Resurrection of the Dead

General Information

In the OT

Several considerations moved OT thought away from the early, universal, animistic ideas about postmortem survival which underlay necromancy (I Sam. 28:8-9), funeral provisions, directions for the dead, and Sheol/Hades, the shadowy underworld of ghosts (Ezek. 32:17-32).

Everyday observation, plus the belief that God made man's body in his own image, led to the conviction that man was not "soul" imprisoned within a physical frame but embodied spirit, a unity of body and living self. Sheol's disembodiment in forgetfulness, hopelessness, without knowledge or relationships (II Sam. 12:23; Job 7:9ff.; 10:20-22; Ps. 30:9; Eccles. 9:2, 5, 10) therefore struck horror, as subhuman. Hence Israel's care for the bodies of the dead (Gen. 23; 50:2, 25; Jer. 8:1ff.; 14:16).

At first Yahweh's rule did not extend beyond death (Pss. 6:5; 88:10-12, Isa. 38:18), until prophetic insistence on his universal sovereignty claimed Sheol also within his jurisdiction (Ps. 139:7-8). The emphasis of Jeremiah and Ezekiel on individual relationships with God led to more religious conceptions of the afterlife (Pss. 16:8-11; 73:23-26). No shadow existence could sustain divine fellowship, but only restoration to full personality in resurrection (Matt. 22:31).

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
Longing for acquittal from the accusation that great suffering implies great sin made Job contemplate waiting in Sheol until God's wrath be past and he, released, would live again (Job 14:7-15). Despite its difficulties, Job 19:25-27 likewise appears to anticipate immortality in some bodily form. Pss. 73:17; 49:14-15; Isa. 53:10ff. similarly relieve the injustice of suffering by the hope of life with God beyond Sheol.

Some think the promises of national vindication and prosperity in the day of the Lord, unless confined to "the final generation," first prompted thoughts of resurrection of intervening generations, although Hos. 6:2; 13:14; Ezek. 37:1-14 use resurrection language as already familiar. Isa. 24-27 (especially 25:6-8; 26:19ff.) and Dan. 12:1-4 anticipate the return of men in bodily integrity to share Israel's glory. Isa. 26:14 denies resurrection to foes; Daniel includes resurrection "to life" (for Jews faithful under persecution), and "to everlasting contempt" (for Jews who joined the persecutors, 11:32ff.). No general resurrection is implied: here, too, justice is the argument.

Zoroastrian, Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian allusions may be either sources or parallels to developing Jewish thought.

Intertestamental Apocalyptic Thought

Intertestamental apocalyptic ranged widely. Some writers applied moral distinctions within Sheol, with reward and punishment implying some degree of judgment. Promises to the faithful, especially martyrs, included earthly glory; justice would likewise resurrect oppressors (with their deformities) to be recognized and punished (II Apoc. Bar.; cf. Mark 9:42ff.).

Hellenized Judaism preferred immortality of the soul, more richly conceived, to resurrection of the body. Palestinian Judaism clung to resurrection. "Garments of glory" (of life) were required for life beyond death (I-II Enoch), "nakedness" (disembodiment) being abhorred. Some speak of a spiritual body, counterpart to the physical and coexistent with it. I Enoch says the body buried will rise "glorious"; II Apoc. Bar. resembles I Cor. 15:35ff. but holds the transformation comes later; most speak of the risen body as "like angels...made of the light and glory of God"; others of its needing neither food nor marriage.

Those raised to share Messiah's temporary (earthly) or final (supernatural) kingdom will be righteous (Jews). Other writers assume a general resurrection; II Esdras, a resurrection of Messiah and all men after the messianic age. In I Enoch 22 those already punished remain in Sheol; those not punished move to torturing Gehenna; I Enoch 67 has some wicked raised for judgment. Apocalyptists invent various stages of judgment, kingdom, resurrection. Test. Benj. 10:6ff. makes patriarchs rise first, then sons of Jacob, then all men. II Macc., perhaps following hints of Isa. 24-27 and Daniel, suggests martyrs deserve priority.

By the first century most Jews held to general resurrection; rabbis argued Abraham so believed (Heb. 11:19). Pharisees expected resurrection of the just (Acts 23:8), so probably did Essenes and Qumran covenanters. Sadducees denied resurrection as not "Mosaic," and possibly as a foreign idea (Mark 12:18; Josephus says they believed the soul died with the body). A few, holding matter evil, denied resurrection altogether.

In the NT

New Christian contributions include

Johannine reflection moves even nearer than Paul's toward incorporeal immortality. Eternal life is experienced now (John 3:36); the faithful never see death (8:51); believers have already "crossed over" from death to life (5:24), as have those who love (I John 3:14). Faced with Martha's talk about resurrection at the last day, Jesus replies that he himself, and relationship to him, constitute the resurrection and the life (11:25; 17:3) just as belief in him avoids judgment and unbelief is judgment (John 3:18-21). As Christ's own life (preexistent, earthly, postmortem) passes through death unquenched, so believers will never die (8:51). Those who disobey the Son do not see life (3:36). As does Paul, John appears to discount physical resurrection, yet 5:25, 28ff. declare a general resurrection, and 6:39-40, 44, 54 a resurrection of believers "at the last day", hardly an accommodation to earlier views or interpolation, since Lazarus's restoration to this life and Christ's physical resurrection mean so much to John. Faith was still exploratory.

Further Developments

Later thought further illustrates the tension between Hebrew and Greek emphases. Gnostic dualism infiltrated Christian teaching about God, Christ, and morality with the alien Greek principle that matter is inherently evil and must be destroyed, resurrection being impossible. But (except in asceticism) the church rejected dualism. I and II Clement, Barnabas ("a general resurrection"), and Tertullian ("the soul inherently immortal and death unnatural, yet the same body will be raised") express the orthodox view. Ignatius follows John: Christ is eternal life, but "flesh and spirit" will be raised through the Eucharist ("medicine of immortality") and the Spirit. Origen insists that the natural body is dissolved into dust, but will be raised and "advance to a spiritual body", so striving to reconcile Hebrew and Platonic ideas. Aquinas, too, held our fleshly bodies rise and remain fleshly; like Tertullian, he finds spiritual uses for redundant physical organs.

A typical modern statement runs: "The term immortality is preferable. The argument that religious experience implies personal survival points to the immortality of the soul and its values rather than to resurrection of the body." This attracts many, who do not always realize the values conserved by the traditional resurrection emphasis: the permanence not only of abstract personality and values but of the individual, with consciousness, relationships, memories, and love, against theories of absorption ("a drop in the eternal ocean of being"), racial survival ("continuing to contribute to ongoing humanity"), or sentimental immortality ("to live in the hearts of those we love is not to die"). Essentially, Christians believe that he who called men into being and into fellowship with himself can sustain all persons under eternal conditions, in complete and enriched humanity, in such bodily garment as eternal life requires.

R E O White
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

D. S. Russell, Between the Testaments; J. Baillie, And the Life Everlasting; J. H. Leckie, World to Come and Final Destiny; Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet