Articles by Norman L. Geisler

President & CEO of Southern Evangelical Seminary

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Norman L. Geisler
President & CEO of Southern Evangelical Seminary
     Professor of Theology and Apologetics
     B.A., Wheaton College
     Th.B., William Tyndale College
     M.A. Wheaton Graduate School
     Ph.D., Loyola University, Chicago, IL
     Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute
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"I the Resurrection of the Flesh" (an article
from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1989, page 20)
by Norman L. Geisler.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is
Elliot Miller.
    Down through the centuries orthodox Christians have
always confessed with the Apostles' Creed: "I
the resurrection of the flesh." This affirmation of faith in
the _believer's_ resurrection is grounded in faith in
_Christ's_ resurrection. A major purpose of the latter
resurrection was to make possible the former; thus they are
both of the _same nature_ (2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 48;
Phil. 3:21). The two doctrines are therefore interdependent,
and will be treated as one doctrine in this article.
    In spite of the historic church's unwavering belief in
the resurrection of the flesh, there are those today who
call themselves "orthodox" but do not adhere to the
doctrine. In the past, those who deviated from this
venerable truth of apostolic Christianity did so by denying
the _reality_ of the resurrection. Today, some veer from
course by denying its _materiality._ What makes their view
unique is that they affirm an "empty tomb" while ironically
denying that a material body emerged from it. In short,
while they deny the materiality of the Resurrection they
confess its objectivity, and on the basis of this confession
they conclude that their faith remains biblical.
    Wolfhart Pannenburg is a case in point. He believes
Jesus left an empty tomb behind but that the resurrection
body was by nature invisible and immaterial. He declares
that for Paul "the future body will be a different one from
the present body, not a fleshly body -- as he says -- a
'spiritual body.'"[1] Southern Baptist professor E. Glenn
Hinson agrees, adding, "Paul was convinced that the Christ
who appeared to him belonged to another order of existence
than the Christ the disciples had known in the flesh. The
risen Christ has not a physical but a spiritual body."[2]
Professor Murray Harris of Trinity Evangelical Divinity
School provides yet another example. He argues "that after
his resurrection his [Jesus'] essential state was one of
invisibility and immateriality."[3] He adds that the
resurrection body of Christians "will be neither fleshly nor
_fleshy_"[4] (emphasis added). According to this view,
Jesus' resurrection body was not the same physical body He
had before His death, but a _second embodiment._
    Why should these men be classified as "unorthodox" for
simply denying that Jesus rose in the _same_ physical body
in which He died? Why did Jesus have to rise in the flesh,
as long as His tomb was vacated and death was conquered? The
answer to these questions has both historical and
theological components.
    First, the confession of the Christian church is
instructive. The church has not only always affirmed the
_immortality_ of the resurrection body, but also its
_materiality._ While it has agreed with the apostle that the
resurrection body is a "spiritual" (i.e., spirit-directed)
body (1 Cor. 15:44), it has never denied that it is a
material body.
*The Apostolic Testimony*
    The Christian church has from the beginning confessed
that the same physical body of flesh that was laid in Jesus'
tomb was raised immortal. This belief is based on several
explicit New Testament references and extensive tangible
evidence. Jesus Himself said His resurrection body was one
of "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39; cf. 13:37). Speaking of
the resurrection of Christ, Peter insisted that His "flesh
did not see corruption" (Acts 2:31). Writing after the
Resurrection, John declared that Jesus "came [and remained]
in the flesh" (1 John 4:2; cf. 2 John 7). The body that
emerged from the tomb on Easter morning was _seen_ (Matt.
28:17), _heard_ (John 20:15-16), and even _touched_ (Matt.
28:9) on many occasions after the Resurrection. Moreover,
Jesus ate food at least four times after the Resurrection
(Luke 24:30; 24:42-43; John 21:12-13; Acts 1:4). He also
showed His crucifixion scars on two occasions, once
challenging doubting Thomas: "Put your finger here; see my
hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop
doubting and believe" (John 20:27).
