This entry is part 98 of 119 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 15:16 – ‘The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Deuteronomy 23:6 – ‘Never be kind to a Moabite’?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 1 Samuel 28:7-14 – Did Samuel visit from the grave?
- 2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘More special than the love of women’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60 – ‘Let the dead bury their dead’?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Mt 10:28/Lk 12:4f – Whom should we fear?
- Matthew 10:28 – ‘destroy’: annihilation or everlasting punishment?
- Matthew 10:34 – ‘Not peace, but a sword’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Mt 12:30/Mk 9:40/Lk 11:23 – For, or against?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Mt 16:28/Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27 – “Some standing here will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 2:39 – No room for a flight into Egypt?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- Luke 14:26 – Hate your family?
- Luke 22:36 – ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword’
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- Mt 21/Mk 11/Lk 19/Jn 2 – When (and how many times) did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 10:8 – “All who came before me were thieves and robbers”
- John 10:34 – “You are gods”
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 10:4 – ‘Christ is the end of the law’
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Romans 16:7 – ‘Junia…well known to the apostles’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 1:4 – ‘Partakers of the divine nature’
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
1 Corinthians 15:42 It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 15:43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 15:44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
Paul’s teaching here has led some to interpret the resurrection appearances of vv5-8 as non-physical, amounting to something like subjective visions. Robert M. Price, for example, contrasts this early view of the resurrection as ‘spiritual’ (i.e. non-material) with that of the (later) Gospels, where it has become physical. A similar misunderstanding allowed David Jenkins to claim that he believed in the resurrection ‘in exactly the same sense as St Paul believed in [it]’, and then to call it ‘not an event, but a series of experiences’ (quoted by Stott in The Contemporary Christian, p76f)
But even if we leave aside for the time being the witness of the Gospels and of Acts, that of 1 Cor 15 itself will not allow this. For Paul, the resurrection was an objective, historical event: it occurred ‘on the third day’. It was a physical event: the four verbs (died, was buried, was raised, appeared) all refer to Christ as a historical, physical person. Since it was his body that was buried, it must have been his body (albeit transfigured) that was raised.
The contrast in this verse is not between ‘physical’ and ‘non-physical’, but between ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’. And ‘spiritual body’ does not mean ‘ethereal body’, but rather
‘the new body, animated by the Spirit of God, with which the same man will be clothed and equipped in the age to come, which he reaches (supposing him to die before the parousia) by way of resurrection.’ (Barrett)
Murray Harris: ‘sōma pneumatikon means not “a body composed of spirit,” but “a body animated by the spirit” or “a body controlled by the spirit.”’ (Navigating Tough Texts)
Harris identifies the following characteristics of the resurrection body. It is:
- imperishable (1 Cor 15:42, 53–54), free from any form of decay or sickness;
- glorious (1 Cor 15:43a), free of physical indignity (“dishonor”) and beautiful in form and appearance;
- powerful (1 Cor 15:43b), with limitless energy and perfect health; and
- angel-like (Luke 20:35–36), not because the resurrection body is sexless (sexual identity, an essential element in personality, is retained in the resurrection) but because it is deathless (Luke 20:35–36) and without sexual passions and procreative powers (Matt 22:30; Mark 12:25). (Emphasis added)
So why does the apostle refer to it as a ‘spiritual’ body? Vang writes:
‘The present body shall be changed into a body fit for its new reality in God’s restored order. Paul’s aim is not to contrast body and spirit, or to say that “body” is transformed into spirit. Rather, he explains that the resurrected body will have none of the weaknesses of the natural body and therefore be fit for God’s eternal kingdom (Rom. 8:21–23).’
