Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Does the Glorified Body of Christ Have Blood?

One of the strangest beliefs that I’ve come across through this blog is the idea that the glorified Body of Jesus Christ contains Flesh and Bones, but no Blood. I first came across it in a reader comment; since then, I’ve heard this view advanced by several Protestant apologetics websites, like the popular Calvinist apologetics blog CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry), along with Let Us Reason Ministries, and Bible.ca.  Additionally, this appears to be the traditional Mormon view, one endorsed by their founder, Joseph Smith.

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.)
This “Bloodless Body” view appears to have first been put forward by a Lutheran by the name of J. A. Bengel (1687-1752).  Bengel’s original theory was fairly complicated, as he had elaborate work-arounds for passages like Hebrews 9:11-14, 24-26, in which Christ is depicted as entering Heaven with His Blood.  In that case, Bengel claimed that “at the time of his entry or ascension Christ kept his blood apart from his body.”  He even argued that Christ’s Head appears white in Revelation 1:14 because it is drained of Blood.
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:

  1. 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...
  2. 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 kingdom of God (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.
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.

IV. Conclusion

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?

22 comments:

  1. From CARM's article: "How could he be in bodily form and be a man if He does not have a body of flesh and bones?"

    How could Jesus be in bodily form and be a man without blood?! Why did His glorified body need bones?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. What makes this all the more curious is that another CARM article pretty much takes Jehovah Witnesses to task by asking them the same question. http://carm.org/jehovahs-witnesses-and-resurrection-jesus

      Delete
  2. "... but I can’t say for sure. Any thoughts?" I'm guess'en and simplifing things a lot but maybe they think that our Lord shed his blood 'once for all' and He never reclaimed it. Kinda ... um... like that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think it's a "once-and-for-all" case, which they also use to disprove the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

      Delete
  3. "Additionally, this appears to be the traditional Mormon view, one endorsed by their founder, Joseph Smith." It figures. After all, Joseph Smith thought he was establishing a religion that was more "rational" religion lacking the mysteries of Catholicism.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That was a great commentary by St Thomas!

    I'm surprised you did not mention Jehovah's Witnesses since 1 Corinthians 15:50 is one of their top 5 favorite verses. They believe this section of Scripture solidly disproves Christ's literal (physical) Resurrection. I wrote an article on 1 Cor 15:50 a few months ago (HERE) if anyone is interested.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's hard to believe that there are people who actually believe this :-/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is amazing what I might believe if I were not grounded in the solid teachings of the Catholic Church.

      Delete
  6. Good article. St. Thomas also says in the Summa (3.72.2) in discussing the Eucharist that both species of the Sacrament contain the whole of Christ (body and blood together) "because now Christ's blood is not separated from His body..."

    But that sentence goes on to say, "...as it was at the time of His Passion and death." Also in the prayers of St. Bridget, it is mentioned that "there did not remain a single drop" of blood or even water, so that even "the marrow of [His] bones dried up." So the notion that the body and blood of Christ were completely separated from one another in His passion is not antithetical to Catholic tradition or to the belief that in the resurrection the glorified Christ has both flesh and blood.

    ReplyDelete
  7. At first, I thought that this was one of the arguments like how many angels can dance on the head of a needle. It became rather apparent that this was an actual issue for some, which made feel quite sad. I was sad because people can force such human logic into a divine experience. To say that God, the Creator of all, could not have Jesus resurrected with blood forces God into a box and a very tiny box at that. I would not want to worship such a small and puny god (lower case is done on purpose).

    I do not belong to school of Protestant thinking that argues against a bodily resurrection or that there could be no blood in Christ's resurrected body. I am not a good representative for my brothers and sisters in that school of thought, but I have an idea. I have noticed that there is a very strong "Soulizing" among some churches. By "Soulizing," I mean the theological position of emphasizing the soul over the body in terms of resurrection and soteriology. I have seen this as a lingering influence of Platonism among many Christians. Platonism and Platonic Dualism is rather prevalent in every church that I have experienced, at least among the worshiping members if not presented by the church leadership. It could even go so far as to border on Docetism in the most extreme forms. I am not comfortable with this "Soulizing" of the church in the lighter form of Platonism and especially in the extreme form of Docetism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rev. Hans,

      I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one troubled by this dualist tendency (and frankly, I'm glad to see this discomfort isn't confined to one side of the Tiber). I've seen a number of trends within various Protestant circles and contexts that are setting off dualist alarm bells:

      (1) The idea that the sacraments can't do anything, and that sacraments and rituals are either symbols, or even evil. On a certain level, it's not about what Scripture says (since Scripture is full of matter being used in miracles and sacraments), but a starting presupposition that the material parts of the sacraments couldn't possibly be efficacious.

      (2) I think we see something very similar in how material items are treated. Certain material items are treated as evil, or at least, as creating opportunities for the devil -- things like Ouija boards, tarot cards, pentagrams, and the like. No God-fearing Evangelical would want these things in their house (and rightly so!), even if they had no intention of using them.

      Most of the material items classically considered “good,” like blessed salt, holy water, scapulars, Crucifixes, rosary beads, and so on, were scrapped. Those few material items that remain (I can think of Bibles and plain Crosses – am I missing any?) are good only if they remind you to pray or read the Bible. In other words, the Ouija board is treated as more powerful than the Cross, since the former can wreak havoc in your home by its mere presence, while an ignored Cross is powerless.

      (3) A reading of justification by faith as something that is purely on the intellectual, mental, or spiritual level. To the extent that anything physical is involved, they're only signs of the spiritual reality, and are never themselves efficacious.

      (cont.)

