Bodily Resurrection

There’s a little bit of controversy right now over the future bodily resurrection of the dead and a future judgment / second coming. In the course of the discussion on Twitter and elsewhere some have made a few claims about the early church, creeds, and councils.

To contribute to the discussion, below are a few things I can see in these conciliar documents that may be useful about resurrection, the human body, and the second coming. All references are to Norman Tanner’s two-volume “Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils,” a book that contains conciliar documents in their original languages along with an English translation.

First Council of Constantinople (381)

The creed produced by the First Council of Constantinople (381) doesn’t just express a belief in the resurrection of the dead. It affirms an explicit future time element. “prosdoxomen anastasin nekron” (Greek) – “we look forward to a resurrection of the dead” (Translation, Norman Tanner, p. 24). The Latin translation has “expectamus” – we expect / look forward to.

Council of Ephesus (431)

The council of Ephesus (431) produced a lengthy discussion in which the body of Christ as firstfruits from the dead is a major focus, quoting Col 1:18 and extensively from 1 Cor 15. The discussion includes a future judgment in glory – “At the right time he will come as one Son and Lord in the glory of the Father, to judge the world in justice, as it is written” (a reference to Acts 17:31). While we Presbyterians (with Calvin) would definitely affirm that the life-giving flesh we receive in the Lord’s supper is the flesh of the resurrected Christ, Ephesus emphasizes that the flesh became life-giving at the incarnation (“when he [the Word] became one with his own flesh” – Tanner, pg. 54). In fact, his incarnation was, “in order that he might bless the beginning of our existence, in order that seeing that it was a woman that had given birth to him, united to the flesh, the curse against the whole race should thereafter cease, which was consigning all our earthly bodies to death, and in order that the removal through him of the curse, ‘in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children’ [Gn. 3:16] should demonstrate the truth of the words of the prophet, ‘Strong death swallowed them up’ [1 Cor. 15:54, Isa 25:8], and again, ‘God has wiped every tear away from all faces.’ [Is 25:8]” (Tanner, 58) This quotation links the consolation of our future bodily resurrection deeply to the body of Christ. It also illustrates the point that these churchmen were working with the scriptures to formulate and defend doctrinal commonplaces.

In the anathemas of Ephesus, Jesus “is made partaker of blood and flesh precisely like us” (Heb 2:14 – Tanner, 60). In the tenth anathema, there is an emphasis on the Word of God’s suffering in the flesh, being crucified in the flesh, tasting death in the flesh, and Jesus’ being firstborn from the dead, a reference to Col. 1:18 (Tanner, 61).

Council of Chalcedon (451)

Related to the Council of Chalcedon (451), specifically in the letter about Eutyches from Pope Leo to Flavian, the bishop of Constantinople, Leo writes:  “After the Lord’s resurrection – which was certainly the resurrection of a real body, since the one brought back to life is none other than the one who had been crucified and had died… he talked to his disciples and lived and ate with them, and let himself be touched attentively and carefully by those who were in the grip of doubt…” (Tanner, 80). A comment on this point – anyone who would deny that our actual bodies are the ones that are resurrected must contend with the empty tomb; Jesus, at least, rose in the same body in which he died. If he is the firstfruits, why do we dare to innovate and think that somehow the union our present living bodies have with Christ will transfer to a new body in another dimension and leave our current ones (even if atomized by burial at sea)? Would Jesus abandon our present bodies any sooner than he would abandon our present souls?

Lateran IV (1215)

Skipping a bit, hah, by Lateran IV (1215), there is a clear affirmation of the futurity of judgment in the body, “Indeed, having suffered and died on the wood of the cross for the salvation of the human race, he descended to the underworld, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. He descended in the soul, rose in the flesh, and ascended in both. He will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, to render to every person according to his works, both to the reprobate and to the elect. All of them will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear, so as to receive according to their deserts, whether these be good or bad….” (Tanner, 230). The quotes from scripture here are implicit. Obviously between 451 and 1215 there were numerous theologians who defended a future general resurrection exegetically, but I’m just including this here for completeness.

Final Thoughts

I have no idea how to provide a systematic exegetical account of every verse that could be talking about AD 70 or the future second coming, but focusing on Jesus’s personal eschatology seems to be systematically useful in sorting out the resurrection of the body and, in fact, scripture invites us to do this (1 Cor. 15). Not only should we base our model of what resurrection looks like on Jesus’s experience, but his experience is what gives us hope. The alternative accounts I’m hearing (yes, even C.S. Lewis’s) are asking me to take hope in a novel account of what it means to die and be resurrected. I don’t need another model nor do the scriptures invite me to find one when I have the model of Jesus, the forerunner who rises in the same body in which he died and ate fish while in that resurrected body. The power of the early church statements is not in ecclesiastical authority, it is in the ministering of the word of God to me and in illustrating the commonplace thoughts of believers as they worked through the claims of heretics about the nature of the incarnation. Hopefully it is useful to see the material above; I know that it is hard to get a copy of Tanner at a reasonable price.

The Five Senses and Metaphors for Understanding

Each of our senses seems to be connected to a primary metaphor for a type of understanding. Vision is good for making fine distinctions; it’s primarily about judging and classifying. “Can’t you see?” When God sees that things are “good” or “very good” in Genesis, he is judging them. Hearing is good for detecting problems / dissonances. “That doesn’t sound right to me.” “He and I are out of tune with each other.” Touch is good for prediction – we explore the contours of an object with our hand and predict its form and purpose – “I can feel my way through it.” Smell is good for memory; diesel brings my wife back to Germany, fish-markets bring me to Japan. Taste is good for value judgment, aesthetics, and other axiological concepts. Of course, we mix these and there are secondary metaphors for each sense. One can “see where this is going” which is about predicting a path. One can develop a “nose for things” which is about judgment.

