Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"A Spirit Does Not Have Flesh and Bones": Another Application of Luke 24:39

A text which has been frequently cited by Trinitarians and others who do not accept the biblical teaching that Jesus of Nazareth was raised to life as a "spirit" is Luke 24:39. For example, according to Dr. Walter Martin, the founder of the Christian Research Institute and the author of a variety of books and other materials concerning many of the beliefs promoted by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and by Jehovah's Witnesses:
[Acts 1:9] shows that the disciples were "looking on" and saw him "lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision" (v. 9). They could hardly have been looking at a spirit, which by definition is incorporeal, not with human eyes at least, and Christ had told them once before, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:39). [Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Revised, Updated, and Expanded Edition, Ravi Zacharias, General Ed. (Bloomington, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), page 102; compare also page 121.]
In a footnote to the word "incorporeal" Martin writes, "Even angels have to take a human form in order to be seen (Genesis 19:1-2)," and so it is a genuine mystery why Martin did not see that Jesus, since his resurrection as a "spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45 [see discussion below]), could also have taken on various human forms, including the one he chose in Acts Chapter 1, but without requiring him (or the angels in Genesis 19) to actually have a real human body apart from such physical manifestations. 

Where it concerns Jesus' words in Luke 24:39, here is the text together with verses 36-38 and 40-43 according to the New Revised Standard Version (with my added underlining):

Luke 24:36-43 (NRSV [1989])
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish,  and he took it and ate in their presence.
The NRSV uses "ghost" to translate the Greek word pneuma, which also and regularly means a "spirit," that is, either an evil, demonic angel or a righteous, holy angel. Compare the use of pneuma in Luke 4:33, 8:29, 9:39, 9:42, Acts 16:16, 19:15, 16, and in Revelation 16:13-14, where pneuma clearly refers to a demonic spirit, and then compare the use of pneuma in Hebrews 1:14 and Revelation 1:4, where it clearly refers to angelic or to other holy spirits in Jah God's service.

Returning to the account associated with Luke 24:39, those in the room did not recognize Jesus by his face when he "stood among them" or by his voice as he spoke to them (Luke 24:35); they thought he may have been a "ghost" or some kind of harmful spirit (hence, they were "startled and terrified"). But Jesus reassured them by "showing them his hands and his feet" which in this instance had the wound marks from his execution. This was proof Jesus provided to help others who could not otherwise recognize his voice or his temporary physical form, because he did not look or sound like he did before he died. Related to this, Jesus then also explained, "A spirit/ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

It is therefore without question that on this occasion Jesus did have the marks of execution in the body in which he appeared to them. But was this the same "body" in which he was raised to life before his appearance in this room, or elsewhere? 

If Jesus is correct, namely, that "a spirit does not have flesh and bones," then the body which he manifested to his followers according to Luke 24:39 was not the same body in which he was raised to life. Note what is written concerning this raising to life, that is, the actual resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead according to 1 Corinthians 15:35-45 (with my underlining added):

1 Corinthians 15:35-45 (New International Version [1984])
But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.  But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.  The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit [Greek: pneuma].

According to Paul the "last Adam," Jesus of Nazareth, was "raised a spiritual body," meaning he "became a life-giving spirit" (Greek: pneuma). Therefore, merely by comparing what Jesus said in Luke 24:39 with the teaching here in 1 Corinthians 15:45, it is clear that the body in which Jesus was raised to life was a "spiritual body," one  meant for a "life-giving spirit" and so not a body with "flesh and bones," which he did manifest in different forms after his resurrection had already taken place.See Luke 24:13-35; John 20:14-17; compare Mark 16:9-14 (note the longer ending's wording in verse 12, "He [Jesus] appeared in another form [Greek: ephanerothe en hetera morphe]").

