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Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge | Professor Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School | Ph.D. from the University of Manchester | Studied under F. F. Bruce
Jesus as God, Raised Immortal, From Grave to Glory, Commentary on 2 Corinthians
(2 Corinthians 5:1-10)
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (Expositor's Bible Commentary From pp.346-350)
No passage in 2 Corinthians has prompted more discussion than this. As a consequence, the diversity of scholarly interpretation is rather bewildering. What Paul says here is directly related to the latter part of chapter 4. There he pointed out that even in the midst of affliction, perplexity and persecution, there was, through divine consolation, the hope of glory (4:8, 9, 13, 14, 17). Even in the presence of the ravages of mortality and death, there was, through divine intervention, the operation of life (4:10-12, 16; cf. 6:9). This twofold theme -- life in the midst of death, glory after and through suffering -- is continued in 5:1-10. Paul now specifies the sources of divine comfort afforded the believer who faces the possibility of imminent death. Basically, they are three: 1) certainty of the future possession of a spiritual body (v.1), 2) the present possession of the Spirit as the pledge of ultimate transformation (vv.4b, 5), and 3) knowledge that death begins a walk "in the realm of sight" (v.7) and involves departure to Christ's immediate presence where personal fellowship with him is enjoyed (v.8).
1 Apparently for the first time in his apostolic career Paul reckons seriously with the possibility -- now a probability -- of his death before the return of Christ. Previously, to judge by 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51, he had expected to be among those Christians living when Christ returned. But now, as a result of his recent devastating encounter with death in Asia (1:8-11), he realized that he was likely to die before the Parousia, though he always entertained the hope of survival until the Advent (note Phil.3:20,21).
As a Cilician "leatherworker" whose duties would include tentmaking, Paul naturally likened his present body to an earthly tent (cf. vv.2, 4) that might at any moment be dismantled or destroyed. This would simply mark the termination of the process of weakness and decay already at work in his body (4:16). But this possibility did not daunt him, for he was the assured recipient of a permanent heavenly house -- the spiritual body provided by God (see notes).
2-4 These verses belong together, since v.4 expands v.2, while v.3 is parenthetical (cf. the similar structure of vv.6-8). One reason for Paul's assurance of his future acquisition of a resurrection body was the raising up of the temple of Christ's body (Mark 14:58;John 2:19-22) alluded to by the phrase "not built by human hands" in v.1. An additional reason was the experience of Spirit-inspired groaning (vv.2, 4; cf. Rom.8:23). Paul's sighing did not stem from a desire to become permanently disembodied but from an intense longing to take up residence in his "heavenly dwelling" ("we sigh, because we long...," v.2 Wey.).
The passage does not define the precise nature of the "sighing" or "groaning," but the immediate context and Paul's thought elsewhere (Rom.8:19-23; Phil.3:20, 21) suggest it was his sense of frustration with the limitations and disabilities of mortal existence, knowing as he did that he was destined to possess a spiritual body perfectly adapted to the ecology of heaven. Paul sought liberation only from the imperfection of present embodiment, from "bondage to decay," not from any and every form of corporeality. After all, it is to Paul that Christian theology owes the doctrine of the "spiritual body" (1 Cor.15:35-49).]
But not all at Corinth shared Paul's view of the Christian's destiny. There were some who taught that resurrection lay in the past, accomplished spiritually and corporately for all believers at the resurrection of Christ or else personally experienced at the moment of baptism (cf. 2 Tim.2:17, 18). Having in mind these "proto-Gnostics" who denied any future, bodily resurrection but envisaged a disembodied immortality, Paul asserts, "We do not wish to be unclothed but to be overclothed with our heavenly dwelling."
