In a previous post we looked at the resurrection, and I concluded that it was a set of visions that the disciples experienced, rather than witness to a physical resurrection, as is commonly misunderstood. In that post we looked primarily at gospel witnesses.
Paul also seems to share this view, though his opinion is a little more distributed. To make the argument, we can look in 1 Corinthians, in two passages. First 1 Cor 15:20:
Christ has been raised from the dead, the first of those who have died.
— tr mine.
This seems to suggest that Paul thinks that Christ’s resurrection is not different or special in kind to the resurrection of everyone else who will follow. Christ’s is the first resurrection, not a different phenomenon. So how does Paul think about the resurrection we will all experience? 1 Cor 15:35ff:
But some will say “How are the dead raised; they come with what sort of body?” … (v.44) … what is raised is a spiritual body.
— tr mine
And then in v. 45
“the last Adam [i.e. Jesus] became a life-giving spirit.”
— tr mine
And so on. The whole argument is based around the idea that the resurrected body is not a physical body. It is not made of ‘earth stuff’ (v. 48 χοϊκός “choikos”), but of stuff from heaven (ἐπουράνιος “epouranios”).
So I think when Paul thought about resurrection he didn’t think about physical bodies. Whatever happened to Jesus’s body, for Paul, was probably irrelevant (maybe that is a reason he doesn’t mention the empty tomb stories – maybe they just weren’t circulating at that time). Because that body wasn’t the thing being raised. It was the spiritual, heavenly body, the kind that can show up in visions.
Still, the empty tomb seems to be a major focus of apologetics. Is it possible to apologetically combine the need for an empty tomb with the consistent evidence that the resurrection (as experienced or understood by those affected) was not a physical resurrection?