Charles S. Meek | The Personhood View of the Resurrection

Charles S. MeekThe Personhood View of the Resurrection
Immortalis Persona Decessus
by Charles S. Meek

Charles S. Meek

There is a raging debate among full preterists as to the meaning of biblical resurrection. However, there is general, though not unanimous agreement that:

  1. The term resurrection is used in the Bible to describe certain events that happen to both living and deceased believers (and unbelievers).
  2. Resurrection never means, as some (though not all) futurists believe: fleshly bodies coming out of their graves (BOG). We reject the notion that our physical bodies will be re-united with our souls at the end of time.
  3. The saints who died physically before AD 70 were resurrected from hades into heaven at the Parousia per Revelation 20—the “second resurrection.”  
  4. The Bible describes living people as “dead in their sins,” and believers are “raised up/made alive,” that is, “resurrected” spiritually/metaphorically upon belief per Ephesians 2:1-7; Colossians 2:11-14; etc.
  5. Living believers were “changed” in some sense at the Parousia per 1 Corinthians 15:51, which may or may not be a resurrection event.
  6. Believers today join the saints of old in heaven at our own physical deaths. In heaven we will have individual identity and personality. As individuals we will also enjoy the benefits of community as being part of the body of Christ.

But what is the nature of our eternal existence in the afterlife? What is heaven? The Bible tells us very little indeed of what we will experience in heaven, thus much of what we believe is based on inference or even speculation.

When one begins to think about this, innumerable questions arise: What earthly age will we be in heaven—the age when we were in our “prime” or the age at which we died? Will someone who died as an infant be an infant in heaven—or an adult (at the age they would have attained if they had reached maturity)? Will there be any semblance at all to our old life on earth in our fleshly bodies? Can we sin in heaven? If not, what kind of life would that be? And so forth.

The resurrection is a particularly difficult subject. Even R. C. Sproul, perhaps the most acclaimed theologian of our age, has expressed his unwillingness to take a stand on the resurrection—leaving the issue to future generations of theologians to figure out.

Several things make the discussion of resurrection confusing and controversial. One issue is that the Bible speaks of two kinds of death—physical body death and spiritual death. So, two kinds of resurrections are implied—bodily and spiritual. Thus, “resurrection” is a term used in different senses about what happens to living individuals as well as to dead persons. These must be two different things, as discussed below! Further, the word “body” in English and in Greek (soma) has different meanings: a living individual, a dead individual, and a corporate group. Paul certainly uses multiple meanings of “body” in his writings to indicate both the body of Christ (the church) as well as our personal body (the individual). If all of that is not complicated enough, a greater context is that mankind as a whole suffered relational separation from God—that is, “death” in a covenantal sense. So, involved in the discussion is the consideration of collective redemption—“resurrection.”

            There are two main camps within preterism. One camp holds to a “corporate (collective) body view” (CBV) of the resurrection, while another camp holds to an “individual body view” (IBV), the latter being sometimes also formulated as the “immortal body at death view.” The “essential body view” is still another variant that rejects certain aspects of both views.[1] But these views are not rigid, and indeed are over-simplifications. There are differences within each camp, and many interpreters fall in between the two camps with considerable overlap. There are superb thinkers in both camps.[2] While I lean toward the IBV view, I suggest that there are weaknesses in each view, and that a better, more irenic paradigm is possible. I have dubbed this the Personhood View (PV).

Unfortunately, the discussions among Christian brothers have at times been unnecessarily heated. Each side accuses the other of being obstinate and thick-headed. It can be as threatening to challenge some full preterists as it is to challenge futurist orthodoxy. The tone of these discussions needs to change, especially on this topic, given its degree of difficulty. The wrangling over this and related issues is likely a factor holding back the preterist movement.

We can benefit from the example of the early church fathers, who seemed less likely to separate into a plethora of sects and bickering on non-essential issues. For example, Justin Martyr believed that many Bible prophecies would be literally fulfilled during the millennium. But he recognized the diversity of thought among his brothers. Notice the amicable spirit of how he expressed his own views:

“As I mentioned before, I and many others are of this opinion, and believe that such prophecies will take place in this manner. But on the other hand, I told you that many who belong to the pure and righteous faith and are true Christians—think otherwise.”[3]

Let me just say at the outset that I am expressing my current views in this article. But I could be wrong. I reserve the right to change my mind. I have invited proponents of each view to give me their thinking on this matter, and have arrived at my own conclusions after studying writings from both camps. On a curious note, I have been personally accused by individuals from both camps of spending too much time studying the views of the other camp!

The CBV view was developed by Max R. King (born 1930), who applied resurrection principally, if not exclusively, as a corporate occurrence. In this view, resurrection was a metaphorical event (renewal, regeneration, restoration, rebirth) that had been prophesied to take place in the last days. Per King: “The primary application of the resurrection is applied to the death of Judaism, and to the rise of Christianity.”[4] This CBV-only view as a systematic eschatology was unknown prior to King, even though apparently Robert Townley taught traces of it in an 1845 book. Perhaps surprisingly, King acknowledged that he drew from the views of liberal scholar John A. T. Robinson (1919-1983)—in Robinson’s book The Body. Robinson was a skeptic that evidently even doubted the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus. All modern CBV proponents draw from King.

