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§ 2. History of the Doctrine.

The doctrine of the resurrection of the body is not exclusively a doctrine of the Bible. It is found, in different forms, in many of the ancient religions of the world. This is the more remarkable as it is in itself so improbable, and so much out of the analogy of nature. One generation of plants and animals succeeds another in uninterrupted succession; but the same individuals never reappear. The case is the more remarkable when we consider the difficulties with which the doctrine is beset; difficulties so great that it is rejected and even ridiculed by all in this generation who do not recognize the sacred Scriptures as an authority from which they dare not dissent. When such doctrines are found not only in the Bible but also in the religions of heathen nations it may be assumed that the Hebrews borrowed then, from their heathen neighbours. This is the hypothesis adopted generally by rationalists. They urge in its support that the doctrine of Satan, of the resurrection of the body, and of the destruction and renovation of the earth, do not appear in those portions of the Scriptures which were written before the Babylonish captivity. To carry out this argument they refer Job, Daniel, and a large portion of Isaiah to a period subsequent to the exile, contrary to evidence both external and internal in favour of the greater antiquity of those books. Even if it be conceded that the doctrines do not appear distinctly in any but the later writings of the Old Testament, that would not justify the assumption of their heathen origin, provided that their genesis can be traced in the earlier books of Scripture. Nothing is more obvious, or more generally admitted than the progressive character 786of the divine revelations. Doctrines at first obscurely intimated are gradually developed. This is the case with the doctrines of the Trinity, of the personality of the Holy Spirit, of the divinity of Christ, of the nature of his redemption, of the future state; and, as might be expected, of the resurrection of the dead. It is just as unreasonable and as unhistorical to say that the Church received the doctrine of the resurrection of the body from the heathen, as that it received from Plato the doctrine of the Trinity. There is another consideration on this subject, which for the Christian is decisive. The doctrines which in the New Testament are declared to be part of the revelation of God, are thereby declared not to be of heathen origin. The heathen may have held them, as they hold the doctrine of the existence of God and of the immortality of man; that does not prove that such doctrines have only a human origin and human authority.

These things being premised, it is admitted as a remarkable fact that belief in the resurrection of the body did prevail among the ancients prior to the advent of Christ. Reference is sometimes made to the Brahminic doctrine of the constant succession of cycles of countless ages in the history of the universe, one cycle being a reproduction or renewal of another, as having an analogy to the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. “The first appearance of this notion of a bodily restoration,” says Mr. Alger,828828Alger, ut supra, p. 488. “which occurs in the history of opinions, is among the ancient Hindus. With them it appears as a part of a vast conception, embracing the whole universe in an endless series of total growths, decays, and exact restorations. In the beginning the Supreme Being is one and alone. He thinks to himself ‘I wills become many’ [This is a figure of speech; for according to the Hindu system the Supreme Being, the Absolute, cannot think]. Straight way the multiform creation germinates forth, and all beings live. Then for an inconceivable period — a length of time commensurate with the existence of Brahma, the Demiurgus [This again is a mixture of ideas, for Brahma of the Hindus does not correspond with the Demiurgus of the Greeks] — the successive generations flourish and sink. At the end of this period all forms of matter, all creatures, sages, and gods, fall back into the Universal Source whence they arose. Again the Supreme Being is one and alone. After an interval the same causes produce the same effects, and all things recur exactly as they were before.”829829Wilson, Lectures on the Religion of the Hindus, London, 1862, vol. ii. pp. 91, 95, 100, 108. 787According to the Hindu system men have not to wait for the conclusion of one of these great cycles to be absorbed in the Supreme Being. By a life strictly conformed to prescribed rules, and by a process of complete self-abnegation, they attain a state in which they are lost in the Infinite as drops of rain in the ocean. As individuals they can never be reproduced, any more than the drops of rain can be recovered from the ocean. The ocean, by evaporation may produce other clouds which shall fall in other drops of rain; but this is not a reproduction of those which fell a thousand years ago. There is therefore no analogy between this theory and the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.

“The same general conception,” continues Mr. Alger,830830Alger, ut supra, p. 489. “in a modified form was held by the Stoics of later Greece, who doubtless borrowed it from the East, and who carried it out in greater detail. ‘God is an artistic fire, out of which the cosmopœia issues.’ This fire proceeds in a certain fixed course, in obedience to a fixed law, passing through certain intermediate gradations, and established periods, until it returns into itself and closes with a universal conflagation. . . . . The Stoics supposed each succeeding formation to be perfectly like the preceding. Every particular that happens now, has happened exactly so a thousand times before, and will happen a thousand times again. This view they connected with astronomical calculations making the burning and recreating of the world coincide with the same position of the stars as that at which it previously occurred. This they called the restoration of all things. The idea of these enormous revolving identical periods — Day of Brahm, Cycle of the Stoics, or Great Year of Plato — is a physical fatalism, effecting a universal resurrection of the past, by reproducing it over and over forever.”831831Ritter’s Geschichte d. Philosophie d. Alt. Zeit, 3ter Th. xi. 4; Hamburg, 1831, p. 582.

