Volume 28 - Issue 3
Did Paul Change His Mind?—An Examination of some aspects of Pauline EschatologyBy Paul Woodbridge
This article was one of a series of lectures, given at the Tyndale Fellowship Associates Conference at Tyndale House, Cambridge in June 2002.
I embarked on a study of Pauline eschatology having been provoked by a number of scholars’ suggestions that Paul was inconsistent in a variety of areas, not least in eschatology. I wondered, if it was possible, as an evangelical, to say that Paul was inconsistent, or changed his teaching on various matters at certain stages in his life? Was it true to say that Paul developed in his thinking as far as his theology was concerned?
Thus I made a list of those matters on which various scholars claimed that paul did in fact change his thinking.
Points on which scholars say Paul changed his mind
Discrepancy in details of events to occur before the parousia
Romans 9–11 may be compared to 2 Thessalonians 2:3–12. It seems that in the latter there is a somewhat pessimistic picture of events due to take place before Christ’s return—life will get more difficult, a rebellion will take place and a ‘lawless one’ will be revealed (v. 2) who will engage in various wicked acts and deceptions (vv. 9–10) before Christ destroys him (v. 8).
However, in Romans 9–11, there is a rather more optimistic picture of events before the parousia. There is a positive view of the number of people to receive salvation, and in particular Israel’s rejection of her Messiah is not final, and indeed ‘all Israel will be saved’ (11:26).
Did Paul expect the parousia within his lifetime, or after his death?
It would seem that in 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51–52, Paul expected the parousia to come quickly, so quickly that it would take place before his death. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17, Paul twice uses the expression, ‘We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord’, which may be taken to mean ‘we Christians who survive until the parousia’. A similar idea may be seen in 1 Corinthians 15:51f., where the ‘we’ that is emphasised in verse 52b (‘we shall be changed’) indicates that Paul placed himself among the survivors at the parousia.
However, in Paul’s later epistles, it seems that he no longer expected to be alive at the second coming of Christ, but rather to die before it took place. Verses such as 2 Corinthians 4:12 (‘death is at work in us, but life in you’), 5:1, 8 (‘we know that if the earthly building we live in is destroyed … we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord’) are said to reflect this way of thinking, as well as Philippians 1:21, 23, where Paul speaks of dying as ‘gain’ and of his desire to ‘depart and be with Christ which is far better’. So now the apostle considers death before the parousia to be a real possibility, a perspective he did not seem to have prior to 2 Corinthians, and he now thinks that the parousia will no longer take place in the proximate future.
Discrepancy regarding the time at which the Christian receives the resurrection body
When did Paul think that believers would receive their resurrection body? Two passages which give information on this matter are said by some scholars to be inconsistent with each other. Thus in 1 Corinthians 15, it is clear that believers do not receive their resurrection bodies until Christ returns—see verses 22–26 (the order of the resurrection of the dead taking place is first Christ, then at his coming, those who belong to Christ—verse 23), and 51–52 (the dead will be raised imperishable at the last trumpet, i.e. at Christ’s coming, and then receive the resurrection body)—compare also 1 Thessalonians 4:14ff.
However, in 2 Corinthians 5, verse 1 seems to say that it is at the moment of death that the heavenly body is received—there is no gap between death and the parousia during which the believer is disembodied. It is only by receiving the resurrection body at death that this state of nakedness will be avoided (v. 3). So for the individual Christian, it is at death that they will receive the building that God has provided, as soon as the present physical body is destroyed.
What is the intermediate state of the Christian dead?
In his earlier epistles, Paul seems to have described this state as one of ‘sleep’, thus an unconscious intermediate state. Christ will return to raise sleeping, unconscious believers to life again. This appears to be reflected in verses such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15 (‘concerning those who have fallen asleep in Christ’); 5:10 (‘whether we are awake or asleep’) and 1 Corinthians 15:18, 20, 51.
However, two sets of verses in Paul’s later letters seem to give rather a different picture of the apostle’s view of the intermediate state: 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 (‘away from the body and at home with the Lord’) and Philippians 1:21–23 (‘to die is gain … to depart and to be with Christ’). These verses seem to indicate that when believers die, they go immediately into the presence of Christ without there being any state of unconsciousness or ‘sleep’ at all.