There is found in the Bible, certainly, a motif of corporate resurrection. Even IBV proponents acknowledge this. In CBV thought, what was being resurrected was the “house of Israel”—or, in New Covenant terms: the church body, i.e. the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). This view harkens back to such texts as the dry bones passage in Ezekiel 37 in which God resurrects his people (Ezekiel 37:11-14) into the new covenant (Ezekiel 37:26-28). Paul, in his writings on this topic, included the resurrection of Old Covenant Israel from the death of its broken fellowship with God. So resurrection refers, in part, to the hope of Israel (inclusive of all believers collectively) to life in Christ. That is, resurrection can be viewed as recovery of relational death between man and God that stood since the Garden of Eden.  

A charge leveled against CBV advocates is that the afterlife existence of believers melds into some sort of a Borg-like corporate oneness without individual recognition. (It is unclear how this might be applied to the damned, though some preterists have adopted annihilationism which eliminates the problem of explaining a corporate body for those unfortunate people.)

This “borgness” idea would be an egregious error that sounds like eastern religions (“oneness with the creator”) or Gnosticism (“merger with the supreme God that begins even before death”). However, while there are clear overtones of this in the teaching of CBV advocates, this charge is largely a red herring. Every CBV advocate with whom I have corresponded has readily acknowledged that we will have individuality in the afterlife, perhaps similar to what we have on earth—while remaining part of a corporate body. (It is unclear what passages of Scripture they rely on to reach this conclusion, as they insist on corporatizing the passages that the IBV proponents use to support individuality in heaven.) A valid concern remains, however, that the CBV concept of membership in the group is emphasized so strongly that it renders the concept of salvation as very impersonal. This, in my view, is in contradistinction to the very personal nature of Jesus.

More serious charges are that the CBV-only view (a) hyper-spiritualizes the resurrection and (b) leads to bizarre inferences. I fear that, as they reject futurism, CBV advocates may be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Is the foundational hope of the Christian being compromised?

For example, some advocates of the CBV-only view have even suggested that we have heaven on earth now, and that we do not acquire anything new or better in the afterlife. One leading advocate of this view put it this way: “I primarily see heaven as ‘in Christ’ and wherever and whatever He is. . . . We don’t have to have a new inheritance when we shed our physical body. We simply get the opportunity to see and experience more of what we already have.” In response to this interesting proposal, I suggest that there is a big difference between saying living believers have “heaven now” (a serious error) and saying we have earned “eternal life now” (which is accurate).

Perhaps a point of potential confusion for some is that there is a difference between the terms “new heaven and earth,” which is a symbolic covenantal term—versus heaven itself, which is the “place” of our eternal existence after mortal death. I believe that the Bible uses these terms to describe very different things. This should not be a surprise. We speak similarly in modern English. We may say something like, “I will move heaven and earth for you.” Here, the idiom “heaven and earth” has nothing to do with our concept of the afterlife in heaven itself. We even use the term “heaven” in different ways. When we refer to the “stars in the heavens” we are speaking of a physical reality. When we speak of heaven as the afterlife, we are speaking of reality outside of time and space.

Frankly, I have found it difficult to understand exactly what some of the CBV advocates really believe about the afterlife, as their terminology sometimes becomes pretty esoteric. There is a tendency to present the Christian hope of the afterlife in a murky and guarded way. Perhaps this serves the purpose of veiling its potentially discouraging implications.

Hyper-spiritualization of our resurrection hope should be rejected. In addition, King embraced universalism, which is a remarkable biblical error, given the numerous passages of the Bible that proclaim that belief in Jesus is the only way to salvation. There is other evidence within preterist camps of throwing the doctrinal baby out with the bath water. Some preterists (not necessarily associated with the CBV-only perspective) have also rejected the Trinity, which is a doctrine—unlike eschatology—that has been fully and adequately debated by the church, and is foundational to Christianity. These errors of bad fruit do not necessarily prove the CBV-only view wrong, but does suggest some introspection within the preterist movement is in order.

One mistake that some interpreters from both camps seem to have made is that they assume that biblical resurrection is either/or (CBV vs. IBV). Correctly understood, it is both/and. Resurrection is individual and corporate, bodily and spiritual. These concepts converge in 1 Corinthians 15, the most important single text on the resurrection.

 

The Major Point of Disagreement

The crux of the matter is whether there is a qualitative difference between “resurrection” of the living and resurrection of the physically dead. CBVers think they are the same thing, while IBVers think they are different things. Perhaps the confusion arises in part from the use of a single term resurrection to describe two different things. Just as we considered about the word heaven, duality of meaning is certainly common in language. For example, if we pray for “peace,” we could mean either (a) the absence of war, which is a physical thing, or it could mean a very different thing altogether, i.e. (b) inner spiritual contentment. Even the word “spiritual” itself has multiple connotations that can lead to confusion. We can understand the word spiritual in strictly metaphorical terms, and we can understand it as applied to a type of immaterial glorified body in the afterlife. We even speak of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity, etc.

Physically dead believers residing in hades at AD 70 had already received spiritual/metaphorical resurrection prior to their physical death—when they first believed (Romans 4, etc). They didn’t need to receive (again) something they already possessed! Thus, the resurrection of the physically dead must have been qualitatively different from “resurrection” of the living. The distinction here is similar to one becoming spiritually a “new creation in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17) while remaining the same old fleshly person—compared to really and truly having a new personal existence outside of time and space, which one receives upon physical death. I prefer to think of the spiritual/metaphorical “resurrection” of the living per Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:1-7; Colossians 2:13-14, and 1 John 3:14 as being in quotation marks. This was the first resurrection of Revelation 20:4. It is soteriological in nature rather than eschatological.

Upon physical death, believers today (unbelievers too, if you are not an annihilationist) are transformed to a new type of body. I use the term “body” loosely as we do not really know what our afterlife body will be like. Paul assures us in 1 Corinthians 15 that it will have some continuity from our old self. Prior to AD 70 that body went to hades. At the Parousia, hades was abolished and everyone, both the saved and the damned, were sent to their eternal destiny at what is often referred to as the general resurrection (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Matthew 25:30-46; Acts 24:15; etc.) or the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). This second resurrection was eschatological. As a full preterist, I am persuaded that the Bible teaches that when believers die today we immediately step into our new immortal glorified body in heaven as the hadean step has been eliminated.

In one sense, there is no resurrection past AD 70. According this notion, the first metaphorical/soteriological resurrection post AD 70 is now better considered as being “born again.” And we today no longer experience the second resurrection at death, at least in the same sense, since we do not go to hades. However, I consider this distinction a matter of semantics. I believe that the two types of resurrection still happen to the living and to the dead. Actually, this is pretty simple: We get saved while we are living, and we go to heaven when we die. This, of course is generally consistent with what Christians have always believed. (I can hear the howls of protest and charges of Futurism!)

What makes preterism so attractive is that Christ’s work to secure our heavenly reward has been accomplished in the past.

Below are brief comments on some passages that both CBV and IBV advocates use to support their case. Note that some of these passages actually do not speak to resurrection at all, but do speak of death, so they have implications for resurrection. Preterist interpreters approach these passages from various perspectives. Some seem bent on seeing words symbolically at every turn even when not necessary, while others prefer to see things word-for-word literally even if it creates more problems than it solves. Reasonableness may be pushed aside in order to support a particular viewpoint. There are often unfortunate battle-ready reactions to reasonable contributions from the other camp in attempts to defend one’s own turf. (Human nature at work again.)

I have concluded that while there remain sharp disagreements, there is enough in common in the two views around which most preterists should be able to unite.  This article is merely an effort to offer some considerations about these passages in a straightforward, but logical, methodology that does not require a theologian to grasp the meaning. The assumption is that God’s Word does not torture us with labyrinths and riddles. Your response in rebuttal is welcome.

The promises of Jesus.  Our hope and understanding of eternal life should begin with Jesus. Our Lord’s promises establish a critical backdrop for the rest of Scripture. Jesus promised that believers will never die (John 3:16; 5:21; 6:40-51; 10:28; 11:24-26; 14:3; etc.). CBV-only advocates either (a) gloss over these passages, or (b) argue that since believers all die biologically, Jesus must have been speaking only of a metaphorical death and resurrection. But the latter is not a necessary inference at all. These passages (“whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life”) demand that Jesus was promising that after biological death all individual believers will live forever in at least some sort of individual existence with identity and personality. Certainly, despite objections from CBVers, this is how the original hearers would have understood these passages, including Martha in John 11 (cf. Luke 7:22; 9:7)! The disciples would have understood this when Jesus promised that in God’s house there are many rooms and that Jesus would take them there (John 14:2-3). A plain reading of the promises of Jesus demands our understanding of a guarantee by Jesus to have an identifiable “persona” in heaven, not a corporate meld—albeit not in the self-same body as our earthly body, a concept upon which Paul later elaborated.

Genesis 1-3  And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’ . . . And the LordGod commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eatof it youshall surely die.’ . . . But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 1:29; 2:16-17; 3:4-7)

Comment: Scholars have wrestled with Genesis throughout history. Even conservative scholars disagree on how much of it is to be taken literally and how much is figurative. The question for us is: What is meant by death in these passages? Our understanding of this may influence subsequent passages on resurrection. Let’s give it a go. Here are four points:

