Why did the Jews give up the belief in the resurrection?

Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection. (Mark 12:18)

I have a question for Jewish readers or anyone knowledgeable in the history of Judaism. But I have to lead up to it.

Based on the Gospels, in which the Pharisees frequently challenge Jesus with difficult questions about the resurrection of the dead, Christians know that belief in the resurrection of the dead was authoritative, or at least taken for granted, among the Jews in the first century A.D. The Harper’s Bible Dictionary article on the subject, which a friend and I recently read and discussed, provides a clear explanation of how the Jewish belief in resurrection came about. It came about at the same time, and from the same cause, as the shift of primary focus from the Temple sacrifice to the synagogue, the reading of the Law, Sabbath observance, and so on. That cause was the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah and of the Temple in Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C. and the exile of the Jewish elites in Babylon for fifty years. Deprived of the Temple, the Jews could no longer practice the Temple sacrifices mandated in the Book of Leviticus and so began to make synogogue observance and the reading of the Torah the center of their religion; and deprived of their kingdom with its tribal structure, they began to be concerned as much about individual salvation as about the destiny of Israel as a whole. With the problem of individual salvation coming into prominence, the idea of the resurrection of the individual soul or body naturally began to develop as well, something that had not previously been been the case, because as long as the Temple existed the object of salvation was the people of Israel under God, not the individual under God.

And though the Jews returned from Exile to their land, now called Judea, and built a second Temple and restored the Temple sacrifice, the new religious directions begun during the Exile continued. Also, many Jews continued to live outside Judea, and so had need of synogogues. By the time of Jesus, resurrection was a common belief among the Jews, or rather among the Pharisees, who represented the rabbinic tradition as distinct from the Temple sacrifice cult as represented by the Sadducees. I might note in passing that because of the Gospels’ harsh criticisms of the Pharisees as ossified dogmatists, it is easy to forget that in ancient times the Pharisees represented the “progressive” or “liberal” strand within Judaism as compared with the Temple priests.

The rabbinic tradition has of course continued as the defining belief system of Judaism from the first century A.D. up to the present moment (though some would say that the defining belief system of modern Judaism is fealty to the Democratic Party). Yet medieval and modern Judaism, as far as one can tell, does not have any idea of a resurrection. Instead, things have returned to the status quo before the destruction of the First Temple, with the focus of concern being not the individual, but the people of Israel as a whole. The resurrection of the soul or the body is not part of modern Judaism.

Perhaps the clearest expression of the Jewish lack of interest in the individual soul is the Kaddish which is chanted for a person who has died:

Magnified and sanctified be G-d’s great name in the world which He created according to His will. May he establish His kingdom during our lifetime and during the lifetime of Israel. Let us say, Amen.

May G-d’s great name be blessed forever and ever.

Blessed, glorified, honored and extolled, adored and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, though G-d is beyond all praises and songs of adoration which can be uttered. Let us say, Amen.

May there be peace and life for all of us and for all Israel. Let us say, Amen.

Let He who makes peace in the heavens, grant peace to all of us and to all Israel. Let us say, Amen.

While the Kaddish is very beautiful, it contains nothing about the person who has died, or even about the idea of an individual person and his spiritual destiny. It’s all about the greatness and holiness of God, God’s kingdom, and asking “peace to all of us and to all Israel.” The entity that is of concern to Judaism is the living collective of the Jewish people, not the individual and his (eternal) soul.

So here is my question, which the Harper’s Bible Dictionary does not address. Why was belief in the resurrection, which was authoritative among the Jews and—as portrayed in the Gospels—openly affirmed by them in the first century A.D., abandoned?

And here is one guess (and it’s nothing more than a guess): because the Christians believed in the resurrection, and indeed made it the very center of their religion, the Jews, in order to distinguish themselves from the Christians, gave up the belief in the resurrection.

- end of initial entry -

JC in Houston writes:

Your last sentence captured the thoughts I had as I read through your post. It would also be my guess that since the Resurrection of Christ and of his followers became the central defining element of Christianity, Judaism deemphasized it, so as to distance itself from and define itself in opposition to its then heretical offshoot sect.

Daniel F. writes:

As to belief in resurrection, it is still part of traditional Jewish belief that the righteous dead will be resurrected—bodily—when the Kingdom of God is established on earth. If I’m not mistaken, this is one of Rambam’s (Maimonides) 13 articles of faith, and it is part of the silent Amidah prayer said while standing three times a day by observant Jews, the second blessing of which is, “Blessed art Thou … Who gives Life to the Dead” (m’chayeh ha-metim). It is because of this belief that Orthodox Jews try to avoid autopsies and generally do not become organ donors. If you’re interested, a better place to look for information on Jewish belief than what I presume is a Christian-oriented Bible encyclopedia is a source such as Encyclopedia Judaica. Also, the 1910 edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia, which is considered a superior work of scholarship, is available free on the Web. That’s as much detail as I can go into now.

Of course, I doubt that you will find any non-Orthodox Jews who believe in this doctrine (most are probably not aware of it), even though I think even the Reform continue to recite the “m’chayeh ha-metim” blessing (obviously, the prayer is easily reinterpreted to conform to naturalism). The truth is, even for observant Orthodox Jews, subjective belief is not as central a part of the religious experience as it is for Christians, and I suspect most modern Orthodox Jews don’t believe it, either, even if many of them would not admit it.

