With What Kind Of A Body Do They Come?

It is hotly debated in Christian circles whether the resurrected bodies of believers will be flesh (physical) or spirit (spiritual). For a start, it needs to be acknowledged that an examination of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:35ff. does not appear to give an indisputable answer to this question. Part of Paul’s problem arises from the same difficulty that faced John when he attempted to describe the heavenly world in Revelation 21 and 22, and, like John, Paul could well have written, “It does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Of necessity he had to use physical imagery since that is all we as human beings presently know. He uses a series of illustrations highlighting physical differences and particularly that between the seed and the plant. This has been rightly employed by some to argue for obvious differentiation but wrongly to settle the nature of the future body’s composition. For if the seed is corruptible, so is the plant (1 Pet. 1:23, cf. 1 Cor. 15:42; John 1:13 and 1 John 3:9).

A casual reading of 1 Corinthians 15:44 might well be taken to provide a definite solution. Regrettably, scholars recognise that from a linguistic point of view, this verse is less specific than we might wish. The Greek words psychikos and pneumatikos refer, it is maintained, not so much to composition as to ruling or governing principle (see e.g. Harris, pp.195, 402, Morris and Fee ad loc., Wright, p.144). Thus the ‘spiritual’ body can be deemed to be physical but ruled by the spirit or Spirit. The problem with this view, as Harris indicates, is that Jesus had such a body before his resurrection (p.198), and this constitutes his uniqueness as a human being (cf. Rom. 8:3). Indeed, the truth is that as those who are made in the image of God we should all rule our fleshly bodies just as we exercise dominion over the earth. However, through weakness and/or rebellion, we all fail, and instead of the spirit dominating the flesh the flesh dominates the spirit (Rom. 1:18ff.; Gal. 5:19ff.; Eph. 2:1-3, etc.). Clearly there is more to be said on the issue, especially in light of Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 15:46.

Even though we refuse to opt for a simplistic reading of 1 Corinthians 15:44 in isolation, it is difficult, in view of Paul’s strong differentiation between earth (dust) and heaven (vv.47ff.), not to think in terms of composition, all the more so when he says that flesh and blood (i.e. our physical constitution on which see Harris, p. 198 and n.10; Fee pp. 798f.; Morris, pp. 231f.) cannot inherit the (spiritual) kingdom of God, the perishable the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50). In verses 51ff. Paul refers to change which on the face of it is from physical or material corruption to spiritual incorruptibility (NB v.46, cf. 2 Cor. 4:7-5:5; 1 Pet. 1:23). This was surely our goal from the beginning (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:6-9; Rom. 2:7). In other words, we are to become Christ-like in both body and spirit (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2f.; Phil. 3:21) who is himself God-like (Heb. 1:3; 1 Tim. 6:14-16). Even more to the point, Jesus, on his return to heaven, is glorified with the glory that he shared with the Father before the world was made (John 17:5, cf. v.24; 2 Thes. 1:10). This being so, it is more than difficult to understand how we can share God’s glory (Rom. 5:2; 1 Thes. 2:12; 2 Thes. 2:14; 1 Pet. 5:10), his rule (Rev. 3:21; 2 Tim. 2:12) and his nature (2 Pet. 1:4) if we remain as we are, that is physical flesh and blood beings. Thus it must be said that the transformation to which Paul alludes would appear to go far beyond the regeneration, restoration, even repristination, touted by some! Indeed, physical, as opposed to corporeal (somatic), regeneration of any kind would seem to be excluded by Jesus’ reaction to Nicodemus’ suggestion regarding a man re-entering his mother’s womb (John 3:4-6). (Re-incarnation is pagan not Christian! The future life for pagan religions in general, e.g. the Celts, would appear to have been not only physical but extremely materialistic in conception. Hence, food, armour, horses and even chariots were in some cases buried with dead heroes!)

It is not altogether surprising then that Harris in his extensive work “From Grave to Glory” should take a spiritualising tack. What is perhaps surprising, however, is that he adopts a spiritual view of the body of Christ immediately after his resurrection in spite of pointed references like John 10:17f.; 20:19ff.; Luke 24:39ff. and Acts 10:41 (pp.372ff. Cf. Hughes, who asserts that Christ was raised physically from the dead with a spiritual body, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one, Image, p.373). This, of course, raises the question of his orthodoxy regarding the traditional conception of the physical resurrection of Christ, which is surely fundamental to the truth of the Christian faith (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Norman Geisler, with whom Harris was involved in rather acrimonious controversy in the early 90s, clearly considers Harris is both unorthodox and at odds with Scripture. But while Harris ‘spiritualises’ the resurrection body of Jesus, Geisler heads in the opposite direction by ‘materialising’ his heavenly body (pp.127, 215. Cf. the ‘resurrection of the flesh’ characteristic of the early church.)! Though both Harris (pp.245ff.) and Geisler inhabit an Augustinian universe, with the latter it is especially predominant. For him the corruptibility of the flesh has nothing to do with nature but is wholly attributable to sin, and once sin is taken care of through faith in Christ, the flesh or the physical body takes on incorruptibility. Thus having been redeemed (Rom. 8:23, cf. Luke 21:28), it can find its place in heaven (see pp. 122f.; 194f.)!

As was noted above, Harris and others disallow Geisler’s misguided attempt to distinguish between mortal and immortal flesh and blood in 1 Corinthians 15:50 (cf. John 3:6). Sin is no more in the picture here than it is in John 3:1-8, though our spiritual forefathers thought it was (see e.g. Hodge, ST 2, p.242). Paul is in fact dealing with our physical or Adamic constitution as created by God from the temporal earth, the one even Jesus inherited from his human forebear (Luke 3:38, cf. Heb. 2:14ff.) through his mother. Be that as it may, Geisler criticises Harris’ spiritualising tendencies as Platonic on the ground that they involve Greek dualism (pp, 191f.).(1*) In reaction he goes as far as to say that a man who is not flesh even in heaven is not a human being at all (pp.164,190, etc. Cf. Hughes who rightly says that without a body man ceases to be properly man, p.171). This, however, is surely to ignore (a) the plan of God which was always to perfect (bring to completion or maturity) his image in man (2 Cor. 5:5, cf. 1 Cor. 15:46), and (b) to glorify him (cf. Rom. 5:2) in his own presence in Christ (2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Pet. 3:18). If this is so, it surely suggests that our corporeal transformation involves something much different from physical regeneration, purification (cf. Heb. 9:13) or repristination. Not without reason did C. Hodge write, “Everything in the organisation or constitution of our bodies designed to meet our present necessities, will cease with the life that now is .… If blood be no longer our life, we shall have no need of organs of respiration and nutrition. So long as we are ignorant of the conditions of existence which await us after the resurrection, it is vain to speculate on the constitution of our future bodies. It is enough to know that the glorified people of God will not be encumbered with useless organs” (ST, 3, p.780, quoted by Harris, p.323). In light of references like Matthew 15:17, John 4:13f., 6:27, 1 Corinthians 6:13, Philippians 3:19 and Colossians 2:22 (cf. Heb. 1:11), Hodge’s view has much to commend it. The evidence points to the fact that the heavenly body (2 Cor. 5:2) is different in kind from the earthly, physical body (1 Cor. 15:42ff.).

Geisler, however, clearly fails to appreciate the difference between earth and heaven, flesh and spirit, this age and the age to come, creation by hand and not by hand and God and man (cf. Rom. 1:23) constantly maintained throughout the Bible where the movement or progression from flesh to spirit is made especially clear in the NT (1 Cor. 15:23,46). But more on this below.

Having said this, it is not without surprise that we encounter N.T. Wright adopting a somewhat similar stance to that of Geisler and maintaining that man remains ‘physical’ even in heaven. Like Geisler himself Wright wants to distinguish between ‘the corruptible and decaying present state of our physicality’ and a ‘non-corruptible physicality’ (p.143). This, however, begs a very large question. (In fairness to Wright I once heard him remark on a TV program that our resurrection brings us ‘a different sort of physicality’. What, it may be asked, might that be? It simply begs the question. In any case, where is it taught in Scripture?) Like Geisler he claims that ‘spiritualisation’ introduces ‘a Hellenistic worldview that is quite out of place in this most Jewish of chapters’ (he is referring to 1 Cor. 15). Finally, he objects like others to the translation of 1 Corinthians 15:44 adopted by the RSV and NRSV which refer to a ‘physical body’ instead of a ‘natural’ one (p.144). So, what can be said in reply to all this?