  1. Most Christians assume that actual physical death was the penalty for eating of the forbidden fruit. This seems to be confirmed by Eve’s discussion about it with the “serpent,” even though the interpretive difficulties surrounding a talking snake are legendary.
  1. However, it seems more than a bit obvious, upon reflection, that these passages do not, in fact, teach that man was born immortal and could only experience physical death after the Fall. God created Adam and Eve fully complete with digestive systems, and gave them food to eat in the beginning. It is a necessary inference that they would have died physically had they not eaten. God created the universe “good” or “very good”—not perfect in a utopian sense in which neither men nor animals did not die physically pre-Fall. (Would Adam and Eve still be alive today if they had not disobeyed God?) Genesis 2:17 reinforces the notion that death at the Fall was not physical death because Adam did not die physically on the literal day that he ate the fruit as God warned. Adam lived to be 930 years old. Man’s physical mortality seems further confirmed by such passages as Genesis 2:7; 3:19; Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16, and Hebrews 9:27. So, death in Genesis is best understood as referring to spiritual death rather than literal physical death. Note the reaction that Adam and Eve experienced afterward. They realized their nakedness because of shame of their sin.
  1. A plausible (and uncommonly simple) conclusion is that indeed men were made mortal in the beginning—but with the potential to have eternal life (in heaven) after physical death. What was forfeited at the Fall was life after physical death. This reward would only be restored by Christ.
  1. Some IBV advocates insist that Genesis has to be teaching physical death at the Fall in order for there to be individual resurrected bodies in heaven. I personally do not see that as a necessary inference. These two things do not correlate because our earthly life and our heavenly life are not of the same nature. Remember, we do not have our old physical fleshly bodies in heaven. Rather we have new, glorified, immortal bodies of a nature suitable for our eternal habitation. (See below.)

Revelation 20: Revelation 20 implies two resurrections, with the second one being specifically placed at the end of the millennium, and the first one at least beginning before the millennium.

Comment: I am persuaded that the first resurrection was (and is!) a purely spiritual/metaphorical/soteriological resurrection that people experience when they accept Christ. This is the same resurrection of which Paul spoke in Ephesians 2:1-7 and Colossians 2:11-14, in which he explained that we are by nature children of wrath and dead in our sins, but are “raised up” together with Christ by his grace unto salvation. This resurrection began with Christ’s ministry on earth, and continues to this day. The second resurrection was the general resurrection of all residents of hades at AD 70—both the saved and the damned—to judgment and their eternal destiny. (Compare: Daniel 12:2; Matthew 13:36-43; 25:30-45; Acts 24:15; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5, 17; Revelation 11:15-18; 22:12.) This was a “bodily” eschatological resurrection, though it was not bodily in the fleshly sense. The two resurrections of Revelation 20 match perfectly with the ones described by Jesus in John 5—first “resurrection” (of the living, John 5:24-25), second resurrection (of those from their tombs, John 5:28-29). Jesus, by the way, spoke of two types of death elsewhere. When Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.” (Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:60)—He was most certainly referencing both types of death.

An interesting passage upon which CBV advocates rely is Revelation 20:5a, which reads “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” This passage would suggest that both resurrections were similar in nature. However, in all likelihood this passage is spurious, and was added hundreds of years after-the-fact. It does not appear in the Codex Sinaiticus manuscript, which is a very early and reliable manuscript of the Bible. Indeed, this manuscript, which dates to the fourth century, is the oldest extant manuscript that contains Revelation 20. Nor does it appear in many manuscripts subsequent to that one. It seems that someone added the phrase at a later date—probably a confused millennialist who felt that he was living in the millennium and was concerned that there were no apparent resurrections occurring, as should have been happening per their millennial theory. If you remove this phrase, the circular and wordy nature of the text is cleared up. The entire verse thus becomes: “This is the first resurrection.”

It also is clear enough that coincident with the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15, all of the dead were raised from hades at the second resurrection. Thus, the first resurrection by necessity was qualitatively different from the second. (Why would people need to be resurrected in the same way twice?!)

The final point for consideration is this: The individuals in hades did not go there as a group. They went there one-at-a-time as individuals when they died. So they were individuals in hades and would have been raised in the same way, giving further confirmation to the IBV view as the correct one.

Acts 24-28  I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be [about to be, YLT] a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. . . . It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial. . . .  And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king!  Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? . . . To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass. . . . For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” (Acts 24:14, 15, 21; 26:6, 7, 8, 22; 28:20)

Comment: CBV advocates rely heavily on these passages to suggest that the resurrection is purely collective and spiritual, and not in any sense individual and bodily. This seems weak. As this passage is a reference to the Old Testament, the most prominent text in the Old Testament about the resurrection is Daniel 12:2: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This passage critically weighs against the CBV view in favor to the IBV view. “Dust of the earth” can only be referring to individual bodies in their graves. Further, what was the “hope of Israel?” (cf. Job 14:7-14) Was it limited to some concept of collective resurrection? Certainly not, as the text describes death as being in “the soil” and in “Sheol.” The New Testament clarifies that hope of Israel was the Messiah and the forgiveness of sins for all individuals who believe.

Romans 6:6  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

Comment: The body of sin could indeed be interpreted in a CBV way, but only if one ignores the context. Subsequent verses, it seems to me, highlight the individual perspective of Paul’s teaching: “For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” etc. (Romans 6:7-14, ESV)

How could one mistake the individual aspect to this passage?

Romans 7:23-24  But I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Comment: “Body” here may appear to be a corporate body—the “body of Moses” (Jude 9). But in context, one can only understand this as an IBV text. Paul is speaking about his personal sins, so “body” refers to his physical personal body viewed as the means by which sin is expressed. As Paul said: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (7:14-15).” “Wretched man that I am (7:24a).”

Romans 8:10-11 “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

Comment: I am persuaded that Romans 8 is speaking mostly, though not entirely, about the completion of our spiritual salvation/redemption that Christ guaranteed at the cross, and perfected at the Parousia (Luke 21:28; Romans 8:18, 22, 23; Romans 13:11-12; Hebrews 1:14; 1 Peter 1:3-9; etc.). I don’t think that any of these passages are understood adequately in a CBV way. Romans 8:10-11 could possibly be interpreted as a CBV text, speaking about the Old Covenant “body” as a collective. “You” may be understood as plural. And “righteousness” here is the righteousness of Christ as applied to all believers in the New Covenant, thus the church “body.” However, a plain reading of both the immediately preceding passages (8:1-9) and the immediately following passages (8:12-17) bring us back to the IBV view. Paul was speaking to the Romans about the (spiritual) death that might happen to them in the future if they lived according to the flesh. But corporate entities do not have flesh, only individuals. And corporate death had already occurred in Adam, so by putting that warning in the future, Paul could only have been speaking of individual death and resurrection. Immortal bodies (plural) of which Paul speaks in 8:11 was about the believer’s physical aspect, further supporting the IBV view. When Paul spoke of mortality, he was always referring to corruptible “flesh”—even though, indeed, there is a relationship between the flesh and the covenantal concepts that free the individual from fleshly as well as spiritual death (Romans 6:12; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; 2 Corinthians 4:11; 5:4; etc.) This suggests that the CBV view and IBV views can hardly be divided as clearly as the proponents of each want to do.

Romans 8:23 “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our body [Greek somatos].”

Comment: CBV advocates jump on this in an attempt to prove that our “body” (somatos) is best interpreted as singular (even though some translations render it as plural: ESV, NIV, NLT, and RSV). Thus, by using a plural possessive pronoun (“our”) with a singular noun (“body”), Paul is teaching a collective body being adopted or transformed (cf. Philippians 3:21). This argument has little force or effect, and CBV advocates appear to be backing away from it. Even if somatos is correctly understood as singular, in every language we find plural adjectives to qualify singular nouns. Here is an example: A psychologist speaking to a national radio audience might say, “When our [plural] child [singular] misbehaves, there are certain steps we should take.” Such construction is not uncommon in the Bible either (Matthew 6:11; Luke 7:5; John 3:11; 7:51; 2 Corinthians 6:11; etc.) As argued by Ed Stevens:

“When we say, ‘When we get to heaven, we will get a new body there,’ we all know what we are talking about. We know that it means each of us gets a new body, not that we all share a common body in heaven. English speakers and Greek speakers both talk that way. It is understood by looking at the context. For instance, since Paul had already referred to their individual bodies in the plural [Greek somata in Romans 8:11], the context indicates that meaning in Romans 8:23 also. It is a contextual consideration from which translators are working.”[5]

So, in context, verse 23 is probably correctly understood as plural, which would explain why so many translators render it plural also.

Romans 8:28-31 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”

Comment: This passage gathers up both the process and the purposes of election. While a plurality of persons is in view, there is no doubt of their individual calling, predestination, justification, and glorification as well as God’s grace towards individuals who love him and are individually being conformed to the image of His Son. These phenomena characterize the actions of God in the lives of his people who are called out of darkness into his marvelous light, experiencing the life of the kingdom in a real sense now and in its fullness after physical death. Moreover, the idea of glorification, while carrying certain implications for the present life of believers, is widely understood as a token of the resurrected life of heaven.

1 Corinthians 3:13-17 “Each one’s work will become manifest. . . . Do you not know that youare God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:13, 16, 17)

Comment: In context, the “you” in this passage could be the church, so a collective body view helps the CBV advocate here. But there is an individual context as well: “each one’s work” in verse 13, and “if anyone destroys” in verse 16. These statements are about the individual. So Paul seems clearly to be suggesting both a collective view and an individual view: both/and. It should be more than obvious these passages do not imply that people lost their individual bodies by being part of a group, the body of Christ!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Comment: The context is the sin of individuals. The immediately preceding verse (6:18) states: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body.” Does a corporate body commit sin, or rather its individual members? And, do we sin against a corporate body, or against God?

1 Corinthians 15 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:53-55)

Comment: CBV advocates argue that all of the verses in 1 Corinthians 15 that speak of the resurrection refer to the Old Covenant existence transformed into the New Covenant existence. For confirmation, they see the verses in which Paul spoke of Adam (15:45) as references to the dead body of the Old Covenant kingdom—Christ being the immortal body as perpetuated by his church. They also suggest that the cited quotation within verses 54-55 is from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 and is probably a reference to fulfillment of the Old Covenant doctrine of the resurrection of Israel.

