The σάρξ and σῶμα of Jesus, Atonement, and the Destiny of Humanity

This paper examines some of the biblical witness about the nature of Christ’s current human existence. Since the book of Hebrews has much to say about Jesus’ ascension and continuing work in heaven, it is a natural text on which to focus. The argument proceeds in four steps. First, I present various interpretations of Christ’s ascension life in Hebrews, focusing particularly on the nature of Christ’s ascended life. Second, I examine how Hebrews speaks about Jesus’ life before and after his ascension, with a particular focus on the terms σάρξ, σῶμα, and αἷμα. I argue that Hebrews uses σάρξ for Jesus’ pre-resurrection life and σώμα for his post-resurrection life. Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 15 further supports this conclusion, indicating that this way of speaking is not limited to Hebrews. Third, I present how this conclusion fits into debates about the atonement in Hebrews. I argue that what Jesus offers is his σῶμα, and he offers it in the heavenly tabernacle. Fourth, I suggest that, since Jesus functions as a “forerunner” in Hebrews, readers of Hebrews should understand their own destiny in light of Jesus’ resurrected and ascended life. If Jesus exists as σῶμα, not σάρξ, so will believers. I conclude by reflecting on the implications of this claim for discussions concerning human continuity through death and resurrection. Distinguishing between σάρξ and σῶμα can provide helpful language for identifying both continuity and discontinuity in this process.

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