Friday, May 26, 2017

Paul's Spiritual Resurrection

Farrell Till from the Errancy Discussion list, 4-5-96:

In an earlier posting, I reviewed Dan Barker's major argument that he presented in his first speech in a debate with Michael Horner at Northern Iowa University. I believe that the argument is devastating to the popular belief in a bodily resurrection of Jesus, so I am posting that part of the review again to which I will add an analysis of 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, which I believe strengthens Barker's argument. I have sent this analysis to Barker, and he agrees that it makes his argument pretty conclusive. Inerrantists on the list are invited to respond to the argument.


In Barker's first speech, he said that the burden of proof was on the one claiming the miracle of a resurrection but that he was going to offer to Horner what he has been asking for, and that is an alternative hypothesis that explains the data better than Horner's supposition that a resurrection literally occurred. He told Horner not to assume that this alternative hypothesis denies the possibility of miracles, because such a denial was not a part of the hypothesis. The hypothesis simply proposes a more likely explanation for the Christian belief in the resurrection.

Barker then proceeded by stating his hypothesis: belief in a bodily resurrection was a result of doctrinal evolution that began with a belief in a spiritual resurrection. Barker then analyzed 1 Corinthians 15. He noted that Paul's statement in verses 3-8 is recognized by most biblical scholars to be the earliest known statement about the resurrection. He cited the usual reasons for believing that this was so and that Paul had merely quoted what Christians had been passing along orally, possibly even in hymns or poems that were orally transmitted. Barker noted that this earlier account makes no references to many of the elements that are found in the gospel accounts, which were written much later. There were no references to an earthquake and empty tomb, to women, to angels, etc. He asked the audience to think about why the earliest account of the resurrection would have left out such important events if they were so widely known as a part of the resurrection event. He then focused on the words "buried," "raised," and "appeared" in Paul's text and did an analysis of each as they were used in the Greek text of the NT. He pointed out that the word "thapto" (bury) meant to inter or bury and carried no necessary connotations of entombment, so this would be consistent with the known practice of taking the bodies of crucifixion victims and burying them in a common grave. He pointed out that the word translated "rose" or "raised" in English translations of this passage was "egeiro," which meant to "arouse" or "awaken." He noted that this was the word that Paul used in referring to the resurrection in such places as 2 Corinthians 5:15 and that it was the word used in Ephesians 5:14, where Paul said, "Awake (egeiro), thou that sleepest and arise (anistemi) from the dead." The latter word that means "arise" or "raise up" is the word used in reference to resurrection, but "egeiro" (awake) is the word that Paul used in 1 Corinthians 15:4, 12 in speaking of Christ arising. [I don't recall that Dan said this, but "egeiro" was used by Paul eleven other times in 1 Corinthians 15:15-52, as he spoke about the apostles being false witnesses if the dead are not *raised,* faith being dead if the dead are not *raised," and his analogy of seed and bodies that are sown corruptible but *raised* in incorruption, etc.] Barker's argument was that the meaning of the word that Paul used in this earliest account of the resurrection was sufficient to believe that Christians at this time had believed only in a spiritual awakening of Christ after his death. Then, later, when legend had built the spiritual arising into a literal resurrection of the dead, the gospels were written to put the resurrection into a specific historical setting.

Barker than analyzed the word "appear" to show that Paul and others used it in visionary senses. In Matthew 17:3, Moses and Elijah "appeared" at the time of the transfiguration, and the Greek word here is the same one that Paul used in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 in listing the appearances that Jesus made to Cephas, to the twelve, to the 500 brethren, to James, and finally to Paul himself. Barker asked if Horner thought that Moses and Elijah had been bodily resurrected in their appearances at the transfiguration. In Acts 16:9, "a vision *appreared* [same word as in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8] to Paul in the night in which a man from Macedonia stood praying for Paul to come there to help them. Since the same word for "appear" was used in 1 Corinthians 15:8, where Paul said, "And last of all, as to the child untimely born, he *appeared* to me also," Barker argued that there is sufficient reason to assume that the other appearances were like the appearance to Paul. Barker then showed that the only records that exist of the appearance of Jesus to Paul show clearly that this was just a vision that Paul had and that he had actually not even seen Jesus in the vision. He heard only a voice speaking from a bright light (Acts 9:3-8; 22:6-11; 26:12-18), and the men who were with him saw only the light but didn't hear the voice (according to one of the accounts). So if this was the way that Paul saw Jesus, and since the same word for "see" or "appeared" (depending on translation) was used for all of the appearances in this passage, why should we believe that the other appearances were any more than just visionary appearances? The actual bodily appearances came much later in the gospel narratives. Barker also referred to other places in 1 Corinthians 15 to show that Paul had had in mind a spiritual resurrection, not a bodily one. He referred to the gospel narratives to show that by the time they were written, there was sort of a composite view of the resurrection. It was a resurrected body that showed its wounds that could be touched and examined, yet it was also a body that could be teletransported, appear suddenly, and even pass through closed doors. At this point, Barker called to the audience's attention that Thomas who was a "buddy" of the apostles wouldn't believe the claim of his "buddies" that the body had been resurrected until he had seen it and touched it himself. "So why should we?" Barker asked.

