The Spiritual Body of 1 Corinthians 15

One of our favorite Internet gadflies, Steven Carr, made a comment to a post by Layman a few months ago that I thought deserved a moment of attention. He wrote:

Paul said that the 'last Adam' became a 'life-giving spirit', implying that we too shall become spirits when we are resurrected.

Paul seems to be quite silent about the idea that Jesus did not become a spirit when he was resurrected, doesn't he? How much more silent can you be about the idea of Jesus not becoming a spirit can you get than saying that Jesus became a spirit?

I read this several times and still don't think it makes much sense as written. But regardless of his intended meaning, I think that the reference (which is to 1 Corinthians 15:45 which reads "So also it is written, "The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL" The last Adam became a life-giving spirit") is actually pretty easy to understand by picking up the Bible and reading all of 1 Corinthians 15 in context.

First, I think that it's important to note what Paul says about the "first man, Adam". Obviously, this references the man Adam from Genesis 2 through 4. Now, Paul says that this first Adam "became a living soul". Now, how many people do you suppose read that the first Adam became a living soul and decide that Adam was only a soul without a body? Probably, in round numbers, none. It's obvious that the reference to the first man becoming a living soul is not to the exclusion of the body. It is possible to have both a body and a soul (and so Christianity has taught since its inception). So, simply because it says that the "last Adam" (which is clearly a reference to Jesus Christ when considering Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:21-45) became a "life-giving spirit" it doesn't follow that Jesus was only a life-giving spirit.

Of course Steven is correct that the text says that "last Adam" became a "life giving spirit", but he continues with a statement that I think is inconsistent what Paul is actually saying. Steven says that "we too shall become spirits when resurrected." In fact, the entire 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians is trying to give the readers a feel for what the resurrected body will be like, and it certainly doesn't appear that the body will be spiritual only.

In 1 Corinthians 15:35, Paul voices a question that informs the understanding of the entire passage:

But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?"

These are good questions. Even at this early date of the church (Paul authored this letter around 56 AD which is 20-25 years after Jesus' resurrection) the church understood that Jesus was resurrected and that the faithful would also be resurrected with some type of body. Now, some want to know what type of body that will be. Paul, writing under the inspiration of God, answers the question in 1 Corinthians 15:39-45:

[39] All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. [40] There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. [41] There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. [42] So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; [43] it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; [44] it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. [45] So also it is written, "The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL" The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

Breaking this down into portions Paul begins by pointing out that there are different types of flesh -- in fact, he differentiates the flesh of humans from the different fleshes of the animals. Now, none would say that "beasts", "fish" and "birds" lack bodies because their "flesh" is identified as differing from human flesh. So, the most obvious conclusion to be derived from verse 39 (in light of the fact that Paul is seeking to answer the question of what type of bodies we will have when resurrected) is that Paul is making the point that bodies can be of different types but still be classified as bodies. Consider a portion of Jamieson, Faucett and Brown's commentary on verses 39-41:

flesh--animal organism [DE WETTE]. He implies by the word that our resurrection bodies shall be in some sense really flesh, not mere phantoms of air [ESTIUS]. So some of the oldest creeds expressed it, "I believe in the resurrection of the flesh." Compare as to Jesus' own resurrection body, Luk 24:39 Jhn 20:27 ; to which ours shall be made like, and therefore shall be flesh, but not of animal organism ( Phl 3:21 ) and liable to corruption. But 1Cr 15:50 below implies, it is not "flesh and blood" in the animal sense we now understand them; for these "shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

not the same--not flesh of the same nature and excellency. As the kinds of flesh, however widely differing from one another, do not cease to be flesh, so the kinds of bodies, however differing from one another, are still bodies. All this is to illustrate the difference of the new celestial body from its terrestrial seed, while retaining a substantial identity.

From here, Paul moves on to distinguishing the "glory" of the heavenly body from the "glory" of the earthly body (v. 40), and proceeds to note that the celestial bodies (such as stars and planets) also have different glories (v. 41). Again, in light of the overall context of answering what type of body the resurrected will have, Paul is making the point that while there are differences between the various things (heavenly and terrestial bodies, different types of celestial bodies) they have certain points of commonality. The stars are different from each other in some ways (there are red giants and white dwarfs and neutron stars) but despite the fact that they have these differences they are all still stars! The same is true as between terrestial bodies and heavenly bodies (e.g., angels) in that they have different properties, but they are still bodies. He drives the point home in verses 42 through 44a when he says "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; [43] it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; [44] it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." To restate again, the spiritual body has differing characteristics or properties from the human body that we recognize while living in this pre-resurrection existence. But just as there is differences between the brightness or majesty of the sun and the moon, so there will be differences between the post-resurrection body and the pre-resurrection body, but both will still be bodies.

