Did Early Christians have a hope of Resurrection to Earth or Resurrection to Heaven?
Early Christian Writings Examined.
The earlier six articles in this series of “Mankind’s Hope for the Future. Where will it be?” reviewed the evidence that is found in the Scriptures on this topic.
This article came about because of the interesting discoveries to be found in early Christian writings about the circumstances surrounding Jesus Christ’s death. Specifically, the earthquake, the darkness for 3 hours and so forth.
The author therefore decided to review evidence from translations of early Christian writings (non- scripture) that are still available today. The aim was to establish according to Non-Biblical sources what hope was held by early Christians at that time. At the time of starting this investigation the author had no idea what he would find.
Initially it became apparent that the hope originally held by early Christians was that of a resurrection to earth in a fleshly body, matching the conclusion from the examination of the scriptures, in our series “Mankind’s Hope for the Future, What is it?”. Therefore, this review also required an attempt to identify when there were gradual changes which led to the widespread popular view of mainstream Christianity today that the hope is to go to heaven.
Only source documents with a generally accepted provenance by mainstream scholars have been referred to. For instance, 2nd Clement is not considered to be of the same origin, writer and date as 1 Clement.
The review is grouped by the “Early Church Father” (as the writers are commonly called) and the early Christian writers are approximately sorted in ascending year order of writing. Source links are provided for all quotations so the reader can get more of a context if they wish. However, the author has attempted to give sufficient context to the quotation to enable readers to make sense of the quote. Some quotes are large due to the writing style of the authors.
What unfolded in this exploration of the early Christian writings was both new and very informative to the author and it is hoped that it will prove the same to you, our dear readers.
The author did extensive, time consuming, searching in all available Early Christian Writings in English to ensure an accurate record and reflection of the historical facts was presented. No references to resurrection were deliberately left out where they touched on the subject of Mankind’s Hope unless they were from the same writer and repeating the same understanding (for the sake of brevity) in quotations from that individual writer already included. If readers are aware of any other important quotations that have been omitted / overlooked which either support the conclusions of this document or contradict it, please feel free to contact the author.
Clement of Rome: Written c.88 AD – c.140 AD
Clement of Rome’s writings discuss briefly the resurrection with references to Job’s hope. There is no hint of the destination being in heaven.
1 Clement 24:1
“Let us understand, dearly beloved, how the Master continually showeth unto us the resurrection that shall be hereafter; whereof He made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruit, when He raised Him from the dead.”
1 Clement 24:2
“Let us behold, dearly beloved, the resurrection which happeneth at its proper season.”
1 Clement 24:3
“Day and night show unto us the resurrection. The night falleth asleep, and day ariseth; the day departeth, and night cometh on.”
1 Clement 26:1
“Do we then think it to be a great and marvelous thing, if the Creator of the universe shall bring about the resurrection of them that have served Him with holiness in the assurance of a good faith, seeing that He showeth to us even by a bird the magnificence of His promise?”
1 Clement 26:2
“For He saith in a certain place And Thou shalt raise me up, and I will praise Thee; and; I went to rest and slept, I was awaked, for Thou art with me.”
1 Clement 26:3
“And again Job saith And Thou shall raise this my flesh which hath endured all these things.”
1 Clement 27:1
“With this hope therefore let our souls be bound unto Him that is faithful in His promises and that is righteous in His judgments.”
All these comments by Clement of Rome give no indication of any hope of life in heaven, rather they reinforce the conclusions arrived at in our earlier examination of the Bible record.
Fragments of Papias: Written c.110 AD – c.140 AD
The fragments are compilations from other author’s later writings which explicitly indicate they quote from Papias.
This quotation by Jerome (in the 4th Century) shows that Papias, Irenaeus and others believed in a 1,000-year reign by Christ in the flesh, after his visible return to earth. It follows that therefore the resurrection of the holy ones would be to earth in the flesh as well, not as spirit creatures. (If Jesus was either in the flesh literally, or at least materialized on earth, according to their beliefs, then by implication the saints (or holy ones) would likewise be resurrected in the flesh.)
“This Papias is said to have promulgated the Jewish tradition of a Millennium, and he is followed by Irenaeus, Apollinarius and the others, who say that after the resurrection the Lord will reign in the flesh with the saints. Tertullian also in his work On the hope of the faithful, Victorinus of Petau and Lactantius follow this view.
Polycarp: Martyrdom of Polycarp – Originally written c.150 AD
Martyrdom of Polycarp – Chapter XIV
This quotation makes no mention of heaven, just resurrection to eternal life in the flesh (body). Also, that the soul and body would be resurrected.
In this chapter about the prayer of Polycarp it says in part, “I give you thanks that you have counted me worthy of this day and hour, … to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption by the Holy Spirit.”
Source: See Anti Nicene Fathers Volume 1, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, p122 (pdf p165) https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.iv.xiv.html
Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho – Written c.155 AD – c.167 AD
Here Justin Martyr accused false Christians of not believing in the resurrection of the dead – (i.e. like the Sadducees) and also that these false Christians believed that their souls when they die, were taken to heaven, (and therefore by extension, would not require a resurrection).
This indicates that a corrupting influence was already at work in the mid-2nd century, but the mainstream early congregations refuted these ideas, because this would have changed their inherited beliefs of a resurrection to earth into a new concept of a transformation into a spirit creature in heaven.
