CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

It is often said that the Old Testament contains little discussion about the afterlife. It is also often said that the earliest affirmative statements regarding resurrection occur only in the later books, such as Daniel. But in Ezekiel 37 there is a provacative discussion that Jews during Second Temple Judaism (4 Maccabees 18:17, 4Q Psuedo-Ezekiel) and even many today understood to be a reference to bodily resurrection. Ezekiel 37 paints a vivid picture of the author's being taken to a valley that is full of bones. The bones were "on the surface of the valley" and they were "dry."

Again He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones" .... So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling;and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath" .... So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.' "Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. "Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. "I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land.
It is easy to see why so many have taken this passage as referring to bodily resurrection. Indeed, it is more graphicly physical in its description than most discussions of bodily resurrection in Judaism and Christianity. If true, this would place a definitive statement about bodily resurrection all the way back in the 6th Century BC. However, although at one point many scholars accepted it is as such, presently "most scholars understand the vision of resurrection here to be a metaphor for national and political restoration, not about the resurrection of the individual.” Claudia Setzer, Resurrection of the Body in Early Judaism and Early Christianity, page 8. Such is the verdict of leading Christian scholars such as N.T. Wright and James Charlesworth.

This conclusion is likely correct. Note how Ezekiel refers to the bones as "the whole house of Israel" and referse to placing them "on their own land." But does that really end our inquiry into what Ezekiel 37 can tell us about early Jewish beliefs about the afterlife? And specifically whether it gives any indication of belief in bodily resurrection. As Jewish theologian Neil Gillman writes:

What remains suggestive about this text, however, is the very use of the metaphor of bodily resurrection for national regeneration. Whence and why this metaphor? Where did the prophet learn of that very possibility?
Neil Gilman, The Death of Death, page 74.

Wright adds his usuaul insight about this passage by noting why a valley full of unburied bones would have provided a good metaphor for the state of Israel at the time. "Of all the unclean objects an observant Jew might encounter, unburied corpses or bones would have come near the top of the list. That is the state, metaphorically, to which Israel has been reduced." Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, page 119. While this is true, it still does not explain, in my opinion, why Ezekiel would even think to use a metaphor of what is clearly the resurrection of the body to describe God's restoration of Israel. As Professor Setzer states, "metaphors cannot communicate if they have nothing to do with the way people think and live.” Setzer, op. cit., page 8. Metaphors typically use objects or events of familiarity to describe or explain the unfamiliar. This particular metaphor “would be meaningless in a context where afterlife is seen as an absurdity.” Id..

I do not think that this proves that bodily resurrection was a feature of Judaism at that time. But I think we should reserve judgment as to just when the idea permeated Jewish consciousness. The fact is that most of the Old Testament has little to say about the afterlife. And even what it does say may not tell us about the beliefs of all of the common people or of different sects. What happened to you when you died may have been more of a concern of the individual peasant rather than to the Prophets and Kings.

In reality, we know very little about when and how resurrection belief became a force in Jewish thought. Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God makes a case that is also well articulated by Rabbi Gillman, who writes:

It is equally conceivable that ... the idea of resurrection evolved within Israel as a thoroughly natural development of ideas deeply planted in biblical religion from the outset. If in fact, God created the world and humanity in the first place, if God is hte ultimate force Whose power extends over all of nature and history, if God can send Israel into exile and then redeem it once again, if God can renew the natural cycle each year, if God can, as Isaiah 66 promises, create 'a new haven and a new earth,' then why cannot God raise human beings from the grave?
Gillman, op. cit., pages 96-97.

In sum, the use of a vivid account of bodily resurrection as a metaphor for national restoration in Ezekiel 37 should give us pause before concluding that resurrection was necessarily a later development. At a minimum, it demonstrates that they were aware that God had the power, and perhaps a reason, to do such a thing. Thus, Ezekiel 37 may have been one more step in the natural development in realization that God intended bodily resurrection as the ultimate expression of ending the exile of man from God. Of course, it may also be true that Ezekiel 37 reveals the belief of some early Jews that bodily resurrection was a part of God's plan and thus made a good metaphor for national restoration.

14 comments:

(briefly OT)
Bruce,

Sorry; BK had to shut down comments on the previous entry, before I got back to the office this morning. I think your questions were fair ones--and, fwiw, I was actually giving a compliment (of sorts {s}) in the final non-parenthesis paragraph.

I don't want to go off-topic for this post by Layman, though. (Actually by Layman, not BK--I double-checked! Go me! {self-ironic g!}) So I'll just try to remember to pick back up on the discussion again at a later date in a topically relevant thread.

Now back to the regularly scheduled topic (which I think I'll let others comment on. {g})

JRP

Where does Ezekiel 37 say that the bones are resurrected, rather than merely resuscitated?

