Paul's explanation of the nature of the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 appears to have been written in response to those at Corinth who had been raising objections concerning the validity of a bodily resurrection (v. 35). The kind of objection raised takes the form of a question and asks how a person is able to rise again when their physical body has decomposed. Barclay notes that before any attempt to interpret exactly what is being said by Paul in response to these critics of the resurrection body, it should be remembered that the Apostle is speaking about things that are not easily stated in human terms; he is "Trying to express the inexpressible and to describe the indescribable."
It appears that one of the main stumbling blocks to the Corinthians was that the very idea of a physical resurrection of the body was inconceivable because they viewed the body as being synonymous with the corruptible and temporal realm and therefore disputed its continued existence. Questions concerning the resurrection body were by no means new but had also existed amongst the Jews. There was no doubt in the mind of the rabbis that the body would indeed be raised again in some sort of tangible form, but discussion centred upon such questions as whether the body will perfect or suffer the imperfections of the present body, how the bodies will travel to Israel from the Diaspora, and whether they will be clothed or naked. Those whom Paul has in mind in his letter rejected all such ideas and held that it was the soul that would continue in immortality in the shadowy realms of Hades while the body would be cast aside. But Paul's comprehension of the resurrection body differed from this Greek understanding because he clearly stressed the necessity of the body in the future life; and he also differs from the traditional Jewish understanding by clearly differentiating from the present earthly body of 'flesh and blood' (v.50) and the future glorified body, being 'spiritual' (v.44).
In an attempt to respond to the scepticism of his objectors Paul seeks to formulate an answer. In doing this he uses the illustration of a seed (vv. 35-44). Paul, therefore, argues from a common analogy suited to the historical milieu of his day. He does this by choosing to compare the resurrection body with the primitive idea that a seed, when placed in the ground, dies and comes back miraculously as the plant. Although this analogy is not an accurate botanical truth, Paul is simply utilising it as an idea prevalent in his day to make his point about the resurrection. The main point of the seed illustration is to show that God has the power to bring life to dead things. But it also shows that the new life is not just a reproduction of the former life, but something better. Unless a person had previous knowledge and experience of the potentiality of seeds, it could not be discerned by mere appearance that within it was a potentially new and more magnificent form of existence.
Paul points to the many diverse types of bodies in creation (vv.39-41) to illustrate God's capability and willingness to accommodate mankind with a bodily organism changed from the earthly body and suitable for residence in His eternal kingdom. Orr and Walther consider that Paul's distinctions in glory between heavenly bodies and earthly bodies in verse 40, is based on the idea that the heavenly bodies radiate with their own light while the earthly ones have only reflected light. Morris observes how it was generally accepted, by Paul's contemporaries, that some of the heavenly creatures had bodies. Paul's attention then turns to the sun, moon and stars and how each shines with its own unique brilliance (v. 41), illustrating not only the different types of glory in creation but also the fascination that the ancient world had for the observation of the heavens.
It is along the descriptions of different bodies and splendours that Paul is attempting to explain how the resurrection body is to be understood as differing from the earthly body (42a). After establishing this, Paul proceeds to highlight some of the notable differences between the present body and the one that is to be raised. Firstly, he turns his attention to the subject of 'perishability'. The present body is 'perishable', but the resurrection body is 'imperishable' (v.42b). The Greek terms for perishable and imperishable (phthora and aphtharsia) provide a powerful imagery and are better understood as 'corruptibility' and 'incorruptibility'. By his use of the word 'corruptibility' Paul is not only indicating that the physical body undergoes decomposition, although this is certainly part of his intended meaning. Barrett observes how its influence and operation is felt as an evil force that dominates the present world order, affecting not only humanity but the entire created order. Its power to spoil is made void with regards to the resurrection body, and it will be eliminated completely in the age to come. When Paul speaks of the body being 'sown in dishonour' (v. 43a) he may be alluding to the belief held by the Jews that saw a corpse as a source of uncleanness to anyone who touches it. The Greek mind also saw the dead body as an offensive thing and would quickly bury it to preserve it from the ravages of carrion birds and from putrefaction. The stench of a rotting body was very strong in the nostrils of ancient peoples (c.f. John 11:39) and was generally associated with the vileness of death. With these conceptions as a background Paul could therefore provide strong imagery to show that death is to be regarded as a degrading experience. But in contrast to this, the resurrection body is described as being raised in 'glory'. This term does not imply radiance as in verse 40-41 but rather depicts the Jewish eschatological hope of the righteous in the afterlife (Dan. 12:3; 1 Enoch 62:15; 2 Bar. 51:10). In verse 43b the present body is spoken of as being characterised by weakness (astheneia), but the resurrection body is characterised by power (dunamis). This power, at work in those who are Christ's, refers to the animation or dynamic associated with a perpetual living body resulting in permanent deliverance from physical infirmity. Paul describes the present body as 'natural' (guided by the soul) and the resurrection body as being 'spiritual' (v. 44). Although the physical body serves its purposes in the present world, spiritual characteristics are required for the coming age. By describing the resurrection body as 'spiritual' Paul does not seek to convey that the glorified body will be immaterial but rather that it will have spiritual aspects that lift it to a supernatural level; he evidently means that the body to come will be permanently energised and filled by the Spirit. Commenting on this, Guthrie observes how this text clearly shows a remarkable connection between the two types of bodies (both being called 'body'), but also points out how the 'spiritual' (pneumatikon) is clearly intended to indicate a completely different kind of substance from the 'natural' (psychikon).
To bring additional support for his argument Paul appeals to Genesis 2:7 to show how all humanity from Adam onwards are characterised by 'soul' (psyche) and therefore born with the same nature (v. 45). In parallel, Christ as the "last Adam" and "a life-giving spirit" is the progenitor of those who are His and will bear His characteristics. Moffatt notices how the title "last Adam" was an unusual term for Paul to use. The Jews spoke of the first Adam as the original and ideal man whose lost glory would be restored by the Messiah, but they never spoke of the last Adam as Paul did. Because Christ, as the last Adam, is described as a life-giving spirit this does mean that He had no bodily form (as some have mistakenly supposed), but rather means that Christ is the representative of all who have a complete measure of the Spirit. It is this meaning, and not a disparity in bodily substance between Adam and Christ which is in view. Both Adam and Christ are categorically described as 'man' (v.v. 45, 47) The reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ is therefore of prime importance in any consideration of the believer's resurrection body, for if Christ has the authority to give life (i.e. to raise life) He may be expected to impart the same kind of life as He Himself possesses. Believers, when changed into the likeness of 'His glorious body', as it is called in Philippians 3:21, will be so controlled by the Spirit that they will share His life giving powers, resulting in a body animated completely by life- giving spirit.
With the above thought in mind, Paul stresses a particular order that should be observed. The natural earthly life in a flesh and blood body comes into existence first and it is only after the death of this body that the spiritual body comes forth (v. 46). Due to the prominence given to the natural life it may be understood that Paul did not believe that the soul had existence prior to birth. This idea was common enough in the ancient world and had its foundation in Platonic thought and in later Gnostic belief. The contrast between Adam and Christ continues in verses 48-49. As Adam was of the earth so are all those who are born after him. However, just as Christ's body became a heavenly body in His resurrection, so does the body of all believer's when their bodies are raised to new life. The underlying thought of these verses is that the original earthly body and the heavenly body to come are in essence united as one.
The expression 'flesh and blood' (v.50) is used as a figure of speech to describe the frailty of the corruptible human body. The phrase is of Semitic origin and often occurs in rabbinic literature sources to emphasise the mortality of humanity. Therefore, since the flesh and blood body is subject to infirmity, decay, and death, it is ill-suited for the life of the future.
Because of the inadequacy of the earthly body there is a need of a complete transformation (v.v. 51-52). The word for 'changed' here is allasso, meaning "to make other than it is" and is used to describe the effect that Christ's parousia will have on believer's, both dead and alive. Patterson has observed how allasso is also used in Romans 1:23 to describe what mankind did when changing God's glory into the image of corruptible man. It is therefore obvious that a significant transformation is in view when considering the change that the body will undergo at the resurrection. After this change is accomplished it is then possible for the body, despite all of its present imperfections, to enter into the eternal dimension of God's kingdom.
Paul employs the figure of clothing to illustrate his point in verses 53-54 (c.f. 2 Cor. 5:3) and reiterates the perishable-imperishable terminology of verse 42, but this time adds the contrast of mortality and immortality. Not only is the message of transformation of all believers conveyed by these verses but also a measure of continuity with the past. This is clear because it is this earthly body that will be clothed with imperishability and immortality. Guthrie observes that "there is no escaping the conclusion that Paul is arguing for some kind of glorious body which bears a direct relationship with the present body of the flesh." Harris not only sees a perpetuating bond between the two types of bodies but also believes that each individual believer's personality will be preserved, albeit transformed by the Spirit at the resurrection. Those in Christ are to be clothed with imperishability and immortality, the clothing of resurrection body. This newly composed body is invisible to the natural human eye but is visible to other spiritual bodies. In observation of the word 'immortality' Moffatt notes that it was commonly used by Hellenistic Jews like Philo, and the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon and literally meant 'incorruption' and gave the idea of "eternal duration or indestructible existence."
The citation of Old Testament Scripture at the end of verse 54 is taken from Isaiah 25:8 and is used by Paul as a cry of victory over the enemy of death by the resurrection and transformation to come. God will utterly abolish death in fulfilment of what was prophesied long ago. 45 Confident in the certainty of the coming resurrection, and in what Christ has already achieved, Paul taunts death in verse 55 and asks mockingly: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?" The 'sting' (kentron) of death, which gives the thought of a venomous bite from such things as snakes and scorpions (c.f. Rev. 9:10), has been conquered and rendered harmless by Christ.
Throughout chapter 15 Paul attempts to offer some explanation of the nature of the resurrection body principally by contrasting it with the earthly body, but he also points to the many diverse types of glory in creation to further illustrate God's capability in accommodating humanity with a body gloriously transformed from the earthly body and suitable for residence in His eternal kingdom. Once those who are Christ's experience a resurrection-transformation, they will know everlasting revitalisation, since they will be so controlled and animated by God's Spirit that they will participate in His life giving powers. In place of a natural earthly body that is always characterised by corruption, erosion, and weakness, the resurrected believer will have a spiritual heavenly body that is resplendent in form and appearance, and will possess limitless energy and perfect health.
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