In last weeks’ post, we looked at some of the biblical data attesting to the fact that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, meaning he is still in the flesh. His incarnation, fully God and fully man, is the underpinning of our salvation. As previously mentioned, one’s eternal security depends on one’s belief in the true person of Christ. The Docetists denied his humanity; the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny his deity. However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny another important fact pertaining to his resurrection; they deny he was raised in the flesh. This post will focus on debunking that heresy through an examination of the key texts used to support their view.
While the Scriptures are quite clear that Christ manifested himself in the flesh (ex. John 1:14), there are some passages that can be troublesome when one tries to defend the deity of Christ and his resurrection. The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the deity of Christ, so their rendering of the Scriptures in The New World Translation expresses that view. The reason I refer to it as a rendering, though to them it is the Bible, is because while it contains the books of the Bible, their perversion of the texts—some places adding, some places taking away, and some places changing— renders their bible as a work of man, not of God. One who knows the Scriptures can read through their bible and find text after text that is grammatically, syntactically, and contextually in error.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “resurrection involves a reactivating of the life pattern of the individual . . . the person is restored in either a human or a spirit body and yet retains his personal identity, having the same personality and memories as when he died.”  As it pertains to Christ, the JWs believe that after his death, he was raised as a “spirit creature.” So, in Acts 10:40-41, which speaks about Christ being raised from the dead and that others could not see him, the JWs say it is “because he was a spirit creature . . . humans cannot see spirits.” However, verse 41 tells us why all were not able to see him: because it was only those “. . . who had been chosen by God as witnesses.” The Scripture defeats their own argument from the Scriptures!
Their primary texts they use to support their view are 1 Corinthians 15:44-49 and 1 Peter 3:18. The main issue they have in their interpretation of these texts is they err in their understanding and rendering of the Greek word for spiritual, which is pneumatikos, interpreting it to mean non-material/physical.
In 1 Corinthians 15:44-49, Paul is speaking about the nature of our resurrection, contrasting the earthly form we have in Adam and the spiritual (heavenly) form will we have in Christ. He writes,
“44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.“
Now, in looking at these verses, it appears that Paul might be making a contrast between physical and non-physical; however, something immaterial cannot be considered as having a body. One of the foundations of Christian theology is that God is Spirit (John 4:24), so he does not have a body. So what then does Paul mean when he speaks of a spiritual body? Is it a physical or non-physical body?
In his authoritative work on the Resurrection, N. T. Wright addresses this semantic issue brought about by the influence of platonic philosophical views regarding the physical and non-physical that have been employed in Pauline studies today. He writes, “within the post-Plato world there was no concept of non-physicality such as many post-Enlightenment thinkers have read into Paul at this point.” It is because of the influence of Platonic metaphysics and the language used to describe such concepts that many within Christianity and other biblical religions  hold to an improper understanding of spiritual as it pertains to resurrection theology. Regarding the contrast between non-physical and physical and the words employed to express the distinctions between the two, N.T. Wright notes,
“Had Paul wanted in any way to produce the kind of contrast suggested to a modern reader by ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’, . . . pneumatikos would have been an unhelpful word to have for the latter idea, but . . . if Paul had wanted to find a word for ‘non-physical’, psychikos (which could literally be translated as ‘soulish’) would have itself been a possible option.“
Furthermore, since we are promised that our bodies will be like his, which is a material body according to the Scriptures (Phil. 3:21), then spiritual must surely mean something material. In using Scripture-to-interpret-Scripture, we will look at another use of this word in 1 Corinthians 10 to help us see what spiritual means.
“1For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).“
In looking at this, we see that during the Exodus Israel ate and drank spiritual food and drink. So are we to think that the food and drink God provided was immaterial? Psalm 105:40-41, one of the supporting verses for 1 Corinthians 10:3-says, “he brought quail, and gave them bread from heaven in abundance. He opened the rock, and water gushed out.”
One can see that Paul does not mean they were given non-material food or “soulish” food. Rather, the food and drink given were from the Spirit. It was a supernatural food—a food that originated from the heavens, created by God, which sustained the physical nature of the Jews. It was supernatural because the Spirit animated it. Spiritual is not immaterial, and if Christ demonstrated in the gospels that he had a body, eating and drinking, then he could not have been a spirit-creature; otherwise, Jesus would be a liar when he wanted them to see that he had a physical body like they did. He was given a glorious body; a body that we too will have in the resurrection that is supernatural, not immaterial. 1 Corinthians 15:47 further supports this understanding: “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” As the manna was spiritual food from heaven, the second man, Christ (and eventually all of us) is the spiritual— supernatural—man from heaven.
The next verse they use to supports their position is 1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” They understand this verse to mean that Jesus was “brought forth with a spirit body.”
