Symposium Introduction

I began the process of organizing this panel discussion of Tom McGlothlin’s Resurrection as Salvation in late 2019, at a time when I, along with most others, was still naively taking for granted the imperturbability of our twenty-first-century securities and certainties, blissfully unaware that within a matter of months a global pandemic would emerge and disrupt life around the world on a scale not seen in over a century. The far-reaching effects of the virus have touched upon this very symposium. At least one of our contributors contracted a severe and prolonged case of COVID-19 while writing a response to the book. Others have dealt with complications from vaccines. All have had their professional and personal lives altered in ways that would have seemed unimaginable in 2019.

As one might have predicted, the impact of the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities. Those who were already disadvantaged have tended to suffer more from the virus than those who were comparatively more secure in terms of their finances, relationships, and health. Yet the pandemic has also shined a spotlight on the vulnerability that is common to being human, indeed that represents an ineliminable aspect of the human experience. No one, no matter their privilege, can completely remove themselves from all risk of infection. The elderly and those with compromised health might have a greater chance of developing fatal complications from COVID-19, but the healthy bodies of competitive athletes have also succumbed to it. And of course, those who imagine they are relatively safe at present due to their good health or age might find themselves in a different situation when the next pandemic arrives. Pain, suffering, and death are universal, even if unequally spread, and our renewed appreciation of this fundamental human solidarity forces upon us the question of how humans can flourish in the midst of such adversity and what hope we can have for life beyond the inescapable fact of death.

I begin with COVID-19 not simply to highlight its impact upon this symposium but also because the events of the past year have made the themes of McGlothlin’s book more resonant than they might have been only a short while ago, for his goal is to trace the development of early Christian reflection on the transformed life created by the resurrection of Jesus and how that new life relates to human post-mortem existence. Like an ellipse rather than a circle, the book revolves around the two foci of its main title—resurrection and salvation—elucidating the manifold ways ancient Christian authors positioned these two ideas in relation to each other, beginning with Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century and ending with Methodius of Olympus in the early fourth, and considering along the way Tertullian, the Valentinians, and Origen. A central contention of the book, alluded to in McGlothlin’s subtitle, is that, as these figures were busy reflecting upon and at times arguing over the relationship between resurrection and salvation, they were engaged in a common project of seeking to make sense of the starting points provided to them in the letters that were collected together into the corpus Paulinum in the second century. It is easy to overlook that one of the achievements of McGlothlin’s monograph is precisely to highlight the centrality of Pauline texts and Pauline logic to early Christian reflection upon these themes. The fact that all of the contributors to our symposium accept this as the unobjectionable premise of their remarks underscores the subtle persuasiveness of his account.

One might expect McGlothlin to focus upon the debates over the nature of the resurrected body in early Christianity. However, he avoids this well-trodden terrain, or rather cuts new paths across it, by asking not whether the body is raised but rather why resurrection happens at all. Central to his reading of the Pauline corpus and its later reception is a distinction between two competing rationales for the resurrection of humanity. On the one hand there is the resurrection-for-judgment scheme that is probably more well-known among modern scholars and more widespread in antiquity, being a notion shared with non-Christian belief systems as well. On this view all humanity is raised from the dead at the end of time to face judgment, whether to receive punishment for wrongs committed or rewards for a righteous life. One can find articulations of this idea in pre-Christian Jewish texts and parts of the New Testament, but it is not clearly expressed in the Pauline corpus. On the other side stands the Pauline-resurrection-schema (PRS), McGlothlin’s term for a constellation of themes in the Pauline corpus that are tied together by an inner logic. On this view, “the resurrection of Christ is the paradigm for a twofold conformity [of the believer] effected by the Spirit, first in a life that breaks free from enslavement to sin and second in a future glorification of the mortal body” (39). That is, according to the PRS, the two foci of the ellipse are identical and it resolves into a circle with a single center, since “resurrection is God’s reward for the righteous” (1), leaving no room for a resurrection to judgment. Or so it may seem. The substance of McGlothlin’s book is a sustained and careful analysis of how the heirs of Paul responded to the tension between these two rationales for resurrection in various ways: by ignoring it (Irenaeus), by sacrificing one for the other (Tertullian, the Valentinians), or by creatively synthesizing them into a single system (Origen, Methodius).

At the core of this book, therefore, are three central questions. First, given that each of us will face death, as the last year has so powerfully reminded us, are we to assume that all humanity faces a similar post-mortem destiny of resurrection? Second, how does the resurrection of humans from the dead relate to the founding Christian narrative of Jesus’ experience of death and triumph over it? Finally, how does the post-mortem salvation promised to followers of Jesus undergird their efforts at enacting this new christological life even while on this side of death? In the background of all three questions are the issues of the extent and nature of human solidarity; of how we account for the diverse range of human experiences of suffering, vulnerability, and moral achievement; and of how we can maintain the hope required for efforts to improve ourselves and our world, including caring for the sick, comforting the lonely, and ensuring a just distribution of vaccines. McGlothlin advocates for no singular, normative answer to such pressing questions but does a masterful job mapping the possibilities presented by his source material.

