Why I Am Skeptical about the Corporate Body View of the Resurrection
The “Corporate Body View” of the Resurrection (CBV), as held by some preterists, teaches that resurrection refers primarily, if not exclusively, to recovery of relational death between man and God. This view understands resurrection to be purely collective, covenantal, and metaphorical—and thus, by extension, is only individual and bodily in a limited (or murky) sense. This view harkens back to the dry bones passage in Ezekiel 37ff in which God resurrects his people (Ezekiel 37:11-14) into a new covenant (Ezekiel 37:26-28). CBVers also call on such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 where Paul quotes Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 as fulfillment of the Old Covenant doctrine of the resurrection of Israel.
The CBV view stands against the “Individual Body View” (IBV), which is sometimes stated as the “Individual Body at Death” view (IBD). The IBV view teaches that while there is certainly an element of collective fulfillment in the sense of what Paul refers to as the “hope of Israel,” there is also a sense of resurrection of individual bodies to heaven in an immortal glorified state. CBV advocates may or may not acknowledge an individual aspect to resurrection. All preterists reject the idea that fleshly bodies will emerge from their physical graves, that is, the “Body out of Graves” view (BOG), which is held by many futurists.
The topic of resurrection is the most difficult of eschatology subjects, in part because the biblical writers sometimes use the same terminology in different contexts to mean different things. I could be wrong, as I often am. But I see the CBV, if taken as a stand-alone doctrine, as incomplete and potentially misleading. Here are some thoughts:
- The corporate sense of resurrection is certainly part of the meaning of resurrection. But is it the only sense of it? To believe this, one has to essentially hold that every time the word “body” (Greek “soma”) is used in the New Testament (some 142 times), that it refers to a collective body, i.e. the church. This is highly improbable and, for me, impossible to swallow. Only a relatively few times can soma be interpreted, indisputably, as the collective. Just as in English, the word “body” can mean a group of people, or it can mean a living person or a dead person. I fear that CBV-only advocates have forced a single meaning into this word to reach a desired conclusion.
- This CBV-only doctrine stems, really, from one guy–Max King (born 1930), who developed it, apparently, from the very liberal theologian John A. T. Robinson, who even doubted the bodily resurrection of Christ. It is reasonable to be suspicious of the origin of all this. I think there is a whole lot of group-think among preterists, and it all emanates from King. Are preterists guilty of the very thing that they accuse futurists of—rallying around ideas from prominent theologians?
- CBV advocates, I think, make a logical fallacy. They say that the Bible uses physical/bodily language to explain spiritual realities. How do you know that it is not the other way around–that spiritual/corporate language is used to explain bodily realities?
- Is the “hope of Israel” limited to some sort of metaphoric positioning? I think you have to ignore dozens of passages in the New Testament to accept that conclusion. There are too many passages about the afterlife and heaven as a place of rest, hope, etc. for individual persons. And further, despite objections from CBVers, I think that the individual nature of the afterlife is how it would have been understood by the original hearers. Consider: Martha in John 11 (cf. Luke 7:22; 9:7); the disciples in John 3:16; 14:2-3; the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17. (Re-read these passages to see if you agree.)
- The CBV-only view, IMHO, misses the fact that the Bible discusses both spiritual AND bodily death, therefore implying both types of resurrection. Thus, the CBV-only view misses what I think are two different TYPES of resurrection. I am persuaded that the first type of resurrection was a “resurrection” of the living in a soteriological sense. Consider these passages: John 5:24-25; 11:25; Romans 6:1-14, 23; 8:6-11; Ephesians 2:1-7; Colossians 2:12-14; 3:1-4; 1 John 3:14. The second type of resurrection was a resurrection of the physically dead in an eschatological/bodily sense (“immortal glorified body”). I think these passages are about bodily resurrection (and judgment): Daniel 12:2-3; Matthew 13:36-43; 16:27-28; 25:30-46; John 5:28-29, 6:39-40; Acts 24:14 (mello); 1 Corinthians 15:35-50; 2 Timothy 4:1 (mello); 1 Peter 4:5, 17; Revelation 20:11-15. Soteriological and bodily-eschatological resurrection were fundamentally different events, and not merely the same event separated in time. To think that the resurrection of the living and the resurrection of the dead are the same thing defies logic.
- What may be confusing CBVers is that there is a sense in the New Testament of the salvation of living believers being completed in AD 70—at the same time as the General Resurrection of the physically dead (Luke 21:28; Romans 8:18-23; Hebrews 1:14; 9:26-28; etc). But, again, this is not the same thing as the resurrection of the physically dead from hades to heaven.
