Was Jesus Raised in a Fleshly Human Body?

An Ancient Debate

The debate over whether the resurrected Jesus rose bodily in a fleshly human body or as a spirit which later materialized has been debated for nearly 2,000 years. Writing in The Gnostic Gospels Harvard professor, Elaine Pagels, who later chaired the department of religion at Barnard, writes: "Tertullian, a brilliantly talented writer (A. D. c. 190), speaking for the majority, defines the orthodox position: as Christ rose bodily from the grave, so every believer should anticipate the resurrection of the flesh. He leaves no room for doubt. ... What is raised is ‘this flesh, suffused with blood, built up with bones, interwoven with nerves, entwined with veins.’ ... Yet some Christians -- those he calls heretics -- dissent. Without denying the resurrection, they reject the literal interpretation. ... Tertullian declares than anyone who denies the resurrection of the flesh is a heretic, not a Christian." (pages 4, 5)

Professor Pagels continues: "Why did orthodox tradition adopt the literal view of resurrection? The question becomes even more puzzling when we look at what the New Testament says about it. ... Other stories, directly juxtaposed with these, suggest different views of the resurrection. Luke and Mark both relate that Jesus appeared ‘in another form’ --- not his former earthly form -- to two disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus. .. . John, too, places directly before the story of ‘doubting Thomas’ another of a very different kind: Mary Magdalene, mourning for Jesus near his grave, sees a man she takes to be the gardener.... So if some of the New Testament stories insist on a literal view of resurrection, others lend themselves to different interpretations. ... (Paul) although his discussion often is read as an argument for bodily resurrection, concludes with the words ‘I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ ... Paul describes the resurrection as a ‘mystery,’ the transformation from physical to spiritual existence." (pages 5, 7) Thus, the argument over this question is very old.

Paul and Two Body-Types

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 that there are only two kinds of bodies. The human, like Adam, is described as what Paul calls a soma psychicon or "soul-like body." The second body is what he calls soma pneumaticon, or "spirit-like body." He gives both body types several descriptive terms. [For more details see the section "The Resurrection According to Paul" in the online publication Where Are the Dead?] Consider Paul’s adjectives and synonyms for each of the two body types.

Soma psychicon -- soul-like body ---

1. earthly (epi-geia)

2. corruptible, decayable upon burial

3. weak when buried

4. buried as a soul-like body

5. dusty (choicos)

6. in the image of Adam

7. flesh and blood

8. mortal = dying

Soma pneumaticon -- spirit-like body ---

1. heavenly

2. incorruptible

3. powerful

4. raised as soma pneumaticon

5. celestial

6. in the image of the Risen Christ

7. not blood and flesh

8. immortal = non-dying

It is taught of the heavenly Son of the Father that "a body [soma psychicon] was prepared for me." (Hebrews 10:5 KJV; TCNT: provide for me a body; AMP: made ready a body for me) This evidently happened when the heavenly Lord "emptied himself" of his divine-like spirit "form" (morphe) and "took upon himself the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:7, 8 KJV) He "partook of flesh and blood ... during the days of his flesh." (Hebrews 2:14; 5:7) Thus, the Son possessed a soma psychicon or soul-like body of flesh and blood. Indeed, Paul calls this part of Jesus’ life as "the days of his flesh" (Hebrews 5.7) as opposed to his former life in the spirit. (John 17:5)

This soma psychicon or soul-like body was to be "offered up" as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. (Hebrews 10:5, 10) As long as our Lord was in his flesh it was as though there was a "curtain" or veil between earth and heaven. (Hebrews 10:20) Paul compared the flesh and blood of our Lord as pictured or typified by the ancient Israelite animal sacrifices whose bodies (soma) were burned up or destroyed. (Hebrews 13:11, 12) This would preclude the risen Christ ascending to heaven with his own human body, his soma psychicon.

Some had known the Lord in his flesh. However, Paul states even if this were once so, it is no longer true: "Indeed, if we have known Christ according to the flesh, now we no longer know him thus." (2 Corinthians 5:16, United Bible Societies Interlinear) Of course, if Christ were still a human in flesh though heavenly, Paul could not have said what he did.

Earlier in this same chapter Paul has described what happens to the soma psychicon, " ... our house, this tent, should be dissolved, we are to have a building from God -- not of human origin -- but everlasting in the heavens." (2 Corinthians 5:1) Here there is a "tent" and a "building." What "we" are as individuals reside within these dwellings but upon the resurrection we receive, not the tent we formerly lived in, but a new, and completely different "building."