It remains for me to outline the themes introduced by our panelists in their essays. Jennifer Strawbridge suggests that the impulse towards finding a unified theory that would resolve all tensions and remove all ambiguities in the Pauline inheritance is a Faustian endeavor. McGlothlin, however, in her estimation manages to resist the temptation and offers us instead a “set of new questions” for interrogating the Pauline corpus. Han-luen Kantzer Komline extends this line of inquiry by asking, if a unified theory is impossible, how we should define fidelity to Paul, and what criteria we should use in assessing it. Is there a center to Paul’s thinking that must be sufficiently determinative for any account of resurrection and salvation that could plausibly claim to be Pauline? Joseph Longarino offers a different perspective by approaching the topic of resurrection from its antonym—death. Given that the PRS might be taken to imply that believers should no longer die at all, can we better understand what resurrection meant for early Christians by attending to the rationale they provide for the ongoing existence of death? Ben White wonders whether McGlothlin has perhaps downplayed the centrality of the resurrection-to-judgment schema in early Christian thought and the way in which it is integrated with other important themes. If the allure of the PRS is so arresting and powerful, why was the resurrection-to-judgment scheme the one that found a home in the regula fidei of the second century, and might Paul himself have held to it? Finally, Sarah Coakley brings us back full circle to the question of whether a unified, or more strictly univocal, theory of resurrection is attainable or even desirable. Perhaps the concept of resurrection instead possesses such a rich surplus of meaning that it ever exceeds our attempts to explain it and our best response is to journey into the contemplative mystery, praying that our own epistemic limitations may be transformed in the process.

Response

“Resolve Me of All Ambiguities”

A Review of Thomas McGlothlin’s Resurrection as Salvation

In Marlowe’s renowned play, Doctor Faustus, the doctor wagers his soul to the task of achieving a unified understanding of all things. The chief obstacle to this ambition—laying aside his moral shortcomings and his seduction by Lucifer—is the ambiguity of the world he encounters at every turn. “Resolve me of all ambiguities,”1 Faustus exclaims, but due to the fragmentary nature of human thought and knowledge, neither books nor academic disciplines nor even magic make such resolution possible.

Without suggesting any comparisons in character between Faustus and Thomas McGlothlin, in his brilliant monograph, Resurrection as Salvation, McGlothlin masterfully engages with a “familiar” topic in early Christianity which is latent with ambiguity: resurrection. By setting out his Pauline resurrection schema, McGlothlin comes as close as anyone to achieving a unified understanding of resurrection in early Christian writings.

From the start, McGlothlin is clear that the question driving his research is not about the nature of resurrection (What is the resurrection body like?) but the purpose of resurrection (Why does resurrection happen, what does it accomplish, and for whom?). As becomes clear through each chapter, agreement about what constitutes resurrection does not ensure agreement about why it happens (18). McGlothlin grounds his argument in Scripture and Second Temple Jewish literature and sets out two primary purposes for resurrection in the ancient world: as a prerequisite for judgment and as an outworking of salvation (265). So, McGlothlin finds resurrection for judgment of both the righteous and the wicked in Daniel 12, 4 Ezra 7, and 2 Baruch 50–51, as well as John 5, Acts 24, and Revelation 20. He locates resurrection only of the righteous for salvation in Josephus’s description of the Pharisees, 2 Maccabees, John 6, and Paul’s writings (namely Romans 6, Philippians 3, Ephesians 2, and Colossians 2). McGlothlin offers words of caution that (1) believing all will face judgment is not the same as belief in the resurrection of all people (33), and (2) that these divisions rely on “an ostensibly suspicious silence” since a number of texts don’t associate resurrection with anyone but the righteous, thus not addressing questions of a more universal resurrection (24).

McGlothlin’s primary argument is that the tension between the two purposes for resurrection shapes early Christian understandings of resurrection and informs differences in how resurrection is understood and defended in early Christian writings. Early Christians such as Irenaeus and Tertullian, for example, are often lumped together as holding similar views of resurrection. However, McGlothlin concludes that while both writers agree on the fleshly nature of resurrection, they different rather significantly on resurrection’s purpose. Other surprises include agreements between those seemingly opposed to one another, such as Irenaeus and the Valentinians, as well as Origen and Methodius.

Nevertheless, the focus of the study is not only on the tensions between the two purposes of resurrection, but how Paul’s writings are used to resolve these tensions and defend a particular understanding of “resurrection.” McGlothlin begins with what he calls the Pauline resurrection schema (PRS) and traces this schema through five sets of early Christian writings: Irenaeus, Tertullian, two Valentinian works, Origen, and Methodius. As McGlothlin argues, how they engage—or don’t—with the PRS determines how they define resurrection and their understanding of resurrection’s purpose.

The first chapter offers a survey of the two understandings of resurrection in Second Temple and NT texts and sets out the PRS in detail. Essentially, the PRS develops the second view of resurrection—resurrection as an aspect of salvation. Noticing the connections in Paul’s writings between resurrection, righteousness, salvation, the Spirit, and Christ, McGlothlin draws these motifs together into one “constellation.” This resurrection schema links moral transformation to resurrection through conformity to the resurrected Christ driven by the Holy Spirit and describes both the present and future condition of the Christian, depending on the Pauline letter. The view of resurrection of all for judgment is juxtaposed with the PRS: those who link resurrection with judgment cannot grasp the integration of resurrection and salvation found in the PRS; but those who uphold the PRS have difficulty explaining how all people are resurrected (43).

McGlothlin’s description of resurrection in early Christian and Jewish writings and Paul’s development of a resurrection schema is clear and masterful. Within this setup he offers a few important nuances (1) the NT offers no explanation for how to hold together the two understandings of resurrection within it; (2) early Christians writers don’t have two competing views before them, consciously deciding on one over the other; and (3) Paul’s understanding of resurrection and how moral transformation, salvation, Christ, and the Spirit work together can be unpacked in many ways. In other words, even with two understandings and one resurrection schema, ambiguity remains.

