The early church fathers actually considered a denial of a bodily resurrection as damning!

For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, even as one, if he would rightly consider it, would not admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistæ, Meristæ, Galilæans, Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews (do not hear me impatiently when I tell you what I think), but are [only] called Jews and children of Abraham, worshipping God with the lips, as God Himself declared, but the heart was far from Him. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.

(Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 80). Notice how Justin Martyr contrasts “resurrection” with souls going to heaven at death. To him, they are not only two different things, but to  him, the idea of disembodied souls going to heaven at death is a damning heresy.

The Third Century Didascalia Apostolorum says,

And by other false prophets beside was the enemy working. [vi. 10] And they all had one law upon earth, that they should not employ the Torah and the Prophets, and that they should blaspheme God Almighty, and should not believe in the resurrection.

(23: vi. 10).

The condemnation of those who deny the resurrection of the dead seems to have been taken straight from rabbinic teaching —

These are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law … .

(Danby, Mishnah, p. 397).

As stated in the Wikipedia article on resurrection

The Apostles’ Creed explicitly ends with an affirmation of belief in “the resurrection of the body”.

The Christian writers Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, in the 2nd Century, wrote against the idea that only the soul survived. Justin insists that a man is both soul and body and Christ has promised to raise both, just as his own body was raised. He wrote:

Seeing as … the Saviour in the whole Gospel shows that there is salvation for the flesh, why do we any longer endure those unbelieving and dangerous arguments, and fail to see that we are retrograding when we listen to such an argument as this: that the soul is immortal, but the body mortal, and incapable of being revived? For this we used to hear from Pythagoras and Plato, even before we learned the truth. If then the Saviour said this, and proclaimed salvation to the soul alone, what new thing, beyond what we heard from Pythagoras and Plato and all their band, did He bring us? But now He has come proclaiming the glad tidings of a new and strange hope to men.”

As is true of many other errors that crept into the early church, the Grecian Platonic worldview was syncretically absorbed  into the church’s teachings. And as a result, we’ve been asking the wrong questions. For example,

We should ask, “How do we gain immortality?” rather than “How will we spend eternity?”

We should ask, “How does the resurrection prove that God will resurrect us?” rather than “How do we know that our souls go to heaven when we die?”

We should ask, “Since we’re resurrected with Spirit-empowered bodies, what does this tell us about the nature of the afterlife?” rather than “Since we float off as disembodied souls when we die, what does this tell us about the afterlife?”

We should ask, “If our bodies will survive the Second Coming, transformed into something far more glorious but embodied, what does this tell us about the fate of the heavens and the earth at the end of time?” rather than “Because our bodies will burned up and destroyed, what does this tell us about the fate of the heavens and the earth at the end of time?”

deadhomerDo you see the difference? Frankly, it takes some practice to even think this way, because the Platonic/Greek view of the afterlife has been taught to all of us since we were in diapers — even those of us who never once went to church.

Even in cartoons, when a character dies, his “soul” leaves his body. And there’s just no way to reconcile the soul departing the body to head off to heaven with a general resurrection occurring when Jesus returns. I mean, we can’t go to heaven but once. Right?


3 Responses

  1. “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” ESV (2 Corinthians 5:8)

    This verse is the likely candidate for the belief that the spirit departs from the body and going to heaven. Of course this is the Platonic interpretation, but makes sense in this verse. Because, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” ESV (James 2:26).

    Paul is claiming to be dead is to be with the Lord, because the body without the spirit has no life. So how can Paul be with the Lord? Paul’s spirit is with the Lord seems to me to be the only tenable answer. Paul’s body would be buried with the expectation of a physical body resurrection. Paul’s spirit would go to the Lord’s abode (heaven) expecting to return with the Lord to reunite body & spirit for a resurrection like Christ’s.

    As Paul writes “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” ESV
    (1Thesalonians 4:15-18).

    I think my above view is correct. Some where along the line, Christianity “forgot” the resurrection because of the Platonic view that the flesh was the prison of the “soul.” They could not perceive that once a “soul” was free that it would return to the body. This was on of the mysteries that Gnostic’s held. The secrets that the Gnostic’s held was “who are you? (an un-embodied “soul”) and “where is your true home? (the kingdom of light or HEAVEN.) So since the body kept your real self from going home, RESURECTION would have been viewed as evil and undesired.

    So to remove the Resurrection of the Christian’s physical BODY is to remove a part of the Gospel, because John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM, because we shall see him as he is. ESV
    (1John 3:2)

    The Gnostic’s would say you die and go to heaven, and STAY there, because to reunite the “soul” to a body is foolishness, since it re-encapsulates and re-imprisons the “soul.”

    So the idea of a dis-embodies “soul” is what the Platonic Gnostics sought for, while True Christianity looked forward to the Resurrection of the Body and being like their Lord by having the same kind of body as His.

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