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.

Jennifer Strawbridge


“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),

  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

    Thomas McGlothlin


    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

      Ben White


      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

      Thomas McGlothlin


      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.

Han-luen Kantzer Komline


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

    Thomas McGlothlin


    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.

Joseph Longarino


Simul Mortuus et Vivens

A Reflection on Thomas McGlothlin’s Resurrection as Salvation from the Perspective of Pauline Scholarship

Thomas McGlothlin has done a great service in analyzing the diverse tracks of early Christian thought on the function of the resurrection. He points out that these varied lines of thought take up important threads in the biblical texts themselves. Paul, for example, seems to presuppose that resurrection is an aspect of salvation, whereas Revelation assumes that resurrection is a prerequisite for universal judgment. Paul’s distinctive view of the resurrection is tightly bound up with his understanding of the Spirit’s work in the present age. Evidently, for Paul, it is only those who are conformed to Christ by the Spirit in present moral transformation who will be conformed to his resurrection by the Spirit in future bodily glorification. This is what McGlothlin calls the “Pauline resurrection schema” (38). As McGlothlin notes, it is not obvious in Paul how present conformity to Christ is related to future conformity to Christ. The former might cause the latter, or the two could be correlated because of a common agent: the Spirit. Nevertheless, it is clear that the work of the indwelling Spirit now is aimed at resurrection in the future age, and that the work of the Spirit in conforming the believer to Christ now ensures conformity to his resurrection in the future (Rom 6:5, 8; 8:11). The future resurrection is thus the inevitable end result of the operation of the Spirit in the present.

By highlighting this connection in Paul between the present work of the Spirit and the future resurrection, McGlothlin provokes reflection on a problem that has long been implicit in Pauline scholarship and yet has been rarely addressed: if the future resurrection is the necessary correlate of the Spirit’s work in the believer in the present, why is this work and its result countered and interrupted by an opposing movement, namely mortality and death?

This problem has arguably haunted the discipline as a whole for quite some time. The issue arose pressingly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when scholars such as William Wrede and Albert Schweitzer contended that, in the wake of the work of Christ and the Spirit, conformity to Christ’s resurrection was a present reality for the believer, and not simply in a moral sense.1 Schweitzer in particular claimed that by the believer’s union with Christ, mortality in the believer’s body was already being displaced by the immortality of Christ’s resurrected body.2 If this were the case, though, how could believers die? Neither Wrede nor Schweitzer answered this question adequately.

This older interpretation has analogues in present scholarship that provoke the same problem. Recent interpretations of Paul have claimed that the pneumatic body—which, according to Paul, is an immortal body (1 Cor 15:44)—is already being realized in believers. In these readings, the material pneuma pervades and transforms the believer’s body materially even now.3 While the apocalyptic school tends to focus less on the change of the body in the present,4 here interpreters highlight that in Christ and the Spirit, God has overcome the powers of sin and death and thus has radically altered the conditions in which humanity exists.5 Yet if death is in fact conquered, why does it still afflict humanity, particularly those in whom Christ and the Spirit dwell?6 The fundamental outlines of this interpretation, even when attenuated, can be discerned in Pauline scholarship more broadly. Whenever interpreters expound on the “already” / “not yet” in Paul’s thought, they emphasize some of the same basic elements that raise the same question: God intends to overcome death in creation, he has already begun to do so in Christ, and the Spirit is already at work in believers to bring them into conformity with God’s eschatological goal in creation by conforming them to Christ.

Given this broad agreement in Pauline studies about the way that God works in Christ and the Spirit in the present to overcome death, one question becomes unavoidable: why do Christians still die at all? Only two major scholars have even noticed the question. J. Christiaan Beker asked, in light of Paul’s understanding of the “already” that Christ and the Spirit have inaugurated in believers’s lives (and creation more generally), “How can [Paul] . . . leave room for the ‘not yet’?”7 Martinus de Boer also flagged the question.8 Neither scholar actually answered the question, though, and since their work in the 1980s, no one has taken up the call to address this question.

McGlothlin’s work breathes new life into this question for Pauline scholars. Given the connection between the present and future work of the Spirit, how do we deal with the ongoing reality of death? Does Paul give us any pointers here? To take the obverse of McGlothlin’s question (what work is the resurrection doing), we may ask what work mortality is doing in Paul. In light of God’s activity in the Spirit to overcome death and to orient the believer’s existence toward resurrection, what use does God have for death anymore? Why does God permit death to remain?

In keeping with the spirit of McGlothlin’s work, we may bring the patristic and biblical authors into conversation. The question of the purpose of death was hardly overlooked by patristic writers. John Cavadini has recently claimed that there were roughly two tracks in early Christian thought about the purpose of mortality.9 One track, which Cavadini notes is often heuristically associated with Augustine and the West, viewed mortality as an evil in itself from which God could nevertheless draw good, as when the deaths of the martyrs become a witness to their faith. The other track, which Cavadini points out is commonly linked with Irenaeus and the East, was to regard mortality more positively as part of God’s instruction of humanity. To be sure, this instruction took a different form than it would have in an unfallen world, but death is now part of God’s way of shaping humanity into what he intended it to be. For Irenaeus, in Eden humanity by its sin had squandered its opportunity to trust God. Yet God graciously restores this opportunity to humanity by letting them experience mortality. Now in the fallen world, humanity has the opportunity to trust God once again.10

Paul himself does not address this question in the direct way that Irenaeus and Augustine do, but he does provide material that lets us broadly discern what function mortality has in Christian experience and formation. It is not clear in Paul as it is in Irenaeus just how directly God wills this element of struggle from the outset. Yet it is unambiguous in Paul’s writings that mortality distinctively shapes Christian faith, hope, and love. As Paul describes these realities, they take on their specific form in the face of death.

One of the clearest passages in this regard is Romans 4, where Paul narrates the experience of Abraham. As Paul recounts Genesis, Abraham’s faith acquires the shape it does because he confronts the reality of death. When God promises to make Abraham the father of many nations, Abraham believes him, despite the fact that his body is already overcome with death and his wife’s womb is already dead (Rom 4:19). Incidentally, it is Paul’s telling and not the Genesis narrative that highlights “death” as the problem Abraham faces. If Abraham had been a vibrant young man, his faith in the promise would not have required him to believe God despite the reality of death. It is only because he is already confronted with death that his faith obtains its distinctive profile. For Abraham, faith becomes the reality of clinging to God’s promise of life even though all hope is gone from a human perspective (Rom 4:18–21).