These points of clarity begin to address the lingering question of whether early Christian writings are asking the same questions as McGlothlin. Were they more focused on nature than purpose when discussing resurrection, which explains why 1 Corinthians 15:50 is one of the most utilized texts in early Christian writings, but Romans 6 is not? Were the tensions surrounding the purpose of resurrection in early Christian writings simply mirroring the tensions in the NT on which they depended? Such questions are not meant to undermine McGlothlin’s argument but to support it. That both understandings of resurrection exist within the NT—even within Paul’s words if Acts 24 is included—suggests that early Christian understandings of resurrection are more complicated than often suggested. As McGlothlin concludes, adding Paul’s resurrection schema into the mix ensures that early Christian reflection on resurrection is necessarily complex (267) and begins to unpick the source of this complexity. Conflicts over resurrection—whether interpreting 1 Corinthians or Romans—were “conflicts within Paulinism” (268) as McGlothlin draws out in the chapters that follow.

Within chapter 2, McGlothlin shows how Irenaeus, defending creation’s integrity, adopts elements of the PRS and links together moral transformation, baptism, the Spirit, and bodily resurrection. For Irenaeus, resurrection is reserved for the righteous and part of a longer process of maturation and moral transformation, a “stepping-stone” toward immortality and perfection in Christ with the Spirit’s help (73). But, as McGlothlin notes, Irenaeus develops this understanding of resurrection alongside a “bare, undeveloped affirmation that all will be raised to face judgment” (50) and “appears not to have noticed the tension” (95). While Irenaeus takes seriously the PRS in his anthropology, theology, and account of resurrection, he does not ultimately offer “one coherent understanding of resurrection” (86).

McGlothlin then turns to Tertullian (chapter 3). Despite Tertullian’s defence of Paul as “my apostle,” McGlothlin concludes that in contrast with Irenaeus, Tertullian’s understanding of resurrection does not cohere with the PRS. He writes, “Where Irenaeus had used the work of the Holy Spirit to link moral transformation and resurrection within the broader process of human maturation, failing along the way to explain how all would be raised for judgment, Tertullian began with the purpose of resurrection as a prerequisite for judgment and severed the connections in the [PRS] that did not fit with this view” (96). While Tertullian upholds a link between moral transformation and resurrection, “the whole point of resurrection, its tota causa, is judgment” because only through resurrection can “the whole morally responsible being . . . receive God’s judgment” (122). Resurrection is connected with moral transformation, but only because resurrection and judgment for moral actions are synonymous for Tertullian. This, McGlothlin argues, subverts the connections between these motifs in the PRS. In Tertullian’s model, moral transformation, the work of the Spirit, and even Christ’s own resurrection (132–33) have no impact on a person’s resurrection, only on what happens afterward.

In chapter 4, McGlothlin engages with two Valentinian texts: Treatise on the Resurrection and the Gospel of Philip. He suggests that these texts, which lack discussion of a general resurrection, reflect a use of “resurrection” that is more faithful to the PRS than Irenaeus or Tertullian. Both of these texts, relying on Colossians and Ephesians, speak of resurrection both as that which happens after physical death and as something received now. Physical death is not a prerequisite for resurrection but rather in the Treatise, resurrection is the morally transformed Christian life now (147) and for the Gospel, transformation is resurrection, intimately connected with the sacraments (157). McGlothlin observes that these texts synthesize Pauline thought, holding together two senses of resurrection—in this life and after death—even though Paul himself never describes these two senses in the same letter.

McGlothlin then moves to Origen (chapter 5) arguing that Origen unites the tensions in previous chapters though his description of the resurrection of all people alongside an understanding of moral transformation as resurrection both in this life and as an eschatological reality. For McGlothlin, with his unique anthropology (i.e., material continuity of the body is not necessary after death), Origen is the first to bring together the PRS and a general eschatological resurrection. For Origen, bodies reflect the moral state of the soul so that after death, the inhabited body (either more glorious or more gross) corresponds to the moral state of the person in life. As such, the “actual event of resurrection . . . is shaped by moral transformation in this life” (176). Moral transformation is not synonymous with resurrection, but the resurrected body corresponds to moral transformation. For Origen, resurrection is possible in this life, is directly connected with salvation, and is what all will experience after physical death as their bodies are transformed either for glory or for shame (204).

McGlothlin’s final chapter (chapter 6) examines the writings of Methodius with a focus not only on how Methodius reacts against Origen but also on Methodius’s “own theological voice” (213). Like Origen, Methodius embraces a connection between moral transformation and resurrection as found in the PRS alongside a belief in the resurrection of all. However, for Methodius, death and resurrection happen so that all—good and evil—may be morally transformed to perfection, thereby cutting the connection between moral transformation in this life and in the resurrection, and instead linking moral effort in this life and what happens after resurrection. For Methodius, the causal direction is reversed so that death and resurrection produce moral transformation and perfection. Whether these morally transformed humans will spend eternity in glory or shame, however, depends on their moral efforts in life. As with Tertullian, a liability in limiting resurrection only to that which happens after physical death means that Christ’s death and resurrection has limited space in Methodius’s scheme. Christ’s resurrection and that of all people is not one Methodius addresses directly (253). Even as Methodius embraces the two kinds of resurrection found in Scripture, they remain separate in his thinking and thus, at the end of this chapter, it is clear that no early Christian successfully resolves the tension between these dual understandings.

Despite the remaining ambiguities and unresolved tensions, McGlothlin offers challenging and clear conclusions alongside common themes that emerge from the interaction of early Christian writers with his PRS. One significant result is the significance of this study for Pauline reception since McGlothlin concludes that Paul is “the clear force to be reckoned with on the theme of resurrection” (8) even as his own ambiguities influence those of early Christians.

