“The teaching of the great philosophers Socrates and Plato can in no way be brought into consonance with that of the New Testament” (Oscar Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?, p. 60, his emphasis)
Larger Contextual Issues of Romans 5-8
(What follows is by no means comprehensive) Exegetes for centuries have noted that chapters 5-8 form a tight rhetorical unit in the Epistle to the Romans. The magnificent opening in 5.1-11 anticipates the equally majestic closing in 8.31-39. The Creator God who acted in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of humanity while they were alienated sinners will certainly act again at last to deliver them now that they are his People. Chapter 5.10-11 speak of having been reconciled to God. We will recall that from my Heaven (10) that Colossians 1 (and Ephesians 1.10) tells us that this reconciliation extends to “all things in heaven and on earth.” This will play out in Romans 5-8 as well. Also note that the language of “hope” and “glory” from 5.1-11 will reappear in Romans 8
Paul mines the rich traditions of Judaism especially Creation and the Exodus in framing these chapters. Drawing on the Creation and Fall narratives Paul indicates that Sin and death vandalized the shalom that filled God's good world through the First Man, Adam (5.12) producing the catastrophic results that every newspaper testifies to. (John Mark Hicks & I have argued, at length, in Kingdom Come that shalom was the fundamental characteristic of the state of Creation as it came from the hand of God. Sin is ultimately the vandalization of shalom and the rape of creation! Reconciliation, theologically is the restoration of shalom to God's Creation, human and non) The disaster that the first Adam brought into God's world is testified to again by Paul in 8.18-25. The world, creation, is groaning under the effects human rebellion against the Sovereign Creator. Shalom or being reconciled that presently exists through faith with God (5.1); yet we like all of creation live in the hope of our redemption that will be extended by the Second Adam ... to the same creation (all of it) the First Adam brought ruin to.
In Chapter 8 (anticipating 9-11) Paul argues that God has been true to his covenant promises in profound ways. Drawing on the rich mine of the Exodus traditions Paul shows that the church, made up of Jew and Gentile, are in fact the “children of God” (8.14, 17) inheriting the title given to Israel at the time of the Exodus (4.22-23, etc). We are not return to Egypt so to speak through the pain and suffering of this presently unredeemed place, rather we are to press through to the glory that is yet to come: the renewal/redemption (as a result of reconciliation) of the world (creation). This is a direct consequence of the resurrection of Christ and those who are in him (8.11,23,29). Thus 8 is filled with a note of “hope” and “glory” that we first encountered in the opening of this section in chapter 5. Those he foreknew, he predestined; those he predestined, he called; those he called, he justified; those he justified he also glorified. Creation itself Paul says “hopes” for the revelation of the “glorious” freedom of the children of God.
Paul, contrary to the Pagans and the charges of renewed earth critics, is not deifying creation—human or otherwise. Creation is not god. It is not worshiped. But Creation, both human and nonhuman are tied together by God’s design. While Creation is not god it was designed to be flooded with God: the Spirit who once pervaded this place will liberate and fill Creation with Life once again.
A Closer Look at 8.11
Romans is clear that the destruction of Creation was not and is not in the design of God. Death, or the disintegration of Creation, is the work of the First Man. Thus death is not and has never been a “good” thing. The chasm here between biblical religion and that of Platonists and Gnostics is unbelievable in width. For Platonists and Gnostics death is the great liberator, for we are then free to return to our eternal origin. Yet for Moses, Jesus and Paul death is the enemy of God. In the NT immortality belongs not to human souls but to God alone. Further Scripture never applies the term “immortality” to a human soul rather it says immortality will be applied to the body.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (8.11).
Here in this one verse we have an astounding declaration that the ruin of God’s creation (our human body) is reversed through the work of the God who breathed life into clay in the beginning. In this text Jesus is clearly seen as the new Head of the human race. He is the Second Adam just as Paul notes that the work of the New Man reverses that of the Old (5.18-21). Just as clearly Jesus’ resurrection is the prototype for all of us that is why Paul calls him the “firstborn” (8.29) of many from the dead to come.