My sense is that while the corporate body view is an element of what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15, it is wholly inadequate to fully explain the nature of resurrection in this passage, or elsewhere in the Bible. If Paul was speaking of a collective body only, he has misled a lot of people for a long time. The first and obvious problem for the CBV advocate is that Paul begins his discussion describing the bodily resurrection of Jesus, clearly implying a correlation to the individual resurrection of each believer. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 Paul set this earthly life over against the resurrection life in heaven, confirming his teaching of our personal life after bodily death. It also seems impossible to miss that in verses 35 to 50 Paul was describing the nature of the individual body in heaven. Note verse 38: “and to each of the seeds its proper body” (YLT). This demands the IBV viewpoint. Thus the context of 1 Corinthians 15:51, when Paul said that “we will all be changed in a moment, at the last trumpet” demands that Paul was referring to individual bodies more so than the corporate “body of Christ.” And after all, the corporate body is merely a collection of individual bodies, as Paul himself explains in 1 Corinthians 12:27.

Note: It is worth mentioning that there is evidence that the modern translations of 1 Corinthians 15:51 may be incorrect. A majority of ancient manuscripts read: “We shall all fall asleep, but we shall not all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, in the last trump.” This gives a very different meaning to this text, so caution is in order here.

But what was the “change” that all living believers would experience at the Parousia, assuming that we accept this as the correct rendering of the text? What were they changed into? Were they cognizant of the change? Some IBVers see this as a literal rapture of the saints. However, I think that the conclusion with the fewest problems is that this was the finishing touch, if you will, of Jesus’ salvation/redemption work as described elsewhere in the New Testament. Christ guaranteed our salvation at the cross and subsequent resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-21; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:11-22; 1 Peter 1:18-19; etc.), and perfected/completed it at the Parousia (Luke 21:28; Romans 8:18-25; Romans 13:11-12; Hebrews 1:14; 1 Peter 1:3-9; etc.). Perhaps an analogy might be this: a dying patient receiving a life saving injection. The injection from the needle guarantees that the patient is spared, but it takes a little while for the medicine to work inside the body to kill the infection. For the living believers at the Parousia, as well as us today, Christ’s work of salvation became complete. This is the great news of hope emanating from the preterist view. Our salvation has been sealed. We need only die to step into our new immortal immaterial glorified bodies suitable for our eternal habitation.

Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins (Romans 3:24-27; 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 9:11-22; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9). His resurrection provides our hope for eternal life (1 Corinthians 15; 2 Timothy 1:10; etc.). His Parousia sealed our salvation (Luke 21:28; Romans 8:18-25; 13:11; Hebrews 9:26-28; 1 Peter 1:3-9). The old pre-Christ world of shadows and prophecies, the things which were “imperfect” and “in part” (Daniel 9:24; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; etc.), were brought to completion. Unlike the futurist paradigm in which the Christian age is but a comma, covenant eschatology confirms Christ as completely triumphant—victorious even in the midst of sin.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

  • CBV advocates argue that “away from the body and at home with the Lord” is in the context of the new covenant found in such passages as 2 Corinthians 3:6, 11.
  • CBV advocates see the “tent being torn down” and argue that “torn down” is used in the New Testament as the temple being torn down to describe the destruction of the Old Covenant.
  • CBV advocates also find the term found in Jude 9, “the body of Moses,” to apply all over the New Testament about “body,” including in 2 Corinthians 5

Comment: We would merely ask one to re-read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 without any preconception and determine whether the CBV advocates are forcing a meaning into such texts as this one as well as 1 Corinthians 15. Why would Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have confused both his first-century audience and those of us today? If he meant the corporate body, wouldn’t he have clarified that? Our “earthly house” (verse 1) certainly refers to our individual physical bodies (cf. 2 Peter 1:14). Also consider the term “away from the body” (verse 8). To hold that “body” here means “corporate body” makes no sense. Why would it be significant that we might be away from the corporate body? Paul equates being away from the body to being with the Lord. CBV advocates equate the opposite: that to be away from the body (corporate) is to be absent from the Lord! So, the CBV cannot be correct in this important passage. It only makes sense to understand this as a comparison of our earthly body verses our new life in heaven.

