Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson April 3–9: Easter
To celebrate the Easter season this year, I present here Chapter 10: “That First Easter Night,” from my book, The Immortal Messiah, the Physiology of Resurrected Beings, Cedar Fort Publishing, 2022.
The two disciples with whom the resurrected Jesus walked to Emmaus and sat at meat, on the afternoon of his resurrection, “…rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them…”1 “…at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews…”2 “Saying, The Lord is risen indeed…”3
“And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? And why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”4
Matthew did not cover this event in his gospel. Rather, as the apostle most concerned with the Jews and the fulfillment of prophecy, he was concerned about “the watch” taking a bribe to declare, “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept…” adding that, “…and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”5
Mark was apparently only a teenager at the time of this momentous event, even though he may have been among “…them that were with them...”6 When he was a bit older, he first traveled with Paul and then with Peter, acting as the latter’s scribe and interpreter. So Mark’s very short account of the event was probably actually Peter’s account – who obviously was an eye witness.7 Peter/Mark stated, “After that [Christ’s initial appearances on the morning of the resurrection] he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”8
The physician, Luke never met the Savior and did not know him until he was taught the gospel by Paul. He then left his medical practice and became Paul’s traveling companion. During his travels, Luke had the opportunity to discuss the Savior’s ministry with the apostles and other disciples. From these numerous interviews, he compiled his gospel – and then the book of Acts – probably much of that record from his own observations.9 Luke’s gospel, much of it based on Mark’ accounts, is the longest of the four testaments and, together with the Acts, constitute 27.5% of the New Testament.10
John’s gospel was probably written last, after he had apparently read the other author’s accounts. As a result, rather than telling his own story de novo, he often filled in the gaps or corrected the stories told by the others. Thus, in his account, John confirmed that Christ’s appearance occurred, “…the same day at evening, being the first day of the week…”11 He then added the detail, “…the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews…”12 John then corrected Mark and Luke’s accounts that there were eleven apostles present. John stated, “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.”13 With Judas Iscariot being absent from the time of the Last Supper, that left only ten apostles in the closed room when the Savior first appeared to them.
In order to understand Christ’s resurrected body, we may ponder Luke’s accounts of Christ’s appearances to his disciples following His resurrection. He first appeared to two disciples as they journeyed to Emmaus, we read that after they reached Emmaus: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.”14
While Christ “sat at meat” with his two disciples at Emmaus, did he eat the “meat” or did he just watch them eat? We are not told for certain, but we can logically assume that as he “sat at meat” he ate with the disciples. A later encounter that same day, however, leaves no question about Christ’s ability to consume food. On that occasion, Christ specifically demonstrated that He could eat food. After Christ appeared to the apostles, “…he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.”15
It appears that Christ ate the fish and honeycomb specifically to prove to the apostles that he could eat – he ate “before them” – as in a demonstration. Was Christ just performing some sort of “trick” to “prove” he could eat – to what purpose? It doesn’t seem reasonable that Christ would just swallow food to prove that he could – without his intending for us to ponder the implications of that event. I believe he consumed food to teach us important, eternal truths about resurrected beings – with huge implications. To me, Christ’s purposeful gastrological demonstration provides critical data to our understanding the resurrection. Those data, apparently, tell us that the resurrected Savior’s digestive tract was intact and functional. The implications of that information could not have been fully understood by any of His disciples or their contemporaries. However, it is very interesting that Luke, the physician, was the only gospel author to include this detail of Christ’s first post-resurrection meeting with the apostles. Nor could the implications have been fully understood by anyone living more than a hundred years or so ago.
The Savior told his disciples, “I can of mine own self do nothing…I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”16 Therefore, it appears that God told Jesus to demonstrate to the apostles that He could eat. It, therefore, appears that it is significant to God to let us know that the risen Christ could eat food. Christ told us that by seeing Him we are seeing God. Therefore, his gastrological demonstration must teach us that God, as an immortal, resurrected being with a body of flesh and bones, can consume food. It is obviously important to God that we know this truth about Him, as He commanded His son, after His resurrection, to eat fish and honeycomb before the disciples – and that this event was recorded in the scriptures.17
Furthermore, we have been told that the resurrected Savior can still partake of food and drink – at least that will be the case at the time of His Second Coming. He has told us:
“Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim…”18
Of course, it is entirely possible that consuming and processing food by a resurrected, immortal body is completely different from the way it is consumed and processed by mortals. At least three issues, however, argue against that proposition. First, the resurrected Christ apparently had the same body configuration as when he was mortal – including at least lips, teeth, and tongue. He apparently produced speech in the same manner he had done previously. His closest disciples could not distinguish His resurrected body from a mortal body – even though, in several cases, they didn’t quite recognize him as the Jesus they had known. The disciples on the road to Emmaus seem to have thought him to be a stranger, whereas, Mary thought he was a gardener. Maybe he appeared to be a different age, very likely with white hair rather than the dark hair they knew; or perhaps there was some other characteristic, than the Jesus they knew; but there seems no doubt that he looked completely human. His apostles in the closed room thought they had seen a spirit but he invited them to handle him. Second, there is no evidence that Christ left any of His earthly digestive system stashed in the tomb, or anywhere else, in exchange for some other, immortal digestive system. When Christ walked out of the tomb, He apparently left with all of his systems intact and complete. There were apparently no organs left behind in the tomb. Third, formal logic and the scientific method teach us the principal of parsimony, which states that, without sufficient evidence to the contrary, the simplest explanation is most likely the correct explanation.
