"The Lord himself after the resurrection took the greatest care to impress the literalness of the event on the minds of all his followers."
Until I attended college and served a mission I thought that Christ’s Physical Resurrection was the point of Easter. Away from home and family I encountered many folks who professed belief in Christ but who understood him very differently from what I knew him to be.
God and his Son Jesus Christ both have palpable, physical bodies of flesh and bones, as do we. And our bodies have marvelous God-like functions that we are permitted to experience in mortality. Not only are we permitted to experience them, but also we are directed to learn to channel appropriately the inherent body-associated passions, appetites, and desires that help make life so wonderfully worthwhile.
The following are excerpts from Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets, and M. Catherine Thomas, “The Restoration of the Doctrines of Marriage and Atonement.” They illustrate the worldly pressure to slide from the concrete to the unknowable, especially regarding the physical nature of Christ. We begin to understand the unimaginable angry reaction to the boy prophet, Joseph Smith, who testified so clearly of a Physical Father and Son.
HUGH NIBLEY, THE WORLD AND THE PROPHETS
The Search for God
"The thought that the Apostles might be searching for God is simply laughable. Yet that was one of the first danger signals to appear in the church—the predicted activity of those intellectuals who would be "ever seeking and never coming to a knowledge of the truth." Already, at the end of the first century, Ignatius of Antioch writes to the Trallians: "There are some Christ-betrayers, bearing about the name of Christ in deceit, and corrupting the word of the Gospel. . . . They do not believe in his resurrection. They introduce God as being unknown." And to the Smyrnaens he says: "Do ye, therefore, mark those who preach other doctrines, how they affirm that the Father of Christ cannot be known." The great crime of the heretics in general, according to the Apostolic Constitutions, is "that they blaspheme God by saying that he is unknowable and not the Father of Christ . . . but is indescribable, unutterable, unnamable, self-begotten. We, the sons of God [it is supposed to be the Apostles speaking] declare that there is one God alone, the Lord of the law and the prophets, the creator of things that are, the Father of Christ, not self-caused and self-begotten, as the Gnostics say, but everlasting and without beginning, dwelling in inaccessible light. He is not two or three or many, but one eternally, not unknown or unnamed but proclaimed through the Law and the Prophets." Irenaeus' first charge against the Gnostics is that "they say the Father cannot be known." (pgs 54-55)
“On the other hand, nothing shocked or scandalized the pagans more than the Christian insistence in knowing God; Celsus is outraged at such presumption, and to his charge, Origen replies that God is indeed unknown—to bad men. (pg 55)”
“The only real justification for the Christian Easter is the proposition that the resurrection of Christ actually took place—not as a symbol, a myth, a hope, a tradition, or a dream, but as a real event. The Lord himself after the resurrection took the greatest care to impress the literalness of the event on the minds of all his followers. Having risen from the dead, Christ came to his disciples and found them confused, perplexed, incredulous. He "upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen" ("Mark 16:14Mark ), and showed them in detail how the ancient prophets had actually predicted what had happened. He ordered them to feel him and see for themselves that he was not a spirit, but that the flesh had been resurrected; he ordered food to be brought and ate it in their presence, inviting them to dine with him. He told them that whenever they met after his departure they should continue to eat real bread and drink real wine to remind them that he had been with them in the flesh. (pg 156)
“There was need to make this lesson perfectly clear, for men have always been reluctant to believe it. Matthew concludes his gospel with the report that "when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted" ("Matt. 28:17 Matthew 28:17). The Apostles had to rebuke members of the church who simply would not believe in the resurrection, and John noted with alarm that "many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" ("2 Jn. 1:72 John 7). "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead," writes Paul to the Corinthians, "how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" ("1 Cor. 15:121 Corinthians 15:12.) (pg 157)
Anti-resurrection trend in the church
“Next, the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers, the oldest texts to survive after the time of the Apostles, show the spreading and deepening of the anti-resurrection trend in the church. Two charges are constantly brought against church members by the Apostolic Fathers: 1) that they are ashamed of the crucifixion, and 2) that they deny the resurrection. "I know that Christ had a body after the resurrection," cried Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, "and I believe that he still has." (We may note in passing that there is no thought here of a "mystic" body.) Ignatius pleads with the Trallians to believe that Christ "really and truly was born, and he ate and drank, and he was really and actually sentenced under Pontius Pilate, and was actually crucified and died. . . . And that he really and truly was raised from the dead. . . . But if as certain atheists, that is, non-believers, say, he only appeared to have suffered . . . why am I going to fight beasts?" In the longer version Ignatius rebukes those who do not believe in the resurrection; others that say God cannot be known; others that think Christ was unbegotten; others who claim that the Holy Ghost is not a reality; and others who say that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are the same. (pg 157)
“The sorrows and alarms of the Apostolic Fathers were followed by the perplexities of the doctors. Most of the early doctors of the church were ardent Hellenists or Neoplatonists, and there was no place in such schools of thought for a God who contaminates himself by contact with the physical or limits himself by taking the form of a man. "We are stunned with the greatest amazement," wrote Origen, perhaps the most influential of all Christian philosophers next to Augustine himself, "that this the most eminent of all natures, putting off its state of majesty, should become a man. . . . It is utterly beyond human comprehension that the Word of the Father . . . should be thought of as confined within that man who appeared in
Judea. But that the Wisdom of God should have entered the womb of a woman, and been born a baby, and cried and wailed just like other crying babies, and then suffered death and said that his soul was sorrowful unto death, and been led off to the most undignified of all deaths . . . seeing such things the human intellect is stopped in its tracks, so stunned with amazement that it knows not where to turn. . . . It is far beyond our powers to explain. I suppose it even goes beyond the capacity of the holy Apostles; nay, it is quite possible that the explanation of this sacrament is beyond the powers of all the celestial beings."