You are correct that the majority of American Jews (I mean those who identify as Jews and practice Judaism—including non-Orthodox rabbis) really believe in the Democratic Party and establishment-leftist ideology more than any set of ideas having a source in Judaism. The religion is really in miserable shape.

Daniel F. continues:

Here’s the article on resurrection from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, which I think confirms what I told you.

And here’s another encyclopedia-type article on Jewish belief in resurrection. As I’m sure you realize, the fact that a belief is part of traditional Judaism does not mean that most Jews today believe in it or are even aware of it.

LA replies:

But even granted this orthodox belief, it would seem to play a relatively minor part in the religion, as compared with the first century A.D. when the belief was more central. Therefore my question still stands. Why was this once central and openly stated belief of Judaism de-emphasized?

A reader in England writes:

Here is a Forum dialogue related to the subject of Jewish belief in bodily resurrection in first century Palestine.

LA replies:

From your description of the discussion, it would appear not to address my question why the belief in bodily resurrection was downplayed after the first century A.D.

Dave T. writes:

Pardon the tangent, but belief in the resurrection is not the only thing that the Rabbinic strain of ancient Judaism gave up in order to distance itself from the other strain of ancient Judaism that survived 70 CE (i.e. Christianity).

How about the notion of complexity in the Godhead not to mention the deity and the incarnation of the eschatological king that was foretold in the OT!

It might surprise you to know that contemporary Jewish scholars such as Boyarin and Sommer recognize a tradition in the OT that attests to a kind of lesser Yahweh who brings complexity to the Godhead, which these scholars label under the moniker of Jewish binitarianism. Boyarin in his recently published, “The Jewish Gospels” goes so far as to say that many Jews in the 1st century were expecting the incarnation of this figure as the fulfillment of oracles concerning Israel’s future eschatological king and that the only real innovation that early Christianity brings to this tradition is the identification of this figure with Jesus of Nazareth. In reaction to Christianity, the Rabbinic strain of ancient Judaism forbade belief in this lesser Yahweh when it made a heresy out of the doctrine of “two powers in heaven” in the 2nd century.

Dave T. continues:

More to the point of your question, I was under the impression that rabbinic Judaism greatly distanced itself from ancient Jewish eschatology subsequent to the failed Bar Kokhba revolt in the 2nd century and that while they continued to believe in such things as the “world to come” this sort of eschatological hope was no longer an animating principle for their religion.

Mark L. writes:

I can’t claim to have a well-thought out answer to the question you pose as to why the belief in individual salvation and resurrection from the dead seems to have lost its place in Jewish thinking following the destruction of the temple in AD 70. The New Testament accounts seem to make it clear that 1) the Jews wanted a temporal Messiah who would deliver their own nation politically and militarily, rather than one who would grant them eternal life as individuals; and 2) to the extent that they did believe in individual salvation, they conceived of it as something they could obtain via their own merit—i.e., works righteousness (see Romans 10:3). And on the latter point, I believe there are lots of Jewish people who still think in these terms, and have some kind of hope in a literal resurrection from the dead, which they can attain to via good works. (I’m guessing these are not the kind of Jews who read the New York Times with a straight face, and place their trust in the Democratic Party, but then again, who knows?)

Regarding the Pharisees, I question your referring to them as the liberal or progressive element within the Judaism of their day, as compared with the conservative Sadduccees. For one thing, the Pharisees would not have been liberal or progressive on matters of morality. More to the point, they were extremely tradition-bound—albeit to a different set of traditions than the Sadduccees were. Jesus excoriated the Pharisees (see Mark 7) because they placed greater value on the traditions of their elders (i.e., the oral law, later codified in the Talmud) than on the commandments of God (as codified in the written law—i.e., the Bible and specifically the Torah).

On the other hand, if by these terms you mean the Pharisees were more on the populist side than the artistocratic Sadduccees, there is something to that. As Alfred Edersheim has written (see “Sketches of Jewish Social Life” and “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”), the Pharisees had a large following among the masses, and you can even get a flavor of this in the Gospel accounts. Is this what you were referring to? [LA replies: I guess I was thinking of (1) the fact that the Pharisees came later than the older Temple cult and thus represented the “newer” facet of Judaism (and of course Jesus himself was at least generically a Pharisee, as he was a rabbi learned in the Torah); and (2) the fact that the Pharisees had a tradition of learning and discussion and arriving at answers through dialectical argument, as compared with the Sadducees who were just doing the prescribed Temple sacrifice.]

As to the idea that physical resurrection only developed as a concept during the intra-testamental period, Job is said to be the oldest book in the Jewish Bible, and it contains the following statement indicating belief in a literal, physical resurrection:

“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26).

LA replies:

It is impossible that Job is the oldest book of the Jewish Bible. Everything about it suggests a later period than the Torah.

Daniel F. writes:

Mr. Auster, as set forth in this wikipedia article, the version of the kaddish recited at funerals (there are several different versions of the prayer) does make reference to the resurrection of the dead. The kaddish, incidentally, was not originally composed as a prayer for mourners of for funerals.