Abraham’s experience in the face of death bears on Christians as well. Paul closely correlates Abraham’s faith with Christian faith, going so far as to say that Christians follow in the footsteps of Abraham, essentially having the same sort of faith he did (Rom 4:12). Christians not only have faith in light of what God has done in Christ to overcome death (4:25). Like Abraham, their hope takes shape as they face death in their own lives. They too face mortal threats (5:3; 8:35–36, 38), and yet, far from undermining their hope, these tribulations serve to establish their hope (5:3–4). It is precisely as they bear the weight of their physical corruption that they look to God to give life to their mortal bodies (8:11, 23). It is in the midst of their mortality that their hope acquires its profundity.

Elsewhere Paul explicitly says that God allows him and his fellow Christians to come up against the reality of death “so that they might not rely on themselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:9; cf. 4:7–12). Yet in 2 Corinthians, we learn not only that mortality deepens human reliance on God, but also that it becomes a space where humans enter into deeper solidarity with each other because of the way God is present with them in the face of death. God meets people and comforts them in the midst of their mortal afflictions (1:3–4). Those comforted by God then comfort others in affliction (1:4). In the hands of God, then, mortality becomes a means to deepen the reality of Christian love.

Mortality and death play a crucial role in Paul’s understanding of faith, hope, and love. Not by themselves, but because of what God does, mortality and death open up a space where Christian faith, hope, and love can come to their deepest and fullest expression. Insofar as we receive any indications from Paul, this seems to be the purpose they serve.

McGlothlin’s work provides valuable insights that open up paths for interdisciplinary dialogue. I have aimed to give one example from the stance of New Testament scholarship of how McGlothlin’s work might be brought to bear on Pauline studies to press us to consider questions that have been latent in our own field. In analyzing the relationship between the present work of the Spirit and the resurrection, McGlothlin has pushed us to confront a problem that has been implicit in Pauline studies and yet has remained inadequately addressed. For urging us to consider such problems more deeply, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

  1. William Wrede, Paul, trans. Edward Lummis (London: Green, 1907); Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of the Apostle Paul, trans. William Montgomery (New York: Seabury, 1931).

  2. Schweitzer, Mysticism, 111. See the claims of Menander as understood by Tertullian, discussed in McGlothlin, Resurrection, 100.

  3. Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 48, 55; Frederick S. Tappenden, Resurrection in Paul: Cognition, Metaphor, and Transformation, ECL 19 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016), 44, 153, 201, 204, 217. Stanley K. Stowers, “What Is Pauline ‘Participation in Christ’?,” in Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders, ed. Fabian E. Udoh et al., CJAn 16 (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2008), 352–71, comes close to this view, though he concentrates on the moral rather than the physical change effected by the material pneuma.

  4. See, though, Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 73.

  5. See Beverly Roberts Gaventa, ed., Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5–8 (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2013).

  6. The issue arises most clearly in Martinus C. de Boer, The Defeat of Death: Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, JSNTSup 22 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1988).

  7. Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), 213–14.

  8. The Defeat of Death, 17.

  9. “Two Ancient Christian Views of Suffering and Death,” in Christian Dying: Witnesses from the Tradition, ed. George Kalantzis and Matthew Levering (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2018), 94–114.

  10. McGlothlin, Resurrection, 63–64, briefly mentions Irenaeus’s view as part of Irenaeus’s theology of maturation.

  • Thomas McGlothlin

    Thomas McGlothlin


    Response to Joseph Longarino

    Why do Christians die? When Joseph Longarino first posed this question to me and pointed out that it is a twist on one of my own research questions—Why do non-Christians rise?—I was immediately struck by its importance. It has deep pastoral significance. But it also goes to the heart of Paul’s triumphant declaration of victory through Christ over death. This question seems almost too obvious to ask, yet we must do so if we take Paul seriously.

    Longarino has given us a small taste here of his own research into this question. As a kind of return gift, I want to explore how some of the authors I treat in Resurrection as Salvation used Paul to address this question.

    If resurrection is in some sense salvation, and resurrection requires a preceding death, then perhaps that death itself plays an indispensable role in this salvific process. But what might that role be? Could Paul himself, whose resurrection schema connected resurrection to salvation, provide any hints?

    In my chapter on Irenaeus, I briefly discussed his claim in Against Heresies 3.23.6 that God actively imposed death upon Adam and Eve so that, through the death and dissolution of their bodies, sin would finally cease (65–66). This understanding of bodily death as the event that finally puts an end to sin appears nowhere else in his extant writings, and the idea that God actively imposed death stands in tension with his consistent claim elsewhere that death is a natural consequence of humanity’s free separation of itself from God. I noted that this understanding of death seems to have come from Theophilus of Antioch, from whom Irenaeus borrowed several ideas in book 3 of Against Heresies without really integrating them into his broader theological framework. I then moved on in my discussion. But I want to stop here and take a closer look at what both Irenaeus and Theophilus were doing, because this understanding of death could serve as second-century answer to Longarino’s question.

    In To Autolycus 2.26, Theophilus insists that the imposition of death on Adam and Eve was for their good: “Just as when some vessel has been fashioned and has some fault, and is resmelted or refashioned so that it becomes new and perfect, so it happens to man through death; for he has virtually been shattered so that in the resurrection he may be found sound, I mean spotless and righteous and immortal” (trans. Grant, 69). There is much to explore here, including how Theophilus might have reconciled this notion with his affirmation that all will be resurrected, both the righteous and the wicked, with the latter suffering eternal punishments (1.13–14). But I want to focus on the idea that death is part of the remedy for sin.

    Where might this idea come from? The idea that resurrection remedies death is of course widespread. But Theophilus’s claim goes further than this. Death itself is a critical step in the remedy of sin. As far as I can tell, this idea does not appear in Jewish sources on the resurrection of the dead, such as Daniel, 2 Maccabees, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Sibylline Oracles (from which Theophilus draws), or even the later rabbinic discussions. But it does appear in the New Testament, specifically in Paul. To be sure, Paul declares that death is the last enemy (1 Cor 15:26). But he also says that what is sown cannot come back to life unless it first dies (1 Cor 15:36). And he freely uses the language of death to describe a positive, necessary event; he can even say that the “one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom 6:7).

    In Paul, all of this is christological. The death that frees from sin is death with Christ, appropriated in baptism (Rom 6:4, 8). But Theophilus, who is aware of Paul and quotes Romans 13 directly (3.14), lacks Paul’s christological focus. It is death and resurrection per se, not participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, that remedy sin.