The nature of events preceding the parousia in 1 and 2 Thessalonians
In 1 Thessalonians 5:1–10, it seems that the parousia will come suddenly and unexpectedly—like ‘a thief in the night’, whereas in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12, it is clear that certain events have to take place before Christ returns (the rebellion, the appearance of the lawless one, etc).
Future/realised eschatology in respect of the believer’s resurrection with Christ
It seems clear that the resurrection is a future event in 1 Corinthians 15:51–54; 1 Thessalonians 4:14–16 and Romans 6:4f. Colossians 3:1–4, however, seems to talk about resurrection as an event that has already taken place in the believers’ lives (‘you have been raised with Christ … you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God’). Is there at least a different perspective on resurrection at this later stage in Paul’s life?
Possible methods of resolving apparent inconsistencies
How have people handled these alleged discrepancies?
Theory of development (or change of mind)
If one is prepared to talk of ‘development’ in Paul’s thinking, it is important to define how one understands this term. If it is taken to mean ‘an increase in understanding’, few would object to such a term being applied to Paul’s theology. If, however, ‘development’ is meant to refer to a total change of outlook on Paul’s part, involving acceptance of new ideas and the rejection of former beliefs as mistaken, then some would want to raise questions about ‘development’ being applied to Paul in this way.
Did, therefore, Paul modify or expand his thinking as his life proceeded? Did his ideas progress without the later ideas contradicting the previous ones, or did he at a later stage in his life modify or expand his thinking so as to hold different views which contradicted the earlier ones? This would seem to be an important distinction to bear in mind when considering development theories. Thus one writer says, ‘Paul’s theology was not formed and static, but open and developing throughout his ministry’.1
This distinction is especially important to bear in mind when considering the work of someone like C.H. Dodd,2 who argues that Paul is likely to have developed his thinking as he went along in his missionary life—and by this, he seems to mean ‘change of mind’, as may be seen in certain areas which Dodd outlines.
As far as the parousia is concerned, Dodd is of the opinion that Paul expected to be alive at Christ’s return at an early stage in his missionary career reflected in what Dodd classifies as an earlier group of epistles (1 and 2 Thess., 1 Cor., 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1; 10–13), whereas in a later groups of epistles, he expected to die beforehand (2 Cor. 1–9, Rom., Phil., Col. and Eph.).
There is development in Paul’s attitude to this world and its institutions
As far as the state is concerned, in 1 Corinthians 6:1–11, (written at an early stage in his Christian life), Paul has a comparatively negative view of the state, particularly the law courts and advises the Corinthians to have little to do with them (cf. vv. 1 and 2—it is a mistake to take grievances to court before unbelievers); however, in Romans 13:1–7, representing a later stage in Paul’s thinking, Paul is rather more positive in his evaluation of the state—all are to be subject to the governing authorities which have been instituted by God and are his servants—verses 1 and 4.
As far as marriage is concerned, 1 Corinthians 7 seems to have some reservations about its value—see verses 28, 29, 33–34, not least because at this stage Paul believed the parousia was near (vv. 29, 31); but in Ephesians 5:22ff., the institution of marriage is compared to that of Christ and his church, a high comparison. Thus Paul has at least changed his thinking on these matters.
Dodd is also of the opinion that Paul changed his mind on the time a believer receives the resurrection body (cf. 1 Cor. 15 and 2 Cor. 5:1–10—see above).
If it is the case that Paul has developed in his thinking on these matters, then an obvious question is why this took place. Dodd and a number of scholars3 subsequently, have suggested that it was an event which occurred in Asia which caused the apostle to change his thinking on various matters. This is described in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9. It seems Paul was in mortal danger here, and as a result of his almost miraculous escape from what seemed certain death, he underwent a spiritual crisis which transformed his eschatological (and other) thinking, as we see reflected in his later letters. So this harrowing experience (which is not easily identified but may have been a serious illness) made Paul realise that death was somewhat nearer than he had previously thought and caused him to think more carefully about the implications this had for belief in an intermediate state and the time of receipt of the resurrection body.
