Raised to Newness of Life: Resurrection and Moral Transformation in Second- and Third-Century Christian Theology

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2015

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McGlothlin, Thomas

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Abstract

The New Testament contains two important and potentially conflicting understandings of resurrection. One integrates resurrection into salvation, suggesting that it is restricted to the righteous; this view is found most prominently in the Pauline epistles. The other understands resurrection as a prerequisite for eschatological judgment and therefore explicitly extends it to all; this view is found most prominently in the book of Revelation. In the former, moral transformation is part of the process that results in resurrection; in the latter, moral transformation only affects what comes after resurrection, not the event of resurrection itself. The New Testament itself provides no account of how to hold together these understandings of resurrection and moral transformation.

This dissertation is an investigation of the ways in which second- and third-century Christian authors creatively struggled to bring together these two understandings. I select key authors who are not only important in the history of early Christian discussions of resurrection but who also make extensive use of the Pauline epistles. For each author, I investigate not only how they develop or resist the Pauline connection between resurrection and moral transformation but also how they relate that connection to the doctrine of the resurrection of all to face judgment found in Revelation (if they do at all).

The results are remarkably diverse. Irenaeus develops the Pauline connection between resurrection and moral transformation through the Spirit of God but fails to account for the resurrection of those who do not receive that Spirit in this life (although affirming that resurrection nonetheless). Tertullian begins from the model that takes resurrection to be fundamentally a prerequisite for judgment and struggles to account for Paul's connections between resurrection and salvation. Two Valentinian texts, the Treatise on the Resurrection and the Gospel of Philip, adopt the Pauline model to the exclusion of the resurrection of the wicked. Origen connects resurrection to moral transformation in yet another way, making it an event that pedagogically reflects the moral transformation of all rational creatures--whether for the better or worse. For Methodius of Olympus, the resurrection of the body produces the moral transformation that is the eradication of the entrenched inclination to sin, but the moral transformation in this life that is the resistance of the promptings of that entrenched inclination produces reward after the resurrection. In each case, strategies for holding together the two views found in the New Testament reveal the fundamental theological commitments underlying the author's overall understanding of resurrection.

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McGlothlin, Thomas (2015). Raised to Newness of Life: Resurrection and Moral Transformation in Second- and Third-Century Christian Theology. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9922.

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