You say that the idea of resurrection came to be de-emphasized in Judaism after the first century. I point out, however, that significant references to resurrection of the dead remained in the liturgy—again, it is the second blessing of the amida, which a man is obligated to recite three times a day—-and that Maimonides, who lived in the 12th Century, made it one of the thirteen articles of faith. Still, I think your point has substantial validity. I think the relative lack of emphasis on this concept in Judaism is attributable, as one of your commenters suggested, to rabbinic Judaism’s general aversion to speculation about the “end of days,” a position the rabbis prudently adopted after the catastrophe of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans in the 2d century (which was even more devastating than the destruction of the Temple in 70). In addition, rabbinic Judaism is overwhelmingly a religion of practice and tribal solidarity. The energy that in Christianity went into theology, eschatology and philosophy, in Judaism went into the development of halakhah (Jewish law), which—like Islamic law—covers all aspects of life.

LA replies:

Got it. I’m sorry that I initially took your remarks to mean that the resurrection was less emphasized than what you meant.

LA adds (April 26):

I only now looked at the Burial Kaddish that Daniel F. linked. It is a completely different prayer from the Mourner’s Kaddish:

In the world which will be renewed
and where He will give life to the dead
and raise them to eternal life
and rebuild the city of Jerusalem
and complete His temple there
and uproot foreign worship from the earth
and restore Heavenly worship to its position
and may the Holy One, blessed is He,
reign in His sovereign splendour …

Ken Hechtman writes:

I found something in the Jewish Encyclopedia (bottom of the page).

As Daniel F points out, Orthodox Jews still say, as part of their morning prayers, “One day You will take it [my soul] from me, and restore it to me in the time to come.”

But American Reform Judaism explicitly repudiated the idea of resurrection in the 19th century. So it’s a relatively late development and not a universal one. The reason the Jewish Encyclopedia gives is not that bodily resurrection is a Christian idea but that it’s an unscientific idea.

The Philadelphia Conference (Nov. 3-6, 1869):

There were present:

S. Adler of New York; J. Chronik of Chicago; D. Einhorn of New York; B. Felsenthal of Chicago; J. K. Gutheim of New York; S. Hirsch of Philadelphia; K. Kohler of Detroit; L. Mayer of Selma, Ala.; M. Mielziner of New York; S. H. Sonnenschein of St. Louis; M. Schlesinger of Albany, N. Y.; I. M. Wise of Cincinnati.

The following statement of principles was adopted:

“6. The belief in the bodily resurrection has no religious foundation, and the doctrine of immortality refers to the after-existence of the soul only.

LA replies:

Hey, they’re affirming the immortality of the soul. I’m surprised that Reform Jews would have gone that far. But, after all, that was in the 19th century. Today the Reform Jews only affirm the immortality of homosexual rights.

M. Jose writes:

You asked the reason for the abandonment of the belief in physical resurrection by the Jews in the Christian era. [LA replies: I wasn’t thinking just of physical resurrection, but of the idea of the resurrection of the soul, whether that is thought of as involving the body or not. But maybe my assumption was wrong. Was Jewish belief in the resurrection only of the resurrection of the body? Also, I personally have very little grasp of the idea of bodily resurrection if taken literally. I know it’s there in the Bible, I know Paul speaks of it in Romans, but how literally is this meant to be taken? Even Paul’s passages suggest that the “body” that is to be resurrected is not simply our physical body.]

My thought is that the resurrection is intimately tied up in the end of history. A large portion of the Jews of the first century were convinced that they were living in the End Times and that the Messiah was going to come and destroy the Roman Empire.

The destruction of the Second Temple and the scattering of the Jews probably dampened concern for the resurrection for several reasons:

(1) The end of history and the ushering in of the Messianic Age had not occurred yet, and it seemed that it would indeed be a long way off, so even for those who believed in the resurrection, it was pushed off into the future. The resurrection was a much more important doctrine when it was assumed to be in the immediate future. This would not have resulted in the doctrine being repudiated, but could have caused it to be largely forgotten.

(2) Messianism in general and doctrines that would be associated with the coming of the Messiah, such as the resurrection of the dead, may have lost popularity due to the fact that they were connected to the Jewish rebellions that caused the destruction of the Second Temple and the diaspora. Either the doctrines were de-emphasized because they were seen as dangerous, or because looking for their immediate fulfillment was dangerous. As I recall, study of the Kabala is heavily restricted due to the danger of misinterpreting it; it would be reasonable to think that the same type of thinking could have taken place regarding the doctrine of resurrection; it’s not that the doctrine was repudiated as much as its study was limited to prevent people from misusing the doctrine.

(3) The destruction of the Second Temple might have caused a lot of Jews to abandon their trust in God because of God’s abandonment of them, even though, according to their reckoning, they had acted in accordance with his law. The first exile was justified by Israel’s idolatry. But for God to allow a second exile when they were trying to keep his laws—they probably reasoned that there must be something wrong with God, and a rejection of his promise of a future resurrection. At the very least, a general assumption that all of their doctrines should be in question might have occurred.

In any case, if physical resurrection is explicitly rejected by a large number of Jews today, it is likely due to the growing secularization of Jews; if Jews are questioning the most well-known and fundamental doctrines, it is not surprising that doctrines that are more obscured or less emphasized do not even register.

Daniel F. writes:

As your commenter Ken Hechtman pointed out, I was mistaken in saying that Reform Jews continue to say the blessing referring to resurrection of the dead (m’chayeh ha-metim); they changed it to something less jarring to modern sensibilities (“Who gives life to all” (m-chayeh ha-kol), or something like that). Conservative Judaism does retain the liturgy’s references to resurrection (in Hebrew, at least), although the language is usually reinterpreted naturalistically.

