PMW 2023-036 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

The physical resurrection of the dead is under attack in modern Christianity. Again. However, this time it is not just the liberals. Rather, some evangelical Christians themselves are denying the physical nature of the resurrection body. They often begin their denial by citing 1 Corinthians 15:44, which speaks of the resurrection body thus: “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual [pneumatikos] body. If there is a natural [pseuchikos] body, there is also a spiritual body [pneumatikos].” By misunderstanding this passage, the remainder of the Bible, and the power of God, opponents of the future, physical resurrection are, like Hymenaeus and Alexander: their faith is suffering shipwreck (1 Tim. 1:19–20; 2 Tim. 2:16–18).

This denial of the physical resurrection based on this famous passage is remarkable in that 1 Corinthians 15:44 has been in the NT for 2000 years. And during that time the universal, historic, orthodox Christian faith has held to a future physical resurrection. It even creedalized this great truth, which is “of first importance” regarding the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–3). For instance, toward the end of the Apostles’ Creed we declare with the universal, historic, corporate Christian church that we believe “in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” In the original language versions of the Creed, the resurrection of the “body” is more exactly declared to be the resurrection of the “flesh.” For in Latin the word carnis was used and in Greek sarx.

But there is abundant evidence in Scripture that the resurrection will be future, physical, and corporate. That is, it is not occurring now (for it is future). Nor is it a spiritual transaction (for it is physical). Nor does it transpire at the moment of each believer’s death, as they occur one-by-one (for it is corporate).

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Below I will present a succinct listing of some of the evidence for a future physical resurrection of the body Though my evidence is designed mostly to demonstrate the physical, corporeal nature of the resurrection, by doing such it will undercut any notion that it is happening today.

God’s Design for Man and Resurrection
By divine design, man is two-natured being composed of a unified body and soul (Gen. 2:7). In this he differs from angels who are spirits (Heb. 1:14). And the creation account declares that the physical creation of the world and of man was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), which shows that God would surely not discard it.

Old Testament Pointers and Resurrection
Resurrection is not just a New Testament issue. Many resurrections occur in the Bible — in both the Old (1 Kgs. 17:17–22; 2 Kgs. 4:18–37; 13:20) and the New Testaments (Mark 5:41; Luke 7:14; John 11:38–44; Matt. 27:52–53; Acts 9:36–42; 20:7–12). Each of these is clearly a physical resurrection that demonstrates God’s power (cp. Matt. 22:29; 1 Cor. 6:14). And serves as a pointer beyond themselves to the consummate eschatological resurrection For instance, when Jesus spoke of the deceased Lazarus rising again (John 11:23), his sister Martha immediately thought Jesus referred to the eschatological resurrection at the end (v. 24; which was the dominate view in first-century Judaism; see below). Then in response Jesus declares that he is the resurrection (anastasis, v. 25). In fact, several Old Testament passages present an eschatological resurrection, as we see in Job 19:25–27 and Isaiah 26:19.

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First-century Judaism and Resurrection
The Pharisees believed in a physical resurrection (Acts 23:8), and Paul sided with them on this issue over against the Sadducees (Acts 23:6). In fact, “in classical Judaism, resurrection of the dead was a central belief, essential to defining oneself as a Jew” (Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life [Yale University Press, 2006]).

The Greek Word for “Resurrection”
The Greek word for “resurrection” is anastasis or anistemi, which means “stand up.” This refers to the body which has fallen down in death and will once again stand up in life — by resurrection. This will be just as Jesus rose again from the dead (John 20:9).

The Place of Resurrection
Thus, in John 5:28 the resurrection must involve the physical body for it occurs after death (not at the moment of death): at the tomb (John 5:25), that is, wherever the dead is resting. This passage also speaks of the resurrection as raising men from the tombs in a future, corporate action that involves both the righteous and unrighteous (John 5:28–29; cp. Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:13–15). It is not an ongoing action occurring at the moment when each individual dies.

The Necessity of Resurrection
Man in his full being exists as a body-soul complex. Thus, the unrighteous are necessarily judged in both body and soul in hell: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28). And for our part believers eagerly await “the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23).

Christ’s Physical Resurrection
Christ’s resurrection was physical (Luke 24:39; John 20:20, 27), leaving behind an empty tomb (John 20:1–2, 6–7). When Jesus was resurrected, it was his flesh (body) that was raised and which did not suffer decay (Acts 2:31–33). And his resurrection is deemed the “first fruits” of ours (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). The concept of “first fruits” is derived from the ancient practice of harvesting. The first fruits of a crop are of the same nature as the final, full harvest of the crop — except that they are first. The first fruit of corn does not produce wheat or barley. What is sown is that which is reaped (cf. Gal. 6:7). Consequently, Paul teaches that God “not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power” (1 Cor. 6:14), for “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

The Jerusalem Saints’ Resurrection
When Jesus was resurrected, many bodies of the saints were raised from out of the tombs and were seen by many (Matt. 27:52–53). These were probably recently deceased saints, but the fact remains that these bodies were resurrected in celebration of Christ’s resurrection. And they point to our ultimate resurrection (see reference to “first fruits” above in this article). Theirs was not a part of the eschatological resurrection, so they would not have had transformed, imperishable bodies and would have died again later.

