A non material body?

Here’s an argument I’ve seen from time to time in theological circles, but it never becomes more plausible, no matter how many times I see it.

One of the apparently embarrassing doctrines of Christianity is the resurrection of the dead. That dead people could return to physical life by a miracle of God is utterly absurd to many. Apparently it’s absurd to a number of people who say they believe the teaching of the New Testament as well. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example say that they believe in an immaterial invisible “spiritual” resurrection. Mind you, they only had to start teaching that when Jesus failed to return in 1914 as the WatchTower society predicted, so they had to start saying that He did…. invisibly! But what about the resurrection that was supposed to happen? Well, they said, that is happening too. Invisibly.

Then there is a wee group called “full preterists,” who also believe in an invisible, immaterial resurrection, that started happening in AD70 or thereabouts. We will never again have a physical body, say these people, and we will be better off as non physical beings forever.

But how do people like this who claim to adhere to the teaching of the New Testament get around what the New Testament says, namely that there will be a bodily resurrection? Well, here’s one way. They point out that 1 Corinthians chapter 15 says that we currently have a “natural” body, but at the resurrection we will have a “spiritual” body, showing that we will be immaterial.

This view of the biblical teaching has literally nothing going for it. In the first place, a body that is not physical is not a body, just like a drink that’s not liquid is not a drink.

But secondly, this view involves importing highly dualistic concepts into texts that really don’t contain them at all. The assumption being made is that the word “spiritual” just means “immaterial.” But in the writing of the Apostle Paul who wrote 1 Corinthians, we know this is just not true at all. In fact, we can see this in 1 Corinthians itself. have a look at 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

The natural (psuchikos) man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual (pneumatikos) man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.

The Greek words for “natural” and “spiritual” here are psuchikos and pneumatikos, respectively, the same words used in 1 Corinthians 15 when talking about the present natural body and the future spiritual body. Notice that the Apostle Paul is talking about living people in 1 Corinthians 2. What is the difference between the natural man and the spiritual man? Is one physical, and the other immaterial? This is clearly not what is meant. But if this is so, why should we assume that “spiritual” means “immaterial” when it comes to the resurrection?

The contrast in 1 Corinthians 15 is not one of physical and immaterial. It is one of “mortal” and “immortal.” “Corrupt” and “incorruptible.” Spirituality is about being right relation with your creator, not about being made of different stuff.

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33 thoughts on “A non material body?

  1. Glenn

    I would take issue with your last sentence here. I followed and agreed with all you wrote until right at the death (pun intended) when you appeared to do a u-turn. A post-resurrection body will be made of ‘spirit’, or ‘different stuff’, according to 1Cor 15. Jesus went to some lengths to show his resurrected body had physical presence yet could perform such feats as materialising out of no-where. In 1 Cor 2 Paul is clearly talking in the present tense and it looks as though he puts forward that the in-dwelling Holy Spirit gives a believer the ‘spirituality’ to discern spiritual things. So, the cross provides a spiritual existence yet we still die, but are counted as ones who will become eternal through our bodily resurrection at Jesus’s return. Is this what you meant, or do you believe we are ‘resurrected’ on a declaration of faith as your last line suggests?

    Just need a bijou word of clarification here for me. Cheers.

  2. James, the resurrection body is physical, which is what I meant when I referred to “stuff.” You say that 1 Corinthians 15 actually teaches that the resurrection body will be made of spirit, but it actually doesn’t say this. It says that the body will be spiritual, but the fact that we ourselves can be spiritual now illustrates that this doesn’t mean non-physical.

    I think it’s a snag for a lot of people. They see a reference to spiritual and misread it as saying that the body will be made of spirit, which is a flat contradiction in terms. If something is “a spirit” then it’s not a body.

  3. I remember at college studying Ryle’s “The Concept of Mind” and being instantly converted from Mind Body dualism. Maybe he influenced you too? However it does seem to me now that one could conceive of a exchanging this physical body for a hologramatic body if one wants to posit an immaterial intermediate state between death and ressurection. I’m not saying one should but I think the notion is not incoherent.

  4. If you want to say that wouldn’t be a body, then call it a soul (though one needn’t propose it as a ghost in our machine), I think it would still be coherent.

  5. I haven’t read Ryle actually. However Peter Van Inwagen and Kevin Corcoran are materialists who propose a physical intermediate state, which I found fascinating. From memory, PVI suggests that God takes the body at death, leaving behind a replica(!), which Corcoran suggests that God creates a physical body that splits away at death.

