We all know the Gospel that Paul preached by now: That Christ died for our sins, that He was entombed, and that He was roused the third day. Most Christians believe they believe this, of course, but the truth is that very few actually do. I’ve gotten into other reasons why in other posts, so I’m not going to rehash those here, but there’s one point in there that many gloss over, and because of it they end up missing some majorly important details. That point, simply put, is that “He was entombed.”
You see, Paul’s Gospel tells us that not only did Christ die for our sins, it also tells us that He was entombed, and that He was roused again on the third day. Now, every Christian out there will claim to agree that these words are true, but few of them actually understand what they mean, and can you really believe something you don’t understand? Yes, we all agree that the words that “Christ died for our sins” and that “He was entombed” are true, but how many of us actually agree that “He was entombed”? Most believe that His body was entombed, but they also believe that He Himself went somewhere else altogether. The problem is, Paul didn’t say that only Christ’s body died, he said, “Christ died”; and he didn’t say that only Christ’s body was entombed while He Himself went somewhere else, he said, “He was entombed,” which means that He Himself was placed in the tomb, not that He Himself went somewhere else while His body was placed in the tomb.
Most Christians believe that, when Christ died, He went off to a place called paradise (misunderstanding the meaning of His statement to the thief on the cross, as well as the fact that “paradise” is simply a reference to a future state of the earth where the tree of life will be, both during the Millennium and on the New Earth, which makes sense considering there would be no need to eat from the tree of life in an ethereal afterlife dimension as a ghost), which they believe was a compartment within “hell” at the time (although, as those of us in the body of Christ know, “hell” doesn’t actually even exist, at least not from a literal perspective, since “hell” is a word used in certain less literal English Bibles to translate various Hebrew and Greek words, none of which mean what most Christians think of when they use or hear the word “hell”) in order to free the righteous dead and take them to Heaven (Christians also refer to this “paradise” compartment as “Abraham’s bosom,” based on a misunderstanding of a particular story Jesus told). The problem is, if this were true, Paul’s Gospel would instead be: That Christ died for our sins, that He went to another dimension while leaving His body behind on earth so it could be placed in a tomb, and that He re-entered His body so it could be roused the third day.
Why is this so important? Because if someone isn’t truly believing Paul’s Gospel, it means they haven’t joined the body of Christ. So if someone believes that Jesus went to another dimension when He died, it means they don’t believe that A) He actually died after all, but that only His body did, and B) that He wasn’t entombed as Paul said He was, but only His body was while He Himself was somewhere else altogether, and that means they haven’t believed the Gospel of Paul.
The fact of the matter is, Christ’s entombment wasn’t just a superfluous aside that Paul happened to randomly throw in while explaining what his Gospel is for no reason. All Scripture is inspired by God, and every word God inspired to be written down is meant to be there, which means every word is there for a reason, rather than just being arbitrarily thrown in there by the human writer as would be the case if those who believe in the immortality of the soul were correct. And so, if Christ’s entombment wasn’t an important element of his Gospel, Paul wouldn’t have included it in his explanation of what the Good News was, specifically, that his readers had believed when they were saved. It’s important to note that he didn’t include Christ’s death “for our sins” as something that also has to be believed in when he explained that belief in His resurrection was a crucial element of the truth which Israelites have to believe in order to be saved under the Kingdom Gospel (Romans 9 to 11 is primarily about Israelites, and Paul’s point about confessing and believing in that passage was connected to what Israelites have to believe in order to be saved under their Gospel), since His resurrection was only an important part of their Gospel inasmuch as it proves He is still able to be their Messiah because He’s no longer dead (the “for our sins” element of His death isn’t something they had to be concerned with, at least not as far as faith in their Gospel goes, the way it is for those in the body of Christ, since they were only concerned with the salvation of Israel rather than the salvation of all humanity, which is why Paul didn’t include it in that passage in Romans). Likewise, if Christ’s entombment wasn’t an important aspect of his Gospel, Paul wouldn’t have bothered to include it in the passage where he explains what his Gospel is.
