This is a continuation of CADRE blog responses to Richard Carrier's chapter in The Empty Tomb, which argues that Paul believed in a two-body resurrection that entailed the original body remaining in the tomb while a brand new body unrelated to the old was given to the Christian. For links to previous posts on the subject, go here. For now, I address Carrier's arguments concerning Origen and Paul.
Does it Matter what Origen Believed?
According to Carrier, “the great Christian scholar Origen understood Paul’s resurrection doctrine as I do.” That is, Carrier claims that Origen believed that Paul described a resurrection process whereby the old body remains in the grave and the Christian (and by necessary implication, Jesus) is given a completely new body, with no continuity between the two. If this was truly Origen’s understanding, it is left unclear why this would lend any support to Carrier’s novel theory. Origen was not even born until about 130 years after Paul wrote his letters. His extant writings date from 150 to 200 years thereafter. So it is not as if Origen was Paul’s contemporary. Additionally, Origen is not remembered for his skill in recovering an author’s original intent, but because he was an imaginative innovator.
So even if Carrier is right and Origen believed Paul affirmed a two-body resurrection theory, the question presents itself: so what?
How Do We Know What Origen Believed?
Whether or not Origen can be a guide to Paul's original meaning, is Carrier correct about Origen’s views?
The first step is to figure out what Origen really thought about the resurrection. This presents a challenge. According to Carrier, “[Origen] was branded a heretic, his treatise on the resurrection was destroyed, and many of his other statements on the resurrection were ‘revised’ with the ascendant orthodoxy.” In a footnote, Carrier notes that the Latin translations by Rufinus revised Origen in more orthodox traditions but that “[N.T.] Wright uncritically accepts the Rufinus text as Origen’s.”
Carrier’s assertions are somewhat misleading. First, as to Origen’s being “branded a heretic,” this occurred long after his death:
A common misperception today is that, during his lifetime, Origen was excommunicated from the church as a heretic. The available evidence does not, however, support this claim. . . . Origen spent the remainder of his life as a presbyter at Caesarea in Palestine, where he publicly preached and taught. He also defended the church against heretics and pagan accusers. He died in the communion of the church as a confessor, having endured excruciating tortures for Christ during the Decian persecution.
A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. David W. Bercot, page 486.
Origen was not deemed a heretic until three hundred years later, in 553. His works were widespread by then. Not all survived the intervening two thousand years – as happened with even “orthodox” scholars – but many did. And not, as Carrier suggests, only in questionable Latin translations. For example, Origen’s On Prayer, On Martyrdom, Commentary on Matthew, and – most importantly – Against Celsus, survive in Greek manuscripts unmediated by Rufinus or any other Latin translator. (Although Carrier never makes this point, he is surely aware of this given his citations of Greek terms from Against Celsus).
Furthermore, Carrier simply picks out one passage from Against Celsus and proclaims it among the most trustworthy statements to have survived. No clue is given as to why this particular passage is so privileged. Indeed, it seems that Carrier simply writes off any passage from Origen that might be troublesome for his theory.
While Carrier is dismissive of Rufinus’ translation of First Principles, other scholars seem more balanced in their approach. Scholars have done careful studies analyzing Rufinius’ translation have shown that he tended to correct Origen’s “theological formulations related to the Trinity,” but that “we still have, along with the basic shape and content of the book, a faithful picture of Origen’s cosmology and eschatology.” W. Trigg, Origen (The Early Church Fathers), page 18. Resurrection is a part of eschatology. Additionally, later discoveries of Greek portions of Origen’s Commentary on Romans showed that "Rufinus' Latin translation was not as bad as has sometimes been supposed." Edgar J. Goodspeed, revised by Michael Grant, A History of Early Christian Literature, page 142. Scholars no longer seem as suspicious as they used to. According to a leading Origen scholar, “Most scholars today agree that the translations of Rufinus which used to be so suspect do not deserve this rejection.” Origen, Spirit & Fire, ed. Hans Urs von Balthasar, trns. Roberty J. Daly, S.J., page 21.
