Romans 8 – The Redemption of the Body

From: Ken


Sent: Monday, October 01, 2007 11:21 AM

Subject: Questions about Preterism

Mr. Preston,

I am trying to better understand the view known to some as full-Preterism (though I would assume you’d prefer to call it just “Preterism”). In light of that I was wondering if you can give me the best preterist answers to a few questions:

1) Concerning Romans 8 and the physical creation: Did the “creation” stop groaning in 70 AD? Has it already been set free from its “bondage to decay”?

Response: First of all, I do not accept the idea that Romans 8 is speaking of the physical creation. The word that is “creation” (20 times in the N.T.) is ktisis, and although it is used to speak of physical creation (Mark 10:6 e.g.), in the N. T., it is used also to speak of mankind, for society, (cf. Mark 16:15– every creature; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Gal. 6:15, Colossians 1:23, etc.). The creation that was to be renewed is the creation to whom the gospel was to be preached. THe gospel was to be preached to mankind. Thus, the creation to be renewed was mankind.  The “groaning of creation” must be traced back to its source, and that source is Isaiah 26:16-18– the labor of birth pains, and Israel’s futile attempts to bring forth righteousness under Torah. What must be kept in mind, as paramount– is that Romans 8 is about the hope of Israel (cf. Romans 9:1-4). Paul’s entire gospel, thus, his eschatology, was nothing but the hope of Israel (Acts 24:14f; 26:6f, 21f; 28:16ff). Thus, if we want to understand the identity of the creation, and the hope of the deliverance, we must understand how Paul understood the hope of Israel, as foretold in the O.T. and interpreted by Paul, through the Spirit.

2) Concerning Romans 8 and believers: Did believers receive the “redemption of the body” in 70 AD? In what way?

Response: Yes, they did, but, the the question here is, what is “the body” that Paul has in mind? It is generally assumed that he has the individual human body. I disagree with that, and believe that he is speaking of the corporate body. The word “body” in v. 23 is singular, not plural. While that is not definitive in the Greek, it is suggestive, and when considered in the light of Isaiah’s prediction of the coming redemption–and many other passages–the corporate concept becomes persuasive. I might suggest Tom Hollands’ Pauline Perspectives for some good reading on this corporate concept in Paul.   The identical concept is found in Ephesians 1:12f, where they were looking for the redemption of the purchased possession that he then identifies as “the body of Christ.” This is without doubt a corporate concept of “the body” that was awaiting the Day of Redemption (Ephesians 4:30).

Let me say that what “creation” was longing for was the “manifestation of the sons of God,” and the “glorious liberty” as sons of God. Now, I am not being facetious, but, we must ask ourselves some serious questions.

A.) If “creation” in Romans 8 is the physical creation, then, are we willing to argue/accept that mosquitos, slugs, and bugs, will one day become “Sons of God”? (a bit of argumentum ad absurdum to be sure, but, a valid question nonetheless!

B.) The question in the text is not simply the redemption of the body, but, the manifestation of the sons of God. In other words, there was a controversy about the identity of the Sons of God that was raging when Paul wrote, but, Jesus would, through his parousia, reveal, manifest, vindicate and glorify his body (Cf. Galatians 4:22f). His parousia would manifest the identity of the true Sons! See Revelation 3:14 for what seems to me a direct commentary on this concept. Also, my book In Flaming Fire, is a good commentary on the idea. It is a discussion of 2 Thessalonians 1 and how at his parousia, Christ would turn the persecutors into the persecuted, thus, identifying the saints as his, and vindicating and glorifying them.

C.) Whatever else we might think or ponder, we must honor the imminence of the text of Romans 8. Paul uses three words of imminence to speak of the coming glory, manifestation, redemption. The glory was “about to be revealed” (from mello, with the infinitive, and on this see Blass-De-Brunner). He uses apekdekomai (eager expectation), and apokaradokeo (to look with neck outstretched). All of these words, combined in one text, gives us a sense of almost overwhelming imminence. If we are going to do correct exegesis, we must honor what the text offers us.

3) In relation to question 2: If there is no physical bodily resurrection for the believer, what is Paul talking about when he speaks of the “redemption of the body”?