In the first volume of this work the attempt was made to show that the Brahminical and several Grecian systems of philosophy, were only different modifications of the pantheistic theory of the Infinite by fixed and necessary laws manifesting itself in the finite in all its endless diversities of forms. This endless succession of individuals, however, has no affinity with the Bible doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The flora and fauna of this are not a resurrection of the plants and animals of the geologic periods.

In the religion of Zoroaster there is a far nearer approach to the doctrines of the Bible.832832See Ten Great Religions; an Essay on Comparative Theology. By James Freeman Clarke. Boston, 1872, ch. v., specially p. 200. As the Scriptures teach that God at 788first created all things good, and made man after his own image, and placed him upon probation in Eden; so Zoroaster taught that Ormuzd created all things good, and that all were sinless and happy, and fitted for immortality. And as the Bible teaches that through the seduction of Satan man fell from his original state, and became the subject of sin, misery, and death; so in the religion of the ancient Persians it is taught, that Ahriman, the personal principle of evil, co-eternal with Ormuzd the principle of good, effected the ruin of man for this world and the next. Such was the origin of evil; such was the beginning of the conflict between good and evil, of which our earth has been the theatre. Both systems teach the ultimate triumph of the good, and the redemption of man; both teach a future state, the resurrection of the body, and the renewal of the earth, or, that there are to be a new heaven and a new earth. It is certain from the teachings of the New Testament that the Hebrews did not derive these doctrines from the Persians; it is, therefore, in the highest degree probable that the Persians derived them from their neighbours of the family of Shem, who were the depositaries of the revelations of God.

It has already been seen that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body was clearly taught in the Old Testament, and in the apocryphal books of the Jews; that it was a cardinal article of faith among the Jews when Christ came into the world; and that it was emphatically asserted by Christ and his Apostles. We have also seen that the Bible teaches nothing on this subject beyond (1.) That the body is to rise again. (2.) That its identity will be preserved. And (3.) That it is to be so changed and refined as to adapt it to the high state of existence to which it is destined. In this simple form the doctrine has ever been held by the Church, which is not responsible for the fanciful theories adopted by many of its members.

The philosophical theologians of the Alexandrian school, in the early Church, were disposed to spiritualize all the Bible says of the resurrection of the body, and of its future state. The Latins, on the other hand, adhered to a literal interpretation of Scriptural language, often to the grossest extremes. Augustine, as we have seen, thought the resurrection body was to be composed of all the matter that ever belonged to it in this world, and Jerome asks: “If men are not raised with flesh and bones, how can the damned gnash their teeth in hell?”833833See Jerome. Contra Joannem Hierosolymitanum, 33, Works, edit. Migne, vol. ii. pp. 384, 385 [441].


During the Middle Ages, the faith of the Church, on this subject, remained unchanged. The speculations of individual writers were diverse, inconsistent, and of little interest, because of no authority.

At the time of the Reformation the simple doctrine of the Bible was reaffirmed; and theologians beyond those limits were left to their own guidance. The form in which the doctrine was usually presented by the theologians of the seventeenth century, was: (1.) That the resurrection body is to be numerically and in substance, one with the present body. (2.) That it is to have the same organs of sight, hearing, etc., as in this life. (3.) Many held that all the peculiarities of the present body as to size or stature, appearance, etc., are to be restored. (4.) As the bodies of the righteous are to be refined and glorified, those of the wicked, it was assumed, would be proportionately repulsive. The later Protestant theologians, as well Lutheran as Reformed, confine themselves more strictly within the limits of Scripture.

Rationalism, as far as it prevailed, swept the whole doctrine away. Reason does not teach the doctrine, and cannot explain it; therefore, it has no title to recognition. Deistical rationalists admitted that the doctrine was taught in the Scriptures, but this was to them only an additional reason for denying their divine origin. The more moderate rationalists, who admitted the Bible to be a revelation of the truths of reason, or of natural religion, explained away all that it teaches concerning the resurrection, making it refer to the rising of the soul from a state of sin to a state of holiness; or, as relating not to the resurrection of the body, but to the continued life of the soul in a future state.

Of course the modern speculative, or pantheistic theology, ignores the doctrine of a resurrection. It does not even admit of the existence of the soul after the dissolution of the body. The race is immortal, but the individuals of which it is composed are not. Scientific materialism admits of no other resurrection than the reappearance of the same chemical elements which now form our bodies, in the bodies of future plants, animals, or men. The lime in our bones may help to form the bones of those who come after us. Thus philosophy and science, when divorced from the Bible, lead us only to negations, darkness, and despair.

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