First, it is evident that behind the stress of many on the incorruptibility of the flesh lies the false worldview palmed off on the church by Augustine, who arguably remained under the influence of his early Manicheism and Neo-Platonism all his life. Geisler and Wright, like so many other traditionalists, are heavily influenced by the view that creation as it came originally from the hand (note the word, cf. Ps. 8:6; Isa. 48:13) of God was ‘good’, ‘very good’, in fact, perfect. Had Adam kept the commandment he would have been confirmed in his ‘goodness’ or perfection and lived forever in the flesh and presumably on the present material earth unaffected by sin (cf. Geisler, p.167)! This, however, is manifestly not the biblical picture which frequently highlights the inadequacy and imperfection of nature as such, for at best it is, like the law (Heb. 7:18f.), purely temporal (Heb. 1:10-12), serves a limited purpose and in the last analysis proves unprofitable (John 6:63, cf. Mark 8:36; Rom. 7:18; Heb. 6:7f.). In truth, the days of the material creation, which had a beginning (Gen.1) and will therefore have an end (cf. Heb. 7:3), were numbered long before sin made its appearance. It stood in strong contrast to the eternal God (Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 40:8; 51:6,8, etc.) and once it had served its strictly temporal purpose (note Gen. 8:22) it was to be destroyed as Isaiah 34:4; 51:6,8, 54:10; Mark 13:31; Hebrews 12:26f.; 2 Peter 3:7-13 (cf. 2 Thes.1:8; 2:8), for example, intimate. This, I would contend, is precisely what Paul is teaching in that much misunderstood passage in Romans 8:18-25 where, despite the wholly unwarrantable assumption that it relates to Genesis 3:17-19 and the so-called ‘cosmic curse’, sin is not on the horizon (contra Wright, Romans and the People of God, p.31).

Creation Naturally Corruptible

This leads to another point. If creation itself, including the earth, is subject to corruption (cf. Mt. 6:19f.; 24:35), how much more man who is dust or of the earth (Gen. 2:7; Job 4:19; 10:8f.; 1 Cor. 45-50; 2 Cor. 4:7, etc.)! Thus we inexorably reach the conclusion that man’s physical constitution, which is NOT part of the divine image, is intrinsically mortal and corruptible as a comparison between Romans 8:12-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10 puts beyond reasonable doubt. Like the cosmos itself (Mt. 5:18; 24:35, etc.) man’s physical nature (cf. Jesus’ incarnation which was only for a little while, Heb. 2:7) serves a purely temporary purpose till he gains immortality (incorruption, Rom. 2:7. It is worth pointing out here that scholars, translators in particular, frequently fail to distinguish as they should between mortality and corruptibility.). As an Australian semi-popular commentary on Romans puts it, the story of man is “Dust To Destiny” (Seccombe).

Romans 8:21

There is a difficulty, however. Romans 8:21 has usually been understood by those for whom sin is exclusively the fly in the ointment of the material universe that creation will be redeemed from its so-called curse arising from the sin of Adam! I would claim, however, that 8:19-25, like Romans 5:12ff., has been sadly misinterpreted. The fact is that verse 21 can be made to refer to a redeemed, purified and regenerated creation only on the basis of (a) a highly questionable paraphrase; (b) the imposition of a dubious ideology or worldview which necessitates either the purgation of the old or the creation of a new universe (cf. 2 Pet. 3:13), and (c) the neglect of a great deal of other quite explicit teaching which points in a different direction.

The Impossibility of Physical Regeneration and/or Re-incarnation

To take the last point first, apart from references like Psalm 102:25-27, Isaiah 34:4, 51:6 and Hebrews 12:27 (Gk. metathesis, cf. 1 Pet. 3:21 and 2 Pet. 1:14, apothesis) which would appear to exclude it, the NT does not admit the notion of physical (fleshly) redemption or regeneration. In fact it positively disallows it. As was mentioned above, Jesus, in his conversation with Nicodemus dismissed the idea (John 3:4-6), and Paul strongly insists that inherent corruption cannot inherit incorruption (1 Cor. 15:48-50).

Augustinian Dogma

Next, it is on the uncertain foundation of a highly questionable acceptance of the Augustinian dogmas of original perfection, original righteousness, original sin, universal Fall in Adam and consequent cosmic curse that the idea of a renewed universe can be entertained. If the argument is ‘marred therefore remade’, like Jeremiah’s vessel (18:1ff.), then all sorts of difficulties arise. We are immediately confronted with the problem of repetition which the author of Hebrews in particular indicates points to initial inadequacy (7:18f.; 8:7,13; 10:9, cf. John 4:13; 6:27, etc.). In other words, had creation been originally perfect, the need for another would never have arisen (cf. Heb. 7:23f.; 8:7; 10:9). If this is denied, then logically we have to regard Christ’s finished or perfect work on the cross as possibly unfinished, imperfect or incomplete. How much safer it is with Scripture to see the ‘good’, i.e. useful (cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:6), material creation as designed from the start to achieve a purpose which, once accomplished, will lead to its disposal and removal so that the abiding may remain (Heb. 12:27). (As Westcott observed long ago, “The very act of Creation is a self-limitation of Omnipotence”, p.312.)

The word ‘abiding’ in itself suggests that what is perfect, i.e. heaven, the throne of the eternal God (Isa. 57:15; 63:15; 66:1) as opposed to the temporal creation, remains forever (cf. Isa. 66:22). If our destination is the presence of God (John 17:24; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; 3:18; 4:6, etc.), then a new creation, that is, a fresh one that is regarded as a replacement of the present one, is rendered redundant. In fact, it is clearly to an already existing or eternal heaven (cf. the new Jerusalem: Isa. 65:18; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:2) that the ‘regeneration’ (Mt. 19:28), or ‘the new heavens and new earth’ where righteousness dwells, refers (cf. Mt. 6:9f.). We are fitted for it by being born from above (John 3:3,7) of a heavenly mother (Gal. 4:26) or Father (John 1:13) and by the ‘redemption’ of our bodies (Rom. 8:23). (In the latter reference, the word ‘redemption’ is frequently regarded as a synonym for a physical resurrection like that of Jesus. This, however, is inadequate, as I shall indicate below when dealing with ‘corruption’.)

Romans 8:21 reads literally: “because even creation (or the creature) itself will be freed from the bondage of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” If we refuse to be stampeded by traditional Augustinian theology, that is, refuse to read into this verse what is not there, we can translate the word ‘to’ as ‘with a view to’ (cf. Col. 1:16, etc.). Then in light of the fact that freedom from bondage in Scripture almost always involves death and destruction (see, for example, Romans 7:1-6 for law; 6:2,13 for sin; Col. 3:5 for flesh; Col. 2:2 for the elemental spirits, and 1 Cor. 15:26,54f.; Heb. 2:14f. (cf. Rom. 8:15); Rom. 3:24f.; 8:1 and Eph.1:7 for death itself), we can paraphrase as follows: “because even creation (or perhaps better, ‘the creature’, KJV) itself will be freed from its bondage to corruption by being destroyed and thus make way for the children of God to gain the freedom of glory.” If this is allowed and due consideration is given to the redemption/transformation of the body as opposed to the resurrection of the flesh (v.23, cf. Eph. 1:14), its similarity to 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 becomes immediately apparent. (It is worth mentioning that there is a strong biblical connection between travail, death and birth. Note Gen. 35:17f.; Isa. 13:6ff.; 21:3; 26:17ff.; 1 Thes. 5:3; Gal. 4:19, cf. 2 Cor. 4:11f.)

To sum up this part of the argument, my conclusion is that since like can only produce like, flesh or biological life can produce nothing but biological life and even then only for its allotted span. It is Spirit that gives birth to spirit and this for eternity (John 1:13; 3:6, cf. vv. 16,36; 1 Cor. 15:48; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9). The difference is the difference between the old and the new (Heb. 8:7,13; 2 Cor. 3:11; Mark 3:21f.), the perishable and the imperishable, earth and heaven, the temporal and the eternal, first Adam and second, mortal man and immortal God (Rom. 1:23), what is made by hand (Ps. 119:73; Isa. 45:12) and what is not (NB. Heb. 9:11,24), the visible and the invisible, the material or physical and the spiritual, flesh and spirit in fact (Isa. 31:3; John 4:22-24).

