Resurrection as Conformity to Christ through the Spirit: Second-Century Struggles with a Pauline Motif

More than any other author in the New Testament, Paul integrates resurrection into salvation: resurrection is the full flowering of the work of the Spirit that binds and conforms the Christian to the resurrected Christ. Correspondingly, as many have noted, the Pauline epistles never explicitly affirm the resurrection of non-Christians, even as they clearly affirm that all will face judgment. In this respect, Paul appears to match Josephus’s claim that Pharisees affirmed the resurrection of the righteous only, a view perhaps also represented by 2 Maccabees. Resurrection per se is an aspect of salvation. But in John 5:29 and Revelation 20, as in Daniel 12:1-3, resurrection functions as a prerequisite for judgment and therefore applies to both the wicked and the righteous. The task of integrating these two understandings of resurrection with one another was left to later readers, and this paper explores one chapter in the history of that task. Irenaeus, drawing heavily on Paul, articulates a highly-developed account of the bodily resurrection of Christians as an effect of their reception of the life-giving Spirit of God. Consequently, many of his arguments for the resurrection of the flesh, such as its reception of the Word in the Eucharist, apply only to Christians. Irenaeus develops this connection between the Spirit and the resurrection of the body in order to counter those who would use 1 Cor 15’s language of “spiritual body” to deny the participation of the body of this life in the resurrection. But when Irenaeus insists that the wicked, too, will be resurrected, he gives no account of how this can happen to those who have not received the Spirit. Tertullian’s approach is markedly different. Tertullian is far more concerned than Irenaeus by those who positively employ the language of resurrection to describe salvation as experienced in this life. (This phenomenon is visible in texts like the Valentinian Epistle to Rheginos, which appeals to Paul to connect resurrection to salvation and never ascribes resurrection to those who are not saved.) To combat this view and ensure that the purpose of resurrection is to bring whole persons, body and soul, before the judgment seat of God, Tertullian disconnects the resurrection of the flesh from the reception of the Spirit. Correspondingly, although he explicitly draws on Ireneaus’s arguments for the resurrection of the body, he omits those that apply only to Christians. He thus easily explains the generality of the resurrection but is forced into strained exegesis of Paul. Irenaeus and Tertullian, well-known for their common defense of the eschatological resurrection of the flesh, turn out to have appropriated Paul towards this end in strikingly different ways. The former began with the Pauline integration of resurrection into salvation and struggled to account for the resurrection of the wicked, but the latter began with the resurrection of all to judgment and struggled to explain Paul’s connection.