Two threads drawn out in each chapter but not featured in the conclusion are the definitional differences between early Christian writers and the importance of progress in their understandings of resurrection. In terms of definitions, depending on the chapter, the argument revolves around differing definitions of “spiritual” (Irenaeus), “resurrection” (Tertullian, Origen), “death” (Gospel of Philip, Origen), and “flesh” (all of the above). McGlothlin points out where definitions of key words are at stake, but doesn’t explore how such differences impact the way the motifs of the PRS are linked together (or not!).

In terms of progress, this theme occurs in almost every chapter. McGlothlin describes Irenaeus’s understanding of humanity as working “through a series of pedagogical stages” to make possible the gift of bodily resurrection, which is in itself “merely a stepping-stone to further progress” (70, 73). For McGlothlin, Tertullian understands newness of life to be “a gradual process of progress in faith” (109) and, similar to Irenaeus, he leaves room for those who enter God’s kingdom after resurrection “to continue pursuing knowledge of God after this world has passed away” (119). Even the Gospel of Philip’s resurrection is described as a “complex process that is ongoing even now, conforming the baptized to Christ” (157). Origen’s soteriology is also portrayed as a process leading to “increasing conformity to God” (185). As a teacher himself, Origen draws the motifs of the PRS together to offer “a rich account of the way in which moral progress is a long, sometimes slow process of progressive education by the Spirit” (197). What place, therefore, does progress have in an understanding of how the PRS is incorporated into early Christian resurrection schemata?

Overall, McGlothlin’s lucid writing engages with the intricacies of each writer’s theological and philosophical concerns in a way that readers can easily follow with key points repeated so as not to be missed. And yet, despite all of his work to resolve the tensions in early Christian use of Paul to understand the purpose of “resurrection,” McGlothlin ends not with a unified understanding of all things but with a set of new questions. Unlike Faustus, McGlothlin doesn’t need to have all the answers. For him, the questions are enough as they open up new avenues for understanding Paul, Paul’s use in early Christian writings, and even “resurrection” in a way that contributes to contemporary systematic theology. This book is a significant study not only for questions about resurrection in early Christianity, but also for the use of Paul by early Christians. It is also an excellent example of how one holds together the study of Scripture, the history of interpretation of a text, and the theological questions and concerns that emerge from such study and interpretation. McGlothlin might not offer in the end a unified theory of resurrection, but he does accomplish a goal shared with Origen as he helps the reader to “perceive as open and clear the things that earlier seemed less easy to understand” (Comm. Rom. 5.8.13; 187).2


  1. Faustus, I.1.80, taken from Doctor Faustus: A- and B- Texts, ed. David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993). See also Andrew Duxfield, “‘Resolve Me of All Ambiguities’: Doctor Faustus and the Failure to Unify,” Early Modern Literary Studies, special issue 16 (Oct 2007), https://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/si-16/duxfdrfs.htm.

  2. One final note of praise concerns McGlothlin’s footnotes, which provide a wealth of information, questions, and ideas for potential future projects. From engagement with secondary debates and textual detail, to further work needed on the apocryphal Acts (12) and nuggets of quantum theory (183), the footnotes offer as much significant detail, discussion, and challenges as the main body of the text.

  • Thomas McGlothlin

    Reply

    Response to Jennifer Strawbridge

    Many have met their demise in a quest to resolve ambiguities—forcing a resolution where none is to be found, constructing a fantastical speculative edifice to explain seemingly inexplicable phenomena, denying inconvenient data, or concluding that the endeavor is pointless and simply giving up. My first response to Jennifer Strawbridge’s reading of Resurrection as Salvation is relief that she does not think I met my demise in any of these ways as I explored resurrection in second- and third-century Christianity. My second response is gratitude for the way she has highlighted ambiguity, definitions, and progress as keys for understanding my project.

    The ambiguities that tormented Faustus were ambiguities of phenomena: aspects of how the world works, such as the motions of the planets, that seem to defy rational explanation. At one level, the ambiguity I explore in Resurrection as Salvation is similar. Resurrection in Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament appears to follow two, competing logics. How is it possible that resurrection is simultaneously a reward and a prerequisite for judgment, an aspect of salvation and something experienced by those who are not saved?

    But at another level, a different kind of ambiguity is at play. What is meant by “spiritual,” “resurrection,” “death,” or “flesh”? This definitional ambiguity results not from the absence of explanation, but from the excess of explanation. Words mean too many things.

    What lies at the root of the definitional ambiguities that produced the argument between Irenaeus and the Valentinians over “spiritual,” or the differences between Tertullian and Origen on the meaning of “death”? Was it carelessness on the part of Paul or out-of-context reading on the part of his interpreters? I do not think it was either. Instead, I think it was the complexity of the anthropological context in which Paul used these key terms.

    Origen grasped this complexity well. As he explained in Dialogue with Heraclides 15–24, every human is really two humans, an inner and an outer, each with its members. The outer has eyes that see the world around us, and the inner has eyes that see spiritual truth. The outer has a tongue that tastes food; the inner tastes and sees that the Lord is good. Every scriptural mention of a human bodily organ or sense is ambiguous, potentially referring to the inner or the outer person.

    The ambiguity of “spiritual,” “resurrection,” “death,” and “flesh” emerged within this complex, two-layered context. Each term could be taken to refer to the inner human, the outer human, or both. The “death” reversed by “resurrection” could be the inner human’s separation from God or the outer human’s bodily demise. The “flesh” that will not inherit the kingdom of God could be the lustful disposition of the inner human or the material flesh and blood of the outer. The body that will rise could be “spiritual” because of the inner human’s union with the Holy Spirit or because of the outer human’s newly subtle nature.