However certain points seem to modify somewhat the prima facie strength of this argument: it perhaps needs to be borne in mind that the danger of death referred to in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9 wascertainly not the first time Paul had faced imminent death. Earlier epistles give the impression that Paul had on several occasions been in danger of his life in the period before 2 Corinthians 1—see e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:30–32. Further, it is doubtful if the events mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4:7–11; 6:4–10 and 11:23–33 refer only to the time shortly before the writing of 2 Corinthians. At no stage did Paul consider death to be an exceptional occurrence for the believer; as has been pointed out, the death rate in Paul’s day was not so surprisingly low that few if any of his fellow believers had died in the twenty-five years or so after Jesus’ crucifixion. Also the experiences mentioned in Acts 8:1 and 9:23f. (as well as those mentioned above) hardly indicate that Paul had any confident expectation of life. So dangers were a consistent part of the apostle’s life, and it seems fair to say that the possibility of death before the parousia existed for some time before the events described in 2 Corinthians 1:8f.4
Against this it might be said that the way Paul expresses himself in 2 Corinthians 1:8f. seems to indicate such a severe experience that this was the catalyst that made the apostle consider to a greater degree than before the question of the state of the believer after death, made him transfer the time the Christian receives the resurrection body from the parousia to the moment of death, and forced him to reconsider his own relationship to the return of Christ. However we might ask whether personal experience would have granted to Paul insights which his pastoral concerns had failed to prompt. Was the apostle the sort of person to have one view when others’ deaths were the issue, but another (more pleasant and congenial) view when his own death seemed near?
We may say then, that the change in Paul’s personal circumstances reflected in 2 Corinthians 1:8f. has perhaps been given too much emphasis as being the cause of Paul’s eschatological alterations of perspective.
So this view states that Paul’s thinking developed, changed, progressed on these various matters in these particular ways. But perhaps there is another way of approaching these alleged inconsistencies, which reflects on them in a way different to that of development. One possibility is to consider whether a careful exegesis of certain passages helps to fit the verses together in a way that indicates that it is possible to see Paul’s teaching fit together more coherently.
Alternative exegesis of relevant passages
Focussing on just three of the apparent inconsistencies mentioned above.
Paul’s expectation of the parousia—in his lifetime or after his death?
A number of points are worth making concerning the earlier passages. Concerning 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51f., it appears quite possible to interpret these verses in a way other than that these passages indicate that Paul expected to be alive at the parousia. When the apostle used the first person plural to refer to believers, this does not necessarily mean he included himself. 1 Corinthians 6:14, 15 and 10:22 are examples of Paul classing himself with those he is describing without necessarily implying he is one of them. It also seems reasonable to say that in 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17, where Paul is talking about two classes of believers (those asleep and those alive), as he was in the latter class when he wrote, it was natural for him to use the first person plural of himself and his fellow believers.
It further seems possible to take ‘we’ of 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51f. in a future sense (‘We who will be alive, who will survive’),5 or as hypothetical (‘If we are alive, if we survive’). Also ‘we’ may well signify nothing more than a general designation, ‘ “we”, insofar as we are permitted to experience this and insofar as this will be found to apply to us’.6 It may also be argued that when 1 Thessalonians 5:10 is taken with 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17, the indication is that Paul held, simultaneously and in tension, the twofold possibility of his survival to Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17) or his death before that event (1 Thessalonians 5:10). One might further argue from 1 Thessalonians 5:1–4 that Paul taught the incalculability of the time of the return of Christ, and specifically claimed ignorance about its date. This would seem to add weight to an interpretation of ‘we’ as not necessarily indicating that Paul believed he would be alive at the parousia.
Thus it would seem that ‘we’ does not indicate a delimited hope; rather if it does not restrict the time of Christ’s return to within Paul’s life, it would seem a natural prelude to 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11. So it might well be argued that Paul awaited the parousia as an event which might take place at any moment, and so he reckoned with the possibility of being alive at that time, without necessarily thinking that this would definitely be the case at any stage of his Christian life. It might also be said that if Paul thought he would live to see Christ’s return, this would be to attribute to himself an immortality contrary to how he usually speaks of his own life and death (cf., for example, 1 Thess. 5:10; Rom. 14:7–9; 8:10f.; Phil. 1:22ff.; 2:17; 1 Cor. 4:11; 5:1ff.).
