On Paul’s Theory of Resurrection: The Carrier-O’Connell Debate (2008)

Historian Richard Carrier and theology scholar Jake O’Connell debate whether Paul believed that Jesus rose from the dead in the same body that died, or in a new body, leaving his old body behind to rot in the grave.

Who We Are (2008)

Welcome to On Paul’s Theory of Resurrection: The Carrier-O’Connell Debate. Here Richard and Jake explain who they are.

Richard Carrier: Richard Carrier has a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University. He specializes in ancient science and religion, and has written on early Christianity both online and in print. He is also a published philosopher, prominent atheist, and author of the book Sense and Goodness without God. For more about him and his work see RichardCarrier.info.

Jake O’Connell: Jake O’Connell is a theology student at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He has articles on Jesus’ resurrection forthcoming in Tyndale Bulletin, Conspectus, and the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism. He also has book reviews forthcoming in Expository Times, Restoration Quarterly, and the International Journal of Parapsychology.

What We Are Debating (2008)

Welcome to On Paul’s Theory of Resurrection: The Carrier-O’Connell Debate. Here Richard and Jake co-wrote and approved a joint statement stating as clearly as possible what claims each intends to defend here.


In this debate Richard Carrier will defend the thesis that the Apostle Paul probably embraced “a two-body doctrine of the resurrection, where the identity of Jesus was believed to have left one body to enter another,” not in the sense of what’s sometimes called a “spiritual resurrection” (as a mere revival of Christ’s soul or spirit), but in the sense that Paul “believed Christ had really been raised, and raised bodily, even as his earthly body continued to rot in its tomb,” because Paul believed Jesus rose in a different body, one of supernatural material instead of flesh, thus having left the flesh behind.[1] If this is correct, then Paul either would not have believed or would not have needed to believe that the tomb of Jesus was empty (whether it was or not), but he could still have believed that Jesus rose from the dead in an actual body.

Jake O’Connell will defend the thesis that Paul more probably embraced a “one body” doctrine of the resurrection. That is, Paul believed that Jesus’ post-resurrection body was numerically identical to his pre-resurrection body (even if changed in some way, e.g. even if made of different material). If this is correct, then no matter what the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body was (or was thought to be), Paul must still have believed on conceptual grounds that Jesus’ tomb was empty in order to affirm that Jesus rose from the dead.

[1] Quotations (and comprehensive evidence and argument for this thesis) in Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Prometheus: 2005), edited by Bob Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder: pp. 105-231 (quotes: p. 105). Dr. Carrier also defended this thesis in a live debate at UCLA: Licona vs. Carrier: On the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Rules We Followed (2008)

Welcome to On Paul’s Theory of Resurrection: The Carrier-O’Connell Debate. Here Richard and Jake explain the rules of debate they both agreed to follow.

(1) The parties to the debate composed a joint statement specifying the proposition to be defended and defining every term in that proposition to the reasonable satisfaction of both parties. This statement in its entirety was agreed upon by both parties and written together. It will define what shall be debated and will be the first entry to be published.

(2) When the moderator simultaneously informs both parties that the above statement has been published, each party will simultaneously submit to the moderator an opening statement defending their side of the debated proposition as thus defined. Once the moderator has both opening statements, he will post them both simultaneously and at the same time announce to each party the deadline for their rebuttal. In all, this procedure will be repeated for an opening statement, one rebuttal, one counter-rebuttal, then a closing statement.

(3) In every case the deadline between the moderator’s announcement of the last entry’s publication and submission of the next entry shall be two weeks.

(4) Every submission will be held to a pre-agreed limit of 3000 words. This word limit will not apply to footnotes, but footnotes shall contain no argument or digression or assessment or any other content except what is needed to identify a source of information or quote so the reader can find it if he bothers to look for it.

(5) Both parties agreed not to attack each other’s character or competence, but only the facts and arguments as presented, and they agreed not to use disparaging words or tones but to phrase everything as congenially and honestly as they can manage. They will behave like gentlemen and set a standard of polite debate others can emulate.

(6) Both parties agreed upon a moderator, and both parties agreed that their chosen moderator can force them to comply with the above rules, especially word limits and footnote contents and etiquette, and this moderator will have the right to correct spelling and other trivial errors that each party misses, and he will complete any necessary HTML coding. The moderator may also offer suggestions for improving wording or clarity or source citation and so on, but such advice will not be binding on either party.

(7) Four judges were selected and agreed upon by both parties. After the publication of the closing statements for the debate, a page will be launched announcing the judges and their qualifications and a deadline by which all the judges will submit an assessment of the entire debate. Each judge will write an assessment of the debate in 600 words or less, declaring who they think won the debate, and by what margin (using a scale defined below), with some brief comments on what they believe to be the most important merits and problems with each side. The judges have been instructed to assess who won based on who was able to better defend their own and rebut the other’s arguments in this particular debate, regardless of whether the judges themselves agree or disagree with those arguments or conclusions. For example, even a fallacious argument will be counted as a successful argument if it is not effectively rebutted. When all the judges’ assessments have been submitted, the judges’ page will be updated to include all four assessments, plus an average score for the whole debate (as explained below), and as with all other entries, this update will be announced on the What’s New page of the Secular Web.

(8) A judge may declare neither party the winner, which rates a score of zero. Or a judge may declare one party the winner and assign a score between 1 and 4 as follows: {1} only barely won the debate, {2} won the debate by a significant margin, {3} won the debate by a large margin, {4} won the debate by a decisive margin. An average score will also be calculated based on all four assessments as follows: the scores given to each party will be added up and if the two totals are equal, the average score will be a tie (neither side won); if they are not equal, the party with the higher total is announced as the winner, by a margin equal to the difference between the two scores divided by four and rounded up. For example, if one side is given scores that total 4 and the other side totals 5, then the latter won by a margin equal to the difference of 1 point divided by 4 and then rounded up, for a final score of 1, which means that that party only barely won the debate according to the combined assessment of all four judges.

Carrier’s Opening Statement (2008)

Two Bodies: One in the Sky, One in the Grave

1. Basic Argument

When the Apostle Paul was asked “How are the dead raised? With what sort of body do they come?” he answered “that which you sow is not the body that will come to be” but “God supplies a body as he pleases” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38). I believe Paul meant what he said: God supplies a new body at the resurrection, and that is not the body we bury. I’ve made the case for this elsewhere, and have only space to summarize here.[1] Since Paul believed Jesus was raised the same way we would be (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:13-16, 20-23, 49; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Philippians 3:21; Romans 6:5), he must also have believed that Jesus did not rise in the body that was buried (“that which was sown”), but that God gave Jesus a new body (“the body that will come to be”). Since transferring Jesus to a new body would not require the transformation or disappearance of the old body, Paul would not need to believe there was any missing body, and there’s no definite evidence he did. So even if the body of Jesus remained in its tomb, this would prove nothing against the claim that he rose from the dead.

Several scholars have agreed with this conclusion and defend it.[2] Even noted scholar N. T. Wright, though he doesn’t agree, nevertheless admits it might be correct.[3] And we know Paul did not have to innovate to believe this, for there were many pagans and Jews who held a similar view, believing the best resurrection was one in which the earthly body of flesh is left behind and a new, superior body rises to eternal life.[4] There is thus solid and respectable precedent for my conclusion, in both ancient evidence and modern scholarship.

2. What Paul Said

Besides his plain statement of the fact in 1 Corinthians 15, on every other occasion when Paul speaks of the resurrection body he says the same thing or something that can be so interpreted. He responds to Christian worries about aging and dying (or being killed) by reminding them that “though our man outside is being destroyed, yet our [man] inside is being renewed day by day,” hence:

We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of a tabernacle is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens. For in this [domicile] we groan, yearning to put on [like a coat] our domicile from heaven. (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:2)

Paul thus says our resurrection body is a new body God has made for us in heaven, while our current bodies will decay and be destroyed. Paul also argued we need a different body for heaven than the one we have on earth (1 Corinthians 15:39-50), and he imagined we would actually fly up to heaven in our new bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, as also implied in 1 Corinthians 15:45-52 and Philippians 3:20).

Paul frequently speaks of our inner and outer man, or our seen and unseen bodies, and specifically uses the analogy of planted seeds (1 Corinthians 15:36-44), which evokes the notion that the outer shell (the husk) is sloughed off and the inner germ rises to glory.[5] In such an analogy the husk corresponds to the earthly corpse, and the resurrection body to something greater hidden within, or donned after death, in either case numerically different. This is clearly implied in 1 Corinthians 15:46 (“the spiritual [body] is not first, but the natural one, then the spiritual one”) and in a literal translation of 1 Corinthians 15:44 (“a natural body is sown, [then] a spiritual body is raised” and “if there is a natural body, there is [also] a spiritual one”). Paul conspicuously omits saying these are the same body on any of these occasions–or anywhere at all. And Paul never says the one body becomes the other. A discourse of change and transformation he only uses of current Christian life, not the future resurrection (e.g. 2 Corinthians 3:18, which is how Romans 8:11 is probably intended, per 2 Corinthians 4:16).[6]

Paul also describes the resurrection in the language of mercantile trade: we will exchange our old bodies for new ones, hence he repeatedly employs the metaphor of wearing different garments (1 Corinthians 15:49-54, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10). The verb allagêsometha (literally “we will be exchanged,” i.e. “we will undergo an exchange”) in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 deliberately echoes the apocalyptic replacement of one world with another (by analogy, again, with exchanging coats) in Hebrews 1:10-12 (hence Psalms 102:25-27).[7] We will thus discard our old body like an old coat, and don a new body in its place. Such an analogy entails an old coat left behind, which is the old body, the one in the grave. Hence the implication that in the resurrection everyone will get “a body of his own” (1 Corinthians 15:38). And this is probably what Paul means in Philippians 3:21, where he says our bodies will be changed, using the same verb Josephus does to mean changing clothes (metaschêmatizô).[8] Since we must interpret that passage in light of Paul’s others, the garment analogy is most probably intended, hence changing bodies here does not mean transformation, but the same thing as changing clothes.

Paul says a lot else that supports this interpretation. He refers to our current bodies as the ritual clay vessels that are (of course) made by hands and must be destroyed after use (2 Corinthians 4:7, cf. Leviticus 6:28, 11:33, 15:12 and Lamentations 4:2) and then to our future bodies as eternal abodes “not made by hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1), thus establishing a contrast that implies exchange, not transformation: entirely new bodies must be made, and the old ones must be destroyed.[9] Hence he also refers to our current bodies as “the body parts we have on the earth” (Colossians 3:5) and says the flesh must be destroyed in order for the spirit to be saved (1 Corinthians 5:5), again implying the old body will be destroyed and replaced with a better one. Paul also repeatedly equates his doctrine of resurrection to a new Genesis, hence a new Creation (in 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 and elsewhere), which also implies the creation of a new body to replace the old one, just as God will create a new world to replace the old one.[10]

3. What Others Said

We can further understand what Paul meant by examining how others answered the same question. In extant literature we can find three sources that did: “orthodox” Christians, their “heretical” peers, and Rabbinical Jews. By “orthodox” or “heretical” I don’t intend one was more authentic than the other, as I believe both were equally deviant and innovative, and equally far from any original Christian teachings. I only call “orthodox” those Christians of the first three centuries whose views were considered more or less acceptable by the imperial Church of the late 4th century, and “heretical” all other Christians of the same period (though the line is always blurry). The answers provided by “orthodox” Christians and Rabbinical Jews are nearly identical or very similar in every relevant respect (both explicitly maintaining the same body rises that is buried, with many of the same arguments), yet completely different from anything argued by Paul.

Paul never employs any of their scriptural proof-texts (like Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 26:19, or Ezekiel 37:5-10), doesn’t use any of their analogies or metaphors (like claymolding or metallurgy), never insists (even though they always do) that we must rise in the same body to be the same person (reuniting soul and body so both can be judged together), nor shows any concern to meet objections about whether our old bodies will be healed or fixed when we get them back or how they can be brought back if they are destroyed (as by fire or beast). Paul never emphasizes the continuity of the body the way they all do, but instead emphasizes (and at length) how different the two bodies will be, and Paul never says anything like “the resurrection is a resurrection of the flesh that died” (as Justin Martyr would say), even though such a statement is easily made (the addition of a single pronoun, “the same,” in 1 Corinthians 15:44 would have done it). Yet such a statement would’ve been vital to his point–if he believed it. So he must not have.[11]

In contrast, some “heretical” Christians who answer the same question (most notably Origen) sound very much like Paul, using similar arguments and concepts, yet explicitly defend a two-body doctrine of the resurrection. Origen argues that our resurrection body will grow inside us and rise from inside our current body, then slough the current body off like the placenta at birth, hence leaving it behind. Our pattern will thus be stamped into an entirely new body, and our old body will go on to rot in the grave without us.[12] Paul and Origen make similar arguments and sound alike, while Paul never makes the arguments employed by those who insist the same body dies and rises, nor ever sounds like them. This confirms that what Paul preached and believed was more like Origen than like them. Thus, more probably than not, Paul held a two-body doctrine of the resurrection essentially like Origen’s, and did not share the one-body resurrection doctrine defended in Rabbinical and “orthodox” Christian sources.

4. Paul vs. the Gospels

Paul shows no awareness of any of the stories of empty tombs in the Gospels and never describes any appearance of Jesus the way the Gospels do. Whereas later Christians explaining the resurrection suddenly have all sorts of facts from the Gospels to quote in their defense, Paul conspicuously does not.[13]

The preponderance of evidence suggests (and most scholars agree) that the Gospel accounts were written long after Paul died, about a generation after Christianity began. (The death of Jesus occurred no later than the early thirties A.D., the average lifespan for adults in antiquity was fifty years, and the first Christians had to be at least in their mid-teens. This means the second generation began before the mid-seventies A.D., yet there is no definite evidence any Gospel circulated at all widely before then, certainly not in Palestine.) None were written by actual witnesses of the events they describe (nor by anyone whose sources, intentions, and character are reliably known to us), and we have no surviving testimony from any witnesses as to the merits of the Gospel accounts, despite the fact that the Gospels contradict each other in numerous fundamental details (especially in their accounts of the tomb and appearances).[14] Early Christians do not appear to have encouraged critical inquiry or formal historical research, nor been very careful at checking claims. Yet we know such elaborate legends can easily arise within forty years even today: e.g. a brief speculative report about finding some tinfoil in Roswell, New Mexico evolved, within a mere forty years, into elaborate narratives of recovered alien spacecraft and autopsied bodies. For these and other reasons we cannot trust any of the details the Gospels provide.[15]

Paul probably only knew Jesus had risen from the dead because he was told this in a revelation or ‘discovered’ it in scripture (or both). For hidden messages in scripture and special visions of a risen Jesus are the only evidence Paul ever mentions in support of his (or anyone’s) belief that Jesus rose from the dead. And that is consistent with there being no missing body: Jesus got a new body, and thus could appear at will without emptying any tomb, and only those who were privileged to see his new form (or grasp this secret from scripture) would “know” this.[16]

5. The Gospels vs. Acts

Luke’s Gospel is an elaboration of the Gospels before him. But his public history of the Church, which begins in Acts 2, must have had other sources. In any case, either Acts is complete fiction, in which case it has no value as evidence; or it preserves some true details of the progress of the Christian Church from its first public announcement on the Pentecost after Jesus died (Acts 1-2), in which case it presents a record that refutes the Gospel claims of empty tombs and missing bodies.

In Acts’ history of the Church, from the moment the Church first goes public, right in Jerusalem, nowhere do either the Romans or the Jews ever show any knowledge of a missing body, nor do they ever take any action to investigate what would only be to them a crime of tomb robbery and desecration of the dead (both severe death penalty offenses), or worse. The Gospel of Matthew even claims the Jewish authorities accused the Christians of such crimes before Pilate himself (Matthew 27:62-66, 28:4, 28:11-15). Although that is certainly fiction (as I have argued elsewhere, external and internal evidence confirms Matthew’s story is a poetic and apologetic fabrication), it reflects what could not fail to have happened–if any body had gone missing.[17]

Since Christians were supposedly capitalizing on this fact, they would be the first suspects–or at least the second ones if (as the Gospels claim) Joseph of Arimathea was the last person known to have had custody of the body (Mark 15:43-46, Matthew 27:57-60, Luke 23:51-56, John 19:38-42). In that case he would be the first man hauled in for questioning. Yet he vanishes completely from this earliest history of the Church, as if no one knew anything about him, or he didn’t exist at all. Though Christians would be suspects in a capital crime of grave robbery, and Acts records case after case of them being interrogated at trial before Jews and Romans on other offenses, never once in this history of the Church are they suspected of or questioned about grave robbery. It’s as if there was no missing body to investigate, no empty tomb known to the authorities. Which means the Christians can’t have been pointing to one. If they had, they would have been questioned about it (and possibly convicted for it, innocent or not). Yet Acts shows there were no disputes at all regarding what happened to the body, not even false accusations of theft, or even questions or expressions of amazement.

Thus, either Acts deliberately suppresses the truth about what happened to the body and what was really being argued, said, and done about it (which entails the truth must have been severely embarrassing to Christians), or there was no missing body and no one was claiming there was. In alignment with the latter conclusion are the facts already surveyed above, which suggest the original Christians were preaching that Jesus rose in an entirely new body, not the old one left in the grave, and the fact that Acts fails to mention any debate or discussion about any tomb being empty or any body being missing (e.g. it never occurs as an argument or a defense in any of the trials or debates it records).[18] Such an incident was evidently entirely missing from the history of the original Church.

