Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Resurrection of the Body

Today's reading touched on a topic that I have been thinking more about lately.  Have you noticed that the Christian idea that there will be a bodily resurrection is dying out among mainstream Christians?  It is more popular now to think that we will be leaving our inferior bodies behind, to become be joined with God in spirit or as "pure energy."

The resurrection of the dead was a hot topic in the time of Jesus.  It has become an accepted tradition that we don't really think about much today, but at the time your view of the resurrection depending on what you accepted as Scripture and your view of tradition versus a literal interpretation of that Scripture.

Luke 20:27-38
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless.  Finally the woman also died.  Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her."

Jesus said to them, "The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.  That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called out 'Lord, ' the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."

The Sadducees were trying to ask Jesus a trick question here. Who were the Sadducees?  They were the Jewish group whose worship centered around the Temple, rather than the synagogues.  Like the fundamentalists of today, they rejected oral tradition and insisted on a literal interpretation of Scripture.  This is why they did not believe in a bodily resurrection, because it did not appear in the Torah.  Yes, you read that correctly, the idea of a bodily resurrection does not appear in the Torah.  Because Jesus is replying to the Sadducees, who do not accept anything but the Torah, his restrains his answer to the Torah in reply.

Not to criticize Jesus or anything, but I always found his reply a little lacking in proof for the resurrection of the dead.  I always thought God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because he was the God that they worshiped.  Still, this verse is one that we Catholics reach to as proof that the dead are not unaware of us.  If "his is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive" then we can pray for the dead, and they can pray for us, because they are alive with God.

The Jewish belief in a bodily resurrection was only gradually developed.  Scholar N.T. Wright writes, "When we turn to ancient Judaism the picture is both very similar and very different.  The Hebrew Sheol, the place of the dead, is not very different from Homer’s Hades.  People are asleep there; they can sometimes be woken up, as with Saul and Samuel, but to do so is dangerous, and forbidden. That is the picture we get from most of the Old Testament. . . The Sadducees deny the world to come altogether, reminding us that resurrection was and remained an explicitly political doctrine, about God turning the present world and its power structures upside down.  Thus the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection was part of their generally revolutionary ideology: as in Daniel and Maccabees, resurrection was an incentive to martyrdom."

N.T. Wright references the books of Maccabees, which is one of the books which was removed from the protestant canon because it contained references to praying for the dead.  Yet removing Maccabees also removes some of the most explicit references to a coming bodily resurrection.

2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14

It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God's law. One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: "What do you expect to achieve by questioning us?  We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors."

At the point of death he said: "You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying." After him the third suffered their cruel sport. He put out his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely held out his hands, as he spoke these noble words: "It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again."

Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man's courage, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing.  After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way.  When he was near death, he said, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life."

Clearly, Christians today believe in a bodily resurrection because it is explicit in the New Testament scriptures.  But the belief in a bodily resurrection by Jesus and the Pharisees was based on their acceptance of oral tradition, and of the inspiration of the deuterocanonical books such as the books of Maccabees. 

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