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How the Body of Lazarus Helps to Solve a Pauline Problem

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2017

Jennifer R. Strawbridge*
Mansfield College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3TF, United Kingdom. Email:


While the locus classicus for early Christian arguments concerning resurrection of the flesh is Paul's first Corinthian letter, the statement in 15.50 that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ complicates early Christian understandings of resurrection and its form. Such explicit denial of fleshly inheritance and resurrection within Paul's writings leads to widely conflicting interpretations of this Corinthian passage. Consequently, early Christian writers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian and Augustine engaged other New Testament texts such as John 11 in order to subvert the claim of 1 Cor 15.50 and develop their argument for fleshly resurrection.

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1 Clement of Alexandria, Exc. 23.2–3 (SC 23).

2 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.9.1 (SC 153). Translations are mine unless otherwise stated.

3 Tertullian, Res. 48.1 (CCSL 2).

4 Origen, Cels. 5.19 (SC 227; translation from Chadwick, H., ed., Contra Celsum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953)Google Scholar).

5 Kovacs, J., ed., 1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators (ECCS; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005) 242Google Scholar. See also Kovacs, J., ‘1 Corinthians’, The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible (ed. Lieb, M., Mason, E. and Roberts, J.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) 136–48, at 146Google Scholar.

6 Fee, G. D., The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 741Google Scholar.

7 Kovacs, 1 Corinthians, 243.

8 Other frequently used excerpts from the letters attributed to Paul by early Christians include: 1 Cor 2.6–16; Col 1.15–20; Eph 6.10–17; and Phil 2.5–11. See Strawbridge, J. R., The Pauline Effect: The Use of the Pauline Epistles by Early Christian Writers (SBR 5; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015) 11 n. 38CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Early Christian writers do use other Pauline texts about resurrection but not as frequently as 1 Cor 15.50–8, which occurs more than 350 times in ante-Nicene writings. For comparison: 1 Thess 5.1–10 occurs 70 times; 1 Thess 4.13–18: 131 times; Col 2.9–15: just over 150 times; Col 3.1–4: more than 90 times; Rom 6.4–11: approximately 200 times; and 2 Cor 5.1–5: 110 times. See Strawbridge, Pauline Effect, 99 n. 14.

10 See, for example, Irenaeus, Haer. 5.1.4; Tertullian, Res. 49; Origen, Princ. 2.10.2–3 and Fr. Ps. 1.5; Peter of Alexandria, Res. 4.4.

11 See Irenaeus, Haer. 5.13.1; 5.14.1–2; Tertullian, Res. 49; Pamphilus, Apologia pro Origene, 128.

12 See Gos. Phil. 56.26–57.21; Irenaeus, Haer. 5.2.2–5.3.2.

13 See Irenaeus, Haer. 5.13.3–5.13.5; 5.9.4; 5.14.4; Tertullian, Res. 49.11; Marc. 5.14.

14 White, B. L., Remembering Paul: Ancient and Modern Contests over the Image of the Apostle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) 37CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Gos. Phil. 56.26–57.21. The Gospel of Philip is a Coptic text and this study relies on the translation provided in Layton, B., ed., The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1995)Google Scholar. For Tertullian's reply to this argument about nakedness, see Res. 42.

16 Gaca, K. L. and Welborn, L. L., Early Patristic Readings of Romans (New York: T&T Clark, 2005) 116Google Scholar.

17 Olson, M. J., Irenaeus, the Valentinian Gnostics, and the Kingdom of God (A.H. Book v): The Debate about 1 Corinthians 15:50 (Lewiston, NY: Mellen Biblical Press, 1992) 32–3Google Scholar.

18 See van Eijk, A. H. C., ‘The Gospel of Philip and Clement of Alexandria: Gnostic and Ecclesiastical Theology on the Resurrection and the Eucharist’, VC 25 (1971) 94120, at 96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 MacRae, G. W., ‘Why the Church Rejected Gnosticism’, Jewish and Christian Self-definition (ed. Sanders, E. P. et al. ; London: SCM, 1980–2) 126–33, at 133Google Scholar.

20 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.13.2 (SC 153).

21 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.13.3 (SC 153).

22 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.9.4 (SC 153; translation adapted from Roberts, A. et al. , eds., Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994)Google Scholar). See also Haer. 5.9.1–5.9.3.

23 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.13.3 (SC 153).

24 Lehtipuu, O., ‘“Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God”: The Transformation of the Flesh in the Early Christian Debates Concerning Resurrection’, Metamorphoses: Resurrection, Body and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity (ed. Seim, T. Karlsen and Økland, J.; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009) 147–68, at 155Google Scholar. See also Irenaeus, Haer. 5.2.2.

25 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.9.1 (SC 153).

26 Tertullian, Res. 22.11 (CCSL 2). See also Res. 24.7.

27 Daniélou, J., A History of Early Christian Doctrine: The Origins of Latin Christianity, vol. iii (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1977) 160Google Scholar.

28 Tertullian, Res. 49.11 (CSEL 47).

29 Tertullian, Marc. 5.14 (CCSL 1; translation from Evans, E., ed., Tertullian: Adversus Marcionem (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Clarendon, 1972)Google Scholar). See also Moule, C. F. D., ‘St Paul and Dualism: The Pauline Conception of Resurrection’, NTS 12 (1966) 106–23, at 108CrossRefGoogle Scholar, where he writes that physical resurrection for Tertullian is ultimately ‘a moral, not physical or quasi–physical concern.’