  6. I think the point you’re confused on is the idea that spiritual isn’t physical. In Paul’s time spiritual things were most definitely physical. Platonists may have convinced us since then that this is not correct (and almost all modern Christian theology that I’ve found is based on such Platonic assumptions), but this was not Paul’s point of view. In Paul’s day a person had a spirit as a real, physical part of his identity. If his spirit (having been renovated by contact with God’s spirit indwelling the body) went to be in heaven, because flesh and blood are not suitable for heaven, then it would be his real, physical body doing so. It’s really not a hard concept. It just means using the terminology as a Stoic would as opposed to a Platonist.

  7. Doug, I wasn’t expressing confusion at all. What I am saying is that Paul’s own use of the term “spiritual” in general should guide our interpretation of a particular instance of that usage in Paul’s writing.

    Now, there are some people who, I think, are confused by the term “spiritual body,” thinking that it implies something that’s not physical in any ordinary sense. But I’m not one of them.

  8. Paul’s use of the term should have been reasonably clear to the people that were reading his epistles. In that generation, Stoic cosmology ruled the day. There is no reason I have found to deviate from their basic understanding that pneumas was physical (just like the Hebrew concept of spirit is directly tied to the breath of God or wind). That was their ordinary sense of the word. Just because we’ve changed cosmologies doesn’t change what they thought, even if it doesn’t intuitively make sense to us. The influence of Platonism in Christianity is widespread. It will take a lot of conscious effort to weed it out.

  9. Doug, I could just be a bit slow this morning, but it’s not completely clear to me what you’re saying. If you’re saying that there is in fact a physical entity called a spirit, and the resurrection body will have properties like those of the spirit, then where is this spirit?

    Paul, as best I can tell, was neither Stoic nor platonist, but thoroughly hebraic in his thought. But the point I’ve tried to drive home here is that the term “spiritual,” for Paul, never had anything to do with what a thing is made of.

  10. Thanks for the reading suggestions, Doug. Just quickly though, are you saying that in truth – in reality – there is a physical thing called the spirit, and that the resurrection body will have characteristics that are like this thing called the spirit?

  11. I think there is a great deal of mystery involved regarding spiritual things. In the scripture the characters were deeply invested in apotheosis. That is the process by which excellent people (by power or quality) become stars when they die. It is the concept behind all of the “lucifer” language, which is occasionally translated “morning star”, but always simply refers to becoming the planet Venus. So, in their world when you died you became like a star in the heavens, with better people being brighter stars. We see this language in not only Daniel 12 but 1st Cor. 15. It was a cosmology that they understood and accepted as common sense, but we see it as odd and obviously wrong. The problem is that all of scripture includes cosmological condescension, meaning that God condescends to talk to the target audience according to the cosmology of their day. But, we know scientifically that some of it was wrong. That causes all sorts of problems when it comes to trying to use scripture to develop systematic theology when we define that as a scientifically tight proposal but using ancient language.

    So, I’d say that I don’t know what spirit is made of. If human knowledge of science were ever perfected and God felt like giving us additional scripture then I suppose he could explain the whole thing to us. But, I doubt this will happen. I think it’s fascinating that the Stoic cosmology of all things being physical is much closer to what modern physicists accept than the Platonic system that most church doctrine was based on (the exception being Eastern Orthodox Church). Likewise, I think it’s fascinating that the only way to get into some sort of gnostic crisis about a “spiritual resurrection” is if you assume a Platonic cosmology. Gnostics weren’t Stoic, so if you come at cosmology from that basic approach (though obviously with some mystery given our understanding of physics) it’s impossible to be accused of a gnostic proposal. Since I think it is clear that Paul understood pneumas to be physical, and he clearly said that flesh and blood are not suitable for heaven, I don’t think that it causes any crisis from his point of view to say that a person’s pneumas will be resurrected to heaven. This would represent a real, physical, individual body in heaven that is suitable for engaging God directly. That’s the closest scripture comes to telling us what will happen. John, who walked with Christ in his ministry, saw him crucified, saw him resurrected, walked with him for 40 days afterwards, and then saw him ascend on a cloud, said clearly that we don’t know what we’ll be like when we get to heaven. The only thing we know is that we will be like him. I think it’s arrogant to demand more than that.