"Not only does Origen not know what to think about the Lord's physical presence on earth; he does not even know what to believe about it, and in his explanations is careful to specify that he is presenting only his "suspicions rather than any manifest affirmations." And so he speculates on the resurrection of the flesh: only the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost can live without bodies, he tells us, "because it is right and proper to think of the Trinity alone as existing incorporeally." But then he considers that if one thing can live without a body, others can too, and if others, why not all? "That being the case, bodies will be dispensed with in eternity, there being no need for them. . . . To be subject to Christ is to be subject to God, and to be subject to God is to have no need of a body." Commenting on this,
writes a century and a half later: "If all things, as this order of reasoning compels us to believe, shall live without body, the whole universe of corporeal things shall be consumed, and return again to that nothing out of which it was created." (pgs 157-159) St. Jerome
Educated vanity trumps humility
“Note the vanity of the schoolmen in Origen's remarks: What he cannot conceive of because of his limited experience must necessarily be beyond the grasp of Apostles, angels, and all celestial beings! It is this sublime confidence in the adequacy of one's own knowledge and the finality of one's own experience that makes the resurrection of the flesh the principal thorn in the incorporeal minds of the schoolmen. According to
, the resurrection of the flesh is the one thing that the pagans cannot take, it is the one thing with which the philosophers have no patience, and is above all the one thing that distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian. St. Augustine
"Since it is the one doctrine that makes Christians Christians, it is alarming to learn from St. Augustine that in his day "in nothing is there so much conflict and controversy among Christians themselves as on the subject of the resurrection of the flesh." "On no other matter," he writes, "do they disagree so vehemently, so obstinately, so resolutely, or so contentiously as on the subject of the resurrection of the flesh. For as far as the immortality of the soul is concerned many a pagan philosopher too has argued about that and bequeathed us vast heaps of writings to the effect that the soul is immortal. But when it comes to the resurrection of the flesh they won't argue, but dismiss it out of hand as impossible, and that on the grounds that it is impossible for this earthly flesh to aspire to heaven." (pg 159)
“I cannot resist noting here that the objection of the pagans to the resurrection is not a physical or a biological but a philosophical one, and it is the very same objection which the Christian world today makes against the Latter-day Saint conception of God: that there can be nothing of a bodily nature in the celestial. Yet the resurrected Christ was God. Is it any wonder that the Christians could never agree among themselves on this, the central doctrine of their religion? The doctors of the later church only touch lightly upon this theme, and with obvious embarrassment.
"St. Augustine had far more to say on the subject than any other father of the church; he speculates that the body may become spirit in the sense of acquiring unlimited mobility, but he is not sure; he does not know exactly how to take the doctrine, very popular in his day, that the resurrection was a resurrection of the spirit (anima) only, and again, he says he would like to know how he is to think of a "spiritual body" such as ours will be after the resurrection, but he does not know how, and would be glad to find someone who could teach him. This was exactly the puzzled and hesitant attitude of Augustine's great eastern counterpart, Origen. (pgs 159-60)”
M. CATHERINE THOMAS, “THE RESTORATION OF THE DOCTRINES OF MARRIAGE AND ATONEMENT”
“An apostate group among the earliest Christians called Docetists (from Greek dokew, "seems") claimed that Christ only seemed to be physical. This idea invaded mainstream Christianity. Hilary of Poitiers, a fourth-century Christian theologian, wrote of Christ's suffering that "He felt the force of suffering, but without its pain," as if a weapon were to pierce water or fire or air. "The body of Christ by its virtue suffered the violence of punishment, without its consciousness. . . . He had not a nature which could feel pain." (pg 88)
“Once God lost his body and could not suffer, the mainspring of the Atonement was effectively removed. A substitute for the Atonement was devised in a practice called penance . . . Doing penance meant self-punishment rather than actually acquiring virtue. Assigned to penitential tasks by a celibate clergy, women and men sat in sackcloth and ashes at the church door, groveled at the feet of the clergy, or abstained from marital relations, sometimes for months. Through these punishments, early Christians expiated their sins. The practice of penance replaced the true doctrine that Jesus suffered and paid off the law of justice, releasing to women and men a great divine enabling power to pursue the divine nature. (pg 88)
“If we had the full text of what constituted the original Bible, I think we would see that changes have been made in at least two main doctrinal areas: first, in the doctrine of the Atonement, especially the accessibility of the grace of Jesus Christ, and, second, in the doctrine of the body of God and the relationship of the Father and the Son; and as corollary, the doctrines of the deification of mankind, eternal marriage, and eternal procreation.
“These changes in doctrine influenced the whole subsequent development of mainstream Christianity, as we can see today in the enduring practices of penance and celibacy and perhaps in our own possible discomfort in thinking of Jesus in a married relationship. (pg 88)
“Because the doctrine of God's body is so pivotal, it is often the first doctrine that has to be restored before an apostasy can begin to be healed. In the Sacred Grove, Joseph could obviously see that there were two separate, glorified, anthropomorphic beings in the Godhead before either of the Gods had said a thing. In a split second Joseph grasped a truth that could end eighteen hundred years of speculation and pointless philosophizing, centuries of making mysteries out of plainness." (pgs 88 – 89)