Romans 8:11 and Bodily Resurrection
For previous installments in the “Is Richard Carrier Wrong About ....” series, check the post and links, here. In this installment, we turn to Carrier's exegesis of a specific Pauline passage. According to Richard Carrier, one of the most problematic Pauline passages for his two-body resurrection theory is Romans 8:11:
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But 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.
The reference to the Spirit giving life to the Christian's mortal body seems a clear statement that the existing, mortal body will be transformed into the resurrection body. This is highly problematic for Richard Carrier's theory that Paul did not believe in the resurrection of the body, but in the creation of a new body, entirely disconnected from the old one.
A Past or Future Event?
To avoid this result, Carrier argues that Romans 8:11 does not refer to the resurrection at all, but only to God's present work in the lives of Christians. According to Carrier, “the context does seem to be our present life, not the resurrection.” The Empty Tomb, page 149. Further, “although Paul does eventually turn his mind to the future, and links our present with it, his discourse up to then is about what is happening to us in the present: God gives life to our bodies now, bodies that will die because they are mortal (the only reason to describe our bodies as such), but because the Spirit in us 'is life' (the entire point of Paul's line of reasoning), we will live—though here he does not specify how. His point throughout is that we must not have any concern for the worldly things that will pass away, meaning everything of flesh.” Id. page 149-50.
Carrier's position is not novel. Pheme Perkins advocated a similar position in Resurrection, New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection. Page 270. Long before Professor Perkins, John Calvin expressed a similar view. Despite the pedigree of the idea, the better understanding of Romans 8:11 is that it refers to the future bodily resurrection of Christians, explicitly stating that it is the present body that will be raised from the dead at the resurrection. This passage, in other words, torpedoes Carrier's theory.
A problem with Carrier's understanding of Romans 8:11 is that the making alive of mortal bodies is stated in the future, not the present, tense. The reference is literally “to make alive” and is in the future tense. Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, at 365. See also Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, page 476 (noting that the Greek for “give life” is in the future tense). In other words, Paul is saying that the Spirit “will make alive” our mortal bodies at some point in the future. This is something that will happen, not that is happening or has happened.
This is especially significant because in the same passage Paul refers to the presence of Christ making “the spirit alive because of righteousness.” This is stated in the present tense. The Spirit has made the Christian alive in the present sense, but there is something that remains to be done. Something that will occur in the future. Although the indwelling Spirit has made Christians alive in a sense, it will also make the Christian's "mortal body” alive at some point in the future. Carrier appears to equate the future event with what has already been accomplished.
Similar Pauline Passages?
Carrier refers to two other Pauline passages that speak of the giving of the Spirit as being related to things occurring in the present. The first is Ephesians 2:1-7:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
This passage offers little support for Carrier's reading. As an initial matter, it does not speak about what happens to our “mortal bodies.” Moreover, it uses the past tense to refer to what God has accomplished whereas in Romans 8:11 Paul uses the present tense to refer to the making alive of mortal bodies. In Eph. 2:5, God “made us alive,” with the perfect tense pointing to “the completed action with a continuing result.” F. Rienecker & C. Rogers, op. cit., page 525. In Eph. 2:6, God “raised us up with” Jesus and “seated us with Him.” Both verses 5 and 6 are aorist indicative, meaning they are past actions. In Rom. 8:11, God “will give life to our mortal bodies.” The tense is future, meaning this is something that has not happened yet but will. This suggests the general resurrection at the Parousia. As stated by Joseph Fitzmyer, “The fut. tense express the role of the vivifying Spirit in the eschatological resurrection of Christians.” Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans, page 491.
Next, Carrier refers to Colossians 2:13.
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions....
Carrier's use of this passage suffers from similar deficiencies as the previous one. It uses the aorist indicative (indicating the past tense). Moreover, it does not refer to God's actions on “our mortal bodies.” While in Col. 2:13, Paul writes about God giving life to the Christian believer in a sense other than the resurrection of the body, the tense is aorist and the mood indicative, meaning this is something that has been accomplished. God “made you alive," whereas in Romans 8:11 God “will give life” to the mortal bodies. The two differences, therefore, are when the action happens (in the past versus the future) and to what it happened (the person versus the body).
Jesus' Resurrection and Our Own
Carrier does not adequately explain Paul's close association of Jesus' resurrection with that of the Christian's: “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” v. 11. Because Paul has linked the making alive of mortal bodies with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, it would seem natural to conclude that he refers to the resurrection of the body. Not according to Carrier. Carrier claims that the point of comparison is not with the resurrection of Jesus, but with “the giving of the Spirit.” Id. at 149.
More accomplished scholars, however, recognize that that Paul links Jesus' resurrection with that of the Christian in Romans 8:11.
[T]he emphatic repetition of 'him [God] who raised Christ from the dead,' as a way of identifying the indwelling Spirit, is probably intended as a deliberate reiteration of the closeness between Christ's resurrection and ours—his being the ground of ours, as Paul has made abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 15.
Gordon D. Fee, God's Empowering Presence, page 552.
Fee's point is well taken. Paul twice states that the Spirit's raising of Jesus from the dead just before explaining that the same Spirit will give life to the mortal bodies of Christians. The role of the Spirit is obviously important, but Paul uses the specific example of the Spirit's role in raising Jesus from the dead because he is introducing the resurrection of Christian bodies to his train of thought.
Furthermore, in other passages where Paul compares God's raising of the Jesus from the dead to the state of Christians, he clearly is referring to resurrection. These passages are much more instructive as to Paul's meaning in Romans 8:11 than those offered by Carrier.
* 1 Cor. 6:14 -- “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” Note that God “will also raise us up” is stated in the future tense, as in Romans 8:11, but not in the verses provided by Carrier.
* 2 Cor. 4:14 -- “knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.” Again, the raising of the Christian is stated in the future tense.
* 1 Thess. 4:14-- “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” The “will bring” Christians up with Jesus is also stated in the future tense.
These three verses link Jesus' resurrection, an event that has happened, with the resurrection of the Christians, stated in the future tense. This is the same pattern as in Romans 8:11 substantively and grammatically and unlike what is found in the examples offered by Carrier.
In conclusion, it appears there is no good reason to read this passage in the way Carrier suggests. Paul refers to the resurrection of the "mortal bodies" of Christians at a point in the future. This directly contradicts Carrier's theory that Paul did not believe in the resurrection of the body but in the elimination of the old body and the creation of a new one. Paul believed that the mortal body the Christian currently possess will be given life, freed from the bondage of death.