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Understanding of Life after Death Essay

With reference to the topics you have investigated, examine and comment on the claim that the teachings of the new testament do not add anything of value to our value of our understanding of Life after Death. (50 marks)

The claim that the teachings of the New Testament do not add anything of value to our value of our understanding of life after death is a very big claim to make. With reference to the topics I have investigated, 1Cor 15, St. Paul, Soma, The Soul, Dualism, Monism and the Empty Tomb, I will examine and comment on that claim. This claim is controversial because it has many objections from other scholars and many Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 15 there are six key sections. The first of which is Christ’s Resurrection. Here Paul is keen to tell the Corinthians that he isn’t the teacher on life after death and that he is simply passing on Jesus’ message, because as we know, Jesus was the teacher and his apostles, which later included Paul after Damascus, were his messengers.

The second section is the denial of the resurrection. Paul says that some people argue that “there will be no resurrection of the dead” and some scholars argue that this is not a theological argument, but Paul argues that the soul is immortal and not the body. Paul illustrates the theological implications of the objections from Corinth are that if dead men don’t rise, then Christ did not rise and Christian faith is empty. Paul continues to say that if Christ was not raised, then our preaching is useless. Clearly Jesus’ resurrection must have happened as the tradition has survived.

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The third section is all about the consequences of Christ’s resurrection. Barrett writes that “the resurrection of Christ is a pledge and proof of the resurrection of his people”. St Paul makes a direct link between Adam and Christ, Adam’s actions had far reaching consequences such as original sin and Christ’s Resurrection has too such consequence such as universal salvation. Paul goes on about two different orders, Christ and his believers. Morris argues that the Greek word for destroyed does not imply fighting, just that all rule, other than Christ, we will be rendered null and void.

Section four is all about the Arguments from Christian Experience. V29 brings about an abrupt change in focus, and St Paul moves from Christ to Christian. Section five goes on about a bodily resurrection. St Pauls uses the miracle of the harvest and says that are bodies are “sown up” in corruption, dishonour and weakness, but it will be raised in incorruption, glory and power. Paul’s teaching of a glorified body is a marked difference from Jewish thought, as they expected an identical body.

Section six and the last section is about the victory over death. This is where Paul made clear that those who rise will be different and not flesh and blood. Paul stresses the continuity present and future state with fourfold use of the word “this”. He emphasises that ‘this’ perishable and ‘this’ mortal will be clothed with imperishablity and immortality. In my opinion, 1Cor 15 doesn’t help the claim that the teachings of the New Testament do not add anything to our understanding of Life after Death because it tells us about how we can overturn death and destroy it.

John Drane argues that Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, together with Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection, led him to believe that he was truly living in the presence of God. From a close study of the New Testament, it can be argued that St Paul changed his belief about resurrection as time progressed. St Paul spoke about Parousia to the Christians.

The Parousia is the final victory over evil, when Jesus rises again. Initially, St Paul held a strong apocalyptic view which was that all Christians will live until the Parousia, yet this was challenged by the Thessalonian Christians, as many of them began to die. St Paul then said that those who have died will be raised to new life at the Parousia. He then added that those who were still living at the end of time of the Parousia would be transformed at the same instant. St Paul then declared that this transformation would not be sudden, but a gradual change, beginning with conversion and ending with death, which would lead directly into a new existence in a spiritual body without the need for the Parousia to arrive first.

Drane argues that the change in St Paul’s thinking represents a change from unrefined Jewish view to a more sophisticated position that owed a lot to the influence of Greek philosophy. The Greek Tradition is that the Hellenistic thinking originated from Plato who said that the soul is immaterial and does not occupy space. It therefore does not disintegrate. It is immortal. Whereas the Jewish view is that they believed that, in some way, the soul begins to perish at death, and the psycho-physical unity that was the person is re-created elsewhere.

