given (in fullness as the spirit of Christ, Rom. 8:9) until he himself is glorified in heaven after his ascension (John 7:39). (Some may argue differently on the basis of John 20:22, but this was essentially proleptic, a demonstration or illustration of what would properly occur later.) Second, it reminds us of the prophetic perfect of Romans 8:30, for example. There Paul implies that the completion of the process of salvation is implicit in its beginning and earlier stages (cf. Phil. 1:6, and also the seed and its fruit, sowing and reaping, etc.). But the process, though punctuated, is nonetheless real (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). I may believe that I have eternal life now – but not (fully) yet! I have to live by faith to the end! My regeneration may be a fact but it is not yet fully realized. To argue that resurrection implies glorification may also be true, as we have seen above, but it does not involve the elimination or obliteration of the historical process which is endemic in this world and in the plan of salvation. If Jesus was truly man, the second Adam, the process had to be followed through to its appointed culmination in perfection or glorification. There were no short cuts. After all, Jesus was to all intents and purposes blazing a trail and establishing a pattern that we all in essence follow. The difference lies in the fact that we experience corruption whereas he did not. Having said that, however, the saints who are alive at the end of history will follow the path he has pioneered exactly when they, with the rest of us who have experienced corruption, take their seat on God’s right hand (Rev. 3:21). (The use of words like ‘process’ and ‘transformation’ rather than mutation are potentially misleading suggesting to the unwary naturalistic evolution. The latter is ruled out of court by 1 Corinthians 15:52. Cf. Rom. 1:23, for example. The physical or natural bodies of the dead are destroyed, 1 Cor. 6:13; 2 Cor. 5:1, while those of the living are instantly replaced with spiritual bodies, 1 Cor. 15:35ff. In other words, while there is no physical continuity, there is spiritual and somatic continuity after judgement on the basis of the deeds performed in the flesh, 1 Pet. 4:6, cf. 3:18; Heb. 12:23.)
In Acts 13:34 Paul asserts that God raised Jesus from the dead no more to return to corruption and gave him the holy and sure blessings of David. Clearly Jesus could not inherit those eternal blessings any more than he could raise up David’s tent (Acts 15:16-18) and reign on his eternal throne (Luke 1:32f.) while he was on earth and in the flesh, that is, in a state of fleshly corruption. In light of this, it seems necessary to infer that in verse 34 Paul is referring to the complete resurrection process which precludes further contact with earthly corruption in any form just as it does with sinners in Hebrews 7:26. (It is tempting here to differentiate between anhistemi in verse 34 and egeiro in verse 37, though Harris maintains that this is futile, p.270.) When he returns in his Father’s glory as a consuming fire (2 Thes. 1:7; 2:8, cf. Rev. 1:12-16; 2:18f.; 19:12), the temporal material creation will flee away (Heb. 12:27; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1). In any case, Jesus can hardly return to a corruption in the grave (cf. BAG, p.855) which the NT writers are at pains to deny ever took place and he ever experienced (v.37).
This raises yet another matter. Luke 9:31 refers to Jesus’ exodus which is apparently completed at his ascension (9:51; 24:51, cf. John 20:17). There are at least two points to note here. First, the suggestion is that if Jesus as the true Israel was glorified at his resurrection, he never properly completed his exodus to the heavenly Promised Land but took an illegitimate short cut! Second, when the Israelites completed their exodus to the Promised Land, they were warned never to return to Egypt again (Dt. 17:16; 28:68). But on the assumption that Jesus was transformed and glorified at his resurrection, since he returns to this world, he does precisely that! Though already perfect(ed) and incorruptible, he returns to imperfection and corruption yet again (cf. Phil. 2:6)! By contrast, it comes as no surprise that Paul states explicitly that once Jesus has made his exodus by his ascension from this Egyptian world of corruption (Rom. 8:18-25), he will never return to it again (Acts 13:34). Pace all premillennialists! Jesus has clearly undergone permanent transformation: he has passed through the heavens and his fleshly body has been replaced by a body of glory. In his divine-human perfection he is forever spatially separate(d) from sinners and exalted above the heavens (Heb. 4:14; 7:26; Eph. 1:20f.; 4:9f.) at God’s right hand (Heb. 8:1). And when he returns, it will be in the glory of God, whose generic nature he has once more assumed (John 17:5,24), to rescue his people (Mt. 16:27; Luke 9:26; Heb. 9:28) and, as a devouring fire, to wreak vengeance on his enemies (2 Thes. 1:7f.; 2:8).
In confirmation of my view that Jesus did not put off his flesh until he ascended, we have only to look at Peter. In his second epistle he makes it clear that the putting off of his earthly tabernacle, that is, his flesh, constitutes his exodus (2 Pet. 1:13-15). The same clearly applies to Jesus who likewise remained flesh to the very end of his earthly pilgrimage. While sinful Peter died and saw corruption, sinless Jesus ascended and was somatically and spiritually glorified. The latter, like John 20:17, is surely the implication of 1 Peter 3:18 and 22.