    Doug

  12. “when we get to heaven.”

    I’m thinking that this may be a big part of why we don’t think about this in the same way. Going to heaven just isn’t, as far as I can tell, a biblical hope at all.

  13. “Going to heaven just isn’t, as far as I can tell, a biblical hope at all.”

    That would indeed cause a problem. How far back can you trace the Wright/Alcorn approach to heaven on earth? I’d suggest that it’s a fairly new invention borrowed from chiliasm, which was roundly criticized by the early church – especially the Amillennialists.

    Doug

  14. Doug, I’ve held this view for years now – as have many, many others. When NT Wright’s book surprised by hope came out, I had a mixed reaction. Part of me thought “great, with Wright’s support I bet more people will come to see that this is the biblical view.” But part of me though “Oh great, now people will assume that those of us who had already seen this in Scripture are really just jumping on the NT Wright bandwagon.” The latter concern is confirmed in the fact that people are actually calling it “the Wright/Alcorn approach”!

    In modern history this is a view with a rich history. Various Protestant groups and offshoot groups have held the view, including Adventist groups and also some more sectarian offshoot groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But it had adherents among the Anabaptists and numerous theologians who today are categorised as “mortalists,” believe – as I do – that we are physical creatures who do not have a conscious existence after death (a view sometimes called “soul sleep”). But quite apart from the question of the intermediate state, I think the bodily resurrection to bodily life was the Christian view in the beginning.

    For example, the book of Genesis refers to the physical world around us as the heavens and the New Earth. And in his Epistles, St Peter refers to our future home by talking about a new heaven and a new earth – namely, a physical existence in a restored creation. Tertullian in the second and third centuries spoke of the “resurrection of the flesh,” a term that was normal for Christians to use, indicating that they believed in the resurrection of a very real, corporeal, tangible body, albeit glorified.

    Over time this doctrine has always existed, but alongside an increasingly loud concept of heaven that came to take centre stage. If the doctrine was opposed “especially” by amillennialists, that would only be because amillennialists were the vast majority of the church. But I would be interested in taking a look at some of the criticisms you have in mind. As you can probably guess, however, my response would simply be that such critics are wrong.

  15. Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul – The Material Spirit makes interesting reading from Doug’s list. He seems to advocate an infusion of God’s pneuma that is so intrinsically part of the believer that it is as good as physical. Just as the ‘psychic’ man is an insoluble combination of body and the enlivening breath of God to become a living soul, so the ‘pneumatic’ man has the additional and indivisible portion of God’s pneuma.

    Clearly, Paul appears to indicate that spiritual bodies = material ones. But if flesh and blood do not inherit the kingdom of God, are perishable, corruptible, then what is the nature of the physical body that is eternal?

    We live in times, as did Paul, in which we can see the ‘now, but not yet’ things of God. We get glimpses of the life to come in miracles, healings, peace, freedom from the ensnaring power of sin, but the fullness is yet to be revealed. Creation is still groaning awaiting the full revelation of the sons of God; Jesus has still to return and renew all things.

    So, in simple terms, our sarx/flesh is animated by oxygen distributed by blood – this is what defines being alive through blood in the flesh in our current Adamic state (now). So, if that nature can’t inherit eternal life (yet to come), it will be clothed with something else ie man remains physical but will become animated some other way – Spirit.

    I think the conclusion is how we conceive of what it means to be ‘spirit bodied’ or fully pneumatikos in nature. We have a glimpse of being fully pneumatikos in nature when we live more and more submitted to the leading of the Holy Spirit, but we are still held back from experiencing the post-resurrection fullness in this fleshly fallen sarx nature. After resurrection, we are brought to life and maintained in that new existence not by blood (the old created order) but by the Holy Spirit whose power raised Jesus – a new, more glorious form of man, still embodied, but without recourse to its original psychic means of life – completely pneumatikos.

    This reading of Paul’s pre- and post-resurrection anthropology would seem to make most scriptural sense to me. I’m struggling to understand what alternatives exist for the physicalist.

  16. Glenn, what is your view about the present state (post-ascension) of Jesus’ resurrection body? Physical or non-physical?