Kristor writes:

Synchronicity strikes again. I was on an airplane all day, with no access to VFR. It was tough, but I managed, by focusing my attention on a post I just put up over at Orthosphere, about the resurrection of the body. I got off the plane, logged into VFR, and discovered your post on the same subject. You write:

Also, I personally have very little grasp of the idea of bodily resurrection if taken literally. I know it’s there in the Bible, I know Paul speaks of it in Romans, but how literally is this meant to be taken? Even Paul’s passages suggest that the “body” that is to be resurrected is not simply our physical body.

As my post at Orthosphere makes clear, I think we must indeed take the resurrection of the body quite literally. The Creed says what it says, no? [LA replies: The Nicene Creed in the Book of Common Prayer, in its last sentence, says, “And I look for the resurrection of the dead: And the life of the world to come. Amen.” The Creed does not speak of “the resurrection of the body.”] The resurrection body is, yes, much more than simply our physical body as we currently experience it. The resurrection body is our physical body perfected, and just the way it was meant to be: a physical implementation of souls that have been redeemed, and are themselves no longer subject to sin. We must not think of the resurrection body as somehow limited and fallen and corruptible, as our present bodies are. On the contrary. And that will make all the difference in the world. [LA replies: Since, as you yourself point out, the “body” that is resurrected is not the body as we know it, but a “perfected” body we’ve never seen and naturally have trouble conceiving, how can we take “literally” something we’ve never seen and have trouble conceiving? The resurrected body is obviously not a mere symbol, it is something real. But I would say that it is like a symbol in the sense that it not something that can be taken literally, since, like a symbol, the phrase, “the resurrected body,” points to something that is beyond our immediate experience.]

As to how Pharisaical Judaism abandoned the belief in the resurrection of the body, it may have been because most of the Pharisees that believed in it strongly ended up converting to Christianity. There was, remember, another sect in first century Palestine, that believed in the resurrection: the Essenes. The Pharisees and the Essenes were in constant dialogue and conflict; both were pretty adamantly opposed to the Temple priesthood, as being illegitimate collaborators.

There is a fair bit of circumstantial evidence to indicate that the Essene party continued as the Church.

April 26

Dave T. writes:

I thought I’d let you know that Paul (and the other writers of the New Testament) believed that our souls would be clothed with separate glorified “spiritual” bodies subsequent to the death of our physical bodies (e.g. the white robes given to the souls of the deceased saints in Revelation 6:11) and that Jesus was clothed with his glorified spiritual body at the time the Spirit was given to the saints at Pentecost (John 7:39). The writers of the New Testament envisaged the process by which the saints are clothed with their resurrection bodies and enter the world to come (i.e. kingdom of God) while the wicked are confined to punishment in Sheol as being mysterious and invisible from the perspective of those still living in this world (Luke 16:19-31; John 3:8; 21:23). In other words, the New Testament envisages the saints being secretly gathered into the kingdom of God until one day when Jesus returns and brings an end to human existence on this world at a time of unparalleled wickedness and upheaval.

Kristor replies to LA:
When I referred to the Creed, I was thinking of the Apostles Creed, which does refer to the resurrection of the body. I should have been more specific.

As to whether we can imagine the resurrection body as being anything like our experiences of our own fallen bodies, the answer I think is yes. In their encounters with the risen Jesus, the apostles were seeing and touching a resurrection body. It was like ours in that, e.g., it took up space, ate, was tangible, walked, etc. But also it walked through walls appeared and disappeared. So it was a body like our own, but better.

There are of course aspects of the physical nature of the resurrection body that are difficult for us to understand, or even imagine. But then, this is just as true for the body we now have. Indeed the very notion of a body—of physical existence—is a terribly difficult business. According to quantum mechanics, the stuff of which we are made is pretty weird, and while we can do the math we can’t imagine what it truly signifies.

Jim Kalb writes:

The resurrection was literal and physical but more than that.

Literal and physical: The tomb was empty, the Apostles’ Creed says “resurrection of the body,” and the risen Christ was demonstratively physical (the exchange with Doubting Thomas, eating the fish).

More than that: The resurrected body can go through walls, and it can apparently be hard to recognize (the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene at the tomb, although she was probably crying too much to see anything).

So the resurrected body seems to be the ordinary physical body transformed. It’s worth noting though that a living human body can’t be understood as simply physical either. It does things that are intentional, and that don’t seem to be simply a physical process.

Patrick H. writes:

I believe it has been argued, though I cannot remember where, that our resurrected bodies will be like that of the resurrected Jesus. Just as with Jesus, our bodies will look like us, they will be physical. Others can touch us (as Thomas touched Jesus), you can eat (as did the risen Jesus), and so on. But our bodies, sown in corruption, will not rise in corruption. Our bodies will not suffer or age. They will be capable of superhuman feats, like passing through walls (as did Jesus) and moving instantaneously from place to place (as did Jesus). That this is to be our eternal state is one of the most distinctive aspects of Christianity and one that many Christians do not grasp. How many of us think our fate is to go to Heaven forever as pure spirits? It’s probably a more common view of the afterlife than an eternal existence in perfected physical bodies. But that’s not the way it’s going to be, at least according to the Gospels, Paul and the Apostle’s Creed.

Jesus has promised to us a resurrection from eternal death. Apparently it is to be a resurrection just like His. So we can conceive of our perfected resurrected bodies. All we have to do, as is usually the case, is think of Him.

LA replies to Kristor, Mr. Kalb, and Patrick:

I’m sorry I forgot about the Apostles Creed.