    The “Pauline resurrection schema,” as I have articulated it, involves both the inner and the outer human. Both have died in some way, and both need to be returned to life. When the Pauline corpus is read as a whole (including both undisputed and disputed letters), “resurrection” denotes both the new life of the inner human and that of the outer. The ambiguity of all terms connected to resurrection, such as “death,” is thus reinforced by the Apostle himself. It is therefore no surprise that some interpreters of Paul, worried that others were denigrating or overvaluing the outer human, grounded their preferred interpretations of Paul in resolutions to these definitional ambiguities.

    The relationship of progress to resurrection is an aspect of this ambiguity. The renewal of the inner human involves a progression that takes place over time. The renewal of the outer human, by contrast, was usually imagined as a future event—even if it played the role of a stepping-stone in the ongoing progression of the whole person (including the inner human), as in the case of Irenaeus or Origen. Differing understandings of the relationship between progress and resurrection reveal differing views on whether resurrection is a step within the progression or is the progression itself, which in turn depends on whether the progressive renewal of life of the inner human can be called “resurrection.”

    The subtitle of Andrew Duxfield’s article on ambiguity in Marlowe’s drama, cited by Strawbridge, is “Doctor Faustus and the Failure to Unify.” It strikes me that “failure to unify” is precisely the failure that appears repeatedly in attempts to read Paul on resurrection. I do not mean that interpreters fail to come up with a grand, unifying “theory of everything” that neatly explains everything Paul says—although it is true that they fail in this respect. Rather, I mean that interpreters often fail to unify—without conflating or confusing—the one human life of the inner and outer human. The two, even if both valued, are too often separated from each other; or, one is simply ignored. But those interpreters who were most successful embraced the ambiguity produced by Paul’s two-layered anthropology to develop his vision of new life in Christ, through one saving process, coming to both the inner and the outer human.

    • Ben White

      Reply

      Acts 24: A Pauline Ambiguity

      Jenn and Tom – Thanks for getting us off to a wonderful start! Since “Paulinism,” or the reception of Paul, is the through-line for the book, I was wondering what each of you thought about the way that Acts 24:15 portrays Paul’s views on the purpose of the resurrection. Jenn mentions that ambiguity on the telos of resurrection might exist even within Paul himself, “if Acts 24 is included.” Tom, you seem theoretically open to systematizing Paul and Acts (pp. 41-42), but don’t seem to champion such an approach. You also note that “the accuracy of Acts in reporting Paul’s views could be questioned” (41 n. 49). So what should we do with Acts?
      If we think about Acts as having its own Paulinism, its own remembered Paul, then how does it compare with the other receptions of Paul discussed by Tom? Is it most similar to Tertullian in its basic disregard for the PRS? I did find it really interesting that Tom notes that Acts 24:15 becomes a forgotten piece of the early patristic systematizing of the Apostle.

    • Thomas McGlothlin

      Reply

      Acts and the Pauline Resurrection Schema

      Thank you, Ben, for highlighting this question of what role Acts 24:15 should play in the analysis of resurrection in Paul. I think this issue can be broken down into several distinct questions.

      First, is the specific claim that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15) incompatible with the Pauline resurrection schema found in his letters? I do not think so, although I have yet to find a fully satisfactory account of how they fit together. It is true that I do not champion the approach of systematizing Paul and Acts, at least not as a methodological starting point. But this is not because I think the endeavor is impossible. Rather, it is because it is too easy to begin an account of resurrection in Paul with the general resurrection to judgment (Acts 24:15) and then read everything else in the letters in light of that. The problem with this approach is that it can significantly weaken the force of the Pauline resurrection schema. If the resurrection of all to face judgment is assumed at all times when reading the letters, Paul’s connections between resurrection and salvation are too easily missed or downplayed. My reply to your response will address this question in more detail, so I look forward to continuing this conversation in a couple of weeks!

      Second, does the overall portrayal of Paul’s theology in Acts reflect the Pauline resurrection schema? Put another way, if Acts was all we had for reconstructing Paul’s theology, would we ever guess at the Pauline resurrection schema? Giving this question the response it deserves would require a careful rereading of Acts, which I look forward to doing. But let us assume that the answer is no, that the Pauline resurrection schema could not be reconstructed on the basis of Acts alone. What would follow from this? Answering this question requires considering the next question.

      Third, what is the assumed relationship between the remembered Paul of Acts and the letters? It is certainly the case that Paul could be remembered through his letters separately from and even without the remembered Paul of Acts. But was the reverse ever true? Did readers of Acts ever remember Paul without reference at the same time to his letters? I suspect Ben is one of the best persons in the world to answer this question. But if the answer is that the remembered Paul of Acts has always been remembered in conjunction with the letters, then the second question above (whether or not the Pauline resurrection schema appears in the Paul of Acts) fades in significance as long as specific claim of Acts 24:15 is compatible with the Pauline resurrection schema (the first question above). After all, even within the letters the Pauline resurrection schema is not pervasive. It appears many places, on my reading, but not everywhere. The portrayal of Paul’s theology in Acts could be faithful, even if not comprehensive.

      These are simply initial thoughts in response to this important issue that Ben has highlighted. I look forward to continuing the conversation here or after Ben’s response is published in a few weeks.

Response

Whose Paul? Which Resurrection?