If it is insisted that the new creation is not simply new to us who are earth-bound but must be taken literally, another problem arises. Far from already existing and forever continuing to exist, as the eternal world must do by definition (cf. Heb. 1:11; 12:27), the new creation will have a beginning like the old one (Gen. 1:1) and presumably be as subject to the ravages of age, wear and tear as the first (Heb. 1:10-12; Mark 2:21f.; Luke 12:33; Col. 2:22). Again it must be insisted that anything that needs repair, replacement, renovation or repetition is inherently defective. If it is then replied that God can eternalise the newly created heavens and earth, it is more than difficult to see how. For, if they have a beginning, they are by definition not eternal (Heb. 7:3,16; 13:8). But if they are not eternal, they are temporal, and it is axiomatic for both Peter and Paul that the impermanent or imperfect is inadequate and must give way to the permanent or eternal (1 Cor. 13:10; 15:50; 2 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 10:9; 1 Pet. 1:4, etc.). In any case, we must always remember that the present creation is but a copy, type or shadow of the eternal like the temple (cf. Heb. 9:11). And just as the Jewish temple was destroyed (Mark 14:58) to be replaced by God himself (Rev. 21:22), so it is with the physical creation in general, for it is in God that we live and have our being (cf. Rev. 21,22, cf. Dt. 33:27; Ps. 90:1; 91:1f.,9). The new heavens and new earth envisaged by OT writers simply reflects the limits of their revelation and their largely earth-bound vision (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12, and Bruce, pp. 298f., 339; Twelftree, p.41). In the NT, however, we are led to see that what was ‘made by hand’ is replaced with or rather makes way for what is ‘not made by hand’ (cf. Heb. 9:11,24). (Cf. Lane’s dictum that a new act of God makes the old obsolete, pp.cxxxiii, 210). In other words, hermeneutically speaking, the material or the physical is spiritualised, and in view of Mark 14:58; Colossians 2:11 (cf. Eph. 2:11); Acts 7:48,50 and Hebrews 1:10-12; 9:11,24, for example, this conclusion can hardly be avoided. If we have any doubts, they ought to evaporate when we encounter the overt distinction made by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 referring directly to the earthly body.

2 Corinthians 5:1

Dealing with 5:1 specifically, Hughes (p.164, n.22) maintains that it is virtually certain that Paul’s terminology reflects Mark 14:58. My inference is then that if the material temple which was made by hand was destroyed and spiritualised (1 Cor. 3:16; 3:19), or replaced by the spiritual, so is the physical body. What is true of the one must be true of the other, all the more so when we consider that if the God in whose presence we are to spend eternity does not live in a house made with hands (Acts 17:24, cf. v. 25), neither will we. (It is worth mentioning that the death and corruption of the physical body constituted a real problem in the OT. See Job 10:8; 14:14f.; Pss. 6:5; 30:9;119:175; Isa. 38:18f. On the latter, see Oswalt, pp.687ff.)

Do we enter God’s kingdom as incorruptible flesh and blood? Biblically speaking, the very idea is intolerable. There is no such commodity in a temporal material universe which by nature is given over to corruption (cf.1 Cor. 15:42,50b,53,54 and Heb. 1:10f.). All flesh is grass (Isa. 40:6, cf. Ps. 106:20) is a truth that pervades the whole of Scripture. Even in Genesis 1, where man is depicted as created in the image of God, there is an implicit distinction between flesh and spirit, earth and heaven. If we accept that Genesis 2:17 is a promise of life (WCF, 7.2, cf. A.A.Hodge, pp.120ff.) made to Adam in an environment subjected to corruption, then heaven or perfection is the ultimate goal of man – something that the devil seemed all too aware of and intent on preventing (Gen. 3:5).

According to 2 Corinthians 5:1 ‘not made with hands’ (acheiropoietos) is eternal, and according to Hebrews 9:11 it means ‘not of this creation’. There would appear therefore to be no room for dust in heaven (cf. Ps. 78:39; 103:14), especially when we recall that even the created heavens are not clean in God’s sight (Job 15:15; 25:5).

Greek Dualism

At one stage of his argument Geisler charges Harris with the adoption of an unbiblical ‘anthropological monism’ (pp.189f.) and follows this up with the claim that there are Platonic tendencies implicit in Harris’ stance (pp.191f.). Wright also rejects what he calls the Hellenistic worldview, which opposes physicality (does he mean corporeality?) and is contrary to the essentially Jewish character of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 (p.144). Generally speaking, Christian fear of Greek dualism is longstanding and widespread. It doubtless contributes to Ladd’s highly questionable but extremely influential comment that biblical thought “always places man on a redeemed earth, not in a heavenly realm removed from earthly existence” (quoted by Mounce, p.379, from A Commentary on the Revelation, p.275, cf. A Theology of the New Testament, pp.630ff.; Jesus and the Kingdom, pp.59f.,89,97,110f.). As a premillennialist lacking an adequate appreciation of biblical covenant theology, Ladd was unduly conditioned by the Old Testament. Anyhow, there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about the issue, and it requires further examination.

Harris (see also Bauckham, pp.179ff.; Hughes, pp.154f.,170; Kelly, pp.302f.) provides us with a very useful analysis of the situation when he contrasts first Greek and Christian then Jewish and Christian thought (pp.283-287). In particular he notes that Plato repudiates the body and regards death as release from corporeality. “For one (the Greek), a person is an incarcerated soul; for the other (the Christian), a person is and will remain a body-spirit unity.” Though Plato can entertain the idea of personal immortality and even reincarnation, he leaves no room for resurrection. “For Paul, however, there is no incompatibility between the ideas of immortality and resurrection. Immortality is gained through resurrection transformation (Ac 13:34; Ro 6:9; 1 Co 15:42, 51-54)” (p.285). Painted starkly the picture seems to be this: for Plato, in heaven there is no body physical (material) or spiritual; for the Christian, there is a body. (G.A.Williamson writes, “Plato’s Ideal world is not a heaven that could be entered by Jesus; it can be penetrated only by the intellect,” SJT 16:419, quoted by DeSilva, p.283). The question is then whether the body is physical or spiritual. While some like Geisler regard the physical as ‘an essential dimension of what it means to be human’ (p.190), others like Harris deny it and insist on a spiritual body. Who is right?

First, it should be noticed that Harris’s view is not Greek since he clearly accepts the body. When Geisler accuses him of platonising on account of his tendency to ‘spiritualise’ material reality (p.192), he sounds like a Dispensational Premillennialist intent on propagating his chosen ideology based on a crass literalism. (It is somewhat ironic that Robertson charges that “A form of Platonism actually permeates the hermeneutical roots of dispensationalism”, p.214.) Apart from Harris’ questionable understanding of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, which on the evidence are indisputably physical including the moment of his visible ascension (Acts 1:6-11, cf. 2 Cor. 4:18), his stress on the spiritual would appear to be amply justified as we have seen above. What all too many Christians like Geisler apparently fail to appreciate is that if Jesus’ resurrection was physical, he must have undergone the change that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 15:51ff. at (note Acts 1:9) or immediately after his ascension (cf. John 17:5,24). In other words, physical resurrection in this world does NOT imply physical glorification which, judged by biblical norms, is a contradiction in terms. (Note that Jesus’ glory, John 17:24, is that which he had before the foundation of the world, 17:5). It is only on Augustinian presuppositions that the flesh can be regarded as sinful: in the Bible it is simply unprofitable and temporal (John 6:63; Rom. 7:18), and since it stems from corruptible seed (1 Pet. 1:23, contrast 1 John 3:9), it is naturally corruptible (1 Cor. 15:42ff.) like the corruptible earth from which it is taken. (Green, commenting on 2 Peter 1:4, misunderstands the situation when he generalises, “In contrast to Hellenistic ideas, Peter maintains that corruption and mortality are not due to matter, but to sin” (p.74). However, the fact that Adam was corruptible by nature is evident from Genesis 2:17 and 3:19. The point is that in the grace of God he was promised life if he kept the law (cf. Rom. 7:10). Once he failed, he lost access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24) and so succumbed to the law of the material creation of which he was a part (5:5; Rom. 8:20. Twelftree, p.174, is undoubtedly right to reject Irenaeus’ (and Augustine’s) view that we are created immortal but melt back into the earth if we break the commandments. Apart from any other consideration, it is thoroughly illogical since immortality by definition cannot be forfeited.) Since he and all his successors failed (Pss. 130:3; 143:2), a second Adam was necessary as God had always intended (Isa. 45:21f.; Rom. 3:19f.; 11:32; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 3:22). Green’s view, of course, is like that of Augustine who wrote: “We are burdened with this corruptible body; but knowing that the cause of this burdensomeness is not the nature and substance of the body, but its corruption, we do not desire to be deprived of the body, but to be clothed with its immortality,” Civ. Dei, XIV, 3, quoted by Hughes, p.171).

