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Death be not Proud

The Problem of the Afterlife


Mark Corner

Might people one day live for ever? Would they want to? What sense can be made of ideas commonly referred to in terms of an ‘afterlife’? What about notions of Heaven and Hell, of Purgatory and reincarnation? And in what sort of state are human beings expected to be during this ‘afterlife’ – immortal souls or resurrected bodies (and does either notion make sense)? What about the fact that any ‘afterlife’ concerns not just the fate of individuals but of society (‘communion of saints’) and even the physical universe itself?
This book tries to survey some of the existing arguments about life ‘after’ death, with chapters on material from Christian tradition (particularly the New Testament and the Early Church) and from the philosophy of religion. It then attempts to reach its own conclusions, drawing on Kant and Barth in order to suggest that death is to be overcome rather than survived.


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Chapter Eight The New Testament and the ‘Afterlife’ 125


Chapter Eight The New Testament and the ‘Afterlife’ It was because he sought to be loyal to what he called ‘the witness of the New Testament’ that Cullmann argued for the reality of an ‘intermediate state’ between death and resurrection, even though, to quote his words once more, he was forced to ask himself whether he’d been ‘led again, in the last analysis, to the Greek doctrine of immortality’. But is it really so clear that loyalty to the texts necessitates such a view? The focus of the analysis in this chapter will be upon the ‘intermediate state’ rather than upon a comprehensive ‘New Testament doctrine of resurrection’. However, it is clear that the two are closely connected and the intention is to arrive at a clearer understanding of what the New Testament writers meant by resurrection as such. The bodily resurrection of Jesus One aspect of the New Testament that clearly seems to stress the concept of ‘bodily resurrection’ rather than ‘immortality of the soul’ is the nature of Jesus’ return from the dead. Not only does the tradition emphasise that the body has gone from the tomb, it also makes clear that the body is involved in everything that happens afterwards – his appearances to the disciples and his eventual ascension. The ascension, like the empty tomb, indicates that whatever happens to Jesus after the forty days of post-resurrection appear- ances involves his body. The body is not simply discarded as a useful means of making the risen Jesus...

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