The Resurrection Debate: Transformation or Exchange?

I’m continuing my discussion of the Resurrection Debate between skeptic Steven Carr and Christian John Twistleton. Today, we’ll discuss Paul’s view on the actual process of resurrection. Did he see it as the transformation of one body into another, which is consistent with an empty tomb? Or did he believe that the soul leaves its earthly body and enters a heavenly one, which allows for Jesus to “rise” even as his earthly body remains in the grave (Steven Carr’s position)? Both sides deem this to be an important issue, since Christian apologists view the empty tomb to be a crucial piece of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Is it a part of the earliest Christian traditions, which Paul represents and contains? Or is it a later story, which makes it more likely to be unhistorical?

Steven appeals to specific passages to defend his position. He refers to Romans 7:24, in which Paul exclaims in near desperation, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (NRSV). For Steven, this expresses Paul’s desire that his soul leave his earthly body, not that his earthly body be transformed. II Corinthians 5:1 is another important text for him: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Steven interprets this to mean that our human bodies will be destroyed before we receive our new bodies. That’s not bodily transformation, as far as Steven is concerned!

But didn’t Paul say in I Corinthians 15:51 that we “will not all die, but we will all be changed”? Doesn’t that imply transformation of the earthly body? Steven responds that the Greek word translated “change,” allasso, can mean “to exchange one thing to another.” The word appears in Hebrews 11:10-12:

“And, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.'”

Here, the author of Hebrews says that the heavens and earth will perish and be exchanged for something else. It’s like taking off one set of clothes and putting one another. And that’s Steven’s interpretation of Paul on the resurrection: Christians put off their earthly bodies and put on new, heavenly bodies. For Steven, the earthly bodies don’t turn into heavenly bodies.

In my interaction with Steven under my post, I Corinthians 15:35-36: O Foolish Corinthians!, Steven asks, “How can a corpse be transformed when it no longer exists?”–when it has decomposed, he means. I respond, “Why can’t [God] take the dust and create it into the new body–when the corpse is dust, that is?” And Steven replies to that, “Paul goes out of his way to trash the idea that resurrected beings are made from the dust of the earth.” Here, Steven is referring to I Corinthians 15:47-49, which distinguishes our earthly bodies of dust from our heavenly, resurrected bodies. For Steven, Paul denies that God will fashion our heavenly bodies from dust, which means that our heavenly bodies will have no relation whatsoever to our old, earthly bodies. As far as Steven is concerned, Paul does not say that God will transform our earthly bodies of dust.

Here are five points:

1. Having glorious heavenly bodies that differ from our present earthly bodies of dust does not preclude an empty tomb. Daniel 12:2-3 states:

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Here, the dead awaken and receive astral bodies. Waking up is consistent with them getting up and coming out of their graves, which would render the graves empty. Paul’s statement that Christians will receive heavenly, spiritual bodies does not entail that their tombs must contain their earthly bodies, for God can transform the earthly bodies into something heavenly.

2. On one occasion, Paul explicitly says that God will transform our earthly bodies: “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself” (Philippians 3:21). I’m sure Steven has thought about this passage, so I’ll see how he responds.

3. When Paul says in II Corinthians 5:1 that our present earthly bodies will be destroyed, maybe he just means that we’ll die. He may be affirming that, even though we might perish because our earthly bodies are corruptible, God still has hope for us, since he plans to give us new, heavenly bodies, which cannot pass away. The point is that God will replace our perishable bodies with ones that are imperishable, and he does that when he transforms our earthly bodies to become gloriously and heavenly.

4. Paul in Romans 7:24 wants to be delivered from this body of death. And he will be–when his corruptible body is transformed into an imperishable body. At that time, he won’t have a body of death! But Paul may actually believe that the solution to his problem can come before his physical death, for he says in Romans 8:2 that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

5. How does Paul envision Christians receiving their new bodies? Notice the following passages:

1 Corinthians 15:53: “For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”

II Corinthians 5:4: “For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

God puts our new, heavenly bodies over our perishable, earthly bodies. That sounds like transformation! Steven mocks this concept, equating it with Russian dolls and Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. But how else can one explain the perishable putting on the imperishable, or becoming further clothed, or the mortal being swallowed up by life (not eliminated and replaced with life)? God will endow our mortal bodies with spiritual qualities, such as immortality. Yes, our new bodies will be different from our old ones, but God creates the new ones from what has died.

