Saturday, July 21, 2012

Irenaeus, Tertullian and 1 Cor. 15:50

Ancient Examples of Interpreting 1 Corinthians 15:50

The belief in being raised to heavenly life (devoid of flesh) is not uniquely part of any particular Christian religious group per se. Origen of Alexandria believed that the EIDOS of the body would be raised. He drew on Platonic thought to formulate this idea. Some orthodox commentators today also insist that an exaltation to spirit life is what the Bible teaches. Nevertheless, the most common view today is that resurrection is and will be a bodily event. These eschatological notions are based partly on the literary contents of Paul's first century correspondences with congregations in the ancient Greco-Roman world.

Numerous attempts to exegete the Pauline letters can be found within treatises produced by the early patristic writers. But examining 1 Cor. 15:50ff leads me to conclude that Irenaeus of Lyons and Tertullian of Carthage were probably wrong in their explanations of how faithful Christians would be raised by God. Firstly, it seems that Greco-Roman philosophy banefully infilitrated their views about God and the resurrection.

Irenaeus writes: "Among the other [truths] proclaimed by the apostle, there is also this one, 'That flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.' This is [the passage] which is adduced by all the heretics in support of their folly, with an attempt to annoy us, and to point out that the handiwork of God is not saved. They do not take this fact into consideration, that there are three things out of which, as I have shown, the complete man is composed — flesh, soul, and spirit. One of these does indeed preserve and fashion [the man]— this is the spirit; while as to another it is united and formed—that is the flesh; then [comes] that which is between these two— that is the soul, which sometimes indeed, when it follows the spirit, is raised up by it, but sometimes it sympathizes with the flesh, and falls into carnal lusts. Those then, as many as they be, who have not that which saves and forms [us] into life [eternal], shall be, and shall be called, [mere] flesh and blood; for these are they who have not the Spirit of God in themselves. Wherefore men of this stamp are spoken of by the Lord as 'dead;' for, says He, 'Let the dead bury their dead,' because they have not the Spirit which quickens man" (Against Heresies V.9.1).

Correspondingly, in Tertullian, we find these claims: "For it is not the resurrection that is directly denied to flesh and blood, but the kingdom of God, which is incidental to the resurrection (for there is a resurrection of judgment also); and there is even a confirmation of the general resurrection of the flesh, whenever a special one is excepted. Now, when it is clearly stated what the condition is to which the resurrection does not lead, it is understood what that is to which it does lead; and, therefore, while it is in consideration of men's merits that a difference is made in their resurrection by their conduct in the flesh, and not by the substance thereof, it is evident even from this, that flesh and blood are excluded from the kingdom of God in respect of their sin, not of their substance; and although in respect of their natural condition they will rise again for the judgment, because they rise not for the kingdom. Again, I will say, 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;' and justly (does the apostle declare this of them, considered) alone and in themselves, in order to show that the Spirit is still needed (to qualify them) for the kingdom. For it is 'the Spirit that quickens' us for the kingdom of God; 'the flesh profits nothing.' There is, however, something else which can be profitable thereunto, that is, the Spirit; and through the Spirit, the works also of the Spirit. Flesh and blood, therefore, must in every case rise again, equally, in their proper quality. But they to whom it is granted to enter the kingdom of God, will have to put on the power of an incorruptible and immortal life; for without this, or before they are able to obtain it, they cannot enter into the kingdom of God. With good reason, then, flesh and blood, as we have already said, by themselves fail to obtain the kingdom of God. But inasmuch as 'this corruptible (that is, the flesh) must put on incorruption, and this mortal (that is, the blood) must put on immortality,' by the change which is to follow the resurrection, it will, for the best of reasons, happen that flesh and blood, after that change and investiture, will become able to inherit the kingdom of God— but not without the resurrection. Some will have it, that by the phrase 'flesh and blood,' because of its rite of circumcision, Judaism is meant, which is itself too alienated from the kingdom of God, as being accounted 'the old or former conversation,' and as being designated by this title in another passage of the apostle also, who, 'when it pleased God to reveal to him His Son, to preach Him among the heathen, immediately conferred not with flesh and blood,' as he writes to the Galatians, (meaning by the phrase) the circumcision, that is to say, Judaism" (On the Resurrection of the Flesh 50).

With the help of modern exegesis, however, the viewpoints expressed by Irenaeus and Tertullian can now be proved false. For instance, concerning 1 Cor. 15:35-41, we read:

"Having contended vigorously for the Resurrection as the form of life after death, Paul now makes important concessions concerning the nature of the resurrection body. Some Palestinian believers in the Resurrection taught the restoration of exactly the same body that was laid away. 'For the earth will then assuredly restore the dead . . . making no change in their form, but as it has received, so will it restore them' (II Baruch 50:2). Paul must have been compelled many times to distinguish his belief from this crude hope. He resorts to an analogy from human experience to show how totally different the resurrection body will be. Jesus had appealed to the power of God to create entirely new conditions in life" (Mark 12:24-25).

The Interpreter's Bible quoted above (Vol. X:243) notes that the idea of a fleshly resurrection was taught in ancient Palestine. Reading the apocalyptic books written around this period (first century BCE-CE) also helps us to grasp the prevalence of variant beliefs in the fleshly resurrection. This teaching of a fleshly ANASTASIS was admittedly different from the ante-Nicenes' theological understanding. Yet knowing about the Patristic resurrection teaching does help us to comprehend how some have understood the Pauline words at 1 Cor. 15:50ff.

In 1 Cor. 15:37, 38--we encounter the analogy of a seed which depicts how the heavenly resurrection works: "And what thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain: it may be of wheat, or some one of the rest: and God gives to it a body as he has pleased, and to each of the seeds its own body."

Commenting on these verses, The Interpreter's Bibleproclaims that "both a body and a seed are put into the ground and something entirely different comes out of it" (Vol. X:243).

What is this reference work saying? Is it stating that a totally different body will be raised from the dead (i.e. a spirit body)?

Remarking further on 1 Cor. 15:35ff:

"the translation bare kernel [RSV] is not meant to suggest a connection between this discussion and that on being found 'naked' (2 Cor. 5:2-3) after death . . . But the clothing about which Paul is concerned [in 2 Cor. 5:2ff]is the 'building from God' (2 Cor. 5:1), his resurrection body. Until he is clothed with this he is in a state of nakedness. The problem of an intermediate state is not faced in the letter before us because the apostle expected to survive until the Parousia" (Vol. X:244).

Thus we now approach the answer to our question--what does Paul mean in 1 Cor. 15:50? Will the body of flesh be raised to heaven? Is the regenerated body of flesh, the "building from God" mentioned in 2 Cor. 5:2ff?

The Interpreter's Bible (Vol X:246) makes it clear that a spiritual body is not a disembodied spirit. It is a body of "glory or splendor." This spiritual corpus appears to be an immaterial, massless body (one that is devoid of all flesh).

Louw and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon says the following about the term PNEUMATIKOS in 1 Cor 15:44:

"pertaining to not being physical-'not physical, not material, spiritual.'" This resource adds the following observation: "In some languages the concept of 'spiritual body' can only be expressed negatively as 'the body will not have flesh and bones' or 'the body will not be a regular body'" (semantic domain 79.3).

Elsewhere, the IB calls the spiritual body, an "ethereal body" which is akin to light. But just what does all this discourse mean? How should we understand the language "ethereal body"?

As with many subjects, the same terminology may signify different things from one writer to another. What it means in the IB is not all that clear to me. At any rate, the nomenclature "ethereal body" allows one to understand the resurrection as an event in which a non-physical body is raised. The corpus delineated by this wording suggests that we're talking about an aerial, fiery and possibly non-material entity. But I would reject all theosophic associations one might read into such language.

Exegeting 1 Corinthians 15:50ff Today

The Apostle wrote: "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption" (1 Cor. 15:50 KJV).

We now come to the locus classicus of our discussion. It is fitting to ask just what do Paul's words indicate about the future? Initially, we note the phrase BASILEIAN THEOU. Without going into a lot of needless detail, let me just briefly say that regardless of how we view the Kingdom of God, the Bible evidently shows that heaven is the reward held out for God's anointed ones (2 Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:1-8). People disagree about the terminology or have varying ideas about the referents of the expression "anointed ones," but that issue does not have to be settled now. I'd rather examine whether "flesh" will enter the kingdom or not.

When answering the first query, it is tempting to split up SARX and hAIMA, which has led some readers to insist that SARX may enter the Kingdom of God, but not hAIMA. Others like Irenaeus may say that a fleshly body can enter the kingdom, so long as it is regenerated and fully guided by God's Spirit. Tertullian understands the passage in a similar way. Does this view, however, do justice to Paul's words at 1 Cor. 15:50?

According to BAGD, the expression SARX KAI hAIMA denotes: "a man of flesh and blood . . . a human being in contrast to God and other supernatural beings Mt. 16:17; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 6:12 . . . because they are the opposites of the divine nature SARX KAI HAIMA BASILEIAN THEOU KLERONOMESAI OU DUNATAI 1 Cor. 15:50" (JoachJeremias, NTS 2, '56, 151-159 [See BAGD, p. 743]).

Based on what we read in BAGD, we could paraphrase 1 Cor. 15:50 thus: "Humans are not fit for the kingdom of God. Their flesh and blood--their entire being (humanity)--cannot enter into the kingdom of the heavens." To the contrary, humans must undergo a radical change--a "refashioning"--before God allows them entry into his heavenly BASILEIAN (Philippians 3:20-21).

What are we therefore to conclude from this discussion? For one, I think it is
important to realize that although there is much we can learn from the ante-Nicene Fathers, their word is not the final authority. Modern-day exegesis has provided us with marvelous insights on God's word. These insights show us that Irenaeus and Tertullian were likely wrong in their interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:50. See John Paul Heil, The Rhetorical Role of Scripture in 1 Corinthians, page 254.


The Apologetic Front said...

Do humans inherit the Kingdom of God according to Matthew 25:34?

Edgar Foster said...

As you probably know well, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Mt 25:34 applies to those who will live forever on earth. The Bible refers to God's kingdom with the adjective "heavenly" in the Pastoral epistle of 2 Timothy (4:18). Isa 9:6 calls the kingdom a "government" (KJV). So we think that when Mt 25:34 speaks of the kingdom, it's referring to the earthly domain of God's heavenly government. Humans will inherit that domain, but not the heavenly sphere of things per 1 Cor 15:50.

The Apologetic Front said...


Can this position be established contextually and exegetically in Matt. 25:34?

Matt13weedhacker said...

Hello Brother Foster.

Stumbled accross a quote you might find interesting:

PACIAN OF BARCELONA (circa. 310-391 C.E.): “ declare your agreement with the Phrygians. But, most illustrious Lord, so manifold and so diverse is the error of these very men, that in them we have not only to overthrow their peculiar fancies against penance, but to cut off the heads, as it were, of some Lernaean monster. And, in the first place, they rely on more founders than one, for I suppose Blastus the Greek is of them; Theodotus also AND --- ( PRAXEAS ) --- WERE ONCE TEACHERS OF YOUR PARTY, THEMSELVES ALSO PHRYGIANS OF SOME CELEBRITY, who falsely say they are inspired of Leucius, boast that they are instructed by Proculus. Following Montanus, and Maximilla, and Priscilla, howmanifold controversies have they raised concerning the day of Easter, the Paraclete, Apostles, Prophets, and many other disputes, as this also concerning the Catholic name, the pardon of penance...” - (Pages 317-327, Chapter 2, Epistle I. On the Catholic Name. The Extant Works of S. Pacian, Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church 17, Translated by the Rev. C. H. Collyns, M.A., Student of Christ Church 1842.)

I was just interested in knowing if you had come across this before?

It says "...Praxaes..." was a Montantist himself.

What do you think?

Ivan said...

Is It not an equivocation to say that humans don't inherit the kingdom because if their humanity 1 Cor 15:50) but actually do inherit it in Matthew 25:34? I just don't see the legitimacy in alternating definitions.

According to Jesus, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in the heavenly kingdom. This should call in question any strict definition of a dualist view and the eternal state of the redeemed.

Edgar Foster said...

Dear Apologetic Front,

I do believe that one can establish the case exegetically and contextually. Firstly, we must ask ourselves how the word "kingdom" is used in the NT and OT. Moreover, what does the synchronic evidence suggests about the meaning of kingdom in Mt 25:34. The context may also come to our aid. Who do the sheep and goats represent? What about the brothers of Christ? I'm not saying that it would be easy to make an ironclad case. But I do not doubt that a good case could be made for the Witness understanding. Finally, logically or semantically speaking, the word "kingdom" has more than one denotation. Context ultimately determines how a word is used in a particular setting.

Edgar Foster said...

Hey Brother MAtt13,

I have not read the quote before, and don't know enough about Pacian to make an informed judgment. It's an interesting quote, but my initial reaction is not to place much credence in the quote. My present judgment--which is open to adjustment--is based on reading Adv Praxean and the scholarly literature about that document. I'm also trying to recall if Eusebius might help in this matter.



The Apologetic Front said...

Hi Edgar,

Thanks for your response. I take it you hold to the traditional WT perspective on Christ's "brothers" in Matt. 25. But how can it be contextually established that these are not of the sheep just mentioned? Would not the qualifier "these" (25:40) preclude this?

Also, i'm not following your explanation in distinguishing the definition of "kingdom" in Matt. 25:34 from 1 Cor. 15:50. Its not that I don't think that "Kingdom" has a semantic range; its that I don't see any exegetical grounds for the differentiation.

Edgar Foster said...

Ivan: I don't see it as equivocation because (as we know) words can have different senses in differentiated contexts. Although BDAG does not view Mt 25:34 as an example of the Greek word BASILEIA meaning "a realm over which a ruler exercises authority," that is part of the word's semantic range. Context and theology (as suggested by Rolf Furuli) is going to determine how one understands the sense of a Greek or Hebrew word in context.

Regarding the ancient patriarchs, there are a number of reasons why the passage might not be a literal reference to heavenly life. Or if the reference is literal, we might ask what sense that kingdom has within the context of Mt 8:12ff. One thing seems to be for certain: no man ascended to heaven prior to Jesus' death (John 3:13). Furthermore, the scripture state that one must be born again to see God's kingdom. That is, born from water and spirit.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Apologetic Front:

I don't see how the word "these" helps your case. After all, the sheep of the parable do good to Jesus' brothers. So could you explain how the sheep constitute part of that same group?

Secondly, my view of how Matthew possibly uses kingdom in 25:34 is based partly on the semantic range of BASILEIA and theology also will be a determining factor. Admittedly, we're not going to read the parable in the same way because we have differing exegetical starting points. But I see the Witness explanation as utterly plausible in the light of lexical semantics and biblical theology.

Ivan said...


My question would be, what exegetical basis is there for viewing kingdom as referring to the earth in Matthew 25 but heaven in 1 Corinthians 15, apart from an already presupposed and assumed theology?

With respect to Matthew 8:11, I would agree that this does not refer to "heavenly life," as such but to the "kingdom of heaven." This text should suffice in showing that to be in the kingdom does not mean to be or go to heaven. For if this was the case, then one would have to say the Patriarchs are.

Further, it should suffice to show that the kingdom is not a government in heaven (otherwise the Patriarchs would find themselves there) but a government FROM heaven.

To comment on another topic which was mentioned here. The Apologetic Front's point in regards to the pronoun "these," is that one should exegetically identified Christ's brothers as part of an already identified party in Matthew 25. Otherwise, "these" seems superfluous.

Edgar Foster said...


Whether "kingdom" refers to the royal exercise of authority or to the domain over which such authority is extended cannot be established by semantics or by exegesis alone. Theology will play a role in determining what kingdom means at Mt 25:34.

There are scriptures which indicate that some will inherit the kingdom of God in heaven. For example, 2 Cor 5:1-2; John 14:1-3; Phil 3:20-21. See also 1 Thess 4:13-18.

As I mentioned earlier, according to Jn 3:13, the patriarchs were not in heaven when John recorded those fateful words at in his gospel.

We should not construe "these" in isolation from the words hENI TOUTWN TWN ADELFWN MOU TWN ELAXISTWN. The pronoun does not necessitate that we look for some previously identified group in the parable.

Ivan said...


Regarding kingdom in Matthew 25, why there should be a strong differentiation from the exercising of authority and the domain over which that authority will be extended? The rule can be exercised from earth (Matt 25:34) over the earth. (Matthew 5:5; Rev 5:10)

As for Philippians 3 and 1 Thess, I don't see how these support the kingdom being in heaven. Philippians 3 makes explicit mention of Christians awaiting for Jesus to come "from heaven," while 1 Thess speaks of Jesus descending. All these texts speak of Jesus leaving heaven at the Parousia. (see especially Acts 3:21)

I do not wish to construe "these" apart from and in isolation to its original phrase. The ordinary usage of "these" would suggest that Jesus is referring to a group of people who are either with him or whom he has just identified. What purpose does the pronoun serve if not the point I and The Apologetic Front have been arguing for? If it does not necessitate such, it seems to be suggestive.

Edgar Foster said...


I am not denying that the rule could be exercised from earth and over the earth simultaneously. But even governments on earth make a distinction between a ruler exercising authority and his/her domain. The President of the USA resides in Washington D.C. from where he exercises authority. But the President's domain extends well beyond the district's borders. While the rule could be exercised on earth, however, it seems that the scriptural evidence suggests otherwise.

The operative words in Phil 3:20-21 are hHMWN GAR TO POLITEUMA EN OURANOIS hUPARXEI . . .

Those words can be interpreted differtent ways. But I'd be glad to defend the explanation that I'm proposing. As for 1 Thess 4:13-17, we are told that those in Christ will be "caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with [the] Lord" (NWT).

The pronoun is part of a larger construct which identifies "these" as the brothers of Christ. Pronouns can function anaphorically or cataphorically. There is no need to make the aforesaid "sheep" referents of "these." It applies to the brothers.

The Apologetic Front said...


Just to be clear on this; Ivan and myself do not believe that any Christian will spend eternity in heaven. Therefore, I don't find that John 3:13 would necessarily present a problem for my theology.

Second, there is no exegetical basis for viewing the brothers as anything other than the sheep. For the sake of argument, i'm ok with your point about "these" being cataphorical or anaphorical. However, it just doesn't make any sense for Christ to use this pronoun after he just mentioned the sheep as referents.

Third, the conclusion of "brothers" being in reference to another class of Christians brings about some odd conclusions:

1. Our treatment of the anointed class determines our salvation? What about how well we treat other Christians? Or more to the point, how well we treat the poor?

2. Are the anointed class "strangers?" Are they naked, sick, imprisoned, or hungry?


Edgar Foster said...

Dear Mike,

I'm going to close the thread after these remarks. I'll post a separate link that deals with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

1) I used John 3:13 to show that the patriarchs did not ascend to heaven prior to the earthly sojourn of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do believe that some will inherit the heavens, and there seem to be verses that support the notion of heavenly life.

2. It's difficult for me to see how you can read "these" apart from the entire Greek construct in which the pronoun appears. The word "these" goes with hENI TOUTWN TWN ADELFWN MOU TWN ELAXISTWN. Other commentatators have noted this point as well.

3. Other texts in the NT indicate that anointed Christians are brothers and joint-heirs of Christ. Now we can debate the identity and meaning of terms like "anointed" or "born again" and what the eternal destiny of these persons is. But it seems fairly obvious that the brothers of Christ are Christians.

The parable deals with how the brothers of Christ are treated. It does not address the issue of other Christians, although Christians are bound to work good to all, but especially to the household of faith (Gal 6:10).

There are times when the anointed have been/are all of the things described. See Mt 10:40-42; Heb 10:32-34; 13:1-3.

First century Christians were anointed with the spirit of God.

Matt13weedhacker said...

Hi Edgar.

In regard to Paican's comment about Praxeas being a "...Phrygia[n] of some celebrity..."

Here's a possible hypothesis.

Just a conjecture.

Adv. Prax. 1:1(D) Ltn., ( haeresim faciat )

Adv. Prax 1:5(C) Ltn., ( haeresim intulit )

1:1(D) could be translated:

"...fabricated ( a sect )..."

And 1:5(C) could also be translated:

"...introduced ( a sect )..."

Ltn., ( haeresim ) can be translated as:

A.) "...a heresy..."
B.) "...a sect..."
C.) "...a school of thought..."

Either "...heresy..." or "...a sect..." would fit the context in both verses.

Hipolytus (Refutation Books 8 and 10) also, indicated that there were different offshoots of the Montantist's that believed the doctrine of "...Noetus..."

So it is plausible that Praxeas might have been a prominent teacher of one of these, and perhaps he was competing with Tertullian's party for acceptance and recognition in Rome or Carthage, and perhaps also, he was proposing a rival interpretation of the "...New Prophecy..."

I'm not set on this, but it's interesting.

I think they were both trying to re-interpret the Orthodox "...Monarchy..." (rule by One Person), that is the Father.

And that both their doctrines, of course, were wrong, and originate from demonic sources.

Anyway, I would be interested in your perspective.

Enjoy your day.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Matt13weedhacker,

You make some interesting points about Praxeas. But I'm more inclined to view him as one who believed along the lines of Noetus than to pinpoint him as a rival of the New Prophecy. My understanding of Praxeas (regarding whom we know nothing for certain) stems from Adv Prax 1 where Tertullian wrote (in part): prophetiam expulit et haresim intulit, paracletum fugavit et patrem crucifixit. Hoow do you construe these words?

Thanks and all the best,