  17. Jim of 4-19-15, Jeez that was a very helpful, effective commentary. Thank you. Have understood the Spirit to be the life principle that 1. animates the physical body and with Christ, 2. regenerates the whole person. The Spirit sustains both the physical and the moral, ethical and orientational aspects of life. And as Glenn has maintained, doesn’t refer to an ontological status at all. Your outlook on the unacceptability of ” flesh and blood ” really closed the loop on a hazy mindset I’d had. You’ve made knowing in part far more satisfying.

  18. I have read through all the comments, and I see this semantic hang-up in many debates on the nature of a “resurrected body”.

    If we stick to what the Bible says about Jesus’ resurrected body, then He was ‘physical’ in the sense that the apostles could touch Him and communicate with Him, and He ate solid food when He wanted to.

    However, He was also NON-PHYSICAL in that He could appear/disappear at will, and could travel distances quickly and invisibly.

    So, would you define that as spiritual or physical? Perhaps we should not try to force the resurrected-body into one box or the other? Because according to the Bible, it is not what these arguments call “completely physical” or “completely spiritual” … so why argue one or the other, when neither really describes Jesus’ post-resurrection body? According to the Old and New Testament, the resurrected body is “incorruptible” for sure. That would defy our current/modern/simplistic definition of “physical”.

  19. David, something cannot be physical and non-physical. Non-physical means not physical (obviously). Genuine contradictions are always false.

    By all means say that Jesus’ body had *more* properties than other physical bodies. But “non-physical” isn’t an option for a physical body.

    “He could appear/disappear at will, and could travel distances quickly and invisibly.”

    It looks like you’re filling in gaps where information is missing.

  20. I don’t think I am filling many gaps…
    Does this sound like a completely physical body to you?

    He could appear at will:
    Mark 16:9 Now when [Jesus] was risen early the first [day] of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

    He appeared “in another form”:
    Mark 16:12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.

    He appeared to the disciples:
    Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

    Appeared (twice) inside a room when the doors were shut:
    John 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first [day] of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace [be] unto you. … 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: [then] came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace [be] unto you.

    These are NOT characteristics of a purely physical person. The issue at hand is that people tend to argue this as an “A” versus “B” (physical vs. non-physical) debate, when there is actually a “C” option (both, spiritual). Logic is false if you box the argument to options that don’t support reality. The Bible says the things above about Jesus’ resurrected body, so I believe them… physical and spiritual at the same time. The resurrected body is CHANGED, it is not the same as when you are alive before death. See 1 Corinthians 15, it explains this VERY clearly…

    39 All flesh [is] not the same flesh: but [there is] one [kind of] flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, [and] another of birds. 40 [There are] also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial [is] one, and the [glory] of the terrestrial [is] another. 41 [There is] one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for [one] star differeth from [another] star in glory. 42 So also [is] the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

  21. Oh, you certainly are filling gaps, David. Remember as we review these examples that your inference is that Jesus was *non-physical*. Let’s agree to a totally literal interpretation of that term. OK, now your list:

    “Mark 16:9 Now when [Jesus] was risen early the first [day] of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.”

    How did he appear to her? Was it in the ordinary way that a witness appears before a judge (for example) i.e. a physical appearance? Well, he had a physical body so he certainly could have. But because it’s not specified, you’re inferring from that silence that he was non-physical.

    Next:
    “Mark 16:12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.”

    Yep, we know what in another form meant – it meant that for some reason they were unable to recognise him (the context supplies this detail so we don’t need to guess).

    But you infer from a supposed lack of specificity that this has something to do with him being non-physical.

    Next:
    “Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”

    Yup, nothing there to say he was non-physical.

    Next:
    “John 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first [day] of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them… [etc]”

    And how did he do that? Well the passage doesn’t say. When the book of Acts says that Philip baptised the Ethiopian and then he was taken somewhere else, we don’t infer that he was non-physical. But you seem to be inferring it here. So you’re inferring from silence.

    “These are NOT characteristics of a purely physical person.”

    You’ll have to pause at this point. One thing I never allow is the changing of the terms in dispute mid-way through a conversation. So it stops now until you explain this: Remember that you said Jesus’ after the resurrection was physical AND ALSO non-physical. In reply, I was explicit and you cannot have reasonably failed to understand me. I said that non-physical means not physical, so it can’t be both. This is just a matter of logic.

    Please revise this statement: “These are NOT characteristics of a purely physical person.” Do you mean that these characteristics require us to understand that this person is NOT physical, i.e. non-physical?