There is doubtless more to say (see, for example, the linguistic argument below). For the moment, however, I rest my case. I remain completely unconvinced that the dead and buried Lord came back to life (cf. Acts 2:31,34; Eph. 5:14) with a new material body, which, though not identical with the old, was not merely visionary (cf. L.Coenen, NIDNTT, 3, p.276). This would appear to be at once intrinsically contradictory and a crass denial of the resurrection as it is portrayed in the Bible. It inevitably undermines the faith. What needs to be recognized is that while Jesus was raised immortal (Rom. 6:9), since he was still in the flesh he was not raised incorruptible. (1 Cor. 15:52b applies to the dead who have experienced corruption. Almost by accident I noted that while Harris entitles his book “Raised Immortal”, the very first (Greek) text he uses as an introduction to his subject is 1 Cor. 15:52 which refers to us, not to Jesus.) Just as corruptible flesh like Nicodemus he had to be born again from above in preparation for entry into the kingdom of God which he inaugurated on earth (John 3:1-6), so as corruptible flesh after his resurrection he had to undergo transformation ascension to inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 15:50). Otherwise expressed, ascension is implicit in regeneration; the one cannot take place without the other. As indicated above, regeneration, or eternal life, are complementary concepts. (Even OT believers who did not experience regeneration while on earth were nonetheless covered by Christ’s atonement, Heb. 9:15, and are perfected along with us, Heb. 11:39f.) To argue that transformation occurred at his resurrection is in effect to deny it. So on the basis of the evidence at our disposal, I deny that Jesus was glorified as opposed to restored at his resurrection. In effect, this view obliterates the distinction between resurrection (egeiro) and ascension (anabaino) and renders the latter redundant. In John especially it is emphasized that Jesus will not only be raised from the dead (cf. 20:9) but will ascend or return to the Father who sent him (e.g. John 3:13; 13:1; 14:12,28; 16:10,17,28; 17:11; 20:17). This clearly implies that he will enter heaven as a spiritually perfected human being (cf. Heb. 12:23), but certainly not in the flesh which is imperfect, temporal, corruptible and futile by nature (John 6:62f.; Rom. 8:18-25, cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.). As I have already intimated, glorification in (or of) the flesh is a contradiction in terms (cf. Phil. 3:19). It involves failure to understand the difference between Greek and Christian thinking. The latter requires the preservation of body and personality (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7; 1 Pet. 1:3f.) but certainly not of the flesh. Our goal, like that of Jesus, is to share the generic nature of God as his children (2 Pet. 1:4; cf. 1 Pet. 4:6), but this no more implies that we shall undergo personal obliteration by absorption than it did when we experienced our natural birth by a natural father (cf. Gen. 5:1-3).
When he died and was buried, Jesus sowed his physical body. Since in contrast with us he did not see corruption, he inevitably reaped one at his resurrection (cf. John 3:6; 1 Pet. 1:23). (As Habermas and Licona maintain, what is buried comes up in resurrection, pp.155,237. If this is true, transformation as opposed to restoration is out of the question. After all, a carrot seed produces a carrot not an orange!). And since he did not die for his own sins, he was restored to life deathless (Rom. 6:9), that is, he continued his life in the flesh which but for his freely giving it on behalf of his people he should never have lost (cf. Acts 2:24). What is more, since he never needed to die again for his people (Heb. 9:28; 10:14, etc.), as one, the only one, who had kept the law he was forever immortal (Rom. 6:9). Despite this, as he himself explicitly asserts, he was still (corruptible) flesh (Luke 24:39). This being so, he was of necessity transformed at his ascension by which he permanently escaped earthly corruption. (It might be noted at this point that Jesus underwent a double restoration: at his resurrection he was restored to the earthly life he had not forfeited by personal sin, cf. John 2:19; 10:17f.; at his ascension he was restored to his heavenly glory, which he had laid aside for only a little while, as man, John 17:5,24.) This was implied in his words to Mary in John 20:17. He had to ascend not merely to live an immortal incorruptible life impossible in the flesh and on the earth but also to receive his heavenly kingdom (Lu. 19:12, cf. 1:32f.). We must follow in his train (Lu. 22:28-30, cf. Rev. 3:21). Eternal life in a temporal creation subjected by God himself to decay (Rom. 8:18-25) is intrinsically impossible. Our high priest who is at God’s right hand operates necessarily in the true tent (Heb. 8:1f.,6) which is not hand-made and not of this creation (Heb. 9:11,24).