As Jews kept those two concepts utterly distinct in their worldview, we need to know which of the two the passage is talking about.

I think it is not talking about a resurrection, it is talking about a resuscitation. A totally different thing.

It is important, because if Ezekiel 37 is talking about a resuscitation, rather than a resurrection, that would explain why the Bible-believing Christian converts in Thessalonica and Corinth still did not believe dead bodies would rise, and why Paul never used Ezekiel 37 to explain that God would reform a decayed corpse.

It would have been relevant.

Sorry, I meant to say 'It would have been irrelevant.'

'While this is true, it still does not explain, in my opinion, why Ezekiel would even think to use a metaphor of what is clearly the resurrection of the body to describe God's restoration of Israel. As Professor Setzer states, "metaphors cannot communicate if they have nothing to do with the way people think and live.'

This is why Paul used a metaphor of 'flesh and blood' when he wrote that 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God'.

People thought and lived by the idea that flesh and blood was perishable and temporary (All flesh is grass wrote 1 Peter 1:24), which is wht Paul turned automatically to a metaphor of flesh and blood as the best way to communicate the idea that something perishable will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Steve,

What do you think the difference is between resurrection and resuscitation?

I have seen distinctions made between, for example, Lazaraus being raised from the dead and Jesus being resurrected. The difference such authors seem to be emphasizing is that Lazarus was restored to his former life and Jesus was raised to eternal life. Thus, Jesus resurrection involved a transformation whereas Lazarus involved a restoration.

Jewish thought of the time would be similar, with the exception of the timing of Jesus' resurrection. They tied resurrection into eschatology, with the resurrection happening at the end of this age or beginning of the next. This resurrection was different not only by its affiliation with the end times, but because of its enduring nature. Those raised were transformed to a state of eternal life.

Thus Jews and Christians of the time would have distinguished between someone being restored to life only to die again and someone being resurrected from the dead to eternal life.

You always seem to ignore the distinction. Can you explain why?

When you repeat the same old arguments Steve you should at least acknowledge the counterargument. From my article on Paul's views of the resurrection:

"What many often overlook is that the phrase "I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" goes on to make clear that there is a physical resurrection and continuity between the physical body before and after death ("for this perishable must put on the imperishable"). The old body "puts on" the new body. The mortal "puts on" immortality. The difference here is not between physical and nonphysical, but between the nature of the old body and the nature of the new one.

The degree to which he thought of 'transformation', rather than either disembodiment or resuscitation, can be seen in his discussion of 'putting on' immortality. Thinking of those who would still be alive when the Lord returned, he wrote that the 'perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality'. This would fulfill the Scripture, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' (1 Cor. 15:53 f.). He used the same imagery in 2 Corinthians 5. The living are in an 'earthly tent', and they wish not to be 'unclothed', but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life' (1 Cor. 5:4). The metaphor changes from 'tent' to 'clothing', but the meaning is nevertheless clear. Immortality is 'put on' and replaces mortality. Paul was not thinking of an interior soul which escapes its mortal shell and floats free, nor of new life being breathed into the same body, but again of transformation, achieved by covering mortality with immortality, which then 'swallows' it.

E.P. Sanders, Paul, at 30.

Furthermore, it is naive to take the reference to "flesh and blood" to mean, merely, physicality or materiality.

Why then does he say 'flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom'? Ever since the second century doubters have used this clause to question whether Paul really believed in the resurrection of the body. In fact, the second half of verse 50 already explains, in Hebraic parallelism with the first half, more or less what he means, as Paul's regular use of 'flesh' would indicate: 'flesh and blood' is a way of referring to ordinary, corruptible, decaying human existence. It does not simply mean, as it has so often been taken to mean, 'physical humanity' in the normal modern sense, but 'the present physical humanity (as opposed to the future), which is subject to decay and death.' The referent of the phrase is not the presently dead but the presently living, who need not to be raised but to be changed; and this brings us back to the dual focus of verses 53 and 54. Both categories of humans need to acquire the new, transformed type of body.

N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, at 359.

See also Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, at 316 ("'Flesh and blood' in verse 50 was a stock idiom in Jewish circles for a 'mere mortal' and does not contradict what Paul has already stressed, that resurrection experience is a bodily on."); Pheme Perkins, Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection, at 306 (describing "flesh and blood" as "a Semitic expression for human being (as in Gal. 1:16). It often appears in contexts that stress creatureliness and mortality").

Another explanation is offered by C.K. Barrett:

The Semitic word-pair 'flesh and blood' is 'only applied to living persons; the words flesh as well as blood exclude an application of the word-pair to the dead.' In the parallel line, corruption is used as an abstract noun instead of a concrete, for 'corpses in decomposition.' Dr. Jeremias sums up: 'The two lines of verse 50 are contrasting men of flesh and blood on the one hand, and corpses in decomposition on the other. In other words, the first line refers to those who are alive at the parousia, the second line to those who died before the parousia. The parallelism is thus not synonymous, but synthetic and the meaning of verse 50 is: neither the living nor the dead can take part in the Kingdom of God--as they are.'

C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, at 379.

In any event, the term "flesh and blood" does not preclude continuity between the old and new bodies.

'What do you think the difference is between resurrection and resuscitation?'

Which of the two is Ezekiel describing? How can we tell? Did Jews actually have such a distinction? If so, why does Ezekiel not make clear which he is talking about?

How can Layman claim that Ezekiel 37 is talking about a resurrection, when he cannot even attempt to find a part of the text which backs up his claimed distinction between resurrection and resuscitation?

'"What many often overlook is that the phrase "I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" goes on to make clear that there is a physical resurrection and continuity between the physical body before and after death ("for this perishable must put on the imperishable"). '

Can't find the word body in there. Paul could have said this perishable body quite easily. In fact, Wright in his resurrection book simply adds the word in , where Paul left it out.

Layman claims that Paul's use of 'flesh and blood' as a metaphor is just a metaphor, while Ezekiel's use of a metapor is more than a metaphor.

Layman claims that a rising of the dead would mean nothing to people who claimed that there was no afterlife, while 'flesh and blood' as a metaphor for perisahability made perfect sense when teaching people that flesh and blood would be made eternal.

But apologetics is all about choosing the right arguments, regardless of consistency.

The mere fact that Paul has spent many verses talking about the materials that different things are made of, means nothing when it is necessary to claim that a reference to 'flesh and blood' is not a reference to the material that a resurrected body is made out of.

But Paul would never have dreamed of using Ezekiel 37 as a proof-text for a resurrection.

Paul writes 'The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.'

When a corpse dissolves into the dust of the earth, it will not be reformed.

Little wonder Paul never used Ezekiel 37.

But I do like Layman's image of the stinking , decayed corpse hidden inside the resurrected body of Jesus.

'The old body "puts on" the new body.' writes Layman.

Little wonder he has to put 'put on' in scare quotes, as he cannot fit Paul's words into the image he wants people to believe.

So he has to resort to the hope that nobody thinks too much about what he means by an old body putting on a new body.

Paul obviously means that we take off the old body first and then put on a new body.

He cannot mean that we put a new body on top of the old, stinking, decayed, rotting corpse.

Yet this is what Layman has to write to fit Paul's use of 'put on' into the Gospel picture of the body of Jesus rising from the tomb complete with the wounds that it went into the tomb with.

'The metaphor changes from 'tent' to 'clothing'...'

Let us quote 2 Corinthians 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Sounds awfully like two tents to me - one we live in now, which can be destroyed, and one which exists in Heaven.

But the tent metaphor is clear that we live in something. Our body is not us.

Paul writes :- 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Is Paul really saying that while we live in our present tent we groan and are burdened, and that we will stay in our present tent for the rest of eternity?

Or is he saying that we will leave this tent and move into a new tent?

But I'm sure Layman will explain that Ezekiel's image fits beautifully into a tent metaphor.

It seems just obfuscation to rest the weight of an argument ("can't use such a passage when we don't know whether it refers to resuscitation or resurrection") based on whether everyone maintained a firm distinction between resuscitation and resurrection and specified it at every turn. Take each of the two options. If they didn't maintain a distinction, then the argument against using the passage collapses and the passage is admissible to a discussion of Christ. On the other hand, if they did maintain a distinction, then resurrection is "resuscitation plus" and the passage is admissible to a discussion of resurrection either way. The early Christian works know only of a resurrection that includes a resuscitation, so the resuscitation passages are still applicable.

Second, the early Christian writers certainly did associate Ezekiel 37 with Christ's resurrection and as a proof text for a bodily resurrection. As far as I'm aware it's perfectly true that there is no mention of it in the New Testament, but it is not clear why there would be a mention of it to their audience: when this passage is brought up in the early church (earliest mention I'm aware of is Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book V chapter XV), the context there is proving that there actually is a bodily resurrection against heretics who argue otherwise, contrary to the teachings of the apostles and primitive church. Given that Paul's readers had many of them visited with Peter and John and James who had seen Jesus bodily after his resurrection, and more still had personally met Paul who had visited with James and John and Peter, and had from there become familiar with the accounts of Jesus eating and walking and talking and breaking bread and showing his wounds after his resurrection, the first generation of Christians was clear enough that Jesus' resurrection entailed a body.

And faulting Paul for saying "this perishable" instead of "this perishable body" is nearly desperate. What exactly would have been perishable except the body? But if you acknowledge that what was perishable was the body -- and he'd just used "perishable" as parallel with "flesh and blood" so it takes wilfull misunderstanding to miss that -- then being clothed with the imperishable refers to a physical result.