A note in the Apologetics Study Bible asks:
‘Are the spiritual bodies believers will have at the coming resurrection nonmaterial bodies? If so, it would imply that Christ’s risen body was nonmaterial. This, however, was not what Paul meant. Rather, descendants of fallen Adam cannot enter God’s kingdom unchanged. The “spiritual body” is a true body—a material body—but a transformed body. The two bodies being contrasted are not “physical” vs. “spiritual” but rather “soul-oriented [psychikon]” vs. “Spirit-oriented [pneumatikon].” (see 1 Cor 2:14–15, where Paul speaks of the ‘spiritual man’, contrasting the psychikos person, or the natural/this-worldly-oriented person, with the pneumatikos, or the believer, who has God’s Spirit.)’ (Apologetics Study Bible)
‘By “spiritual body” Paul does not mean “immaterial,” but rather “suited to and responsive to the guidance of the Spirit.” In the Pauline epistles, the word “spiritual” (Gk. πνευματικός) seldom means “nonphysical” but rather “consistent with the character and activity of the Holy Spirit” (see, e.g., Rom. 1:11; 7:14; 1 Cor. 2:13, 15; 3:1; 14:37; Gal. 6:1 [“you who are spiritual; Eph. 5:19). The RSV translation, “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body,” is very misleading, because Paul does not use the word that was available to him if he had meant to speak of a physical body (Gk. σωματικός), but rather uses the word ψυχικός, which means, in this context, “natural” (so NIV, NASB), that is, a body that is living in its own life and strength and in the characteristics of this present age but is not fully subject to and conforming to the character and will of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, a clearer paraphrase would be, “It is sown a natural body subject to the characteristics and desires of this age, and governed by its own sinful will, but it is raised a spiritual body, completely subject to the will of the Holy Spirit and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.” Such a body is not at all “nonphysical,” but it is a physical body raised to the degree of perfection for which God originally intended it.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 609)
C.S.Lewis writes about the resurrection body:
‘The picture is not what we expected. … It is not the picture of an escape from any and every kind of Nature into some unconditioned and utterly transcendent life. It is the picture of a new human nature, and a new Nature in general, being brought into existence. … That is the picture—not of unmaking but of remaking. The old field of space, time, matter and the senses is to be weeded, dug, and sown for a new crop. We may be tired of that old field; God is not. … A new Nature is being not merely made but made out of an old one. We live amid all the anomalies, inconveniences, hopes, and excitements of a house that is being rebuilt. Something is being pulled down and something is going up in its place.’ (Miracles)
Richard Baxter writes:
‘If a skilful workman can turn a little earth and ashes into such curious transparent glasses as we daily see, and if a little seed that beats no show of such a thing can produce the more beautiful flowers of the earth, and if a little acorn can bring forth the greatest oak; why should we once doubt whether the seed of everlasting life and glory, which is now in the blessed souls with Christ, can by Him communicate a perfection to the flesh that is dissolved into its elements?’
Tom Wright agrees that Paul does not mean to imply immateriality by his description of the resurrection body as ‘spiritual’. The point is that our resurrection bodies, while being physical (just as Jesus’ resurrection body is physical) will be animated by God’s Spirit and therefore imperishable and immortal.
Martin Davie concludes that (again, just as in Jesus’ case) the physicality of the resurrection body implies maleness or femaleness. We shall be men and women for eternity. Marriage, however, will have no place in heaven:
‘Marriage, and sexual intercourse within marriage leading to procreation, are necessary features of life in this world in order to fulfil the divine mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ given in Genesis 1:28. However, when God lowers the curtain on this world and raises it on the world to come that mandate will have been fulfilled. The number of people God wills to inhabit his eternal kingdom will have been brought into existence and because there will be no death their number will not diminish. Hence there will be no need for procreative sex, hence there will be no more need for one flesh unions, and hence there will be no more marriage.’
Lest we suppose that the absence of marriage and sexual intercourse will somehow diminish the blessedness of heaven, let us ask what will one day exclude such desires:
‘The answer is ‘marriage.’ In the next world another form of marriage will replace and fulfil marriage and sexual activity as we experience them in this world. We are told this in the Bible. In the Old Testament human marriages are repeatedly used as pictures of God’s relationship with his people (e.g., Isaiah 54:6, Ezekiel 16:8, Hosea 2:19-20). Then, in the New Testament, Jesus’ relationship with his Church is compared to that of a bridegroom and his bride (e.g., John 3:27-30, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:21-33). Finally, we are told to expect the ‘marriage of the Lamb’ at the end of time, that is, the marriage between God and humanity that will endure for eternity (Revelation 19:6-9, 21:2 & 9). This eternal marriage is the ‘fullness’ to which marriage and sexual activity in this world point.’