    Was Theophilus consciously drawing on Paul in proposing this understanding of death? It is difficult to say, because he does not use obviously Pauline phrases. But Irenaeus, appropriating from Theophilus, couches this view in clearly Pauline terms: God “restrained [Adam’s] transgression, interposing death and causing sin to cease, introducing an end to it through the resolution of the flesh into the earth, so that the human being, finally ceasing to live to sin, and dying to sin, might begin to live to God” (Against Heresies 3.23.6, my translation). Irenaeus has replaced Theophilus’s language of “sound,” “spotless,” and “immortal” with the Pauline “dying to sin” in order to “live to God.”

    In Paul, “dying to sin” and “living to God” refer first to Christ and then to the Christian’s participation in Christ now (Rom 6:8–11). Yet here Irenaeus seems to be saying that a person dies to sin when their body dies and dissolves into the earth and lives to God some time thereafter, perhaps at their resurrection. Theophilus may have omitted Christ from an idea paralleled in Paul, but Irenaeus has removed Christ from specifically Pauline language! (This removal is even more remarkable given that Irenaeus is generally so faithful to Paul’s emphasis on the centrality of Christ, including in his understanding of resurrection.)

    For Theophilus, Irenaeus, and Methodius (who develops this view with readings of Romans 6 that even more obviously remove Christ from Paul’s argument, as I discuss on pp. 243–45), all humans die because all humans—including Christians—need a kind of “hard reset” (to use a computer analogy). I find this approach to Longarino’s question promising, at least in theory. Paul sees Christ’s death as a tool of God’s victory over sin. These authors develop that claim while ignoring the fact that, in Paul, Christ’s death is in view; as a result, on this point their “Paulinism” uses the Apostle’s words but undermines his insights. Yet perhaps this feature of Paul’s thought can be developed in a way that is faithfully christological. And so I am thankful that Longarino himself is giving this critical question another look.

Ben White


Who’s Getting a Raise?

At the end of a long and winding letter to his Messianic assembly at Corinth, the Apostle Paul finally treats the question that commentators believe undergirds many of the letter’s ethical admonitions. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul defends the fact of the bodily resurrection, both Jesus’ as well as that of those who are “in Christ.” Paul evidently had to emphasize this doctrine as a historical and eschatological reality because some in Corinth were skeptical that bodies as we now know them, whether dead or alive, could inherit the kingdom of God. Paul defends the fact of the resurrection by answering the how of the anthropological problem head-on: “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised?’ ‘With what sort of body do they come?’” (1 Cor 15:35). Paul’s answer to the how question, in short, is that in the resurrection the body will be transformed into a pneumatic substance appropriate for the kingdom (1 Cor 15:36–57).

We find buried in the middle of 1 Corinthians 15 a separate justification for the fact of the resurrection: “Otherwise, what will those who are baptized on behalf of the dead do? If the dead are not actually raised, why are they baptized on their behalf?” (1 Cor 15:29). Paul’s reference to baptismal practices on behalf of the dead was meant to point out that ritual practices are bound up with and reinforce particular confessions about the sacred. He asks the Corinthians to consider why they continued to practice the ritual if they now denied its intended telos: resurrection. The inner logic of the practice is not immediately apparent to the modern reader, and has confounded many Pauline commentators, but we have to assume that it was in line with general Pauline thinking on the nexus between baptism and eschatological resurrection. Paul, after all, does not decry the practice. It is the logic, or the why, of resurrection that is the subject of Thomas McGlothlin’s recent book Resurrection as Salvation: Development and Conflict in Pre-Nicene Paulinism (2018, Cambridge University Press). Rather than treading the overly-worn anthropological path by trying to understand ancient discourses on the nature of the resurrected body, McGlothlin explores the teleology of resurrection in early Jewish and Christian literature, with a focus on how what he calls the “Pauline resurrection schema” (i.e., the Pauline logic of resurrection, which is connected for Paul to the logic of baptism) evolves out of a particular strand of Jewish thought about the purpose of resurrection—salvation—and how it is variously treated in the discussions of resurrection found in Irenaeus, Tertullian, the Valentinians, Origen, and Methodius of Olympus. Resurrection as Salvation, then, is both an exploration of a particular strain of Pauline reception in early Christianity and a series of detailed textual studies on the soteriologies of important early Christian thinkers and texts (in the case of the Nag Hammadi literature).

McGlothlin argues that there were two discernibly different strands of thinking about the purpose of the resurrection in Second Temple Judaism, and thus in the New Testament. The first, which envisions a general resurrection of all, understands resurrection as “a prerequisite for judgement” (p. 1) and can be found in Daniel, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Gospel of John, and Revelation. The second understands resurrection as “God’s reward for the righteous” (1) and can be found in 2 Maccabees, Josephus’s description of the Pharisees, and the Pauline Epistles. McGlothlin finds no evidence of a general resurrection unto judgment in the Pauline Epistles. Rather, the canonical Pauline Epistles evince what he calls the “Pauline resurrection schema,” which is shorthand for the inner logic that binds together “the Pauline connections between resurrection, righteousness, and Spirit-driven conformity to the resurrected Christ” (3). McGlothlin is not blind to modern scholarly skepticism about the authenticity of some of the Pauline Epistles, but largely sidelines questions of authorship since they are irrelevant for how Irenaeus and others received the corpus as a whole. Taken together, a “familiar pattern” of Pauline thinking on the resurrection appears: “(1) The ground for a morally transformed life of righteousness (2) is present conformity with the resurrected Christ established in baptism; (3) there remains, however, a future dimension to this conformity” (38, emphasis original).

By the time that the Pauline Epistles were circulating as a whole and beginning to exert influence on early Christian theology (mid- to late second century CE), we find writers holding alongside one another both Paul’s view of resurrection as salvation as well as the widely held belief in a general resurrection as a prerequisite for judgement. McGlothlin asks, “How did early Christian debates and discussions about the resurrection reflect the problems and possibilities presented by the juxtaposition of these two understandings of the purpose of resurrection?” (46–47). With his focus on the “Paulinism” (i.e., strand #2) of early Christian authors, McGlothlin fails to narrate the development of the widespread and perhaps more fundamental early Christian belief in a general resurrection unto judgment (strand #1). By at least the late second century it seems to have found a fixed place in various Christian regulae fidei throughout the empire (cf. Irenaeus, Haer. 1.10.1; Tertullian, Praesc. 13; Origen, Princ. Pref.5). Resurrection and judgment are already linked before that in the so-called Apostolic Fathers (cf. Polycarp, Phil. 7.1; 2 Clem. 9:1). The description of the tension McGlothlin perceives between these two authorities—Paul and the regula—as well as of the difficulties that early Christian writers had in bringing them together would have benefitted from some indication of just how fixed both of them had become by the period of his post-Pauline investigation. As it stands, the general resurrection appears in McGlothlin’s study unconnected to the development of the Christian faith and thus as an awkward-fitting piece in a Pauline puzzle, rather than the other way around.

