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This review is from: Resurrection Reconsidered (Paperback)
Riley's book portrays the Johanine and Thomas communities in conflict over the doctrine of bodily ("fleshly") resurrection. Bodily resurrection was a radical idea, strange and even repulsive to people reared in the widely prevailing Greco-Roman tradition, which viewed the soul as separate and distinct from the physical body in which it is held prisoner. Only the liberated soul continues to exist after death, while the body decays away. The Thomas community took that traditional view, which placed it at theological odds with the writer of the Gospel of John and the developing Christian orthodoxy.
Why did early Christianity insist on the doctrine of bodily resurrection? (1) Judaic legacy: The idea could be found in some OT Scripture. (2) Justice: The soul should not be judged alone for the sins of the body, especially as sin arises from the desires of the body; reward or torment for the deeds of the body should be experienced by the body. (3) Unity of persons: The resurrection of a person must be, by definition, an embodied resurrection, because a person is a unity of body and soul, not separable into an evil physical body distinct from a good spiritual soul. (4) Humanity of Jesus: It is part of the proof that Jesus was truly of human flesh, before and after crucifixion.
Riley analyzes parts of John's Gospel as a polemic aimed at the Thomas community, particularly in the way their spiritual mentor, the disciple Thomas, is portrayed. He is the disciple who never seems to understand and, in particular, he is the faithless doubter who demands to touch the wounds of the resurrected Jesus. When he finds he is able to do so, he capitulates completely, demonstrating to the Thomas community that the risen Jesus had a palpable, physical body. Thus, John's literary Thomas serves to provide the refutation of his own community's beliefs.
The book is a bit too narrowly focused, lacking a final chapter to tell us how the dispute proceeded past the 2nd century. Looking at Erickson's 'Christian Theology,' it looks like orthodox Christianity eventually came out somewhere in between, with some version Paul's idea of resurrection into a new "spiritual body" becoming widely accepted. This is not a disembodied soul, but neither is it a body of ordinary flesh. It is imagined to somehow derive from the physical body, but without being a mere resuscitation. While it retains its identity, it is transformed in composition, perfected, perhaps intangible, and eternal. People might differ about whether that mostly vindicates the community of John, or of Thomas.