Paul continues showing the human body of flesh, bone, and blood is to be put off and a new residence taken up -- not of human origin. 2 Corinthians 5:2-6: "For in this dwelling house [the soma psychicon] we do indeed groan, earnestly desiring to put on the one for us from heaven [the soma pneumaticon] , so that, having really put it on, we shall not be found naked [without either body]. In fact, we who are in this tent [some psychicon] groan, being weighed down; because we want, not to put it off, but to put on the other [some pneumaticon] , that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now he that produced us for this very thing is God, who gave us the token of what is to come, that is, the spirit. We are therefore always of good courage and know that, while we have our home in the body ("this tent" of human origin, the soma psychicon], we are absent from the Lord."

This does not sound like Paul believed his "tent" or "body" was going to heaven in some spiritualized form. Nor does he ever indicate a disembodied spirit is later reunited with the former fleshly body in some kind of resurrection reunion. To Paul there are two bodies: one likened to a "tent" which can be taken down then folded up, and the other, compared to a "building" (oikodomen -- a word related to the word Jesus is accused of using in Mark 14:58 - oikodomeso). One is to be "destroyed" and the other heavenly one to be ageless, everlasting "in the heavens." One is human, the other divine. One is mortal, the other immortal.

Judging from 1 Corinthians chapter 15 it is the decayable soma psychicon -- "this tent" -- which is kata-lythe, or dissolved (KJV), destroyed (Con), demolished (NEB). Like a tent having its tent-pegs pulled up, the tent is collapsed and then folded up and put away. Likewise, that body which God had prepared for his Son during the days of his flesh, after the typical shadow of the Israelite sacrificial victims, was somehow disposed of, just as any sacrifice would be. (Hebrews 13:11, 12) That body was thus "given in your behalf." (Luke 22:19) And this in fulfillment of the prophecy of the Suffering Messiah. (Isaiah 53:4, 5, 10, 12)

So, was Jesus raised in the same human body, the soma psychicon, that was buried? Paul’s answer is: " ... and the body which you are sowing is not the body you are going to become. ... Rather, God is giving to [this seed planted in the ground at death] a body just as He wills." (1 Corinthians 15:37, 38) Paul says Jesus was raised or resurrected, not in a "flesh and blood" soma psychicon but the Risen Christ "became a life-giving spirit ... [for] flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 15:45, 50) Thus, as Paul has it, our Lord was raised in a soma pneumaticon, a spirit-like body without blood and flesh.

However, suppose Paul believes this present body of flesh and blood is to some how be transformed, rebuilt or reconstructed to be like it was before, but some how "in spirit" -- or spiritualized? Paul is not unfamiliar with the Greek word for "transformation" (Romans 12:2) and he could have easily used it here if that was his intent. We do not see him phrasing himself in such a way. Rather, he says, "what you sow is not that body that shall be [going to become]." (1 Corinthians 15:37) Paul does not say the physical body is clothed with immortality. Rather, he says the "mortal puts on immortality." These are not bodies but states or conditions which change as a result of possessing a new body-type.

With this Peter also agrees, for the fisherman writes: "For Christ ... having been put to death in the flesh, yet having been made alive in the spirit." (1 Peter 3:18 UBS Interlinear) Peter likewise compared his earthly existence as an occupant residing within a tabernacle: "Knowing as I do that the putting off of my tabernacle is soon to be." (2 Peter 1:14) Peter realizes that his "tent" (in Paul’s words) is to be "put off," or as Paul has it, "destroyed." He does not take this body to heaven, nor does he any where indicate he is later to re-inhabit his former earthly tabernacle.

Some will argue about the rendering of 1 Peter 3:18 above, "made alive in the spirit." We do not think we have to list all those translations which prefer "made alive in the spirit" or "in the spirit he was brought to life." (WMS, NEB) It would seem this later phrase is contrasted with the former and opposite, "was physically put to death" (GDSP), or, "his body being put to death." (TCNT) The Greek follows "in which" (ASV) -- that is, not in the flesh, but in the spirit -- the Risen Lord preached to other "spirits" (pneumasin) imprisoned in spiritual darkness. "In which" -- what? In the flesh "in which" he died? Or, "in" a spirit-body as Paul has it in 1 Corinthians 15:50?

Post-Resurrection Manifestations

"I shall raise the temple of (my) body."