The Romans would have had an even more urgent worry than body snatching: the Christians were supposedly preaching that Jesus (even if with supernatural aid) had escaped his execution, was seen rallying his followers, and then disappeared. Pilate and the Sanhedrin would not likely believe any of this resurrection or ascension nonsense (and there is no evidence they did), but if the tomb was empty, and Christ’s followers were reporting that he had continued preaching to them and was still at large, Pilate would be compelled to haul every Christian in and interrogate every possible witness in a massive manhunt for what could only be in his mind an escaped convict (guilty of treason against Rome for claiming to be God and King, as all the Gospels allege: e.g. Mark 15:26; Matthew 27:37; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-22). And the Sanhedrin would feel the equally compelling need to finish what they had evidently failed to accomplish the first time (finding and killing Jesus). Yet none of this happens. No one asks where Jesus is hiding or who aided him. No one is at all concerned that there may be an escaped convict, pretender to the throne, thwarter of Roman law and judgment, dire threat to Jewish authority, alive and well somewhere, and still giving orders to his followers. Why would no one care that the Christians were claiming they took him in, hid him from the authorities, and fed him after his escape from justice (according to Acts 1), unless in fact they weren’t claiming any such thing?

The best explanation of this strange omission is that the body was still in its grave, since then all the Christians’ claims could be legally ignored. That’s why those claims are dismissed as mere madness (Acts 26:24), involving no possible criminal charge of any kind under Roman law (e.g. Acts 18:12-17, 23:26-35). Otherwise, the crime of either robbing graves or aiding and abetting an escaped felon and royal pretender would certainly have been obvious grounds for an inquest or trial. Yet neither occurs. Thus, if Acts records any truth about the history of the first Church, its narrative all but entails there was no empty tomb, the body of Jesus was not missing, and that the earliest Christians, including Paul, were instead preaching a resurrection by transfer to a new body, residing in heaven (at least after the Pentecost), a fact known only by private revelations and interpretations of scripture.


[1] For a full account of the evidence and argument for this conclusion, see Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), edited by Bob Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder: pp. 105-231, which is supported by an online FAQ and the official Empty Tomb website article “Stephen Davis Gets it Wrong” (2006).

[2] Peter Lampe, “Paul’s Concept of a Spiritual Body” in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments (2002), edited by Ted Peters et al.: pp. 103-14; Gregory Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (1995); Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body (1995); Adela Collins, “The Empty Tomb in the Gospel According to Mark” in Hermes and Athena: Biblical Exegesis and Philosophical Theology (1993), edited by Eleonore Stump & Thomas Flint: pp. 107-40; and C.F. Moule, “St. Paul and Dualism: The Pauline Conception of the Resurrection,” New Testament Studies 12 (1966): 106-23.

[3] Empty Tomb n. 2 (pp. 197-98) and n. 165 (p. 211) and associated FAQ Response.

[4] Josephus describing two-body resurrection as his own view: Jewish War 2.163 and 3.372-75, Against Apion 2.218 (cf. Life 12 and Jewish Antiquities 18.14). On Jewish views and diversity: Empty Tomb pp. 107-13, 126, 137-38. On various pagan views of resurrection, see the relevant sections of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), i.e. Chapter 3 “Was Resurrection Deemed Impossible?” and from Chapter 19 (“Responses to Critics“) cf. “The Word Anastasis,” “Zoroastrian Resurrection,” and “Zalmoxis.”

[5] On the inner and outer man: Empty Tomb pp. 150-51 (cf. also pp. 130-32). On seen and unseen things: Colossians 3:1-6 and Empty Tomb pp. 129-30, 139-42. On the seed-pod analogy: Empty Tomb pp. 146-48 (with associated FAQ Response).

[6] That Romans 8:11 is about current Christian life and not the resurrection is argued in Empty Tomb pp. 149-50 and associated FAQ Response (1) and FAQ Response (2).

[7] On the meaning of the verb: Empty Tomb pp. 136-39. On Paul’s repeated use of the garment analogy: Empty Tomb pp. 119, 132-33, 134, 140-41 (with associated FAQ Response (1) and FAQ Response (2)).

[8] In Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 7.257 and 8.256-57 (see also Empty Tomb p. 119 and associated FAQ Response).

[9] Explaining the allusion in 2 Corinthians 4:7 to ritual vessels, and the implied distinction between vessels made by hands and those not: Empty Tomb p. 143 (with notes 188 and 189 on p. 213, though correcting Lamentations 4:3 with Lamentations 4:2).

[10] See Empty Tomb pp. 134, 140-41 and notes 91, 118, 140, and 275 (on pp. 206, 207, 209, 220, respectively).

[11] For Rabbinical views: Empty Tomb pp. 114-18. For “orthodox” Christian views: Empty Tomb pp. 123-25. For Paul’s arguments in contrast: Empty Tomb pp. 116-22, 125-54.

[12] For Origen’s view: Empty Tomb pp. 143-45 (with associated FAQ Response (1) and FAQ Response (2)). For other “heretical” Christian texts arguing the same thing: Empty Tomb p. 137 (and for related background see pp. 142-43).

[13] On Paul not knowing anything claimed in the Gospels: e.g. Empty Tomb pp. 120-21, 124, 135, 196-97.

[14] On ancient life expectancy see Estimated Life Expectancy in the Ancient World. For the evidence and argument that the empty tomb was a later legend: Empty Tomb pp. 155-95.

[15] On the Roswellcase: Empty Tomb pp. 175-76. On Christian research methodology and epistemology, see the relevant chapters of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), i.e. Chapter 7 (“Was Christianity Highly Vulnerable to Inspection and Disproof?“), Chapter 13 (“Would the Facts Be Checked?“), Chapter 17 (“Did the Earliest Christians Encourage Critical Inquiry?“), and from Chapter 19 (“Responses to Critics“) see “Christian Research?,” “Hope & Hebrews,” “The Word Pistis,” and “Biblical Epistemology.”

[16] Defending the arguments of this paragraph: Empty Tomb pp. 151-55 (with associated FAQ Response (1) and FAQ Response (2)) and Section 10.4 (“Malina and Neyrey on the Role of Revelation“) of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), as well as chapters and sections of same cited in previous note.

[17] On the ancient crime of graverobbing: Richard Carrier, “The Nazareth Inscription” (Secular Web: 2000). On Matthew’s invention of the guarded tomb: Richard Carrier, “The Plausibility of Theft,” Empty Tomb pp. 349-68 (with associated FAQ Response).

[18] For a defense of this point see Chapter 13 (“Would the Facts Be Checked?“) of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), e.g. Note on Peter’s Sermon.

O’Connell’s Opening Statement (2008)

 The Meaning of “Resurrection”

Whenever the word “resurrection” (anastasis) occurs in Jewish sources within and around the first century A.D., it always denotes a “one-body” notion of resurrection. This fact has been amply demonstrated by N. T. Wright’s thorough examination of the sources.[1] Although there were disagreements over the details (such as whether all humans would rise, or only the righteous), the sources are unanimous in using the word “resurrection” to mean the one-body doctrine of resurrection defined in my position statement. Dale Allison sums things up very well:

To my knowledge, nowhere in the Bible or in old Jewish or Christian literature does the language of resurrection refer to a materially new body, physically unconnected to the old. A resurrected body is always the old body or a piece of it come back to life and/or transformed…. Resurrection meant bodies in the ground coming back to life. To rise from the dead was to rise from one’s tomb.[2]

Now if “resurrection” has a uniform meaning in all of the other Jewish sources from the time period in question, we ought to assume it has the same meaning in Paul’s epistles unless there is positive evidence to the contrary. That is, even if we have no specific evidence one way or the other as to what “resurrection” means in Paul, we should assume that it has the same meaning used in all of our other sources. This is based on the epistemological principle that when we encounter a word, which in our past experience has had one particular meaning in the large majority of instances in which we have heard that word, then, barring evidence to the contrary, we should assume that the word means the same thing that it has meant in the majority of other instances in which we have encountered the word. If we don’t follow this principle communication will completely break down.[3]

For example, suppose someone asks me if I want to “go bowling.” In the large majority of instances in which I have heard someone utter those words (in fact, as far as I can recall, in every instance in which I have heard someone utter those words) the words have meant that the person uttering them is asking if I want to go pick up a ball and knock down pins Hence when I hear this question, I assume that the person asking it is asking me if I want to go pick up a ball and knock down pins. Now conceivably, he might mean something else; I have not asked him to define “go bowling,” so maybe he is using those words to ask me if I want to play poker. But I’m not going to ask him to define “go bowling”; I am simply going to assume that the words have the same meaning they have had in the majority of other instances in which I have heard them used. And I would do the same thing if someone asked if I wanted to “have supper,” “read a book,” “watch TV,” and so forth. Thus we ought to operate on the same principle when we interpret the word “resurrection” in Paul’s epistles.

The following are examples of the many ancient Jewish sources which affirm a one-body understanding of resurrection:

But when now all things shall have been reduced
To dust and ashes, and God shall have calmed
The fire unspeakable which he lit up,
The bones and ashes of men God himself
Again will fashion, and he will again
Raise mortals up, even as they were before
(Sibylline Oracles 4:231-36)

‘Hear, Baruch, this word,
And write in the remembrance of your heart all that you shall learn.
For the earth shall then assuredly restore the dead,
[Which it now receives, in order to preserve them].
It shall make no change in their form,
But as it has received, so shall it restore them,
And as I delivered them unto it, so also shall it raise them.
(2 Baruch 50:2)

1 Corinthians 15:53-54

In 1 Corinthians 15:42, Paul writes that our preresurrection bodies are corruptible and that our postresurrection bodies are incorruptible, and in 15:50, he affirms that corruption cannot inherit incorruption. Then in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, Paul writes that “that which is corruptible must put on incorruptibility.” The word “put on” (endyo) means to “clothe” or “get into” (i.e. in the sense of putting on clothes).[4] Since Paul explicitly calls the preresurrection body corruptible in 15:42, and since the entire discussion from 15:35-58 is concerned with the nature of the resurrection body, it follows that when Paul speaks of corruptibility and mortal bodies putting on incorruptibility in vv. 53-54, he means that our corruptible, mortal bodies must put on incorruption and immortality. This clearly indicates that Paul believes the corruptible, preresurrection body is going to be transformed into the incorruptible, postresurrection body. The alternative, that Paul thinks the corruptible, preresurrection body will simply rot away while the spirit which previously inhabited that body moves into a new body, is incompatible with Paul’s use of “put on.” For only if the corruptible, mortal body is transformed into an incorruptible, immortal body does it make any sense to say that corruption will “put on” incorruptibility. If the preresurrection body simply rots away, then what is corruptible (which Paul has identified as the preresurrection body) does not put on incorruption, but rather what is corruptible (the preresurrection body) just disintegrates while our soul (which was never corruptible to begin with) puts on incorruption (and even if the argument could be made that the soul is corruptible, the fact is that in the context of the passage “that which is corruptible” (v. 53) must refer to our preresurrection bodes, because of the parallelism between v. 42, v. 50, and vv. 53-54, and because the entire discussion is concerned with the preresurrection body vs. the postresurrection body, not the preresurrection soul vs. the postresurrection soul).

Romans 8:23

In Romans 8:23, Paul speaks of the “redemption” (apolytrosis) of our bodies. Paul must have in mind our resurrection bodies because the statement occurs in the context of a discussion about the eschatological age. Paul contrasts the “suffering of the present” to “the glory that is to be revealed” (8:18) and envisions a time when the children of God will enjoy freedom and the curse of Adam will be undone as creation is set free from its bondage to corruption (8:19-22). It is clearly the eschatological times that Paul is discussing here, and since Paul elsewhere affirms that the resurrection will occur during the eschatological age, and since no other second-temple Jewish source expects anything special to happen to our bodies at the time of the eschaton other than their resurrection, Paul must be referring to the general resurrection when he mentions the “redemption of our bodies.”

Now if this is the case and thus Paul is referring to the resurrection of our bodies as the redemption of our bodies, Paul is clearly affirming a one-body view of resurrection. The word apolytrosis connotes the idea that the thing being redeemed (in this case our bodies) was previously in a state of bondage, but is now being freed.[5] Thus Paul’s point must be that our bodies which, like the rest of creation, are currently in a state of bondage to corruption (“corruption” is the same word used in reference to the transformation of our corrupt bodies in 1 Corinthians 15) will at the time of the resurrection be redeemed by being changed into incorruptible bodies. This of course requires that the body which is currently in a state of corruption is the same body which will be resurrected. By contrast, if our body simply rots in the grave while the soul passes into a new body, then there is no redemption of our bodies. Hence, a two-body view of resurrection cannot make any sense of Paul’s affirmation that our bodies will be redeemed.

Romans 8:11

In Romans 8:11 Paul states that the Holy Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. If Paul is talking about the resurrection of the dead when he refers to the body being given life, then he clearly has in mind a one-body view of resurrection, since only our preresurrection bodies are mortal. A second body assumed for the first time at the resurrection, and designed to exist for the rest of eternity, is not a mortal body.

Once we examine Paul’s train of thought in this passage, it becomes clear that Paul is referring to the resurrection in 8:11. In 8:1-4, Paul states that Christians have been freed from the Law by Christ’s death, and so do not live according to the Law, but according to the Spirit. After contrasting the concerns of the flesh with the concerns of the Spirit, Paul affirms that Christians are in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells in them. However, despite the fact that Christians have the Spirit of God within them and consequently their spirits are alive, their bodies are still dead because of sin (8:10). Thus, when Paul speaks of our mortal bodies being given life in 8:11, he cannot, contrary to Carrier[6], be speaking in reference to the moral transformation which Christians undergo in this life. For he makes clear in 8:10 that the moral transformation in this life involves only the spirit; the body remains dead to sin. Hence, when Paul refers in 8:11 to a future transformation of our bodies, he must have in mind not the Christian’s present spiritual transformation, but the general resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:36-44

In 1 Corinthians 15:36, Paul introduces the analogy of sowing and reaping in order to illustrate his teaching on the transformation of the preresurrection body into the resurrection body (or, on Carrier’s two-body view, the preresurrection body’s replacement with the resurrected body). Paul’s use of this illustration indicates a belief in one-body resurrection, because when a seed is sown, the plant that emerges is numerically identical to the original seed (though greatly transformed). In his essay, Carrier argues that this analogy actually makes more sense for a two-body resurrection, because when a seed is sown, the outer shell is not transformed into a plant; rather, it is cast off and dies (which Carrier equates with casting off the old body) while the inner kernel grows into the plant (which Carrier equates with taking on a new body).[7]

Now when we consider the minutiae of the seed-plant transformation, it becomes clear that if we want to press the details, the seed-plant transformation does not correspond exactly to either a one-body or two-body view of resurrection (yet of course Paul must be espousing one or the other). For while it is true that the kernel’s dropping off of the shell makes the analogy inexact for one-body resurrection, the fact that the kernel grows into the plant makes the analogy difficult for two-body resurrection. For the kernel, since it has been inside the shell from the beginning of its existence, would seem to correspond to the soul (which has been inside the person’s body the person’s entire life), not to a second body (which had never been inside the person’s body). But on the two-body view the person’s soul is not transformed into the resurrection body in the way that the kernel is transformed into the new plant (or else the identity of Christ would not have passed into another body, but would be numerically identical with his resurrection body); rather the soul begins to inhabit another body.

Since it is difficult to determine how Paul is using the sowing/reaping analogy from this passage alone, we ought to look at parallel uses of the sowing/reaping analogy in other ancient writings, as these will likely illuminate the discussion.

In three other sources, this analogy is used to illustrate resurrection, and in each of these cases the author clearly has in mind one-body resurrection:

  1. In John 12:24 Jesus, in reference to his own death and resurrection, states: “Amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” Since John clearly believes in one-body resurrection (see the resurrection narrative of John 20-21), 12:24 must affirm the same idea.
  2. Clement of Rome(1 Clement 24:4-5) also uses the analogy (in almost the exact same words as Paul) to illustrate the idea of resurrection. He must mean one-body resurrection because he quotes approvingly a textual version of Job 19:25-26 in which Job affirms that his flesh will be raised (1 Clement 26).
  3. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 90b, reads as follows:

But when they arise, shall they arise nude or in their garments?’ — He replied, ‘Thou mayest deduce by an a fortiori argument [the answer] from a wheat grain: if a grain of wheat, which is buried naked, sprouteth forth in many robes, how much more so the righteous, who are buried in their raiment!’

Rabbi Meir’s point in the Babylonian Talmud is that since the body goes in to the ground clothed, it will arise clothed. Hence, Rabbi Meir must think it is the same body which arises, otherwise the logic of his argument does not make any sense.

Thus in light of these sources, it is certainly likely that Paul is using the sowing/reaping analogy to illustrate one-body resurrection, not two-body resurrection.


[1] See N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).

[2] Dale C. Allison Jr., “The Resurrection of Jesus and Rational Apologetics.” Philosophia Christi 10 (2008): 315-338.

[3] On this principle see Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 10-12.

[4] See Blue Letter Bible and Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), vol. 2, p. 319.

[5] See Blue Letter Bible and Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4., p. 351.

[6] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Amherst,NY: Prometheus Books, 2005): 105-231, p. 149.

[7] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” pp. 146-147.

O’Connell’s First Rebuttal (2008)

 Response to “What Paul Said”

Carrier here throws out a number of passages which he thinks make better sense if Paul accepted a two-body theory of resurrection (hereafter 2BT). But it can be clearly demonstrated that all of these passages are either better explained on a one-body theory (hereafter 1BT), or at least that they are too ambiguous to determine one way or other. And provided that there are other passages which are best explained on 1BT (such as the ones I discuss in my opening statement), the ambiguous passages should be presumed to affirm 1BT as well, since we must assume that an author does not contradict himself unless we have definite evidence for it.

Let’s start with 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8. Since this passage has its interpretive difficulties (Wright calls it “dense” and Margaret Thrall tells us it has “occasioned extensive debate”),[1] I’ll first lay out the general thrust of the passage[2]: Paul is not discouraged by the sufferings he has faced, for he knows that even though he is subjected to hardship now, yet he has an eternal reward (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul knows that though his present body may die, he can look forward to receiving the resurrection body (5:1). It is the resurrection body which he longs for now (5:2-3). Ideally, he does not want to ever experience a bodiless state in heaven, but wants to go straight from the preresurrection body to the resurrection body (5:4).The resurrection body (5:5) has been prepared by God. In a way, the present bodily state is better than the nonbodily state in heaven because we do at least have a body (5:6-7). On the other hand, the bodiless state is better because we are present with the Lord (5:8).

