Click to read Part I, Part II or Part III.
It is interesting to see how crucial the early church considered the resurrection of the body, compared to the relative lack of interest in today’s church. This is not to place these writings on the level of Scripture. I’m including these for 2 main purposes: to show how early Christians interpreted the Bible’s teachings on the resurrection of the dead and to see how crucial this belief was to those in the Church who taught and pastored the people of God through decades (if not centuries) of growth amidst persecution. Though this is a small sampling, and admittedly these quotes are pulled from various contexts, I think these show that the resurrection of the body was crucial. It seems to me that these men defended the resurrection of the body for two main reasons: to argue against those who denigrate the importance of the physical body in favor of the “spiritual” world and to draw encouragement in the middle of the persecution and afflictions of this life.
As you will see, I stuck mainly to the first 2 centuries, with the two major early creeds at the end. These quotes proceed in more-or-less chronological order; the dates given are the best guesses at the dates of their respective births and deaths. I hope that at least some of you will not simply read these quotes, but go back and check out the context to see what else these writers say. You can find the writings of Clement, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus here. For the Tertullian writings on the resurrection, click here (and follow the links to the left); for Origen's you can click here.
Clement of Rome (30-100 AD), 1 Clement Chapter 24: “Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead.”
Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 80: “I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. …For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth]… who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians.”
Irenaeus (120-202 AD)), Against Heresies Book2 Chapter 29: “And then the doctrine concerning the resurrection of bodies which we believe, will emerge true and certain; since, God, when He resuscitates our mortal bodies which preserved righteousness, will render them incorruptible and immortal.”
Tertullian (160-225 AD), On the Resurrection Chapter 1: “The resurrection of the dead is the Christian trust. By it we are believers.” These are the first 2 sentences of this writing; you could go on to read this entire document, as it defends the physical resurrection of believers from a number of standpoints.
Origen (185 -254 AD), Origen de Principiis Book 2 Chapter 10: notes that “some take offense at the creed of the Church, as if out belief in the resurrection were foolish, and altogether devoid of sense; and these are principally heretics.” Later he does note that there are “some of our own, who, either from feebleness of intellect or want of proper instruction, adopt a very low and abject view of the resurrection of the body.”
Apostles’ Creed (2nd century AD): “I believe in… the resurrection of the body.”
Nicene Creed (325 AD- I think this is the 381 AD form): “I look for the resurrection of the dead.”
I finish with the words of our earliest known non-canonical Christian writer, Clement of Rome (1 Clement Chapter 27):
“Having then this hope, let our souls be bound to Him who is faithful in His promises, and just in His judgments.”