Resurrection of the Body or of the Whole Person?
MANY people are aware that the Bible promises a resurrection of the dead. And if that is to mean a reuniting of loved ones under happy conditions, they agree that it surely would be wonderful. But the idea that this involves a raising up of the same body, made of the same atoms that were in it before, makes some sincere persons question the whole matter.
The phrase “I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body” is a part of the so-called Apostles’ Creed, said to be “the common bond of Greek, Roman, and evangelical Christendom.” In other words, most of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches teach that on Judgment Day the bodies of all mankind will rise from the earth or the sea and be united again with their “souls” to share in either heavenly bliss or hell torment.
The Athanasian Creed, to which most of Christendom’s churches subscribe, states:
“He [Christ] shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.”
This belief gives rise to some quaint imagery. To quote a Catholic publication (Our Sunday Visitor):
“At death, the soul is separated from the body. It is judged and rewarded with heaven or sentenced to purgatory or hell. Meanwhile the body begins to corrupt, and to return to the dust from which it was taken. . . . Sometimes lives are lost at sea and thus disintegrate in the watery depths. However all things are possible to God, and surely it is quite simple for God to gather together the elements whether they are dust or ashes or in the ocean depths.” One conjures up pictures of atoms flying out of the earth, and the sea, and even out of other living organisms, to recompose the original bodies of people who lived in the past.
To justify this strange doctrine, it is claimed that, since the body is the instrument by which the wicked sinned or the righteous proved their virtue, it is logical that the body should join the soul for the appropriate reward or punishment. The same Catholic publication further states:
“True it is, the soul can achieve great happiness by itself alone in Heaven. However, the body, which has been its companion through its earthly strife, definitely has its right to eternal happiness, or should be eternally punished, if that is what it has merited. But rise again, it certainly must.
“However, with the resurrection of the bodies of the just in all their glory, beauty, wonder and radiance, there is also the horrible and diabolical ugliness in the resurrection of the damned. For the risen bodies of the wicked will be hideous, frightful, repulsive and a horror to behold. They will rise from the tomb only to be united to the souls already condemned to hell forever.” What a gruesome picture!
A Theological Dilemma
Small wonder that Catholic reference works, such as the French Apologétique (Apologetics), call the “resurrection of the body” a “mystery.” But why are the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches saddled with this “mystery”? The answer is that they are obliged to teach the “resurrection of the body” to free themselves from an embarrassing dilemma.
Their problem can be summed up as follows: The word “resurrection” means “a rising from the dead, or coming back to life.” Logically, then, there can be no resurrection if no one is really dead. Now, the principal churches of Christendom all teach the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. They teach that when an individual dies he is not really dead. His “soul” continues to live. He cannot, therefore, ‘come back to life’ or be resurrected. The dilemma for Christendom’s theologians was to reconcile resurrection (rising from the dead) with inherent immortality (deathlessness).
They solved the problem by inventing the dogma of the “resurrection of the body,” calling it a mystery, as well they might, for how, by any stretch of the imagination, can clothing a living “soul” with a fleshly body be termed a resurrection or rising from the dead?
Furthermore, “resurrection of the body,” as taught by some churches, means the reconstitution of the identical body a person had before death. But how can elements that, through the process of decomposition and recycling, become a part of several persons’ bodies, be given back to all these people when they are resurrected? Another mystery!
Finally, what is the point of a spirit creature’s being cumbered with a fleshly body, which needs sleep, food and drink, not to speak of its need to eliminate? And how long would such a body survive in the “everlasting fire” of “hell,” which is also a part of Christendom’s Last Judgment program?
Since all these “mysteries” are bound up with Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant dogma on “immortal soul” and “resurrection of the body,” it is not surprising that many persons today are skeptical about the whole idea of resurrection. However, since the churches that teach these dogmas also claim to follow the Bible, let us now see what Bible scholars and the Bible itself say about this.
Resurrection of the Whole Person
An increasing number of scholars admit that there is no solid Biblical basis for the dualistic soul/body theory. Here are a few representative quotations:
“The notion of immortality is the product of Greek thought, whereas the hope of a resurrection belongs to Jewish thinking.”—Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de la Bible (1935, Protestant).
“The soul in the O[ld] T[estament] means not a part of man, but the whole man—man as a living being.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967).
“The Bible does not state a doctrine of the immortality of the soul.”—The Concise Jewish Encyclopedia (1980).
“The N[ew] T[estament] does not actually refer to ‘the resurrection of the body’ or ‘the resurrection of the flesh’ but only to ‘the resurrection of the dead’ or ‘resurrection from the dead.’ The subjects of resurrection are whole persons.”—New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (1978).
Far from teaching the “resurrection of the body,” the Bible states, and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, that when a soul is dead it is really dead, that the divine punishment for willful sin is death, not eternal torment, and that God holds out to repentant humans the hope of a real resurrection or “rising from the dead.” (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23; John 5:28, 29; Acts 17:30, 31) This means the resurrection of the soul or whole person. As God gives grain “the sort of body that he has chosen,” so he will do when resurrecting persons. (1 Corinthians 15:35-40, The Jerusalem Bible) The basis of this hope and, indeed, of Christianity itself, is Christ’s death and resurrection.
Such a hope gives life real purpose. It shows that there is a grand future for those who serve God now. The prospect of being reunited with loved ones lost in death is not an idle dream. And it is the firm conviction that Jehovah God will, indeed, resurrect the dead that has strengthened Jehovah’s Witnesses to maintain their integrity to God even when threatened with death by rulers who have tried to force them to violate God’s law.
The apostle Paul wrote: “If the dead are not to be raised up, ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.’” (1 Corinthians 15:32) Of course, he had faith in the resurrection. (Acts 24:15) Lacking the true resurrection hope, many people today adopt the aimless philosophy of life to which Paul alluded. Whether this is true of you or not, we invite you to examine proof of the true Biblical resurrection hope. Jehovah’s Witnesses will be glad to share it with you. Such knowledge can transform your whole outlook on life.