By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
I have been wanting to write this article for some time so that when asked, “what do you believe the resurrection of the body means?”, I can simply respond with a link. There appears to be a misunderstanding of what Christians and Jews have proclaimed concerning this point. I will try to make the issue as clear as possible, and the affirmative as definite as can be so that there is no misunderstanding of what I affirm.
I am going to start with Philip Schaff’s work, The Creeds of Christendom, which documents the earliest forms of the Apostles’ Creed. The now commonly received form recited in congregations today have, “in the resurrection of the dead” – and some have “body”. However, the Latin reads, “in the resurrection of the carnis” – which, means “flesh.” The oldest Greek has sarx, which is translated as “flesh.” And it is noted that Rufinus’ text (fourth century) has hujus carnis, “of this flesh”. The later Nicene Creed read, “resurrection of the dead”.
If we go back to one of the earliest definitions of the theologians, Justin (second century), begins his response with great clarity: “They who maintain the wrong opinion say that there is no resurrection of the flesh; giving as their reason that it is impossible that what is corrupted and dissolved should be restored to the same as it had been” (On the Resurrection). As Justin goes on, even using the Philosophers to show how the indestructibility of matter, regardless of how scattered, can, if such power exists be put back together again. “So that, according to Plato, neither will it be impossible for God, who is Himself indestructible, and has also indestructible material, even after that which has been first formed of it has been destroyed, to make it anew again, and to make the same form just as it was before.” It is very clear as to what he means. If God holds “all things” (every particle known that can be called, ‘particle’) together by his power, and knows all things, and certainly has all power far beyond our feeble minds to imagine, then resurrection of the flesh (a term he uses) is not at all impossible. What is in accordance with appearances – that a body at sea is so severed at its most minute adherence of form – that it is said to be dissolved and non-existent is false. A vase (an example often used) can be so entirely reduced to the finest of powder, scattered across the globe and yet, within that which is conceivable, if such power exists, could be entirely put together again since none of that which it was in form is destroyed. Matter does not disappear into nothingness.
Such advances at attempts to refute the early scoffers are plenteous in the second and third century theologians. We find the very same objections raised against the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian house congregations. “Some”, he says, “in your gatherings are saying , ‘there is no resurrection of dead bodies'” (1 Corinthians 15.12). These “some” are distinguished from the “you” (plural) of the believing congregations. “Evil communication ruins good character. You wake up!…for some, they have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (15.34). This play off from “you” and “them” who have come “in” their congregations is obvious. Paul continues, “I suppose some one will say, ‘How are the dead raised? In what kind of body are they coming?'” (15.35). The questions are the exact same forms of questions asked in the second and third centuries, and they are the exact same ones asked today: How can the dead be raised, since they are so long gone and dissolved? What kind of body would they come with from the dead, since their body is so far gone? There is no body there to raise. What explanation can you give to such objections?
Paul’s first response is the strongest that can be used: “Fools!” That is, “unbelievers!” in Jewish speak. These “some” are corrupt of communication, doubters of God’s power, and they are ignorant of God. There is no more subtle way of introducing doubt to the Christian than to demonstrate that a person long dead in the Arabian Sea for thousands of years, that his or her body is so far gone, so scattered, so dissolved, so non-existent that it strains the mind to even fathom how such a body can be put back together into a human form again. However, to the believer, to the one who says, “If God said he will, then he will”, such doubts are easily removed.
I came across Hugo Grotius’ writings long ago, and would like to present his view now. Grotius (1583-1685) was a maverick, mostly known for his powerful writings on law and government theory. His influence is still felt to this day, and respected. However, he was a Christian in every sense of the term and extremely learned in matters of science, law, theology, languages and such. When penning his thoughts on the resurrection of the dead, he is admired for his clarity: “The reunion of our bodily parts, when dissolved, cannot reasonably be thought impossible” (page 58, An English Translation of the Six Books of Hugo Grotius on the Truth of Christianity by Spencer Madden, 1809). Grotius wrote his works in 1639. Objecting to the argument concerning bodies being eaten by animals, Grotius affirms that “every particle” of the human body so digested “will still remain unaffected” (page 59). “Since, even in our present bodies, we perhaps experience a greater variation of our component particles”. These variations of growth in the body (from infant form to adult form) maintain a consistency of form and identity; infant flesh is still flesh, and and infant cannot ever become anything but that which it is: human. Thus, form, identity, and the elements of that which consists of our body remains constant, and death does not so dissolve these properties and qualities that they cannot be identically placed back together again in an arrangement of form of which they formerly composed, because this is their natural arrangement and bond. All that is lacking is a Being with the power to accomplish such a feat. But, we know such a Being.
Grotius is so explicit in his defense that it is a wonder how some that claim the name, “Christian” can doubt. He labors in “secretions”, “particles”, “phlegm”, “bile”, “decomposition”, and the like. One final chapter heading in his discussion is entitled, “We Will Show, by the Way, the Absurdity of the Assertion, that Our Bodies, after Dissolution, cannot Be Restored”. He uses the word, “recompacted”, and again reverts to “the sufficiency of the knowledge of God in discovering the material particles of man, however distantly and widely scattered; Can we doubt or deny the sufficiency of his power in re-collecting and restoring those particles? May not God in his own universe produce that effect which chemists are seen to produce in their furnaces and vessels?” Grotius didn’t. Neither do I.
When we come to the Faith, I can quote the Confessions, or the Roman Catholic Catechism, or Luther’s Catechism, or the works of Eastern Orthodoxy, Coptics, Arminius, or Calvin. They all agree.
What I believe is that if one truly has the Spirit of the Lord, then such an article as I have briefly presented here will cause a “stir” in your spirit to the affirmative of “yes, this is what is to be believed”. For those that read this and find it impossible, or look for some other way to define resurrection (all of them heard of before, such as “get a body when you die”, or “your soul is raised and gets a body in heaven” or whatever, all having been dismissed), then I am at all obligation to God to question whether or not you have the Spirit. Belief in the resurrection of the dead, as defined above, requires great faith, and assurance of faith that hopes beyond hope, that does not rest its faith upon what is “seen”, on what is based on mere human knowledge or appearances. For me, it is a litmus test of faith. The denial of which, if we follow Paul, renders the Faith vain, pointless, absurd and a pure waste of time.
By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.