Spiritual resurrection vs. bodily resurrection? Bart Ehrman’s claim that Paul didn’t write Ephesians and Colossians investigated


Whenever Paul talked about being raised with Christ, it was always as a future event (see, for example, Romans 6 and 1 Corinthians 15). Within Paul’s churches, some of his converts had a different opinion, thinking that they had already experienced a kind of spiritual resurrection with Christ and were already “ruling” with Christ in heaven. This is the view that Paul quite vociferously opposes in his first letter to the Corinthians, the key and climax of which comes at the end of the letter, where Paul stresses that the resurrection is not something already experienced but something yet to come, a real, future, physical resurrection of the body, not a past spiritual resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). Paul is quite emphatic in Romans 6:5 and 8 that those who were baptized had died with Christ, but that they had not yet been raised with him (note his use of the future tense “will”):

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his;…If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also be raised with him. (Emphasis added) (Romans 6:5, 8)

Both Colossians and especially Ephesians disagree. Here is what the author of Colossians says about the very same point:

When you were buried with him in baptism you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:13)

…The death with Christ was past, but the resurrection was absolutely not past. It was future. Paul devoted a good chunk of 1 Corinthians to arguing this point, precisely because some of his converts had gotten it dead wrong and he was extremely upset about it. Colossians, though, takes exactly the position that Paul wrote his letter of 1 Corinthians to oppose” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted, pp. 127-128).

Ehrman is in the business of creating false claims regarding Scripture, as he’s tried to do with everything from rooster crows to the Egyptian livestock destruction and beyond. I’ve done my best to tackle a number of his so-called “contradictions” and show that they aren’t. Keep in mind that Ehrman is attacking manuscript copies of Scripture, since, as Ehrman himself has said in his work a few times: “We don’t have the originals of any of these Gospels, only copies made later” (pp. 47, 183, 224, 273).

Here, Ehrman does his best to tear apart two of the letters of the New Testament traditionally attributed to Paul: Ephesians and Colossians. He claims that both letters or epistles aren’t really by Paul, but are truly forgeries. His reason for such a claim? Ephesians and Colossians claim that we have already been raised with Christ, whereas in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 6, for example, the resurrection is future. Colossians and Ephesians, in so many words, disagree with undisputed letters of Paul.

Romans 6

Image Credit: Ordinary Faith

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His deathTherefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)

Ehrman says that for Paul, the resurrection was future in Romans 6, and he is indeed right. And yet, something spiritual has already happened. We have spiritually died to sin, Paul says, with the words “we who died to sin” (v.2), “were baptized into His death” (v.3), “were buried with Him” (v.4), “we have been united together in the likeness of His death” (v.5), “our old man was crucified with Him” (v.6), and “we died with Christ” (v.8), we see that the spiritual death is in the past — it’s already happened.

So then, Paul doesn’t mind discussing the spiritual, but his focus has been on the spiritual death. And yet, that’s not all Paul mentions: he also mentions that our walking as believers is akin to our being raised with Christ. In Romans 6, we read the words,

“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4)

Romans 6 and Ephesians 2

An ancient Ephesians manuscript page. Image Credit: Allan R. Bevere

Paul links the resurrection of Christ to “we…walk in newness of life,” meaning that to walk in the newness of life is to live as though “we have been raised with Christ” — the words of Ephesians 2:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Notice that the honor of being raised with Christ will occur “in the ages to come” (Ephesians 2:7), which still shows that the benefits of this spiritual salvation are future. Ehrman says Paul has a future focus for the resurrection, and in Ephesians 2 there is that same future resurrection focus.

Paul’s words in Colossians also match what Paul says in Romans 6. We’ll cover this now.

Romans 6 and Colossians 3Related image

Here are the words of Colossians 3:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:1-11)

Colossians 3 talks about “being raised with Christ,” but it also talks about “for you died” (Colossians 3:3), that spiritual death Paul speaks about in Romans 6:2 where he says that “we have died to sin,” Romans 6:3 where he says we “were baptized into His death,” and in Romans 6:4 where it says “we were buried with Him.” Baptism is how it happens, and coming up out of the water is a symbolic action of the resurrection of Christ. By coming up out of the water, we’re identifying with His physical, bodily resurrection while remembering that our physical, bodily resurrection is still a future anticipation.

Paul says in Colossians that we have “put off the old man” (v.9) and “put on the new man” (v.10), words that refer to a spiritual transformation; we haven’t really put on a new body, the physical resurrection hasn’t occurred yet.

In Paul’s logic, if we have spiritually died with Christ and been spiritually buried with Him (we’ve not yet physically died), then the future, bodily resurrection would occur. So, to disagree with Ehrman, I’d say that the future, bodily resurrection is the result of the believer’s spiritual union with Christ and the spiritual death that we’ve died as a result. We have been “crucified with Him,” and, despite the spiritual life we now live by faith in Jesus, a future bodily life, a future bodily resurrection, awaits us.

Thus, Ephesians and Colossians represent a completion of Paul’s argument regarding spiritual union with Christ and our spiritual death (as played out in water baptism, as Paul says in Romans 6) — not a contradiction to it.


Image Credit: Vero Beach Alliance Church

We’ve examined the passages of Romans 6 and how it fits with Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3, both latter passages being deemed “non-Pauline” and denied Pauline authorship. What we’ve found in our study is that the idea of a spiritual resurrection, “having already been raised with Christ,” fits Paul’s idea that we have “unified” with Christ by way of water baptism, that we have “died” with Christ (spiritual death, not physical death) and have been raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life. Our spiritual walk with the Lord is our “spiritual resurrection,” spoken of in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3, which one day turns into the physical, bodily resurrection of 1 Corinthians 15.

Thus, contrary to Bart Ehrman, Ephesians and Colossians fit with Paul’s argument in Romans 6. If the theme of these two epistles is the only evidence Ehrman can marshal in favor of non-Pauline authorship, traditionalists have nothing to worry about.

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