Soon, I will look more at Paul’s teaching on the resurrection. Stay tuned!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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8 Responses to The Resurrection Debate: Transformation or Exchange?

  1. Steven Carr says:

    ‘1 Corinthians 15:53: “For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”

    You keep changing the Bible!

    There is no word for body in that verse.

    Paul really does go out of his way to avoid saying bodies are transformed.

    Which is why orthodox Christian translations throw ‘body’ scattergun at passages in Paul which never use it.

    It is so easy to get Paul to say that our bodies are resurrected.

    Simply put the word ‘body’ in and the job is done.

    And ‘destroyed’ does not mean ‘die’.

    It means destroyed.

    The body of Jesus was not destroyed.

    II Corinthians 5:4: “For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

    God puts our new, heavenly bodies over our perishable, earthly bodies’

    You mean that the Jesus who left the tomb was a human set of nested Russian dolls?

    Underneath the shining new body was a decaying corpse?

    Paul uses metaphors in 2 Corinthians 5 of moving from 1 house to another.

    This so blatantly contradicts the Gospels that NT Wright has to write in his ‘Resurretion of the Son of God’ = ‘Did Paul perhaps believe that the resurrected body of Jesus had perhaps been waiting in the heavens all along to be put over the top of his earthly body?’

    This is the ultimate in harmonization.

    The Gospels say that the body which went into the tomb was the body which came out.

    Paul says there is a new body in Heaven.

    Wright harmonizes these by having 2 bodies leave the tomb.

    The resurrected Jesus had one body on top of another!

    It is amazing what Christian apologists will write to harmonnize the contradictions in the Bible.

    As for Philippians, it is very vague. Paul goes into much more detail elswhere.

    ‘Change’ can mean change or exchange, just as we say to change money.

    When we change our money, we do not transform the 100 into 2 fifties, we exhange 100 for 2 fifties.

    Of course, change can also mean transform.

    So Philippians is ambiguous.

    But I said, Paul goes into much more detail elsewhere.

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  2. Steven Carr says:

    ‘…. so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.’

    The word for swallowed up is ‘katapino’ – to devour, consume, swallow up.

    It means to swallow up so that there is no more of it left.

    Was what was mortal about Jesus ‘swallowed up’ at the resurrection so that there was none of it left?

    He still had his mortal wounds! (Which God made sure were not mortal any more)

    He still had flesh and bone.

    How can Paul have heard stories of Jesus exhibiting his mortal wounds, and then declare that what had been mortal would be devoured by life, to the extent that it could not be seen any more?

    But leaving a mortal body and entering a spirit body fits Paul’s analogy correctly.

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  3. Steven Carr says:

    ‘ Paul in Romans 7:24 wants to be delivered from this body of death. And he will be–when his corruptible body is transformed into an imperishable body.’

    In that case he would ask for his body to be rescued,not for him to be rescued from his body.

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  4. Steven Carr says:

    ‘God puts our new, heavenly bodies over our perishable, earthly bodies. That sounds like transformation!’

    How can putting A on B transform B?

    What happens to this perishable , earthly body which still exists underneath the new, heavenly body?

    I just can’t get that all.

    One body on top of another?

    No wonder Christian converts in Corinth scoffed at the whole idea of God choosing to raise corpses.

    Apparently, a corpse simply leaves the ground in a body-bag.

    Not one of the body bags the US Army uses, but a new, heavenly body bag.

    Corpses were regarded like faeces in those days. They were unclean and untouchable.

    If people scoffed at the idea of God turning faeces into food, you would not assuage them by claiming that God transforms the faeces by putting a wonderful heavenly sauce on top of it.