This background also affords a satisfying interpretation of v.3. Perhaps Paul's opponents (1 Cor.15:12) had fastened on the apostle's innocent statement in 1 Cor.15:53, 54 about "putting on immortality" (see RSV and most EV) as the epitome of their own view. If so, Paul could be now repudiating this aberrant conception of the future: ". .. since when we are clothed, we will not be found naked" (as some of you would like to believe). Of the many other interpretations of vv.2-4a, one may be sketched. Not a few commentators believe that Paul is expressing his own eager desire to avoid the unpleasantness or pain of a disembodied intermediate state by being preserved alive till the coming of Christ. He shrinks from the denudation of death ("we do not wish to be unclothed") and longs to put on his heavenly dwelling over his preserved earthly tent (see notes), though he is uncertain whether this will happen ("if, in fact, we shall be found clothed and not naked").
Verse 4b states the purpose and actual result of the receipt of the heavenly dwelling -- the swallowing up of the mortal body by the revivifying action of the indwelling Spirit of life (Rom.8:2, 11; 2 Cor.3:6, 18). This transformation forms the climax of the incessant process of inward renewal (4:16b). In other words, 5:4b is related to 4:16b as 5:1a is related to 4:16a. For Paul, resurrection consummates rather than inaugurates the process of spiritual re-creation. From one point of view, the spiritual body was a future gift that came by outward investiture; from another, it was a present creation that finally came by inward transformation.
5 "This very purpose," for which God had "made" (better, "prepared") the believer is defined by v.4b as the transformation of the mortal body. Verse 5b indicates how the preparation took place. God has prepared the Christian believer for the resurrection-transformation by giving him the Spirit as the pledge of it (or "as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come").
Undoubtedly the crucial word in the verse is arrhabon, which had two basic meanings in commercial usage. It was 1) a pledge or guarantee, differing in kind from the final payment but rendering it obligatory or 2) a partial payment (first installment, downpayment, deposit) that required further payments but gave the payee a legal claim to the goods in question (see BAG, p. 109, for this second use). Clearly not all these elements apply to Paul's use of the word, for redemption is no process of reciprocal bargaining ratified by some contractually binding agreement but is the result of the grace of God, who bestows on believers his Spirit as an unsolicited gift. Certainly Paul did not regard the Spirit as a pledge to be returned (cf. Gen.38:17-20) or as an inferior part of the Christian's inheritance. Significantly, in Modern Greek arrhabona means "engagement ring."
But how can the Spirit be God's pledge of the Christian's inheritance (Eph.1:13, 14;cf. 4:30)? No doubt through his empowering the Christian's daily recreation (3:18, 4:16; Eph.3:16) and his future effecting of the Christian's resurrection transformation (Rom.8:11). His present work prefigures and guarantees his future completion of that work (cf. Phil.1:6).
6-8 With the assured hope of his acquisition of a glorified body (v.1) and having a pledge of his transformation in the presence and activity of the Spirit within him (v.5), Paul was always confident, even in the face of death. "But," he continues, "because we realize that we are absent from the Lord's presence as long as this body forms our residence, it is our preference to leave our home in this body and take up residence in the presence of the Lord" (a paraphrase of vv.6, 8).
Just as the repeated verb "we groan" shows vv.2 and 4 to be related, so "we are confident" relates vv.6 and 8, vv.3 and 7 being parenthetical in each case. But v.8 does not simply repeat v.6; it stands in antithetical parallelism to it. The corollary of "residence in the body = absence from the Lord" (v.6) is "absence from the body residence with the Lord" (v.8). That is, what is implied in v.6 is stated positively in v.8: as soon as departure from mortal corporeality occurs (v.8a), residence in the Lord's presence begins (v.8b). This then means that the same moment of death that marks the destruction of the transitory earthly tent-dwelling (v.l) also marks the taking up of permanent residence "with the Lord" (v.8).
What did Paul understand to be involved in being "at home with the Lord"? To be sure, the Greek preposition pros (here meaning "with") in itself simply denotes location. Yet when it describes the interrelation of two persons, it necessarily implies a fellowship both active and reciprocal (cf. pros in Mark 6:3: "Are not his sisters here with us?"). In any case, since the phrase "at home with the Lord" depicts the Christian's eternal destiny (cf. 1 Thess.4:17; Phil.1:23), what is thus signified must supersede earthly experience where the believer "knows" the Lord (Phil.3:10). So being "at home with the Lord" is a higher form of the intimate fellowship with Christ that the believer experiences on earth.
In v.7 Paul corrects a possible misinterpretation of v.6. If the clause "we are away from the Lord" (v.6) is interpreted in an absolute sense, present fellowship with Christ would appear illusory and mortal embodiment would seem a hindrance to spirituality. Since both deductions would be totally false, Paul qualifies his statement by observing that "we do in fact still walk in the realm of faith, not of sight." To the believer the Lord is present, not to sight but to faith. Any "spatial" separation is temporary, not final.
9,10 Verse 9 follows vv.l-8 in much the same way as an ethical imperative frequently follows a doctrinal indicative in Paul's Epistles ("You are; therefore be!"). After stating profound doctrinal facts (vv.l-8) Paul shows their implications for behavior (v.9). His constant ambition to please Christ (v.9) was the direct outcome (dio kai, "that is why"; "so" in NIV) of his awareness that death would terminate his relative exile from Christ and inaugurate his "walking in the realm of sight in the presence of the Lord" (vv.6-8). To entertain the hope of person-to-person communion with Christ after death (v.8) naturally prompts the aspiration of gaining acceptance in his eyes before and after death (cf. Gal.1:10; Phil.1:20; Col.1:10; 1 Thess.4:1).
We should not try to draw any implication from v.9 regarding the possibility of performing actions during the "intermediate state" that may be pleasing to Christ. The recompense spoken of in v.10 rests exclusively on the basis of "the things done while in the body." Accordingly, "away from it" (the body) in v.9 probably alludes to the judgment.
In v.10 we find a second and secondary reason for Paul's eager striving to win Christ's approval. Not only was there his destiny with Christ (v.8), but there was also his accountability to Christ (v.10) requiring his compulsory attendance before the tribunal of Christ. From I Corinthians 4:5 we see that this involves not merely an "appearance" in the court of heaven (cf. Rom.14:10) but the divine illumination of what has been hidden by darkness and the divine exposure of secret aims and motives. The person thus scrutinized will then receive an equitable and full recompense ("what is due him").
Of whom is this attendance required? It is true that all men are accountable to God their maker and judge (Rom.2:1-11). In this context, however, Paul is thinking primarily, if not exclusively, of the Christian's obligation to "give an account of himself" (Rom.14:12). Appearance before Christ's tribunal is the privilege of Christians. It is concerned with the assessment of works and, indirectly, of character, not with the determination of destiny; with reward, not status. Judgment on the basis of works is not opposed to justification on the basis of faith. Delivered from "the works of the law" (Rom.3:28), the Christian is presently committed to "the work of faith," "action stemming from faith" (1 Thess.1:3), that will be assessed and rewarded at the
bema ("tribunal"). Yet not all verdicts will be comforting. The believer may "suffer loss" (1 Cor.3:15) by forfeiting Christ's praise or losing a reward that might have been his.
1-10 On this passage, consult the articles (listed in full in the bibliography, Introduction, 10) by R. Berry, E.E. Ellis, C.F.D. Moule, and the present writer.
1 Not all agree that the oikodomh (oikodome, "building") refers to the believer's resurrection body. Other proposed identifications are: heaven or a house in heaven (C. Hodge), the heavenly temple (H. Odeberg, G. Wagner), a celestial dwelling place (cf. John 14:2) (R.V.G. Tasker), a vestment of celestial glory (F. Prat). the heavenly mode of existence (F.W. Grosheide), the church as the body of Christ or as the new temple (J.A.T. Robinson, E.E. Ellis). Against these proposals, it may be observed that 1) the parallel in v.1b to the "earthly tent" of v.1a (clearly the physical body; cf. 4:10, 11, 16) is likely to be another type of personal embodiment and 2) the fourfold description of the oikodome in v.1 (from God, permanent, heavenly, spiritual) matches Paul's description of the "spiritual body" in 1 Cor.15:38-54.