Now, getting to one of the disputed aspects of this passage, what do we find here that supports either 1BT or 2BT?

Paul’s use of “ependyomai” (5:2; 5:5) clearly supports 1BT. The word means to “put one garment on over another.”[3] Paul says that we do not want to be unclothed (i.e. die and lose the body), but rather want to “put one garment on over another.” This is of course reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 15:54, where Paul says that the mortal corruptible preresurrection body must “put on” the incorruptible immortal resurrection body. And 2 Corinthians 5:3, like 1 Corinthians 15:54, makes sense only on 1BT. For if, as 2BT requires, Paul thinks his present garment (the preresurrection body) is going to disintegrate while his soul escapes this garment, then he is not putting one garment on over another. Instead, he is taking one garment off in order to put another on.

What in this passage might support 2BT?

First, Paul seems to say that the resurrection body is already in heaven, even as we presently occupy our earthly bodies (5:1). But Paul’s language may be no more than an expression of his assurance that God has guaranteed us a resurrection body (cf. Matthew 5:20, where Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven, but does not mean we should literally put gold coins up there). In fact, the whole passage is filled with figurative language: Our present body is a “tent,” mortality will be “swallowed up,” a disembodied state is “nakedness,” etc. Thus, it is entirely plausible that Paul’s words concerning the location of the resurrection body are figurative.

Second, Carrier argues that by calling our bodies clay vessels (which are made by hands) in 4:7 and then saying that our resurrection bodies are not made by hands (5:2), Paul is drawing a contrast between the two, and since clay vessels are destroyed after use, therefore our bodies will be destroyed rather than resurrected. But in comparing our preresurrection bodies to clay vessels, Paul’s point is only that our bodies, like clay vessels, are fragile (the whole context of 4:7-11 concerns the fragility of our present existence). That our bodies are like clay vessels with respect to their fragility does not mean that they are like clay vessels in all other respects (e.g. the two may not be alike with respect to their ultimate fate). That would be analogous to claiming that because Jesus tells the disciples to be like the Devil with respect to cleverness (Matthew 10:6), he wants them to be like the Devil in all other respects. If Paul had said our bodies will not be reconstituted, just as a broken clay vessel will not, we would have a clear affirmation of 2BT. But Paul does not say that.

I may also add that I find C. F. Moule’s suggestion that Paul changed his mind on the question of 1BT/2BT in between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians preposterous.[4] If Paul was trying to teach the Corinthians a doctrine completely opposite from the one he had taught them just a year earlier, he surely would have made his new teaching much more explicit.

As for Carrier’s other passages:

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 is no “plain statement” of 2BT. In these very verses, Paul uses the seed-plant analogy to illustrate what he is trying to say. As I demonstrated in my opening statement, Paul’s use of this analogy is strong evidence for 1BT.
  2. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is entirely ambiguous on this question. It says nothing relevant to our topic one way or the other.
  3. The word “allasso” (1 Corinthians 15) and the word “metaschematizo” (Philippians 3:20) can mean either “change” (i.e. transform) or “exchange.” Their meaning is dependent on the context, and so Paul’s use of these words cannot, in and of itself, be used as evidence for 2BT. Only if one already has other evidence that Paul holds to 2BT, can either of these words be used to support 2BT. Further, we can note that while 2 Baruch 49-51 would provide a parallel to the idea that humans will be changed (transformed) at the resurrection, there are no Jewish sources which affirm an exchange.
  4. Colossians 3:5 is another ambiguous passage. It affirms only that we have an earthly body; it says nothing about whether that body will be resurrected or replaced.
  5. 1 Corinthians 5:5 proscribes excommunication for a man practicing incest. He is to be delivered “to Satan” (i.e. expelled from the Christian community into the Gentile world which Satan has in his grip) for the “destruction of his flesh” (i.e. he will suffer affliction once he is thrust into Satan’s world), so that “his spirit will be saved on the day of the Lord” (i.e. the affliction he will suffer will cause a spiritual transformation so that he will repent of his evil ways and be saved). The passage is not concerned with resurrection.
  6. Paul’s references to our “inner man” can plausibly be understood as references to our inner person, our spirit. There is nothing to suggest that Paul’s inner man is an unseen body.
  7. Paul’s view of the eschatological age as a new Genesis (1 Corinthians 15:35-50) is of no help to 2BT. Romans 8 makes clear that Paul’s hope is for a renewed creation, not a brand new one. Paul writes that creation eagerly awaits the eschatological times (8:21) and that once the eschatological times arrive, creation will be delivered from its bondage to corruption. If Paul expects a destruction of the present creation, he would not speak of creation being “delivered,” and would not tell us that creation is looking forward to these times (it would not look forward to its own destruction). The texts Carrier cites as affirming destruction and recreation (Psalms 102:25-27 and Hebrews 1:10-12), themselves ambiguous, are both non-Pauline.

Response to “What Others Said”

Carrier’s basic argument here is that the Church Fathers and the rabbinic writers, both of whom believe in 1BT, sound a lot like each other when they talk about resurrection, and a lot different from Paul. By contrast, heretical writers who teach 2BT sound more like Paul. Therefore Paul probably agrees with the doctrine of the heretical Christians rather than that of the Fathers and rabbis.

In his second paragraph, Carrier offers three reasons to think that Paul affirms something different from the Fathers and the rabbis: (1) the Fathers and rabbis use some analogies and metaphors, and concern themselves with some questions, that Paul does not; (2) they talk about the continuity between the two bodies, but Paul talks about the discontinuity; and (3) unlike them, Paul does not affirm a resurrection of the flesh.

Regarding (1), we should expect the Fathers and rabbis to use some metaphors, and address some issues, which Paul does not, simply because they wrote much more than Paul did on the subject. Some of the Fathers devoted whole treatises to the resurrection.[5] So it is hardly justifiable to argue that because Paul does not address everything they did, Paul must disagree with them. Regarding (2), the reason Paul does not emphasize the continuity between the two bodies is obviously because the Corinthians are not having any difficulty understanding that the two bodies are in certain respects continuous. From the manner in which Paul answers the question, it is clear that the Corinthians’ problem is with understanding how the resurrected body is in any way different. Thus, Paul focuses on the issue of discontinuity because that is what the Corinthians are concerned with. Further, the Fathers do sometimes discuss the differences between the two bodies: Clement of Rome uses the seed-plant analogy, and Tertullian speaks of the “transformation” of the resurrection body in his discussion of 1 Corinthians 15.[6] In fact, any Church Father who discussed 1 Corinthians 15 (and plenty of them did) would necessarily have discussed the discontinuity between the bodies. Also, 2 Baruch 49-51 discusses at some length how the body will be transformed at the resurrection. As for (3), Paul’s failure to mention a resurrection of the flesh at most suggests that he thinks the flesh will be transformed at the resurrection so that it is no longer flesh (if it even suggests that), and a transformation of the flesh is still 1BT.

What about the supposed agreement between Paul and the heretics? Carrier’s only example of a heretic who sounds similar to Paul is Origen, and Carrier only cites one point from Origen that supposedly sounds similar to Paul. This is Origen’s statement that the resurrection body grows inside our body and eventually sloughs off the old body like a placenta. However, this does not sound like anything Paul says unless we assume that the seed/plant analogy is an illustration of 2BH. But I showed in my opening statement that this analogy clearly supports 1BT.

Response to “Paul vs. the Gospels”

Carrier provides two arguments here: (1) Paul’s failure to mention the empty tomb implies that he was unaware of an empty tomb, probably because there was no empty tomb; and (2) Gospel accounts of the empty tomb are unreliable because (a) the Gospels are unreliable in general due to problems such as their uncertain date and authorship, and (b) Gospel accounts of the empty tomb contradict each other on fundamental matters.

Regarding (1), Paul did not write his letters to give a comprehensive account of Christian belief. Thus, Paul’s failure to mention an empty tomb does not imply that he was unaware of one. Paul simply does not talk about Jesus’ life very much. Keep in mind that Paul nowhere mentions three aspects of Jesus’ ministry which are virtually universally acknowledged as historical: First, that Jesus performed miracles[7]; second, that he proclaimed the kingdom of God[8]; and third, that he spoke of “the Son of Man.”[9] Moreover, if we did not have 1 Corinthians, we would have no reference from Paul to any resurrection appearance except his own, and scholars who take Carrier’s approach would then presumably argue that Paul was unaware of any other resurrection appearances. So this argument from silence seems most tenuous.

As for (2), this is really not an offensive argument for Carrier’s thesis, but merely a defensive argument, since all it does is keep the Gospels from being brought in as contrary evidence. But in presenting my case, I did not rely on the Gospels at all; I appealed only to Paul’s epistles. Thus, I could concede for the sake of argument that the Gospels are not reliable. Nevertheless, I will now give three arguments in defense of the historicity of the empty tomb.

First, the Gospels state that women discovered the tomb empty. Given the low social status of women in first-century Judaism, it is unlikely that the early Christians would invent a story making women the discoverers of the tomb.[10] Second, the empty tomb is multiply attested by all four Gospels. Third, if Jesus’ tomb remained occupied, then given the popular interest shown in the bones of martyrs during this period, Jesus’ tomb ought to have been venerated.[11] The absence of tomb veneration is best explained by the hypothesis that the tomb was empty.

As for apparent contradictions among the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb’s discovery (such as precisely which women went to the tomb), even if they could not be harmonized, they strike me as incidental rather than fundamental. But contradictions on minor details do not require that the basic fact be dismissed. There are various contradictions among surviving accounts of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, but that does not mean we should conclude that the game never happened.[12]

Response to “The Gospels vs. Acts”

Carrier’s argument here is that Acts’ record of the history of the Church is incompatible with Jesus’ tomb being empty, and thus either Acts is worthless as history, or the tomb was not empty. Carrier argues that if the tomb was empty, the Christians would have been investigated by the Romans for grave robbery, and for helping a criminal to escape crucifixion. Again, since I did not appeal to Acts as support for 1BT, I could simply concede for the sake of argument that Acts is worthless as history. But supposing it is not, I do not think Carrier has shown that Acts’ account is incompatible with an empty tomb.

With respect to grave robbery, if there was an empty tomb, then we can be quite sure that the Jewish leaders (and the Romans if they were interested) would have suspected that some Christians had stolen the body (as Matthew 28:11-15 records). But the mere fact that the Christians were accused of stealing the body is not so significant that the author of Acts would be certain to make mention of it. Plenty of accusations were hurled against the Christians. In the Gospels, Jesus is charged with being a drunkard, insane, and in league with the Devil. If the charge that Christians were grave robbers represented just one more unsubstantiated accusation, there is no reason to think it would have been so important to Luke that he could not have omitted it. Only if some of the Christians were actually tried for grave robbery or desecrating tombs would Luke have an event of some significance.

But now, suppose the Jews or Romans were convinced that the Christians had stolen the body, and that they wanted to try the culprits for grave robbery. Who were they going to try? They could not simply try all the Christians, for they would have to try the individuals who were actually suspected of grave robbery. But who? Acts 2:41 tells us there were 3,000 converts to Christianity on the day of Pentecost. This is generally thought to be exaggerated, but the early material of 1 Corinthians 15:6 affirms that there were over 500 Christians very early on.[13] How were the Romans supposed to determine exactly which Christians took the body? Besides, Jesus’ execution occurred at Passover, when there would have been hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem.[14] By the time Peter and the others started to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection 50 days later at Pentecost, the culprits could have been anywhere.

As for the witnesses to the resurrection appearances being investigated for running around with an escaped felon, and the Romans starting a massive manhunt to find Jesus and kill him again, this scenario only would have occurred if the Romans had completely misunderstood what the Christian proclamation was all about. The Christians were not claiming that they had temporarily housed a resuscitated Jesus who was now on the loose somewhere. Rather, they were claiming that Jesus had been supernaturally resurrected, after which he spent most of his time in heaven while making occasional appearances to his followers. The Romans surely would have either understood the resurrection appearances as analogous to religious visions (which were not at all unusual in the ancient world)[15], or they would have figured that the witnesses to the appearances were simply lying (which is apparently just what the Jewish leaders were saying per Matthew 28:11-15).

Further, we could just as well reason: (a) Jesus was crucified as a pretender to the throne; (b) his followers were continuing to proclaim the message of a pretender to the throne (whether they were claiming there was an empty tomb or not); (c) the Romans would have been upset with such a proclamation; and thus (d) the Romans would have persecuted Jesus’ followers. Yet clearly they did not (prior to Nero). Common sense would seem to dictate that the Romans should have persecuted the Christians regardless of whether there was an empty tomb, but they didn’t, and there is no reason to think an empty tomb would have made any difference.[16]

Carrier also makes one other argument: he suggests that Acts’ failure to mention an empty tomb implies that there was none. But Luke, like Paul, is not trying to be comprehensive. He has already affirmed his belief in an empty tomb (Luke 24), and there is no reason why he should be compelled to mention it again in Acts.


[1] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 366; Margaret E. Thrall, The International Critical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), p. 357.

[2] For an exegesis that I generally agree with, see e.g. William Lane Craig, “The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” in R. T. France and David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives (vol. 1) (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980): 47-74, available to registered users here: <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5215>, and Jan Lambrecht, Second Corinthians (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999).

[3] See the New American Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1992) footnote on 2 Corinthians 5:2-5, p. 271.

[4] C. F. Moule, “St. Pauland Dualism: The Pauline Conception of Resurrection,” New Testament Studies 12(2): 106-123 (January 1966).

[5] Justin Martyr, On the Resurrection; Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh.

[6] Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 42.

[7] On Jesus’ miracles, see Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), pp. 139-158.

[8] On “the kingdom of God,” see John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 2) (New York: Doubleday, 1994), pp. 509-1038.

[9] On the title “The Son of Man,” see Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), pp. 233-261.

[10] See e.g. b. Sot. 19a.

[11] See James Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 837-838.

[12] See Bryan Burwell, At the Buzzer! Havlichek Steals, Erving Soars, Magic Deals, Michael Scores: The Greatest Moments in NBA History (New York: Doubleday, 2001), pp. 126-127.

[13] On the reliability of this material, see William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1989), pp. 3-62.

[14] According to E.P. Sanders there were generally 300,000 to 500,000 people in Jerusalemfor Passover (Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE-66 CE [London: SCM, 1992], p. 128).

[15] See Violet MacDermot, The Cult of the Seer in the Ancient Middle East (Berkley: University of California Press, 1971).

[16] On the question of why Jesus was crucified but not his followers, see the articles in the June 2007 issue of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament.


Carrier’s First Rebuttal (2008)

A Weaker Case Cannot Defeat a Stronger

O’Connell makes five arguments. None establish his case. I will treat each in turn, then reiterate my conclusion.

 1. Vocabulary Argument

O’Connell: Whenever the word “resurrection” (anastasis) occurs in Jewish sources within and around the first century A.D., it always denotes a “one-body” notion of resurrection.

This has not been demonstrated. Not even N. T. Wright ever says this. To the contrary, N. T. Wright would agree that two-body resurrection is a possible application of the word.[1] Many uses of the word anastasis are ambiguous (being unclear what kind of resurrection is meant), there are too few such references (especially from the first century) to declare its use was so restricted, and the word was too broad and generic in its meaning to have so limiting a restriction on its use (to the contrary, it clearly meant all kinds of things).[2] Therefore O’Connell cannot claim “all” ancient uses of this word were of a one-body resurrection. In fact, that begs the question, since I demonstrated Paul uses this word of two-body resurrection (as does Origen), which makes these counterexamples to O’Connell’s false generalization. I further demonstrated that “resurrection” (even if indicated with other words) was described as two-body by other ancient authors, including Josephus, a first-century Jew.[3]

Ironically, O’Connell’s two clear examples of one-body resurrection (from the Sibylline Oracles and 2 Baruch) are perfect examples of what Paul conspicuously never says, even though these passages manage to say it in just a simple line or two. The very fact that Paul says something entirely different is sufficient reason to conclude he meant something entirely different.

2. Clothing Argument

O’Connell: [T]hat Paul thinks the corruptible, preresurrection body will simply rot away while the spirit which previously inhabited that body moves into a new body, is incompatible with Paul’s use of “put on.”

It is not. Since in the relevant passage (1 Corinthians 15:42) Paul is speaking of the eschaton (the end of the world) when everything corruptible will be destroyed, he is not thinking of the old body staying behind and rotting away, but immediately disintegrating, and thus being “swallowed up” (1 Corinthians 15:54), i.e. completely consumed. This would not have happened to Jesus, however, as the world had not burned away yet. His body thus remained behind (until it, too, is burned up in the eschaton). Either way, Paul is adamant that the old body will be destroyed, not restored or raised in any way (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:1 and 1 Corinthians 5:5).

I’ve demonstrated that Paul’s garment analogy most likely refers to exchanging garments, not putting one on over another and continuing with both. That’s why in 2 Corinthians 5:3-4 he says at the resurrection we will “get out of” what we presently wear when we “put on” our new body (and the same exchange is described with his building metaphor in 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-8).[4] O’Connell’s view would sound illogical to Paul, since if flesh cannot inherent incorruptibility (1 Corinthians 15:50), then it cannot inherent it by putting on a cloak of incorruptibility. There would then also be two bodies, one of flesh and one of higher material, walking around together one on top of the other. That is certainly not what Paul is proposing. Not only does he say we “get out of” our old bodies, he never says our old body “gets into” another, much less stays there.[5]

The word “body” is not even in the text of 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 (or 1 Corinthians 15:50), where O’Connell needs it to be. Hence he must conjecture it there, but his only basis for this is 1 Corinthians 15:42, which is a whole ten verses away from 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 and thus hardly the most likely source of Paul’s intended subject. So which is the more likely interpretation of what Paul is saying on the total evidence? I argue it is exchange, not layering. Accordingly, I conclude (with Jean Héring) that the grammatical subject in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 is more likely our present condition in the abstract, not our bodies.[6] Hence he means we take off our old bodies (or allow them to be consumed in the eschaton) and “put on” our new ones (much like in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44).[7]

But I agree with how O’Connell describes my position when he says “what is corruptible (the preresurrection body) just disintegrates while our soul” (or the equivalent[8]) “puts on incorruption.” O’Connell is describing a two-body resurrection: the old body “just disintegrates” while we jump into a new “incorruptible” body—at the eschaton. But since Jesus wasn’t raised at the eschaton, there is no reason to expect his body to have disintegrated. Paul would not have to believe it did, and he never says it did.

