Click here for Part II, here for Part I.
I'm continuing this series with a look at 1 Corinthians 15, which has more to say about resurrection than any other place in the Bible. This is not a very in depth look at the chapter, more of a survey of the main points that concern this topic.
This chapter, in a nutshell, teaches that because Christ rose from the dead, we know that His people will rise from the dead as He did. It does not function primarily as a defense of Christ's resurrection (contrary to some, I tend to think the Corinthians did believe that Jesus rose from the dead- otherwise the foundational argument of vv12-19 makes little sense). 1 Corinthians 15 does give us an idea of what it means for believers to "attain to the resurrection from the dead" (to steal a phrase from Philippians 3:11).
Paul calls Jesus the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (v20, also in v23). I've said elsewhere that "first", being an ordinal number, requires a "second", otherwise Paul would say "only." Christ isn't the "only fruit of the dead" but the first, His people are the "secondfruits of those who have fallen asleep." When Christ comes back, "those who belong to Him" will be raised from the dead (v23).
Skipping to v35, Paul begins to give us an idea of what this will look like. He compares the current body to a seed, which will be planted and grow into a better body ("imperishable"- v42). I think where the hangup happens is when he states, "it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (v44). Because we tend to use the word "spiritual" to mean "unseen" or "disembodied", we assume Paul is thinking the same thing. However, that is not the way the Bible understands the word.
"Natural" and "spiritual" do not refer to composition or material (and I'm not sure how a body could be spiritual if it were referring to material composition). First, it's important to note that "natural" is from the word we normally translate "soul." If Paul were talking about the composition of the body (physical as opposed to immaterial), it would be awkward to refer to our present bodies as "soul bodies." Even in context, Paul quotes Gen 2, which states "the first Adam became a living being" (TNIV). "Living being" is the same word as a "soul." Clearly Gen 2 isn't referring to Adam's physical composition, as if it were saying that Adam became a soulish figure as opposed to a physical human being.
I hope I'm being clear here. When Paul contrasts "natural" and "spiritual", he isn't talking about how our physical bodies will someday be rescued from the physical world and brought into a disembodied existence. I stress this because most Christians have the idea that when we die, our souls go to heaven and that's it. But that is not what Paul is saying here. He is saying that there will be a day when Christ will return and our bodies will be raised from the dead in an imperishable body.
“Spiritual” is a term used for Christians elsewhere in Paul. He uses it in 1 Cor 2:15, indicating that there are those who are “spiritual.” Also, Galatians 6:1 instructs those who are “spiritual” to restore a fallen brother. This, coming right after the discussion of the fruit of the Spirit, means those who “live by the Spirit” (as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit). Again, this is an indication that Paul isn't using "spiritual" to mean "immaterial." If so, those two verses take on an extremely different meaning, one that makes little sense.
What then does it mean to have a “spiritual body”? It means that while we are currently “spiritual”, the Spirit’s present work is not complete. After all, our bodies are still subject to decay. Of course, elsewhere Paul says we have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom 8:23), implying that there is more of the Spirit to come. Paul also refers to the Spirit as a “deposit” or “down payment” of what is to come (Eph 1:13; 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5). So, it seems that when Christ comes, our entire being- including our bodies- become “spiritual”- completely controlled and animated by the Spirit.