“Mortal” can only refer to the individual, as corporate entities, though they can morph, do not die like individual bodies. Paul’s use of the term “mortal flesh” in 2 Corinthians 4:11 laid the groundwork supporting the IBV view in chapter 5. Further, by what force of logic and interpretive method must we assume that “body” per Jude 9 must mean the corporate body everywhere else? While it is correct to say that many of Paul’s discussions on this topic usually assume a background of the dying Old Covenant, this does not preclude an individual perspective as well! “Heavenly dwelling” means, it seems to me, exactly what we have always thought it to mean—the place of our eternal residence, where we have individual identity and personality. At the end of this section, Paul puts an exclamation mark for the IBV view: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Philippians 3:20-21  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Comment: Like in Romans 8:23, we find the plural possessive pronoun (“our”) with a singular noun (“body”). But, as indicated previously, this in no way proves a corporate body. On the other hand, some IBV advocates insist that this is the same change as we see in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, etc. and that this change demands a literal rapture. They argue that (a) it must have been a physical body change, and (b) it would happen at the Parousia. Without getting into the pros and cons of a literal rapture, I really don’t think that this is a necessary conclusion either. Paul could either be speaking of (a) a metaphorical change that was the capstone of our soteriological salvation, as discussed above under 1 Corinthians 15, or (b) since Paul is speaking specifically of heaven, he is looking into the future even beyond the Parousia to each believer’s death. Paul was certainly anticipating his own death, and was surely concerned for other believers beyond his own generation. In other words, I think it is plausible that complete fulfillment of verse 21 does not follow immediately in time after verse 20. Certainly Paul, in his letters, was focusing his attention on the imminent Parousia, but had more distant things in view as well as he spoke elsewhere, for example, of the coming ages (Ephesians 1:21; 2:7; 3:21; cf. Hebrews 2:5). And it should be noted that the word “transform” in Philippians 3:21 is the Greek word metaschematizo, which is a different word from “change” (allasso) in 1 Corinthians 15:51, and also different from the word for “caught up/rapture” (harpazo) in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 so these verses may not be precise parallels.

1 Timothy 1:8-11 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. . .  .” 

Comment: In passages like these, CBV advocates always see the community context (“us,” “our”). But while “our works” is plural, it doubtless means the works of individuals. “Life and immortality” must certainly equate to the eternal life given to individual believers without any real hint of an impersonal collective body concept.

 

Summary

God’s covenants were developed corporately through Israel, but are applied individually. For example, the Rich Ruler in Luke 18 did not ask Jesus how Israel would be saved. He asked: “What must I do to earn eternal life?” Many Israelites may have thought of themselves as part of their collective group, just as Christians of different views today think of themselves in the same way! There’s no shortage of group-think then or now.

But was their eternal reward connected to the group? The New Testament corrected any such understanding by teaching that we are saved not by blood or even of the will (John 1:13; Romans 9:8, 16). Unless you follow the thinking of dispensationalists, we understand that Old Testament Jews were saved as individuals by God’s sovereign election, however we might understand election (Romans 9:13-33)—through the vehicle of their personal faith (Romans 4-6; 9:30-33).

Of course, the Jews did not have the benefit of knowing Jesus in a personal way as we do today. They were saved by faith in the totality of God’s promises including the promised Messiah, but certainly not every individual Jew possessed that faith. Salvation was and is personal.

God used Israel as a corporate entity for service to bring the Messiah to the world. It was the Messiah as an individual that brought salvation to other individuals—not in any sense a corporate work of Israel. By the way, I have noticed a degree of inconsistency among CBVers. On the one hand some attempt to support their case by saying that Jews always understood their salvation in terms of their corporate identity. But I have had other CBVers say that, well, yes the Jews did understand their salvation as personal and individual but they were simply wrong. You can’t have it both ways. What did the Jews actually believe? Here is an excerpt from an essay by Flavius Josephus, in which I see no hint of corporate resurrection:

“We have therefore believed that the body will be raised again. For although it be dissolved, it is not perished. For the earth receives its remains, and preserves them; and while they are like seed, and are mixed among the more fruitful soil, they flourish; and what is sown is indeed sown bare grain; but at the mighty sound of God, the Creator, it will sprout up, and be raised in a cloathed and glorious condition: though not before it has been dissolved, and mixed [with the earth]. So that we have not rashly believed the resurrection of the body. For although it be dissolved for a time, on account of the original transgression, it exists still; and is cast into the earth, as into a potter’s furnace, in order to be formed again. Not in order to rise again such as it was before; but in a state of purity, and so as never to he destroyed any more. . . . But the just shall remember only their righteous actions, whereby they have attained the heavenly kingdom. In which there is no sleep, no sorrow, no corruption, no care, no night, no day measured by time.”[6]

Noteworthy is the seed analogy, quite similar to Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 15. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that Josephus was talking about individual bodies, as corporate bodies are not mixed with earth and dissolved!

As preterists, we unite in rejecting the commonly held futurist idea that actual fleshly bodies will come flying out of the graves at the end of time to be united with their souls. But it seems that it is often implied by CBV advocates that IBV preterists believe in fleshly bodies in heaven. Of course, that is a false charge. IBV advocates feel that their views have been wrongly characterized in this way. While IBVers reject fleshly resurrection, they also argue that all Christians should also reject the purely metaphorical-corporate view of resurrection which was instituted by Max King.

There is a better “middle ground” understanding about the nature of our existence in the afterlife. It is neither purely metaphorical on the one hand, nor in a body of flesh on the other hand. Nor, by the way, can our afterlife existence be narrowly defined as our “soul.” (See the appendices of my book for a discussion of how soul is used in Scripture.) Believers will have a new existence—which is described in the Bible as a spiritual body or a glorified body which is immaterial, immortal and incorruptible—a state suitable for eternal life outside of time and space (1 Corinthians 15:40-44; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8). Metaphorical resurrection of the living prepares the way for glorified-body resurrection at physical death. The second death has no power over those who experienced the first resurrection, per Revelation 20:6.