3. Argument from Romans 8:23

O’Connell: In Romans 8:23, Paul speaks of the “redemption” (apolytrosis) of our bodies…. [But] if our body simply rots in the grave while the soul passes into a new body, then there is no redemption of our bodies. Hence, a two-body view of resurrection cannot make any sense of Paul’s affirmation that our bodies will be redeemed.

Yes, it can. As O’Connell says, “the word apolytrosis connotes the idea that the thing being redeemed” was “previously in a state of bondage, but is now being freed.” But the question remains: which body is being “freed” from its bondage? I agree with O’Connell that it is the resurrection body that is being freed. But that is not our current body. Our resurrection body is to be freed from its bondage within the mortal body, as Paul implies repeatedly elsewhere. Our “outer man,” which Paul says is going to its destruction, currently “burdens” our “inner man,” which Paul says is eternal. Thus, Paul’s resurrection consists of “freeing” our inner body from the burden of our outer body, just as a new birth must be freed from the placenta that surrounds it (from Origen’s analogy), or as a new plant must be freed from the chaff of its shell (from Paul’s analogy).[9]

Notably, Paul does not say in Romans 8:23 that our mortal bodies will be redeemed. Thus how we interpret what he means here must follow what he says elsewhere, and what he says elsewhere is fairly conclusive when taken as a whole: one body is destroyed, a new one replaces it; and that new body is grown or vouchsafed within us even now.

4. Argument from Romans 8:11

O’Connell: In Romans 8:11 Paul states that the Holy Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. If Paul is talking about the resurrection of the dead when he refers to the body being given life, then he clearly has in mind a one-body view of resurrection, since only our preresurrection bodies are mortal.

But if Paul is not talking about the resurrection of the dead when he refers to the body being given life here, then O’Connell’s conclusion does not follow. Paul conspicuously does not say God will raise our mortal bodies in 8:11. In fact, our resurrection is not mentioned there at all. Thus, O’Connell must conjecture that Paul means resurrection. But there is no reason to prefer his conjecture to mine.

The verses immediately preceding and following (Romans 8:9-10 and 8:12-13) all refer to life and death as metaphorical or spiritual ‘states of being’ here and now, in our present life. The context is not obviously our resurrection (which is never named or mentioned). If Paul can say our body is dead now (Romans 8:10) and the spirit “in” us now “is life” (Romans 8:10), then when he says God will give us “life” when that spirit is “in” us (Romans 8:11), the obvious implication is that he is talking about the spirit (and thus life) that is in us now.

Contrary to O’Connell, Romans 8:11 says nothing of a future “transformation” of our bodies. It says only that our present bodies will be made alive when the spirit resides within us. Paul says elsewhere that our mortal bodies (our flesh and blood) cannot inherit eternal life. So it would not make much sense to say that God will make our mortal bodies alive if that is impossible (and notably, again, Paul does not here say God will make our mortal bodies eternally alive, or indestructible, or any of the other things he says our resurrection bodies will be). The whole point of describing our bodies as “mortal” (thnêta, literally “dying,” from thnêskô) is to indicate that they are doomed to die. If they were not, in what sense would they be mortal? You can’t have a mortal immortal body. Yet Paul does not say here that God will change our mortal bodies into immortal ones. He never mentions immortality here at all.

Clearly, there are two ways to interpret what Paul means here. And though I think I’ve shown my interpretation is the more plausible, I’ve at least proven that either is equally plausible. Therefore, since Paul is too vague here to extract definite conclusions about his resurrection belief, we must decide between alternative interpretations in light of what Paul says elsewhere. But as I’ve explained in my opening statement, what Paul says elsewhere is otherwise clear and thus argues against O’Connell’s interpretation of Romans 8:11. For you cannot use one vague passage to refute an entire collection of clear passages. The interpretive direction must go the other way.[10]

5. Seed-Sowing Argument

O’Connell: While it is true that the kernel’s dropping off of the shell makes the analogy inexact for one-body resurrection, the fact that the kernel grows into the plant makes the analogy difficult for two-body resurrection.

Since I demonstrate that Paul imagines our future bodies already growing inside us (our “inner man” as mentioned above), there is no difficulty. To the contrary, the analogy then matches my theory exactly. Paul may be vague as to whether he is literal or figurative about that (whether there is an actual spiritual body germinating inside us as we live, or whether there is only the hope of one vouchsafed within us by God, as N. T. Wright suggests with his bizarre idea of a celestial body farm[11]), but either way it amounts to the same thing. The analogy then works either to describe the literal fact, or the figurative fact. Either way, the fact represented is a two-body resurrection.[12]

To rebut this, O’Connell attempts to find a contradiction in usage between Paul and other authors. But none of his examples are sufficient to carry his point:


  1. John 12:24 allegedly preserves a saying of Jesus, but O’Connell is confusing the author of John (most likely an early second-century writer, or several) with Jesus (a pre-Pauline oral teacher). Many scholars conclude the Gospel “according to” John has been edited, expanded, interpolated, and rearranged, and thus the current text does not necessarily represent the original author’s meaning or intentions.[13] It thus can’t be expected to maintain thorough consistency. So not much can be inferred if John’s explicit theology conflicts with the implied theology of the people he quotes; i.e. just because “John” believed in a one-body resurrection does not mean Jesus did (or whoever originated or transmitted the saying in John 12:24).
  2. John 12:24 is cryptic. It is not placed in any clear context, and what it refers to cannot be positively identified. That it is about our resurrection therefore cannot be established. Since it says a lone wheat grain that dies bears plenty of fruit, the subject does not appear to be our resurrection, but something else, such as the death (or resurrection) of Jesus causing the flowering of the Church. That seems more likely (it would be the implied context of the preceding verse: John 12:23), and is certainly no less likely. Yet on that interpretation, Jesus is (metaphorically) the discarded shell and the Church the new second body that germinates from it. This would confirm my reading of Paul’s different application of the same analogy.
  3. A cryptic verse of undetermined meaning from an uncertain source, and of indefinite consistency with other material that came from a completely different source, cannot be used to refute a clear verse of obvious meaning from a known author that has a confirmed consistency with other things said by that same author. Weak evidence never trumps strong.
  4. Though 1 Clement 26:3 affirms the risen body will be made from the flesh of the mortal body, this comes immediately after 1 Clement 25, where our resurrection is likened to that of the Phoenix, which Clement describes without qualification as the bird destroying its old body, then rising from its ashes, but leaving the bones behind, which it then carries home (for burial). This is still a two-body resurrection analogy: a new body is fashioned from the flesh of the old, yet there is still a corpse (a skeleton) remaining in the grave.[14]
  5. Clement’s idea is not entirely Pauline: e.g. for Clement the new body is of flesh, which Paul explicitly denied, and Clement says nothing about the different properties and compositions of the two bodies that are central distinctions for Paul. Since Clement’s scheme is notably different, we cannot conclude that Paul would have agreed with anything else Clement said, as we already know Paul would have disagreed with at least some of it.
  6. 1 Clement 24 does not use the analogy “in almost the exact same words as Paul.” To the contrary, it uses notably different concepts and phraseology, indicating Clement does not have the same knowledge or ideas as Paul. Clement says the “dry” seeds cast onto the ground “are dissolved” (dialuetai) “and then” out of their dissolution (ek tês dialuseôs) the “mighty power of the Lord’s plan” raises them up, and “from one, many grow and bear forth fruit.” This is all very different from Paul, who does not mention one seed producing many other seeds in a subsequent stage of fruit-bearing (an idea that makes little sense as a theory of resurrection but sounds a lot like a confusion from another statement, like that of Jesus, noted from John above, that from one death would come many saved). Moreover, Paul says exactly the opposite of what Clement does here: Clement says God raises the actual seeds cast on the ground (auta, “the seeds themselves” or “the same seeds”), whereas Paul explicitly denies this and says the risen germ is not the one buried. Paul also doesn’t say the buried seed is “dissolved” (completely destroyed) and then magically restored, he says the buried seed dies, and a new one rises (thus he is distinguishing two components: the seed that dies, which would correspond to the shell, and the seed that rises, which would correspond to the germ inside). By contrast, Clement imagines the entire buried seed is dissolved and then reassembled (which suggests he doesn’t know the basic facts of agriculture, and certainly has no idea of there being two components to a seed).
  7. I’ve specifically pointed out how the Talmud (in that very passage, b.Sanhedrin 90b) uses the seed analogy in a completely different way from Paul: the Rabbis use it to theorize about actual clothing, whereas Paul uses it to theorize about our bodies. Paul understands our bodies to be the clothing, and advances a radically different idea of resurrection than the Talmud defends, a point I conclusively prove elsewhere.[15] Since the Rabbi he quotes is not talking about our bodies, but our clothes, O’Connell’s conclusion doesn’t follow.
  8. In fact, this crucial difference confirms my theory: Rabbi Meir is conceding that we change clothes, and he uses what happens to seeds to confirm this. Thus Rabbi Meir agrees with Paul that seeds change clothes. Since Paul applies this to the body itself, the same exact analogy entails that we change bodies (just as Rabbi Meir concludes we change clothes). The dead are buried in drab clothes, and rise in splendid clothes; wheat grains are buried in drab shells and rise in splendid shoots. There is no contradiction here with my interpretation of Paul.

                                   Clement of Rome

                                   The Talmud


The terminology and conceptology of ancient resurrection belief was not as narrow as O’Connell claims. He does not offer sufficient evidence to conclude otherwise. There were first-century Jews who held a two-body resurrection doctrine, as well as Christians after Paul. Paul’s garment analogy does not imply retention of the corpse, since it’s equally compatible with changing garments, and the evidence makes more sense that way. Romans 8:23 is equally compatible with one-body and two-body resurrection, and thus does not argue against either. Romans 8:11 is not clearly about resurrection, and since it has other interpretations, of which O’Connell’s is neither definite nor the most likely, it cannot bear the weight of refuting the copious and clear evidence I adduce in other passages from Paul. Finally, there is no valid basis for rejecting my interpretation of Paul’s seed analogy, especially since Paul backs it up with a “changing houses” analogy.

It’s not possible to defeat stronger arguments with weaker. Compare my case (summarized in my opening statement) with O’Connell’s: my evidence is far clearer and more numerous. I adduce many explicit statements from Paul (§1 and §2); O’Connell can only adduce a scant few passages that are inherently vague. I confirm with numerous examples that in what he says (and doesn’t say) Paul clearly differs from one-body proponents, and that he differs in exactly those respects that are best explained if Paul held a two-body view (§3); O’Connell presents no valid evidence to the contrary. My theory also better explains the peculiar contents of Acts, and Paul’s ignorance of the many relevant claims in the Gospels (§4 and §5).

So far, the preponderance of evidence clearly falls on my side, and heavily.


[1] See references in note 3 in my opening statement.

[2] See “The Word Anastasis” in Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (Secular Web: 2006), Chapter 19 (“Responses to Critics“), as well as n. 253 on p. 218 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), edited by Bob Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder: 105-231.

[3] See references in note 4 of my opening statement.

[4] For a complete demonstration of this point, see The Empty Tomb pp. 139-42 and the following note.

[5] Besides the summary in my opening statement and the preceding note, I demonstrate these points in The Empty Tomb pp. 137-39, 212-213n180. See also references in note 7 of my opening statement.

[6] On this point see my more detailed discussion in The Empty Tomb pp. 138-39 with p. 212n175. Also see my FAQ response on transformation.

[7] See The Empty Tomb pp. 127-28, with associated FAQ response.

[8] For what I mean by this, see The Empty Tomb pp. 133, 142-147, with associated FAQ response.

[9] I demonstrate this inner-and-outer man conception in The Empty Tomb pp. 144-145. The placenta-and-shell analogies I discuss and reference in my opening statement (§2 and §3). For my complete analysis of Romans 8:23, see The Empty Tomb p. 150, and the following note.

[10] For a demonstration of everything just summarized here, see The Empty Tomb pp. 149-150, and associated FAQ response 1 and FAQ response 2.

[11] See The Empty Tomb p. 211n165, with associated FAQ response.

[12] For my complete discussion, see The Empty Tomb pp. 146-147, with associated FAQ response.

[13] See discussion of the Gospel of John in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (1997) and the The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9 (1995). See also Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John, ed. John Lierman (2006), C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (1978), and pp. 119-23 of Helmut Koester, “Apocryphal and Canonical Gospels,” The Harvard Theological Review 73(1/2): 105-130 (January-April 1980).

[14] See my discussion in The Empty Tomb p. 126.

[15] See The Empty Tomb pp. 114-118.

Carrier’s Second Rebuttal (2008)

 Possibly is Not Probably

O’Connell’s general mode of argument is to propose possible alternative explanations for everything. But possibility is not probability. And some of his arguments (like those repeating his seed-plant analysis) I already refuted in my first rebuttal, so I will only address here what’s new.

1. On Over What?

O’Connell: Paul’s use of “ependyomai” (5:2; 5:5) clearly supports 1BT. The word means to “put one garment on over another.”

When ependuomai is used to mean “put one garment over another,” the other garment is usually named as the indirect object of the verb.[1] So we should expect Paul to say “put on over our earthly body” or something like that. But he doesn’t. He never says what we put the new body over. But he does say if we don’t put the new body on, then we’ll be naked, which implies it’s our naked selves that don the new body, not our old body wearing an extra one. Origen interprets 2 Corinthians 5 in exactly this way.[2] And Paul uses a domicile analogy here: he speaks of losing our current “tent” or “house” and getting another, using such terms five times in just four verses (instead of words for “garment”). You don’t don one house on top of another. A house goes on top of a person.

Hence ependuomai does not always mean “put one garment on over another garment” but can mean simply “put on over” (even over a naked body).[3] So the question is: Over what? The body that’s destroyed? How can you put something on over something that no longer exists? Paul is not talking about what happens when our earthly body merely dies, but when it’s completely destroyed (kata-luthê). And he repeats, in parallel[4], getting out of our first garment before getting into the other (emphases added):

In this [body] we groan, [because we] long to put on [our new body] from heaven, if indeed we will not be found naked when we get out of [our old body]. For we groan because we are in [this body] and are weighed down [by it], because of which it’s not that we want to get out of [our old body], but [that we want] to put on [our new body], so what is mortal may be completely swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:2-4)

Paul clearly says bearing this body (our earthly body) is a burden and for this reason he expects to get out of it, although he emphasizes that he does not desire to be naked, but to be clothed anew. You can’t make a burdensome body unburdensome by donning an additional cloak over it (as I’ve already explained). Surely we must get rid of the burdensome body in order to get rid of its burden. But Paul is hopeful he will not thus become naked, but will don a new, better body. This is reinforced by all the other evidence in Paul, and by his peculiar choice of vocabulary here: for he uses the term skênos to refer to “this” body that “burdens” us, and he uses it without explanation or qualification, as if his readers understand, which can only imply a deliberate allusion to popular Orphic notions corresponding to 2BT, as I’ve argued elsewhere.[5]

So we either put a new body “over” our naked selves, or don a new body at the same time our old one dissolves (when our current “mortal existence” is “swallowed up,” since 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 parallels 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, despite O’Connell’s assumption that the word “body” is in the latter, which I’ve already shown is unwarranted).[6] Either way, Paul is talking about losing the earthly body (he says it’s dissolved) and gaining a new body (the one “made without hands” waiting for us in heaven, literally or figuratively—Paul’s use of figurative language doesn’t argue against me).[7]

2. Clay Vessels

O’Connell: Paul’s point is only that our bodies, like clay vessels, are fragile (the whole context of [2 Corinthians] 4:7-11 concerns the fragility of our present existence)…. If Paul had said our bodies will not be reconstituted … we would have a clear affirmation of 2BT. But Paul does not say that.

But this context includes 2 Corinthians 5:1 (for which chapter 4 is a preamble). Saying our current bodies will indeed be destroyed, and implying we will “get out of” them to don new bodies God has specially prepared for us, practically is saying our old bodies will not be reconstituted, as Paul already explicitly said in his previous letter.[8] What Paul doesn’t say is that our bodies will be reconstituted, yet he should have, if that’s what he believed. Everything he says instead implies exchange.

I cannot believe it’s a coincidence that Paul chose to oddly describe our new bodies as “not made with hands” (what bodies ever are?) right after the section describing our current bodies with the peculiar term used for ritual clay vessels known to be “made with hands” and then necessarily destroyed. Paul even says our old bodies will be “destroyed” right before saying our new bodies are “not made with hands.” The obvious explanation for why Paul chose such an odd thing to say of our future bodies, and why he specifically juxtaposes an allusion to ritual clay vessels with the destruction of our earthly bodies, is that Paul is playing on the fact that our current bodies must be destroyed to make way for new and better ones. Again, all the other evidence converges on this same conclusion (unlike C. F. Moule, I find Paul’s two letters perfectly consistent on this point).

3. Varia

(1) O’Connell argues Paul didn’t imagine the world would be remade at the eschaton. I doubt that, as Paul repeatedly remarks on how present things will no longer exist, and denying this would put Paul at odds with the rest of the New Testament.[9] I think it more likely Paul did imagine the destruction of the world as its welcome liberation. For Paul says the very elements themselves are the origin of the world’s bondage.[10] And since “corruption cannot inherit incorruptibility” (1 Corinthians 15:50), when Paul says “even the creation itself shall be freed from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21), clearly something must change: the current structure of the world must pass away (1 Corinthians 7:31). Paul’s repeated use of a “new genesis” theme throughout his discussion of the resurrection corroborates this.[11] But regardless of what Paul thought would happen to the rest of the world, he clearly believed our current bodies would be “destroyed” (he says exactly that) and these would not be the bodies we rise up to new life in (he says, again, exactly that).

