Today the blog continues its examination of St. Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Previous material on this topic and on Genesis and Mark, can be accessed from my archive. Biblical references can be placed after emmock.com as can particular topics eg. emmock.com John 3:16; or emmock.com obedience. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
1 Corinthians 15
But someone will ask, “In what manner are the dead raised? What sort of body do they have?” 36 Stupid! When you sow a seed, it doesn’t come alive unless it first dies. 37 Also, what you sow is not the body that will be, but a bare seed of, say, wheat or something else; 38 but God gives it the body he intended for it; and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all living matter is the same living matter; on the contrary, there is one kind for human beings, another kind of living matter for animals, another for birds and another for fish. 40 Further, there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies; but the splendour of heavenly bodies is one thing, while the splendour of earthly bodies is something else. 41 The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon another, the stars yet another; indeed, one star differs from another in splendour.
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. When the body is “sown,” it can decay; when it is raised, it cannot decay. 43 When sown, it is without dignity; when raised, it will be splendid. When sown, it is weak; when raised, it will be strong. 44 When sown, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body.( If there is such a thing as a spiritual body, there is also a spiritual body.) 45 As the Bible says: Adam, the first man, became a living soul,” But the last “Adam” has become a life-giving Spirit. 46 Note, however, that the spiritual body did not come first, but the physical one; the spiritual one comes afterwards. 47 The first man is from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 People born of dust are like the man of dust, and people born from heaven are like the man from heaven; 49 and just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so also we will bear the image of the man from heaven.
Paul anticipates the incredulity of particularly his Greek converts at the idea of resurrection, that is, a bodily life beyond death. Perhaps they could imagine some kind of disembodied afterlife, but bodily life after death seemed contrary to experience: the body wears out, or is overcome by violence or disease; it is buried or burned. How can it be the basis of new life? (Modern science which has shown the physical basis of personality, would ask a different question; how can a person exist without a body?)
Paul attempts to imagine the nature of the resurrection life. Notice that all he is attempting is to show that far from being unimaginable, it can be seen as similar to one of the best-known processes in the world, the germination of seeds and their growth as plants.
1. Burial and death are no problem, he says. After all that’s what happens when we sow seeds.
2. The disparity between our life in the flesh and our resurrected life is no problem either, as there is no similarity between the seed and the plant which is its new body. God has given different created bodies their own special splendour.
3. We cannot fully imagine the new body, but we can define it as imperishable, splendid and strong.
4. It will be all of these, because it will not be a physical body but rather a spiritual body.
5. If that seems a bit vague, we should reflect that in this life we are like the first Adam, the man made of dust, whereas in the resurrection life we shall be the second Adam, Jesus Messiah, who is a life-giving spirit.
Of course this is speculative theology, based on faith in Jesus’ resurrection; and it is expressed in the concepts of a converted Pharisee of the 1st century CE. Paul is not insisting that people accept his picture as binding doctrine. He is encouraging them not to be put off the promise of resurrection by people who claim it is unimaginable nonsense. Paul shows that using analogy it can be coherently pictured, and is therefore not unreasonable, provided there is some evidence for it. For Paul this evidence is the living Jesus as seen by all the witnesses he names at the start of this chapter, including himself. I often use this passage in a funeral service, and many people have expressed their gratitude, saying that they find the concept of a spiritual body both consoling and inspiring.
The analogy of Jesus Messiah as the second Adam may have been invented by Paul or he may have received it from others. It s a powerful way of linking the story of Jesus, not just with the story of Israel, but with the story of humanity. God’s intention for humanity has been thwarted by human arrogance and evil (the first Adam) but it has been restored by human humility and goodness (the second Adam, Jesus Messiah). This is especially helpful for Paul’s mission to all nations as it situates the story of Jesus within the story of humanity and of the created world.
The notion that my present body is like the seed of a more splendid body is attractive to me because I know that what I have learned in life has been learned by my whole body and not merely my brain; “mind” is the whole body seen as a means of learning. My knowledge of how to walk, talk, play football, be friends, is whole-body knowledge. I cannot conceive of myself without a body. At the same time I know and have begun to feel keenly, that this body is subject to decay, losing capacity and knowledge day by day. So I am moved by the promise that there may be something better in store for me. How much greater must be the power of that promise to those whose lives have been blighted by illness, violence, oppression or poverty!
I am convinced that without the promise of resurrection I would not have the impertinence, in the face of human suffering, to call Jesus good news. Nor does such a promise take away the urgency of curing illness, pacifying violence, lifting oppression or making poverty history. In fact, it gives people courage to do such things with less fear, believing that they also are part of God’s creative purpose.