Did Paul Conceive of a Resurrected Body and if So Does this Change Anything?

We need to take seriously what Paul said about himself in Galatians. He said that he met with the “esteemed leaders” of the Jerusalem church, and “presented to them the gospel” that he preached “among the Gentiles,” since he “wanted to be sure” he was not running his race in vain (2:2). To which “James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me” (2:9, also Acts 23:6-7). Paul’s only complaint was with Peter’s hypocritical treatment of the Gentiles.” (2:6-14). If they had disagreed over something so important as the bodily resurrection of Jesus it would have been important enough for Paul to mention and argue against. Since he didn’t do so, it must be assumed they shared the same view unless shown otherwise.

Paul’s description of himself as “a Hebrew of Hebrews” and “a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5) who was “extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14), can only mean he accepted the dominant opinion of the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the body.

I’ll admit there are some difficulties no matter what we think Paul believed, and that his argument for the resurrection in First and Second Corinthians is an odd one, as Richard Carrier rightly shows. [Note: Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Empty Tomb, in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, ed. Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005), pp. 105-231]. But there are four passages from Paul’s pen that can lead us to this conclusion. In Philippians 3:20–21 Paul tells us that someday Christ will “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” It’s the same body, just a transformed one. In Romans 8:11 he says, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies…” Here Paul depicts a mortal body that is given new life. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Paul describes the return of his Lord in these words: “…we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” According to Paul he expected to meet the dead who came forth from their graves while yet in the air.

But the most important passage is in 1 Corinthians 15:35-37, where we read: “But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.” Stephen Davis makes the case as well as anyone that “the relationship of material continuity that obtains between Jesus’ earthly body and his resurrection body is like the relationship that obtains between a grain of wheat and the plant that grows from it. Thus Paul’s’ view…is that the one body becomes or is transformed into the other.” [Note: Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), p. 50. Emphasis is his.] Different seeds produce different plants. A wheat seed is not a mustard seed is not an apple seed, you see. The seed has within it to produce different plants, bushes and trees. Even seeds of the same kind can and do produce different looking plants.

Surely as a Pharisee Paul knew of bodies that went directly into heaven (i.e., Enoch in Genesis 5:24; Elijah in II Kings 2:11), and he knew of Ezekiel’s description of bones coming back to life (37:5-6, 13, see Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2). Therefore, as Robert Gundry argues, “To think that Paul had given up the pharisaical view of resurrection as physical would take strong evidence to the contrary.” [Note: Robert H. Gundry, “Trimming the Debate,” ed. Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, p. 116].

At the very least what I do is grant for the sake of argument that Paul’s view was the transformation of the body of Jesus into an imperishable one, a supernatural one, but a body nonetheless, one that came from a mortal, perishable one. It was not a bodily resuscitation, nor was it probably a spiritual resurrection leaving his body still lying in the grave. This grants more than most skeptics or liberals will allow, I know. I want to take the best case scenario and see what follows. I don’t think it follows that Jesus bodily rose up from the grave.