In his "rebuttal," Horner said very little about Barker's points, which he had spent most of his speech developing. Horner simply said that it was silly to think that a spiritual resurrection meant that the body itself was spirit. He said that we speak about spiritual experiences and spiritual books, but we don't mean by this that the experiences and books are actually made out of spirits. Then he went on, and basically spent the rest of the night rehashing his opening points.


There is a verse in 1 Corinthians 15 that I think effectively proves the argument that Paul was arguing only that Jesus had been spiritually resurrected. If I ever debate this issue again, I'm going to begin analysis of Paul's argument by noting first his background. He was from Tarsus, so he had had ample opportunity to be exposed to the mystery religions. First Corinthians 2:6-8 betrays his exposure to the mystery religions: "We speak wisdom, however, among them that are fullgrown, yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to naught, but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory, which none of the rulers of this world has known, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." It isn't just that Paul used the word "mystery" in the text that gives reason to believe that he had had exposure to the mystery religions, but as you probably know, the etymology of the word "rulers" in this passage indicates that he was not talking about rulers like Pontius Pilate or Herod but of the rulers of darkness that he alluded to in other places (Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:13-16; 2:15). Paul probably didn't write some of these statements, but guys like Horner are inerrantists, and so they are stuck with the tradition that Paul was the person who wrote them. Like adherents of the mystery religions, Paul believed that the world was actually ruled by astral "powers of darkness," so it is consistent to think that someone with such a background would have been big on the notion of spirits and demons, and there are ample texts in Paul's epistles to show that this is the case.

With Paul's background established, the points that you made would seem to be strengthened, but a claim that Paul had in mind only a spiritual resurrection could then be nailed down by analyzing verses 35-42 (in 1 Corinthians 15), where he did his analogy of the seed. The seed is planted (according to his argument), but what is sown "is not quickened except it die" (v:36). [And here it could be noted that Paul wasn't much of a botonist, for if he had been, he would have known that nothing could grow from a dead seed.] His whole point seemed to be that "what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be" (v:37). Would it be proper here to argue that Paul was contending that what is planted is substantially different from what comes up? (What do you think?) If so, then how could Jesus have even been recognized after his resurrection? Could anyone who has seen cotton seeds but never seen a cotton plant see a cotton plant for the first time and recognize that it is what comes from planting a cotton seed? I don't think so.

After the seed analogy, Paul proceeded by discussing "terrestrial and celestial bodies" [another indication of the influence of the mystery religions]. Then he reached his conclusion from his line of argumentation that, I think, nails down the interpretation that you presented in the debate: "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. IT IS SOWN A NATURAL BODY; IT IS RAISED A SPIRITUAL BODY. IF THERE IS A NATURAL BODY, THERE IS A SPIRITUAL BODY" (VS. 42-44). Unless he meant exactly what you argued in the debate this passage makes no sense, and the statements I have emphasized in uppercase letters clearly show that this was what he meant. Guys like Horner and Geisler argue that a *bodily* resurrection took place. If so, then exactly what was sown was what was raised. A natural body was put into the tomb, and a natural body came forth (according to the current inerrantist view), but Paul said, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." Then he tried to prove his case by saying, "If there is a natural body, there is a spiritual body." Why was he saying all of this if he did not believe that the body that was resurrected after Jesus was buried was a different kind of body than the one that was "planted"?

Farrell Till

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