Apart from his appearances in different bodies/forms prior to his ascension but since his actual presentation of his "body" to Jah God the Father (John 20:14-17; Acts 1:1-8; Hebrews 10:5, 10), which appearances are similar to the manner in which angelic spirits are said to have taken on human forms (even to the point of eating; compare Genesis 19:1-3 with Luke 24:43), Jesus' resurrected spirit body, according to his own testimony in Luke 24:39, does not have "flesh and bones." Rather, the actual "spiritual body" in which Jesus was raised to life is much different from those which he took on during some of his earthly, post-resurrection appearances. Here is how his actual "spiritual body" is described by those who saw him with it (with my underlining added):

Revelation 1:12-16 (New World Translation [1984])
And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me, and, having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands someone like a son of man, clothed with a garment that reached down to the feet, and girded at the breasts with a golden girdle. Moreover, his head and his hair were white as white wool, as snow, and his eyes as a fiery flame; and his feet were like fine copper when glowing in a furnace; and his voice was as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars, and out of his mouth a sharp, long two-edged sword was protruding, and his countenance was as the sun when it shines in its power.
As I wrote in Chapter 6 of my Third Edition of Jehovah's Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and to Critics (Murrieta, CA: Elihu Books, 2009), page 436, after citing the above description of Jesus' resurrection body according to his apostle John:
Here we have a clear description of what Jesus’ heavenly body looks like to humans. Jesus’ “head” and his “hair” are said to be “white as wool, as snow, and his eyes as a fiery flame.” His feet are “like fine copper when glowing in a furnace” and “his voice was the sound of many waters.” Finally, his “countenance was as the sun when it shines in its power.” This is a far cry from the human forms Jesus took on after his resurrection! Revelation 2:18 also describes the heavenly Jesus in similar terms, where it says he has “eyes like a fiery flame, and his feet are like fine copper.” These descriptions are also very similar to the angel in Revelation 10:1, whose “face was as the sun, and his feet were as fiery pillars.” It is little wonder, then, that the apostle Paul refers to Jesus as ‘not a man’ in Galatians 1:12.

The descriptions of Jesus’ heavenly body in Revelation 1 and 2 have several striking similarities with other angelic spirits who are described in the Bible. In Ezekiel 1:7, 13 the cherubs are described as “gleaming as with the glow of burnished copper,” and "like burning coals of fire." Their voices are even similar in sound to Jesus’ voice, for they are both like "vast waters, like the sound of the Almighty."Ezekiel 1:24.

Further, in Ezekiel 40:3 an angel is described as "like the appearance of copper." Also, in Daniel 10:6 the eyes, the body, and the voice of the angel who appeared to Daniel is described in terms which are very similar to how Jesus and the cherubs in Ezekiel are described. Consider (again with my underlining added):

And his body was like chrys´o·lite, and his face like the appearance of lightning, and his eyes like fiery torches, and his arms and the place of his feet were like the sight of burnished copper, and the sound of his words was like the sound of a crowd [NWT].

It is clear, then, that the body in which Jesus was raised to life is not the same body in which he died, even though he did use that same body or one like it when appearing to others after his resurrection in order to provide proof that he was not "a ghost," or some terrifying, demonic "spirit." Yet, apart from these appearances Jesus is presented just like other spirit beings in the Bible and in other literature written during the biblical periods about such beings, namely, as a "spirit" being with a "spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 14:45), a body "not made with hands" but made by God just for him (1 Corinthians 15:38; 2 Corinthians 5:1-3), a body "raised imperishable" and so one with no "flesh and bones" as we see him with before his death and when appearing on earth to others before his ascension.Luke 24:39; Acts 1:1-9; 1 Corinthians 15:52.

For additional discussion of these and other, related texts and arguments concerning the 1) physical body in which Jesus died and 2) the spiritual body in which he was raised to life, including a complete discussion of the context and understanding of John 2:19-21, the empty tomb and the non-corruption of Jesus' "flesh" according to Acts 2:31 and Acts 13:36-37, see Chapter 6 of my Third Edition of Jehovah's Witnesses Defended (2009), which chapter is now available online in its entirety for your reading/printing/saving at no cost. Simply click here and enjoy!