With these ides in mind, let us assume that Christ’s digestive tract was much the same after the resurrection as it was before, and then discuss what we now know about digestion. The data from the resurrected Christ’s gastrological demonstration strongly suggest that resurrected beings have digestive systems where food is pulverized – by the teeth – mixed with digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestine, and where individual nutrient molecules are absorbed through the intestinal cells lining the alimentary canal. In mortals, those nutrients then pass into the intestinal blood supply and are disbursed by the pumping heart throughout the body where they are broken down to provide energy for cellular metabolism. Hemoglobin in the blood also carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, where metabolism takes place. None of this information was known by any human before the mid-nineteenth century. Before then, breathing, digestion, and blood functions were mysteries. The possibility certainly exists that the liquid transport medium in mortals, i.e. blood, may be replaced by some other liquid in resurrected beings. At present, we simply have too little information to propose such an alternative, and parsimony tells us, at the present time at least, to continue using the story of blood. However, the issue of blood will be discussed somewhat differently in later chapters.
Paul said to the Corinthians, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”19 Many people seem to take this phrase literally, believing that in heaven we will have bodies of flesh and bone but not flesh and blood. It is much more likely, however, that Paul was speaking metaphorically – describing the human condition. He said to the Galatians, “To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.”20 And to the Ephesians he said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”21 In these last two scriptures, Paul seems to be using the term “flesh and blood” to refer to people in general.
Furthermore, if neither Paul, nor anyone else of his era had any idea what blood actually did, why would they be so specific about there being no blood in heaven? Ancient people believed for thousands of years that blood was the corrupting principle in the body, but did not know why. They reasoned that if no corruption could enter heaven, then that must include blood. They also had no idea what the heart actually did – they believed it was the mind – it was the source of love and devotion and courage. They had no idea it was actually a pump that propelled blood throughout the body. Therefore, if there is no blood in heaven, then there would be no need for hearts there either. Do resurrected beings have no hearts? People seem to find it easier to believe there is no blood in heaven than that there are no hearts in heaven. Of course, if blood is replaced by some other fluid, which is “immortal” but has all the same functions as blood, then the resurrected, immortal heart may pump that immortal fluid. In any event, it seems likely that the resurrected heart will pump something. We simply haven’t sufficient information to even hazard an intelligent guess at this time as to what that something might be – if not blood.
Glycolysis, also known as the Embden–Meyerhof pathway, which explains how humans break down carbon compounds from food to produce the energy necessary for life, was not fully worked out until the 1920s and 1930s, in Germany, by Gustav Embden, Otto Meyerhof, and others – the culmination of over one hundred years of research by several people.22 Still, many people today have never even heard of glycolysis or Embden-Meyerhof. Those of us who have studied and written about this critical pathway know that the last breakdown products of glycolysis feed into the citric acid cycle, which, in turn, feeds into the electron transport chain. The last step in the electron transport chain, which transfers the energy stored in hydrogen bonds (electrons) to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate, the energy currency of the body), is the transfer of an electron to oxygen.23 Without oxygen as the terminal receptor in this long chain of events, the whole system comes to a screeching halt, not enough ATP is produced to sustain life, and the person dies within a matter of about six minutes.
Whereas a small portion of oxygen is dissolved in the plasma, most of the oxygen transported to the tissues (98.5%) is attached to hemoglobin molecules inside red blood cells – it’s the iron inside the hemoglobin molecule, bound to oxygen, that gives blood its red color. The connection between hemoglobin and oxygen was first proposed by the French physiologist Claude Bernard around 1870.24 Just as critical as the delivery of oxygen to tissues, is the removal of CO2, the waste product of glycolysis, from the tissues. If CO2 accumulates in cells, glycolysis slows down or stops completely and death follows. Veins carry CO2, dissolved in the blood, back to the lungs where it is exhaled and a new breath of oxygen-containing air is inhaled. Pulmonary veins carry this oxygenated blood to the heart, and arteries then carry the fresh supply of oxygen-containing blood to the tissues.
