Continuing the discussion of some of the issues Michael Licona raises in his book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, we turn to the question of what Paul believed about Jesus’ resurrection. Was it “material” or “immaterial”? Did something happen to Jesus’ body? Did Paul think that the risen Jesus even had a body? To address these questions, Licona examines the six passages from Paul’s letters that are most informative: Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:42-54; Phil 3:21; Col 2:9; 2 Cor 4:16-5:8; and Gal 1:11-19.
Romans 8:11 – In discussing this verse, reference is also made to Rom 8:20-23. Licona concludes that “in Romans 8:11 Paul says the mortal bodies of believers will be raised even as the mortal body of Jesus was raised” (402-3). For me, this is one of the clearest expressions Paul makes about Jesus’ resurrection. It is clear that here Paul expresses the belief that something happened to Jesus’ body when Jesus was “raised from the dead.” What happened to Jesus and his body is the pattern for what will happen to believers and their bodies.
1 Corinthians 15:42-54 – Licona devotes 20 pages to this passage and is thorough in addressing what he considers to be the four main exegetical questions that are present in it. First, what does Paul mean by contrasting ψυχικόν (“natural”) and πνευματικόν (“spiritual”) in verses 44-46? Second, what is meant by the reference in verse 45 to Jesus as a “life-giving spirit” (πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν)? Third, is Paul denying a physical resurrection in verse 50’s statement that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable”? And fourth, does Paul refer to a transformation or to an exchange of the bodies of Christians in the future (verses 51-52)? After discussing these and other exegetical questions, Licona concludes that “it is highly likely that Paul held to a transforming resurrection of Jesus’ corpse” (423).
Philippians 3:21 – The main issue Licona explores in this verse is whether it should be rendered “Christ will transform our humble body…” or “Christ will exchange our humble body…” He opts for the former since it makes far better sense of the second half of Paul’s statement that the Christian’s body will “be in similar form” to the glorious body of Jesus. Again, a key point for me with this verse is that Paul was convinced that the post-resurrection Jesus had a body.
Colossians 2:9 – Because many question whether Paul wrote this letter, Licona devotes only a single paragraph to it and does not count it as part of the evidence for understanding Paul’s beliefs about Jesus’ resurrection.
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8 – Acknowledging the difficulty of this passage and the lack of any kind of consensus among scholars, Licona proceeds to offer his own exegesis. Paul sees two possibilities for Christians: 1) some will die before the parousia and will exist in a disembodied state until the general resurrection, at which time they will take on their resurrection bodies; and 2) some Christians will be alive at the parousia and will have their earthly bodies clothed with their new resurrection bodies at that time.
Galatians 1:11-19 – Licona judges that this account “is too ambiguous to obtain details pertaining to the nature of his conversion experience,” at least as it relates to understanding Paul’s beliefs about Jesus’ resurrection (436).
In conclusion, I think that Paul is extremely important on this issue because 1) he is the earliest author to refer to Jesus’ resurrection; 2) at the time of his own experience of the risen Jesus he was not sympathetic to the Christian movement; and 3) his belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead was the cause of his conversion from being an opponent of the Christian movement to becoming one of its biggest proponents. And Paul’s belief that Jesus had been raised included the conviction that something had happened to Jesus’ corpse.