*The "Ante-Nicene" Testimony*
    Following the apostolic testimony, the church down
through the centuries has confessed its belief in "the
resurrection of the flesh" -- both that of Jesus in
particular and of humanity in general. "Ante-Nicene" (i.e.,
before the 325 A.D. Council of Nicea) father Justin Martyr
(A.D. 100-165) said plainly: "The resurrection is a
resurrection of the flesh which dies."[5] As for those who
"maintain that even Jesus Himself appeared only as
spiritual, and not in flesh, but presented merely the
appearance of flesh: these persons seek to rob the flesh of
the promise."[6] Justin even insisted that Christ's
ascension shows that it is possible "for flesh to ascend
into heaven."[7] Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-230) declared the
resurrection of the flesh to be the church's "rule of
faith," saying it "was taught by Christ" and only denied by
heretics.[8] In his treatise on "The Resurrection of the
Dead" (ch. 3), second century Christian teacher Athenagoras
concluded that God's "power is sufficient for the raising of
dead bodies, and is shown by the creation of these same
bodies. For if, when they did not exist, He made at their
first formation the bodies of men, and their original
elements, He will, when they are dissolved, in whatever
manner that may take place, raise them again with equal
ease: for this, too, is equally possible to Him."[9]
*The "Post-Nicene" Testimony*
    In the fourth century, _The Second Creed of Epiphanius_
(A.D. 374) confessed that "the Word became flesh,...the same
suffered in the flesh; rose again; and went up to heaven in
the same body; coming in the same body in glory to
judge the quick and the dead."[10] Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D.
315-386) considered any view heretical that claims "the
resurrection of the Saviour was phantom-wise, and not real,
not heeding Paul who says, 'Who was made flesh of the seed
of David according to the flesh;' and again 'By the
resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead.'"[11]
The preeminent theologian, St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430),
declared: "It is indubitable that the resurrection of
Christ, and His ascension into heaven with the flesh in
which He rose, is already preached and believed in the whole
world." Augustine even held that God would reassemble in the
resurrection body "all the portions which have been consumed
by beasts or fire, or have been dissolved into dust of
*The Medieval Testimony*
    St. Anselm of Cantebury (A.D. 1033-1109) insisted on the
material nature of the resurrection body. Speaking on the
topic, "How man will rise with the same body which he has in
this world," he argued that "if a man is to be perfectly
restored, the restoration should make him such as he would
have been had he never sinned....Therefore, as man, had he
not sinned, was to have been transformed with the same body
to an immortal state, so when he shall be restored, it must
properly be with his own body as he lived in this
world."[13] The great theologian, Thomas Aquinas (A.D.
1224-1274), said of the resurrection: "The soul does not
take an airy or heavenly body, or a body of another organic
constitution, but a human body composed of flesh and bones
and the same members enjoyed at present."[14]
*The Reformation Testimony*
    The Protestant Reformation continued the orthodox
affirmation of the material nature of the resurrection body.
The Lutheran _Formula of Concord_ (A.D. 1576) reads: "We
believe, teach, and confess...the chief articles of our
faith (of Creation, of Redemption, of Sanctification, and
the Resurrection of the flesh)...."[15] The _French
Confession of Faith,_ prepared with the help of John Calvin
and approved by the Synod of Paris (A.D. 1559), pronounced
that "although Jesus Christ, in rising from the dead,
bestowed immortality upon his body, yet it did not take away
from the truth of its nature, and we so consider him in his
divinity that we do not despoil him of his humanity."[16]
_The Belgic Confession_ (A.D. 1561), adopted by the Synod of
Dort (A.D. 1619), declares that "all the dead shall be
raised out of the earth, and their soul joined and united
with their proper bodies in which they formerly lived."[17]
Further, the _Thirty Nine Articles of Religion of the Church
of England_ (A.D. 1562) confess that "Christ did truly rise
again from death, and took again his body, with flesh,
bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of
Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven...."[18] And
the _Westminster Confession_ (A.D. 1647) proclaimed that
Jesus "was crucified, and died; was buried, and remained
under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the
third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in
which he suffered; with which he ascended into
    Even some who deny that Christ rose in the flesh admit
that "until the time of the Reformation the creeds of the
West spoke only of the resurrection of the flesh."[20]
    Having examined the historical evidence, we must now
turn to the theological question: What difference does it
make whether Christ arose in the same body of flesh in which
He lived and died? The New Testament's response is clear and
unequivocal. Without Christ's physical resurrection there is
no salvation (Rom. 10:9), for the Resurrection is at the
very heart of the gospel by which we are saved (1 Cor.
