How Can Papias’ View of the Resurrection be Reconciled with Preterism?

According to Papias the apostle John’s taught his disciples that Jesus taught a three-tiered resurrection wherein those who produce the most fruit are raised to heaven, those who produce less fruit are raised to “Paradise” and those who produce the least, are raised to “inhabit the city.”1 This “city” is presumably the New Jerusalem which descended from heaven to earth at the end of the age (Rev 21:2).  If Papias is correct about a three-tiered resurrection and the “city” mentioned by Papias is the New Jerusalem, then Jesus taught His disciples that at least some people would be resurrected on earth.  But how could both Papias be correct and Preterism also be true when we do not see bodies rising out of the earth after the fulfillment of the eschaton?

In the New Testament repentance because of faith in Christ is symbolized by a resurrection stated in terms of a death of the old self and a raising to new life in Christ (Eph 2:1-6; Col 2:12-13).  Interestingly this same repentance through faith in Christ is also symbolized as being “born again:”

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  [This is baptism which is explicitly likened to resurrection (Rom 6:4).] Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:3-8.)

Perhaps the fact that repentance through faith in Christ is BOTH likened to “resurrection” (Eph 2:1-6, Col 2:12-13) and being “born again” (Jn 3:3-8) implies that the resurrection quite literally is the act of being born again in the most literal sense of the word (whether in heaven, Paradise or on earth)?

Throughout the Bible and in the language of surrounding cultures are scattered, yet symbolically consistent, metaphors linking sexual intercourse, pregnancy and childbirth to the stages of the resurrection in which the dead are in the earth or grave (the womb) before they rise out of the earth to live again (given birth).  Similarly, I shall show that copulation, pregnancy and childbirth are also portrayed in farming/plant imagery. And yet this same farming/plant imagery is also linked to the resurrection as is the case in 1 Cor 15:35-44 where a dead body awaiting the resurrection is said to be a “seed” sown in the ground that “dies” and is given a new body when it becomes a plant.  The fact that plant imagery is used to signify both copulation and the resurrection and the resurrection is also portrayed in childbirth language is an interconnected web hinting to a link between childbirth and the resurrection.  What is that link?  Is the resurrection for those unworthy of heaven and Paradise literally childbirth?  I believe this childbirth language hints at the true nature of the resurrection as, I believe, the dead ultimately live again by being quite literally “born again” in more than just a spiritual sense.  If the resurrection for some is the act of being born on earth again, the notion of the dead rising out of the earth at the resurrection would appear to just be more plant imagery portraying the dead rising out of the earth like a sprouting plant (Recall copulation, pregnancy and childbirth is also portrayed in the same imagery).  Thus it is my belief that when the Bible depicts the dead rising out of the earth at the resurrection this is not to be understood literally as is made clear to everyone alive today who have outlived the eschaton but is depicted in this way in keeping with this planting and farming imagery in passages concerning the resurrection.

Mirroring the myth of Persephone whose ascension out of Hades marks the sprouting of vegetation in the Spring, Jesus also rose from the dead on Passover which is, of course, in the Spring.  Why did Jesus rise from the dead in the Spring?  Jesus rose from the dead in the Spring because the resurrection of the dead is often symbolized in the Bible as a plant growing out of the earth. This is why the dead are said to rise out of the earth at the resurrection like a plant sprouting forth out of the ground during the Spring season.

Throughout the Bible “seed” is often used to refer to semen (Genesis 38:9) and consequently human descendants (Gn 3:15; 22:17-18; 1 Ch 16:13; Ps 89:4).  People are often symbolized as various plants (Jg 9:7-15; Ps 37:2; 72:6; 90; 92:7; 102:11; 103:15; 129:5-6; Is 5; 56:3; Jer 11:14-17; Dan 4:20-22).  God is said to plant his people and even uproot them (Jer 42:10; 45:4).  Perhaps not surprisingly this agrarian language is also employed in the resurrection.  In 1 Cor 15:35-44 the dead are likened to a seed that dies in the ground before given a new body, the plant it becomes.  Of course, the dead bodies of millions of the previously departed did not rise out of the ground in and around A.D. 70.  I believe that the resurrection is a taking on of new flesh and a new body with a new life (on earth, Paradise or heaven) but the dead do not and did not rise out of the earth.  This is because, I believe, this notion of the dead rising out of the earth is not literal, rather it is another plant metaphor.  The dead are like seeds that die (1 Cor 15:36) and rise out of the earth in a new body like a plant (1 Cor 15:42).

As stated above, I believe the dead receive new bodies at the resurrection and that also includes those raised on earth to reside in the New Jerusalem, a symbol of the church (Revelation 21: A Preterist Commentary).  But the dead do not literally rise out of the earth, they are literally and spiritually “born again.”  When Jesus said you must be born again (John 3:1-21), I believe He chose this term to describe a new life of repentance as it seems to be a literal description of the resurrection itself.  Those unworthy of heaven and Paradise are born again after the resurrection into the Church on earth, the New Jerusalem, after A.D. 70.  I believe this concept of the resurrection is intentionally hidden in symbolism in the Bible but it is often suggested in scattered verses in the Bible.  For example, in Proverbs 30:16 Sheol which is death or the grave underground is said to be a “barren womb.”2.  Furthermore, the earth, the home of the buried dead in Sheol, is said to “give birth to her dead” at the resurrection according to Isaiah 26:19:  But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead [emphasis mine].”