Focus for a moment on 1 Corinthians 15:44b. Paul refers to the "natural body" and the "spiritual body". Now, in both instances, Paul uses the same word: soma {so'-mah}. According to Strong's (as recorded in The Blue-Letter Bible) the word soma means

1) the body both of men or animals
a) a dead body or corpse
b) the living body
1) of animals
2) the bodies of planets and of stars (heavenly bodies)
3) is used of a (large or small) number of men closely united into one society, or family as it were; a social, ethical, mystical body
a) so in the NT of the church
4) that which casts a shadow as distinguished from the shadow itself

Now, what is noticeably absent from this list is the idea of a spirit. In all of the definitions, there is some type of physical body. Nowhere is soma seen as referencing the spirit. In fact, the final of the four definitions ("that which casts a shadow as distinguished from the shadow itself") seems to argue against the word soma representing some type of insubstantial substance (in other words, no ectoplasm involved here). The word that means spirit is found in verse 45 (neuma), but thus far Paul's context seems to exclude the idea that the "soma" can be a mere "neuma". Body seems to mean physical body of some type.

Now, obviously, the body that follows the resurrection is significantly different than the body that existed prior to the resurrection -- Paul makes that point repeatedly -- but it is a body nonetheless. Further evidence of this intent can be gleaned from looking how Paul uses the word "soma" in other similar texts regarding the resurrection. To that end, I undertook to examine his use of the phrase elsewhere in his epistles. In reviewing the uses of the word soma in the Pauline Epistles, here is a rough categorization of how he uses the word based on context:

Corporeal human body - Ro. 1:24, 4:19, 6:6,12, 7:24, 8:10-13, 8:23, 12:1; 1 Co. 5:3, 6:13, 6:16-20, 7:4, 7:34, 9:27, 13:3; 2 Co. 4:10, 5:6-10, 10:10; Gal. 6:7; Eph. 5:23-28; Phil. 1:20, 3:21; Col. 2:11, 2:17, 2:23; 1 Thess. 5:23

Christ's body - Ro. 7:4; 1 Co. 10:16-17, 11:27-29, 12:27; Eph. 1:23, 2:16, 4:4, 4:12; Col. 1:22, 1:24

Corporate body of the church - Ro. 12:4-5; 1 Co. 6:15, 12:12-26; Eph. 4:16; 5:30; Col. 1:18, 3:15

Uncertain - 2 Co. 12:2-3 (I set this aside separately because I don't know what state Paul may have been referencing when he speaks of "out of the body" while "in the body" is clearly "corporeal human body"), Col. 2:19

Now, my categorization is intended to be a rough categorization and several of the uses of the phrase soma could fall into more than one of the categories, thus, I do not encourage anyone to take these categorizations as the final word on the way "soma" is used in each of the texts identified. However, there are two things that are certain: (1) except for the usage in 1 Corinthians 15, the above chart includes every use of the word "soma" by Paul (assuming Paul is not the author of Hebrews), and (2) nowhere does Paul use the word soma to mean "spirit".

How does Paul see the resurrected body? He sees it as the body of Jesus was seen and portrayed in the Gospels -- a physical body that was substantive, could eat and be touched. For example, in Romans 6:3-11.

[3] Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? [4] Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be {in the likeness} of His resurrection, [6] knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; [7] for he who has died is freed from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, [9] knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. [10] For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. [11] Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The body that we have will die, just as Jesus died, but we will be resurrected bodily, just as he was resurrected bodily.

So, what does it mean to say that Jesus became a "life-giving spirit"? Consider the following from “Life-Giving Spirit”: Probing the Center of Paul's Pneumatology by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (JETS 41/4 (December 1998) 573–589):

To amplify this point just a bit: The resurrection body of 1 Cor 15:44 is "spiritual" not in the sense of being adapted to the human [pneuAma] or because of its (immaterial) composition/substance, to mention persisting misconceptions, but because it embodies the fullest outworking, the ultimate outcome, of the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, along with the renewal to be experienced by the entire creation. 14 That eschatological body is the believer's hope of total, (psycho-) physical transformation, and in that sense our bodies too, enlivened and renovated by the Spirit. We conclude: As the adjective {pneumatikovn] in vv. 44 and 46 plainly refers to the activity of the Holy Spirit, so its correlative noun [pneuAma] in v. 45 refers to the person of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, upon the death and resurrection of Jesus, he became (using the agency of the Holy Spirit) the means by which eternal life is given to the believer. Jesus, the Holy and only Son of God, gives us life through the Holy Spirit as the result of His death and resurrection.