Since there is so much confusion in this matter, my conclusion is worth further expression. The evidence at our disposal indicates, first, that the resurrection of all those who have not seen corruption like Lazarus is always physical, that is, it involves restoration. Jesus took up again the life (psyche) that he had laid down (John 2:19; 10:17f.). And since the physical/material, that is, flesh and blood, cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, glorification must occur at ascension. Second, while transformation glorification occurs at the ascension of all those who, like the resurrected Jesus, are alive and have not experienced fleshly corruption at the end (1 Cor. 15:51), for those who like David (Acts 2:29, etc.) have died and seen corruption, bodily redemption (Rom. 8:23) and glorification will occur at the general resurrection. So just as Jesus underwent spiritual somatic transformation at his ascension (1 Tim. 3:16; Acts 1:2; Rev. 12:5; 1 Pet. 3:18,22), so shall we at our resurrection (1 Pet. 4:6).
Then, in further support of this conclusion, it is important to recognize that the body of flesh, which derives from the earth, belongs to this world and to the old covenant. (For Paul it was first Adamic, 1 Cor. 15:45-49.) Thus it is only at his ascension that Jesus as man recovered the glory he shared with his Father before the world began (John 17:5,24). It was not until then that he was transformed and made incorruptible in the moral and generic image of the incorruptible God himself (Heb. 1:3). So we must add that with his mission accomplished, he will never return to corruption again (Acts 13:34) since as God he can neither dwell on the earth (1 K. 8:27; Acts 7:49f., cf. Phil. 2:6f.) nor among sinners (Heb. 7:26).
Additional Note on Spirit and Life
According to Genesis 1:2 it is the Spirit who animates the physical creation (dead matter, cf. Job 33:4, cf. Job 12:10; Ezek. 37:9f.; Zech. 12:1). Without the Spirit (spirit) or if God withdraws his Spirit everything dies (Gen. 6:3; Job 34:14f., cf. 10:9; Ps. 90:3; 103:14; 104:29; Eccl. 12:7; Isa. 57:15f.).
In the NT it is maintained that the Spirit gives life (John 6:63; Acts 17:25). When Jairus’ daughter dies, her spiritless body is dead (cf. James 2:26). And when Jesus wakes her up, her spirit returns (Luke 8:55).
So it is that when Jesus dies, he commits his spirit to his Father (Luke 23:46). He thus leaves his fleshly body dead ready for burial (or entombment). Clearly at his resurrection his spirit returns to re-animate his body. If this is not the case, then he did not undergo a genuine restoration resurrection, which made him a false prophet (cf. John 10:17f.). On the other hand, since he claims to be flesh (Luke 24:49), and hence truly resurrected, he cannot as such inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 20:17). So at his ascension to glory he must have undergone transformation (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-54).
Additional Note on Language
Many scholars would deny what has been set out above on linguistic grounds. They argue that Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians forbids the conclusions I have reached. So what is their argument?
Despite all appearances, it is said that in 1 Corinthians 15:37-50, Paul is not contrasting a material physical body with a spiritual or immaterial body but one with sensual appetites and one that has an appetite only for spiritual things (5* Since it is a law to itself, Rom. 7:23,25, a physical or fleshly body by its very nature has an appetite for and is tempted by sensual things. Even the life of Jesus was characterized by fleshly desire which, insofar as it was against the law, he overcame. He was tempted at all points just as we are but without sinning, Heb. 4:15. God who is spirit and not physical/material is not so tempted, James 1:13. In heaven. In heaven and in the presence of God we, as his children and in his generic as well as his moral image, will be similarly free, Rom. 8:21.) Alternatively, it is sometimes said that the ‘spiritual’ body is not ‘composed’ of spirit but is totally motivated by the Spirit. In plain language, the difference is moral. On the face of it this would appear to be doing violence to the context where the apostle is dealing with the generic nature of the resurrection body. After all, the question Paul is answering is: “With what kind of body do they come?” He then proceeds to differentiate between the man (composed) of dust and the man of heaven, that is, the natural (physical) man whose origin was the earth and the spiritual man who derived from heaven. (Jesus as the Word of God was spirit in the eternal world which existed before the material creation came into being. This being so, spirit cannot be airily dismissed as ethereal, unreal and even Gnostic by advocates of a heavenly material body. After all, the temporal physical stems from the permanent real or spiritual, cf. Heb. 11:3, etc. For Paul real life is eternal spiritual life, cf. 1 Tim. 6:12f.,19.)
It is contended, however, that 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4 points in a different direction. But does it? Here Paul says that while the “natural” or unspiritual man is not able, or lacks the capacity, to understand things of the Spirit, the “spiritual” man judges all things. The reason why this point is relevant to the issue is that its proponents falsely assume that the natural man is sinful. In fact, sin is not on the horizon. If it is, then it certainly affects our understanding of the meaning of “natural” (or even physical, NRSV) and “spiritual” in chapter 15. In the event, however, like is being compared with like. For in the first passage (1 Cor. 2:14-16) Paul is discussing spiritual perception unrelated to sin, in the second (15:35ff.) the nature of the heavenly or resurrection body again unrelated to sin (cf. John 3:1-8). In 2:14f. the apostle is comparing the natural man as such (a son of Adam as created by God without sin) with the spiritual man who is imbued or endowed with the Spirit of God (cf. John 3:31. By contrast, sin appears in John 8:23; 15:19; James 3:15; 1 John 4:5.
