Someone I know is saying that Jesus was not raised physically, that he was raised in a “spiritual body” instead of a physical body. He says Paul teaches this. What is the straight story?
This canard is often used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to buttress their idea that Jesus is Michael the Archangel. In attempting to prove that Jesus did not physically rise, 1 Peter 3:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:45 are cited, stating that Jesus was, “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” and “[Jesus] became a life-giving spirit . . . [for] flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom.”
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul demonstrates that the resurrected body is endowed with qualities of imperishability, glory, power, and spirituality–in contrast to man’s current perishable, dishonorable, weak, and physical body (42-44). Paul then speaks of man’s nature putting on incorruptibility and immortality.
He is not suggesting that matter is an evil to be discarded. Rather, grace builds upon nature, and so the resurrected body is a fulfillment of the natural body, not the destruction of it. The tendency to think otherwise is Manichean, regarding matter as evil and spirit as good. Christians have always rejected this misconception since it contradicts the goodness of God’s creation–and the Incarnation itself.
In Luke 24:39, the risen Jesus says to the disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (emphasis added). This verse is sufficient to debunk the idea that Jesus did not rise bodily, but John 2:19-22 provides another nail in the coffin. Here, Jesus claims, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Two verses later, it is made clear what Jesus has in mind; “he spoke of the temple of his body.” Thus, Jesus prophesied that his body would rise.
The questions to ask are, “If Jesus’ body was not raised, where did it go, what was raised, and what is so miraculous?” The idea that Jesus’ body was discarded while his spirit rose seems to require more faith than acceptance of the bodily resurrection. In the words of Paul, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain, and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17).