The question has been asked as to whether Paul ever believed in spiritual resurrection? Whether Paul did believe in a spiritual resurrection, then that would prove to help our understanding on Life after Death. Most scholars disagree with the notion that St Paul believed in a purely spiritual resurrection, as this is a very primitive Christian belief that has since been replaced with belief in a physical resurrection. However Carrier and Friedman maintain that there are a number of arguments to support this view. First, that St Paul experienced a vision on the road to Damascus, during which he was converted. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the appearances were understood by Paul to also be visions, and not literally physical occurrences, as portrayed in the Gospel of Luke and John.

For Paul used the same Greek word to describe the ‘appearance’ in both instances. Secondly, that in 1Cor 15, Paul writes of ‘perishable’ and ‘imperishable’ bodies; he also makes a distinction between things of earth and things of heaven. Because he doesn’t disclaim the popular belief that things of heaven are ethereal, it can be argued that the people at Corinth already accepted it. Therefore, it is ‘prima facie’ that it is reasonable to suggest that St Paul was implying that the ‘imperishable body’ was ethereal, and not physical. Furthermore, St Paul literally makes this distinction calling the perishable body ‘psychikos’ which means a natural body and the imperishable body ‘pneumatikos’ which is a spiritual body, and says that they both co-exist in one body.

He says that the body we know, the body of flesh, is own only this other, second body, the body of the spirit, rises to new life. Finally, St Paul says, that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” because they are part of the perishable body, whereas it is an imperishable body that rises to new life. Yet these arguments have been outright rejected by the majority of scholars, who favour the idea that St Paul did actually believe in a bodily resurrection. So why does it seem so convincing that St Paul believed in a bodily resurrection? Scholarly debate has identified that firstly, Paul’s self-identified Jewish heritage precludes such a conclusion. Secondly, that the language Paul uses to describe the resurrection, most notably “soma”, emphasises the physical nature of the resurrected person. And thirdly and finally, Paul’s belief that Christians immediately went to be with Jesus upon their death, but still awaited a “resurrection” demonstrates that the resurrection being discussed was a physical one.

I believe that there is no doubt that there is a strong Jewish background to Christianity. Carrier and Friedman ignore this background, arguing that because Christianity changed some Jewish beliefs, there is no part of Judaism that is informative to Christianity. The little regard that Carrier and Friedman exhibit for Paul’s Jewish background is in direct contravention of the importance Paul clearly places on it. Carrier again attempts to confuse the issue by arguing that, even if Paul was a Jew, only the Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection. The Sadducees and Essenes did not. Moreover, Young argues that Pharisees stressed a literal resurrection of the physical body, which would be reunited with the spirit of an individual. By aligning himself with a Pharisaic background, Paul provides us with an important insight into the meaning he attaches the term ‘resurrection’; he believed in a physical resurrection of the body.

“Soma” emphasises the physical. In his writing, St Paul uses the Greek word ‘soma’ to refer to the body. Importantly, he does not use it solely for referring to resurrection; strengthening the argument that when it is used to refer to resurrection, it will die; but it will also be resurrected. “Soma” is also mentioned in the NT but not referring to resurrection. In 1Cor 15:3, Paul says that his ‘soma’ is not present with the Corinthians, but his ‘spirit’ is; emphasising the physical nature of the ‘soma’. Barrett argues that Paul’s use of the word ‘spirit’ here colloquial rather than theological. In Rom 4:19, ‘soma’ is used to describe how the bodies of Abraham and Sarah were too old to be fertile; its physical nature, again, stressed. Accordingly, the very fact that Paul uses the term ‘soma’ to explain the resurrection demonstrates that he is referring to a physical event that involves the body of the believer.

Additionally, Paul uses the analogy of the seed, stressing the continuity of the earthly body with the resurrected ‘glorious’ body. In 1Cor 15:50-54 Sanders comments that immortality is ‘put on’ and replaces mortality. Paul was not thinking of an interior soul which escapes its mortal shell and floats free, nor the new life being breathed into the same body, but again of transformation, achieved by covering mortality with immortality, which it ‘ swallows’; emphasising the physical. Wright and Barrett argue similar points. My own personal opinion is that Paul believed more in a spiritual resurrection but he didn’t rule out a physical resurrection. In light of the statement I think that this is an influential part of our understanding of Life after death because it helps us understand which resurrection was more likely.