The truth is that practically the entire Bible opposes the notion of a physical body suited to a material heaven (2*) especially one characterised by the sensual delights anticipated by Muslims (cf. Mt. 22:30; Luke 20:34-36. In Buddhism we are simply absorbed in Nirvana and lose our personal identity, while in Hinduism our personality is dissolved in the unimaginable abyss of Brahman). These latter references alone ought to dispel all such ideas, but commentators are inclined to limit their obvious implications for dogmatic reasons (see e.g. Hendriksen, p.806). If angels are ministering spirits (Heb. 1:14), then more than marriage is involved (cf. the comments of C. Hodge above and note Dt. 23:12f.; Job 20:7; 25:5f.; Mt. 15:17; 1 Cor. 6:13; Phil. 3:8). In Luke 20:36 Jesus explicitly links our likeness to angels with immortality and our being equally the sons of God (cf. John 1:13), who is spirit, and sons of the resurrection. In light of this it is hard indeed not to be reminded of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15.

Mention of marriage brings up yet another important consideration that Paul touches on in Ephesians 5:22ff. It is fundamental to the Bible and to this material world that husband and wife become one flesh when their marriage is consummated. But the union between Christ and his church cannot be physical (cf. 1 Cor. 6:17). It is not so on earth and it cannot be so in heaven. The mystery to which Paul refers is ‘spiritual marriage union’ (O’Brien, p. 438). Though husband and wife experience fleshly union they retain their own individuality and their own roles (cf. the Trinity). The same is true with regard to the relationship between Christ and his body, the church. Indeed, the evidence points to the fact that human marriage is but a type of the heavenly which is first in order of precedence and priority (cf. the temple). Though the imagery Paul uses in describing the bride is physical, there is no hint that the union is other than spiritual.

While scholars like Bauckham (p.183), Wright (p.144) and Kelly (p.302) all attribute the corruptibility of both the world of men (kosmos) and the material creation (ge) (3*) to sin or desire (epithumia), others like Lane and DeSilva, with a much more accurate understanding of the state of play based on Hebrews rather than Augustine, recognise that material corruptibility is natural (i.e. it was written into the universe, which being temporal has a beginning and an end, cf. Gen. 1:1 and Mt. 28:20, by God himself who always had something better in mind for those of his creatures who were made in his image) and so apart from sin. Thus DeSilva, for example, writes perceptively as follows: “Once more the author’s amalgamation of Platonic categories and Jewish and Christian cosmology becomes apparent: he borrows from the Platonic distinction between the changing, impermanent material realm and the eternal realm of ideas and interprets this through the Jewish and Christian apocalyptic view of history and the cosmos. Thus the ‘visible’ remains ‘temporary’ and inferior because it is destined for removal at God’s coming intervention in history; the ‘abiding’ realm already exists, but as the realm of God that will be the sole remaining realm after this ‘shaking’” (p.408 and note also pp.283,400,439, etc.).

If DeSilva is right, then Christian antipathy to Greek dualism has been somewhat misguided. The ‘platonising tendency’ detected in those who advocate a heavenly spirituality is in fact derived from the Bible itself – and not simply from Hebrews. After all, God himself is spirit (John 4:24) and heaven, not earth, is his throne (Isa. 66:1; Mt. 5:34). And those who are obsessed with the idea that ‘flesh’ (as opposed to ‘sinful flesh’) and ‘physicality’ or ‘materiality’ are in no way inferior to spirit (surely a gross misreading of Scripture whose source is Augustinian dogma and, it would seem in recent times, New Age thinking) but are indispensable to humanity have in fact misconstrued the divine plan of salvation. This always presupposed our becoming the children of God who is spirit. Hence the ultimate perfection and glorification of man were God’s moral and generic image (cf. Rom. 2:7; 8:29; 2 Cor. 5:5; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:3; 1 John 3:2), and these necessarily involved the movement or change from flesh to spirit evident throughout the Bible (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:46; 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6; Heb. 12:23). The plain fact is that the (spiritual) perfection of the material world, which is inherently subject to corruption, is impossible: the intrinsically perishable or imperfect cannot inherit the imperishable or perfect (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10; 15:50). When the permanent (Gk. ‘remaining’) comes (that is, from our point of view though in fact, since it is eternal, it already exists and always has existed), the impermanent fades away (2 Cor. 3:11, cf. 1 Cor. 13:10; Heb. 1:11; 8:13; 10:9; 12:27; 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:4). The present age gives way totally to the age to come (Luke 20:34-36; 1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15-17, cf. Col. 3:5; Tit. 2:11-14). On the other hand, corporeality involving a body of glory is essential to individuality and personal identity (cf. Col. 1:19; 2:9). Thus Nirvana, like re-incarnation, is excluded. However, this raises the question of what is meant by our sharing the nature of God in 2 Peter 1:4 (cf. Rom. 5:2; Col. 1:27, 1 Thes. 2:12; 1 Pet. 5:10, etc.).


Reminding ourselves that man is a body by nature and is incomplete without one (2 Cor. 5:2-4; Phil. 1:21-23), we may sum up by stating that viewed as body and soul man is monistic but as flesh and spirit he is dualistic. His body is intrinsic to him as man but his flesh is expendable like the material creation he presently inhabits. In contrast with the body which is positively affirmed, the flesh is always regarded pejoratively in Scripture (Jer. 17:5; John 6:62, etc.).

Sharing God’s Nature

The idea that we share God’s personal being or essence and thus to all intents and purposes become God (cf. Christ), or are absorbed Nirvana-like, must be rejected out of hand. As early as Genesis 1:26 we read that man is created in the image of God in principle, but increasing likeness to God is implied in 3:5 and 22 (cf. Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). On the other hand, as those who are born of God (John 1:13, cf. 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 John 3:9), from above (John 3:3,7), of the Spirit, become children of God (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 4:5f.; 1 John 3:1), have fellowship with him (1 John 1:3) and share his glory (Rom. 5:2; Col. 3:4; 2 Thes. 2:14) we undergo what the Orthodox Church calls ‘divinisation’ (cf. John 10:34). Here in 2 Peter 1:4 it is not simply a question of God’s ethical nature; rather the language is metaphysical (see e.g. Kelly, p. 304, cf. Harris, p. 330 n.12). If this is so, then again it is reasonable to conclude that our earthly bodies, which we are urged to (metaphorically) put to death even while we are still in the flesh (Col. 3:5; Rom.; 8:13; 2 Cor. 4:10f., cf. 6:6; Gal. 5:24), will not re-appear purified and immortalised in a new or purged physical universe. Rather, just as Christ once took on our nature and became flesh (Heb. 2:14) so we, like him, will take on his spiritual nature in order to enter the presence of God to which he returned (John 17:5; Heb. 1:3; 9:11,24; 1 Pet. 3:18, cf. 4:6; Eph. 2:18; John 14:1-6; 17:24; 1 Cor. 15:37,42-44; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:1; 8:9). Indeed, we do well to remind ourselves at this point that in him the whole fullness of God dwells in bodily (Col. 1:19; 2:9), not fleshly (Col. 1:22), form (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16 and see Harris, p.388).

It must be further emphasised that physicality or materiality as created, in contrast to spiritual corporeality, is combustible and therefore vulnerable to fire (Mal. 3:2f.; Jas. 5:3). How then, in the words of Isaiah, will it withstand ‘devouring fire’ and ‘everlasting burnings’ (33:14, cf. Jer. 15:14)? Apart from what we are taught in 2 Peter 3:7,10-12 (cf. 2 Thes. 1:7), we have to remember that since God himself is a consuming fire he necessarily consumes all created things (Heb. 12:27,29; cf. 1 Pet. 1:7; Dt. 32:22) which is why believers who are alive at the second coming are brands plucked from the burning (Amos 4:11; Jude 23a). (Even in this world the scientists tell us we have to be ‘sheltered’ from the sun.) Furthermore, it is frequently insisted early in the Bible that no human being can see God and live (Gen. 16:13; Jud. 6:22; 1 Tim. 6:16, cf. Ex. 33:17ff.). Clearly a radical change must take place if we are to dwell in his presence forever. Physicality or flesh seems to be out of the question.