Dante describes the souls in Paradise as lights, spiritual beings, not as people with physical bodies. Now I believe in the resurrection of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels; also to believe in his resurrection is one of the requirements of being a Christian, as stated in the Nicene Creed. It is also stated in the Creeds that one believes in the “resurrection of the dead” (Nicene Creed), and “the resurrection of the body” (Apostles Creed). But what these latter mean is not spelled out. We know what Jesus’ resurrected body was like because it is described in detail in the Gospels. We don’t know what the resurrected body of saved souls in general is like. It’s an interesting supposition that it is the same as the resurrected body of Jesus, but I don’t think any authoritative source states this.

Also, Kristor says of Jesus’ resurrected body: “It was like ours in that, e.g., it took up space, ate, was tangible, walked, etc. But also it walked through walls appeared and disappeared. So it was a body like our own, but better.”

If it could walk through walls, then it wasn’t just a physical body, but had the qualities of an “astral” body.

I personally have seen evidence of what a “higher body” can do. When I was visiting the Meher Baba community in India in 1987, one of his surviving followers at Meherazad, a compound in the hills where Baba lived with his mandali (closest disciples), took me to the library and showed me a sequence of photographs of Baba from what appeared to be the early 1950s. Baba had told the photographer to keep taking pictures of him. They showed the following. At first, Baba was standing in the middle of a room, wearing traditional eastern garb, his hands raised in a gesture of prayer. Behind him, leaning against the wall, and looking like a tough guy from a mid 20th century film noir, was Eruch, one of his closest mandali (who was still alive in 1987 and one of the finest men I ever met). In the earlier photos Baba is standing there praying, and Eruch is behind him leaning against the wall and looking away from him. Then in the next photo, Baba disappears. He’s no longer there. The place where his feet were are glowing lights on the floor, and the section of the wall that was hidden behind his body in the previous photographs is now visible. Eruch is still standing leaning against the wall looking away. Eruch and the photographer said later that they did not see anything out of the ordinary happen. As far as they were concerned Baba was still there. It was only when they saw the developed photographs that they saw that Baba had disappeared. In other words he had disappeared to the camera, not to the men standing in the room with him.

So Meher Baba, who had a physical body apparently like any other, had the ability to make his body become invisible to a camera. This suggests how a body can be both physical and non-physical, just as Jesus’ resurrected body was both physical and non-physical.

In 1987 when I saw them, these photographs had never been published or publicized in any way, notwithstanding the large number of books about Baba and innumerable published photographs of him. The man who showed me the photos (whose name I forget) did it as a favor to me, for my interest.

Kristor writes:

Interesting story about Meher Baba. But what such events indicate to me is that the normal human body is capable of doing these amazing things. So, in a sense, we already live in resurrection bodies, it’s just that we don’t yet recognize the fact. We are, in fact, already lights of the sort that Dante describes; at the fundamental physical level, bodies are regions of space where light and energy are densely packed. They are, that is to say, regions of the world that are peculiarly rich in potential energy. There’s nothing really solid about us, at all.

Walking through walls and moving instantaneously from one place to another — the former being really a type of the latter — are no longer contrary to physical law. Physicists call the phenomenon quantum tunneling, after the phenomenon of electrons disappearing from one side of a lead barrier and appearing on the other: they “tunnel” through the lead, was the first thought. But the phenomenon is a case of the perfectly general phenomenon of the quantum leap of particles from one state to another.

So matter is pretty weird.

A female reader writes:

You describe Jesus’ body as “both physical and non-physical.”

I don’t necessarily think that’s a necessary deduction from the description in the scriptures. I would suggest the possibility that that a glorified physical body may be able go through locked doors etc. because such a glorified body is more physically real than the material things of this world now—that our world is the one made up of shadowy, “ghostly,” not-perfectly-physically-real things. The walls of the upper room were insubstantial in comparison to Jesus, not the other way around.

C.S. Lewis makes pretty much the same suggestion at the beginning of The Great Divorce.

Gintas writes:

There is a physical resurrection, the physical remains are transformed. After all, Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb (he offered to Thomas for him to put his hands in his wounds, so there was something to touch), and I don’t think it fell into some remote forest as he ascended, leaving a transformed being. But what constitutes “physical remains”? Bodies that have been long-buried turn to dust, and some people have been dismembered and scattered, or blown to smithereens or burnt up. If God needs an intact body for the resurrection to happen, most Christians are in trouble.

M. Jose writes:

I concur with those who say that the resurrection body will be a physical body but will be different from our current body, although to the extent that we have an identifiable physical body at the time of resurrection it will likely be used to make the resurrection body (or else why the empty tomb?)

I do not agree that Job would have been written after the Torah—at the very least, the events occurring in Job would have occurred most likely around the time of Abraham, so Job’s comments cannot be construed as part of post-exilic theology. I think Jewish tradition has the form of Job we have now written by Moses. [LA replies: Do you also believe that the psalms of David were written by the tenth century B.C. warrior king, and that the Proverbs were written by King Solomon?]

In any case, there is a lot of indication that the pre-exilic Israelites believed in some sort of post-body existence, whether or not they believed in a physical resurrection. Things such as King Saul going to a medium would not make sense if the assumption was that the dead are annihilated.

However, in terms of what happens to dead people, this is, I believe, the general consensus among evangelicals (although at what time each element of this consensus became widely known is debatable).