(2) O’Connell didn’t rebut how I used 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 or 1 Corinthians 5:5. I’m arguing a collective case: when all the relevant passages are read together (like 2 Corinthians 5:1), what we see is a pattern of thought, one that, when joined with Paul’s peculiar silences, leaves us with the more probable conclusion that Paul believed a 2BT. For example, Colossians 3:5 doesn’t just affirm we have an earthly body (why would that need affirming?). By strangely referring to our bodies as “our parts on earth,” Paul is identifying our corrupt body parts as the ones we have on earth, which implies an intentional distinction from other body parts, which are not on earth. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 Paul tells us where those are (or will be): in heaven (even specifically distinguishing these bodies from our “earthly” ones). And in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54 Paul explains why these two bodies have to be different. The total force of all the evidence trends in this direction, not O’Connell’s.[12]

(3) O’Connell claims allassô can mean “change” as in “transformation,” rather than “exchange,” but he adduces no evidence of this, and ignores my cited evidence to the contrary that allassô rarely means transmutation. And Paul appears to be alluding to a passage in the Septuagint that specifically describes the eschatological event as an exchange, not a transmutation.[13] Why else would Paul adopt this unusual word here? I argue Hebrews 1:10-12 shows what Paul must have been thinking—it doesn’t matter that Paul didn’t write Hebrews, its author still shares the same background. Since Paul uses this same unusual word, in exactly the same form, in exactly the same context of exchanging garments at the end of the world, it’s hard to imagine there was no intended connection.

(4) Contrary to O’Connell’s claim that “there are no Jewish sources which affirm an exchange,” I’ve already cited Josephus as a clear case of exactly that. Josephus says, for example, that the soul of a good man will “cross over” (metabainein) into “a different body” (eis heteron sôma). There are hints some other Jews held similar views.[14] And though O’Connell claims “there is nothing to suggest that Paul’s inner man is an unseen body,” the transition from 2 Corinthians 4:14-18 to 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 does exactly that. All the evidence collectively suggests a strong link in Paul’s mind between the outer man and the destructible body we shed, and between the inner man and the new indestructible body we shall assume.[15]

4. The Comparative Argument

O’Connell’s rebuttal to my comparative argument is inadequate.

(1) Paul wrote explicitly on his theory of resurrection twice, in 24 verses of over 300 words, and used several analogies, metaphors, and scriptural references—but none any 1BT proponent would use. I don’t argue Paul should use “everything” other 1BT proponents did, but at least something comparable. It’s improbable he would never say anything comparable.

(2) The Corinthians would be worried about continuity.[16] There’s no reason to believe otherwise. All who wrote on resurrection mention this problem and respond to it. All 1BT proponents also argued the body must be the same, not that it merely was. Paul never says this. Whereas for them it’s necessary, for him it’s not. And it’s so easy to say the same body rises that dies, or we’ll don a new body over the old, or our body will be reassembled, yet Paul conspicuously avoids ever saying this. Instead he says exactly the opposite in 1 Corinthians 15:36-37.

(3) If Paul believed the flesh would be “changed” into a new material, why never say this? Why use analogies, allusions, and descriptions implying exchange instead? Why does he talk about our bodies being dissolved, but never about them being reconstituted? What’s more probable?

It’s very peculiar that Paul never once uses any of the obvious 1BT analogies or metaphors or proof-texts (despite this being very easily done and ideal for his stated purpose), and never once says anything clearly supporting or asserting 1BT, but often the opposite. That this is all just an accident is highly improbable. Since Paul sounds more like Origen (in more ways than one), Paul probably thought more like Origen.[17]

5. Paul Never Cites Evidence Available to the Gospels

“Paul’s failure to mention an empty tomb does not imply that he was unaware of one,” but it does support that conclusion (especially when he omits it even from 1 Corinthians 15:4-8). But what’s more conspicuously absent is all the evidence later Christians adduce in defense of their view of resurrection: actual descriptions of Christ’s risen body and its nature (showing wounds, eating and drinking, being handled, not glowing but looking ordinary, etc.). In essence, in Paul we lack testimony “proving” the resurrected Christ to be of the same body he had in life, for which an empty tomb would also be necessary. Also missing is anything Jesus said, for instance: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you behold me having” (Luke 24:39).[18] That Paul mentions none of this, unlike later Christian authors, suggests none of it existed in Paul’s time.

6. Was There an Empty Tomb?

O’Connell’s defense of an empty tomb is wrong on the facts. The social status of women would have no effect on their inclusion in a fabricated empty tomb report, and Christians had specific reasons to include them there.[19] So it’s not an unlikely feature of the story. The Gospels are mutually dependent and therefore not ‘four independent sources.’ They all ultimately derive their empty tomb from Mark and embellish it.[20] And besides, multiply attested fiction is still fiction. That the labors of Hercules are multiply attested does not make them true. As for contradictions, contrary to O’Connell, these are so extreme in the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb that we can have no faith in them.[21] And we have no evidence either way whether the tomb was venerated (the site was lost or buried before any relevant texts would inform us).[22] So O’Connell can’t assert it wasn’t venerated—nor that it was any more likely to have been if occupied than if empty. On either account, it would be equally venerable as the site of the greatest and most important miracle in history, so if an empty tomb could be ignored, so could a needless body.

7. The Silence of Acts

O’Connell says “I do not think Carrier has shown that Acts’ account is incompatible with an empty tomb.” But it doesn’t matter whether a story can be made “compatible” with a theory. What matters is whether such compatibility is at all probable. And in the case of Acts, if it records any history of the earliest Church, its silences are highly improbable on the theory that the tomb was actually empty.

(1) In Acts the Christians are routinely hauled into court and tried, and the Jews are constantly looking for excuses to imprison or kill them—and try everything they can think of to get the Romans to help. Yet not even once do they ever think of laying the crime of graverobbing or abetting an escaped felon on any Christians, nor do any Jews or Romans in these trials ever seem aware of either crime.[23] Roman judges even repeatedly say the Christians have done nothing wrong. How could that be? Not only would the trials and accusations recorded in Acts be different, the history of the Church itself would have been different, if either of these crimes were suspected—and they would have been, had there been an empty tomb.

(2) Who would the Jews or Romans try? The Church leaders of course. They would first interrogate them to ferret out all their accomplices (and to determine if Jesus was still alive), much like Pliny.[24] This would surely happen, and would be more important than any other event in Acts, especially as it would provide powerful evidence for the Gospel. Therefore, that it didn’t happen makes no sense—unless there was no crime, hence no empty tomb. The Jews would probably fabricate witnesses to suit their needs as well (as they supposedly did for Jesus). Since these crimes would guarantee execution by the Romans, and considerable disgrace and discredit to the Christian mission, prosecuting them would be the first thing attempted to shut down the Church. Even if we think a judge would acquit, the means, motive, and opportunity were still sufficient to argue in court. So that none of this ever happened (and Acts attests it didn’t happen) is inexplicable unless there was no empty tomb.

(3) The Romans wouldn’t believe the Christian claim that it was all a supernatural act of God. Hence it doesn’t matter what the Romans understood the Christian teaching to be, what matters is what the Romans would conclude the actual facts were. The body is missing. People then said they met Jesus, spoke with him, ate with him, and housed him. So what explanation is left? Either theft of the body, or aiding and abetting an escaped felon, either of which the Christians were exaggerating into a claim of miracle. That’s what the Romans would investigate. It’s implausible to imagine they wouldn’t. So that they didn’t has only one credible explanation: there was no empty tomb.

(4) O’Connell’s argument that the Romans should have prosecuted the Christians anyway makes no sense. The Jews did prosecute them (even before Roman judges), and surely leveraging available crimes to win Roman assistance is exactly what the Jews would have done. That they didn’t entails they couldn’t, which entails there were no crimes to leverage. And if the body of Jesus was still in its tomb, there would be no crime for the Romans to prosecute. As O’Connell himself says, Christians would then simply be dismissed as hallucinating religious nuts (Acts 26:24), guilty, at worst, of violating Jewish laws, which Roman officials rightly said wasn’t a Roman matter (Acts 18:14-15, 23:26-29). O’Connell suggests the Romans would prosecute the promotion of a pretender to the throne. But not when the pretender was dead. Many gods of the time were worshipped as Lords and Kings without incurring Roman wrath, and though venerating a recently deceased man like this could make some in Rome nervous, there was no actual law against it. Pliny the Younger, for example, was in the unusual circumstance of governing a province that at the time outlawed illegal assembly, but in the period covered by Acts, the Jews actually had the legal right of assembly. Since the Romans in Acts still see the Christians as a Jewish sect, they saw the matter as a purely internal dispute.[25] This would not have been the case if an actual body had been missing.


O’Connell has not adequately rebutted my arguments and evidence (from either my opening statement or my first rebuttal). He ignores the fact that my conclusions arrive from examining all the evidence together, whereas he tries to reinterpret each passage in isolation from the others. I argue for probability based on the total trends of the evidence; he argues for mere gainsaying possibilities. And he has not challenged any of my facts, only my conclusions. But those challenges consist merely of his own contrary interpretations. Considering all the evidence as a whole, I conclude his interpretations are less probable than mine.


[1] See, for example, Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 5.37 (and more indirectly 3.159).

[2] See Origen, Against Celsus 7.37 and note 12 in my opening statement.

[3] For example, of the naked Philotera in Clement of Alexandria, Stromata Similarly, using a nominal cognate: John 21:7.

[4] See 2 Corinthians 5:1 and n. 180 (pp. 212-13) in Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), edited by Bob Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder: 105-231. Also see the current edition of The Greek Text of the New Testament (4th revised edition, 1983), p. 619.

[5] See pp. 142-147 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005). For the other evidence corroborating all this, see §2 of my first rebuttal, and §1 and §2 of my opening statement.

[6] As argued in §2 of my first rebuttal.

[7] My agreement with O’Connell on the possibility of figurative language here is already described in §5 of my first rebuttal.

[8] In 1 Corinthians 15:35-38. See §1 of my opening statement.

[9] See n. 160 on p. 211 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), and related FAQ response.

[10] Galatians 4:3, 4:9; Colossians 2:8, 2:20 (cf. Romans 7:18).

[11] See note 10 in my opening statement, and related Empty Tomb FAQ response.

[12] Throughout pp. 110-147 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[13] Psalms 102:25-27. See §2 of my opening statement and p. 136 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[14] See note 4 of my opening statement and pp. 112-113 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[15] See pp. 139-42, pp. 144-45, p. 150 (and n. 179 on p. 212) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[16] See pp. 120-126 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[17] That Paul and Origin sound alike in more ways than one see, again, note 2 above.

[18] For many examples, see pp. 156-158 (with n. 263 on p. 219) and p. 124 (with nn. 103 and 104 on pp. 206-207) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[19] See Chapter 11 (“Did No One Trust Women?“) of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006).

[20] See pp. 155-65 (that Mark invented the story) and pp. 165-166, 188-97 with p. 155, n. 256 on p. 218, and n. 284 on p. 221 (that the others derived the idea from Mark) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[21] In addition to the material already cited in note 20 above, see pp. 358-364 of Richard Carrier, “The Plausibility of Theft” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005), and especially the associated FAQ response.

[22] See p. 179 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005). See also “The Argument from Silence” in Richard Carrier, “Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity” (2002) for the logic of valid arguments from silence. On the fate of the Jerusalem graveyards, see Aelia Capitolina (Wikipedia) in conjunction with Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3.26.

[23] See Acts 4, Acts 5, Acts 6-7, Acts 18:12-17, Acts 23, Acts 24, Acts 25, Acts 26, etc.

[24] See Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97.

[25] On the special legal rights of Jews at the time, see pp. 373-75 of Richard Carrier, “The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005). On the special law against illegal assembly in Asia Minor, see Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.34, and in general note 7 in Chapter 18 (“How Successful Was Christianity?“) of Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006).

O’Connell’s Second Rebuttal (2008)

The Meaning of “Resurrection”

First, to clarify my original point, the word anastasis does not always refer to resurrection. It can simply mean “to rise up” in a mundane sense (e.g. rising up out of bed). But my intended point was that in those cases in which anastasis does refer to resurrection, it always denotes one-body resurrection. Hence, E. E. Ellis states: “It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, ‘grave-emptying’ resurrection. To them an anastasis (resurrection) without an empty tomb would have been about as meaningful as a square circle.”[1]

Carrier objects that in some instances in which this word is used, the author is ambiguous as to the kind of resurrection he means. But the fact is that in every case in which the author is unambiguous as to what kind of resurrection he means, it is always one-body resurrection which the author has in mind. Therefore, based on the principle I laid out in my opening statement, all of the ambiguous references to anastasis should be presumed to refer to one-body resurrection. As an analogy, consider the use of the word “Yahweh” in second-Temple Jewish sources. In most instances in which the word appears, it is clear that the author uses the word to refer to the God of Israel. Now suppose we uncovered inPalestine a small fragment of a text which contained the word “Yahweh,” and there was no indication from the text itself that the author meant the God of Israel. Suppose the text read: “Yahweh … bears … birds.” Certainly we would assume that in this text “Yahweh” means the God of Israel.

Carrier cites Paul and Origen as counterexamples. But Paul is the point in dispute, and Origen is too late and non-Jewish.

Carrier cites only one Jewish source from Jesus’ time which purportedly endorses two-body resurrection. This source is Josephus, who Carrier believes affirms 2BT in a variety of passages. For example, in Jewish Wars 2.163, Josephus declares that the souls of the good will “pass into another body.” However, “another body” is not necessarily a brand new body. Josephus may simply mean another kind of body. Josephus’ statements on resurrection are quite vague: N. T. Wright tells us “his language on the subject is so imprecise that at some points it sounds as though he is simply talking about reincarnation.”[2] Likewise, E. P. Sanders: “Josephus’ attempt to use Greek categories is so thoroughgoing, however, that we cannot confidently say just what the Pharisees and Essenes thought—nor even … just what he thought.”[3] Further, the suggestion that Josephus, a Pharisee, endorsed 2BT is problematic because there is no trace of 2BT in the rabbinic writings, and the rabbis are in some sense the successors to the Pharisees. It is likely that if prominent Pharisees such as Josephus had endorsed 2BT, this fact would have been preserved by the rabbis.

In his essay, Carrier also states that Philo’s view of the afterlife “comes very close” to 2BT, and that the Essenes “may” have endorsed 2BT.[4] I will not address these passages in detail, but I think it is clear that both affirmed immortality of the soul, not 2BT.

I am unsure what to make of Wright’s comments on p. 367 of The Resurrection of the Son of God.[5] It does sound as if Wright here affirms that Paul understood the resurrection as an exchange of bodies. However, as Carrier himself says: “Wright appears to assert entirely contradictory things elsewhere in his book.”[6] Indeed, everywhere in his book except p. 367, it sounds like Wright thinks 1BT was the only notion of resurrection during Jesus’ time. Thus, it is prudent to refrain from saying that Wright acknowledges 2BT as a possible application of the word anastasis.

1 Corinthians 15:53-54

In order to avoid Paul’s clear affirmation in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 that the corruptible, mortal body will put on the immortal, incorruptible body, Carrier appeals to the fact that the word “body” is not in vv. 53-54. As Carrier notes, an explicit statement that the body is corruptible is only found in 15:42, “a whole ten verses away from 15:53-54.” But ten (actually eleven-twelve) verses is not very far away. In 15:42, Paul says that the preresurrection body is corruptible while the resurrection body is incorruptible. Then in 15:54, Paul says that at the resurrection, this (touta) corruptible (something) will put on incorruption. The obvious conclusion to draw is that the corruptible something of 15:53-54 is the body of 15:42. However, Carrier proposes that the corruptible thing referred to in 15:53-54 is not our body but “our present condition in the abstract.”

This suggestion is untenable for one simple reason: Carrier’s view reduces to the view that it is the soul which is being described as mortal and corruptible in 15:53-54. Carrier states: “hence [Paul] means we take off our old bodies … and put on new ones.” Since this “we” is an immaterial thing capable of moving from body to body, it must be our soul. However, it would make no sense for Paul to call the soul corruptible and mortal. Paul’s belief is that the soul goes to be with the Lord upon death (2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 1:21-23). Hence the soul never dies or suffers corruption. Only the body dies and corrupts, and thus only the bodily aspect of our present existence can properly be called mortal and corruptible.

Carrier objects that if the present body puts on the resurrection body, then we have the absurdity of one body walking around on top of the other. However, “put on” (endyo) is not meant literally. Paul’s statement that the preresurrection body will put on the resurrection body is merely a figurative way of saying that the preresurrection body becomes the resurrection body. Paul uses the term “put on” figuratively numerous times in his epistles. For example, Paul instructs Christians to put on the breastplate of faith (1 Thessalonians 5:8), and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14). Excluding the present passage and 2 Corinthians 5:3 (another passage which is under dispute), Paul uses “put on” figuratively nine times in his epistles (including Ephesians and Colossians) and does not use “put on” literally once.[7]

Paul’s affirmation that at the resurrection death will be “swallowed up” by life is not an affirmation that the mortal body will be annihilated. Death is swallowed up because death is annihilated when the dead bodies are raised to eternal life (i.e. our bodies are not swallowed up, death is). In fact, the Gnostic Treatise on the Resurrection states that death was “swallowed up” by Jesus’ resurrection, and this text clearly understands resurrection as a transformation of the dead body.

The questions of destruction and recreation at the eschaton, and the meaning of “change/exchange,” have already been addressed in my first rebuttal.

Romans 8:23

Romans 8:23 states that our bodies will be redeemed at the resurrection, and thus clearly affirms 1BT. However, Carrier proposes that the body in question is not our physical body, but is actually an unseen, hidden body. This body is supposedly trapped inside the physical body, and hence it is in a state of bondage. At the resurrection, this body is “redeemed” by being set free from the physical body.

