Monday, 7 March 2011

Witnessing to the Witnesses (4) Updated

The fourth installment of my interesting time with the "Jehovah's Witnesses"!

In this post I want to look at the two passages they brought up to deny the physical resurrection of the body of the Lord, bearing in mind the mess they made out of John 2 v 19.

1Peter 3 v 18:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit
The Watchtower Society trades on the fact that in the expression "made alive by the Spirit" the preposition "by" could be, and very often is, rendered "in", and so they say that the Lord was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, i.e. as a spirit.  Now my experiences with JWs over the years have shown me that they have little or no knowledge of, or regard for, the context of a proof text, and this is an example of this, because the next two verses pose big problems for their view:
By whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
The reference to the spirits in prison is something that the Jehovah's Witnesses can't really explain because they don't believe there is any immaterial self that survives the death of the body, or any conscious punishment such as would be experienced in this spirit prison.  If the Jehovah's Witnesses were on top of what these verses teach I don't think they'd be as quick to direct people to 1Peter 3 v 18!  But that's by the way...

The expression "in the Spirit" is used several times in Scripture and often means in the power of the Spirit (e.g. Galatians 3 v 3; 5 v 16, 25; Ephesians 6 v 18).  If we take it that the verse is saying that the Lord was made alive in the power of the Spirit then it helps make sense of the verses that follow, because it was in the Person of the Spirit that the Lord preached to the people of Noah's day.  You can see in Genesis 6 that the Spirit was striving.  Also, in 1Peter 1 v 11 Peter makes reference to how the Spirit of Christ testified in Old Testament times through people - this shows that our interpretation of 1Peter 3 v 18-20 is consistent with what Peter says about the work of the Spirit, and is also consistent with what Scripture says was happening at the flood.

There is no reason then to take this as anything other than a reference to the Spirit of God exercising life giving power to the Lord's body.  If someone should say that this contradicts John 2 v 19 because there the Lord says He would raise His body up, I would simply add something else into the equation - many passages speak about God the Father raising Him (e.g. Romans 6 v 4), and this shows us that the resurrection was an act of the Trinity - each Person had a role to play in it.

The second passage they referred to was 1Corinthians 15, particularly verses 44 and 50:
"It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." (Verse 44)
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." (Verse 50)
When the Jehovah's Witness read verse 44 to me he quoted it as "a spirit body", and I assumed that was what the New World Translation rendered it, I have since found out that it doesn't - it is rendered as "a spiritual body".  I can only wonder why the gentleman said something different, perhaps he realised that there is a difference between a "spirit body" and a "spiritual body". 

Anyway, it is interesting to go through the other mentions of this word in the New Testament and particularly in 1Corinthians to see how it is used and what it means.  Let me just lift a couple of examples, (all the references to the word in 1Corinthians are found here: 2 v 13, 15; 3 v 1; 9 v 11; 10 v 3-4; 12 v 1; 14 v 1, 37; 15 v 44, 46)

In chapter 2 verses 14-15 we find a spiritual man is contrasted with a natural man (the same contrast as chapter 15 v 44 - spiritual and natural), but it is obvious that Paul isn't thinking of a spiritual man as being an immaterial, non-physical man.  He is speaking about the person's orientation, not his composition - he is spiritual in the sense that he is interested in / geared towards / orientated to spiritual things, not natural things.

In chapter 10 verses 3-4 Paul makes reference to the Israelites in the wilderness following their exodus from Egypt, and he speaks about how they ate spiritual food, and drank spiritual drink from a spiritual rock (see Exodus 16 & 17), but Paul isn't saying they ate and drank things composed of spirit from a rock composed of spirit.  He was saying that the food, drink and rock were not natural - it wasn't ordinary food, drink and rock.

So when we look how the word is used contextually, and look at the contrast Paul is making, we see he is saying that the resurrection body is geared towards spiritual things, it is not driven by natural desires or dependent on natural resources.

When he says that flesh and blood can't inherit the Kingdom of God he is using a well known Hebraism that just means natural, mortal man.  Look at the other occurrences of the expression:
Matthew 16 v 17
"And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven."
Was the Lord telling Peter that muscle and tissue and fat and blood had not revealed this truth?  Or perhaps he was saying that natural, mortal man had not revealed it.

Galatians 1 v 16
"To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:"
Is Paul really saying that he didn't confer with his body, or someone else's body?  Or did he mean he didn't confer with anyone?

You can see by these other references that the expression "flesh and blood" is a reference to natural, mortal man.  Remember that the Lord impressed upon His disciples that He was not a spirit, because "a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have" (Luke 24 v 39).

It should also be noted the repetition of the word "it" in verses 42-44 of 1Corinthians 15, emphasising that while the resurrection body is changed, it is actually the same body - there is a continuity; four times in these verses we read that the body which is sown "it is raised".

I hope this has shown that the truth of a physical, bodily resurrection is entirely compatible with these verses, indeed, the Watchtower's own interpretation is not even consistent with them!  And their view of these verses is entirely contradictory to and irreconcilable with the passages that I brought up.

Thomas clearly believed the resurrection was of the body, because he said he wouldn't believe unless he touched the print of the nails in the Lord's hands and put his hand into the wound in the Lord's side. If Thomas thought resurrection was non-physical then his demand just doesn't make sense because he would know that spirits don't have wounds. The next week he did see the Lord, who challenged Thomas to touch the wounds - showing him that the body in which He was crucified was the body in which He lives. This led to Thomas's confession of Christ, "My Lord and my God", and for this confession the Lord pronounced Thomas to be blessed (John 20 v 24-29).

Furthermore, the Pharisees believed resurrection had to do with the body rising from the tomb.  They came to Pilate after the Lord's burial and told him how the Lord had predicted His own resurrection, so they wanted a guard at the tomb in case the disciples came and stole the body and would begin to preach that He had risen from the dead (Matthew 27 v 62-64).  Obviously they believed that resurrection was physical, and they knew that if the body was in the tomb then the Lord was not risen from the dead.

On that third day the body was not in the tomb, not because it had dissolved, but because Christ had risen from the dead (Acts 13 v 29-37).  Because He rose again you can meet Him now as a Saviour (Acts 13 v 38), or you will meet Him in the future as a Judge (Acts 17 v 30-31).  Acknowledge Him as Lord and God, and trust Him to save you - He is able (Hebrews 7 v 25).