The present tense ecomen (echomen, "we have") of the apodosis could refer to a present possession (though this would convert the condition ["if..."] into a concession ["even if...]), but more probably it points to a future acquisition that is assured -- viz., receipt of a spiritual body at the Parousia or at the moment of death.
2-4 Some commentators (e.g., H.A.W. Meyer, P.E. Hughes) emphasize the doubly compounded verb ep-en-dnsasqai (ep-en-dysasthai) and translate it "to put [our heavenly dwelling] on over [the earthly tent we live in]," seeing here an allusion to Paul's desire to be alive at the Advent.
3 The UBS text (third ed.) expresses a slight preference ("D" rating) for ekdusamenoi (ekdysamenoi, "being naked" over endusamenoi (endysamenoi, "being clothed") on the basis of internal evidence: "inasmuch as we, though unclothed, shall not be found naked." But B.M. Metzger rightly demurs (A textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [New York: United Bible Societies, 1971], pp. 579, 580). External evidence supports endysamenoi, while ekdysamenoi (D F it) is an easier reading, an evident amendment to avoid the prima facie tautology of "clothed, not naked."
6-8 These verses are anacoluthic. Paul may have intended to write, "Therefore we are always confident, and because we know [eidotez, eidotes] that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, we prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." But the need to qualify his statement of v.6b prompted him to insert an explanatory parenthesis (v. 7) that interrupted his flow of thought and caused him to recommence (with a resumptive se, de, "I say") in v.8 with his principal idea, "we are confident."
9 The NIV correctly supplies "in the body," where the Gr. has simply "whether at home or away." Others (e.g E.B. Allo, J. Hering) supply "with the Lord" or its equivalent, producing the sense "whether at home with the Lord or absent from his presence."
There is no unanimity among the defenders of this phrase as to the meaning of flesh as used here. Some would follow J.A. Schep and take flesh to mean the material components, the substance, of the body, the fleshly body as distinct from the soul. Some of the difficulties attaching to this view may be mentioned. Schep himself draws attention to the fact that: "[F]rom a formal point of view the traditional expression of the Creed may be called a misnomer....Though the expression ‘the resurrection of the flesh’ is not found in Scripture and does not adequately formulate the biblical truth, it should be retained in view of the spiritualizing tendencies abounding in our modern world." (From Grave to Glory, pp.417-418)
In the church at large, and within evangelical circles, two views have been held, and are held, with regard to the relation of the physical body to the spiritual body. One view argues for continuity of both person and "substance," and is epitomized in the phrase "the resurrection of the flesh." The other position contends for a continuity of person but discontinuity of "substance." Since no ecumenical council of the church ever defined the nature of the resurrection body of believers, a formulation of Christian belief in the resurrection that accommodates both these views is to be preferred. "The resurrection of the dead" does precisely that. (p.421)
"A form of corporeality in which the spirit is supreme," that is, a spiritual body. It is this supremacy of the spirit in the resurrection body that allows Paul to depict Jesus’ resurrection state as "spirit" (I Cor. 15:45; II Cor. 3:18; and perhaps I Cor. 6:17; I Tim.3:16) while never relinquishing his belief that that state was also "bodily" (Col.2:9). Both before and after his resurrection Jesus was "body-spirit," but only after his resurrection did he possess a "spiritual body."
Nor have I ever expressed the view that the resurrection body of Christ was simply immaterial. It was "customarily immaterial" in the sense that in his customary mode of existence during the forty days, he did not have a material body of "flesh and bones." But when, on occasion, he chose to appear to various persons in a material form, this was just as really the "spiritual body" of Jesus as when he was not visible or tangible. The resurrection of Jesus was not his transformation into an immaterial body (as Prof. Geisler imagines I believe) but into a "spiritual body" which could be expressed in an immaterial or a material mode, a nonphysical or a physical form. In each instance it was his body and was "spiritual"...the risen Jesus is a permanently embodied Spirit who, during the forty days, when his appearances on earth were ended, Jesus assumed the sole mode of being visible to the inhabitants of heaven but having a nonfleshly body....From the Gospels, then, we can deduce that one property of the resurrection body is the ability to become visible and tangible to earthlings under terrestrial conditions. (pp.404-405)
God said that from dust we came and to dust we would return. God also said that He would not allow His Holy One to see decay (Acts 13:37). Christ was raised from the dead in His flesh; He was the only one promised to never see decay.