15:1-5). The apostle Paul listed a litany of consequences
that follow a denial of the physical resurrection. If Christ
did not rise, then :1) Our faith is useless; 2) We are still
in our sins; 3) Our departed loved ones are lost; 4) The
apostles are false witnesses; and 5) We are the most to be
pitied of all men (1 Cor. 15:14-19).
    In addition to this sobering list of dire results for
denying the literal resurrection, there are some crucial
theological problems that follow failure to join the
apostolic confession of "the resurrection of the flesh."
*The Problem of Creation*
    God created the material universe (Gen. 1:1) and
pronounced it "very good" (v. 31). Sin, however, brought
death and decay to God's creation: "Sin entered the world
through one man, and death through sin, and in this way
death came to all men...." (Rom. 5:12). Furthermore, because
of man's sin "the creation was subjected to frustration...."
(Rom. 8:20). Thus, the creation has been groaning and
waiting "to be liberated from its bondage to decay" (v. 21).
Likewise, believers "wait eagerly for our adoption as sons,
the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved"
(vv. 23-24).
    Since God's material creation fell, it is clear that in
order for redemption to be effective it must restore this
material creation. Humans sin and die in material bodies and
they must be redeemed in the same physical bodies. Any other
kind of deliverance would be an admission of defeat.
Likewise, just as the world God created and which
subsequently fell was material, even so God will eventually
deliver this material universe from decay by recreating a
new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). If redemption does
not restore God's physical creation, including our material
bodies, then God's original purpose in creating a material
world would be frustrated. As Professor Robert Gundry aptly
noted, "Anything less than that undercuts Paul's ultimate
intention that redeemed man possess physical means of
concrete activity for eternal service and worship of God in
a restored creation." So, "to dematerialize resurrection, by
any means, is to emasculate the sovereignty of God in both
creative purpose and redemptive grace."[21]
*The Problem of the Incarnation*
    The denial that Christ came in human flesh is called
docetism. Hence, the denial that He rose in human flesh is a
kind of neodocetism. Both diminish the full humanity of
Christ, one _before_ and the other _after_ His resurrection.
A similar doctrinal deviation existed in the first century.
John addressed it when he warned against those who deny that
'Jesus Christ has come [and remains] in the flesh' (1 John
4:2). The use of the perfect participle ("has come") implies
that Jesus came in the flesh in the past and He remained in
the flesh when John penned these words after the
Resurrection. In the parallel passage (2 John 7) John used
the present tense, warning against those "who do not
acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh." This makes
it even clearer that John considered it wrong to deny flesh
of Christ either _before_ or _after_ His resurrection. The
reason is obvious: human flesh is part of our true human
nature as God created it. Hence, to deny that Christ was
resurrected in human flesh is to deprive Him of full
*The Problem of Salvation*
    Among other things, salvation is victory over death (1
Cor. 15:54-55). Since the death which resulted from sin
directly involved the material body, the body that is raised
again must be material for there to be real victory over
death. Failure to confess that Christ rose in a material
body undercuts the very gospel itself.
    In his definitive work on the nature of "body" (Greek:
_soma_) in the New Testament, Professor Gundry noted that
unless Christ rose in the same physical body in which He
died, then "the relationship of the two bodies to each other
is extrinsic and to that degree unimpressive as a
demonstration of Christ's victory over death."[22] Hence,
"the resurrection of Christ was and the resurrection of
Christians will be physical in nature."[23] Anything less
undercuts God's redemptive purposes for the human race.
*The Problem of Deception*
    There is also a serious moral problem. Some claim that
Christ's appearances were merely "materializations" aimed at
convincing the disciples of His _reality_ but not His
_materiality._ But Jesus said: "Look at my hands and my
feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a spirit does not
have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Luke 24:27). Jesus
challenged Thomas to put his finger into the scar in His
hand and to put his hand into the wound in His side and
"stop doubting and believe" (John 20:27).
    Given the identity of the scars with His preresurrection
body, the only impression these words could have left on the
disciples' minds was that Jesus was claiming to have
resurrected in the same literal, material body in which He
died. However, if He did not rise in this physical body, He
was intentionally misleading His disciples. In short, either
Jesus rose in the same material body in which He died, or
else He lied.