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  5. James Pate says:

    Hi Steven,

    1. “You keep changing the Bible! There is no word for body in that verse” (I Corinthians 15:53).

    Then what do you believe is perishable? vv 42-44 says that what is sown is perishable. What is sown? The physical body.

    2. “You mean that the Jesus who left the tomb was a human set of nested Russian dolls? Underneath the shining new body was a decaying corpse?”

    How do you interpret “further clothed”?

    3. “As for Philippians, it is very vague. Paul goes into much more detail elswhere. ‘Change’ can mean change or exchange, just as we say to change money. When we change our money, we do not transform the 100 into 2 fifties, we exhange 100 for 2 fifties. Of course, change can also mean transform. So Philippians is ambiguous.”

    I don’t think so. The word here is not the same word as “changed” in I Corinthians 15 (allasso). The word here is metaschamatizo, which the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines as “transform,” “alter,” “change the appearance of a person or thing.” That’s it’s predominant meaning.

    In one place, I Corinthians 4:6, it is ambiguous. The KJV renders it “transferred to myself,” the NRSV “applied” to myself. The TDNT defines it in that passage as “to express something in other than its expected or customary form,” because the meaning is pretty much always “transform.” But would “transfer” even make sense in Philippians 3:21? “He will TRANSFER the body of our humiliation similar in form to the body of his glory”? Not only would that not make sense, but it would contradict you thesis about what Paul teaches: that the soul (not the mortal body) is transferred.

    4. “And ‘destroyed’ does not mean ‘die’. It means destroyed.
    The body of Jesus was not destroyed.”

    John 2:19-22 says: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’
    The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

    Granted, there’s a slightly different Greek word here than the one used in II Corinthians 5:1. The word here is luo, whereas the one in II Corinthians 5:1 is kata-luo. But his Jewish opponents thought he was saying he’d kata-luo the temple (Matthew 15:29), so obviously they didn’t radically distinguish between the two words!

    5. “‘ Paul in Romans 7:24 wants to be delivered from this body of death. And he will be–when his corruptible body is transformed into an imperishable body.’ In that case he would ask for his body to be rescued,not for him to be rescued from his body.”

    Again, you’re resting a lot on a hypothetical. How do you know what Paul “would” have done? Paul wanted to be free from THIS body of death, and he will be when he has a body of life. Or before that, if Romans 8 is a solution to his problem.

    6. The part on feces: that’s why Paul goes out of his way to argue that a new body comes out of the ground. That takes care of the feces.

    P.S. I listened to that debate you had on the Christian radio station. Are you from Australia? I thought your opponents did a LITTLE better in answering your arguments than Twistleton and that other guy, but they too were getting into preach-mode.

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  6. Steven Carr says:

    A new body comes out of the ground?

    So the old body stays in the ground?

    I thought you were claiming that the old body comes out of the ground, covered in the new body.

    Which is it? A corpse which has a new body put on top of it, or a new body whioh replaces the oorpse?

    ——————————-
    Philippians does say changed, but gives no detail. If I change the form of a 100 dollar bill, into 5 twenties, there has been a change of my money.

    My money has been changed into a new currency.

    This is the sort of thing Paul means, but I grant that Philippians is ambiguous.

    Paul expands elsewhere.

    —————————-
    And when Paul does, he says the earthly tent is destroyed, and we move into a new tent.

    The body of Jesus did not see corruption, according to the Gospels.

    —————————–
    ‘Further clothed’

    We wear the present body as clothes. They are removed by decay, and we are then naked and vulnerable.

    We would perish if God did not save us, by clothing us again in a heavenly body.

    This is a perfectly good Christian/Jewish idea.

    The Ascension of Isaiah says ‘And there I saw Enoch and all who were with him, stript of the garments of the flesh, and I saw them in their garments of the upper world, and they were like angels, standing there in great glory.’

    What is sown is perishable, in verses 42-44. But the subject of those phrases is the nearest noun, which is ‘the dead’ , not ‘the dead bodies’.

