Zombies and the Bible [Studies in 1 Corinthians]

Since one night in 1985, I know what the world looks like through a zombie’s eyes.

In Scotland, I would go out evangelizing on Thursdays and then take the hour-long hike home in the dark. But then one night I figured that I could cut out to the main highway, grab a bus, and save 20 minutes. The only hitch was that the short-cut went through Grove Cemetery. No problem, I would enter the gate, do a 100-yard dash through a dark graveyard, go over the wall, and there was the bus stop.

Grove Cemetery by day. This north gate was the starting line of Gary’s night-time sprints

I did it only twice. Not because I got spooked going through a cemetery in the dark, mind you, but because as I clambered over the 6-foot wall and jumped out onto the shoulder of the highway, well, it caused problems with the flow of traffic. Eyes popped open, jaws dropped, women shrieked, as they saw me apparently escaping from the graveyard and stumbling up the embankment toward them. I didn’t want to cause any accidents because of my shortcut.

So, I know how a zombie feels.

I’ve seen, twice, George Romero’s black-and-white “Night of the Living Dead,” the original 1968 version. Oh, and Charlton Heston in “The Omega Man.” Beyond that I sat through about 20 minutes of that movie where Bill Murray gets accidentally shot.

Nevertheless, I’m confident that I can develop “What the Bible Says about Zombies,” since biblical eschatology is an interest of mine, and I can say with certainty that we won’t spend eternity as zombies. Let’s use this dictionary definition: “the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.” Oh, and the actors who play them use white contact lenses.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in an environment where a small minority (most Jews, almost all the Christians) believed in the final resurrection, but the majority of the Greek population taught that, “When you die, you die, and that’s it.” Or “You will live forever as a spirit without a body.” Or “You will be absorbed into the cosmos.” The Greeks used ridicule, portraying the resurrection as the reanimation of rotten corpses. Christians, they snickered, look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus and the Night of the Living Dead. Who would wish for that instead of existing as pure spirit in the heavens? [1]

Some would joke: “So, you go into the grave, and your atoms pass from place to place as you decompose. Conceivably, right now, you have atoms in your body that made up the bodies of dozens of other people; so in the resurrection, who gets what atoms?” That’s why in Athens the philosophers couldn’t accept Paul’s message, which included God raising Jesus from the dead: “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked” (Acts 17:31–32).

The Jewish group the Sadducees also denied the resurrection, and used a riddle about seven dead brothers to make fun of the resurrection doctrine (Mark 12:18-27 and parallels). Jesus answered them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” His teaching was that believers would be resurrected: they would be like angels in one way (not married) but not like angels in another way (angels don’t have physical bodies, but we will).

Even a few Christians at Corinth were taking their cue from their pagan neighbors: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Cor 15:32).

Paul took the same approach as Jesus did in Mark 12 – mere human reasoning cannot uncover what a powerful God wants to do.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor 15:50-53)

We will become immortal when Jesus returns and we are raised from the dead or our bodies are transformed. If people cannot imagine how that is possible, Paul says, well then, remember that we are talking about the God who made human beings from dirt.

When people wonder if we will be able to recognize each other in eternity, it’s probably because they picture our future as ghost-like. But no, the gospel does not promise some final release from the physical body but its perfect transformation.

Let’s picture what this means in practical terms. Take the woman with arthritic fingers: in Christ, she can look forward to, not reincarnation (as an animal, or if she is lucky, another human being who can then look forward to growing old again); nor the laying aside of the body, to live as a disembodied spirit; nor being extinguished. Rather, she can experience the transformation of that very hand so that the joints work precisely as her Maker intended, and in ways beyond our current imagination.

And, one gathers, she’ll be able to use it to wave at old friends.

Zombies exist only to scare us in the movies. As the creed says, we Christians “believe in the resurrection of the body.”

Related posts here:

Studies in 1 Corinthians by Gary Shogren

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Two books that I recommend are by my friend Rebecca Price Janney, Who Goes There? A Cultural History of Heaven and Hell (Chicago: Moody Press, 2009); and N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008)


[1] For example, a few decades after Paul, Plutarch wrote in his Romulus 28.6-8 –

“At any rate, to reject entirely the divinity of human virtue, were impious and base; but to mix heaven with earth is foolish. Let us therefore take the safe course and grant, with Pindar, that

Our bodies all must follow death’s supreme behest,
But something living still survives, an image of life, for this alone
Comes from the gods.

Yes, it comes from them, and to them it returns, not with its body, but only when it is most completely separated and set free from the body, and becomes altogether pure, fleshless, and undefiled. For ‘a dry soul is best,’ according to Heracleitus, and it flies from the body as lightning flashes from a cloud. But the soul which is contaminated with body, and surfeited with body, like a damp and heavy exhalation, is slow to release itself and slow to rise towards its source. We must not, therefore, violate nature by sending the bodies of good men with their souls to heaven…”

“Zombies and the Bible [Studies in 1 Corinthians],” by Gary Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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