“For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this truth and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, …. 2263 … But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years 2264 in Jerusalem”
Source: p638 ANF01 Chapter LXXX https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.lxxx.html
Tatian: Address to the Greeks – Written c.155 AD – c.165 AD
Here Tatian was specifically explaining the Christian belief of the resurrection to Greek non-Christians. The quotation clearly only talks about the resurrection of physical bodies.
Chapter VI.—Christians’ Belief in the Resurrection.
And on this account we believe that there will be a resurrection of bodies after the consummation of all things; not, as the Stoics affirm, according to the return of certain cycles, the same things being produced and destroyed for no useful purpose, but a resurrection once for all, 19 when our periods of existence are completed, and in consequence solely of the constitution of things under which men alone live, for the purpose of passing judgment upon them. Nor is sentence upon us passed by Minos or Rhadamanthus, before whose decease not a single soul, according to the mythic tales, was judged; but the Creator, God Himself, becomes the arbiter. And, although you regard us as mere triflers and babblers, it troubles us not, since we have faith in this doctrine. For just as, not existing before I was born, I knew not who I was, and only existed in the potentiality (ὐπόστασις) of fleshly matter, but being born, after a former state of nothingness, I have obtained through my birth a certainty of my existence; in the same way, having been born, and through death existing no longer, and seen no longer, I shall exist again, just as before I was not, but was afterwards born. Even though fire destroy all traces of my flesh, the world receives the vaporized matter; 20 and though dispersed through rivers and seas, or torn in pieces by wild beasts, I am laid up in the storehouses of a wealthy Lord. And, although the poor and the godless know not what is stored up, yet God the Sovereign, when He pleases, will restore the substance that is visible to Him alone to its pristine condition.
Theophilus of Antioch: Theophilus to Autolycus – Written c.161 AD – c.181 AD
Theophilus to Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter VIII Faith required in all matters.
Theophilus was here writing to a person called Autolycus who did not believe in the resurrection and the quotation clearly reads as Theophilus believe that the resurrection was being expected to the earth.
“But you do not believe that the dead are raised. When the resurrection shall take place, then you will believe, whether you will or no; and your faith shall be reckoned for unbelief, unless you believe now. And why do you not believe? Do you not know that faith is the leading principle in all matters?”
Theophilus to Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter XIII, The Resurrection proved by examples.
This further quotation from Theophilus also clearly reads as the resurrection being expected to the earth.
“Then, as to your denying that the dead are raised—for you say, 23 “Show me even one who has been raised from the dead, that seeing I may believe,”—first, what great thing is it if you believe when you have seen the thing done? Then, again, you believe that Hercules, 93 who burned himself, lives; and that Æsculapius, who was struck with lightning, was raised; and do you disbelieve the things that are told you by God? But, suppose I should show you a dead man raised and alive, even this you would disbelieve. God indeed exhibits to you many proofs that you may believe Him. For consider, if you please, the dying of seasons, and days, and nights, how these also die and rise again.”
Theophilus to Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XXVI, Gods goodness in expelling man from Paradise
This quotation also clearly reads as the resurrection being expected to the earth.
“so that the one was fulfilled when he was placed there, and the second will be fulfilled after the resurrection and judgment. For just as a vessel, when on being fashioned it has some flaw, is remoulded or remade, that it may become new and entire; so also it happens to man 105 by death. For somehow or other he is broken up, that he may rise in the resurrection whole;
I mean spotless, and righteous, and immortal.”
Athenagoras – The Resurrection of the Dead: Written c.177 AD
Athenagoras was here discussing the physical resurrection of fleshly bodies that had dissolved away into the earth and that God was capable of reconstituting dissolved bodies.
Chapter XI – Recapitulation
“If, then, by means of that which is by nature first and that which follows from it, each of the points investigated has been proved, it is very evident that the resurrection of dissolved bodies is a work which the Creator can perform, and can will,”
Chapter XVIII- Judgement must have reference both to soul and body
“the result of all this is very plain to everyone,—namely, that, in the language of the apostle, “this corruptible (and dissoluble) must put on incorruption,”153 in order that those who were dead, having been made alive by the resurrection, and the parts that were separated and entirely dissolved having been again united, each one may, in accordance with justice, receive what he has done by the body, whether it be good or bad.”
Irenaeus – Against Heresies: Written c.180 AD – c.202 AD
Irenaeus wrote against heresies and false teachings that were circulating at the time. All these quotations in their context clearly show he and the mainstream early Christianity at that time believed in a resurrection to earth.
Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter XXXII
“Thus, then, they who are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham, and these are the children of Abraham. Now God made promise of the earth to Abraham and his seed; yet neither Abraham nor his seed, that is, those who are justified by faith, 562 do now receive any inheritance in it; but they shall receive it at the resurrection of the just. For God is true and faithful; and on this account He said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter XXXIII
“He promised to drink of the fruit of the vine with His disciples, thus indicating both these points: the inheritance of the earth in which the new fruit of the vine is drunk, and the resurrection of His disciples in the flesh. For the new flesh which rises again is the same which also received the new cup. And He cannot by any means be understood as drinking of the fruit of the vine when settled down with his [disciples] above in a super-celestial place; nor, again, are they who drink it devoid of flesh, for to drink of that which flows from the vine pertains to flesh, and not spirit.”