The contributions of Resurrection as Salvation are numerous. McGlothlin is clearly in control of the early Christian authors he seeks to explicate. He systematizes the data without overreading or feeling the need to tie up all the loose ends, plainly articulating the tensions that are left unresolved in the Fathers. Over and against the heterogenous patristic evidence, he identifies the Valentinians, at least as their thought is represented in the Treatise on the Resurrection and the Gospel of Philip, as those who best appropriated the structure of the “Pauline resurrection schema” (14). Without any commitment to a general resurrection unto judgement, the sacramental and participatory aspects of Christ’s resurrection in Paul can be fully incorporated into the Platonizing tendencies of their thought. This seems right, if there is no general resurrection in the Pauline corpus.

As someone who thinks a lot about the reception of Pauline traditions in early Christianity, I find another strength of McGlothlin’s book to be the many places where he points out how the Pauline epistles themselves require some hermeneutical ordering for each of their interpreters. The ethical orientation of “flesh” and “spirit” in Galatians 5:17–24 are controlling for Irenaeus’ understanding of the metaphysical 1 Corinthians 15:50: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (78; cf. also my Remembering Paul, 78). The Valentinians emphasized a spiritual resurrection in the present by making Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3 central to their thinking. The Treatise on the Resurrection, for instance, draws the eschatological Romans 8:17 into the present by reading it in combination with Ephesians 2:5–6 (138, 140). Tertullian counters this kind of presentist understanding of resurrection by reading Colossians 2:12, 20; 3:1–5 within the future and thus eschatological resurrection described in 1–2 Thessalonians (103). Origen is able to preserve the freedom of human agency in salvation by interpreting Romans 5:10–11 in light of a process of reconciliation that he finds in the language of Ephesians 2:14, 16 (“tearing down the dividing wall” and then “putting to death the hostility”). Methodius, in an attempt to cut off the denial of a future resurrection of the body, seems to avoid altogether those Pauline passages that refer to a present resurrection (i.e., of the soul), like Colossians 3:1a (243). He cites Romans 6:4 only once, but in doing so he rereads it to signify the new life that comes at the eschatological bodily resurrection described in 1 Corinthians 15 (245). All of this highlights that the reception and interpretation of the Pauline epistles in early Christianity was fundamentally similar to the task of Pauline commentators ever since. Paulinism, understood by McGlothlin 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), always requires processes of remembering and forgetting, of bringing forward for consideration and leaving to the side (and thus hidden), various portions of the variegated earliest textual layer of the Pauline tradition, such that his apostolic authority could and can remain productive for the ever-shifting present.

In the interest of spurring dialogue, however, I do want to pose a few questions to McGlothlin regarding the framework and thus the argument of Resurrection as Salvation. These are not rhetorical questions. I actually have no decided opinion on them. They do seem worth asking, however. First, do we have two clearly definable and irreconcilable teloi of resurrection in the Second Temple period? Do the several verses on resurrection in 2 Maccabees and Daniel, for instance, give us enough data to reconstruct any firm understanding of their authors’ views on the generality of the resurrection? McGlothlin seems aware of the limitations of the data, particularly with respect to 2 Maccabees (24). He bolsters the likelihood of his reading of resurrection in this text by pointing to Josephus’s description of the Pharisaic belief in resurrection as reserved only for the righteous. Josephus is not, however, our only witness to the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection. The author of Acts, writing around the same time, emphasizes that Paul’s views on the resurrection were tied to his Pharisaism (Acts 23:6–8). And for the Pharisaic Paul of Acts, the resurrection was for both the righteous and the unrighteous (Acts 24:15). We actually have split witnesses to the who, and thus the why, of the resurrection for the Pharisees.

Second, is it the case that there is no resurrection unto judgment in Paul? Second Corinthians 5:10 is tossed aside very quickly in a footnote on p. 40 (n47). The purpose of appearing before the “judgment seat of Christ” according to Paul is to be “repaid for what was done through the body, whether good or evil.” This suggests that judgment succeeds bodily resurrection (à la Tertullian, Res. 43.6–9), and that there are multiple possible contrasting outcomes in this judgment (Paul does mention the “fear of the Lord” in next verse). McGlothlin points out that notions of postmortem judgment in early Judaism did not require a general resurrection (p. 26, on Josephus’s description of the Pharisees) and leverages this point to sweep aside Romans 2:9–10 and Philippians 2:10–11 (39n46). I just do not think that this is sufficient for explaining the language of 2 Corinthians 5:10. “We all” may refer to Christ-believers only, as McGlothlin contends, but this is not at all clear from the context. If Paul is an annihilationist (44–45), why can’t the annihilation of the wicked (including the Christ-believing wicked whom he threatens in 1 Cor 5:5; 6:9–10; Gal 5:2–4, 19–21) happen after their resurrection unto judgment of the body as depicted in 2 Corinthians 5:10? Those who possess the Spirit and walk by the Spirit in this life are given at the resurrection completely pneumatic bodies in order to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and enter into the kingdom of God, while those who walk in the flesh are raised as such, face judgment in the body, and are then destroyed. They were not “in Christ.” I do not see why a general resurrection unto judgment and salvific resurrection cannot function alongside one another in Paul. As McGlothlin notes, the Gospel of John clearly expresses both views (30–32). In the end, perhaps the perceived tensions that exist in the Fathers are not the unique product of their varying commitments to both Paul and the regula in their own contexts, but rather reveal a deeply seated tension already present within the first generations of Christ-faith.

  • Thomas McGlothlin

    Thomas McGlothlin


    Response to Ben White

    Were there really two clearly definable and irreconcilable teloi of resurrection in the Second Temple period? And does Paul represent one view at the expense of the other, or might he show the way forward to reconciling the two? Benjamin White has put his finger on two issues critical for Resurrection as Salvation, and I welcome the chance to consider both questions.

