William Bell: A Response to Gentry on the Resurrection (2003)

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Jesus, to have been raised physically from the dead required that the same body be raised. Otherwise it would not be a true resurrection of His body. Thus, the gospels and epistles demonstrate the fact of Jesus’ post resurrection experience.

A Response to Gentry on the Resurrection

By William H. Bell, Jr.

Kenneth Gentry writes what he believes is the incontrovertible proof of the future resurrection of the physical body and consequently the refutation of what he calls “hyper-Preterism. See Gentry’s “Christ’s Resurrection and Ours.” Gentry, begins with a discussion of the firstfruits, (Gk.Aparche, Strong’s # 536). Immediately he is in trouble on the physical resurrection. He acknowledges the temporal significance of “first” then immediately contradicts himself by arguing that Christ’s resurrection is the first of its kind.

Gentry argued that the very body in which Jesus died was raised. To this we agree. However, it lands Gentry into hot water. Gentry acknowledged that Christ’s physical resurrection testified to his divine mission as declaring him to be God’s Son, (Jn 2:18-19, 21; Matt. 12:39-40; Rom. 1:4). He further remarks that Jesus was resurrected in a material body that could be touched, handled, clung to (Jn. 20:17; Mt. 28:9), eat food (Lk. 24:42-43; Jn. 21:11-14). We do not deny the corporeal resurrection of Jesus and accept all such passages.

However, Jesus, to have been raised physically from the dead required that the same body be raised. Otherwise it would not be a true resurrection of His body. Thus, the gospels and epistles demonstrate the fact of Jesus’ post resurrection experience. See also 1 Cor. 15:1-11. Thus, in affirming Jesus’ physical resurrection as the first in order of a similar resurrection by the saints runs counter to the gospel message. Jesus was not the first of the kind of material bodily resurrection from the dead. Several in the O. T. and N.T. experienced resurrection from physical death.

They too could be “touched,” “handled”, “clung to” “sneeze” have warm body temperature (1 Kings, 17:21-24, 2 Kings 4:34-37; 2 Kings 13:21), and eat food, John 12:1,2, 9-11. Thus, Christ’s firstfruits distinctiveness must be in some manner other than physical resurrection. Whatever it is, the firstfruit saints and harvest saints (dead ones) must likewise take part in that same distinctiveness otherwise he would not be the firstfruit, but the “only” fruit.

Secondly, Gentry’s “firstfruits” concept betrays him. Yes, Jesus as the firstfruits promises more to come, i.e., the rest of the harvest, but the questions are how and more importantly when? Gentry says that Christ’s resurrection as the first-fruits represents (1) the first of this order to occur, (2) represents His people’s resurrection and (3) expects more eschatological resurrections to occur.

Gentry’s Resurrection Gap

Gentry’s use of firstfruits has a gap. He fails to recognize that firstfruits in the Old Covenant from where the imagery is drawn, occurs within an imminent, uninterrupted and defined time frame. The harvest, a single continuous process occurred in three stages. See the chart below.

The order was the (1) the first of the first-fruits offered at the Passover (Ex. 23:19; Lev. 23:10) (2) the first-fruits (new grain offering 50 days later at Pentecost) and the general harvest called the time of reaping at the end of the season, i.e. the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles, (Exodus 23:17; Lev. 23:22). See Chart A below:

Chart A

3 Phases of the Old Testament Harvest

First of the firstfruits: Barley sheaf: Lev. 23:10; 12; Exod. 23:19/Feast of Unleavened Bread, Exodus 23:15; Lev. 23:4-6

Firstfruits of “New Grain offering” Lev. 23:16,17/Feast of Harvest of the firstfruits, (Pentecost), Exodus 23:16

Reaping of the Harvest Lev. 23:22/Feast of Ingathering/Tabernacles Exodus 23:17

Resurrection, from “anastasis” is used several ways in the New Testament. It is used of both physical and spiritual resurrection. The basic meaning however is “to cause to stand up.” This does not necessarily imply that it is a physical body which stands up. Several references in the New Testament confirm this. Moses speaking on the levirate marriage said that one should “raise up” (anastasis) seed to his brother. Here the term is used to speak of a natural birth. In Hebrews 12:23, it is used to speak of spiritual birth, though in that verse it is synonymous with resurrection from spiritual death.2 Observe the chart B below.