And if you happen to agree that Christ was in His tomb for a brief period of time, but think that He then went elsewhere for the next three days as a ghost (which is something someone once tried to convince me is all that the line about Christ’s entombment in Paul’s Gospel meant), this would mean Jesus left His body on the cross, then followed the people who entombed Him all the way to the tomb, and then went elsewhere for three days. If this is the case, I have to ask A) why Jesus would even bother following the funeral procession to His tomb in the first place, and B) how the ”He was entombed” element of Paul’s Gospel is actually Good News rather than just an unnecessary piece of information about Jesus following His dead body being carried for a brief period of time with no bearing on our salvation at all if that were the case, unless you believe that Him following His corpse to the tomb somehow actually did contribute to our salvation. (Of course, “He was entombed” is a passive statement as far as Christ’s person goes; so even if you believe that Christ Himself actually ended up in the tomb temporarily as a ghost, the wording of that passage can’t be interpreted to mean He followed His body to the tomb from the cross as a ghost, then went somewhere else from there after His body was entombed, because the way it’s worded tells us He had no involvement in being entombed at all, other than passively having it happen to Him, so unless his pallbearers also had some sort of mystical object they used to drag Him into the tomb as a ghost after He died — which wouldn’t fit with what John 19:30 says, since it says He “gave up the ghost,” not that He became a ghost — it can’t legitimately be said that “He was entombed” unless He was His body and nothing more at that point, as I’m claiming.) Of course, even if you don’t believe that the line about His entombment meant He was briefly in the tomb as a ghost, you still have to explain how His entombment is Good News and how it assisted in our salvation if it wasn’t referring to the fact that He was actually dead and no longer existed as a conscious being (and, again, it makes no sense for Paul to include that line in what he called the Gospel he preached if that part of it wasn’t also actually Good News).
And before someone tries to protest, saying that Jesus had the power to resurrect Himself, which means He must have been conscious, pointing out Jesus’ claim in John 10:18 that He had power to take His life again, the word “power” here — ἐξουσία/“exousia” in the original Greek — just refers to the sort of right that someone in authority has to have an action they wish to be completed actually be performed. Just because a king is said to have the power to tax the citizens of his country doesn’t mean he personally goes to every single citizen of the country and forces them to give him the money directly; it just means that he has the legal authority to expect they’ll pay their taxes. Likewise, Pilate had the “power” to crucify Jesus (the same Greek word was used here as well), but that doesn’t mean he physically performed the actual crucifixion himself, but instead had his soldiers do the actual deed under his legal authority (and so what Jesus said just meant: “I have the right to lay [my life] down, and I have the right to receive it again,” and He did receive it again, when He was woken from His sleep by His Father). Likewise, when Jesus said in John 2:19 that He would raise His body three days after His death, it’s important to remember the fact that “He was entombed,” and that any passage we read about His resurrection has to be interpreted in such a way that it doesn’t contradict this crucial part of the Gospel that Paul said his readers believed when they were saved, which means that Jesus could only be referring to raising His body in the sense of getting up off the slab in the tomb after His God and Father resurrected Him from the dead (which is Who the Bible says actually raised Him from the dead anyway). The context of this passage wasn’t about His ability to resurrect Himself to begin with; if you read the whole passage, you’ll see that it was simply about how the fact that He wouldn’t remain dead would be a sign to the people who heard Him.
Of course, some will now ask, “But doesn’t 1 Peter 3:19 say that Jesus preached to spirits in prison while He was dead?” Well, no, it doesn’t. First, He didn’t preach to the spirits until after His body was vivified, or quickened (“to be vivified,” or “quickened,” just means “to be made immortal,” which obviously couldn’t happen to His body until after He was resurrected from the dead), as we can see from the verse before that one. Secondly, Peter said He was preaching to spirits, not to souls. Since the spirits of dead humans return to God in heaven (just as Jesus’ spirit did when He died, unlike His soul, which instead was said to have figuratively gone to “hell,” demonstrating that human spirits and souls are not the same thing), the spirits He was preaching to couldn’t have been humans, which means they must have instead been spiritual beings, exactly as Peter said they were. They weren’t the spirits of humans, but rather were the spiritual beings who sinned in Noah’s time by breeding with humans (and creating the giants who became mighty men of renown, also sometimes referred to as the Nephilim), and who were then locked up in Tartarus because of their sin. And thirdly, all passages have to be interpreted in light of Christ’s entombment anyway, so it goes without saying that any attempts to argue that Jesus was actually conscious while He was dead are nonstarters because of that fact alone, and that any passages we think might imply He was actually still alive have to be interpreted accordingly.
As for those of us in the body of Christ, we understand that His entombment was a crucial element of our salvation (which is why Paul included it in the message he called his Gospel), since it tells us what it actually means when Paul wrote that Christ died, which also tells us what the faith of Christ that saves us really is. To quote Martin Zender:
So who cares whether Christ really died or He didn’t? You do! Only when you realize that Christ truly died can you appreciate His faith in going to the cross. He knew that, unless His Father roused Him, He would have stayed dead forever. It is this faith that saves us:
“Yet now, apart from law, a righteousness of God is manifest, yet a righteousness of God through Jesus Christ’s faith, for all, and on all who are believing” (Rom. 3:21-23).
[This also means that, unless one can find a way to square the doctrine of the Trinity with Christ’s actual death and entombment, it’s impossible for a Trinitarian — or a Modalist, for the same reasons — to be a member of the body of Christ. And Christ’s actual death and entombment aren’t the only scriptural basis for rejecting Trinitarianism, which I cover a little more in this (as well as which are covered by others in the links from this) article: Why we are not Trinitarians]