Geisler on Romans 8 and 2 Peter 3

Mention must be made at this stage of the dubious interpretation of Harris (pp.245f.,327) and especially Geisler (p.192) of Romans 8:18-25 and 2 Peter 3:7,10-13. Geisler writes that a careful study of these passages will show that the new heaven and earth will be ‘just as physical and material (though everlasting) as the first ones were’. As a philosopher Geisler really ought to have noticed that everlastingness or rather eternality (4*) is impossible for something that is intrinsically temporal (Gen. 1:1), perishable (1 Cor. 15:50; Heb. 1:10-12, etc.) and impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18; 1 Pet. 1:7, cf. v.4). He goes on: “Paul refers to ‘the creation’ that was subjected to bondage as ‘the (same) creation itself (that) also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption ….’” Yes, but how will it be freed from its corruption? On the evidence at our disposal, unless Paul is contradicting himself, its liberty will come, as was suggested above, by death and destruction (Heb. 1:11, cf. 2 Cor. 4:16). Since the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable, it will obviously be removed and replaced like Peter’s physical body (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 1:14). Geisler then adds: “Indeed, he ties it to the physical resurrection of believers, saying, it is ‘eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body’ (v.23 NKJV).” This is hardly correct since a comparison with 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 would appear to exclude a physical resurrection as was noted above. Freedom for the believer comes by material destruction or corruption (4:16) and spiritual corporeal transformation (5:1). Since the temple made by hand (cheiropoietos) was destroyed and spiritualised (Mark 14:58; Rev. 21:22), so by parity of reasoning must a body made by hand (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 119:73; Isa. 64:8; 2 Cor. 5:1).

A little later on the same page Geisler then tells us that we know Christ’s resurrection body was physical and concludes on the basis of this that believers’ new bodies and the new heaven and earth will be just as physical. It is here of course that he makes a move common, if not universal, among writers on this theme. (Another who uses what I believe to be a false model ignoring the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection is Twelftree, pp.121 passim). It is assumed, though I have still to discover why, that Jesus’ resurrection body of flesh and bones (Luke 24:39) is the same as his glorified body (see e.g. Hughes, Hebrews, p.285). Surely, if Jesus’ body was truly physical, it must have been subject to the same change (cf. John 17:5,24; Rev. 1:12ff., etc.) that Paul insists takes place in us, or at least in those who are left at his return (1 Cor. 15:50ff.). (Geisler goes out of his way to prove that Jesus’ body was physical and is so even in heaven, pp. 108ff., 215ff. However, the evidence he produces of Jesus’ physicality and the non-miraculous nature of his appearances would appear to me to prove conclusively that Jesus was not glorified until his ascension. In contrast, Thiselton appears to want it both ways. While he also provides abundant evidence for Jesus’ post-resurrection physicality, he says his “‘bodily’ mode verged on, but also transcended, the physical”. (5*) This begs a number of questions, see e.g. Geisler, pp.215ff., but he is surely near the truth when he says: “In the event of the ascension … the ‘body’ would transcend physical limitations”, pp.1278f. Perhaps Geisler’s Christ is docetic after all! (6*) It might well be added here that the rather enigmatic statement that appears in John 20:17 points to the fact that the physical Jesus has not yet ascended and hence has not been glorified, cf. 7:39, except by his death, 3:14, cf. 12:32, on which see e.g. Morris, pp.225f.).

The Two Adams

This brings up another matter. Jesus’ resurrection was unique in that though his body really died, in contrast with that of Lazarus it did not see corruption (Acts 2:27,31; 13:34f.). Why not? The primary answer would seem to be that while he died for others, he himself did not sin. This being the case, the promise implied in Genesis 2:17 regarding the first Adam’s death (and corruption, cf. 3:19) was fulfilled in him. While our physical bodies are forfeited and become subject to corruption on account of sin (Rom. 8:10) and hence need redemption (Rom. 8:23), Jesus’ body was simply transformed at his ascension (1 Cor. 15:51ff.). So, since he personally kept the original commandment, indeed the whole Mosaic law, he transcended the universal rule of physical death and corruption (2 Tim. 1:10) in accordance with the promise. To put the issue otherwise, had the first Adam kept the law, he too would have gained (eternal) life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:16ff., etc.). Once he had successfully completed the test, in God’s good time (cf. Gal. 4:2) he would have ascended into heaven. Physically? Not according to Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:45ff. Even though, or rather since, he had gained life, he would have been changed. As Paul indicates in verses 44 and 46, he would have been transformed from the physical to the ‘spiritual’ which, given the context, must surely refer not simply to ruling principle but composition. (It is worthy of note that Augustine apparently saw this clearly when he wrote, “If Adam had not sinned, he would not have been divested of his body, but would have been clothed (superinvested) with immortality and incorruption, that his mortal (body) might have been absorbed by life; that is, that he might have passed from his natural body to the spiritual body,” De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, 1,2, quoted again by Hughes, p.171. Regrettably Augustine makes it clear in another quotation by Hughes (ibid.) that the natural body was simply immortalised. Like Irenaeus and other church fathers he believed in the resurrection of the flesh, see Geisler, pp.217f. But according to Paul this is impossible and hence is rightly rejected by modern writers like Fee and Thiselton.)

Geisler’s reference to 2 Peter 3 leaves a good deal to be desired too. Unless one has a hidden agenda, the only reasonable inference from it is that what is involved is the destruction of the entire created order (cf. Zeph. 1:2,18; 3:8; Heb. 12:26-29). According to Kelly, this is ‘demanded’ (p.365), and it is difficult not to agree.

Appeal is sometimes made to 2 Corinthians 5:4 which suggests in the minds of some that to be ‘further clothed’ (RSV) is to put a new body on over the old one like an overcoat. But this is surely to assign more to the Greek word than is intended. Behind Paul’s thinking is his desire to avoid death (cf. Phil. 1:21-23) with the body’s subsequent corruption leaving him in a state of ‘nakedness’. Yet even if he were alive at the parousia (1 Cor. 15:51ff.), his mortal body would be swallowed up, i.e. it would disappear (cf. Acts 1:9) or be dissolved like death itself (1 Cor. 15:54), and be replaced with a heavenly ‘building’ from God (2 Cor. 5:1). In the event, he died a martyr convinced that God would save him for his heavenly kingdom despite the disintegration of his earthly body (2 Tim. 4:18).

Concluding Comments

While there are other in the main minor points to be cleared up (see e.g. Geisler, pp.194f. (7*), I conclude that on the basis of the evidence the glorified body is spiritual (or supernatural (Fee) or super-earthly (Thiselton), that is, heavenly (2 Cor. 5:1f.), and certainly beyond our present experience (1 John 3:2). In any case, the physical body is perfected or brought to maturity in this world (cf. the acorn and the oak). Behind the stance of those who take the opposite view that our bodies will be eternally physical (a blatant contradiction in terms) lies the false Augustinian frame of reference or worldview which attributes the inadequacy of the present visible material world solely to sin instead of to nature as God created it at the beginning (Gen.1:1). Indeed, the mere fact that it had a beginning proves conclusively that it was not eternal and therefore not perfect (cf. Heb.7:3. It is worth noting that this reference highlights the difference between Jesus’ mortal flesh in which he grew older and was subject to natural corruption, John 8:57, and his eternal spiritual nature, cf. John 17:5,24; Heb. 7:16,2428;1 Pet. 3:18, etc.) Apart from texts like Matthew 5:18; 24:35; 2 Corinthians 4:18, cf. Rom. 8:18,24f.; Hebrews 1:10-12 and 12:26-29, we must note the difference between:

flesh and spirit (Rom. 8:13)
corruption and eternal life (Gal. 6:8)
earth and heaven (Heb. 12:25; Mt. 5:34f.)
creation and God (Ps. 102:26f.)
present age and the age to come (Luke 20:34-36; Eph. 1:21)
kingdom of the world and kingdom of our Lord (Rev. 11:15)
made by hand and not made by hand (Mark 14:58; 2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 9:11,24)
visible and invisible (1 Cor. 2:9; 2 Cor. 4:18; Rom. 8:18,24f.)
temporary and permanent splendour (2 Cor. 3;7-1; Hag. 2:9)
death and life (2 Cor. 3:6, cf. 4:16-5:1)
first Adam and last Adam (1 Cor. 15:47)
immortal God and mortal man (Rom. 1:23)
physical birth (generation) and spiritual rebirth (regeneration: John 3:6)
bondage and freedom (Gal. 4:21-31)
servanthood and sonship (Gal. 4:7; Heb. 3:1-6)
law and the word of the oath (Heb. 7:21)
material and spiritual promises (Heb.8:6)
old and new covenants (Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7,13)
corruptible seed (spora, 1 Pet. 1:23) and spiritual seed (sperma, 1 John 3:9).

