Christian doctrine teaches that, at the end of time, God will physically raise up human beings. But what will "the resurrection of the body" be like? Anglican bishop N.T. Wright, one of the world's premier New Testament scholars, spoke with Beliefnet recently about the subject--and about his series of accessible Bible commentaries, "Mark for Everyone," "Luke for Everyone," and more.

In your books, you speak of bodily resurrection, not just Jesus' but regular Christians'. You say "God will make a new type of material not subject to death out of the old material."

You get this issue raised explicitly in 1 Corinthians [read chapter 15], a bit in 2 Corinthians, and indeed in Romans 8. It is fascinating to me that most contemporary Christians find this idea strange and new, since it is so front and center--in Paul particularly. It shows that in post-Enlightenment reading of the New Testament a significant strand of material has just been screened right out. A lot of scholars seem to look at the Pauline phrase which in Greek is "pneumatic" body and in English is "spiritual" body, and they seem to think the resurrection won't be physical at all.

The word "spiritual" in 1 Corinthians 15 comes from the Greek "pneuma." But the word is pneumatikos. Greek adjectives that end in -kos do not describe the substance out of which something is made. They describe the force that is animating the thing in question. It's the difference between saying on the one hand, "Is this a wooden ship or a steel ship?" and saying on the other hand, "Is this a nuclear-powered ship or a steam-powered ship?" And the sort of adjective it is of the latter type, it's a spirit-powered body.

But it's still a ship.

Exactly! But it's still a body. And generations of readers have been misled-particularly by the RSV and the NRSV-into thinking that the distinction Paul is making is between a physical body, in the sense of something you can actually get a grip on, and a spiritual body, in the platonic sense of something you couldn't get a grip on.Like in Homer, Odysseus meets the shade of his dead mother. He tries to embrace her but she slips through his arms. That's the sort of image people have when they hear the word "spiritual body." That is precisely what that phrase not only does not mean but actually cannot mean. In the Greek it simply cannot mean that. Actually it can't mean it for all sorts of other reasons in Paul, which I've argued in great detail in the book. This has been a major problem with 20th century readings of the New Testament within liberal Northern Europe and North America. Many pew-sitting Christians don't seem to believe that their own bodies will be resurrected.

I know. I was doing some lectures in Rome recently to an international audience and there was an American Lutheran pastor who had come over to Rome. He told me that he had just finished reading my big book on the Resurrection and he had been convinced by what I'd said. So on Easter day he preached about this stuff-about the new body, which will be the transformation of the present body into a new sort of stuff which is...

Which we will be able to get a grip on?

That's right. Which is more solid than the present one-not less. We tend to think of a new state which will be a less solid thing. But what the New Testament is talking about is a new creation which would be a more solid thing, whatever that will be like. And it was interesting, he said, after church shaking hands with people in the back, people were talking about "this new religion" you're trying to sell us. The absurd thing is this is simply what the New Testament is going on about again and again. And ordinary North Americans and British people have not even heard it. They don't even know that it's an option, let alone that it is in fact the option. It's in the Creed, but a lot of people seem to think it refers only to Jesus' body, not their own.

Either to Jesus' body or they think that actually the resurrection of body is a kind of fancy, early Christian way of saying a spiritual survival--which is precisely the opposite of what it is. Going back to 1 Cor. 15, Paul says [we] begin with one sort of body and then it is another sort of body. The word he uses for the first sort, which is translated in the RSV and NRSV as "physical," actually there cannot mean physical. It is a bizarre mistranslation to say "physical" there.

The first word is a word formed out of "psyche"--which is the word for "soul." If you wanted to say in the ancient world that something was non-physical, you might use the word psychekon. The point is that the present body is a body animated by the ordinary human soul, and the future body will be a body animated by God's spirit and hence not corruptible.

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