There are a number of serious problems with this suggestion:

1. Paul clearly expects that the physical creation will be redeemed, not annihilated. In Romans 8:19-22, Paul affirms that at the eschaton, the creation will be delivered from its bondage to corruption, and that the creation looks forward to the eschatological times (it would only look forward to these times if it was awaiting redemption, not annihilation). Hence, if Paul thinks that our bodies will be annihilated, then he holds a rather strange view: He expects the physical creation to be redeemed, but the physical body to be left behind.

2. There is no justification for Carrier’s postulation that Paul’s inner man is our unseen, resurrection body. Rather, the inner man is our soul, or spirit, and there is no unseen resurrection body. Three points make this fact clear. First, the inner man is juxtaposed with the flesh in Romans 7, and Paul elsewhere juxtaposes the spirit with the flesh (Romans 8:10; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Colossians 2:5). Second, the inner man is closely associated with the mind (Romans 7:23, 25). The only entity which fits this role is the spirit. Third, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul envisions two possibilities as to how he may have gone to heaven. He may have gone in his body or out of his body. Paul does not envision the third possibility of going to heaven in his unseen resurrection body. Finally, Philo, a contemporary of Paul, uses very similar terminology in reference to the soul. He refers to the soul as the “internal,” “real,” and “true” man.[8]

3. Whenever Paul uses the word “body” (soma) in reference to a human body, he always means the physical, flesh and blood body. A search through the occurrences of “soma” in Paul will verify this. Although Paul does sometimes use “body” figuratively (e.g. “the body of Christ”), he never indicates that human beings possess any sort of body other than a physical one. Thus, if Romans 8:23 is concerned with an unseen body, it is the only instance in which Paul uses “soma” in reference to a nonphysical human body.

Romans 8:11

Carrier notes that the verses immediately preceding and following Romans 8:11 speak of life and death as metaphorical states of being in the Christian’s present life. Hence Carrier concludes that since the general context is about the spiritual transformation which the Christian undergoes in this life, Paul’s statement in 8:11 that our mortal bodies will be given life is probably about this spiritual transformation rather than about the resurrection.

However, what Paul says about the spiritual transformation of the Christian in 8:10 makes it clear that he is not talking about this transformation in 8:11. In 8:10, Paul affirms that once the Christian has had his sinful nature transformed by the Spirit, his spirit is alive, but his body is still dead to sin. Hence, the spiritual rejuvenation which the Christian experiences in the present life (which is indeed the main concern of the passage) only accomplishes a transformation of the spirit; the body remains dead to sin. Therefore, when Paul says in 8:11 that God will give life to our mortal bodies, he cannot mean this in a metaphorical way, in reference to the Christian’s spiritual rejuvenation. Thus, 8:11 must be concerned with resurrection.

Carrier argues that because Paul calls our bodies “mortal,” he cannot think that our bodies will experience eternal life; if they did, they would not be mortal. But “mortal” just means liable to death. A mortal body is a body that is fated to die. But such a body does not necessarily have to stay dead.

Seed-Sowing Argument

We have seen that there is no basis for the idea that Paul thinks there is a second body growing inside us. The only passages in Paul that could be construed that way are concerned with our soul, not with a second body.

John 12:24

  1. The question of who originated the saying of John 12:24 (whether Jesus, the author(s) of John, or someone else) is irrelevant to the present argument. All that I am attempting to establish is that a number of ancient sources use the seed-sowing analogy to illustrate 1BT. If my interpretation of John 12:24 is correct, then an ancient source does indeed use the seed-sowing analogy as an illustration of 1BT.
  2. I think that the analogy is meant to illustrate the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus causes the flowering of the Church. But this does not mean that “Jesus is the discarded shell and the Church the new second body that germinates from it.” The essential point here is that John (like the other two sources which we will examine below, and indeed Paul himself) does not make a distinction between the discarded shell and the seed contained within the shell. John 12:24 says that if a grain of wheat dies, it (the grain of wheat) produces much fruit. Thus, the thing that dies (the shell) and the thing that produces fruit (the seed) are understood as the same thing. Carrier is correct that this understanding is not literally correct (since only the shell dies, and only the seed bares fruit), and the ancients presumably knew this because of their familiarity with agriculture. However, when the seed-sowing analogy was used to illustrate how something could undergo a transformation, there was no concern for the minutia of how a seed is transformed into a plant. The shell and the seed are simply conceived of as one thing; when the shell dies the whole thing (shell and the seed) dies, and when the seed bares fruit the whole thing bares fruit.

1 Clement 26:3

Carrier’s first point seems to imply that Clement’s appeal to the phoenix indicates Clement believed in 2BT. But Carrier’s second argument notes that Clement expects the fleshly body to be raised, and a resurrection of the flesh is not compatible with 2BT. Hence, these two points seem to contradict each other.

Since Clement clearly thinks the flesh will be raised, we should not understand his appeal to the phoenix to mean that he thinks Jesus’ resurrection and the destruction and recreation of the phoenix are exactly analogous. Clement only mentions the phoenix to show his readers that the resurrection is similar to another historical event with which his readers are familiar, and therefore the resurrection is not absurd (most ancients accepted the reality of the phoenix’s annihilation and reconstitution).

It is irrelevant whether there are some differences between Paul and Clement’s conceptions of the resurrection. The only matter with which we are concerned is how Clement uses the seed-sowing analogy.

In making his third point, Carrier essentially admits that my interpretation of Clement is correct. Carrier writes: “By contrast, Clement imagines the entire buried seed is dissolved and then reassembled (which suggests he doesn’t know the basic facts of agriculture, and certainly has no idea of there being two components to a seed).” If Clement imagines that the entire buried seed is dissolved and reassembled, and he is using this to illustrate the resurrection, then Clement is using the seed-sowing analogy to illustrate 1BT. This does not mean that Clement misunderstood the basics of agriculture. Rather, Clement (like John 12:24, b. Sanhedrin 90b, and Paul) is just not very concerned with the details (and if Clement misunderstood the basics of agriculture, Paul could’ve as well).

When Paul says the body that is buried is not the body that is raised, he does not mean this literally. Rather, he means that the body which is buried is not the kind of body that is raised.

The Talmud

Like our other two sources, b. Sanhedrin 90b quite clearly understands the seed and the shell as one thing. Carrier is wrong to claim that Rabbi Meir holds that seeds change clothes. Rabbi Meier says that a seed is buried naked (without any clothes) and then sprouts forth in many clothes. Hence, he does not describe the shell as clothing for the seed; instead, he says that the wheat grain does not have any clothing. This only makes sense if he conceives of the shell/seed as one thing. For if Rabbi Meir thinks that the shell is the seed’s clothing, he should say that the seed is buried in one type of clothing (the shell), and then sprouts forth in different clothing.

Finally, it is clear from Paul’s own words that he thinks of the seed and shell as one thing. Paul writes that “what you sow is not brought to life unless it dies.” Paul affirms that the thing that dies is the same thing that is brought to life. The seed dies and then the seed is brought to life (and thus, by analogy, the body dies and then the body is brought to life). On Carrier’s interpretation, Paul thinks that only the shell dies, not the inner seed. The shell then remains dead, while the inner seed inherits life. Yet Paul clearly states that what dies will be brought to life. But if Paul thinks of the shell and seed as two different things, he certainly could not say that what dies (the shell) is brought to life. Paul’s words only make sense if Paul thinks the whole seed (shell and inner seed) dies, and hence that the whole seed is brought to life.


[1] E. Earle Ellis, ed., The Gospel of Luke, New Century Bible (London: Nelson, 1966), p. 273.

[2] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), p. 179.

[3] E. P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE-66CE (London: SCM: 1992), p. 301.

[4] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder, eds. (Amherst,NY: Prometheus, 2005), pp. 105-231.

[5] “Though Moule is no doubt right that Paul can envisage here the possibility of ‘exchange’ (losing one body, getting another one) rather than ‘addition’, as in 1 Corinthians 15, we should not lose sight of the fact that even if such an ‘exchange’ were to take place the new body would be more than the present one.”

[6] Carrier, “Spiritual Body FAQ.”

[7] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” pp. 146-147.

[8] Fredrik Lindgard, Paul’s Line of Thought in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10 (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), pp. 118-119.

O’Connell’s Closing Statement (2008)

 Response to “On Over What?”

Of course, I think that the alternative explanations I propose are not just possible, but probable. However, the audience will have to decide this for themselves.

According to several prominent lexicons, the normal meaning of “ependyomai” is “to put on one garment over another garment.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: “to put on over (i.e. another garment).”[1] An Intermediate Greek Lexicon: “to put on one garment over another.”[2] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: “put on (in addition)” (i.e. in addition to what is already put on).[3] A Patristic Greek Lexicon: “put on besides” (i.e. besides what is already put on).[4] It is true that in some cases, the word can mean simply “put on.”[5] However, this is not the typical meaning of the word, and thus in the absence of strong contextual evidence to the contrary, we should assume that “ependyomai” means “to put on one garment over another garment.”

With regard to Carrier’s other points on 2 Corinthians 4:6-5:10:

  1. The word which most translations render “destroyed” is more literally rendered “dismantled” or “taken down.”[6] Thus “destroy” need not mean annihilate (as Carrier seems to presume), and therefore Paul is not necessarily saying that our bodies will be annihilated. When a tent (or the Old Testament tabernacle) is taken down, it ceases to serve its function as a tent and ceases to have the form of a tent, but the matter of the tent still remains, and the tent can be reconstituted (as the Old Testament tabernacle frequently was). So Paul’s affirmation that the body will be “destroyed” is compatible with 1BT.
  2. Paul does describe the present body as a burden, but I see no reason why a burdensome body must be eliminated, rather than transformed into an unburdensome body.
  3. Paul’s use of “skenos” does not indicate that he believes in 2BT. Although Carrier claims that skenos is used by other writers whose ideas correspond to 2BT, the texts he cites seem to affirm immortality of the soul, not 2BT.[7]

Response to “Clay Vessels”

Carrier thinks that Paul’s statement that the resurrection body is not made with hands refers back to 4:7, where Paul compares the preresurrection body to a clay vessel (since clay vessels are made with hands). From this, Carrier argues that because clay vessels are destroyed (i.e. annihilated) after use, the preresurrection body will be destroyed.

If 2 Corinthians 5:1 does refer back to 4:7, this passage is still not problematic for 1BT because no clay vessel is ever technically annihilated; it is broken into pieces, but the pieces still remain, so the matter of the clay vessel continues to exist, and the clay vessel could potentially be reconstituted. For Paul to affirm 2BT, he would have to say not merely that our bodies are destroyed like clay vessels, but that new vessels are brought in to replace the old ones.

But in fact, it is highly unlikely that the phrase “not made with hands” has anything to do with the earlier mention of clay vessels. The resurrection body is described as not made with hands because it is of divine origin. Although Carrier is correct that our current bodies are not literally made with hands, they are of human origin and are inferior to the resurrection body, which is of divine origin. In several places in the Bible, “made with hands” is used to refer to something when the author wishes to emphasize both the thing’s human origin and its inferiority to the divine (Mark 14:58; Acts 17:24; 19:26; Hebrews 9:24). Thus Paul here uses “made with hands” as a figure of speech for “of human origin and inferior to things of divine origin.” By labeling the resurrection body as “not made with hands,” Paul emphasizes the divine origin of the resurrection body and therefore emphasizes its sturdiness. Paul’s whole point in this passage is that the present body is fragile, whereas the resurrection body is sturdy.

Response to “Varia”

  1. There is simply no way to interpret Romans 8:19-23 as an affirmation that the world will be annihilated. Since Paul says that the creation eagerly looks forward to the eschaton, he must think that the creation is going to be renewed at the eschaton (it would not look forward to its destruction). And certainly the creation cannot be redeemed by being annihilated. It does not matter if Paul is at odds with the rest of the New Testament on this point (though I do not think he is).
  2. The meaning of Colossians 3:5 is that when we are in our earthly body, we are subject to sins such as “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.” These sins are the things Paul refers to as our “parts on earth”; he does not call our body parts our parts on earth, and thus there is no implication that we have other body parts which are not on earth. I have already addressed 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-54.
  3. The lexicons list “change” (i.e. transformation) as the primary meaning of allasso and “exchange” as a secondary meaning.[8] Hence, the word typically means transformation. If Paul is alluding to Psalm 102 in 1 Corinthians, he must have thought Psalm 102 affirms renewal of the world rather than destruction (regardless of the intent of the author), since it is very clear that renewal is what Paul expected (Romans 8:19-23). It is irrelevant whether Hebrews 1:10-12 affirms destruction of the world. If Paul must believe the same thing as the author of Hebrews because they both share the same background, then Paul must believe in 1BT because the other New Testament writers believe it, and they share the same background as Paul.
  4. I addressed whether Josephus subscribed to 2BT and whether Paul’s “inner man” is an unseen body in my second rebuttal.
  5. It is not true that Paul never says anything like what other 1BT proponents say. Paul and 2 Baruch both discuss how the resurrection body will be changed. Paul, Clement of Rome, John, and the Talmud all use the sowing-reaping analogy. Paul and the Treatise on the Resurrection state that death will be swallowed up at the resurrection. Every Church Father who commented on 1 Corinthians 15 would have elaborated on Paul’s words.
  6. The Corinthians were worried about discontinuity, not continuity. Dale Martin rightly argues that the Corinthians object to the resurrection because they do not think the flesh is worthy of participating in the afterlife, since the flesh is inferior to pneumatic material.[9] Paul has to say, in effect, “Look, the flesh is a lot better than you think it is.”[10] In order to convince the Corinthians of this, he focuses on how the resurrection body is superior to the present body.[11]
  7. Of course, I think that Paul does say the same body will be raised.
  8. The popular 1BT analogies, metaphors, and proof texts which Carrier has in mind (e.g. clay molding) are ones which are concerned with the problem of continuity. Since Paul is concerned with the problem of discontinuity, Paul does not use this sort of language.

Response to “The Comparative Argument”

Response to “Paul Never Cites Evidence Available to the Gospels”

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul gives a brief review of the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.[12] As he only provides a brief review (since the question he is really interested in is the nature of the resurrection body), he lists the appearances without describing them, because describing them would take up too much space. So we should not expect him to narrate appearances in vv. 3-8. In 15:35-54, Paul discusses the nature of the resurrection body, and we should not expect him to narrate appearances here either, because narrating appearances would only help show how the resurrection body is continuous with the old body, but Paul is trying to explain how it is discontinuous (assuming the appearances were not glorious appearances, but were of a mundane nature, as the Gospels claim).[13]

Response to “Was There an Empty Tomb?”

1. Carrier’s discussion only shows that some ancients did not consider the testimony of women to be inherently unreliable; but many did, and that is enough to make it embarrassing to claim that women discovered the tomb.

2. There are differences between the four accounts of the empty tomb which are not well explained by redactional activity, and are thus best explained by the hypothesis that each of the Gospel writers had independent tradition for his empty tomb account. Why would Matthew and Luke change the names of the women at the tomb? And why would John only include Mary Magdalene and not the other women?

If the Gospels are completely unreliable, then the fact that they all attest to the empty tomb would be of no significance. But, if the Gospels have a good amount of reliable material (and most scholars would agree they do), then the fact that the empty tomb is attested by four (at the very least) fairly reliable sources significantly increases the odds that the empty tomb is historical.[14]

3. There is no space to address any of the apparent contradictions among the Gospels in detail. However, I think the only ostensible contradictions of any significance are, first, that Luke seems to contradict Matthew and Mark on whether the appearances occurred in Galilee or Jerusalem, and second, John seems to contradict the Synoptics on whether Mary Magdalene found out that Jesus was risen when she visited the tomb. On the first, see the works of Moule and Craig.[15] I have a forthcoming article which addresses the second in detail.[16]

4. Jesus’ tomb would not have been venerated if it was empty, because it was the bones of martyrs that people were interested in. Had the tomb been occupied, then although the tomb may have been destroyed in 70 AD, the Christians would have been venerating it for approximately 40 years prior to this. Not only would theJerusalemchurch have venerated the tomb, but so would the various Christian leaders from other parts of the Empire who came to visit theJerusalemchurch, and so would the various Jewish-Christian pilgrims who traveled toJerusalemfor the feasts. Hence, if Jesus’ tomb had been venerated, this would have become very well known throughout the Christian world, and it is thus unlikely that a story completely contradicting such a firmly established tradition would be attested by four late first- to early second-century sources.

However, as I mentioned in my first rebuttal, the empty tomb is not essential to my argument and thus I could simply concede it.

Response to “The Silence of Acts”

  1. Carrier’s first point just repeats his general argument: That if there was an empty tomb, the Christians ought to have been prosecuted for grave robbery and housing an escaped felon. My general response is: (a) the Romans could not have tried anyone for grave robbery unless they had evidence implicating a particular Christian of stealing the body; (b) the Christians would not have been tried for abetting an escaped criminal provided the Romans had a basic understanding of the nature of the Christian proclamation; and (c) common sense suggests that the Romans would have persecuted the Christians regardless of whether there was an empty tomb.
  2. It is not impossible that the Romans did conduct an informal interrogation of the Church leaders in an attempt to determine who stole the body. However, they could not try the Church leaders for stealing the body; only if the Church leaders helped them find the people who actually did steal the body could any trial begin. And only if an actual trial occurred would we have an event so significant that Luke would be sure to mention it. But it is unlikely that there was even an interrogation of the Church leaders, because the Romans seem to have been uninterested in the emerging Christian movement (see point 4, below).
  3. Theft of the body is what the Romans would suspect, but as I’ve explained, they could not start any trial based on this.
  4. Carrier thinks that the Christians would not have been persecuted by the Romans because other religious groups worshipped gods as Lords and Kings. However, the Christian movement was different in two important ways. First, the Christians were worshipping someone who was not merely recently deceased, but had recently been executed by the state as a pretender to the throne. Second, the Christians were proclaiming that this person would be coming back to overthrow all pagan religious leaders (including the Roman Emperor, if he was still around). Thus, the Christian proclamation ought to have elicited persecution by the Romans. If the Romans were not concerned about Christianity in general, then they would probably not be concerned about grave robbery.

