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Alan F. Segal

ABSTRACT: "PAUL'S _SOMA PNEUMATIKON_"

Alan F. Segal

This paper is an attempt to come to terms with the unusual word--_soma pneumatikon_--which Paul uses to describe the resurrection body of believers. It appears an oxymoron in Greek philosophical terms, particularly Platonism, and it is quite different from the true bodily and fleshly resurrection of the gospels. PaulÕs terminology, I will try to show, arises from his personal experience of the Christ, whom he sees as a spirit and a spiritual presence in his life. His description merely mirrors the appearance of the Christ to him.

The paper attempts to resolve the problem first by noting that Paul uses the same term seeing, in the aorist passive, to connote visionary experience and outlines his vision of God in the same category as those who saw the resurrected body immediately after Easter. Thus, Paul emphasizes the identity of his experience with that of the apostles. Further, he sees a creative process of transformation as the believer is summorphozed or metaschematized into the body of Christ, hence equivalent with ChristÕs body of glory (Philippians 3:21).

Paul records his own mystical experience in several places, especially when he notes the relationship between the believer and the body of Christ: 2 Corinthians 12, Philippians 3:20-21, and especially 2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6. It is also implicit in Romans 12:2, and to which we must return when we consider the issue of Christ devotion.

This transformational mysticism in Paul seems to me to be a confessional report of the literal fulfilment of Daniel 12:2 in which those who make others wise will become stars, or angels, since stars and angels were equated in biblical literature. This may in fact be more or less equivalent with regaining the divine similitude which Adam received at creation and was lost at the fall. The divine similitude may have been arsenothelous and be reflected in PaulÕs description of being in Christ as being neither slave nor free, neither Jew nor gentile, neither male nor female (e.g. Galatians 3:26-28). And it appears to me to be the same return to primeval wholeness that the Gospels express with JesusÕ saying: ÒFor in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heavenÓ (Matthew 22:30).

The resurrected body of the believers and JesusÕ resurrected body will be identical at the consummation. This is to say that according to Paul this end-time has already begun but will not come to conclusion until the final consummation. Until then, the body is visible only in revelatory states of consciousness, such as Paul has himself experienced, and which are available to Christians primarily through ChristÕs apostles. Thus, ChristÕs body and the resurrection body are spiritual but will become actualized as we get closer to the final consummation.

This is quite different from the Gospels, for instance, where the physicality of ChristÕs resurrection is stressed. The Doubting Thomas passage of the Gospel of John (20:24-29) is a good example of the polemic for physicality. In this case, the example of Thomas seems apt because the Gospel of Thomas has a completely spiritualized notion of resurrection. Both of these examples represent trajectories that negate, polemicize against, or try to complete, in one way or another, the Pauline conceptualization of the resurrection body.

Paul, on the other hand, understands that life in community comes out of his notion of the resurrection body. In the first instance, he feels that the believers should be one body according to spirit, not according to the flesh. This means that his community should live indifferent to the Jewish laws of the flesh--doing them or ignoring them, as they see fit. It also means that devotion to Christ is part of worship in the interim period, a sacrifice of their own bodies to themselves as they themselves become part of the divine body (Romans 12).


Summary of response by Margaret Barker:

Although Paul's idea of the spiritual body had nothing to do with an empty tomb, it was not unconnected with the Passion. The original belief in the resurrection body probably had nothing to do with the Passion, but Paul's understanding was not that of other early Christians and this accounts for several inconsistencies and a chronological muddle in his teaching.

The original resurrection was Jesus' royal ascent experienced at his baptism. Although Paul's claim to mystical experiences was probably genuine, he never fully understood this priestly teaching, which was only intended for the inner group. This is how the gospels came to have the confused but over-literal accounts of Easter and why scholars have so often identified the Transfiguration as a misplaced resurrection experience. The original understanding of resurrection was that it was the transformed state of those who had been in the presence of the throne and been transfigured by the experience. They had no known tomb (Enoch, Moses, Jesus).

The priestly (not platonic) language of Philo illuminates Paul's language about the spiritual body: the temple was a microcosm of the creation and the resurrected had passed through the veil of matter and time into the holy of holies and the eternal life of resurrected angels. This was true of the high priest when he entered the holy of holies.

Paul is probably not the best entry into the early church's teaching about the resurrection, since he, like others, did not have access to Jesus' teachings to the inner group. Paul and the others combined the original idea of the resurrection with a belief in future resuscitation and this, combined with the empty tomb, gave rise to the confused gospel stories that we have. (JRD)


(c) 1998
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the authors.

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