    I do think that two conceptually distinct teloi of resurrection emerge from that data, even if their relative popularity is more difficult to discern. There is, of course, the resurrection to face judgment. But I see resurrection as reward in 2 Maccabees, which I link to Josephus’s description of the Pharisees. But is this enough data? White correctly points out that Josephus’s descriptions of the Pharisees are not definitive evidence for what Pharisees believed. After all, the Pharisaic Paul of Acts 24:15 clearly affirms a resurrection of all to judgment.

    I want to clarify that I take the evidence from Josephus to be evidence for what Josephus thought was a comprehensible understanding of the relationship between resurrection, reward, and punishment—not for what Pharisees actually thought (25n18). This evidence shows that at least one person in the Second Temple period (Josephus) could imagine a fellow Jew affirming a general postmortem judgment, with rewards and punishments, while also affirming the resurrection of the body as a reward for the righteous. That Josephus found this view comprehensible and plausible is sufficient to show that affirmations of both resurrection and general judgment in the Second Temple period cannot be simply assumed to imply an affirmation of a general resurrection to judgment.

    But are these two teloi irreconcilable? As a Christian who wants to affirm what I find in Daniel, John, Revelation, and Paul, I hope not! Yet the fact that texts from this period do not seem to integrate them suggests that reconciling the two might not be easy—a difficulty confirmed, I think, by some of the gymnastics employed by later interpreters who tried to reconcile them.

    Yet what if Paul did believe in a general resurrection to judgment, as indicated by Acts 24:15? Here, too, I want to clarify a point that I could have stated with more force in the book: I do not deny that the historical Paul believed in a general resurrection to judgment. In fact, as someone who takes the evidence of Acts seriously, I want to believe that he did. Given the lack of controversy over these two understandings, I think it is entirely possible that Paul was one of those people who “might have adopted aspects of both views without feeling compelled to iron out all the details” (27). Yet, even if Paul had ironed out the details in his own mind, on my reading neither Acts nor the letters provide clues for how he did it.

    White wonders, though, whether 2 Corinthians 5:10 deserves more attention than I gave it. Perhaps here is a clue from within the epistles that confirms Acts 24:15. If so, then all other discussions of eschatological judgment within the epistles assume a preceding resurrection, and maybe we can find hints as to how Paul reconciled the two views.

    First, though, could the language of 2 Corinthians 5:10 be explained if Paul did not believe in a general resurrection to judgment? I think it could. Yes, Paul connects judgment to deeds done through the body, and other authors do argue for the resurrection of the body by pointing out that the deeds to be judged were committed in the body. But is that what Paul is doing here? He speaks of being “in the body” several times in the preceding verses (5:6, 8), but the phrase denotes the state of living here, right now, in this world and away from the Lord. By then saying that “we all” must be judged for what we have done “through the body” (5:10), he may simply be stating that we must be judged for what we have done now, in this life—not that we must be judged in the body because we performed these deeds through the body. The Pharisees envisioned by Josephus, for example, would have surely agreed that the wicked who are judged and punished forever without resurrection performed their wicked deeds “through the body.”

    Even though I do not think the phrase “through the body” requires that all judgment be embodied, there are other good reasons for thinking that resurrection is in view here—of Christians. Paul grounds the promise of entering Jesus’ presence on the assurance that he who raised Jesus will raise us also with him (2 Cor 4:14; cf. Rom 8:11). The gift of the Spirit is the guarantee that the mortal will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor 5:4–5; cf. 1 Cor 15:53–54). The Pauline resurrection schema is on full display here, and I see no clear indicators that the resurrection it promises—including an arraignment before the judgment seat of Christ—includes non-Christians. (Of course, non-Christians could still be judged through some other process.)

    But perhaps I am wrong. If so, and if Paul’s discussions of judgment assume a preceding resurrection and apply equally to Christians and non-Christians, have we made any headway in understanding how Paul fit together the two teloi of resurrection? I honestly do not think so. As far as I can tell, none of the Pauline discussions of judgment give any hints in this direction. Paul would appear to be an earlier version of Irenaeus: affirming both without explaining how they can both be true.

    White speculatively proposes a solution: separate resurrection mechanisms for Christians and non-Christians. The resurrection of Christians into pneumatic bodies continues the work of the Spirit in this life, while non-Christians are raised in non-pneumatic bodies to be judged and punished or destroyed. (I want to be clear that I quote but do not endorse Räisänen’s proposal that Paul was an annihilationist [44–45].) This is theoretically possible, but I see no clear, positive exegetical warrant for this scheme. Another option would be to envision a two-stage process in resurrection, in which all are raised in some basic way and then only Christians receive a further transformation into a pneumatic body. This was the approach developed with great exegetical care by Augustine, but for support he looked to version of 1 Corinthians 15:51 that read, “We shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed” (e.g., Sermon 362).

    In the end, I agree with White that the struggles I trace in the second and third centuries might reveal a tension in the first generation of Christ-faith—perhaps even within the mind of Paul himself. But even if Paul himself held to both teloi of resurrection, I think it remains true that he left the task of integrating them to later generations.

    • Ben White

      Ben White


      Judgment and Condemnation

      Tom – Your response has me wondering whether there are some other pieces of Paul’s eschatology that might tip the scales in one direction or the other in relation to an assumed general resurrection unto judgment in Paul’s theology. Let’s try this one on for size. In your reading of Paul, where and when does judgment for believers happen? And is there a possibility that that judgment (κρίμα) for believers ultimately leads to condemnation (κατακρίμα)? And does that condemnation happen in the body or not? I understand your point that post-mortem judgment for the wicked doesn’t have to imply a resurrection unto judgment; that the wicked can be judged and punished after death apart from their bodies. But what about judgment for believers? I find it uncontroversial that Paul believes that a judgment still remains for believers (Rom 3.6; 14.10; 1 Cor 11:32; 2 Cor 5.10). “The day” (Rom 2.16) is coordinated with the Parousia (1 Cor 4.5; 2 Tim 4.1), and the latter is coordinated with the resurrection (1 Thess 4.13-5.11). But the temporal and thus logical ordering of judgment and resurrection for believers is never teased out.
      I find both plausible for Paul. On the one hand, if believers are judged on the day of the Lord, at the Parousia, but only after they are resurrected, then perhaps resurrection for Paul does have a dual telos. I take salvation in Paul to mean deliverance from (ultimately) future judgment. Judgment, then, conceptually, can’t really be decoupled from salvation. And if believers are to “accomplish their own salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), needing to be “pure and blameless in the day of Christ” (Phil 1:10), then we’re potentially only a hop, skip, and a jump from resurrection unto judgment in Paul (and perhaps then a general resurrection). On the other hand, the fact that Paul at least at one point thought that he might not attain the resurrection at all (Phil 3.11) suggests that positive judgment (not condemnation) is a condition for being raised in the first place (i.e. – judgment precedes resurrection), as seems the implication of your Pauline Resurrection Scheme. Thanks again for writing such a stimulating book!