Our eternal hope as individuals is in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 5:12; Romans 8:11; Philippians 1:22-24; Colossians 1:20; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 11:13-16; etc). It seems to me that one would have to read these passages with a CBV presupposition to miss this. Focusing on points of agreement, most CBV advocates agree with IBV advocates that our hope is eternal life in heaven—in a state, while not in a body of flesh in the earthly sense, still possesses personality and identity. Nobody can tell us precisely what this might mean because the Bible does not tell us, and because it is impossible for mortal humans to grasp existence outside of time and space.

Neither the Corporate Body View (CBV) nor the Immortal Body at Death view (IBV) view is adequate to explain eternity. Reasonable thinkers from both camps should be able to acknowledge that their acronyms are potentially misleading. My further observation is that these distinctions create more division than is necessary, as many in both camps have more in common than the debates suggest. Except for a few really hard-core preterists vehemently committed to one side or the other, there is usually a blending of views from both sides.

Some clarification would be helpful, not only to correctly encompass biblical resurrection but also one which would find some common ground, not only with preterists but futurists as well! Let us attempt here to develop a concept that better explains the probable nature of our eternal state without relying on over-speculation about what the Bible does or does not teach us.

Consider a concept as it would be expressed in Latin: immortalis persona decessus. In English this is loosely understood as Immortal Person (at) Death. The Latin word persona, just as in English, embodies a sense of personality and identity in the afterlife. This seems to be a better concept than “individual body at death” for our purposes because it detaches itself from the idea of “fleshly body.” The Latin word decessus is also interesting in that it imparts a meaning not only of physical death, but also “departure” or “disappearance.” This is consistent with what we believe about bodily death. We Christians do not merely die; we depart this life and enter into a new one.

 

The Personhood View (PV)

This view does not insist on an understanding of a corporeal existence (bodily human shape) in the afterlife, but neither does it eliminate it as a possibility. This concept only insists upon individual personality and identity as a minimum understanding of the nature of our heavenly existence. The vast majority of supporters of both the CBV and the IBV view with whom I have communicated agree on this basic concept. In other words, we will have personhood in heaven. So we simply call this the Personhood View (PV).

In conclusion, there is certain to be continued vigorous debate among theologians on the nature of the resurrection, as it is increasingly recognized that the standard models are untenable. In the meantime, we appeal for as much unity as possible among preterists. Indeed, there may be more agreement than meets the eye, as most can agree on the concept of individual personhood in heaven. We must be discerning as to who our true opponents are. The zealous defense of their positions by a few preterist parties is cancerous and unbecoming (Matthew 5:18, 22; 12:36; Romans 12:18; Colossians 3:18; James 1:19-20). We are too often neither winsome nor outwardly focused.

Preterists are often dismissed out of hand by futurists for “spiritualizing the resurrection” and for “destroying the believer’s hope.” In fact, futurists have a valid point as some of our members have indeed hyper-spiritualized the resurrection and confused and discouraged believers about our eternal hope. The beauty of preterism is that it enhances rather than denigrates the hope of the believer because the requirements for our eternal hope of heaven have been satisfied by Christ. I discuss this at length in my book. It is critical that we not be a stumbling block that keeps people from considering the preterist view.

Given that none of us can define the nature of the afterlife with any accuracy, we should be able to show a degree of unity on the Personhood View (PV) of the resurrection. We can present it to futurists as an eminently reasonable concept, while acknowledging that differences among ourselves continue to exist.

The preterist movement is at a crossroads. Will the leadership emerge to take the movement forward to Christians seeking answers to the futurist confusion, or will it die from its own death-spiral wranglings? It is critical for the preterist movement to present a common front of reasonableness, being the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15), for our hope of our eternal life.

Charles Meek is the author of CHRISTIAN HOPE through FULFILLED PROPHECY: Is Your Church Teaching Error about the Last Days and Second Coming? The Surging Preterist Challenge to Eschatology. He is the editor and principal writer of www.faithfacts.org, one of the oldest apologetics sites on the Internet. He is also an administrator of two Facebook sites:

https://www.facebook.com/Faithfacts.org

https://www.facebook.com/EvangelicalPreterism

Scriptures from the English Standard Version (ESV).

 Copyright September 17, 2013                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                


[2]  Some websites that support the CBV view include:

http://www.eschatology.org

http://www.bibleprophecy.com

http://www.allthingsfulfilled.com

 http://www.lastdays-eschatology.net

http://preteristcosmos.com/.

Websites that supports the IBV view include:

http://www.preterist.org

http://www.charlescoty.com/Theology.html

For an extensive list of preterist websites see one of Charles Meek’s websites:

http://prophecyquestions.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/preterist-websites

[3]  Justin Trypho, Chapter 80, paraphrased by David W. Bercot, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up (Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing Company, 1989).

[5]  http://www.preterist.org/. Edward E. Stevens has numerous articles on the resurrection available upon request.

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