FirstFruits Correlates with FirstBorn

Chart B

3 Phases of the Resurrection Harvest

Firstfruits (aparche # 536)/Firstborn (Prototokos #4416)

Christ: 1 Cor. 15:20/Christ Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15; 1:18

The Church 1 Cor. 16:15, James 1:18; Rev. 14:4/The Church Heb. 12:23

The Dead ones, 1 Cor. 15:20/The Dead ones, Col. 1:18

There is a direct correlation to and solidarity with Christ, the church and the general resurrection of the dead ones. Christ was offered as the “first of the firstfruits offered at the time of the Passover, i.e. unleavened bread, (John 18:28; 19:14). 50 days later, the firstfruits began to be harvested, i.e. the church on Pentecost. The final harvest of the dead ones would occur at the end of the age, called the time of harvest, or time of the end. (Matthew 13:43; Daniel 12:3, 4)

The Sadducees were grieved because the apostles were preaching through Jesus a resurrection out from among the dead, i.e. the firstfruits of the gospel. (Acts 4:1, 2) Paul also sought to attain to the resurrection “out from among the dead,” Phil. 3:11.

Thus, we contend that the firstfruits denotes an imminent eschatological harvest beginning with Christ which culminates in the end of the Jewish age, called the time of harvest. “Jesus said the harvest would be at the end of “this age” Matt. 13:40, meaning that age in which Jesus lived and died. (Heb. 9:26)

The proper application and assignment of the firstfruits must be to the end of the same age in which the firstfruits were offered. The age of harvest corresponds to the year of harvest. Jesus made clear that the age in which the wheat and tares were sown, was the same age in which they were harvested, Matthew 13:39, 40. The parable implies the firstfruits were taken first, as they signaled the beginning of the end of the age harvest.

In the natural sense, the Jews did not harvest the crop thousands of years after the firstfruits were received. They harvested in the same year, beginning with the first of the firstfruits, (Lev. 23:10; 12; Exod. 23:19) the firstfruits 50 days later (Lev. 23:16,17) and the harvest at the end of the season. (Lev. 23:22). Thus, to make an argument on the firstfruits which extends beyond “this age”, i.e. that age in which Christ, the first of the firstfruits was raised (Heb. 9:26) and the firstfruits (church in the first century, James 1:18; Heb. 12:22) were being raised, is to violate the analogy and meaning of firstfruits. It destroys the imminence inherent in the concept and thereby breaks the continuity.

Don Preston has an excellent presentation on the correlation of Daniel 12 and Matthew 13:37-43 as parallel passages fulfilled in A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed. See the Preston-Thrasher Debate, first affirmative, September 20, 2003.3

Gentry says that more eschatological resurrections would follow at the end. However, he must not overlook the fact that “eschatological resurrections” were then taking place in Christ with the church as participants as the firstfruits. James, writing to the twelve tribes scattered abroad says, “Of his own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:18). Again, that harvest began on Pentecost of Acts 2, following Jesus’ resurrection.

How were the saints in James a kind of firstfruits? Not through physical death and resurrection. Remember, firstfruits followed the “first” of the firstfruits. They were firstfruits in their participation in the resurrection of Christ. The harvest had begun and was completed in the first century.

The day of Pentecost, following Christ’s resurrection yielded fruit to the gospel based upon Jesus’ resurrection. They became firstfruits with Him, however, they were not raised from biological death. They participated as firstfruits with Christ from sin-death. The scriptures as noted earlier, presents Christ’s physical death as a sign. A sign always pointed to a higher purpose and meaning and not to itself. Jesus died, not for our biological death and resurrection, but for our sins, and justification, (Rom. 4:25, 1 Cor. 15:3).

Christ’s Death

Now what does the gospel of John say of Jesus’ resurrection? It was a sign that we might believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God and that believing we might have “life” in His name. What kind of life? That is eternal life, –life from sin-death (John 20:30, 31). Jesus’ physical death attested to the fact that he was raised from sin-death. Not one of the seven signs in the gospel of John pointed to itself as the end or objective. They all were designed to reveal a higher “spiritual” revelation and purpose.

At the grave of Lazarus, Jesus spoke words to the crowd to reveal for their benefit that which otherwise would not be known. “And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:41, 42). Jesus expresses a well established principle of revealing unknown spiritual realities. An outward physical act revealed an undisclosed spiritual reality.

In like manner, when Elijah raised the Zarephath widow’s son, she replied, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.” (1 Kings 17:24). Thus, the action became a sign of a greater spiritual reality. In like manner Jesus’ resurrection attested to spiritual realities that otherwise could not be perceived by man, i.e. his resurrection out of sin death. Jesus was no more raised to demonstrate how a future physical resurrection would occur than Elijah’s raising of the widow’s son demonstrated to her how to raise dead people.

Jesus was aiming for the same purpose, to convince the Jews, that He was God’s only begotten son. He wanted them to have the faith in Him, like the widow had in Elijah, that he was a divinely appointed messenger. Thus, His physical resurrection was a sign that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, in so doing, you have life, –from the dead.

Paul speaks of the death Jesus died. “Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:9-11)

It is in view of this resurrection with Christ, which is clearly not a resurrection from biological death that forms the basis of the motif for the morality of the mortal body urged in verses 12-13. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Gentry’s complaint that this view dispenses with concerns with the physical body are based on faulty assumptions.