The term ‘soul’ refers to ourselves, who earn rewards and consequences by coming to know, or failing to come to know, God by faith. We will come to earn blissful life in heaven, or eternal loss of heaven. Jesus’ parables clearly teach us that it is the same self judgement which faces judgement after death as the self who lived on earth in the body. There are three different theories about the soul. The first theory being the Theory of Origen. The soul existed in the heavenly realms before descending into this world, and that its present imprisonment in a material body is the result of a primeval fall from grace. This was never widely accepted, and rejected by the Church at the Council of Constantinople in 540 AD.

The second argument is that of Traducianism. The theory that the soul-substance which God breathed into Adam has been passed down through generation after generation of his descendants by continual division. To some extent, this draws parallel with modern genetic science: everything comes from a gene pool. This was gradually abandoned by the Church. The third and final argument is that of Creationism. Each new soul is a new divine creation which God attaches to the growing foetus at some point between conception and birth.

This was enshrined by the First Vatican Council, who declared that “God creates a new soul and infuses it to ach man”. However, Creationist thought is incompatible with the findings of modern science as it suggests that there are characteristics of the self that are derived neither from genetic inheritance nor from interaction with the environment; Dawkins would ridicule this theory, saying it was none-sense. Personally i believe that the soul is resurrected and moves on in life and that our bodies will rise up at the Parousia. Therefore it is an important aspect to our understanding of life after death.

Monism is the theological view that all is one and this will help us understand Life after Death; human beings are made up of one substance and that what it is to be human can be defined in material terms because the soul cannot be separated from the body. Monism comes in a number of different forms: some argue that the soul and body are one, whilst others reject the concept of soul altogether and that the body is one substance on its own.

People were beginning to speak of the soul as “the ghost within the machine [the body]”. Ryle argued that this was “a category mistake” as the language was being used incorrectly. By describing the soul in this way, the soul is being proposed as something ‘extra’ inside the body, which can physically identified within a person. Ryle argues that to talk of the soul is to talk about the way a person acts and integrates with others in society: it, therefore, is not separate and distinct.

Dawkins perspective of Monism is that the view that we can only know what we are able to empirically verify. The soul does not exist separately from the body as it cannot be verified. This is known as Materialism. Linked to Dawkins is that he believed that humans are bytes of digital information; there is no soul as we are simply the sum of our genes. The soul cannot survive death, there is only the survival of DNA. Dawkins can be described as a ‘Harsh Materialist’ because he does not believe in life after death.

He believes it is nonsense to talk of a life after death as one body is dead, it ceases to function. Dawkins claims that human consciousness has now fully evolved because we are now at a stage where we are able to predict the result of our actions, enabling us to choose how to behave. Therefore, humans continue to evolve because of the need to develop our memes (the way in which we mimic behaviour from other humans), not because of the genetic need to display our consciousness as a human race. I fell that this is important to our understanding of Life after Death because it allows us to see and understand the different attitudes to life after death.

Soft Materialists still support monism but, unlike Harsh Materialists, they do believe in a life after death. The main supporter of soft materialism is John Hick, who proposes a replica theory. The strengths to this theory are, one, if you accept God’s omnipotent existence, then Replica Theory is perfectly plausible. Second, Replica Theory does not posit a soul, and so does not have to justify its existence. Thirdly, the Replica Theory answers the ‘conflicting claims’ argument because, according to Hick, everyone goes to heaven, regardless of their religion/beliefs. Fourth, the theory does not depend upon dualism and so is ‘acceptable’ to more people. Finally, in terms of logic, Replica Theory is possible.