Perhaps we may conclude this point that while Paul may well have thought more on the possibility that he might die before Christ’s return in his later epistles, nevertheless he always thinks of the parousia as imminent throughout his life. It seems most likely that
‘Paul took note of the deaths which had taken place and perhaps also came to believe that his own death would happen earlier than at first seemed to him likely, than that he radically altered his opinion about the time of the parousia’.7
Absolute certainty concerning whether he would live to, or die before the parousia was something Paul would never have claimed at any stage in his life. Paul was certain that Christ would return, but a similar certainty concerning his own (or his contemporaries’) survival to that time was something he would never have claimed. Thus we may say that it seems reasonable to argue that Paul always entertained the dual possibility of survival until or death before the parousia throughout his Christian life.
Intermediate state of the Christian dead
One issue to be explored is the meaning of the term ‘sleep’ as used in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–15; 5:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:18, 20, 51. It could well be argued that this could be understood as a euphemism for death rather than as referring to a state of unconsciousness. A survey of OT, Intertestamental literature and Rabbinic writings indicates that the word ‘sleep’ was used in two main ways: to relate the certainty of resurrection, which was portrayed as a wakening from sleep, and also simply to describe the dead with no thought of resurrection in view.8 This being the case, it would seem hazardous to deduce anything so specific as ‘unconsciousness’ from the use of ‘sleep’ for death.
Concerning Paul’s use of the term, it occurs eight times in his writings. While for most of them there seems no reason to say that the sense demands that ‘sleep’ should refer to unconsciousness rather than simply meaning ‘to die’, four instances seem to refer to the idea of a continuous condition of sleep, a continued state of being unconscious, rather than the fact of having died, a single act: 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 5:10; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 15:10. On the other hand, one might say that when Paul calls dead believers ‘asleep’, he appears to be looking upon their condition from a human point of view, as one looking forward to their resurrection. It also may be said that the condition of dead believers, who are said to be ‘asleep in Christ’, is intricately connected with their Lord who came alive from the dead. So ‘sleep’ is given a new context by the death and resurrection of Christ. However, the word is not meant to be an objective indication of the intermediate state of the dead believer. It may also be said that the force of the present tense in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:30 is that a continuous number of deaths keep occurring, in which case Paul’s words do not support the idea of a continuous state of sleep.9
If these interpretations are accepted, there is no information about the intermediate state in these verses at all. It then seems reasonable to conclude that the word ‘sleep’ as used by Paul may aptly be taken as a euphemism for death and nothing more, and there is no need to see it as referring to an intermediate state of unconsciousness.
It also seems that an interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 and Philippians 1:21–23 which sees these verses as referring to an intermediate state of conscious fellowship with Christ is by far the most likely way of understanding these passages. The following points may be noted: concerning 2 Corinthians 5:6–8, it appears unlikely that a time gap divides the ‘being away from the body’ from the ‘being at home with the Lord’. Verse 6 would seem to imply that the state of being at home in the body and the state of being away from the Lord occur at the same time: immediately the believer dies and is therefore no longer in the physical body, there is no longer an absence from the Lord. Also, verse 7 portrays walking by faith and seeing the Lord face-to-face ‘as two mutually exclusive and immediately successive states of Christian existence’. Death may end the Christian’s walk of faith, but it brings immediate contact with Christ. Thus we may argue that in talking about the state of the Christian after death ‘as one of dwelling in the company of the Lord’, it seems most probable that Paul is thinking of a ‘heightened form of inter-personal communion’ between the believer and the Lord, a mutual fellowship.10
Concerning the meaning of ‘to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21), it seems most likely that the gain Paul is referring to is the idea that death would bring him personally into a deeper state of fellowship with his Lord, and allow him to be with Christ in a way far superior to what was possible on earth. Living, in Philippians 1:21, which is equated with Christ, and dying, which is gain, are not compared and contrasted, but rather dying is a consequence of living. Living in the present for Paul meant being taken up with Christ, and because of this, dying could only mean more of the same thing, but then without any of the problems associated with living in the physical body.11
Concerning verse 23, what Paul appears to be saying is that the very moment he dies, at that precise moment, he will be with Christ. Paul is not using resurrection terminology here—the contrast in these verses is not between present sufferings and future glory (as at 3:10f., 17–21), but between life and death.
A final indication that these two sets of verses indicate that Paul expected to find himself in the presence of Christ immediately after death is as follows: if Paul had contemplated being unconscious and inactive during the interval between his death and the parousia, how are we to explain his preference (2 Cor. 5:8) or desire (Phil. 1:23) to depart to Christ’s presence? Even with all its difficulties, active conscious life on earth would doubtless have seemed preferable to a state of unconsciousness after death. It appears unlikely that Paul would have believed that Christians could have their union with Christ interrupted, even temporarily, by bodily death. Thus the apostle’s knowledge that life in the immediate presence of Christ is far superior to earthly existence formed the ground of his preference for departure in 2 Corinthians 5:8 and of his desire for departure in Philippians 1:23.