The problem is that oxygen is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, our very lives depend upon it, but on the other hand, it is one of the most dangerous elements on earth – or in the air. Oxidation is named for the processes involving oxygen – the rusting of metal, fruit turning dark, the aging process, and general deterioration throughout the world are often the result of oxidation. It is critical within our bodies that oxygen is kept away from most tissues. That is why it is held captive within hemoglobin molecules, inside red blood cells, until it can be transferred to the mitochondria inside tissue cells where it is employed as the terminal receptor in the electron transport chain. If oxygen leaks out of the blood, such as occurs in a cerebral hemorrhage, oxygen in the blood will destroy the neurons with which it comes in contact. This double function of oxygen, life and death, is probably the greatest irony of mortality.
One way to combat oxidation is by means of antioxidants. We are constantly seeking, in our modern world, the perfect antioxidants – to help combat disease and put off the aging process. Maybe, from an eternal perspective, antioxidants are the secret to immortality. Perhaps that was the function of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. We are also told that there will be trees of life in the paradise of God.25 Perhaps those trees of life will be the secret of our future immortality. But dependence on some outside source, such as the tree of life, for our immortality would appear to make that immortality conditional – yet as we contemplate immortality, such a condition seems counter-intuitive.
Perhaps another solution to accomplishing immortality would be to get rid of our dependence on oxygen all-together. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt…But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt…”26 Possibly, the main difference between a mortal and an immortal being is that the oxygen-containing blood is replaced by some “spiritual” fluid in our veins and arteries that carries some other terminal receptor molecule for the electron transport chain. Or, maybe, the entire Embden–Meyerhof pathway – citric acid cycle – electron transport chain system will be replaced by some other enzymatic pathway in resurrected beings. We cannot, at present, propose what the elemental basis of such fluid might be. Oxygen occupies a unique position on the periodic table of the elements, and there is no place, that we know of at present, for any other element to accomplish the task performed by oxygen. Furthermore, at present, parsimony argues that it is far more likely that the mortal and immortal systems are more the same than they are different. If God has a heart, which I believe He has, then He has blood or some other fluid pumped by that heart throughout His body.
In our modern society, researchers are already looking for other fluids that can either supplement, or even replace blood in our circulatory systems. The main reason for such a search is to eliminate the technical problems and medical risks of blood transfusions. The ultimate goal of such research is to discover or create fluids that are alternative oxygen-transport systems. To date, however, no acceptable oxygen-carrying blood substitutes have been discovered, although some hemoglobin-based carriers and non-hemoglobin, perfluorocarbon-based carriers are under investigation.27 There, are however, liquid volume expanders widely available for medical cases where only volume recovery is necessary. Those systems still rely on the oxygen-carrying capacity of hemoglobin.
After the resurrection we may possibly look forward to life without the double-edged sword of oxygen, which is both life-giving and life-limiting. Our immortal “spiritual” blood will apparently transport absorbed nutrients (Jesus demonstrated that resurrected beings can eat) to the cells of our bodies. Within those cells, glycolysis, the citric acid cycle, and the electron transport chain (or some equivalent system) will break down those nutrients to produce ATP (or some equivalent energy storage molecule). Critically, at the end of a series of enzymatic steps, some very efficient electron receptor will be there to accept that electron and keep the energy-producing system flowing smoothly. At present, we have no clue what that electron acceptor might be – if not oxygen.
Here, as often occurs in that gap between science and religion, we may either choose to stand firmly on the rock of proven scientific knowledge, or to take a “Leap of Faith” and discover a previously invisible bridge leading across the chasm to the cave of the Holy Grail. What marvelous wonders may await the inquisitive mind that ventures into that cave? Who knows, perhaps by thinking outside the box concerning terminal electron receptors, some young person reading these very words may be the person who discovers the ultimate oxygen substitute – the Holy Grail of blood chemistry – and wins the almost certainly, already earmarked Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Medicine for such a life-saving, life-prolonging discovery. Religious belief can often provide the needed faith to go beyond conventional knowledge and open whole new vistas of scientific research.
