Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beale's Amillennialism Contra N.T. Wright

My latest reading of G.K. Beale's The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text was interesting because Beale made an argument that essentially undercuts N.T. Wright's defense of Jesus' resurrection, which has become popular in evangelical circles. 

N.T. Wright's argument (as I understand it) is that the resurrection in ancient Judaism was believed to be physical, and so, when the early Christians proclaimed that Christ was risen, they meant that he rose bodily.  That excludes the possibility that Jesus' body was still in the tomb when the early Christians said that Christ was risen.  In this view, the early Christians could not have hallucinated an apparition or ghost of Jesus and called that a resurrection, for resurrection in ancient Judaism was not the soul or spirit existing apart from the body.  Rather, for some reason, the early Christians held that Jesus rose bodily, and, for Wright, the reason is that Jesus did rise bodily.  Wright's argumentation is probably consistent with classical Christian apologists' emphasis on the empty tomb as physical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.  See here for my summary of the debate.

A while back, I was talking with skeptic Steven Carr about Jesus' resurrection.  (Click here to read some of those posts.)  Carr was arguing that early Christians could have believed that Jesus rose from the dead, even if Jesus' body was still in the ground.  Carr's position essentially robs early Christianity of any physical evidence for Jesus' resurrection, for the disciples could have seen a hallucination of Jesus and claimed that Jesus was risen from the dead.  Carr referred to an example of this conception of resurrection in ancient Judaism: Josephus said that the Pharisees thought that the souls of the righteous leave the physical body and go to heaven to receive a new body.  But some retort that Josephus was not accurately conveying the views of the Pharisees but was seeking to appease his Gentile audience, which disdained physicality and the concept of a physical, bodily resurrection.

Where Beale comes into my discussion is that Beale argues that resurrection in ancient Judaism could be defined as entering the intermediate state between death and the resurrection at the last day.  Consequently, one can go to heaven or some intermediate state, and that could be considered a resurrection.  Beale refers to passages in Jubilees, II Maccabees, IV Maccabees, and others.  Jubilees 23:27-31, for example, says that the godly for "one thousand years...will...live in joy and...will rise up and see great peace...and their bones will rest in the earth, and their spirits will have much joy" (Beale's quotation).

Why is Beale arguing this?  Beale, as I discussed in my last post on his book, is an amillennialist.  He believes that the millennium exists throughout the church age, as the dead saints reign in heaven with Christ.  The thing is, Revelation 20 says that the millennium commences with the first resurrection, as these dead saints rise from the dead.  But the saints did not undergo a bodily resurrection, according to many amillennialists, for Revelation 20 is about the souls or disembodied spirits of the righteous reigning with Christ in heaven.  Consequently, to justify his amillennial position, Beale has to argue that a disembodied spirit going to heaven can count as a resurrection.  In his attempt to defend amillennialism, Beale makes an argument that appears to contradict the view of N.T. Wright.

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