    “The issue at hand is that people tend to argue this as an “A” versus “B” (physical vs. non-physical) debate, when there is actually a “C” option (both, spiritual).”

    Spiritual does not mean physical and not-physical. A thing cannot be X and not X. That’s a contradiction. Remember what I said to you:

    “By all means say that Jesus’ body had *more* properties than other physical bodies. But “non-physical” isn’t an option for a physical body.”

    If you want to agree with that, OK. But by continuing in your disagreement, you are saying that Jesus’ body, as you said before, was non-physical.

  22. I find it interesting that people will discuss and banter about, what form Jesus took after his resurrection, Yet, few will ever address where he WAS for those three days between his death and that resurrection! And what was he doing where ever he was? (Much less what form he was in.) The creed states he was in Hades, or hell? What were the early church father’s understanding of where Jesus was during those three whole days? My current quest is to answer that question or at least have an plausible explanation that fits the soteriology of Loving Creator God, and Jesus’s mission. Any help will be gratefully considered.

  23. Anne, first-off, expect Glenn to deny everything I say, because he is quite materialistic.

    The creeds and the New Testament all talk about Christ’s descent into Hades. He broke down the gates, and rescued those who had been dead since Adam. Hades was the place where they were all kept after death. It was/is a real place. When the Bible says “He conquered Death and Hades” it REALLY means it… Death and Hades were to high-level principalities that had charge over the place “Hades”.

    If you want the details, you can see the references to Christ’s descent in the Bible…
    Acts 2:31 – Christ came out of Hades
    Ephesians 4:7-10 – Christ descended into the “lower regions of the earth”
    1 Peter 3:19–20 – Christ proclaimed to the imprisoned spirits (in Hades)
    Revelation 1:18 – Christ has the keys of Hades and of Death
    Revelation 20:14 – “Death” and “Hades” as persons/beings

    If you want to know the whole story from the mouths of the early Christian church, read The “Gospel of Nicodemus” at this link, about 2/3 of the way down the page is “PART II. THE DESCENT INTO HELL”. This document was used by early churches (~150 AD) and said to have come from an earlier writing from Nicodemus himself. Not inspired, but if you want to know what early Christians thought… this is it. The whole story of Christ’s descent…
    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelnicodemus.html

  24. The mere appearance of the word hades in the New Testament, of course, does not support a particular theory about what Hades is.

    So that’s Acts 2:31, Revelation 1:18, and Revelation 20:14 struck off the list. The personification and destruction of death and hades in Revelation is just a way of graphically showing that death will be no more one day. And St Peter’s talk in Acts 2 actually shows that he was talking about Christ’s physical tomb.

    Ephesians 4:7-10 affirms that Christ went into the earth (is Hades a conscious place inside the earth? Come now, really.)

    1 Peter 3:19–20 has a greater variety of possible interpretations than David implies, and other options are more plausible, but cashing out any theory takes more than one line.

  25. Than you David and Glenn for your responses. I will follow-up on the link offered Thanks David.
    If scriptures was written to the Jews, for the world, then wouldn’t it be appropriated to understand how “they”, the ancient Hebrews understood the meaning of the stories and writings rather than putting the meaning of the scriptures in 21st century scientific understanding? That has been my recent task.
    So the writings and understanding of the early church fathers, would be closer to the true meaning and understanding of scripture, than after the layers of centuries of human enlightenment. So, I guess what I’m saying gentlemen is, let’s agree on who’s understanding and meaning we are basing our arguments on. While today our scriptural meaning of “spirit” may mean one thing to us, the question is, “IS that how the Jews of the second temple period, understand the word “spirit” to mean in their day? I have learned a lot from Glenn’s early podcasts, “…little friend” and in my continued studies, I have learned that the Jews were very spiritual people. Perhaps not in the way we understand spirits, but that is what I am now teasing out in my studies. Asking the question, “what did the “spirit” mean to second temple Jews? And how did they express that meaning of spirit? Must be established, don’t you agree?
    Best to all
    Anne