What we can learn about God from this one demonstration of Christ’s ability to eat is, in my opinion, enormous. Putting the discussion of oxygen aside, the other implications of Christ’s eating fish and honeycomb, I believe, lead us to conclude that immortal, resurrected life is based on cellular life. Before cells were discovered in the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries, people could believe that they – as well as resurrected beings were some sort of single, indivisible entity. Today, we have a difficult time even identifying with this belief for mortal humans. We now know that we are each composed of over thirty trillion cells – one hundred times more cells in a single human body than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy. But most people have not applied that same information to the condition of a resurrected body. How would one build such a body without employing the individual building blocks of that body? How does one make a body of flesh and bone without muscle cells and bone cells? How does one make resurrected muscles pull on resurrected bones without causing individual muscle cells to contract – a process that depends on ATP? To me, the logical conclusion is that God is cellular. This discovery, or proposal, if you will, in my mind does not detract from God’s infinity, or omniscience, or omnipotence – but it does enhance our understanding of “the only true God” that we might have “life eternal.”28
Actually, many of the complex sugars we eat are broken down by bacterial enzymes in our gut, not by our own enzymes, which accounts for as much as 30% of our total digestion.29 It turns out that the bacterial cells in our bodies are roughly equal in number to our own cells, and many are critical to our normal healthy digestive functions.30 So if resurrected bodies can consume food, are our bacteria resurrected with us? Are there bacteria in heaven or is the celestial kingdom sterile? If we are eating food in the celestial kingdom – where does that food come from? If there is food there, then there must be death of something, and that something – be it fauna or flora – must parish in the process of being eaten. Christ demonstrated that he could not only eat honeycomb, but that he could eat fish as well. And if we consume food in heaven, there must be elimination of waste…
It’s only been over the past twenty years or so that we’ve begun to appreciate the microbiome living inside us and the vital role it plays in our own health, and we still have a long way to go. Yet compared to what people understood only fifty years ago, we have come a long way. As with everything else, the more we learn, the more questions are generated. As a result, our meager understanding of and questions about the resurrection were much simpler fifty or one hundred years ago – without the cells and the bacteria – than they are now. None-the-less, even though many questions persist and other questions arise, we now know much more about the nature of God – which he has commanded us to learn – than anyone has ever known before.
This knowledge does not and should not detract from our belief in God. We should always remember the warning in 2 Nephi 9:
“O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.”
“But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”31
Furthermore, no matter how much we learn about God, we can never know everything – and we were never intended to know everything in this life, for “…without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”32
Please join me for my weekly discussions of Where Science Meets Religion – The Infinite Creation – 6 PM each Thursday at the Century Ward meeting house (at 4th and Fredregill, Pocatello). Last week we discussed The Creation of Early Animals, part I. This coming week we will discuss The Creation of Early Animals, part II and anything else you want to discuss. I view this chapter as key to my entire book, so please come by or tune in. I will also be Zooming the sessions: Meeting ID: 935 754 2152 Passcode: nka
Trent Dee Stephens
1. Luke 24:33
2. John 20:19
3. Luke 24:34
4. Luke 24:36-39
5. Matthew 28:11-15
6. Luke 24:33
7. Thomas, Janet, Who Are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?, New Era, 18-22, January 2007, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/2007/01/who-are-matthew-mark-luke-and-john?lang=eng
8. Mark 16:12-14
9. Thomas, Who Are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?
10. Bormann, Lukas, Jerusalem as Seen by Ancient Historians and in Luke-Acts, In, Laato, Antti, series editor, Understanding the Spiritual Meaning of Jerusalem in Three Abrahamic Religions, vol. 6 of Studies on the Children of Abraham, p115, Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2019
11. John 20:19
13. John 20:24
14. Luke 24:30-31
15. Luke 24:41-43
16. John 5:30
17. Luke 24:41-43
18. Doctrine and Covenants 27:5
19. 1 Corinthians 15:50
20. Galatians 1:16-17
21. Ephesians 6:12
22. Barnett, JA, A history of research on yeasts 5: the fermentation pathway, Yeast, 20: 509–543, 2003
23. Seeley, Rod R, Stephens, Trent D, and Tate, Philip, Anatomy and Physiology, 8th edition, McGraw-Hill College, New York, 2007
24. Bernard, Claude, Experimental Medicine, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ, 1999
25. Revelation 2:7; 22:2
26. Matthew 6:19-20
27. Henkel-Honke, T.; Oleck, M., Artificial oxygen carriers: A current review, AANA Journal, 75: 205–211, 2007
28. John 17:3
29. 2010-08-exploring-role-gut-bacteria-digestion, phys.org, 2010
30. Sender, R, Fuchs, S, and Milo, R, Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body, PLoS Biol, 19:14: e1002533, 19 Aug 2016
31. 2 Nephi 9:28-29
32. Hebrews 11:6