The Denial of Physical Resurrection
According to Christ, those who doubt a resurrection do not believe in the “power of God’ nor do they understand the Scriptures (Luke 22:29–32). They are like the pagan Athenians who mocked the resurrection idea (Acts 17:32), as well as the Corinthian heretics who doubted the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:8–19). And those who believe the resurrection is past are like Hymanaeus who jeopardize the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:16–18),

The “Spiritual” Body Resurrection
The “spiritual [pneumatikos] body” in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:44) is not a body made of spirit any more than a Coke bottle is a bottle made of Coke. Rather, it is a Spirit-filled, Spirit-dominated body. Similarly, the pneumatikos man (1 Cor. 2:14–15) is not an ethereal, physically intangible person, but one controlled by the Spirit. Because of the Spirit’s work and power in the resurrection, our bodies will possess new qualities making them imperishable, glorious, and powerful (1 Cor. 15:42–44). Thus, they are fitted for eternity where no more decay and death occur.

This quick survey of arguments sustains the view of historic Christianity regarding the future, corporate, physical resurrection. This is significant in that the physical resurrection lies at the very core of Christianity and its redemptive promise (1 Cor. 15:1–3). The universal Christian church has surely not been fundamentally wrong on one of its fundamental truths!

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  1. Curtis & Brooke Greenwood May 5, 2023 at 6:49 am


    When is your Revelation commentary going to be released?

  2. Kenneth Gentry May 5, 2023 at 8:38 am

    I believe it will be out in September.

  3. Nigel May 5, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    ..thank you Dr Gentry for this timely summary of the orthodox understanding of the resurrection body. This is also consistent with the historic reformed confessions such as WCF Ch. 32 . LBC Ch. 31 and BC Art 37. as i read them

  4. John Napier May 5, 2023 at 5:40 pm

    Just to mention the first fruits you wrote about in your article. the scripture says: “Christ the first fruits afterward those who belong to Christ at his presence”. So,Those who belong to Christ would all be deemed first fruits would they not? Christs presence is not till he returns on the last day, so the remainder of the first fruits is yet future would it not?
    What i cannot get my faith around is Bruce Gores teaching that those who (have a part) in the first resurrection happened in the first century. he says It was not a literal resurrection but fulfillment of the term “passing over from death to life” by means of Christs resurrection, in that sense they have a part in Christs resurrection! . But,Revelation disagrees it says: “And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for 1,000 years.  (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.  Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and they will rule as kings with him for the 1,000 years.”
    Seems perfectly clear to me, as revelation says, that the first resurrection was when they came to life and ruled with him for a thousand years, this is the first resurrection. ( we are living in that 1000 years now, a number that denotes a long period of time) The scripture is not saying that first century Christians had a part in Christs resurrection simply because they put faith in him. The Bible says it is a literal coming to life in heaven but they are not physically resurrected till the last day when Christ returns, the dead are judged, and Christ hands the Kingdom back to his Father.
    What are your thoughts?

  5. Kenneth Gentry May 6, 2023 at 4:30 pm

    Christ himself is the first fruits, the later harvest is of all those who are saved by his grace when he returns at the end of history. As far as the millennium in Revelation goes, it is the first-century martyrs’ millennium in that it involves those who were slain (beheaded) and who did not worship the beast (Nero). This is a word of comfort for those who will be martyred in the next few years after Revelation was written (see Rev. 6:9ff)

  6. John Napier May 6, 2023 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks Kennith for your answer, I am trying to learn. Could i ask how you know the first fruits is just Christ alone? As far as I knew, first fruits with an “s” is plural as it was a portion of the crop not just one item? Also “the first-century Martyrs millennium” I have not heard of before. I had always thought the 144,000 was made up of the first century martyrs, but the 1000 years extends till Christ returns, hence they are reigning with Christ till now? Could you explain this in more detail?

  7. Harry James Neely May 7, 2023 at 11:08 am

    If the “natural man” is spiritually dead and is subsequently “born anew” could we say that this is a sort of resurrection?

    Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he IS a new creation; old things are passed away; behold, ALL things have become new.

    As regenerated spiritual men and women of God, we are a new creation, and as such we are now “ambassadors for Christ.” Our duty as ambassadors is to call the elect out of the nations to be reconciled to God.

    Are God’s people being destroyed today? It seems like God’s people have increasingly become a target lately. Are we being destroyed because we lack knowledge? Are we rejecting knowledge?

    Won’t our God reject us if we reject knowledge and will He allow us to be priests to Him seeing that we have forgotten the law of our God? Will God then also forget our children? Hosea 3:6

    Perhaps we ought to make as much of an effort to make sure we are carrying out the duties of ambassadors for Christ in a foreign land as we are arguing among ourselves about issues that will eventually pan out.

    “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor. 3:18

    I don’t think many of God’s people realize the comprehensive nature and magnitude of the change that occurs at the moment the Holy Spirit regenerates us and changes us from a “natural man/human being” into a spiritual man of God.

    I believe this sovereign act of God in regeneration not only makes us new creations but also separates us from the unregenerate people in the political community and changes our status or “standing” in relation to the other unregenerate people in the community. It also changes our relationship with the civil or municipal government in the area on earth where we are now sojourning. We are NOW like Abraham sojourning as strangers and pilgrims in a foreign land. Hebrews 11:9

    Abraham “confessed” his change of standing and in so doing declared plainly that he was seeking and desired a better country, that is, a heavenly country, and as a result, God was not ashamed to be called Abraham’s God. Hebrew 11:13-16.

    If our citizenship IS now in the Kingdom of Heaven and if we ARE now sojourning strangers and pilgrims on the earth then how can we still be citizens of some secular country?

    Perhaps you could share your understanding of our change of standing.

  8. Kenneth Gentry May 8, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    Actually in the Greek the word is in the singular. It is usually translated as if plural because of the agricultural notion it signifies. No one reaps one wheat grain as a “first fruit.” It is always “first fruits.”

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