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Bodily resurrection and 1 corinthians 15

Bodily Resurrection and 1 Corinthians 15: 42-54

By: Joe Scholar

One of the most significant issues concerning nearly all religions,

Christianity among them, concerns the fate of men following their death.

Believing in an inevitable resurrection of the body among the faithful, Paul, a

principle founder of Christianity, asserted his beliefs on the nature of bodily

resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15: 42-54. As eternity tends to last a long time,

believing Christians (even agnostics such as myself) would likely be somewhat

eager to arrive at an accurate interpretation of Paul's message found in the

above verses, so as to glean insight as to what might await them following their

last heartbeat. The approach I will take in analyzing 1 Corinthians: 42-54 will

be to: 1) explain how the verses fit in with the overall structure of the book;

2) to explain and paraphrase the meaning behind the passage; 3) relate the

verses to similar passages expressed elsewhere by Paul; 4) and lastly to touch

upon some of the controversy associated with the verses.

1 Corinthians was written around 54 C.E. and was addressed to the

congregation which was made up primarily of gentiles and was located in Corinth.

At the time, Corinth was a highly urbanized and religiously diverse city which

made it very conducive to the early Christian movement. Paul's first letter to

the Corinthians was written as a response to a letter he had received (which did

not survive) from the Corinthians in which Paul was asked to settle various

disputes that were arising within the struggling congregation. Writing in

apostolic fashion to the congregation he had founded, Paul's letter while

pastoral, answered numerous questions and demanded numerous changes ranging

from: the rich eating with the poor at the church suppers (11:18-22); to curbing

the acceptance of sexual immorality (5:1-13); to abstaining from taking fellow

Christians to court (6:12-20); to answering the question on the acceptability of

eating meat begot from pagan sacrifice (8:1-13); to the role of women in the

church (11:2-16); to the importance of prophesying (14:1-40); and much, much


It was under these auspices that Paul answered the question of whether

man would be with or without a body following resurrection. Although all of

the 15th chapter deals with issues of resurrection, the place of the body is

curtly addressed in verses 42-54 and is prefaced with the 35th verse which asks,

"But someone will ask, ŒHow are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they


Paul believed that at the time of the resurrection the perishable body

would be transformed into an imperishable body, that would neither be a ghost-

like spirit nor a fleshly body, but rather some sort of combination of the two.

As Sanders phrases it, "...resurrection means transformed body, not walking

corpse or disembodied spirit." As William Wrede describes Paul's transformation

of the body, "He says that they Œare dead' or Œare risen again' Œwith Christ';

or more specifically Œthey are dead to sin, to the Law,' Œcrucified to the world'

; Œthe body of sin is destroyed'; Œthey are no longer in the flesh'; or else he

says simply that they are Œdead'" Paul, whether because he does not recognize

the need for further elaboration, or equally as likely, as he does not know how

to accurately elaborate further, does not offer any greater explanation as to

the nature of the new imperishable body.

Seemingly similar to changing one's clothes, Paul simply explains the

transformation, in the capacity of the mortal body Œputting on' immortality.

The nearly tautological backbone behind Paul's reasoning is that the since the

mortal, by definition isn't immortal, in order to gain an eternal life, the

mortal must necessarily become immortal. As Wrede interestingly interprets it, "

If the misery of man consists in his habitation in the flesh, his happiness must

depend on his liberation from the flesh, that is, on his death." Moreover, once

immortality is put on, death, the previously inevitable enemy of the mortal,

will be destroyed. As Paul crisply writes in verse 54, "When this perishable

body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the

saying that is written will be fulfilled: ŒDeath has been swallowed up in


The single implied description Paul does make sure to include regarding

the body, is the notion that the resurrected imperishable body will bear a

likeness and similarity to the fleshly body that preceded it. Having believed

he had seen Jesus's resurrected body (as he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:1) which

presumably outwardly appeared as Jesus's previously fleshly body, in order to

establish the continuity of personhood, in verses 37-38 Paul used the analogy of

man as a seed that although when planted is in one form (physical-earthly)

becomes something different when grown (spiritual-heavenly) yet throughout the

metamorphasis it is still the same plant. Maintaining the theme of continuity

in verse 44 Paul writes, "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual

body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body."(15:44).

In verses 45-49 Paul refers to both passages from the

Old Testament and also some of his other letters in order to explain the

different domains of the two Adams. Believing in an actually historic Adam, in

verse 45 Paul writes "Thus it is written, "The first Adam became a living being;

the last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (15:45). Demonstrating his command

of the scriptures (at that time the bible only consisted of the Old Testament)

takes this from the verse in Geneis 2:7 which says, "then the Lord God formed

man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of

life; and the man [Adam] became a human being."(Genesis 2:7).

The last Adam refers to Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians

15 Paul writes, "For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of

the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all

will be made alive in Christ."(21-22). The idea that the presence of death can

be destroyed and that man can gain eternal life through the grace given by Jesus

Christ (who is considered the second Adam) is congruent with other letters

written by Paul. In Romans 5:21 Paul writes, " that, just as sin exercised

dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification

leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."(Romans 5:21).

Because he believed the Lord's return was very near, Paul thought

that not everyone living at the time of his writing would die. More

specifically, Barrett argues that Paul thought that not only was the coming of

the Christ very near, but that it was already actually taking place. Arguing

for what he believes Paul thought, Barrett writes, "The coming of Christ is not

an event that has somehow to be hurried along; it has already happenned. Yet it

has not finally happened; he has come, and he will come." In verses 51-52 Paul

writes, "Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will

all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we

will be changed."(51-52).

The above passage has well generated a good deal of controversy

for some modern day Christians. When we are all changed, will we all Œbe

zapped' up into heaven? If we aren't zapped into heaven, will we remain living

for eternity on this earth? Since in verse 52, Paul mentions the dead rising

before the transformation among the living, will the dead necessarily rise prior

to our transformation? When they do rise, will they, like Jesus, remain on this

earth for any period of time? Or rather will they go straight to heaven? If

they do go straight to heaven, will we see them? Perhaps more importantly, if

the dead will rise only after the trumpet has sounded, assuming the trumpet hasn'

t sounded, where or in what state are the dead now? Are they not currently in

heaven? Of particular interest (via necessity) to this author, what happens to

bad persons when they die? Do or will they be forced to put on an immortal body

that will allow them to suffer forever in an eternal torment? Is not an

immortal body only for the righteous? Does not the last trumpet have to play

for them to gain that immortal body? If so, when will that last trumpet sound?

As Paul thought, has the first trumpet really began yet?

As people have a natural curiosity of what awaits them following

death, issues related to resurrection and Paul's views concerning those

issues, will likely be sought for years to come. Although we know that Paul

thought the perishable body must be transformed into an imperishable body in

order to gain everlasting life, and that the spiritual body would be congruent

with the physical body; as we do not have much concensus regarding the answers

to the questions in the preceding paragraph, it is evident that there is much we

do not (and perhaps cannot) know concerning the truths of life after death,

according to Paul or any other biblical author for that matter. Perhaps, if and

when the Lord does return, we will be made aware. Hopefully, the experience of

gaining that awareness will be a pleasant one for us all.

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