“3. The blessing of Isaac with which he blessed his younger son Jacob has the same meaning, when he says, “Behold, the smell of my son is as the smell of a full field which the Lord has blessed.”2088 But “the field is the world.”2089 And therefore he added, “God give to thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, plenty of corn and wine. And let the nations serve thee, and kings bow down to thee; and be thou lord over thy brother, and thy father’s sons shall bow down to thee: cursed shall be he who shall curse thee, and blessed shall be he who shall bless thee.”2090 If any one, then, does not accept these things as referring to the appointed kingdom, he must fall into much contradiction and contrariety, as is the case with the Jews, who are involved in absolute perplexity. For not only did not the nations in this life serve this Jacob; but even after he had received the blessing, he himself
going forth [from his home], served his uncle Laban the Syrian for twenty years; 2091 and not only was he not made lord of his brother, but he did himself bow down before his brother Esau, upon his return from Mesopotamia to his father, and offered many gifts to him. 2092 Moreover, in what way did he inherit much corn and wine here, he who emigrated to Egypt because of the famine which possessed the land in which he was dwelling, and became subject to Pharaoh, who was then ruling over Egypt? The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead;2093 when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth:”
Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter XXXIII
“If, however, any shall endeavour to allegorize [prophecies] of this kind, they shall not be found consistent with themselves in all points, and shall be confuted by the teaching of the very expressions [in question]. For example: “When the cities” of the Gentiles “shall be desolate, so that they be not inhabited, and the houses so that there shall be no men in them and the land shall be left desolate.”2117 “For, behold,” says Isaiah, “the day of the Lord cometh past remedy, full of fury and wrath, to lay waste the city of the earth, and to root sinners out of it.”2118 And again he says, “Let him be taken away, that he behold not the glory of God.”2119 And when these things are done, he says, “God will remove men far away, and those that are left shall multiply in the earth.”2120 “And they shall build houses, and shall inhabit them themselves: and plant vineyards, and eat of them themselves.”2121 For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings; and [with respect to] those whom the Lord shall find in the flesh, awaiting Him from heaven, and who have suffered tribulation, as well as escaped the hands of the Wicked one. For it is in reference to them that the prophet says: “And those that are left shall multiply upon the earth,””
Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus: Written: various estimates between c.130 AD to c.190 AD –c.199 AD.
Modern scholarship favours the latter date.
This writing which is believed to be late 2nd century implies a very different message to those previously examined. It introduces concepts of immortality of the soul and life in heaven in stark contrast to the message of Clement and Irenaeus and others from the same time period. It is therefore probable that these are either (a) writings of the false Christians mentioned by Irenaeus or (b) later alterations to the texts made by copyists to agree with the teachings by then prevalent in the Catholic Church.
Facts that give support to these conclusions are as follows:
- The only 3 extant copies are from 1592 AD, some 1400 years after they are purported to be written.
- Scholars are very suspicious that at least chapters XI and XII are spurious, which potentially casts doubt on the rest of the chapters.
- The questionable provenance increases yet more as the quotations are at odds with the original writings previously examined from the same time period.
Mathetes – Chapter V – The Manners of the Christians –
“They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.22 They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.23”
This comment can be read as in agreement with scripture such as Philippians 3:20 “As for us, our citizenship exists in the heavens, from which place also we are eagerly waiting for a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”, with both discussing the origin of the citizenship as being from heaven I.e. God.
Mathetes -chapter VI –
“The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling31 in the heavens.”
This portion is markedly different from any quotes already found. It reads like the later teachings of the Catholic Church rather than the understanding of early Christian teachings so far found.
Mathetes -chapter X –
“to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him.”
This portion also reads like the later teachings of the Catholic Church rather than the understanding of early Christian teachings so far found.
Source: See AntiNiceneFathers Volume 1, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, page 71, (PDF copy p114)
Clement of Alexandria: Written c.193 AD – c.217 AD
It is to be noted that scholars recognise that there are many corruptions in the texts available of Clement of Alexandria. Whether the following quotation is one of these later corruptions is difficult to discern, but it does stand in contrast to the writings of Irenaeus from the same period as it suggests a heavenly destination, albeit at the end of the world, not at death as most Christian religions teach today.
Who is the rich man who will be saved?
“a trophy of the resurrection for which we hope; when at the end of the world, the angels, radiant with joy, hymning and opening the heavens, shall receive into the celestial abodes those who truly repent; and before all, the Saviour Himself goes to meet them, welcoming them; holding forth the shadowless, ceaseless light; conducting them, to the Father’s bosom, to eternal life, to the kingdom of heaven.”.
Tertullian: Various Writings – Written c.208 AD (Against Marcion)
These two quotations from Tertullian’s writing named Apologetic discuss resurrection of the whole human race to the same bodies, contrasting this with pagan views of reincarnation in animals.
Apologetic: Apology: Chapter XLVIII
“then the whole human race shall be raised again, to have its dues meted out according as it has merited in the period of good or evil, and thereafter to have these paid out through the immeasurable ages of eternity. Therefore after this there is neither death nor repeated resurrections, but we shall be the same that we are now, and still unchanged—the servants of God, ever with God”.