In light of this, what is to be made of Carrier’s complete dismissal of N.T. Wright’s discussion of Origen because Wright “uncritically” accepts Rufinus text? It too is misleading. Wright references First Principles only four times but cites Against Celsus 25 times, along with numerous citations to secondary works by critical scholars of Origen. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pages 518-27. Indeed, Wright’s secondary citations are to works – such as Caroline Bynam’s Resurrection of the Body of the Body in Western Christianity, quoted by Carrier himself – that discuss the textual and translation issues related to Origen and reach conclusions about which are most trustworthy. Carrier’s dismissal of Wright, therefore, is off the mark.
Here is the one passage Carrier quotes at any length:
To be in any physical location, the soul, in its very nature bodiless and invisible, must have a body suitable in nature to that place. So it strips off from itself the former body which it carries here, which was once necessary but is then superfluous to its second life, and puts on another there, over what it had before, needing a superior garment for the purer, ethereal, celestial places.
Against Celsus, 7.32.
This language, as well as the other snippets mentioned by Carrier, are consistent with the traditional understanding that Paul speaks of a body transformed into a new and improved body. It does not negate continuity nor require a two-body theory. Elsewhere Origen is clear that there is continuity between old and new. In fact, in the passage by Carrier, Origen refers to a baby’s exchanging one body for another as it is born. Obviously there is continuity in this example, just as with death and resurrection. Note also that the portion cited by Carrier refers to putting on the new "over what it had before."
Other References from Against Celsus
Other references from Against Celsus reinforce the understanding of Origen that he affirmed a transformed body, a mixture of contintuity with discontinuity.
First, Origen defends the Gospel narratives about the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. Though he could have simply defended them as allegory – as he does with other touchy historical challenges – Origen takes pains to defend the accounts as accurate. When Celsus claims the Gospels accounts contradict each other about the number of angels present, Origen explains that the reports are accurate because they are referring to two separate appearances. Against Celsus, 5.58. Indeed, Origen stressed that as a matter of history, the tomb was rolled away so that all could see that Jesus' body was gone and that he had truly been raised from the dead:
but the "Angel of God" who came into the world for the salvation of men, with the help of another angel, proved more powerful than the conspirators, and rolled away the weighty stone, that those who deemed the Word to be dead might be convinced that He is not with the "departed," but is alive, and precedes those who are willing to follow Him, that He may manifest to them those truths which come after those which He formerly showed them at the time of their first entrance (into the school of Christianity)
Against Celsus, 5.58.
Clearly, Origen believed that Jesus’ body was resurrected and the tomb left empty. See also Against Celsus, 1.51. It is problematic, therefore, to suppose that Origen believed Paul used the resurrection of Jesus as an example for Christians unless he believed their tombs would be empty too. In other words, the empty tomb of Jesus is strong evidence against Carrier’s reconstruction of Origen’s resurrection belief. That Origen saw Jesus' empty tomb as an example of what Christians could expect at their later resurrections is confirmed by Origen's reference to the empty tomb being a precedent for those who would follow Jesus.
Second, while defending the narrative of the skeptical Thomas, Origen emphasizes that Jesus really showed Thomas the wounds in his hands and side: “Jesus accordingly, having called Thomas, said, ‘Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.’” Against Celsus, 2.61.
Origen defends the historicity of passages that most emphasize the continuity of Jesus’ earthly and resurrected bodies. Jesus’s body is very different, but the wounds prove that this body was in some sense related to the body that Jesus had before his resurrection.
Third, Origen accuses Celsus of playing the fool about Christian belief so as to facilitate his attacks. Celsus apparently portrayed Christians as believing in the raising up of a corpse. But Christians agree that it is not the “same” body that is resurrected because that body must undergo transformation into something better during the resurrection.
