Sunday, May 15, 2011

Made Alive in the Spirit: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18

Was Jesus raised in the body or in the spirit? Could Jesus have died in the flesh and then been raised as a disembodied spirit? Well, the post below would suggest that this kind of dualism between body and spirit that we take as normative today may not have necessarily been the the norm for Judean Jews like Jesus and the disciples. In fact, in Jewish thinking, speech about the "spirit" did not necessarily denote the non-physical world as much as it suggested the right way of being in which a person lived in and by God's Spirit.

I recently studied 1 Peter 3:18-22 in which Peter refers to the resurrection of Jesus in such terms. The following is a portion of that study that demonstrates why Peter's wording of Jesus being "made alive in the spirit" refers to bodily resurrection.

Verse 18 continues θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι (“being put to death in the flesh on the one hand but on the other hand being made alive in the spirit”). The Greek μὲν and δὲ provide a formulation for contrast: “on one hand… on the other.” This antithetical structure contrasts Christ’s “being put to death” and “being made alive,” as well as “in the flesh” and “in the spirit.” While it is agreed that “being put to death in the flesh” refers to the crucifixion of Christ, there is less accord about the meaning of “being made alive in spirit.” As I have noted above, some interpret this phrase to mean an intermediate state of Christ’s soul during the triduum mortis. Worse, others may believe that Peter here intimates a spiritualized resurrection. The grammatical and contextual evidence suggest otherwise. Because this is the crux of the entire passage it deserves ample attention.

As Bandstra observes, the verb, “to make a live” (ζῳοποιηθεὶς), “is virtually synonymous with ‘to raise from the dead,’”[42] and is used throughout the New Testament to describe the resurrection.[43] In Romans 8:11 especially this verb is used interchangeably with ἐγείρω (“to awaken, arouse”), also used to describe the action of bodily resurrection.[44] It is therefore most likely that Peter here speaks of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.[45] If one wishes to argue that Christ was “made alive” as a disembodied soul, s/he must evaluate the meaning of ζῳοποιηθεὶς. Not only this, but such interpretation must explain why the immortal soul (as in Greek thinking) would require being “made alive.”

The meaning of πνεύματι [46] (“in the spirit”) is also related to Christ’s resurrection. The Spirit of God is closely associated with the resurrection of Christ throughout the New Testament (Rom. 1:4, 8:11).[47] That Christ is raised “in the spirit” does not imply a kind of ‘spiritual resurrection’, but rather the kind of resurrected life only possible by God. The interpretation of an exact antithesis between sarki (“flesh”) and πνεύματι (“spirit”) is a presupposition read into the text. More likely, the antithesis is an example of a common death/life contrast found elsewhere (Rom. 8:34).[48] Moreover, the contrast between flesh/spirit in the New Testament[49] never once indicates a division of body and soul.[50] Dalton affirms the biblical view: “It refers to two orders of being, the flesh representing human nature in its weakness… the spirit representing the consequence of God’s salvation, the presence and activity among us of the Spirit of God.”[51] Indeed, it would seem odd, given the antithetical structure, if Peter contrasted the death of Christ with some intermediate soul state.

Ultimately, it proves effective to compare 3:18 to its immediate context in 1 Peter and also to the rest of the New Testament. Firstly, the consensus of the New Testament affirms that Christ was put to death in the flesh and raised in/by the Spirit of God in bodily form (John 20:27, 1 Cor. 15:20).[52] Secondly, Peter mentions the resurrection twice in his letter, including in this very context (1:3, 3:21). Thirdly, Peter’s encouragement in the preceding context is to endure suffering and to be “fearless” because of Christ’s triumph. I find it difficult to believe that such a message would hold any weight of persuasion if it merely meant that Christ’s soul was revived in the spirit world. Rather, these and the subsequent verses support that Christ’s bodily resurrection and ascension prove his vindication in the Spirit of God and cosmic lordship, which is the content of Christian hope amidst suffering.

[42] Andrew J. Bandstra, “‘Making Proclamation to the Spirits in Prison’: Another Look at 1 Peter 3:19,” Calvin Theological Journal, no. 38, (April, 2003): 121.

[43] John 5:21, 6:63; Rom. 4:17, 8:21; 1 Cor. 15:22,36,45; 1 Peter 3:18.

[44] Also explicit in Rom. 8:11 is the detail of the spirit giving life to mortal bodies.

[45] John S. Feinberg, “1 Peter 3:18-20, Ancient Mythology, and the Intermediate State,” Westminster Theological Journal, 48, no. 2 (Fall, 1986): 313. See also William Joseph Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18-4:6, 2nd ed. (Rome: Pontifical Institute, 1989). 135-142.

[46] For eight different interpretations of pneumati, see Feinberg, 314.

[47] John 6:63; 1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:6.

[48] “Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God.”

[49] Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38; John 3:6; 6:63; Rom. 1:4; 8:4,5,6,9; 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 7:1; Gal. 3:3.

[50] Dalton, 138.

[51] Dalton, 138.

[52] Matt. 27:53; Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:33; 17:18; Rom. 1:4; 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:21;Phil. 3:10-11.

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