Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Three Views on the Resurrection of the Body

[pic from here]
I'm currently wrestling with 1 Cor 15:35-58.  In this famous passage Paul juxtaposes the bodies we have now with the bodies that we will have at the resurrection.  Because much popular Christianity tends to focus on the "pie in the sky when you die" many of us don't think much about the resurrection and the life that it will entail.  But Christian hope is not actually centred on "getting to heaven" but on the new heavens and new earth which we anticipate at Christ's coming.  However interpretation of the scriptures' most detailed passage on the subject is notoriously difficult and has over the centuries resulted in three schools of thought (citations from Dahl).

1. The "traditional" view is that "the resurrection body is this body restored and improved in a miraculous manner." (p7)  But given the knowledge we now have about the way we are composed of the atoms that have been part of millions of other human beings and the way the body itself contains very little if any "original" material, such a view seem problematic.  However we might find continuity in our bodies it is not through the material that they consist of as this is always changing.

2. The view that has in modern times displaced the traditional view can be called "hetero-somatism" (p8) or if jargon is not your thing different-body-ism.  This simply argues that we are given totally new bodies, but we continue.  We then exist somehow apart from our bodies, we have bodies but we are not bodies and so our essential personality can be transposed into a new vehicle/vessel without any change in who we essentially are.  However if this is Paul's view, then it is hard to see why he places so much emphasis on the body per se in 1 Corinthians.

3.  A third view is that the resurrection body, while not "materially identical" to the original will be "somatically identical." (p10)  For Dahl this is the difference between saying a gold ring is the same object three years later and saying that a human is the same person three years later. (p94)  For a ring to be the same it must contain the same atoms or it will be a new ring, but for a human even though the atoms have changed we still recognise continuity.  "This identity is not simply a matter of having the same 'personality' . . . nor simply a matter of his having the same thoughts, memories, associations, character, etc., but also of having the same 'body' (in the modern sense)." (p94)  [Update, after a rereading of Dahl I realised I had misunderstood him, so I have altered this bit accordingly.  Although he is too dependent on the now very dated JAT Robinson's The Body, I think he is largely on the right track.]

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