Neither we, then, nor the holy Scriptures, assert that with the same bodies, without a change to a higher condition, "shall those who were long dead arise from the earth and live again;" for in so speaking, Celsus makes a false charge against us.
Against Celsus, 5.18.
And in the next passage:
God, then, gives to each thing its own body as He pleases: as in the case of plants that are sown, so also in the case of those beings who are, as it were, sown in dying, and who in due time receive, out of what has been "sown," the body assigned by God to each one according to his deserts.
Against Celsus, 5.19.
The new body arises out of the old. It is “changed” to a “higher condition.” This is obviously not a discussion of the soul, for Origen like Paul believes in the intermediate state in which the soul survives death. It is the body that dies and is sown, and out of which the new body is formed. Moreover, Origen is referring to the general resurrection of all here, not just the specific example of Jesus.
And a few passages later:
We, therefore, do not maintain that the body which has undergone corruption resumes its original nature, any more than the gain of wheat which has decayed returns to its former condition. But we do maintain, that as above the gain of wheat there arises a stalk, so a certain power is implanted in the body, which is not destroyed, and from which the body is raised up in incorruption.
Against Celsus, 5.23.
Origen explains that the body is not raised as it was originally, but in a new state. Just as a seed falls to the ground and seems to dissolve and from it grows a plant, so the new body is buried, decays, and out of it a new body grows.
The Body in Flux
It must be admitted that Origen tempts misunderstanding at first glance because unlike some of his predecessors, he is not obsessed with explaining how every piece of the old body is retained by the new. Some Jewish and Christian thinkers obsessed over how God could assemble every piece of a person long dead, going so far so even as to worry about cannibalism. Origen did not see this as a problem because he recognized that the human body is constantly undergoing transformation throughout its life. Here is how he puts it:
Because each body is held together by [virtue] of a nature that assimilates into itself from without certain things for nourishment and, corresponding to the things added, it excretes other things…., the material substratum is never the same. For this reason, river is not a bad name for the body since, strictly speaking, the initial substratum in our bodies is perhaps not the same for even two days.
Yet the real Paul or Peter, so to speak, is always the same—[and] not merely in [the] soul, whose substance neither flows through us nor has anything ever added [to it] – even if the nature of the body is in a state of flux, because the form characterizing the body is the same, just as the features constituting the corporeal quality of Peter and Paul remain the same. According to this quality, not only scars from childhood remain on the bodies but also certain other peculiarities, [like] skin blemishes and similar things….
And just as we would … need to have gills and other endowments of fish if it were necessary for us to live underwater in the sea, so those who are going to inherit the kingdom of heaven and be in superior places must have spiritual bodies. The previous form does not disappear, even if its transition to the more glorious state occurs, just as the form of Jesus, Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration was not a different one than what it had been….
Fragment on Psalm, 1.5.
Origen saw the body as in a constant state of material flux, not the same from day to day even. Yet there is something he calls the form – perhaps a crude forerunner of the notion of DNA – that is continuous. In the resurrection, this state of flux continues but even the form is transformed into a more glorious state. Yet there is continuity as the form “does not disappear” but “transitions” to a more glorious state. As Bynum states, “body, as Origen understands it, changes in life, therefore it certainly changes after death.” Bynum, op. cit., page 65.
In sum, Origen speaks of discontinuity but also continuity. His defense of the empty tomb and the value he places on it as an example of the general resurrection of Christians strongly indicates that he believed in the resurrection of the body rather than an exchange with no continuity. He goes so far as to defend the story of Jesus appearing to Thomas and showing his scars, again stressing that there was continuity at some level between old and new. Moreover, when responding to attacks by Celsus, Origen stressed that Christians believed that the old body would be "changed" and greatly improved in preparation for its new domain. Origen's belief of the body as being in a state of flux actually reinforces the view that he believed in continuity between old and new, though it highlights how radical Origen viewed the transformation to be.