Sarah Coakley


A Systematic Theologian Responds

The first and most important thing to say about this monograph is that it is an outstandingly fine one—to this reader, indeed, unusually striking and memorable in its combination of textual subtlety and hermeneutical acuity. I learned an enormous amount from this book, and I plan to go on thinking about its contents for some time to come. The author is also extraordinarily clear in his expression: it is rare, in my experience, for scholars of the New Testament and the patristic corpus to keep such a focussed analytic eye on competing lines of influence running through multiple complex texts without losing the wood for the trees, and indeed to sustain at the same time a coherent theological argument throughout that endeavour. But this is what makes Resurrection as Salvation such a generative book for a systematic or philosophical theologian to muse upon. And it is to respond to that dimension of the book that is my job in this particular symposium.

In what follows, therefore, I shall not repeat what the other commentators in this symposium have already done so ably: résumé-ing the core arguments of the book, reflecting on what might have been said that was not, or pushing back exegetically on some dimensions of what has been essayed in it. Instead, I shall make just three comments, als Systematiker, which respond to the book as a whole, but more particularly to the very suggestive bookends of the monograph (introduction and conclusion)—which themselves display, albeit in undeveloped form, the admirably “systematic” intuitions of the author.

  1. The two NT resurrection “models”: are they incompatible? First, I share with Han-luen Kantzer Komline’s discerning analysis of the unfolding logic of the book a query, indeed systematic concern, about McGlothlin’s final, normative, view about the relation of the resurrection-for-judgment theme (in Second Temple Judaism, Revelation and John 5), and the “Pauline resurrection schema” (PRS). It is of course the core achievement of this monograph to draw fresh attention to this apparent disjunction in the New Testament and beyond, even though what follows in the narrative of early patristic negotiations of it reveals a range of rich and creative possible ways of reconfiguring the tension. McGlothlin is absolutely right to say that contemporary theological scholarship has been far too much obsessed, in contrast, with the question of “bodily” vs. (supposedly) “non-bodily” renditions of resurrection in this early period,1 and that this concern has distracted it from the much more interesting question of the core constellating focus involved in any one early theologian’s explication of the topic—whether the PRS or the general resurrection/judgment expectation. But a puzzle remains. As Kantzer Komline has also noticed (and I too, as a systematician, seized upon with some bemusement), McGlothlin wavers inconsistently throughout the book as to whether his patristic authors are to be congratulated or criticized for emphasizing one focus over the other, for extending and enriching the PRS, or for seeking to do justice to the full range of “resurrection” themes in the New Testament. Which is to be preferred? Must one choose between the two alternatives, or is it somehow meritorious to seek to ride out the tension? It is doubtless revealing that McGlothlin saves for his final pages a quotation from Wolfhart Pannenberg to the effect that the two basic models of “resurrection” are “irreconcilable,” and that therefore the theologian must perforce choose between them.2 By this time it is too late for McGlothlin to question whether Pannenberg’s forced choice is a correct or misleading one; and indeed in his final paragraph he seemingly fudges that issue with intent.3 But to this reader, at any rate, this forced Pannenberg-ian choice seems to have oddly bewitched McGlothlin throughout the monograph, and at the same time to have distracted him from what seems a much more obvious conclusion arising from his own textual labours, viz., that the two models coexisted in the early Christian “archive” in a mutually-fecund but ultimately unresolved tension, generating ever-new variations of reflection on the mystery of resurrection life. Indeed, if the witness of Acts 24 is to be believed, this was no less true of the teaching of Paul himself. Is this, then, an insuperable problem? Is there, after all, any logical reason why one should not hold these two presumptions about resurrection side by side? I personally believe not; but to respond to this initial exegetical question more adequately, I need now to move to my second point.
  2. Is “resurrection” an essentially multivalent concept? A more ambitious “systematic” thought arises from this first query, that is, the possibility that “resurrection” (like other rich and mysterious topics in the loci of “systematic theology,” such as the nature and origins of sin, or the means of Christ’s salvific atonement) are by nature incapable of being dealt with under one “concept,” but are essentially multivalent, and even paradoxically so, often conjoining a variety of mutually tensive renditions of their theme. In other words, the very idea of “resurrection” has an excess of meanings, which social scientists of the Lévi-Straussian structuralist tradition have at times explained as performing the function of “mediating contradictions,” that is, precisely as holding together differing thoughts which challenge the attempt to provide precise logical coherence.4 It is also noteworthy that the foundational doctrine of Christ’s own resurrection, and of the hope of the “life of the world to come,” are absolutely core doctrinal items conciliarly itemized in the creeds but that have never, unlike Trinity and Christology, been the subject of further conciliar treatment in terms of clarification, let alone of pruning, of possible meanings.5 And if we consider the range of meaning-associations of “resurrection” in the tradition outside the early patristic time frame covered in this monograph, we find an enormous further expansion of different points of focus “as time goes by”: the obsession with body parts and their reassembly at the general resurrection in the twelfth century; the concern with the Inzswischen state of the dead and its relation to the question of indulgences in the early period of the Lutheran reforms; the purported locus of Christ’s resurrection body and its relation to divergent views of the Eucharist in the sixteenth-century Abendmahlstreit; the choice between “immortality of the soul” and “resurrection of the body” in the distinctively modern Cartesian challenge on selfhood and its continuity; the scepticism over “resurrection” in general (whether Christ’s or ours) arising from nineteenth-century developments in modern science (the problem of “miracle”) and historiography (the problem of corrigible historical evidences); and finally the great divergence in twentieth-century theology between those defending the reality of Christ’s own resurrection (whether as investigable “historical” event, or as revelatory theologoumenon), and those retreating to some kind of “subjective hypothesis” in the existential response of the disciples. Meantime, the issue of “judgment” in relation to a general resurrection has arguably suffered a double fate of neglect: that of contemporary, “liberal” squeamishness about eschatological judgment in general, and that of a continuing contentiousness about “universalism,” tout court.6 Does this seemingly messy history threaten to destabilize the very undertaking of a “systematic theology,” given the necessarily foundational place of Christ’s own resurrection in the history of the church and of Christian belief itself (1 Cor 15:14)?

McGlothlin bridles, at the start of his monograph, at various attempts in recent decades in “religious studies” contexts to explain away the early debates on “resurrection” in terms of some other concern—ecclesiastical power, or social structures, or bodily processes, for instance (see Resurrection as Salvation, 5–6), and his query has point, even if these sociological insights, too, are worthy of at least some consideration. But, conversely, the deeper and unanswered question for McGlothlin seems to me that by which the whole monograph is itself haunted theologically: the quest for a normative and univocal theological meaning of “resurrection” in which “the resurrection of Christ [is] the cause and paradigm of the resurrection of others” (Resurrection as Salvation, 270). To repeat: I am just not certain that the Christian tradition has, or indeed can, yield one answer to this question, and there may be a rather principled reason why this is so—the necessarily multivalent evocations of such a rich and mysterious topic. Of the patristic authors studied in this book, Origen was perhaps the most aware of this problematic dimension of the theme. And it is under the inspiration of Origen’s reception of Paul (as so illuminatingly expounded anew by McGlothlin) that I posit my third and last question.

  1. Is the PRS a neglected resource in contemporary theologies of the resurrection precisely as a means of transcending the realism/subjectivism debate about Jesus’s resurrection? This is not of course a question that McGlothlin himself addresses, since it falls outside the particular remit of his book. But his sensitive account of the coexistence of pneumatological and christological themes in Paul’s account of “resurrection as salvation,” and his emphasis on the importance of Romans 6 and Romans 8 (even over 1 Corinthians 15) as key to Paul’s vision of baptismal entry into the death and life of Christ, puts back into centre stage (as it was perhaps even more thoroughgoingly in Origen’s construal of the same theme) the idea of Christian life as an epistemic, spiritual and moral journey, one in which truth is disclosed at various depths of maturity at different times to different people. This is indeed an idea that has been lost on much, if not most, theology of the resurrection from the birth of modernity, if not well before that. It follows, surely, that the capacity to respond to the transcendent reality of Christ’s own resurrection may itself constitute a spiritually developmental issue, rather than either merely a matter of extrinsic historical investigation or an act of obedient accession to creedal authority. To make this point is precisely not to veer over to the “subjective vision” hypothesis (as is often presumed),7 but rather to begin to spell out the epistemic conditions under which the Spirit’s effects on the believer’s mind and heart (and indeed body) begin to change the shape and contours of the questions asked, and thus the ability to respond to the demanding mystery of what confronts it. I have myself attempted to spell out such an alternative in terms of what Origen and Gregory of Nyssa termed “spiritual sensation,”8 and it is indeed these two patristic authors who (in my view) present us with the richest, expanded, insights in the patristic heritage on the PRS approach. It is one of the great achievements of McGlothlin’s book that he reinvigorates our understanding of the PRS and its reception with such richness and clarity; but it remains my conviction that he would have done better to press the positive contemporary systematic significance of this schema for resurrection belief in toto, over his nagging Pannenberg-ian worry about its purported inconsistency with themes of eschatological judgment. Resurrection belief is, and I suspect always has been, impossible to constrain into a single schema. The more urgent contemporary issue is whether it is believable at all.9 What this splendid book poses afresh, therefore, is the Pauline challenge to journey into it (in baptism, prayer, sacrament, moral and spiritual formation) in order to discover that problem epistemically transformed precisely as faith deepens and matures. Thomas McGlothlin deserves our gratitude for opening up that Pauline vista afresh, and illuminating it the more through its rich early patristic reception.

  1. For one such (representative) account, for which the “pro-body” account is the “right” one, see Douglas Farrow, “Resurrection and Immortality,” in Kathryn Tanner, John Webster, and Iain Torrance, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 212–34. I have myself argued elsewhere that the body vs. ‘anti-body’ binary is in any case too blunt a modern contrast to apply—because what might ‘seem’ to be ‘anti-body’ in this early Christian context may actually express a more subtle, ascetic, vision of the body’s transformative possibilities: see my ‘Introduction: Religion and the Body,’ to ed. Sarah Coakley, Religion and the Body (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1–12.

  2. Resurrection as Salvation, 269, citing Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (London: T. & T. Clark, 1994), 3:568. It should be said that this disjunctive challenge from the later work of Pannenberg seems odd in the light of his influential earlier work on Christology, Jesus—God and Man (London: SCM Press, 1968), in which the Second Temple context of general resurrection is inherently crucial for his argument that Jesus’s own resurrection must be seen as an anticipation of it in its eschatological fullness (as also seems to be presumed by Paul’s resurrection metaphor of the “first fruits”: 1 Cor 15:20).

  3. Resurrection as Salvation, 268–70.

  4. For this (now unfashionable) structuralist account of the indissoluble significance of “mythical” thinking, see Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1979). It should be underscored that for Lévi-Strauss, “myth” denotes a particular kind of irreducibly significant narrative reflection, and is not to be confused with the notion of “myth” as untruth.

  5. Except insofar as Jesus’s own resurrection accompanies all christological formulae as a presumption, of course.

  6. On this matter, see the recent furores educed by David Bentley Hart’s new case for universalism, That All Shall Be Saved (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019).

  7. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress, 2003), precisely misinterprets my own position in this way in the opening pages of his book.

  8. See Sarah Coakley, “The Resurrection and the “‘Spiritual Senses’: Wittgenstein, Epistemology and the Risen Christ,” in Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 130–53.

  9. The work of the British (Welsh) anthropologist Douglas Davies (see, inter alia, his Death, Ritual and Belief [London: Bloomsbury, 1997; 3rd ed., 2017]), has over the years drawn relentless attention to contemporary popular British scepticism—even amongst faithful church attenders—about life after death in general and Jesus’s resurrection in particular; and yet this feature of British religiosity does not in any suppress its fearless “rhetoric” in the face of death, which may take many forms.