So the alleged inconsistency on the intermediate state is best resolved by an alternative exegesis of the verb ‘to sleep’ in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians which argues that it does not refer to any intermediate state of unconsciousness, but rather is simply a euphemism for death. Thus Paul intends to make no statement on the intermediate state by the use of this term.
Time of receipt of the resurrection body
It seems clear that 1 Corinthians 15 does clearly teach that the resurrection body will be given to the believer at the parousia, a view which the vast majority of commentators hold to. However, while 2 Corinthians 5:1–10 is a much more difficult passage to get to grips with, a good case can be made for these verses referring to the parousia as the point at which the resurrection body is bestowed. In particular, the following points are important:
(1) The ‘building from God’, the ‘house not made with hands’ of 5:1 almost certainly refers to the resurrection body, for the following reasons: it would seem most natural to give to ‘house’ in verse 1b the same meaning as it has in verse 1a. Also, as there are several references to the physical body in 2 Corinthians 4 (see vv. 7, 10, 11, 16a), it seems most likely that ‘the earthly tent/house’ (5:1a) refers to the physical body than to any sense of corporate identity.
(2) The way the ‘house’ is described in 5:1 (‘from God’, ‘a house not made with hands’, ‘eternal in the heavens’) has direct parallels with the description of the resurrection body found in 1 Corinthians 15. 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2 talks about the ‘house’ being ‘from God’, a ‘heavenly dwelling’, to which we may compare 1 Corinthians 15:38 (God gives a body); it is spiritual (2 Cor. 5:1—‘not made with hands’)—compare 1 Corinthians 15:44, 46—a spiritual body; it is permanent and indestructible (2 Cor. 5:1—‘eternal’), corresponding to the new body being ‘imperishable’ in 1 Corinthians 15:42, 52–54; it is ‘heavenly’ (2 Cor. 5:1) which may be paralleled with 1 Corinthians 15:40, 48f. referring to heavenly bodies and those who are ‘of heaven’ bearing the image of ‘the man of heaven’. This close correspondence between the way Paul describes the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 and his description of the ‘building’ in 2 Corinthians 5:1 would seem to be a good indication that the two should be identified.12
In arguing that 2 Corinthians 5:1 refers to death before the parousia, we may note the following: at death, the earthly tent-dwelling is ‘taken down’ and destroyed. This is not the type of language Paul uses to refer to those alive at Christ’s return. In the latter case he talks about transformation (cf. Phil. 3:21) which will involve a ‘putting on’ of the new spiritual body without the necessity of a prior ‘taking off’ of the old body (cf. 2 Cor. 5:2–4, 1 Cor. 15:51ff.). There will be no destruction of the earthly body of those still alive at the parousia, although it will be changed. It is fair to say that Paul is more personally involved in the question of death before Christ’s return in 2 Corinthians 5:1–10 than in his earlier epistles, but even so his assurance is similar to that of 1 Corinthians 15: if he does die, he knows that he has a resurrection body from God.13
This brings us to the question of the meaning of ‘we have’ in 2 Corinthians 5:1. I would argue that this should be taken as designating a future possession of the spiritual body at the parousia. It appears reasonable to take ‘we have’ as giving the sense of assured possession, a futuristic present used by Paul to express his certainty of gaining the resurrection body at the Lord’s coming. So convinced was Paul that this would be the case that he could speak of it as present.14
It also seems possible to interpret Paul’s use of ‘to be further clothed, ‘to put on over’ in verse 4 as indicating his desire to put on the heavenly habitation over the earthly tent at the parousia rather than at the moment of death. Paul says he groans because he does not wish to be unclothed, but to be ‘clothed upon’, to be further clothed, to put on one garment over another (v. 4). He appears to be saying that he does not wish to experience an interval of being unclothed, but that he should be able simply to put on his future heavenly body over the top of his present earthly body. It is hard to see how Paul could have thought of this taking place at death, for at death the earthly body is taken off. It is true that Paul’s groaning in verses 2–4 is a contrast to his previous confidence, but we would argue that it is the result of his desire to put on the new body over the present, earthly body, without death coming first.15