    There is a difference between ‘the dead’ and ‘the dead bodies’

    Paul goes out of his way to avoid saying that the present body is resurrected.

    In fact, later Christians had to forge 3 Corinthians to make him talk about a resurrection of the flesh.

    ————————-
    metaschêmatizô

    This is the verb from Philippians.

    It was used to mean changing clothes, the exact meaning that is consistent with Paul teaching the Corinthians they are idiots to think God ought to reform dust, when we are going to move from one body to another.

    Josephus uses that in Antiquities books 7 and book 8

    Even Paul uses metaschêmatizô to mean putting on clothing, when he says Satan becomes an angel of light.

    He certainly does not mean that Satan literally transformed himself into a real angel of light.

    He means that Satan is wearing some sort of disguise, which has changed the outward appearance.

    But this is all just 1 verse, and Paul is much clearer in 2 Corinthians, where he says we will be judged on what we did when we were in the body.

    That implies we our stay in the present body was only temporary. We do not get the body back, reformed from the dust of the earth.

    And by the way, Paul says flat-out that Jesus became a spirit, to Christian converts who clearly had never been converted by stories of Jesus saying he was not a spirit.

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  7. Steven Carr says:

    ‘That’s why Paul goes out of his way to argue that a new body comes out of the ground.’

    I’m curious to know what you mean by ‘new body’

    If you smash your car in an accident, and the insurance company says they will give you a new car, do you expect them to transform the smashed-up car?

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  8. James Pate says:

    Hi Steven,

    1. “A new body comes out of the ground? So the old body stays in the ground? I thought you were claiming that the old body comes out of the ground, covered in the new body. Which is it? A corpse which has a new body put on top of it, or a new body whioh replaces the oorpse?”

    Why can’t it be both? Why’s a new body coming out have to mean that the old body stays in? A transformed body is different from the physical body that was buried because it has different properties (imperishability). But the physical body was still transformed.

    Along those lines, again, I ask: How do you interpret Paul’s statement that we will be further clothed? Or that the perishable puts on the imperishable? And I don’t want to read you making fun of the concept by bringing up Russian dolls or Harry Potter. These are Paul’s words! What do you do with them?

    Sure, you have a section on fully clothed, but being clothed with a spiritual body is being clothed, not being further clothed. Also, could you possibly tell me the verse from Ascension of Isaiah that you’re citing?

    2. “And when Paul does, he says the earthly tent is destroyed, and we move into a new tent.”

    Where does Paul say this in II Corinthians 5:1-5? Where’s he mention “moving” to a new tent? Sure, later in the chapter, he does mention being absent from the body and present with the Lord. But why does that have to exclude bodily resurrection? Many Jews had no problem thinking that the soul went somewhere before it returned to the body.

    3. “It was used to mean changing clothes, the exact meaning that is consistent with Paul teaching the Corinthians they are idiots to think God ought to reform dust, when we are going to move from one body to another.”

    Where’s Paul mention moving from one body to another in I Corinthians 15? You criticize me for putting “body” in the text, when the text implies “body” (what else does the perishable seed represent?). But where’s the text say that we move from one place to another. Where’s it mention soul transfer?

    4. “metaschêmatizô…This is the verb from Philippians. It was used to mean changing clothes, the exact meaning that is consistent with Paul teaching the Corinthians they are idiots to think God ought to reform dust, when we are going to move from one body to another.
    Josephus uses that in Antiquities books 7 and book 8.”

    I’m not convinced by what you do with Satan in the next few paragraphs, but you’re right about Josephus. In Ant. 7.257 and 8.267, it means “change clothes” (I just looked it up). It’s not the only meaning the word can have, but apparently it’s A meaning.

    But does that fit into Philippians 3:21. I’ll substitute “exchange” and see what it says: “Who will exchange the body of our humiliation similar in form to the body of his glory.” Does that make sense? It’s more sensible to say he’ll make our humble bodies similar in form to his glorious body.

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