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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I and others have argued that Paul's use of a seed as an analogy for the resurrection is evidence that Paul believed that the body that was buried was in contiuity to some extent with the body that was resurrected. Alan Segal, guest blogging at The Busybody, has argued just the opposite. While conceding that Paul elsewhere indicates his belief in continuity between the buried and resurrected bodies, Segal argues that the seed analogy indicates a lack of continuity:


The metaphor of the grain of wheat suggests two bodies because the ancient world thought that the seed disappeared and was reborn. Other parts of the passage suggest a single body transformed.

When asked for his source for the assertion about ancient beliefs on the seed, Segal could not remember any. Although I cannot refute what is not presented, the sources of which I am aware indicate it is unlikely that everyone in the ancient world knew that the seed "disappeared," thus rendering the resurrection of a dead body inconceivable. Indeed, many ancient writers other than Paul clearly used the seed analogy to describe the resurrection of the dead body.

There are two passages of interest from the ancient Jewish authors, whose commitment to continuity between the old and new bodies is firmly established. The first is, "If a kernel of wheat is buried naked and will sprout forth in many robes, how much more so the righteous." b. Sanh. 90b. I have explained elsewhere why the reference to “robes” probably indicates a belief in a glorified resurrected body. But even if the meaning is more literal, obviously rabbinic Jews saw the seed analogy as a preferred analogy to describe bodily resurrection. The second is, “All the dead will rise at the resurrection of the dead, dressed in their shrouds. Know that that this is the case. Come and see from (the analogy) of the one who plants (seed) in the earth. He plants naked (seeds) and they arise covered with many coverings; and the people who descend into the earth dressed (with their garments); will they not rise up dressed (in their garments)?” Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Section 33.

There are also early Christian sources that use the seed analogy to refer to the resurrection of the body. One is Origen, who states that the “power which exists in a grain of wheat refashions and restores the grain, after its corruption and death, into a body with stalk and ear. On First Principles, 2.10.3. More to the point, however, are some of the earliest Christian references. The author of 1 Clement and Tertullian refer to the seed “rotting away” and “dissolving,” but this does not count against continuity between old and new. (1 Clement 24; Apology 48). These authors clearly affirm continuity by the miraculous power of God to restore the body even from its remaining dust. For when something dissolves and rots away, it does not cease to exist entirely (nor does it "disappear"), but is reduced to dust or ash. But God made man from dust once and according to these ancient Jews and Christians, will do so again if need be at the resurrection. Remember in Genesis that Man is described, "dust you are, and to dust you will return." Gen. 3:19. As described by a Jewish source:

All the bodies crumble into the dust of the earth until nothing remains of the body except a spoonful of earthly matter. In the future life when the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to the earth to return all the bodies deposited with it, that which had become mixed with the dust of the earth, like the yeast which is mixed with dough, improves and increases and it raises up all the body. When the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to the earth to return all the bodies deposited with it, that which has become mixed with the dust of the earth improves and increases and raises up all the body without water.

Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Section 34.

A later Christian author also puts it well, mixing the seed analogy with an emphasis on the restoration of the destroyed earthly body:

Some may wonder how decayed bodies can become sound again, scattered members brought together, and destroyed parts restored. Yet no one seems to wonder how seeds softened and broken by the dampness and weight of the earth grow and become green again. Such seeds, of course, are rotted and dissolved by contact with the earth. But when the generative moisture of the soil imparts life to the buried and hidden seeds by a kind of life-giving heat, they receive the animating force of the growing plant. Then gradually, nature raises from stalk the tender life called the growing ear, and, like a careful mother, wraps it in a sheath as a protection against its being nipped at this immature stage by the frost or scorched by the sun when the kernels are emerging, as it were, from early infancy.

Ambrose, On His Brother Satyrus, 2.55.

Other New Testament verses show that early Christians used the seed analogy to emphasize continuity with transformation, such as growth. Matthew 13:31-32 uses the mustard seed as an analogy for the Kingdom, emphasizing its size when “it is full grown.” See the similar usage in Mark 4:26-29. In another parable, the Kingdom is compared to the seed that falls in various types of ground, where it is referred to as having “sprang up” and “grew up.” Mark 4:3-7. These references envision a seed as growing or sprouting, with no emphasis on discontiniuity.