Paul also says in verse 4 that when the heavenly dwelling is put on, then what is mortal is swallowed up by life. These are very similar terms to those he uses in 1 Corinthians 15:54, and that chapter clearly indicates that it is at Christ’s return that this will take place. It is not unfair to say that the same would be the case in 2 Corinthians 5:4 unless there is clear evidence against this assumption.16
In considering the meaning of ‘naked’ in verse 3, a likely interpretation in the context seems to be that which refers it to the state of disembodiment which death before the parousia would bring for the believer. It appears that ‘naked’ is opposed to the idea of being clothed in verse 3, and synonymous with the notion of ‘to put off, be unclothed’ in verse 4, and where this clothing is seen as specifically referring to embodiment, then ‘naked’ quite naturally refers to the disembodiment which believers would enter upon at death. Paul argues that the object of the Christian’s longing is not the stripping off of the body, but a new heavenly form of embodiment—the believer shrinks from a state of not being clothed. In verse 4, the groaning is connected with great oppression, and this is ‘because we do not wish to be unclothed, but to be further clothed’. So there are two reasons for groaning: negatively, the dislike of the prospect of putting off the present body, and positively the desire to put on over it the heavenly body, which could only take place if the parousia occurred before death. Paul fears death because it would be a much happier event to survive to Christ’s return; if he died first, he would have to spend some time ‘naked’, and then be raised up, whereas if he lived until the parousia, he would be transformed immediately.17
Death however, does have an attractive side for the believer despite the prospect of nakedness, and Paul is prepared to leave the physical body for the sake of being at home with the Lord (vv. 6–8). So if death comes to destroy the ‘outward man’, fellowship with Christ will continue, be much deeper, and will end with the spiritual body which God has prepared for the believer to receive at Christ’s return. Thus death might mean temporary nakedness, but it would also mean freedom from the frustration of living in the earthly body which restricts the Christian’s fellowship with Christ.18
An objection that is sometimes raised to this interpretation is that it means Paul had two contradictory attitudes to death within ten verses. At first he shrinks from the nakedness that death would bring, and then he says that if faced with the choice between death and remaining in the present body, he would prefer to die because this would mean being with the Lord. But it might be said that Paul was in two minds about death. In one sense death was an enemy; it would lead to a state of disembodiment. However death would also lead a believer into the Lord’s presence even without resurrection, and communion would be enhanced since it would no longer be subject to the limitations of the physical body. Faced by death, Paul thinks of the realities of heaven. The temporary nature of the state of nakedness is shown by his assurance of the reality of the future heavenly body, and this makes death seem abnormal. Yet even if death destroys the physical body it cannot damage Paul’s link with his Lord. This will continue through death, even though the earthly body does not, and eventually the resurrection body will be received at Christ’s return. There will be individual blessedness at death, while the soul is disembodied until the parousia, but the total Christian hope is of something more than individual blessedness, since perfect fullness of life has to be corporate. Thus it is the parousia with its ‘perfection of corporateness’ given in the bestowal of the physical body to every believer for which Paul really longs.19
It might also be said that if Paul had undergone a complete change of mind in 2 Corinthians 5:1–10, it is hard to see indications of this in the passage. For example, regarding ‘we have’ (v. 1), the present tense seems inadequate evidence for suggesting a change in Paul’s thinking. If Paul now wished to say that the resurrection body was to be received at death it would be more accurate to call this a complete contradiction of what he had previously taught, rather than a development from it. The specific order of events described in 1 Corinthians 15:23–26 would no longer be correct and the mystery described in 1 Corinthians 15:51ff. that at the last trumpet the dead would be raised imperishable would no longer be true. Yet there is no indication of such a complete break with what he had previously meant when the apostle mentions the resurrection of the dead in 2 Corinthians 1:9 and 4:14.
