Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Resurrection of the Body: Part III of V

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.


bmarchio said...

What implications, if any, do you think this (i.e., bodily resurrection) has for Christians when it comes to the choice of cremation? I was asked point-blank last week if cremation was a sin. I didn't feel like the answer was a slam-dunk. Of course, I don't think that martyrs and victims of disfiguring accidents are going to receive a second-rate resurrection body, but what of those who choose to have their body destroyed after death?

Is cremation is sinful because it devalues the body God gave us? Of course it's an easy counter that being embalmed, having your mouth sewn up, and being put in a casket isn't exactly "good" for your body either. Or, flip it around: Is burial sinful because it clings to tightly to the material, namely that which has already passed away? Do our natural bodies only have value so long as we're living in them?

The correlary question is what continuity there might be between our current ("natural," to use Paul's language) and resurrection ("spiritual") bodies?

Jesus still bore the marks of his crucifixion, so there's clearly some continuity. There also seems to be a discontinuity, though, in that he was not recognized at first by his disciples. Of course, this could be interpreted differently, but I think it's fair to take it that his physical appearance was changed somehow.

We're probably deep in the waters of speculation on this one, but the cremation question is a practical one, and my gut tells me that I'll be asked again. Thoughts?

danny said...

Good questions, I'm going to deal with some practical implications of all this in part V, but I don't plan on dealing with these issues. So, here's as good a place as any.

About cremation, I don't know. How's that for an answer? I agree that the choice to have their body destroyed would be the key issue, since obviously bodies decay, are destroyed by persecutors, etc.

My inclination is to say that it is not a problem, mainly because I can't think of a Scriptural reason to say it is. But, that's not really a defense, it's more pleading ignorance. What would be really interesting is if we could discover what the opinions of cremation were in the NT times. Did Jews practice it? Or have a problem practicing it? I don't know.

You other question (about the continuity of the bodies) was answered by you in the way that I was going to answer. There is a continuity (physical body, Jesus' scars), but also a discontinuity (no longer corruptible, appearing and disappearing, etc). I don't have a lot to say beyond what you already said.

All this to say, I have no idea about cremation. I suppose it won't stop God from raising someone from the dead, but I've never been a big fan of the "but I'll still get to heaven, so it doesn't matter!" defense.

Ken said...

Wow!! There is a lot I want to tackle in this post!! Thanks Danny. I'll start off slow and give me time to get all my thoughts together.

Why would cremation be bad? Those who died 2000 +/- years ago are part of the dust we walk on today. Cremation only speeds up the process.

It seems to me that God could restore a body back to any condition whether it is freshly deceased, dead along time or cremated. To me burying a body is just cluttering up the ground.

I need to spend a little time reading through 1 Cor. 15. I definitely have a different view of natural vs. spiritual. Again thanks for the thought provoking post.

danny said...


Regarding cremation, the issue isn't whether or not it effects one's "resurrection status" (did I just coin a new term?), since God can easily restore such a body. The question is, as Brian stated, "Is cremation sinful because it devalies the body God gave us?" I lean towards "no", but it is a good question.

Ken said...

It is a good question.. but I don't think it devalues your body. I also feel the same way with tattoos. I think that our "natural" bodies are only temporary and that tattoos are a way to collect art.

Now I don't have any tattoos (unlike a heathen sister of ours!!) but I may collect some before I leave this earth.

The one I really want (if it can be made to look real) is to have a sword enter the top of my spine and exit my belly button. That would be cool.

Now I will apologize for taking a great discussion basically into the gutter but I don't see the problem with tattoos or other markings on a temporal body.