In Resurrection as Salvation, Tom McGlothlin offers a measured, nuanced, and highly persuasive analysis of early Christian accounts of resurrection. He drills deep in the primary sources, reading them in the context of broader developmental themes in the thought of their authors, with sensitivity to the specific and technical sense in which authors use terms, in nuanced dialogue with scholarship published on specific issues within each author’s thought, with an eye to how each concept treated fits into the patterns of the author’s wider theological perspective, and with precise attention to the texts in the original languages (McGlothlin provides his own translations except for some texts of Methodius available only in Slavonic). While reading this book, I found myself harboring few, if any, doubts, even of a minor nature, about McGlothlin’s central thesis and his support of it through readings of specific texts. When doubts of this nature did arise, the author had an uncanny way of anticipating and promptly allaying them. In what follows, therefore, I will not take issue either with the more minor arguments McGlothlin makes in interpreting early Christian authors or with his major thesis. Instead, I will take the opportunity to consider some of the larger implications of his findings for questions about the relative merits of various streams of the Pauline and New Testament legacy on resurrection, how to adjudicate between these streams, and how to characterize each thinker’s overall approach in relation to them.

This monograph does what it says it will: treat the reception of Paul’s view of resurrection as salvation in pre-Nicene thinkers. But it also serves as an introduction to early Christian anthropology that manages to keep in its purview the reception of biblical teaching on resurrection more broadly, of which Paul is but one, if the strongest and thickest, strand. By using resurrection as a lens, McGlothlin brings into focus the diversity of early Christian thinking on the nature of the human person. McGlothlin demonstrates how early Christian thinking on resurrection kaleidoscopically reflected, multiplied, and recombined a more basic diversity inherent in the biblical text itself.

McGlothlin distinguishes between two streams common to both second temple Judaism and the New Testament. According to the first, typified in the gospel of John and Revelation, resurrection is a prerequisite for judgment, a universal human experience that precedes the meting out of reward and punishment. According to the second, resurrection is itself the salvific reward granted to the righteous. Paul develops this view in the context of a rich theological framework of interconnections, which McGlothlin dubs “the Pauline resurrection schema.” For Paul, McGlothlin argues, the resurrection of Christians cannot be reduced to a singular event, circumstance, or state of being. Instead, it is a diachronic process involving christological, pneumatological, and eschatological aspects.

In Resurrection as Salvation McGlothlin deftly demonstrates how an array of second- and third-century figures worked to integrate this Pauline legacy into their anthropologies while negotiating a cumulative biblical inheritance that did not always cohere obviously with Paul’s teaching. The results varied drastically.

McGlothlin’s vivid descriptions of these contrasts lead naturally to a normative question. How ought we to weigh the relative merits of the approaches of these thinkers? This comparative question, in turn, raises a more basic query: what criteria are most helpful in assessing these contributions? We may consider how questions come into play in the concrete evaluations McGlothlin offers of the figures he treats.

Irenaeus’s progressive, Spirit-driven anthropological vision is deeply Pauline, both materially, in that he locates resurrection at the nexus of pneumatology, Christology, and eschatology, and structurally, in that he sees resurrection as a reality gradually realized over time. But Irenaeus also affirmed a more Johannine general resurrection, including a resurrection of the wicked.

According to McGlothlin, Irenaeus did not satisfactorily reconcile these two aspects of his biblical inheritance or even grant them equitable attention (94–95). He kept the Johannine perspective on resurrection dutifully in the corner of his eye, but—following Paul—fixed his gaze on resurrection as salvation. The idea of a general resurrection of the good and the bad marred the larger picture of his thinking like a puzzle piece forced into a space in which it did not belong: it was ill-fitting, largely ignored, and detracted from the bigger picture. By failing to integrate it, Irenaeus also failed to integrate the Pauline resurrection schema “into every aspect of [his] theology” (95; see also 87). Yet at this point the reader may wonder: given that Paul himself does not integrate his views with a Johannine perspective,1 does this failure really entail that “the Pauline resurrection schema” is taken less seriously than it would be if the schema were more thoroughly reconciled with the Johannine account? In fact, why shouldn’t one argue just the opposite, that Irenaeus’s reading—while wooden, perhaps—in fact takes Paul more seriously than more thoroughly integrative approaches in that he adheres more strictly to the bounds of Paul’s own thinking?

Tertullian, in whom McGlothlin finds a reversal of Irenaeus’s priorities, comes in for criticisms at least as strong as those pertaining to Irenaeus. While nodding in the general direction of Paul, Tertullian privileges resurrection as prerequisite for judgment. In an effort to underline the bodily character of this universal resurrection, Tertullian weakened Paul’s connections between resurrection and the moral transformation and conformity to Christ’s own death and resurrection brought about by the Spirit in this life. On balance McGlothlin’s critique of Tertullian seems even a bit sharper than that of Irenaeus, though McGlothlin points to a structural parallel between the two thinkers: both compromise faithfulness to the “full breadth” of the New Testament (159).

Is this impression correct? In McGlothlin’s judgment, is Tertullian’s view of resurrection, privileging the Johannine account, less persuasive than that of Irenaeus, which privileges Paul? If so, why? Would McGlothlin argue that Christian theologians ought to develop accounts of resurrection out of a center in Paul? It would seem that Tertullian’s view, as compared with the others treated in Resurrection as Salvation, most closely approximates the traditional views of resurrection that tended to be held by the ecumenical Christian church, i.e., that resurrection referred primarily or foundationally to a general, bodily resurrection of all human beings after death. Hence if his view is to be deemed inadequate vis-à-vis other options already on the table in the second and third centuries, this would seem significant for assessing the hermeneutical persuasiveness of subsequent accounts of resurrection that took on significant influence in later centuries. And conversely, if Tertullian’s went on to become, or most significantly shape, the dominant view, this would raise questions about how its future appeal and success might be explained—or not—vis-à-vis its hermeneutical features.

