As you’ll soon see, this theory suffers from a number of problems: the Scriptural support is virtually non-existent, it’s never endorsed (or even alluded to) by any of the New Testament authors or the Church Fathers, it runs directly contrary to the Church’s consistent Eucharistic theology, and the evidence offered could just as easily justify rejecting the physical Resurrection and Ascension.
I. What the “Bloodless Body” Believers Believe
|Guercino, Doubting Thomas (17th c.)|
Not everyone in this camp goes as far as Bengel, but all of the Bloodless Body believers share a few common traits. First, as I said above, they claim that Christ’s Resurrected Body does have Flesh and Bones, just no Blood. So they’re not technically denying the physical Resurrection, or at least not denying it entirely. Second, their Scriptural case is built almost completely off of these two verses:
- In 1 Corinthians 15:50, St. Paul says that “I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Taken literally, this passage poses serious problems to any orthodox Christians. Which leads to...
- In Luke 24:39, after the Resurrection, Jesus appears to the Apostles for the first time, and says, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
So the claim is, flesh and blood can’t enter Heaven, but flesh and bone can. You’ll find these same two verses used repeatedly by those defending the Bloodless Body position. For example, here’s CARM’s argument:
The Bible says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the
(1 Cor. 15:50). If this is so, then how could physical body have been raised? The answer is simple. After His resurrection Jesus said, "Touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have" (Luke 24:39). You must note that Jesus did not say, "flesh and blood." He said, "flesh and bones." This is because Jesus' blood was shed on the cross. The life is in the blood and it is the blood that cleanses from sin: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul," (Lev. 17:11). See also, Gen. 9:4; Deut. 12:23; and John 6:53-54. Jesus was pointing out that He was different. He had a body, but not a body of flesh and blood. It was flesh and bones. kingdomof God
Now, you might think that the fact that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11) would be a reason that Christ, being as He is alive, would have Blood. Not according to CARM. Instead, they argue that Christ shedding His Blood on the Cross means that His entire Body was completely drained of Blood. This implausible theory is being put forward for an obvious reason: to get around 1 Cor. 15:50.
II. What Does St. Paul Mean in 1 Corinthians 15:50?
|Jacob van Campen, |
The Last Judgment (16th c.)
So what does St. Paul mean when he says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable”? In 180 A.D., St. Irenaeus was already referring to it as “that passage of the apostle which the heretics pervert,” and it is easy to see how. Taken literally, as CARM does, this passage would seem to deny the physical Resurrection. Paul doesn’t just say that “blood” won’t enter the Kingdom of God, but “flesh and blood.” So a literal reading would seemingly deny the physical Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, as well as the general resurrection of the dead.
But, of course, that’s not how St. Paul uses “flesh and blood.” St. Thomas Aquinas provides the best explanation of this passage that I’ve seen:
We must not think that by flesh and blood, he means that the substance of the flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but rather flesh and blood, i.e., those devoting themselves to flesh and blood, namely, men given to vices and lusts, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. And thus is flesh understood, i.e., a man living by the flesh: “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9)
The Scriptural support that Aquinas provides is perfect. If St. Paul commends his readers in Romans 8:9 for not being in the flesh, there are basically two possibilities:
- Paul isn’t using “flesh” literally;
- Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans to ghosts.
Aquinas adds another nail in the literal interpretation by showing that Paul affirms that creation will inherent the Kingdom:
Therefore and accordingly, he adds, nor does the corruptible inherit incorruption, i.e., nor can the corruption of mortality, which is expressed here by the term “flesh,” inherit incorruption, i.e., the incorruptible kingdom of God, because we will rise in glory: “Because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
This is what good exegesis looks like: Aquinas is interpreting St. Paul in view of the other times he’s used similar phrasing, like Romans 8, to show what’s meant. He doesn’t just assume that Paul needs to be taken literally.
III. Why Does Jesus Say “Flesh and Bones” in Luke 24:39?
This still leaves us with one detail to resolve. Does it matter that, in Luke 24:39, Jesus says that His Glorified Body has “Flesh and Bones,” instead of the “Flesh and Blood”? No. In both cases, we’re dealing with a specific figure of speech called a pars pro toto, in which a part of a thing is used to describe the whole: for example, saying “glasses” to refer to eyeglasses (which are made up of more than just glass), or “wheels” to refer to a car. Or to use a pars pro toto that anti-Catholics often use, saying “Rome” when one means the entire Roman Catholic Church.
|Bartolomeo Passarotti, Blood of the Redeemer (16th c.)|
With that in mind, let’s turn to a challenge by a reader:
Christ says that He, in His resurrected body, has flesh and bones, not flesh and blood.Can you show me another place in Scripture where the phrase "flesh and bones" is used to describe human corporeality?
Yes, there are actually several instances. Let’s start with Genesis 2:21-23:
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
The Hebrew word being translated there as “bone” means “bone, substance, self,” and in other contexts, is translated as “same.” So if it wasn’t already obvious, Adam isn’t suggesting that Eve is bloodless, or that her blood comes from somewhere else. He means that they share a common substance. They have, if you will, a shared “human corporeality.” Here’s another example, from Genesis 29:12-14,
And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's kinsman, and that he was Rebekah's son; and she ran and told her father. When Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister's son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.
This phrase is used at various other points in the Old Testament for relation (Judges 9:2, 2 Samuel 5:1, 2 Samuel 19:12-13, and 1 Chronicles 11:1). In each case, the speaker is reminding the listener that their material bodies come from a common ancestor. In English, we express this via the figure of speech, “blood relatives,” but both English and Hebrew listeners understand that it’s more than just bones or blood that are in common: it’s our entire matter, our corporeality.
In none of these instances is there any sort of insinuation that the speaker or listener has a bloodless body. Besides this, the argument from silence would seem to go both ways: if Jesus saying that His Body has Flesh and Bones means that It doesn’t have Blood, do the various instances of referring to someone as having flesh and blood prove that they didn’t have bones? Could we, using this same logic, deny that His Body has hair or fingernails?
There’s also a very good reason to believe that Christ uses the “Flesh and Bone” imagery precisely to recall Adam and Eve. In some (but not all) of the ancient versions of Ephesians 5:30, we find this line: “we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” This is an identification of the Church as the New Eve to Christ’s New Adam. With that in mind, listen to St. John Chrysostom’s exegesis of John 19:34, from 407 A.D.:
“There flowed from His side water and blood.” Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized Baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two Mysteries (Sacraments) the Church is born: from Baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the Holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist flowed from His side, it was from His side that Christ fashioned the Church, as He had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from His side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after His own death.
This fashioning of the Church as the New Eve occurs, as the two Saints John tell us, when Christ dies on the Cross, and Blood and water come forth from His side. The next time that Jesus sees them is Easter Sunday, where He shows them His Body using terms that would immediately call to mind Adam … and the Cross.
To recap, this notion that Christ has no Blood in His Resurrection Body is based on (1) an argument from silence, coupled with (2) a verse that, taken literally, would disprove the physical Resurrection and Ascension. Given how significant this would see to be, it’s remarkable that absolutely no one in Scripture or the early Church ever claimed this about Christ.
To base something so close to a denial of the physical Resurrection on such weak evidence is remarkable. So why is it such a popular among Mormons and certain Protestant groups? For Mormons, the answer is easy: Joseph Smith taught it. But what about for Protestants? I have a few hunches (bad Eucharistic theology, a soteriology and sacramental theology that tends towards treating matter as evil, bad philosophy related to the substance and accidents of the Body of Christ, a tendency towards reading everything in a literal fashion, ignorance of the Church Fathers, etc.), but I can’t say for sure. Any thoughts?