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Resurrection and the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus
To the average Christian, resurrection speaks of the reconstitution of individuals as both bodies and souls at the end of time. The writers of scripture, however, have a range of uses for the term "resurrection." The scriptures use the word to speak of Israel's national restorations (Isa 26:13-14,19-20; Ez 37), salvation, baptism, the transfer of departed souls from the Old Testament Hades (Heb. sheol) into God's heaven, and the final state at the end of time. (For a detailed look at resurrection, read full article here.)
Of these uses, the most overlooked application of the term pertains to the removal and transfer of the Old Testament dead ones from Hades into God's transcendent heaven--a major New Covenant shift which occurred in conjunction with the destruction of the Old Temple religion at AD 70. In Old Testament times, the righteous dead did not ascend into heaven but were kept in Hades due to the absence of a covenant sacrifice that cleansed them fully. Christ himself went to this Hades at his death (Acts 2:27,31), before ascending to heaven.
Given that the victory over Hades for all the dead was signified in the destruction of the earthly Temple at AD 70--the time of God's great "visitation" (Luke 19:40-44) and "days of vengeance" (Luke 21:20-22) upon Israel--the teaching of Hymenaeus that the resurrection had already taken place amounted to a form of Judaizing, and thus was rejected as a "gangrene" against the true gospel. In the mind of the apostle Paul, this error of timing was a damnable Judaizing heresy akin to saying that salvation came through the Old Testament sacrifices and Moses, not Christ. Speaking against Hymenaeus and Philetus, Paul says to Timothy:
Avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)
To grasp the seriousness of this timing error, we recall that St. Paul's teaching linked the resurrection of the OT dead out of Hades to the destruction of the Old Covenant Temple system (2 Thess 2:1-10; cf. Matt 24:15). This linkage was crucial for one reason: it placed the victory over death and hades outside of the Old Covenant era and Temple system. In saying that the dead had achived their victory while the Old system stood, Hymenaeus and Philetus were in league with the Judaizers who falsely taught that salvation came by keeping the Law covenant of Moses.
It's important to notice that Paul's teaching explicitly mentions the dead's victory over Hades and says that the Law covenant of Moses had stood in the way of their rising (1 Cor 15:54-56). Not only, but Paul routinely rejected all those who taught in one way or another that salvation came through the works of the Law Covenant of Moses:
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?...as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse (Galatians 3:1-2,10)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified....I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:16,21)
Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:2-4)
No one is to act as your judge in regard to [Jewish] food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ...If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? (Colossians 2:16-17,20-22)
This tendency for many early Jews to persist in attributing the full blessedness of salvation to the keeping of the Law of Moses was grave, for it denied the work of Christ's blood sacrifice and the New Covenant. According to Paul, such people were "bewitched," "under a curse," and had "fallen from grace" for saying in essence that Christ died needlessly. The teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus concerning an early resurrection under the Old Covenant system was one such Judaizing error.
Note: Some have argued that the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus was not one of the timing of resurrection as scripture states, but rather of the nature of resurrection. Aside from the fact that Paul explicitly says timing was the error, if the nature of the resurrection to heaven for the OT dead in Hades had been envisioned as a reunion with former bodies lying in earthly graves, a simple visit to any local graveyard of the saints would have sufficed to prove Hymenaeus' teaching wrong. But in fact, Paul nowhere says that the nature of the event was in dispute. To the contrary, Paul in 1 Cor 15:44-49 says the OT dead would be "raised a spiritual body." When we add that statement to 1 Cor 15:54-56, where Paul speaks about the dead in Hades getting victory over the Law Covenant; and when we also see that 1 Thess 4:13-17 is linked to the desecration of the Temple at 2 Thess 2:1-10; it combines to prove that Paul is speaking of the exit of the OT dead from Hades at the full end of the Old Testamental period in AD 70.