Apologetic: Ad Nationes: Book 1, Chapter XIX
“for we take for granted a resurrection of the dead. Hope in this resurrection amounts to a contempt of death” … “But how much more worthy of acceptance is our belief which maintains that they will return to the same bodies! And how much more ridiculous is your inherited conceit, that the human spirit is to reappear in a dog, or a mule, or a peacock!”
Anti-Marcion: The Prescription Against Heretics: Chapter XIII: Summary of the Creed or Rule of Faith (p513 pdf)
This quotation, while part could be understood either way, mentions resurrection of the holy ones and the wicked occurring together and that it is fleshly. Clearly the wicked do not go to heaven and there is no hint of a resurrection as spirit creatures.
“He [Christ] sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh.”
Anti-Marcion: The Prescription Against Heretics: Chapter XLIV: Heresy Lowers Respect for Christ and Destroys All Fear of His Great Judgement (p556 pdf)
This interesting passage is talking about heretics and to make his point, has Jesus hypothetically and sarcastically speaking to these heretics, contrasting what he taught and what the heretics are teaching, showing what a mockery their views make of Christ’s teachings. He is asking the question, why would Jesus teach one thing and then later change his mind?
“I suppose they [the heretics] will run great risk of missing pardon, when the Lord answers: I plainly forewarned you that there should be teachers of false doctrine in my name, as well as that of the prophets and apostles also; and to my own disciples did I give a charge, that they should preach the same things to you. But as for you, it was not, of course, to be supposed that you would believe me! I once gave the gospel and the doctrine of the said rule (of life and faith) to my apostles; but afterwards it was my pleasure to make considerable changes in it! I had promised a resurrection, even of the flesh; but, on second thoughts, it struck me that I might not be able to keep my promise! I had shown myself to have been born of a virgin; but this seemed to me afterwards to be a discreditable thing.”
The Five Books against Marcion: Book 3: Chapter XXIV: Christ’s Millennial and Heavenly Glory in Company with His Saints (p738 pdf)
Here Marcion, viewed as a heretic by Tertullian, is declaring that there is a hope of life in the heavens, something which Tertullian has never entertained and asks Marcion for proof of this. Tertullian calls this a “hollow pretence of a mighty promise”!
“Now, for my own part indeed, even though Scripture held out no hand of heavenly hope to me, I should still possess a sufficient presumption of even this promise, in my present enjoyment of the earthly gift; and I should look out for something also of the heavenly, from Him who is the God of heaven as well as of earth. I should thus believe that the Christ who promises the higher blessings is (the Son) of Him who had also promised the lower ones; who had, moreover, afforded proofs of greater gifts by smaller ones; who had reserved for His Christ alone this revelation of a (perhaps) unheard of kingdom, so that, while the earthly glory was announced by His servants, the heavenly might have God Himself for its messenger. You, however, argue for another Christ, from the very circumstance that He proclaims a new kingdom. You ought first to bring forward some example of His beneficence, that I may have no good reason for doubting the credibility of the great promise, which you say ought to be hoped for; nay, it is before all things necessary that you should prove that a heaven belongs to Him, whom you declare to be a promiser of heavenly things. As it is, you invite us to dinner, but do not point out your house; you assert a kingdom, but show us no royal state. Can it be that your Christ promises a kingdom of heaven, without having a heaven; as He displayed Himself man, without having flesh? O what a phantom from first to last! O hollow pretence of a mighty promise!”
The Five Books against Marcion: Book 5: Chapter IX: The Doctrine of the Resurrection. The Body will rise again (p965 pdf)
The whole thrust of this chapter is that the fleshly body will rise again. There is no suggestion that the resurrection will be as some sort of spirit creature.
“Touching the resurrection of the dead, let us first inquire how some persons then denied it. No doubt in the same way in which it is even now denied, since the resurrection of the flesh has at all times men to deny it. But many wise men claim for the soul a divine nature, and are confident of its undying destiny, and even the multitude worship the dead in the presumption which they boldly entertain that their souls survive. As for our bodies, however, it is manifest that they perish either at once by fire or the wild beasts, or even when most carefully kept by length of time. When, therefore, the apostle refutes those who deny the resurrection of the flesh, he indeed defends, in opposition to them, the precise matter of their denial, that is, the resurrection of the body. You have the whole answer wrapped up in this. All the rest is superfluous. Now in this very point, which is called the resurrection of the dead, it is requisite that the proper force of the words should be accurately maintained. 5586 The word dead expresses simply what has lost the vital principle, by means of which it used to live. Now the body is that which loses life, and as the result of losing it becomes dead. To the body, therefore, the term dead is only suitable. Moreover, as resurrection accrues to what is dead, and dead is a term applicable only to a body, therefore the body alone has a resurrection incidental to it.”
The Five Books against Marcion: Book 5: Chapter IX: The Doctrine of the Resurrection. The Body will rise again (p971 pdf)
Marcion, was viewed by Tertullian as a heretic, and was introducing the teaching that it was the soul which gained salvation and there was no physical resurrection, which later developed into the widespread view today in Christendom, that the soul goes to heaven or hell.
