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The meaning of Resurrection in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

rez-u-rek'-shun (in the New Testament anastasis, with verbs anistemi, "stand up," and egeiro, "raise." There is no technical term in the Old Testament, but in Isaiah 26:19 are found the verbs chayah, "live," kum "rise," kic "awake").

I. ISRAEL AND IMMORTALITY

1. Nationalism

2. Speculation

3. Religious Danger

4. Belief in Immortality

5. Resurrection

6. Greek Concepts

II. RESURRECTION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT AND INTERMEDIATE LITERATURE

1. The Old Testament

2. The Righteous

3. The Unrighteous

4. Complete Denial

III. TEACHING OF CHRIST

1. Mark 12:18-27

2. In General

IV. THE APOSTOLIC DOCTRINE

1. References

2. Pauline Doctrine

3. Continuity

4. II Corinthians 5

V. SUMMARY

1. New Testament Data

2. Interpretation

LITERATURE

I. Israel and Immortality.

1. Nationalism:

It is very remarkable that a doctrine of life after death as an essential part of religion was of very late development in Israel, although this doctrine, often highly elaborated, was commonly held among the surrounding nations. The chief cause of this lateness was that Israel's religion centered predominantly in the ideal of a holy nation. Consequently the individual was a secondary object of consideration, and the future of the man who died before the national promises were fulfilled either was merged in the future of his descendants or else was disregarded altogether.

2. Speculation:

Much speculation about life after death evidently existed, but it was not in direct connection with the nation's religion. Therefore, the Old Testament data are scanty and point, as might be expected, to non-homogeneous concepts. Still, certain ideas are clear. The living individual was composed of "flesh" and nephesh, or ruach (a trichotomy appears to be post-Biblical, despite I Thessalonians 5:23; see PSYCHOLOGY). In the individual nephesh and ruach seem to be fairly synonymous words, meaning primarily "breath," as the animating principle of the flesh (so for the lower animals in Psalms 104:29-30). But nephesh came to be used to denote the "inner man" or "self" (Deuteronomy 12:20, etc.; see HEART), and so in English Versions of the Bible is usually rendered "soul." But there are only a very few cases where nephesh is used for the seat of the personality after death (Psalms 30:3; compare Psalms 16:10; Psalms 38:17; Job 33:18, etc.), and nearly all of such passages seem quite late. Indeed, in some 13 cases the nephesh of a dead man is unmistakably his corpse (Leviticus 19:28; Numbers 5:2; Haggai 2:13, etc.). It seems the question of what survives death was hardly raised; whatever existed then was thought of as something quite new. On the one hand the dead man could be called a "god" (I Samuel 28:13), a term perhaps related to ancestor-worship. But more commonly the dead are thought of as "shades," repha'im (Job 26:5 margin, etc.), weak copies of the original man in all regards (Ezekiel 32:25). But, whatever existence such "shades" might have, they had passed out of relation to Yahweh, whom the "dead praise not" (Psalms 115:17-18; Isaiah 38:18-19), and there was no religious interest in them.

3. Religious Danger:

Indeed, any interest taken in them was likely to be anti-religious, as connected with necromancy, etc. (Deuteronomy 14:1; Deuteronomy 26:14; Isaiah 8:19; Psalms 106:28, etc.; see SORCERY), or as connected with foreign religions. Here, probably, the very fact that the surrounding nations taught immortality was a strong reason for Israel's refusing to consider it. That Egypt held an elaborate doctrine of individual judgment at death, or that Persia taught the resurrection of the body, would actually tend to render these doctrines suspicious, and it was not until the danger of syncretism seemed past that such beliefs could be considered on their own merits. Hence, it is not surprising that the prophets virtually disregard the idea or that Ecclesiastes denies any immortality doctrine categorically.

4. Belief in Immortality:

Nonetheless, with a fuller knowledge of God, wider experience, and deeper reflection, the doctrine was bound to come. But it came slowly. Individualism reaches explicit statement in Eze. 14; 18; 33 (compare Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:29-30), but the national point of view still made the rewards and punishments of the individual matters of this world only (Ezekiel 14:14; Psa. 37, etc.), a doctrine that had surprising vitality and that is found as late as Sirach (1:13; 11:26). But as this does not square with the facts of life (Job), a doctrine of immortality, already hinted at (II, 1, below), was inevitable. It appears in full force in the post-Maccabean period, but why just then is hard to say; perhaps because it was then that there had been witnessed the spectacle of martyrdoms on a large scale (1 Macc 1:60-64).

5. Resurrection:

Resurrection of the body was the form immortality took, in accord with the religious premises. As the saint was to find his happiness in the nation, he must be restored to the nation; and the older views did not point toward pure soul-immortality. The "shades" led a wretched existence at the best; and Paul himself shudders at the thought of "nakedness" (II Corinthians 5:3). The nephesh and ruach were uncertain quantities, and even the New Testament has no consistent terminology for the immortal part of man ("soul," Revelation 6:9; Revelation 20:4; "spirit," Hebrews 12:23; I Peter 3:19; Paul avoids any term in 1Co. 15, and in 2Co. 5 says: "I"). In the Talmud a common view is that the old bodies will receive new souls (Ber. R. 2 7; 6 7; Vayy. R. 12 2; 15 1, etc.; compare Sib Or 4:187).

6. Greek Concepts:

Where direct Greek influence, however, can be predicated, pure soul-immortality is found (compare The Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20; 9:15 (but Wisd's true teaching is very uncertain); Enoch 102:4 through 105; 108; Slavonic Enoch; 4 Macc; Josephus, and especially Philo). According to Josephus (BJ, II, viii, 11) the Essenes held this doctrine, but as Josephus graecizes the Pharisaic resurrection into Pythagorean soul-migration (II, viii, 14; contrast Ant, XVIII, i, 3), his evidence is doubtful. Note, moreover, how Luke 6:9; Luke 9:25; Luke 12:4-5 has re-worded Mark 3:4; Mark 8:36; Matthew 10:28 for Greek readers. In a vague way even Palestinian Judaism had something of the same concepts (2 Esdras 7:88; II Corinthians 4:16; II Corinthians 12:2), while it is commonly held that the souls in the intermediate state can enjoy happiness, a statement first appearing in Enoch 22 (Jubilees 23:31 is hardly serious).

II. Resurrection in the Old Testament and Intermediate Literature.

1. The Old Testament:

For the reasons given above, references in the Old Testament to the resurrection doctrine are few. Probably it is to be found in Psalms 17:15; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 49:15; Psalms 73:24, and in each case with increased probability, but for exact discussions the student must consult the commentaries. Of course no exact dating of these Psalm passages is possible. With still higher probability the doctrine is expressed in Job 14:13-15; Job 19:25-29, but again alternative explanations are just possible, and, again, Job is a notoriously hard book to date (see JOB, BOOK OF). The two certain passages are Isaiah 26:19 margin and Daniel 12:2. In the former (to be dated about 332 (?)) it is promised that the "dew of light" shall fall on the earth and so the (righteous) dead shall revive. But this resurrection is confined to Palestine and does not include the unrighteous. For Daniel 12:2 see below.

2. The Righteous:

Indeed, resurrection for the righteous only was thought of much more naturally than a general resurrection. And still more naturally a resurrection of martyrs was thought of, such simply receiving back what they had given up for God. So in Enoch 90:33 (prior to 107 BC) and 2 Macc 7:9,11,23; 14:46 (only martyrs are mentioned in 2 Macc); compare Revelation 20:4. But of course the idea once given could not be restricted to martyrs only, and the intermediate literature contains so many references to the resurrection of the righteous as to debar citation. Early passages are Enoch 91:10 (perhaps pre-Maccabean); Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Test. Judah 25:4 (before 107). A very curious passage is Enoch 25:6, where the risen saints merely live longer than did their fathers, i.e. resurrection does not imply immortality. This passage seems to be unique.

3. The Unrighteous:

For a resurrection of unrighteous men (Daniel 12:2; Enoch 22:11; Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Test. Benj. 10:7-8, Armenian text—in none of these cases a general resurrection), a motive is given in Enoch 22:13: for such men the mere condition of Sheol is not punishment enough. For a general resurrection the motive is always the final judgment, so that all human history may be summed up in one supreme act. The idea is not very common, and Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Test. Benj. 10:7,8 (Greek text); Baruch 50:2; Enoch 51:1; Sib Or 4:178-90; Life of Adam (Greek) 10, and 2 Esdras 5:45; 7:32; 14:35 about account for all the unequivocal passages. It is not found in the earliest part of the Talmud, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Test. Benj. 10:7,8 (Greek) has two resurrections.

