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Observe that it is said, “The Son of man is in heaven,” while at that time Christ was on earth. Notice also that it is said that Christ came from heaven, though He came from the womb of Mary, and His body was born of Mary. It is clear, then, that when it is said that the Son of man is come from heaven, this has not an outward but an inward signification; it is a spiritual, not a material, fact. The meaning is that though, apparently, Christ was born from the womb of Mary, in reality He came from heaven, from the center of the Sun of Reality, from the Divine World, and the Spiritual Kingdom. And as it has become evident that Christ came from the spiritual heaven of the Divine Kingdom, therefore, His disappearance under the earth for three days has an inner signification and is not an outward fact. In the same way, His resurrection from the interior of the earth is also symbolical; it is a spiritual and divine fact, and not material; and likewise His ascension to heaven is a spiritual and not material ascension. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, pp. 103-104.

Polyptych of St. Peter (Resurrection)

Polyptych of St. Peter (Resurrection)

Some Christians cling to a literal interpretation of the Bible, and believe that Paul himself saw Jesus risen in the flesh – but the Bible contains strong evidence against this simplistic, literal view. Baha’is believe, as Abdu’l-Baha explains above, that we can only truly approach and understand the Holy Books of any religion as symbolic and metaphorical. Their spiritual significance, so deep and meaningful, eludes us if we treat them as simply a verbatim recounting of actual events.

For example, Paul told the Galatians (1:12) that he received the gospel he preached from no man, but that it was received from a revelation of Jesus Christ. Similarly, he told the Ephesians (3:3) that it was by a revelation that God’s secret was made known to him. Revelations do not have bodies. Thus, Eusebius, the earliest church historian in his History of the Church, states that Paul received his calling through a vision. The Jesus that Paul met was the one glorified by the Father, the one who had, in his own Pharisaic terminology, been resurrected. In other words, Paul did not meet the physical body of Christ, but His spiritual reality. Paul knew well that Jesus had ascended to His rightful place in the kingdom of God, and that by following in Christ’s footsteps we too could be saved. This resurrection message, so central to Paul’s Christianity, cannot be taken literally.

Some will persist and argue that Paul met Jesus in the flesh on the road to Damascus. But that argument fails because Paul did not write the account of his meeting of a risen Christ on the road to Damascus. If Paul, who was never short of words, had actually met Jesus in the flesh on the road to Damascus, we can be sure that he would have repeatedly written about it. He did not. When Paul speaks of having “seen” Jesus (e.g. 1 Cor 9:1) he was not speaking of seeing Jesus in the flesh. He spoke, instead, of what he saw with insight rather than sight, of revelation and not in body. Paul writes (1 Tim 3:16): “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit.” This Spirit, the next words say, was not seen by men but “seen of angels.” In this context, Paul’s observations make sense.

When viewed in the greater understanding of Paul’s background in Phariseeism (which believed in a spiritual resurrection) and Paul’s use of language (which allowed him to freely use metaphors) we must conclude that the resurrection Paul spoke about was not a physical resurrection.

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