One of my pastors just recently preached on this text, providing a grammatically, syntactically, and contextually clear understanding of Peter’s intent, which, as it should, falls inline with what Paul was speaking about in 1 Corinthians 15. There are varying views and opinions on what this verse means, particularly because of the dative singular noun πνεύματι, which many versions translate as “by the Spirit,” for a dative case noun means that it is the direct object of the verb. However, as he points out,
“. . . it does not grammatically work. If you notice, [he is comparing the ESV to another version that use ‘by’] I had to change the word “in” to “by.” Are we allowed to do this in the Greek? Sometimes, but most likely not here. The clauses “put to death in the flesh” and “but made alive in the spirit,” are exact parallels to each other. They both begin with the exact same kind of participle (which is a verbal noun) and they both end with the exact same kind of dative noun. What accentuates this even more so is it has the μεν δε construction. I have mentioned this before. This construction in the Greek has the word μεν in the first clause, and it means, “On the one hand.” The second clause has δε, which means, “but on the other hand.” This is used when parallel contrast is being made. So it should be read, “On the one hand He was put to death in the flesh, but on the other hand He was made alive in the spirit.” With that being said, the text must be grammatically read just as ESV translates it here. So we must understand it as spirit with a little “s.” So thus far, we have determined that it cannot be in reference to Christ’s human soul, because that soul was already alive. We have also determined that it is not talking about the Holy Spirit. So what other option is there?“
Peter, like Paul, is contrasting between the earthly and the heavenly life. If Peter were contrasting physical and non-physical, as already mentioned regarding Paul, he could have used the word psychikos to differentiate or “the words σωμα and ψυχη instead of his chosen words of σαρχ and πνευμα.” Peter’s emphasis here is on the limitations one has in the flesh; “the flesh refers to the human sphere of limitations and suffering, whereas spirit refers to the sphere of power, vindication, and new life.” Remember, he is writing to encourage and provide hope to suffering sheep, so Peter is not trying to give them a lecture on metaphysics, he is trying to help them push on and endure to the resurrected, victorious life that awaits them in Christ. However, as it pertains to Christ, Peter is speaking of the two modes of his life—his earthly (death in the flesh) and his heavenly (made alive in the spirit). When we think about what it means to redeem something as we have been redeemed in Christ, the redeemed item is restored, not ontologically changed. One of the first things Christ did to demonstrate he had a physical body, was he ate with his disciples. And Thomas put his fingers in the holes left from the nails. He showed them, though his body is scarred from the world, it is no longer impervious to the elements that exist in the world. And our bodies will be like his body; they are no longer natural—rather, they are supernatural.
So, is it possible that this reading of the Scripture (what the JWs believe and teach) is accurate? Is Christ a spirit creature? Well, I believe the context of the passages we have examined demonstrates that the use of the word pneumatikos was intended to mean spiritual in a supernatural sense, not immaterial, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have understood it. All of the support verses in the first post and those we have reviewed in this one clearly demonstrate that Christ came and still is in the flesh.
1. As an example, the quintessential verse giving us the clearest expression of the deity of Christ, John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”), is rendered in The New World Translation as, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god” (italics mine). In the Greek, there is no warrant for inserting an indefinite article in this verse, for there is only an article in the Greek; the terms definite and indefinite are unnecessary because the context and many other situations establish whether the article is definite or not. The Greek use of the article has a much wider range and purpose than how we use it in the English language.
In John 1:1, the grammatical forms and structure of this verse is intended to signify a distinction in persons between God the Father and Christ the Word yet expressing the shared divine essence between them. Furthermore, if John truly intended to make the claim in the manner in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses have rendered it, then it would make John a polytheist—a heretic. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have constructed a straw-house out of proof-texts and grammatical jargon in order to support their rendering, in which those who are un-learned in the Scriptures might see as a fortress that cannot be knocked down. However, the translators of the Watchtower Society (the formal name of the religion) do not have any background in the biblical languages; therefore, they have no credibility in making claims pertaining to what the Greek or the Hebrew may or may not say.
2. Watch Tower, Reasoning From the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower, 1989), 334.
5. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 350, n.114 .
6. I don’t mean these religions are orthodox; rather, they are man-made religions that employ the Bible as its spiritual and authoritative (and among others) source.
7. Ultimately it is a dualistic perspective, distinct to Greek philosophy that has been employed in modern thinking. What Wright demonstrates in his work (a mammoth 817 pages!) is that the Jewish perspective, carrying over into Judeo-Christian theology, is that the Messiah was expected to raise from the dead in the flesh. The eschatological view of the final resurrection for Israel is grounded in the coming Messiah. When he comes to lift Israel out from under Greek oppression and establishes his kingdom, peace will be restored and God’s covenant family, those who are asleep and awake, will be resurrected to finally make their home in the land flowing with milk and honey (Genesis 17:7; Leviticus 26:42; Psalm 132; Joel 3:18; Zephaniah 3:8; Zechariah 2:11). So, if one claiming to be the Messiah came, died, and rose as a spirit, then he was not truly the Messiah. Wright’s work is highly recommended and is considered one of the best works on the Resurrection par excellence.
8. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 351.
9. Ibid., p. 334. What is truly ironic here is that one of the charges the Jehovah’s Witnesses make against orthodox Trinitarian theology is that our doctrines are steeped in man-made Greek philosophy. Pretty funny! However, they are the ones who have adopted Greek philosophy and have imported it into their interpretive presuppositions.
10. Stephen Feinstein, “1 Peter 3:18-22 ; Christ’s Victorious Suffering,” (sermon, Sovereign Way Christian Church, Hesperia, CA., September 21, 2014)