  26. My apologies to all, for the redundant input, regarding what the early Jews -not just Paul- thought of a what was meant by” spirit” in the second temple period. As a student of science, these things really do matter when I study scripture. So….
    The answer which may satisfy both David and Glenn, is E=MC2
    Try this; this theorem, states, as solid matter travels toward the speed of light- squared, it becomes pure energy. i.e. light. Most of science agrees. (Mathematically possible but not yet achieved in an accelerators)
    God as we know created time and matter, in order that man can exist in a physical world. Yet God is not restricted or limited by time, matter or distance.
    So, I think Jesus i.e. physical matter, enter a time – matter physical world. i.e. incarnation. Then moved from a state of matter to an “E” state of energy after the resurrection. With the ability to work both sides of the equation -so to speak- until his ascension. He now exists in an “E” state (pure energy- existence, where matter is unrestricted by time or distance. (I also think that is were “eternity” is and all matter will exist there in the new heavens and new earth . ) I don’t think This view is in contradiction with Glenn’ physical views or David’s spiritual view. It works for me! It is not an original view but I have come to accept it after reading a wonderful book proposing the view title “Time, Eternity and the Trinity” by Kim.

    While WE may think we have learned everything in this physical world, perhaps a little humility would do us well. We still have so much to learn about God’s universe and the his laws!
    Best to all,
    Anne

  27. While that might be a plausible scientific theory for how it actually works, that can’t possibly be what Paul was saying because the cosmology and mathematics to describe it didn’t exist in Paul’s day. He couldn’t have conceived of what you just wrote, so it couldn’t have been what he meant. He could only have been thinking in terms that he was familiar with. That is, pneuma, according to the dominant cosmology of the 1st Century (essentially borrowed from the Stoics) was a physical thing like a rarefied gas. It was a bit like the life force that held all physical things together (a bit like we’d describe a hydrogen bond in modern physics, which is sure to be wrong). God, being perfect, was made of this perfect material. Our resurrection bodies would be made from this perfect physical substance as well. It’s not any more complicated than that.

  28. Hi Doug,
    Correction. E=MC2 was just as much true in Paul’s time as it is in current time. Just as gravity existed in Paul’s time, just because Paul didn’t know the equation, does not make it non-existent in Paul’s time. F=Gm1m2/r2 was true then as it is now, or a heliocentric solar system existed then but not understood. It is not our understanding that sets universal truths, but God’s! Read God’s lecture to Job. Job 38.
    Anne

  29. I already said that a modern physics answer might be right (though I doubt it because Einstein proved Newtonian physics to be wrong in a absolute sense). The problem is that it’s not what Paul could have meant. He gave no indication of understanding string theory or any other modern scientific system. He was talking in the language of his day, which means that his cosmology was based on Stoic categories. 1,000 years from now we will realize that all of our physics are at least a little bit wrong, so it’s particularly dangerous to anchor Biblical truth on contemporary science.

  30. Anne, one of the things we find if we start looking for *the* Jewish view of anything in the Second Temple period is that there’s really no such thing. The older views based rigidly on the Hebrew Scripture continued to exist, and so too did a number of developments. I forget who said it, but someone said that if you go looking in Second Temple Judaism, you’ll find everything and its opposite. 🙂

    (Besides which, this isn’t an area where we ought to just assume Second Temple Judaism was right, even if there was a uniform view.)

  31. Yes Glenn, I agree. There was a spectrum of Jewish eschatological views during Second Temple times.
    So, what perspective do we take to understand the Biblical message?
    For me, there are two choices; one from the O.T. Jewish writers’ point of view which is looking forward to a future event- (most of the Old Test. Is Historical narrative or prophecies tucked away in poetic verse.)
    Or the other view is one from the gospel writers’ point of view which is looking back from “the” events, those being the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension to explain the meaning of the Old Testament. If there is confusion I weight the N. Test. more heavily, as I think part of Jesus’s mission was to correct the mis- interpretation of the old Test. Scripture. If Jesus selected a O.T. verse to reference in his teachings then that teaching must have a valuable lesson in it’s telling, so that is the Second Temple view I apply in an understanding. One example of this might be Lazarus and the rich man. (I don’t take it literally-of course) but there is an importance to the teaching. Jesus recognized their understanding of Hades.
    I do appreciate your focus on word definition. I have found that many denominations define heaven and paradise to be the same, and hell and hades to mean the same thing. To those who won’t see beyond their denominational definitions, there is no sense in pursuing any understanding.
    I just finished a book, of essays collected as a project by Ellen Davis and Richard Hays, titled, “The Art of Reading Scripture”. Many writers within this collection I’m sure you are familiar with. Very scholarly and was worth the time. Hope you will find it so.
    Best,
    Anne

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