We could go on, but a false covenant theology and hence failure to appreciate the contrast between the old and new covenants has done as much as anything to vitiate a true understanding of Scripture. Had there been greater insight in this area, it would have been much easier for theologians to perceive the forward movement and the perfecting process with its concomitant transformation and spiritualisation that characterises the NT, indeed, the whole Bible (but see espec. Hebrews, e.g. 11:8-16).

So far as the present subject, the heavenly body, is concerned, given the correct biblical premises the issue can be settled by appeal to plain logic. If physicality or materiality is created in time, then it is intrinsically impermanent (Heb. 11:3, cf. Eccl. 3:1-8). Being temporal, by definition it cannot therefore be eternal (cf. Ps. 102:15-27; Isa. 40:6-8; 50:9; 51:6,8,12, etc.). And if like can only produce like (John 3:6; 1 Cor. 15:48), future physicality is necessarily excluded. The perishable can neither beget nor inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50). Thus it becomes clear that even God cannot produce an eternal new (i.e. fresh) creation, since, if it is new and has a beginning, it is not eternal. The adjectives new (fresh as opposed to new to us) and eternal are mutually exclusive unless the law of non-contradiction is false. (This proves, incidentally, that the biblical new creation is heaven, the regeneration or the eternal world that permanently abides. The new heavens and the new earth, like the age to come and the new Jerusalem which is our mother, ALREADY exist. They have always existed and need not, indeed, cannot be freshly created. They are new only from our earthly human point of view.) As was suggested above, from a biblical perspective eternal materiality is a contradiction in terms (cf. Heb.12:27). A mass of evidence tells against it as do universal history, experience and science.

The wonder of the gospel, according to John, is that we should be called the children of God (1 John 3:1), who is spirit (John 4:24). If like begets like (John 3:6), this entails our being born of the Spirit (John 1:12f.), receiving his Spirit, being conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 4:4), having a body like that of Christ (Phil. 3:21) who will return in the glory of the Father (Mt. 16:27, cf. John 17:5) which we will share (Rom. 5:2; 1 Thes. 2:12; 2 Thes. 2:14) along with his fellowship (1 John 1:3), his life (Col. 3:4) and his throne (2 Tim. 2:14; Rev. 3:21). Above all, we shall share the perfection of his own nature (Mt. 5:48; 2 Pet. 1:4, cf. Heb. 1:3; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:17; 1 Pet. 4:6; 5:1,10) as was implicitly promised when we were made in his image (Gen. 1:26. Cf. Westcott: “… man was made in God’s image to gain His likeness, p.306).

On reflection, our own background is not this world but eternity (cf. Mt. 25:34). Not without reason did Paul write to Titus about hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began (1:2, NKJV, cf. 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:4,11; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 1:2). Thus Calvin also had good cause to write a book entitled “Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God”, for he was not unaware of the amazing “purpose of the gospel to make us sooner or later like God; indeed it is, so to speak, a kind of deification” (Peter, p.300, quoted by Lucas and Green, p. 51). If this is so, then we cannot but conclude that far from being ‘flesh’ possessing nothing more than immortality and incorruptibility (Bauckham, p.181), we shall shine forever like the sun in the presence of the Father and of the Lamb (Mt. 13:43, cf. John 17:5,24; 1 Cor. 2:9; 15:43a; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:17f.; 1 John 3:2).

In light of this, part of R.P.Martin’s straightforward summary of his commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 is appropriate: “The Spirit, the pledge from God, is the basis for believing that God has something better in store for his people. There will come the day when the Christian will receive his or her permanent dwelling, the spiritual body, from God” (p.116).

It might finally be observed that the body of flesh like the temporal creation from which it derives was always intended to be the slave of the spirit as it was in Jesus’ case (Gen. 1:26,28; Ps. 8:5f.). When it has served its purpose, it will be cast out (Gal. 4:29f.). Only the son remains in the house forever (John 8:35).



1* Theologians frequently charge others with Greek dualism. All too often the charge is based on a radical misunderstanding. For instance, O.P.Robertson claims correctly that man was created “as a physical/spiritual complex.” From this, however, he draws the wholly inaccurate conclusion that man’s redemption involves “the renewal of his total being in the context of his total environment” (p.215). And in case we have misunderstood his meaning he says on the previous page: “From the beginning, Christ’s goal is the restoration of the total man in his total creational environment. Nothing less than bodily resurrection in the context of new heavens and a new earth where the entire curse of the fall has been removed can satisfy the biblical concept of redemption” (p.214). Restoration (repetition) is an OT or old covenant idea and is alien to the new covenant which requires the death, destruction, replacement or transformation of the old. As Paul says, the old body is not the body which is to be (1 Cor. 15:37). If restoration is entertained at all in a new covenant setting, it involves spiritual reconciliation or the restoration of the “fellowship” (cf. Adam in the Garden) we enjoy with our Creator when we are created in the womb (cf. Job 31:15, etc.).

Surely there is nothing more clearly taught in the NT than that the fleshly body (2 Cor. 5:1, etc.), like the temporal/material earth from which it derives (Gen. 1:1), is perishable by nature. It will be destroyed to make way for a spiritual body fitted for heaven. In other words, man will be incomplete without a body, but he was never intended to retain his flesh as Paul emphasises in 1 Corinthians 15:35ff.

2* For all that Grudem tells us that Christ is incarnate (meaning?) in heaven (p.859) and Milne that the Christian’s hope is a “fleshly bodily hope” (p.170). Nothing could be further from biblical truth.

3* Lucas and Green say (p.133 n.26) that the NIV meticulously observes the distinction between kosmos (world – 1:4; 2:5,20; 3:6) and ge (earth – 3:5,7,10,13). When they also say (p.53) that the corruption we are to flee is not our physical bodies but sin, they are implicitly contradicting themselves. They correctly hold that the physical universe will be destroyed but fail to recognise that our physical bodies are part and parcel of its corruption. In contrast, Paul clearly teaches that we are to put to death not merely sin but what is earthly in us (Col. 3:2,5, cf. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:17,24; 1 Pet. 2:11 and note Rom. 16:18; Phil. 3:19; 1 Cor. 6:13). In other words, our physical bodies are naturally corruptible and must not be pampered. To sow to the flesh is certain death (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8) irrespective of sin. Just ask your cat and/or dog (cf. Isa. 31:3)! They live on bread alone! (When I wrote this, I had not read James Dunn’s “The Theology of Paul the Apostle. I note with gratitude Dunn’s frequent reference to Romans 8:13 and Galatians 6:8, and his succinct assertion that the body or soma can cross the boundary of the ages but that the flesh or sarx belongs to this present age, Romans, p.391. Cf. 6* below.)

4* I take it that eternality is qualitatively superior to everlastingness. See Salmond, pp. 391f., quoted by Morris, John, p.227. M.M.Thompson writes, “This ‘eternal life’ or ‘life of the age to come’ is the very life that God has, God’s own kind of life, divine life. We may see how the adjective ‘eternal’ fits the noun ‘life’, for God alone exists eternally …. And yet it seems almost a contradiction in terms to speak of having ‘eternal life’, the life of the age to come in the present …. Thus eternal life is also the appropriation by faith of unseen yet present realities that shape one’s life in this world and become more fully realised in the next” (pp.380f.). See also art. Eternal in New 20th Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. Douglas, Grand Rapids, 1991.

5* On pp.372f. Harris sets out what he terms the materialistic and nonmaterialistic statements regarding Jesus’ resurrection side by side. It strikes me that the latter are remarkably imprecise compared with the former and are open to a materialistic interpretation. He then alludes to Sparrow-Simpson’s reference to the “ethereal and intangible state” of Jesus’ body. One wonders what Sparrow-Simpson made of John 20:17 to go no further. Harris’ further comments ought to be read carefully. However, I still find fundamental difficulties with the notion that Jesus’ resurrection body was the same but now glorified (p.399).

6* It would appear that the majority of writers confuse the corporeal (somatic) with the physical/material. Fee, who not without reason refers to a supernatural body, pertinently brings out the distinction. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:50 he writes: “The two lines … Together … declare most decisively that the body in its present physical expression cannot inherit the heavenly existence of vv.47-49” (p.798). Again he comments on Philippians 3:21 as follows: “… Christ’s present existence is ‘bodily’ in the sense of 1 Corinthians 15, that the ‘body’ is the point of continuity between the present and the future; but the ‘form’ that body has taken is the point of discontinuity ” (p.383). See also Dunn, Romans 1-8, p.391.