The criticisms of the Replica Theory are, one, Vardy challenges Hick by questioning whether the replicated being would be the same person. Is a ‘replica’ the ‘same’ as the original? Secondly, Vardy further argues that there is a break in continuity; for a person to stop existing in one place and be replicated in another there has to be a break in continuity of existence. So much so that the replicated person cannot be the same person. Thirdly, Williams simply argues that an endless life of replications would be increasingly boring and result in a meaningless life (an argument against Christian beliefs). Finally, logical possibility does not equate to factual possibility.

Dualism however, is the idea that the mind and body are two separate substances. It is possible to survive death, as the soul disembodies. Human beings consist of both physical minds and that the mind is the essence of a person. This belief supports the immortality of the soul.

Plato was a dualist who believed that the soul and body are two separate substances that interact with each other. Plato argued that the real identity of the person lies with the soul. He argued that the body and the mind are often in opposition; he saw the body as a nuisance and a bind. It is not the real person. Plato wrote “We may say ‘I have a body’ but not ‘I am a body’”.

Plato believed that the real person is separate and distinct from the body it inhabits. The soul existed prior to being in the present body and, on death, will leave the body. The soul is on a higher level of reality than the body, being immortal with understanding of the realm of ideas. The body is concerned with the senses, the soul with reason. The soul is not always perfect because the body corrupts it and drags it down. Humans have the task of taking care of the soul, but this is easily corrupted. This helps our understanding of life after death because it gives us two sides of the argument for a spiritual or bodily resurrection and why they are both accepted.

There is a wealth of scholarly debate on the historicity and significance of the empty tomb. The empty tomb will tell us if Jesus’ resurrection was bodily or spiritual, because he rose in body but then the robes were left perfect, as if to say that he floated up out of them, making it a spiritual resurrection.

Arguments against the empty tomb detail are the fact that, St Paul gives the ‘official Christian list’ of resurrection appearances, without making a single reference to the empty tomb. Also, sceptics claim that the body of Jesus was simply stolen (i.e. not resurrected) or hidden by the disciples, making any post-resurrection appearances documented in NT nothing more than spiritual visions. The Swoon Hypothesis proposes that Jesus never actually died on the cross, but entered into a coma, from which he awoke whilst in the tomb, and so therefore never resurrected. Some go as far as saying that Joseph of Arimathea offering a tomb for the body of Jesus is an invention of early Christians who were desperate to make a bodily resurrection seem possible. Dawkins would concur this. If these arguments were to be accepted, then it would suggest that there was no spiritual resurrection, it was purely bodily, if there even was a resurrection.

Arguments for the historicity of the empty tomb, i can be said, of the ‘stolen body theory’ Hick says that it would have been impossible for the disciples to do at Pentecost, less than 2 months after Jesus’ crucifixion; to have publicly proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem (within a mile or so of the tomb), if his body was still there and able to be produced. Brown argues that there was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the Jewish leaders. In Christian eyes, they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. Therefore, because Joseph of Arimathea was a part of the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, it is highly unlikely that he was a Christian invention (there is no reason why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrinist who does what is right by Jesus!).

The empty tomb is reported by many independent early sources (incl. Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn, and Paul). Jewish historian Josephus reports that Jewish women were not even allowed to serve as witnesses in court; making it even more remarkable that it was women who discovered the empty tomb (surely this detail would have been omitted or changed if it were not true?!). My own personal opinion is that there was a resurrection, but going on the arguments given to us, I think that it was a bodily resurrection and that I would fall under the bracket of a monist.

I believe that the New Testament teachings help us in our understanding of Life after Death because it teaches us about the body and soul, but I believe that it was a bodily resurrection because i believe the that the body and soul must have been working together as one to raise Jesus from the dead, because if it was one or the other then Jesus would have come back as a different person. Others would disagree with me because they feel that the bible is made up and that the historicity aspect is just coincidence and that it was a recent write-up of events of landmarks still existing today.

This view fails because Johanine eschatology proves otherwise. The pool with five porticos still exists today, and that wouldn’t have been included in John’s gospel if it didn’t exist in John’s time. The eschatological aspect of it is that Jesus’ second coming will be at the Parousia when, we rise, bodily and spiritually to overcome death and evil.

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