“For Marcion does not in any wise admit the resurrection of the flesh, and it is only the salvation of the soul which he promises; consequently the question which he raises is not concerning the sort of body, but the very substance thereof”
The Five Books against Marcion: Book 5: Chapter IX: The Doctrine of the Resurrection. The Body will rise again (p972 pdf)
Very interestingly for the author, who had never read the works of Tertullian before doing this research, Tertullian is discussing the passage from 1 Corinthians 15:35-57 and comes to essentially the same conclusion as the author when researching only the scriptures for “Mankind’s Hope for the Future, Where will it be? Part 5”.
“Likewise, “although it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Now, although the natural principle of life and the spirit have each a body proper to itself, so that the “natural body” may fairly be taken to signify the soul, and “the spiritual body” the spirit, yet that is no reason for supposing the apostle to say that the soul is to become spirit in the resurrection, but that the body (which, as being born along with the soul, and as retaining its life by means of the soul, admits of being called animal (or natural) will become spiritual, since it rises through the Spirit to an eternal life. In short, since it is not the soul, but the flesh which is “sown in corruption,” when it turns to decay in the ground, it follows that (after such dissolution) the soul is no longer the natural body, but the flesh, which was the natural body, (is the subject of the future change), forasmuch as of a natural body it is made a spiritual body”.
The Five Books against Marcion: Book 5: Chapter IX: The Doctrine of the Resurrection. The Body will rise again (p973-5 pdf)
This is a continuation of the same passage from the quotation immediately above. This quotation again has an almost identical explanation of Paul’s words to the Corinthians as the author of this investigation into Mankind’s hope for the future.
“For what are this next words? “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” He means the works of the flesh and blood, which, in his Epistle to the Galatians, deprive men of the kingdom of God”… and “But the resurrection is one thing, and the kingdom is another. The resurrection is first, and afterwards the kingdom. We say, therefore, that the flesh rises again, but that when changed it obtains the kingdom. “For the dead shall be raised incorruptible,” even those who had been corruptible when their bodies fell into decay; “and we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. For this corruptible”—and as he spake, the apostle seemingly pointed to his own flesh—“must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality,” in order, indeed, that it may be rendered a fit substance for the kingdom of God. “For we shall be like the angels.” This will be the perfect change of our flesh—only after its resurrection. Now if, on the contrary, there is to be no flesh, how then shall it put on incorruption and immortality? Having then become something else by its change, it will obtain the kingdom of God, no longer the (old) flesh and blood, but the body which God shall have given it. Rightly then does the apostle declare, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;” for this (honour) does he ascribe to the changed condition which ensues on the resurrection. Since, therefore, shall then be accomplished the word which was written by the Creator, “O death, where is thy victory”—or thy struggle? “O death, where is thy sting?”
On the Resurrection of the Flesh (PDF p1202 – > p1270+)
This whole, large treatise is entirely about defending the early Christian belief of resurrection back to a fleshly body, against the influence of the Jewish Sadducees and Pagan Philosophers on some early Christians. The Marcionites believed that Jesus was the saviour sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was the chief apostle, but they rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel as a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. They also believed in the salvation of the soul but not a physical resurrection. It is against this background that the following quotations Tertullian state:
(p1205) “For if the resurrection of the flesh be denied, that prime article of the faith is shaken; if it be asserted, that is established.”
(p1234) “For some, when they have alighted on a very usual form of prophetic statement, generally expressed in figure and allegory, though not always, distort into some imaginary sense even the most clearly described doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, alleging that even death itself must be understood in a spiritual sense”.
(p1241) Regarding the Apostle Paul he says: “the apostle writes to the Philippians: “If by any means,” says he, “I might attain to the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect.” It is interesting that this quotation of Philippians 3:11 that the text does not read “earlier resurrection” as in the NWT, but rather just “resurrection”.
(p1259) Referring to Matthew 10:28 Tertullian reasons: “But He [Jesus] also teaches us, that “He is rather to be feared, who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell,” that is, the Lord alone; “not those which kill the body, but are not able to hurt the soul,” that is to say, all human powers. Here, then, we have a recognition of the natural immortality of the soul, which cannot be killed by men; and of the mortality of the body, which may be killed: whence we learn that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of the flesh; for unless it were raised again, it would be impossible for the flesh to be “killed in hell.””
However, in doing so he has introduced the immortality of the soul into mainstream Christianity although not necessarily with the same meaning as present day Christianity. There is also a question in the author’s mind as to whether this passage is a later interpolation as it does not agree with the next quotation from his writings and the overall message he gives through his writings.
(p1265) This speaks for itself. The reasoning given is, Why did Christ resurrect Lazarus and others back to earth? It served to keep men’s belief in a future earthly resurrection in the same manner that they already understood.
Chapter XXXVIII. Christ, by Raising the Dead, Attested in a Practical Way the Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Flesh.
“After the Lord’s words, what are we to think of the purport of His actions, when He raises dead persons from their biers and their graves? To what end did He do so? If it was only for the mere exhibition of His power, or to afford the temporary favour of restoration to life, it was really no great matter for Him to raise men to die over again. If, however, as was the truth, it was rather to put in secure keeping men’s belief in a future resurrection, then it must follow from the particular form of His own examples, that the said resurrection will be a bodily one. I can never allow it to be said that the resurrection of the future, being destined for the soul only, did then receive these preliminary illustrations of a raising of the flesh, simply because it would have been impossible to have shown the resurrection of an invisible soul except by the resuscitation of a visible substance.”