McGlothlin praises the two Valentinian texts—Treatise on the Resurrection and the Gospel of Philip—for being “faithful to the Pauline resurrection schema in a way that Tertullian and Irenaeus were not” (139). Yet, as he goes on to point out, at least in the case of Treatise on the Resurrection, whether the postmortem resurrection it discusses is “fleshly” is unclear (139–40n15). Genuine resurrection, in this work, is opposed to “the flesh of this illusory world” (146). In fact, it would seem that it is precisely the weakening of the connection between embodiment and resurrection that strengthens the link between resurrection now and resurrection later (146). Both resurrections are spiritual in such a way as to be opposed to the flesh of this world. If connecting the two resurrections comes at the cost of a clear affirmation of the bodily character of the second resurrection, does this cost attenuate the “Pauline” character of these two Valentinian works (given texts such as Rom 8:9–11)?

In the case of Origen, McGlothlin calls attention to how the Alexandrian is able to synthesize the relevant scriptural data (264) by building creatively on Paul with his suggestion that resurrection involves a continuum or gradation of bodily states (172–73). For Origen, bodily resurrection is no more uniform than the body itself. There is a spectrum of different types of resurrection, more and less glorious. Because resurrection bodies exist in different forms, all of which are pedagogical and none of which are merely punitive, resurrection is at once salvation and a means of universal judgment. Origen makes Paul and John cohere with the glue of this innovative, extrabiblical solution.

But there is one aspect of Origen’s account that seems not only to go beyond Paul but also to stand in tension with him. This is the idea that the resurrection (even of Christ—see pp. 190–91) is contingent upon moral transformation. In McGlothlin’s words, “Individuals are progressively transformed to reflect that glory [that of Jesus] and its concomitant heavenly way of life through their growth in the virtues—a process that actually constitutes the resurrection of Jesus himself in its soteriologically significant sense” (194; see also 191). But does not this kind of contingency invert Paul’s logic? For Paul, does not a sharing in Christ’s resurrection become a reality in the believer precisely “even when we were dead through our trespasses” (Eph 2:5) and not on the basis of preexisting qualifications? If there is a genuine tension between Paul and Origen with respect to the contingency of resurrection upon moral transformation (on this contingency in Origen, see 194, 195, 196, 197, 202), this would seem to mitigate the extent to which Origen’s connection between moral transformation and resurrection may be seen as accounting for all the relevant data from scripture or even all the relevant data from Paul.

Methodius offers another creative, if highly unusual, approach to combining Pauline and Johannine views of resurrection. His solution is to retain the Pauline connection between moral transformation and resurrection, but reverse the vector of the relationship, so that the latter gives rise to the former. Resurrection after death will complete the process of moral transformation begun in this life; in the end, sin will be purged from everyone. Yet reward and judgment will be meted out to the resurrected based on their efforts in this life. While this account sacrifices the Pauline emphasis on the reality of resurrection in the Christian life at present, Methodius maintains the Johannine teaching of a universal resurrection that is a prerequisite for judgment, while also preserving the Pauline resurrection schema’s connection between resurrection and moral transformation. Some of the thematic breadth of Paul’s resurrection schema is preserved, even as it is chronologically constricted to an eschatological frame.

In taking stock of Methodius’s attempted solution, McGlothlin observes that Methodius failed to “relate the general resurrection to the resurrecting work of Christ in the incarnation” (253). At the same time, McGlothlin points out that Methodius does seem to build his unusual perspective on one text from Paul, Romans 6:7, and to make (a very literal interpretation of) that verse the governing principle for his understanding of resurrection, even though a great number of other Pauline texts (as McGlothlin shows so ably in his introduction) suggest that the road to the second resurrection is paved with moral transformation. This case in Methodius again brings up the issue of what faithfulness to Paul means. Does this require a thinker aligning points of emphasis with Paul’s own accents or is it sufficient to have a basis for one’s arguments in Paul?

McGlothlin’s treatment of Methodius, like his consideration of the other early Christian thinkers and texts that appear in his study, leads the reader to reflect on a number of larger questions. What should be the criteria for comparing the various views McGlothlin presents? Fidelity to Paul? To the New Testament more broadly? Subsequent reception and historical importance in various tributaries of the Christian tradition? What kinds of complexities pertain to assessing on the basis of these criteria and weighing them against each other?

In addition to raising the hermeneutical questions I have listed above, I would like to highlight four virtues of McGlothlin’s book in the spirit of thinking through these broader implications. On the formal front, McGlothlin demonstrates an admirable restraint and repeatedly resists overinterpreting the evidence. This pattern first emerges on p. 24, but is repeated throughout the book. McGlothlin does not inflate his arguments, but consistently argues in a modest and cautious way. Second, McGlothlin addresses thinkers on their own terms, showing how the theme of resurrection relates to the distinctive inner logic of each author’s thought. With respect to the material content of the work, McGlothlin’s book drives home for its readers two essential points, not only about early Christian treatments of resurrection, but also about early Christian literature more broadly. First, this book demonstrates in an unmistakable way that the idea of early Christian literature as a monolith, whether funded by the intent to valorize or to demonize, is a myth. Even as each of the thinkers McGlothlin treats dealt with a common biblical inheritance, the theories of resurrection that resulted differed drastically. And second, McGlothlin’s book points to the deeply biblical character of early Christian thinking on the resurrection. These authors differed in their convictions about how resurrection was effected by God, and even in their understandings of what resurrection was. Yet they all struggled to make sense of their common biblical inheritance. In leading readers to these crucial insights by using Paul’s resurrection schema as a prism, McGlothlin has injected new life into the ancient, dry bones of another inheritance: the inheritance of debates about resurrection in early Christianity.


