In the late 1990s, a group of scholars assembled to evaluate whether Jesus actually said the things attributed to him by the Gospel writers. Although they employed remarkably subjective criteria in their evaluation of Scripture, members of the self-appointed “Jesus Seminar” were widely quoted by the media as authorities on the Christian faith.Marcus Borg, a Jesus Seminar leader, said this of Christ’s resurrection: “As a child, I took it for granted that Easter meant that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I now see Easter very differently. For me, it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involved something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.”1
As a child, Borg was right. As an adult—though considered a spokesman for Christianity—he couldn’t be more wrong. What Borg calls irrelevant—the physical resurrection of Christ’s body—the apostle Paul considered absolutely essential to the Christian faith. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… [and] we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption—both for mankind and for the earth. Indeed, without Christ’s resurrection and what it means—an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth—there is no Christianity.
Resurrection Is Physical
The major Christian creeds state, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” But I have found in many conversations that Christians tend to spiritualize the resurrection of the dead, effectively denying it.† They don’t reject it as a doctrine, but they deny its essential meaning: a permanent return to a physical existence in a physical universe.
Of Americans who believe in a resurrection of the dead, two-thirds believe they will not have bodies after the resurrection.2 But this is self-contradictory. A non-physical resurrection is like a sunless sunrise. There’s no such thing. Resurrection means that we will have bodies. If we didn’t have bodies, we wouldn’t be resurrected!
The biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the dead begins with the human body but extends far beyond it. R. A. Torrey writes, “We will not be disembodied spirits in the world to come, but redeemed spirits, in redeemed bodies, in a redeemed universe.”3 If we don’t get it right on the resurrection of the body, we’ll get nothing else right. It’s therefore critical that we not merely affirm the resurrection of the dead as a point of doctrine but that we understand the meaning of the resurrection we affirm.
Genesis 2:7 says, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The Hebrew word for “living being” is nephesh, often translated “soul.” The point at which Adam became nephesh is when God joined his body (dust) and spirit (breath) together. Adam was not a living human being until he had both material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual) components. Thus, the essence of humanity is not just spirit, but spirit joined with body. Your body does not merely house the real you—it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit is.
If this idea seems wrong to us, it’s because we have been deeply influenced by Christoplatonism.†† From a christoplatonic perspective, our souls merely occupy our bodies, like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, and our souls could naturally—or even ideally—live in a disembodied state.