(p1266) Here Tertullian affirms that the Apostles did not introduce any new teaching on the resurrection that was not already believed among the Jews. (The Old Testament contains not one hint of a resurrection to heaven, it clearly teaches a resurrection back to life on earth.)
Chapter XXXIX. Additional Evidence Afforded to Us in the Acts of the Apostles.
“The Acts of the Apostles, too, attest the resurrection. Now the apostles had nothing else to do, at least among the Jews, than to explain the Old Testament and confirm the New, and above all, to preach God in Christ. Consequently they introduced nothing new concerning the resurrection, besides announcing it to the glory of Christ: in every other respect it had been already received in simple and intelligent faith, without any question as to what sort of resurrection it was to be, and without encountering any other opponents than the Sadducees.”
Source: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.v.viii.i.html for start of this book
(p1270 onwards in On Resurrection of the Flesh not reviewed as the above was considered sufficient)
Origen: De Principiis, Against Celsus – Written c.230 AD
De Principiis, Book 2, On the Resurrection and the Judgement, p706 pdf, page #666
This statement was made about the Apostle Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 15 to counter those denying the resurrection in the early 3rd Century. Notice how the understanding at that time was that Paul was borrowing comparison from heavenly bodies to show in how much better a position (perfect, in glory) those resurrected would be, compared to when they had died as imperfect sinners.
“Our understanding of the passage indeed is, that the apostle, wishing to describe the great difference among those who rise again in glory, i.e., of the saints, borrowed a comparison from the heavenly bodies, saying, “One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, another the glory of the stars.” And wishing again to teach us the differences among those who shall come to the resurrection, without having purged themselves in this life, i.e., sinners, he borrowed an illustration from earthly things, saying, “There is one flesh of birds, another of fishes.” For heavenly things are worthily compared to the saints, and earthly things to sinners. These statements are made in reply to those who deny the resurrection of the dead, i.e., the resurrection of bodies.”
De Principiis, Book 3, On the End of the World, p801 pdf, page #762
This is an interesting passage. This is the first mention of the idea that the changing into a spiritual body will be gradual, (as per the current teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses), even though 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 talks about “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet”. Nonetheless it is still referring to a resurrection on earth, not heaven.
“by the will of its Creator, and at the time appointed, it will be restored to life; and that a second time a change will take place in it, so that what at first was flesh (formed) out of earthly soil, and was afterwards dissolved by death, and again reduced to dust and ashes (“For dust thou art,” it is said, “and to dust shalt thou return”), will be again raised from the earth, and shall after this, according to the merits of the indwelling soul, advance to the glory of a spiritual body. Into this condition, then, we are to suppose that all this bodily substance of ours will be brought, when all things shall be re-established in a state of unity, and when God shall be all in all. And this result must be understood as being brought about, not suddenly, but slowly and gradually, seeing that the process of amendment and correction will take place imperceptibly in the individual instances during the lapse of countless and unmeasured ages, some outstripping others, and tending by a swifter course towards perfection, while others again follow close at hand, and some again a long way behind; and thus, through the numerous and uncounted orders of progressive beings who are being reconciled to God from a state of enmity, the last enemy is finally reached, who is called death, so that he also may be destroyed, and no longer be an enemy.”
Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter LVI, (p1044 pdf, page #1004)
It is worthy of mention that the early Christians would not have been so prepared to die as martyrs if they did not so firmly believe the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
“a doctrine which they would not have taught with such courage had they invented the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; and who also, at the same time, not only prepared others to despise death, but were themselves the first to manifest their disregard for its terrors.”
Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter LXXVII, (p1071 pdf, page #1031)
Interestingly, this confirms that even by the early 3rd Century AD the Jews still believed in an earthly bodily resurrection to eternal life.
“Chapter LXXVII. After this the Jew remarks, manifestly in accordance with the Jewish belief: “We certainly hope that there will be a bodily resurrection, and that we shall enjoy an eternal life; and the example and archetype of this will be He who is sent to us, and who will show that nothing is impossible with God.””
Against Celsus, Book 5, Chapter XXII, (p1306 pdf, page #1267)
Here again (as with Tertullian) is a reference to a group of Christians who had departed (in Origen’s view) from the teaching of the scriptures on the matter of the resurrection.
“Chapter XXII. Let no one, however, suspect that, in speaking as we do, we belong to those who are indeed called Christians, but who set aside the doctrine of the resurrection as it is taught in Scripture. For these persons cannot, so far as their principles apply, at all establish that the stalk or tree which springs up comes from the grain of wheat, or anything else (which was cast into the ground); whereas we, who believe that that which is “sown” is not “quickened” unless it die, and that there is sown not that body that shall be (for God gives it a body as it pleases Him, raising it in incorruption after it is sown in corruption; and after it is sown in dishonour, raising it in glory; and after it is sown in weakness, raising it in power; and after it is sown a natural body, raising it a spiritual),—we preserve both the doctrine of the Church of Christ and the grandeur of the divine promise, proving also the possibility of its accomplishment not by mere assertion, but by arguments;”
Hippolytus of Rome: Various – Written c.220 AD – c.235 AD
The reader’s attention is drawn to the fact that some of the writings currently attributed to him including the Book V below cannot be proven to be his. The only copy was found in 1842 without the name of the author. Nevertheless these tone of these writings appear to be in general agreement with the prevailing views of this period, with the possible exception of the immortality of the soul.