      Delete
    2. (4) A reading of “spiritual” as “the absence or rejection of matter.” This often comes up in discussions on the Eucharist. John 6:63 will be treated as a proof-text that since the Eucharist is spiritual, it cannot also be physical.

      (5) The same commenter that I quoted above argued that since Ambrose taught that the Eucharist was Communion with the Spiritual Body of Christ, this must mean he denied the Real Presence: “Since Romanism teaches that the elements Become the flesh and blood of Christ, and Ambrose states that the body of Christ is Spiritual (not physical), you have a problem there.” By this logic, the physical Resurrection didn't really happen, and neither will the general resurrection, since our resurrected bodies are called “spiritual bodies” (1 Cor. 15:44).

      Again, this is the same Ambrose who, a few lines before, described the Eucharist as “the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.” And ironically, Ambrose used the “Flesh and Bones” line from Luke 24:39 to prove that this was the Eucharist involved the actual Resurrected Body of Christ.

      (6) I am increasingly thinking that the Calvinist view of total depravity points in this direction, because it tends towards treating post-Fall Creation like it's evil. Probably not coincidentally, it is here that we tend to see a purely symbolic view of the sacraments.

      You’re right that the end point (which, thank God, largely hasn't been arrived at) is Docetism, and a denial of the physical Resurrection and even the Incarnation. It seems to me that the solution to this is found in a strong sacramental theology, emphasizing the manner in which the Spirit works through matter, and grounded in large part in the Incarnation and public ministry of Jesus Christ. If Christ can use mud to work a miracle (John 9:6-7), we can't treat matter as purely evil or even as worthless. Fr. Robert Barron does a good job of making this point in his book Catholicism: “If God became human without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the create that he became, God must not be a competitor with his creation.”

      I.X.,

      Joe

      Delete
    3. Because angels are spirits and have no physical bodies, and only physical bodies can exclude thing from space, or be excluded, an infinite number of angels can fit on the head of the pin.

      Note this is independent of the question of whether that many angels exist, or even whether angels exist at all.

      It's a useful thought exercise for reminding one's self that because two things often go together does not mean that they are logically bound to do so.

      Delete
  8. I was raised in a Baptist church, and I never heard anyone put forward this "bloodless body" idea.

    I'm reminded of Jesus pointing and laughing at the Sadducees in Matthew 22, when they put to him the hypothetical case of the woman who consecutively married seven brothers, then wanted to know whose wife she'd be "in the resurrection." They were making the same mistake: trying to apply temporal rules to an eternal state of being.

    If you step outside of time, what does it mean that your heart beats twice a second, or that your blood "flows" through your veins? We have no way of knowing. I guess it's not inherently terrible to speculate idly, but how ridiculous and sad that people have taken their speculations so seriously.

    ReplyDelete
  9. That is bizarre...

    Out of all the things to argue about... They pick THAT?!?

    For me it is pretty simple: Jesus is fully God, and fully man at the same time. Men need blood, Jesus was a man, hence Jesus needed, and therefore had blood.

    Qvod erat demonstrandvm.

    That's Latin for: "The other side is grasping at straws and it is okay to laugh at them."

    ReplyDelete
  10. Joe,
    Rereading your original post as well as the comments and this fuller post, shows an excellent demolition of this ridiculous argument.

    I still marvel at the way Hiram (the original commenter) was unable to move beyond the verse from Luke and make a coherent argument....

    ReplyDelete
  11. You wrote, "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."

    I read the preceding chapters and that selfsame chapter in his "Against Heresies," and Irenaeus doesn't condemn the belief you're condemning in your blog. So, it's a bit dishonest to cite Irenaeus as though he does, don't you think? That is what you were implying, wasn't it? I mean, what use would you have in citing Irenaeus if what he condemned had absolutely nothing to do with what you are talking about? Not one bit. So, you're leading the reader to believe that Irenaeus condemned the idea that Christ does not currently possess blood. That's dishonest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike,

      Did you not read the next sentence? I wrote:

      "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."

      I was never suggesting that the heretics were promoting the idea that Jesus does not currently possess Blood. I suggested (pretty explicitly) that the obvious-misuse that this verse is open to is to deny the physical Resurrection. This, as I'm sure you can confirm from reading those chapters, appears to be what Irenaeus had in mind.

      So no, there was no dishonesty or decontextualizing on my part here.

      I.X.,

      Joe

      Delete
  12. Joe,

    As one who frequents CARM, I have been involved in the debate over this issue. I cannot get anyone at CARM to provide the earliest attestation of this belief that pre-dates Mormonism. How ironic that Matt Slick is alone with the Mormons in this belief.

    St. Thomas Aquinas refutes this notion in the Summa (ST III, Q. 54, Article 3) by reasoning that Christ's resurrected body was of the same nature, but differed only in its glory. Flesh, bones, blood, hair, etc. are all of the very nature of the human body. Thus all of these things were in Christ's resurrected body, without diminution. Otherwise, His wold not have been a complete resurrection if whatever was lost by death had not been restored. The CARM / Mormon position leads to an implicit denial of the resurrection, or at best, a quasi-resurrection.

    Walpole

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Henry,

      St Paul gives a good analogy for how we are to understand resurrection: he says humanity must "clothe itself" with immortality. This is why the Church teaches that "grace builds on nature" and 'equips' it with powers that nature itself doesn't inherently have. So when Jesus resurrected, yes it was truly His original human body, but "wearing" the clothing of immortality, His human body didn't interact to the natural world the same way.

      I wrote a short post about this "clothing yourself with Christ" and why the Protestant view of salvation via imputed grace is wrong: http://catholicnick.blogspot.com/2013/08/what-does-it-mean-to-put-on-christ.html

      Delete