4. Complete Denial:

Finally, much of the literature knows no immortality at all. Eccl, Sirach and 1 Maccabees are the most familiar examples, but there are many others. It is especially interesting that the very spiritual author of 2 Esdras did not think it worth while to modify the categorical denial in the source used in 13:20. Of course, the Jewish party that persisted most in a denial of any resurrection was the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23 and parallel's; Acts 23:8), with an extreme conservatism often found among aristocrats.

III. Teaching of Christ.

1. Mark 12:18-27 :

The question is discussed explicitly in the familiar passage Mark 12:18-27 parallel Matthew 22:23-33 parallel Luke 20:27-38. The Sadducees assumed that resurrection implies simply a resuscitation to a resumption of human functions, including the physical side of marriage. Their error lay in the low idea of God. For the Scriptures teach a God whose ability and willingness to care for His creatures are so unlimited that the destiny He has prepared for them is caricatured if conceived in any terms but the absolutely highest. Hence, there follows not only the truth of the resurrection, but a resurrection to a state as far above the sexual sphere as that of the angels. (The possibility of mutual recognition by husband and wife is irrelevant, nor is it even said that the resurrection bodies are asexual) Luke (Luke 20:36) adds the explanation that, as there are to be no deaths, marriage (in its relation to births) will not exist. It may be thought that Christ's argument would support equally well the immortality of the soul only, and, as a matter of fact, the same argument is used for the latter doctrine in 4 Macc 7:18-19; 16:25. But in Jerusalem and under the given circumstances this is quite impossible. And, moreover, it would seem that any such dualism would be a violation of Christ's teaching as to God's care.

2. In General:

However, the argument seems to touch only the resurrection of the righteous, especially in the form given in Luke (compare Luke 14:14). (But that Luke thought of so limiting the resurrection is disproved by Acts 24:15.) Similarly in Matthew 8:11 parallel Luke 13:28; Mark 13:27 parallel Matthew 24:31. But, as a feature in the Judgment, the resurrection of all men is taught. Then the men of sodom, Tyre, Nineveh appear (Matthew 11:22, Matthew 11:24; Matthew 12:41-42 parallel Luke 10:14; Luke 11:32), and those cast into Gehenna are represented as having a body (Mark 9:43-47; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:8-9). And at the great final assize (Mat. 25:31-46) all men appear. In the Fourth Gospel a similar distinction is made (John 6:39-40, John 6:44, John 6:54; John 11:25), the resurrection of the righteous, based on their union with God through Christ and heir present possession of this union, and (in John 5:28-29) the general resurrection to judgment. Whether these passages imply two resurrections or emphasize only the extreme difference in conditions at the one cannot be determined.

The passages in 4 Maccabees referred to above read: "They who care for piety with their whole heart, they alone are able to conquer the impulses of the flesh, believing that like our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, they do not die to God but live to God" (7:18-19); and "They knew that dying for God they would live to God, even as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs" (16:25). It is distinctly possible that our Lord's words may have been known to the author of 4 Maccabees, although the possibility that Christ approved and broadened the tenets of some spiritually-minded few is not to be disregarded. More possible is it that 4 Maccabees influenced Luke's Greek phraseology.

See MACCABEES, BOOKS OF, IV.

IV. The Apostolic Doctrine.

1. References:

For the apostles, Christ's victory over death took the resurrection doctrine out of the realm of speculative eschatology. Henceforth, it is a fact of experience, basic for Christianity. Direct references in the New Testament are found in Acts 4:2; Acts 17:18, Acts 17:32; Acts 23:6; Acts 24:15, Acts 24:21; Romans 4:17; Romans 5:17; Romans 6:5, Romans 6:8; Romans 8:11; Romans 11:15; I Corinthians 6:14; 15; II Corinthians 1:9; II Corinthians 4:14; II Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 3:10-11, Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:18; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; II Timothy 2:18; Hebrews 6:2; Hebrews 11:19, Hebrews 11:35; Revelation 20:4-5 (martyrs only); Revelation 20:12-13. Of these only Acts 24:15; Revelation 20:12-13, refer to a general resurrection with absolute unambiguity, but the doctrine is certainly contained in others and in II Timothy 4:1 besides.