The Refutation of all Heresies: Book V, Further Exposition of the Heresy of the Naasseni: (ANF05 p139 pdf)
This quote is written against the Naasseni who claimed what is in the following quote, which the original author (if indeed Hippolytus) did not agree with. In this summary this author takes the view that it shows the increasing divergence from the original teachings of Christ by groups in the early 3rd century and introducing concepts about resurrection which would later become mainstream Christianity, but at the time were considered heretical.
“The dead shall start forth from the graves, that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again spiritual, not carnal. For this, he [Naasseni] says, is the Resurrection that takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all those that do not enter remain dead. These same Phrygians, however, he says, affirm again that this very (man), as a consequence of the change, (becomes) a god. For, he says, he becomes a god when, having risen from the dead, he will enter into heaven through a gate of this kind.”
The Refutation of all Heresies: Book IX – Chapter XXII Belief of the Esseni in the Resurrection: (ANF05 p347 pdf)
In this quotation the Esseni are shown to also belief in the flesh rising again in the resurrection, but that they had mixed it with Greek philosophy and beliefs. Hippolytus, is suggesting that the Esseni have the same belief that he does, that the soul is immortal.
“Chapter XXII.—Belief of the Esseni in the Resurrection; Their System a Suggestive One.
Now the doctrine of the resurrection has also derived support among these; for they acknowledge both that the flesh will rise again, and that it will be immortal, in the same manner as the soul is already imperishable. And they maintain that the soul, when separated in the present life, (departs) into one place, which is well ventilated and lightsome, where, they say, it rests until judgment. And this locality the Greeks were acquainted with by hearsay, and called it “Isles of the Blessed.” And there are other tenets of these which many of the Greeks have appropriated, and thus have from time to time formed their own opinions”.
The Refutation of all Heresies: Book IX – Chapter XXIII, Another Sect of the Esseni: The Pharisees: (ANF05 p348 pdf)
This is a confirmation that the Pharisees believed in a resurrection, a resurrection of the flesh and still did so in the early 3rd Century AD.
“These likewise acknowledge that there is a resurrection of flesh, and that soul is immortal, and that there will be a judgment and conflagration, and that the righteous will be imperishable, but that the wicked will endure everlasting punishment in unquenchable fire”
The Refutation of all Heresies: Book IX, Chapter XXIV, The Sadducees: (ANF05 p349 pdf)
This is a confirmation that the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection and still held this belief in the early 3rd Century AD.
“And they deny that there is a resurrection not only of flesh, but also they suppose that the soul does not continue after death.”
Methodius: Written c.300 AD – c.312AD:
From the Discourse on the Resurrection: Part I (ANF06 p830 pdf)
Here the point is made about Paul’s passage in 1 Corinthians 15 that the heavenly \ spiritual body is still flesh but without corruption.
“For the image of the earthy which we have borne is this, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”2883 But the image of the heavenly is the resurrection from the dead, and incorruption, in order that “as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life.”2884 But if any one were to think that the earthy image is the flesh itself, but the heavenly image some other spiritual body besides the flesh; let him first consider that Christ, the heavenly man, when He appeared, bore the same form of limbs and the same image of flesh as ours, through which also He, who was not man, became man, that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.””
Lactantius: Written c.303 AD – c.311 AD
The Divine Institutes: Book VII “Of a Happy Life” Chapter XXII (ANF07 p484)
The context of this quotation clearly indicates that the resurrection was still expected to be back to earth at this time in history.
“But when we affirm the doctrine of the resurrection, and teach that souls will return to another life, not forgetful of themselves, but possessed of the same perception and figure, we are met with this objection: So many ages have now passed; what individual ever arose from the dead, that through his example we may believe it to be possible? But the resurrection cannot take place while unrighteousness still prevails. For in this world men are slain by violence, by the sword, by ambush, by poisons, and are visited with injuries, with want, with imprisonment, with tortures, and with proscriptions. Add to this that righteousness is hated, that all who wish to follow God are not only held in hatred, but are harassed with all reproaches, and are tormented by manifold kinds of punishments”
Eusebius Pamphilius: Written c.310 AD – c.341 AD
Eusebius was the counsellor of Constantine the Great, and hence that needs to be taken into account when reading Eusebius’ views.
Eusebius here holds to the resurrection of the dead, but also indicates that the immortality of the soul was becoming a mainstream teaching. In the account about Constantine’s mother he relates her death as an ascension to heaven, which was probably a political statement designed to keep Eusebius safe rather than what he really believed. Nevertheless it appears that this teaching became accepted widely around this time.
Church History, Chapter XXVI, Menander the Sorcerer (NPNF2-01)
“And it was indeed an artifice of the devil to endeavor, by means of such sorcerers, who assumed the name of Christians, to defame the great mystery of godliness by magic art, and through them to make ridiculous the doctrines of the Church concerning the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead.”
Church History, Chapter XLVI, How she made her will and died at the age of Eighty years [referring to Helena, mother of Constantine]
“the thrice blessed one seemed not to die, but to experience a real change and transition from an earthly to a heavenly existence, since her soul, remoulded as it were into an incorruptible and angelic essence, was received up into her Saviour’s presence.”