7* According to Geisler (pp.201,232f.), Origen denied the material nature of the resurrection body and his views were condemned by the Council of Toledo (A.D.447). He then quotes with approval from the Fourth Council (A.D.663), which asserted the resurrection of ‘the same flesh wherein we now live’. This is manifestly false to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:50 and betrays a failure to distinguish between the resurrection of Christ, whose body did not undergo corruption, and that of those which did (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51ff.; 1 Thes. 4:13ff.). While Origen must be treated with great circumspection in general, he seemed to have had a better understanding of the import of what is ‘not made by hand’ and the ‘invisible’ than Geisler himself (see p.232). While Origen’s ‘spiritual’, ‘celestial’ or ‘ethereal’ body may have been ruled out of court by the Council of Toledo, it nonetheless reflects more nearly the teaching of Scripture. In any case, John tells us that the ‘spiritual body’ is beyond our present comprehension (1 John 3:2. It might usefully be added that when writers pour scorn on an ‘ethereal’ or ‘spiritual’ body, they ignore the fact, first, that the material stems from the invisible spiritual world, Heb.11:3, and, second, that present invisibility is not necessarily intrinsic but arises out of our fleshly limitations, cf. Rev. 22:4. Note also angels who enjoy individual existence but are for us invisible ‘ministering spirits’, Heb. 1:14, cf. Luke 20:36). We need further to bear in mind that what is true on the moral level is doubtless true with regard to the corporeal – spiritual things are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). What is more, the author of Hebrews would have us believe, and with good reason, that the spiritual is more real than the physical (cf. Heb. 8:2; 9:24; 10:1; 1 Tim. 6:19). One thing seems to be clear and that is that in the next world we shall retain our personal identity. This being so, we shall have recognisable bodies and an appropriate degree of splendour, Mt. 13:43.).

Again it must be urged that much of the discussion is marred by an inability to perceive that Jesus rose again physically but, in accordance with Paul’s dictum in 1 Cor. 15:50, he must have been transformed at or immediately after his initially visible ascension. If not, he remains in essence ‘hand-made’ (Heb. 10:5; Luke 3:38; Job 10:3,8; Ps. 119:73, etc.). To reply that he is now physically immortalised ignores Paul’s plain assertion that the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable.

Because it is so widely ignored or misunderstood, this point requires elaboration and repetition. Since Jesus’ fleshly or incarnate body as deriving from the temporal earth was necessarily mortal and impermanent, his permanent heavenly body must be spiritual or, to use Fee’s word, supernatural (cf. Thiselton’s ‘super-earthly’, p.1267). To argue as many do that this body is physical, which by definition is temporal, involves them in logical absurdity. For, how can the permanent heavenly Jesus permanently have an impermanent physical body? The very idea is a contradiction in terms. As Paul says, the impermanent cannot inherit the permanent. (Acts 7:56 where Jesus is noticeably standing as opposed to sitting, cf. e.g. Heb. 1:3, can hardly be used to support Jesus’ physicality. The vision is clearly given to Stephen for his encouragement. It contrasts with that given to Paul later for a different purpose, see Acts 9, 22, 26.)

To counter this by saying Jesus was not subject to corruption (Acts 2:24-28; 13:34f.) is to invite charges of docetism on the one hand and to misunderstand the biblical position on the other. Like the creation from which he emanated through his mother, Jesus was visibly aging (John 8:57, cf. Luke 2:41ff.) and hence subject to corruption (2 Cor. 4:16, cf. Heb. 8:13). The promise in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:17) was that if Adam, though naturally mortal and subject to corruption like the earth from which he was taken, kept the law, he would not die. The inference from this must be that he would thus avoid, that is, escape from, the corruption characteristic of the entire natural creation. This is borne out by the case of Jesus who, as the second Adam, succeeded where the first failed. To be sure, he died but certainly not for his own sins and so did not see corruption. Thus when he had finished his course, like the saints at the end of history (1 Cor. 15:50ff.), he was caught up in the air (i.e. ascended) to return to the Father and sit at his right hand. In the process, however, he had to undergo transformation, that is, be glorified (cf. John 17:5,24), as Paul makes abundantly clear (cf. 2 Thes. 1:10).

Finally, there is the question of Jesus’ return when every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7). Many argue that he will return in the same bodily form as he left. But this is surely to misunderstand Acts 1:11 which tells us that he will return in the same manner, i.e. from heaven on the clouds in divine glory (Luke 21:27, cf. Dan. 7:13). There is not the slightest hint in the NT that he will resemble a nondescript Galilean peasant sitting on a cloud. Rather he will come as God (Tit. 2:13) whose glory he shared before the foundation of the earth (John 17:5). He will thus come as both light to rescue (Luke 17:24, cf. 1 Tim. 6:16) and fire to destroy (Luke 17:29f.; 2 Thes. 1:7f.; 2:8). Paul tells us that we believers will have a body of glory like his (Phil. 3:21) but beyond that we know almost nothing (cf. 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:9). It is interesting to note, however, that the only description that we have of the righteous in heaven is that they will shine like the sun (Mark 13:43).

The plain fact is that our fleshly bodies, like grass (Isa. 40:6-8,24; Ps.106:20; 1 Cor.7:31; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.), are intrinsically temporary and provisional like the law that regulates them (Heb. 8:13), in fact, like the material creation in general (Mt. 5:18). As Paul insists, to be present in our physical or earthly body is to be absent from the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6,8). Again, the difference between earth (creation) and heaven (eternity, cf. Isa. 57:15; Mt. 5:34f.; 6:19f.;2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:4) must be given its full weight.


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Additional Note (1)

Whereas Harris implicitly denies the physical restoration, demanded by Genesis 2:17 (cf.Acts 2:24) of Jesus at his resurrection, Geisler implicitly denies his corporeal transformation at his ascension. It should be recognised that the physical or natural body belongs to this world (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50), therefore resurrection in this world necessarily involves restoration (cf. Lazarus, etc.). In view of this we are forced to conclude that Jesus experienced both physical restoration at his resurrection and transformation at his ascension (as Adam would have done if he had not sinned). In contrast, we who die and experience corruption like David (Acts 2:29) do not experience restoration but we do enjoy resurrection to both immortality and incorruptibility (1 Cor. 15:52).

Additional Note (2)

It is perhaps useful at this point to highlight the difference between the resurrection of Lazarus and that of Jesus. First, Jesus tells us explicitly that Lazarus did not die for his sin but for the glory of God (John 11:4. Cf. 9:3 where any part that the sin of both the congenitally blind man and his parents is explicitly excluded. This surely indicates yet once more that our physical nature is naturally imperfect or corruptible. See also Gen. 11:30; Ex. 4:11; Mt. 19:12.) But there is an implicit assumption that at a later date Lazarus died again, this time because he was a sinner, and so saw corruption. By contrast, Jesus, who did not die for his own sin but for ours, rose again (took back the life he had laid down, John 10:17f.; 2:19-22, that is, underwent restoration) immortal (Rom. 6:9). But since, as he himself was at pains to make clear he was still flesh (Luke 24:39; John 20:17, 24-29; 21:4-14; 1 Cor. 15:4-7), he had necessarily to undergo transformation at his ascension. In other words, Jesus was raised immortal but not incorruptible. And it is precisely because he was not yet glorified that he told Mary not to hang on to him (John 20:17).

Additional Note (3)

Geisler and “The Battle for the Resurrection”

Especially as a philosopher, Geisler should not be caught writing his conclusions into his premises. He ought to have noted that Paul’s question in 1 Cor. 15:35 is: “With what kind of body do they come?” This cannot be determined in advance. Thus when he says in the glossary (p.234) that corporeal means having a physical body, he is begging a very large question. In tandem with this he tells us that the body is the physical organ of interaction with the external world. How true so far as the physical here and now is concerned (cf.Hodge quoted above), but the situation must change on the assumption that the next world is essentially spiritual.

1. According to Paul there is a movement or progression from the physical to the spiritual (1 Cor. 15:44,46,49, cf. v.23, contrast Gal. 3:3).

2. That the entire material world is headed for destruction is extensively and clearly taught and/or implied throughout Scripture (e.g. Gen. 8:22; Isa. 51:6; 54:10; Mt. 5:18; 6:19f.; 24:35; Heb. 1:10-12; 6:7f.; 12:27; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). Furthermore, this destruction manifestly includes the physical body (Gen. 3:19; Ps. 49:12,20; 1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:1; 1 Pet. 1:23).