Finally, suppose some of the Christians had been tried for grave robbery: Why would Luke necessarily know this? Carrier’s view seems markedly inconsistent: The author of Acts is supposed to have been familiar enough with the early Church that he would have known about a trial for grave robbery, and yet he was completely ignorant that the earliest Christians believed in 2BT.


In presenting my case, I have produced four passages from Paul which unambiguously affirm 1BT. Carrier has not produced any Pauline texts which affirm 2BT. All of the texts he appeals to are either better explained on 1BT, or are ambiguous (in fact, some of the texts don’t even have anything to do with resurrection, such as 1 Corinthians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5). Rather than focus strictly on an exegesis of Paul, Carrier spends much of his time talking about the Gospels, Acts, the rabbis, and the Church Fathers. But the best way to find out what Paul thought is to see what he actually says. And Paul says multiple times that the body which is buried is the same one that rises.

In conclusion, I will recap the most blatant instances of poor exegesis on the part of Carrier:

  1. Paul calls the soul mortal and corruptible in 1 Corinthians 15:54.
  2. Creation is redeemed by being destroyed, and it eagerly looks forward to its destruction (Romans 8:19-23).
  3. In Romans 8:23, Paul uses “body” in a way different from the ways he uses it everywhere else in his epistles.
  4. Paul uses “put on” literally in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, but he uses it figuratively everywhere else in his epistles.
  5. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:36 that what dies will be brought to life, but Paul does not actually believe that this is so, since he thinks we will getting a new resurrection body that never died.
  6. Colossians 3:5 implies that we have body parts which are not on earth.


[1] Gerhard Kittel, ed., The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 2 (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 320.

[2] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek Lexicon: Founded Upon the 7th Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1889), p. 284.

[3] William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1957).

[4] G. W. H. Lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, England: Clarendon, 1961), p. 544.

[5] Margaret E. Thrall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Edinburgh, England: T&T Clark, 1994), p. 372.

[6] Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 132.

[7] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder, eds. (Amherst,NY: Prometheus, 2005): 105-231, pp. 142-143.

[8] E.g. BADT, p. 38; An Intermediate Greek Lexicon, p. 37.

[9] Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 108-129.

[10] Dale Martin thinks that Paul resolves the problem in another way, namely, by arguing that the flesh will be sloughed off and that only the pneumatic parts of the present body will be resurrected. But in either case, Paul is answering the Corinthians’ objection by focusing on the discontinuity between the two bodies.

[11] For an exegesis of Paul that agrees with Dale Martin’s proposal as to the reason for the Corinthians’ objection, but nevertheless argues that Paul believed in the resurrection of the flesh, see Andy Johnson, “On Removing a Trump Card: Flesh and Blood and the Reign of God,” Bulletin for Biblical Research Vol. 13, No. 2 (2003): 175-192.

[12] See, for example, William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (rev. ed) (Lewiston,NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2003), pp. 16-22.

[13] I argue that the appearances were indeed nonglorious in “Jesus’ Resurrection and Collective Hallucinations,” Tyndale Bulletin, forthcoming.

[14] On multiple attestation, see John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1991), pp. 74-75.

[15] C. F. Moule, “The Post-Resurrection Appearances in Light of Festival Pilgrimages,” New Testament Studies 4 (1957-1958), pp. 58-61; Craig, Assessing, pp. 223-225.

[16] “John Versus the Synoptics on Mary Magdalene’s Visit to the Tomb,” Conspectus, forthcoming.

Carrier’s Closing Statement (2008)

 The Stronger Case Prevails

I remain convinced. More likely than not, Paul did not believe the corpse of Jesus rose from the dead, but that Jesus left his corpse behind and rose from the dead in an entirely new body. Therefore, Paul did not need to believe the tomb of Jesus was empty in order to believe Jesus had risen, and there is no evidence he did.

1. The Cumulative Case For This Is Strong

  • Several scholars have come to the same conclusion or concede it’s possible.
  • There were other Jews of the time besides Paul who held such a view (of the general resurrection of the people ofIsrael).
  • Even some pagans of the time held such a view (of the resurrection of gods).
  • Paul outright says it.[1]
“That which you sow is not the body that will come to be” (1 Corinthians 15:37).

Instead of raising the body that dies, God will “give” you an immortal one (1 Corinthians 15:38, 44, 46, etc.).

“Our earthly house of a tabernacle” will be “destroyed,” and instead of God rebuilding that one, we’ll get “a house from God, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

Therefore “we groan” in our current body, “yearning to don” our new one (2 Corinthians 5:2).

  • And a lot of what Paul says implies it.[2]
  1. In his shell-seed analogy.[3]
  2. In his analogies of changing houses and clothes.[4]
  3. In his inner-and-outer man metaphor.[5]
  4. In his clay-pots vs. divine-vessels comparison.[6]
  5. In his repeated allusion to resurrection as a new Genesis (hence a new creation).
  6. In his emphasis on the need for a new and different body.
  7. In his emphasis on our current bodies being the organs we have on earth, and our future bodies as the ones we’ll wear in heaven.[7]
  8. In his repeated emphasis that our current bodies will and must be destroyed (so we’ll need new, indestructible ones).[8]
  9. In his allusion to a passage in the Greek Psalms that entails exchanging clothes rather than transforming them.
  10. In his use of the vocabulary of mercantile exchange in that very context.[9]
  11. And in the fact that Paul conspicuously never says the risen body is the same as the dying body, despite numerous occasions where this would be the obvious thing for him to say if he believed it.
  12. Whereas, instead, while some Jews who advocated single-body resurrection assumed we would exchange our grave clothes for splendid clothes, Paul turned the analogy around to argue that our bodies would be the clothes, using the exact same analogy to defend a two-body resurrection.[10]


  • In fact, Paul sounds nothing like single-body resurrection advocates (whether Christians or Jews), yet sounds a lot like two-body resurrection advocates, like Origen, who himself understood Paul to be advocating a two-body resurrection.[11]
  • The points of dissimilarity in this regard are numerous and strong.
  1. One-body advocates had many ideal scriptural prooftexts to cite, and cited them. Paul cites none of them.
  2. One-body advocates had many obvious and illuminating analogies to employ in illustrating how a burned, destroyed, decrepit, mangled, or rotted corpse would be raised, and used them. Paul uses none of them, or anything remotely like them.
  3. One-body advocates all emphasized that the resurrection body had to be the same body that died. Paul never says anything like this. In fact, if anything, he says exactly the opposite.
  4. One-body advocates realized the obvious and most challenging objection to their idea of resurrection involved problems of assembly and improvement, so they addressed them. Paul not only ignores these problems, but explicitly bypasses them by insisting we’ll get entirely new bodies. Only a two-body resurrection theory can bypass the conspicuous problems that one-body advocates all had to address, and that’s exactly the tactic Paul appears to take.[12]


  • Additionally, the Gospels provide no reliable help in determining what Paul believed, and the evidence is lacking or even against any of their contents (pertaining to the resurrection body) having been in circulation in his day. In fact, Paul never mentions any evidence of a risen Jesus other than revelatory visions and hidden messages in scripture.[13]
  • And finally, the content of Acts argues so strongly against there having been any claim of an empty tomb in the early years of the Church (when Paul joined) that either Acts is complete fiction, or there was no claim of an empty tomb at that time, which implies early Christians (like Paul) were claiming Jesus had not left an empty tomb, but had left his corpse behind and risen in a new body.[14]
  • Nothing about Paul’s resurrection vocabulary argues the contrary.[15]

2. There Has Been No Adequate Rebuttal§

Regarding anastasis there are simply (i) too few examples of usage and (ii) too great a variability in usage to warrant any sweeping generalization of the sort O’Connell maintains. O’Connell’s Yahweh analogy is thus in both respects invalid.

As for N.T. Wright’s remarks: as I represented, his statements are quite clear and thus not as dismissible as O’Connell claims. I think O’Connell overlooks the fact that N.T. Wright’s book contains material written at different times over the course of some twenty years, and Wright clearly made little effort to smooth over the inconsistencies produced by his evolving positions.[16] It remains a fact that nowhere does Wright say what O’Connell originally alleged regarding the word anastasis, nor would Wright have had any valid basis for such an assertion even had he made it. In contrast, Wright does say, and quite clearly, what I said he did. Moreover, several other experts explicitly concur with my view.

  • No passage in Romans provides any clear argument to the contrary.[17]

In none does Paul actually say we will be raised in the same body that died. O’Connell keeps trying to bootstrap two vague statements there into assertions of one-body resurrection, but his efforts depend upon an array of assumptions that are no more secure than O’Connell’s desired conclusions. For example…

I. Debating Pauline Eschatology

Most New Testament texts on the end times clearly describe destruction of the world and its replacement (most explicitly in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21:1-5), and if Jesus taught anything, he taught essentially this (so it would be odd of Paul to disagree).[18] Paul clearly seems to imply as much himself when he says “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50), everything we “see” is “temporary” and only what we “do not see” is “eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18), and “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31)—plus many other allusions in his writings to God ultimately destroying the things of the world.[19] O’Connell believes Paul still fundamentally differed from other New Testament authors on this point. But I doubt it, and O’Connell can’t prove it. Although many early Christians (including Paul) may have assumed God would assemble the new world from the purified elements of the old, the New Testament attests to the common view that the present world still had to be dissolved (which would certainly explain why Paul, and Jesus, expected everyone in the end to be taken up into the sky—you don’t need an earth no one’s going to live on).[20]

Accordingly, Romans 8:14-25 speaks of creation (notably ktisis, not the kosmos) awaiting the inheritance of the Christians as adopted sons of God (Romans 8:19-22), which would make them formal heirs to the future Kingdom. But Paul says no flesh or blood will “inherit” that kingdom, in fact nothing that decays will (1 Corinthians 15:50). Paul likewise says the whole scheme of the world will pass away (1 Corinthians 7:31), all that is mortal will be “swallowed up” (katapothê to thnêton, 2 Corinthians 5:4; similarly, 1 Corinthians 15:53-54), and what we see now will end and be replaced by what lasts forever (2 Corinthians 4:18). Hence I think Paul did in fact imagine the destruction of the world as its liberation: it is freed from the bondage of the corrupt, worldly elements and powers by being dissolved and rebuilt—or replaced with the perfect things of heaven (like the Celestial Garden of 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 and Celestial Temple of Hebrews 9, and thus like our Celestial Bodies of 2 Corinthians 5:1), which may be the only parts of Creation that yearn to be freed and that Christians will inherit. Since Paul says of the terrestrial world that the very elements themselves are corrupt and in fact the very origin of the world’s bondage (Galatians 4:3, 4:9; Colossians 2:8, 2:20; cf. Romans 7:18), they must be destroyed. And since “corruption cannot inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:50), when Paul says “even the creation itself shall be freed from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21), he must mean the world will be refashioned, freed from the bondage of the elements by being dissolved and cleansed, and put back together (with only incorruptible elements the second time around), as would accord with Paul’s ‘New Genesis’ theme.

That the old creation would look forward to its cleansing this way is not unthinkable, in fact it’s an exact analogy to our own resurrection, which is Paul’s point in this very chapter of Romans: that not only do we groan inside our burdensome shells, which are the visible bodies that will pass away and be destroyed and then replaced with new incorruptible versions (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:2), so does the universe groan inside its burdensome shell, the visible world that will pass away and be destroyed and then replaced with a new incorruptible version (Romans 8:21-24). The parallels are so close as to surely be intended. And again, the case for this is at least as strong as any case O’Connell can make to the contrary.

II. Denying the Inner-and-Outer Man Metaphor

Despite O’Connell’s protestations to the contrary, I think there is a strong case to be made that Paul’s inner and outer man metaphor connects with his concept of resurrection.[21] Nothing O’Connell presents contradicts this. As O’Connell himself attests, the flesh is indeed the “outer man” and the spirit is indeed the “inner man,” but the question is: How will the inner man survive death? For Paul, only if it joins the Spirit of Christ. Everyone else will be destroyed (as far as Paul seems to say, body and all).[22] Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul actually doesn’t say which body he might have gone to heaven in, so O’Connell again imports unwarranted assumptions into the text (contrast my discussion of this very passage).[23] Otherwise, I agree with O’Connell that Philo’s view of resurrection is very similar to Paul’s.[24] That’s no objection to my case.

III. Begging the Question of Pauline Usage

O’Connell claims Paul never uses the word sôma of a second body, yet that seems quite explicitly what he is doing in 1 Corinthians 15:44-49 and quite implicitly in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:7. It begs the question to assert these are not such occasions.

IV. Huh?

I can detect no valid logic in how O’Connell derives his last conclusion regarding Romans 8:11. I see none of the things he claims are “clear” in the text, and I don’t see how his conclusion follows. As for his last remark, a mortal body that doesn’t stay dead is simply not mortal. Paul says so: “what is corruptible cannot inherit incorruptibility” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Which is why Paul insists we’ll need immortal bodies. That our current bodies can never be immortal is the entire point of Paul’s two Corinthian discourses. My arguments stand.[25]

  • There are no other passages in the whole of Paul’s authentic corpus that argue the contrary—in contrast with numerous passages in several letters supporting my conclusion.

Ultimately, none of Paul’s analogies or vocabulary entail retention or continuity of the corpse. In fact, they tend to imply the opposite (e.g. his exchange-of-houses analogy, or his reference to “getting out of” our earthly bodies before “getting into” our new heavenly ones).[26]

O’Connell can only wiggle out of this by making dubious grammatical claims. For example, he claims Paul meant we’ll “put on” our new bodies the same way he meant us to “put on” the “breastplate of faith” (1 Thessalonians 5:8), evidently unconcerned with the fact that if this were so, Paul would be denying a literal resurrection (since then the resurrection body would be as unreal as “the breastplate of faith”). I agree Paul is speaking figuratively (the body is not literally an overcoat, or a house), but surely he means an actual body (he outright says it’s the “tent” in which we “live”). So although he can speak of wearing a metaphorical Jesus (in Romans 13:14), he is not speaking of wearing a metaphorical body.

Likewise, regarding the pronoun in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, O’Connell claims we can assume a grammatical pick-up of a subject-noun ten verses away, but that is hardly defensible. It would be contrary to all sound practice for an educated Greek, which is why modern professional commentators like Jean Héring agree with me, and not O’Connell. Worse, the verse O’Connell cites (again!) doesn’t even have the word “body” in it (1 Corinthians 15:42; he must be confusing this for 1 Corinthians 15:44, but that doesn’t even entail “body” is the subject of the preceding verbs, as I’ve noted elsewhere—though here at least it could be).[27]

O’Connell is also entirely incorrect to claim that my (and Héring’s) interpretation of this passage “reduces to the view that it is the soul which is being described as mortal and corruptible,” as I have very clearly argued elsewhere that Paul did not believe in what O’Connell means by a soul and is not referring to such a thing here (a point also made by Héring).[28] We (and Paul) are here speaking of a condition (in the abstract), not a physical thing (whether a soul or a body—again, the word “thing” is not in the text).

  • As already noted, there were other Jews who advocated two-body resurrection (e.g. Josephus), and there were Christians who understood Paul to be one of them (e.g. Origen) or who imagined similar views (e.g. Clement would allow that our bones could remain behind).[29]

O’Connell’s “reinterpretation” of Josephus constitutes special pleading (on any plain reading, Josephus is certainly not saying what O’Connell wants), and as I have pointed out in my published work (cited in my opening), there is evidence some Rabbis (and many other Jews) may have held a two-body view. We can expect such views were suppressed in later Rabbinical writings (in the Talmudic drive to develop an orthodoxy, contrary to the diversity that prevailed in the first century).

  • There is no valid challenge to my seed-sowing analysis.

All of O’Connell’s arguments here depend on certain of his interpretations of the texts being correct. I argue those interpretations are improbable or not established.[30] O’Connell offers nothing to challenge that.

1. John 12:24: O’Connell now agrees that this intends the analogy Jesus = dying seed, Church = resulting fruit, but then claims “the thing that dies … and the thing that produces fruit … are understood as the same thing,” yet the contrast drawn is between what is buried (that which dies) and what rises (the resulting fruit), not what dies and what produces. For the latter are both Jesus, and O’Connell just agreed John 12:24 is contrasting Jesus with the Church, not Jesus with Jesus. Since Jesus and the Church are not “the same thing,” O’Connell’s argument becomes an explicit non sequitur. My argument stands.[31]

2. 1 Clement 26:3: Nothing O’Connell argues here rebuts anything I actually argued against the relevance of this passage to interpreting Paul. My arguments stand.[32]

3. Talmud: It is possible Rabbi Meir (like Clement) didn’t know the basic agricultural facts of seeds and believed there was no shell left behind. But I doubt it. The context of his remarks wasn’t entirely of Jews being buried naked, but in their grave clothes, and whether they would rise in new splendid clothes or the rags they were buried in. But in any case, Paul clearly did understand the agricultural facts, so Rabbi Meir’s ignorance (even if we grant it) bears no relevance to interpreting Paul. For contrary to O’Connell’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:36, Paul immediately says in the next verse (1 Corinthians 15:37) that the seed that dies in fact is not the seed that rises. Observe that Paul also calls this a “naked grain of wheat” (gymnon kokkon … sitou), exactly as Meir does, yet he still clearly understands (as I believe Meir did) that this is what is destroyed and what we take off (2 Corinthians 5:1-4), and is a distinct thing from what rises (1 Corinthians 15:37-38, 44, 46).

As with other passages in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54, Paul equivocates with pronouns as to whether the “dead” (person) is meant, or his “body” (corpse).[33] But when 1 Corinthians 15:36-38 are taken together, it’s clear that what God will “quicken” is the person, not the corpse, and he will do this by giving him a new body.