Response: See my response to #2.

4) Concerning the Resurrected Christ: Was Jesus’ resurrected body physical? Did it contain matter (no matter how glorified)?

Response: I am personally fully convinced that Jesus’ resurrected body was precisely the same body, unaltered, unchanged, that went into the tomb. That is why that body is not the focus of the resurrection promises! See my Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory, for a fuller discussion of this very important issue. The argument is often made that the resurrection body promised in 1 Corinthians 15 must be exactly like the resurrection of Jesus. That is true on one level, but, the question is, was it the post resurrection, pre-ascension body of Christ that is the focus?

If Jesus’ post resurrection, pre-ascension body was totally unchanged physiologically, then that physical body was not the focus of the resurrection promises, was it? It would still be of dust, mortal. But, when John speaks of the promise of life he says that he and the disciples no longer knew what Jesus was like! They knew what he was like before his resurrection. They even knew what he was like after his resurrection and before his ascension (cf. 1 John 1:1f)! But, they no longer knew what he was like, post ascension, and it was that “unknown” that was the focus of his hope and expectation (1 John 3:1ff).

5) In relation to question 4: Assuming Jesus’ resurrection was truly physical, why can’t believers expect the same? Isn’t Jesus the “firstfruits” of a resurrection harvest? Isn’t the first “crop” the same as what comes after it?

Response: The nature of the first fruit is fascinating and too vast to cover adequately here, of course. But, let me offer a thought or two. (I engaged in two formal public debates and the firstfruit became a point of major discussion. Those debates are available from me. Thrasher-Preston Debates).

A.) The very concept of the first-fruit demands that the harvest had already begun! To emphasize the harvest imagery, which is precisely what Paul is doing, and then for us today, to ignore the implications of the first-fruit being gathered, does no service to the text.

B.) Paul emphatically says that Christ was the first-fruit. We have therefore, to ask ourselves the question: Was Jesus the first to be raised from the dead, physically? The answer of course is no. Yet, Paul is very clear that Jesus was the first to be raised from the death that is the focus of eschatological promise, i.e. the death of Adam. See Acts 26:21ff.

I would frame the argument something like this:

Christ was the first to be raised from the death of Adam (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).

But, Christ was not the first to be raised from physical death.

Therefore, physical death is not the death of Adam.

C.) The New Testament writers are clear that they were part of the first fruit harvest, initiated by Christ (James 1:18f; Hebrews 12:21f). I think it is very clear that they were not saying that they had been raised from biological death.

The New Testament writers are clear that were part of the first fruit harvest, initiated by Christ (James 1:18f; Hebrews 12:21f). I think it is very clear that they were not saying that they had been raised from biological death.

6) A more general question: Has there been any Preterist treatment/rebuttal of N.T. Wright’s work in The Resurrection of the Son of God, particularly his exegesis of 1 Cor. 15?

Response: To my knowledge, there has not been a formal treatment of Wright’s book among preterists. What is fascinating to me is that Wright takes some positions–and I am certainly not the first to note this of course– that would lead you to believe that he is full preterist. He denies this of course, and in that work, he certainly takes a futurist view of things. Nonetheless, his view of Luke 20 and the Pharisee/Sadducee debate is certainly preteristic (Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 402, n. 109), and leads one to ask why, if Matthew 23/Luke 20 speak of the changing of the covenantal worlds, why then does 1 Corinthians 15 not speak of the same thing?

In my view, while Wright says on one level that the resurrection was the hope of Israel, in his exegesis, he fails somewhat to follow through with the thesis, and to honor the covenantal nature of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.

Furthermore, while he seems to say, like Scott McKnight, that Jesus saw no further in his eschatology than A.D. 70, he then seems to set Paul against Jesus by having Paul say things that so starkly contrast– eschatologically– with Jesus. To me, this is troubling and untenable.

Okay, I have gone on long enough. I probably have not addressed every issue–pretty sure I haven’t!!–but, hopefully, this will help somewhat.

Thanks again so much for contacting me, and I look forward to hearing from you again.

For His Truth, and in His Grace,
Don K. Preston

Thanks so much, Mr. Preston for your time. I understand if you are simply too busy to respond.