  1. Even if we do not take Acts 24:15 as indicative of Paul’s views, we may still assume that Paul does not integrate a Johannine view into his larger account insofar it simply does not figure at all in his reflections on resurrection.

  • Thomas McGlothlin

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    Response to Han-luen Kantzer Komline

    In my introduction to Resurrection as Salvation, I claimed that this book “is not a new study in the tradition of seeking to determine who got Paul ‘right.’ Therefore, it does not begin with the claim that the true center of Paul’s theology is a particular construal of the Pauline resurrection schema . . . and then measure all later readings of Paul against that yardstick” (11). Perhaps this disclaimer was not entirely honest. As Han-luen Kantzer Komline notices, I did sometimes praise and sometimes criticize the authors and texts I considered. But by what normative criteria?

    I justified my selection of authors and texts by claiming that each of them was engaged in what I called “Paulinism,” which I defined as “the project, undertaken by later authors, of articulating and developing the theological emphases of Paul ‘the Apostle,’ usually in conversation with insights drawn from other authoritative authors” (9). As I look back at the evaluative comments highlighted by Kantzer Komline, I can see that this definition underlies them. I assumed that this is what each author was trying to do—or at least should have been trying to do—and I assessed them by how well or poorly I thought they pursued “Paulinism.”

    What would a good performance of “Paulinism” look like? First, it would take as many aspects of the apostle’s thought as possible to be “features” rather than “bugs”—insights to be preserved and developed, not unfortunate statements, motifs, or connections to be downplayed, worked around, or ignored. It would not simply preserve Paul’s wordings while ignoring his meanings; rather, it would articulate and develop his actual theological emphases.

    Obviously, one must have a clear opinion on what Paul’s theological emphases actually are in order to assess how well an author is preserving and extending them. I identify the “Pauline resurrection schema” as a central aspect of Paul’s thought on resurrection (32–40). In my judgment, no exploration of resurrection that ignores or downplays connections between resurrection, conformity to Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit can be faithfully Pauline. Those connections are just too strong and consistent across the Pauline letters. When I praised authors like Irenaeus, it was for taking this aspect of Paul’s thought seriously and trying to do something with it. When I criticized Tertullian, it was for treating these key connections within Paul as embarrassments and trying to minimize their influence on his theology of resurrection.

    I called the pattern of connections a “schema” rather than a “system” because “the exact nature of the relationships between the points . . . is not always clear” (38). Authors can be recognized for their “Paulinism” if they notice these connections and try to clarify or develop them, even if they do so in ways that I would not follow and I doubt the Apostle would affirm. This is why I think the Valentinian texts can be affirmed as faithfully Pauline, albeit in a very specific way: unlike Irenaeus and Tertullian, they follow Paul (when his corpus is taken as a whole) in describing “both something that happens to the Christian in this life . . . and something that happens after the death of the body as ‘resurrection’” (140). At the same time, I agree with Kantzer Komline that they are not faithfully Pauline in their denial of continuity between the fleshly body of this life and the “flesh” of resurrection (whatever they mean by that), along with their denigration of this visible world as a whole (158). In those areas, I would see Irenaeus—and, to a lesser extent, Tertullian—as more faithfully Pauline: Irenaeus more than Tertullian because the former grounded this continuity in the Pauline connections between resurrection, conformity to Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

    But my definition of “Paulinism” had a second component: the articulation and development of Pauline theological emphases takes place “usually in conversation with insights drawn from other authoritative authors.” The authors I studied clearly saw themselves as standing under the authority not just of Paul but of other authors. They were not consciously trying to do “Pauline theology” to the exclusion of, say, “Johannine theology.” But to develop Pauline insights in “conversation” with insights from other authors requires more than simply setting insights from different authors next to each other. It requires considering how the two might illuminate each other. And this is precisely where many problems emerged.

    Take Irenaeus, for instance. His debt to the Pauline resurrection schema is unmistakable, and he even uses that schema to connect the Eucharist to resurrection. In the sense of “articulating and developing the theological emphases of Paul,” he performs “Paulinism” masterfully. Yet in the sense of doing so in conversation with insights drawn from other authoritative authors, there is room for improvement. He affirms the resurrection of all to face judgment, an insight drawn from outside Paul, yet he never explores how that claim might fit with his deeply Pauline theology of resurrection. The two are simply set next to each other; there is no conversation. My point is not that Irenaeus is therefore less Pauline. It is that his development of Pauline insights would have been even more useful to Christian theology, an even more masterful performance of “Paulinism” (as I define it), if it had thoroughly integrated the Pauline insights with the Johannine.

    From a normative theological perspective, I see “Paulinism” as integral to the Christian faith—not because Paul is more important than other authors, but because faithful interpretation of Scripture requires the articulation and development of the insights of all scriptural authors in conversation with insights from all others. Doing this well requires genuinely listening to the author in question (such as Paul) and genuinely considering how what is learned there relates to what is learned from others (such as Daniel or John). An interpreter who fails at the first task can hardly do the second, but even success at the first does not guarantee success at the second. Yet it seems to me that this is the twofold challenge set before the Christian interpreter of Scripture, and I propose the pursuit of both of these tasks as the criteria for assessing the views described in Resurrection as Salvation.

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