*The Problem of Immortality*
    A denial of the material nature of the resurrection body
is fatal for Christian immortality. Unlike the ancient
Greeks, Christians believe true immortality involves the
_whole_ person, including the body; not just the continuing
existence of the soul. But if Christ did not rise in the
same physical body in which He died, then we have no real
hope that we will ever attain true immortality either. Paul
declared that Christ "has brought life and immortality to
light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10). It is only through
Christ's victory over physical death that believers can
proclaim: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death,
is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55). Otherwise, as Paul informed
the Corinthians, "if Christ has not been raised...those who
have fallen asleep in Christ are lost" (1 Cor. 15:18).
*The Problem of Verification*
    A nonmaterial resurrection has no evidential value. If
Christ did not rise in the same material body placed in the
tomb, then the Resurrection loses its value as an evidence
for His claim to be God. However, Jesus often offered His
resurrection as a proof of His claims (John 2:19-22; 10:18).
On one occasion He offered it as the unique sign of who He
is, declaring that no other sign would be given to that
unbelieving generation (Matt. 12:40).
    The apostles also offered Jesus' resurrection
appearances as "many convincing proofs" (Acts 1:3). They
used the Resurrection as the basis of their fearless
preaching of Christ over and over again (Acts. 2:22-36;
4:2,10; 13:32-41; 17:1-4,22-31). Paul told the philosophers
of his day that God "has given all men by raising
him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).
    There is a very good reason for this repeated connection
between the fact of the physical resurrection and the truth
of Christianity: there is no real evidential difference
between an immaterial resurrection and no resurrection at
all. An immaterial body has no verifiable connection with a
material body. The only objective way the world could know
that Christ rose was if He rose in the same material body in
which He died. As the poet John Updike powerfully stated,
     Make no mistake; if He rose at all
     it was as His body,
     if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the
     molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
     the Church will fail.
Dr. Geisler is Dean of the Liberty Center for Research and
Scholarship and Professor of Philosophy of Religion at
Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia. He is the author of
nearly 30 books, including the forthcoming _The Battle for
the Resurrection_ (Thomas Nelson Publishers).
 1 Wolfhart Pannenburg, _Jesus -- God and Man,_ 2d ed., trans.
   Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe, (Philadelphia: The
   Westminster Press, 1977), 75.
 2 E. Glenn Hinson, _Jesus Christ_ (Wilmington: Consortium Books,
   1977), 111.
 3 Murray Harris, _Raised Immortal_ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985),
 4 _Ibid.,_ 124.
 5 Justin Martyr, _Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the
   Resurrection,_ ch. 10. (All citations from the Ante-Nicene and
   Post-Nicene fathers can be found in Alexander Roberts and James
   Donaldson, eds., _The Ante-Nicene Fathers,_ vols. 1-14 [Grand
   Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985], and Philip Schaff
   and Henry Wace, eds., _Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,_ First
   Series, vols. 1-14; Second Series, vols. 1-14 [Grand Rapids:
   William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983]).
 6 _Ibid.,_ ch. 2.
 7 _Ibid.,_ ch. 9.
 8 Tertullian, _The Prescription Against Heretics,_ ch. 13.
 9 Athenagoras, _The Resurrection of the Dead._
10 Philip Schaff, ed., _The Creeds of Christendom,_ 6th ed., vol.
   2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 37.
11 _Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lectures,_ XIV, 21.
12 Augustine, _The City of God,_ Book 12, ch. 5.
13 Anselm of Cantebury, _Curus Deus Homo,_ Book 2, ch. 3, in _St.
   Anselm: Basic Writings,_ 2d ed., trans. S. N. Deane (La Salle:
   Open Court, 1962), 241.
14 Thomas Aquinas, _Compendium of Theology,_ 153, in _Saint
   Thomas Aquinas Philosophical Texts,_ selected and trans.
   Thomas Gilby (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), 278.
   See also _III Summa Contra Gentiles,_ 79, in _Saint Thomas
   Aquinas Theological Texts,_ selected and trans. Thomas Gilby
   (Durham: The Labyrinth Press, 1982), 405.
15 Schaff, _The Creeds of Christendom,_ 98.
16 _Ibid.,_ 368-69.
17 _Ibid.,_ 434.
18 _Ibid.,_ 489.
19 _Ibid.,_ 621.
20 Harris, 132.
21 Robert Gundry, _Soma in Biblical Theology_ (Cambridge:
   Cambridge University Press, 1976), 176,181-82.
22 _Ibid._ 176.
23 _Ibid._ 182.
End of document, CRJ0056A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"I the Resurrection of the Flesh"
release A, April 15, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
(A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their
help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS
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