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Different Bodies: Part Two

A Twilight Musing

part one

by Elton Higgs

Paul begins 1 Corinthians 15 by pointing to the Resurrection of Jesus as the culminating capstone of the Son’s mission on earth, forming an essential part of the Gospel message (vv. 1-19).  He then proceeds to argue that if there is no resurrection from the dead, the consequence is that “in this life only we have hoped in Christ, [and] we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19).  In the succeeding verses, he goes on to draw a sharp distinction between the resurrected body of Jesus (the Second Adam) and the “natural body” of the First Adam: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (vv. 20-21).  After an expansion on why “we are of all people most to be pitied” if there is no resurrection, Paul responds to the question, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body do they come?” (v. 30).

Paul goes to nature for analogies to answer these questions.  The resurrected body is as different from the natural body as is the fruit of a grain of wheat from the seed that was sown.  He points also to how the kinds of flesh are different from each other, and how heavenly bodies differ in brightness.  But the difference between our fleshly bodies and our resurrection bodies is even more striking:

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.  It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  (1 Cor 15:42-49, ESV)

What struck me in a fresh way in this passage was Paul’s reference to the first man being “from the earth, a man of dust.”   I had always assumed that the “body of death” from which we are finally delivered in the Resurrection is the fallen body destined for physical death because of sin.  A corollary of this assumption was that the original, unfallen bodies of Adam and Eve were not temporal, but eternal, so long as they lived in obedience to God.  But as I pointed out in Part One, even unfallen mankind was subject to some form of limitation on their physical lives; some kind of development in the context of temporality still remained to be worked out.  Paul’s discourse makes clear that Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the participation of all believers in that resurrection, constitutes the final working out of God’s eternal purpose for His creation. By giving details of the distinction between the body of Adam and the body of our resurrected Lord, which we will one day share with Him, Paul demonstrates also the difference between our present universe, whether fallen or unfallen, and God’s “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Pet. 3:13).

The core of my new insight hinges on the implications of Paul’s summation in vv. 50-51: “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  It is not just the corrupted, sinful body of the fallen First Adam that cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but even the yet-unfallen flesh and blood with which God clothed him in the first place.  If we accept that the original, unfallen Adam and Eve were “flesh and blood,” then it must also be accepted that they were, in some sense, perishable when they were created.  We have no way of knowing what would have developed in our world if our first father and mother had not rebelled, but it seems fair to conjecture that some form of cessation to their fleshly form would have been part of the picture.

I ran across a statement in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet that articulates as a general principle of God’s creation what I believe to be true of Earth and the life God put on it.  The major character, Ransom, is talking to a being in the unfallen world of Malacandra (Mars), who has told Ransom about an ancient race that perished from the planet, leaving the area where they once lived cold and lifeless.  Ransom asks where the divine Creator and sustainer of the planet was when all this happened.  Could He not have prevented this destruction?  Ransom’s instructor replies, “I do not know.  But a world is not made to last forever, much less a race; that is not Maleldil’s [God’s] way.”  I present for your consideration the idea that God’s design in creating the world in which we live was not that it would last forever as it was, even if it had not rebelled; but that it was intended to be the stage for a process by which the Devil would be defeated and God’s moral superiority be established.

The eternal, resurrected bodies we will share with Jesus, as well as the eternal home in which we will dwell with Him, are not merely transformations of our present bodies and our present world, but entirely new, spiritually defined bodies and an abode that transcends completely our material universe.  In this eternal state, body and soul and spirit are so bonded together that they are no longer separable nor distinguishable from one another.  History, which by definition records change, will be at an end, wrapped up in God’s eternal “now.”

Image: “Eternity” by Norbert Reimer. CC License. 

Irenaeus of Lyons: A Guide for Staying the Course

By Marybeth Davis Baggett

Early Christian thinkers carved out the contours of the faith—formulating doctrine, countering heresy, navigating differences between Eastern and Western traditions. For this, the church will ever be in their debt, owing much to their courage of conviction, fortitude of character, clarity of mind, and passion for truth. Irenaeus of Lyons, whose feast day is today, is one such figure.

Known as the “first great Catholic theologian,” Irenaeus traced his spiritual lineage directly back to the Apostle John, through Polycarp of Smyrna, under whose tutelage he sat as a child. This heritage uniquely poised Irenaeus for combatting the Gnosticism of his day, in that he could draw from both scripture and apostolic authority to delineate the essentials of the Christian faith. Irenaeus’ seminal work in this vein is Against Heresies, a masterful text consisting of five books that articulate Christianity’s basic doctrines, a proto-Mere Christianity if you will.

For two millennia the creed has been an anchor keeping us moored to the word and the Word
Gnosticism, the predominant heresy of the 2nd century church, promoted dualism, a doctrine wherein the material world was created and governed by the demiurge—a lesser creative being whom the Gnostics equated with Yahweh of the Old Testament—and Christ, as a representative from the spirit world governed by the supreme deity, offers human beings secret knowledge (gnosis) that makes possible man’s redemption. Contra Christian teaching, the Gnostics looked less to salvation from sin than to deliverance from the ignorance of which sin is a consequence. Against the Gnostics’ claim of exclusive knowledge about spiritual matters, Irenaeus proclaimed the universal availability of the gospel message; the good news is for all, and this good news runs throughout the whole of God’s special revelation.

In addition to Against Heresies, only one other of Irenaeus’ writings survives: The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, a short work addressed to his friend Marcianus which serves as a primer to and an apologetic for the baptismal confession and Rule of Faith, forerunners to the Apostles’ Creed. The essay also establishes an important link between the Old Testament (OT) and the work of Christ, enumerating the many OT prophecies fulfilled by Christ and offering a holistic interpretation of both the Old and soon-to-be-established New Testament. For Irenaeus, God’s redemptive plan governs the entirety of scripture, a dominant theme in both of his extant works.

As J. Armitage Robinson has noted, “The wonder of Irenaeus is the largeness of his outlook. No theologian had arisen since St. Paul and St. John who had grasped so much of the purpose of God for His world.” In explaining and defending the Apostolic message, Irenaeus traces God’s salvific purpose through scripture—revealing the organic connections between Christianity and its Jewish heritage, the fall of Adam and the resurrection of Jesus, the giving of the Law and the offer of grace, creation and the eschaton, along the way fitting key biblical figures within that story.

The aforementioned Rule of Faith, which functioned so centrally in The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, affirms belief “in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race.”

A slightly different version, the Old Roman Creed, reads as follows:

I believe in God the Father almighty;
and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,
Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,
on the third day rose again from the dead,
ascended to heaven,
sits at the right hand of the Father,
whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;
and in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh
(the life everlasting).

For 2,000 years Christians have joined this refrain, week after week adding their voices, reaffirming its life-giving truths. For two millennia the creed has been an anchor keeping us moored to the word and the Word.

In this world of change and flux, and amidst the vicissitudes, variables, and vagaries of life, so invariant a creed has remained a constant, a stable shore at the edge of a sea’s worth of maelstroms featuring the howling winds and shifting sands of unsound doctrines. Such seems Irenaeus’ motivation for explaining and defending it so many years ago, as he admonishes Marcianus: “Wherefore it is needful for you and for all who care for their own salvation to make your course unswerving, firm and sure by means of faith, that you falter not, nor be retarded and detained in material desires, nor turn aside and wander from the right.”

Perhaps at such a time as this, in the hour in which we find ourselves, when the church feels under siege from multiple directions, various of its classical commitments disparaged and impugned by some, castigated as outdated and archaic by others, Irenaeus serves as a powerful reminder to walk in the way of righteousness, stand on the bedrock of orthodoxy, keeping our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith, focusing on what can draw us together as believers rather than on what so easily divides, and, most importantly of all, encouraging fidelity to Christ and faithfulness to His mission amidst the deafening din of a cacophony of voices as we serve the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Image: Irenaeus, earliestchristianity.wordpress.com