So, does 1 Cor. 15:44 somehow mean Jesus was just a spirit? It seems to me that the arguments that support that viewpoint are mere phantoms.


Steven Carr said…
More false dichtomies to twist Paul's words where he wrote that Jesus became a life-giving spirit, and contrasted that process with a quote from Genesis 2:7 where, as we all know, Adam was given life from dead matter.

Paul believed Jesus had a body made from celestial material, spirit if you will, which was not the same material found on Earth and that Adam was made out of.

And Paul contrasts celestial bodies with each other and with earthly things, using categories of things which do not turn into each other - fish, birds, animals, man, the sun, the moon.

He even explicitly says that what is different is the 'flesh' or substance of these things.

Expecting a corpse to turn into a celestial being is like expecting a fish to turn into the sun.

But BK won't listen to Paul, so he certainly won't listen to me.

Meanwhile, we still have the smoking gun of early converts to Jesus-worship who scoffed at the idea of God choosing to raise a corpse.

And Paul still calling them Christians he was proud of.

You can read more in the article BK does not link to The Resurrection of Jesus
Steven Carr said…
It doesn't take long for BK to go wrong, leading him all the way to a quote which implies that Jesus became the Holy Spirit when he was resurrected... 'As the adjective {pneumatikovn] in vv. 44 and 46 plainly refers to the activity of the Holy Spirit, so its correlative noun [pneuAma] in v. 45 refers to the person of the Holy Spirit.'

'The person of the Holy Spirit'???? When Paul wrote 'the last Adam became a life-giving spirit' in verse 45, he meant that Jesus became the person of the Holy Spirit (!!!), and by typology , that we too will all become the person of the Holy Spirit???

How would telling the Corinthians that Jesus became the person of the Holy Spirit reassure them that a corpse would rise?

Where did it all start to go wrong for BK?

BK writes "The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL"

Putting things in capitals does not make them correct.

The word for soul is 'psyche' , and it is well known that Paul does not mean by that word , what we mean by the word 'soul'.

He means 'life'. It is a phrase from Genesis 2:7 (Greek translation of course) ,where 'psyche' is what dead matter gets to become alive. It is what our bodies lose when they die.

And this is the point.

A body powered by 'psyche' (life) will die. There is no hope for it. But there is also a spiritual body, a body powered by spirit, which is 'life-giving' and will not die.

The Corinthians have no need to worry about their present body. That will lose its psyche and die. Instead, they will get a body of celestial material, powered by spirit (Of course, Paul is a bit vague about how that works, as he has never seen one of these resurrected bodies. He has to talk very abstractly, rather than referring to wounds and flesh and bones and eating, as later Christian writers could do)

This is the contrast. Earthly materials get 'psyche' and die. Celestial materials get 'pneuma' and do not die.

Hence Paul writes just after verse 45, in verses 47-49 'The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.'

It's all about materials. Corpses decay into dust, and a resurrected being is not made from dust. That is why the Corinthians were foolish to wonder how dust could be reassembled into a resurrected being.

The 'person of the Holy Spirit' appears only in BK's comments and is singularly absent from 1 Corinthians 15. It is all about materials.
BK said…
"Paul believed Jesus had a body made from celestial material, spirit if you will, which was not the same material found on Earth and that Adam was made out of."

That is not supportable from the Biblical texts and your e-mail degenerates from there. If you think it is supportable, it's no wonder that you make the . . . uh, shall we say "interesting"(?) claims you do.

Popular posts from this blog

How Many Children in Bethlehem Did Herod Kill?

Where did Jesus say "It is better to give than receive?"

The Bogus Gandhi Quote

Discussing Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Exodus 22:18 - Are Followers of God to Kill Witches?

Revamping and New Articles at the CADRE Site

A Botched Abortion Shows the Lies of Pro-Choice Proponents

Jewish writings and a change in the Temple at the time of the Death of Jesus

Tillich, part 2: What does it mean to say "God is Being Itself?"

The Folded Napkin Legend