The "one man, Jesus Christ" reverses what the "one man" Adam has wrought (note the emphasis by Paul on the word "man" (9x), see 5.15 (2x), 16,17 (3x), 19 (2x). It is important for Paul that the Man Jesus is where the miracle of reconciliation takes place. Paul is not calling Jesus a male here rather he is saying that reconciliation came through the HUMAN (anthropou) Jesus ... the one who is head of the New Creation.
For those who deny that that Holy Spirit actually dwells within them this text is a major thorn in the “flesh.” But our interest lies elsewhere. Paul begins with a statement of fact. The aorist participle indicates a historical fact here: Jesus of Nazareth was raised up in the flesh. The body of Jesus was not cast off, as the Gnostic Gospel of Judas holds, rather the body that went into the tomb is the body that came out. As Peter declared on Pentecost “you will not abandon [him] to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Acts 2.27). Paul is emphatic in 8.11. Twice he says “ek nekron” that God called Jesus “out of death." Just as Yahweh called Israel "out" of bondage and suffering so the Creator God has called the New Adam "out" of bondage to the decay of the fallen world. No! the body was not abandoned for in it and through it (i.e. a material, physical body) our redemption and that of the whole creation (the body is part of creation) was wrought. We are thus wholly redeemed: body and soul!
Paul declares unambiguously that what the Spirit did to Jesus he will also do to our “mortal bodies.” Paul does not say that the Spirit will do this to our “soul” or our “spiritual nature” or some other immaterial substance. He states that the Holy Spirit will give new life to our mortal bodies.
The parallelism in this sentence leaves little doubt Paul is speaking of the resurrection. Any doubt, if there be any, is erased by the statement in 8.23 and 29. A straightforward reading of the text says that “mortal bodies” refers to our physical, human, body. But we must examine the “possibilities” (which are not endless) to make sure.
As far back as the second century there have been basically three possible meanings to “mortal bodies” given. The great Church Father, Irenaeus in his controversy with the Gnostics first enumerated these.
1) By “mortal body” Paul cannot mean “immortal soul.” Incorporeal souls being referred to as a “mortal body” would be a contradiction in terms.
2) By “mortal body” Paul cannot mean some other form of immortal substance (whatever that might be … the Gnostics had hundreds of immortal substances)
3) By “mortal body” Paul can only mean that which is flesh, that which dies, that which becomes breathless and inanimate. It is this that the Spirit will breathe life once again into as a sign of the victory of Christ Jesus at the cross. Restoration father, Moses Lard wrote on this passage in his Commentary on Romans, “He will make them alive in the general resurrection of the just at the last day. The identical body in which we now live is to be literally restored to life. No hope touches the Christian [sic] to the quick like this” (p. 260).
Paul has shown that the body of flesh dies because of sin that invaded the Shalom of God’s good creation. The body does not die because it is inherently unfit for communion with God.
In broad strokes through Romans 5-8, Paul develops a theology not far removed from Colossians 1. Death and ruin have invaded God’s world but the New Human, Jesus Christ has brought about peace and reconciliation through his atonement. The dreadful work of the First Adam brought decay into Creation (human and nonhuman) but the Second Adam through his faithfulness to God has reversed the curse. Thus when the Second Adam submitted to even death in solidarity with creation God, through his Spirit, raised him up in victory over the power of death. God's breathing new life into a dead mortal body, which was not only part of creation in the beginning but also OF creation in the beginning, God breathes new life into creation as a whole. The very name given to humanity, "adam" signals that we are part of the Earth. But with these last few sentences I have anticipated my next post. For now Romans 8, and especially v.11, is a magnificent statement of the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord over the curse that came upon God's good Creation.
Romans 8, in harmony with Colossians 1 (and dozens of other texts), that we long for the Resurrected Lord, the Spirit’s Raising Mortal Human Bodies, and Living on the Resurrected Earth in holy communion with the Triune God. These three wonders go together seamlessly in the biblical story.Shalom,