I believe this idea that many of the dead are born again on earth at the resurrection is further suggested by the way in which to plow a field is a euphemism for sex in Israel and its surrounding cultures.  “Referring to a wife as a field to be cultivated was common in the ancient Near East. A popular proverb read, ‘a woman without a husband is like an uncultivated field.’”3 This idea is also exemplified in The Betrothal of Yarikh Nikkal-Ib.  In this Canaanite myth, Yarikh asks Khirikhbi to arrange his marriage to Nikkal saying, “I will make her [Nikkal] field like a vineyard, the field of her love like an orchard.”4  We see the same imagery in The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzithe.  In this Sumerian myth, Inanna asks her lover to make love to her by asking him to plow her field: “As for me, Inanna, Who will plow my vulva? Who will plow my high field? Who will plow my wet ground?” Similar sex imagery is found in Theogony of Dunnu, a Mesopotamian myth, in which a plough marries the earth “at the very beginning” “to establish a family” thus begetting the Cattle God.5

This meaning is also implicit in Judges 14:18 where Samson accuses the Philistines of sleeping with his wife to gain the answer to his riddle when he says, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.”  Similarly, Deuteronomy 22:10 says, “You must not plow with an ox and a donkey harnessed together.”  This aspect of the Law is often understood to be a warning against sex and intermarriage between Ephraim said to be an ox in Deuteronomy 33:17 and foreign nations. The fact that sex is “plowing” is consistent with the similar link between the resurrection being likened to a seed which is semen (Genesis 38:9) dying in the ground which is the womb of the earth (Proverbs 30:16) before it becomes a plant at the resurrection (1 Cor 15:35-44) when the earth gives “birth to her dead” at the resurrection (Is 26:19).

Similar etymology and word-use is again implied in Mesopotamia. In Atrahasis, the myth of the man who built an ark and survived the flood, we see the earth or ground also referred to as a “womb” and “birth” referring to the growth of vegetation, a metaphor for the resurrection in the Bible: “Earth’s womb did not give birth, no vegetation sprouted . . .”6  This language is consistent with the plant symbolism in 1 Cor 15 where the resurrection is likened to a seed dying in the ground and rising out of the earth as a new plant.  Atrahasis also echoes the Bible with the earth being a metaphor for the womb.

If the resurrection of those saints unworthy of Paradise and Heaven is a reincarnation-like event in which the saints are literally born again to an earthly mother and father after A.D. 70, what does this imply about Genesis 2:7?  In Genesis 2:7 God forms Adam from the dust of the ground, an act highly reminiscent of the resurrection: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  The fact that Adam is fashioned out of the earth is analogous or perhaps identical to the notion of the resurrection wherein the dead are fashioned out of the earth to live again.  Since Adam’s creation seems nearly identical to the resurrection at the end of the age in which the dead also receive bodies out of the dust of the earth, would this not imply that Adam was also born of a mother and father and was thus also not the first person?  Yes! Job 10:9 says, “Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?”  Here we see that Job was created from the dust of the earth just like Adam. If this same language is applied to Job who was created in his mother’s womb, what does that imply about Adam who was also created out of the dust of the earth just like Job?  In fact, according to Ecclesiastes 3:20 “All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”  Like Adam, all humanity is created in the womb and born to a mother but none of us are literally fashioned out of clay—neither was Adam.

This notion of the “first” man and all mankind being created in the womb out of the dust of the earth is also suggested in the beliefs of ancient Mesopotamia where Israel had its origin through Abraham (Genesis 11:31). In the myth of Atrahasis, Belet-ili, the womb goddess, creates the first humans by mixing clay with the flesh and blood of a god.  However, the womb goddess appears to give birth to these first humans as she cuts their umbilical cords with a reed.7

For this and other similar reasons, a fully consistent view of Preterism implies that Adam was NOT the first human and this is one of the strong evidences for the Preterist view as it perfectly harmonizes the Bible with modern science in this regard as a fully consistent Preterist view implies an old earth.  If the destruction of heaven and earth (2 Peter 3) is not a literal event resulting in the complete annihilation of the globe in the first century, the creation of heaven and earth is also not likely to be a literal creation of the world and universe.  And if the creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1 and 2 was not a literal creation of the cosmos, what does this imply about Adam being the first man of all time?  It does not seem likely does it?  Thus here we see that Papias’ view of the resurrection is fully consistent with the Preterism (see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis).

  1. Fragments of Papias from The Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord 4-5.
  2. In Romans 4-5 Abraham was to be the father of those who believe and are raised to life.  In Romans 4-5 Abraham’s wife’s barren womb is used as a symbol of the fate of death that came to Israel through the Law.  When Sarah finally gave birth this seems to symbolize the resurrection of the righteous at the end of the age.
  3. Simon B. Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, Writings from the Ancient World Series 9, trans. Mark S. Smith, Simon B. Parker, Edward L. Greenstein, Theodore J. Lewis, Dabid Marcus (USA: Scholars Press, 1997), 218n2.
  4. Ibid., 216.
  5. Theogony of Dunnu, cited in Stephanie Dalley Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, trans. Stephanie Dalley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 279.
  6. Atrahasis II OBV iv, cited in Stephanie Dalley Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, trans. Stephanie Dalley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 22.
  7. Atrahasis I iv-v, cited in Stephanie Dalley Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, trans. Stephanie Dalley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 14-16.