30 Setzer, C., Resurrection of the Body in Early Judaism and Early Christianity: Doctrine, Community, and Self-definition (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2004) 154Google Scholar.

31 Tertullian, Res. 49.1 (CCSL 2).

32 See Moss, C., ‘Heavenly Healing: Eschatological Cleansing and the Resurrection of the Dead in the Early Church’, JAAR 79 (2011) 991–1017, at 1004Google Scholar; Jensen, R. M., Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity: Ritual, Visual, and Theological Dimensions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012) 149Google Scholar.

33 This includes Ambrose, Amphilochius, Adamantius, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Methodius, Origen, Pamphilus and Tertullian.

34 See Barkhuizen, J. H., ‘Homily 3 of Amphilochius of Iconium: On the Four-day {Dead} Lazarus: An Essay in Interpretation’, Acta Patristica et Byzantina 5 (1994) 111CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 1 (with n. 1 for other examples of early homilies on Lazarus’ resurrection).

35 Lehtipuu, O., Debates over the Resurrection of the Dead: Constructing Early Christian Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) 2930Google Scholar.

36 Lehtipuu, Debates, 30.

37 Augustine, Div. quaest. lxxxiii 65 (CCSL 44A).

38 Barkhuizen, ‘Amphilochius’, 2.

39 Jensen, Baptismal Imagery, 150.

40 See Brown, R., The Gospel According to John ixii (ABS 29; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995) 434Google Scholar; Barkhuizen, ‘Amphilochius,’ 10 n. 27; cf. also Leontius Presbyter, Hom. 2.335–7; Lev. Rab. 18.1; Eccl. Rab. 12.6; m. Yebam. 16.3; and Sem. 8, Rule 1. Keener is not convinced that this belief was as widespread as Brown and others claim; see Keener, C. S., The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) 841 n. 63Google Scholar.

41 Stroumsa, G. G., ‘Caro Salutis Cardo: Shaping the Person in Early Christian Thought’, HR 30 (1990) 2550, at 43Google Scholar.

42 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.9.1 (SC 153; translation from Roberts et al., Ante-Nicene Fathers).

43 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.14.1 (SC 153; translation adapted from Roberts et al., Ante-Nicene Fathers).

44 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.13.1 (SC 153).

45 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.12.6 (SC 153).

46 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.13.1 (SC 153).

47 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.13.1 (SC 153).

48 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.15.1 (SC 153).

49 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.14.2 (SC 153).

50 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.14.2 (SC 153).

51 Tertullian, Carn. Chr. 1.1 (CCSL 2).

52 Tertullian, Res. 2.2 and 57.6 (CCSL 2).

53 Tertullian, Res. 48.14 (CCSL 2).

54 Tertullian, Res. 53.3 (CCSL 2).

55 Tertullian, Res. 53.3 (CCSL 2).

56 Tertullian, Res. 52.17 (CCSL 2).

57 Tertullian, Carn. Chr. 12 (CCSL 2).

58 Tertullian, Res. 57.6; see also 32 (CCSL 2).

59 Tertullian, Res. 18.5–8 (CCSL 2).

60 Tertullian, Res. 53.6 (CCSL 2).

61 Tertullian, Res. 55.1 (CCSL 2).

62 Tertullian, Res. 57.7; see also 32 (CCSL 2).

63 Tertullian, Res. 57.13 (CCSL 2).

64 Tertullian, Res. 9.2 (CCSL 2).

65 Tertullian, Res. 55.12 (CCSL 2).

66 Tertullian, Res. 8.2 (CCSL 2).

67 Tertullian, Res. 1.1 (CCSL 2).

68 See Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. 18.1–21.

69 See Ambrose, Paen. 2.7.58 and Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo. 49.2–3, 20–5.

70 Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo. 49.

71 Augustine, Civ. 22.21.

72 Nichols, T., Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2010) 65Google Scholar.

73 Augustine, Enchir. 89.

74 Augustine, Retract. 2.3.

75 Moss, ‘Heavenly Healing,’ 1009. See also Augustine, Civ. 22.19.

76 Augustine, Civ. 22.21.

77 Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo. 49.1.

78 Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo. 49.1.

79 Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo. 49.1.

80 Lazarus, however, also serves another function since, unlike earlier Christian writers who did not worry about the fact that Lazarus, though raised, died again, Augustine wants to ensure that the resurrection of Lazarus and that of Jesus are not confused as the same kind of rising. Thus, while Lazarus’ death and rising prefigure our resurrection in the flesh, this resurrection of the body is ‘not a resuscitation such as some have had, who came back to life for a time and died again, but a resurrection to eternal life, as the body of Christ himself rose again’ (Augustine, Enchir. 84; see also John Chrysostom, Hom. Jo. 40.2 and Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. 18.1). Augustine even goes so far in his Letter to Deogratias to clarify that the words of the creed concerning resurrection ‘to everlasting life’ were added so as to prevent anyone from drawing the conclusion that the resurrection of all would be like that of Lazarus rather than that of Christ (Augustine, Ep. 102.2–7 (CSEL 34); see also Kelly, J. N. D., Early Christian Creeds (London: Longman, 1972 3) 387Google Scholar).

81 Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo. 49.1.

82 Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo. 49.1.

83 Origen, Cels. 5.14 (SC 147).

84 Tertullian, Marc. 3.10 (SC 399).

85 Origen, Cels. 5.14 (SC 147).

86 Irenaeus, Haer. 5.9.1. (SC 153).

87 Origen, Cels. 5.14 (SC 147).