"In him [Christ] there dwells the whole fullness of deity in bodily form" (Col. 2:9)....In the Incarnation the Son of God became what he was not (viz. "flesh"), without ceasing to be what he was (a divine Being). In the Resurrection he assumed what he did not have (viz. a "spiritual body"), without losing what he already had (a truly human nature and form). The glorified Jesus is still "in the flesh." (pp.414-415)
"Whether we view the resurrection of Christ as the cause, the pledge, or the pattern of believers’ resurrection, there need not be a precise identity between the two. Basic similarities do not exclude significant differences. Several of these differences stem from the distinctiveness of Christ’s person and work....only Christ needed to reappear on earth to convince his disciples that he had indeed risen from his tomb and was the all-sovereign Lord....while Christ was raised "on the third day" (I Cor.15:4), his people experience their resurrection on the Last Day. This leads to a difference of great importance. In the case of Christ, resurrection some thirty-six or so hours after his death preserved him from decaying in the grave (Acts 2:27-31; 13:34-37), whereas the bodies of believers who die before the second advent of Christ are not spared dissolution. When Christ rose on the third day, the flesh and bones of his body were still intact; when believers rise on the Last Day, their bodies in most cases will long since have disintegrated...
"Given the fact of the empty grave of Christ, we may insist on an "identity" between the body that was crucified and buried and the body that was raised, provided we bear in mind two points. First, all human bodies are in a continuous state of flux, so much so that the molecular composition of our bodies is completely changed during a seven-year cycle. After death change continues, but now it is the process of cellular breakdown. When Jesus rose from the dead, the process of decomposition which began when he died was halted and completely reversed. God did not permit his Holy One to experience final dissolution (Acts 13:37). So the bodily "sameness" in the case of Christ was not complete, but relative. Second, dramatic changes had taken place in his body as a result of his rising, so that it could now be described as "glorious" (Phil.3:21) and immortal (Heb.7:16; Rev.1:18).
"But does the concept of "resurrection," of "rising up," compel us to believe that in the case of believers who die, the scattered fragments of their decomposed or cremated bodies will be miraculously reassembled to assume once more the form they had at the time of their death, prior to being transformed into the likeness of Christ? Let it be said immediately that such a miracle, though stupendous, would be less dramatic than the initial creation of matter, for that was "out of nothing." (pp.409-411)
Continuity of individuality is assured by the persistence of the personality, which God will reclothe with a body. Jesus’ statement, "all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment" (Jn 5:28-29), assumes the preservation of individuality, since those that have been buried will be restored to life. The restoration, however, is not a reconstitution of the original body that was interred, but a new structure patterned on the resurrection body of Christ. "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (I Cor.15:49).
Tenney, who was for many years Dean of Wheaton College Graduate School, is certainly not alone in maintaining this view of the resurrection of believers. It is no exaggeration to say that the majority of theologians, whatever their view of Scripture and revelation, hold a similar view. True, others may use different terminology in describing the relationship of the "spiritual body" to the physical body. Some speak of "continuity of corporeal life" (G.B. Stevens), "somatic identity" (G.E. Ladd), "identity of form if not of substance, as the grain of stalk is the same in kind, though not numerically the same, or composed of the same particles, as the seed out of which it springs" (A.B. Bruce), identity of occupant but not of dwelling (C.R. Bowen), or historical continuity, with the same "I" inhabiting first an earthly, then a heavenly body (W. G. Kummel). Common to all these proposals is the insistence that for Christians the continuity between the earthly and heavenly bodies is personal, not material.
To conclude: our final difference between the resurrection of believers and of Jesus is this. In his case there was, to use another Tenney phrase, "continuity...of substance" as well as identity of person. In their case there will be "continuity of human personality" but "discontinuity of substance." (pp.412-413)
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Date: 29 Mar 2009
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