Heretical Resurrection Beliefs (Luke 20:27-40)

Published on November 6th, 2019

At least three heretical beliefs about resurrection are associated with this Sunday’s Gospel. Verse 27 explains, “There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection.” This is the first of such wrong-headed beliefs associated with this reading: That there is no resurrection.  Truly, as attested by both the Old and New Testaments, the bodies of dead human beings—even though they have returned to dust—will rise from the dead on the last day.  The Sadducees, the “scientific” and “political” sect of ancient Judaism, did not believe this.  Likewise today’s world—though it believes in the myth of evolution which claims life spontaneously rose from dust—refuses to believe that the Creator can resurrect a body.  Yet Christians know that God who originally made man from dust has of course no difficulty in raising dust-scattered Adam—and all his descendants—from the dead.

A second resurrection heresy is the belief which holds to the immortality of the soul, but not to the immortality of the body.  Today many “religious” people, including many who call themselves Christian, hold to this pagan belief espoused even by pagan Romans in Christ’s day.  This heretical belief is that eternal life is simply the soul living forever, and the body, after death, is recognized to be merely the container for the soul in this life; they believe that once we die the body is no longer necessary.  The Sadducees, though not believing in the resurrection, at least held to the Biblical doctrine that body and soul must be together.  Thus the Sadducees understood that if there is eternal life it is an endless life that includes body and soul together forever.  Our text can only be understood if one grasps the necessity of this unity of body and soul.  Jesus, proving the resurrection, quotes Moses, “…he [Moses] calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.  Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living…”  If Jesus were merely referring to departed spirits, this would be the opposite of proving the resurrection! To the Jewish hearers our Lord’s quote from Moses did NOT mean God is the God of the departed spirits of the Patriarchs, but it meant that the departed patriarchs are to be viewed as ultimately resurrected bodies, for God is not the God of the dead.

A third heresy that some attempt to draw from this text is that humans become angels in the next life.  This cannot be true because angels are merely spirit-beings, and we will be beings with resurrected bodies.  This heresy comes from misreading the text, for Jesus does not say that we will be angels, but that we will be equal to angels.   The angels are immortal, and in this respect we will be equal to the angels, for we too will be immortal…having immortal bodies, and in this respect very different from angels!

Other than the testimony of the entire Scriptures, what is the proof for all of this?  It is the death and resurrection of Jesus.  For our salvation He entered that unnatural state of death, and his corpse was laid in a tomb.  On the third day His body—yes His physical body—rose from the dead.  Scriptures repeatedly attest that His is an immortal body (e.g. Rom. 6:9), and it is indeed a body that can walk, talk, eat, be touched, etc.  His body was not simply a container for His soul in this life, nor did He become an angel after death, but He—the first man to rise immortal—is like the angels in their immortality.  We, connected to Him in Baptism, “shall be like him [resurrected immortal], because we shall see Him as He is.” [1 Jn. 3:2].  Succinctly: We “believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”