All in all, the fact that so many ancient Jews and Christians unquestionably used the seed analogy to describe the resurrection of the dead body renders it probable that Paul did so as well. I would be interested in seeing references to the seed "disappearing," but have found none in ancient Jewish and Christian sources. There are many references to the seed "rotting away" or "dissolving," but those same references attest to the resurrection of the dead body by God's miraculous power. Uses of the seed analogy in other contexts by Matthew and Mark also emphasize continuity with transformation, rather than cessation and new creation.

6 comments:

It is interesting to compare how Jews write when they believe in the resurrection of bodies.

Here is one who does not, one who scoffs at the idea that God will raise the dust of the earth.

'So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"[ the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.
... 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.'


Here is one who does , one who mbraces the idea that God will raise the dust of the earth.

'All the bodies crumble into the dust of the earth until nothing remains of the body except a spoonful of earthly matter. In the future life when the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to the earth to return all the bodies deposited with it, that which had become mixed with the dust of the earth, like the yeast which is mixed with dough, improves and increases and it raises up all the body. When the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to the earth to return all the bodies deposited with it, that which has become mixed with the dust of the earth improves and increases and raises up all the body without water.'

Can you see the difference?

Do the passages in Mark and Matthew refer to a resurrection, bearing in mind that the Gospel does not die when you plant it?

Why is spreading the Gospel analogous to the resurrection of a dead body?

And who has ever referred to the body of Jesus going into the ground being just a 'seed', apart from someone who was clearly using Paul?

'Some may wonder how decayed bodies can become sound again, scattered members brought together, and destroyed parts restored.'

Paul says such questions are idiotic.

And he never answers them the way Layman quotes other people who take such questions seriously.

Instead, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are stupid to wonder how decayed bodies can become sound again, because the decayed body is dead.

If Paul had heard the Monty Python parrot sketch, he would have said 'The seed is dead. It is an ex-seed. It is bereft of life, etc etc'

I did like Layman's citation of 1 Clement 24 as an analogy to the resurrection of Jesus, and Layman's insistence that 1 Clement 24 likens resurrection to a transformation of material.

Here is part of 1 Clement 24 :-
'Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day departs, and the night comes on.'

Clearly Clement was not likening a resurrection to the transformation of old material.

Aftar all, as Layman cleverly forgets to tell his readers, Clenent was the person who proves that resurrection happens by having the Phoenix deliver his old bones up to public gaze.

'Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode.The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.'

Imagine that! A first-century Christian saying that you can see that the resurrection has happened, because you can see the bones of the dead bird!

Clement clearly knew that people could see the bones of the dead Jesus, because he uses the old-bones-prova-a-resurrection analogy.

Carr makes his point, as usual, by begging the question. The point is that the seed analogy envisions contintuity. You have done nothing to respond to that point.

Do the passages in Mark and Matthew refer to a resurrection, bearing in mind that the Gospel does not die when you plant it?

Nope. But the two rabbinic sources certainly do. In any event, I was clear about why I cited those two passages. They do not refer to the resurrection. What they do is use the seed as an analogy for the growth of the Kingdom. The references envision a seed growing into something, not just disappearing into oblivion.

And who has ever referred to the body of Jesus going into the ground being just a 'seed', apart from someone who was clearly using Paul?

Where does Paul use the analogy of the seed to refer to Jesus?

Paul says such questions are idiotic.

Right. Because of the power of God to do such things. Which is the point made by other authors using the seed analogy.

I did like Layman's citation of 1 Clement 24 as an analogy to the resurrection of Jesus, and Layman's insistence that 1 Clement 24 likens resurrection to a transformation of material.

Here is part of 1 Clement 24 :-
'Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day departs, and the night comes on.'

Clearly Clement was not likening a resurrection to the transformation of old material.


You deny that the author of 1 Clement believed in bodily resurrection? Do tell. Of course he does, and he sees no conflict in using the seed analogy to describe the process. Of what significance is the day/night analogy? Frankly, I can see an author describing day transforming into night and vice versa.

Aftar all, as Layman cleverly forgets to tell his readers, Clenent was the person who proves that resurrection happens by having the Phoenix deliver his old bones up to public gaze.