Paul argues that one is baptized, that the “body of sin” might be done away with” (annulled, kartargethe, Strong’s 2673).4 Thus, one who died to sin, should no longer continue in, or serve sin. (Rom 6:1, 6) What made possible the “death” or annulling of the body of sin? It was death to the sphere and dominion wherein sin reigned. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (6:14) It is death to the dominion of law, that enabled the death of the “body of sin.” See Romans 8:2, 3. The body is no longer to be a slave of sin, but a slave of righteousness, Rom. 6:19-22, 8:13.

Further definition of Christ’s death is noted in Rom. 6:3, 4. Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Scripture teaches that we are baptized into Christ’s death. The death into which we are baptized into is a death to sin. Therefore Christ’s death which fulfills God’s eschatological purpose was death to sin. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, He lives to God. (v. 10)

Christ’s death to sin is that in which He is first in order as the firstfruits. It satisfies the Old Testament context and framework of the first of the firstfruits, being followed 50 days later at Pentecost with the saints as firstfruits, and an end of the age harvest. The same idea is inherent in the term firstborn. See the chart above.

The Resurrection Body

In our dying with Christ, our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. Thus, in baptism, the body of sin is put to death. However, during the transitional pre-parousia reign of Christ, this was not consummated instantaneously, but continuous through the already but not yet process.

Gentry does not escape the already but not yet of the body’s redemption to glory in that he argues for present redemption of the body for glory and future redemption to glory. The problem is that his redemption to glory extends beyond the time of glory witnessed by the law and prophets, which both Paul and Peter said followed very closely upon the time of suffering of the Messiah.

• Paul: the glory about to be (mellousan, Strong’s 3195) revealed in us, (Rom. 8:18)

• Peter: the glory about to be (mellouses, Strong’s 3195) revealed, 1 Peter 5:4. 5

This bodily resurrection motif is continued through Romans chapter eight. “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (emp. Mine, WHB) Paul affirms resurrection of the body put to death because Christ was in them; however these were not biologically dead people at Rome. The body would be made alive through God’s eschatological Spirit.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11) Thus Paul affirms the resurrection of the body through the Spirit, –the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead would also raise the mortal body (Rom 6:12, 8:11) that died by virtue of the indwelling of Christ. The body is not sown in mortality and raised in mortality but in immortality. Thus, the mortal body was not the body that “shall be. The Spirit was given that “mortality” might be swallowed up by “life,” (2 Cor. 5:4-5).

Observe carefully that this body is dead, if and only if Christ is in you. For one to deny this bodily death is to deny the presence of Christ within the believer and the words of the Holy Spirit. This however is the “bodily” resurrection affirmed by Paul.

Gentry acknowledges that it is the eschatological resurrection. “Christ’s resurrection not only secures our present redemption for glory (Rom. 4:25; 10:9-10) but also our future resurrection to glory (Rom. 8:23)”6 He also acknowledges that this “future” resurrection body of Romans 8 is the same resurrection body of 1 Cor. 15. See his reference to Romans 8:11 in paragraph no. 4 under his “Second Argument.” Gentry, therefore unwittingly affirms what he has in his characteristic manner, tried so desperately and painstakingly to disprove. He takes non-biological bodily death of Romans 8 and parallels it with the body of 1 Corinthians 15, then argues for a future physical resurrection!

The “bodily resurrection” of Romans 8:11 is that which is under control of the “pneumatikos” thus making it in the Spirit versus being in the flesh, i.e. “natural” or a psuchikos body. Gentry and all his cheerleaders should well note that we are not arguing for some non-material existence of man. Paul says those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom. 8:8) Were these brethren not in their physical bodies? Again, did Paul write to biologically dead people? Yet, he says they were in the Spirit because the Spirit of God “dwells” (present tense) in them. Is Gentry “in the flesh” in the sense in which Paul queried the Romans?

The raising of this non-biologically dead body was the glory which was about to be revealed in the church as the sons of God, (Rom. 8:18, 19), being raised from weakness to glory, honor, power, immortality, incorruption and victory, which Gentry affirms. Thus he cannot successfully deny the correlation of Romans 8 and 1 Cor. 15. (Second Argument, Para. 4) Those who awaited this resurrection of the body had the firstfruits of the Spirit. “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Rom. 8:23)

Paul does not change bodies in the context. He does not switch horses from the body which died because Christ was in them. He does not argue from a non-physically dead body in Rom. 8:11 to a physically dead body in Rom. 8:23. Likewise, Paul did not write to physically dead people in Rome. The adoption of the body (v. 23) is the resurrection of the body. How do we know? It is because this was their eschatological hope. We have the astute Kenneth Gentry’s full support on this point. There is only one hope (Eph. 4:4) thus only one resurrection of the body taught in scripture.