However, some will debate this, despite what Paul or Peter say, and argue that Jesus was raised in the same flesh and blood body that was buried. They will point to several Bible verses which convince them of this fleshly resurrection of what Paul calls the soma psychicon. For example, they will point to John 2:19, 21, "’Demolish this Sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up.’ ... But, he meant the sanctuary of his body." (WEY) Is it fair to state Jesus speaks in a metaphor which the Jews misunderstood? Later, before his Jewish judges, he is condemned on the basis of this statement. We note the Nazarene does not say exactly which type of body he will raise. If Jesus agrees with his inspired disciple Paul, he must raise a soma pneumaticon --- a spirit-like body lacking flesh and blood and thus able to inherit the Kingdom. (1 Corinthians 15:50) Peter had heard Jesus make this statement to the Jews, but Peter did not understand this to mean Jesus would raise a human body of flesh and blood. (1 Peter 3:18)

Indeed, those who heard Jesus make the above statement in John 2:19 interpreted his words to mean: "We heard him say, 'I will throw down this temple that was made with hands and in three days I will build another not made with hands." (Mark 14:58) If we accept their testimony, Jesus meant in John 2:19, not that he would raise the same human body of flesh, bone and blood upon his resurrection, but that he would be raised in a another, newly constructed body, or tabernacle as Peter would call it.

Additionally, the phrase in Mark 14:58 and 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2 -- "not made with hands" -- occurs often as a contrast to that which is of human origin, flesh and blood, not spiritual, or heavenly. For example, Hebrews 9:11 explains the meaning: "Not made with hands, that is, not of this creation." (Compare Daniel 2:25; Ephesians 2:11; Hebrews 9:24)

Paul makes it clear Jesus was not "flesh and blood" before he came to earth. "Jesus partook of flesh and blood ... in the days of his flesh." (Hebrews 2:14; 5:7)

"Feel me, a spirit does not have flesh and blood as you see I have."

Another text often used is Luke 24:39, "Feel me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones just as you behold that I have." We would hardly expect Jesus to contradict Paul and Peter who both state the Nazarene was raised a "spirit." (1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Peter 3:18) What is the problem here? If we note the context, Jesus has made a sudden appearance and this frightens the disciples, as the account states, " ... they thought they were beholding a spirit." (Luke 24:37) Many modern versions clarify the matter for us: "They thought they were looking at a ghost. (Jesus said) ghosts have no flesh and bones."

This did not even convince them and so Jesus asked for some food to eat. This has been used to argue that the Risen Christ was in a glorified human form with flesh and bones -- blood being omitted in the phrase. Of course, if Jesus eats for nourishment, as it were, then the matter needs to be followed through according to the Nazarene’s own argument: "What enters the mouth passes into the intestines and then passes into the sewer." (Matthew 15:17; Mark 7:19) So, a few hours later would the Risen Lord have had to use the privy -- like Baal, as Elijah challenged centuries before? (1 Kings 18:27)

The materialized body of the Risen Lord -- lacking blood -- was what God had granted so the Nazarene could become visible or manifest to his disciples as Peter, an eyewitness states, "The God raised this one on the third day and granted him to become visible." (Acts 10:40 UBS Interlinear) Our own conviction is that these "manifestations" -- often into locked rooms -- was for the benefit of those witnesses to the resurrection and the result of God granting his Son to become visible by such means even as did angels in the past. (Genesis chapters 18 and 19)

"I will not believe!"

Later, in the case of Thomas, who was evidently absent at this meeting, the doubter demands to see the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side. (John 20:25, 26) Why would this be a necessary demand if Jesus were the same human being he had been before? It would only be in the case if his appearance or manifestation was different -- Jesus did not look the same. Perhaps he never appeared in the likeness resembling the body he had before his death?

That this seems to be the case is judged from several things the gospels state. Jesus appears and disappears though doors be locked. He is not recognized by close disciples or associates, such as Mary who thought him the gardener. The disciples walking on the road do not recognize him. The disciples in their hiding do not recognize him. The disciples fishing just off shore do not recognize him even though they are very close. Why would this be, particularly since he had appeared to them before already?

The long conclusion to Mark says Jesus "appeared in another form (morphe)." John reports: "After this Jesus manifested himself to his disciples on the seashore of Tiberius, but he made the manifestation thusly. ... Not one of the disciples had the courage to inquire of (Jesus): ‘Who are you?’" (John 21:1, 2, 12)

These appearances were done in such a fashion that none other than his disciples saw him. Jesus had said after his rising from the dead the world would not see him, but his disciples would see him again. (John 14:18-22) Peter testifies: "This (Jesus) The God raised up on the third day and He granted (Jesus) to become manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand." (Acts 10:40, 41)

Are Our Human Bodies to be Redeemed?

Romans 8:23 presents an interesting problem and if rendered and interpreted to prove the Saints will have a fleshly human body it contradicts Paul’s, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom." (1 Corinthians 15:50) It is true the New World Translation is an interpretative paraphrase fairly unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most translators give a rendering which would lead to the conclusion that it is the individual bodies which are redeemed in the future heavenly "adoption."

