Back in the summer, I wrote a series of posts around N. T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, regarding the nature the end of time. Wright argues — quite convincingly — that the Bible teaches a bodily resurrection in a remade New Heaven and New Earth, with heaven coming down to earth to join the two into a Paradise in which we’ll live with the Trinity forever.
Well, I’ve been reading In the Shadow of the Temple, by Oskar Skarsaune, regarding the Jewish roots of Christianity. It’s a good book, although not light reading by any means. I doubt I’ll post much about it, but it has this interesting quote from the Second Century Christian Justin Martyr:
Moreover, I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. … For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, even as one, if he would rightly consider it, would not admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistæ, Meristæ, Galilæans, Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews (do not hear me impatiently when I tell you what I think), but are [only] called Jews and children of Abraham, worshipping God with the lips, as God Himself declared, but the heart was far from Him. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.
(Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 80). Now, it’s critically important to realize that “resurrection” in First Century language refers exclusively to a bodily resurrection. Justin was condemning Platonists who argued that the soul is immortal but the body is not, so that the soul goes to heaven while the body is never resurrected.
The Third Century Didascalia Apostolorum says,
And by other false prophets beside was the enemy working. [vi. 10] And they all had one law upon earth, that they should not employ the Torah and the Prophets, and that they should blaspheme God Almighty, and should not believe in the resurrection.
(23: vi. 10).
An interesting note is that the condemnation of those who deny the resurrection of the dead seems to have been taken straight from rabbinic teaching —
These are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law … .
(Danby, Mishnah, p. 397 quoted by Skarsaune at 244).
As stated in the Wikipedia article on resurrection —
The Apostles’ Creed explicitly ends with an affirmation of belief in “the resurrection of the body”.
The Christian writers Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, in the 2nd Century, wrote against the idea that only the soul survived. Justin insists that a man is both soul and body and Christ has promised to raise both, just as his own body was raised. He wrote: “Seeing as … the Saviour in the whole Gospel shows that there is salvation for the flesh, why do we any longer endure those unbelieving and dangerous arguments, and fail to see that we are retrograding when we listen to such an argument as this: that the soul is immortal, but the body mortal, and incapable of being revived? For this we used to hear from Pythagoras and Plato, even before we learned the truth. If then the Saviour said this, and proclaimed salvation to the soul alone, what new thing, beyond what we heard from Pythagoras and Plato and all their band, did He bring us? But now He has come proclaiming the glad tidings of a new and strange hope to men.”
Strange, isn’t it, that a doctrine considered essential early on has been nearly entirely forgotten. Indeed, if you argue for a bodily resurrection, you’re considered a little strange.
Now, I don’t say any of this to argue that those denying a bodily resurrection are damned. Rather, I just want to point out that the doctrine not only has the very strong Biblical support argued for in the previous posts, it was even considered essential by the early Church Fathers.
However, the Platonic (Greek) view of the afterlike came to dominate Christian thinking, despite vociferous objection by leading Christian thinkers in the Second and Third Centuries. This shouldn’t be surprising, as a great deal of Grecian thought crept into Christian thinking over the years.