Cyril of Jerusalem: Written c.350 AD
Here we see the subtle change of teaching along the lines of Eusebius’ statement about Constantine’s mother.
Lecture IV: On the Ten Points of Doctrine (NPNF2-07)
“Of the Resurrection.
- Be tender, I beseech thee, of this body, and understand that thou wilt be raised from the dead, to be judged with this body. But if there steal into thy mind any thought of unbelief, as though the thing were impossible, judge of the things unseen by what happens to thyself. For tell me; a hundred years ago or more, think where wast thou thyself: and from what a most minute and mean substance thou art come to so great a stature, and so much dignity of beauty735. What then? Cannot He who brought the non-existent into being, raise up again that which already exists and has decayed736? He who raises the corn, which is sown for our sakes, as year by year it dies,—will He have difficulty in raising us up, for whose sakes that corn also has been raised737? Seest thou how the trees stand now for many months without either fruit or leaves: but when the winter is past they spring up whole into life again as if from the dead738: shall not we much rather and more easily return to life? The rod of Moses was transformed by the will of God into the unfamiliar nature of a serpent: and cannot a man, who has fallen into death, be restored to himself again?
- Heed not those who say that this body is not raised; for it is raised: and Esaias is witness, when he says: The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall awake739: and according to Daniel, Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall arise, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame740. But though to rise again is common to all men, yet the resurrection is not alike to all: for the bodies received by us all are eternal, but not like bodies by all: for the just receive them, that through eternity they may join the Choirs of Angels; but the sinners, that they may endure for ever the torment of their sins.”
Gregory of Nyssa: Written c.380 AD
It is interesting to note that as late as the late 4th century there were still some who held to Christ’s teaching on the resurrection. It is also a very clear succinct statement on which to end this investigation.
Philosophical Works: On the Soul and the Resurrection (NPNF2-05)
“They are all answered by a Definition of the Resurrection, i.e. the restoration of man to his original state.”
In conclusion, the above references uphold the conclusions reached through our scriptural examination of the subject “Mankind’s Hope for the future, where will it be?” in the first six parts of this series. This article gives added confirmation that the Bible truly teaches an earthly resurrection, with those resurrection returning in fleshly immortal bodies.
Through the quotations selected, we can see that mainstream Christians held to this teaching through to the early 4th century.
However, as time went by from the death of the last Apostle (John) at the end of the 1st Century, certainly from the mid-2nd Century onward there were individuals and groups who entertained other ideas about the resurrection which are familiar to adherents of mainstream Christian religions today.
From the early 3rd Century mainstream Christians such as the writers quoted above (Mathetes and Tertullian) began to accept that the soul is immortal, though it is not clear whether what they understood to be the soul is in agreement with today’s teachings of mainstream Christianity.
While the changeover is not fully shown in these documented quotations, the acceptance of a heavenly destination became common during the 4th century following the making of Christianity as the state religion by pagan Emperor Constantine. Constantine merged Mithraism and other pagan beliefs into Christianity in a bid to unite his empire, which gradually were accepted by most Christians of that time. The quote of Eusebius about Constantine’s Mother being resurrected to heaven appears to have become popular and the main belief. It also appears to mark the start of a hope of entering heaven becoming accepted in mainstream Christianity.
Appendix: Controversial References:
The following references are considered dubious by the author in the claims according to Scholars that they were written by the attributed writer. Reasons for considering them dubious (i.e. later amendments) are given. However, in the interests of completeness and to avoid accusations of bias towards selection of quotations, they have been included here for readers to make their own mind up.
Fragments of Papias: Written c.110 AD? – c.140 AD?
The fragments are compilations from later writings which say they quote from Papias.
Chapter V “As the presbyters say, then 20 those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of Paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city;21”
This fragment is assigned to Papius by at least one scholar, but also appears almost word for word in “Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book V Chapter 36”. In both cases the message in the wording contradicts the understanding gained from other writings of both Papias and Irenaeus.
Source: See Early Christian Writings
Irenaeus – Against Heresies: Written c.180 AD – c.202 AD
Irenaeus – Against Heresies Book V Chapter XXXVI
No quotes were added in the main text in the section for Irenaeus, from Chapter XXXVI as it does not have the same writing style and read as if it was the same writer as the previous chapters, i.e. it appears to be a spurious later addition. It also does not agree with what Irenaeus wrote in the chapters quoted in the main body of the text of this investigation above, nor the preceding text immediately before the quote.
The preceding text says “But when this [present] fashion [of things] passes away, and man has been renewed, and flourishes in an incorruptible state, so as to preclude the possibility of becoming old, [then] there shall be the new heaven and the new earth, in which the new man shall remain [continually], always holding fresh converse with God. And since (or, that) these things shall ever continue without end, Isaiah declares, “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I do make, continue in my sight, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.”
After writing on his own authority and that of scripture, then the text suddenly changes style and at least in this writer’s opinion appears to be a later insertion as it appeals to the teachings of “presbyters”. Any reader needs to take time to read the whole context of this quotation to fully understand this.
The text which appears spurious (in that it reads as a later insertion, perhaps in the 4th to 6th century when being copied) goes on to read:
“And as the presbyters say, Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy.”
“2. [They say, moreover], that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, In My Father’s house are many mansions. John 14:2”.