Pre-Christ, all dead souls went to Sheol, where they retained consciousness. Those who were saved went to the good section, where they were in comfort, and those who were damned went to the bad section, where they were in torment. The good section later became known as “Abraham’s bosom.” In addition, at least two men were bodily translated into the presence of God in Heaven; Enoch and Elijah.

When Jesus died, his soul departed into Sheol. There he preached to those in Abraham’s bosom and led them up into Heaven, leaving only the damned in Sheol. Since then the saved go straight to Heaven and the damned go to Sheol. It is possible that some portion of the saved dead were physically resurrected along with Jesus and have resurrection bodies in Heaven.

At some point in the future, all who are saved and dead will have their souls reunited with their physical bodies, which will be glorified to be like Christ’s. Those who believe in a pre-Tribulation rapture generally believe that all who died in Christ before the Rapture will be resurrected at this point, and that all who die in Christ during the Tribulation will be resurrected at Christ’s return. Those who survive into the millennium will retain the current sort of body until the end of the millennium and the Great White Throne judgment. At that final judgment, the dead in Sheol will also be raised, into what sort of body is not clear, but will be thrown into the final Hell, the Lake of Fire (often referred to as Gehenna, after the place where waste was burned). Those who do not believe in a pre-Tribulation Rapture, in the Tribulation as a future event, or in the literal Millennium generally would deny a general resurrection at any of those points, and presumably would place all future resurrections at the time of the end of this age and the ushering in of the eternal state.

As for the state of the dead, the general assumption is that those who are dead but not yet raised live on as disembodied souls. My personal take on this is that a human being is a mind, a physical presence, and a spirit—a trinity in the image of God. The mind (parallels the Father) is the will, the decider, the source of what we do. The physical presence (parallels the Son) is the presence of the person who performs and reveals the commands of the mind. The spirit (parallels the Holy Spirit) powers the presence’s fulfillment of the commands of the mind. The body is the incarnation of the physical presence much as Jesus the human is the incarnation of the Son. Our soul refers not, as some would have it, to the spirit, but to the trinity of the mind, physical presence, and spirit, so it has some sort of physical presence without a body. This explains how Christ was able to preach in Sheol outside of his body prior to the resurrection, he was the divine equivalent of the disembodied physical presence aspect of the soul (if our trinity is mind, body, and spirit, it would cause the question of how Christ, who would be the equivalent of the body, could exist as a human soul independently of the body—looking at the second aspect of our existence as being physical presence, with the body being the incarnation of the physical presence, makes the parallel more exact).

One other point—Dave T. writes about a “lesser Yahweh.” I believe the concept he is referring to is also referred to as Metatron. Looking up Metatron might give some more insights into the specifics of this belief.

Lydia McGrew writes:

Kristor is doing such a great job discussing the resurrection body that I haven’t much to add. I did just want to correct what I understood to be your use of Dante in the discussion. Dante is very definite that the resurrection has not yet taken place. Of course it hasn’t, as we haven’t yet come to the end of the world. In Christian eschatology, people are not resurrected on a case-by-case basis as they die. Souls in the Paradiso are thus not yet in their resurrection bodies, and nothing about their being perceived as lights and so forth can be relevant to the question of how Dante envisaged the resurrection body. Dante also has quite a detailed discussion of the fact that the souls in Purgatory are not actually embodied and about how they can nonetheless suffer apparently physical torments.

LA replies:

Thanks, I didn’t know that, or had forgotten it. I last read The Paradiso about 30 years ago.

Jim Kalb writes:

Dante’s description has to do with the pre-resurrection situation. I’m not sure what the issue is though. A body that’s not just physical is among other things physical. And the literal sense of an account can be true without fully describing everything involved.

Dave T. writes:

The mistake that the other contributors to this subject are making is that they are assuming (along with the early Church Fathers) that the early followers of Jesus thought that what happened to Jesus’ body following his crucifixion was the model for what happens to followers of Jesus in the resurrection of the dead. They did not!

While it is true that the early followers of Jesus thought that his physical body was raised from the dead and appeared to them as such prior to his ascension (Lk 24:39) they did not believe that his body remained in that form subsequent to his ascension. Rather, they thought that Jesus was clothed with his glorified spiritual body in heaven at Pentecost subsequent to his ascension (Jn 7:39, cf. Zech 3:1-5), this is why most of the descriptions of Jesus subsequent to Pentecost are quite different from descriptions of Jesus prior to Pentecost in the NT (compare the appearances of a non-radiant in Jesus Lk 24 and Jn 20-21 against the appearances/visions of a radiant Jesus in Acts 9 and Rev (1); however, in the case of the resurrection of the saints, the early followers of Jesus did not think that the physical bodies of the saints would, like Jesus, ascend to heaven and be clothed with glorified spiritual bodies but that only their non-physical souls (or spirits) would ascend to heaven and be clothed with glorified spiritual bodies (cf. Rev 6:11; 7:9). In my opinion Paul couldn’t have made it more obvious,when he said that to be at home with the Lord (in the kingdom of God) is to be “away from the body” (2 Cor 5:8) because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50).

M. Jose writes:

You wrote:

“Do you also believe that the psalms of David were written by the tenth century B.C. warrior king, and that the Proverbs were written by King Solomon?”


LA replies:

Respectfully, but humorously, I must quote Ed Koch’s famous retort: “Ridiculous.”

M. Jose writes:

I’m intrigued by your response to me. How do you think the books of the Old Testament were written, and at what point do you think the Old Testament turned from legend to history (as I recall, you don’t take the creation account literally, so presumably there is some point at which the Old Testament transitions into history)?