I first considered this when thinking through digital compression. It is much easier to see lossy compression in an image or in video than to hear it in audio. The eye sees digital artifacts in a compressed image more readily than the ear hears artifacts in lower-quality audio. One of the key examples of prediction used by Numenta in its work on the human neocortex is a human’s ability to touch the handle of a coffee mug and predict the position of the rim.

Self-Knowledge and Empathy

In Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, the beautiful and confident Cynthia has a deep knowledge of self, akin to the knowledge one gains from taking personality tests. Her half-sister, Molly, hasn’t engaged in much second-level personality assessment and so her responses to people and events are naive and raw – both more principled and truer. Cynthia “feels” but it is always about personal injury. Molly feels because she really cares for others and empathizes. Molly knows people in order to try and understand them. Cynthia knows people to determine whether she likes them or not and whether to contrast them with her own character. Cynthia measures all things by herself. Molly doesn’t know herself well enough to treat her own character as a reference point for the world. While normally we think that self-knowledge is important as a personal developmental step, Cynthia illustrates that this can become a hindrance to real feeling for others.

Temptation, Time, and Wisdom

We first think of temptation in terms of our tendency to be attracted to committing ethical wrongs. But temptation also has temporal (future) aspects; we are attracted to do good things before we should, important things before we are ready, hard things before we’ve earned the competency. Mastering self-control with respect to these sorts of temptations is one way that we gain wisdom.

Looking for the Right Kind of “All In”

Christians can never be “all in” on anything but Jesus. This puts the reflective person into a dissociative quandary. One’s occupation may or may not survive the refining fire of the eschaton, but it doesn’t make one’s job unnecessary. One’s employer may exist only because of the dysfunctions of a society or even due to injustice, but it doesn’t take away the duty of laboring as unto Jesus. One’s country may be unjust to others or to oneself, but it is no less a gift of God. We understand pilgrims to be those who go somewhere, but one can also be a pilgrim who stays and faithfully lives the awkward life given to us. Each of us bears not the spanner/lance/pen/keyboard/hammer/welding torch in vain.

God has a Very Good Life

God has a good life. He is three persons who mutually submit and glorify one another. He enables our joining that life by creating us in his image and likeness and through the incarnation of Jesus. Then, he unites us to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit and we become part of that good life. God has always existed in a psychologically healthy state, possessing and defining all virtues, connected socially, and acting fruitfully. Living within the corona of that beautiful, refined, white-hot life is where we are the most human, the most connected to him and to the other saints, and the healthiest.

Some Helpful Vocabulary Words and Pronunciation Tips

mawkish – sentimental

ultra vires – (latin) outside of (beyond) one’s authority

intra vires – (latin) within proper authority

The word “especially” has no pronounceable “c” sound. Saying “eckspecially” will subject you to judgment by grammar snoots.

The phrase is “home in” not “hone in.” Saying “hone in” will also subject you judgment by grammar snoots. You can hone a knife, you can hone an argument (sharpen an argument). But you must home in on the answer.

Haiku About Udon

Apparently a restaurant sponsored a haiku contest for poems about udon (a type of noodle). A few friends and I had an sms thread where we exchanged udon haiku. My friends George and Neil had much better entries than I did. Here are a few that I contributed. Correct, the last one has nothing to do with Udon. I also introduced rhyming which has nothing to do with haiku and everything to do with you, dear reader.

  1. Udon is noodles
    Feudal lords bring the soy sauce
    Soy bomb, soy haram.
  2. You cast chopstick sieve
    To catch the udon, to live
    Here, my child, a bib.
  3. A gentleman’s C.
    A child of a legacy.
    Until SAT

Politicizing the Pandemic

One of the galling things about this pandemic is the degree of politicization. It’s so bad that the Chronicle of Higher Education, in its ongoing feature that lists colleges and universities that require the vaccination for students or employees, uses the familiar blue/red state designation.

Screenshot of red state blue state from Chronicle of Higher Education's vaccine report.

The tabular view also includes the state’s electoral college vote:

I wrote the author of the article to ask, “why the politicization?” The answer was that there is evidence that the state’s political leaning has affected the state’s vaccine rollout strategy and college policies. Makes sense, but wow.

If you do tend to lean towards conservative beliefs, the Chronicle of Higher Education is a fun mailing list to be on. Every day there are articles in which academics express worry about the degree of conservative influence at colleges. Pretty much the mirror image of what conservatives worry about with regard to academia.

Jane Pauley

When I was about 3 or 4 years old I would watch television for about 15 minutes after breakfast and before my mom would take me to pre-K. We called pre-K “3-year-old kindergarten,” if I recall correctly.

Well, one day I was sitting there watching Jane Pauley on the Today Show on NBC. It was probably around 1978 and I loved her smile and just thought she was the bees knees. So, I started waving at her and I kept waving and waving. And, I kid you not, after what seemed like a lot of waving on my part, she paused speaking for a moment, laughed a little, and waved back at the camera.

Now, I can’t explain this other than to conclude it must just be a delightful coincidence. I have no idea how to account for it, but this flat out happened exactly as I present it above and it is one of my strongest memories from childhood.