The Articles of Religion of the Church of England
IV. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
"Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day."
Saint Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians highlights the necessity of the resurrection of Christ for the Christian Faith to have any meaning for believers. Many today would like to have bits and pieces of Christianity without some of the more “troubling” aspects—miracles, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, a supernatural God of a Triune nature, etc. Within modern liberal Christianity one of the most commonplace assertions is that the physical Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is not a central tenet or requirement of the Faith. Here I am not speaking of those who differ on the exact manner of the physicality of the Resurrection Christ (as Calvin and Luther debated the localized versus non-localized abilities of Christ’s Resurrected body). Rather I am referring to those who suppose and even teach in the name of the Church that the “Resurrection” was something that happened not to Christ, but to the Apostles when they realized, essentially, what a really good guy Jesus was: Jesus was alive in their hearts. This is not the teaching of the Church Catholic, nor was it the teaching of Saint Paul.
Paul asserts that without Christ being raised from the dead, our faith in Him is in vain. While it can be said that without the Incarnation, the death and Resurrection of Christ are without merit (if Christ was resurrected but was not the Mediator between God and man then this resurrection has no point to us), so it can be said that without Christ’s being raised to new life He has not conquered death and sin on our behalf. We cannot talk about the Christian Faith while removing elements from the essential teaching; the Resurrection of Jesus means that we have new life through Him. If He lies dead in a tomb then we too will remain dead. If He lives, our faith in Him and His work puts away our sins and opens up the door to life in His presence.
"And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15: 12-19, ESV). "
If Christ did not rise from the dead, then he did not ascend to the Father as fully God and fully human. If He does not sit in exaltation at God’s right hand as our great High Priest who offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin, then we have no mediator in Heaven. Baptism is pointless and the Eucharist gives thanks for nothing if Christ is not raised in the flesh of humanity. “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Corinthians 15:32, ESV). Some have said that Saint Paul suggests only a “spiritual resurrection,” not a general resurrection of the physical people. This is often argued by using mistranslations of terms used by Paul in Chapter 15. Paul says “For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish” (15: 39, ESV).” Here Paul is not saying that animals have flesh and humans have something completely different (if you cut a rabbit and a human, the physiological response is the same). Rather he is saying that humans and animals have different natures according to their respective “flesh” (the nature or soul we spoke of in earlier posts). Both animals and humans are physical beings, but both operate according to a set of characteristics proper to their nature. Paul later states the manner in how our bodies will be raised: “It is sown a natural body (soma psucikon); it is raised a spiritual body (soma pneumatikon)” (15:44, KJV). Here the rendering is fairly close to the Greek; the ESV maintains this continuity in using the proper translations. The term soma is used to describe both a body natural (psuchikon) and the body spiritual (pneumatikon). Saint Paul is not saying that one body will be physical and the other not; the use of the term soma infers that both bodies are physical. However, one is informed by human nature as it now stands (psuchikon), while the other will be informed by the spirit (pneumatikon).
Other translations have taken paraphrasic liberties with the language: The RSV uses the term “physical body” instead of “natural body,” thereby leading the reader to confusion as to what the phrase means--that there can be a "non-physical" body. Likewise, the NRSV and the Revised English Bible fall into this trap as well (The New English Bible uses the term “animal body,” keeping closer to the meaning of the Greek, but not as close as the KJV, the NKJV, and the ESV). These types of translations border on gnosticism, in that they assume that our new bodies will be devoid of physicality—the Christ raised according to such a “resurrection” would not necessarily leave an empty tomb behind, He would have simply to shuffle off His mortal coil. However, these translations fit into the framework of denying the reality of the resurrection of the dead that the Nicene Creed speaks of.
This whole pattern of mistranslation and argument from mistranslation distorts the teaching of the Church Catholic as to what Christ came to redeem—humanity in its totality. This humanity is not simply mental or spiritual, nor is it just flesh and bones. It is both. God made us as “psychosomatic” unities, and our natures cannot be derived from just the psychological/spiritual component nor from just the physical component. Christ redeemed this unity, that it might no longer be ruled by our minds as they now stand in the lineage of Adam, corrupt thought leading to corrupt deeds. He redeemed the complete human person, that our physical existence might be informed and led by the Spirit in the world to come.
For two excellent books related to this topic, see John Cooper's Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting and Bishop N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God.