  • Thomas McGlothlin

    Thomas McGlothlin


    Response to Sarah Coakley

    I want to begin this final response by thanking all of the respondents for their careful engagement with my book, stimulating responses to it, and generous evaluations of it. When I proposed Resurrection as Salvation to Cambridge University Press, I named both Sarah Coakley and Ben White as representative examples of the book’s intended audience. That they both agreed to participate in this symposium and responded so favorably is deeply gratifying. Equally gratifying is the enthusiasm of Han-luen Kantzer Komline, Joseph Longarino, and Jennifer Strawbridge for my book and the questions it raises. Each individual response has pushed me further in my thinking, and all the responses taken together have highlighted for me key themes for future work. I am also grateful to Matt Crawford for organizing this symposium and putting in all the legwork over a year and a half (!). Many things about this book have turned out better than I could have imagined, and, thanks to everyone’s contributions here, this symposium is one of them.

    Coakley helpfully organizes her comments around three questions. I will respond to them in order, but I will then conclude by considering whether her final question, when reversed, might provide a theological resource for resolving the tension that I trace between resurrection for judgment and resurrection as salvation. I conclude that it does—on one important and controversial condition.

    The two NT resurrection “models”: are they incompatible? Coakley joins several other respondents in questioning whether resurrection to judgment is truly incompatible with the Pauline resurrection schema. As I articulated in my response to Ben White, my answer is that I hope it is not—but that I have yet to find a satisfactory way to integrate them. In other words, I hope that Pannenberg, whose discussion of this tension I only discovered while writing the conclusion, is wrong. Coakley’s succinct summary of what emerges from my book captures precisely what I was trying to communicate (in many more words!) in my introduction and conclusion: “that the two models coexisted in the early Christian ‘archive’ in a mutually-fecund but ultimately unresolved tension, generating ever-new variations of reflection on the mystery of resurrection life.” I consistently underlined the “unresolved” character of this tension not because I think it is unresolvable, but rather because so few seem to have noticed it at all. I hope that my response to Kantzer Komline helps account for my evaluative comments on the varied early Christian attempts to deal with this tension.

    Is “resurrection” an essentially multivalent concept? I do think that it is multivalent, although I am not yet sure whether it is essentially so. I think it is important, however, to consider why resurrection is a multivalent concept within the Christian tradition. Yes, many questions concerning resurrection have generated many controversies over the centuries (although, as I point out in the book, somehow the tension I explore has never produced a controversy—perhaps my book will help spark one!). But I think this is partly the case simply because resurrection touches on so many other areas of theological reflection and Christian life—the status of human remains in the here and now, the coherence of saying that Jesus’ “body” is on the Communion table, the credibility of the miraculous. Even if there was a “normative and univocal theological meaning of ‘resurrection’” ready to hand, many if not all of these questions could have still arisen. In other words, I do not think the sheer number and variety of controversies over resurrection necessarily point to the multivalence of resurrection.

    Why, then, do I agree that it is a multivalent concept? Because, as I explored in my response to Jennifer Strawbridge, life is multivalent. As Origen articulated so well, every human is an inner and outer human, each with its own senses and its own life. Resurrection—a return to life—can be predicated of one or the other, or both. What would constitute the resurrection of each, then, and can their respective resurrections ultimately be separated? Within the Pauline resurrection schema, it is clearly the case that for Christians the resurrection of the inner precedes the resurrection of the outer: “Although our outer human is wasting away, our inner human is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). But will this asymmetry be permanent? Paul’s answer is no: the indwelling Spirit that is renewing our inner human will also give life to our mortal bodies (Rom 8:11).

    One way of posing the question of my book, though, is to ask whether the outer can be renewed without the inner—and if so, how. As I have considered the responses of Coakley and others, I have come to see that the real dividing line between the two models of resurrection is not whether judgment is (part of) the purpose of resurrection. Instead, it is whether the outer human can be renewed separately from the work of the Spirit renewing the inner. In other words, can any form of resurrection be divorced from Christology and pneumatology?

    With this clarification in mind, then, how might the Pauline resurrection schema serve as a resource for transcending the realism/subjectivism debate about Jesus’ resurrection? I first want to thank Coakley for putting the resurrection of Jesus himself front and center. Given how strongly I emphasize Spirit-driven conformity to the resurrected Christ, it is ironic that I gave little attention to the resurrection of Christ in my book. If like perceives like, and the Pauline resurrection schema explains how Christians become like the resurrected Christ over time, then it could help account for the varying perceptions of the resurrected Jesus—a bewildering variety that gives rise the realism/subjectivism debate. But I am not yet sure how this would work in detail. In the Emmaus road encounter, for example, the disciples cease to perceive him precisely when they recognize him. The Pauline schema may be helpful, but it will not offer neat solutions (as might be expected, if the resurrection of Jesus truly requires spiritual transformation to grasp!).

    I want to conclude, though, by turning the question around and considering whether the understanding of the Christian life as a process of maturation (including epistemic maturation) might help resolve the tension between resurrection for judgment and resurrection as salvation. Resurrection for judgment, after all, can be incorporated into the framework of the Pauline resurrection schema: resurrected Christians will face judgment on their way to final glorification (1 Cor 3:12–15; 2 Cor 5:10), but that judgment seems to be an aspect of the Spirit’s purifying, transforming work. When resurrection to judgment is framed in this way, the “idea of Christian life as an epistemic, spiritual and moral journey, one in which truth is disclosed at various depths of maturity at different times to different people” could even explain why some might perceive judgment as the purpose of resurrection. Those earlier in their Christian maturation might perceive resurrection, through their undeveloped spiritual senses, as an event to be feared for the exposure and judgment it will bring upon their sins—much as a young child might perceive an upcoming visit to the doctor that they suspect will involve a shot. Others, further along the journey, recognize that this judgment is painful but salvific, and that resurrection and judgment make possible true, full life in Christ (just as a more mature person perceives the same, equally painful shot at the doctor in light of the broader health that it makes possible).

    Yet the question remains: What to say about those in whom the Spirit is not working, who are not on the journey of the Christian life at all? Are they resurrected to judgment, too, and yet resurrected without the work of the Spirit, to a judgment not part of a salvific process? Some—including, significantly, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa—have solved this problem by concluding that there are actually no such people; all are ultimately embraced by the Spirit’s salvific work of conforming humans to the resurrected Christ. This form of universalism accounts for both general resurrection to judgment and resurrection as salvation because all, whether they know it now or not (and whether they are baptized or not?), are on the journey of the Pauline resurrection schema. All, it turns out, will be fully renewed—both inwardly and outwardly. But such universalism, although solving the dilemma of my book, has always been a minority position. Until Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and David Bentley Hart carry the day, most Christians will have to find other ways to explain why all are resurrected, but the resurrection of only some comes through their union to the resurrected Christ by the Holy Spirit.

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