LA replies:

Without going into all that, let’s just consider the two books mentioned. David was a charismatic warrior and king living in a tribal society in which the relationship with God is mainly that of the people under God, not the individual under God. The Psalms are obviously written in an urbanized, stratified society by an intensely neurotic, powerless individual who feels himself beset by his class superiors and is reaching out to God in the most intense “one-on-one” relationship in which the longing for God has ever been expressed. Indeed the Psalms are the most Christian part of the Hebrew scriptures, precisely because the relationship with God is expressed in individual, not collective terms. Everything about the Psalms bespeaks a period and a stage of Israel’s development centuries later than David.

The Book of Proverbs similarly expresses a society and mindset much later than David’s son Solomon.

It astounds me that people could think that all the “Psalms of David” were written by David. Evidently “A Psalm of David” means a psalm written in the manner or style of David, not a psalm actually written by David. Some of them may have been written by him, but all of them?

Some will reply: but David was beset by his superior Saul who sought to kill him. Yes, and David probably did write some psalms about his unjust persecution by Saul. But David was a man of strength and fighting with a band of followers, not a miserable, self-divided neurotic struggling with the blackest despair ever put to pen. And in any case the period of his being hunted by Saul was relatively brief, compared to the period in which he was himself the king of Israel.

Consider Psalm 88:

Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry; For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.

I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.

Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.

Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth. Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.

Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah. Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.

LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?

I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.

First, this is the expression of a person who experiences himself as utterly powerless. David was never powerless; even when hunted by Saul, he had his warrior band and was a man of strength.

Second, no man living in a rural, tribal society where the main occupations are sheepherding and farming could experience such intense self-division and despair. This is the expression of an alienated, lonely individual in an urban society.

Much more could be said, but that’s enough to make my point.

Kristor writes:

Dave T. writes:

While it is true that the early followers of Jesus thought that his physical body was raised from the dead and appeared to them as such prior to his ascension (Lk 24:39) they did not believe that his body remained in that form subsequent to his ascension.

But where has anyone in this thread argued that, once Jesus was resurrected, his resurrection body was thenceforth incapable of changes? Metaphysically, “a body incapable of change” is a contradiction in terms. There is to be sure one sort of change that the resurrection body of Jesus is incapable of effecting: the change of corruption. It is not possible that the resurrection body should suffer decay or damage, or death. But there is nothing that says that the resurrection body may not grow more and more glorious and magnificent, more and more splendid and capacious, over the course of its everlasting career. Indeed, endless growth in power, knowledge and wisdom is likely to be a basic feature of heavenly life; it is hard to see how constant, perpetual, loving, obedient and unmediated interaction with God could lead to any other result.

We should remember also that the glorified body of Jesus was apparent prior to his death, as well, during the Transfiguration. Glorification, the putting on of the resurrection body, is not as a matter of logic something that must needs wait till the eschaton, as the examples of Enoch and Elijah attest. In the final analysis, in the truest scheme of things, Earth is included in the Kingdom, as it is part of the sky; and the eschaton is already underway.

Dave T. writes:

Paul couldn’t have made it more obvious, when he said that to be at home with the Lord (in the kingdom of God) is to be “away from the body” (2 Cor 5:8) because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50).

In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul is saying that it would be preferable to die to the body of death and join Jesus in Heaven, than to keep living on earth. Gill’s commentary on the passage is typical:

to be absent from the body; that is, to die, to depart out of this world. The interval between death, and the resurrection, is a state of absence from the body, during which time the soul is disembodied, and exists in a separate state; not in a state of inactivity and sleep, for that would not be desirable, but of happiness and glory, enjoying the presence of God, and praising of him, believing and waiting for the resurrection of the body, when both will be united together again; and after that there will be no more absence, neither from the body, nor from the Lord:

There is no question that for us to be clothed in the resurrection body, we must leave behind the body of sin, the body of death, that we formerly inhabited. We must leave it behind altogether; that is to say, that we must make a perfect repentance.

In 1 Corinthians 15:50, Paul is saying that the body of death is not fit to inherit the Kingdom. Gill’s commentary on this passage is quite thrilling:

Now this I say, brethren,…. Upon the whole, I assert this, and observe it to you, out of a truly Christian respect for you, as brethren in the Lord, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God: this shows the necessity there is of a difference between the body that now is, and that which shall be, which the apostle has so largely insisted on, and so clearly proved and explained, in the preceding verses; because the body, as it now is, is not capable of possessing the heavenly glory; was it to be introduced into heaven, in the condition it is now, it would break in pieces, and crumble into dust; it would not be able to bear the glory of that state and place: by flesh and blood is meant, not human nature as to the substance of it, or as consisting of flesh and blood, for that can and does inherit the kingdom of God; witness the human nature, or body of Christ, the bodies of the saints that rose after his resurrection, and those of Enoch and Elijah, who were translated body and soul to heaven; so that this passage makes nothing for those that deny the resurrection of the same body, and plead for a new and an aerial one: but the human nature, or body, so and so qualified, is here meant; either as corrupted with sin, for without holiness and righteousness no man shall see the Lord, or enter into and possess the kingdom of heaven; or flesh and blood, or an human body, as it is now supported in this animal life, with meat and drink, &c. and as it is frail and mortal, and subject to death, in which sense the phrase is used in Scripture; see Matthew 16:17 and often by the Jews; so Abraham is represented by them as saying (i),

