Ancient Greek philosophers believed that the world of spirit is perfect, whereas the world of matter is bad. The human soul is good, but it is trapped in the physical world. The body is a like a tomb, and the soul needs to escape.
These beliefs affected the congregation in Corinth. Some church members thought that the body is bad, so they denied all bodily pleasures, even in marriage. Others went to the opposite extreme: since the body will eventually be discarded, it doesn’t matter what a person does in the body.
The apostle Paul said there would be a resurrection of the body, but to Greeks steeped in ancient philosophy, this made no sense. Why would God mess up the afterlife by putting people back into their defective bodies?
Paul responds in 1 Corinthians 15. He begins by saying that Jesus was raised from the dead — with a body — and this is not only part of the gospel, it also shows that God will resurrect all who are in Christ.1
Different kinds of bodies (verses 35-43)
Paul addresses the questions starting in verse 35: “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’” He responds, “How foolish!” It is foolish to reject the idea of a resurrection just because you have questions about how it works.
He uses an example from agriculture to illustrate: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.” The seed ceases to exist, and something quite different comes up.
“But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.” Each kind of seed produces a different kind of plant, and it is difficult to predict the size or shape of the plant just from the shape of the seed.
Paul offers other living things as examples: “Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.” These creatures all have bodies, but they are not the same.
It’s true in astronomy, too: “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.” The stars are glorious in one way; geological features in a different way.
“The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” So with all this variety, he seems to imply, why do you think that the spiritual world cannot have shape or body?
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.” Our bodies are defective, perishable, lacking honor, and weak. But the resurrection will not be an exact restoration — it will be a lot better.
A spiritual body (verses 44-49)
The old body will die, like a seed; a new body will live. “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” The old body has life similar to an animal; the new body will be energized by spirit.
“If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Biology and astronomy show that there are different kinds of bodies; there is variety in the spiritual realm, too. “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”
Genesis 2:7 says that Adam became a living soul. He had a mortal life. But the resurrected Jesus revealed a new kind of life: spiritual, and yet with a body.
“The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.” Adam came first; Jesus came later. “The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.” Adam started as dust; Jesus started in the spiritual realm and became flesh.
“As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.” All humans followed the path of Adam. But Jesus brought something better.
So if we are in Christ, we will be resurrected in his mode, not in the Adamic mode. “And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.”
Our mortal flesh is the seed of something far more spectacular than we can imagine. We look like Adam now, but in the resurrection, we will look like Christ.
A dramatic change (verses 50-53)
The human body as we know it now is absolutely inadequate for the life we will have. “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
In eternity, we will not need blood to circulate oxygen to our muscles. Flesh and blood is rooted in the biochemical world, where nothing lasts forever. Life based in chemical reactions cannot be eternal. The kind of flesh that decays cannot inherit the eternal realm.
There must be a radical change, and change is exactly what the gospel promises. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
At the return of Christ (verse 23), we will all be made alive. We will rise to meet him, and we will be with him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).
Paul uses one more metaphor: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” We will not be a soul clothed with a perishable body — we will have a body that never decays. The resurrection body will never die, never grow weary, never wear out.
The great victory (verses 54-58)
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (Isaiah 25:8). In the resurrection, death will have been defeated.
Paul mocks his enemy with words similar to Hosea 13:14: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Where is your power now? All your work has been undone.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law,” and these three worked against us: the flesh led us into sin, and the law condemned us to die. But it has all been reversed in Jesus, who conquered sin in the flesh, and conquered death on behalf of us all.
Our enemies have been defeated, as Paul exclaims: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The resurrection of Jesus is not just good news for him — it is also wonderful news for us, because the reason that he went through his ordeal is to rescue us from our enemies. He gives the victory to us!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by Michael Morrison in 2009 and updated in 2013. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved.
Paul concludes: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” No good deed will be forgotten. There are eternal consequences for all our work — even actions as small as giving water to a thirsty person.
There is a resurrection, and there is an afterlife — and that gives tremendous meaning to this life as well.
Making it personal
- If I am “changed” as much as a seed changes into a tree, how will anyone recognize me? (v. 37)
- Would I describe my current body as dishonorable? (v. 43)
- What are the advantages of an imperishable body?
- Why does Paul say that the power of sin is the law? (v. 56)
The Greeks had a word for it: ψυχικός
The Greek word psychē means “soul”; the word psychikos means “pertaining to the soul.” Since animals have souls, psychikos (even when referring to humans) may refer to an animal sort of life — the biochemistry and brain function of an animal. Paul uses the word to refer to the type of body we now have (1 Cor. 15:44-46), as opposed to a body animated by spirit.
In 1 Cor. 2:14, Paul says that the psychikos person cannot understand spiritual things. A horse may be spirited, but it does not understand spiritual realities. James 3:15 refers to psychikos wisdom; it is the sort of wisdom that an animal might have. Jude 19 uses the word to say that psychikos people follow their instincts; they do not have the Spirit.
Since the word is often used in opposition to “spiritual,” some scholars translate the word as “unspiritual.”