2. Pauline Doctrine:

A theology of the resurrection is given fully by Paul. Basic is the conception of the union of the believer with Christ, so that our resurrection follows from His (especially Romans 6:5-11; Philippians 3:10-11). Every deliverance from danger is a foretaste of the resurrection (II Corinthians 4:10-11). Indeed so certain is it, that it may be spoken of as accomplished (Ephesians 2:6). From another standpoint, the resurrection is simply part of God's general redemption of Nature at the consummation (Romans 8:11, Romans 8:18-25). As the believer then passes into a condition of glory, his body must be altered for the new conditions (I Corinthians 15:50; Philippians 3:21); it becomes a "spiritual" body, belonging to the realm of the spirit (not "spiritual" in opposition to "material"). Nature shows us how different "bodies" can be—from the "body" of the sun to the bodies of the lowest animals the kind depends merely on the creative will of God (I Corinthians 15:38-41). Nor is the idea of a change in the body of the same thing unfamiliar: look at the difference in the "body" of a grain of wheat at its sowing and after it is grown! (I Corinthians 15:37). Just so, I am "sown" or sent into the world (probably not "buried") with one kind of body, but my resurrection will see me with a body adapted to my life with Christ and God (I Corinthians 15:42-44). If I am still alive at the Parousia, this new body shall be clothed upon my present body (I Corinthians 15:53-54; II Corinthians 5:2-4) otherwise I shall be raised in it (I Corinthians 15:52). This body exists already in the heavens (II Corinthians 5:1-2), and when it is clothed upon me the natural functions of the present body will be abolished (I Corinthians 6:13). Yet a motive for refraining from impurity is to keep undefiled the body that is to rise (I Corinthians 6:13-14).

3. Continuity:

The relation of the matter in the present body to that in the resurrection body was a question Paul never raised. In I Corinthians 6:13-14 it appears that he thought of the body as something more than the sum of its organs, for the organs perish, but the body is raised. Nor does he discuss the eventual fate of the dead body. The imagery of I Thessalonians 4:16-17; I Corinthians 15:52 is that of leaving the graves, and in the case of Christ's resurrection, the type of ours, that which was buried was that which was raised (I Corinthians 15:4). Perhaps the thought is that the touch of the resurrection body destroys all things in the old body that are unadapted to the new state; perhaps there is an idea that the essence of the old body is what we might call "non-material," so that decay simply anticipates the work the resurrection will do. At all events, such reflections are "beyond what is written."

4. II Corinthians 5:

A partial parallel to the idea of the resurrection body being already in heaven is found in Slavonic Enoch 22:8-9, where the soul receives clothing laid up for it (compare Ascension of Isaiah 7:22,23 and possibly Revelation 6:11). But Christ also speaks of a reward being already in heaven (Matthew 5:12). A more important question is the time of the clothing in II Corinthians 5:1-5. A group of scholars (Heinrici, Schmiedel, Holtzmann, Clemen, Charles, etc.) consider that Paul has here changed his views from those of 1 Corinthians; that he now considers the resurrection body to be assumed immediately at death, and they translate II Corinthians 5:2-3 " 'we groan (at the burdens of life), longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven': because, when we shall be clothed with it, we shall have no more nakedness to experience" (Weizsacker's translation of the New Testament). But II Corinthians would have been a most awkward place to announce a change of views, for it was written in part as a defense against inconsistency (II Corinthians 1:17, etc.). The willingness to be absent from the body (II Corinthians 5:8) loses all its point if another and better body is to be given at once. The grammatical reasons for the interpretation above (best stated by Heinrici) are very weak. And the translation given reads into the verse something that simply is not there. Consequently it is far better to follow the older interpretation of Meyer (B. Weiss, Bousset, Lietzmann, Bachmann, Menzies, etc.; Bachmann is especially good) and the obvious sense of the passage: Paul dreads being left naked by death, but finds immediate consolation at the thought of being with Christ, and eventual consolation at the thought of the body to be received at the Parousia. (In Philippians 1:21-24 this dread is overcome.)

Of a resurrection of the wicked, Paul has little to say. The doctrine seems clearly stated in II Corinthians 5:10 (and in II Timothy 4:1, unless the Pauline authorship of II Timothy is denied). But Paul is willing to treat the fate of the unrighteous with silence.

