Resurrection of the Body: Does it Matter?
  • exchemist March 2012
    This is in all the Creeds and seems (?) to be maintained as a core belief by most mainstream denominations. But I cannot see why it matters to Christianity in the least. Why would it be necessary to give us back our (physically imperfect) bodies, after our immortal souls are with Christ after our deaths?   

    I find it hard to resist the thought that, while this may have been culturally important for some reason at the time of St. Paul, it is something that a modern theologian would be tempted to discard or marginalise as inessential. 

    One of these days my son will ask me about it and I need to give him an answer I feel comfortable to stand behind. Any guidance appreciated.
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith March 2012
    The immortality of the soul is not derived from Christianity, but from Greek philosophy (or something earlier than that, I suppose). God's purpose has always been to have his creation cared for by human beings, and nothing has changed that plan. The hope for the resurrection of the body, and the liberation of all of God's creation, is what shapes the whole of the Christian life now.

    At least, that's the theory, although much "folk" Christianity does hold out for escaping this messy world to somewhere else, where we don't need to get our fingers so dirty growing food etc.

    Tom (NT) Wright has done a lot to restore the historical Christian emphasis on the resurrection of the body. See his "Surprised by Hope" for example.
  • Michael March 2012

    In a word YES!

    However resurrection is not simply rescussitation which would simply mean returning with the identical physical body. 30 years ago Bishop Jenkins rightly called this a conjuring trick with bones.

    As we consider the resurrection of Jesus in the Gospels we see not a physical rising but Jesus risen and TRANSFORMED. This was not to be expected by the 1st century Jew. Part of the problem is a popular dualism where we see humans as made up from two bits  - body and soul. We are psychosomaitc unities


    I hope this helps, but it is impossible to reply properly as there is such a time lag on typing and seeing the letters appear. this must be dealt with

  • SimonSimon March 2012
    I think human bodily resurrection matters but not for a theological reason.

    As a materialist I view consciousness/soul/spirit as emerging from the complexity of our neural network. As a result the ONLY way I can envisage any type of soul/spiritual resurrection is through the physical replication of a neural type network that would again allow our consciousness to emerge. I don't think this resurrected network necessarily needs to be made out of the same stuff as our current neurones, but the complexity itself must be replicated somehow. 

    Of course the complication is which version of the human gets resurrected - our minds from around the time when we die (in which case what about cognitive decline?) or our minds from earlier in our lives? On this latter point I trust God to know best.
  • cisadmin March 2012
    Just moved this discussion from the "Introduce Yourself" category to the "Theology" category.
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith March 2012
    Simon - I think there is a difference between a resurrected body and a replacement body. What you are saying sounds like a replacement body. Jesus didn't get a replacement body, but his old body was resurrected. The tomb was empty.

    The significance of the difference is that if we expect a replacement body (and a replacement cosmos), then nothing in this cosmos actually matters, since it is all destined to be destroyed and replaced - except for human "souls" (understood however you want to understand it).

    On the other hand, if we are destined for resurrection, and the cosmos for renewal (continuity and transformation), then everything in this cosmos has enduring significance.
  • SimonSimon March 2012
    Hi Anthony. I don't think we should get caught up with a difference between resurrected or replacement body. Once someone is dead and buried the body decomposes and the atoms get spread into the ecosystem. Indeed even whilst alive all the atoms of our body turn over every few years. As a result any resurrected body would have to be a replacement body because you can't really gather all the same atoms up again. I'm guessing most people would find it important that such replacement/resurrected bodies looked similar to the form that was in the fallen earth - but again if resurrecting consciousness could be done I don't see how that would be a problem.

    Incidentally, although I am happy to believe in human resurrection I am somewhat agnostic about the afterlife in general. We don't really have anything other than anecdotal evidence to go on and there are so many complications with positing an afterlife that musing about it is almost pointless. I'd be quite happy if I ceased to exist once I died, so any type of resurrection to a heaven would be a bonus in my books! It sort of fits in with my central theology that Christianity is more about the here and now on earth than any pie in the sky when we die.
  • exchemist April 2012
    OK many thanks all, Anthony especially for the reference to the former Bishop of Durham, N T Wright. What a number of you seem to be suggesting, though not in so many words, appears to be "Christian Mortalism", i.e. a view in which the soul sleeps (or dies) with the body at death, and consequently, that the "life everlasting" of the Creed requires the resurrection of the bodies of the dead at the Last Judgement. It seems this was a view held by Luther, though interestingly not Calvin, and is not (I think) the view of most mainstream Christian denominations. 

    In the Catholic/mainstream Protestant bubble in which I suppose I have been living all my life, it is said that personal judgment occurs at death and that an incorporeal consciousness of the soul is presumed to continue. If it is one accepts that, that the need for bodily resurrection of the dead seems to me to become a bit superfluous. 

    Would that be fair conclusion from the discussion so far? 

    Lastly, is there anyone who subscribes to the immortality of the soul who would care to argue for the necessity of bodily resurrection of the dead?
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith April 2012
    Simon - I think it would be cause for concern if our faith was not severely shaken if we learned that either (a) Christ's old body was still in the tomb, or (b) there is no resurrection of the dead. See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 for both of those.