Paul says this adoption was a promise made to Old Covenant Israel. (Rom. 9:4) The adoption is the resurrection of Romans 8:23, therefore, resurrection was a promise to Israel. Daniel affirmed that the resurrection would occur in connection with the end of the Jewish age, in A. D. 70, when the power of the holy people was completely shattered. (Dan. 12: 1-7)

Paul likewise quotes two Old Testament texts in 1 Corinthians 15:54, 55, i.e. Isa. 25:8 and Hos. 13:14, saying that when the Old Covenant is fulfilled, it results in the fulfillment of the resurrection and Parousia of Christ. See 2 Peter 1:16; Matt. 17:1-5. The law of Moses could not pass until every jot and tittle had passed away, i.e. been fulfilled. Luke places the fulfillment of all things written in A.D. 70, Luke 21:20-22, 32. The law, a ministration of death, was the strength of sin, 1Cor. 15:57. Thus when it passed, along with it went the sting of death and the strength of sin, thereby ushering in the victory over hades and death.

Pneumatikos (Spiritual) Versus Psuchikos (Natural)

Romans 8:11 clearly shows this to be “spiritual” (pneumatikos) yet not non-material bodies/people. Those void of the Spirit were “natural” or psuchikos (1 Cor. 2:14; Jude 19, having separated themselves as unbelievers. This is parallel to 1 Corinthians 15:44 and we submit that it is the nature of the bodily resurrection affirmed there, forming the basis of their hope. “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for that we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Rom. 8: 24, 25.

Clearly as in 1 Corinthians 15:44, the natural/mortal body of Romans 8:11 was first, then followed by the spiritual. The point to note is that as in Romans 8:11 and 1 Corinthians, this transformation was “in progress” in Paul’s day, thereby confirming the imminent integrity of the firstfruits imagery. Gentry for sure, has studied the verb tenses in 1 Corinthians 15:42-43, which are in the present tense. The literal translation of these passages reveal the resurrection was already in progress, in harmony with the firstfruits concept. It is being sown, it is being raised, etc. There were no physical bodies “being sown and being raised from biological death then or now in fulfillment of the glorious resurrection.

The Spirit was necessary to prevent nakedness, (2 Cor. 5:4) a bodiless state of being unclothed, against which God guaranteed through the earnest of the miraculous eschatological Spirit. (2 Cor. 5:5) This is devastating to a physical body motif. Surely Gentry will acknowledge that in biological death one is disembodied, thus unclothed physically and without the “spiritual body” received at an alleged future return of Christ.

His futurism fails him miserably. He cannot correctly exegete a text such as 1 Cor. 15:49 with his view. Paul looks to a definite time in the past in which he and his readers had borne the image of the earthy. (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 6:3-5; 8:10 would be a great place to start.) Gentry’s physical body is the earthy body which he has not yet put off, thus he cannot admit to a time in the past when he has born the image of the earthy. To do so is an admission that it does not involve physical death and resurrection.

He is a physically living witness that he yet bears the earthly according to his view. Nor can he put on the image of the heavenly without entering the naked state that Paul deplored by maintaining such a view. An already but not yet concept of a pre-parousia transition controlled by the eschatological Spirit within Paul’s lifetime/generation would deliver his floundering exegesis.

This is why Paul, like Jesus, taught that the resurrection would occur within the first century. “Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51) See Matthew 23:34-36, 24:30-34, where Jesus placed resurrection in his generation. Paul taught that the Corinthians were being confirmed by miracles until the end, or revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:7, 8) The present distress (7:26), paralleled the “sufferings of this present time” (Rom. 8:18). The time was short, (7:29), The form of that world was passing away, (7:31) as the end of the ages had come upon them, (1 Cor. 10:11). The time statements are an eternal death blow to “partial-futurism” better known as “partial preterism.” It is partly true and partly false, which makes it false.



2.See our “Challenging Concepts of the Resurrection”www.allthingsfulfilled.com/documents

3.Preston-Thrasher Debate, September 20, 2003. Audio tapes available for $29.95 plus shipping @ www.eschatology.org

4.Thayer, p. 336, “Not the material of the body, but the body so far forth as it is an instrument of sin.”

5. Peter says that the prophets foretold that both the sufferings and glories of Christ were not for the prophets’ time but “to us” i.e. first century disciples they were ministering the things. See also Daniel 12:4, 9. Both here and Daniel 8:13-17 makes clear that the vision would occur at the time of the end. Peter says that the “end of all things” was at hand, 4:7 and that the time of the judgment/resurrection had come, 4:5, 17.

6. Gentry, Ibid

William H. Bell, Jr, author, minister of the Raines Road church of Christ, Memphis, TN