I did not forget, I did not and do no see the relevance. As I have explained to you before:

Many early Christian writers used that example. Given how widespread the story was, comparisons to the resurrection were inevitable if not exact. The Apostolic Fathers, trns. Michael Holmes, page 59 n. 66 (“The story of the Phoenix was widely used (with varying levels of credulity) by early Christian writers.”). Indeed, Tertullian uses the same example in his unambiguously titled treatise, “On the Resurrection of the Flesh”:

If, however, all nature but faintly figures our resurrection; if creation affords no sign precisely like it, inasmuch as its several phenomena can hardly be said to die so much as to come to an end, nor again be deemed to be reanimated, but only re-formed; then take a most complete and unassailable, symbol of our hope, for it shall be an animated being, and subject alike to life and death. I refer to the bird which is peculiar to the East, famous for its singularity, marvelous from its posthumous life, which renews its life in a voluntary death; its dying day is its birthday, for on it it departs and returns; once more a phoenix where just now there was none; once more himself, but just now out of existence; another, yet the same. What can be more express and more significant for our subject; or to what other thing can such a phenomenon bear witness? God even in His own Scripture says: "The righteous shall flourish like the phoenix;" that is, shall flourish or revive, from death, from the grave--to teach you to believe that a bodily substance may be recovered even from the fire. Our Lord has declared that we are "better than many sparrows:" well, if not better than many a phoenix too, it were no great thing. But must men die once for all, while birds in Arabia are sure of a resurrection?
Chap. 13.

Notice how Tertullian recognizes that it is an inexact metaphor, but cannot help himself from using it. But even more important is his reference to “His own Scripture.” As Holmes explains, the Greek term in the LXX at Psalm 91:13 (92:12 in modern translations), the term used for “palm tree” is phoenix, which was confused with phoenix, which means “phoenix bird.” Thus, they read Psalms as saying, “The righteous man will flourish like the phoenix bird, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” Such a similarity in language likely made the Phoenix story an attractive analogy for writers such as the author of 1 Clement and Tertullian.

So, Clement’s use of the Phoenix is (like Tertullian) to support the idea of the resurrection of the body. This hardly helps your case and in fact counts against it. Not only because he was writing the Corinthian church but because Clement also adds yet more weight to the fact that the analogy of the seed was used to reinforce the notion of the resurrection of the body (with radical transformation of course).

1 Clement on the resurrection of the body:

Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those who have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] says in a certain place, "You shall raise me up, and I shall confess to You;" and again, "I laid down, and slept; I awaked, because You are with me;" and again, Job says, "you shall raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things."

Actually, knowing Steven, I expect his initial quote from a Jew "who scoffs at the idea that God will raise the dust of the earth" is supposed to be Paul from 1 Cor 15:47-49.

As usual, he is suppressing contexts, of course. Which we've discussed before. At length. The 'difference' between one Jew (Paul) and another Jew (the rabbi Eliezer you quoted, which Steven is requoting), is that one Jew happens (at the moment) to be speaking of this resurrection as coming due to the second Adam, who was not originally made of dust to becoming a living soul; but whom Paul _has_ described as being buried like a seed and rising again earlier in 1 Cor 15. The body that is raised is not the body it had (per v 37), but that which is sown _is_ what is coming to life again (per v 36). _It_ is sown in corruption; _it_ is raised in incorruption (same 'it'), with parallelisms following subsequently: 'it' is sown in dishonor, weakness, and (as) a natural body; 'it' is raised in glory, power, and (as) a spiritual body. Same it.

(Steven has disputed that the grammar for the subsequent parallelisms can read "A natural body [etc.] is sown; a spiritual body [etc.] is raised." Which is true; but that absolutely _cannot_ be how the introductory paradigm is phrased, and the subsequent parallels are following that establishment of a coherent 'it'.)

In any case, v. 48 _taken in context_ means that the Resurrection does not happen apart from Christ and His resurrection. (hearkening back to v. 20ff: "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, for since by a man came death, by a man also comes the resurrection from the dead; for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.")


Since we know for a fact that Paul is saying, later in 53-54, that even the living shall be changed at the last trumpet, by _putting on_ incorruption and immortality; then we have no reason to think that he meant something different by the seed analogy. By comparison, in 2 Cor 5, he speaks of the body being an earthly tent which is torn down, and yet also speaks of being clothed--the problem, according to him, being that although we groan in this earthly body, we do not want to be unclothed but to have clothed so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

The implication is that if the body happens to be destroyed, _even this_ will be repaired; but if the body is present (which Jesus' still was), then this will be transformed by putting on the Resurrection. (Which as far as I can tell is quite coherent with Jewish notions. Even if the particular rabbinic author, Eliezer, did not in that portion mention the Messiah's role in the Resurrection, this role was still a common belief among Jewish authorities. In which case the only remaining relevant distinction would be the _identification_ of the Messiah: i.e. this Jesus whom they crucified.)

Jason Pratt

Excellent article. I have used this as a sourced material for much of my work against full preterism. Thanks

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