The critical word usually rendered "redeemed" is apo-lytrosin which, according to Strong’s (#629), may also mean "riddance" thus Paul’s meaning may be figurative, "the riddance of (our) body."

The Greek is somewhat ignored by many translators for the APO-LYTRO-SIN TOU SOMATOS HEMON may be literally translated: "the redemption of the body of us." (UBS Int) May we suggest a possibility: "the redemption of our Body" -- that is, the entire Church as the Body of Christ? (TO SOMA, 1 Corinthians 11:29) The article is present with "body" meaning The Body. Is it possible that the ancient Catholic creeds which taught a resurrection of the fleshly body strongly influences so many translations. The Diaglott (Benjamin Wilson) infers this: "the redemption of our BODY." No proof need be given that TOU SOMATOS is used by Paul of the Church. (1 Corinthians 12:12)

Paul pleads with The God through Jesus Christ to be released from his dying body. He asks in Romans 7:24, "Who will draw me out [RYSETAI = RHM: rescue me out of; GDSP: save me from; KNX: set me free from; KJV: deliver me from the body of this death], of this dying body for Himself?" Does it seem the great missionary begs God to free him of his mortal body? Judging from his writings to the Corinthians Paul expected a new body, one not of flesh and blood, but of a spirit-type patterned after his Lord.

"We Shall Be Like Him."

1 John 3:2 assures: "Now we are children of God and it is not yet clear what we shall be. We do know that whenever (the Son) is made manifest we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is." Though some would use this to argue we do not know what we will become in heavenly life, the context seems to deal more with a relationship and not body-type. It is true none know the specifics of what the celestial body-type will be exactly, though we know what it is not: bone, blood, and flesh.

Is God the Father of a human frame, flesh and blood, somehow spiritualized? John speaks, we think, of the Son, the image of the Father, when he says: "We shall be like him." The Nazarene taught, "God is spirit ... and a spirit does not have flesh and bone." (John 4:24; Luke 24:39) If the Son be the image of the Father -- "the imprint of His substance" and "reflection of His glory" (Hebrews 1:3) -- then how can the Son, as well as the Saints, be anything but non-flesh, non-blood, non-bone spirit-types?

Our Mortal Body "Refashioned"!

Another text given a different twist by different Bible students and readers is Philippians 3:21: "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body." (KJV) This verse is variously rendered: ASV: fashion anew the body of our humiliation; RHM: transfigure our humbled body; GDSP: will make our poor bodies over; NJB: will transfigure the wretched body of ours into the mould of his glorious body; RSV: transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.

Is it fair to conclude that this text does not say the fleshly human body will go to heaven in the resurrection at the Parousia of Christ? There seems two body-types here: the present humiliated body; and, the glorious body of Christ. What exactly is involved in this "transformation" must be judged by 1 Corinthians chapter 15. At the Parousia Paul says "we shall all be changed." The Greek word in Philippians 3:21 rendered "fashion" or "transform" is meta-schematisei, or to change the "schematic" -- "change to suit the occasion" is how Wigram-Green put it. A new "morphology" is inferred by another word in this verse: sym-morphon. We do not see here any indication that our present bodies of blood and flesh will be merely "spiritualized." We believe a real "change" occurs: from the soma psychicon (soul-type body) to the soma pneumaticon (spirit-type body) without flesh and blood, not of this earthly creation, not of a human source from Adam, but from a heavenly and everlasting origin -- from God the Father by means of His Son, Jesus Christ the Nazarene.

Conclusion

Before the Son of God came to earth he was not "flesh and blood" but a spirit like his Father. He had a certain glory because of his being the first created or begotten spirit being. (Proverbs 8:22-30; John 17:5) His Father "prepared a body" of flesh and blood for him so that he might serve as a perfect equivalent to Adam. Jesus, like the Israelite offerings which typified him, sacrificed his life with its flesh, bone and blood body. Like the ancient shadows of those animals offered up as burnt sacrifices, or holocausts, Jesus’ own body was "burned up" or "destroyed" by his Father. Had the same body be found in the grave it would have disproved any claims to a resurrection. When he was raised he enjoyed a new spirit-type body with an immortal life and thus returned to that celestial realm from which he first came as a spirit person.

All things considered, particularly Paul’s thorough discussion of the resurrection subject, it seems strange that if Christ were raised in the same human body laid in the tomb, Paul would not mention this. Also, no text specifically states Jesus was raised in the flesh. Rather, the Bible is clear and straightforward that Jesus "was put to death in the flesh but raised in the spirit" and "even if we had known Christ formerly in the flesh, we know him thus no more." (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:16)

Friends of the Nazarene Publishing

Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

Back to Index to Biblical Articles