I believe in the concept of heresy. To be a Christian, one must believe in a core set of ideas (what some refer to as “primary doctrines”). If you deny or sufficiently distort those doctrines, you are not a Christian and will not be saved.

While there are disagreements about which doctrines qualify as primary, most would agree that the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of salvation, and the physical resurrection of Jesus are on that list. Most people would also agree that there is some latitude for disagreements on these issues, but nobody agrees on just how much latitude can be tolerated before one moves from the realm of orthodox to the realm of heresy. For example, many consider Nestorianism to be a Christological heresy, whereas others, such as myself, have argued that it should only be considered a Christology error. In other words, I think the doctrine of Christ is flexible enough that a Nestorian can still be considered a Christian and saved, despite his theological error.

Most conservative theologians would agree that a denial of the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus is a heresy. I would place myself in that camp as well. However, I am given pause by Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church.

Some of the Corinthian believers denied that bodily resurrection was possible.[1] Paul had to spend an entire chapter combatting this error (1 Cor 15). Whether these people once believed in Jesus’ resurrection and later denied it, or whether they never believed it to begin with, we are not told. All we know is that at the time Paul wrote, there was a group of believers in Corinth who denied this fundamental doctrine. While Paul makes it very clear that this belief was wrong, there is no indication from Paul that he considered those who embraced it to be heretical, non-Christians who were excluded from salvation.

I have to ask, then, is it truly heretical to deny the physical resurrection of Jesus? The error of the belief is not in question, nor is the theological and practical significance of this error. It is a grave theological error. What’s in question is whether one who embraces this error can still be considered a Christian and still be saved.

What are your thoughts on the matter? What Biblical evidence would you appeal to in support of your position?



[1]It’s not clear whether they denied the possibility of anyone experiencing resurrection – including Jesus – or just the possibility that Christians would experience a resurrection like Jesus. They may have held that Jesus rose from the dead, but Christians will not. This could be implied in 1 Cor 15:12-14 when Paul writes “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Paul could be employing an argumentum ad absurdum, arguing as follows: If there is no resurrection, then Jesus Himself was not resurrected. But you believe Jesus was resurrected, so you should also believe that you’ll be resurrected.

It’s also possible that they denied the possibility of anyone being resurrected, including Jesus, and Paul is merely spelling out the consequences of that belief: It would mean they are still dead in their sins (16-17), that dead Christians have perished without hope (18-19), and that Paul was a liar since he proclaimed Jesus as resurrected (15). Whether they denied Jesus’ bodily resurrection or just our own future resurrection is an open question. Either way, they rejected a primary doctrine of Christianity.