    That it was Christ's old body that was raised - and not a replacement body that was created ex nihilo - points to the deep continuity between the present age and the age to come. Now, the details of precisely how that continuity will work may not be immediately clear. But I think we can be confident that if we are alive when Christ appears, our existing body will be transformed (not replaced), and that if someone was buried the previous day, that buried body will be brought back to life. What will happen for a body that was cremated thousands of years ago, I don't know. Presumably God will take some existing matter and reconstitute it into a body.

    So I do think the distinction between a resurrected and a replacement body is important. In fact, it seems that the reason many Christians do not give much importance to the here-and-now is that they think the here-and-now is destined to be destroyed and replaced. Believing in resurrection leads me to believe that the here-and-now really does matter. If I believed that it was going to be destroyed, or if I believed there is no afterlife of any form, then I don't see how I could believe that anything ultimately has any significance. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Or, let us abuse and exploit the earth and its riches, for tomorrow everything will be destroyed except the souls of human beings.

    exchemist - I do think the Bible suggests that there is some kind of existence between death and resurrection. But it doesn't say much about the subject, and certainly doesn't urge us to set our hope ultimately on that stage of existence.
  • exchemist April 2012
    Thanks Anthony. 

    I've aways understood the "here and now" matters because the good we do here, of our own free will, is the way we show a love of God and of our neighbour, and will be taken into account in the personal judgement we will face at death. This imperative does not depend at all, or so it seems to me, on whether the ultimate fate of the physical universe is to be destroyed, recreated or transformed. 

    I think the one insight I've gained so far in these exchanges is that, IF one thinks neuroscience etc. has scotched the idea of a soul that can be conscious outside the body, then indeed to continue to believe in an afterlife (and the Christian claims for it), one has to believe in bodily resurrection, i.e. more or less adopt a Christian Mortalist position. 

    What I still would love to know is, if one doesn't think neuroscience has achieved this and one still believes in the independent existence of the soul outside the body (part of the Greek heritage of Christianity but with a long tradition), is there still a compelling argument for the importance of bodily resurrection of the faithful?  Or is this now considered by modern theologians to be a hopelessly outmoded and fogey-ish position?       

  • SimonSimon April 2012
    Anthony - I'm not sure our positions are too different when it comes to the resurrection/replacement thing. Regarding Jesus I think he was exceptional in so many ways that I have no problems with his physical body being resurrected/transformed. The issue of people dying the day before Jesus returns is interesting but probably an issue that we are not in a position to resolve. HOWEVER the point I was trying to make was that the VAST MAJORITY of people would have died and decomposed long before the second coming and thus some sort of alternative body would have to be found for them!

    Concerning the existence of the afterlife as a whole, I think we do probably see things quite differently. I have increasingly come to the opinion that anyone who holds their faith mainly due to the expected benefits of heaven demonstrates not only a very impoverished form of Christianity but in many cases a downright dangerous form (NB I'm not accusing you of this, just stating what happens when people go to the extreme when wishing for heaven). Indeed I often think that an overly strong focus on the afterlife is to blame for creating many of the Christian nut-cases who assassinate abortion doctors, get tied up in all the zionist crap, disregard environmental stewardship, persecute others for their sexual orientation etc. etc. This is one of the reasons why I have reacted strongly in the opposite direction and tried to develop my Christianity into something that is not concerned with heaven - just the here and now. In a way it is a reaction against many of the more fundamentalist Christians I have had the misfortune to know in the past. I also disagree that a focus on the present world leads to hedonism/fatalism. I think one can gain a huge benefit from living a faithful life whilst here on earth which is well worth the effort, regardless of what happens when we die. As a result I think if I am to make an error I would rather do so on the side of the current life than the future one!

    exchemist - As mentioned above I am a material monist, something I have got from many of the better Christian thinkers I have encountered (John Polkinghorne's dual aspect monism as one example). Indeed I think any form of substance dualism is rationally untenable. I do acknowledge that many (most?) evangelicals I encounter do adopt substance dualism, however very few of them have actually considered the subject carefully - they just sort of adopted it as part of a package perhaps in the same way that many adopt 6-day creationism without actually examining the topic. I appreciate this doesn't help answer the question you asked about bodily resurrection if the soul is a separate substance, however I wanted to lodge the point that positing a soul as separate from a physical body is so illogical that holding this belief cannot help but raise problems in all areas including theology!
  • exchemist April 2012
    Thanks Simon, very clear. But it seems pretty plain that most mainstream Christianity, not only that of the evangelicals, is dualistic rather than monistic (at any rate as conventionally expressed in church every sunday). I suspect that for most conventional Christians, buying into the separate existence of the soul involves a single, simple, "suspension of disbelief" which then allows a lot of conventional teaching to fall more or less into place. As such it is too attractive to question very hard.  

    But now you've raised the question I must follow the logic. I've certainly heard of Polkinghorne but have not read him. I'll have to look him up