It would be fair to say that ‘for we know’ (2 Cor. 5:1) is an unlikely way of introducing a new teaching which has been made clear to Paul only recently. These words would seem rather to indicate that the teaching of 2 Corinthians 5 will have been known already to the Corinthians and will agree with Paul’s previous teaching (which is that the receipt of the spiritual body is at the parousia).20
Thus this alleged inconsistency on the time a believer receives their resurrection body is resolved by an alternative exegesis of 2 Corinthians 5:1–10 which interprets these verses in terms of the resurrection body being bestowed at the second coming of Christ, not at the moment of death.21
It has been argued that the method of solution which provides the most satisfactory way of resolving the three alleged inconsistencies that we have examined is an alternative exegesis of appropriate passages, and the conclusions we have reached provide us with a coherent picture of Paul’s eschatological thinking on these matters. Thus in arguing that for Paul the parousia was always imminent, that he looked upon death as a possibility at all stages of his Christian life, not just from the time immediately before he wrote 2 Corinthians (although it seems that he considered death for himself more probable as time went on), it was natural for Paul also to consider the state of the believer between death and the parousia (which, we argue, he thought to be one of disembodied, conscious fellowship with Christ), and the events which would take place at Christ’s return (including the receiving by believers of the spiritual body), although one should also bear in mind that it was often the questions of, and the difficulties facing the Christians Paul wrote to, that have resulted in us having his views on these matters.
Thus we submit that the three alleged inconsistencies which we have considered are more apparent than real, and given an appropriate exegesis of the relevant passages, a basic coherence and consistency in Paul’s writings on these matters is to be seen. In addressing altered situations in his own life and in the life of his churches (especially the Corinthian Church), Paul may use new imagery and apply further reflection, and particular situations may have evoked particular emphases in his teachings, but he does not go back on anything he has asserted in previous epistles. Pauls basic eschatological framework, which posits the dual possibility of the believer’s death or the prior return of Christ, remains constant.22
1 C.L. Mearns. ‘Early Eschatological Development in Paul: the Evidence of I and II Thessalonians’, New Testament Studies 27, 1981, 154. On the issue of development in Paul’s eschatology and various approaches, see especially L. J. Kreitzer, ‘Eschatology’, in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, eds. G.F. Hawthorne, R.P. Martin and D.G. Reid, IVP, Illinois/Leicester, 1993, 260–61.
2 C.H. Dodd, ‘The Mind of Paul: I; and ‘The Mind of Paul: II’ in New Testament Studies (Manchester: University Press, 1953), 67–82 and 83–128. Kreitzer comments that ‘one cannot overestimate the seminal work by C.H. Dodd in this area’, L.J. Kreitzer, Jesus and God in Paul’s Eschatology (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987), 250, n. 22.
3 See M.J. Harris, ‘2 Corinthians 5:1–10: Watershed in Paul’s Eschatology?’, Tyndale Bulletin 22, 1971, 56f.; F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit, (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1977), 295, 300, 310.
4 See on these points, among others, R. Berry, ‘Death and Life in Christ’ Scottish Journal of Theology 14, 1961, 60f.; W.G. Kummel, The Theology of the New Testament (London: SCM, 1974), 239; B.F. Meyer, ‘Did Paul’s View of the Resurrection of the Dead undergo Development?’, Theological Studies 47, 1986, 384ff.; D.E. Garland, 2 Corinthians (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1999) 254f.
5 Compare C.E.B. Cranfield, ‘Thoughts on New Testament Eschatology’, Scottish Journal of Theology 35, 1982, 506: ‘it seems to me perfectly possible to take the “we” to mean “We Christians” (in 1 Thessalonians 4:17—“those of us (Christians) who are alive, who are left”)’; I.H. Marshall, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1983), 127: ‘Here in the present passage (1 Thessalonians 4:15) there is really no difficulty in taking his words to mean “those of us who are alive”. (We may well ask how Paul could have said, “those of us who are living then” shortly and succinctly without using the actual wording employed here)’.
6 See H. Ridderbos, Paul—an Outline of Theology (London: SPCK, 1977, 492. Ridderbos notes another example of this type of facultative sense in Romans 15:1.
7 C.K. Barrett, ‘New Testament Eschatology’, Scottish Journal of Theology 6, 1953, 143 n. 2.
8 See on this topic, G. Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1961, 142–44; R.E. Bailey, ‘Is “Sleep” the Proper Biblical Term for the Intermediate State?’, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 55, 1964, 162ff.; D.E.H. Whiteley, The Theology of St. Paul (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), 262–69.
9 See on these points, C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: A. & C. Black, 1971), 275; E. Best, A Commentary on the first and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (London: A. & C. Black, 1977), 185; D.E.H. Whiteley, Theology, 268f.