“I am , “flesh and blood”, tomorrow I shall depart out of the world, or die:”

it would be endless to give the many instances that might be produced of this use of the phrase with them, and in which sense it is to be taken here: and the meaning is, that saints in their frail mortal bodies, such as they now are, are not capable of enjoying the heavenly glory; which is called “the kingdom”, because of its riches, glory, grandeur, and magnificence; and the kingdom “of God”, because it is of his preparing and giving; and what he calls his people to, and makes them meet for, and in which they will reign with him for evermore: heirs of it they may be, and are now whilst in this frail and mortal state; but inherit, possess, and enjoy it, they cannot, as not without holiness of soul, so not without immortality of body; and therefore it is necessary that the body should rise different in qualities from, though the same in substance with, the present body; that it should rise incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual; that it may be fitted for, and be able to bear the exceeding weight of glory in the other world:

neither doth corruption inherit incorruption: by corruption is not so much meant sin, or the corruption of nature, or man as corrupted by sin, though it is true of such an one, that he does not, and cannot inherit incorruption; the incorruptible crown, the crown of glory that fadeth not away, the incorruptible inheritance, reserved in the heavens, those riches which moth and rust corrupt not; but the body, as it is generated in corruption, is supported by corruptible things, and is subject to corruption and worms; in such a situation it is unfit for, and incapable of inheriting eternal glory; it must be different from what it is; it must put on immortality, and be clothed with incorruption: the word inherit in both clauses shows, that the heavenly glory is an inheritance, and belongs to children only; is their heavenly Father’s bequest unto them; is not bought or acquired by anything of theirs; and is what they enter into and upon, in virtue and consequence of the death of the testator, Christ.

Mark N. writes:

I found your discussion of the Jewish rejection of the resurrection to be most interesting. Like you I’m of Jewish background, however, thirteen years ago I was received into the Roman Catholic Church.

Your earlier comments concerning the association of belief in the resurrection and the Pharisees is quite correct. It’s discussed in the Book of Acts, when Paul starts an argument between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, after he’s hauled into court. As the heated argument progresses, Paul quietly walks out the back of the courthouse. I always get a chuckle out of that one.

To begin with, I don’t believe many Jews, with the exception of the Hasidim, believe in the resurrection or even think about it. The observance of Mosaic Law has always been the focus of rabbinic Judaism, not belief in the resurrection. The emphasis, of course, is in totally different in Christianity, where the main concern is the Resurrection of Our Lord. As Paul noted, if the Resurrection did not happen, our faith is in vain, and we are the most pitiful of fools.

One of the biggest problems that modern people have in understanding or believing in the Resurrection is the modern Western philosophical mindset. Rene Descartes, with his philosophical dualism, drew a distinction between body and soul, and most of us became dualists without ever being aware of it. Many so-called Christians have this absurd notion that when we die, we become incorporeal beings who just float about. The worst version of this is the idea of the dead becoming angels, playing harps, and sitting on clouds for eternity. That’s not only nonsense, but heresy. In reality, it’s the heresy of Gnosticism. Angels are created by God, just like humans, and humans do not become angels. Humans and angels are two totally different orders of being. Angels are spirits without flesh, and humans are enfleshed spirits.

To believing Jews and believing Christians, “personhood” is the convergence of flesh, spirit, and mind. The total person is all three. When you think about it, it is Trinitarian, and that is as it should be since God is a Trinity and we are made in the image of God. Many Christians don’t know this, because their personal theology is a mish mash of what they may have learned in church, coupled with their education in a secularized pagan society.

Why would Jews reject what I just described? Jews reject Jesus’ Resurrection because they reject his divinity. One implies the other. Moreover, Jesus’ divinity implies the Holy Trinity. It’s a seamless thread in Christian theology. When Jesus was resurrected, his body was “glorified.” He could appear as a corporeal being, but also have the capacity to defy the laws of time and space. He rose to his Father as a glorified body. With his glorified body went his soul and his divinity. If one is Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, the total Risen Christ is accessible in the Holy Eucharist during every Mass. But most importantly, all orthodox Christians share the hope that if we die in God’s friendship, we will be able to enter into his divine life.

Dave T. writes:

Kristor writes:

In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul is saying that it would be preferable to die to the body of death and join Jesus in Heaven, than to keep living on earth.

No. For Paul, to be “home with the Lord” is to be clothed with a glorified spiritual body and live with Christ in the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:42-54), the expression cannot possibly mean anything else. Notice also that for Paul to be “home with the Lord” is also to be “away from the body” (2 Cor 5:8), which means that Paul did not believe that the physical body would be transformed into the spiritual body but that the souls of the righteous would be clothed with spiritual bodies and live in the world to come even as they leave behind their old physical bodies to decay in this world.

As for your interpretation of 2 Cor 5:8, the problem with the idea that the souls of the righteous will continue in a disembodied state in heaven upon their death as they wait for the resurrection of the righteous is that it is not found anywhere in the Bible. Rather, the perspective of the Bible is that the disembodied souls of all people go down to Sheol until the day of judgment at which point the righteous would ascend to heaven and be given new bodies and live with Yahweh in the kingdom of God while the disembodied souls of the wicked are left in Sheol to experience eschatological punishment, there is no place for disembodied souls to continue as such with Yahweh in heaven under this scheme.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 25, 2012 06:00 PM | Send

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