The natural or unspiritual man, like a baby that cannot understand adults because it is not an adult or a dog that cannot understand a man because it is not a man, is by nature, since he is devoid of the Spirit, incapable of understanding spiritual things (cf. 2:11). Apart from God’s self-revelation by the Spirit, he is helpless.
In verse 16, as Bruce suggests (p.130), the mind is practically synonymous with spirit (Spirit), which the natural man does not possess by creation; not because he is sinful but because he is natural (cf. Dt. 1:39).(The idea that ‘dust’ can understand the things of the Spirit is surely intolerable.)
In verses 3:1ff. Paul changes tack or emphasis somewhat. Here he introduces the notion of the flesh which frequently has connotations of sin. He is addressing Christian men who are by definition men endowed with the Spirit but are still behaving as if they had not received him. As new Christians they are acting like babies, but whereas real babies are naturally incapable of eating solid food, these Christians are sinfully failing or refusing to eat the spiritual food which nurtures their growth towards perfection (cf. Heb. 5:11-14; 6:1; 1 Pet. 2:2). If this is true, what I would describe as the “obvious” meaning of chapter 15 is unaffected.
1 Corinthians 9:11 is arguably more to the point, for here the word Paul uses for ‘material things’ is literally ‘fleshly things’ (sarkika, cf. spiritual things or pneumatika in 12:1). So the question may be asked: why did he not use the same word in chapter 15:44? The answer is surely two-fold: first, sarkikos, though it may be distinguished from sarkinos (see Dunn, Romans, pp.387f.), is morally neutral in 9:11, but if it had been used in 15:44 it could well have been understood to have sinful overtones since it can mean characterized by as opposed to composed of the flesh. Second, the word ‘natural’ (psychikos) is the appropriate word because Paul is clearly differentiating between the physical or unspiritual man (Adam) as created by God from the (material) ground (or dust or clay) and the spiritual man of heaven (second Adam). (He is not denying of course that even Jesus was natural, psychikos, when he began his earthly life in the flesh.)
So in 15:44,46 the (corruptible) natural and the (incorruptible) spiritual are seen to be different in kind (cf. v.50) and sin is not on the horizon (cf. Fee, p.785, but pace Thiselton, p.1291, whose comment regarding the need for holiness is true but irrelevant to the point at issue. Paul was not obsessed with sin and had not read Augustine!). This being so, Paul’s point is that when a natural body (not man) of corruptible flesh and blood is sown, because it is transformed it is raised a spiritual body. In other words, it (dust or flesh which is morally neutral) is transformed into (or replaced by, cf. Heb. 10:9) something different (i.e. spiritual, supernatural, heavenly) from what it was before (cf. v.37). Consequently there is no continuity between the two. What is more, the spiritual body is in the (generic) image of the man of heaven, that is, it is modeled on Christ’s body of glory, and as such is fitted for heaven (cf. Phil. 3:21).
I conclude then that the argument based on language is empty. As in John 3:1-8, the Augustinian tradition of sin is falsely painted into the picture. Flesh (dust, clay, grass) as such is inherently incapable by nature of inheriting the kingdom of heaven. That is why Adam was put on probation. Though he was created innocent (not holy and righteous as Augustinian tradition has it!), as one who emanated from the temporal earth, he was naturally mortal and corruptible (cf. Rom. 1:23). In order to inherit eternal life and to escape from corruption, he had, on the one hand, to keep the commandment (Gen. 2:17) and, on the other, since he was promised glory and honour (Gen. 1:26,28, cf. Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10; Heb. 2:6-10), to be transformed, that is, be given a spiritual body to replace his fleshly body. But because he sinned and brought death to himself and to all his posterity who imitated him (Rom. 5:12; 6:23), he forfeited those promises. In contrast, Jesus as the second Adam, a true son of the first (Luke 3:38) in the same flesh (Heb. 2:17; 4:15) and in the same world of death and corruption, did not sin and thereby achieved both life and glory. In so doing, he abolished death and brought life and incorruption (Gk) to light. This was good news for all his fellows who believed in him (2 Tim. 1:10, cf. Heb. 2:9f.). It remains so today.
F.F.Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Waco, 1982.
F.F.Bruce, Hebrews, Edinburgh, 1965.
J.D.G.Dunn, Romans, Dallas, 1988.
G.D.Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, 1987.
N.L.Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, Nashville, 1992.
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