And the "old stinking decayed rotting corpse" -- well, there it is: solid evidence that the commenter means to misunderstand and ridicule at any cost, and has tossed out any pretense of "looking for an understanding of the passage intended by the author or understood by the audience". The audience for which Paul's original words were intended demonstrably took it in no such way. Centuries on centuries went by without anyone taking it any such way. Possibly this demonstrates that what Carr is suggesting is not a natural reading of the text by someone interested in what the author was saying to the original audience?

Carr: when the day comes that you and I have both become piles of dust and bones or ashes, we may well be glad to be clothed with the imperishable. Which is more like Paul's point. Paul's readers, understanding that Christ's resurrection was an earnest downpayment on a similar future for them also, realized that this reality directly addressed the futility of life and the meaninglessness of the world. That is what they got out of reading Paul -- and Ezekiel. If you try reaidng it from that point of view, you might have better luck at understanding what they're saying.

Steven,

I thought I made it clear that I thought Ezekiel was describing the restoration of the nation of Israel. To the extent I think it may reflect some view of resurrection, I think it does so because of the eschatological nature of the discussion. When Jews discussed lots of people being restored to life in an eschatological context that indicates resurrection rather than mere resuscitation. How is this unclear?

"Can't find the word body in there. Paul could have said this perishable body quite easily. In fact, Wright in his resurrection book simply adds the word in , where Paul left it out."

Paul: "But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" 1 Cor. 15:35. The whole discussion is about bodies.

"Layman claims that Paul's use of 'flesh and blood' as a metaphor is just a metaphor, while Ezekiel's use of a metapor is more than a metaphor."

I'm quite clear that Ezekiel is just using a metaphor. I just ask why did he use that metaphor. And I do not think that Paul's use of "flesh and blood" is best described as a metaphor, but as an idiom or an expression.

"Layman claims that a rising of the dead would mean nothing to people who claimed that there was no afterlife, while 'flesh and blood' as a metaphor for perisahability made perfect sense when teaching people that flesh and blood would be made eternal."

The use of "flesh and blood" as an idiom is attested outside of Paul's own usage there. And I do not claim that Paul taught that "flesh and blood" would be made eternal. I claim that Paul taught that the human body would have to be transformed before it could inherit the kingdom of God.

"The mere fact that Paul has spent many verses talking about the materials that different things are made of, means nothing when it is necessary to claim that a reference to 'flesh and blood' is not a reference to the material that a resurrected body is made out of."

Actually, that Paul talks about different materials shows he believed that the body that was raised would be a material one. But it would be a material transformed from the old stuff.

"But Paul would never have dreamed of using Ezekiel 37 as a proof-text for a resurrection."

Probably not in the context of 1 Corinthains since what Paul was likely facing was Greek distate for the notion of a pure soul being restored to a decaying body. Ezekiel 37 would be much too graphic for his purposes as it would play into their prejudices. His emphasis here is on transformation, which is why he probably draws more on Daniel.

"'The old body "puts on" the new body.' writes Layman.

Little wonder he has to put 'put on' in scare quotes, as he cannot fit Paul's words into the image he wants people to believe.

So he has to resort to the hope that nobody thinks too much about what he means by an old body putting on a new body. "

Actually, I use quotes around "puts on" because that is what Paul says will happen:

"For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, Death is Swalled up in victory." 1 Cor. 15:53-54.

"He cannot mean that we put a new body on top of the old, stinking, decayed, rotting corpse."

He means that the perishable will "put on" the imperishable. That's what he says. The perishable becomes imperishable by this putting on. As Paul writes in the letter to the Phillipians:

"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." Phil. 3:20-21.

Paul uses another methaphor that is perhaps more to your liking in 2 Cor. 5:4: "For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."

The old becomes the new through some form of transformative process. Paul describes this as the old putting on the new, the old being swallowed up by the new, the spirit being "further clothed" by the new.

WF,

Thanks for the comment and the references to early Christian use of Ezekiel 37. There were also early Jewish writers that used the verse in relation to resurrection. 4 Macccabees 18:17 gives us an explicit reference to the passage. So too does the DSS document 4QPseudo-Ezekiel.

I will say that it is possible that they believed in a resurrection only to die again, but I think that unlikely. Such a view was popularized by the Jewish philosopher Maimonides of the twelfth century. He concluded that there would be a resurrection to usher in the new age, but that people would eventually die again. At that second death, they would continue to eternal life as a purely spiritual entity.

But what Maimonides was trying to do was reconcile the traditional Jewish view of resurrection with his affinity for Platonic philosophy. This has hardly the case for the writer of 4 Maccabees.

In any event, to Maimonides, I suppose he would distinguish between resurrection and resucitation still by its eschatological context.

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