3. The physical body shares the same fate as the physical temple. The latter is totally destroyed as a material entity yet nonetheless re-appears in a different, that is, a ‘spiritual’ form (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). Elsewhere we learn that God and the Lamb are their people’s temple (Rev. 21:22). The similarity between Mark 14:58 and 2 Cor. 5:1 is striking and can hardly be adjudged coincidental (see Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.164 n.22). It might usefully be added that the house God inhabits is not a house built ‘by hand’ (Acts 7:48; 17:24) but a spiritual temple made up of his people (Isa. 57:15; 66:1f., cf. 1 Pet. 2:4f.).

4. Except in Jesus’ case, the resurrection body is not flesh, as Geisler frequently maintains. Morris and others explicitly deny it. But then they are not guilty of predetermining the issue by insisting that flesh and blood have moral connotations. They see them (it?) as referring to the natural man, as formed by the hand of God from corruptible earth, before he knows either good or evil and hence before he is capable of sin (Gen. 2:17; Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Rom. 9:11).

5. Geisler fails to recognise that Jesus’ resurrection was unique. He died on behalf of others so that both he and they are raised (John 14:19; Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14). Since Jesus himself did not sin, his body, though dead and buried, did not yield to corruption in accordance with the original promise made to Adam (Gen. 2:17, cf. 3:19). In other words, the penalty of sin is death and Jesus underwent it on behalf of his people. But this did not entail the corruption that personal sinners normally experience. Thus death had no permanent hold over him (Acts 2:24). As he himself said, he laid down his life so that he might take it again (John 10:17f.). Having died once for his sheep, he was raised immortal (Rom. 6:9) but still in corruptible flesh. Hence his ascension was like the new birth (John 3) an absolute natural necessity (cf. John 20:17) not an imperative.

So far as Jesus’ ascension and transformation are concerned, they pave the way and serve as a paradigm for those who avoid death by surviving till the parousia as Paul hoped to do (1 Cor. 15:51ff.; 2 Cor. 5:8; 1 Thes, 4:14ff.).

Arguably Geisler’s biggest blunder, like that of many others, is to assume that our Lord’s resurrection body, which he correctly insists against Harris is flesh and blood, is also his glorified body. This is impossible for the simple reason that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, the realm of glory. But then he argues that only ‘sinful’ flesh is thus inhibited (p.122)!

Geisler and the Flesh

In true Augustinian fashion, Geisler ethicises the flesh. It is this which enables him to make an illegitimate distinction between corruptible and non-corruptible flesh (pp. 43f.,122). According to the Bible all flesh, including that of Jesus who was a true son of Adam and hence derived from perishable earth, is corruptible by nature irrespective of sin (cf. Rom. 1:23). The reason why Jesus after his death did not succumb to corruption was, as indicated above, that as one who never personally sinned, he met the divine requirement of keeping the law and hence inherited the promise of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Luke 10:28, etc.). Like Adam, every child that attains to rationality, i.e. can understand the commandment mediated by its parents, encounters two trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). Failure to obey the law has the same result as it had for Adam and Eve and, for example, Paul; it means expulsion from ‘paradise’ and deprivation or forfeiture of access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24; Rom. 7:7-11). (F.F.Bruce’s comment on Romans 7:11, Romans, rev. ed. p.142, while revealing great insight is nullified by his false understanding of Romans 5 and belief in original sin, pp.122f. For a commentator of his stature to maintain that mankind fell ‘in Adam’, which phrase is NOT in the text, underlines human fallibility, see pp.123,142. The truth Paul is setting forth in Romans 7 is NOT sin in Adam but recapitulation.* As those who are made in the image of both Adam and God, Gen 5:1-3, we are all born knowing neither good nor evil. Then we are first deceived like Eve and, secondly, rebel open-eyed against the law like Adam. As a Jew and a son of the commandment, Paul next goes on to provide a graphic description of the struggles, exacerbated by sin already committed, cf. John 8:34; Eph. 2:1-3, of his own fleshly nature with the law. He acknowledges his defeat, v.24, but finds release in Christ, v.25, through faith in whom he has received life by the Spirit , 8:1ff.)

Even according to the OT, not to mention Romans 5:12, all other human beings sinned (1 K. 8:46; Ps. 106:6; 130:3; 143:2, etc.), and therefore forfeited the opportunity to overcome the universal subjection to corruption characterising the creation.

The notion that our fleshly passions are necessarily sinful, an idea based on original sin, is erroneous and will not bear scrutiny (see e.g. Cranfield, Romans, 1, p.337; Fung, Galatians, p.274. I have dealt with this issue at some length elsewhere in an essay entitled The Pattern of Sin). Clearly, as the author of Hebrews insists, Jesus, in contrast with his Father (James 1:13) was as vulnerable to temptation as the rest of humankind (4:15). Matthew 4:1-11 makes it plain that the war between flesh and spirit (Spirit) afflicted Jesus just as it does us (Gal. 5:16ff.; 1 Pet. 2:11, etc. Art. 1X of the C. of E. is a theological disaster!). And we follow in his steps when we attempt to crucify the flesh (cf. Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24) or put to death what is earthly in us (Rom.8:13; Col. 3:2,5. Strictly speaking, since we have died with Christ, Rom. 6:1-8, the flesh is already crucified, but we have to be what we are or become what God intends us to be! Ontology and function must harmonise as in Jesus’ case). Admittedly, sin exacerbates the situation as Jeremiah (13:23), Jesus (John 8:34), Paul (Rom. 6:16) and Peter (2 Pet. 2:19) all pointed out.

As those who are weak in the flesh, which by its very nature is incapable of producing good (Rom. 7:18; 8:8; John 6:63), we are enabled to overcome by means of the Spirit of God within us (Rom. 8:4f.; cf. 1 John 3:9).

In sum, the ‘flesh’ is basically our unregenerate Adamic nature. It is ‘soulish’ rather than ‘spiritual’. Initially, it is morally neutral; later, when we have sinned and become the slaves of sin (Jer. 13:23; John 8:34), its inherent weakness (Rom. 7:14) and attraction to earthly, material things becomes all the more manifest in a fleshly mind-set (Rom. 8:6f.; 1 John 2:15-17). (At this point it should be pointed out that the so-called Pauline view of the flesh as sinful, see e.g. NIV especially, is dangerously misleading. What writers frequently ignore, or are perhaps even unaware of if they uncritically accept the Augustinian view of things, is that the ‘flesh’ is inherently pejorative, defective or imperfect, cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49, like the rest of the created universe from which it stems, Heb. 1:10-12, etc. When this is understood it becomes plain that the flesh as such, not simply as sinful, is opposed to the spirit/Spirit. If this is not so, there is no explanation for the transgressions of Adam and Eve in the Garden. They at least could not have inherited their sin!)

The flesh is naturally earthly (1 Cor. 15:48a; 2 Cor. 4:7), that is, material or physical, weak (Mt. 26:41; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 13:4), mortal (Gen. 2:17, cf. Rom. 8:13a; Gal. 6:8a), corruptible (1 Cor. 15:50), visible and impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18), like the old covenant that is losing its glory and fading away (2 Cor. 3:11), eclipsed by what excels it (2 Cor. 4:16ff.), imperfect and in the process of giving way to the perfect and heavenly (1 Cor. 13:10; 15:42-44; 2 Cor. 5:1), temporary and provisional like the law (cf. Heb.1:11; 8:13), vulnerable to temptation and a veritable bridgehead for sin leading to death (Gen 3:1-6; James 1 :13f.; Rom. 7:14; 6:23), profitless and incapable of good at best (John 6:63; Rom. 7:18; 8:8), and opposed to, in fact, at war with the spirit (Spirit) at worst (Gal. 5:17; 1 Pet. 2:11). In short the flesh belongs to this world, this present (evil) age (Gal. 1:4), which is passing away (Luke 20:34-38; 1 Cor. 2:6; 7:31; 1 John 2:8,17) as was ever the divine intention (Eph. 1:4,11; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:4).

* Numerous texts underline our tendency to repeat the sins of our forebears – not surprisingly since we are made in their image (cf. Gen. 5:1-3), are conditioned by them, inherit the consequences of their good (Gen. 22:18; Luke 11:13) or bad (Num. 14:33) conduct (note Rom. 5:12ff.) and follow their example, though not necessarily (Ezek. 18; 3 John 11). See Jer. 3:25; 7:22-26; 32:30; 1 Sam. 8:8; 2 K. 18:3; 2 Chr. 30:7; Dan. 9:11; Zech. 1:2,4f.; Acts 7:51, etc.