10 See for these points (and the quotations), M.J. Harris, ‘2 Corinthians 5:1–10: Watershed in Paul’s Eschatology?’, Tyndale Bulletin 22, 1971, 45f. See also M.J. Harris, ‘Paul’s View of Death in 2 Corinthians 5:1–10’ in R.N. Longenecker & M.C. Tenney (eds.). New Dimensions in NT Studies (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 324 and Harris’ Raised Immortal: the relation between resurrection and immortality in New Testament teaching (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1983), 136f.
11 On these points, see H. Ridderbos, Paul, 498ff.; F.F. Bruce, Free Spirit, 311ff.; A.T. Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 104; M.J. Harris, Immortal, 134.
12 On these points, see M.J. Harris, ‘Watershed’, 39f.; R. Gundry, ‘Soma’ in Biblical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 150; J. Osei-Bonsu, ‘Does 2 Corinthians 5:1–10 teach the reception of the resurrection body at the moment of death?’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 28, 1986, 97, n. 24; P. Barnett, 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 259f.
13 See on this, J. Osei-Bonsu, ‘2 Corinthians 5:1–10’, 82f.
14 See for this interpretation, among others, G. Vos, Pauline Eschatology, 188; H. Ridderbos, Paul, 501; C.K. Barrett, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (London: A. & C. Black, 1973), 151; R. Gundry, Soma, 150f.; A.T. Lincoln, Paradise, 63f.; R.P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Waco: Word, 1986), 104.
15 See on this, F.F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Corinthians (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1971), 202ff.; C.K. Barrett, 2 Corinthians, 152f.; R.H. Gundry, Soma, 152; A.T. Lincoln, Paradise, 66; P. Barnett, 2 Corinthians, 259f.; D.E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, 258.
16 See C.K. Barrett, 2 Corinthians, 256; A.T. Lincoln, Paradise, 66.
17 On these points, see C.K. Barrett, 2 Corinthians, 156; A.T. Lincoln, Paradise, 67; R.P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, 106ff.; B.F. Meyer, ‘Paul’s View of the Resurrection’, 380ff.; J. Osei-Bonsu, ‘2 Corinthians 5:1–10’, 91; P. Barnett, 2 Corinthians, 264f.
18 On this line of interpretation, see, among others, R.P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, 109ff.; V. Furnish, 2 Corinthians (Garden City: Doubleday, 1984), 301ff.; P. Barnett, 2 Corinthians, 268ff.; D.E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, 264f.
19 See on these points, R. Berry, ‘Death and Life in Christ’, Scottish Journal of Theology 14, 1961, 67; A.T. Lincoln, Paradise, 69f.; R.H. Gundry, Soma, 152. Compare also G.E. Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 106f.
20 See further on this, M.J. Harris, Raised Immortal, 255 n. 4. Note also the comments of W.L. Craig, ‘The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus’, in Gospel Perspectives—Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels(Sheffield: JSOT, 1983), 62ff.
21 For detailed treatment of 2 Corinthians 5:1–10, see especially R. Berry, ‘Death and Life’, 60–76; A.T. Lincoln, Paradise, 59–71; J. Osei-Bonsu, ‘2 Corinthians 5:1–10’, 81–101; R. Gundry, Soma, 146–54; P. Barnett, 2 Corinthians, 255ff.; D.E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, 253ff.; M.E. Thrall, 2 Corinthians I (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1994), 357ff. See also W.L. Craig, ‘Pauls Dilemma in 2 Corinthians 5:1–10: a “Catch-22”?’, New Testament Studies 34, 1988, 145–47, where he argues that Paul was in a sort of ‘Catch-22’ situation, and the appearance of inconsistency ‘arises out of the paradoxical situation in which Paul was placed and the Catch-22 decision with which he was confronted’.
22 On these and other aspects of Pauline eschatology, see W. Baird, ‘Pauline Eschatology in Hermeneutical Perspective’, New Testament Studies 17, 1971, 314–27; A.C. Perriman, ‘Paul and the Parousia: 1 Corinthians 15:50–57 and 2 Corinthians 5:1–10’, New Testament Studies 35, 1989, 512–21; B. Witherington, Jesus, Paul and the End of the World (Exeter: Paternoster, 1992), 152–231. See also the detailed bibliography in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 268–69.
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