V. Summary.

1. New Testament Data:

The points in the New Testament doctrine of the resurrection of the righteous, then, seem to be these: The personality of the believer survives after death and is with Christ. But it is lacking in something that will be supplied at the consummation, when a body will be given in which there is nothing to hinder perfect intercourse with God. The connection of this body with the present body is not discussed, except for saying that some connection exists, with the necessity of a transformation for those alive at the end. In this state nothing remains that is inconsistent with the height to which man is raised, and in particular sexual relations (Mark 12:25) and the processes of nutrition (I Corinthians 6:13) cease. For this end the whole power of God is available. And it is insured by the perfect trust the believer may put in God and by the resurrection of Christ, with whom the believer has become intimately united. The unrighteous are raised for the final vindication of God's dealings in history. Two resurrections are found in Revelation 20:5, Revelation 20:13 and quite possibly in I Thessalonians 4:16; I Corinthians 15:23-24. Hence, the phrase first resurrection.

See JUDGMENT, LAST.

2. Interpretation:

Into the "blanks" of this scheme the believer is naturally entitled to insert such matter as may seem to him best compatible with his other concepts of Christianity and of philosophy. As is so often the case with passages in the Bible, the student marvels at the way the sacred writers were restrained from committing Christianity to metaphysical schemes that growth in human knowledge might afterward show to be false. But theologian must take care to distinguish between the revealed facts and the interpretation given them in any system that he constructs to make the doctrine conform to the ideas of his own time or circle—a distinction too often forgotten in the past and sometimes with lamentable results. Especially is it well to remember that such a phrase as "a purely spiritual immortality" rests on a metaphysical dualism that is today obsolete, and that such a phrase is hardly less naive than the expectation that the resurrection body will contain identically the material of the present body. We are still quite in the dark as to the relations of what we call "soul" and "body," and so, naturally, it is quite impossible to dogmatize. A. Meyer in his RGG article ("Auferstehung, dogmatisch") has some interesting suggestions. For an idealistic metaphysic, where soul and body are only two forms of God's thought, the resurrection offers no difficulties. If the body be regarded as the web of forces that proceed from the soul, the resurrection would take the form of the return of those forces to their center at the consummation. If "body" be considered to embrace the totality of effects that proceed from the individual, at the end the individual will find in these effects the exact expression of himself (Fechner's theory). Or resurrection may be considered as the end of evolution—the reunion in God of all that has been differentiated and so evolved and enriched. Such lines must be followed cautiously, but may be found to lead to results of great value.

In recent years the attention of scholars has been directed to the problem of how far the teachings of other religions assisted the Jews in attaining a resurrection doctrine. Practically only the Persian system comes into question, and here the facts seem to be these: A belief among the Persians in the resurrection of the body is attested for the pre-Christian period by the fragments of Theopompus (4th century BC), preserved by Diogenes Laertius and Aeneas of Gaza. That this doctrine was taught by Zoroaster himself is not capable of exact proof, but is probable. But on the precise details we are in great uncertainty. In the Avesta the doctrine is not found in the oldest part (the Gathas), but is mentioned in the 19th Yasht, a document that has certainly undergone post-Christian redaction of an extent that is not determinable. The fullest Persian source is the Bundahesh (30), written in the 9th Christian century. It certainly contains much very ancient matter, but the age of any given passage in it is always a problem. Consequently the sources must be used with great caution. It may be noted that late Judaism certainly was affected to some degree by the Persian religion (see Tob, especially), but there are so many native Jewish elements that were leading to a resurrection doctrine that familiarity with the Persian belief could have been an assistance only. Especially is it to be noted that the great acceptance of the doctrine lies in the post-Maccabean period, when direct Persian influence is hardly to be thought of.

See ZOROASTRIANISM.

LITERATURE.

The older works suffer from a defective understanding of the presuppositions, but Salmond, Christian Doctrine of Immortality, is always useful. Brown, The Christian Hope, 1912, is excellent and contains a full bibliography. Charles, Eschatology, and article "Eschatology" in Encyclopedia Biblica are invaluable, but must be used critically by the thorough student, for the opinions are often individualistic. Wotherspoon's article "Resurrection" in DCG is good; Bernard's in HDB is not so good. On 1 Corinthians, Findlay or (better) Edwards; on 2 Corinthians, Menzies. In German the New Testament Theologies of Weiss, Holtzmann, Feine; Schaeder's "Auferstehung" in PRE3. On 1 Cor, Heinrici and J. Weiss in Meyer (editions 8 and 9); on 2 Corinthians, Bachmann in the Zahn series. On both Corinthian epistles Bousset in the Schriften des New Testament of J. Weiss (the work of an expert in eschatology), and Lietzmann in his Handbuch.

See BODY; ESCHATOLOGY (OLD TESTAMENT AND NEW TESTAMENT); FLESH; SOUL; SPIRIT.

Burton Scott Easton


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