  • Finally, in accordance with my analysis of Acts, there is no adequate case to be made that there was ever in fact an empty tomb.[34]

Final Conclusion

Despite O’Connell’s best efforts, the preponderance of evidence remains heavily on my side. His efforts have nevertheless been admirable. Most critics resort to arguments that are so far from valid they only expose their advocate’s incompetence. O’Connell has safely avoided such arguments (for the most part), while still deploying what I believe to be every remaining argument possible. Hence I do believe O’Connell has presented the best case to be made against my view. Which is precisely why I hold that view: the case against it is simply too weak to credit.


[1] For this and all three points above, see §1 of my opening statement (and later remarks in this closing statement).

[2] For this and all following sub-points see §2 of my opening statement.

[3] See also §5 of my first rebuttal (and later remarks in this closing statement).

[4] See also §2 of my first rebuttal (and later remarks in this closing statement).

[5] See also §3.4 of my second rebuttal (and later remarks in this closing statement).

[6] See also §2 of my second rebuttal.

[7] See also §3.2 of my second rebuttal.

[8] See also §3.1 of my second rebuttal (and later remarks in this closing statement).

[9] For this and previous point see also §3.2 of my second rebuttal.

[10] See last part of §5 of my first rebuttal (and later remarks in this closing statement).

[11] See §3 of my opening statement.

[12] For all the points above regarding the comparative evidence see §3 of my opening statement and §4 of my second rebuttal.

[13] See §4 of my opening statement and §5 of my second rebuttal.

[14] See §5 of my opening statement and §7 of my second rebuttal.

[15] See §1 of my first Rebuttal.

[16] See, again, the relevant FAQ response.

[17] See §3 of my first rebuttal and §4 of my first rebuttal.

[18] See, for example, Mark 13:31, Matthew 13:24-53 (esp. Matthew 13:40-43). See also Matthew 5:22-30, 10:28, 18:8-9, 25:41; Mark 9:43-49; Luke 12:49-55; John 15:6. Scriptural precedents: Zephaniah 1:14-16, 18; Psalms 102:25-27.

[19] See §3.1 of my second rebuttal and pp. 136-38 and n. 160 (on p. 211) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005). See also note 10 in my Opening Statement, and related Empty Tomb FAQ response.

[20] Paul: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (as also implied in 1 Corinthians 15:45-52 and Philippians 3:20). Jesus: Mark 13:24-27, Matthew 20:30-31 (etc.).

[21] See §3.4 of my second rebuttal along with note 15 there and pp. 137-38 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[22] See material cited in note 8 in my First Rebuttal and note 15 in my Second Rebuttal, along with p. 125 (and n. 138 on p. 209) in Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[23] On pp. 152-53 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[24] On pp. 110-13 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[25] In §4 of my first rebuttal. By “Paul’s Corinthian discourses” I mean 1 Corinthians 15:35-54 and 2 Corinthians 4:18-5:9.

[26] See §2 of my first rebuttal and §5 of my first rebuttal and §1 of my second rebuttal.

[27] See pp. 127-28 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[28] See references in note 22 above.

[29] Besides §1 of my opening statement: for Josephus, see §3.4 of my second rebuttal; for Clement, see the middle part of §5 of my first rebuttal; and for Origen, see §3 of my opening statement and §1 of my second rebuttal.

[30] In §5 of my first rebuttal.

[31] In §3.1 of my first rebuttal.

[32] In §3.2 of my first rebuttal.

[33] On this ambiguity issue, see, e.g., pp. 127 and 138-39 of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005).

[34] See §6 of my second rebuttal, along with Part II (“The Legend of the Empty Tomb”) of Richard Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005): cf. pp. 155-231 (and associated FAQ).

Final Assessment by Independent Judges (2009)

Welcome to On Paul’s Theory of Resurrection: The Carrier-O’Connell Debate. Richard and Jake agreed to have four independent judges read and assess their debate upon its completion. Below those judges and their assessments will be presented, according to the The Rules We Followed, especially rules (7) and (8). Those judges present their assessments below.

Total Assessment

Winner: Jake O’Connell

Average Score: ⌈0.25⌉ = 1


Meet the Judges

David Instone-Brewer:

Dr. Instone-Brewer is a senior research fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House (Cambridge), whose published books include Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible and Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis Before 70 CE.

John P. Dickson:

Dr. Dickson is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Ancient History at MacquarieUniversity(Sydney), where he teaches Jewish and Christian origins. He is the author of a dozen books, including Mission Commitment in Ancient Judaism and in the Pauline Communities and Jesus: A Short Life.

Tony Burke:

Dr. Burke is an Assistant Professor at York University (Toronto, Canada), whose work includes the article “Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium,” the entry on “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas” in Paul Foster’s The Non-Canonical Gospels, and a forthcoming critical edition of The Infancy Gospel of Thomas for Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum.

Dennis MacDonald:

Dr. MacDonald is Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Claremont School of Theology (California), whose published books include Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? and Acts Of Andrew: Early Christian Apocrypha.


Individual Assessments

David Instone-Brewer:

Winner: No one

Average Score: 0

Much of this debate concerned whether Paul taught that mortal bodies are transformed into resurrected bodies, or that mortal bodies are replaced by resurrected bodies. Both sides were able to show that Paul could be interpreted to agree with them, and in the end the deciding factors were definitions. Does ependyomai mean “to put on [a garment over another],” or “to put on [a garment instead of another]”? Does kataluo mean “to destroy” or “to dismantle”? Does allasso mean “to exchange” or “to transform”? As so often, the context is decisive, and in this case, indecisive.

This impressive debate suggests that Paul was not concerned to make himself unambiguous, either because his meaning was obvious to any reader of the time, or the distinction didn’t concern him. His meaning would be obvious if a reader at the time knew what he would believe. Each debater agreed that their contrary views both existed at the time of Paul, though most evidence comes from soon after—rabbinic Jews mainly followed the resurrected-body view, while Hellenised Jews tended towards a new-body view. Paul puts himself into both camps at different times, so a reader at the time would not be sure which view Paul held.

This leaves us with the conclusion that Paul was unconcerned about whether corpses were lifted out of the ground and transformed, or whether they stayed there and were replaced. This distinction wouldn’t concern early Christians who believed that most of them would live to see the general resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17), but the subject soon became much more important. When corpses rotted, dispersed, and eventually fertilized the food which became other humans, questions arose about whether some bits would belong to more than one resurrected person. As Carrier pointed out, the Fathers asked such questions and Paul didn’t. But as O’Connell pointed out, why should Paul ask such questions?

They also debated about whether the Gospels and Acts contained any historical evidence about Jesus’ resurrection. O’Connell pointed out that this was outside the remit of the debate, but it continued to be a distraction which went nowhere due to lack of room for proper presentation of arguments.

Unfortunately, the original remit of the debate was almost completely ignored. The participants set out to debate whether Paul believed that Jesus’ resurrection body was his transformed corpse or a new entity. Instead they debated about the corpses of believers in general.

Both debaters assumed that Paul regarded Jesus’ resurrection exactly like that of his followers, but this is very questionable because Paul emphasized Jesus’ divine and uberhuman nature. Unlike the Gospels, which present the human “Jesus” or “Son of Man,” Paul consistently uses titles like “Son of God,” “Lord,” “Christ,” and “First Adam.” To say that Jesus was a special case for Paul is an understatement, so to assume that his resurrection is identical to everyone else needs strong justification. Carrier opened with texts which say that Jesus’ resurrection was the start and the guarantee of the general resurrection, but only Romans 6:5 says they are “alike”—though this also says a believer’s baptism and Jesus’ death are “alike.” Other believers don’t appear to crowds after their death (1 Corinthians 15:4-7), or resurrect long before Judgment Day, so why should Paul assume that Jesus gained his new body in the exact same way as others?

Who was the best debater? Carrier had a better style, though both sides had equally weighted arguments. In the end, I have to reluctantly award a zero mark, not because they were equally weighted, but because neither addressed the question of Jesus’ resurrection body, except as a side issue.


John P. Dickson:

Winner: Jake O’Connell

Average Score: 2

Richard Carrier’s contention that Paul taught a two body theory of resurrection (2BT) was admirably argued given the limited evidence in its favor, but the case suffers from some serious difficulties which, for the most part, were highlighted by Jake O’Connell:

  1. Carrier’s literal approach to Paul’s seed-plant metaphor in 1 Corinthians 15 was striking from the opening lines. Metaphors in highly charged rhetorical contexts rarely mean exactly what they say at a surface level. Paul explains in what sense resurrection bodies are ‘new’ in vv. 42-44, as O’Connell stressed. Carrier’s constant reference to this passage as ‘clearly’ teaching 2BT left the impression of protesting too much.
  2. Carrier failed to face the problem of Romans 8:23—the ‘redemption of our body.’ His suggestion that the passage refers to an inner resurrection body is, as O’Connell noted, special pleading. Romans 8 also undermines Carrier’s background assumption that the eschaton for Paul is totally discontinuous with present creation. Carrier seemed evasive at this point.
  3. O’Connell successfully overturned one of Carrier’s most important linguistic arguments—that allasso means ‘exchange,’ not ‘change.’ Lurkers can check Henry George Liddell & Robert Scott for themselves.
  4. O’Connell rightly described as anachronistic Carrier’s repeated citation of Origen as evidence for what Paul meant (150 years earlier). Here the theologian was teaching the historian proper historical method.
  5. Carrier’s insistence that Josephus ‘clearly’ believed in a 2BT was answered by O’Connell. The description is ambiguous, as all scholars agree. Some experts think Josephus might even be describing reincarnation. In any case, in Jewish Wars 2.162ff Josephus is not describing his own view at all, but that of the Pharisees generally. Does Richard Carrier think Palestinian Pharisees taught 2BT?
  6. Carrier’s minor arguments about Acts and the Gospels were adequately answered by O’Connell. In any case, they had little relevance for understanding Paul, and seem to have been added for apologetic purposes.

I judge that O’Connell won the debate by a significant margin (2). I would have awarded him a victory ‘by a large margin’ (3) except for the agreed rule that “even a fallacious argument will be counted as a successful argument if it is not effectively rebutted.” Fallacious arguments (not rebutted) include:

  1. Carrier was adamant that 1BT passages such as Daniel 12:2 ‘always’ insist the dead are raised ‘in the same body’, and that Paul’s neglect to do the same is revealing. A glance at Daniel 12:2 shows otherwise. While the implication of the passage is that dead bodies are reanimated, this is not stated. The same is true of Paul’s teaching.
  2. A surprising historical misunderstanding is present in the statement: “Pilate would be compelled to haul every Christian in and interrogate every possible witness in a massive manhunt for what could only be in his mind an escaped convict.” This misconstrues how prefects exercised authority and, in any case, wrongly assumes the Romans conducted police operations in the provinces. O’Connell answered aspects of Carrier’s scenario, but it is unhistorical from the start.
  3. Carrier stated that Paul knew of Jesus’ resurrection only through ‘revelation’ or ‘scriptural interpretation.’ This is mistaken. Paul also knows the ‘testimony’ of Peter, James, and others.

A final comment: Carrier’s argument seems to be part of a larger project intended to undermine belief in Jesus’ resurrection (clear from the opening paragraph) and, as a result, reads more like apologetics than scholarship. It suffers from the same problems associated with Christian apologetics: overstatement, avoidance of contrary evidence, rhetorical confidence, and a self-referential stance (obvious in the endnotes).

Both scholars (and Internet Infidels) are to be commended for the courteous tone of the debate.

Tony Burke:

Winner: Richard Carrier

Average Score: 1

The issue of Paul’s notion of resurrection is not easy to settle. Is it that the same body is “transformed”? Or is it that a new body, distinct from the earthly body that remains buried, is provided? Both participants admit that many of Paul’s statements about the resurrection are ambiguous; they both focus on one or two that they feel are unambiguous and interpret the others accordingly. Both are able to find interpretive avenues to make these statements fit their respective positions (depending on how literally or figuratively we take Paul’s imagery, or on how we understand his eschatological vision). Thus it is difficult to decide between the two participants’ positions using Paul alone.

Can the solution be found outside of Paul’s writings? O’Connell assumes we must interpret Paul within the context of first-century Jewish notions of the resurrection; Carrier considers Paul to be one of a few writers who disagree with such notions (indeed, perhaps that is why Paul must defend his position). Arguments from silence are produced: Carrier asks why does Paul not use the analogies, scripture references, etc. of Jewish and Christian one-body theory proponents? Why do Paul and the author of Acts say nothing about the empty tomb? The silences are curious indeed, but ultimately insoluble, despite O’Connell’s best efforts. It is one of the strengths of Carrier’s position that he brings the audience’s attention to the implications of the argument: what does Paul’s position on resurrection indicate about the fate of Jesus’ body? And it is one of O’Connell’s weaknesses that he cannot effectively respond to the silences of the texts. No one can. So, why did he even try?

The “winner” in this debate is Carrier, though by only a small margin (1). Neither writer has convinced me of his position on Paul’s view of the resurrection (or better, Paul’s statements are shown to be hopelessly ambiguous). But at the end of the debate, Carrier’s questions about the empty tomb linger on. O’Connell counters with several possible explanations (Paul had little space to devote to such issues; the Romans couldn’t persecute the Christians for grave robbery because they would not be able to identify which Christians took the body; etc.), but none of them are convincing. Indeed, he tends to minimize the issue of the empty tomb, whereas Carrier keeps it central to the debate, beginning both his opening and closing statements with the topic. Carrier is also a more assertive writer, peppering his position with such declarations as “weak evidence never trumps strong,” and “my arguments stand.” In comparison, O’Connell’s concluding list of examples of Carrier’s “poor exegesis” reads like sour grapes. Again, O’Connell would have fared better had he confronted the arguments from silence with the appropriate agnosticism (“we simply do not know”), rather than countering Carrier’s speculation with even weaker speculation.

Dennis MacDonald:

Winner: No one

Average Score: 0

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to my brothers, Jake Harris O’Connell and Richard Carrier, grace to you and peace. I give thanks that you invited me to evaluate your controversy about my “theory of resurrection,” for it is clear that you both are intelligent, articulate, and attentive to detail. I am writing to you in English thanks to Dennis MacDonald.

I was astonished at how quickly both of you departed from some of the recognized standards for the study of my letters. For example, I don’t know who wrote the letter to the Colossians to which you both appeal; it was not I. I surely could not have agreed with Colossians 2:11-15 and the statement that believers in Jesus “were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands in the putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ” (2:11). But I can see why Carrier would like the idea of “putting off the body of flesh,” and why O’Connell would like the notion of the continuity of the body before and after baptism.

I found even more astonishing that both of you appealed to the Acts of the Apostles, which I had not read until MacDonald showed me a copy. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely nothing in Acts 1-3 that is historical, and I find the entire idea of an ascension of Jesus’ body, together with “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:40), quite ludicrous. After all, “flesh and blood cannot inherit thekingdom ofGod.” Carrier’s arguments from Acts fall far short of the mark, but so do the responses of O’Connell.

I also found it remarkable that O’Connell approached to Gospels—more books that I now have read thanks to MacDonald—about what happened to Jesus’ tomb. I read these accounts with baffled amusement. In my day, no one had heard of Jesus’ empty tomb. I surely never did. Don’t you think that if I had I would have mentioned it in my second letter to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians] to oppose those who denied that Jesus’ body had been raised? The best I could do was to appeal to reports of visions of the risen Christ, including my own, but as any reader of Homeric epic would recognize, one can see even disembodied souls. My challenge was to interpret these visions as visions of transformed bodies. I was pleased to read in these Gospels about Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene; I wonder why I had never heard about them before.

As an aside, I should say that I have heard of some followers of Jesus in Palestine who denied that the risen Jesus appeared to anyone; indeed, they preferred to speak of Jesus’ disappearance—like Enoch, Moses, or Elijah—and eventual return as the Son of Man [i.e., Q]. I prefer the tradition related to Peter and James that Jesus appeared to the Twelve and hundreds of others.

Now let me get to the crux—pun intended—of the nature of resurrection body. Here, it seems to me, that again, Carrier and O’Connell would have been benefited by another tenet of good scholarship on my letters: the reconstruction of the thinking of my opponents. The Corinthians really had me painted into a corner. They and I agreed that “flesh and blood cannot inherit thekingdomofGod,” but they, influenced as they were by Philo via Apollos, took this to mean that God raised only the soul, not the body; therefore; any appearance of Jesus to his followers was one of his risen soul.

How I wish I had thought of the idea of an empty tomb! I could have appealed to it as evidence of his risen body. Instead, I had to argue from the Jewish apocalyptic idea of the general resurrection of the dead. So my challenge was this: how to make sense of a resurrection body that did not consist of “flesh and blood.” (I assume that Jesus’ fleshly body rotted in aPalestinetomb.)

In order to make this case I fished about for metaphors that would speak of bodily transformation. Some of these metaphors emphasized discontinuity—say, different types of heavenly bodies, leaving one house to inhabit another, removing one garment and donning another. Other transformative metaphors, however, emphasized organic continuity—such as a seed becoming a plant or putting one garment on top of another. So I can see why Carrier thought that I spoke of two different bodies, and why O’Connell thought that I spoke of the metamorphosis of a single body. In my day, the debate was not about one body or two, but whether it made any sense to say that the soul after death was somatic in any way at all.

After I wrote 1 Corinthians, the dispute did not subside, so I addressed it again in 2 Corinthians, where one still sees the unresolved tensions in my metaphors. The same ambiguity appears in Romans 8:9-13, which we need not discuss any further. I just wish that both of you had dealt more with theories about metaphor and less about enthymemes.

Finally, brethren, I declare the debate a tie (scored = 0), though my sympathies generally favor Carrier. I found disappointing his arguments from Acts and his meat cleaver treatment of messy metaphors. But more objectionable was O’Connell’s use of both Acts and the Gospels as historical records, and his general lack of attention to ancient anthropological dualism (e.g., Platonism). In the end, I found both of their contributions to be brilliant, energetic, and often enlightening, but neither overwhelmingly compelling. I greet you, as does my scribe, Dennis. Grace and peace.


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