- The CBV-only view has led to unfortunate inferences such as (a) universalism, (b) the notion that we are in heaven now (on earth), (c) that the afterlife holds nothing better for believers, or (d) even that sin no longer exists. These conclusions are abominable errors. The CBV-only view has been the archway for many poor souls right out of Christianity.
- CBV-only advocates (like some futurists) have failed to grasp that the idiom “heaven and earth” is not the same thing as heaven itself. Even in English, we use the terms “heaven,” “heavens,” and “heaven and earth” in several different ways. In every language, some words have many different meanings. This is just basic hermeneutics.
- The CBV folks emphasize that you cannot understand the NT on resurrection unless you understand the OT. Well, I do not see how anybody could miss that such Old Testament passages as Isaiah 26:19; Job 19:26, and Daniel 12:2 are about individual persons to life after physical death.
- I don’t see how you can miss that 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 is Paul’s attempt to explain the nature of the afterlife for believers. His discussions about the seed and image analogies seem as obvious to me as it certainly has been to believers throughout Christian history. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Paul sets this earthly life over and against the resurrection life in heaven, confirming his teaching of our personal life after bodily death. The concepts of both individual and corporate resurrection converge in 1 Corinthians 15.
- It is evident enough from Scripture that Jesus has a body in heaven (Colossians 2:9; Philippians 3:21; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; 4:14; 10:12). There is no indication in these passages, or Acts 1:9-11, that Jesus’ body disintegrated as CBVers propose. It was changed, but not annihilated. Jesus’ eternal body sets the pattern for us. We will have a body in heaven. But it will be an immortal body—a new body suitable for our eternal habitation. Paul used the terms “glorified,” “immortal,” “spiritual,” and “imperishable” explain the nature of our heavenly bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-50, 52b, 53). Jesus said that we will be like angels in heaven (Matthew 22:30; cf. Matthew 17:2). These terms add to our understanding that our eternal bodies will have physicality—corporeal and personal in some sense.
- I fear that CBVers have lost sight of the gospel. Yes, Paul said in Acts that he taught nothing but the “hope of Israel.” But he does not limit this hope to a collective. Elsewhere he stated he preached nothing but Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2). He emphasized the gospel repeatedly in the New Testament (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 1:13-14; Colossians 1:22-23; etc.) and vehemently warned against any other gospel (Galatians 1:7-8; 2 Corinthians 11:4). This is the heart of the New Testament. I just don’t see what the motivation might be for minimizing the gospel. (See http://www.faithfacts.org/bible-101/what-is-the-gospel.) Notice that the emphasis placed by Paul on the gospel was after the initiation of the New Covenant at Christ’s first advent. He expected the gospel to endure forever (Ephesians 1:21; 3:21), so the hyper-cessationist idea that emanates from the CBV view seems clearly short-sighted.
- What I think CBVers also miss is that Jesus personalizes all of theology. Numerous passages in the New Testament explain that one’s personal salvation is by grace through a living faith in Jesus Christ alone. It should be evident that the passages on salvation are immensely personal in nature—not about corporate salvation. After all, corporate entities don’t sin; individuals do.
- I have noticed that explanations of views by CBVers seem to delve into esoteric Bible ping-pong that is very difficult to follow. This might explain why local preterist congregations have not been successful. Christianity becomes confusing and indeed irrelevant to people.
So, in summary, there appear to be multiple compounding errors from the CBV camp:
- The corporate sense of resurrection confuses soteriology with eschatology. We are not saved by corporate identity in any sense (a similar error made by dispensationalists), but by grace through our personal, living, penitent, trusting faith in Jesus.
- Jesus personalized everything. CBV national “resurrection” was fulfilled to teach a typological lesson about individual resurrection.
- The CBV concept has confused the covenantal concept of “new heaven and new earth” with the realities of the physical earth itself and of heaven itself. This has led to very unfortunate inferences, which are leading people away from fundamental Christianity. In particular, many CBV advocates now teach that heaven is on earth and that there is nothing better to be expected in the afterlife. Further, it has led some to the inference that God did not create the physical universe per Genesis. Instead, God just popped up on the scene or intervened in an already existing universe to manipulate people by covenants and judgments. This diminishes God. One CBV advocate described God as a being that “moves in and out of deism.” This is an incredible distortion of Christianity.
Conclusion: There is much disagreement, wrangling, and confusion among Christians about many doctrines. This is certainly true among preterists too. While some futurists (especially dispensationalists) have interpreted the Bible in overly literal terms, some preterists seem to find symbols under every rock. Both approaches create more problems than they solve. Preterism will never gain traction among mainstream Christians unless we can correctly define our views in line with classical Christianity.
For more details and analysis of resurrection, see my book CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY, available at Amazon.