We Need to Regain and Teach an Understanding of the Physical Nature of the Resurrection

Many Bible-believing Christians today are crippled by their unbiblical view of the life to come. This is why I have written at length on the subject of Heaven, putting primary emphasis on the resurrection and eternal state centered on the New Earth.

Ironically, there are believers who would die rather than deny the resurrection, yet they actually don’t understand or believe what the doctrine of the resurrection means! Despite the centrality of the resurrection in Scripture and church history, many of them have never been clearly taught its meaning, so they imagine they’ll live forever in a disembodied state.

But this predominant viewpoint is self-contradictory. A nonphysical resurrection is like a sunless sunrise. There’s no such thing. Resurrection means we will have bodies! If we didn’t have bodies, we wouldn’t be resurrected.

Christ’s resurrection body demonstrated what our own will be like: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39).

It’s no coincidence that the Apostle Paul’s detailed defense of the physical resurrection was written to the church at Corinth. Corinthian believers were immersed in the Greek philosophies of Platonism and dualism, which perceived a dichotomy between the spiritual and physical realms.

Platonists see a disembodied soul as the ideal. The Bible, meanwhile, sees this division as unnatural and undesirable. We are unified beings. That’s what makes bodily resurrection so vital. That’s also why Paul said that if there is no resurrection, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The truth is, God intends for our bodies, once raised, to last as long as our souls.

In an article for First Things, Abigail Rine Favale writes about “Evangelical Gnosticism” and the need for Christians to regain an understanding of what the resurrection means:

I teach in a great books program at an Evangelical university. Almost all students in the program are born-and-bred Christians of the nondenominational variety. A number of them have been both thoroughly churched and educated through Christian schools or homeschooling curricula. Yet an overwhelming majority of these students do not believe in a bodily resurrection. While they trust in an afterlife of eternal bliss with God, most of them assume this will be disembodied bliss, in which the soul is finally free of its “meat suit” (a term they fondly use).

I first caught wind of this striking divergence from Christian orthodoxy in class last year, when we encountered Stoic visions of the afterlife. Cicero, for one, describes the body as a prison from which the immortal soul is mercifully freed upon death, whereas Seneca views the body as “nothing more or less than a fetter on my freedom,” one eventually “dissolved” when the soul is set loose. These conceptions were quite attractive to the students.

Resistance to the idea of a physical resurrection struck them as perfectly logical. “It doesn’t feel right to say there’s a human body in heaven, when the body is tied so closely to sin,” said one student. In all, fewer than ten of my forty students affirmed the orthodox teaching that we will ultimately have a body in our glorified, heavenly form. None of them realizes that these beliefs are unorthodox; this is not willful doctrinal error. This is an absence of knowledge about the foundational tenets of historical, creedal Christianity.

Read the rest.

A 1997 poll of Americans found that of those who believe in a resurrection of the dead, two-thirds believe they will not have bodies after the resurrection. [1] Unfortunately, as the above article demonstrates, twenty years later many Christians are still laboring under a false understanding of the resurrection.

In response to Abigail’s article, one Christian university professor wrote on Twitter, “I did not believe this was true of my students, so I polled two of my classes today. I was floored (and dismayed) to discover the vast majority don’t believe in the bodily resurrection.” Later he wrote, “After five minutes of discussion most of them were more open to the idea.” This is encouraging, as I believe most believers are interested in learning the real biblical meaning of the resurrection (the fact that we have a physical eternity to look forward to is good news!)

So why does all this matter? Because if we don’t get the resurrection of the body right, we’ll get nothing else right concerning our eternal future. I agree with Abigail’s assessment: “The tenet of the bodily resurrection is not a peripheral doctrinal issue. It is part of the entire economy of salvation.” It’s therefore critical that we not merely affirm the resurrection of the dead as a point of doctrine but that we understand the meaning of the resurrection we affirm.

For more on the eternal life that awaits us, see Randy’s book Heaven. You can also browse additional books and resources on Heaven available from EPM.

[1] Time (March 24, 1997): 75, quoted in Paul Marshall with Lela Gilbert, Heaven Is Not My Home: Learning to Live in God’s Creation (Nashville: Word, 1998), 234.

Photo by Bayu jefri


Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries